Malaga In January – A Pleasant Surprise

Seville, Granada, Cadiz … these are the cities that spring to mind when you talk about southern Spain in winter. Cities with rich architectural history, stunning old towns, vibrant cultural attractions and a charm guaranteed to steal your heart.  Malaga? Not so much. Unless, that is, you’re on the hunt for ugly cement resorts, overly crowded beaches, shady tourist restaurants, and an old city swallowed long ago by the forward march of industry and excessive tourism.  At least, that’s the Malaga I expected. My lazy Google pre-trip search did little to assuage my concerns. Photos from above showed me a modern city with beaches and a skyline marked by the jarring sight of ugly hotel elbowing its way in front of ugly hotel.  A perusal of a few top 10 things to do in Malaga lists further cemented my plan to use Malaga and more specifically its airport as a cheap way-station to get into and out of as quickly as possible.

2014 – A Year of Travel In 65 Black and White Photographs

As 2014 comes to a close it is time to look back over the year and to highlight some of my favorite photography. In 2014 I traveled less far-afield than during previous years but simultaneously spent more time familiarizing myself with the intimacies and breadth of texture present within Denmark. The image above is of the abandoned lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude in North Western Jutland. Upon the sand berm the individual posing is my younger brother. One of my goals this year was to work on my portrait photography and to add people into some of my shots. Hopefully you enjoy the result!

Fishing Boats Dragged Ashore – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

Generations ago fishing ships were dragged ashore through brute force, a bit of creative mechanics, and a stalwart work ethic. This avoided the need for the construction of grand breakwaters and deep harbors.  However, as technology has progressed and the ease of construction has increased, more and more safe harbors have been created up and down Denmark’s wind-tossed shores.  With beach erosion a perpetual issue these developments have been for the best, as the process of dragging the ships to and from the water is often far from easy on the local ecosystem.

This means that the opportunity to see a fleet of reasonably large fishing ships muscled ashore in the traditional fashion is highly unusual and this in turn makes Thorup Strand “Thorupstrand” one of the largest coastal landing sites in Europe. The site, which has been active since the 1700s, serves as home to as many as 25 fishing vessels at any given time.  Utilizing the deep sand and specially designed ship keels the modern vessels take advantage of a winch system and series of tractors which are used to drag the ships into the water in the morning and to pull them ashore above the tidal line every evening. Sounds daunting doesn’t it? 

Four Beaches to Visit in Copenhagen During Summer

Summer has arrived in Copenhagen and it is glorious! It may lack the scorching heat or consistent sunshine of more southern climates, but it brings with it a fragile northern beauty only made possibly by its contrast with Denmark’s long dark winters. Where other regions throughout the world take summer for granted, the Danes relish it and throw themselves into the country’s long summer days with near reckless abandon. Work grinds to a halt, the parks overflow with people, and the city’s open spaces are overwhelmed by a tidal wave of sun-burned, partially-clad Danes often found with a disposable BBQ, six pack of cold Carlsberg, and a beaming smile. This sight is usually set to the soundtrack of local Danish artists blasted from modified Christiania bikes with full speakers and sound systems (sometimes even a DJ turntable) jury-rigged precariously atop three standard bike wheels.

No Humbug in Hamburg – A Day Spent Exploring!

Old Canal - Hamburg, Germany

My hostel in Hamburg was a massive sprawling multi-story building that was clean and bustling with travelers.  The rooms were a nice mixture of built in bunks and free standing beds. Unfortunately, the place was poorly equipped for the heat wave, which made sleep difficult and served as a solid motivator to get out and explore the city. Eager to explore, I set a time and place to connect with my friend Philipp whom I’d met during my previous trip in December of 2009.  Philipp and I had gotten to know each other through the Hostel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico then struck out with two others in a rented car to explore Tulum, Dos Ojos and Akumal. As luck had it, he was an expert on Hamburg and volunteered to show me around.  We met up in the hostel and I gave him a quick tour before we set out to see the city.  Our first stop?  The subway station! I always get a kick out of large subway stations. There’s something fun about entire tiny cities located underground, complete with fruit vendors, magazine shops, and even clothing stores. The station in Hamburg didn’t disappoint.

Landungsbrücken - Hamburg, Germany

Our first stop dumped us out near the main river.  After a quick 10 minute walk through a light rain we passed the old trading docks, the Landungsbrücken, complete with beautiful old carved buildings showcasing statuary highlighting various global destinations and their native cultures.  As we wound around the buildings Philipp led me to an odd secondary building.

Elb Tunnel - Hamburg, Germany

While old it looked fairly unremarkable. As we entered the oddly domed building, I paused to stare at the sign out front. As it turned out, the structure was actually a massive elevator building which dates back to 1911 and has 4 independently operated elevators.  The Elb Tunnel is just under 100 years old and has allowed vehicular and pedestrian transit underneath the Elbe River far longer than I would have imagined.  Each of the elevators is large enough for one small-medium sized car, which would drive in, and then be lowered hundreds of feet into the bottom of the chamber.  Once there, the wooden doors open allowing the car access to one of two one-directional tunnels, just wide enough for a car’s wheels. Astonishingly the tunnel is still in active use.  The nearly 1,400 foot long tunnel stretches underneath the river at a depth of around 80 feet.

Tunnel under the River - Hamburg, Germany

As pedestrians we made our way down a long series of wrought iron stairs which wrapped around the inside edge of the circular building.  In many ways it felt as though we were descending into a well.  Especially given the river’s close proximity, just a few hundred feet away. As we wound down the stairs, the temperature dropped away. Where it had been fairly warm at the top, I was easily able to see my breath by the time we reached the bottom.

Elb Tunnel - Hamburg, Germany

Once at the bottom I paused, still amazed by the narrow car elevators, the age of the entire undertaking, and the complexity of the process.   From there Philipp and I made our way across through one of the tunnels, before catching the elevator back up to the surface on the south side of the Elb.  Despite a light rain, we popped out, made our way to the river bank and took in an excellent view of Hamburg’s old city before making our way back to the north bank.

Waterfront - Hamburg, Germany

As we wound inland towards the city’s old town, the light misting quickly turned into a heavy rain.  Luckily, we were both starving and dove into a small kebab shop right as the rain hit.  Munching away contentedly on our chicken kebabs with ice cold cokes in our hands we relaxed and waited out the 15 minute rainstorm.  From there, it was onward once again.  This time back down along the river toward an area that had recently been re-claimed and re-developed. The architecture in the re-purposed wharf area was chic.  Very modern buildings, many of which were obviously profoundly expensive and boasted what I can only assume to be the architectural designs of famous architects lined the path.  As we walked Philipp explained the area’s recent real estate woes as well as the general development plan for the district.  This included insights into their plan to build a brand new theater/opera house which had been fairly controversial. As he finished his explanation, we came upon a small building which had been designed to give people an idea of what was being built, including a miniature version of the opera house which you could stick your head up/into.

Old Canal - Hamburg, Germany

From there it was back towards the heart of the city, which took us along the remaining portions of the old warehouse district, the Speicherstadt.  A fascinating area, it embodied the industrial revolution and looked like it was straight out of the 1800s with large brick warehouse buildings lining the canals and sporting a variety of windows and dock entrances.  The whole area seemed movie-like, both in its uniform feel and interesting character.

St. Peter's Cathedral - Hamburg, Germany

As we wound along the canal we eventually cut in towards one of the major cathedrals. As it turned out the largest Cathedral nearby was St. Peter’s Cathedral.  As we explored the inside, we noted signs mentioning that the spire was available for a visit.  Eager for a commanding view of Hamburg’s old city we opted to pay the 1 Euro fee.  Where we expected a fairly limited ascent through a winding stone stairway to the building’s roof, we were pleasantly surprised to find a brief landing which dumped us at the foot of a massive set of MC Escher-esque stairs. Excited to attain our view and reach the top we set upon the stairs, legs pumping furiously.

Cathedral Tower - Hamburg, Germany

Only, to our surprise, every time we thought we were close to the top, the winding stairway ended and a new set began. This continued through several sets as the tower walls narrowed around us. The heat also started to increase noticeably.  Apparently, a large, hollow copper structure without ventilation accrues significant heat, even when it’s fairly cool outside.

St. Peter's Cathedral - Hamburg, Germany

As we reached the last set of stairs they changed from traditional zig-zagging stairways to a large circular staircase that gradually narrowed as it climbed dizzily towards the top.  Eventually, we reached the top of the stairs which dead-ended in a tiny trap door and small room which was barely large enough for the two of us.  The tiny room put us somewhere near the very top of the spire, which I believe is around 430 feet tall.

View from Cathedral Spire - Hamburg, Germany

The room had a series of small porthole windows, which offered a spectacular view of the city.  As we looked out back towards the river we could see the Warehouse and Wharf district and the old harbor.  From the other side we could see the city’s gorgeous, palatial looking City Hall. The view from one of the other portals offered a wonderful view of a large lake which sits immediately next to the old city and is connected by a large canal.  Sweating, and nearly ready to faint from the heat, we rested briefly before balancing unsteadily on mushy legs and winding back down towards the base. The view and ascent had been a fun little adventure and was well worth our entrance price.

City Hall from Above - Hamburg, Germany

The town hall, or Hamburg Rathaus is a beautiful building which is both massive in size, noteworthy for the attention to detail, and excellent in its symmetry. It opens up on a large plaza, which is bordered on one side by a picturesque canal that connects to the Binnenalster or inner city Alster lake.

Children Holding Court - Hamburg, Germany

As we paused in the city square for pictures, I quickly noticed an amazing number of swans in the distance.  Curious we made our way over to the canal, where I was shocked to see young children sitting (and feeding) a group of swans.

An Army of Swans - Hamburg, Germany

I must confess I maintain a rather low opinion of swans.  In truth, while I find them beautiful, I also view them as unfriendly, mean-spirited, large, dangerous and in all likelihood, far better eating than company. Some of you may recall, that I’d already been chased off once while in Norway by three rather unfriendly swans.   The swan I had encountered in Copenhagen had glared a bit, but largely ignored me, and so it was with some surprise that I greeted the tame friendliness of Hamburg’s swan army.

Swans - Hamburg, Germany

Veritable pets, the gaggle of …..does swans work in this case…were a pleasure to watch as they struggled for food, interacted with locals, and generally made a show of things. Before long, feet rested, Philipp opted to continue our exploration with a loop around Binnenalster before heading back to the harbor where he suggested we head to the beach. That’s right! I said beach.  More than a bit intrigued we caught a ferry up the river, which wound along with the city on one side, and the region’s world class/massive dock-works along the other.   The rocks were an incredible mass of cranes, vast cargo ships, dry docks and stacked containers.

Hamburg Beach - Hamburg, Germany

The ferry deposited us at a small dock next to a small ship museum which had a variety of traditional sailing ships docked.  We paused for a few quick photos before winding down and making our way around a corner, where sure enough, there was a long sand beach with a goodly number of people relaxing along it. Several swimming. As we settled in, I tossed my shirt aside and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Beautiful German women lounged on blankets all around us, as we begrudgingly watched an extremely drunk guy make an absolute wank of himself.  Drunk beyond reason and only passingly being watched by his friends, he spent his time throwing sands at his friends, tackling them in the water, or lounging spread-eagle in a pair of wet boxers which did little to cover his manhood.

A German Lunch - Hamburg, Germany

Eventually with the heat getting to us, we decided it was time to track down a quick beer, which we quickly located back at the original dock.  Philipp suggested we grab a traditional snack – a slice of pickled herringtopped with a large pickle on a slice of bread – which was absolutely delicious.  It was at this point that I was also introduced to Alsterwasser or lemonade beer. It was delicious and perfect for a hot summer day. Exhausted, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hostel where I’d take a long sweaty nap, before waking up and meeting a group of Russian girls. Before long we were sharing drinks, and decided to set out to catch the last game of the World Cup/explore the city.  They made great company and we had a blast wandering the streets and enjoying the celebrations and festivities. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Philipp for serving as a fantastic tour guide and sharing his city with me. I absolutely loved it and learned a ton about the city, while catching a number of things I’d have otherwise missed.

Nuremberg, Germany

This concludes my narrative posts about my Scandinavia/Germany/Ireland trip. After a delightful night out on the town, I wound down my trip with a rail ride to Nuremberg where I arrived late and caught a plane back to the US. My time in Hamburg was the perfect grand finale for what had been a positively amazing trip. Thank you to everyone who entertained me along the way, and thank you for letting me share it with you. Stay tuned! Argentina is next!

Caye Caulker – Pictures, Video and Local Cuisine!

Caye Caulker Beach

Having already mentioned my delightful case of food poisoning in my previous post, I’ll refrain from re-telling the story and instead focus on a few snapshots I took around Caye Caulker during my remaining two days on the island.  You’ll note that the photos are often a bit dark and gray.   This is due to the large cold front which was rolling through the region.

Caye Caulker Waterfront

Despite the gray clouds, slightly cooler weather and rain it was still enjoyable – though it was cool enough to merit a light jacket from time to time.

Bird on Dock in Caye Caulker Belize

With a water bottle in hand and slightly pale tint to my complexion I meandered through the city pausing to take in the town’s small quirks and subtle beauty.

Cat on Lounge Chair in Belize

The good news was, though, that despite the weather – at least a few of the locals decided to hit the beach for a bit of sunbathing.

Boat with Signs

From there it was on towards the gap in the island where one of the most flavorful boats I’ve seen in a long time was tied up.  After all, what boat is complete without “No War” painted on the side, a reclined, palm frond sun shade, and live baby palm trees growing along the deck?

Seagulls and Pelicans relaxing

From there it was down a small dock – where the local birds seemed to be relaxing watching their own version of island TV.

Caye Caulker, Belize

As the day wound to a close (and my appetite finally returned) I found the “World Famous Jolly Roger’s Grill” – only open in the evenings, Jolly Roger’s was set up in a roadside stand along the main drag.  It consisted of a few beat up pick-nick tables, a small table for preparing food and the long grill pictured above.

Jolly Roger

My host – Roger – promised the best fresh grilled lobster in town at a great price.  A bear of a man, he had a a friendly smile and boisterous voice as he called to passing travelers and locals alike – wishing them well and inviting them to pause for a meal.

Grilled Lobster in Caye Caulker Belize

As I sat, watching Roger and his wife prepare the meal, I enjoyed the soft sound of rain drops hitting the hut’s tin roof.  The fresh smell of cooking food, fresh sea air and rain heavy in my nostrils I felt both refreshed and invigorated.

 

Curious about the meal?  I’ll yield the floor to Jolly Roger himself and let him introduce dinner!  Just click play and enjoy the video.

Jolly Rogers in Caye Caulker

As I chatted and slowly worked my way through my dinner, rum punch and desert I was quickly joined by a gaggle of travelers as Roger’s quickly filled up.  Several of which I knew – some of the girls from the night before, who were also booked on the Raggamuffin Sailing trip we’d be leaving on in the morning – while others were new friends, like a family who had met up with their daughter and were exploring Belize.  We mixed, mingled and socialized for a a stretch before I found my way back to the hostel, pulled out one of C. Descry’s books and turned in for the evening.

Tomorrow promised to be a big day.

Exploring the City of San Pedro in Belize

San Pedro Ramshackle Dock

Rested, well fed and eager to explore San Pedro I rolled out of bed and just barely remembered to throw on my swimming trunks before stumbling out into the open 2nd story porch area that led to my room.  With sleep still heavy in my eyes I wandered over to the railing and looked out – taking in the beauty of the ocean, the long docks with their splintered, old gray boards and the plethora of sailing and motorized boats that sat along the coast.

San Pedro in Belize

As I stood watching the water, a group approached the tour operator’s booth at the bottom of the dock immediately in front of my hotel.  As tidbits of the conversation drifted up to me, I realized it must be just shy of 9 o’clock.  Curious, I kicked on my flip-flops and made my way down to the booth.  Asked a few lazy questions and then had to make an immediate decision as the woman informed me that the last boat for the morning trips was just pushing off. I opted to wait until the afternoon and waved the boat along, eager to compare pricing and ask around for tips on which trip to take.

San Pedro in Belize Resort Hotel

Eager to explore I set off down the beach.  Heading in the direction that led me away from town.   The plethora of docks and boats stretched into the distance and remained largely the same.  However, the buildings along my right hand side – nestled just off the beach – quickly changed from wooden buildings to lush resorts decorated with vibrant tropical plants and palm trees sandwiched into every spare inch.

The Back Streets of San Pedro Belize

Eventually tiring of the beach I cut inland to the main road that runs parallel to the beach.  From there I made my way around the small, local, airport which serves Mayan and Tropic Airlines.  Beyond the airport I quickly found myself on hardened sand streets populated largely by golf carts.  The homes were a mishmash of building materials, thrown together into colorful and often teetering structures built on tall stilts.   As I wandered the small streets I quickly became familiar with the multitude of roaming rasta-men.

Their approach varied, but the general gist was always the same. Money.  From pleas and sob stories about how they just got out of jail and were no longer selling drugs (which inevitably was followed up by an offer to purchase drugs when I refused them money), to seemingly inquiries to help me find whatever I was looking for (the helpful good Samaritan who inevitably would end up asking for a tip) and the more blatant who skipped a story all together and just offered drugs under their breath.  Though unfortunate and at times slightly uncomfortable I quickly learned what to expect and how best (and safely) to send them along their way lamenting the lack of a handout or sale.

The truly unfortunate thing is that unlike the rastamen most Belizeans are incredibly helpful. I say unfortunate because the rastamen make it difficult to differentiate between who’s sincere and who’s just looking for a few extra dollars – leaving tourists uncomfortable and often resulting in a much more defensive response to the local’s innate charity and helpfulness than is deserved.  Most of the Belizeans I met were truly the embodiment of what I’ve always pictured the people of the Caribbean as. They are eager to help, eager to lend the minute or two it takes to walk you down the street to whatever you’re looking for and happy to talk and share stories with perfect strangers.  So, travel tip: If you find yourself in Belize – make the effort to give them the chance.  At times it means you’ll have to give an uncomfortable no…but most of the time it’s well worth the added risk!

Taco Stand

As I continued to explore I stumbled upon a booming taco stand. The place had a number of golf carts parked in front and a disorganized group of people standing at the window jostling for position.  The place was one of the busiest restaurants I’d seen in the whole city and looked to be the preferred lunch place for the local community. As I stepped up and ordered 5 tacos I quickly learned why.

San Pedro Belize

The lady looked at me quizzically, frowned and asked in a slightly rushed but patient voice, “You know that the tacos are 3 for $1 BSD ($.50 USD), right?” – I chuckled slightly embarrassed and ordered 12 with a drink.  As I watched them being prepared I realized that they were slightly smaller than normal street tacos and made of stewed chicken with coleslaw wrapped in a normal sized corn tortilla. They were delicious – and after another plate of 6 I knew I’d found what would become my favorite hole in the wall in San Pedro.

San Pedro Docks

Eager for a nap I made my way back to the hotel, settled in for a quick snooze and then made my way down to the dock at 2PM to book my snorkeling trip. The cost was $35 which included fins, mask and guide.   More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!