The past year has gone by so fast, one moment I am leaving my Australian home and job in May 2010 to travel the world, then before you know it I am living in Seattle, Washington USA!
Most of 2010 was such an adventure travelling through:
USA (May 2010)
Central and southern Florida- Launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis (what an awesome experience, the rumbling of the powerful rockets was felt in the air long before we actually saw the shuttle taking off! Incredible!), the Everglades NP and Key West were highlights.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
Key West, Florida
Chantilly, Virginia - Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum annex – awesome aircraft collection with Axis rarities from WW2 such as the Arado AR-234, B-29 Enola Gay that dropped the first nuclear bomb on Japan – “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Space Shuttle, Concorde etc.
Washington DC – first return visit since 1998 – hit the Smithsonian museums and memorials hard!
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Edgar Allen Poes house and Rocky Balboa statue.
New York City, New York - collossus of a city – always great fun with so much to do, “Rock of Ages” on Broadway, New York Air Show – Jones Beach (Blue Angels on the beach with 250,000 people!).
Times Square NYC
EUROPE (June – August 2010)
Mostly taking advantage of the excellent and not so excellent train and bus services of northern, central and eastern Europe (further east the slower and less comfortable, but significantly cheaper they get!) I revisted some countries and also travelled through many in Eastern Europe that I had always wanted to explore (even if the use of English was mostly useless!):
Finland – Helsinki, Tampere & Turku – land of the midnight sun - a weird experience! Eating Moose and Reindeer….yum!
Helsinki at midnight!
Germany- Hamburg, Bremen – catch up with Cousin Donovan and family, Leipzig, Berlin – Berlin Air Show, Luftwaffe Museum & former Stasi secret police HQ. Nuremburg (experienced a 4-0 drubbing by Germany over the Aussies in the World Cup Soccer), Freiburg and the Black Forest (finally got to go for a walk in the black forest – after being inspired by the Goodies “Pirate Radio” as a kid!), Munich (first visit since 1994 – this time I remember the trip, back then I spent a little too much time in the beer halls!), Dachau concentration camp (“arbeit macht frei” – never had words been so misused), Fussen – Mad King Ludwigs fairytale Neuschwanstein castle – the inspiration for Disney’s castle, Berchtesgaden & Obersalzburg the Eagles Nest (incredible mountain scenery with a dark recent past – also the playground of Hitler and the Nazi leadership).
Brandenburg Gate – Berlin
Black Forest near Freiburg
Neuschwanstein castle, Fussen, Germany
The Eagles Nest – Obersalzburg
Switzerland – Bern – catch up with Esther, Zurich, Lucerne & Basel and Wil Schonwil for the Sonisphere heavy metal festival to see the “BIG 4″ Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax; and the mighty Motorhead (8 hours of rain, 16 hours of shin deep mud – hard going, but awesome fun – so tired I fell asleep standing up, narrowly avoiding falling face first in the mud)!
Austria – Salzburg – birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the dreaded “Sound of Music”.
Romania - deep in Transylvania – Sibiu, Sighisaora – home of Vlad Tepes..Dracul!, Brasov, Bucharest – home of the mad Communist dictator Ceausescu and his massive Palace of the Parliament. Great close encounter with big brown bears on the outskirts of Brasov and interesting encounters with the local Gypsy population.
Bran Castle – Transylvania
Brown Bear – Brasov
Palace of Parliament – Bucharest
Bulgaria – Varna and the Black Sea (took a swim), Nessebar, Veliko Tarnovo and its amazing hillside setting, Plovdiv, Sofia & the famed Rila Monastery.
Poland - Warsaw (Warsaw uprising museum a must) – an awesome city rebuilt from the ashes of WW2 (check out the Zapiecek perogi restaurant – awesome food and beautiful polish girls dressed in traditional clothing that has been raunched up! Imagine a folk version of Hooters!!!), Gdansk – solidarity movement started in the docks here, Ketrzyn and Hitlers Wolfs Lair, Mikolajki (lake kayaking), Gizycko, the little village of Bialowieza deep in the primal forests of the Bialowiezka NP where I stayed in an awesome cabin and finally Bialystok before heading to the Baltic states.
Old Town – Warsaw
Lithuania - Vilnius, Trakai – lake and castle, seaside Klaipeda and the beautiful Curonian Spit, Siauliai and the famed Hill Of Crosses – the Communists kept destroying it and the brave Lithuanians just kept rebuilding it.
Trakai Castle – Lithuania
Siaulliai – Hill of Crosses
Latvia - the mighty Riga – so much fun I didnt want to leave – perfect mix of east Europe and its Communist past – including nuclear fallout bunkers, and Turaida Castle near the town of Sigulda a great forest and castle setting.
Estonia – Tartu – historic university town, Narva on the border with Russia – 3 days of historic battle renactments around the old Narva castle, Sillamae – once a Communist military town so secret it did not appear on maps!, Tallinn – incredible capital, Paldiski a semi deserted former Soviet military town, and the beautiful Lahemaa NP on the shores of the Baltic sea. The Baltic got me at the end of this trip – rather rough on the ferry ride back to Helsinki, Finland….ugh seasick.
Battle of Narva
ASIA (August – September 2010 and October – December 2010)
Hong Kong – catch up with Uncle Rob & cousin Ryan. Great food!
- Taipei 101, Taiwan
Taiwan – a country of great hospitality, scenery, history and awesome food – even the “Stinky Tofu”! Tapei – catch up with Wei-Chiao and see the mighty Tapei 101 building, Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall – got to see the changing of the guard which was pretty cool, Yangmingshan National Park where I had an awesome day hiking to the top of Qixing mountain, night market – ate some great food here – dumplings and various fried delights including ducks blood with rice!
The beautiful and mountainous east coast was a great highlight - Hulien, Toroko Gorge NP – with an illegal visit to the old typhoon damaged hot springs! Yuli – amazing mountain fields covered in yellow flowers, local foods in this area were delcious – restaurants specialise in one dish only such as oyster omlette and people queue up for ages to taste their wares!
The west coast is more populous and has a high speed train system (i.e. travels at over 200km/h). Tainan – the former capital under the Qing dynasty during imperial times (Confucian and royal temples), Taichung City. Weather was crazy in Taiwan – so hot most of the time, then 3 typhoons hit – so much rain! Couldnt go to the southern city of Kaohsiung due the storms – basically shut down!). Also spent a day in Danshui – this place has been ruled over the years by the Spanish, British and Japanese so is an eclectic mix of buildings , old fort etc. Once again awesome street food here too.
Flower Fields near Yuli
Singapore – quick visit – Singapore Flyer ferris wheel, WW2 British command bunker, watching drunk men become acquainted with the lady boys down at the riverside….did they not notice the deep voices??? Maybe they like it?!
Vietnam - extensive trip throughout Vietnam north to south over a couple of months – Hanoi – awesome city – hectic and crowded – Ho Chi Minh masoleum, temples and museums, the amazing Halong Bay for a 2 day cruise.
Halong Bay, North Vietnam
Then I detoured from the normal tourist trail and headed for Dien Bien Phu (north west Vietnam) - site of the French defeat in 1954 – bunkers, tunnels, trenches, old weaponry, General Giaps HQ in the mountains and also a visit to a local orphanage – poor little kids, was good to brighten there day with a visit from a crazy white guy (myself and another Australian bought all the bread from a local bakery and gave it to the orphanage kids. Mama San who owned the bakery was almost as happy as the kids)!
Dien Bien Phu
Then moved further south (cheap airfares for $30) to Danang – Marble Mountains & China Beach, Hoi An (unannounced the government decided due to heavy rain to release the floodgates of a nearby hydroelectric dam…..flooded the whole town for a couple of days! We had to get around in row boats!), Hue – Purple Forbidden City – eating my dinner in a cafe, I thought a kitten ran in from outside under my table and across my feet…..screams from the waitress and a quick look soon revealed a huge dirty rat!!!! Hue is a great place, but man do you get hassled…”where you go? you want motorbike?” etc. etc. etc. etc……..aaarrrgh!
Hoi An flooded!
After this I headed slightly north to Dong Ha – old DMZ area – Ho Chi Minh trail, the legendary Khe Sanh (why Cold Chisel sang about this place I dont know as the Aussies were not really based here?), Vinh Moc tunnels,. Spent 2 days with a guide on the back of a motorbike exploring old bases and historic sites from the Vietnam coastline to the border of Laos. A fascinating time.
Dong Ha is a dusty town where few foreigners actually stay (they normally stick to the tour buses and a do a day trip, but I wanted to explore the area more thoroughly), one night I got into a brief scuffle with some local lads who decided they wanted my wallet…lets just say they didn’t get it (and one had a very sore arm afterwards)! First time that has ever happened to me in all my travels around the world (apart from the Egyptian who threatened to cut my throat in 1997….)!
Deep in the Cu Chi tunnels
From here I returned to Hue then headed south to Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon – crazy place, lot of fun! Reuinification Palace – once the Presidential Palace where the famous scene in 1975 occurred with the communist tanks bursting through the main gates, leading to the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. Many historic places and museums to visit including the excellent War Remnants museum (as with all Communist museums it is funny to read about “Imperialist Puppets” etc). Cu Chi tunnels was a great day trip in the Iron Triangle – VC had the upper hand due to these tunnels in Vietnam war. Again HCMC is a city where everyone wants your money – be prepared to be hassled!
Then I took an important trip form an Australian perspective to Vung Tau (on a Jetsons style 1960′s hydrofoil)- where the Aussies were based in the Vietnam war – Nui Dat, Lon Phuoc tunnels and the famous site of the battle of Long Tan – met some Aussie veterans in Vung Tau – talking to them stirred up thoughts and images from the classic Redgum song “I was only 19″. They also reminded me of the crazy humour of Graham Kennedy in the movie “The Odd Angry Shot”).
Long Tan Memorial
My last few days in Nam were spent in the Mekong Delta – a great couple of days, no one bothers you and you enjoy the wonderful sites of the waterways and floating markets. I celebrated my 39th birthday with an unusual meal – Rat, Toad & Snake!!!
One of my favourite things in Vietnam (and also Eastern Europe) are Communist statues. They have some fantastic ones here – always with the same stern heroic styling, always showing the soldiers and people as strong, proud and brave. My favourite is a strange one in HCMC at the historic French colonial era central post office – a man and woman who are almost in a superman flying pose, with the Soviet “Sputnik” satellite flying next to them! Classic communist imagery.
Sputnik statue, HCMC, South Vietnam
Laos - beautiful place – Vientiane – catching up with old high school friend Dave Hart after 16 years!, Phonsavan – Plain of Jars and vast damage from Vietnam War bombing, sad moments meeting amputees from unexploded ordnance – got on Japanese TV!, Vang Vieng – tubing down the river (the most debauched place in Laos – pretty terrible really, but fun and amazing mountain scenery) and finally Luang Prabang – beautiful and peaceful temples.
That Louang – Vientiane
Plain of Jars – Site 3
AUSTRALIA (September – October 2010, December 2010 - March 2011)
Back in Melbourne for a while. Saw the mighty
Collingwood Football Club smash the Saints to win the AFL Grand Final!!!!
Collingwood Grand Final Winner 2010
Wimmera – Horsham spending time with family, Black Range, Pink Lake, Lake Hindmarsh, Little Desert NP, Grampians NP.
Outback South Australia - Port Augusta, Woomera – rocket range, Coober Pedy – sleeping underground, Crocodile Harrys (had to add to my visits to sites where the Mad Max movies have been filmed i.e. Mad Max 3 in this case), the Breakaways and the beautiful Flinders Ranges – Wilpena Pound – awesome 7 hour hike!
Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges, South Australia
Spent a fantastic week at Christmas with my family in Horsham. I made sure my time back in Australia involved a lot of time with my awesome neices (6 y.o. and 6 months) and nephews (4 and 2 y.o)!
The rest of my time back home was spent doing contract work over the summer with Reece Onsite – boost the coffers!!
Since I first travelled outside of Australia in 1994 I have now visited the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Vietnam and Zambia.