Saturday, December 18, 2010

Indonesia, part 5

The other big activity we did was a helicopter flight over one of the volcanoes on Bali.

Our transport:

Helicopter 10

The village that has been established on the side of the volcano:

Helicopter 06

The site of the most recent lava flow - about 40 years ago:

Helicopter 07

Lava field, old caldera, caldera lake:

Helicopter 08

And a view from the helicopter of some rice paddies, which shows the amazing terracing they do on the hillsides.

If you ever go to Indonesia, and it is worth it, I recommend you pay attention to the weather.  We didn't and went in the wet season, which meant that although it was very warm - about 31C every day - it also poured with rain every single day.  Luckily all of our activities were in the morning and it rained mostly in the afternoon,  but when it rained, it RAINED.  As in, torrential downpours every single day.

You get used to that after a few days.

Indonesia, part 4

One of the activities we did whilst on Bali was visit the elephant sanctuary at Taro.  Most of the 30 elephants there have been rescued from unpleasant lives on Sumatra, and they come to Taro and live a lovely comfortable life.  The park offers elephant rides which we of course had to do.

Elephant 01

Is it just me or are elephants the happiest looking animals on earth?

Elephant 05

One of the babies born in March 2009:

Elephant 06

It was awesome fun and the elephants all look happy and healthy so if you ever get to Bali I highly recommend it.

Indonesia, part 3

After driving for what seemed like days, we made it to Ubud, the town where we were staying on Bali.  Our accommodation was the Ubud Hanging Gardens, which was the best decision I have made in years.  It was brilliant.

Ubud 05

Ubud 07

And our pool:

Ubud 06

Across the valley we had a view of this temple:

Temple 01

Which at night was beautifully lit:

Temple 02

And the gardens and surrounds were gorgeous, and all the staff were lovely, and if you are ever going to stay on Bali I highly recommend it.

Ubud 03

Indonesia, part 2

We survived the drive to Ijen (just) and spent the night at the Ijen Resort before our 4am wake up call.  The setting for Ijen Resort was quite spectacular, high up in the mountains and surrounded by rice paddies, but there was a torrential downpour which started about 30 seconds after we arrived and continued until sometime early in the morning.  Our wake up call was for 4am, and we set off to drive to the base of Ijen at 4.30am.

The drive to Ijen was along possibly the worst road I have ever been on.  The first bit was relatively flat but the tarmac had so many holes and cracks it was like driving over rocks.  And further along we were in fact driving over rocks.  And by then we were going up some steep hills too.  It was only a 17km drive but it took over an hour to get to the park ranger's station.

So we set off up the path.  Me, the boy, and our ever-cheerful guide Prad.  The signs said it was a 3km walk, and some of it was steep.

Some of it, my ass.  The first 500m was a gentle slope and the rest was practically a vertical climb.  I made it up 1.7km before throwing in the towel, after nearly having an asthma attack.  The others continued up the hill while I sat on a conveniently place concrete plinth and recovered.

I'm glad someone made it to the top, because it was totally worth it:

Ijen 03

See the yellow bits and the smoke? That's a sulphur mine. It's a barbaric place to work. Local men climb the hill, hack the sulphur out of the mine, then cart it back down the hill in baskets. They get paid approximately 7 cents per kilogram of sulphur. Most of them carry between 60 and 80 kg in their baskets.

Ijen 06

Ijen 01

And it's a horrible work environment. They don't have proper gas masks, or protective clothing. A lot of them were either in thongs or had bare feet. A few wore gumboots.

Ijen 02

Ijen Panorama

After collecting me on the way down, we walked back to the car and then spent 123456789 hours driving back to Bali. And I am glad I didn't finish the climb, the boy said the second half was a lot worse and even he thought about not going all the way. But I'm glad he did.

Indonesia, part 1

Yesterday we arrived home from Indonesia.  We were gone for 12 days and had a horrible overnight flight from Denpasar to Melbourne.  I had managed one hour of sleep in about 27 hours so I felt like rubbish when we got home, and had to go to bed for five hours.  I'm feeling slightly more alive today so it's time to update this blog and tell you all what we've been up to!

We flew Garuda Indonesia which wasn't too bad.  Their business class seats are reasonably comfortable to sit in but horrible to sleep in.  And the service, although friendly, was a little lax at times.  If Garuda wants to move up the Skytrax world rankings they're going to have to get their butts in gear.  But no matter,  they got us there and back safely and that's the most important thing.

Our first adventure was to the island of Java, to do some volcano hiking.  After flying to Surabaya from Denpasar, our guide picked us up from the airport and drove us to Malang, where we spent the night.  Well, I say night, but actually we had a 1am wake up call as we left Malang at 1.30am in order to make it to Mt Bromo in time to see the sunrise.

Bromo 03

Bromo 01

Note the lack of actual sunrise pictures. Yeah, not really worth it.

Bromo 05

Anyway the erupting Mt Bromo was quite spectular so it was (almost) worth the ridiculously early start to see it. We're both pretty sure it would have been just as good at 10am as it was at 5am.

In the bottom left corner of that picture above, just above the tree, you can see a little camp where the locals have a temple.  When Mt Bromo is NOT erupting, you can go across the caldera floor (presently covered in fog) and climb to the crater itself.

And what you can't see behind the smoke and ash coming out of Bromo is Mt Merapi in the back ground, the very same volcano that erupted in October and killed a lot of people.

Bromo 10

Later that morning we left Bromo and spent hours and hours (and hours and hours) driving to Ijen Resort in preparation for climbing Mt Ijen the next day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More Silk Road memories

At the hotel in Bukhara (Uzbekistan), there was a little art gallery.  This man - Vafo Barno Narziy - had done all sorts of paintings and portraits of the local area and people he'd met.  We saw this picture and immediately loved it.

Bukhara Painting

The boy negotiated a price with the man, then we had to figure it out how to get it a) safely through the rest of Uzbekistan and Russia, and b) home in one piece. We decided the best thing to do would be to have it unframed, and we'd get it framed again when we got home.

So that is what we did and that is what it looks like now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Silk Road Memories

I don't know what made me think of it... but I found this photo in my archives and it still made me laugh.

Funny Sign

Posted on the entry gate to the Summer Palace in Beijing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Because our main aim in life is to always be planning or heading off on our next holiday, in five and a bit weeks we are going to Indonesia.

First, we are doing this tour to visit some volcanoes on the island of Java.  Totally not my cup of tea but the boy is a big fan of volcanoes so we will spend three days there.  The second day starts at 2.30am (!) so you can see the sunrise over Bromo.  Oh joy.

Then, my part of the holiday kicks in.  We are going to Bali to stay in Ubud, at Ubud Hanging Gardens resort.  Now THAT'S what I call a holiday!

Friday, July 16, 2010


I've just realised that although I posted about this on my own blog, I never mentioned our trip to Antarctica here. And since it was technically a holiday, albeit a very short one, it deserves its own post on my holiday blog.

So. In January we did a scenic flight over Antarctica. And it was wonderful. I had no idea I could get so many great photos from so far up. But I did.

Antarctica 17

The plane left from Sydney so we had to fly up there the day before, as we were expected at the airport at obscene o'clock (6am). We decided to go out for a nice dinner and went to Quay, which I can highly recommend if anyone is looking for somewhere special to eat in Sydney.

Then we got on our plane the next morning and set off. It took about four hours to reach the land mass of Antarctica, and we then flew around for another four hours, before heading back to Sydney.

Antarctica 12

Antarctica 01

Antarctica 14

It was awesome fun and I totally recommend you get there some day. I'd love to go by boat and be able to land but this was a great way to see lots and lots.

Antarctica 10

Friday, April 23, 2010

Silk Road Day 28: heading home

Woke up this morning with a really sick stomach so I missed seeing the Kremlin inside. One of the guides took lots of photos which he'll send out in a couple of weeks so hopefully I can put one of them here then.

I am so impressed with Moscow as a city. The architecture is amazing and it's not at all what I thought it was going to be. We'll definitely come back some day and spend some more time here, and hopefully visit St Petersburg too.

Our flight leaves at 3pm and we should arrive home at 7.30pm on Saturday night. It's been such a great trip, but really hard work. The schedule has been full on and we're both really tired now. Mind you, I don't know how you could make it any shorter, or what you'd have to cut out. We've travelled 9,800km from Beijing to Moscow, with a lot of side trips in between. It was wonderful.

Now, where should we go next?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Silk Road Day 27: Moscow

First stop this morning was Red Square. Not nearly as big as I thought it would be, and they were doing repairs to the surface so we couldn't wander through.

Moscow 01

We did have a walk through the G.U.M. department store, which was full of very nice shops and arcades.

Moscow 02

Saw St Basils Cathedral which was most impressive. Sorry, forgot to take photos of the inside.


Visited the Christ the Saviour Cathedral which was completely over the top. And they don't let you take photos of the interior, which is a shame because it's completely mad.

Moscow 03

We also stopped at a convent (can't remember the name, but it's where Peter the Great banished his first wife to, after he decided he didn't want to be married to her any more).

Moscow 05

Lunch at a city restaurant and then we went and had a look at one of the Metro stations - most impressive. The rest of the group went shopping but we headed back to the hotel and relaxed before our farewell dinner. Dinner was nice and we got up and made a small speech thanking our guides for doing such a wonderful job of looking after us.

Moscow 04

Can't believe we are going home tomorrow. Hopefully we'll get to see the Kremlin before we go to the airport.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Silk Road Day 26: on the train

Today we spent most of the day on the train, travelling to Moscow. It was very relaxing with a late breakfast and nice relaxed lunch. We arrived just before 4pm and went straight from the train station to our hotel. I have never in my life seen such bad traffic! I thought Beijing was bad but this was something else. But we made it eventually.


Kendall and I had dinner in one of the restaurants by ourselves with a lovely bottle of French Champagne. Then we went back to our room - upgraded because they'd originally assigned us a room that was already occupied - and climbed into our lovely big bed and went to sleep.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Silk Road Day 25: Volgograd

Volgograd 01

Today we visited Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, on the banks of the Volga river. We saw the monument with the eternal flame, guarded by high school children with what I hope were fake rifles. The changing of the guard happens every 20 minutes and seemed to take about 15 minutes to complete so I don't think they had to stand around for very long.

Volgograd 02

Volgograd 03

We saw the War Memorial and the changing of the guard there, which was quite impressive.

Volgograd 06

Volgograd 07

The concrete statue of Mother Russia cuts a rather imposing figure at the top.

Volgograd 04

We also visited the museum, which has lots of old planes and tanks on display. It is built next to a building that was partially destroyed during the battle for Volgograd in the war, which has been left standing to remind everyone how terrible war is.

Volgograd 09

Volgograd 08

The weather was magnificent. Tonight is our last night on the train so there was a party in the bar car. I will be sad to say goodbye to our train when we arrive in Moscow.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Silk Road Day 24: on the train

Spent all day on board the train travelling across the Kazak desert. Hardly a person to be seen, a few herds of wild camels here and there. Late at night the Kazak border control police came on board to make sure we were all leaving the country - and I think they wanted to check out our train! - and they wanted to get their photos taken with us. Of course you don't refuse men with guns.

After a few drinks and a chat with Tony, our resident lecturer, we made it to bed by midnight. We'd been told to expect to be woken by the Russian border patrol police at about 1.30am. I woke up at 7.30am so obviously they'd decided to let us in the country anyway.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Silk Road Day 23: Khiva

This morning we arrived in Urgench and hopped on the buses that have been following us through Uzbekistan and drove to Khiva. Apparently the bus drivers are both from Urgench so they have been slowly making their way home as they take us around.

Khiva 01

Khiva 02

Khiva is an ancient city more than 2,500 years old and recently restored by UNESCO. 500 people still live inside the ancient city walls. Being Sunday, the market was open and I think 250,000 Uzbekis were there.

Khiva 03

Khiva 04

Being so obviously blonde, Kendall and I were besieged by students wanting to take our photos. At first we refused, thinking they wanted us to take photos of them, and then hassle us for money (a typical scam in this part of the world) but we eventually realised they were just curious. They wanted to know our names, where we were from, how old we were, did we have any children, they wanted to tell us their names... it was exhausting but very funny. As soon as they figured out we were Australian they'd hop around like kangaroos.

Khiva 05

We had morning tea at a traditional tea house and it was delicious. After more wandering around and people watching we had lunch at the Khan's Summer Palace and then got back on the train.

Khiva 06

Crazy hat party after dinner was hilarious; Kendall's impersonation of an Uzbeki rap star (Hello Book!*) had everyone rolling in the aisles. Gained an hour as we travel further west, and we were warned to be ready for border security as we cross the border back into Kazakhstan in the morning.

*What every local vendor would say to try and get you to look as his wares.