The sound of Munich

The southeastern part of Germany is known as Bavaria, called Bayern in German.  It’s more traditional than other parts of Germany, and most people that live in this part consider themselves Bavarian, not German.  The city of Munich, or München in German, is the biggest city in Bavaria, and apparently worth seeing, so we decided to go there.

The weather forecast had been saying all week that a certain day would be very rainy.  The morning of that day that we spent in Augsburg was fine, but we had already decided to take a train to Munich instead of riding.  It’s pretty easy to take your bike on trains in Germany.  And, sure enough, on the train, it rained for a while.

We had heard from a few people that they really liked Munich.  My dad went on the Warm Showers network (people who open their house to cycle tourists) and found some people who let us stay with them in Munich.  He also looked at TripAdvisor reviews for the best things to do there, and one of the activities that got great reviews was a bicycle tour of the city.  So, we contacted a company that runs these tours, and found out where to meet for the tour.  The train from Augsburg arrived at Munich Hauptbahnhof (central train station), and then we rode to Marienplatz, the central square, where we met the rest of the tour group.

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The tour guide was a guy named Tony, from Washington DC.  He has loved Munich ever since he moved there 9 years ago, and he’s really fun and enthusiastic about the bike tour.  He really brought history to life for me!

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There were 11 people on the tour, including us.  2 were from Scotland, and the rest were all Canadians!  First, Tony told us some general history on Munich, and specifically, on Marienplatz.

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That big church-looking building is actually the town hall, built in Gothic style.

Things have been happening that square for a long time.  Munich used to be the “capital” of the old kingdom of Bavaria, so the king held many celebrations in the square.  For a royal wedding that happened there, they even held a jousting tournament!  You know, when knights on horses run at each other with big lances and try to knock the other guy off his horse.  Sounds pretty entertaining!

Then, we walked to the bike tour shop to get bikes.  We already had ours, but we left all our paniers and trailer there.  Once everyone had a bike, we started the ride around town.  We visited another square, with a statue of King Maximilian in the middle.  If I remember correctly, his son Ludwig’s wedding got re-celebrated every year, and now it’s known as Oktoberfest.  Don’t blame me if I’m wrong though, because I find European monarchs’ names extremely confusing (King Ludwig I, II, III, and so on).

We went to an old government building, with a big courtyard in the middle of it.  It looks like all the walls are intricately decorated, but at a second glance, you’ll see that some of it’s just painted on!  The reason why is that before Germany started World War II, they knew that their towns would be bombed, so they hid some of their precious artwork (statues, paintings, etc) in lakes and salt mines so that they could be put back after the war.  They did start to restore these things after the war, but didn’t have enough money to complete it.  You can see that some of the pillars and windows in the government building are real, and others are just painted on.

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Outside the building, there are a few big statues, but before going out to see them, Tony had us “act” out the statues.

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And here’s what the real statue looks like.

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The statues have interesting meanings.  The lion on the left (Kaia) has it’s mouth open, facing the government building, and the one on the right (me) has it’s mouth closed, facing a big church.  It means that you’re allowed to criticize the government, but not the church!  The statue in the middle represents when the kingdom of Bavaria became part of Germany.  It means: “Germany can have our flag, they can have our lion (the symbol of Bavaria), but they can’t have the Lady of Bavaria”, or in other words “we’re still Bavarian”.  I don’t know what the two soldiers on the sides represent though.  I still think the one we did was better!

We had a look inside the theaterin kirche church (the one that you’re not allowed to criticize!)

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This church is huge and beautiful, but it's actually pretty average for a German church.

After touring of the old part of town, we went through a big park called the English Garden, which is bigger than New York Central Park!

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This is the Isar river, flowing down from the Alps.

The bike tour stops at a Biergarten (beer house), but the one it usually goes to was closed, so we went a smaller Biergarten in the park (don’t worry, Kaia and I didn’t have beer!)  We chatted with the other people on the tour as we ate wieners and pretzels.  My parents were surprised that some others on the tour drank two full litres of beer! My dad had a half litre and Tony said that Bavarians would ask 1/2 L drinkers if they were still in Kindergarten. My dad ordered another half litre. Tony said that people who don’t want to drink all that alcohol get half beer and half lemonade, so it still looks like 1L of beer.

The last stop on the tour was… the surfers!  There’s a wave on the Isar river that people can actually surf.

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It’s an unusual wave to surf, because instead of riding with the flow of the water like you do in the ocean, you ride against the flow.  It’s certainly much harder than where I’ve surfed on Zancudo beach in Costa Rica and Kuta beach in Indonesia, but the surfers there made it look so easy.

The bike tour was really fun.  I think it’s a great way to see a city like Munich.  At the end of the tour, we rode back to the bike shop to pick up our stuff, then rode (through pouring rain and hail) to Götz and Liza’s apartment, the people we met through Warm Showers.  Götz has cycled through New Zealand staying with Warm Showers people, and now opens his apartment to cycle tourists like us.  Their apartment is pretty small, but there was enough floor space for us to sleep on our air mattresses.

We were out all of the next day, but it wasn’t at all as joyful as the bike tour: we visited the Dachau concentration camp which is about 30km out of Munich.

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The words written on the gate say "work sets you free" in German.

It’s a really sad place.  Dachau was a concentration camp before and during World War II, but now, it’s set up like a museum.  The main building has many informational plaques, and a small theatre showing a video about the camp.  I’ll share a bit of what I learned with you.  I used to think that concentration camps were only used to imprison Jews, but I learned that there were also Hitler’s political opponents, communists, homosexuals, prisoners of war, and pretty much anyone else the Nazis didn’t like.  This particular camp was only for men.  It was originally built to hold 6 000 prisoners, but at one point there were more than 60 000 of them.  Prisoners were forced to work extremely hard all day, but were hardly given any food.  How is someone supposed to work hard without any food in their belly?  And the guards treated them so poorly.  Twice a day, they had attend “roll call”, where they had to stand straight and motionless for hours as the guards did “attendance”, but mostly just for torture.  They were also brutally punished for the slightest thing, like a missing button on a shirt for example.  About 49 000 prisoners died there, but not from the “gassing” used in other concentration camps to murder large amounts of people at once.  They were either worked to death, starved to death, beaten to death, and many Soviet prisoners of war were brought there, where they were shot.  Typhoid outbreaks killed many too. It was finally liberated by the American army in 1945. 

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They tore down most of the barracks, but kept two intact.
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This is where the prisoners stood during roll call (I took this picture from the Internet. There were a lot more people when we were there).
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This sculpture is supposed to show the lives of the prisoners at the camp.
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This is where the prisoners slept. I'm sure at least 3 people had to share each little bed.
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This is what the camp looked like from 1933-45.
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This is where the ashes from the crematorium were placed.

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This is inside the crematorium, where they cremated the tens of thousands of dead prisoners.

There was a gas chamber, but it was never actually used for mass murder, like at other concentration camps.  A particularly notorious camp was Auschwitz, in Poland, where thousands upon thousands of people were brought in on trains, then murdered with poisonous gas.

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The prisoners were told that it was a shower room, so that the guards wouldn't have trouble in getting them in the room. The square holes in the wall is where the poison gas comes out.

These next photos were taken from the Internet.  They’re from between 1933 and 1945, when the camp was still in use.

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This is how the prisoners slept.
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Just imagine having to pull that thing on an empty stomach, and having to do it all day.
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This picture was taken by the American army when they liberated the camp in 1945.

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The visit to the Dachau concentration camp left me feeling very sorry for all the prisoners who died or spent time there, but also feeling appalled that Hitler could actually do that.  How could someone think that putting people in concentration camps would do any good?  What did those people ever do wrong?  It seems like pure evil to me.

We took the train back to Götz and Liza’s apartment, and went out for Mother’s Day dinner at a lovely restaurant on a walking street.  It wasn’t the usual cheery way to spend mother’s day but it was a nice meal in the end.

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We left Munich at mid afternoon the next day, but we went downtown to see a few more things in the morning.

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This is the Asam Kirche. It's one of the most beautiful churches I've ever been in! It's also the first one I've seen that's squished between a row of townhouses.

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We climbed to the top of a church tower near Marienplatz.

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The staircase was cool too!
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This is the view from the top.
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That's the clock tower at City Hall.
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We could see all the way to the Bavarian Alps from the top of the tower.

We also went to the Munich food market.

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We all got stuff we like: olives for my dad, and pretzels for me and Kaia!

And back in Marienplatz, we watched the 12:00 PM glockenspiel, a carousel type of thing on the clock tower that shows a mini jousting match.

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There's the Austrian horse with the red and white coming from the right, and the Bavarian horse with the blue and white coming from the left.

It always has the same outcome: the Bavarian horse always wins!

I think we experienced a lot in and around Munich.  The beautiful, the evil, the friendly, and the yummy.  It’s a really cool city, and it made great first impressions of Bavaria.  Next stop: Neuschwanstein!

Jake

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Past meets present in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Two days ago, we cycled across the border from Germany to Holland. It was day 26 of our cycle tour and we covered 101km that day — a first for me, Kaia, and Jake. We are now “centurions”. If German bike paths are excellent, Holland’s are outstanding! Wide, smooth, and well marked, they even have detour signs when there is a break in the path. Yesterday our total trip distance passed 1000km as we came into Utrecht where we spent the night with dear friend Jelda and family. Jelda was another VSO volunteer in Namibia back in 2009.
We are struggling to keep up with the blogs due to: lack of time,
limited access to electricity to charge the devices, and no tables at the campsites where we stay. Lots more to come!

Our cycling route from Frankfurt down the Main and Tauber Rivers took us past many picturesque old towns with stone walls and towers.  Whenever we mentioned to anyone that we were headed for Rothenburg, their eyes lit up and they said something to the effect of, “You mean Rothenburg ob der Tauber?  That is a beautiful place — you’re really going to like it!”  Then they frowned and said, “But you will have to cycle up a steep hill to get there.”  I developed quite high expectations for the place and am happy to report that I was not disappointed.  In fact, my expectations were surpassed by this gorgeous, well-preserved medieval city!

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Looking out over Rothenburg from the town hall tower.
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The most photographed view.

Rothenburg has been inhabited for about 1100 years.  Its prominent families became wealthy for 3 reasons:  the fertile soil, the lucrative textile trade (in sheep’s wool), and the fact that they were well located on both east-west and north-south trade routes.  Over 800 years ago, it was incorporated as a city — and not just any kind of city — a “free imperial city”.  That meant that it didn’t have to pay taxes to as many layers of people in the power structure and was able to accumulate even more wealth! 
A massive stone wall was built around the city at great expense and labour, since large stones were not easy to come by.  Each gate was closed at sundown and guarded throughout the night.  Because of its safe location (up on a ridge) and good protective wall, Rothenburg was not successfully attacked for over 500 years.  Not a bad record! 

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Part of the (rebuilt and restored) wall.
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It is possible to go all the way around the periphery of the wall in a covered walkway (almost 3km).

Of course, life was not easy in a medieval city.  Apparently, the stench from human and animal waste was so bad during the summer months that anyone who could afford to would leave for their “summer residences”.  And then there was the plague… Rothenburg was hit hard.  Among the first to die were the priests, who were exposed to the sick as they gave them their last rites.  And without priests, the local people knew they were going straight to hell; a truly horrifying prospect!
We arrived in Rothenburg (after climbing that tough hill) shortly before noon.  One of the first things we witnessed was the chiming of the bells in the main square.  It is coupled with a cute demonstration of some shutters opening and two figures appearing, one of whom is drinking from a large goblet.

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The clock strikes twelve! Each hour, that guy on the right appears to guzzle 3 litres of wine, which is an event that, according to legend, saved the town back in 1631.
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Part of the central square; a bustling place full of cafes.

We went on a walking tour at 2pm (after making a detour to the local laundromat and a bakery), and learned many interesting details about the town.

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The town hall was rebuilt after a fire. The angled windows on the spiral staircase are a dead giveaway of the Renaissance style, we learned.
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Here I am comparing my arm length to Rothenburg's official measure. The others are the foot and the rod. Since each town had its own standards of measure, the distance from Rothenburg to Nuremburg was "different" than the distance from Nuremburg to Rothenburg!
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Our guide, Daniel, is showing an ingenious piece of German engineering that allowed the medieval nuns to give food donations to the poor without ever having to come into contact with the lower tiers of society. This barrel in the convent wall could be filled with goods and then turned and emptied from the outside.
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The largest church in the city had to be enlarged at one point, but there was hardly any space. They had to expand it by building an arch over one of the main streets!
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A typical street.

Rothenburg’s safety record was finally broken in the 1600s (near the end of the 30 years war) when a traveling army chose to spend the winter there.  Forty thousand troups were too much for the town of 6000.  They defended their town gallantly, but when one of their own townspeople accidentally set off an explosion in the garrison, it blew a hole in the city wall.  The 40 000 soldiers plundered the town over a period of several months and left it destitute.  Then, for 250 years, nothing much changed.  Nobody could afford to upgrade or renovate their homes so everything stayed pretty much as it was — as a medieval city.  When artists from the British Isles discovered it and started painting pictures of Rothenburg, people became interested in it for its beauty and historical value.  Our tour guide pointed out that those 19th century paintings could be considered as the first “tourist brochures”!  A tourism industry began and put Rothenburg back on the map.  Now it is once again a wealthy city, receiving over 2 million visitors each year!

We were so bewitched by this charming city that we decided to spend the night in a B&B.  We got the cutest little attic room and a fantastic German breakfast the next morning (fresh bread and lots of great cheeses and meats!)

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Sitting at the breakfast table.

I went on the “Night Watchman’s Tour” and was spellbound by his stories.  My favourite one was about how Rothenburg avoided being completely destroyed by bombs during WW2.  About 40% of its buildings were in fact destroyed in an allied bomb attack, but only because it was the alternate target in a mission to destroy a fuel supply.  These parts were later rebuilt thanks to a major international fundraising effort.  Near the end of the war, when a German commander brought his retreating platoon to Rothenburg and announced that they would defend it “to the last man”, it became a military target and was slated to be bombed again.  But… someone in a position of power in the US forces had grown up with a painting of Rothenburg in his childhood home.  He remembered his mother’s passionate descriptions of her 1914 visit to this beautiful medieval town.  This man contacted the American commander and gave the order, “Before you bomb Rothenburg, give them the option to surrender.”  Hitler’s generals were under strict orders not to negotiate, but as luck would have it, the #1 leader was out of town, leaving a second in command.  And when the option to surrender came, he took the very risky decision to accept it.  Obviously, this could have been considered an act of high treason and resulted in severe consequences for him.  But perhaps he could see the writing on the wall (it was March 1945), and decided not to sacrifice his men and all the civilians who were living there.  In response to the request that he surrender, he said,  “We’ll be out by morning.  You may have it.”  Rothenburg was not bombed, the Americans occupied it for a few weeks, and then the war ended.  So, in this way, the combined acts of an American and a German, both of whom had the courage to make independent decisions, saved many lives and a beautiful piece of medieval history.  (And the German was not accused of treason.)

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This interesting double-arched bridge was partially destroyed by the Germans themselves to stop advancing American tanks from crossing (before the surrender). Obviously it was rebuilt in the same style.

Rothenburg is now famous for its Christmas market and festival.  There are also some adorable Christmas shops and a museum showing the changing trends in Christmas decorations over time.  Many of our traditions, such as a decorated tree, candles and several Christmas carols originate in Germany.

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Rothenburg's specialty: pastry snowballs!
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Of course we had to try some!

The most spectacular building in the city is St. Jacob’s church. 

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St. Jacob's Church -- notice the "new" addition on the left (the roof colour is different).
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The Gothic spires are really impressive.
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This is actually at the back of the church, where they have displayed their most famous artifact: the altarpiece of the Holy Blood. In the past, it was an important destination for pilgrims.
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This unique scene of the Last Supper (with Judas as the central figure) was carved in wood 5 centuries ago by the German master, Tilman Riemenschneider.

An interesting feature of this carving (apart from the amazing detail in the hair and hands) is that the figure of Judas is removable.  During Holy Week, it used to be removed.  The artist’s purpose was to remind people that each one of us could be Judas.

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Here is a photo of a photo of what it looks like with and without Judas.

We loved exploring the various parts of this well-preserved historical city.

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Some of the defensive towers are in unusual locations since the original city wall had to be moved to accommodate a growing population.
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Old fortifications.
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This shows part of the double-gate defenses. The path from the first to the second gate was not straight so that shots could not be fired directly.
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Enjoying fresh-pressed apple cider in the town square.
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A modern shop in Rothenburg featured bicycles in their chic window display!

Eventually, it was time to leave this fairytale town.  But at least the path was downhill! 

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This was our route.
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We are in the south-west part of Germany, heading into Bavaria.

We rode through beautiful countryside, enjoying the lovely bike paths and seeing lots of evidence of renewable energy production:  solar panels, biogas plants and wind turbines.

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It's not all downhill, though!

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Cam happened to have a shirt that matches his bike -- he looks very colour coordinated!
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The rapeseed fields are bright yellow.
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Very well marked bike paths.
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Biogas facility.
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Rothenburg isn't the only quaint town!
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We "renegade" camped a couple of times. This spot was nest to a small road used by mountain bikers and hunters. Jake is peeking his head out of the hunting hide.
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Here he is working on his blog!
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There is a whole network of guesthouses that cater to cyclists, so it would be very possible to travel without a tent. I'm not too sure what this sign says, but it appears to be cycle-friendly!

One thing that surprised and disappointed us in Germany was the amount of smoking in public places. It’s almost as bad as Indonesia! On café patios, we really had to make an effort to be upwind from the smokers. To avoid them, one has to sit indoors, but that seems like a shame on beautiful warm spring days!

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These cigarette vending machines are a common sight. I was shocked until I noticed that to make a purchase, one must at least swipe an identity card with proof of age.
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Can you believe a cigarette billboard with the slogan "Born that way" ?!? I have never been so tempted to vandalize a sign -- I wanted to cross out 'born' and replace it with 'die'. Anti-smoking legislation is one area where Canada is ahead of Germany.

After 3 full days of cycling, we arrived in Augsburg. Since there was rain in the forecast, we decided to take the train the rest of the way to Munich. A friendly local who saw us with our bicycles at the train station informed us that there was a train strike! But in Germany, that basically means that there will ONLY be 1 train per hour. Imagine! As opposed to the usual train every 20 minutes. He advised us to check out the city and take the train in a couple of hours once all the football fans had left for the big game in Munich.

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Augsburg has a nice walking district with tram service.
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They also have an impressive cathedral. It looks sunny in this photo, but the rain did come!
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We climbed to the top of a tower to get a view of the city.
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The city suffered a lot of damage from bombing in August 1944. It took them years to rebuild.

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And finally, we got on the train with our loaded bikes.

Yvonne

l’Allemagne – c’est chouette à bicyclette

Nous sommes à Freiburg dans le sud-ouest de l’Allemagne. C’est peut-être la ville la plus écologique au monde. On reste avec Peter et Sabina, en utilisant le réseau Warm Showers. Je peut voir les collines en France d’où je suis maintenant.
We are in Freiburg in southwestern Germany. It is possibly the most sustainable city in the world. We are staying with Peter and Sabina, through the Warm Showers network. I can see the hills in France from where I am right now.
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C’était le plan depuis le début: d’acheter des bicyclettes à Frankfurt et de voyager l’Allemagne, le Hollande et le Danemark à deux roues.  On a envoyé notre équipement de vélo à quelqu’un à Frankfurt, et on a acheté nos bicyclettes au magasin Stadler.  Notre boite avec équipement était très en retard (par une semaine).  Alors comme vous pouvez imaginer, on était très excité quand on étaient finalement prêts à partir! OK, mon père devait relaxer une autre journée à cause de sa chirurgie récent sur sa jambe, mais nous trois sommes partis de Frankfurt le premier mai. On a été là pendant 8 jours… ça faisait bien de partir.  Mon père a dormi chez un hostel au centre-ville, et a prit le train le prochain jour pour nous rejoindre. On a commencé par suivre la rivière Main, et après la rivière Tauber avant d’arriver à la ville de Rothenburg.
Je vais expliquer comment une journée typique se déroule à tour de vélo.
Nous ne sommes pas très dépêchés pour nous lever le matin! Peut-être 7h… 8h… 9h… quand on se lève finalement on range nos matelas et nos sacs de couchages. Pour le petit déjeuner, ce sont les céréales et du lait. Par 10h30, nous sommes habituellement prêts à partir.
Quand mes parents ont fait des tours de vélos avant, ils ont dit que c’est pour la plupart sur des routes d’autos. Mais en Allemagne, il y a beaucoup de chemins pour bicyclettes seulement! C’est beaucoup plus relaxe quand on n’est pas concentré sur les autos autour de nous… on peut parler, aller un à coté de l’autre, ou juste admirer le paysage autour de nous.  Nous voyons vraiment l’Allemagne rurale, et c’est très scénique. Fermes, forets, petites villages, ciels bleues et panneaux solaires. Je pense qu’au moins 80% de notre cyclisme est sur chemins de vélos.  C’est chouette!

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Moi et Jake sur un chemin de vélo dans une région rurale.
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aww... la pluie! Au moins on descend!
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Mon père tracte la remorque. On vol les drapeaux Allemand et Canadien.
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Puisque c'est le printemps, il y a beaucoup d'agneaux!

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Des panneaux solaires, très communs en Allemagne.
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Encore, des panneaux solaires!

Après à peu près 20 km de cyclisme, on prend une pause pour dîner. L’Allemagne est bien-connu pour ses pains, viandes et fromages délicieux, alors le dîner est un repas super bon! D’habitude, on arrête à un banc dans un champ ou un parc dans une ville. Après, on continue à rouler.

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Les pistes de vélo son vraiment excellents!
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Galdis l'orang-outan aime se relaxer dans le panier.

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20 km plus tard, on s’arrête dans un village pour notre repos de boulangerie/pâtisserie. L’Europe et l’Allemagne en particulier ont les meilleures gâteries au monde! Notre première journée à vélo, nos yeux étaient plus grandes que nos estomacs… on a mangé trop de gâteau… on a appris notre leçon. Par contre, puisque nous brûlons beaucoup de calories chaque jour, on ne se sent pas trop coupable de manger plein de sucre et de gras. On adore les gâteaux avec beaucoup de beurre et crème, et les bretzels!

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"Ahh... le pain qui est tombé du ciel!" -Jake Douglas, PhD dans la Philosophie des Bretzels

Une chance qu’on va 50+ km par jour à vélo, sinon nous deviendrions très gros très vite!
Après notre repos, on remonte nos bicyclettes et on continue vers notre destination finale. Avant ce tour de vélo, la plus grande distance que Jake ou moi sommes allés était 42 km, mais jours 3 et 4 du tour étaient 67 km chacune!

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Yeah!

À date, notre record est 70 km dans une journée.  Notre but est 100 km, et on va essayer de faire ça en Hollande, parce que c’est très plat.
On aime beaucoup bouger à deux roues, mais nous ne sommes pas tellement enthousiastes s’il pleut!  Si la météo devient mauvaise, on prend des trains. Le système de trains en Allemagne (toute l’Europe, vraiment) est excellent. On peut amener nos vélos sur les trains régionales, mais pas les trains express. Le système est tellement bon que les Allemands se plaignent quand il y a un délai de 10 minutes, et durant les grèves de train, ça veut dire qu’il y a seulement un train par heure, au lieu de 3 ou 4. Mon père a expliqué comment le système de transport fonctionne à Frankfurt. Quand on essaye d’expliquer au Allemands comment leur système est 100 fois meilleur que le notre, ils ont de la difficulté à comprendre comment un réseau de trains peut être si terrible.
En Allemagne, c’est légale de camper n’importe où, tant que nous respectons l’environnement et nous ne sommes pas trop proche à une maison. Alors, nous économisons beaucoup sur l’accommodation en faisant du camping dans des forets ou des champs.

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Quand on veut prendre une douche, on reste chez un terrain de camping. Malheureusement, en Europe, ils sont faites pour des caravanes, pas des cyclistes, alors ils sont sans tables de pique-niques ou places couverts pour cuisiner. Aussi, ils coûtent chers.
Soit s’il pleut ou c’est 19h et pas de places pour camping proches, on reste dans un hostel. Non, c’est pas cheap, mais le prix inclus le déjeuner de pain, fromage et viandes.
Quand nous sommes dans une ville pour quelque jours, on ne veut pas rester chez un terrain de camping (d’habitude hors de la ville) ou un hostel (trop cher). Alors, on utilise le réseau Warmshowers (douches chaudes). C’est comme “Couch Surfing” pour des cyclistes! C’est un réseau de cyclistes qui ouvrent leur maison pour d’autres cyclistes. À date, on a utilisé Warmshowers deux fois: à Münich avec Götz et Liza, et à Freiburg avec Peter et Sabina (où nous sommes maintenant). Quand nous retournons au Canada, nous allons ouvrir notre maison à encore d’autres cyclistes.

On s’amuse beaucoup à tour de vélo. Nos jambes son musculaires et bronzées avec la ligne de nos shorts de cyclisme.  Puisqu’on a perdu une semaine à Frankfurt, on va devoir prendre plus de trains qu’on y pensait. C’est dommage, parce que l’Allemagne est très beau. Par contre, les trains sont presque les seules places où on peut bloguer. Voici une carte d’Allemagne avec nos routes de train et cyclisme:

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Le rouge représente ce qu'on a fait à vélo, le mauve à train, et le vert notre route proposée pour le restant du tour.

J’aime bouger à vélo! Et je dois dire que c’est chouette à bicyclette!
Kaia

Frankfurt was a pain in the butt

I am typing this blog from my seat on the train from Füssen in southern Germany to Zürich, Switzerland.  I have a table, electricity and a wonderful view out my window (though it’s cold and raining).  We’ve cycled about 550km so far – it’s been wonderful.
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Yes, Frankfurt was exactly that – a pain in the butt.  But through no fault of its own.
We booked the airline tickets for this trip back in July last year.  I had been thinking about Germany since then, and in particular thinking about Frankfurt, because that was the only place I knew for sure that we would visit (that’s where our flight from Abu Dhabi landed).  I knew we would be there for at least a couple of days, because we needed to buy bicycles for our cycle touring.  And we weren’t exactly sure when our parcel from Canada with our cycling gear would arrive, so that might make us wait.  We had packed a large box back in August with cycling shorts, shirts, gloves, racks, paniers (bags that attach to racks), lights etc. and left it with friend Javier.  We needed an address in Frankfurt for Javier to send the parcel to so used the “warm showers” network to locate someone. Warm Showers is a network of cyclists who open their homes to other cycle tourists passing through their town – for a place to stay, perhaps a meal, shower etc.  The expectation is if you use the network for a place to stay, you open up your home in return.  Javier mailed our parcel via surface back in early March, so we were hopeful it would be there when we arrived.
First impressions of Frankfurt were excellent.  Within moments of arriving at the airport from Abu Dhabi we found ourselves on a bus from the airport to the city center.  From there we immediately caught a train north about 10 stops, and walked less than 400m to the city’s one campground and had our tent set up – all in about 90 minutes from the airport.  So far, so good.  Next day we set out to buy bicycles.  We wanted to buy 2nd hand, but there were no 2nd hand shops, and the buy-sell happened on the weekend with hit and miss availability (and apparently these are mostly stolen bikes anyway).  So we headed off to “Stadler” bike shop.  It was HUGE!

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It was quite overwhelming, I have to admit. There were probably more than 300 bikes in the shop, and an equivalent amount of other cycle paraphernalia.

We were there for about 4 hours but in the end settled on 4 bikes and a large cycle trailer.  We were pleased with the purchases – we spent about $350 Cdn (including some missing racks, upgraded tires ..) for each bike, and  hopefully will get about $250-300 back for each when we sell them in Copenhagen after 7 weeks of riding.  $100 each for 7 weeks transportation …not bad!

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Kaia was pretty happy about her new bike!
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The Stadler shop had a large test track set up, in addition to some large aisles for roaring around on. It made a real difference for getting the feel of different bikes.

We were pretty excited when we left the shop, though we did not take the bikes or trailer with us.  They wanted to make sure the bikes were tuned up and needed to put our more narrow (read “faster”) tires on.
Yvonne had been tracking the progress of our cycling gear box and it had arrived in Germany two days before, and was in the Frankfurt area this day.  We were quite excited to pick up the box the next day then head back to the cycle store to do the final setups then hopefully cycle out of town later that afternoon.  HA!
The night before, it dawned on me that our travel insurance that came with our Airtreks ticket purchase had run out when we left the UAE. So that morning Yvonne bought insurance online and we were back in business.  Later that day a small irritating pimple at the top of the back of my leg started to become increasingly painful.  The trend continued into the next day, and the next, to the point where I knew I needed to see a doctor.  Sitting down on both “cheeks” was no longer an option.  This had happened twice already this trip, and in both instances some prescribed antibiotics fixed things up nicely.  So I figured a quick visit to the hospital to see a doctor, run to the pharmacy and I was good to go.  Doc took one look and said it needed to be lanced.  He wasn’t kidding when he said it would hurt a bit … no freezing … ouch!  Told me to come back the next day to have the dressing changed.  Next day, different doctor, takes one look at it and says “surgery”.  I figured a local, with some freezing.  No … full on, general aesthetic, in 2 hrs time!  You gotta be kidding me!  I came in yesterday for some pills, now am heading to the O.R.  Except I’d just eaten … had to wait 6 hrs.

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Waiting for the operation. My room had a perfect table for the family to blog and play cards on. And Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" (1997 Everest climbing disaster) kept my mind at ease.
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Just about to head to the O.R. This super friendly and nice nurse (I really wish I could remember his name) was from Albania and was asking about nursing in Canada. He was ready for a change, and was fascinated by the thought of a family traveling around for a year.

Surgery went well but they kept me in for that night and the following night.  I noted from other conversations that German hospitals do not seem to be in as much of a rush as Canadian hospitals to discharge their patients.  Before being discharged the doctor asked me what I’d be doing when I got out.  I told him very sheepishly that the plan was to cycle tour.  He winced (big open wound, about 1″ from bicycle seat).  He told me that I’d be a whole lot better off with at least 4 days of no riding.  OK, I will hang around a bit more in Frankfurt while Yvonne and kids set off on the bikes.  Then I’ll train to catch up.

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You can imagine how happy I was to see the outside world again.

Through all this time, we had been trying to locate our package from Canada.  We couldn’t leave without it.  It had arrived at the correct address but because it had my name on it instead of our host’s it was “returned to Canada – recipient does not live at this address”  No!!!!!  To make a very long and exceedingly frustrating story short, we finally found someone who could put their eyes on it, in a depot about 50km from Frankfurt (on its way back to Canada).  He said they could redeliver it.  But after about 15 phone calls, emails and a trip to another depot, we’d given up hope with German Post.  So Yvonne and the kids took two trains out of town and walked 2km through farm fields to reach a post depot in the middle of nowhere.  15kg parcel on Yvonne’s head and they walked back to the train station (the passing tractor driver did not have room for all three of them and the parcel).

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YEA, we finally have our bike stuff!
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Yvonne recalling skills honed in her time in Mozambique. Actually, it was the only way to carry this box any distance.

Next day back to bike store to pick up bikes and do final outfitting.  Now things were getting exciting!

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Putting pedal cages on Jake's new bike.
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In Frankfurt we noted that bicycles are ubiquitous. Even this young woman in her chic business attire is test riding a new bike.

Now fully outfitted for 6 weeks of cycle touring, Yvonne and the kids headed out to ride back to the campground … and moments later got pummeled with hail, while I rode the train back with my bike.  We spent a few hours organizing our stuff … most for the tour, big box ready to mail back to Canada, and another big box with all our backpacks up to the farm near Copenhagen to await our arrival.  About to head to post office, then realized it was a holiday and unlike Canada, virtually EVERYTHING closes.  So Yvonne and the kids set out with their loaded bikes and I headed downtown with my bike to book into a hostel for the evening.  I posted the boxes next day then found a train to catch up to my family who by that time had been riding for two days.

The package and surgery challenges seemed to occupy much of our mental energy and time during our week in Frankfurt, and we felt like we saw virtually none of the city.  We did get to know the WiFi enabled cafes downtown and the cozy ethnic restaurants around the campground quite well (campground had absolutely no cooking facilities – not even a table, so we did not ended up using our camp stove). 

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Apart from our street vendor sausages, this was our first authentic German meal. I know it was authentic because we were surrounded by senior citizens eating the same thing. Sauerkraut rolls with potatoes. YUM!

We struggled a bit in our tent at night – it was still April when we arrived and we awoke to frost several mornings.  We are traveling with light summer sleeping bags so Yvonne and I had a few relatively sleepless nights (not sure how the kids slept through …?)

That aside, Frankfurt is actually a very charming city, with an extensive walking street section downtown and beautiful bike paths all along both sides of the riverfront.  Art, theater and music abound. When the sun even hints at coming out, Frankfurters (sorry … couldn’t resist) flock to the riverside in droves with their picnic blankets, food and especially their beer.

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Walking streets extend for hundreds of meters in both directions and are FULL of people, artists and performers.
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Yes, bicycles everywhere.
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The bicycle taxis are quite high tech and comfortable by the looks of it (better than the "rickshaws" of Kathmandu!)
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What's this store doing in Germany? Well, I guess if they can have Tim Horton's in Dubai ... ?
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We liked this guy's setup - he had a propane tank on his back and a little BBQ hanging in front. We liked even more our first go at German sausages!
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Downtown Frankfurt. Note the walking streets.

Perhaps what impressed us most about the Frankfurt we saw was its public transportation system.  The city proper has a population just a little more than 700,000 but there are 5.5 million in the greater Frankfurt metropolitan area. There are trains coming and going in every direction with multiple transfer stations.  We never waited for more than about 7 minutes for any train, and they accept bicycles.  Trains head way out into the suburbs and neighbouring communities.  Where there are no trains, there are trams.  Where there are no trams, there are buses.  All coordinate beautifully.  For 10 Euro ($12 Cdn) our family could travel all day on any of these modes.  I think the crazy complex spider web of the transit map below gives some sense of how effective it is.

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This transit map shows only trains and trams. Add busses and it gets hard to read!

We drooled over their transit system.  Most people admire the Toronto’s TTC.  And the GTA’s GO system works for many people. But they still pale in comparison to Frankfurt.  Put Frankfurt’s transit system together with the city’s extensive bicycling infrastructure and you understand why we never saw a traffic jam in Frankfurt (I know, we were there only 1 week, and there are no doubt snarls).  We were to many places in town and getting there was a breeze.  Never even considered a taxi.  One of our primary sustainability interests in our Europe segment of this trip is public transit and cycling infrastructure.  We’ll have lots more to say about these ideas in later blog entries.

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This tram served the hospital I was in. It reminded us of the ones in downtown Honk Kong.

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The very first house we saw when we left our campground the first morning had solar panels.

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This was indicative of what we’d encounter throughout Germany.  Roofs across Frankfurt – on homes, factories, commercial and institutional buildings – are adorned with solar PV.  This was no surprise – indeed we decided to come to Germany primarily to see first hand how they have been so successful in rolling out their solar, wind and biogas electrical power.

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This little plug-in electric commuter car was plugged into a solar-sourced charging station downtown.

Our setbacks in Frankfurt were clearly “first world” problems.  After all, it was here that we learned of the Nepalese earthquake.  But our trip thus far had been so much without hitches, we did feel we were spinning our wheels.  Or in this particular case, NOT spinning our wheels.  It was great to watch Yvonne and the kids cycle away.  And it felt great for me to board the train south the next day to find them.  Our 2 days in Frankfurt had stretched into 8 days.  And now as I write this two weeks later, we are planning to train some sections we had hoped to cycle as a result.  We really enjoy taking the trains here, but we REALLY are enjoying the cycling and don’t want to give that up.

Cam

Abu Dhabi is not too shabby

The rest of my family told me that this blog title was way to cheesy. I used it anyway.
Our second full day in UAE was as full as the first. This day, we went to see the sights of Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, a one hour drive from Dubai. Both of our flights in and out of UAE were in the Abu Dhabi airport, but it’s too bad that they were late at night and early in the morning, so we had to make a separate trip to see Abu Dhabi.
Our day started with a swim at the pool on the 30th floor of the building. It was cold because, for some reason, there was a lot of wind up there!

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Ok, now do you know what Tim Horton’s is? If you live in Canada, I can pretty much be sure that you do. For those of you that don’t know what it is, Tim Horton’s is a fast-food restaurant/cafe/bakery that is SUPER popular in Canada. In other words, USA has Starbucks and Canada has Tim Horton’s (a.k.a. Timmy’s). Our city of 80 000 people has 11 of them! There are a few in northern USA, and one at the Canadian military base in Afghanistan, but who knew… we found Tim Horton’s in Dubai! Apparently, the city has many of them. We decided that we just had to go have breakfast there.

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Written in English and Arabic. We were laughing at how they have to write "cafe and bake shop" so that people know what it is!

We had our favourite breakfast sandwiches (similar to an egg McMuffin) for breakfast. So good! It really reminded us of home!

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Wow… I never would have guessed to find Timmy’s in Dubai. It is pretty much exactly the same as back home.
Next, Sunil drove us to Abu Dhabi, one hour away. Along the way, we saw these signs:

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Clearly, the UAE has huge plans for theme parks and tourism. The money is just pouring in!
In Abu Dhabi, our first stop was the Masdar City.

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Masdar City is an innovative sustainable neighbourhood and grad school for MIT in Boston. What makes it unique is that it combines primary research, prototype making, mass production and marketing, all in one place! It isn’t finished yet, but when it is, it will also be a neighbourhood for academics and others to live using 100% renewable energy and some cool transportation.

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Here is a model of what the city will look like.

Okay, “cool transportation” is an understatement. It’s so awesome! It is a network of small, driverless, (renewable) electric cars that use magnets in the ground to navigate around. They’re Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). In the original plan for Masdar city, the PRTs would service the entire city, but they ran short of money and changed the plan, so the PRTs only will service a small area.

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In the model as well

So we decided to take a ride in a PRT!

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It felt very futuristic! It drove itself around and parked itself, all without a driver!
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This is what the PRT looks like from the outside.

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They say that the PRT is a way to combine the advantages of a personal car with those of public transit. For example, you get your own private space like a personal car, but with so few emissions, like public transport! If this was in a city, you would not need to own a car, but you would call up a PRT on your mobile phone, and it would show up.
After our ride in the PRTs, we took a tour of Masdar with a guide. It was short though, and unfortunately we didn’t learn as much s we would have liked to.

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The guide showing us the prototype for the city
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The residencies are made to look like sand dunes. Notice the solar panels on the roof.
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This is a display about an airplane (the Solar Impulse) that is currently flying around the world using only the energy it generates from solar panels on its wings.
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This is a wind cooling tower in the central courtyard. UAE is a very hot place, and this is designed to encourage people to spend more time outside. It works by creating by creating mist at the top of the tower. The mist evaporates and cools the air as it drops through the tower.

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During our two days in UAE, we were struck by the huge environmental inconsistency. When we were there, there were two sustainability conferences happening, there is Masdar city, and Dubai just announced plans to invest 3 billion dollars in solar electricity to reach a capacity of 3 gigawatts. This will help UAE to reach its energy goal of 24% renewable by 2021. On the other hand, today it makes almost all of its energy from oil. It is built in a desert, and can’t support the water needs of the fast growing population, so it has to desalinate.

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One of UAE's main oil powered electricity stations.

After the slightly underwhelming tour of Masdar city, we went to the Yas Mall for some yummy Lebanese food. Then, Sunil drove us to the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. It was built between 1998 and 2007, paid for by Sheik Zayed (king of Abu Dhabi). It is the third biggest one in the world, fitting more than 40 000 people inside! They probably would have built a bigger one, but you can’t build one bigger than Mecca, the head Mosque, because Mecca has to stay the biggest. The Sheik Zayed Mosque is built with materials from all over the world, with the purpose of uniting the Islamic world. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

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To enter the Mosque, you need to be dressed in the right way, so my mom, dad and I rented the traditional clothing for our visit (it isn’t necessary for young boys). For my mom and me, we got the Abaya. It’s a long black dress and headscarf. It was sooo hot, and I don’t understand why they chose black, the colour that absorbs the most heat! My Abaya looked quite nice, but my mom looked too much like the grim reaper. Instead of a headscarf, she had a hood, and her dress was so short that her pants stuck out at the bottom!

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That's the grim reaper on the left

For my dad, he wore a long white robe. I think that’s a lot more practical than what we wore!

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We were all dressed appropriately, so we entered the Mosque. There are way too many photos, so scroll through quickly if you want.

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The chandelier from underneath

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Wow… I don’t like to use these words but I have to say that it was spectacular and exquisite! It’s a beautiful Mosque, and worth the drive from Dubai. It’s hard to believe that two days earlier we were looking at beautiful Buddhist temples in Nepal!
On the way back to Dubai, we saw some interesting things:

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Building the new terminal to the Abu Dhabi airport
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This is a coin-shaped building!
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The coin building from the side
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Twisted tower!
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This is the Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world! It is built to look like a ship's sail, and there is a helipad at the top! You could go for high tea, but it costs $70.

When we got back to Dubai, Sunil drove us straight to Downtown Dubai (Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and surroundings). We had heard that the fountain show they put on every evening was not to be missed. While waiting for it, we found another Tim Horton’s!

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Then, the show started. It only lasted about five minutes, but it was definitely the best fountain show I’ve ever seen!

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That's Burj Khalifa in the background.

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The Burj Khalifa gets nicely lit up at night.
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The moon looked pretty cool above the fountain show!

We were all pretty tired afterwards, and we used public transport to get back to the apartment. In Dubai, there is a raised train that runs along the main road. Why is it raised? We never figured that out.

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Here's a picture we took earlier in the day of the raised train.
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It was really packed!
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They are driverless trains!

The next morning, Sunil picked us up at the apartment at 5 AM, and we drove to the Abu Dhabi airport for our 8 AM flight to Frankfurt. Having a driver and a very nice apartment sure helped us fit as much as we could into our two day stay in UAE! Thanks, Daniel!
UAE is a very interesting country. I have to say, though, that I wouldn’t want to live there. It’s very barren, dry and sterile. For a girl like me who loves being outdoors, it isn’t exactly paradise! The extreme heat forces you to be in an air conditioned room, and there isn’t much wild nature (except maybe sand dunes).
Having said that, I’m glad that we went there. There is lots to see and do in the area, and we could have easily spent a week! It really is a fascinating place, and two days wasn’t enough.
As our driver Sunil said, “My home country of India has natural beauty. Here, it’s artificial beauty.”
Off to Germany!
Kaia

Sky high in Dubai

Back in July last year, when my parents were booking the flight tickets for this trip, we only had a vague idea of where we wanted to go.  A travel agent was on the phone with my dad, and said: “On your way from Nepal to Germany, the plane stops in Abu Dhabi in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), do you want to stay there for a few days?”  We thought it would be cool to see the UAE, especially the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, but it would be very expensive and hard to find (cheap) accommodation, so we decided to stay for only 2 days.  But as we started looking into stuff to do there, we realized that 2 days is way too short!  And on top of that, my mom’s high school friend Heidi emailed us saying “We’ll have a place for you to stay in Dubai”.  We later found out that she and her husband Daniel, who live in the US, had invested in an apartment there, and let us stay there for our time in the UAE, and even arranged a driver for us.  A driver!  We couldn’t believe it!

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After a 5 hour flight from Kathmandu, we walked out of the Abu Dhabi airport and our driver, Sunil, was there to drive us from Abu Dhabi to Dubai.  Sunil is from Agra, in India (where the Taj Mahal is), but lives with his family in Dubai.  The drive between Abu Dhabi and Dubai was on a big highway in the desert, and it took about an hour and a half to get to the apartment.  It was on the 3rd floor of a 39 story building.  It was beautiful!  We looked around, and found stuff like:
“Look, there’s a nice, big kitchen!”
“Look, there’s beer in the fridge!”
“Look, there’s a second floor!”
“Look, there’s a jacuzzi in the bathroom!”
It was really late, so we went right to bed.  Like I said earlier, 2 days is not enough time in Dubai, so we packed as much stuff as we could into our time there.  This blog entry will be about our first day, and Kaia will cover Day 2.  Here was the plan for Day 1:
-go up the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building
-visit Hema, a friend we met in Bali who lives in Dubai
-go to the Dubai museum
-do the desert safari

We got up early, and Sunil brought us to the bottom of the Burj Khalifa.

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We got our tickets at the bottom, and went through the little museum before going up.  At 829 metres tall, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest man-made structure.  It surpasses the 628 metre tall KVLY-TV mast, a communication tower in Blanchard, North Dakota that used to be the world’s tallest man-made structure, the 550 metre tall CN Tower in Toronto (that we’ve been up before), that used to be the world’s tallest freestanding structure (meaning it doesn’t have any wires holding it up), and the Taipei 101 in Taiwan that used to be the world’s tallest building (meaning it has the most floors).  So, the Burj Kalifa beats all 3 of those world records!

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And the Burj Khalifa won’t even hold onto its title for much longer.  They’re already building the Kingdom Tower, a building in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia that will be over 1000 metres tall!

After looking around the museum a bit, we headed for the elevator and went up, up, up…

The Burj Khalifa also breaks the world record for the world’s fastest elevator, at 10 metres per second.  It only took about a minute to go up to the 124th floor, at Observation Deck 1.  Let me tell you, I would not recommend it for people who are afraid of heights!  We were way, way up, and could see all of Dubai.

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This is what the observation deck was like.
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This big pond is where they do the Dubai fountain show.
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This is the Dubai Mall, seen from above.
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This is actually a reflection off the glass on the outside of the building!
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That's a lot of car ramps!
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New skyscrapers are constantly being built in Dubai. Sunil told us over 60% of the world's cranes are in Dubai.

I want make it clear that the reason Dubai has so many tall, expensive buildings is because the country is extremely wealthy, because of its oil reserves.

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Our clothes that day show that we've traveled the world. My mom's shirt and Kaia's pants are from Nepal, and my shirt is from Fiji.
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This building is the Burj al Arab, the world's only 7 star hotel. I wish I could spend a night there!
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The islands off in the distance are man made islands, still being built. They're called the World Islands, because they'll be the shape of the world's continents.
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This is a train for the Dubai transit system. All the trains are driverless, and all the tracks are elevated above the ground. Why? Well, probably because they had enough money to do it! It's a good example of the way of thinking in Dubai: We can build anything we can imagine if we have enough money.
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This is a beautiful mosque!
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One of the men on this billboard (I think the one on the right, but not sure) is Sheik Khalifa, the sheik (king) of the UAE. When the economy tanked in 2008, the company building the Burj Dubai, as it was called back then, didn't have enough money to finish building it. So, Sheik Khalifa gave them money to finish building it, and they named the building after him to thank him.

Dubai is built in a desert, so we were wondering why there’s a big city in such a desolate place, but one of the reasons Dubai became a big city is because half the world’s population is within a 5 hour flight, making it the “business capital of the world”.

After looking around on the observation deck, we walked back inside, where there was, of course, a gift shop, with all those little souvenirs and knickknacks.  There was also one of those green screen photo stands, to make it look like you’re hanging on the building and stuff.

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We were considering doing it, until we found out the price.  90 UAE dirhams, equal to about 30 American dollars.  A bit too much for one picture!

There was also the most ridiculous souvenir ever: a stuffy Burj Khalifa!

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It defeats the whole purpose of stuffed animals. In fact, it isn't a stuffed animal, it's a stuffed glass and metal building!

Then, we went back down, down, down to the bottom, and explored around the Dubai mall.

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This is the Star Atrium. You may have noticed the irregular star shape in the photo of thhe mall taken from the tower.

The mall is huge!  It’s way bigger than the Toronto Eaton Centre.  There are several atriums, and hundreds of stores, but it seemed like most of them sell fancy clothes and cosmetics.  It was hard to believe that all those stores can stay in business!  It’s not even the only mall in Dubai.

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The stores in the mall are pretty fancy!

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There was even a hockey rink in the mall! As Canadians who missed an entire hockey season, we really wanted to get on and skate!

There was also a huge aquarium in the mall, with lots of fish, sharks and rays.  It was beautiful, but nothing compared to the scuba diving we’d done earlier on the trip!

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Then, Sunil picked us up from the mall and brought us to an apartment building where a friend we met in Bali, Hema, lives.  You might remember Kaia’s blog entry about Ubud, in Bali, Indonesia.  We did a bicycle day tour, and met Hema.  She’s from India, but lives in Dubai, since she’s a flight attendant for Emirates airline.  When we told her we were coming to Dubai, she invited us to visit her for lunch.  At her apartment, we met her and her neighbour, Aditi, also an Emirates flight attendant from India.  In fact, all residents in the apartment building are Emirates flight attendants!

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That's Aditi on the left. The red caps and white scarves are part of the outfit for female Emirates flight attendants.
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One of Hema's hobbies is painting, so she had some of her own artwork on the walls of her apartment, like this one of the Buddha.

Lunch was, of course, Indian food!  Nice, soft naan bread with different kinds of curry.  Delicious! 

After lunch, Sunil brought us for a quick visit to the Dubai museum. It was mostly about the life and culture of the Bedouins, the indigenous people of Arabia. It was pretty cool, but we don’t have any photos.

Then, we went on the desert safari, recommended to us by a few people.  The guide/driver (I can’t remember his name), originally from Pakistan, drove us out into the desert outside Dubai.

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In Dubai, it can got so hot in the summer (50 degrees Celsius) that all bus stops are air conditioned!
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The Dubai skyline is so distinct, with the Burj Khalifa rising way above everything else.
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The sand blows onto the road!

We got to a place where tire tracks went off the road and into the dunes, and we followed them.

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Our guide letting air out of the tires. Notice the shadow on the car.

None of us expected what followed.  It turned out that the desert safari included dune bashing, or in other words, driving up, down and all over sand dunes!  This didn’t exactly fit in with our sustainability idea of this trip, but it sure was fun.

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The sand was SO nice, so we got out to play around on a dune for a while.

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Careful, Kaia, your pants will make you blow over!
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Now that's what I call "natural art".

After a while of dune bashing, we got to a setup of huts and a stage, the main part of the desert safari.

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The first thing we did there was ride a camel!

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These are our surprised faces when the camel sat down quite abruptly.

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My dad held a falcon, which I believe is the UAE's national animal.
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My mom got henna art on her hand. When you take the mud off, it leaves an orange mark for several days.

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We watched the sun set over a dune.

After a while, everyone got called in for a buffet dinner.  It was so good!  I filled up my whole plate before even realizing there was a barbecue too.
Once everyone was seated, the show began.  It started with an Arabian man dressed in a hard-to-describe outfit.  He did an amazing dance, where he kept spinning around and around for almost 20 minutes!  We couldn’t believe he didn’t get dizzy!  My dad gets dizzy after only one turn.

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He twirled these plate things while he was spinning.
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It got darker while he was dancing, and he lit up little lights attached to his many skirts.

He spun non-stop for his whole performance.  The second other performance was a woman doing a dance with a cane and a cape.

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After the show, we got driven back to the apartment, and slept soundly that night.  Thank you Daniel for paying for the desert safari!  We really enjoyed it.

We packed in a lot of cool stuff into our day in Dubai, and we still had another one left in Abu Dhabi.

Jake

The future is green at Annapurna Eco Village

We went through a time warp and got a glimpse of the future in the hills above Pokhara.  We saw sustainable food production, local building materials, and renewable energy use.  It was the year 2072!  Actually, we celebrated Nepali New Year (which fell on the night of April 13) at this serene haven of eco ideas and education.  The Nepali calendar is based on “Bikram Sambat” and is 56.7 years ahead of the common Gregorian calendar.  The Nepali calendar (which is based on lunar cycles) was started by the emperor Vikramaditya (somewhere in India) after an important military victory.  The new year always falls on the day after the new moon in the month of Chaitra.  So, happy new year 2072.  Apparently I will be turning 102!

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The "BS" stands for Bikram Sambat.

The Annapurna Eco Village is a family-run enterprise that combines simple comfortable accommodation, great local food, and opportunities to explore meditation, massage, and relaxation in general!  It can also provide a window into Nepali village life and is a good starting point for hiking in the Annapurna region.  Cam couldn’t cope with too much relaxation (LOL), so he stayed for one night and then set off on his Mardi Himal hike, which he described in the previous blog entry. Actually, he had planned for the one night stay and the ambitious hike before we left Pokhara. Kaia, Jake, and I stayed a second night to soak in the mountains from a distance and from the comfort of a hammock!

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This was our room and view. The weather was a bit cloudy, but the peaks popped out a few times.

On our first day there, the four of us took part in a 90-minute yoga/meditation/relaxation class.  Our instructor, Yubi, was excellent and really explained the reasons for all the various components of the class.  We even did lion roars (because lions represent strength, self-esteem, calmness) and laughter therapy (which Kaia excelled at)!

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Kaia and Jake with Yubi in the meditation studio.

We liked it so much that we went back for more the next day. Our favorite part was when Yubi lead us through the relaxation process step by step. We can still hear his voice saying, “Bring your awareness to the right buttock. Totally, completely relaxed.”

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Here we are in our room, blogging! Whenever we have a free moment we try to get caught up.
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There's Fishtail Mountain, and the unique Nepali flag.
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Beautiful view from the Eco Village.

So, what’s so “eco” about the Eco Village?  Well, the owners are committed to environmentally friendly practices; they research extensively and have traveled to India and France to learn about various green technologies and farming practices.  One of them gave Cam a tour of the facilities (while the rest of us were chanting “Bodum… Saranum… Ganchaaami” in the meditation room).

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These solar hot water heaters use a thermo-syphon to move water through black tubes on a black background into the storage tank. This simple technology is used around the world.
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Here, Purna is showing how drinking water is filtered through a series of sand and charcoal filters.
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This is a demo of how the filter works.
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This cow provides the milk used in the kitchen. The cow urine is collected in a trough and used to make a natural pesticide.

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Each room has a little solar panel for lighting.

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Here's a new one: a simple way to deposit "humanure"; where it can be utilised in the garden. They plan to build a movable structure around the chair and invite guests to use it if they wish!

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This burner in the kitchen uses biogas as fuel, collected from a digester that is connected to one of the toilets. They can get up to to 2 hours of cooking per day from this fuel source and likely all their cooking if all toilets were hooked up.

For more info about their mission and amenities, visit the eco village website: http://www.ecovillagenepal.com .
We met many interesting people at the eco village, including Claire and her 8-year-old daughter Salome, who are from France.  I explained to Claire the gist of our trip and said (as I have said many times over the past 8 months), “We pulled the kids out of school for the year.”  And for the first time, the response was , “Oh yeah, so did I.”

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We went for a walk with Claire, Salome, and their guide, Passan, who works for Three Sisters trekking company.
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When we got caught in the rain, we took cover at a nearby house. The woman brought out woven mats for us to sit on.

In the evening we had the chance to “help” milk the cow.

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I just love how the local women dress to do such chores. We watched as she cleaned her hands and feet before milking. Cows are sacred.

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This woman is grinding corn into flour with a stone. It was one of the ingredients in the eco-pancakes that were served for breakfast.

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They grow and process their own organic coffee beans.

Nepali New Year was celebrated in a fairly subdued way:  we had a nice meal and then Vishnu and Basantha (sons of the Adhikari family — owners) played the flute and drum while the family and some of the guests danced.

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This terrible photo taken on Kaia's phone shows us dancing to a song that got etched into our brains. (Resham filili, O resham filili...)

You can listen to this popular Nepali folk song here.

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We were given tikkas the next morning.

We had such high hopes for a prosperous new year.  Who could have guessed that less than two weeks later, Nepal would suffer its worst earthquake in 80 years?  I hope that 2072 sees a lot of healing and maybe the beginning of some type of building code that takes into consideration the likelihood of earthquakes and can protect people in the future from such catastrophes.  Nepal is one of the countries we’ve visited this year that I feel I must return to some day. The natural beauty; the people; the culture; the food… all is stunning.

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Farewell to the Himalayan mountains. Until we meet again.

Yvonne