The Mysteries of Angkor and Angkor Wat

When I first learned of Angkor, it was through photos and stories of Angkor Wat. At the time I had no idea that Angkor Wat was only one small piece of a sprawling civilization and series of cities, temples, and developments that spanned the entire region.  Angkor, the capital of the empire, includes a long list of sites including Angkor Banteay, Baray, Esvara, Gopura, Jaya, Phnom, Prasat, Preah, Srei, Ta, Thom, Varman, and Wat.  In recent weeks announcements have come out that a number of other major temples, some of which are quite large, have been discovered in the surrounding region.  As more exploration is done, it seems complex after complex from the mysterious Khmer Empire re-emerge from the the anonymity of the sands (and jungles) of time.

Angkor Wat - Wonder of the World

Though we don’t talk about it much in western histories, the Khmer Empire ruled the region for hundreds of years. Some historians suggest that the Angkor area was one of, if not the, largest pre-industrial urban area during that period. Interesting, timing and placing when an empire existed within our mental narrative is also something that is always incredibly difficult. I often think of the Mayan and Inca temples having been built around the same time as the pyramids (they were built 2,000 years apart).  For me, Angkor was always the same. I picture it as early – perhaps even parallel to the Greeks or Romans.  Yet, as it turns out, it’s actually closer to the Franks and Vikings and falls squarely within the Medieval Period.

Takeo Angkor Temple

Another of the big surprises for me was just how accessible Angkor is. The modern city of Siam Reap is situated on the border of the National Park and in some places the two nearly overlap. Which makes the commute from hotel to Angkor convenient and incredibly easy.

The Restaurant by Kroun – Exciting Nordic Cuisine in Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s culinary scene grows increasingly exciting with each passing month.  The once somewhat one-dimensional Nordic culinary landscape has been revolutionized over the last 15 years. While this renaissance has been most visible at the higher echelons of the local food scene, the diversity, depth, and breadth of culinary options in Copenhagen has gradually grown. The team at Noma which is most often credited for launching the New Nordic movement, now more commonly just referenced simply as Nordic Cuisine, deserves a large part of the credit. However, there have been other long-standing bastions generating fine food, excellent chefs, and fantastic Sommeliers for years such as Kong Hans’ Kælder, which has served as Copenhagen’s culinary benchmark since the 80s. Many of the most exciting new restaurants in Copenhagen are those which pull expertise from a variety of sources to craft an exciting new fusion that wonderfully walks the delicate line between too traditional and too creative, too artistic and too utilitarian, too complex or too simple, and overly formal or casual to the point of utterly lacking service.

Nordic Cuisine at the Restaurant by Kroun

Recently, the Restaurant by Kroun, which is the newly opened restaurant (March 2016) launched at Kurhotel Skodsborg, invited me to join them for dinner. The restaurant is a collaboration between head chef and namesake Erik Kroun, who honed his craft at Michelin-starred restaurants, including Kong Hans’ Kælder, Søllerød Kro and Sletten Kro, and Martin Troelsen who previously served as Restaurant Manager at Michelin-starred Marchal, situated in Copenhagen’s five star Hotel D’Angleterre and is a well recognized Sommelier.  The meal and overall experience lived up to their pedigree, making it easily one of the best meals I’ve had in Copenhagen.  Based on the experience I had during my visit, the quality of the food, flavor, and overall experience, I suspect that Restaurant by Kroun will be thundering onto the local culinary scene and you’ll quickly be hearing a lot about it.

Kurhotel Skodsborg

The restaurant itself is situated in a cozy carpeted room decorated with grand old deer antlers that pay homage to the hotel’s long-standing heritage as a spa and lodge. Kurhotel Skodsborg, where the Restaurant is located, is situated just off the northeast corner of the recently christened UNESCO World Heritage Dyrehaven (Deer Park) and previously served as a royal residence. Situated as it is, nestled between Copenhagen’s greatest green space and the calm waters of the Øresund sea, I was initially concerned that it would be somewhat inconvenient to access from Central Copenhagen.  As it turns out, the hotel and restaurant are perfectly situated. The sea is a 30-second walk from the hotel, the Dyrehaven just a minute away, and the Skodsborg train station is just a three- minute walk and a brief 15-minute ride from Norreport station in Central Copenhagen.

Nordic Cuisine at the Restaurant by Kroun

We left dinner in our host’s hands. This meant that we’d be doing their “Full On” menu – champagne, a signature eight course meal, full wine pairing, water, coffee and then an extensive selection of sweets. Before diving into the specifics, I want to reiterate how incredibly impressed I was by the wine pairing. In total, there were four of us at our table and every single one of us loved every single wine. The champagne was good, the whites great, the reds fantastic, and the sweet desert wines a treat for the senses. The wines were beautifully aromatic and none had the strong taste of new wood which I often find sours the wine. I also have a small quirk, where I like to keep a small portion of wine from the previous pairing in reserve from serving to serving  which I can use to compare and contrast. I’m sure some find it utterly ridiculous, but I find having the two side by side lets me compare their aromas and brings to life entirely fresh scents, nuances and flavors as I finish one round of wine and transition into the next pairing.

The Sound of Music, The Taste of Coffee and a Miniature Wonderland

Music

It was the day after the Paris attacks and the world was still numb with shock. It was mid-afternoon after a fantastic day spent exploring and I found myself standing in the rain, surrounded by police officers, as a long procession of people made their way past. Despite the police, the mood was relaxed and positive. The protesters streaming by advocated for the rights and humane treatment of refugees. Their rhetoric was one of love, of inclusion, of tolerance, and of being our brother’s keeper. As the tail of the march passed, the officers, who were largely there to ensure the safety of the protesters, jumped on their bikes or horses and made their way forward. Soggy, I continued across the intersection and into the Laeiszhalle.  This building has served as host to some of Germany’s best concerts since it opened its doors in 1908 and was a lovely, elegant structure with a charming interior.

Hamburg's HafenCity

Teatime Classics

Damp from the rain, I made my way to the coat check anticipating that the show, Teatime Classics featuring Trio Adorno, would be a traditional trio performance in the main concert hall. Of course, as you might guess from the name, it was actually a brilliantly different experience.  In place of the main stage in the concert hall, it was held in the bar/reception area. Beneath beautifully decorated vaulted ceilings, a hap-hazard assemblage seating, a piano, and two chairs had been setup at one edge of the room just before the door to the northern wing of the concert house.

As we settled in to enjoy the concert, still a bit unsure what to expect, I sipped one of Hamburg’s signature beverages – the Fritz-Kola, which as it turns out has roughly double the caffeine dosage of your average soda. Eyes wide, I watched the assembled mixture of young children, middle-aged folks, and elderly couples enjoy their cakes, coffee, soda and wine before glasses and empty plates were put to rest and the trio took their positions.

A Weekend Getaway Spent in Hamburg

As I felt gravity suddenly press against me, pinning me to my seat, I enjoyed one of my favorite sensations – the added G-forces that come during takeoff. From my seat on the isle I looked up the row, marveling as I always do at the steep vertical incline and picturing the sight of our mid-sized passenger jet launching itself into the sky. The flight itself almost seemed like a joke. Like a ball thrown by some sort of Norse Titan. No sooner had we reached cruising altitude then the captain pushed the nose forward for us to begin our descent. The flight from Copenhagen to Hamburg lasts just over 30 minutes, making the flight a fantastic convenience and, at a certain level, perhaps a hair silly. It reminded me just how incredible it will be in another decade or two when we finally turn trans- continental flights into similarly brief leaps. My daydreams were, however, short-lived as the seat belt sign flicked on and the stewardesses began to make their vigilant march down the isles.

Chilehaus - UNESCO HamburgIn my previous posts here and here, I talked a bit about my first visit to Hamburg five years ago, and what I was looking forward to on this trip. My hotel, the 25 Hours Hotel HafenCity, was located right in the heart of Hamburg’s new harbor district the HafenCity. While still far from “complete”, this new district is light-years beyond where it was five years ago. With the eventual plans calling for a 40% extension of the downtown area, it’s a massive re-development project that is fairly far along. The architecture is modern, dynamic, and very cool. It’s one of those projects that has managed to feel both utilitarian and futuristic without looking dated or a bit goofy. While it’s still rather quiet at night, the metro stations are brand new and built to handle heavy capacities. The location leaves you a mere 10-minute walk from the historic downtown and area around the Hamburg City Hall. The hotel was also one of the cooler boutique/design hotels I’ve been in, but that may just because the room had a working spinning globe that just happened to be a lamp. HafenCity

After arrival, I immediately launched into an exploration of the area which was my primary reason for visiting Hamburg: the Speicherstadt, Kontorhaus District and Chilehaus.  Our walking guide took us through the older parts of the HafenCity before crossing one of the numerous bridges into the Speicherstadt. The Speicherstadt district is the old warehouse district. It not only manages an old-world industrial beauty but also has a stunning and somewhat brutal history.  Without realizing it, I’d run into the history of the warehouse district in some of the history podcasts I’ve been listening to recently. In retrospect, it’s no surprise given how dramatic the Speicherstadt’s formation was.

The Black Sun – Ribe – HD Video

Twice a year for several weeks the Wadden Sea National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the surrounding area of Southern Jutland in Denmark is inundated by more than 14 million birds.  The birds flock to the region during their migration from all across Europe.  Luckily for the birds, it seems that the French Starlings have no problem effortlessly coordinating their complex movements alongside British and German Starlings. The result are massive boiling balls of Starlings that act and look very similar to massive fish bait balls in the sea.

The footage in this clip was taken in so-so weather (light rain) on October the 17th in the wetland/fielded area that sits right alongside (essentially inside) the town of Ribe.  The fact that you can view this many birds directly in the heart of Ribe is definitely one of the coolest parts about the experience and makes it very convenient, especially given you only have two chances (sunrise and sunset) to see the birds congregate and swarm.

Bungee Jumping Victoria Falls – Weekly Travel Photo

Victoria Falls - Zambia

I’m not really a fan of heights. Don’t get me wrong, I love massive mountains, towering skyscrapers, and cliffs that leave you shaking. I just don’t like the fact that you can fall off them. Which probably explains why I’ve never bungee jumped or tried skydiving. I know. I know. Some adventure travel blogger I am, right? Still, I do enjoy watching others plunge to their mostly, probably, likely, completely safe near-deaths. Wingsuit basejumpers? Awesome. Canyon swings? Awesome. Bungee jumping? Pretty darn cool.

In today’s photo I give you the large bridge on the back side of Victoria Falls, shot from the Zambian side. This is the same bridge where a bungee jumper’s bungee snapped last year (oops). If you look closely (you can click the image for a larger version) you’ll spot a successful bungee jumper tantalizing the crocs and dangling a bit above the Zambezi’s raging waters.

Where’s the coolest place you’ve bungee jumped? What’s the wild and craziest thing you’ve done?

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here.

This post was made possible in part due to the support of the folks at Mahlatini Luxury Travel who offer Zambian safaris.

A Traveler’s Dream and Natural Wonder of the World – Iguazu Falls in Northern Argentina

After a relaxing day spent at the Marco Polo Backpacker’s Hostel in the town of Puerto Iguazu (located immediately across from the bus station) I set out to explore Iguazu Falls. As I bought my bus fare (transportation/price info here) and hopped on the shuttle to the falls, I did so with slight trepidation.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

I say trepidation because, while hailed as a natural wonder of the world, I feared disappointment. In the past my experience with famous destinations with grand reputations has been mixed. Which is not to say that places like Knossos and Chichen Itza aren’t incredible – they are – but often they’re so sterile, over stabilized, full of tacky tourist crap and – I don’t know – dare I say bland? That I often leave slightly disappointed. For example: Was Chichen Itza impressive? Yes. Does it have the incredible pyramids, wild and untamed essence, and majesty of nearby Tikal? No.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

I’m a huge waterfall guy and my expectations for Iguazu were every bit as expansive as the famed falls. Luckily, despite my initial concerns and hesitation I can honestly say that Iguazu was one of the most spectacular, incredible, and breath taking things I’ve ever visited. It was worth the 36 hour round trip bus ride from Buenos Aires and in truth, would have been worth the entire trip in and of itself, even if I hadn’t managed to see other parts of Argentina. It really is that magnificent. If you’re like me and are a bit skeptical about visiting, bury your skepticism and book a ticket immediately. It’s worth it.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The 15 minute bus ride out to the falls was on a small bus packed with a mixture of sweaty locals and tourists alike. As we bounced along the uneven paved streets I overheard the two girls next to me speaking in Aussie English. Before long we’d struck up a conversation, and exchanged all of the usual questions and answers. As we pulled into the roundabout in front of the visitor’s center and disembarked we decided to team up and explore the park together.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

I had read online that the small island of San Martin was incredible, only accessible by a boat/shuttle, and was subject to water levels and flow. The information I’d read suggested starting with it, as the water levels tended to rise later in the afternoon. It didn’t take much to convince the girls to head for the island, and with maps in hand we made our way along small paths, which cut through the thick jungle vegetation before giving way to raised metal boardwalks.

Standing Above the Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The metal boardwalks were well done. Unobtrusive natural metal colors and made of open wire and mesh, they blended into the scenery without leaving ugly scars across the jungle floor. They also allowed us to effortlessly pass over, beside, and around large waterfalls and uneven jungle terrain.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

While the main falls are the primary draw for any visitor, it’s important to note that the whole region is full of small falls tracing their way down towards the river. Some of these more intimate falls, while smaller, offer their own natural beauty and a more delicate sense of power.

The Beach and Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

As we slowly traced our way down towards the river we wound along metal walkways, stone stairways, and small cliff-side paths. We found ourselves pausing regularly to take in a particularly elegant vantage point, wild life, or to pause for a quick photo op. At one point one of the numerous butterflies in the area landed on one of the girls mid step, in the midst of one of the stairways. Each new step seemed to reveal more and more of Iguazu’s magic.

Swimming at the Foot - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Before long we reached the “dock” area. Which consisted mostly of two small metal docks and some old tires. From the area, there were two lines. One for the small ferry which would take us out to the island in the middle of the river and a second which served as the boarding and prep station for the waterfall excursion boats. These high power speedboats offered a similar service to the Maid of the Mist at Niagara falls and would take eager passengers up into the falls outer mists before, drenching their passengers, before allowing the water to push them back down, and out towards saftey.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

To our delight, once we reached the Isla San Martin we discovered a small sandy beach had been cordoned off and made available as a beach. Eager for the opportunity to fully experience the falls and escape from the steamy-hot summer day the girls and I quickly agreed on quick stopover, before we climbed the massive staircase to the main part of the island. As the girls did their best to change into their swimsuits in as subtle a fashion as possible, I kicked myself for not wearing my swimsuit, stripped down to my boxer-briefs and made a B-line for the water. It was warm, with a strong-but manageable current and made the entire visit and experience that much more real. As the water bombarded my senses with a different set of stimuli it shaped and re-crafted my relationship with the falls. As odd as that may sound – I think my experience would have been every bit as wonderful, but fundamentally different without the chance to actually swim in the river and to connect with the falls in a more tactile way.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

After a relaxing break in the falls/river the girls realized more time had passed then they had expected and after a quick exchange of information they re-boarded the ferry and made their way back towards their scheduled boat tour. Sad to see them go, but glad to have had the company for the first part of my time in the falls I turned my sights to the long, steep stairway which would take me up the side of the Island’s cliff face and eventually lead me to one of the islands two incredible viewing areas.

There’s a lot more to share, including my visit to the Devil’s Throat, wild insects, dragon-esque lizards and more. Jump to Part II: Iguazu Falls, the Devils Throat and Wild Beasts: Adventure in Northern Argentina.

Have questions about the falls? Comments or your own experiences? Please post a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Like the photos and video in this post? They were shot on a Canon G11 (latest version: Canon G12) and a Vixia HF200.