Vladyta: Blog https://www.vladyta.com/blog en-us (C) Vladyta (Vladyta) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:51:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:51:00 GMT https://www.vladyta.com/img/s/v-12/u389137711-o10500705-50.jpg Vladyta: Blog https://www.vladyta.com/blog 120 80 Big Island: Magic Sands & Black Pebble Beach - Farewell to Hawaii https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/10/big-island-magic-sands-black-pebble-beach This is it you guys! The last post on the breathtaking Big Island. I know it's taken me a while to complete my posts, so thank you for being such a great audience over the last few months. Blogging takes up a significant chunk of our time, as we always try to provide some interesting background information and historical facts, balance it out with photos that help tell the story, and sprinkle in our own experiences and a bit of humor for a complete picture. I am thrilled when you tell me that our posts inspired you to take your next trip. A few of you have already told us that Hawaii is at the top of your list of places to visit! This makes me especially happy as I completely adore Hawaii - probably more than any other place in the world. Anyway, with that said - here is a look at the rest of our Big Island adventure. 

Magic Sands is one of the few white sand beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii. Magic Sands beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Hawaii's Big Island doesn't have that many white sand beaches and the ones that do exists are mainly north of Kailua-Kona. You can imagine how thrilled we were when we found this small white sand beach called Magic Sands, only a half hour drive from where we were staying. Beautiful white sand and blue water. Magic Sands in Hawai'i The white sand beach was split in half by a strip of black volcanic rock.  Big Waves at the Magic Beach in Hawai'i How gorgeous is this water? All of nature's best elements are captured on this beach.  Locals and some tourists playing in the big waves.  

Here I am posing with a lei, which I made myself. I later gave it to a young girl who arrived at the beach. Doing my part in sharing the aloha spirit :) 

View from Coffee Shack Restaurant on the Big Island On our last day on the island we decided to go for a breakfast at a restaurant called Coffee Shack which had this gorgeous view.  Coffee Shop provides for nice views of Kealakekua Bay. View from the Coffee Shop on the Kailua-Kona side of the Big Island. It overlooked Kealakekua Bay. Black pebble beach was one of the most amazing sights we've seen on this trip. Hawaii never seizes to amaze. Black Pebble Beach on the Big Island. At breakfast we asked our waitress for some beach suggestions nearby as our guidebook did not show any beaches within less than a 45 min drive. We knew there had to be some as we saw the coast from the restaurant. Good thing we asked as the beach she recommended was nothing like we've seen before.  Black pebbles instead of sand. Black Pebble Beach. Black pebble beach! That's something totally different! Isn't it crazy that the Big Island offers such wide array of beaches? White sand, salt and pepper sand, volcanic black sand, green sand and even black pebble.  Big Island is full of amazing beaches. Black volcanic pebble beach. Snorkeling here was really cool. There was not a lot of marine life but we enjoyed the sound that the rolling stones made when tumbled by the waves. This black pebble beach was a great find. It pays to talk to locals. Some attractions are just not listed in guide books. I am very happy we found this spot and ended our trip here. Relaxing on a black pebble beach near Kailua Kona.Relaxing on a black pebble beach near Kailua Kona. We shared this beach with a handful of locals. I'd like to think we blended in pretty well with our deep tans and aloha hats ;-) 

Drinking some local Coconut Porter beer from Maui Brewing Company on a black pebble beach on the Big Island, Hawaii. Maui Brewing Company Coconut Porter on the black pebble beach.

Not to mention with a local beer in hand. For sure we looked local, right?  Plumeria flowers on a branch. And my favorite plumeria flowers. 

A hui hou!Sunset on Hawaii's black pebble beach This was the beach at the end of the day. Three other people. Could we have asked for a better way of ending our stay on the Big Island? Probably not. 

Hawaii we will miss you! A hui hou! 

And you dear readers, stay tuned for more posts! We may be done with our grand tour but we are not done exploring. :-) 

 

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(Vladyta) Beach Big Island Hawaii Island USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/10/big-island-magic-sands-black-pebble-beach Fri, 09 Oct 2015 16:02:09 GMT
Big Island: Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau & Two Step Beach https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/8/big-island-naunau-two-step-beach -by Edyta-

Whenever we travel, we like to mix relaxing things with some more educational activities to get to know the history and customs of the place we are visiting. On the Big Island, acquiring such knowledge proved to be quite easy - sometimes you barely need to leave the beach to learn about the native Hawaiian people. Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park was no exception - steps away from the beach we found a complex of archeological sites, which was rich in Big Island history. 

This peaceful and beautiful place is of great significance to the Hawaiian People. Up until the 19th century, Hawaiians who broke kapu (Hawaiian code of conduct/laws) could avoid death if they could reach Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau - the place of refuge, as they called it. Back in the day, even unintentional breaking of kapu meant immediate death, unless you were able to escape to Pu 'uohonua. However, because there was only one refuge place on the Big Island, getting here to obtain forgiveness was not an easy route. This practice continued until the abolishment of the kapu system in 1819. 

This beautiful park is situated on 180 acres but is easily traversed by foot. A brochure with a detailed map is available at the entrance for a self-guided tour.   Beautiful scenery with Halau structures and green palm trees at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau.Halau structures at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau.Halau structures at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau. These structures are called halau and they were used as working areas in the past.  Under these large roofs native Hawaiians used to make tools, weapons, and canoes. Halau structures at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau. This is where canoes, tools, and weapons were made. Green palm trees and halau structures at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau.Green palm trees and halau structures at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau. Beautiful palm trees adorned the area. Beautiful colors of nature.  The Great Wall at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau was built in 1500s without any cement.The Great Wall at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau ceremonial site. The Great Wall separates two sections of the park: the royal grounds and the pu'uhonua (place of refuge). It was built in the 16th century with large lava rocks without the use of mortar or cement. Ki'i wooden statues guard the temple of Hale of Keawe which houses the remains of dignified chiefs. 

  Ki'i wooden statues were used by Hawaiians to mark the sacred grounds. Ki'i wooden statues, Big Island, Hawaii.

Ki-i were often used to mark the grounds of sacred sites.   Ki-i looking over the beach. 

Salt and pepper sand at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau, Big Island, Hawaii. Salt and pepper sand at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau.

The sand at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau was "salt-and-pepper", a mix of white sand with some volcanic rock particles.   Just a short walk from Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau (in the background) is a small but very fun beach called Two-Step.  People come here mainly for one thing - amazing snorkeling. This is where we saw some of the most colorful fish and coral reef as well as turtles. I was lucky enough to swim behind one, of course keeping a large distance as to not bother this beautiful animal. In moments like this I wish I had an underwater camera or a GoPro.

The waters were a bit choppy so we had to take frequent breaks from snorkeling.  The next stop for the day was a spot from which we could see Captain Cook's monument (that white obelisk in the distance). This obelisks marks a spot in which Captain Cook was killed in 1778 in a conflict between his crew and Native Hawaiians. What started off as friendly relations ended in conflict and death after Native Hawaiians realized that Captain Cook was not a God but a mere mortal. On our way to see Captain Cook's Monument, I gathered some plumeria flowers and decided to make my own lei. This is the first time during our travels that our sewing kit came in handy. 

My finished lei modeled by Vlad.  You can make your own lei from plumeria flowers when visiting Hawaii. Just look for freshly fallen flowers around you. Plumeria lei I made on the Big Island in Hawaii.

I really enjoyed wearing it that afternoon. The next day however, I gave it to a young girl on the beach. Spreading the aloha spirit.   I was really happy with the lei I made. It smelled so sweet and looked beautiful. Plumeria lei shaped as a heart. Aloha!

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(Vladyta) Beach Big Hawaii Island USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/8/big-island-naunau-two-step-beach Sat, 22 Aug 2015 17:28:06 GMT
Big Island: Kailua-Kona Side & Turtles on a Black Sand Beach https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/7/kona-side-turtles-black-sand -by Edyta-

After staying on the Hilo side for four nights, we headed towards Kailua Kona situated on the east coast of the Big Island. To travel between these two towns, you can do one of two things - you can drive through the middle of the island or you can drive along the southern coast. Since we already drove part of the first road (Saddle Road) when going to Mauna Kea observatory, we opted for the latter which promised to be very scenic. Also we heard we could see some turtles at Punalu'u Beach where we ended up making a few hour stop and spotted a group of turtles sunbathing atop the black volcanic sand. 

For our stay near Kona, we picked a simple cottage on a small farm called South Kona Estate. The cottage had bug screens instead of windows, an outdoor kitchen as well as a semi-outdoor shower. We fell asleep to the sound of rain, and were awoken in the middle of the night by another sound - that of falling fruits, which sometimes hit out roof. This did not bother us at all. 

So here's some photos showing the scenic drive, our cottage, and the grounds of South Kona Estate. 

This map shows our travel from Pahoa to Kailua Kona on the Big Island. Pahoa to Kailua Kona drive shown on a map. Our route from East to West. 

There are not many places in the world where people have the pleasure of sunbathing on a black volcanic sand beach such Punalu'u Beach. Hawaii never seizes to amaze us. Punalu'u black sand beach on the southern part of the Big Island. Punalu'u Beach was an easy detour and a place where we stayed for few hours.  How many places on earth provide for such unusual beaches?  Hawaii never seizes to amaze.  The whole landscape looked out of this world: black sand beach, turtles on the shore,  crashing blue and white waves and green palm trees provided for an extremely picturesque scene. Punalu'u Beach in Hawaii. It felt as if we were on a different planet.  The beach was not very crowded, but we found that to be true for pretty much any place on the Big Island.  Black sand gets hotter a lot faster than typical sand. We had to wear our sandals when walking this beach. Chilling on black volcanic sand in Hawaii. We had our lunch on the beach while watching turtles bob their heads swimming in the ocean.   First turtle finally spotted! Turtle watching on Punalu'u Beach, Big Island, Hawaii. Vlad spotted the first turtle. We read in our guide that there was a very high chance of seeing them on this beach.   How beautiful is the sight of a group of turtles resting on a black sand beach? We heard that they come out here every day which means that most people must give them their space otherwise they would not be coming back. A group of turtles basking in the sun on Punalu'u Beach in Hawaii. Shortly after, few more reached the shore for an afternoon siesta. Luckily most people give them plenty of space and do not bother them which is the reason why these beautiful creatures keep returning to this spot.   Local kids playing in the sand.   The waves were so strong that I ended up staying on the shore and reading my book. My hubby was not scared and did some swimming along a few turtles.Waves at Punaluu were very strong. Vlad looking into the ocean and where every once in a while you could see turtles swim in the waves.   Can't believe this beach is real. Black sand in Punaluu. It was simply incredible to sit on a beach with sand of such unusual color.   Is this sand or just some poppy seeds? This sand reminded me of super fine poppy seeds that you could find in makowiec cake.   Super happy to be on this beautiful Hawaiian island. 

Continuing our journey towards Kailua-Kona - this is the type of a landscape you will often encounter while driving through the Big Island.  Volcanic rocks  Various shade of lava rocks indicate that they are from different years of lava flow.  Few other tourists were also intrigued by this landscape and used all of their electronic devices to document what they saw ;-).

When we finally arrived at our Airbnbn cottage on a small coffee farm called South Kona Estate we were greeted by this cute sign. Our cottage was simple but extremely pleasant. It had large windows with no glass, just a tightly-woven net. The owner gave us some fresh fruit from his property as well as a bag of a delicious Kona Coffee grown on his estate.  Kona coffee is cultivated on the Kona side of the Big Island and is one of the most expensive coffees in the world as it's usually grown on small, mom n' pop type plantations. The favorable climate and mineral rich soil provides for amazing coffee growing conditions. Because Kona coffee is very pricey, you are likely to see more Kona blends sold around the world, which usually consist of at least 10%  Kona beans, and 90%  cheaper beans - like those imported from South America. If you fancy some real 100% Kona Hawaiian coffee, have a look at South Kona Estate's website. Shipping is free!  We were also given some delicious macadamia nuts that grow on the property - which were very tasty. Unfortunately macadamia nuts lose some of their delicious taste and moisture after they are packaged, which is why it's best to eat them fresh. Fun fact: macadamia nuts are not native to Hawaii - they have been imported to Hawaii in the late 19th century from Australia.   This outdoor kitchenette area was shared between us and another cabin. It was really fun to prep our food here and be able to chuck banana peels and nut shells into the bushes for natural compost.  The bathroom also had an outdoor feel to it as the windows were covered only with some bug nets. 

We made friends with the owners' dog.   We made friends with this cute and colorful Gold Dust Day Gecko who kept visiting our cottage. The Gold Dust Day Gecko on the Big Island. And some geckos. This vibrant green kind is called The Gold Dust Day Gecko. When staying at South Kona Estates we took a walk around the property to admire the garden and pick up a few fruits like this tasty papaya. Papaya growing on the property of South Kona Estates in the Big Island. Papaya growing on the property of South Kona Estates in the Big Island.

As encouraged by the owner we took a walk around the property to admire his garden. Papayas from this tree were delicious. 

This is what banana tree looks like. So many bananas can come from one tree! Banana tree. One banana tree can provide plenty of bananas.  This is what coffee plant looks like before it makes it to your favorite coffee shop. Coffee plant in Hawaii. This is what coffee looks like long before it ends up in our cups every morning.     .  

Stay tuned for our next posts from the Kona Side. There's really a lot to explore on this island - it's called the Big Island for a reason :) 

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(Vladyta) Big Hawaii Island Kailua-Kona USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/7/kona-side-turtles-black-sand Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:18:25 GMT
Big Island: Akaka Falls & Mauna Kea Observatory https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/7/big-island-akaka-falls-mauna-kea-observatory -by Vlad-

On the east side of Big Island is the city of Hilo. One of the two main cities - the other being Kona - on the largest Hawaiian island, it is also home to recently inducted UFC Hall of Famer, BJ Penn. Hoping to randomly run into a living legend, we checked out the town's farmer's market for local food and goods. I really enjoyed the musicians' performances while Edyta did a bit of windowless window shopping. We stumbled upon a café and were pleasantly surprised by their bagels. Hawaii is not the first place you'd associate with bagels, especially as a New Yorker, but this little gem was not far off from Murray's and other quality NYC bagel shops. Overall, Hilo provided the cool, laid back vibe that coincides with Hawaiian culture.

From Hilo, we headed north to Akaka Falls for a short hike and to take in some natural beauty. After a short 20 min paved path hike through a rainforest and small bamboo park, we arrived at the Big Island's second largest waterfall by height (420 ft). It's a shame we weren't there a few days earlier, on March 20th to be exact, as we could have run into another celeb with ties to Hawaii: The Rock. Oh well, perhaps next time.

One of the big attractions for me on the Big Island was the Mauna Kea Observatory, an astronomical research facility located atop a dormant volcano. Aside from being 9,200 ft above sea level, a unique phenomenon occurs here to make this an ideal spot for scientists and star gazers. The summit of Mauna Kea is positioned above where water vapor settles, so clouds rarely interrupt astronomers' vision. On top of that, there's very little light pollution as the nearest towns are 1-2h drive away. Imagine crystal clear skies all year long. There's only a handful of places like that on Earth. 

We arrived at Mauna Kea in the late afternoon, so we had the opportunity to take a short hike to one of the nearby peaks and enjoy the sunset. One thing I quickly forgot was how thin the air was this high up. It reminded me of when we hiked Haleakala Crater (10,000 ft) on Maui a few years back. As I was dealing with shortness of breath, and an elevated heart rate, Edyta was trying to stay awake as the low air pressure made her very sleepy. She also thinks her judgement was clouded as we messed up our timing and almost missed the sunset. Once the sun fully set, we got to look through the 8 or so telescopes they set up for visitors to enjoy (free of charge). Because of the alignment of the planets, we were able to see faint images of Venus, Jupiter (including its famous red spot) and an HD image of the moon.

While the telescopes we got to use were smaller and mobile, higher up on the mountain were 12 massive telescopes (owned by Caltech, Subaru, University of Hawaii, as well as some countries like Canada, France etc.) that researchers use to do science stuff. These telescopes have not come without controversy as some locals have protested their existence in favor of the preservation and protection of their sacred land. We saw a handful of peaceful protesters that provided information to visitors. However, protests got a little more heated as recent as April 2015 when hundreds of individuals protested the proposed Thirty Meter (diameter) Telescope. This lead to multiple arrests. Some celebrities with local ties, such as Jason Mamoa (Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones) support this cause.

After about an hour or star gazing, we started to get cold so we made our way down the mountain for the long ride home. Another fun day in Hawaii. 

Our drive for the day.  Welcome to Hilo Farmers MarketWelcome to Hilo Farmers Market Hilo's Farmer's Market was a quick stop where we got some lunch and healthy snacks for the road to Mauna Kea.  Hilo's farmers market vendors. Hilo's farmers market vendors. Lots of delicious goodies were sold there, such as this local honey. 

Beautiful Hawaiian table runners. Hawaiian print table runners.  Flower crown Edyta really loved this lady's flower crown. It inspired her to make her own flower lei a few days later. 

The hike to Akaka Falls is pretty easy and suitable for families and even older people. The whole path is paved and very safe. Akaka Falls trail. Beginning of the Akaka Falls trail which is a big paved loop of a walk. As you can judge from my footwear the hike was not very challenging. Akaka Falls is over 400 feet tall. It's one of the most beautiful waterfalls on earth. Akaka Falls on the Big Island. Akaka Falls in its full glory. This waterfall was tremendous in its size.   Close up of Akaka Falls on the Big Island, Hawaii. Akaka Falls close up. The height of this waterfall is 442 feet which is about 140 feet taller than Hanakapiai on Kauai. I think standing underneath this waterfall would not be a good idea. 

Saddle Road is not what it used to be. The old military road has been rerouted and fixed. It is now very pleasant and scenic to drive on. Saddle Road from Hilo to Mauna Kea. Driving to Mauna Kea via Saddle Road was a very fun and scenic experience. This road was originally built in 1943, for military use, following the Pearl Harbor attack. Since the road was never intended to be used by civilians, up until very recently car rental companies forbid their renters from using it, as it is extremely curvy, bumpy, and not well maintained. This all changed by 2013 when parts of the road got rerouted to a safer path, and now the drive is nothing but a breeze. So if you have a guide from prior to 2013, you may see a warning about driving on this road. Ignore it and enjoy the ride.  Driving on Saddle Road during the rain. We could not believe how quickly the weather has changed. It was rainy, windy and cold. Definitely not what you imagine when you think of Hawaii. Saddle Road can surprise you with quick weather change. Weather conditions changed drastically as we started to gain some elevation. It was rainy and much colder than in Hilo.  Hawaiian rainbow on the way to Mauna Kea. Right before we turned onto Mauna Kea Access Road we stopped to allow our bodies to get used to the elevation change and also to admire a huge and colorful rainbow. Mauna Kea Access Road was steep and once we arrived at the Visitors' Center we were above the clouds. 

Peaceful protesters against Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. Protesters at Mauna Kea. Protesters against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) were gathered here.  Volunteers setting up telescopes for visitors to enjoy at night. Telescopes at Mauna Kea Visitors Center. Before the sun went down, volunteer staff members were setting up the telescopes we would later be using. Once we got to the Visitors Center we felt very tired and sleepy. I believe our judgement was slightly impaired as we did not allow enough time to get to the top of a nearby mountain to see a beautiful sunset over some clouds. Hazardous conditions due to altitude sickness at Mauna Kea. Altitude sickness warning.  We headed on a short 15 min hike to a nearby mountain from which we'd have great views of the sunset.  Beautiful views from the top of the mountain right before sunset. Views from Mauna Kea Visitors Observatory. Experiencing a bit of altitude sickness, we moved slower than usual.  We also picked a mountain that was a steeper and less popular. We found that the other tourists headed the other way. 

SONY DSC It was really cold on top of the mountain.  Once we got to the top we caught the end of the sunset. The sight of sun setting above the clouds was really spectacular.  Viewing the sunset over the clouds was simply spectacular. Those colors lasted long after the sun went down. Sunset at the observatory on the Big Island. These beautiful colors covered the sky long after the sunset. 

 

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(Vladyta) Akaka Big Falls Hawaii Island Kea Mauna USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/7/big-island-akaka-falls-mauna-kea-observatory Wed, 29 Jul 2015 03:25:34 GMT
Big Island: Discovering Lava Fields & Geothermal Pools https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/7/big-island-lava-fields-goethermal-pools -by Edyta-

Exploring the Big Island proved to be more challenging than the other Hawaiian islands, mostly due to its size. Because we've already come to terms with taming our FOMOs, we were OK visiting only a few select areas and skipping some others. By now we have learned that spreading ourselves too thin just to see everything that our guidebook mentions does not work for us. We get tired, cranky and end up not enjoying the sites. Besides, we need to leave some spots undiscovered for the next time we come back to visit (positive thinking ;-) ). 

On our second full day on the Big Island we explored the area around Pahoa. We admired natural lava sculptures at the 200+ year old Lava Tree State Park, bathed in warm geothermal pools heated by volcanic activity, and walked on a black sand beach that's younger than us (est. ~1990).  Here are some photos of our day:

Tin Shack Bakery is an awesome local spot serving delicious and healthy food. There are many vegan and vegetarian options and even some live music to go with your breakfast. Tin Shack Bakery on the Big Island of Hawaii. Tin Shack Bakery on the Big Island of Hawaii.

We started our day with a relaxed breakfast at Tin Shack Bakery, a cool local spot, great for people watching. We were pleasantly surprised to sip our coffee to the sounds of live music. It's usually during breakfasts that we plan our exploring and catch up on some news. We especially like browsing local newspapers to get a better feel of the place we are in.  Living oatmeal, sourdough pancakes, or veggie pesto bagels - Tin Shack offers lots of delicious option that are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Their coffee is also a perfect start to a day of sightseeing the beautiful island. Tin Shack Bakery in Pahoa, Hawaii. The menu was diverse, healthy, inexpensive and rich in local ingredients. From our travels thus far, we've learned that it's not too difficult to find healthy and/or vegetarian/vegan friendly eating spots in Hawaii. In general, people who live in Hawaii are health conscious, eat well and work out.  Entrance to the Lava Tree State Monument park. The park is open 24/7 and is free to enter. Lava Tree State Monument parkLava Tree State Monument park After breakfast our first stop for the day was Lava Tree State Monument park. The park is open 24/7 and the entrance is free. The whole are is very desolate and peaceful. We ran into about 2-3 other people during our one hour visit. 

We visited the park to see tree monuments created by lava over 200 years ago. Lava Tree State Monument ParkLava Tree State Monument Park

The Lava Tree State Monument Park was created by the 1790 lava flow, when 2000°F hot molten lava got in contact with the cool and wet terrain. Trees were consumed by the heat and turned into ashes, while simultaneously cooling the lava which consumed them. This means that the stump you're looking at in the above photo is actually a cooled lava mold of what once was a tree. Science! 

It's safest to stay on the trail while visiting the park. Lava State Tree Park in Big Island, Hawaii. Lava State Tree Park in Big Island, Hawaii.

It's always best to stay on designated trails - especially when there are not many people around (to rescue you!).

Huge fallen tree. 

Lava Tree State Park is home to many native Hawaiian plants like this beautiful monstera plant. Monstera plant in Hawaii. Monstera plant is so hot right now (read is Zoolander's voice) The park is also home to a lot of native Hawaiian plants like this beautiful Monstera - which thanks to Instagram is very much in style right now.     Watching waves crash and tumble black pebbles while making black sand at Isaac Hale Beach Park.Isaac Hale Beach Park.Isaac Hale Beach Park. Our next stop was Isaac Hale Beach Park where we spent some time staring into the ocean. As the waves tumble against the volcanic rock, over time they turn the rock into black sand.  The beach is popular with surfers but can be dangerous for average swimmers as the currents are very strong. We chose to play it safe and not go into the water here.  We found a lot of white coral reef on the edge of the beach which contrasted nicely with black lava pebbles.  

A few steps from the beach we found Pahoiki geothermal pool which we read about in our guidebook. It took me a while to figure out if I should get into this suspicious hole in the ground with warm water but I am glad I did.   The water was very warm, about 98F, heated by volcanic activity. I actually didn't last more than ten minutes there as I got too hot. Just a short walk from the small thermal hole was this big geothermal pool called Ahalanui Warm Springs. The natural spring has been reinforced with concrete floor, sides, and stairs which makes it more accessible and enjoyable. The temperature and the depth of the pool varies with the tide. 

Ahalanui is heated by volcanic activity. There are some cracks in the walls of the pool where you can feel hot steam or water coming out of. It's like a natural jacuzzi.  The pool is shielded from the ocean so everyone can safely enjoy it. SONY DSC After relaxing in the warm springs we decided to further explore the area and headed south on Kalapana-Kapoho Road.  The road proved to be very picturesque with lava fields often on both sides.  We stopped a few times to admire the lava fields. How unreal is this?  As beautiful as it looks, lava can be very destructive to the Big Island dwellers. Many of them lost their houses and other possessions to this strong force of nature. This pretty ropy lava is called pahoehoe lava in the Hawaiian language. It's one of the most beautiful things we've ever seen. Ropy lava

In the Hawaiian language this type of smooth and ropy lava is called pahoehoe lava. It often reminded me of Van Gogh's Starry Night painting.  Vegetation can take over lava fields pretty quickly. How beautiful is the contrast of green plants with the black lava field?Vegetation growing on a lava field. Vegetation growing in a lava field - how pretty. 

Make sure not to pick up and take with you any of the volcanic rocks as that is said to bring years of bad luck. Take nothing but photos :-)  Volcanic rock on the Big Island and my favorite Satya bracelet. Volcanic rock on the Big Island and my favorite Satya bracelet. Lava rocks should not be removed from Hawaii as it said to bring you years of bad luck.  Follow the red rocks path to get to the New Kaimu Beach. This 15 minute trail is called Kaimu Beach Eco Path.Kaimu Beach Eco Path.Kaimu Beach Eco Path. Driving further south we stopped at a spot where Kalapana-Kapoho road ends to visit the New Kaimu Beach Park where we walked about 15 minutes to a black sand beach. This short trail is called Kaimu Beach Eco Path.  I am not quite sure why the rocks here are red. If anyone knows, please let me know. Kaimu Beach Eco Path.Kaimu Beach Eco Path. The reason this beach is called "new" is that it was created in only 1990, by a volcanic eruption. Sadly, there once was a town with over 100 homes here and the original Kaimu beach, all of which was eradicated by 80 feet of lava. As a result of this eruption, the coast of this part of the island got extended by few acres.    This lava field is only 25 years old! It is not often that we can walk on ground that's younger than us. Ropy black lava field. Ropy black lava field. It is not often that we can say we walked on land that's younger than us - this earth here is only 25 years old.  

Touch it but don't remove it... well unless you want years of bad luck from Pele. Satya bracelets on my wrists and some red volcanic rock and black sand in my palm. Handfuls of volcanic rocks and sand I picked up. New Kaimu beach is certainly not the safest one to swim in. The waves were huge. Desolate black sand beach. Black sand beaches get created when hot lava enters the ocean and gets shattered when meeting with cold water. At first, this process creates smaller stones, which over time get crushed into even smaller pieces - and eventually sand - all due to the tumbling waves. Unlike white sand beaches where sand is constantly replenished by fish pooping out coral reef (yes, that's really what happens) the life of black sand beaches is limited as there is no constant supply of it. So sadly, this black sand beach will most likely disappear one day.

Blue waves and black rocky beach are a rare combo. Big Island is just full of beautiful surprises. New Kaimu black sand beach was peaceful and beautiful. Waves were huge at this beach. We learned that swimming is not recommended here as the current is too strong. Small palm trees were planted by locals to make the New Kaimu beach look more like the original one. The green leaves contrast beautifully with the black sand. Walking between newly planted palm trees. Young palm trees have been planted by locals to make the New Kaimu beach look more like the old one. 

Thinking of Hawaii usually brings images of surfing, sunny golden beaches, and luaus to mind - but the Big Island can certainly hold its own with its volcanic landscapes, unreal black beaches and geothermal swimming holes. For a nontraditional taste of Hawaii, make sure to stop by the Big Island. And as always, if you have any questions or comments, we love hearing from you. 

 

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(Vladyta) Hawaii Island USA beach volcano https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/7/big-island-lava-fields-goethermal-pools Mon, 06 Jul 2015 02:56:54 GMT
Welcome to the Big Island - Now let's see some (flat) volcanoes! https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/6/big-island-volcano-national-park -by Edyta-

Welcome to the Big Island, our last stop on our world trip!

Before our first visit to Hawaii about five years ago, I asked my friend Moe - who had recently come back from her island-hopping honeymoon there - which was her favorite island. She told me she could not possibly pick because they were all different and each one had something unique to offer. Unaware, I thought to myself - how could it be? These island are so close together! How could they be so different?  

Fast forward to 2015, after having visited four of the 8 (main) Hawaiian islands, I find myself agreeing with my friend 100%. Each island is completely unique and amazing in its own way. Surprisingly, the variations among the islands are mostly due to the volcanic activity taking place over the last millions of years. So brace yourself for the last leg of our trip as we tour the Big Island, and all of its volcanic glory! 

But first, a little bit of background info on the Big Island itself. 

With an area of 4,028 square miles (10,430 km2) the Big Island is the largest of all the Hawaiian islands and bigger than all other island combined! It's approximately the same size as the state of Connecticut. So if you come visit, make sure you allow enough time for traveling and moving around the island. Interesting enough, the Big Island is also known as Hawai'i, however, to distinguish between the archipelago of islands people often refer to it as the Big Island or Hawaii Island. The origin of the name goes back to the 18th century when the islands were often at war with each other and it was not until around 1791 when King Kamehameha conquered Hawaii Island and went on to unify the Hawaiian Kingdom which later absorbed the name of Hawaii. 

The two main areas on the Big Islands are Hilo on the east and Kailua-Kona on the west side. Hilo can be rainy, and as a result, there are few hotels there. It has a more laid back feel and serves as a great location for exploring the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kailua-Kona on the other hand, benefits from being on the west side of the island with a lot of sunshine, and offers a wide assortment of accommodations from basic hotels to luxury condos, fine dining, shopping, and white sand beaches - present only on this side of the island. Overall, the whole island offers a variety of landscapes, ranging from volcanos, lava fields, black and green sand beaches to warm natural ponds, green valleys, tall waterfalls and lush tropical jungles. There is something here for everyone.

We landed in Hilo on March 25, 2015 ( I know, I'm late with this post) and left nine days later from Kailua-Kona. Renting a car in one city and returning in the other is actually quite common and it did not cost us anything extra. Here's the first part of our adventure:   Flight from Honolulu to Hilo takes less than one hour. The flight from Honolulu, Oahu to Hilo, Big Island was about 45 minutes. It's the southern most island of the Hawaiian archipelago. 

As New Yorkers, we were not disappointed by the delicious slices at Mike's New York Pizzeria on the Big Island. So far away from NY geographically but so close in taste. These guys really nailed it. New York Pizza on the Big Island. Mike's New York Pizza on the Big Island. Shortly after landing on the Big Island we found ourself in search of food. Luckily we came across Mike's New York Pizzeria in Pahoa and grabbed a pair of the last slices. We have to say it was great to taste some New York flavors so far away from home. 

As per usual, we rented a room through Airbnb in a house near Pahoa, about 20 miles south of Hilo. 

It was in a newly developed but very desolate community surrounded by lush and tropical flora.   The house was quite unusual as it was not completely finished and it had an outdoor kitchen. At first we thought it was weird but we quickly got used to it. It's no frills and feels like a more civilized way of camping. And we both like camping. :-)  And this was our room. It had large windows that overlooked lots of greenery in the garden. 

One of the main things on our itinerary was visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We knew we were in for a long day so a solid breakfast was our priority. Vlad indulged in a poke bowl while I opted for something slightly less alive. I am not sure if it's faux pas to eat poke so early in the morning but when you want raw fish you gotta get raw fish gosh darn it! lol 

Steam coming out of Kilauela Caldera. Too bad we did not see any lava here. Kilauela Caldera Our first stop at the Volcanoes National Park was Halema'uma'u pit crater, part of Kīlaue volcano which is one of two active volcanos (the other one being Mauna Loa). However, when we were there at the end of March, we could not really see lava flow out of there as the activity takes place in an open vent below the crater floor.  Nature is not always predictable. Even though we really wanted to see hot lava flowing from a crater there was no activity during our visit to Hawaii. Maybe next time. Spectators watching steam coming out of Kilauela Caldera. Had we gotten there a month later, we probably would would have seen some real red lava - as we heard that on on April 29, 2015 the lava started spilling over the rim of the Overlook Crater and into the floor of Halema'uma'u Crater. It has since retracted back to its usual place. Nature can be quite unpredictable. 

Big Island volcanos are not what you may expect. That is because they are shield volcanos. Why is this volcano flat? I know what you are thinking: why is this volcano so flat? Where is the cone? This doesn't look like what you've expected, right? That is because Hawaiian volcanoes including Mauna Loa and Kīlaue are shield volcanoes which are flat. They contain mobile magma that can travel further in distance and overtime create a characteristically low and broad profile. 

Right by the overlook is Jaggar Museum where visitors can learn more about the volcanoes as well as the geological history of the Hawaiian islands. As shown on this diagram, the hot spot which causes volcanic activity is currently located underneath the Big Island (Hawai'i Island). The islands were created when molten lava from the hot spot erupted through thin rigid tectonic plate crust onto the ocean floor and created a seamount. Hundreds of thousands of years and endless eruptions later the volcano rose above the sea level and created an island. Ni'ihau and Kaua'i were one of the first to get created followed by Oahu, and most "recently" Maui and the Big Island (aka Hawai'i). 

The age of the islands shows itself by the shape of their mountains. Kauaii and Oahu have majestic mountains with prominent and steep valleys created due to erosion and time, while those on Maui or the Big Island are a lot more "intact" and shield like. Eventually they will also become like those on Kauai but that will take millions of years. 

Fun Fact: Lo'ihi is a new island forming about 22 miles southeast from the coast Big Island. It is currently about 3,000 feet (950m) below the sea level and will make an appearance in the next 100,000 years. So don't plan your Lo'ihi vacation just yet ;-) 

Not So Fun Fact: Because there are two active volcanoes on the Big Island, many residential areas are often threatened by volcanic activity and need to be evacuated. 

For source & more info on Hawaiian volcanoes click here

Pele is a Hawaiian Godess of volcano and fire and the creator of Hawaiian Islands. During our visit to the Volcano National Park we were able to see many pieces of art portraying the beautiful and mysterious deity. At the Jaggar Museum you can even see thin and fragile strands of lava that are called Pele's hair. Pele - Hawaiian goddess of volcanos and fire.

Pele is Hawaiian goddess of volcanos and fire. The photo on the right is actually very thin strands of lava and is believed to represent Pele's hair. It sure does look like hair!  If you look closely you can see tiny people walking the Kilauela Iki Trail. Can you believe that less than 60 years ago this place was a green valley. Kilauela Iki Trail First glimpse at Kilauea Iki Trail which we hiked during our visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It's hard to believe than less than 60 years ago this place was a green valley. In 1959, lava shot about 1900 feet into the air and began covering the entire area.

This is what the area looked like when the volcano erupted.  For source click here Today visitors to the park can get up close and hike the lava field which is exactly what we did. The park offers free tours guided by volunteers that sometimes come from other states. In 1959 a huge volcano explosion covered this once green valley with lava. The sight is surreal. Looking at Kilauela Iki Trail, Big Island, Hawaii. Not too far into the hike we came across this viewing point of the lava covered valley. This place is so huge that people walking the trail are just tiny dots barely visible on this photo.  The Kilauea Iki trail in the Volcanoes National Park is one of the best activities on the Big Island. If you can do only one hike while there, do this one. It takes 2-3 hours. 2-3 hour hike.

The hike is a 4 mile loop and it takes about 2-3 hours to complete.   After hiking around this area we descended onto the lava field. It's really hard to tell the distance on a field like this but you can get the idea of how vast it is by spotting a few other hikers  It is really hard to tell the distance while hiking Kilauea Iki trail. The lava covered valley is a lot bigger than it may appear at first. Look for other hikers to judge the distance. How big is this valley? Lava covered field.   Walking the trail can be a bit challenging as the terrain is rough and sometimes slippery so bring proper shoes. Kilauea Iki Trail

Walking on lava fields makes a crunchy sound, kind of like walking on corn flakes and glass.  Lava rocks are pretty but it's better to admire them at the park and leave them there. Removal of lava rocks from Hawaii can cause years of bad luck. Better safe than sorry, right?Lava rock. This is what a piece of 60 year old lava looks like. Removal of lava stone is not only prohibited but it is said to bring bad luck. Many people who have collected lava rocks on their vacation actually returned them via mail after declaring they had enough of bad luck following them. You don't want to mess with Pele (Hawaiian goddess of volcanos and fire). Here's more information on this. 

Some lava will eventually break and give way to vegetation, a process called secondary succession.  Eventually plants break through lava cracks and take over the otherwise black and lifeless terrain. In wetter areas it can take as little as 150 years for a full forest to develop. Talk about natural restoration. Secondary succession on Kilauea Iki Trail. Vegetation can develop fairly quickly. In wet regions, it can take as little as 150 years for a new forest to develop.  It's best to stay away from the steam vents on Kilauea Iki trail as the air can be hot and cause injuries. Sometimes nature is best admired from afar. Steam vents at Kilauea Iki Trail. There are some cracks and steam vents along the way. It's best to keep a distance from them as the air coming out can be scolding hot.  Weather conditions at Kilauea Iki Trail can change quickly. Be prepared for some rain and wind. Walking through a lava covered valley (which only 60 years ago was lush with green vegetation) was incredible. Kilauea Iki Trail valley. Weather conditions can change drastically in the valley so be ready for some rain and winds. 

After finishing the Kīlauea Iki Trail hike we quickly explored Nahuku aka Thurston Lava Tube.  Nahuku aka Thurston Lava Tube dates back 500 years and is really fun to walk through. You don't even need a flash light. Thurston Lava Tube This 500 year old lava cave was formed when hot lava was flowing underneath hardened surface of lava and thus creating a tube.   Halema'uma'u glowing with beautiful red, yellow, and purple hues at night. It looks a lot more impressive after dark than during the day. Halema'uma'u crater at night. To wrap up our day at the park we went back to Halema'uma'u crater which looked a lot more impressive in the dark when the flow from the lava lake was clearly visible.  The scene was illuminated with red, purple, and yellow hues. Since the sun goes down fairly early most months in Hawaii, you don't have to wait too long to experience this sight. This photo was taken at around 6:30-7pm. By the way, the park is open 24/7. Wooop!!!! 

 

Stay tuned for more posts on the Big Island of Hawaii - as we wrap up our world tour, and say goodbye to nomadic life. 

 

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(Vladyta) Big Hawaii Island National Park USA Volcano https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/6/big-island-volcano-national-park Wed, 01 Jul 2015 03:12:26 GMT
Oahu: Luau, Graffiti Festival & Sailing Around Waikiki https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/6/luau -by Edyta-

Last stop on our world tour: the beautiful islands of Hawaii. Although we weren't able to find proper jobs during our two month stay, we feel fortunate to have gotten to live in paradise for such a long time. As we started counting down our days on Oahu, we decided to cross few things off of our touristy list including checking out a local graffiti festival, sailing around Waikiki and going to a luau. 

Following one of our yoga sessions, we walked over to nearby Kaka'ako neighborhood to check out some graffiti done for the annual Pow Wow Hawaii festivalMany murals show Hawaiian themed elements. Pow Wow Graffiti festival Pow Wow Graffiti festival

Each year, artists from around the world (including New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan & more) come to Hawaii to create colorful murals and graffitis. PowWow graffitis and murals are a great spot for cool photos. On a side note, I miss my tan. PowWow graffiti festival in Honolulu PowWow graffiti festival in Honolulu Many murals were Hawaii themed. I especially liked the large hibiscus flowers.  PowWow is an annual graffiti festival in Oahu, Hawaii. PowWow Hawaii 2015PowWow Hawaii 2015 The art gave this slightly industrial neighborhood a breath of fresh air. 

 

I've been wanting to go sailing in Waikiki for a while now, so when I found an online deal for $30 (for the both of us) for an hour-long sail, I jumped on it.    The afternoon sail was pretty relaxing.

We got to see the Waikiki skyline from a never before seen view - the water. Compared to the views from Diamond Head or Tantalus Lookout at Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park, it is much less impressive here. Skyline of Waikiki from a catamaran sail. Skyline of Waikiki from a catamaran sail. Waikiki skyline behind me, dense with high-rise hotels and massive mountain ridges.  Aboard the catamaran, we were able to buy local beer such as this Bikini Blond Lager - delicious!  After we finished our sailing trip, we chilled on the beach. Another day well spent in paradise. 

Germain's Luau in Oahu was a pleasant surprise. Can you believe that this was our fourth time in Hawaii and only our first time to a luau? It was never high on our list of things to do but we are glad we got to experience it. Germain's Luau in Oahu Can you believe that this was our first time to a luau? We have been to Hawaii three times before but we never thought a luau would be our cup of tea. However, when Sheryll and James came to visit, we decided to give it a try together.  This was our fourth visit to Hawaii but only the first time to attend a Luau. We strayed away from it thinking it would be too cheesy or touristy but we were actually very pleasantly surprised that it was a lot of fun. Especially in the company of our friends. Germaine's Luau in Oahu Germaine's Luau in Oahu Luaus are one of the main tourist attractions in Hawaii. They are traditional Hawaiian feasts of kalua pig and - perhaps a little better known - live entertainment and dancing such as the hula. 

Sheryll and Vlad enjoying their drinks. The tiki glass on the right is a couple bucks extra - making for a great souvenir from this event.   Before the show started we were able to take pictures with the dancers dressed in traditional clothing representative of not only Hawaii but also New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji. The hosts announced that the kalua pig was ready.   It takes about six hours for the kalua pig to fully cook in an underground pit. The meat comes out extremely tasty and tender. Kalua pig at a luau. Kalua pig at a luau. The Kalua pig is the culinary highlight of the event. Cooked in an underground oven on top of hot stones and wrapped in banana leaves for six hours, it is later served to the spectators with sides of poi (Polynesian staple root vegetable), macaroni salad, and assorted vegetables. If you're a frequent reader of our blog, you may remember another pig roast that we've been to in New Zealand where a similar practice is called hangi

Wondering what to wear for a luau? Hawaii shirt of course! The brighter the better. Our luau outfits? Before we sat down to eat we took some photos on the beach. Vlad wore his best shirt for the occasion.  The boys brought their A-game to the luau with their Hawaiian shirts.    Few guests got to participate in a hula performance on the stage and presented their own version of this beautiful Hawaiian dance. Guest participating in a hula performance. Guest participating in a hula performance. The live entertainment part of the luau started with an audience participation segment. We were in stitches with the little boy's dance moves. He was almost twerking! Entertainment at Germaine's Luau awesome. There were lots of beautiful and handsome dancers who presented dances from Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. Beautiful dancer at Germaine's Luau. Beautiful dancer at Germaine's Luau.

We spent the rest of the evening watching the remaining performances which included dances, songs, and chants from Hawaii and other Pacific islands. Check out the movie below. 

The day was a success in our book! Next up - join us as we sightsee the lava covered Big Island of Hawaii.  

 

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(Vladyta) Hawaii Island Oahu USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/6/luau Mon, 01 Jun 2015 20:55:06 GMT
Hiking Hawaii: Manoa Falls & Tantalus Lookout https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/5/hiking-hawaii-manoa-falls-lookout -by Edyta-

We are always happy to see familiar faces when traveling which is why we were excited when James & Sheryll came to visit Oahu during our stay there. They traded cold Toronto weather for some Hawaiian sunshine and flowers in their hair (well in Sheryll's, not James; ;-) ). During their week in Oahu we showed them around the island revisiting our favorite spots as well as discovering some new ones, like this beautiful hike to Manoa Falls. 

The Manoa Falls hike is one of the most popular trails on Oahu. It is family and kid friendly, relatively short (about 2h RT), shaded and ends with a rewarding view of a waterfall. Some parts of the trail make you feel like you're in Jurassic Park (which, by the way, was filmed in Hawaii). 

Weather played some tricks on us and it rained the morning we decided to go but it actually turned out for the best because all of the greenery looked misty and mystical. See for yourself...  

James and Sheryll ready for the hike. 

Beautiful droplets of water covered the surrounding plants. They looked like jewels. 

Beautiful droplets.  So green and lush! 

    The first part of the trail is very wide.  ​ We took a small detour to check out this beautiful stream.  Hiking after the rain was a lot of fun. 

Walking on this trail after the rain was a real treat. Trees were covered in droplets of water and the entire jungle looked very mystical. Green trailGreen Trail Green was the name of the game here. 

Taking a break. What do you mean this is not where people take naps? Surely they must rest on sketchy roots then. LOL. 

Finally at the waterfall. 

Vlad was the first one to jump in.  Ok so you are not supposed to go in the water because you may die from falling rocks or flesh eating bacteria but sometimes you have to put your fears aside (after checking statistics to assess probability of dying in those ways of course) and have some fun! Some gentleman offered to take photos of us but he just took a very hectic video. I had to take screenshot of it.   If hiking is not your thing but you still love beautiful views Tantalus Lookout is your spot to see views spanning from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor in Oahu. Views of Diamond Head without hikingViews of Diamond Head without hiking

If hiking is not your thing but you still want to get great views of Oahu you can always drive up to Tantalus Lookout Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park.

This scenic points offers views from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor. Another day well spent in paradise. Admiring views of Waikiki & surrounding areas from Tantalus Lookout Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park.Tantalus Lookout Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park.Tantalus Lookout Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park.  Another day in paradise well spent. 

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(Vladyta) Hawaii Hike Oahu USA Waterfall https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/5/hiking-hawaii-manoa-falls-lookout Wed, 27 May 2015 14:24:01 GMT
Hiking Hawaii: Aiea Loop Trail https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/5/hiking-hawaii-aiea-loop-trail -by Edyta-

Another day, another hike... Yet again we hiked with our friend & Anita's brother - Rocky - who once called Oahu his home. 

After looking through a few of my favorite Hawaii blogs (click here and here), we decided on a relatively short 4.4 mile Aiea Loop trail. The trail head is located near Pearl City, an area which we've never before hiked. What made this hike so attractive were the remarkable views - and not just any views - stunning panoramas of the H3 highway (weird, I know - but bear with me here!)

Another hike which offers somewhat comparable although a lot more spectacular highway views is the 1942 military "Haiku Stairs" trail. Much to our disappointment, the stairs face the danger of being dismantled soon as they sustained significant damage during a recent rainstorm. Also, even when they were not damaged, the hike was still illegal to do. 

Now, if you are wondering why anyone would get excited about views of a highway, below are some photos to help you understand:

Trail head for Aiea Loop hike in Oahu is very well marked and there's lots of parking around. Trail head. Trail head. Trail head was very well marked and parking was plentiful. This is the upside of legal and official hikes.  Pondering the meaning of life. Red dirt & tree roots on the trailRed dirt & tree roots on the trail Most of the hike was evenly-leveled. Here I am pondering the meaning of life (or probably checking out some ferns).  Despite the density of the forest, the sun made its way through in lovely patches of light Tall silver treesTall silver trees These silver trees were especially tall.  View of the Pearl Harbor area.View of the Pearl Harbor area. The first lookout point was to the south of the island, I believe that's Pearl Harbor area.  Vlad and Rocky trailblazing. The trail is very well marked so it is not easy to get lost.Trail markingsTrail markings Steep parts were quite rare but we still felt like we got a bit of a workout.   It's no Haiku Stairs but the views are still very satisfying and the hike is quite easy and pleasant. H3 highway as seen from Aiea Loop TrailH3 highway as seen from Aiea Loop Trail And finally - here's the much anticipated view of the H3 highway. Completed at the end of 1997, H3 proved to be one of the most expensive US interstate highways to date - coming in at approximately $80 million per mile. Another fun fact: you can see  "spontaneous waterfalls" while driving along H3 after it rained (click here to see this amazing sight). You can truly see the immense size of the valley with this view.  Easy hike, rewarding view.  Views of highways CAN be exciting and amazing. Especially of one that cost $80million per mile to build :-) View of H3 Highway from Aiea Trail Loop Hike, Oahu, Hawaii View of H3 Highway from Aiea Trail Loop Hike, Oahu, Hawaii This tree with fuzzy red flowers is called the 'Ōhi'a Lehua (aka metrosideros polymorpha). Don't pick 'Ōhi'a Lehua as it can cause rain. 'Ōhi'a Lehua'Ōhi'a Lehua The 'Ōhi'a Lehua is a cousin of pohutakawa (aka metrosideros kermadecensis) - an iconic New Zealand tree, which despite my best investigatory efforts, we were not able to come across during our travels there.  As you can see, I was very happy to finally find this plant as I gave it a full photoshoot. Little did I know, in Hawaiian mythology, picking of the Lehua flowers can cause rain. Luckily this did not prove true for us ;) . 

It's peanut butter jelly time! We stopped in this picturesque spot to refuel with some home made sandwiches. Lunch break while hiking Aiea LoopLunch break while hiking Aiea Loop It's peanut butter jelly time! Peanut butter jelly time! This fern was especially big and spectacular. I wonder if I could grow it at home. Big ferns. Big ferns Check out these big leaves!  There was a lot of moisture on this hike which resulted in beautiful moss... and not so beautiful mud. Hiking Hawaiian islands always makes us feel peaceful and happy. How could you not if you're surrounded by such beautiful nature?Trees & ferns. Trees & ferns.   Aren't these trees pretty? We had fun exploring Oahu with Rocky. He has a lot of knowledge about the island and loves to share it. And we love to listen to it. Hope our paths cross again!Hashtag one new friendHashtag one new friend The three of us at the end of the hike. Another day well spent. #OneNewFriend

 

 

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(Vladyta) Hawaii Hike Island Oahu USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/5/hiking-hawaii-aiea-loop-trail Fri, 15 May 2015 13:10:50 GMT
Hiking Hawaii: Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/5/hanauma-hike -by Edyta-

With so many hikes around Oahu, it is not hard to pick one that will suit your needs. Whether you’re looking for a short hike, all day hike, shaded hike to a waterfall or a hike with views of the coast, you can find one on the beautiful island of Oahu. On Tuesday 2/23/15 Vlad and I decided to get some exercise and headed to hike the Hanauma Bay Ridge. As we were driving towards the southeastern part of the island, the weather was getting gloomier by the minute. After parking our car we walked along the highway looking for the trail head. Ignoring Uncle Sam’s “No Trespassing” signs we quickly found ourselves on a small paved road with no one around us. 

Soon after that we met a local couple walking their dog and asked some questions about the trail. We also confirmed our suspicion that the “No Trespassing” signs are widely ignored by locals who enjoy this scenic area. 

We walked up the paved but steep road and found ourselves overlooking Hanauma Bay State Park which we visited and snorkeled on our first trip to Hawaii five years ago. The park is closed on Tuesday so there was no soul in sight. The sky was cloudy so the water was not as blue as on a sunny day. But the views were still spectacular.  

Right behind us was our frenemy Koko Head, a super steep rail hike which we hiked two days before (see previous post). As always, it looked bad ass. 

We read online that there is a natural stone bridge somewhere on the coast but were not able to locate it despite asking a few locals. But that’s probably for the best as it was a very windy day and the bridge is often swept away by large waves and it claimed some lives in the past. 

Anyhow, here are some photos of our hike. 

Nature is so beautiful. ViewView This was shortly after we started the hike. Looking back there was Koko Head as well as the Hawaii Kai residential neighborhood. On our right was Hanauma Bay State Park.  Beautiful view from the trail on Hanauma Bay. The beach is empty because the place is closed on Tuesdays. Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike in Oahu Hawaii. Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike in Oahu Hawaii. Hanauma Bay State Park in its full glory - no tourists as it's closed on Tuesdays. On the top we came across these structures. Radio structures on the top Radio structures on the top The first part of the hike was on a paved road that ended at these weird structures.  Going down this part of the bay was very steep. We knew it would be a challenge to go back up but the views of the ocean were calling us.  This part of the trail was very steep. This part of the trail was very steep. After that point we walked down a pretty steep part of the mountain towards the ocean.  Not sure what those tents are. I was told they might be fishermen tents.Suspicious looking tents on a rocky shore as seen during our Hanauma Bay Ridge hike. Looking for the natural bridge we took a small detour and walked close to the shore when we spotted these weird tents. They looked pretty suspect so we quickly walked back to the main trail.  We did not figure out what these tents were for. We hoped it was for some marine research or fishing and not some shady activity. What do you think? Does it look shady? Hmmm, yea it does. On the rocks by the ocean Suspicious looking tents on a rocky shore as seen during our Hanauma Bay Ridge hike. After asking some local friends we came to conclusion that these tents were most likely set up by fishermen. These dry trees looked a bit creepy but provided for a nice contrast to the super alive looking green grass. Koko Head hike. Koko Head hike. Back on the trail and walking back towards Hanauma Bay we got to admire Koko Head and these cool silver trees.  This was a relatively easy walk with some really awesome opportunities for photos. We stopped frequently to admire the surroundings.  Taking in the view of Koko Head from Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike. Taking in the view of Koko Head from Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike. Vlad taking in the view.  Free like a bird and feeling happy! What more could a girl want than amazing mountains, ocean and some free time to explore? Feeling good while hiking Hanauma Bay Ridge. Feeling good while hiking Hanauma Bay Ridge. Hiking in Hawaii makes me really happy.  Here I am looking at the bay and Koko Head. I love the colors painted by nature. The day was gloomy so the water was not as saturated in color as on a sunny day but it was still beautiful. Peacefully overlooking Hanauma Bay Peacefully overlooking Hanauma Bay Standing on the edge overlooking the bay.   We refuse to get a selfie stick because it's lame and also because Vlad's long arms are way better. Couple Selfie Couple selfie Sometimes you just have to take a break and a selfie ;-)  The hike was long but worth every second. Because of crappy weather we had the whole trail to ourselves. Me as a tiny dot helps to put the size of the hike in perspective. Me as a tiny dot helps to put the size of the hike in perspective. That white dot is me walking back towards the main paved trail which is located on the top edge on the horizon. The last part of the hike was very steep.  The slopes are steep and the workout is more strenuous than we expected. But the views are well worth it!Steep slopes of Hanauma Bay Ridge trail. Steep slopes of Hanauma Bay Ridge trail. Nature can be so beautiful.  Hanauma Bay on its rest day.  After we got back to the main trail (paved road) we spotted some more people getting their exercise or walking their dogs.  Luckily we hit no traffic on the way back. You'd probably be surprised to know that Honolulu is in the top 3 (LA & SF) for worst traffic among US cities. That's one of very few flaws of this place. 

 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Hawaii Hike Oahu USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/5/hanauma-hike Tue, 12 May 2015 17:28:25 GMT
Hiking Hawaii: 1,048 steps up the old tramway of Koko Head, Oahu https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/hiking-hawaii-koko-head -by Edyta-

If you drive down Kalanianaʻole Highway on the South East side of the Island, near Hanauma Bay, your attention will most likely be directed to a steep mountain with a narrow path and a bunch of people climbing it in the distance. You will most likely start to wonder what this mysterious mountain is, ask some people about it, and before you realize you will be climbing the steep tramway yourself. This is pretty much what happened to Vlad, Gabi, and I when we first visited Oahu in 2011. In total, this was our second time this year and fifth time ever doing this hike. We were joined by our friend Rocky who lived on Oahu for almost three years before returning to his native Canada. 

I know what you're thinking; what's the deal with the tramway up the mountain? Who built it there and why? 

The tracks, which so many locals and tourist love to climb today, date back to 1942 when they were installed by the US Army. They were used as part of a tramway to transport army personnel and supplies to the top where a radar station was located. It was inactivated in 1966. Currently, 1,048 steps that scale the steep mountains serve as an outdoor stair-master to many. 

at the beginning of Koko Head hikeat the beginning of Koko Head hikeat the beginning of Koko Head hike Vlad and Rocky approaching the trail. It's really cool to climb up a track which was built over 60 years ago to get supplies to the military bunkers at the top.  Climbing Koko Head Trail in OahuClimbing Koko Head Trail in OahuClimbing Koko Head Trail in Oahu Fun fact: Koko Crater is also known as Kohelepelepe, which means “labia minor” in the Hawaiian language. Hmmm....  So much fun to climb this old volcano Going up Going up First water break.  At around half way there is a bridge that goes above a small valley.  Some parts of Koko Head can be a bit dangerous, especially the bridge. Is Koko Head dangerous?Is Koko Head dangrous

For those scared of hight, this bridge can be a bit of a nerve wrecker.    Hanauma Bay can be seen from the Koko Head hike. Hiking Koko Head with views of Hanauma Bay Hiking Koko Head with views of Hanauma Bay     

Looking down at the trail behind us.  Stopping to catch your breath allows you to look at the view of the beautiful Hanauma Bay State Park amazing views hiking ridges in Hawaii Not a bad place to do some thinking about life and other serious things... like where to get lunch? Which beach to go to after the hike? And what yoga class to take in the evening? Those are my favorite "problems". :-) Finally at the top! After the stairs ended, we walked up a bit to see 360 degree views of the island. Could these views be any better? I love this wonderful view of the ridge. So happy we had our friend with us so we did not have to rely on self timer for once. We refuse to get the selfies stick. This short but demanding hike left us feeling accomplished and happy. standing on a bunker of WW2bunker from WW2Leftover bunkers from World War Two are located at the top of Koko Head hike. It's really bizarre to see these metal structures. You should be careful climbing them because there are some holes you could easily fall down through. Walking up a bit further we got to some metal structures.  long hair female looking at Oahu from a summit girl hiker overlooking OahuThis is one of my favorite photos of myself. I love all the different shades of blue in this picture. Look at the ocean! It looks like a painting. I was so happy to be able to do so many hikes during our stay in Hawaii. View of Hawaii Kai residential neighborhood and the southern part of the island.  no new friends on top of the mountain Happy to be on the top.  Some lone girl taking pics.  Boys love to climb mountains Hanauma Bay as seen from the top How can one not fall in love in Hawaii? With views like this it is going to be very hard to leave this gorgeous state. It's so easy to go on a hike before or after work or on weekends. It sure beats a dark and stuffy NYC gym. Time to descend.  At the beginning of the stairs.  Steep stairs going down the stairsIt is impossible to go down the stair without stopping multiple times. The views are simply amazing. Also it helps you to take a much needed break and sip some water. Don't forget to bring lots of aqua yallz!!! Going down. Don't forget to bring all your trash with you. This trail is not maintained by the city but rather but other hikers. 

Going down some more while sharing words of encouragement with people going up :-)

Here's what Koko Head used to look like (source link here).

What a wodnerful beach Halona Beach Cove After the hike we drove to a nearby Cockroach beach aka Halona Beach Cove which is next to a famous lookout spot.  Cockroach BeachSeems like we can't get away from hiking. We hike even to get to the beach. To access the beach we hiked down some rocks.  This little beach was a cool spot for snorkeling (no coral reef, just fish). This is where we saw Hawaii state fish humuhumunukunukuapua'a aka reef tiggerfish.  relaxing at the beach The beach along the highway was extremely picturesque and we spent about two hours relaxing there. Love vacation! After snorkeling we napped. Another day well spent. And the only work we did was on our tans and our fitness. Can live be like this forever???? (hint: not really, no, don't kid yourself girl) lol. 

So would you add this hike to your list of things to do when visiting Oahu? 

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(Vladyta) Hawaii Hike Island Oahu USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/hiking-hawaii-koko-head Thu, 30 Apr 2015 14:22:54 GMT
Kauai: Scenic Flight above Hawaii's Garden Isle https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/kauai-scenic-flight -by Edyta-

As you may remember from my previous post, our excursion to Waimea Canyon on the west side of Kauai was mostly unsuccessful. Weather played tricks on us and covered the entire canyon in a thick, grey fog. I knew that I could not leave Kauai yet again without seeing the canyon. So instead of taking a 4.5+ hour RT drive, Gabi and I opted to take a scenic flight over the canyon, as well as the rest of the island. 

Not to make a long story longer, here are some highlights from our flight:

Polish girl on a small plane Hello from the board of a 6 person plane from Air Ventures Hawaii. With a Yelp discount, this tour cost us $115pp for one hour in air. 

Pilot has the best views pilot has the best views pilot has the best views Our pilot.  Not a bad view from his office window, eh? Flying over the southern part of the island. The south of Kauai is sunnier and drier than the north.  Flying over the mountains in Kauai was an amazing experience. Look at those peaks.  flying over the mountains in Kauai Approaching the vast mountains. Kauai is geologically the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain and because of that the volcanic mountains had time to form into these huge ridges and valleys through the process of erosion. To learn more about the process click hereWe were in awe looking at these beautiful mountain peaks and ridges. Nature is so amazing. Breathtaking mountain peaks. At this points our jaws were on the floor (of the plane) and we did not manage to put them back in place until the end of the flight.  We tried but they kept dropping. Just like these gorgeous and steep cliffs which once in a while  I bet you would be surprised to know that Kauai has swamps. They are actually the tallest swamps in the world - right on those flat mountain tops! Swamps in Kauai Some mountain tops were weirdly flat. Our pilot informed us that the top is covered with the world's tallest swamps. Random, but makes sense - considering Kauai's substantial rainfall.    Mountain peaks upon mountain peaks. Mountain peaks. Mountain peaks upon mountain peaks. <3 <3 <3

We were super excited to finally see Waimea Canyon. It simply looked glorious. Flying above Waimea Canyon Red and orange color revealed that we were now flying above Waimea Canyon.  The most gorgeous views of Waimea Canyon. Flying above Waimea Canyon Waimea Canyon looked huge.  Canyon of the Pacific looks amazing What a pity we did not get to see the canyon from one of the lookout points.  Seeing Napali Coast from the plane Napali Coast as seen from the air Flying further north we were nearing Napali Coast (which we just hiked the day before).  Napali Coast as seen from the airplane. Amazing ridges and valleys of Kauai in Hawaii What a spectacular view!  Flying over ridges, peaks, and valleys of the Napali Coast was an amazing experience. Spectacular view of Napali Coast. I love those peaks, ridges, and valleys.  Celebrities love Kauai and many of them - including Julia Roberts & Pierce Brosnan - have houses on the north shore of the island. Flying over celebrity houses in Kauai. Flying over Hanalei where many celebrities such as Julia Roberts & Pierce Brosnan have homes. Princeville is an affluent community in the northern part of the island. It consists of beautiful houses and fancy golf courses. Talk about a location! Princeville is a picturesque community. Flying above Princeville, an ocean facing affluent residential area surrounded by golf courses and spectacular views of the mountains.

Airborne sightseeing is a lot of fun and we highly recommend it, especially when flying above such beautiful and inaccessible spots as there are in Kauai. Do you have any favorite flight memories from your travels? 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Flight Hawaii Island Kauai USA mountains https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/kauai-scenic-flight Thu, 30 Apr 2015 14:11:31 GMT
Hiking Hawaii: Kauai's Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Falls https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/kauai-kalalau -by Gabi-

Hiking in Kauai requires a certain amount of patience, endurance, vigilance, and unlimited time for taking breaks to absorb all the sights along the trail (and take in some water!). This is especially true when hiking the 8-mile Kalalau trail on Na Pali Coast towards Hanakapi’ai Falls - a spectacular 300-foot waterfall, which thanks to the wet climate of Kauai, is always in its full, majestic water flow. 

We set out on this hike early in the morning, although plenty of hikers had us beat to the start already. By 9AM, the parking lot was filled up with cars and people began pouring out; most with plans to either do the “full” 8-mile round trip hike inland towards the waterfall, or the shorter, 4-mile RT trek on the Na Pali coast. Few hikers we saw carried large backpacks; those are the ones that obtained a permit to camp past the Hanakapi'ai beach, not an easy task considering you have to carry all of your drinking water. Anyhow, we were feeling particularly heroic that day, so we packed plenty of water, snacks, and sunblock, and set out to complete the full 8-mile hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls. This waterfall is extra special for us as we wanted to see the location where our brother Tommy popped the question to his now wife & our sis-in law Aleksandra, a couple years back. Once we arrived at the Waterfall, it was clear as to why he had chosen that spot. Well done brother! :) 

The going towards the Falls was tough: the trail often alternates between cliff-hugging switchbacks and steep climbs up and down into the valley's lush forest - but if you’re prepared and ready for the slippery and rugged route, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views each step of the way. Let me guide you along the way visually with the below pics: 

It's hard to blaze through this trail without making stops every few minutes to take in the views. The ocean at this time of year is particularly turbulent, so the sounds combined with the bustle of the waves demanded our constant attention. 

Our first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast up ahead. Would you believe that this is the result of a long history of naturally occurring erosion? Hashtag nature is beautiful ya'll!  walking along the shore If you're a movie buff, you may recognize some of these views from movies such as King Kong, Jurassic Park, South Pacific or Raiders of the Lost Ark.

przechadzka w gorach na Hawajach At times, the elevation was fairly even and we were able to hike under the cover of various tropical plants. This wasn't always the case. 

Hiking Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai FallsHiking Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai FallsHiking Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai Falls At times, the sun beamed so bright that it made the coast appear hazy in the distance. Sunscreen is highly recommended for this hike!   skipping on the trail As you can see, wooden beams are placed throughout the trail, to ensure that further erosion will be kept in check, and that there is ample grip available for hikers. Acting carelessly during the descending portion of the hike could result in a major fall off the cliff!    So much fun to hike Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai FallsHiking Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai FallsHiking Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai Falls The elevation gain on this hike is 600ft, although you often find yourself going down as much as you're going up.   Be careful not to slip Muddy trail There were a couple of extra wet patches we had to cross through the hike - so don't wear your Sunday best shoes! 

Muddy Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai FallsMuddy Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai FallsMuddy Kalalau trail to Hanakapiai Falls

In fact, don't even wear your Monday shoes ... yuck!  Actually, don't even wear shoes at all! haha, just kidding kids.... !   resting on the beach This spot is Hanakapi'ai Beach where hikers often take lunch breaks and stare into the ocean as the waves break on the nearby coast. During winter months the waves are SUPER aggressive here and getting near the water would be borderline suicidal.  wild kitties This was an unexpected but SUCH AN EXCITING part of the hike - we ran into these adorable but clearly wild kittens by the beach. These photogenic little guys roam the lush forest of the Na Pali coast and sometimes even come out to play with the tourists (aka beg for tuna and cheezeburgers, AMIRIGHT???)  

bamboo forest

The bamboo forest reminded Edi and I of scenes from LOST - especially the opener where the protagonist Jack Shepherd wakes up from the plane crash among bamboo trees... which by the way - bamboo is actually a grass, not a tree - who knew?!   Bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than regular trees - no wonder breathing in Kauai was EXTRA efficient and easy!  Edi and Vlad enjoyed this portion of the hike, hidden from the blazing sun!   colorful spider This little guy is a Spiny Orb-Weaver spider. While it looks malicious hanging from the spiderweb like that, what with its orange spikes and scary spots - wikipedia informed us that it's actually harmless to humans, and only look badass like that because of the spikes.

wodospad na Hawajach

And here it is! We finally arrived at the waterfall. This view made everything worth it. Within seconds of coming into the valley of the waterfall, we felt the cold from the rocks & the freezing mist fill the air. 

one with nature

This photo should give you a good idea of the scale of this thing however keep in mind I am still standing quite far from the waterfall. Even from this point, I was not able to capture the full waterfall in all its glory with my iPhone. So many missed snapchat opportunities..., gahh! 

Hanakapi'ai Waterfall in its full glory

A few brave souls ended up taking a dip in the freezing cold water at the base of the Falls. swimming in cold waters of the falls Not to be outdone, Vlad and I went for a dip as well, which we INSTANTLY regretted. Haha. 

GoPro shot in the icy cold water This is the only decent GoPro Pix (although Vlad may not agree LOL) before a droplet covered most of the lens. 

muscle show Fit girl & guy at Hanakapi'ai Falls

But Yoloooooooo, right? We made it out successfully, all limbs still attached and no fingers/toes lost! (Ps. Don't be jealous about my tan lol).  Meanwhile Edi sacrificed herself to remain dry on the land and take photos of our suffering. What a woman!  pale but fit island girl

As you can see from my off-white Hawaiian tan and super kewl, half faded flash tat, I fit right in with the rest of the locals! 

   Long hair don't care Lucky we live Hawaii trucker hat on a girl with long hair

Edi bought in an awesome trucker hat while in Hawajiii - check out the brand here! Admiring the waterfall It kind of looks like we're planning something extra grand in this picture - like, maybe we're planning to scale the wall behind the waterfall. Who's up first??    #nonewfriends The whole squad here! #nonewfriends    Swimming in Kauai

One last shot of the waterfall because LOOK AT HOW MAJESTIC, AHSFAHSGIUHAIUSGHI !!!  Maui sugar crackers Hawaiian Animal Crackers You guys, even animal crackers in Hawaii are extra cute. I spy an octopus, a whale, and a shark guy!   So this was fun - although not captured on camera, I almost swung around the whole rope withOUT getting anything wet. Skiiiillz. 

The trek back was fine, albeit a little long.   And sometimes a little rocky! 

Falic tree

Look at this weird pen15 tree - what the what??  Taking another break at Hanakapi'ai Beach. Only 2 miles to go at this point!  Being so close to the water can be risky. We saw a bunch of people get wet (they were really bummed about their soaked iPhones, no waterfall snapchats for them).  Shall we keep walking?? Aye aye captain!!!  It's amazing how the same body of water could contain so many colors!   Mountain peaks seen from the trail.

Nearing the parking lot already, my pony tail (and the rest of me) was a sweaty mess. 

As you can see, the Kalalau Trail is a challenging but rewarding hike. For the more experienced hiker, I highly recommend the full 8-mile round trip trail towards the waterfall. For a more relaxed hiking experience, I encourage you to do the 4-mile round trip hike along the Na Pali coast to Hanakapi'ai Beach. This side of the island is only accessible by foot, so you won't be able to get views like these unless you go on a boat excursion (which Edi did 2 years ago and loved) or take a helicopter or a plane tour. 

Get your hiking shoes ready, pack some snacks and water, charge your cameras and get out there peeps! It'll be one of the best things you do and see in life. 

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(Vladyta) Beach Hawaii Hike Island Kauai USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/kauai-kalalau Thu, 23 Apr 2015 22:51:47 GMT
Kauai: Paradise on Earth https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/kauai -by Edyta-

Five days after Gabi's arrival to Oahu, we jumped on a 30 minute flight to Kauai where we planned to spend almost all of the next week. It was my second visit to the Garden Isle, and the first for Gabi & Vlad. The highest ranking items on our agenda were visiting the Waimea Canyon and hiking down the Nā Pali Coast towards the spectacular Hanakapi'ai Falls. As luck would have it, weather played some tricks on us and our Waimea Canyon trip ended up being a bust. Heavy fog covered the entire canyon and visibility was lowered to a point where we could no longer see into the canyon! Since seeing the canyon was a priority, we remedied the situation by taking a scenic flight and flying over not only the canyon but the entire island (separate post on this coming soon!). Barring this slight mishap, we enjoyed exploring Kauai with our usual relaxing the beach, with the addition of taking outdoor showers at our cottage rental - a new favorite activity. Lastly, Vlad's eagle eye even spotted US pro volleyball player Gabrielle Reece at a grocery checkout, with whom we had a lovely chat.

A little bit about Kauai: it is the fourth largest and geologically the oldest island of the Hawaiian chain. It is home to about 67 thousand people. The climate of the island is semitropical and the landscape ranges from rainforests, high mountains cut with ridges and valleys, to canyons, sea cliffs, waterfalls and beaches. There's something to do here for everyone.

On our first day in Kauai we woke up bright and early to see the Waimea Canyon. This is as much as we would see of it that day. Sadly, thick clouds descended down and covered the entire canyon before we got a chance to take a look.  In only few minutes we were starring into a white abyss. We drove to few more lookout points but the weather only got worse as it started raining and the clouds kept getting thicker. We were all disappointed, especially me... As we drove back to the main road we stopped by a beach near Waimea. The waves were majestic - so powerful.  Vlad was trying to cheer me up with his kisses... and it worked! :-) (duh!)

  Glass Beach in KauaiGlass Beach in KauaiGlass Beach in Kauai

Another thing that cheered me up was this tiny but wonderful glass sand beach The beach is located in an industrial area where decades ago people used to dump bottles and broken auto glass. Little did they know that the ocean would work its magic and turn this "garbage" into the gems you see here! This process takes about 10-30 years and results in polished, frosted, jelly-bean like pebbles that are now often used by locals to create fun, island-esque jewelry. 

For the first two nights we stayed at a hotel in Kapa'a on the east side of the island. In the 19th and 20th century, this town was known for its sugar and pineapple fields. Java Kai was a cute local coffee shop we found by the magic of the googles (and Gabi's research).  I was skeptical as I ordered a bagel (let's face it, it's hard to match our NYC bagels) but I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was, despite the unusual combination of pesto cream cheese with fresh tomatoes. We liked it so much that we came back there again few days later, for round two.  Walking along the beach in Kapa'a we came across this aloha car with the coolest pets ever. They had one more passenger sleeping in the back.  Chilling by the ocean.  Gabi was channeling her inner kid on the swings, going WEEEEEEEE!    One of the attractions listed in all Kauai guidebooks is Opaekaa Falls, which is only a couple minute detour from the main road... As you can see it's a fine waterfall, but not of magnificent proportions. While it is big, it loses some of its glory due to the distance from the road and the lush vegetation surrounding it. But worry not, we will show you a more spectacular waterfall in a post coming soon ;-).    We decided to explore the area and drove towards the middle of the island.  Oh cool, a stream. Not much behind there, just a cool view of a valley.  Fish tacos for lunch. Yum. Tacos were always a good choice!  And of course after a busy day of errr, casual sightseeing, one deserves a solid rest at the beach. We picked Kealia beach near Kapa'a.  Gabi was working really hard on her tan. 

Aren't these type of photos what GoPro was made for? LOL.  The waves were quite big but really fun to play in.  Did this wave crash on top of Gabi and Vlad? (Anser: yes, yes it did)  This was our cottage near Princeville, on the north shore of the island. The area is surrounded by manicured houses and cottages, fancy golf courses, and of course - beautiful mountains. Princeville is the best spot to locate yourself if you are planning to explore the Napali Coast. But keep in mind, the north of the island gets a lot more rain than the south where the popular Po'ipu town is located, so bring an umbrella! 

The owner of our cottage was one of the first on the island to install solar panels on his property. This was our view. 

And our outdoor shower! We waited until the evening so we could look at the stars while showering. One of the happiest moments in our lives!  The owners had a large 5 acre property on which they grow various fruits and vegetables. They welcomed us to use their garden and we happily obliged. Freshly squeezed citrus juice every morning was followed by a salad of amazing tasting greens, which taste went beyond our wildest expectations. Even the utmost organic produce at Whole Foods does not come close to how good everything tasted from the garden. As it turns out, the owners imported glacier dust and some other organic matter to fortify his garden which gave all of the plants its superior flavor. 

Young and fearless - surfers at Hanalei Bay. He was just waiting for the right moment to jump in. 

Wanting to enjoy the sunset we parked in a residential area and enjoyed it from a patch of grass overlooking a golf course and Napali Coast.  Happy sisters. We walked to the golf course and from the edges of it looked over the famous Queen's Bath area, a natural pool surrounded by lava, really dangerous to swim in as you can get swept into the ocean at any time. It used to be a bathing place for Ali'i, Hawaiian Royalty, and a place where umbilical cords of infants were deposited. Random, and weird.  Gabi's new tote is totes awesome.  Looking for some local flavor we decided to dine at Tahiti Nui restaurant in Hanalei. If you're a movie buff or just a fan of George Clooney you may recognize this spot from The Descendants. As you can see Vlad dressed up for this occasion ;-). Live music at Tahiti Nui, Kauai, HawaiiLive music at Tahiti Nui, Kauai, HawaiiLive music at Tahiti Nui, Kauai, Hawaii There was live entertainment throughout the entire evening. Tahiti Nui, Kauai, HawaiiTahiti Nui, Kauai, HawaiiTahiti Nui, Kauai, Hawaii Our food was very 'ono' - that's 'delicious' in Hawaiian. Purpled mash yams were amazing.  Hot girl on Anini Beach, Kauai, HawaiiHot girl on Anini Beach, Kauai, HawaiiHot girl on Anini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii Relaxing on Anini Beach in Princeville. Stretching for two miles it's one of the most serene beaches in Kauai. It also has the calmest waters and...  Chicks on Anini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii Chicks on Anini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii Chicks on Anini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii  ...chickens. Chickens were first brought to the island as a food source by Polynesian settlers. Later they mixed with those brought by Europeans. They multiplied and ran free.  Free like the wind! Chickens on Anini Beach, Kauai, HawaiiChickens on Anini Beach, Kauai, HawaiiChickens on Anini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii Having very few predators, thousands of wild chickens roam Kauai. Chickens on Anini Beach, Kauai, HawaiiChickens on Anini Beach, Kauai, HawaiiChickens on Anini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii Aren't they cute? Anini Beach, Kauai, HawaiiAnini Beach, Kauai, HawaiiAnini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii Vlad and I came back to this beach after Gabi left. It was very peaceful there.  After Gabi left Kauai, Vlad and I had another day to explore the island. We drove to Kilauea Lighouse but did not get to go in as it was already closed (hours are 10am-4pm). 

To end the day we took a quick 15 min hike to a nearby Secret Beach where we relaxed and watched the sunset. And also found this guy chilling on some drift wood. Beach Wedding in Kauai, HawaiiBeach Wedding in Kauai, HawaiiBeach Wedding in Kauai, Hawaii We also witnessed a couple getting married. 

Shells found on Secret Beach in Kauai, HawaiiShells found on Secret Beach in Kauai, HawaiiShells found on Secret Beach in Kauai, Hawaii

Pretty seashells I collected.  Secret Beach in Kauai, HawaiiSecret Beach in Kauai, HawaiiSecret Beach in Kauai, Hawaii Sunset. 

If you are looking for lush greenery, peace and serenity, Kauai is the island for you.  We have some more Kauai adventures to share with you in the next few posts. I promise you that after you read them all you will be planning your Hawaiian vacation or you may even have your tickets booked. :-) 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Beach Hawaii Island Kauai USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/kauai Wed, 15 Apr 2015 14:36:07 GMT
Hiking Hawaii: Spectacular Views from Lanikai Pillboxes Trail https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/hiking-hawaii-lanikai-pillboxes -by Edyta-

One of our favorite things to do when we visit Hawaii is hiking - in fact, it's one of our favorite activities wherever we are. With two volcanic mountain ranges spanning along the island, Oahu has no shortage of hikes. Vlad and I enjoy challenging ourselves by doing various hikes, taking in the nature and getting different views of the island we wouldn't necessarily get out of the comfort of our car. 

Looking for a quick hike during Gabi's visit, we decided to climb to the Lanikai Pillboxes (aka Ka'iwa Ridge Trail) in the Kailua residential area. It's a 1h round trip trek that lands at two military bunkers (pillboxes) at the summit. My second time doing the hike was a month later, with our friend Rocky who used to live on the island. This time, instead of turning back after the second pillbox, we continued further down the ridges. This added about an hour to the hike and we got to return back to our car a different way - through a quiet, residential area. 

From what we hear, the Lanikai Pillboxes hike is one of the most rewarding hikes on Oahu. As Rocky put it so eloquently, the reward to effort ratio is very high here - and we couldn't agree more. At 20 minutes into the hike, you reach the first pillbox. It's probably the most intense portion of the hike, as it is up a steep, dry, dirt surface, with roots sticking out ready to trip the unsuspecting hikers. But the reward quickly makes you forget the effort! In another five minutes, you reach the second pillbox. Both pillboxes offer spectacular views of the residential Lanikai area with our favorite beach stealing the show. And if you turn around, you'll be rewarded with yet another amazing view - this time of the Kualoa mountain range (my favorite mountain range in the world, everyone has a favorite mountain right, no?? lol).

As you guys probably know by now, such beach & mountain combos rank very high on our list. But don't take our word for it - peep the pics below to see why! 

Lanikai PIllboxes Hike Lanikai PIllboxes Hike

Not gonna lie, your heart rate will definitely go up as you hike the steep mountain side towards the first pillbox.  First stop to look over the edge.  One of the pillboxes in the distance.  Spectacular views from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Spectacular views from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Gabi and I at the top. The day both of us hiked was very sunny; second time around it was more cloudy.  Spectacular views from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Spectacular views from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii View from one of the pillboxes on Lanikai beach and Na Mokulua or "mokes" islands.   Looking north you can admire the majestic Ko'olau mountain range.  Spectacular views from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Spectacular views from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Spectacular views from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Gabi looking tiny on top of that mountain. You can see the first pillbox sticking out of the right side of the mountain.  Hello!!! Btw, could the water look any more beautiful?

Vlad & Rocky on top of one of the pillboxes, on a cloudier day but with equally stunning views.  Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii While we were taking in the views some local hikers came by and shared beer with us. We gave them granola bars in exchange :-) Now that's the aloha spirit.  Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Wouldn't it be so nice to live in one of those beach front houses? Continuing past the pillboxes the hike takes you on top of the ridges. You can see the final path on the left hand side going down the middle of the mountain.  Koolau Mountain Range as seen from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Koolau Mountain Range as seen from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Koolau Mountain Range as seen from Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Most hikers turn back after the second pillbox so there were barely any people past that point of the hike.  Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Pillboxes Hike in Oahu, Hawaii

Rocky leading the way.  The struggle is real here! Hiking path is visible on top of the ridges on the right.  View of Lanikai beach & some lucky dwellers. What a perfect place to live. 

Descending down the last part of the hike which was steep, slippery and could be dangerous if you're not careful!   We had to be careful not to fall.  Especially when distracted by pretty plants...  This is where we ended up once we got of the mountain. The street name is pronounced Poh-oh Poh-oh, not Poo Poo Lol.  Walking to our car we passed some pretty houses. Most of them had plumeria trees and other beautiful plants in their yards.  This one looked big and fancy.  I loved this tropical gate.  Even mailboxes in Hawaii show the aloha spirit! How could anyone not fall in love with this place? 

Ok, so now you know that if you ever come to Oahu and have time for only one hike, Lanikai Pillboxes should be that hike. It's quick but the views are extremely rewarding. And you can always go for a swim in the nearby Lanikai beach to cool off after. 

So how about you guys - do you enjoy hiking as much as we do when you travel?

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(Vladyta) Hawaii Hike Oahu USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/hiking-hawaii-lanikai-pillboxes Mon, 13 Apr 2015 15:00:58 GMT
Oahu: Byodo-In Temple, Kualoa Park & Kailua Beach with Gabi https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/byodo-kualoa-kailua -by Edyta-

Another day in paradise! This time, we started on a more spiritual note, with a visit to the Japanese Byodo-In temple located on the windward (eastern) part of Oahu, at the foot of the Ko'olau Mountains. We followed this with a drive up the east shore to Kualoa Regional Park and topped the day off by lounging at Kailua Beach. Since my words can never describe the true beauty of these places, I will take you straight to photos. :-) 

Byodo-In Temple in OahuByodo-In Japanese Temple in OahuByodo-In Japanese Temple in Oahu Built in 1960, this temple is a replica of the Byodo-In, a 950-year-old Buddhist temple located in Uji, Japan. It was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese settlers who came to Hawaii in search of work (mostly on sugar plantations). By the way, if the temple looks familiar to you, you're probably a Lost fan - this was the location of Sun's father's estate and a spot where Jin and Sun got marriedByodo-In Temple in OahuByodo-In Temple in Oahu Koolau Mountains provide for a magnificent backdrop to this majestic structure. At the entrance of the temple there is a large bell (Bon Sho) that people are encouraged to ring so that it brings them happiness, blessings and a long life. Inside of the temple, you'll find this 9 foot tall Buddha sculpture, thought to be the largest figure carved outside of Japan. It was carved by the famous Japanese sculptor, Masuzo Inui. A large koi fish pond surrounds the property.  Driving a bit north we stopped by Macadamia Nut Farm. These banana bunches totally stole to show! (Ps. WM, I know you are totally jelly this is not your stash ;-) ).  Kualoa Regional Park is located near Kamehameha Highway and provides for the amazing views of the mountains.  Chinaman Hat island seen from Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii Chinaman Hat island seen from Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii Chinaman Hat island seen from Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii As well as Mokolii aka Chinaman's Hat island.    Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii The beach there may not be the most beautiful but the views around sure are. Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii Gabi happy with her coral reef find. 

Gabi enjoying the view.  Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii Kualoa Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii Little red-crested cardinals seem to frequent this spot.      To wrap the day we stopped by Kailua beach. This beach is just a bit north of Lanikai: the sand is also very soft and light.  While there we did some extreme activities such as laying down in knee deep water. OMG those waves were huge! Haha.

Do you guys also indulge in such dangerous, living-on-the-edge type of activities while on the beach? It sure is fun :P

 

 

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(Vladyta) Beach Hawaii Island Oahu Temple USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/byodo-kualoa-kailua Sat, 11 Apr 2015 15:17:35 GMT
Oahu: Spitting Caves, Waimanalo & Lanikai Beach https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/spitting-caves-waimanalo-lanikai-beach -by Edyta-

On Saturday February 7th, 2015 as we were saying good-bye to Vlad's parents we were greeting my sister Gabi. The flight times worked out so well that the five of us had time to catch up and enjoy some tea together at a Starbucks, before parting ways. We were super happy to see and spend time with yet another family member.

It was Gabi's second time in Hawaii and she was excited to get away from the frigid NYC temperatures. For her 10 day visit we planned to divide the time between the islands of Oahu and Kauai. Naturally, we devoted the first day to catching up and chilling locally in the Waikiki area. The next few days were spent exploring the island of Oahu, starting with a drive around the south-east part of the island (as you'll see below). 

On a separate occasion, towards the end of our stay in Oahu, Vlad's friend Jimmy & his wife Sheryll visited Hawaii from Toronto and we gave them a similar tour of the island. Some might say we are honorary locals by now :P (wishful thinking). 

Here are some photos of the day we visited the steep cliffs of Spitting Cave, beautiful and favored for wedding photoshoots Waimanalo beach as well as our favorite Oahu beach Lanikai

The first destination on our agenda was Spitting Cave, a hidden gem our friend Anita brought us to few years ago. The Spitting Cave area is located in a residential neighborhood and there is a tiny path between fences that leads to this scenic spot. It can be somewhat difficult to find.  Spitting Cave in OahuSpitting Cave in OahuSpitting Cave in Oahu However, once you find it, you are greeted by a large rocky cliff area where waves continuously pound against the shore. Not only is it a sight for your eyes, but it's also an incredible sound. Magnificent.  It looks something like this. As you can see there are some houses built on this cliff; how lucky are these people to have such amazing views.   The strong waves reach up high and it becomes quite loud when you stand close by.  Spitting Cave is named for the way large waves crash into the cave and are forcefully spat out back into the ocean. When we visited this spot with Jimmy & Sheryll we saw people jumping off the 60 feet cliffs and a small crew filming them. Thankfully the waters were pretty quiet that day. Unfortunately, people's drive for adrenaline sometimes ends in death as the currents there can be very strong and unpredictable.  Someone's happy to be in Hawaii :-)  Vlad enjoyed taking photos with the extra camera Gabi brought.  Turns out he spotted a turtle bobbing up and down in the waves.  It was relaxing to sit down and stare out into the ocean.  Sisters reunited :-).  Relaxing while enjoying the view.  Vlad also found some zen on his own rock.  Gabi excited to see the wave crash in front of her.  Happy to be reunited.  Second time around we came here with Jimmy & Sheryll.  They were really happy to break up the cold Canadian winter and visit Hawaii.  While looking for the entrance to Spitting Caves we stumbled upon the house of Dog the Bounty Hunter Randoooommm, I know, but he actually lives on Oahu.  Driving along Kalanianaole Highway we stopped by Makapu'u  Point Lookout. It was extremely windy there. We felt the wind push our bodies forward, against the guradrails. Plumeria near Makapuu LookoutPlumeria near Makapuu Lookout One of the 1,000+ photos I took of various plumeria flowers ;-) They are just so beautiful! 

Waimanalo Beach was a quick stop we made with Jimmy & Sheryll.  We enjoyed some lunch on the beach.  Aloha from Waimanalo BeachAloha from Waimanalo Beach This 3 mile long beach is gorgeous but because of jelly fish not many people swim there.  Waimanalo BeachGirl on Waimanalo Beach However, walking on this beach did not suck. ;-)  Final stop on both occasions was Lanikai Beach, one of the most picturesque and tranquil beaches we have ever been to. It was actually voted America's #1 beach by several publications few years in a row.  Lanikai beach in OahuLanikai beach in OahuLanikai beach in Oahu The two islands in the background are called Moku Nui and Moku Iki.    Hot polish girl on Lanikai Beach Hot polish girl on Lanikai Beach Hot polish girl on Lanikai Beach Despite its high rank it's usually quite a desolate and quiet beach, especially on weekdays.   

Gabi brought our brother's GoPro but most photos came out crappy because there was a water droplet on the case covering the lens.  Peace to the world! 

So what do you think of Oahu so far? Are you ready to book your flight to Hawaii yet? 

 

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(Vladyta) Beach Hawaii Oahu USA https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/4/spitting-caves-waimanalo-lanikai-beach Mon, 06 Apr 2015 14:41:15 GMT
Vlad's Parents Visit Hawaii: North Shore, Pearl Harbor, Lanikai Beach & More https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/vlads-parents-visit-hawaii -by Edyta-

Four days after we arrived in Hawaii, Vlad's parents came to meet us there. They were very happy to break up the cold Canadian winter with a week long visit to Hawaii. It was their first time there and we were excited to show them around. For our weeklong stay we rented a one bedroom condo hotel room in the heart of Waikiki.

The first day we spent walking around Waikiki and the Fort Derussy Beach Park area. The weather was beautiful and we took lots of photos.  The following day we drove to the North Shore of Oahu, stopping by Green World Coffee Farm, the Dole Plantation, the famous Giovanni Shrimp Truck and two beautiful beaches. The following days we hiked Diamond Head, drove along the south-east coast, visited the beautiful Lanikai beach and attended a traditional hula show. We also paid our respects at the Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial

Our hotel condo.  Views from the balcony on Waikiki Beach. Kings Village shopping center is on the right.  Vlad with parents on Waikiki Beach.  Mom on Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background. How cute that her outfit is matching the ocean.  Photo-bombed by a classy lady by the statue of Duke Kahanamoku who was a famous Hawaiian competition swimmer credited with spreading the sport of surfing. (PS. I am afraid that the lady in blue is stealing the spotlight here hehe). 

The beautiful Spanish & Moorish style Royal Hawaiian hotel was built in 1927. It is one of Waikiki's oldest hotels.  Mom by the pool at Sheraton. The cool thing about Waikiki is that you can walk on the grounds of many hotels, mainly to get to the lobbies that host various shops and restaurants.  Koi fish watching at Hilton Hawaiian Village We wrapped the evening with a free one hour long hula show.  Iolani Palace built in 1879 is the only palace on US soil. Before the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani governed the palace and King Kamehameha III, IV, V, and Lunalilo had their main residences here as well.

Green World Coffee Farms, Oahu, Hawaii Green World Coffee Farms, Oahu, Hawaii Green World Coffee Farms, Oahu, Hawaii

On our way to the North Shore we stopped by Green World Farm where you can buy a cup of coffee... Green World Coffee Farms, Oahu, Hawaii Green World Coffee Farms, Oahu, Hawaii Green World Coffee Farms, Oahu, Hawaii ...or some beans which are roasted on premises. The farm also has 7 acres of land where they grow around 2,000 arabica coffee trees.  Rainbow trees (aka eucalyptus deglupta) at Dole Plantation, Oahu, Hawaii Rainbow trees (aka eucalyptus deglupta) at Dole Plantation, Oahu, Hawaii Rainbow trees (aka eucalyptus deglupta) at Dole Plantation, Oahu, Hawaii Next stop on the way to the North Shore was the Dole Plantation where you can find these beautiful rainbow trees (aka eucalyptus deglupta).  There was a pond where tourists could feed fish.  Hungry Fish at Dole Plantation, Oahu, Hawaii Hungry Fish at Dole Plantation, Oahu, Hawaii Hungry Fish at Dole Plantation, Oahu, Hawaii The pond was big but all the fish were gathered by the viewing platform waiting to be fed. It was an unbelievable sight. 

Of course the main attraction at the Dole Plantation were pineapples. There was a small garden near the entrance that showed different kinds of them.  Dole plantation sells delicious pineapple frozen yogurt as well as some other cute souvenirs.  Hawaiian dolls at Dole PlantationHawaiian dolls at Dole PlantationHawaiian dolls at Dole Plantation Hawaiian themed dolls. I just loved those bright colors. 

Hula Girl - polish girl in Hawaii Hula Girl - polish girl in Hawaii Hula Girl - polish girl in Hawaii

I also upgraded my wardrobe and accessories.  The original Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, Oahu, Hawaii The original Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, Oahu, Hawaii The original Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, Oahu, Hawaii For lunch we got some garlic shrimp from the original Giovanni's Famous Shrimp truck North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii We arrived at Laniakea beach hoping to see some turtles but had no luck. Five years ago, when we first came to Hawaii, our friend Anita brought us here and we chilled with three big turtles. North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore of Oahu is known for big waves; many surf competition take place here.  North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii It definitely was not safe to swim there.  North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Vlad staring into the ocean.   We drove a bit further and got to Waimea beach to swim in the big waves. North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii North Shore Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Vlad and Dad playing in the waves. Those waves were no joke.  Hiking Diamond Head. Dad really enjoyed this hike. 

Towards the top of the hike there is a set of stairs and a tunnel, followed by some more stairs.  Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii The view from the top was worth every drop of sweat.  At the very top we got to admire the view of Waikiki and the rest of Honolulu. Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii Diamond head is a very well maintained, easily accessible hike, that is popular with many tourists. Dad left us behind; he showed us what good shape he is in.  Driving along the south-east coast of Oahu, we stopped by a few picturesque lookout points.  Cockroach Beach looked very tempting. We vowed to come back here (and we did).  Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai beach was on top of our list of places to show Vlad's parents. It's one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  The parents really enjoyed this beach.  Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Vlad and Mom playing in the water.  Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Can't resist a selfie here.  Pali Lookout, Oahu, Hawaii Pali Lookout, Oahu, Hawaii Pali Lookout, Oahu, Hawaii Driving home we stopped by Nu'uano Pali Lookout. A quick detour off of Pali Highway offers amazing panoramic views of the windward coast of Oʻahu (including the spectacular Ko'olau mountain range).  At the lookout we spotted some wild cats... ...and a wild hen with her chicks. Quite a normal sight in Hawaii.  USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii First glimpse of the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Under that white structure is the sunken USS Arizona ship, which is a resting place of 1,102 US Sailors & Marines killed in the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This event triggered US's direct involvement in WW2.   USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii A short boat ride took us and other visitors to the memorial.  USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii You can still see bubbles of oil coming out from the sunken ship. We found out that they will continue to emerge for another 75-100 years. 

Wall with names of Navy and Marine men that died in the attack.  USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii There was also a very informative museum where we learned more about what happened 75 years ago. In addition, all visitors watched a 15 minute movie with some original footage and commentary about the event. We were very impressed with the entire grounds. The cost of this visit was $1.50 per person (online reservation cost).  Family shot before the parent's departure. 

It was great to see Mom and Dad in Hawaii and show them around our favorite spots as well as visit some new ones. Join us on our future expeditions around the island of Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island. 

 

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(Vladyta) Beach Hawaii Honolulu Oahu USA Waikiki https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/vlads-parents-visit-hawaii Thu, 19 Mar 2015 23:16:51 GMT
Aloha from Hawaii! https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/aloha-from-hawaii -by Edyta-

Aloha from Hawaii! 

As of January 27th, we are on US soil, breathing in the fresh Hawaiian air. We knew we had to make Hawaii the last stop on our world tour because it's our favorite place in the world. Even after seeing so many beautiful countries, the only place that rivals Hawaii is New Zealand. Hawaii just has a special place in our hearts. It was love at first sight 5 years ago when we first visited it. We came back 2 more times and visited Kauai and Maui. This is our 4th and longest visit and we could not be happier. 

When we landed in Hawaii, we were not sure exactly what our plan would be. But after few days here we decided to give the job search a serious try. Since our first visit here we have been dreaming about living here. We prepped our resumes and cover letters and met with a recruiter. Unfortunately it is not that easy to match our accounting and finance experience to jobs available on the island. As of the time of publishing this post we have not found jobs and are planning to go back to NYC. But we are very happy we got to spend a good chunk of time in paradise and we can say that we come back home with no regrets.

Anyhow, here are some photos from our first days on the islands, mostly from Waikiki, as we had no car at that time. Four days after we landed Vlad's parents came for a week (next post - coming soon). After they left, my sister Gabi came to visit (future posts), and with her, we explored not only Oahu, but also Kauai and the Big Island. 

Stay tuned for more posts and photos from the most beautiful place on earth. 

Geography: Hawaii is located in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean 2,000 miles away from the continental United States. Hawaii is made up of eight main islands: Hawaii (Big Island), Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Nihau, and Kahoolawe. 

Population:  1.4 million people call Hawaii home, 953k of them live on Oahu. The US military reported 42k of its personnel on the island. 

Demographics: 38.6% Asian, 24.7% White, 23.6% Two or More Races, 10% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders, 8.9% Hispanics and Latinos, 1.6% Black or African American, the rest is other. 

Currency:  USD bc it's 'Murrrica! 

Official Languages: English and Hawaiian 

Religion: 29% Christianity, 9% Buddhist, 0.8% Judaism, 10% Other, 51% Unaffiliated

Best Known for: world renowned vacation spot & popular honeymoon destination; beautiful islands with amazing beaches, spectacular mountains and volcanos. Other things that HI is famous for are the aloha spirit, Hawaiian print shirts, luaus, plumeria flowers, ukuleles, spam. 

What We Noticed: the aloha spirit; beautiful scenery; warm weather; happy & beautiful people; love of fitness & healthy lifestyle; surfers; lots of Asian tourists (Japan, Korea); lots of Canadian snowbirds.  

Interesting Facts: HI is the 50th and the most recent U.S. state to join the US in 1959, it is the 8th smallest state and the only one not located in North America. It is also the only state that grows coffee. President Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Oahu. Hawaii alphabet consists of only twelve letters: A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W. The state fish of Hawaii is called humuhumunukunukuapua'a (try to say that out loud real quick). Lost series, Hawaii Five-0 series, Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Tropic Thunder, Forgetting Sarah Marshall were filmed in Hawaii. 

Alan Davis beach near Makapu'u Lighthouse, Oahu, Hawaii Alan Davis beach near Makapu'u Lighthouse, Oahu, Hawaii Alan Davis beach near Makapu'u Lighthouse, Oahu, Hawaii We landed in Oahu at 9am and got picked up by our awesome friend Anita who Vlad once lived with back in Canada and who has been living in Hawaii for almost a decade. Even though I only had 45 min of sleep on the red eye flight, I did not care. I was wide awake (well, almost awake) and ready to see the island. First stop was a beautiful beach near Makapu'u lighthouse called Alan Davis beach.  Happy to be breathing Hawaiian air again - with Anita (middle) and her friends.  Diamond Head seen from Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii Diamond Head seen from Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii Diamond Head seen from Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii Diamond Head, a volcanic tuff cone, as seen from Waikiki Beach - both are icons of Oahu.   Famous statue of Duke Kahanamoku who was an American competitive swimmer credited with spreading the sport of surfing.  Isn't this a genius way of making money? The demand for $1 photos was high.  Surfboards for rent on Waikiki Beach.  Waikiki sunset.  Every evening lots of people gather on Waikiki beach to watch the sunset.  Surfers washing the salt of their bodies near the lagoon by Hilton Hawaiian Village. It's very common to see surfer boys and girls walking the streets of Waikiki, barefoot and in skimpy swimsuits.   It looks something like this (iphone photos). 

Royal Hawaiian (aka the Pink Palace of the Pacific), built in 1927 in Spanish/Moorish style is one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels in Waikiki. We walked around the spacious lobby and some shops. It's a very charming hotel.  Their towels and umbrellas look a bit like from Victoria's Secret. Boats.

Fort De Russy, Oahu, Hawaii Fort De Russy, Oahu, Hawaii Fort De Russy, Oahu, Hawaii

Fort Derussy Beach Park is a less touristy alternative to Waikiki beach. There is a large strip of grass in front of the beach.   Beach strip here is very wide.  Every day you can see at least one wedding or engagement photoshoot on the beach.  Small lagoon near Hilton Hawaiian Village for those afraid of open waters.  Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki is the equivalent of 5th Ave in NYC; there's lots of fancy designer stores.  If you've got some money to burn, Kalakaua Avenue is your spot.  Decoration inside the shopping center T-Galleria where tourist can do some duty free shopping.  Cute hula girls.  Colorful tourist trolley decorated with art by Heather Brown (whose art I really love).  Guess what? The stereotype is true. Tourist and locals alike love the aloha shirt. Business casual in Hawaii means dress pants and a tasteful Aloha shirt. I really love that the tradition is still so widely embraced.  

Lei is another beautiful tradition. Lei are usually presented upon arrival or departure or to express affection. 

If you look down on the sidewalks in Waikiki you can learn some Hawaiian words. 

Hawaiian QuiltHawaiian Quilt

Hawaiian quilt is a famous souvenir. The high quality pieces go for quite a penny.  Vintage Style Hawaiian PostcardsVintage Style Hawaiian Postcards There is a lot of vintage style artwork in Hawaii; I especially like these old school postcards. 

Pink Hibiscus is very common in Hawaii.    So is the beautiful and fragrant plumeria.  Dinner at Rumfire Dinner at Rumfire, Waikiki, OahuDinner at Rumfire, Waikiki, Oahu We went for a celebratory welcome dinner to Rum Fire at Sheraton where Vlad had this truffle burger.  For breakfast we revisited the old school diner style Wailana Coffee House where I got this amazing cold oatmeal.  Macadamia & banana pancakes with coconut syrup. Need I say more? I also tried green matcha latte at Kai Coffee Hawaii for the first and last time. It looked cute but tasted terrible. My replacement cortado coffee made up for it. (BTW, the headline in the newspaper relates to Australia.) Every Friday night at 7:45pm there are fireworks by the lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village. It's a festive way to start the weekend. 

So that's just a few photos from our first days in Honolulu. Stay tuned as we explore the island and venture out to more remote spots. Mahalo for reading! 

 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Beach Hawaii Honolulu Island Oahu USA Waikiki https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/aloha-from-hawaii Thu, 19 Mar 2015 20:11:51 GMT
El Nido, Palawan: Philippines’s Best-Kept Travel Secret https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/palawan-el-nido -by Vlad-

After our quick stay in Puerto Princesa, we boarded a van at 5am for the 5+ hr ride north to the town of El Nido. After being stuck in the back of a cramped van for our underground river tour, I was happy to be the first ones to be picked up so we could strategically pick our seats. Directly behind the driver seemed like there was a bit more room, but sitting there turned out to be a big mistake. We were stuck below the air conditioning vent for the entire ride. Unfortunately, Edyta got a nasty cold from it, which put a damper to the first half of our visit.

El Nido is located in the northern most point of the island of Palawan. Our 'hotel', Island Front, had more of a hostel feel to it, with a few common areas for food and drinks, as well as bamboo walls, which separated the non-soundproof rooms. It was these common areas where we met a variety of travelers from, among other places, Australia, Germany, and even Poland. The town of El Nido was very different than Boracay, with a far less developed tourist industry. While the basic feel to it might turn some off, we got used to it and embraced the authentic and still fairly undeveloped atmosphere. The fire poi shows at night were replaced by local bands playing everything from Sinatra to Oasis with a touch of reggae.

The island of Palawan was named 2013's #1 World's Best Island by Travel + Leisure magazine. A big part of what draws tourists to this part of the Philippines is the beautiful limestone islands that surround Palawan. We booked a tour that took us to explore these amazing structures that shot up from the ocean. One stop brought us to a secret lagoon (how secret can it be if it's advertised on the tour?) where visitors had to climb through a narrow rock opening to an undisturbed lagoon. Unfortunately the waves were too big to safely bring our camera. A fresh lunch of pork, chicken, fruit, and of course, rice, was served to us and our two other companions from Germany. One of them Tjark, was a 19 year old who we befriended and hung out with a few more times.

On a day when Edyta was feeling sick and recovering from a fever, I booked a scuba tour (nice husband right?). Locals in Boracay told me the diving here was amazing, and I was not disappointed. Although the waters were a little choppy to start, the visibility was fantastic underwater. While I enjoy snorkeling very much, there's something tranquil about being weightless and deep underwater with a wide array of fish, giant turtles and vibrant coral all around you.

Edyta started to feel better towards the end of our stay so we explored the area by taking long walks to different beaches, sunset kayak rides and exploring the little town. We even found a great beachfront restaurant, La Plage, owned by a French couple and dined there three times. The food was a lovely fusion of French and Filipino cuisine, with the menu changing daily depending on available local ingredients. 

Sadly, this marks the near end of the international portion of our world tour. We've had a lot of time to reflect on the places we've seen, people we've met, sights seen, food tasted, and culture experienced. It has been a blessing experience and I am most thankful for the opportunity to have done something like this with my wife. 

Next stop, Honolulu, Hawaii. 

It took about 5.5h to drive north from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. While most of the route is on a nicely paved highway, part of it was still under construction. No doubt, this is to accommodate the anticipated rise in visitors to El Nido in the near future.   Our funky hotel with bamboo walls. 

The view of our hotel from the water.

El Nido, Palawan, the PhilippinesEl Nido, Palawan, the PhilippinesEl Nido, Palawan, the Philippines

Beach in front of the hotel.  Relaxing in the hammock.  During low tide we were able to see lots of starfish. These guys camouflage pretty well.   Here's some Philippine peso.  Tricycles continued being the most popular means of transportation.  Pimped out tricycle in the PhilippinesPimped out tricycle in the PhilippinesPimped out tricycle in the Philippines It was really fun riding in them.  Local huts.  At this, and many other waterfront restaurants, you picked the fish you wanted before they threw it on the grill. Heading out to our boat for the day's island hopping tour. Don't mind the clouds, it turned out to be a bright and sunny day.  The super blue water with limestone islands were abundant in Palawan. We sailed a similar boat to those in this photo.  Crystal clear water begging to be swam in. Pulling up to the first island where we did a bit of snorkeling...with jellyfish. Although not of the deadly kind, we experienced small jellyfish stings that were more annoying than painful. The pain lasted 3-5 minutes. We even got stung on our mouths. We also saw the most beautiful large bright blue starfish there. 

El Nido Island Hopping tourEl Nido Island Hopping tourEl Nido Island Hopping tour

Edyta enjoyed various shells we found on the beach. However, we could not bring any of them with us as souvenirs as their removal from the country is strictly prohibited. 

  One if the 5 island stops on our tour. The giant limestone formations provided an epic backdrop.

Few other boats arrived at the same time as us so we shared the island with other tourist. Everyone was amazed by the beautiful nature.  We must have taken a hundred photos of this island.  Getting some fresh coconut water for about $1.50. 

We were also able to buy some Filipino beer from these guys. Our reward for a hard day of touring. Cheers!  Relaxing. 

The sand was very fine and light.  There was also plenty of broken coral reef and shells. 

Edyta before walking into a secret lagoon (see people walking on the right). We had to leave our camera in a safe spot before entering it.  One more glimpse of the beautiful water and impressive limestone.  This beach was really spectacular. 

Our new friend Tjark from Germany. We hang out with him few more times during our stay, exchanged travel stories and even helped him out when he got food poisoning. Tjark was only 19. It seems like we befriend the youngest travelers :-).  And here's another friend we met at the beach.  This was the last stop. So long Philippines! Thank you for a wonderful stay! 

 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Asia El Nido Palawan Philippines South East Asia beach https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/palawan-el-nido Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:29:53 GMT
Palawan: Puerto Princesa & Underground River https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/palawan -by Vlad-

After a short stay in Cebu, we arrived in Puerto Princesa, the capital of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. We took a tricycle from the airport, luggage and all, to our guesthouse 20 min away. Our driver asked if we had any plans while in PP and strongly suggested a tour or two by taking us to a tourist agency on the way. He said for us to mention his name there should we book anything since he would receive commission and a bag of rice. Shady or not, if we could help the guy get a bag of rice for his family, why not help. We returned a day later to book an underground river tour and hopefully helped him out

Walking around the city of PP was underwhelming. Other than a Robinson Mall, which we went to many times in Manila, there wasn't much to see. We went to Baywalk, an area along the water with restaurants and vendors but were a bit disappointed as the area was not as lively as it could have been given its location. As we would soon learn about the island, the beauty lies outside the towns, especially on the many surrounding islands. Since we were heading north to the town of El Nido in a few days, where we would do more island hopping and sightseeing, we decided on only one tour: The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Located about a 2 hour van ride north of PP, and a 20 min boat ride to the island, this national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of cancelled tours the day before due to choppy waters, as well as limited boats due to owners not renewing their licenses on time, there was a long wait. We used this time to observe the beautiful fauna and hang out with two of the parks most famous inhabitants: the monitor lizard and the long-tailed macaque, the only primate found in this area. These guys were used to humans and hung around tourists, looking for stuff to steal. One macaque grabbed a plastic water bottle and took it up into the tree before the owner of it realized what was happening. 

When our turn finally came up, we were taken on a 45 min boat tour in the pitch black cave. With the aid of a spotlight and a humourous guide, we learned about the history of the cave, as well as rock formations that resembled, among other things, asparagus, a nativity scene and a posing figure aptly named Sharon STONE...get it? These guys had quite the imagination. 

On one of R&R days, we called up the 5 star hotel in the area and used their pool and restaurant facilities for the day for about $12 pp. Because the hotel was in their soft open phase, we had the enormous pool area almost to ourselves. We even stayed for dinner and watched the Pope's arrival into Manila on TV with the staff. 

Our last night was a quiet one as we had 5am pick up for the 6 hour van ride north to El Nido. Join us there for the next post.  

There are no direct flights from Cebu to Puerto Princesa so we had to fly through Manila.  Our hotel in Puerto Princesa was very modest and basic at $28 per night.  Before we headed to explore the island we spent a day at a pool of a five star hotel for $12pp. Ground level rooms had their own private access to the pool.

Edyta reflecting on how hard life can be at times.  One day at a luxury pool was enough to re-charge our batteries.    Time for dinner. As you can see there was barely anyone around.  Sunka, a local game that I learned to play when I first visited the Philippines, is popular with the locals. It's too bad I forgot the rules.  Our nightly stop to pick up water, mango, and other fruit to snack on. Also the above tricycle was a typical mode of transportation in Palawan.  Fresh paint job on this jeepney. Arriving at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park after a 20 min motor boat ride. Check out the beautiful limestone rock formations in the background. From then on we waited about 2 more hours before entering the underground river in a small boat.  A monitor lizard. A long-tailed macaque eating something he probably stole from an unsuspecting tourist.  Entrance to the cave. We had to wear helmets for safety.  Entrance to the underground river. 

Stalactites hanging from the ceiling.  There were a ton of bats in the cave. You can see them and their droppings all over the cave.  Grilled banana and taro on a skewer after the tour. So delicious.  A bunch of birds mysteriously congregated at one particular intersection on the wires overhead. It was so strange as the next intersection had no birds.   Evening bird meeting on electricity lines.  Rush hour in Puerto Princesa. There were plenty of these geckos in Puerto Princesa and in South East Asia. They make a loud chirping noise, similar to that of a bird. 

Join us next as we venture out to the north of Palawan to the picturesque El Nido area!

 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Asia El Nido Palawan Philippines South East Asia beach https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/palawan Mon, 16 Mar 2015 20:49:12 GMT
Quick stop in Cebu, Philippines https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/cebu -by Edyta-

We got to Cebu with the intention of visiting the neighboring island of Bohol where round mounds called Chocolate Hills are located. The name comes from the phenomenon of the mountains turning brown during dry summer months and looking like, well, chocolate hills. Feeling under the weather and also growing increasingly tired from traveling in various modes of transportation for the past weeks we decided, to skip the long commute of a 2h ferry followed by a 2.5h van ride only to view the hills for 20 minutes. We also tried going to a volcano on another neighboring island but that commute was also very rough and we were not guaranteed to get a permit to hike the volcano. You may think we got lazy towards the end of our trip but the truth is we just learned to control our FOMO. Just because it's in a guidebook doesn't mean we have to see it. We recently realized that sometimes the effort it takes to get to certain places is just not worth the experience. 
 
With that decision, we had three days in Cebu city and had to make sure we got out of there in time before the upcoming Papal visit, during which many flights in the Philippines were suspended. While Cebu city is not the most picturesque destination, we made the best out of our stay; we visited the  century Fort San Pedro, rode a Jeepney with the locals, and ate almost all of our meals at the mall. Yes, the mall. Filipinos love malls where, aside from shops and restaurants, you can also see dance shows and masses. Visiting a mall in the Philippines can be a unique experience. 
 
Here's a few photos from our quick stay in Cebu. Stay tuned as we head to the beautiful island of Palawan. 
 
Exploring another island of the Philippine Archipelago. 

This was our first stay at Tune Hotel. Our room was small but modern and clean. 

Fort San Pedro in Cebu, PhilippinesFort San Pedro in Cebu, PhilippinesFort San Pedro in Cebu, Philippines Fort San Pedro is one of the main attraction in Cebu city.   Fort San Pedro in Cebu, PhilippinesFort San Pedro in Cebu, PhilippinesFort San Pedro in Cebu, Philippines Gallery inside the fort. 

Cebu, PhilippinesCebu, Philippines  

During our visit to Cebu, there was Sinulog festival happening.  We spotted people burning candles in a very interesting way.  

Sinulog festival is held in the honor of Sto Nino (baby Jesus) and normally lasts 9 days.  Not sure if the streets were decorated for the festival or if they look like that normally. 

An outdoor mass drew huge crowds. Some people had to stand outside of the church walls. In the small building in the middle of the photo is Magellan's Cross. This christian cross was erected by Portuguese and Spanish explorers as ordered by Ferdinand Magellan upon arriving in Cebu on March 15, 1521

Magellan's Cross and a beautiful ceiling. 

Just like the rest of the country, Cebuanos (Filipinos from Cebu region) were very excited about the Papal visit. We saw lots of different merchendise bearing Pope Francis' face. Walking the streets of Cebu we curiously looked at what locals vendors were selling. What's for dinner? Rice and chicken. Jeepney is a traditional mode of public transportation used by locals. Each one is unique and usually very colorful.  After figuring out which line to take, we got on and enjoyed the 25 min ride to our hotel. The amazing thing about a jeepney is that it can hold a lot more people than one would expect. Just when I thought no one else could possibly fit, 2 more ladies squeezed in between us. No one minded the tight space. The only thing I could think of was how many fights such practice would result in if it happened on NYC public transportation where men need 3 feet to spread their legs. Ha ha. 

Here's another mode of transportation. It's always nice to have locals smile at you when you take a photo. :-) 

Till next time! See you in Palawan! 

 

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(Vladyta) Asia Cebu City Philippines South East Asia https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/cebu Wed, 11 Mar 2015 08:34:34 GMT
Boracay: 2012 T+L Best Island in the World https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/boracay -by Edyta-

A wise person once said "To get to paradise, one must often travel far, and in discomfort." - that wise person was me, after we got to the tiny white sand island of Boracay in the Philippines, which in 2012 was awarded as the best island in the world by the travel magazine Travel + Leisure. I would use this saying once more after traveling to El Nido on the island of Palawan, just a little over a week after.... 

Actually, this trip was not so bad. While we could not fly directly to Boracay (only small planes with tourist carrying tiny luggage could), we flew to Kalibo on the nearby island of Aklan, took 2h bus ride, then a ferry to Boracay, followed by a small Jeepney ride across the island to our hotel. 

Boracay welcomed us with lots of sunshine, beautiful white sand beaches, and calm blue waters. We were happy to be back in warm weather. After all, it has been a month since we last got some vitamin D while wearing bathing suits. El escandalo! We spent 5 days in Boracay but in retrospect we wish we had spent more time there. While the island is super small (barely 4 sq miles/10km²), and just like most tourists we spent most of our time on the sand strip on the west side of the island, we were not bored. For the first time during our travels we tried scuba diving. We used Eclipse Dive Center and had a private lesson with a very cool and informative instructor Mike. After a brief explanation and some basic exercises in the shallow waters, we were taken on a boat and onto the open waters. I did not expect things to escalate so quickly but before I realized we were 12 meters underwater. Well actually that happened quite slow as we were instructed to go down only a short distance while making sure to equalize our ears - something I found a bit challenging as I was just recovering from a cold. Our scuba diving instructor brought some crackers with him and let us feed the fish. It was an amazing sight. As soon as we opened the crackers a big school of colorful fish appeared around us. While we both enjoyed this experience Vlad was the one who absolutely loved it as he enjoys looking at marine life more than me. 

The following day we rented standup paddle boards right before sunset. It was the first time for both of us and one of few times I beat Vlad at a sport. He just could not keep his balance and kept falling in the water. I had some laughs at his expense. This particular evening the sunset was absolutely stunning with pink, purple, and orange hues covering the sky. Too bad we don't have any photos from that night or from diving.

During our stay in Boracay we met a couple of young German sisters who offered to take a photo of us on the beach. After returnig the favor we ended up going to dinner with them the same night, a beach bar few days later and also rented a small catamaran for a 30 min sunset sail. One of the sisters works on a cruise ship while the other is still in collage. We joked that after they come home they will say they hang out with an older couple :-). 

We have been warned by some that Boracay is extremely touristy. While there is no denying that it is a tourist spot, it was a very pleasant destination with a decent crowd of people from around the world. After talking to some locals we found out that this tiny island reached its peak of tourism few years ago and now the flow of people started to slow down. 

Without further adieu, here is Boracay!

Flight to Kalibo from Manila was about 1 hour. 

This was our hotel room. A bit eclectic but we enjoyed the island style.  Hotel courtyard where you could get some WIFI if you were lucky.  White sand beaches were right in front of our hotel. From speaking with locals, we found out that Boracay has reached its peak of tourism few years ago and it's no longer as crowded as before. Walking by the beach you could find hotels, restaurants, and bars. Many of them offer live entertainment (bands, singers, poi dancers) in the evening. 

White sand beach stretches down the west side of the island.  The water was a beautiful blue hue.  While in Boracay we tried scuba diving for the first time and took the boat on the right for our dive. Even though we don't have a seflie stick (we refuse to buy it), we manage to take decent selfies due to Vlad's long arms.  The sand in Boracay was very fine and white.  There were also lots of beautiful shells and pebbles that I enjoyed collecting but had to leave behind as it's against the law to remove them from the country.  Walking along the beach tourists can find various water sports and attractions.    Walking north towards Station 1, the beaches became less crowded and hotels more fancy. It was hard to resist dipping our feet in the blue waters even during our evening walks.  Boracay sunsets were very colorful.  Here is Vlad alone with his thought at sunset. Admiring the sunset.  So much color in the sky. No Instagram filters needed. 

Once in a while we make it a point to ask someone to take a photo of us - this time it was two German sisters Mimi & Sandra who we later hung out with a few times.   We ended up getting dinner together and had a great time exchanging travel stories.

Boracay sunset sail Boracay sunset sail Boracay sunset sail Sunset sail - photo by Miriam & her waterproof camera. 

If you venture out past the touristy strip you can get a glimpse of a more local life.  

Tricycles are very popular in Boracay.

And for the end, I leave you with a photo of one more beautiful Boracay sunset. 

 

So what do you think of Boracay? Would you like to visit this place? 

 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Asia Beach Boracay Island Philippines South East Asia https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/boracay Sat, 07 Mar 2015 04:01:34 GMT
Manila: First stop in the Philippines https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/manila -by Edyta-
 
Our world traveling is nearing an end and we are wrapping up our Asian tour with a 25 day visit to the Philippines. We arrived in Manila on January 2, 2015 ready to explore the land of Vlad's ancestors. Our first stop was the capital Manila, a bustling metropolis with traffic filled streets and the sky hazy with pollution (things we grew accustomed to while visiting cities in South East Asia). 
 
On our first day in Manila we spent some time at travel agencies sorting out details for the rest of our stay in the Philippines. In Asia some things are just handled better in person than online. For that reason, travel agencies are very popular amongst locals and tourists alike. After booking our flight to visit Boracay, we had a free afternoon to venture out to the world famous Mall of Asia, which is exactly what the name suggests. The mall is the third largest in the world. Aside from some local shops we came across plenty of foreign brands such the Gap, Mango, MAC, Cotton On, Esprit, Inglot etc. I noticed that many brands we have back in the States were actually more expensive in the Philippines, which is very unfortunate because Filipinos make a lot less money than us. Aside from the shops, there were also lots of places to eat, a few movie theaters, spas, a big playground for kids and a full size ice rink! That's right! Ice skating in tropical Manila is possible.  
 
The following days we visited the National Museum of the Filipino People, the historic district Intramuros (aka Spanish Manila), where we walked around Fort Santiago, and visited the Rizal Shrine. We also attended a mass at the beautiful Manila Cathedral and visited the San Agustin Church & Monastery and even came across the Polish Consulate! One day we visited Rizal Park, a 60 hectare urban park where we watched locals have picnics, kids play games, and vendors sell coconut juice. This is the same park where a 12 year old Vlad asked his dad to bring him to when he visited Manila for the first time with his family. His main goal was to see the monument of Jose Rizal
 
Rizal Park is named after young Filipino national hero Jose Rizal who was a writer (amongst other professions such as multi-linguistic eye doctor, world traveler, an artist, and a lottery winner) that was accused of inciting a revolution against the Spaniards and was subsequently executed in 1896 at the age of 35. In case you are wondering what Spain had to do with the Philippines, here's a little recap of the history. In the early 16th century, a Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set out to convert the Philippine archipelago to catholicism. Shortly after his arrival, the Philippines became a Spanish colony. By the 18th century, the Filipino people started getting fed up with the Spaniards' occupation and decided to take advantage of the weaker state Spain found itself after the Seven Year War. Jose Rizal's writing inspired the revolution which was backed by the US who was already at war with Spain over Cuba. And so after defeating the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, the Philippines finally declared its independence on June 12, 1898.  Or so they thought... The Americans had other plans and decided to make the Philippines its own colony. That did not go over so well with the locals and the US faced a lot of opposition and subsequently agreed to transition the power to the local hands. Unfortunately, yet again, FIlipinos had bad luck as during the transition time, the Japanese invaded the islands. The Americans defeated Japanese army in February 1945 but not before Manila was destroyed and leveled. The once world renown "Pearl of the Orient" admired for successfully combining Asian and European worlds was virtually wiped out. Isn't it crazy how the war affected people all over the world? The Philippines finally gained their independence from the US on July 4, 1946 and in the following years faced their own internal problems of corruption in the government. 
 
After knowing the history of this country one can begin to understand the nation and the people of the Philippines. Only then the Spanish names, cuisine that mixes Asian and Spanish ingredients, their devotion to Catholicism, English as a second language and fascination with US pop culture will make sense. This, among many other things, make people of the Philippines so unique and much different than their neighbors.
 
While Manila may not be one of the most beautiful cities (although we hear it used to be), it's was still important for us to visit it. The only way to begin to understand a country is to see not only its most beautiful and touristy sites (like Boracay and Palawan which we visited later) but also the places where every day life happens. This, in our opinion, is how you get a taste of the true flavor of a country. 
 
Geography: The Philippines is situated in the western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia. It consists of 7,107 islands that are categorized broadly under three main geographical divisions: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Population:  With 100 million in the Philippines it's the 12th most populated country in the world; 1.7 million people call Manila home. 
Demographics: 28.1% Tagalog, 13.1% Cebuano, 9% Ilocano, 7.6% Bisaya, 7.5% Ilonggo, 6% Bicolano, 3.4% Waray, 25.3% others
Currency: Philippine Pose where 1 USD  = 44 PHP (at the time of our visit)
Official Languages: Filipino (standardized Tagalog) and English are the official languages of the country. There are 19 regional languages but overall there's about 171 total native languages. 
Religion: More than 90% of the population is Christian and out of that 80% is Catholic; about 4.6% follows Islam. 
Best Known for: Interesting history of Spanish colonization; 7,107 beautiful islands, some uninhabited, others serve as tropical tourist destinations (Palawan, Boracay etc); great diving destinations; national hero Jose Rizal; boxer Manny Pacquiao; Imelda Marcos & her shoe collection; jeepneys; halo-halo dessert; lechon (roasted pig); balut; large malls (including Mall of Asia in Manila); sabong (cock fighting). 
What We Noticed: Friendly people; English widely spoken; mall culture; armed security guards at stores; meat dominated cuisine; religious items displayed widely. 
Interesting Facts: Balut is a filipino delicacy. It is a developing duck embryo that is boiled and often sold by vendors on the street. We heard the vendors call out "baluuuuut" in the evenings. 
 
 
Flying again - Singapore to Manila. 
 
Manila JeepneyManila JeepneyManila Jeepney Jeepneys are the most popular means of transportation in Manila and are one of the first things we noticed. Jeepneys are made from US military jeeps left over after World War II.  Manila JeepneyManila JeepneyManila Jeepney Jeepneys are known for crowded seating and are usually heavily decorated with symbols of Filipino art, pop culture and even religious references. Each jeepney is unique.  Streets of ManilaStreets of ManilaStreets of Manila Walking the streets of Manila we sometimes saw roosters or chickens. This rooster was most likely used for cock fighting.   Streets of ManilaStreets of ManilaStreets of Manila Sometimes instead of roosters we saw kittens... Cute puppies on the streets of ManilaCute puppies on the streets of ManilaCute puppies on the streets of Manila ...or cute puppies.
Jollibee in ManilaJollibee in ManilaJollibee in Manila Jolibee, the Filipino fast food restaurant, was always packed.  Ice rink at the Mall of Asia, Manila, PhilippinesIce rink at the Mall of Asia, Manila, PhilippinesIce rink at the Mall of Asia, Manila, Philippines Ice skating rink at the Mall of Asia. 
Mall of Asia, ManilaMall of Asia, ManilaMall of Asia, Manila
Christmas decorations where still on display when we got to Manila on January 2nd. 
Rice exhibit at the National Museum of the Filipino People.
Learning about the history of the country.  Beautiful gowns worn by female dignitaries.  Lapu Lapu at the Rizal Park in ManilaLapu Lapu at the Rizal Park in ManilaLapu Lapu at the Rizal Park in Manila Lapu Lapu statue (or the Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom) in Rizal Park.  Lapu Lapu at the Rizal Park in ManilaLapu Lapu at the Rizal Park in ManilaLapu Lapu at the Rizal Park in Manila
Lapu Lapu is a national hero who was the first one to resist Spanish colonization in the 16th century.  People gathering and having fun at the Rizal Park.  Lapu Lapu at the Rizal Park in ManilaRizal Park in ManilaLapu Lapu at the Rizal Park in Manila Rizal statue. 
National Cathedral in ManilaNational Cathedral in ManilaNational Cathedral in Manila National Cathedral.  National Cathedral in ManilaNational Cathedral in ManilaNational Cathedral in Manila When we first entered the cathedral we caught a glimpse of a local wedding. 
Aside from Jeepneys, tricycles are another popular mode of transportation. Believe it or not but Vlad fit in this tiny box with me.  Polish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w ManiliPolish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w ManiliPolish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w Manili When we got out of a cab in front of the historical Intramuros area I noticed a familiar white and red flag. Turns out it was the Polish Consulate. What a surprise!  Polish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w ManiliPolish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w ManiliPolish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w Manili Too bad we were not able to get in. 
Polish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w ManiliPolish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w ManiliPolish Consulate in Manila. Polski Konsulat w Manili
View of the entire building.
Got a t-shirt from this cute souvenir chain store. 
Intramuros, Manila, Philippines.Intramuros, Manila, Philippines.Intramuros, Manila, Philippines. First look inside the historical Intramuros.  Fort Santiago -  a citadel first built by a Spanish conquistador for the newly established city of Manila. 
   Fort Santiago, ManilaFort Santiago, ManilaFort Santiago, Manila Inside Fort Santiago.  S Jose Rizal statueJose Rizal statue Statue of Jose Rizal.  San Agustin Monastery & Church.  The San Agustin Church in ManilaThe San Agustin Church in Manila
The San Agustin Church is mirrored after some of the beautiful churches built by the Augustinians in Mexico. The interior has magnificent trompe l'oeil murals covering the walls and the ceiling, paintings that look three dimensional.  The San Agustin Church in ManilaThe San Agustin Church in Manila View from the church choir. A wedding was happening while we were there.  Longanisa breakfastLonganisa breakfast Typical filipino breakfast - longanisa sausage with a side of rice and egg. 
San Miguel beer is a national favorite and quickly became ours too. 
 
Join us next as we visit the white beaches of Boracay! 
 
 
 
 
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(Vladyta) Asia City Manila Philippines South East Asia https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/manila Thu, 05 Mar 2015 07:52:46 GMT
New Years in Singapore https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/singapore -by Vlad-
 
Edyta had was curious to visit a modern Asian city before we concluded our travels in Asia. Seoul and Tokyo were brought up, but we shied away from the relatively cold weather up there and we decided on Singapore to ring in the New Year. I had been there in 2012 for work, but didn't get to see much of the country because of jet lag and work commitments. My cousin Vanessa, who came with me on that trip, saw much more of Singapore so I hit her up for some advice. 
 
On December 30, 2014, we flew Singapore Airlines from Hanoi to the Lion City. Singapore Airlines and Changi airport are probably my favourite in the world because of their top notch service and amenities. Friendly, sharply dressed staff, a welcome hot towel, ample leg room, delicious meal options, and free beer & wine are a few reasons why they have repeatedly been ranked amongst the best in the world. 
 
We got back to our Airbnb roots by renting a room with great views of the city and The National Stadium. Our first night was relatively uneventful as we simply grabbed local food on Old Airport Road, about a 15 minute walk away and went to bed early to be rested and ready to explore the city during our short stay here. 
 
On our first full day, we did the touristy thing and headed to the area around the iconic Marina Bay Sand hotel. For those unfamiliar, this five star hotel looks like 3 decks of cards standing upright with a giant surfboard looking platform laid across the top. Almost 60 floors up on this 'surfboard' there is a bar, observation deck and infinity pool (unfortunately only open to hotel guests) with great views of the city and harbour. To get to the hotel area, we had to cross the modern Helix Bridge, which is modeled after the double helix structure of DNA. Nerd fact: the letters A, C, G, & T are periodically lit up on the bridge to represent the four nucleobases that make up our DNA - adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. 
 
We also checked out Gardens by the Bay, a green space along the water that contains, among other things: 2 greenhouses, koi ponds, a giant 7 ton baby statue, and what can only be described as futuristic trees. These part concrete and steel, part plant structures collect solar energy and mimic the ecological properties of real trees. In the evening they light up and there is even a music show. 
 
After returning home for a few hours to rest, we headed back to the city to reserve a spot to watch the fireworks. While it was busy, it was nice that it wasn't over crowded.  We got a prime spot along the water to take in the fireworks. As midnight hit, the show was beautiful, set against the backdrop of the city. However, it was a little disappointing that it lasted literally only 5 min. 
 
The next day, we had lunch at Clark Quay, an area with along the canal lined with shops and restaurants. For dessert we indulged ourselves in a local favourite: ice cream sandwiches. It was literally ice cream in a slice of bread. While it may not sound appealing to some, trust me, it was delicious, especially with flavours like taro and red bean to choose from. We then headed to the observation deck to check out the city views from 60 floors up. From here we saw great views of the harbour, business district, suburbs and maybe even Malaysia. At less than 300 square miles, it's easy to see most, if not all, of the country at once. 
 
Along the harbour, we stumbled upon an open air stage where Nadi Singspura, a local band, was performing. This percussion band entertained the crowd with a high energy mix of drumming and dance. It was a nice treat to end our short stay in Singapore. 
 
Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had a memorable 2014 and all the best in 2015.
 
Geography: Singapore is located on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula in South East Asia.  
Population: 5.4 million
Demographics: 74.2% Chinese, 13.2% Malay, 9.2% Indian 
Currency: Singapore Dollar where 1 SGD  = 0.75 USD (at the time of our visit)
Official Languages: There are four official languages - English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil.
Religion: 33.3% Buddhism, 14.7% Islam, 11.3% Protestantism, 10.9% Taoism, 7.1% Catholicism, 5.1% Hinduism, 0.7% other, 17% not religious. 
Best Known for: wealthy hi-tech state country in Asia; economy driven by electronic manufacturing and financial services; once a British colony; iconic building and structures such as Marina Bay Sands, Esplanade Theaters on the Bay (Durians), Gardens by the Bay, ArtScience Museum, Supetrees Grove, Merlion Statue; Clark Quay area; Santosa Island; death penalty for drugs; famous dish chili crab;  
What We Noticed: modern and clean but with pockets of older neighborhoods; skyscrapers; monochromatic colors; multicultural; English widely spoken; expensive; spotted prostitutes in the morning; 
Interesting Facts: At 710 sq km it is one of the smallest countries in the world; Singapore became independent from the UK in 1963. For more interesting facts click here
 
Flight time: 3.5 hours
 
Marina Bay Sands Resort with The Helix Bridge to the left. This iconic hotel is the world's second most expensive building (right after Abraj Al Bait in Saudi Arabia). It was completed in 2010 and has 55 floors in each tower with a total of 2,561 luxury rooms and suites. The design was inspired by card decks (and not by surfboards as one might think) which makes sense since the parent company is American Las Vegas Sands Corp. The Helix Bridge, also opened in 2010, resembles the structure of DNA and has four viewing platforms and lights up at night. 
Icons of Singapore: ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, and Merlion Statue.
The ArtScience Museum is a very unique structure. Because of our short stay in Singapore, we did not have enough time to check it out.  ArtScience Museum.  Viewing deck of Marina Bay Sands is one of the top attractions in Singapore and costs 23 SGD (around $17) to enter. 
Merlion statue, half lion and half fish, has an interesting history. It was designed in the 60s as a marketing symbol for Singapore.
Opened in 2012, Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay quickly became one of Singapore's top attractions.  This vertical garden comprises of 25m-50m tall trees which are embedded with environmentally sustainable functions like collection of rainwater, solar energy production etc.  
 
For $5 visitors can walk the path that stretches high among some of the trees. Notice Marina Bay Sands on the left. 
Strolling the treetop walkway was one of the highlights of our visit. 
We found this 7 ton baby statue titled Planet by British artists Marc Quinn located near Supertree Grove to be a bit creepy. 
Waiting for the New Years fireworks at the waterfront. New Years Eve in Singapore was super mellow compared to the celebrations we are used to. Our guess is that Chinese New Year is probably more widely celebrated here. 
Happy New Year! Fireworks lasted for barely five minutes and were quite underwhelming. 
The next day we walked around Clark Quay which is a colorful area known for dining, shopping, and entertainment. 
View of Singapore from Clark Quay. 
Old Hill Street Police Station built in 1934 has a total of 927 windows painted the colors of the rainbow. Such a creative way to brighten up a government building. 
Beautiful red tree and tall skyscrapers. 
One of the two entertainment buildings that made up the Esplanade Theaters by the Bay
These entertainment venues resembled the durian fruit
Later in the day we went to the observational deck at Marina Bay Sands. It was very spacious. There is also a restaurant in a separate elevated section but it requires proper dress code. 
The hotel infinity pool that looks out onto the city. Unfortunately, it was only open to hotel guests. 
Singapore is a very modern city with many commercial...
...and residential highrises. 
What a sweet spot for a futbol pitch.
 
Just past the garden is Singapore Harbour with tons of huge ships. 
A  view of the gardens from high above.
The Singapore Flyer with part of the track from the annual Formula 1 race to the right.
Stunning light show put on by the hotel. 
The light show was perhaps more impressive than the New Years fireworks.
We were treated to a free outdoor concert by NADI Sinapura.
This local band combined percussion, choreography and a bit of humour to entertain the crowd. 
Here is a view from our Airbnb apartment near the National Stadium.
Kaya toast is a well known snack in Singapore prepared with Coconut Jam and sometimes other things such as peanut butter, sugar, egg etc. It was pretty tasty. 
A  bit of a different spin on an ice cream sandwich. Delicious.  Tasty lunch. 
Sugar cane drink was very popular. We finally tasted it but decided it was way too sweet for us, even after adding tons of ice. 
 
Singapore provided a nice contrast to the previously visited Asian countries and we were very happy to have made it our stop. Now, off to the Philippines! 
 
 
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(Vladyta) Asia City Singapore South East Asia https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/3/singapore Sun, 01 Mar 2015 21:42:34 GMT
Trip to Ninh Binh: A day in Vietnam's countryside https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/2/hanoi-day-trip -by Vlad-

During our visit to Hanoi, we booked a day trip to Ninh Binh Providence, located in the Red River Delta region about two and a half hours south of Hanoi. The tour was advertised as Ha Long Bay on land so we felt OK skipping the super long bus ride to the actual Ha Long Bay (plus, we knew we'd see similar limestones in the Philippines). We got picked up at 8am from our hotel and joined about 12 other tourists and a very friendly and knowledgable guide. 
 
The tour started with a visit to two underwhelming temples (we were a bit templed out at this point of our trip). After that the excitement level was elevated as we got on a small boat and our rower started rowing with her feet. Most rowers were actually doing that. The boat ride took us down a murky river with fantastic views of the limestone mountains and through three dark caves. We ended the day with a bike ride through the small town and into the countryside. There were stunning views of the mountains' reflection in the small rice paddy lakes. It was really cool to see the local kids who were eager to simply say hello as we biked past. 
 

Checking out this bad boy hanging out by the temple entrance.

Pretty cool surroundings for this temple in the countryside.

Inside one of the temples. You can see the many offerings left by visitors. 

Cute girl in a Vietnamese hat.  

The parking lot full of rowboats.

Our driver for the tour. Look ma, no hands! As seen from the boat - locals taking care of laundry day. Such a beautiful setting for a ride down a river. Such a beautiful woman enjoying a ride down the river. Why does our driver look like we're about to have a head on collision? Entrance to one of the caves.  Row, row, row your boat... Enjoying a cold one on the river. Bought from one of the river vendors. There were some houses along the river.  During the bike tour later that day we saw some locals working the rice paddies.

Enjoying a bike ride through the countryside. 

A quick photo op with beautiful surroundings. DSC_8231DSC_8231 The calmness and serenity was so relaxing. Chatting with others on our tour, and our guide (in the futbol jersey). Our bike tour took us to a remote and calm country side where we got a glimpse of Vietnam's rural life. These wet squares are either for harvesting rice or fish. I'm pretty sure this bike was too big for her, but it wouldn't surprise me if she could ride it herself.  No words needed. Roadside pigs.  Positive he was foraging for food.

  

Little house on the prairie.

 

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(Vladyta) Asia Hanoi Nimh Binh South East Asia Vietnam https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/2/hanoi-day-trip Sat, 21 Feb 2015 22:01:27 GMT
Christmas in Hanoi, Vietnam https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/2/hanoi -by Vlad-

On Christmas Eve, we left Ho Chi Minh City and took a two hour flight north to Vietnam's second largest city, Hanoi. As we were checking into our hotel, we met a young woman from China, Coral, who overheard us asking about the location of the St. Joseph's Cathedral. She asked if she could join us on our visit to the church she was there by herself on a business trip and was intimidated to walk the streets alone. After Edyta and I grabbed Christmas Eve dinner, the three of us headed out to see Christmas Eve in Hanoi. 
 
The streets of Hanoi, especially around St.Joseph's Cathedral, were packed with people, making it impossible to get into the square where an outdoor Christmas service was being held. We did catch a glimpse from the many big screens they had set up. Seeing so many people out, combined with perfect weather (no rain or humidity), and beautiful lights and decorations made for a memorable first Christmas away from home as a married couple. 
 
I was very curious to see how Vietnam's second largest city compared Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon). The streets of the Old Quarter resembled those in Europe as they were smaller and lined with shops, restaurants, bars and cafés. One thing that remained constant was the traffic. Scooters were everywhere, sharing the streets with cars, buses and pedestrians. Vendors and parked motorbikes were taking up most of the sidewalks so we often found ourselves walking on the street. As chaotic as it was, it somehow seemed normal. Crossing the streets can look intimidating, but if you maintain a constant speed while keeping and eye on oncoming traffic, drivers will avoid you. If an old lady carrying two large baskets of sweets or souvenirs can cross without a care, we could also do this. Speaking of souvenirs, I found the vendors in Hanoi to be generally less aggressive than their counterparts in Saigon. And most of them were women. 
 
A contrast that stood out were the younger, stylish locals. The temperate weather provided an opportunity for the young Vietnamese to accessorize their outfit (swap flip flops and tank tops for heels and silk scarves). It was also very easy to blend in and sometimes be the only tourists at a Shisha bar patio or side street restaurant. 
 
To get a better feel of the local culture we visited the National Museum of Vietnamese History where we learned more about the Vietnamese/American War and the french colonization period and also attended Vietnamese Water Puppetry Show, a traditional that dates back to the 11th century. 
 
As if we weren't already addicted to great coffee from our travels (Croatia, New Zealand), Vietnamese coffee took it to a whole other level. A traditional Vietnamese drip had virtually no bitterness and left a decadent, sometimes nutty, aftertaste. Do as the locals and add in a touch of condensed milk and you're left with a sweet cup of heaven. Edyta discovered a "cute cafe" that unknown to her, served coffee from beans that passed through the digestive system of a civet cat. Kinda gross right? Maybe, but it was some of the best coffee we had. Ever. No wonder we always left saying 'see you tomorrow' when we left this cafe. A kilogram of these beans goes for as much as $600 in parts of the world, so the $1/cup price tag made it extra sweet. (Check out below video to see how it's served).
 
Overall it was a great stay in Vietnam, especially considering we were away from friends and family for Christmas. I'm glad we got to visit both of the big cities in Vietnam to see how they compared and contrasted. 
 
Off to Singapore for our last country of 2014! 
 
On Christmas Eve day we flew from Ho Chi Minh City to the much colder city of Hanoi. 
 

Christmas in Hanoi 

Our room for the first few days was small and pretty dark at twenty something dollars per night.  After deciding to extend our stay we switched to this more comfortable hotel for about $37 per night.

Our Christmas Eve dinner was a bit different than normal. Edyta was sad not to have her favorite Polish dishes. 

We met Coral, Chinese girl on a work trip, on Christmas eve. She asked to join us on our walk to church. Christians are a minority in China so she had to work on what should be her holiday.  This GQ guy photo-bombed Edyta trying to take a photo of the Nativity Scene. Christmas mass was held outside and drew large crowds. We were very surprised to see Christmas celebrated in Vietnam. After all, Christianity is followed only by 8% of the population. 

Next day we returned to see St. Joseph's Cathedral in daylight. Dating back to 1886, it is the oldest church in Hanoi and the first structure built by the French colonial government in Indochina.

Street Life

Hanoi street are full of interesting people. 

You can buy almost anything from these mobile vendors, most of which are women.  Feather dusters must be in high demand in Vietnam because we saw them being sold multiple times.  Hat and basket vendor.  Female fruit vendor. These things really weight a lot. Similar to Ho Chi Minh City, burning things on the sidewalk was a normal thing.   

So were sidewalk chickens.  Everything you want to buy can be found at a sidewalk vendor. That includes meats. 

Certain informal restaurants cook their food on the sidewalk.  That's also where they wash all their dishes at the end of the night.

Sidewalk haircut? Why yes please.   And a shave too? Of course.

Buildings in the Old Quarter district of Hanoi.

This part of town was outside of the Old Quarter. This building looked very French.  View from one of the rooftop restaurants. 

Traffic in HanoiTraffic in Hanoi

Check out this video of Hanoi traffic 

Turtle Tower in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. 

We spotted this pretty girl dressed in traditional Vietnamese attire getting a photoshoot by the lake. 

Weapons display at the National Museum of Vietnamese History.

Learning about the interesting and painful history of this country.

In the water puppet show, the puppeteers are hidden behind a curtain and stand in waist deep water while "operating" the wooden puppets.

Small band provided music for the show. Here are the puppeteers greetings us after the show has ended. 

Huong Mai Cafe  - according to their website, 'weasel coffee is the ultimate connoisseur coffee available in very limited, fresh roasted per order of the finest selected coffee beans that have been organically, naturally processed by the digestive juices of Vietnamese Civet Cats, also known as "Con Chon", or "Weasels" a remarkable species adapted to seeking out and selecting only the most perfect Arabica coffee beans. These then go through an enzyme active digestive process and are expelled, dried, cleaned and washed, then pre-roasted, and shipped to our roasting facility where they are finish roasted to make perfect bean coffee'. Read more about it here

This coffee was exquisite. 

Vietnamese Coffee Vietnamese Coffee

Here's a video showing how Vietnamese coffee is served. 

This noodle dish was also delicious.   And here is a restaurant we strayed (pun intended) away from. See middle right. But... to each their own. After all, some countries think that eating beef is wrong. 

So what do you think of Hanoi? Is this a place you'd like to visit or perhaps you have been there? 

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(Vladyta) Asia City Hanoi South East Asia Vietnam https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/2/hanoi Fri, 20 Feb 2015 21:37:40 GMT
Exploring Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/2/hochiminh -by Vlad-
 
Good morning Vietnam!
After a quiet and calm stay in Siem Reap, we headed to the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), Vietnam's largest city. We decided to try something different and take a 'hotel bus' instead of flying. Two rows of small 'pods' consisting of two tiny mattresses and a curtain were provided for $19 apiece. Not bad for a 14-15 hour bus ride, especially when we left at midnight right? Well there were a few catches. First, the beds weren't as spacious as we thought, but it was still a lot better than being stuck in a seat that only reclined seven degrees like on a normal bus. Second, the roads were mostly unpaved, so the ride to the border was bumpy. Third, the hotel bus was only for the first eight hours, after which we had to switch to a regular seater bus and spend an hour suffering through a chaotic and unorganized customs process. Lastly, we made the mistake of having a large meal before our journey. Let's just say this made the ride even less pleasant.
 
When we finally reached district 1 (city centre) in Saigon, the traffic immediately stood out. Scooters rule this city with hundreds upon hundreds of riders traveling every each way. Heading the wrong way down a one way street, parents with up to three kids on a scooter, and constant honking are common sights and sounds on the streets of Ho Chi Minh city.
 
After we spent a day and a half recovering from a bus ride from hell we set out to explore the city. One of our sightseeing days took us to the the Reunification Palace. This was where the South Vietnam president lived and strategized during the American War (which is what the 'Vietnam War' is known as here).  The fall of Saigon took place here on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its walls.  From here, we headed towards the Saigon Notre Dame basilica, a smaller, reddish version of the famous Paris landmark and wrapped the day up walking around the city. Since Vietnam was under the French rule for a hundred years, it is not hard to miss some french influence on architecture.
 
A few days later we took a day trip to the Cu Chi region, about a two hour van ride from Saigon. It was here that we got a glimpse of what jungle warfare was like during the American war. We crawled through tiny tunnels that were used to move around the region and saw booby traps used to thwart the enemy (think camouflaged pit lined with bamboo spikes). We thought the tunnels were tiny but our tour guide informed us that what we experienced were the ones that were enlarged to fit non Vietnamese size tourists. The real versions were much smaller and stretched for many kilometers at some points. Imagine spending days and weeks here at a time? Sadly, we didn't last the entire 100m tunnel before we complained of sore knees, humidity and mild claustrophobia and decided to exit along with vast majority of tourist.
 
What started out as a rough arrival turned out to be a pleasant visit to the busy city of Saigon. On December 24, we bid adieu and took a flight to spend Christmas up north in Hanoi. 
 
Geography: Vietnam is located on the east of the Indochina Peninsula in South East Asia.  
Population: 90.5 million in Vietnam, 7.4 million in Ho Chi Minh City. 
Demographics: In Vietnam 85.7% Viet (Kinh), 1.9% Tay, 1.7% Tai, 1.5% Muorng, remainder is others. 
Currency: Vietnamese Dong, 1 USD  = approximately 21,000 VND.
Official Languages: Vietnamese.
Religion: In Vietnam 45.3% Indigenous Religions, 16.4% Buddhism, 8.2% Christianity, 29.6% not religious.
Best Known for: Colonized by and under French rule from mid 19th century to 1954; Vietnam War (or as it's called in Vietnam - American War); communist government; very high economic growth rate in the recent years; some of the best known dishes are pho, bun cha, steamed rice cake, morning glory, as well as french influenced croissants, sandwiches and coffee. 
What We Noticed: lots of motorbikes and disorderly traffic; honking; busy streets; sidewalk vendors; conical Vietnamese hats; French influences in architecture and cuisine. 
Interesting Facts: Vietnam's media sector including internet is regulated by the government, such websites as Facebook have been blocked in the recent years.
 
The route of our bus ride. "Hotel bus" for 8 hours from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, followed by another 6 hours of torture on a regular bus. 
This is our "luxurious" hotel bus. The only way to get my phone to charge was to rest the charger on my foot. Comfy. 
Our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City cost us $30 a night. 
Modern skyscrapers and motorbike traffic. Motorbikes are the most popular mean of transportation in Ho Chi Minh City.
A nicely decorated street near the Reunification Palace.
The Reunification Palace.
One of the many meeting rooms used to host dignitaries.
The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica looks more European than Asian. It was established by the French colonists and constructed between 1863 and 1880. Unfortunately it was not open for viewing.
Saigon Opera House aka Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City is another example of French Colonial architecture. 
This guy would balance his plate of baked goods for sale on his head. I couldn't believe how heavy it was. 
Trying to sell, first baked goods, and now coconuts. Gotta pay for this trip somehow. 
Colorful buildings on the streets of Saigon. 
Vietnam's Telecom. Such intertwined electric cables are visible around the entire city. 
Exploring small alleys of the city. Walking through these you can look into people's houses which are often extremely small and make NYC apartments look super spacious.  
Mobile vendors sell everything from fresh flowers...
...to feather dusters. I'm not even going to ask what kind of feathers these dusters were made of.
At a local produce, meat and fish market. As seen on this lady, the iconic conical hat is still widely used in Vietnam. 
Nothing like sitting on the table which your goods are being sold on.  Skinned frogs that were still moving. This took away Edyta's appetite for a few days.
Colorful herbs and spices. 
Many types of rice.
Life in Ho Chi Minh City happens on the streets and sidewalks. We saw no supermarkets but instead plenty of street vendors.  What to do with trash? Why burn it on the street of course.  
Who's up for a cup of street tea?
Who needs take out containers when you have balancing skills like this guy?
Stopped for a few spring rolls beside this guy's 'market'.
Child safety at its best.
A delicious bowl of vermicelli. Don't forget the fish sauce.
 

Cu Chi Tunnels

 
Look who popped out of the ground.
An example of a tunnel entrance in the jungle now enlarged for the tourists' viewing. 
Check out these bamboo booby traps.
Our tunnel entrance.
That smile quickly disappeared after just a few minutes in the cramped tunnel. 
 
So that's a wrap for Saigon. What do you think of this city? Would you like visit it? If you have been here, what was your impression of it? 
 
 
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(Vladyta) Asia City Ho Chi Minh City South East Asia Vietnam https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/2/hochiminh Sat, 07 Feb 2015 05:37:18 GMT
Majestic temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/1/angkorwat -by Edyta-

The main reason tourists come to Cambodia Is to see the iconic Hindu and Buddhist temples of Ankgor Archeological Park. We were no exceptions. The famous photos of Ankgor Wat lotus like towers (although I think they look like pinecones) drew us to this country.

We spent three days exploring the temples. There are options to buy 1, 3 or 7 day passes. Our three day pass cost us $40 pp which is quite expensive for this part of the world but proved to be well worth the cost. We also hired Pahna, a tuk-tuk driver to take us around as the temples are far from each other. During the three days we visited the most famous Angkor Wat, smaller and less known Banteay Kdei, the vast Angkor Thom complex which includes Bayon and Baphuon, as well as the Tomb Raider temple Ta Prohm and smaller temple with stone faces Ta Som. 

In my previous blog post I wrote about the city of Siem Reap so this post will focus solely on temples with majority of the info below each photo. 

Angkor Wat 

Angkor Wat is surrounded by a rectangular moat measuring 1.5km by 1.3km. 

As a popular tourist destination Angkor Wat gets very crowded.  

View of the outter wall in the distance behind which the moat is located. 

One of the outdoor corridors.  Intricate carving covered the walls of huge corridors. All I could think of was how they planned this design with so many things overlapping.  Carvings above one of the gates.  Inside Angkor Wat. 

Stairs to the most central temple Bakan are very steep. 

View from Bakan. The outer wall can be seen in the far distance.  The lotus-like towers are the most prominent and most recognizable aspect of Angkor Wat. 

You could spend not only hours but days sightseeing Angkor Wat. 

Banteay Kdei

Our tuk tuk driver suggested we wrap the day with a visit to a smaller and less touristy buddhist temple Banteay Kdei built in the late 12th century.

Restoration projects are currently underway and some areas were blocked off while others were wrapped (tower above). 

Carving in red stone. 

Trees took over parts of the temple and there was a lot of fallen stones. 

Ps. Tommy I bet you love my hat ;-) 

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom, home to Bayon and Baphuon, is probably the second best known complex of temples after Angkor Wat. At one of five entrances to Angkor Thom. This is the South Gate which usually is the first stop for those exploring this temple complex. 

Vlad trying to blend in.

There were lots of monkeys right after we entered Angkor Thom. After observing them for 15 min or so I got a full understanding of the term "monkeying around".  This sneaky guy wanted to see what was in my bag. Vlad remained calm in order not to irritate the monkey but the sucker still bit him in his arm. Thankfully it was very light and through a t-shirt. All I could think about was the time my friend Cristina told me she got bit by a monkey and had to get it checked at the doctor. That and also trying to get a good shot haha. 

Curious monkeys checked out our tuk tuk. 

Little girl helping her mom sell fruit to tourists wishing to feed monkeys. She was adorable. 

Leper King Terrace.

Phimeanakas - three tiered Hindu pyramid which we were able to climb via stairs in the back.

Baphuon is another famous tempe - here is a view from the top of this three tiered mid 11th century temple mountain dedicated to Hindu God Shiva. (Note to DFL: it is NOT for Shivakamini Somakandraka lol). 

The famous Bayon temple of faces. In real life, it looked a lot more impressive and massive. 

Bayon from the outside.  There are over 2000 faces carved into 54 towers of Bayon. 

Some more faces.    As we were leaving Bayon we saw a tour of hundreds of people gather at the entrance. Talk about good timing ;-) 

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is a mid 12th century Buddhist temple. You may recognize it from Tomb Raider. 

 

Ta Prohm was abandoned by the Khmer Empire in 17th century allowing nature to take over. When restorations began  in the 21st century, it was decided that the trees be left as they are. Removing them would only result in further damage to the temple ruins. Plus, it would not look as cool.  Nature dominates this temple.  Tree roots are humongous in some spots and look like big snakes. 

One of the gates. 

 

Ta Som 

Ta Som is a small Buddhist temple that was not too touristy. 

It is said to be a little cousin of Bayon because it also has many stone face carvings.

 

Since Ta Som is not as popular are some other temples, we were able to explore it in peace. 

 

Similar to Ta Prohm, some parts of the temple were claimed by nature. 

Preah Khan

This 12th century Buddhist temple was the last one we visited.   Restorations of this temple began in 1991.  Carvings in the walls were very beautiful. 

After three full days of temple hopping we were ready to say good bye to them as we felt "templed out". Overall, it was a great visit and we are happy we were able to make this stop. 

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(Vladyta) Asia Cambodia Siem Reap South East Asia Temples https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/1/angkorwat Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:35:09 GMT
Siem Reap: Painful Past Hidden Behind Big Smiles https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/1/siem-reap -by Edyta-

Three weeks in Thailand went by quickly and we soon found ourselves flying to neighboring Cambodia. To most, the word Cambodia brings mainly one picture to mind - the iconic Angkor Wat temple. This, and neighbouring temples, are in fact the main reasons for tourists to visit this country. The complex of temples is so vast and unique that we created a separate post for it - coming in a few days. In this post, we wanted to show you life in Siem Reap, a city that serves as a jump off point for tourists wishing to explore the ancient sites of Angkor Archeological Park. 

We initially booked five nights in Siem Reap but ended up extending for two more. Even thought the city cannot be called beautiful by any standards, we found it to be very interesting and charming. I understand that Siem Reap is probably not for everyone as some people do not like getting constantly harassed by pushy vendors trying to sell t-shirts, tuk-tuk rides and massages. However, we did not mind it. For the most part we got the impression that they were just trying to make a living. After all, Cambodia is still fighting widespread poverty, political instability and the ghost of one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century - the Khmer Rouge regime

It may be hard to believe that it was barely 40 years ago when a Cambodian political party called Khmer Rouge, lead by dictator Pol Pot, carried out one of the most inhumane restructuring of a society ever attempted. Their goal was to convert the entire country into a peasant based society and get rid of any intelligence. The year 1975 was proclaimed by Khmer Rouge as Year Zero as the regime tried to erase any signs of prior history and society that existed before. Books, cultural artifacts, statues, musical instruments and ancient temples were ordered to be destroyed. The temples of Angkor were spared as a reminder Khmer glory but others were wiped out. Schools, places of worship and hospitals were closed, banks were abolished, all private property was seized, teachers and other intellectuals were murdered. People were forcefully moved out of cities to the country side's labour camps; those that opposed had their houses burnt and were killed on the spot. A typical day consisted of 12-15 hour day slave work with only two meals of rice porridge. This quickly resulted in massive illnesses and deaths. Million of mines were laid in the country to prevent people from escaping. Until today it is not safe to walk on unmarked paths in Cambodia and we often saw people missing limbs. It is estimated that under the Khmer Rouge regime, 1.4 - 2.2 million people died, half from execution and half from starvation and disease. 

Khmer Rouge was brought to an end by the Vietnamese who liberated the city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia on January 7, 1979. Yes, the dates are correct, this outrageous massacre was that recent.

To this day, people suffer from trauma and mental disorders as their family members were killed and many were left widows and orphans. However, if one did not know about this painful history, it would be almost impossible to tell that Khmer people lived through such terror. They smile a lot and are eager to talk to tourists to practice their English (which we found to be actually much better than of their neighbors - the Thais). Their average annual salary is $750. So while there were times we knew were being overcharged we did not mind too much. Cambodia is an inexpensive destination and the extra dollar or two goes a lot further for Cambodians than for us. 

Of course this is not to say that we enjoyed being ripped off. After a while you get a feel for what the price should be and don't pay more than the higher end of the range. Haggling is also a part of the culture here and it makes for an exciting shopping experience.

During our stay in Siem Reap we spent three days visiting the temples of Angkor Archeological Park (separate post coming soon), walked around town trying to take in the local culture, spent a day lounging by the pool, got some massages and watched a traditional Khmer dance performance. 

Below are basic facts about the country as well as some photos showing life in Siem Reap. 

Geography: the Kingdom of Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Siem Reap is in northwest Cambodia and is a getaway to Angkor region. 
Population: 14.8 million in Cambodia, 174k in Siem Reap. 
Demographics: in Cambodia 90% Khmer, 5% Vietnamese, 1% Chinese, 4% Other 
Currency:  Riel KHR where 1 USD  = approximately 4,000 KHR, however USD is widely used and all ATMs we encountered spat out familiar green bills. 
Official Language: Khmer 
Religion: In Cambodia 97% Therevada Buddhism, 2% Muslim, 0.4% Chrstian, rest is other. 
Best Known for: Temples of Angkor Archeological Park; Buddhist Monks; Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot; poverty; Khmer national dance; tuk-tuks; amok dish. 
What We Noticed: In Siem Reap - beautiful temples; lots of tuk tuks, motorcycles and scooters; friendly locals; pushy vendors; children selling souvenirs; tourist oriented economy; lots of geckos which make surprisingly loud chirping sounds. 
We flew from the island of Koh Samui to Siem Reap with a short layover in Bangkok. 

On our first day in Cambodia, we met up with Aleksandra and Milosz, a Polish couple from London. Aleksandra worked with our friend Kathy in England and she actually quit her job the same month we did in order to travel the world with Milosz. This weird coincidence was sealed by our roads crossing in Siem Reap. After following each other's adventures on instagram, we met for the first time in Siem Reap and hit it off right away.  What small world it is! Check out their travel site Escape The Crowds

Tuk tuks, motorcycles and scooters dominate the roads of Siem Reap. 

We hired Panha and his tuk tuk for three days of sight seeing the temples. His services cost us $10-15 per day. He was very nice, always smiled and helped us figure out our sightseeing route. This was also our ride home from the airport, luggage and all. 

He took naps in the hammock while waiting for us to come back from each temple. 

Bat mobile tuk-tuk got some envious looks.  Tuk tuks are used to transport not only people but also everything else. Really. ALL ELSE. 

Motorcyles are the main means of transportations in Siem Reap and you often see entire families one one vehicle.  Sometimes families share bikes. There were lots of similar amazing photo opportunities but I felt bad snapping photos at people in fear of making them feel like tourist attractions. 

In contrast to Thailand, we saw a lot of child vendors in Cambodia. They are very hard to ignore; adorable and always up for a conversation to practice their English. This little girl tried to sell us magnets when we first entered the temple and we politely said "No, thanks". When she later saw us buy magnets from another girl she came up to us angry and said "You said you don't want magnets but you buy from her!". Oops.

This is the other little girl from whom we bought magnets. We initially did not want to buy from kid vendors in order not to encourage this illegal activity but after speaking to her for a while we could not say no.  One of the things that many child vendors do is recite facts about the country you're from which is pretty disarming. It goes something like this:

Child Vendor: "Where are you from?"

Us: "Canada"

Child Vendor: "Canada, capital Ottawa, Stephen Harper, two languages; English and French, Looney, Tooney". 

It is not uncommon to see kids accompany their parents to their workplaces. This little boy was hanging around one of the ancient temples as his mom was sweeping the leaves.  

Little fashionista spotted at one of the temples.  This cutie pie was helping her mom sell fruit to tourist wanting to feed nearby monkeys.  What an adorable child. 

This girl was working at a smoothie stand with her mom late in the evening, taking and translating orders from English speaking tourists and scooping out coconut meat.  

Ice block delivery to a fruit stand.

Coconuts continued being our favorite drink. They came in different sizes. This one was especially huge and heavy. 

Thirsty no more.  Amok, a thick curry soup, is a popular dish in Cambodia. This one was served in a coconut. We found Khmer cuisine to be nowhere as spicy as that of its neighbor, Thailand. 

Curry is also very popular. It's sweeter and thicker than the Thai version and often contains loads of onions.  Here are some delicacies we did not try. Snakes on a skewer? Yikes. 

We also passed on fried tarantulas. Eww.  We tried the traditional Khmer massage but skipped this one even though the ad was really funny. "Please feed our hungry fish your dead skin" Haha. 

Khmer Riel is a colorful currency. All of the above bills amount to about 80 cents. US Dollars however, is a very widely used currency and sometimes is preferred to KHR. In fact, ATMs give out USD. Funny thing is that if you buy something for $2.50 and you pay in USD, the cashier will give you back 2,000 KHR because they do not use US coins. There were also plenty of $2 bills that passed our hands, probably more than we've ever seen in the US. 

We took a day off from sightseeing the temples and went to a nearby fancy hotel where, for $5 per person, we were able to use their pool and gym. 

Our hotel was nowhere as nice as this one. 

On our last night in Siem Reap we attended a dinner and a dance performance.   The show was a traditional Khmer dance. Khmer dance involves a lot of slow hand movements. Dancers wore beautiful silk attires and a lot of jewelry. 

It was a fun performance to watch. 

Stay tuned for our next post documenting our exploration of the Angkor Archeological Park temples! 

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(Vladyta) Asia Cambodia Siem Reap South East Asia https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2015/1/siem-reap Sun, 04 Jan 2015 15:26:15 GMT
2014 Travel Recap https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/2014 Hi all! 2014 is coming to and end and we are all looking forward to the new year. This past year was pretty amazing for us. We quit our jobs in May, moved all of our stuff from our apartment on the UWS to my parents' basement in Queens and shortly after left the country. Our first trip was to Canada to visit Vlad's family in Winnipeg, friends in Toronto and made a pit stop in Quebec. Two weeks after that trip we left USA and headed for Europe where we spent 3 months. Following that we spent a month in Australia and another one in New Zealand. At the end of November we flew to Thailand and have been exploring South East Asia since. Our trip is nearing an end and we are a bit sad but we got to see lots of the world and made some amazing memories. Here are some stats for 2014. Hope you enjoy them!  

Countries Visited: 17

Cities visited where we spent the night: 39

Number of different beds we slept in: 43

Out of those 43 beds:

  • 24 were rented via Airbnb (10 in private apartments / 14 in shared houses with hosts)
  • 11 in hotels
  • 7 at friends' and families'
  • 1 at a hostel 

Shout out to friends and family who hosted us: Vlad's parents in Winnipeg, Jimmy & Sheryll in Toronto, Damian in Warsaw, Vlad's cousin Lyndsey & family in Paris, Ilya & Dasha in Luxembourg, and Erica & JP in Den Haag. 

Number of visas we had to get: Three - for Australia, Cambodia and Vietnam. 

Shortest time spent in a country: About 1h in Slovakia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, respectively.

Longest time spent in a country: 31 days in New Zealand - the most beautiful country in the world. 

Modes of transportation utilized: plane, helicopter, train, tram, subway, bus, sleeping bus, minibus, car, ferry, speed boat, long-tail boat, motorcycle, scooter, tuk-tuk, bicycle. 

Longest commute between destinations: Den Haag, Netherlands to Melbourne, Australia. This required a tram, a train, and subway from Den Haag to Paris, followed by a plane with two layovers in New Delhi, India and in Sydney, Australia. A bus and tram ride from Melbourne's airport to our rental topped off the trip. Approximate travel time = 48 hours.

Most memorable commute between destinations: A "hotel bus" we took overnight from Siem Reap in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. From the brochures it looked comfortable and sounded like a fun adventure but it turned to be torture in real life. The narrow, short, and uncomfortable beds did not provide proper respite from the uber bumpy roads of Cambodia. While we saved money traveling this way, we lost a day and a half trying to recover - our stomachs had a hard time adjusting from all the motion sickness.

Number of times we got lost: Zero. That's right, like a boss. 

Vehicle rentals: Four cars (1 in Luxembourg, two in Australia, and one in New Zealand), three scooters (Corfu, Ao Nang & Koh Samui).

Currencies handled:  12 - Canadian Dollar, Norwegian Krone, Croatian Kuna, Polish Zloty, Euro, Australian Dollar, New Zealand Dollar, Thai Baht, Cambodian Riel, US Dollar, Vietnamese Dong, and Singapore Dollar. 

Favorite place we visited: Queenstown, New Zealand.

Favorite thing we did: For Edyta it was her first helicopter ride to and hike on a glacier in Franz Josef, New Zealand.  For Vlad it was bungy jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand. 

Favorite simple activity: tasting beers and coffees around the world. 

Movie theaters visited: 2 - in Athens and Sydney where we saw 22 Jump Street and Gone Girl. 

Haircuts received:  Edyta - 0, Vlad - 9  with the most memorable one being on a sidewalk in Hanoi, Vietnam. 

And here's to the people we've stayed with and met on the road! It was so awesome to see our family and friends while traveling and to meet some cool new people. Thank you for making our travel experience so awesome! Cheers to you all! (although not all are pictured below)

We are nearing the end of our adventure and have only a few more destinations left before coming home. We feel fortunate to have made it to so many corners of the world, and will cherish these memories forever. Memories and selfies :-) 

 

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(Vladyta) 2014 Recap Asia Australia Best of Europe New Zealand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/2014 Wed, 31 Dec 2014 12:59:14 GMT
A Taste of Thailand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/thai-food -by Edyta-

Thai Food is such a universally loved cuisine - the mention of it alone is enough to make most peoples' mouths water. From the colorful spices, carefully extracted flavors and aromatic herbs, Thai food can translate to an exotic and adventurous cuisine to some, or a more basic, comfort food to others. The marriage of fresh ingredients results in complex yet harmonious flavors. Even for those of us who aren't adventurous foodies, Thai food offers a variety of options - from basic stir fries, delicious rice noodles, colorful curries, aromatic soups,  and crispy fried fish, there is something tasty for everyone.   

During our three weeks in Thailand, Vlad and I were lucky to try some of the freshest, most delicious Thai food ever. We ate out at restaurants, tried street eateries and carts, explored outdoor markets, and even tried our luck with boat kitchens. I admit that at first I was hesitant to have street food in Thailand, but I cautiously warmed up to the idea and started eating like the locals. After all, that's what one should be doing when traveling to foreign lands - immerse in the culture of the place and enjoy the ride. Lucky for both of us, we were very happy with our decision. Once we tried some of the more popular street cart food, we quickly realized how authentic and delicious it was, and became more adventurous with our choices every day. The food was so good in fact, that there was no point in going back to restaurants (unless there was a half hour wait at street vendors) - street cart meals quickly replaced all our other options, and we were very happy with this turn of events. 

Below are some of our favorite or most interesting foods that we experienced during our three weeks in Thailand. Enjoy!

Pad Thai with shrimp at the private beach of our hotel was probably the best pad Thai we've ever had. 

Tom Yum soup is one of my favorite Thai dishes. 

 

Pad See Ew with Vegetables. As you can see from this photo, you are normally given a fork and a spoon and are supposed to use the fork to push the food onto the spoon and then raise then spoon to your mouth. That's actually easier than using a knife. I quickly mastered this new technique ;-).

Vlad's new favorite - Cashew Chicken. 

 

Red curry with beef. 

If you order "takeaway", expect plastic bags as containers. Papaya Salad, on the left, was our staple. 

Small outdoor restaurant in Koh Samui where we ate almost every single lunch and dinner. It didn't even have a name. The food however, was extraordinary. 

Typical street cart set up - motorcycle with a kitchen. I don't even know how they fit it all in and drive to this spot every day. It may not look clean but it was. Woks and pans were washed after each use and each meal was cooked separately. Some of the best food we ever had was from these type of street vendors. 

 Boat with a fully functioning kitchen at Phra Nang Beach. 

Food shop carried on shoulders. This lady sold papaya salad which she prepared on the sidewalk. 

Dishes at a market in Krabi Town. Normally dishes are prepared as ordered and pretty much from scratch. I am thinking these prepared meals were a Thai version of fast food. 

Tiny eggs at a market in Bangkok looked very cute but not appealing enough for us to try them, especially on our second day in Asia when we were just getting used to eating food from street vendors. 

Fish ball skewers. We also passed on those. 

Seafood and meat at a street cart. Vlad indulged in some fried shrimp and grilled chicken. 

Crabs and mussels. 

Fish, squid and a snake like looking fish. Due to a language barrier I was not able to figure out what kind of fish this was. If you do, let us know!

Dried squid at a market in Bangkok. Obviously we got 3 lbs of it (just kidding!). 

Produce, meat and fish market in Koh Samui. 

Sample restaurant menu - two pages of Papaya Salad options!

Some menu options were a bit confusing. We skipped the Roast Barometer Earthstars. 

Spicy chili lime fish sauce for times when your food is not fiery enough (very rare). 

 

Famous Thai beer. 

Fresh coconut juice is especially refreshing after a long day in the sun. 

Huge jackfruit

Dragon fruit. 

 

Dragon fruit looks even prettier when cut up. Unfortunately it has a very bland taste. 

Coconut ice cream served in a coconut shell with some green rice and peanuts. It tasted amazingly delicious. 

Unidentified Thai dessert. 

Khanom Bueang are dessert "tacos" filled with fluffy marshmellow-like coconut creme. We tried one and it was delicious.

We found the Thai cupcake to be lighter than its American cousin. The Foi Thong topping tasted a bit like jasmine. 

So how do you like your coffee? Black? No sugar? Guess what? Street vendors don't care. They will just pour an obscene amount of carnation milk into coffee, tea and even smoothies. If you want something close to traditional North American coffee you can try Starbucks for about $3.5 per cup of regular drip. 

Carnation milk is a huge star in Thailand. Probably because it's easy to mix into liquids and doesn't get spoiled in the heat. 

Snickers at supermarkets are much smaller than in North America. 

Beans and corn yogurt? We skipped that too. 

So which foods look the most appealing to you? Would you dare and try some of the more unusual ones like dried squid or bean yogurt?

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more photos of our trip to Thailand visit our Gallery page. 

 

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(Vladyta) Asia Best of Food South East Asia Thailand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/thai-food Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:20:46 GMT
A bit of luxury on Koh Samui Island, Thailand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/kohsamui -by Vlad-

We departed Krabi Province on December 3 and after a 2 1/2 van ride and a very bumpy 90 min ferry, we arrived on the island of Koh Samui, located in the Gulf of Thailand. After another 20 min cab ride to our hotel we were ready to settle in and explore the grounds. Kirikayan Resort impressed us immediately: twice the size of our NYC apartment, 3 balconies, tile and wood throughout, and a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the jungle and mountains. This bit of luxury cost us $78 per night, which is a little less than the average we paid to rent a room in someone's house in New Zealand and Australia. We knew that Asia was the perfect place to splurge.
 
After a day of lounging, we rented a scooter and visited some cool temples. First we explored a smaller Wat Phra Ya with a golden Buddha perched atop a hill overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. Next we headed to large and modern Wat Plai Leam temple comlpex, with both Chinese and Thai influences, home to a huge and pudgy Laughing Buddha and the 18-armed Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. In the evening, we visited the Fisherman's Village, a street closed to traffic with many shops restaurants, and a bit of outdoor entertainment. Despite the intermittent rain, the vibe was upbeat and a few souvenirs were purchased.
 
The next evening, we went to our hotel's sister location in the town of Chaweng (the most touristy part of the island) and enjoyed a delicious Thai buffet dinner right on the beach under a sunset and eventual moonlight. We chatted with some travelers from Germany and England while sipping our drinks. There was also live singing provided by Apple (yes, real name), the manager of our hotel. Work all day and sing at night. Needless to say, she leads a busy life, but seems to enjoy it.
 
Sunday was an important day for us. We headed into the town of Chaweng early to watch UFC 181 at The Islander bar. Edyta was almost as keen on us watching this fight card as I was, mostly because Brendan 'Big Brown' Schaub was fighting. We've both become huge fans of Big Brown after religiously listening to the weekly Fighter and the Kid podcast. Nothing like watching cage fighting in a open air bar at 10 am.
 
After the card, we rode south towards the Namuang Waterfalls, two falls that sat side by side in the jungle. These 8 story waterfalls were both beautiful and refreshing to dip our feet into. Within the same park, we were able to see local handlers give elephants a bath. It was quite impressive to see these pachyderms up close. However, seeing these animals in an enclosed place with basket marks on their backs further confirmed our belief that we should not ride them (riding elephants is a big touristy attraction in Thailand but after finding out how animals are tamed we decided we did not want to support it - click here for more info). From here, we headed to Wat Khunaram to see Luomg Pordaeng, a monk whose glass encased body hasn't decomposed since his death in 1973. It is said that he predicted the exact date of his own death and wished to be displayed (should his body not decompose) to remind people of their mortality. After 40+ years his body seems to be relatively well kept...as far as dead bodies go. To end the night on a less morbid note we visited Lamai beach and watched the sunset at Rock Bar, a super chill, slightly hidden bar located amongst the rocks and trees with laid back music (imagine listening to Bob Marley in a treehouse bar). One of the rocks in the area is the famous and phallic Grandfather Rock. There is also a grandmother rock, or rather crevasse, nearby but we were not able to locate it. We were content enough with beer, smoothies and another beautiful sunset.
 
When we weren't busy sightseeing, we took full advantage of our pool, small outdoor gym, and our spacious apartment. We also fit in a few Thai massages (very affordable at around $8-10 per hour), body scrubs and pedicures. During a typical thai massage, the masseuse not only worked out the knots in our muscles with the use of oil and even Tiger Balm, but also provided a relaxing full body stretch at the end of each session. Stress levels were at an all time low...not that they've been really high for the past few months to begin with.
 
As our Thailand visit came to an end, we grew a little sad as we had grown to love the relaxing beaches, delicious food, and the welcoming hospitality provided by the locals. Thank you Thailand for a wonderful and memorable stay!
 
Next stop, Cambodia.

  Our journey to the island of Koh Samui through land and sea.

Our hotelOur hotel Our bedroom was very spacious. 

Our hotelOur hotel

Bathroom located between the bedroom and the living room.  Our hotelOur hotel

Dining area as seen from the kitchen. Living room area with couches was behind the wall and door I am standing in. 

Our hotelOur hotel Peering out one of the three balconies.

Our hotelOur hotel View from the bedroom balcony. Our hotel was located in the northern part of the island, far from touristy beaches and souvenir shops. 

Hotel Pool. We had a view at it from two balconies. We loved swimming there and looking at the palm trees.  Open air dining area where we had breakfast every day.  Hotel groundsHotel grounds There was lots of greenery on hotel premises. It felt very secluded. 

Hotel groundsHotel grounds Edyta loved these droplets and gave them a photoshoot.  Vlad's Bday CakeVlad's Bday Cake The hotel surprised me with a beautiful birthday cake. A very nice touch. 

Beach dinner at sister hotel in Chaweng.  Couldn't have asked for a better dinner setting. We even wore our fanciest backpacker outfits. 

Near Wat Plai LaemNear Wat Plai Laem Arriving at the Big Buddha Temple (aka Wat Phra Yai)

The 12 meter tall sitting Big Buddha was built in 1972. Visitors must take off their shoes to go up the hill. Proper clothing is also required.  Small Buddhas. 

Guanyin Goddess of Mercy at Wat Plai Laem Guanyin Goddess of Mercy at Wat Plai Laem Guanyin Goddess of Mercy at Wat Plai Laem Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy and Compassion at Wat Plai Leam. Her 18 arms symbolize her ability to reach out and provide help across the world. 

Wat Plai LaemWat Plai Laem Wat Plai Leam grounds with Laughing Buddha on the left. 

Laughing Buddha at Wat Plai LaemLaughing Buddha at Wat Plai Laem

Laughing Buddha.

Laughing Buddha at Wat Plai Laem Laughing Buddha at Wat Plai Laem Laughing Buddha at Wat Plai Laem

Belly shot. 

Wat Plai LaemWat Plai Laem

Buddha inside one of the temples in Wat Plai Leam.

Wat Plai LaemWat Plai Laem The walls of this temple very colourful and detailed.

  Wat Plai LaemWat Plai Laem

Alone with my thought. Wat Plai LaemWat Plai Laem

Amazing detail.

At one of the spas we got a massage. 

The streets of Chaweng, Koh Samui's main town.

Walking into The Islander to watch UFC 181. We've taken similar pics at famous landmarks during our travels that have been retweeted by Big Brown himself. 

Waterfall in Koh SamuiWaterfall in Koh SamuiWaterfall in Koh Samui

Namuang Waterfalls. 

Cooling off.

Elephant bath - what an impressive animal. 

An elephant an his trainer.

The body of monk Luong Pordaeng, whose body has not decomposed in 40+ years. Phallic Grandfather rock.  Rainbow falling into the Gulf of Thailand. Edyta enjoying mango smoothie during sunset.  One of the cooler bars I've ever been to.  Sunsets in Thailand were beautiful. Wow! OMG!

WTF! 

For more photos of Koh Samui and Thailand visit our Gallery page. 

 

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(Vladyta) Animals Asia Island Koh Samui South East Asia Thailand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/kohsamui Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:17:35 GMT
Long Tail Boats and Beach Time at Ao Nang Beach, Thailand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/AoNang -by Edyta-

The hustle and bustle of Bangkok quickly got us longing for a more relaxed stay. Picking the next destination was not easy - there are literally countless beautiful places in Thailand. The ones that are the easiest to get to tend to be the more touristy. After doing research and chatting with a few locals we settled on Ao Nang - a beach town in Thailand's Krabi Province, a less touristy cousin of the nearby and famous Pukhet. We found that even though Ao Nang clearly thrives on tourism, it is still possible to see some elements of authentic and traditional Thai life. 

Thailand is home to many developed places which make it an attractive destination for tourists. In 2013, Thailand was the 10th most visited country in the world. Depending on the source, Bangkok ranks as one of the top three or five most visited cities in the world. Tourists who are making their way to Asia usually make Thailand their first destination. The combination of food, natural wonders (including a few world heritage sites), sandy beaches and exciting nightlife makes Thailand an excellent introduction to Asian culture. 

Our hotel in Ao Nang was situated on a side road, about 200 meters from food carts and another 100 from the beach. I have to say that it took me a few days to get used to the idea of getting most of our meals from street vendors. But once I started there was no going back - the food was superb. Everything was prepared right in front of us, with the freshest local ingredients - talk about authenticity! We gravitated towards one single cart, and went back there every day alternating between our favorite couple of dishes and trying something new. Portions in Thailand are smaller than back home in America, where things tend to be XXL, so we were often able to try more than a single dish. Aside from the traditional Thai food that was familiar to us, we were surprised to see things like pancakes, which resemble crepes and are usually filled with bananas. Our favorite dessert however was mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream. 

On our first day of exploring Ao Nang, we took a long-tail boat to nearby Phra Nang Beach where we lounged all day and had lunch on the beach. The beach was a postcard perfect picture of white sand and blue waters with towering green limestones. As there were food vendors on boats there was no reason to cut the day of relaxation short. Well, at least not until black clouds started to cover the sky and made us run to the long-tails to get to our hotel before the downpour! 

The following day we took a 15 min shuttle ride to a private beach which belonged to the hotel we stayed at. While it was not as pristine as Phra Nang Beach it was desolate and relaxing and there was a fully functioning bar and kitchen - nice perk! We spent the day reading books, napping in hammocks and swimming in the water. I know - tough life! We ended up liking this beach so much that we came back two more times. After getting back to our hotel that night we saw the most spectacular sunset and quickly rushed to the beach on the main strip and watched it in awe with hundreds of other spectators. It seemed like every visitor stopped what they were doing and just stared into the sky which was a rich mix of red, orange, purple, and even green. I snapped photos while listening to the sounds of ukulele tunes played by a Canadian girl (which of course Vlad spoke to because of the common country bond). It was hands down the most amazing sunset we have ever witnessed. 

Wishing to venture out beyond the limits of Ao Nang we rented a scooter and drove for about 45 minutes inland to Krabi Town which turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Aside from a beautiful temple and a fun sculpture of two crabs, there was not a whole lot else to see. After getting some lunch and drinking fresh coconut water we hit the road again rushing home to jump in the shower and scrub off all the dust and sweat we gathered while driving. 

Towards the end of our stay we booked a private long-tail tour from our hotel which took us around four islands near Ao Nang. I don't recall all the island names but we saw Chicken Island and spent some time on Tub Island. Our guides were nice and even though they did not speak much English, we somehow communicated. They took us to a spot where we snorkeled with colorful fish and admired coral reef. They even threw bread in the water so that the fish would gather in front of our faces. Seeing the fish so up-close was a very fun experience until we started getting bit by them. I guess they confused our buns with bread! In contrast to Australia, where you are constantly reminded not to touch the reef or feed the fish, no one gave us any such instructions in Thailand but of course we were careful and respectful. 

The flight from Bangkok to Krabi was about an hour. 

Hotels in Thailand are not too expensive. Once you get to Thailand, you will most likely not spend a whole lot of money. Our hotel room in AoNang Our hotel room was very spacious. Even though our hotel pool was overlooking other hotels it was still a nice view. Our hotel pool was overlooking other hotels.Our hotel pool was overlooking other hotels. Hotel pool on the 3rd floor had a pretty interesting view. 

These long-tail boats are almost a symbol of Thailand. While they look very pretty I was not a fan of them. They emit a lot of pollution and are extremely loud. Famous longtail boatsFamous longtail boats Long tails at Phra Nang BeachEvery traveler has a shot like this. Those boats photograph really well. Iconic long-tail boats in Thailand. Iconic long-tail boats in Thailand. Iconic view of lined up long-tail boats. Everyone traveling to Thailand probably has one of those photos.  

We were very happy to see that there were boat vendor selling food at the beach. Lunch at Phra Nang BeachLunch at Phra Nang Beach

Hungry while on the beach? Do not worry, pick up your lunch from one of the boat kitchens docked by the shore.    These ladies had everything on those boats and they were able to cook a variety of meals. We ordered pad-thai and some curry, followed by more pad-thai and curry. And then some mango sticky rice & fresh coconut for dessert. Boat vendors' kitchen. Boat vendors' kitchen. Vlad getting some food from local women. Ladies wearing traditional muslim hijab were a common sight in Krabi as Muslims account for over 40% of  the local population.

Phallic cave was interesting. Phallic cave in Thailand. Phallic cave in Thailand.

Phra Nang (Princess) Cave is located on the beach and is a big attraction among tourists due to a large number of phallic wooden sculptures. These decorations make it very hard to keep a straight face while visiting this small cave. Fishermen used to come here to give offerings for successful fishing trips and general fertility. 

Phra Nang (Princess) Cave had plenty of similar sculptures. It was right on the beach. Think of the children! Haha, Just kidding. Children have to eventually learn about human anatomy, don't they?Phra Nang (Princess) CavePhra Nang (Princess) Cave

One of the sculptures.  As suspected, chilling at a thai beach in a hammock proved to be very relaxing. Hammock living, Hammock living. Relaxing at our hotel's private beach. We came back here two more times.

The owner's goal is to keep the beach area as natural as possible. 

The restaurant on the beach served some of the best Thai food we've ever had. These plates were gone in minutes. Freshly made Thai foodFreshly made Thai food

I don't think I need to convince anyone when I say that Thai food is delicious. The dishes we got from the private beach kitchen were exceptionally good.   Horseback riding on the beach. 

After getting back to our hotel we saw the most amazing sunset. Lots of people gathered to see it. Can you spot Vlad?  Sunsets in Thailand were amazingly spectacular. We could not believe that the colors the sky could turn. There is no photo-shopping here. The entire sky was first red, orange and blue after which it turned purple. Colorful sunset in Ao NangColorful sunset in Ao Nang It was the most colorful sunset we have ever seen. The whole sky was on fire. 

The following day's sunset was also beautiful but not nearly as dramatic.  Scooters are a popular means of transportation among locals and tourists alike. We rented a similar one for our day trip to Krabi Town.  Street of Ao Nang are colorful with souvenir shops.  Another Thai attraction were Lady Boys walking the streets of Ao Nang. For a small fee you could take a photo with them.  There are photos of the Thai King everywhere in Thailand.  Grilled sea food. 

Intersection at Krabi Town. 

This temple looked beautiful from the outside. Unfortunately we were not able to get in because my shoulders were exposed. It is really hard to cover up in Thailand as the weather can be extremely hot.  Wat Kaew temple in Krabi TownWat Kaew temple in Krabi Town Wat Kaew, temple in Krabi Town. We weren't properly dressed so we did not go inside.  Our skippers on the private boat tour.  Kids jumping off limestone cliffs.  Chicken Island got its name from the rock formation that looks like a neck and head of a chicken; there are no chickens roaming this island. Chicken islandChicken Island Chicken Island is named after the rock that resembles a chicken head. 

Clear waters. 

While snorkeling near Ao Nang we saw lots of colorful fish. Our tour guides kept feeding them bread so that they would come right in front of our faces. At times it was a very freaky sight and we even got small bites on our body. I guess we look like bread. Snorkeling in Thailand. Snorkeling in Thailand. Snorkeling with colorful fish. Our guides were throwing bread right in front of us so we had a wonderful view of them. At times fish confused us with bread and we got bitten.  Enjoying Tup Island's sandbar. 

Our last stop was this pretty white sand beach. Unfortunately I do not know the name of it. 

Beaches in Thailand are generally beautiful. White sand and crystal blue water. Unfortunately they are also a bit crowded but that's what happens with any popular place. We don't mind sharing nature with other people :-). Thai white sand beachesThai white sand beaches White sand + crystal clear waters = paradise 

Our long tail boat was docked on the beach waiting for us as we were eating lunch. Our long tail boat docked on the beach.Our long tail boat docked on the beach.

Our long-tail boat. 

Hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any questions or comments, let us know below. For more photos of Ao Nang and Thailand visit our Gallery page. 

Next stop - the island of Koh Samui. 

So what do you think of Thailand so far? Have you been? Is it on your list?

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(Vladyta) Ao Nang Asia Beach Krabi South East Asia Thailand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/AoNang Sun, 14 Dec 2014 04:03:03 GMT
Bangkok, Thailand: First Stop in Asia https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/bangkok -by Edyta-

Sawadee or hello from Thailand!

We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on November 21, 2014. As sad as we were to leave beautiful New Zealand, we were also excited for warmer weather and getting out of our comfort zone in South East Asia. Traveling in Australia and New Zealand was relatively easy as they are English speaking countries. We suspect that SEA will be more challenging due to language and cultural differences. Let's see how it goes. 

We got to our hotel late in the evening. Chatrium Residence Sathon was a huge and modern hotel. We were at first surprised to see the location of it; it was on a busy side street surrounded by some sketchy looking buildings as well as an international school and higher end restaurants. It turned out that this is the norm in Bangkok. The old mixed with the new, the fancy next door to poor. This became more evident later on when we took a canal tour and saw shanty town buildings right next to beautiful modern high-rises or opulent temples. 

We stayed in Bangkok for six nights, probably more time than an average visitor would spend but we added some extra days for pure relaxation and planning. On the first day we explored our neighborhood and relaxed by the pool. The following day we ventured out to Chatuchak Weekend Market. It was a market on steroids which included 8,000 stalls! We walked around it admiring local goods: from trinkets and souvenirs to furniture and even pets. It was a really cool cultural experience. In the following days we explored few temples and took a canal tour around Bangkok. When visiting temples in Thailand it is mandatory to wear modest clothing although that rule seems to apply mostly to women. Just like in the Vatican, bare female knees and shoulders are considered inappropriate. While Vlad was able to get away with shorts and a t-shirt I wore a long skirt and a cardigan in about 90F degree weather. Nevertheless, sightseeing the temples was a very rewarding experience. 

The canal tour was a bit of a nerve-racker for me. We found out about it from some local dude near Chinatown. He quickly directed us to a tuk tuk that took us to a small ferry port. My initial excitement quickly gave way to fear as we pulled up to a narrow street with a small shady looking port and I started remembering all the travel mishaps stories I ever read. Did they bring us here to rob us or in the best case scenario to scam us? Vlad was feeling pretty calm about the whole situation and after seeing few other gringos getting ready to board I got comfortable enough to get into a long-boat equipped with a car motor. Shortly after that we started our 1.5h tour along one of Bangkok's canals and then up Chao Phraya River where we arrived at Wat Arun Temple.

Sightseeing the canal was a humbling and sad experience. Shanty town structures dominated the shore. Many were in terrible shape, dirty and falling apart. Kids were fishing and swimming in the murky canal waters. I felt bad to see that this was their childhood but as Vlad pointed out, they did not know any better and they actually looked very happy. Every now and then a beautiful and shiny temple or a statue of Buddha would appear on the shore creating a huge contrast to the poor canal houses. The highlight of the trip was a moment when an older lady swam in her tiny boat to ours offering us some goods to buy and Vlad gladly bought some beer for himself and our captain.

That same evening we visited the spectacular 17th century Wat Arun Temple. To get to the top we climbed very steep steps and admired the porcelain and shell decorations of the outer walls of the temple. Next we proceeded to Wat Pho to see the famous Reclining Buddha. It was a magnificent sight; a 43 meter long and 15 meter tall Buddha was situated in a large building. The statue was made of brick and stucco, lacquered and gilded. Its feet and eyes were decorated using mother-of-pearl. We walked around the grounds admiring various temple structures shining in the dark.  

The rest of our stay was pretty relaxing. We got some massages and facials, went to the hotel gym (I even took a fit-ball class), relaxed by the pool and started getting used to and really enjoying street food. After a visit to a travel agency we got some ideas about where to go and booked a flight to Krabi where we would stay for a week. Unfortunately we did not get to see the Grand Palace. I got a little sick to my stomach that morning and we did not make it there on time (it closes early at 3:30pm). Instead, in the evening we headed to Asiatique, an outdoor shopping and entertainment center where we window shopped, ate, and got a fish pedicure. This was a very funny experience for both of us. When we first dipped our feet in water and felt tens of tiny fish nibble on our feet we got a bit freaked out. I actually could not stop laughing because the feeling was ticklish. We relaxed at last and enjoyed the experience. I don't actually know how effective of a pedicure this is but it was sure very fun.

Bangkok has the unfortunate reputation of a city that is a hard to love. It's often described as a crowded, dirty, smelly metropolis, with streetside fumes - not everybody's cup of tea. As this was my first visit to Asia, I tried to be open minded and enjoy what the city had to offer, which wasn't always easy. But the thing I quickly learned about Bangkok is that while it may live up to some of those unfortunate expectations, it also charms with its glistening temples and statues, and its fragrant aromas of delicious traditional Thai foods. Overall we found Bangkok to be an enjoyable and important city to visit, but it is not one that we would long to return to. 

Here are some facts about Thailand and Bangkok followed by the photos. 

Geography: Bangkok is located in central Thailand in the South East Asia.

Population:  Out of the 67 million people in Thailand, 6.4 million people live in Bangkok.

Demographics: In Thailand, 95.9% are Thai, 2% Burmese, the rest is other and unspecified.

Currency: Thai Baht where 1 USD = approximately 33 THB 

Official Languages: Thai (aka Siamese or Central Thai)

Religion: 94.6% Therevada Buddihsm, 4.6% Muslim, 0.7% Christians. 

Best Known for:  Thailand is known for beautiful beaches, great food, temples, 2004 Tsunami, lady-boys, elephants. Bangkok is know for being a large metropolis, martial arts, great shopping (upscale designers and cheap markets), 

What We Noticed: lots of people; pollution and traffic; tuk tuks; dark tinted car windows; street food stands are everywhere; take out food is packed in plastic bags; carnation milk is used in many drinks; spirit houses and photos of the King are scattered around the city; yellow as the color of the Thai monarchy; cabs are often bright pink or purple.

Interesting fact: Thaland is a monarchy headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej aka Rama IX. It's strictly against the law to criticize the monarchy. It's better not to mention him at all. 

We flew from Christchurch, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia (3h) and then to Bangkok, Thailand (9.5h). It looks so close on the map but it is actually really far. 

Chatrium Residence Sathon in Bangkok, Thailand. Chatrium Residence Sathon in Bangkok, Thailand. Chatrium Residence Sathon in Bangkok, Thailand.

Chatrium Residence Sathon already had some Christmas decorations.  We are taking a break from Airbnb and using our second favorite site, Hotels.com where you get every tenth night free. 

Chatrium Residence Sathon in Bangkok, Thailand. Chatrium Residence Sathon in Bangkok, Thailand. Chatrium Residence Sathon in Bangkok, Thailand.

Hotel pool. 

When we arrived in Bangkok we were shocked at how many 7-Elevens there were in this city. Streets of Bangkok. First walk down the streets of Bangkok, only few minutes from our hotel. There's tons of 7-Elevens in Thailand. 

Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was an interesting experience.Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was an interesting experience.Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was an interesting experience. Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was an interesting experience. When exploring Chatuchak Weekend Market I dreamed of three large suitcases I could fill up with all the beautiful items sold at the market. Or at least of really low shipping fees :-).Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was an interesting experience.Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was an interesting experience. Some beautiful items.  Colorful textiles and beautiful patterns caught my eye at the market. Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was an interesting experience.Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was a very fun experience. There's something there for everyone.  Care for a mug? That sure is a huge selection to pick from. Visiting Chatuchak Weekend Market was one of our favorite activities when in Bangkok. Care for a mug? Hope it's one of those on the top of the piles.  Colorful soaps in shapes of flowers and fruit were one of the best sellers at the market. I was really tempted to get the funny Hot and Sour Soup soap set. Colorful soap in shapes of fruit and flowers at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok. Colorful soap in shapes of fruit and flowers at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok. Colorful soap. I kind of hope they don't smell like the shapes they are made into... unless you wish to smell like Hot and Sour Soup (see top left corner). You can also buy pets in this market. We saw the cutest dogs and kittens there. Unfortunately the store owners do not like photos and being new to this country I obliged.  Having just arrived in Asia we decided to stay clear of these eggs and got some pad thai instead. Tiny eggs sold at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok. Tiny eggs and fried foods sold at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok. Tiny eggs and fried foods. We were not feeling adventurous enough to try these.  Not sure how this dried squid is eaten. It was very hard and did not look "chewable".Dried squid Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, Thailand. Dried squid Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, Thailand. Dried squid. No thanks.  Coconut ice cream. Yes, please. It was really delicious and cost about $1.5.

We ended the visit to the market with an hour foot and shoulder massage for about $8 per person. 

Bangkok is home to some of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand. Wat Traimit temple, Bangkok, Thailand. First temple we visited was Wat Traimit. At the entrance was a photo of King Bhumibol Adulyadej aka Rama IX who has been reigning since 1946. Fun fact: the King was born in 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit weights 5.5 tons and is made of pure gold. Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand. Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand. Wat Traimit is home to the Golden Buddha, the world's largest solid gold statue weighting 5.5 tons and standing 3 meters tall. It dates back to 13th or 14th century and it estimated worth is about $250 million dollars. Strangely, we did not see many security guards in the temple (not that it would be easy to steal this statue). 

Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand. Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand.

The ceiling of the temple was very beautiful. 

Our first ride in a tuk-tuk was really fun. First ride in a tuk-tuk. From Wat Traimit we took a tuk tuk to the next attraction, Bangkok Canal tour.  Bangkok Canal Tour was a bit of a stressful experience but turned out to be perfectly safe. Bangkok Canal Tour. Longtail boats in the canal. We rode in a similar one powered by a car engine.  Dealing with vendors in Asia can be a bit of a stressful experience as they can be pushy and try to make you feel bad. We believe in supporting local economies and try to buy a thing or two from them. Beer and snack vendor we encountered during our Bangkok Canal Tour. At one point a boat vendor lady vendor came close to offer us some souvenirs and beers.  Apartment buildings by the canal.  Children swimming in the murky waters of the canal. Kids swimming in the murky waters of the canal.  The Canal Tour in Bangkok allowed us to see the poverty and the conditions in which many people live. Apartment buildings along the canal in Bangkok, Thailand. Shanty town. 

Next to poor houses are beautiful and opulent temples. Next to poor houses are beautiful and opulent temples. Temples brightened up the canal. 

This 17th century Wat Arun Temple was one of our favorite temples we visited in Asia. Wat Arun Temple, Bangkok, Thailand.

At the end of our canal tour we were dropped off by Wat Arun Temple which dates back to 17th century.  

    If you decide to climb Wat Arun Temple in Bangkok, you better not be scared of heights. Steep stairs at Wat Arun Temple.

The stairs to the top were very steep.

    When in Thailand, make sure to be respectful of the monks. Do not touch them, especially if you're a woman. Monks at Wat Arun Temple, Bangkok, Thailand.

Monks at the temple.   

Detailed ceramic work at Wat Arun Temple. The temple is beautifully decorated with ceramic pieces and shells. 

Wat Arun Temple in its full glory.

Wat Arun in its full glory. 

Another breathtaking Buddha statue in Thailand. Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok Thailand. Next Stop, Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

The size of the Buddha exceeded our expectations. It is 15 by 43 meters. Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.

Reclyning Buddha is 15 meters tall and 43 meters long. 

Touching monks, showing affection, touching of the statues are some of the things that are prohibited when visiting Thai temples. How to behave when visiting temples.

Things you cannot do at the temple. 

Wat Pho glistening at night. Wat Pho at night. Sightseeing Wat Pho grounds at night. 
Golden decorations were glistening in the light. 

Streets of Bangkok.  Bangkok traffic. Tuk tuks are a popular means of transportation in the city. 

When traveling we always try to taste things we have never seen before such as these delicious thai tacos called Khanom Bueang, found in a mall in Bangkok. Thai dessert tacos Khanom Bueang Khanom Bueang are dessert "tacos" filled with fluffy marshmellow-like coconut creme. We tried one and it was delicious.  In the evening we headed to outdoor shopping and entertainment center Asiatique

We tried a fish pedicure. It was a very confusing experience. At first we got freaked out a bit and could not keep our feet in the water as the fish tickled us. We finally got used to small fish nibbling on our feet but not sure if we will repeat the experience. 

Getting a fish pedicure was one of the weirdest experiences ever. Fish pedicure in Bangkok, Thailand. Hungry fish.  Asiatique was a cool experience with lots of small shops, restaurants, movie theaters and some shows. 

Asiatique Sky ferris wheel.  

Lights and lanterns. 

Bangkok fashion. Dresses adorn with kittens and flowers.

Certain fashion items can be very different than those back home.   Thai clown. 

Thai take out comes in bags rather than plastic containers. Getting food at restaurants is extremely popular in Bangkok so this probably uses less plastic than containers would. Papaya Salad became our daily staple.  Dragon fruit looks better than it tastes. Dragon fruit.Dragon fruit. Dragon fruit looks better than it tastes. 

So what do you think of Bangkok? Does the city appeal to you at all? Would you travel across the world to visit it?

 

For more photos of Bangkok and Thailand visit our Gallery page and join us next as we explore the beaches of Krabi Province. 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Asia Bangkok City South East Asia Temples Thailand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/12/bangkok Sun, 07 Dec 2014 14:52:28 GMT
Interesting Things About New Zealand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/interestingNZ -by Edyta-

New Zealand, this distant and mysterious land, stole our hearts. After spending a month in Aotearoa (Maori name for New Zealand), we learned and noticed some interesting things that are worth sharing. Don't be surprised if after reading about this beautiful spot, you will find yourself looking for flights across the globe! Enjoy! 

  • Kia Ora is a greeting in Maori language. It's sort of like Aloha in Hawaii. 
  • People in New Zealand call themselves Kiwis. The name comes from a rare flightless, nocturnal bird that only lives in New Zealand, not from the kiwi fruit. 

Kiwi birdKiwi bird

  • Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of the New Zealand with a very interesting culture.  About 16% of New Zealand population are Maori, although it is worth noting that there are no longer 100% pure Maori left.
  • Maori are known for intricate body and face tattoos called ta moko. The ink used to be CARVED into the skin (often face) leaving raised marks. Sounds painful to me! 

Maori TattoosMaori TattoosMaori Tattoos  

  • Maori are also known for a war dance called the Haka which nowadays is used mainly for sporting events (The All Blacks NZ national rugby union team does it best. Click here to see it. And yes, the facial expressions are part of it. )
  • Kiwis love their national sport of rugby.
  • There are two kinds or rugby: Rugby League and Rugby Union. They differ by many rules, field size and number of players. 
  • All Blacks is the famous Rugby Union national team and ranked number 1 in the world. They wear black uniforms adorn with a silver fern leaf across the heart. They perform a mean Haka. 

All Blacks poster in DunedinAll Blacks poster in DunedinAll Blacks poster in Dunedin

  • New Zealand's national anthem is sang in Maori first, followed by English. It really is a beautiful tune. Vlad's been learning how to sing it in both languages.
  • In 1943, New Zealand invited 733 Polish WWII orphans and their 105 caregivers and later gave them permanent residency. They are known as the Polish Orphans of Pahiatua

 Polish Orphans of Pahiatua, New Zealand Polish Orphans of Pahiatua, New Zealand Polish Orphans of Pahiatua, New Zealand

  • Currently this small country welcomes 750 refugees per year (now mostly from Africa) and actively helps them assimilate to their new surroundings
  • The silver fern is one of the symbols of New Zealand and it adorns the All Blacks uniforms. Legend has it, Maori hunters and warriors used the silver underside of the fern leaves to mark their trails and find their way home at night. The silver color would reflect the moonshine and show them the path.  

Silver fernSilver fernSilver fern

  • The kiwi bird is another symbol of New Zealand. Both the silver fern and the kiwi are used in marketing materials and on souvenirs. 

  • The national colors of New Zealand are Maori's black, white, and red. Black is especially prominent and reflected in uniforms of sports teams, marketing materials and souvenirs. Air New Zealand recently painted some of their planes black and they look super slick.

  • If you are wondering about the symbol on the tail of the plane, that's Koru which represents unfurling silver fern frond
  • Australians have Vegemite while Kiwis have Marmite
  • Tourism plays a significant part in NZ's economy. 
  • Many tourist chose to rent a campervan and explore the country without worrying about accommodations. There are special designated areas with toilets and showers where campervans can stay overnight.

Campervans in New Zealand - JucyCampervans in New Zealand - Jucy

  • If you are planning to rent a campervan or a car, you better be ready to drive on the left side of the road
  • NZ wine is a growing industry. We saw lots of wineries and grape vines in the north part of the South Island.  

NZ winery - South IslandNZ winery - South Island

  • Grocery stores carry large selections of local wines at reasonable prices. 

Grocery stores in New Zealand carry wineGrocery stores in New Zealand carry wineGrocery stores in New Zealand carry wine

  • Over 150 locations in New Zealand were used in filming the Lord of the Rings movies. 

MatamataMatamataMatamata

  • The director of LOTR is Kiwi born Peter Jackson
  • There are lots of sheep in New Zealand. About 31 million to be precise. That's about 8 sheep per each Kiwi person. 

There is about 31 million sheep in New ZealandThere is about 31 million sheep in New Zealand

  • Sheep graze the fields 24/7. Their wool is warm enough for them to stay out even in winters. There are no predators that would hunt sheep so they are safe. 
  • Sheep wool is one of New Zealand's main exports. 
  • Souvenir shops carry lots of merino wool products which are quite pricey. A T-Shirt can set you back $100 while a sweater about $300. 
  • Cows also graze NZ fields freely. New Zealand beef is some of the best in the world.  

New Zealand cowsNew Zealand cowsNew Zealand cows

  • Aside from sheep and cows we have also seen paddocks full of deer. At first we thought our eyes were playing tricks on us but we later learned that deer is farmed for venison (deer meat served in restaurants). 

Deer farm in New ZealandDeer farm in New Zealand

  • Paddocks mean fields.
  • Alpacas were also seen but in small numbers. They are often grown as pets. 

Alpacas in New ZealandAlpacas in New ZealandAlpacas in New Zealand

  • In comparison to Australia, there are no deadly animals in New Zealand so you can freely roll in the grass and swim in the sea.  
  • The only thing that comes close are annoying sand flies which are similar to mosquitos. 
  • There's lots of free public bathrooms in New Zealand (learn from it Europe). They are usually very clean.

  • Second hand shops are very popular in New Zealand. You can buy pretty much everything there: clothes, dishes, books, and furniture. 

Second hand shops are very popular in New ZealandSecond hand shops are very popular in New Zealand

  • There are many chain stores and restaurants that you'd find in North America. While the familiar may be welcomed and comforting to some travelers, I really disliked it. 

  • New Zealand's money is made of plastic. Banknotes bear birds and New Zealand's scenery on one side and some notable Kiwis on the other. 

New Zealand money - bills and coinsNew Zealand money - bills and coins

  • The New Zealand accent is different from Australian of British. The easiest way to tell a Kiwi is by the way they pronounce 'e' in some of their words. 'Yes' sounds like 'Yees", 'November' sounds like 'Noveembah'.
  • They also pronounce the word 'no' a bit differently. It's as if there was an 'r' at the end of it. It's sounds like "Noer'. We started talking like that by the end of our trip. Just for fun. 
  • "Sweet As" is popular Kiwi saying which pretty much means "cool". 
  • There is a rivalry between the North and the South Island. 
  • North Island is home to two largest cities: Auckland and Wellington.
  • The biggest city in the South Island is Christchurch which was devastated by a series of earthquakes between 2010 and 2012.  
  • The South Island is more rugged and its people pride themselves in being tough and adventurous. 
  • Queenstown in the South Island is an adventure capital of the world. This is where Bungy Jumping was invented by AJ Hackett. Vlad really loved it

Queenstown in the South Island is an adventure capital of the world. Queenstown in the South Island is an adventure capital of the world.

  • Many older houses are not properly insulated therefore they are really cold inside (almost all of the ones we stayed at). To compensate for that Kiwis use wall and portable heaters as well as electric blankets in their beds. Sometimes it's colder inside of the house than it is outside. The below illustrates how we felt pretty much the whole time while in New Zealand. 

  • Similar to Australia, Kiwis have the same tiny light switches and power outlets with an on/off switch.

  • We came across many sinks with separate faucets for cold and hot water. When washing your face you have to chose every day: frost bite or third degree burns?  

  • New Zealand's national starch is kumara which is similar to a yam or a sweet potato. When baked, it's super tasty. 

New Zealand's national starch is kumara which is similar to a yam or a sweet potatoNew Zealand's national starch is kumara which is similar to a yam or a sweet potato

  • As opposed to North America, eggs in stores are not sold in fridges but rather on shelves. They are also clearly labeled as free ranging or not. 

Eggs sold in New Zealand on shelvesEggs sold in New Zealand on shelvesEggs sold in New Zealand on shelves

So what do you think about New Zealand?  Would you want to visit this distant yet beautiful country?  

 

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(Vladyta) Interesting New Zealand North Island South Island https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/interestingNZ Sun, 30 Nov 2014 15:25:40 GMT
Post Earthquake Christchurch & Last Stop in New Zealand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/christchurch -by Vlad-

Our last stop in this beautiful country was the South Island's largest city, Christchurch. We had been told that the city was still in rebuild mode after the devastating earthquakes between 2010 and 2012 during which 185 people died and many were injured. In this two year span, over 4000 earthquakes measuring 3.0 and above on the Richter scale rocked this region causing about a third of the buildings in the CBD (central business district) to be destroyed. Some are awaiting to be demolished to this day. Edyta and I wanted to witness, not only the after effects, but the rebuilding process, for ourselves during our quick, two night stay in Christchurch. 

Prior to our arrival in Christchurch, we stopped in the small town of Akaroa. This seaside town of about 550 people is located amongst the rolling hills of the Banks Peninsula and still displays its French origin in its street signs and shop names. 

Ironically, we experienced a first during our final Airbnb house in New Zealand: insulation! The house was warm and no electric blankets were needed this time around. 

Walking around downtown Christchurch, there was a mix of rebuilt shops, surviving buildings, structures still waiting to be torn down and empty lots. There was a slight quiet, eerie feeling due to the lack of crowds normally seen in a large city's CBD. Nonetheless, the people we did encounter were the typically friendly Kiwis we've seen throughout our NZ stay. 

The Anglican Christchurch Cathedral was perhaps the most shocking as one side had a gaping hole with a collapsing roof. Despite $40M in damages being covered by insurance, another $27M is currently bring fundraised to complete the rebuild. For lunch we headed to Re:start, a funky, outdoor mall made up of shipping containers. Pretty cool concept to kick start CBD activity while the city rebuilds. 

We were sad to see our NZ visit come to an end after nearly a month. NZ provided us with amazing scenery, friendly locals, some adventurous activities and an overall happiness that we will forever be grateful for. Hopefully we will meet again NZ!

Geography: Chrischurch is located in the center of the East Coast of the South Island, in the Canterbury region. 

Population:  341,000 people call Christchurch home, making it the largest city in the South Island. 

Best Known for:  Being the largest city in the South Island; 2010-12 earthquakes; Re:START container mall; Getaway to the Antarctic. 

What We Noticed: Post earthquake ruins; construction work and rebuilding; colorful murals and artwork scattered around the city; not many tourists; businesses reopened in shipping containers. 

Interesting facts: New Zealand is not a very religious country so the name Christchurch stood out to us. It turns out the city was most likely named by the Church of England founders of this City. Kiwi abbreviate Christchurch as Chch. Maori name for Christchurch is Otautahi. 

 
Our last drive in New Zealand was fairly quick. 

Funny scultpure in Akaroa. 

Not a whole lot happening in Akaroa.  Our room.  First glimpse of Christchurch. The signs of 2010-11 earthquakes are still evident.  Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Many buildings await demolition or rebuilding. 

One of 50 giraffe sculptures scattered around the city. In February, all of the sculptures will be auctioned to raise money for charities.  Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Artwork that looks like fragrance diffusers.  Pastel hued buildings on the rebuilt New Regent streetChristchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. New Regent Street is home to spanish style buildings which host many cafes and shops. It is now fully rebuilt.  Edyta found this map to be very "cute". Post earthquake, visibly destroyed Cathedral Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Christchurch after the earthquakes, New Zealand. Christchurch Cathedral from the front.  This flower sculpture was situated right in front of the Cathedral. It looks like the dwellers of ChCh did their very best to revive their city after the earthquakes. It worked for us. 

Another giraffe and the Chalice permanent metal sculpture in the back. 

  Traffic cones in shape of sheep Colorful artwork near the Cathedral.   Re:START Container Mall in Christchurch, New Zealand. Re:START Container Mall in Christchurch, New Zealand. Re:START Container Mall in Christchurch, New Zealand. Re:START Container Mall was a really cool spot for lunch and windowshopping.  Re:START Container Mall in Christchurch, New Zealand. Re:START Container Mall in Christchurch, New Zealand. Lots of colours at this modern mall Edyta ventured out to a nearby department store and got excited about Christmas decorations. 

Something sweet.  Colourful murals brighten up this visibly destroyed city.  Adios Christchurch!  New Zealand, we will miss you! 

Talk to you all from our next destination: Bangkok, Thailand. 

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(Vladyta) Christchurch New Zealand South Island https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/christchurch Fri, 28 Nov 2014 03:07:52 GMT
Tekapo: Milky Blue Lakes & Flying Over Mount Cook https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/tekapo -by Edyta-

We left Queenstown with a bit of sadness. Our time in New Zealand was coming to an end and we were leaving one of the most beautiful places we have ever stayed at. However, since we are 'glass is half full' kind of people, we were looking forward to our next stop, the small town of Fairlie near the beautiful Lake Tekapo. We arrived there on November 16th, 2014 and stayed for two nights. 

The drive was very scenic as it is the norm in New Zealand. The most memorable stop was Lake Pukaki only a half hour away from Tekapo. The weather was very sunny making the milky blue lake and snow covered mountain peaks look exceptionally stunning. The best thing about this rest stop was being able to see Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand, in its glory. 

Our Airbnb room, in a large 100 year old villa in Fairlie, was very comfortable and nicely decorated. The best part about it was the small fireplace which we fell asleep to both nights we were there. We decided that aside from obelisks in our backyard (Vlad's takeaway after Europe) we would also get fireplaces in every room of our future house (hey, one can dream). Our hosts were really nice and we chatted with them about local living and their travels. We have been very lucky so far staying with some of the nicest strangers in both Australia and New Zealand. 

As you may remember from the previous post, I was a bit bummed about not being able to paraglide in Queenstown. I really wanted to do it for my birthday as a way of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Unfortunately Fairlie did not offer any similar extreme experiences so I "settled" for a scenic plane ride which turned out to be one of my favorite experiences. The ride lasted 50 minutes and we flew over Lake Tekapo, glacier rivers, snowy mountains as well as Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. Our 8 person plane got really close to the mountains including the famous Mount Cook. We even flew above the Franz Josef Glacier which we visited only two weeks ago. It was a wonderful birthday adventure which we both enjoyed. 

Later that day we explored the Lake Tekapo area and enjoyed some down time by our fireplace. Two days in Fairlie went by very fast and soon enough we made our way to our last stop in New Zealand, Christchurch. 

Milky blue river near Lake Pukaki.  At Lake Pukaki with Mt.Cook aka Aoraki in the background. The milky blue color is caused by tiny glacier rock particles (glacial flour) mixed in with blue water. 

Vlad in his All Blacks Maori Jersey. I think this is the only souvenir he got on this trip.  Close up of Mount Cook which is the highest mountain of New Zealand standing at 3,724 meters / 12,818 feet. What a spectacular mountain.  Lake Tekapo is also very blue. 

Airbnb house we stayed at in Fairlie, a half hour drive from Lake Tekapo.  Our bedroom with a working fireplace and lots of cute decorations. 

We used the fireplace on both nights. Funky kitchen with a dining room table made by our host. The stove was an antique and not in use. There was a set of modern amenities not pictured here. Zoe the dog. She was very friendly. 

Scenic flight with Air Safaris lasted 50 minutes.   At the begining of the flight - Lake Tekapo. We first flew over Lake Tekapo and the glacial river. 

Milky blue water looked spectacular. Lake Tekapo in its full glory. 

Getting close to the mountains. 

Flying over Franz Josef Glacier which we hiked about 2 weeks before. The glacier ends in the valley which is covered with clouds in this photo.  Flying above snowy peaks was amazing. We could not get enough of the views.  Flying by the top of Mt. Cook. You can see a small avalanche on the bottom right hand side of the photo (looks like a small snowy waterfall falling over the rocks).  On the way back.  Trees looked like lime green cauliflowers.  With our pilot.  Birthday coffee. 

 Vlad's dish at  Run 77 Cafe.   

Walking along the shore of Lake Tekapo.  Adding a tiny pebble to the top of the sculpture we found by the lake. 

Beautiful lupins grew on the shore of Lake Tekapo.  We actually sat among them and admired the view.  We found some free ziplines near the lake.  I went for about 14 rides and got a lot of dirty looks from some 12 year old who was waiting in line.  For the non believers - I drove! And no one got hurt. :-) 

 

 

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(Vladyta) Flight New Zealand South Island Tekapo https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/tekapo Wed, 26 Nov 2014 14:57:20 GMT
Queenstown, New Zealand: Bungy Jumping, Alpacas and Epic Views https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/Queenstown -by Edyta-

Four nights in Dunedin went by fairly quickly and we soon found ourselves on the road again, driving through picturesque New Zealand scenery. Next stop was Queenstown, a touristy resort town in the middle of Otago region, situated on the beautiful Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by tall mountain ranges with snowy caps. We've heard from locals that Queenstown is a touristy place but this is not at all a bad thing. This beautiful town has something for everyone: extreme sports for daredevils, hiking trails for nature seekers, and restaurants and bars for those that prefer a relaxed vacation. We got there on November 11, 2014 and stayed for five nights.

Yet again we booked a room using Airbnb. When we first saw the house we rented online we knew it would be the perfect place for us. Situated about a 15 minute drive from Queenstown, it was a remote oasis with amazing views. The owners turned out to be super sweet and we chatted with them frequently by their fireplace. A very unique thing about this place were five cute alpacas. The owners keep these funny animals as pets and lawnmowers. Every day during our stay we would go over to see them and feed them a treat of bread. 

One of our first activities in Queenstown was a hike up Queenstown Hill. It was a fairly quick but very steep hike in the woods. When we finally came across an open space we saw one of the most spectacular views of blue Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains called The Remarkables.  It was really cold on the top. On our way down we saw an elderly lady walking down with two hiking sticks right at the point where the trail loop was getting pretty steep and rocky. We offered our help and she gladly accepted. It turned out that she was an Austrian lady visiting New Zealand on a tour. Some kid at the info center told her this hike would be easy but that was far from the truth. She just had two knee surgeries six months ago, but was such a good sport about it. Wanting to explore, she set out on this hike alone. We took her under our arms and walked down listening to travel stories from her youth. It felt nice to do something good. We wrapped the day with a round of drinks at Below Zero Ice Bar where, as the name suggests, everything was made of ice.

During our stay in Queenstown we took a scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu to the small town of Glenorchy where we went for a walk along the Glenorchy Lagoon. It was an easy and relaxing walk with some picnic tables along the way. Aside from that, Vlad jumped off the bridge that was birthplace of bungy jumping, the Kawarau Bridge. It was here where AJ Hackett first launched the world's commercially operated bungy jumping.  I think I was more nervous than Vlad. He was really excited and happy he pushed himself out of his comfort zone. Since Vlad did something daring, I decided to go paragliding. Unfortunately the weather was bad for two days and the flights kept getting cancelled due to unpredictable winds. I guess I'll have to wait to do it elsewhere. 

Queenstown was our favorite area of New Zealand. The surroundings were simply astounding and we loved the house in which we stayed. We were very sad to leave this place and hope to return there one day.

Here are some facts about Queenstown and photos below. As always, let us know if you have any questions or comments below. 

Geography: Queenstown is located in the South Central part of New Zealand's South Island, region of Otago. 

Population:  28,000 people live in Queenstown 

Best Known for:  Being a resort town with beautiful views; The Remarkables mountain range; Lake Wakatipu; ski slopes; extreme sports (paragliding, skydiving, bungy jumping); bungy jumping originated here and was developed by AJ Hackett; tramping (hiking) trails; Fergburger

What We Noticed: beautiful views of snow covered mountains and green rolling hills; beautiful blue color of Lake Wakatipu; lots of international tourists; souvenir shops; great selection of restaurants; two ice bars; movie theater; charming and happening town; and of course lots of sheep and cows. 

The route from Dunedin to Queenstown was very scenic. 

The house we stayed at near Queenstown was our favorite spot during this entire trip.  The views around the house were amazing. Snow coverage on the mountains changed daily, depending on the weather. 

Our bedroom was spacious and bright. 

The living room had a lovely fireplace which we gladly used. The whole house had the feel of a mountain lodge. 

New Zealand's famous bird, the Tui, was a frequent visitor to the area. Tuis have fancy feather bibs. 

These guys however were our favorite animals in Queenstown. Meet Christopher, Glen and Brownie, the house owners' alpacas.  Brownie really liked photos. 

Vlad and his crew: Edno, Alpachi, and Brownie. There were five alpacas in total.  There were also lots of sheep in the area.  A lone sheep.  The sky in NZ is full of stars. Sometimes you even get to see one falling!  I really regret not bringing my tripod on this trip. I had to improvise so the photos are not very sharp. In this one Vlad "painted" the house with a flashlight. 

Queenstown is a picturesque resort town.  It is situated on Lake Waketipu and surrounded by tall mountains.  Queenstown was significantly more touristy than most places in New Zealand but it was still very charming and we liked the lively energy of the town. 

On our drive back from Queenstown to our house we made a small detour tempted by this view. Close up of the mountain peak - NZ mountains are really amazing. 

 Hiking the Queenstown Hill.  Near the top. Can you even find Vlad?

The view from the top was spectacular.  Lake Wakatipu was super blue, although not for long. Shortly after this photo was taken it got very gloomy and rained a bit.  Another view from the top of Queenstown Hill.  Basket of Dreams sculpture near the top of the trail. 

After the hike we went for a drink at Below Zero ice bar.  The bar served only Belvedere vodka drinks. POLSKA REPRESENT!!!  Even the glasses were made of ice. 

Glenorchy Valley walk was very pleasant. I felt like I was on the set of The Sound of Music.

Part of the trail.  Beautiful views. Lupin flowers were everywhere in the Central Otago region. 

 Vlad getting strapped in before the jump.     Right before the jump. Photo by AJHackett Bungy

Vlad jumping. Photo by AJHackett Bungy Vlad jumping. Photo by AJHackett Bungy Vlad after his jump.  This is what a bungy cord is made of. 

Here I am ready to paraglide. We got to the top of the mountain where the pilots/instructors were monitoring the wind. Unfortunately they decided it was safe not to fly that day.  Some other company still flew but on hand gliders. Lucky. 

Good bye Queenstown! We will miss you. 

 

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(Vladyta) Alpacas Hike New Zealand Queenstown South Island https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/Queenstown Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:25:29 GMT
Rugby Match in Dunedin https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/dunedin *Post written by Vlad*

After an adventurous 3 days in Franz Josef, we headed east to South Island's second largest city, Dunedin (Christchurch is first). One of the main reasons for our visit was to see the Kiwis play England in the Four Nations rugby tournament (Samoa and Australia were the other two participants). 

We pulled up to our Airbnb house and immediately took in the beautiful view from the hills. One of our hosts, Margie, was originally from Minnesota, so it was refreshing to chat with her about her experiences of living in NZ for 11 years and how it compared to the States. Together with her Kiwi husband they are in the process of relocating back to the States. We had so much fun chatting with this couple that by the end of the stay we felt like old friends. On our first night there, as per our custom, we headed out for a post drive beer and food at Inch Bar, who happened to be hosting a lovely, mediocre, local band. 

Saturday, November 7, 2014: Game day!

I was extremely excited since I had been itching to see live sports, something other than football, hockey, basketball and baseball, since we began our travels. I had been telling friends and locals that we were going to see the famous All Blacks play. This is the NZ national rugby UNION team and perhaps the most famous rugby team in the world. However, an employee in a Champions sports store in Auckland informed me of the difference between rugby union and rugby league. While the All Blacks were in Chicago playing a friendly against the American team, we were scheduled to see the Kiwis, the NZ national rugby LEAGUE team. In any case I was thrilled to see live sports at a national level.

For me, there's something nostalgic about national anthems, especially at sporting events. This was no exception, partly because I knew the words to the English anthem (God Save the Queen was sung at the end of each school day in elementary school) and party due to the home crowd proudly belting out their anthem, which was in both Maori and English. After the anthems the Kiwis performed the much anticipated Haka, a war cry/dance/challenge traditionally performed by New Zealand sports teams prior to battle. Both Edyta and I were looking forward to seeing this live. For an example of the All Blacks Haka, click here (while both impressive, the All blacks Haka is known more globally than the Kiwis Haka). 

The game was an entertaining affair, which consisted of fast, back and forth action combined with hard, bone crushing hits. It's amazing to see these guys, not only play without pads, but also play both offense and defense non stop for each of the 40 minute halves. In the end, the home side Kiwis came out victorious 16-14 to advance to the finals in Wellington (Note: the Kiwis eventually won the final with a victory over the Kangaroos of Australia). 

The next day, we headed north about 45 minutes to see the Moreaki boulders, huge, spherical boulders on the shores of Koekohe beach. While it's not exactly known now they were formed, it definitely involves a combination of calcite, erosion, pressure, salt and time (lots of time, about 4 - 5.5 million years to form one). 

We also saved some time to check out the city of Dunedin and agreed it was quite nice. The Flemish Renaissance style Dunedin Railway Station provided a beautiful backdrop for a farmers market and also housed the New Zealand Sports Museum. The Cadbury factory was a perfect spot to grab a rich hot chocolate and to stock up on a few treats. 

Overall, it was pleasant stay in the South Island's second largest city.

Geography: Dunedin is situated on the south east coast of the South Island. 

Population:  Out of 4.47 million people that live in New Zealand, 126,000 live in Dunedin.

Best Known for: New Zealand's largest city by area; the name comes from Dun Eideann which is the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland; many first settlers were from Scottland; Baldwin Street in Dunedin is the world's steepest residential street; home to University of Otago, New Zealand's first university; Forsyth Barr Stadium; Cadbury Factory

What We Noticed: lots of elevation as part of the city is in the valley and part on the surrounding slopes; steep roads; lots of collage aged people. 

The drive from Franz Josef to Dunedin was pretty long. 

Lake Hawea, on the drive from Franz Josef to Dunedin. Of course we had to pull over and snap a pic.  This pic would make for a good Toyota ad. One of the many beautiful roads in New Zealand. Pretty cool how the lake and my shirt match. Organic, grass-fed labels not needed in NZ. Man, these sheep have it good.  Never seen a blue picket fence before.  Our cozy room equipped with the standard electric blanket. Our host was an artist, thus the funky decor. This is actually a toned down version as she had to make it somewhat basic to put the house on the market. The ceilings were originally painted a swirly blue to resemble the inside of a paua shell. Sunset above DunedinSunset above DunedinSunset above Dunedin Sunset over Dunedin from the veranda.  Dunedin Railway Station. The black brick was beautiful. Inside of the train station. 

New Zealand basketball legend Stanley Hill at the New Zealand Sports Museum inside of the Dunedin Railway Station. Perhaps, current Oklahoma City starting center Steven Adams will be enshrined here one day. Baldwin St., the world's steepest residential street (far ahead). Mural at the top of Baldwin St. Example of Dunedin architecture. 

Ever see hot water bottles at a cafe or bar? This is one way patrons can combat the chilly weather while sitting on the patio.  One of the streets in the central Dunedin area called The Octogon.  Streets of Dunedin. 

Poster of the Haka. In the middle is Richie McCaw, captain of the All Blacks, and first person to ever captain a national rugby squad 100 times. Some of the tempting desserts at the Cadbury Cafe.

Hot chocolate at the Cadbury Factory in Dunedin Hot chocolate at the Cadbury Factory in Dunedin Hot chocolate at the Cadbury Factory in Dunedin We indulged in this delicious caramel hot chocolate. Good thing we split one, it was super sweet. 

The Kiwi squad lining up for the national anthems. The Kiwis doing the Haka in Dunedin November 2014 The Kiwis doing the Haka in Dunedin November 2014 Check out the video of the Kiwis doing the haka. 

Kickoff to start the game.  Streaker at the Kiwis vs. England rugby game in Dunedin November 2014Streaker at the Kiwis vs. England rugby game in Dunedin November 2014 Here's another video of a naked dude running through the rugby field. He was fast. 

First live rugby match did not disappoint. Crane kick on a Moeraki boulder.  The least comfortable position to get a tan. Edyta being swallowed by a boulder. Pretty cool how the boulders look like giant turtles resting on the beach.  Find Waldo aka Edyta.  Moeraki boulders from a lookout point.  On our way back we took the scenic route.  Edyta's favorite animals of New Zealand. 

 

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(Vladyta) City Dunedin New Zealand Rugby South Island https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/dunedin Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:55:12 GMT
Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/franzjosef *Post written by Vlad*

Despite another long drive (7hrs with stops) from Wakefield to our next destination, Franz Josef Village, I was looking forward to it. The scenery in New Zealand, and in particular, the South Island, is something that can only be seen in person to appreciate. Our drive took us down the west coast, where we stopped in Punakaiki to view the magnificent pancake rocks. These natural phenomena get their name because they resemble stacks of pancakes rising up from the ocean. At another rest stop we met a super friendly kiwi in the wild. He was so friendly that Edyta had to throw him a few crackers away from the car so we could escape and resume our drive. On second thought, we think he was sick because he was limping and as a nocturnal bird he should not be out in the middle of the day. 

A few things to note as we drive around NZ:  

  • We stop quite often, not just for gas and to get out and stretch, but just to take in the natural beauty of this country. There is a grand mix if rolling green hills, snow capped mountains, oceanfront, majestic lakes, sheep, cows, deer, and lush vegetation almost around every corner that makes it so esthetically pleasing to the eye. 
  • The highways are only single lane in each direction, with a periodic passing lane.  While this may drive North American drivers insane, we often find ourselves content sometimes stuck behind a car doing the speed limit (heaven forbid they weren't speeding). And why weren't we enraged? See above point.

We rolled into the booming metropolis of Franz Josef (two streets; pop. ~330) in the early evening and made our way to Chateau Franz Josef for the night. This place was far from a chateau and in actuality was a hostel. As you may have noticed, we have been doing Airbnb and staying with hosts for the majority of Oz and NZ. We were looking forward to the new experience of a hostel. And boy what an experience it was. We were put in a stationary caravan trailer fully equipped with a bed, TV/VCR combo, and near frost like conditions. Despite all of this, we made the best of it since we knew we had a nicer place for the next two evenings. 

The main reason for our visit to Franz Josef was the Franz Josef Glacier. We booked a helicopter ride and 3 hour hike on the glacier with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. They equipped us with a jacket, pants, boots, socks, and crampons, which are detachable metal cleats to ensure a solid grip on the glacier. We had two guides for our group of 12.

It was the first time either of us had been in a helicopter, and what a thrill it was. The smooth, 5 min ride up took us up beside the mountain face and dropped us smack in the middle of the glacier, where our guides awaited. We layered up anticipating cold temperatures, but ditched a layer or two a few minutes in. It got white warm up there thanks to a blaring sun and its reflection off of all the snow. It's now wonder our guides were in short sleeves and some were even in shorts. 

The guides took us up and down various parts of the glacier, at times having to carve out new steps with their pic axes. It's hard to describe the sheer size and depth of such a structure, but let me try my best: It was big!  It was also cool to chat with other members of our small group, which consisted of people from The Netherlands, Malaysia, China, England and Germany. We thought the hike to the base of the glacier the day before was impressive, which it was. But actually being on the glacier took our astonishment to a whole new level. 

We ended the day with a two hour soak in town's outdoor hot pools, where they had 3 pools of differing temperatures. A perfect end to a fantastic visit. 

Bit of a long drive. 

Scenic stop along our route.  Another one. There are plenty of these in NZ. All you have to do is follow brown informations signs and you can end up in some beautiful places like this one.  Rest stop overlooking the coast.  Pretty certain this is a kiwi bird.  It was walking around with a leg that looked twisted. 

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks of New ZealandPunakaiki Pancake Rocks of New ZealandPunakaiki Pancake Rocks of New Zealand The Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki.  There was a nice trail along the coast from which we admired different "stacks of pancakes".   Punakaiki Pancake Rocks of New ZealandPunakaiki Pancake Rocks of New ZealandPunakaiki Pancake Rocks of New Zealand Thanks to erosion, this rock doesn't stand a chance in the next million years or so. 

Pretty tough to drive with views like this... ...and this. We stop often. 

Main street, Franz Josef Village.  First night at Franz Josef we spent in this fine establishment. 

Now that's better. Two other nights. 

Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. Our hike to the Franz Josef Glacier.  Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. The Franz Josef Glacier in the middle of the valley. The trail ends not too far from here.  The glacier is only accessible by air.  Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. An assortment of rocks found on our hike to the glacier. How glaciers form. 

Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. The next day, we did a hike ON the glacier with an organized tour by Franz Josef Glacier Guides. It was our first helicopter ride, which was a wicked experience. Edyta was at first a bit scared but then she loved it. The whole trip was one of the best experiences of our lives.  Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. We quickly shed a lot of our gear. It can get surprisingly hot on the glacier.  Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. We learned how to put on crampons. They were necessary to walk on the glacier.  Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. At the beginning of exploration.

We passed through a few crevasses.

Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Our guides had to carry these to form new steps. 

Franz Josef Glacier in its glory. 

Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Descending.   Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Some crevasses were pretty deep.  Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. We had lots of fun on this expedition.

Landed! What a thrill. We loved this experience. 

Hot pools (iphone photo). 

 

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(Vladyta) Franz Josef Glacier Hike New Zealand South Island https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/franzjosef Wed, 19 Nov 2014 09:06:15 GMT
Nelson Area & Abel Tasman Park... and lots of sheep https://www.vladyta.com/blog/2014/11/nelson Welcome to the South Island of New Zealand! 

After spending a total of ten days in the North Island, on November 1, 2014 we arrived in the South Island via interisland ferry. The ride took about 3 hours. South Island greeted us with lots of sunshine and much warmer temperature than what we have experienced so far in NZ. The top region of the South Island (Nelson and Marlbourough) are known for sunshine and wineries. 

We stayed few miles south of Nelson in a small town of Wakefield which was extremely picturesque. Green rolling hills and mountains surrounded the Airbnb house in which we rented a cozy room. There were sheep everywhere and we loved listening to them in the evening. In the morning, chirping birds woke us up. This place was so lovely that we extended our two day stay to three days. 

On our first night we went for a walk in the evening and came across a lady chasing after her misbehaving tiny dog. We ended up chatting with her for about half hour. She was telling us about the town's sheep, cat and dog population as well as her life in Wakefield and family around the world. Once she found out we were from New York she asked lots of questions. Funny how people think that NYC is just like in Sex in the City or Friends or that there's crime on every corner. I love bursting those unrealistic bubbles. 

Anyhow, the north region of New Zealand's South Island is known for beautiful hiking trails which we set out to explore the day after our arrival. We drove to Abel Tasman National Park and did a 4.5 hour hike along the coast. The views of the blue Tasman Sea water peeking through lush greenery were very beautiful. We often stopped to examine various trees and plants. During the entire hike we passed very few people which is one of the beauties of New Zealand.

On the following day we relaxed around the house making plans for the next part of our trip. We also went for a scenic drive in the area and even stopped by the road to take some photos of sheep and cows. While we were doing that some local guy passing by in a pickup truck stopped and looked a bit concerned. The conversation went something like this: 

Local Guy: "Are you all right?"

Vlad: "Oh yeah, we're fine, just taking pictures of the cows"

Local Guy in a very surprised and somewhat suspicious voice: "For what?"

Vlad: "Hmm, for fun. It's something we don't see everyday where we're from"

Local Guy just shook his head and drove off. He probably thought we were some silly city folk. And he was right. 

And that sums up our stay in the Nelson region. Next stop - colder climates of Franz Joseph Glacier. 

We took a ferry to get from the North to the South Island. 

The interisland ferry was very big.   View from the ferry.  First glimpse of the North Island. South Island of New Zealand is known for its wineriesSouth Island of New Zealand is known for its wineriesSouth Island of New Zealand is known for its wineries South Island is known for its wineries. Here are some wine bushes and a few rugby balls.  When driving in New Zealand we stop very frequently to look at the beautiful views.  Our Airbnb room was very cute. It opened up to a deck on which we sat on in the cold NZ evening drinking beer while wearing gloves.  Nelson area on New Zealand's South Island. Nelson area on New Zealand's South Island. Nelson area on New Zealand's South Island. View from the driveway. Not too shabby.  Nelson area on New Zealand's South Island. Nelson area on New Zealand's South Island. Nelson area on New Zealand's South Island. View from a nearby hill. Cute sheep of New Zealand. Cute sheep of New Zealand. Cute sheep of New Zealand.