Cambodia Cruisin, Part 2!

Last week’s blog highlighted the beautiful and very friendly people of Cambodia and now for the second half, I want to highlight some of the landscape and action scenes that I saw.

As I was flying into the country, I was really impressed to see the water, sun reflections and boat traffic. To me, this really stressed the importance of water to the people of Cambodia, as seen in the next 3 pictures. Swimming, washing, fishing, all done in the streams, ponds and lakes and throughout Cambodia!

Phnom Penh

Sunlight poking through on the Bay of Thailand before arriving at Phnom Penh

Takeo

A young boy leaps of the bridge over a dam near Takeo, Cambodia.

Takeo

A line of fishermen preparing to cast nets in a lake near Takeo, Cambodia.

Tonle Sap

A boat tows a house (and TV antenna) to a new location on the Tonle Sap river, Cambodia

Before heading to Cambodia, I heard about the famous bats of Battambang and their nightly feeding session so I made sure to catch the event. Fortunately I was warned about not being under their departing path (as it made for a nasty surprise) so I climbed up the side of the mountain and captured them at eye level. I like the abstract nature of this shot!

Battambang

Millions of bats flying out for dinner from a cave near Battambang, Cambodia

Our final destionation was Angkor Wat and when we arrived, we weren’t disappointed. The immensity and amazing workmanship of the place was a marvel. The attention to detail was evident everywhere you looked.

Angkor Wat

A solo Monk reflecting near the water at Angkor Wat temple.

Angkor Wat

A line of columns symmetrically placed in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Angkor Wat

A memorial within one of the hallways in Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat

A panorama of the Angkor Wat complex, with reflection at dusk.

And of course I have to add a couple pictures of the ever present Monks.  It was always great to see them with their bright orange robes contrasting with the aged Temples.

Bayon

Some Buddhists Monks visiting the Bayon Temple, with a window of enlightenment above!

Angkor Wat

A group of Buddhist Monks enjoying the visit at the Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia

That is a wrap on the Cambodia experience. Truly a memorable bike/photo trip with some great friends. If you get a chance, definitely try and visit, you won’t be disappointed.

Rabbit Island

The sun setting with a golden cast on the bay next to Rabbit Island, Cambodia

Posted in Angkor Wat, Cambodia Tagged |

Cambodia Cruisin!

Well, took a quick detour on the European travel to Cambodia! An offer to travel across Cambodia by bicycle with 12 friends was too good to pass up and definitely lived up to my expectations.  The tour, mainly on back roads, consisted of approximately 60-80km a day with a Cambodian guide and two support vehicles, a great way to travel.

 

cambodia beer

Ice cold beer after a dusty trail!

While the scenery and temples were magnificent, it was the people that really stood out for me.  I can still hear the children shouting “Hello” and running out to wave to us. We always made a point to respond with a hearty Hello and a wave back as we were impressed by their enthusiasm to try out some English.

Cambodia Kids

Kids sneaking away from class to see the foreigners!

 

cambodia kids

A few of the kids from a small village out to see the strange visitors!

 

cambodia kids

Some shy girls walking home from school with their portable shade branch.

 

Cambodia kids

A young girl patiently waiting for her mother to finish working the salt fields.

 

Cambodia kids

Ok so this one was not so excited to see us!

 

The adults were equally kind throughout the country. I was amazed how some of the people had so little yet they seemed so happy, really should be a lesson to all us in the commercialized western countries and our desire to reach happiness through purchases of material goods.

Tonle Sap fishermen

Four fishermen pausing to see the boat full of foreigners on the Tonle Sap river.

 

Cambodia people

Two women and a man that were in the Temple came out to see the strangely dressed foreigners.

A blog post about the people of Cambodia wouldn’t be complete without a couple of shots of the Buddhist Monks that you would see throughout the country. The Monks wearing their orange robes always stood out in a mystical way and I would always stare and wonder about their lives. They were also very gracious and unassuming.

Buddhist Monks

Two Buddhist Monks on a hiking trail to visit a waterfall.

Buddhist Monks

4 Buddhist Monks relaxing in the shade near a temple.

 

Great people in a great country. In the next blog post, I’ll focus more on the scenery and temples, again spectacular in this beautiful land.  Stay tuned!

Posted in Cambodia Tagged |

Poland Part 3!

In this blog post, I’ll wrap up my tour of Poland. After Warsaw, I proceeded north to the port city of Gdansk. Gdansk is famous for having started the Solidarity movement with Lech Walesa at the helm. I highly recommend taking a half day and visiting the Gdansk Solidarity Center. A very well done exhibit that helps tell the story of Poland’s break from Communism.

Gdansk

The Gdansk Solidarity Center with the Fallen Shipyard Workers Monument in the Foreground.

 

Following a couple of days absorbing the sights of Gdansk, I headed eastword with a quick stop at Malbork Castle, a very serene location normally but the day I went was an annual festival that was a bit too commercial for me. I did this find this pleasing scene off from the crowds though.

Malbork Castle

A tower reflecting in the pond at Malbork Castle.

From there, it was on to a historical location called the Wolf’s Lair. This was Hitler’s Headquarters for almost 3 years during the war with Russia on the Eastern Front. Really an amazing place with concrete walls 8 meters (26 feet) thick for protection from possible bombing raids. Walking the paths and seeing the buildings where so much history was made was interesting. The Germans did demolish as much as they could when they left and now nature is taking over and reclaiming this place.

Wolf's Lair

Bunker 13, the personal quarters of Hitler, had 8 meter thick concrete ceilings.

After all the cities and historical visits, it was time to catch some nature. I headed off to an area called Masurian Lakes, a beautiful part of Poland in the northeast with rolling hills and beautiful lakes. It was really some nice driving and looking at the bucolic landscapes and pretty flower fields.

Masurian Lakes

A peaceful morning dockside at one of the Masurian Lakes

Yellow Daisies

A field of yellow Daisies with bees a buzzing!

 

As you drive around Poland, one animal that you see plenty of is the Stork. Poland has 25% of the world’s storks and you see them nesting in almost every village. They stick around in Poland until August at which time they all head down to Africa! Nothing wrong with going where the sun is!

Storks Nesting

Storks nesting on an abandoned building in the Masurian Lakes region

A huge nest built by a stork in the countryside of Poland

A huge nest built by a stork in the countryside of Poland.

 

I wrapped up my visit to Poland by visiting the mountains in southern Poland near the town of Zakopane. These mountains have gorgeous hiking trails and border the country of Poland and Slovakia. It’s highly recommended that you wear sturdy soled hiking boots and the trails were very rocky and caused for some sore feet.

Zakopane

Hiking in the beautiful mountains of Zakopane, on the border of Poland and Slovakia

 

Nearing the top of my hike after 4 hours (hiking from my campground) I was within 100 meters of the cross. However it was here that there was a traffic jam requiring a one hour wait to get to the top. Most of the people took a cable car up and did a one hour hike and were not really in shape to make this last section. I didn’t really feel like waiting around so continued on.

Mt Giewont

The cross on top of Mt Giewont is a very popular destination for Polish visitors.

 

In the final blog post of the Poland Tour, I work my way home with an unexpected stopover in Austria. Please come on back and enjoy the next update! Thanks!

Posted in Poland Tagged , |

Poland Part 2!

I began the tour by picking up my father in Brussels and we proceeded to catch the 3rd leg of the Tour De France, ending in Huy, Belgium. It was a desire of his to catch the Tour De France and always a thrill for me to see the color and excitement.

 

Tour De France

Tour De France, 2015

After this quick stop, we passed through Czech Republic with an overnight stop in Pilsen to visit the Pilsener Urquell beer factory and then on to a couple of days in one of my favorite cities, Prague.

Prague

A panorama shot of Prague, Czech Republic

 

We then spent a nice weekend in the Czech countryside before finally getting to Poland and our first stop in Krakow. Krakow was an absolutely charming city and a great first stop with it’s beautiful castle located next to the Vistula river.

Wawel Castle, Krakow

The Wawel Castle located in Krakow, Poland.

In addition to the castle, there were two highly recommended stops, one very interesting and the other very somber. The first was the Wieliczka Salt Mine, located just outside Krakow.  A truly unbelievable place with underground caves and tunnels and the most amazing underground chapel I’ve ever seen! Everything was carved out of salt to include the wall carvings and chandeliers!

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The salt chapel in the Wieliczka Salt Mine

The next day was much more somber with a visit to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. It was an overcast day which only added to the despondent feeling experienced throughout the tour. It was just really sad to these this testament to the evil that people are capable of. Very depressing but also a place that anyone visiting Krakow should make an effort to see.

Auschwitz

A fence in Auschwitz Concentration camp reads Danger! High voltage Will cause death

Following the week in Krakow, we proceeded North to Warsaw where I dropped my father and friends off at the airport and continued to tour Poland. Warsaw was a very nice city with a lot of interesting sites but nothing as spectacular as the Palace of Culture and Science, a gift from the USSR to the Polish people (not that they really wanted it!). They even have nicknamed it “The Elephant in the Lacy Underwear”! I do have to say it is well worth taking the elevator to the top floor and catching the 360 panorama of Warsaw!

Palace of Culture and Science

The Palace of Culture and Science located in Warsaw, Poland.

That about wraps the first portion of the trip. In the next blog post, I’ll head up north to Gdansk and then go hit some nature in the lakes, forests and mountains! Stay tuned!

Posted in Poland Tagged , , |

Polska Paradise!

Well it has been several months since my last post from Australia and New Zealand! During that time, I went back to the USA (for 1.5 months) to see my parents and ship my final personal belongings over here to France. Then I worked on renovating my house here in France for 2 months making some nice improvements such as a new concrete floor in my cellar and totally renovating my living room/office. A lot of hard work but very happy with the results!

So, as soon as that was done, I was off again. This time, destination Poland! I traveled via Belgium, through Germany and Czech Republic and then finally Poland. After Poland I returned through Austria, then Italy and back home. Total time on the road was approximately 6 weeks and I traveled 7500km (4660 miles), living mostly in the VW but with a couple of weekend stops in hostels for special events. The route I took is below with the yellow pins showing the overnights, sometimes for several days (please click image for larger viewing).

 

polski trip-c42.jpg

Overall I have to say a great trip, mainly because I was not sure how I would enjoy Poland (basically due to lack of knowledge of this country) and I have to say I was very happily surprised throughout! It was a country of lakes, farmland, mountains, seashore, and beautiful cities. The people were very friendly (and nice looking :-), the food and drink very tasty and inexpensive, and the atmosphere relaxed. I highly recommend a trip for yourself to discover this place, you won’t regret it. Within the next couple of days, I will be posting a few pictures (in two posts) highlighting my favorite stops along the way. I’ll be back soon, Happy Trails! Laurent

Posted in Poland Tagged |

Land of the Kiwis-New Zealand Pt 2

And now onto the second half of the New Zealand journey.  We last left you traveling southward on South Island leaving Mt Cook National Park. It was on to Queenstown, NZ, a location famous for it’s adrenaline packed activities. We arrived at 1100 a.m. and immediately took off to climb Ben Lomond Peak, located next to Queenstown. While on the way up, we stopped for our packed lunch at the saddle, pretty much 2/3d the way up the mountain. While there, these two girls showed up and decided to start practicing their yoga moves! I’ll have to say it was cheap, humorous, lunchtime entertainment to watch these two!

 

Ben Lomond

Two hikers taking a Yoga break on Ben Lomond peak in Queenstown, NZ

 

So after enjoying the lunchtime antics, it was time to tackle the last 1/3d, but definitely toughest part of the mountain. This took us to the top, a grueling 8 hour round trip journey but well worth the panoramic 360 degree views. Truly worth the hike if you are ever in Queenstown!

Ben Lomond

A view from the top of Ben Lomond peak in Queenstown, NZ

After a couple of days in Queenstown, we went to Milford Sound, an inlet of high cliffs and waterfalls next to the Tasman Sea. I’d like to say it was spectacular but unfortunately we had low cloud ceiling and could only see the parts closer to the water. While that was a bit of a letdown, I was able to stumble upon a waterfall near our campground based on a tip from a forest ranger. This photo was my favorite of the entire trip. I really loved the glow of the water from the time exposure and the partial sunlight on the leaves on the left.

waterfall

A beautiful hidden waterfall near our campground at Knobs Flat, South Island, NZ

We then started up the West Coast of South Island, an area well know for the frequent rains. And it came true for us but only for one night! As we were camping that night, I heard the rains begin and rain for a long time. Not worried as I had a waterproof tent, however when it came time to put on the shorts in the morning, they were soaked and sitting in a puddle inside the tent. When I stepped outside, the tent was sitting in a small pond as we happened to find the low ground of the camping area. A nice surprise but it all dried out!

So our next stop was Franz Josef glacier, a beautiful, however quickly melting glacier in the mountains on the west coast.  Although tired, I was able to capture some late evening sky above the glacier (center of picture) and mountains before finally hitting the bed. Glad I made the effort as it was very serene!

Franz Josef

The setting sun dropping some last rays on the Franz Josef glacier and mountains.

Further up the coast, with a very nice stop in Charleston visiting my friend Anna’s parents (thanks Kay and Chris!), it was on to Abel Tasman National Park for a nice hike. While camping there, nature called and I woke up to this stunning sunrise. It really took some discipline shooting the sunrise as I had other pressing matters but I was able to hold on!

Abel Tasman

A sunrise through the palm fronds at Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

That was the last stop before heading on over to North Island. Our first stop on North Island, we visited my old friends Anna and Ogre, and their lovely kiddos. It was very nice seeing Anna and Ogre after about 10 years, We haven’t changed a bit! Anna took us on a lovely tour of Wellington, a beautiful city that looks like a lot of fun to live in, as seen below.

Wellington

A view of Wellington, NZ from above the city after exiting the cable car

Following Wellington, we went north to a running weekend on the Eastern coast. While on the way, we stopped at Rotorua, a place famous for it’s geysers, hot springs and sulphur smell. It was interesting to see that even the Swans adapted to this volcanic area!

Black Swans

A pair of black Swans in the waters off of Rotorua, NZ

Following the weekend running through the hills of Eastern North Island, we went on into Auckland where we spent a couple of days.  One of those days involved a self guided city walk which highlighted a lot of hidden features. We really enjoyed this cafe with its view of the Sky Tower!

Sky Tower

The Auckland Sky Tower as seen through a small cafe window.

Just before boarding our plane, we used a few free hours and went to Piha beach located west of Auckland. This was a very interesting beach because of the black sand created by the high iron content from the volcanoes. And yes, it gets very hot when barefoot!

Piha Beach

A panorama of Piha Beach, located west of Auckland, NZ

Overall a great visit seeing some incredible sites. New Zealand was truly remarkable in having such a diversity of geology with it’s mountains, seashores, volcanoes, and glaciers. Truly a wonder to visit!

 

Posted in New Zealand, Uncategorized Tagged |

Land of the Kiwis-New Zealand Pt 1!

Well after a long blog break (took a while to recover from the return trip!), it’s time to finally update the last stop on my Down Under tour. This was to the long awaited country of New Zealand, land of glaciers, coastlines, and volcanoes and Kiwis! During these travels, we split the accommodations between a tent, AirBnB and single rooms in hostels. Our primary means of transportation was a rental car with hatchback which worked out great for all our gear and food and giving us the mobility to get into areas with less frequent transportation.

Flying in over the South Island, one could see that it was a very geographically tumultuous country. It was pretty exciting knowing that we would soon be down there among the mountains and lakes.

New Zealand

NZ South Island upon arrival

We landed in Christchurch (on South Island), stocked up on supplies and started heading South. One of the first stops was Akaroa, a former French settlement that was later converted to British. It was very typical of the beautiful scenery that you would see on the East coast of the South Island.

Akaroa

The harbor of Akaroa, a former French settlement.

Apparently this British Akaroa seagull did not approve of my taking his picture, perhaps he knew that I was French?

seagull

An angry seagull wants food for his picture being taken!

From Akaroa, we went further south and came along Lake Tekapo. This beautiful aquamarine like provided some nice hiking trails and very relaxing views. It was especially cool that this cloud sat trapped in the valley the whole first day that we were there.

Lake Tekapo

A cloud trapped in a valley above Lake Tekapo in the South Island, NZ

The next stop on our South Island tour was my favorite stop and that was Mt Cook national park. I loved camping below these majestic mountains and glaciers and occasionally hearing the glaciers calving.

Mt Cook

Glaciers and Mt Cook (mountain in the right rear) in a beautiful setting.

Since it was such a beautiful location and a clear night, I decided to go out and do some nighttime photography. I initially shot some stars but that didn’t work out to my satisfaction. Then the moon rose and drained the stars of all their brilliance. I was still able to capture the moon starting to shine on this mountain range which was pretty phenomenal to watch.

Mt Cook

The moonrise captured on a mountain range in Mt Cook National Park.

It was very sad when we had to leave the beauty of Mt Cook National Park but there was much more to see of the South Island!

Mt. Cook

Mt Cook National Park as seen in the mirror leaving the park.

That covers the first half of our trip in New Zealand. In the second blog post coming up very soon (I promise!), I’ll talk about the trip up the West Coast of the South Island and then wrapping up in the North Island! Happy Travels!

 

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged |

Noosa Heads Pt 2!

In part II of the Australia roundup, I’ll talk about some of the places that we went to see. We spent a few days in Brisbane, a beautiful town with a nice riverfront walkway. Along that walkway, they have built a beach for the people, with imported sand and lifeguards. Really a nice free perk for the city dwellers!

 

 

Brisbane

A beautiful beach located in downtown Brisbane

Closer to Noosa Heads, we did a day trip into the mountains to the west of Maleny. We found an idyllic lunch spot behind the main street and there was this wonderful tree. I was really taken by the branches!

 

Tree Silohuette

A beautifully branched tree in the mountains

Something that you experience on the East Coast of Australia in summer is a lot of afternoon thunderstorms. One night we stopped for dinner at the local golf course and I was able to capture a few lightning bolts in the distance. Not a good time to hit the links!

 

Thunderstorm

Thunder Down Under with a lightning storm in Noosa Heads!

We wrapped up the year with a trip to Woodford, Australia for the Woodford Folk Festival, a 6 day festival with over 2,000 entertainers in the rolling hills of Queensland. I was really taken by the playing of a two sister group called Siskin River who played great together.

Woodford

The two sister blues act, Siskin River crankin out the blues

 

Next up on the blog is my first report from wild New Zealand! G’day Mates!

Posted in Australia

Return to Noosa Heads-Pt 1!

Since I left Sydney and returned to Noosa heads, it’s been a busy three weeks. So busy that I’ve decided to break it down in two blog posts so the blog post isn’t too long. In this post, I’ll talk about more about the animals I’ve been introduced to in the last 3 weeks, always amazing here down under. The first, one that I was not really fond of meeting was a huge Huntsman spider just above my pillow in the bedroom.

Huntsman

A captured Huntsman spider is being relocated

Sandra had to capture him and take him outside as I was busy recovering from my heart attack. They are supposed to be great for capturing mosquitos, gnats and small children. While we’re on the subject of spiders, we were walking through a park in Brisbane and came across about 100 Golden Orb spiders above our heads covering an area of about 30 meters just waiting for something to fly by.

Golden Orb

Golden Orbs in the sky

I pity the poor critter that flies into that web! On the less lethal front but still with spindly legs, we came upon a large group of crabs that were cruising in formation on the beach.

Blue Crab

Blue Crab colony moving in formation

These were incredible as they moved in a wave and this was only a small portion of the colony that existed out there. Here is a closeup of the crabs on the run….

Blue crabs

Small blue colored crabs racing away

On the same beach, I was able to get pretty close to some white seabirds just at the moment when they spooked and took off flying. Quite a sight to see in person!

Seabird

Seabird movement

The birds here are alway amazing…and noisy, sometimes at 5 a.m. but they are still beautiful to see. Here are a few Cockatoos hanging out on some telephone wires

cockatoos

Cockatoos on a wire

It is really cool to see thousands of these Cockatoos congregate in the trees next to the river every night around 6 pm. An incredible chorus of cackles!

Lastly, while visiting some friends in Brisbane, we were invited up to watch the nightly feeding of a friendly possum. He was really mellow and just enjoyed eating whatever leftovers were available! Definitely could make him my pet!

Possum

Possum supper time

Next up in part 2 will be some of the locations that we visited during our 3 weeks in Noosa Heads. Happy Travels!

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , |

Sydney Town

We spent a great week in Sydney enjoying the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. One of the first stops was obviously Sydney Harbor where you could see the Sydney Harbor bridge and the Sydney Opera House. These two icons are probably the most photographed items in Sydney, if not all of Australia so I attempted to get some shots that weren’t the standard views. Below is a shot showing the two icons closely cropped.

The Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge in Sydney, Australia

The Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge in Sydney, Australia

This shot below shows a horse statue in the Botanical Garden who seems to be taking in the stunning scenery.

Sydney

A bronze horse statue in the Botanic Gardens of Sydney checking out the amazing view!

Here is a view of the Opera House juxtaposed with some rooftops of the local establishments. I liked the complimentary contrast.

Opera House

Sydney Opera House in contrast to local rooftops in downtown Sydney

Here is a shot of the Sydney Opera House just after a storm.

Opera House

Large storm clouds hover over the Sydney Opera House

This shot is taken from under the Harbor Bridge looking across the harbor towards the Opera House. Not a bad viewpoint from anywhere near the bridge.

Sydney Harbor

The Sydney Harbor bridge framing in the harbor and Opera House.

Lastly, a panorama of Sydney Harbor taken from the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  A beautiful natural waterway with a lot of traffic.

Sydney Harbor

Sydney Harbor and Opera House as seen from the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Just next to the Sydney Opera House is the Sydney Botanical Gardens, a great view point for the Opera House but also has some incredible flower and tree specimens. I was taken by the orange and red colors in these Orange Canna Lillies.

Lilly

Orange Canna Lillies in bloom in the Sydney Botanical Garden

No visit to the Botanical gardens would be complete without a shot of a parakeet who seems to favor this green oasis.

parakeet

A parakeet having a lunch break in the Sydney Botanical Gardens.

On the other side of the harbor, just under the bridge is Luna Park, a classic amusement park.  I loved watching the kid’s expressions riding the Hair Raiser ride!

Luna Park

Kids enjoying the Hair Raiser ride in Luna Park, Sydney.

One of the nice things about Sydney is that not only is it a very large town with many cultural activities, it is also very easy to quickly escape to the beach. Below is a picture taken at Bondi beach where we started a nice 6km seashore walk.

Bondi

A view of Bondi Beach from the Bondi Surf Club terrace

Lastly we wrapped up our stay going to watch my good friend Kevin’s band, Project Blue, playing at a local bar in downtown Sydney. He’s the silver haired gentleman second from the right.

Band

The Sydney band, Project Blue playing at a local night club in downtown Sydney

Overall, a great week in a city that demands much more time than we were able to give. We definitely plan on going back as we couldn’t do everything we wanted to.

Note: There was a tragic terrorist event at a few days after we left, which is totally rare for Australia, and we offer our condolences to the families involved.

Posted in Sydney Tagged |