To Colonia del Sacramento in an hour

January 13, 2009

Got the Buquebus hydrofoil to Colonia, Uruguay, and were sat in a leafy, shady square surrounded by Portuguese-Spanish style buildings within a few hours, Phill tucking into the local speciality, chivito (steak sandwich with bacon, ham, egg and cheese!).

Colonia Del Sacramento is a very peaceful and beautiful town, on the coast (although more estuarine brown than turquoise sea). We´ve been up the lighthouse and visited six museums (they are very small) and now we are about to relax by the pool…. Not sure what the plan is for tomorrow yet – may just hire some bikes and pedal up the coast…. We are also accommodation hopping as we are travelling minus big bags and can move fast – I think I will be able to write a guide on lodging in Colonia with great insight….

Day 3 in Colonia: we cycled up the coast for 7km and back, Phill went in for a swim/sit in the water (it was a bit shallow, reminded us just a little of Weston), and we tried to get into the public swimming baths but there was some sort of organised swimming event going on which we didn´t feel it would be right to participate in…. and ended the day with another new hotel and a table for dinner with a great sunset/river view.

Day 4, still in Colonia: we tried to get a bus out of the town for a day, to Carmelo, but apparently today is a fiesta day, which means we missed the only bus leaving in the morning by two hours. So we have revised our plans for the day, which means that you now get to see some photos of Colonia! Then we´re off for squid and chips and beer, followed by a bit of lounging by the pool if we can´t find a bus to take us to a local winery! And we´re hoping to end the day up the top of the lighthouse watching the sun set….

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Wandering Gringo Bucaramanga

January 13, 2009

Like many other cities, Bogotá almost completely shuts down and empties out near the end of the calendar year. Business comes to a stand still and many people travel to spend the holidays with their families in other parts of the country. Not wanting to miss out on this experience, I was thrilled to be invited to spend a few weeks with my girlfriend’s family in Bucaramanga, capital of the department of Santander, about 200 miles north of Bogotá.

Now getting from Bogotá to Bucaramanga isn’t exactly like driving from Chicago to Indianapolis. Those accustomed to the high-speed effiency of the Eisnehower Interstate System of the U.S. may find the road system here a bit, shall we say, challenging. All told, it takes about 8 hours of winding your way down through the Andes to reach Bucaramanga from Bogotá. I took an overnight bus, which means trying to sleep while the hyper-aggressive operators try to take the corners like an Indycar driver. It was a surreal experience and I felt like someone who was sleep deprvied after hours of interrogation, ready to confess to anything. However, for $30 you really can’t beat it.

The insanity started to melt away as the sun began to rise and I got my first look at Chicamocha Canyon, a spectacular natural wonder that must be traversed in order to reach Bucaramanga from the South. Arriving at the bottom of the canyon, you slowly start to wind your way back up towards the city – about an hour further down the road. Here is where I first noticed the big change in altitude from Bogotá as evidenced by the more lush, tropical flora. Bucaramanga is about a 1700 meter drop from the capital city – resting just below 1000 meters (about 3,100 feet in gringo reckoning).

La Ciudad Bonita (the Pretty City), Bucaramanga is home to about 600,000 people, with four adjoining municipalities bringing the total metro population to around one million residents. This makes it the seventh largest metro area in the country but about the fifth most important economically. Despite dramatic growth in the second half of the 20th century, the city maintains the laid back atmosphere of a small town with people stopping to chat with friends on the quiet streets. It was a real breath of fresh air from the chaotic Bogotáno lifestyle.

And indeed, the air is fresher. The lower alititude makes particulate matter from desiel enginges much less of an issue. What is more, the weather is simply stunning. An average temperature of 23 degrees Celsius (73 Farhenheit) with moderate humidity and plenty of sunshine in December made my visit extremely plesant. Also known as the ‘City of Parks,’ Bucaramanga is very walkable with a bustling commercial center full of shops and restaurants.

Life is truly loca

January 13, 2009

It’s the end of the year.  Time for reflection and moments of pause.  I am certainly indulging in a lot of them.  2008 has honestly been the most completely and totally insane year of my life.  A year ago, I never would have imagined that I would be sitting in a little studio, living alone, in San Francisco.  I never could have anticipated how much could change in 12 months and how funny and heartbreaking it all is.

A year ago, I was picking up my twin sister, Rachel, Angela and Aaron from the airport in Barranquilla, Colombia.  We partied and sat on the beach and celebrated Colombian style.  From that inauguration of the new year, I proceeded to travel to San Fran and LA, then back to Colombia, then to Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.  Then I headed to New York, worked and traveled back and forth between Rhode Island and NYC.  Then I moved out to San Fran, stayed with Edessa in Oakland for a month and a half.  Had my program cancelled and reinstated, moved to the Sunset.  Then I moved out of the house into my studio and proceeded to get involved in a lot of beautiful insanity.  I’ve met amazing people from all of this traveling.  Friends from Chile and England and Argentina, new friends in nursing school and old friends in San Francisco. And all the while, I am still laughing.  I really am.  With all of these changes and adventures, I know the old Beca would have been an uptight lunatic who couldn’t roll.  But now I know I can roll.  I really can.

I learned a lot this year.  But the most important thing I learned, without a doubt, is how to wait.  I have never been described as a patient person, but I think I am learning it.  How to be patient and present.  I learned how to really just enjoy listening to music and not complicate that by also reading or walking or writing at the same time.  I learned how to sit and wait for a bus or a plane without being annoyed.  I learned how to roll with cancellations and disappointments.  And I learned, most importantly, that waiting and patience have the added benefit of keeping me grounded in reality.  And that is where I need to be for the beginning of 2009.  Reality.

I realized recently that I have not slept consistently or even in the same bed for over a year.  That is a lot of transition, even for a die-hard Sagittarius.  I know that 2009 will be the end of this.  It’s time for me to settle down and get back some of the schedule and peace that I knew before.  It’s time for me to take care of my business and be an adult and deal.  But I think I will do it now with more joy and more patience after 2008.  I know to never assume that things can’t get worse, because they always can.  But I also know now,  more than ever, that “worse” is defined by my own perception of things.  And my perceptions are becoming a little clearer and a little more joyous.  For that I am so thankful.

Salzburg to Oberndorf – Austria

January 5, 2009

Wonderlamp

Train Tip: Regular trains do not go to Oberndorf. Rather, go underneath the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof to the local rail line. Small shuttle trains make the half-hour trip to Oberndorf, departing Salzburg on each hour and half-hour.

Oberndorf Train

Note though that the Eurail Pass does not cover this SLB (Salzburger Lokalbahn). You can buy a round-trip ticket in the station or on-board the train for 7.60 euros.

Spas in Austria

January 5, 2009

Spas in Austria

A similar idea but undertaken in a much more indulgent and unique fashion is the Rogner Bad Blumau Spa in Austria. This is one crazy place, totally designed by the Austrian architect Hundertwasser (1928 – 2000), a man with an allergy to straight lines. There isn’t one in the whole place. Grass and trees grow on top of buildings. Brightly coloured pillars and walls hold the place together.

Spa at Vulcania

Vulcania pool, Austria

It’s located in the small town of Bad Blumau, not far from Graz and, if you are staying in the hotel, they will organise a car to pick you up from airport or Graz train station.

We stayed two nights and I could have stayed much, much longer. There are a number of pools, all large swimming pool style, outdoor and indoor. My favourite was the Vulcania pool. It was beautifully warm and I managed to build a floating chair from the coloured foam spaghetti and relax to the point I nearly melted. At night they had fires burning around this pool and I floated and looked up at the stars. Magic.

The massages were not really worth the extra cash because they were a bit tentative and cosmetic rather than therapeutic. But I would return anytime to float, and float, and let all my troubles dissolve in the waters.

Innsbruck, Austria

January 5, 2009

Innsbruck is the capital of the federal state Tyrol and the biggest city in the Western part of Austria. It is located at 573 m elevation, 489 km south-west of Vienna, 190 km away from Salzburg. Innsbruck  is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and offers a combination of culture, history and nature unequaled anywhere else.

innsbruckSome of the major attraction in Innsbruck and its surroundings is “Swarovski Crystal Worlds” (Kristallwelten). The Swarovski crystal company is based just outside Innsbruck and they have a museum and store in the center of town. The entrance is from the big head and it leads to a crystal wall, made of 12 tons of the most perfect crystals in the world. It’s free.

swarovski museumIn the Swarovski Crystal world you will see many artworks by world-known artists – from Andy Warhol to Salvador Dali. You will also be in the heart of a crystal in the Crystal Dome and be a witness of some amazing shows in the Crystal Theatre.

golden roofOther attractions include Tiroler museums, Hungersburg, Schloss Ambras, Wiltener Basilica, Bergisel, Hofburg, The Golden Roof, the Alpine Zoo. The beauty of Innsbruck city is protected by the architects who ensure that the new structures built in the city are harmonious with the preexisting Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance style buildings.

innsInnsbruck occupies a particularly scenic spot along the Inn river with high Alps to the north and south. In winter you’ll find masses of deep, sparkling powder snow, unrivaled skiing and tobogganing. Come summer, you’ll find picture-postcard Alpine scenery, cool mountain lakes, and rambles through forests.

Austria Travel Tips

January 5, 2009

Located in central Europe, Austria celebrates world’s best music festivals like the Salzburg Festival, Haydn Festival in Vienna, and the International Chamber Music Festival. Vienna is the capital of Austria as well as the musical capital of Europe. Music and art are in full flare here after centuries of hardship and innovation. That explains Vienna being the birthplace of Mozart. Horse dances are also part of these festivals. Since it snows in winter, the snow covered Alps is a must be visited place during the winter. Austria experiences a moderate summer. Rains can be expected year round. Incase of emergency call 120 or 123.

Site seeing

The romantic castles simply leave you astounded. The Schloss Durnstein provides a magnificent view besides the River Danube. A 10% tip should be paid to the taxi drivers, which is customary here.

Culture

German, Hungarian, Slovene, and Croatian are the languages spoken by the locals. To greet the locals, a handshake will do. When meeting someone for the first time, its better to refer them by their last name, but once better known they can be addressed by the first name. When out in the public, say Guten Tag or Gruss Gott to greet people and while leaving say Auf Wiedersehen. Carry along flowers when going over to someone’s house. The locals here have a passion for horse riding. The world’s best art of horsemanship can be found here which is as old as 400 years and to watch the horses perform at these schools; tickets must be booked in advance. Although service charge is levied on restaurant bills, an extra 5% should be paid as tip.

Getting there

Three national airlines operate in Austria, Austrian Arrows, Austrian Airlines and Lausda Air, which work in collaboration with the Austrian Airlines Group. The Vienna airport is 18 km away from the city. Airport buses transport passengers to the South Train and West Train Station. Railway, chauffeur-driven car and taxi service is also provided at the airport. Duty free shops, post office, bank, eateries, left luggage, tourism information, conference hall, nursery, car hiring and car parking facilities are provided to the passengers at the airport.
Salzburg airport is 4 km away from the city and buses, trains, taxis and hotel coach shuttle passengers to and from the airport. Facilities such as duty free shops, post office, currency exchange, left luggage, conference hall, restaurants and car hire exist at the airport. Check out the other airports such as Klagenfurt airport, Graz airport and Linz airport for more details. All the airports charge a fixed rate for porter service.

International tourists can get to Austria by Austrian Federal railways, if planning to travel by train. It has a large network which connects the major cities within Austria and also outside Austria. Travelers can find connections to/from Germany, Russia, Greece, Romania, Turkey Brussels, Paris and Italy. International rail passes or Eurail pass can be bought to travel around Austria as they provide unlimited travel and other offers too.

A good network of roads here provides an interesting journey. Take Eurotunnel when crossing the Channel Tunnel while traveling by car. Bookings should be made in advance. The cars can be hired at the airports and railway stations and if driving own car carry documentations like UK driving license or national driving license and car registration papers. Toll booths are installed on the motorways and ‘S’ roads, so if change is carried in advance it will ensure no delays in the journey. Registration documents should be carried along all the time while driving. The lights should be turned on while driving, in the city or outside, all the time. There are strict laws for seat belts and drinking while driving. If using the motorbike, high visibility jacket and helmet must be worn, it’s a compulsion for both the passenger and the driver. Many federal, private companies and local authorities provide bus service. Coaches are provided for moving around within the cities.

Wurm and Kock provide cruise passenger service. Along with the cruise trip, packages include stay at a hotel. Check out, before hand, for offer. There are many Ferry service providers too.

Duty Free Items

1. 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco or a proportional mix of these products
2. 1l of spirits over 22 per cent or 2l of fortified wine or spirits up to 22 per cent or 2l of sparkling wine or liqueur and 2l of still wine
3. 500g of coffee or 200g of extracts, essences or concentrates of coffee, and 100g of tea or 40g of tea extracts
4. medicinal products sufficient for the journey
5. 50g of perfume or eau de toilette
6. All the above mentioned goods should be carried by a person over 17 years of age.

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January 5, 2009

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