Athens in three days: Day two

Oh, I’m a really really lazy blogger. But I’ve been busy working, moving to a new flat and being a foster mom for the supercute cat Kika. I’ve been doing some more short trips as well in the last months, so at my current writing rate, in 2016 you’ll see a post here for Edinburgh, in 2026 one for Slovenia and in 2036 another one for Napoli.

So, having a look at my phone pictures, on our second day in Athens, my mum insisted on going to the Port of Piraeus. Once there, we found a flying dolphin going to the island of Aegina and there we went. There are many companies travelling there, you might want to check the timetables beforehand: http://www.aeginagreece.com/aegina-island/boat-timetables-aegina-boat-information-aegina/

IMG_20150404_141313

Our first stop was the temple of Apollo. From this temple, there is now just a column on the top of the hill of Kolona.

Aegina Apollo Temple

You definitely have to use your imagination to picture how the temple might have looked before, but that poor old column is somewhat charming. From up there you also can enjoy a nice view of the port of Aegina:

IMG_20150404_142136

Befor or after seeing these stones, it is a good idea to have a look at… some other stones!, which are conveniently located in the Archaeological Museum of Aegina, at the entrance to the archaeological site of Kolona.

Archaeological Museum Aegina

Bear in mind that the museum and the site are only open from 8:00 to 15:00 in the winter season. We were lucky and arrived there one hour before closing time.

For lunch, we stopped at one of the restaurants by the seaside. Restaurant Aegina

I had a salad which was decent but not worth of a photo, but who cares about food. There were cats all over the place, that makes it the purrrfect restaurant.

Due to some lack of planning, we didn’t manage to see the Temple of Aphaea, so we just walked around the town instead.

The church of Panagitsa, close to the port, is nice to see:

IMG_20150404_154431

There was a dog that followed us for a while.

10653555_1585870155028903_1793696802413154797_n

Maybe he noticed that we were carrying tasty pistachios and wanted to get some.

IMG_20150404_153414

I always get extremely happy when I can eat some local food in the places that I travel to, and this was the case with this pistachios, which seem to be well-known internationally.

The cute Chapel of St Nicholas, at the entrance of the port, was one of the last things we saw in Aegina before jumping into a flying dolphin back to Athens:IMG_20150404_172525

All in all, I totally would recommend to spend a day in Aegina while visiting Athens, but please plan in advance and allocate some time for the temple of Aphaea. And be nice and send me some pistachios 🙂

Athens in three days: Day one

Now that I have a “normal” life again, I’m afraid that most of my posts will be about quick weekend trips around Europe. For the Easter weekend, I bought a (slighlty overpriced) Easyjet ticket from Berlin (where I live now) to Athens. I had never been to Greece and, to be honest, I enjoy collecting countries, so it was definitely worth it. Plus, my mum liked the idea and she flew from Spain to meet me there. Look, that’s her in the plane saying hello:

11149315_1585869845028934_2172216046625759700_n   The first stop on Friday morning was the Acropolis: 11169936_1585869815028937_4080964909666367484_n  Please don’t hate me if I say that I enjoyed the views from the Acropolis more than being in front of the Parthenon. For example, you can see Mount Lycabettus (we went there on Sunday):     11173350_1585869811695604_5125502337936669600_n   And you can also have a look at the Temple of Olympian Zeus (that we also visited on Sunday (Sunday was indeed a busy day:)) 20185_1585870728362179_6355733355121870910_n In the Acropolis, you can also see the Erechteion, a temple well known for the Caryatids, six women working hard as columns in a porch:

Erechtheion - Caryatids

Actually, the Caryatids you see here are just replicas. The original ones can be found in the Acropolis Museum, right down the hill. Except for one which, “somehow“, is alone in the British Museum in London. Poor girl.

Afterwards, we started going down until we reached the Ancient Agora. The same place where guys like Socrates and Plato used to hang out some thousands of years ago. In the Agora, you can visit the well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus:

11182192_1585870675028851_3316594602062275630_n

Too many old stones for this post, let’s have a cat now:

Greek cat

This cute thing didn’t stop looking at me while I was having a salad in a restaurant near the Agora. Athens was full of street cats, but they seemed to be healthy and well fed. I’ll try to control myself and not include any more cat pictures in this post.

In the afternoon, we went to the Acropolis Museum. I can only post pictures of the outside, since cameras are strictly forbidden inside:

Acropolis Museum

The museum seen from the Acropolis looks like two thirds of a giant Rubik’s Cube in the middle of a rotation:11178262_1585869918362260_5726561034638530231_n

Or maybe I have too much imagination.

When we were finished at the museum, we were already so tired that we decided to go back to our hotel and recover some energy for the following day.

Oh well, I’ll be honest: we took a quick tour of the city in the Happy Train.

phoca_thumb_l_p1

http://www.athenshappytrain.com/gallery

Please don’t unfollow me on Facebook for being such a guiri.

On our second day in Athens, we made a day trip to the island of Aegina. More about that on my next post 🙂

2 days at the Elephant Nature Park

After a few months of blogger’s block, I’m back 🙂

In July, after having spent 5 days in Laos, I arrived in Chiang Mai, the largest city in the North of Thailand. I was looking forward to a relaxed atmosphere, lots of vegetarian restaurants and… cute elephants.

elephant-nature-park-chiang-mai.jpg

There are a lot of parks near the city where tourists can ride on chained elephants or watch them perform circus tricks. If elephants are not your thing, it is also possible to spend time with drugged tigers. Great.

However, after some research, I found out about the Elephant Nature Park, which is actually a small paradise for elephants in need, and I booked the overnight visit.

The first activity after arriving in the park was feeding the elephants.

Elephant having lunch at Elephant Nature Park

While we gave them bananas and watermelons, our guide told us about the personal stories of each elephant. Many of them arrive at the park after having spent most of their lives being forced to work in horrible conditions or after having been injured by a landmine. A few were blind, a few had severe injuries in their legs and needed daily medication, a few had a broken hip and couldn’t move properly… 😦 But living in the park, they have all the care they need, a lot of tourists willing to scratch their heads and lots, lots of food.

elephant-park-chiang-mai-food

Afterwards, it was time for the humans to eat. A sign that the park is a real animal sanctuary was the fact that the food served in the buffet was almost vegan, except for a few options that might have contained egg. I get a little bit excited at buffets, so my dish ended up looking like this:

elephant-nature-park-vegan-meal

So much food that the fork has almost disappeared…

In the afternoon, we went for a walk in the park to get close to the elephants:

elephant-nature-park

elephant-and-dog-elephant-nature-parkelephant-nature-parkThe guys near the elephants in the pictures are the mahouts, the workers who take care of each one of them. Someone has to be always near them, and especially if it’s a baby elephant, since those little ones have a lot of energy and might go a little crazy when they start playing. Some are still learning to walk properly ^_^

Afterwards, it was time to bathe the elephants on the river bank.

elephant-nature-park-riverSadly, I couldn’t take pictures of that, but there are enough videos on YouTube of the elephants enjoying their daily shower.

After dinner, I enjoyed the wonderful sunset with the other visitors of my group and we also had the chance to meet some of the long-term volunteers of the park. I really regret not having found out earlier about the possibility of staying several weeks there.

wpid-14075556889094.jpg

Next day, some trumpeting elephants outside woke me up early in the morning. This is the first thing I saw when I went out of my room:

wpid-14075557047415.jpg

Lovely, isn’t it? Right in the middle of the jungle! I have to say that I almost couldn’t sleep during the night, since I could only think of all the spiders, snakes, snakes and spiders that might sneak into my bed. A vegan girl who doesn’t really enjoy wild nature, that’s me! Anyway, I shouldn’t have worried so much since I didn’t even get bitten by mosquitoes.

After breakfast (no meat again, but I did see a tray with eggs and some milk cartons… ¬¬), we went to see the elephants again. One of the babies showed us how much he enjoys playing with old tires:

Elephant Nature Park Thailand

As usual, an older female (I cannot remember if she was his mum or just a nanny) was there with him to make sure he behaved well.

After lunch, we spent some time with the dogs of the park. Since there are many abandoned dogs in Thailand, the park also has a special area dedicated to them. They really enjoy when tourists take them out for a walk.

wpid-14075558040230.jpg

They must have had a rough life. For example, the one that I took out for a walk was the most terrified dog I’ve ever seen, always with his tail between the legs. He kept begging me with his eyes “please don’t hurt me, please, please, please”. I wish I could have told him in thai-dog-language “I bring you loooove”. I wish I could have taken him home with me 😦

And the last activity of the afternoon was visiting a couple of elephants who preferred to spend their time a little bit apart from the others in the middle of the jungle. I don’t remember all the details but, again, they had had a rough life. As a consequence, one of them was blind, but still seemed to enjoy when we scratched her head and told her how cute she is.

wpid-14075560531223.jpgThey are so enormous and at the same time so shy and pacific that it’s impossible not to love them. (Unless you are a horrible, horrible person)

She seemed quite happy after we started scratching her behind the ears:

wpid-14075558432881.jpg

Sadly, our walk in the jungle was the last activity of the visit to the park. Soon after, a van took us back to Chiang Mai and two of the greatest days of my whole trip were over.

I hope this post serves as a proof that you can do something good for the animals in Thailand and at the same time enjoy your holidays. For more information, just take a look at the website of the park:

http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

I’ll definitely go back some day 🙂

Luang Prabang

After Bali and the Gilis, I spent a few days in Singapore and a week in Cambodia. However, I will write about those countries when I’m back home, because I would like to have some stories to update the blog with when my trip ends.

Next country was Laos. Sadly, I only had time to go to Luang Prabang, a picturesque city and Unesco heritage site.

image

This is Luang Prabang seem from above:

image

It’s a small and calm city full of temples to visit, like these ones:

image

image

image

I actually enjoyed much more going up mount Phu Si, which is right in the middle of the city. Maybe I chose the wrong entry, because I spent 20 minutes completely alone going up stairs like these ones:

image

The surroundings were so beautiful and quiet that I still can’t understand why this place isn’t full of tourists. There were some of them right at the top, but still not too many. From there, the views were amazing:

image

Apart from temples and hills, there’s a night market in the center of the city taking place every night:

image

There were lots of clothes and souvenirs to choose from. I’m lucky that my backpack is already 100% full, if not I would have spent quite a lot of money buying unnecesary (but beautiful) things.

This is the reason why I never missed the night market:

image

For around one euro, you could fill a dish with vegetables, rice and mock meat. This street buffet is a vegan paradise 🙂 It was actually the only place to eat decent streetfood in the nightmarket, so it’s not hard to miss.

Talking about vegan things, for lunch I went every day to Nisha Indian Restaurant, on Kitsalat Road. Indian restaurants are one of my favourite options to eat out, because they always have some vegan options. My favourite dish is Chana Masala, made basically of chickpeas, which are a great protein source:

image

Together with some rice and a salad, that’s an incredibly filling meal. And tasty. And healthy.

Back to Luang Prabang, a typical day-trip are the Kuang Si waterfalls:

image

With their clear blue water, they are by far the nicest waterfalls I’ve ever seen.

Getting there is easy. In the main streets there are always (always always) tuktuk drivers offering you “waterfall, miss?”. A day trip costs around 200000 kip (20 €), but you can share the costs with some other travellers. Even if you are alone, it’s not hard to find other people on the street also wanting to share the ride.

image

I ended up spending my day with an Irish couple and a Dutch girl, who reminded me about some interesting facts like, hehe, there is a big risk of malaria in Laos. Hehe. Laos was not on my plans when I left home at the end of March, so I didn’t take any Malarone with me to prevent the disease. I actually thought that the risk would be similar as in Vietnam, but it turns out it’s not.

Luckily, wearing long pants night and day seems to have worked for me, as almost no mosquito dared to bite me and I’m feeling pretty healthy right now.

One more thing about the waterfalls. At the entrance, there is a bear sanctuary where you can see these cute animals interacting with each other:

It would be nicer if the bears could live free in the forests, but it seems that in Laos and other countries, some people hunt them and use their bilis for “medical” purposes. You can read about bear farms in Asia in this article from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bile_bear

This was all about Laos. I wish I had spent some more time visiting other places in the country, but I don’t regret having done this quick trip to Luang Prabang as a stop between Cambodia and Thailand. Ahh, Thailand. Will I find some time this week to write about it?

By the way, this is my very last week in Asia. My trip is almost over. At the beginning, I thought that at this point I would be willing to forget everything about my old life, sell all my possessions, shave my head and disappear for a few years in a remote village of India.

As it turns out, I’m incredibly excited about going back home to visit my family and friends and then hopefully moving back to Berlin, my second home, and finding a motivating 9 to 6 job. This trip has been an amazing experience but I’m craving for stability!

If you have spent such a long time reading until here, you deserve some cuteness:

How I got to film that video, on my next post 🙂

Tricky Bali

If you follow my Facebook page, you might have read my (angry) status update from the airport of Bali some weeks ago. In case anyone reading this ever goes to Bali or Gili Trawangan or in case someone comes to this blog looking for travel advice, here are some potential risks of a holiday in the island:

Pickpockets
They are everywhere, so you should always carry your belongings close to your body. Motorbike drivers might grab your bag, wallet or phone while driving next to you and then quickly disappear in the traffic. They tried to do that to a girl staying at my hostel in Kuta, but they only managed to accidentally grab her boob. Which is not nice anyway.

Another girl of the hostel was robbed by children. They came to her when she was sitting in a restaurant, started playing around, making noise and touching her clothes. When they where gone, she realised that she didn’t have any more money in her pockets.

Money exchange
In Kuta, there are “authorized” money changers every 5 meters.

image

Before leaving for Lovina and then Gili Trawangan, I needed to change my last 270 Australian dollars (AUD), because Kuta has better exchange rates. The official conversion was around 3,000,000 Indonesian rupies (IDR) at the time.

First place I go to: the man behind the counter brings out 3,000,000 IDR in 50,000 notes. He counts the notes while I’m looking carefully: 3,000,000 IDR. I count the notes myself: 3,000,000 IDR. He proceeds to put all my rupies together and hands them to me. I count the money: now it’s 2,500,000. I tell him “Sorry, there’s money missing”. “No no no, it’s ok”, he says. “But it has to be 3,000,000”, I say. “No no no… hmmm… Commission!”. Commission tu madre, I think I said, and I left with my 270 AUD.

Second place: it all went as in the first shop, but this time I was pretty sure I had counted 3,000,000 IDR myself before leaving. I was already in the restaurant next door when I had a look again at the money and suddenly it was just 2,000,000 IDR. I went straight ahead to the money changer: “Look, 1,000,000 IDR missing, what happend?” He said nothing, he just took my 270 AUD from behind the counter and gave them to me while he got his rupies back. “If you don’t like it, go to another place”, he finally said. “Hey, no, just give me the 3,000,000 rupies”, I told him. “Go to another place”, was his only answer. For your information, 1,000,000 IDR is around 60 EUR. That’s not shortchanging, that’s stealing.

image

"What! You've ripped me off again!" - I found this hanging on the wall of a bar in Kuta

In the third and fourth places, I just tried to change 100 AUD and they kept trying to do the same tricks to me. They also used the same excuse when I told them they were ripping me off: “Go to another place”.

The fifth money changer at least had a better excuse. After talking with me for a while, “Where you from, how long you in Kuta”, the point came where I had to tell him “There is money missing”. “No speak English”, he replied. ” But…”. “No English”.

As he had suddenly forgotten his knowledge of the English language, I think he didn’t mind that I left the shop with my Australian dollars saying “**** ***”. (Use your imagination, the words were not actually “Good bye”)

All this happened to me in less than one hour. When I came back to my hostel, they recommended me a good money exchange office where, finally, I got my Indonesian rupies without being tricked.

image

So if you ever go to Kuta: always ask at your accommodation for reliable places to change money. Check the official daily rates beforehand. Always count personally and at least twice the money you’re given. Never try to change (as I did) too much money at a time.

The only good thing about the shortchangers/thieves, is that they always gave me my Australian dollars back, admitting their fault.

(Why I didn’t just use an ATM: I’ll write about it in a few weeks)

Monkeys:
Really, be careful. The macaques of Ubud are worse than pickpockets. This little one probably cares a lot about hygiene, as he stole a surgical mask from a Japanese tourist:

image

Never leave your pockets or your bag open when you are near wild macaques!

Restaurants
Always check if they charge some special tax, or you might be 10% surprised when getting the bill. Always make sure that the prices on the bill match the prices of the menu. More than once I had to correct the waiter: “Look, it’s 50,000 IDR written on the menu and you are trying to charge me 55,000”.

Pharmacies
On my last day in Kuta, I went to the pharmacy because I had spent the previous days coughing without stop. They wanted to sell me (for around 8 EUR) a blister of ten pills, without a box and without an information leaflet. They weren’t even able to search anywhere for the composition of the pills.

“You are not in Europe, what did you expect?”, some might think. Sorry, but the pharmacy had many shelves with an astonishing variety of western marks of shower gels, shampoos, condoms and many other products. If a pharmacy is able to sell a pro-vitamin-hair-revitalizer-with-silk-effect-for-damaged-hair, it should be able to tell me the contraindications of any of its medicines. End of the story.

Drugs
If you are a girl and are having some drinks at a bar: never leave your drink unattended. I heard of some girls of my hostel who were in a bar of Kuta having just a few drinks with some guys they had just met… and the next thing they remembered was waking up the next morning in the hostel with no money in their pockets. I don’t know many other details about this event, but just in case, be careful with what you’re drinking and don’t trust overfriendly strangers.

If you research a little bit online, you might also find articles of people being poisoned with methanol in Gili Trawangan, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Accommodation
One day before leaving for Gili Trawangan, where I had booked the hostel Le Grand Gili Backpacker – La Boheme, I received this email:

“Dear guests,

Unfortunately, Gili – La Boheme is closing its doors. All bookings are cancelled then. We apologize to everyone for this inconvenience.

Best regards,

The staff of Gili – La Boheme”

In Bali and the Gilis, the months of June and July are pretty busy, so it’s not easy to find a place to sleep with such a short notice. Even more if you’re traveling alone and are specifically looking for a bed in a dorm. Luckily enough, I managed to change my plans, spent some days in Lovina and went to Gili T afterwards. I would never recommend the place I stayed at instead of Gili – La Boheme because I felt like crying every time I had to use the dirtiest bathrooms I’ve ever seen

image
but, hey: backpacker life.

So bear in mind that plans in Bali might change from one day to another. And never ever stay at a place called Le Grand Gili La Boheme, just in case they decide to reopen the doors.

Short remark: I had booked the hostel with booking.com, and I let them know about the problem. I was surprised by how fast they answered my email, offering me another accommodation instead. The only problem was, this new accommodation was extremely expensive. They assured me that they would give me the difference (400€) (!!!!) (I could spend 100 nights in Laos with that money!) after my stay, but I decided to book another place by myself, as I didn’t want to take the risk of losing money or waiting too long for the amount to be transferred. It’s nice to see that online companies have a good customer service.

Passenger service charge
It’s my last day in Bali, I’m ready to catch my flight to Singapore but… wait! What’s this?

image

Bali airport wants 200,000 rupies (12 EUR) from me before I leave. Because I’m a tourist and I deserve to be punished for spending my holiday in the island, I guess.

Just as a comment, in countries like Cambodia and Laos, a departure tax is included in the price of your flight. That way, you know for sure how much you’ll be paying and you might even reconsider going to that country if you are on a low budget. Indonesia, learn from your neighbours!

———–

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Bali. But if you ever go there, be careful and do some research in advance!

By the way, I’m also on Instagram now: http://www.instagram.com/travelandtofu

🙂

Vegan Bali & Gili Islands

On my first day in Bali, I checked Happy Cow for vegetarian restaurants. After a long walk from my hostel in Kuta I found Happy Buddha (Jalan Raya Kuta 143). They have a lot of mock meat options and, although that’s not exactly my thing, I was happy to try something different every time I went there. It was also very cheap, I don’t remember well right now but I would say what you see in the picture was less than 3 euro.

image

Plus, it was a family restaurant. I have seen this in many other restaurants in Southeast Asia: the kids of the owners are playing behind the counter or outside the place, they might come close to you and smile and then their dad or their mom will grab them by the hand and kindly take them away. Then the little kids will say with their eyes: “but, I wanted to play with the lady :(“. Work-family balance, Asian style. I really like this, because the atmosphere seems to be very relaxed, everyone looks happy and the children get to spend more time with their family when growing up. Of course, this is all about small kids who are still not supposed to be at school!

In Ubud, I tried some raw food at The Seeds of Life (2 Jalan Gootama). It’s funny, my doctor recommended me to never eat raw food or have drinks with ice in Asia and I’m doing both things more than ever. I’m such a rebel. I should rename the blog to “Travel & Tofu & Risk”.

image

The food was ok, although a little bit pricey and the portions were not specially big, so after a few hours I was feeling hungry again.

In Jimbaran, all the restaurants had fish as a main course. But luckily, all dishes included rice and vegetables as a side dish, so I ate the side dish of my roommates while they had their fish. To be honest, I’ve always hated eating fish, even as a child. I never saw the point of putting something full of spines into your mouth. Why not biting a cactus instead?

image

Plus, there’s not need to say that rice with vegetables is one of the cheapest foods you can get anywhere in the world.

In Gili Trawangan I couldn’t find any vegetarian restaurants, so in the places I went to, I just asked for items of the menu that could be veganized. A vegetable pizza without cheese:

image

Or a salad without egg:

image

I recall having also some tofu burgers that had to be specially made for me because, funny thing, it seems like at least in the Gilis, they enjoy mixing tofu with egg.

All in all, I ate very few protein in Indonesia, so when I spent some days in Singapore afterwards and was able to cook again, I filled my stomach with lots of tofu and beans. I wouldn’t say Bali is a vegan paradise, but at least in the tourist areas everyone speaks some English and the waiters are always happy to find a veganizable dish for you in the menu.

I would put some pictures of the food in Lovina but, as I mentioned on my Bali post, I was sick, and I think everyone knows what steam rice looks like.

Let’s see if in the following days I can write about all the ways you can get ripped off in Bali. It’s going to be a looong post.

By the way, I have twitter now. I’m still learning how to use it, but here it is: http://twitter.com/travelandtofu

Gili Trawangan

Close to the island of Lombok and just a short boat ride away from Bali, you can find the Gili Islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.

image

(Source: http://bali-gili-fastboats.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/3gili.png)

My Lonely Planet bible, Southeast Asia on a shoestring, highly recommended going there for a few days when visiting Bali, so I just couldn’t miss it.

image

I decided to go to Gili Trawangan because Meno and Air, although more quiet and peaceful, are basically oriented towards happy couples looking for a romantic holiday. Trawangan is the backpacker island and the only one of the three where you can see these amazing sunsets:

image

image

The first picture is taken from the South of the island, the second one from the North. If you look closely at the last one, you can see Bali’s Mount Agung on the horizon.

On my hunt for sunsets, I discovered this place, totally empty, with no one around:

image

Trawangan can also be a romantic destination!

Funny story: after finding this spot, I kept walking along the coastline. I was somewhere in the Northeast of the island, which still has no hotels, no bars, no souvenir shops. I hadn’t seen anyone in a while and only the waves on the beach and the distant sound of a horse carriage would break the silence from time to time. A perfect moment of calm, I thought. Then, I clearly heard someone somewhere in the beach:

– ¡Mierda, me cago en la puta!

Oh, Spanish people. We are so easy to recognize when we go abroad.

Apart from sunsets, Gili Trawangan also has the kind of beaches that I was looking for: clear water and white sand.

image

That clear water also makes the Gilis a perfect place for snorkelling. I took a boat trip that did some stops between the islands at the best snorkelling spots. You could see beautiful coral, colourful little fish and, if lucky, some turtles. For a few seconds, I saw a small turtle swimming free in the ocean and that really made my day.

image

Most of the time, I would just relax on the beach sunbathing or walk around the main street looking for cats. Dogs, as well as cars and motorbikes, are not allowed in the island, so cats are the kings of Gili Trawangan. Most of them seem to have a very small tail. I want to believe that it’s just a consequence of their genetic isolation and not a result of some human activity.

image

The only sad thing about the island is that horse carriages are used as a substitute for cars and motorbikes. In an island with so much sunlight, wouldn’t it make sense to have vehicles powered by solar energy instead?

image

Anyway, I enjoyed my days in Gili Trawangan and I highly recommend the Gilis for people looking for a piece of paradise which still hasn’t been destroyed by mass tourism.

You’ll find some vegan recommendations for Bali and Gili Trawangan in the next post 🙂

image