Posts Tagged ‘P6’

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 8: Getting Settled in Johannesburg

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

After a brief pit stop in Germany (mainly to pick up our luggage and our visas, which thankfully arrived in time), we flew to our fifth and final continent over the course of two months: Africa. This time, however, the destination was more permanent, as we are both going to start working in Johannesburg in March. That also means that our daily program in the first few days here so far consisted less of sightseeing and more of sorting out the practicalities – finding an apartment, getting a bank account, and buying cars. Johannesburg is a car city, there is only very limited public transport and the city is quite spread out, so you need a car. So far, it looks like we are making good progress on these tasks.

We really like the city as far as we can tell up to now. It is really green (the guide book says it “must be the largest man-made forest with six million trees”), the climate is really nice (not too hot but quite pleasant, and the winters are also supposed to be rather mild at least in the day time), and the food is really good and quite affordable. Safety-wise we were a bit concerned in the beginning, but as long as you are watching out it seems to be quite alright. We are definitely both very excited to be here and spend the forseeable future here!

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 7: Toronto, Washington (Again)

Monday, February 11th, 2013

From Washington, we took a plane to Toronto — we wanted to see another country on our trip and neither of us had been to Canada before. We had been worrying that it would be way too cold up there, but it actually wasn’t too bad, and the first two days we had quite nice weather. On the first day, we visited the CN Tower, a Toronto landmark that between its construction in 1976 and 2007 (when Burj Khalifa overtook it) was the tallest freestanding structure in the world. With a cloud-free sky you could see quite far from up there, but more interesting than the view to the sides is the view down — the observation deck has an area with a glass floor, and even though it should be perfectly safe you get kind of dizzy just looking down through it. After the tower, we went to Toronto Music Garden, a garden designed after J. S. Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello (which is quite an interesting concept, and makes for a nice garden, even though it would probably be more beautiful in summer), and walked around through the city bit.

The next day, we went to Niagara Falls. We had booked a tour that was gonna pick us up in the morning, and we were expecting it to be a bus — instead it was a black stretch limousine, with only three other people! Traveling far outside the peak season does have its advantages sometimes! The falls themselves are amazing, especially the ones on the Canadian side (the Niagara river separates Canada and the US, and there are two falls next to each other, separated by an island that belongs to the US). The Canadian falls are shaped like a horseshoe, and enormous amounts of water are thundering down so that the falls are always covered in a cloud of mist. With temperatures well below freezing, that meant that all the trees and plants in the proximity were covered with a thick layer of ice — quite an amazing sight! After the falls, we went to the small and cute (albeit somewhat touristy) town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which actually was the first capital of Upper Canada (which now is Ontario) in the late 1700s. After we spent some time walking around the streets there (and getting a hot tea to warm ourselves up), we then as the last stop of our tour went to a winery, where we tasted some of the local wine, especially the ice wine which the region is famous for. In the evening after the tour, we went for dinner with some INSEAD students who are now in Toronto — which was great fun.

Starting Thursday evening and running all through Friday, we had a big snow storm, which meant that we spent most of the time just relaxing in the hotel. By Saturday, when we were supposed to fly out to Boston, the storm had left Toronto… but collided with another one in the north east of the US to form the massive blizzard “Nemo”, which hit especially Boston really hard. Of course, our flight got cancelled, but we also thought that it simply might not be a good idea to fly there even a day later when probably the city would still be cleaning up the damage and potentially be without power or public transport. So instead — we ended up going back to Washington because we found a cheap flight. In Washington, we basically only spent the night, to then on the next day go back to my relatives in Chadd’s Ford, PA. In effect, instead of our planned five-city loop we ended up retracing a four-city itinerary, since after Chadd’s Ford we will go back to NYC and fly back out to Germany from there.

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 6: Philadelphia, Washington

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

After New York City, we headed out to Philadelphia – well, sort of. We actually went to visit my relatives, who live far our in the countryside west of Philadelphia, in Chadd’s Fort (which apparently is one of the best school districts in the area). There we witnessed some of the typical American idyllic lifestyle – huge houses with two-car garages, no sidewalks because you have to drive everywhere anyway, shopping of super sized items at Costco, etc. It was interesting to experience that, too, especially after the busy, crammed and crowded streets of NYC. And of course it was also nice to catch up with my family.

We also went into Philly proper for a day, to check out the city and meet a friend of J’s. The city is certainly not as exciting as New York, but it features some important landmarks of US history, namely Independence Hall, the site at which both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787 were drafted and signed, and the Liberty Bell, which serves as a symbol of American freedom. Especially the visit to Independence Hall was thought-provoking — these men crafted a document more than 225 years ago, forming the first modern democracy, and even though it certainly has its flaws and needed some amendments too, it still lies at the core of the world’s most powerful nation. Other than these sights, we also visited the Wanamaker organ, which is a huge organ, located in a department store (now Macy’s, but it used to be owned and operated by name-giving John Wanamaker, who was an organ lover), ate the famous Philadelphia cheese steak, and wandered around the streets for a bit. In the evening, we had dinner with J’s friend and went to a Jazz club.

Before we left Chadd’s Ford, we went to Gettysburg with my relatives, which is about two and a half hours by car from their place. J and I both didn’t know much about the American Civil War, but the museum at Gettysburg was very good and informative — both about the war in general and about the battle of Gettysburg in particular, and why it was so important. It also showcased Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, which he gave on the occasion of the opening of a war cemetery a few months after the battle. Interestingly, back then the speech didn’t elicit unanimous praise — on the contrary, some even ridiculed the short speech.

Our next stop was Washington, D.C. As a city that is completely planned and centered around the government buildings and the National Mall, it is quite impressive. Just walking around between all the monuments, memorials, the White House and Capitol Hill gives a sense of the power that these institutions have. On top of that, there are of course the museums, most of which are free and huge — you really have to pick and choose if you are only there for a few days. We visited the Museum of American History, the Holocaust Museum, the Museum for Natural History, and the Air & Space Museum. We also took a tour of the Capitol and went into the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Folger Shakespeare Library – a pretty tight schedule for two days!

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 5: Germany, New York

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

After having spent a few days in Germany, mostly for me to sort out stuff related to my South African visa application, we started on a last trip before we are going to start working again in March: we went to the US East Coast with a short detour to Canada -thereby ticking off the fourth continent within a month.
The first stop (after some delays on our flight due to snowy weather in Europe) was New York. Given that I had never been to the US before, what better city could there have been to start the trip than New York? We were able to stay at the apartment of a friend of J’s, conveniently located in midtown Manhattan. New York was even colder than Germany, but since it is so much further south, the days were much longer, which was great for sightseeing.

In the six days we spent in New York, we did a lot of things – this city really provides endless opportunities! We did some of the obvious touristy things such as going to the top of the Empire State Building (really, really freezing cold there in the cold January wind with temperatures of about -10 centigrade!) , a cruise to the Statue of Liberty (unfortunately both Liberty Island and the neighboring Ellis Island which features a supposedly very interesting immigration museum have been closed since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc there), the 9/11 memorial (very impressive, with two square black pools in the locations of the twin towers), and visiting the Guggenheim museum (just missing the end of a big Picasso exhibition, so that half the museum was closed to set up the next show). We also did a lot of shopping, both for clothes and for gadgets (I got an iPad mini, while J opted for the less expensive option, a Nexus 7).

Most of the time, however, we spent walking around the city, checking out different areas and neighborhoods – and I must say, in NYC this is really a worthwhile activity. From the glamour and blinking lights of Broadway and Times Square to the luxurious storefronts of Fifth Avenue; from busy Wall Street to hip(ster) Williamsburg; from huge Central Park to the elevated Highline Park, which has been built on a former railroad viaduct and leads through abandoned and refurbished industrial buildings; from walking through Chinatown feeling like a colder version of Hong Kong to hearing people everywhere speak with so strong American accents that I wouldn’t know anymore how to exaggerate them.

All in all, I was very impressed by the city – so many things to see, do, and experience! It was interesting, however, how man things already felt familiar because I had seen them in movies or on TV – you get the feeling that you’re in one – if not the – cultural center of the world!

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 4: Germany

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Germany for me was more of a working visit than anything else, since there were a lot of this that I had to sort out – I had to get a new passport, buy things including some furniture for South Africa, ship things down there, apply for my South African visa (after having collected all the required documents for that), and move the remaining stuff out of the attic of my previous apartment in Hamburg. Between all of that, however, I also managed to introduce J to my family and also catch up with my former band mates. Also, we went to a concert in Berlin, which was very nice even though Julia Fischer, who was supposed to play the violin, couldn’t make it, being replaced by Taiwanese-Australian violinist hotshot Ray Chen (which was also nice, but not quite what we had expected also in terms of the pieces he played).

In the end, I managed to get all the things done in about two weeks, and we then left on our last “holiday” trip before we will start working again: we flew to the US east coast.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 3: Myanmar

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

After having visited J’s family in Perth, we went to Myanmar. While I had already been there before coming to Singapore, she had not and wanted to go, and we figured that we probably wouldn’t come back to South East Asia very soon again. Moreover, I had gathered the impression on my visit there that the country was changing and opening up to the world and to tourism rapidly, and that soon it would not be very different anymore from Laos or Cambodia, who are quite overrun with tourists in some places and therefore have lost a lot of authenticity. As it turns out, however, we were already almost too late to prevent that – when we arrived in Yangon after a short stopover on Singapore’s Changi airport (where we also had to surrender our Singapore student passes), we realized that there was barely any accommodation available in Yangon, and the rooms we could find had gone up in price twofold or threefold since I had been there – which meant that in comparison to other countries in the region, they now were horribly overpriced. At lest the taxi driver that took us to the city was very friendly and helpful, calling up multiple guest houses for us to find a place to stay and stopping at a travel agent for about an hour until we had sorted out domestic flights for the week that we were going to stay in Myanmar. The first evening, we walked around Yangon a bit and visited the famous Shwedagon Pagoda – which with all its gold and the lots and lots of small temples around it hasn’t lost its fascination even on the second visit.

Since we had not had much sleep the night before (we spent the night between 3am and 9am on the airport) and we had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to catch a domestic flight, we went to bed early – which meant that for the first time probably since I was 8 or so, I missed New Year’s – but there was probably not a lot I missed anyway, since Yangon is not a party city and New Year’s is nt a big deal for the Burmese anyway.

The next day, we flew early in the morning to Bagan, the most important tourist destination in Myanmar. This plain which is filled with more than 4000 temples rivals the Cambodian temples of Angkor, and has the advantage of having a bit less of a Las Vegas feeling. After having checked into a very nice hotel on the banks of the Ayeryawaddy river, we rented a horse cart including driver for the day to take us around the temples. Especially since there are so many temples, I ahead not seen nearly all of them when I was there the last time, so it was also very nice for me to see some more of this amazing cultural heritage. Especially nice was the sunset that we watched from one of the smaller temples that are less crowded (some of the bigger ones get really packed around sunset). The next morning, we got up at 6 to also catch the sunrise. It was a bit difficult to find our way around in the area of Old Bagan where our hotel was to find a temple that we could climb on to watch the sunrise, but eventually we found one, just in time to see the temple-filled plain bathed in the colors of dawn.

Later that day, we already had to fly out of Bagan to get to Inle lake, the second must-see destination in Myanmar. We again had trouble finding accommodation, and ended up in a big, Chinese-run hotel that wasn’t exactly cheap, but at least reasonably clean and provided good breakfast. We also arranged for a boat tour on the next day, which we requested to leave really early in the morning so that we could witness sunrise on the water. This turned out to be a ally great idea – especially the first few hours on the lake were amazing, with the mist of the night slowly clearing and the shapes of the hills surrounding the lake slowly becoming distinguishable from the water of the lake and the sky. Also, the fishermen of the lake, who have very flat boats and a strange, one-legged rowing technique, provided for good photo opportunities. We also visited a market and multiple handicrafts shops in villages on the lake, as well as the jumping-cat monastery (where the cats are no longer jumping, since the old monks that used to teach the cats have died). However, since we had gotten up so early, we got tired around lunchtime and went back to Nyaungshwe, the main tourist town north of the lake where our hotel was located.

The next day, we had a flight back to Yangon – and it turned out that we had been extremely luck with our schedule, since it was really foggy that day and you couldn’t see more than maybe 10 meters. While that meant that our flight got delayed by more than an hour, it wold have been much worse if we had tried to go on the boat tour that day – we wouldn’t have seen anything on the lake!
Since we had two days to spare, we rather spontaneously decided to go to the Golden Rock, which is an important pilgrimage site a few hours southeast of Yangon. The Golden Rock is an oddly balancing boulder on top of a mountain, which countless pilgrims have attached gold leafs to, so that it is now completely golden. From the descriptions in the guide book, it sounded like a nice place to see, and the hotel we got in Kinpun, which is the “base camp” for excursions to the Golden Rock and located in the valley below, was certainly the nicest and best value-for-money one on the whole Stay in Myanmar. The actual trip up the mountain, however, was quite an experience. We had decided to go up early at 6:00am to avoid the pilgrim masses as much as possible. It turned out, however, that all the pilgrims had thought the same, and so we ended up with hundreds of Burmese pilgrims at the “station” from which trucks carry the people up the mountain. These trucks basically have an open platform in the back, onto which about 35 people can squeeze. With so many people waiting for the trucks, boarding them was a nightmare. As soon as the trucks started pulling into the station, people ran up and tried to climb on, or literally threw their grandmas up on the truck. It wasn’t pretty. After two groups of trucks had come and gone, we somehow managed to get on one so that we could be taken up the mountain. The truck was full and crowded, and the trip up took about an hour (including a lot of waiting time about halfway when the trucks had to let trucks going downhill pass, since the mountain roads were too narrow for two trucks next to each other). When we had finally arrived on top of the mountain, we had hoped for it to be a bit less crowded there – but that was not the case. In addition to all the people that had come up with or before us, there were lots and lots of people who had spent the night on the mountain – just lying under makeshift tents at the side of the road. From everyone’s waste (no dustbins anywhere) the place was really filthy – and you had to walk barefoot, since it is a Buddhist sanctuary after all! All of this meant that we had enough quite quickly – we took a picture of the rock and then headed downhill again. It was again difficult to get on a truck, since people kept pointing us to different trucks (no one speaking any English of course), but eventually we made it, and spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing in our hotel room.

The next day, we went back to Yangon. Leaving Kinpun, we realized that all the pilgrims were leaving too – we had probably just managed to come there at the worst possible time – it was a long weekend for the Burmese!

The following day, we left Myanmar for Germany – out of South East Asia, out of the warmth into the European winter!

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 2: Perth

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

After having checked out of our Singapore apartment on 26 December, J and I went to visit her family in Perth. Since it was the middle of the Australian summer, it was hot as hell there – around 40 degrees in the daytime. At least it wasn’t as humid as in Singapore anymore!
Over the course of the four days we were there, we had a belated Christmas dinner with J’s family (more aunties and uncles!), met some of J’s friends, went to the beach, and drove down south to Dunsborough and Margaret River, where we visited a few more beaches and went wine tasting at a vineyard.

The most amazing and most important thing of the four days though was that we visited a wildlife park that had all of the Australian animals like kangaroos, wallabies, emus etc. – and I got to hold and cuddle a koala! It was indeed quite furry and was eating eucalyptus all the time that was constantly being replenished by some caretaker – and whenever she came with a new bunch of eucalyptus branches, the koala on my arm greedily turned to her and reached for the new food. It was definitely quite an experience!

On December 30, we left Australia for Myanmar.

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 1: KL and Singapore

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

The day after graduation, we went to Kuala Lumpur to visit some of J’s family. We went there for just a few days and didn’t really do anything except eating, meeting her extended family (lots of aunties and uncles) and hanging out.
After that, we came back to Singapore and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day there. Most of our fellow students had already gone home, but a few were still there so that we could spend some more time with them. On Christmas Eve, we had a very nice traditional Polish Christmas dinner hosted by a German/Polish classmate of ours with her husband, who also had her family visiting and invited us and two other students. We had a very nice time together, and it was again quite sad to have to say goodbye to some of our friends that evening.
The next day was our last full day in Singapore before checking out of our apartment and leaving for Australia. Since we had two bottles of champagne in our fridge from various occasions, we decided to invite a few of the remaining people over for a champagne breakfast. They brought some food and another bottle of champagne, and we hung out half of the day, talked and drank champagne – a very lazy and nice way to end our time in Singapore. After having parted for the afternoon, our three guests came back in the evening to have some dinner – and thus ended our time in Singapore.

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