A UNESCO Filled Return to Hamburg – Come Follow Along!

In the midst of a beautiful hot, humid and record setting July in 2010 I found myself sitting on a sweltering train (inside a large ferry) headed across the channel from Denmark to Germany on my way to Hamburg. What followed was a very pleasant whirlwind tour through a city that struck me as being far more charming and rich in history and culture than I had expected.  In my preliminary post back then about Hamburg, you get a sense for the positive opinion of the city I was left with and what, I believe, will be an exciting insight into how much the city has changed in fun and exciting ways in the past five short years.

In truth, I’m shocked when I consider that it has been five years. I’ve often toyed with a return trip to Hamburg, but have only recently started re-visiting and exploring the areas close to my home-base here in Copenhagen.  Over the last year I’ve run into Hamburg repeatedly.  It all started with a NYE trip good friends took last year, which I was unable to attend, but which left me listening to grand stories of amazing adventures. Then once again as friends re-located to Hamburg and sang its praises.  Then even more recently during a series of events here in Copenhagen that touted the many exciting things going on in Hamburg. At the event I was reminded that Hamburg has now progressed fairly far into the construction of their fascinating Elbe Philharmonic Hall project, a captivating project that was only beginning to take shape during my initial visit. Even more importantly, earlier this year, the city’s Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus were named as UNESCO World Heritage sites. While I brushed up against these parts of the city in my initial visit, as a bit of a UNESCO World Heritage addict, I made a mental note that I’d definitely be heading back for a more in-depth exploration.

The Lone Bike – Weekly Travel Photo

The Belgian cities embody the feel of storied medieval cities in a way that very few other locales can.  The city of Ghent is a beautiful blend of historic architecture, winding waterways, and ever so slightly overgrown cobblestone roads.  Despite being a major tourist attraction it is still possible to explore parts of the city without feeling overwhelmed by the constant onslaught of tourists constantly shattering the ambiance of authentic daily life.  The city’s greatest and most elegant charm is on display after the sun sets when every detail of the historic buildings comes to life under the multi-hued rays of lamps and lights making it one of the most beautifully lit cities I’ve ever seen.  Luckily, one need not wait until the sun sets to properly enjoy the city as an aimless meander is guaranteed to have you stumbling across UNESCO World Heritage sites and an oft’ surprising mish-mash of cultures and architectural periods.

Ponte Vecchio At Night – Weekly Travel Photo

When I close my eyes and dream of Florence there is one image that always comes to mind.  It is the sight of the Ponte Vecchio at night, lit by the soft golden hues of street lamps as their mild light warms and illuminates the yellow, amber, and orange paint that covers Florence’s buildings like a thin layer of multi-hued skin. While there are a variety of different locations to enjoy the Ponte Vecchio from, my person favorite is the nearby Ponte alle Grazie, which, isn’t very pretty by itself but does provide an excellent view of the Ponte Vecchio.

A Bridge in Ghent – Weekly Travel Photo

Exploring Belgium

There is a magical charm to walking historic European cities in the crisp cool air of a fall evening.  While wandering the historic center of the Belgian city of Ghent, I found myself pausing beside the intricate patterns of carefully laid cobblestones, wrought iron railings, and gorgeous historic buildings atop one of the city’s many bridges.  As I paused enjoying the sight of the moon slowly crawling its way through the sky above the beautifully lit silhouette of the Saint Nicholas’ Church and Belfry of Ghent, I heard the clip-clop of women’s heels colliding with cobblestones. A moment later I felt the light stirring of air as a passerby made her way around me and into the photograph of the bridge I’d previously been about to take.  A moment later I snapped this shot. Have you been to Ghent?  The city is world famous for the way it is lit at night and with good reason.  Beautiful by day, the city is absolutely splendid in the evening.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Prague’s Bridges at Night – Weekly Travel Photo

Prague's Bridges at Night

One of the best parts about Prague is its incredible series of bridges.  They line the lazy bends in the river and create a unique texture that somehow snags the eye and pulls it in.   By day the bridges inspire with their varied architecture – some modern, some historic.  By night they entreat the onlooking eye with a blur of light and color.

While the most famous is, of course, Charles Bridge with its wide pedestrian walkway and series of statues representing saints and kings, each bidge has its own storz and charm.  This photo was captured on a snowy evening from a park that sits opposite Prague Castle.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a  Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Exploring Stavanger, Norway

Three Girls - Stavanger, Norway

The city of Stavanger is an interesting one.  Located at nearly the same latitude as the Orkney Islands in Scotland, it’s situated on the inward side of a large peninsula on the southwestern coast of Norway.  The city is the third largest in Norway, though still serves as a home to fewer than 300,000 people and is home to a large portion of the country’s oil fleet.

Tall Ship - Stavanger, Norway

Most of the city’s old town sits on one of two small hills which partially surround the old harbor – a picturesque area full of small cafes, parked ferry boats, and a few masted sailing vessels.  In addition to the cafes the harbor opens up on a large  square (which is on a bit of a hill), a small 4 or 5 station fish market, and the entrance to an old shopping mall.  From the harbor it’s easy to see the large suspension bridge which connects the city of Stavanger proper with a series of small islands which serve as home to some of the city’s more affluent population.  You can see part of the bridge as well as the masts of small sailboats, and the warehouse-turned-residential buildings in the photo above.

International Volleyball Tournament - Stavanger, Norway

To my surprise it turned out that Stavanger was hosting the Conoco Phillips world beach volleyball championships.  They’d brought in tons of sand and set up six full-sized beach volleyball courts along one side of the harbor, in addition to constructing a small free standing stadium around a final match beach/field.   I’m not much of a beach volleyball fan, but was excited to have stumbled onto the event.  In sharing some of the names in attendance with friends who play, it turned out that the event was actually fairly major and had a lot of the most well known women’s international players/teams in attendance.  What made the event that much better was the open (free) access which was available to the six practice/elimination courts which almost all had games going constantly throughout the day.   The events drew huge crowds which filled the harbor area and added to the level and sense of energy in the air.  Not to mention the general appeal of a bunch of attractive international volleyball players wandering around the city.

The Harbor - Stavanger, Norway

A brief 5 minute walk from the old harbor, up a small hill, past a squat old cathedral and back down towards sea level takes you to a large pond which rests directly in front of the rail/bus station and is surrounded by a variety of shops, hotels, and other like-kind establishments. The pond is pretty, if not overly beautiful, and serves as a home to ducks, fountains and the occasional swan.

Street Scene - Stavanger, Norway

The city’s smaller side streets are typically beautiful cobblestone walkways lined by an odd assortment of heartily built structures.  The town’s wet climate is reflected in the green vegetation and moss which can be found everywhere – including growing between the cobblestones. I found myself pleasantly strolling through the city’s quiet side streets surrounded by flowers – some planted, some seemingly wild – which line the city’s streets and decorate the town’s residential buildings.

Main Bridge - Stavanger, Norway

From the rail/bus station I decided to brave one of the city’s hills.  While not a significant climb, I’ll confess to being a bit lazy. The walk left me somewhat winded and my shins burning as I wound up the steep cobblestone streets.  Despite a little huffing and puffing the climb was well worth it. When I finally reached the top I quickly found a small hole between two pitched slate rooftops and enjoyed the view: the bridge, bay and one of the nearby islands was about as picturesque as a highly urban landscape can be.

Downtown - Stavanger, Norway

As I meandered through the city streets I found myself continually drawn towards the bridge.  After all it was large, no doubt offered a unique view of the city and….well…it was there and let’s face it, that’s often more than enough reason in and of itself.  Before long my feet found their way to the ramp leading up to the pedestrian walkway across the bridge.  Dodging the occasional bicyclist I walked about 1/2 of the way out onto the bridge then paused and looked back at Stavanger.  The view was one of a prominent cathedral, pointy pitched roofs, a few converted warehouses, and brought to mind the mental image of an old city given life in an even older story – a city near slumber, late at night, lit by oil powered lamp light and echoing with the quiet rattle of wagon wheels bouncing across cobblestone streets.

An odd visual to have in the middle of the day on a bright sunny day?  Perhaps – but it brought a smile to my face and some how, some way, seemed to fit the city’s skyline.

Graffiti - Stavanger, Norway

From the bridge I continued my aimless meandering, wrapping back down towards the harbor, but not before winding my way through the city’s thriving shopping district which is full of middle-upper class shops and ritzy street cafes.  As I wound my way up side alleys and down main streets I was constantly entertained by the large number of odd murals that decorate walls and street corners throughout the city – most done in a graffiti style, but showing far more care, time, and artistry than random graffiti scribble.  Most were bizarre, but creative and fun in their quirkiness.

Tired, footsore, and feeling more than a little starved I eventually decided it was time to track down a supermarket, pick up some relatively cheap food (though still ridiculously priced) and then head home to the Hospihostelhotel.  Watch the clip above for a look at the meal (sorry about the image/color quality, I was having issues with a lens at the time).

Dinner: Crawfish, Caviar and Chicken - Stavanger, Norway

Let me just say, that shopping in foreign countries can be difficult.  Especially when you’re in a supermarket and the local language is anything but easily recognizable.  As I stood in front of the cooler I couldn’t help but shrug, sigh, and scratch my head as I grabbed what looked like pre-cooked and shelled shrimp tails and what I assumed was pre-cooked BBQ chicken.  The whole time I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to poison myself by accidentally buying something that wasn’t completely cooked (like the chicken).  Luckily, the extent of my surprise came in the form of the “shrimp” I’d bought.  It was only after getting the container open, draining off the water and tasting a few that I google translated the words on the lid.  Shrimp?  Not so fast.  Turns out they were crawfish tails.  The good news was crawfish was equally acceptable and delicious as shrimp in my book.  Still, I couldn’t help but let out a hearty laugh at myself.  It’s the little adventures that stick out…and this was no exception.

The final meal consisted of several small pieces of bread, a coke, diced barbecued chicken, arctic fish roe/caviar, and pre-cooked/salted crawfish tails. The end result was an odd, but strangely complimentary assortment of tastes that left me stuffed and content – even though I’d faced more than a few surprises.

With a full belly and tired legs I crawled into bed, checked my e-mail, and watched a bit of Norwegian TV which surprisingly was mostly in English with Norwegian subtitles.  The following day promised an adventure – it was time to say goodbye to Stavanger and hello to Bergen.

Martian Landscapes, Barren Desert and Old Bridges

Northern Arizona Desert - B&W

When I left you last I’d just wrapped up a delightful evening exploring Flagstaff and begun my first American Hostel experience.  The following morning I woke up early, washed up and made a quick call to connect with Noelle who was the friend of a friend I’d met the evening before and was eager to join me on my day-long road trip through Northern Arizona.  We connected around 10:30 and by 11 had piled into the car and were trailblazing northward.

Desert Cactus - Northern Arizona

The first 30 minutes of the drive were pleasant and cool along old route 89A.  It took us through rural Flagstaff, pine forest and open meadows before cresting a small hill which opened up onto Arizona’s barren flatland’s.   The view before us stretched out and away for miles with the straight black line of the road cutting a ruler-perfect line down the sloping hill and out toward the horizon.  From our vantage point it was easy to identify where the pine transitioned into juniper, the juniper forest into grass lands with an occasional tree and then the naked rocky terrain that springs to mind when one imagines Arizona.

Northern Arizona - View Towards Flagstaff

As we said goodbye to most things green we found a small paved road which forked out from a tiny town (Gray Mountain) with a restaurant, gas station and 4 buildings nestled along along the highway. Eager to get out into the countryside we followed the road as far as we could – it eventually turned to dirt before dead ending at a power relay station.  As we backtracked we parked (essentially in the middle of the road) and got out to take in the natural beauty and sheer contrast of the location.   The desert that surrounded us was brown and lacked any consistent form of ground vegetation, though it was periodically dotted by beautiful blooming cactus blossoms or small wildflowers with muted orange and yellow flowers.  The barren desert landscape stretched out, largely flat, but was broken by the snow covered peaks of the San Francisco Mountains which surround Flagstaff.

Cameron Trading Post - Arizona

Cameron

The small town of Cameron is located just under 60 miles north of Flagstaff and tends to stand out on maps for two main reasons.  The first and best known of which, is that it sits at the junction of Highway 89 and Highway 64, which splits off from 89 and strikes west towards the Grand Canyon.  The town’s second claim to fame is the Cameron Trading post: a sprawling trinket, food and hotel complex that sits overlooking the Little Colorado’s dusty riverbed.

Cameron Trading Post - Arizona

While the trading post itself has never had much draw for me – it mostly consists of the usual over-priced south western toy tomahawks, sand paintings and weird leather cowboy memorabilia – the old bridge built in 1911 has always captured my imagination.  There’s something about the basic design, when combined with the classic suspension architecture that oozes personality.

Cameron Trading Post - Arizona

The old one lane bridge, which has been closed to public traffic for years, turns 100 next year.  Though old and no longer used by automotive/foot traffic the bridge is in good condition and still supports a large north/south pipeline.  It offers an interesting contrast between new and old, as it stands immediately parallel to a more modern bridge which supports 89A and serves as one of Arizona’s main North/South arteries.

Northern Arizona Desert

Painted Desert/Tuba City

Some 30 miles North of Cameron is Tuba City.  Though a relatively short geographic distance, the geological variation is spectacular.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that those 30 minutes, took us close to two hours as we regularly paused along the side of the road to explore.

Northern Arizona Desert

Our first stop was at a series of incredible bald hills.  The hills, if they can be called that, varied in size and looked more on par with giant anthills than the usual small hill.  Roughly the size of a house, they were completely devoid of any vegetation.  What limited vegetation could be found was usually in the form of small plants clustered along small ditches carved out by rain and erosion.

Northern Arizona Desert

Unfortunately, the area we stopped at had been used somewhat recently by ATVers for off road fun which left the hills heavily scarred. The ground itself had an odd consistency.  The dirt was cracked and obviously dry, but also extremely fine and soft.  It left me feeling like I was walking across the surface of the moon, though its appearance had far more in common with mars.  The dirt itself was a wide mixture of colors, from reds and browns to deep grays.  It’s truly an incredible site and well worth exploring.  Especially if you’re the type who has always dreamed of visiting Mars or the Moon.

Northern Arizona Desert

Our next stop wasn’t technically in the painted desert, which is further to the North East, but it did offer an incredible view of gorgeous desert landscapes that looked as though they’d been painted in watercolor.

Northern Arizona Desert

Located just outside Tuba City – these hills were absolutely stunning.  With each layer a different color they offer a desert rainbow for those who pause long enough to take them in.   In many places the sandstone rocks have been partially eroded creating small sand dunes, which only serve as a further reminder of just how arid and difficult the natural environment is.

Northern Arizona Desert

As we paused for a few photos, we were greeted by one of those a-typical sights that you only stumble across while traveling. As we stood sweating, roasting in the desert heat a heavily laden Asian man in what appeared to be his 30’s passed us.  In and of itself not all that noteworthy right?  Wrong, this guy was apparently rollerblading his way across the state, loaded with a heavy backpack, wearing two roller-blades, and with a modified hockey stick for balance (and perhaps snakes).  Needless to say, the guy oozed a mixture of badass and Buddhist monk.

From there it was up a hill, across jagged, rocky terrain and into Tuba City.  A small-ish town with a few gas stations, fast food joints and a dive restaurant or two.  We ended up at a small sandwich shop which looked busy and had mediocre food.   The service was slow and ambling, though that may have been as much perception as reality given our famished state.

Northern Arizona Desert

Time was slipping by, and we elected to stop our northward push and begin making our way back towards Cameron, where we’d split off and make a B-Line for the Grand Canyon in the hope of reaching it in time for sunset.  First, however, it was time for another quick break.  This time we found a small pull off atop a decent sized shelf, which offered a Lion King esque view of the desert valley below us.

Northern Arizona Desert

The view was incredible and the lack of vegetation served as a stark contrast against the pine trees and lush greenery that we’d started the morning out with.

Northern Arizona Desert

We took a few minutes to enjoy the view, paused to snap a few silly snapshots jumping off the cliff or taking in the scenery and then jumped back in the car.  We were drenched in sweat and eager to escape the sun scorched desert.

Where next? Cameron, a quick pause along the Little Colorado and then the Grand Canyon to take in a spectacular sunset. The photos from that leg of the trip are spectacular, so stay tuned for my next post!

The City of San Ignacio in Belize

San Ignacio Belize Bridge

Though the ATM Cave tour was the highlight of my trip to Western Belize, I enjoyed my time in San Ignacio.  A small town which gently sprawls along a beautiful, slow moving river a brief 15 minute taxi ride from the Guatemalan border, the city of San Ignacio definitely harbors its own character and charm.

Eva's Bar and Grill in San Ignacio, Belize

The evening before had been enjoyable.  Earlier in the day I’d bumped into a friend i’d made during the Raggamuffin Tour in the local internet cafe.  When I’d last seen him we’d been setting sail and heading south towards Placencia, leaving him marooned on Tobacco Caye for Christmas (upon his request).   After finish up our e-mails home and quick blog posts, we struck out on the town to rustle up some chow. The place we eventually found started out promising but ended up being disappointing.  A small place, upstairs and across from the main tourist hangout in town – Eva’s, pictured above – they offered a menu with several cheap specials.  Upon inquiry as to what  the “pork” plate came with/entailed I got confused shrugs and mixed answers.  Ordering a 2nd Belkin Stout I figured what the hell and ordered it anyway.  The plate ended up coming with a variety of rice, beans, salsa and some sort of pork chop/pork loin that was so over cooked I was tempted to use it as coal. It turns out, the cook was playing computer games behind the bar…which explained a bit about the service, and even more about the over cooked nature of the food.

From there it was down to Eva’s for a drink or two more before turning in.  I ended up crashing at the PACZ Hotel which was very clean, affordable, ideally located, and had a wonderfully warm and friendly owner/manager.  If you find yourself in San Ignacio, definitely stop by and ask for Landy.  He not only was friendly and helpful, but had a wealth of stories and even went so far as to share with me a local DVD of Belize’s marine life and natural wonders.

San Ignacio Outdoor Market

The following morning I set off to find a bit of food, only to discover that the town’s outdoor market was bustling with activity.  As I wandered through the outdoor market, it struck me that the wealth of bananas, colors, and fresh produce made for a beautiful sight. With my mouth watering I paused briefly and picked up a shucked Coconut and fresh Banana before setting off to find lunch.

Belizean Food - Stewed Chicken, Beans and Rice

Just across the street, a few paces down a small side alley I stumbled into an open front restaurant bustling with local activity.   The kitchen was a small open area off in a corner with a small flat space for plate preparation and a blender for fresh horchata and juice drinks.  I sat down at an open table, only to realize that it didn’t offer any leg room.  After a few minutes with my legs sprawled out to either side one of the girls working as part chef/part waitress noticed, chuckled at me and herded me over to a different table, which had just cleared.  In heavily accented English she told me the two plates they were offering and offered a suggestion.  I followed her suggestion and opted for the Belizean specialty; stewed chicken, rice and beans served up with a side of salad and a fried plantain served up with a side of horchata, which i later followed up with a Coca Cola.  It was hands down the best Chicken, Rice and Beans I had in Belize which is saying something.

Chicken Bus in San Ignacio

Stuffed, I continued my exploration of the city.  Wandering down along the river I paused to watch and ponder the strange garb, traditions, and out of place appearance of the local Mennonites in the market place, before poking a hole in the coconut I’d purchased earlier and downing the fresh coconut water.  One of the things I love about traveling in tropical environments is the presence of fresh coconuts.  Coconut water is a great way to re-charge, very healthy, and perfect for re-hydrating.

After exploring the town for a bit, I made my way back past a colorfully painted bus to the hotel where I settled in for a relaxing afternoon.

The following morning a new adventure, and country awaited.