Category Archives: Kaia

A dam good city

“Amsterdam is one of those iconic cities” said my dad as we rode into the city one afternoon after a very windy 50 km ride from Utrecht. Amsterdam first caught my interest when I read the book and watched the movie of The Fault in our Stars by John Green, which partly takes place there. And I can say that our visit to Amsterdam was at least as magical and beautiful as John Green portrayed it.

We are very lucky to have a friend in Amsterdam, who lives about 10 minutes by bike from the city centre. We met Saskia when we lived in Namibia. She was also there through VSO (Volunteer Services Oversees), and was living in the nearest city, Rundu. We stayed with Jelda, (also a VSO in Rundu) in Utrecht, and then with Saskia in Amsterdam. Lucky us!
Saskia was out when we arrived, but she texted us and suggested a very close Indonesian takeout spot for dinner. We had fun practising our (very limited) Indonesian that we had learned there, with the restaurant owner from Surabaya, Java. We brought the food back to Saskia’s place to eat it. It was delicious! Soon after, Saskia walked in. It was great to see her again!
She lives on the bottom floor of a 4 or 5 storey building close to downtown. Since she is on the bottom floor, she has a big backyard, where we could easily fit our tent (a bit easier than fitting our tent in Jelda’s backyard!) We caught up with Saskia about what we had done since we had last seen each other.

In the morning, Saskia said goodbye to us, because she was going to Belgium for the weekend, and invited us to stay in her apartment longer if we wanted. But before she left, she recommended to us the Rijksmuseum, an art gallery downtown with hundreds of paintings from very famous Dutch painters, like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. To get there, we rode though Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s central park. It was lovely. So many people out for exercise, or just chatting at a picnic bench. Also, there were the people like us, riding our bikes from A to B, and enjoying Vondelpark, at the same time.

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One of the many ponds of Vondelpark. A message to Peterborough city council: beautiful parks bring people together, make people healthier and happier. Roads do just the opposite. Peterborough is lucky to already have that greenspace. We would be foolish not to preserve it.

When we came out of Vondelpark at the other end, we were in central Amsterdam. We weren’t exactly the “only bikes there”. Amsterdam is known for its bicycles. And no wonder! When we ride our bikes back home in Peterborough, we are almost always the only bikes on the bike lane, when there is a bike lane. So, we don’t have to be so alert. Amsterdam is a very different story… now we are the majority of traffic, not some strange outcast. Now we have traffic rules. Whoa. We will leave that for a separate blog entry. But, I just want to emphasise how many bikes there were. Mind blowing!

Finally, we arrived at the Rijksmuseum (say Rikes museum).

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The art gallery is located across the street from a canal, as most of Amsterdam is.
I was blown away at the Realism painting style of the Dutch. I can’t really remember details or names (except Rembrandt and Van Gogh), but I can remember some stories associated with the art.

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Van Gogh's self portait. He would experiment many painting techiniques in his many self portaits, and in this one he used a large brush, so you can see the individual strokes.
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Here I am looking at Jan Willem Pieneman's Waterloo. He brought together many stories from the battle of Waterloo, and combined them into this painting. This is one of the biggest paintings in the world: 5.5 m by 8.2 m!
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Classic Netherlands. A canal, a wind mill, and blue sky. Notice how all the lines converge into one place.
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These children interrupting their sister's piano practice are not painted in the Dutch Realism style, but the Italian, more "perfect" style. This artist specialised in drawing children, and I think he did a great job at bringing them to life, and showing their playfulness.
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This is an interesting piece. The young people are painted in Italian "perfect" style, while the older people are done in the Dutch Realism. This Dutch artist had lived in Rome, and then combined those styles. I find that very interesting, as it's probably one of the first traces of "arts fusion"!
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And finally, Rembrandt's "Nightwatch", the crown jewel of Rijksmuseum. This one is almost as big as Waterloo, but what makes it so special is little things, for example the shadow of one man's hand on another man's chest. But Nightwatch is no secret -- We were some of the 100 people looking at it in that moment!

Rijks museum was very well done. The explanations beside the paintings were very interesting. But the best thing about Rijksmuseum was that there are sheets of paper for almost every piece of art, with a print of that specific painting on it. The print has circles around all the interesting parts of that painting, with explanations on the side. So you could take a sheet, study the painting and find the coolest parts of it. Then, you put the sheet back where you found it. Also, you can download the “Rijksmuseum app”, and listen to even more interpretation.
But we weren’t finished: we still hadn’t checked out the boat exhibit.

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These model boats were once used to teach the military about sailing!
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Do you know the difference between the ship types Barque, Barkantine, Brig and Brigantine? Neither do I!
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I learned that some of the models took longer to build than the ships themselves!

Wow… I was surprised to learn that there were so many amazing artists in such a small country. I would recommend Rijksmuseum to anybody who wants to learn interesting things about history, art, or just the Netherlands in general. Everything was really well explained, with just the right amount of detail.

Right behind Rijksmuseum, there is another one of Amsterdam’s landmarks: the I amsterdam letters.

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It's made for people to climb on. I'm on the "t", and Jake is on the "e".

By then it was raining, so some street musicians were performing in the tunnel under Rijksmuseum.

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One thing you may know about Amsterdam is that the city has many canals. In fact, all of the Netherlands is full of canals. Amsterdam has many rings of them, with smaller canals connecting the rings.

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Here's a map of the inner city. The middle ring is called the Dutch equivalent of "rich man's road", because that was the fanciest place. Then on each ring going outwards the buildings would get less and less nice.

The best ways to see Amsterdam are by bike and by boat. Since it was raining, we chose a boat tour.

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Inside the covered boat.
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The city was named when they built a dam on the Amstel river, so they called it Amsteldam at first, and later it was changed to Amsterdam.

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You can't really tell here, but the houses in Amsterdam are built with a slight slant towards the front. Every building had a pulley system to bring big things to the top apartment. If the buildings weren't slanted, the objects would bang into the balconies of the lower apartments. Most of the buildings still have the pulley system, though they may not use it anymore.
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Look at the bikes locked to the bridge! Apparently, there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam.

Have you read the book of The Diary of Anne Frank? Actually, I haven’t yet. But she and her Jewish family lived in Amsterdam, in the secret annex of her father’s business during the holocaust. You can visit the Anne Frank house, if you are patient enough to wait in line! But we saw posters about an Anne Frank play, and people had told us that it was very worthwhile and if you see it, you don’t feel like you have to see the Anne Frank house. So, we booked seats for the evening performance. While we were riding there, it started POURING rain! But we were late and had to keep going. At one point, my mom had a very bad fall that still hurts to this day. Finally, google maps said “you have arrived at your destination”. We were in a construction site. We thought that google had sent us to the wrong place altogether, and we had paid a bunch of money for theatre tickets. But, luckily, we looked a bit more in that neighbourhood and found it! The play was about to start, so the people hustled us to some seats near the back right on time.
Since this is a touristy kind of play, there is a VERY slick translation system. The actors are speaking Dutch, but if you want another language, you get a stand that holds an iPad and earphones. You choose between about 8 languages, and audio and/or subtitles, and there you go. Someone behind the scenes is on a screen clicking whenever a line is said, so you hear the lines real time, even if timing varies between actors of the same role. I loved how even in the English translation, you hear the lines spoken in a Dutch accent. Listening to the translation hardly even detracted a bit from the overall experience.
Anne was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929, but she, her parents and older sister Margot moved to Amsterdam in 1933. In 1942, for Anne’s 13th birthday, she received a diary. But unfortunately, shortly after, her family was forced to go into hiding in the secret annex of her father’s business. A woman named Miep delivered them food and supplies. Soon, 4 other Jews joined them in hiding and they were 8 in the tiny apartment. In her diary, Anne describes the challenges of living in cramped quarters. Since she was so bored, she starts flirting with the other family’s son, Peter. But she gets very tired of him, and he starts really liking her! At one point, she is forced to share her room with a very strange adult man! They would often fight over the table in the room — she wanted to write in her diary, and he wanted to study. The way she dealt with these problems was writing in her diary, because it was her only loyal friend to whom she could tell all her troubles.
Horribly, they were found by some Nazis and were brought to a concentration camp. The Nazis threw her diary on the floor. She and her sister Margot were together until the very end, and they died, probably of typhoid in early 1945. Anne was 15.
The only family member to survive was her father, Otto Frank. The family’s loyal friend Miep found Anne’s diary in the secret annex, and it was first published in 1947.
I really enjoyed that play. It showed the story of the Holocaust from a 14 year old girl’s perspective, which made it easier to understand and relate to for me. The translation system was so slick as well, which made this play really excellent. I highly recommend it. I’m now very interested in reading the book.
By the way, the production has only been on for one year, and it’s just getting started. The theatre it takes place in was built for this play. A few days after we went to it, my grandma emailed us and said that she went to see the Anne Frank play in Stratford, Ontario!
The ride home was a bit sketchy in the dark, but luckily we all made it home safely.

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The next day, we were going to ride into the city and explore a bit more before riding out of town. But we were all so exhausted that we took a rest day, a day when we are not a) riding somewhere or b) intensely exploring a city. We rode into town again just to ride around and enjoy Amsterdam’s fantastic bike paths.

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This is a "pissoir" (right beside the road), if you know what I mean!

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My dad gets an email news feed every day of ‘”clean tech” news, and the day before there was an article about a solar panel sidewalk in a village outside of Amsterdam.  So he rode 30km out of town to see it.  He said he didn’t mind riding on a day off because he did not have the bike trailer hooked up.

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The traditional entrance to the Amsterdam harbour has been closed off for land reclamation, so the boat traffic uses this canal to get to/from Amsterdam now. My dad crossed it on a ferry.

He said the ride there was great but the solar road was “underwhelming” to see. It is only six months old and was apparently quite controversial locally because of the cost and people didn’t think that the sidewalk would generate much electricity.  But it actually has generated much more than expected (70m long and 3000kWhr in 6 winter months) so it seems to be a good news story.  It was built by a company that is experimenting with generating electricity from road surfaces.  Maybe we’ll see more of these in the future.

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The left side is solar panels.
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The panels are covered by a rough but strong plexiglass so bikes don't slide and the cover doesn't break.
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This is the company's promo slide. How's your Dutch? The electricity generated is used for street lighting.

The rest of us just rode around downtown. We saw the Anne Frank house, and it had a really long lineup! We spent that night at Saskia’s place again, and rode out of town the next morning.
Amsterdam is such a beautiful place. It is on my bucket list to live in downtown Amsterdam for a year or more. A bicycle can get you anywhere in town, and a train can get you anywhere out of town. Arts and music are everywhere. The downtown makes you feel like you’re in the past. All of this together make Amsterdam a beautiful, magical and unique city! I’ll be back, Amsterdam!
Kaia

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Switzerland and the Black Forest

Back in March, in the Philippines, we met Omar and Tanja from Switzerland. In Donsol, we snorkeled with whale sharks with them. Here’s a picture of us with them in the Philippines.

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Omar is Italian and Tanja is Swiss, and they live in Zurich. We were in Schwangau, Germany, not so far away, and decided to take them up on their invitation and go visit them!
Since we lost a week in Frankfurt, we no longer had the time to cycle our entire planned route. So, we sometimes take trains when the weather gets bad. Well… as the forecast warned us, we woke up to a very gloomy day at our Schwangau campground. We lay in bed for a while trying to coax ourselves to get up. When we finally did, it was the most awful feeling to pack up the tent in the rain. It wasn’t hard for us to make the decision of “ride or train?”.
I didn’t want to get my socks wet during the 7 km ride from our campground to the train station, so I went with bare feet in sandals. Ouch! Cold cold cold!
We only had to make one transfer for the entire journey in Buchloe, where we changed from our 30 minute regional train to a nice intercity express one! It was a beautiful ride, we had a table to blog…

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My dad takes his blog very seriously.
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Jake and my mom take their game of 2048 very seriously.

I knew that crossing borders between European countries was easy, but I didn’t know that it would be that easy! The only thing that made us realize that we had crossed the border was that our German sim card in our phone wasn’t working anymore. Otherwise, there was absolutely no indication.
Our plan was to take the train all the way to Zurich Hauptbahnhof (central station) and then ride our bikes to their place. But as the train was stopped at the Zurich airport, Jake remembered that they had said that they live very close to the airport. We all agreed to get off there instead.

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After taking the elevator up from the platform (we always take elevators in train stations because of our bikes), we realized that we were right in the airport! There were signs to the gates. Duty free shops everywhere. Not a window in sight. We asked a few people how to find the exit, and finally ended up, well…

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If you think this looks funny, imagine my dad going up with his trailer!

We were just laughing at ourselves the whole time. But the funny adventures weren’t over: we still had to find our way to their house.
It was pouring rain. My dad had some idea of how to find their place, but in this case, reality was not as google maps thought it was. Long story short, we ended up on a big 4 lane highway going around roundabouts with huge semis whizzing past. It was scary. Finally, my dad saw the road that we wanted to be on, only it was under us! With no paths connecting the two roads, we had to go through the forest!

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A few more kilometers of riding finally brought us to their house. They live in Tanja’s grandfather’s house, a big, nice old home in the outskirts of Zurich, in a neighbourhood called Rümlang. They can be in the city center by a one minute walk and a 12 minute train ride.
It was so great to see them again! It was also great to be dry again! That night, they cooked us an authentic Swiss meal: raclette and fondue. I’m not really a cheese person, but even I really enjoyed that meal.
We caught up with them about our travels after leaving Donsol. They spent some more time in the Philippines before going to Japan. They have also been to Nepal on a previous trip, so we talked about that too.

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We were a bit crunched for time, but had planned for one full day in Switzerland. Omar and Tanja suggested to do the Pilatus mountain circuit. It includes a cog railway and a gondola. And at the top, there are amazing views! It is near the city of Luzern, which is about 40 minutes from Zurich by train.
The cog railway starts in a place called Alpnachstad, so we had to take another train from Luzern. Our ticket said platform 14. Twelve minutes before the departure time, we saw a train parked at our platform. Assuming that it was the one, we got on.
My dad needed to use a bathroom. The ones on the train were all full, so he got off to use the station bathrooms instead. No problem, there were 12 minutes left.
One minute later, the train started moving! Oh no! We quickly realized that we were on the 1:01 PM train, not the 1:13 PM one. This train was, for a few stops, heading towards Alpnachstad, but turning off before that stop. Our general rule on this trip was: if we get separated, we return to the last place we saw each other. That was platform 14 of the Luzern station. We got off our wrong train at the first stop and took the next train back to Luzern. Oh, shoot! Daddy’s not there! We had all of the stuff, money, train tickets, phones, everything. We couldn’t contact him, as he had no phone. Still, we sent an email to his account in case he somehow checked it.
After a while, we finally came to the conclusion that he must have gotten on the right train and was now at Alpnachstad. But we were afraid that if we went there, he would come back to Luzern, and so on. We didn’t budge from platform 14.
Meanwhile, my dad was waiting at Alpnachstad. He was so hungry, and had 1,85 Swiss Franks in his pocket, enough to buy a Bounty bar, but not a Mars bar. When he borrowed a computer to check his email, he saw ours in his inbox. He responded with “come to Alpnachstad – I’m not going back to Luzern – this is where the cog railway starts!”. Finally, we were on the train to meet him.
It was a guessing game. He assumed that we would assume that he had gotten on the right train. We were playing by the rules. Also, we didn’t think that he would get on a train without a ticket! That separation delayed our day by about 2 hours. But that was water under the bridge, once we ate our much needed lunch!

OK, let’s do what we came here to do: go up the Pilatus mountain on the cog railway. A cog railway is different than a usual train, though. It’s specially made to go up very steep slopes. Instead of the power going to the train wheels, like a normal train, the power goes to a big wheel with teeth in the center of the train. The teeth interlock with teeth in the track, and that’s how it goes up.
The Pilatus cog railway is the steepest train in the world! At its steepest, it’s 48% inclination. The train is built “diagonally”, because it only services this mountain! The track is 4,6 km long, and, amazingly it was first opened in 1889, using steam power! Wow!

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It's so steep!
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There were about 4 or 5 tunnels.
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At first, we had some pretty great views!

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But, then as we got up higher, the clouds started rolling in.

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By the time that we were at the top at 2073m above sea level, we were literally inside the cloud.

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We could hardly see the cog railway anymore.

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We didn’t spend too long at the summit, as there was nothing to see.

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Aww... apparently that's what the view looks like on a sunny day!

To get back down, we took the gondola that goes all the way back to Luzern.

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Yay, we're finally getting out of the cloud!

And back in Luzern, we took a short bus ride to the downtown.

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Our favourite thing in Luzern town was the lion monument. Someone told us “follow the tourists to find it!”. And that was good advice.

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It is the saddest carving I’ve ever seen.

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Carved by Lukas Ahorn in 1820, this carving of a mortally wounded lion commemorates all the Swiss guards of the French royalty who died during the French Revolution in 1792.
We also really liked the Luzern church downtown.

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40 minutes later, we were back in central Zurich. We bought some dinnerish things at a grocery store and ate them by the river. I noticed that the grocery store was packed with people on this Saturday night, because everything in Switzerland (and Germany) is closed on Sundays. Somehow, it never occurred to us that maybe we too should stocking up for Sunday. More on that later.
Omar and Tanja had gone out for dinner that night with friends, so we just took the train back to Rmlang and went to bed.

The next morning, my dad made omelettes for all of us! We really enjoyed our short stay in Zurich, but we had to keep going. Thanks, Omar and Tanja for hosting us! It was so much fun to see you again!

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Omar leaving for his soccer game.

To leave Zurich, we went past the airport. It is the 10th busiest one in the world!

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The Emirates plane on the tarmac is an Airbus A380, the biggest in the world!

As I said before, we forgot that on Sunday, everything closes. This is not a new problem for us – I think that we have forgotten about every single Sunday so far! We really do like that idea, though, because it means that families are together on that day. But coming from Canada, where most stores are open 24/7, we aren’t used to it. We had no food for lunch. Luckily, we found a very Swiss little restaurant that was open.

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This is very typical German/Swiss food. Buns, cheese and meat is usually for breakfast, though.

We were right near the German border. Looking across the river from the south side, we saw a lot of solar panels!

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Crossing the border back to Germany was just as easy as it had been the other way around. This time, all we saw was a teeny tiny little sign that said something about “Deutschland” on it.

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Crossing the river.

That evening, we had to eat dinner at one of the few places that’s open on Sundays: McDonalds. Those are pretty similar to the ones in Canada, except that they have a bakery. We got a few slices of black forest cake, as the next day we would be riding through it’s namesake: the black forest.
After dinner, we rode way uphill. It was really steep for a long time. We didn’t need a campground, just a flat spot, but we didn’t have any breakfast for the next morning, because stores were closed. We would have gone further out of a town, but we stopped in Aichen for the night because there is some food there. Actually, there are no grocery stores in Aichen, just a small guesthouse with an attached restaurant where we could go for breakfast. We set up our tent in a parking lot-ish thing at the edge of the tiny village. It was right near the church, which ended up to be very irritating! This church would ring once on the -15 minute mark, twice on the half hour, 3 times on the -45 minute mark, and then whatever time it was on the hour. But the worst part was that it did that all through the night! Yes, we were camped right next to a church that rang once every 15 minutes all night! At 6 AM, there was the big village wakeup call, and it didn’t stop ringing for about 5 minutes. Jake and I actually managed to sleep through most of it, but my parents had a pretty rough night.
For breakfast the next morning at the guesthouse, we were surprised at first because they never came around to show us a menu or take our order. But then we realized that breakfast is breakfast: fresh rolls, cheese and meat. Yum!
When we first came to Germany and did a bit of research about the best places to visit, one thing that stuck out in our minds was the black forest in southwestern Germany. It is the country’s “wildest” place, and the photos on the internet made it look lovely.
On this day leaving Aichen, our plan was to cycle through the black forest and finish in Freiburg, where we had already found some people on the Warm Showers network to stay with.
We use google maps most of the time to get around. When it finds a route for us, it also gives us a profile of ups and downs for the day. For this day, it was: a short but steep down, then a huge up then a huge down.

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The black forest really was lovely! It was so peaceful and quiet. We would go for long periods of time without seeing anybody!
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Oh, no! A big branch fell across the path!
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Should we carry our bikes over?
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Oh, no worries. A man with a chainsaw cut it up for us.

We stopped for lunch beside a big lake.

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In the quaint village of St Blasien for our bakery stop, we saw the most amazing church!

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Paintings on the ceiling.

Wow… such a huge church for such a tiny town. After getting some calories from the bakery, we continued on our big long uphill. All day, we kept thinking “in a few hours, we will be gliding downhill all the way to Freiburg!”. My dad kept saying “it’s all down from here, guys”. Then we would continue going up. “OK, we must be near the top of this hill!”. We just kept going up. At around 6 PM, we got into a bit of a pinch. We were kind of lost, and every route google maps told us about either didn’t exist, or kept climbing up the hill. We made many wrong turns and wasted so much time. Finally, we found a (downhill) trail that we thought would lead us to Freiburg. Yay, finally our downhill that we’ve been looking forward to all day! But at the bottom, an unpleasant surprise awaited us. This bicycle path didn’t go all the way to Freiburg, it simply led to a huge highway that went there! But we weren’t going to ride on this highway: we found out later that every transport truck from Romania to Portugal uses this road. And unlike most other German highways, there was no separated bike lane – not even a shoulder. No thanks!
We phoned our warm showers contact Peter to ask for directions. He told us that our best way to Freiburg would be to go back up the close hill and then keep going uphill for a long time before going back down. Oh. Shoot. Or, we could just go up the hill for a kilometer or two to a place called Hinterzarten where we could catch a train to Freiburg instead. Yes, that sounds better! But it was already quite late, and we were too tired for that. OK, we’ll pitch our tent here and climb the hill and take the train in the morning. We set up camp right under a really cool train trestle. It was a cold night.

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At least Galdis is warm!

The hill we were to climb the next morning was so steep, there was no way we would make it up with our loaded bikes – even pushing them wasn’t an option. But my dad found an innovative solution. He talked to a very nice family that lives halfway up the hill. They agreed to meet us at the lowest car turnaround spot, and put our gear into their car. Then, we could ride up with empty bikes. They would leave our gear at the top near the train station, for us to collect when we made it up. It all worked very smoothly. Three of us made it up empty without pushing our bikes.
We found the train station in the town of Hinterzarten, and caught the 40 minute train into Freiburg. It was the most downhill train I’ve ever been on. That was the downhill that we were hoping to ride the previous day 😦 .

Our time in Switzerland and the black forest had many mishaps or “problems” (in the Zurich airport, lost on Swiss highways in the rain, separation in Luzern, forgetting about the Sunday closings and getting lost in the black forest). Though these problems seemed somewhat big at the time, they really weren’t. And compared to the problems in Nepal or Vanuatu, ours are just laughable tiny inconveniences.
And, we really enjoyed these places! Taking the cog railway up the Pilatus mountain on a 48% incline was very exciting. Seeing Omar and Tanja was so much fun! Forgetting about the Sunday closure gave us an excuse to splurge at restaurants and eat great food. And the black forest was still just as beautiful and peaceful, even though we were going up.
OK, they aren’t mishaps. Neither are they problems. They are just funny stories that improved my blog post.
Kaia

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

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

Pokhara, Peace Pagoda and Paragliding

We picked up our bikes from the bike shop today. Yesterday we took the train to the package depot, so finally it is here! We are almost ready to start our cycling trip, and the weather has turned nasty :(. But we’re very eager to get going!
The city of Pokhara was our “home base” for most of our time in Nepal. It is about 200km from Kathmandu, but driving between the two takes over 7 hours! Its population of 265 000 makes it Nepal’s 2nd biggest city (my dad met someone on a trek who said that in 1990 the population was 50 000). Its proximity to the mountains also makes it a place where lots of tourists start their trek. It’s right next to the beautiful Fewa Tal (Fewa Lake), and there’s so much to see and do in and around Pokhara. So much of Pokhara’s (and Nepal’s) economy is based on tourism, so even though many of the activities we did seem very decadent, they helped employ a lot of people. I’m sure that now after the earthquake, Pokhara must really be struggling.
We first went to Pokhara with Yadav and Hira from Solar Sisters on the “Tourist bus”. But, since there was a change of plans and only my dad could go to the village to do the solar install, Jake, my mom and I had some time to explore Pokhara.
We stayed at the Hotel Fewa, a very nice place, right on the lake. The Solar Sisters organization brings their clients there every time, so they get a good deal. The tourist area of Pokhara is called Lakeside, and is pretty much a nicer, safer and more laid-back version of Kathmandu’s Thamel district. For example, Lakeside has wide sidewalks, Thamel has none. Crossing the street in Lakeside is very simple, whereas in Thamel it’s a life-theatening activity. Lakeside is on a beautiful lake with mountain views, and Thamel is in the center of a very dusty, dirty and polluted city. The street vendors in Lakeside are usually quite pleasant, but the ones in Thamel are very pushy.

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We got our first view of the Himalaya in Pokhara! At one point, we were in a taxi when they popped out from behind the clouds, and we all started freaking out because we were so excited! The driver was a bit confused at why we would be so happy to get a view of mountains.
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Early morning light on Fewa Tal

Our first adventure in Pokhara was going to the World Peace Pagoda. It’s at the top of a hill on the other side of Fewa Tal. Most people hire someone to paddle them over in a boat. A man came up to us and said that he had a restaurant across the lake, and if we agreed to eat lunch at his restaurant, he would give us a free ride across. So, we agreed.

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Half pedal boat, half party boat!

At the other side, we started the climb up. It was pretty steep, but we got some nice views along the way. One hour later, we arrived at the top.

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So our first glimpse of the Peace Pagoda was quite an ugly one. First we were thinking that they cut down the trees for a better view, but then at the top we saw a sign saying that a landslide occurred in August last year, and the Peace pagoda is now in danger. The monsoons come in June, and one more landslide could make the soil under the Pagoda fall away. They were asking for donations to help build supports for the Stupa (local name for temple). Another interesting thing is that at the end of our time in Nepal, we were in Boudhanath at a very big stupa, and even there they were raising money for Pokhara's Peace Pagoda! We are worried about the effect of the recent earthquake on the Peace pagoda... because Pokhara was hit.
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This is the stupa. You always walk around them clockwise, and we saw a few Buddhist monks when we were there.
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This was our view of Pokhara from the top.

There are a handful of little restaurants at the Peace Pagoda, but we had agreed to eat at the one near the bottom, so we headed back down. At one point, Jake and I were ahead of my mom, and we accidentally took a wrong turn. Then, we decided to wait for her, and we got a bit worried when she hadn’t caught up 15 minutes later. So we went back to find her, only to see that we had made a wrong turn! We ran back down to the restaurant, and she was there waiting for us. We ordered a very yummy lunch there. Then, we took a boat back to Lakeside.

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This one wasn't as nice as the boat we took going the other direction.

The next thing we did in Pokhara was go to the International Mountain Museum. We didn’t have much time there because it was close to closing time, but there were some good exhibits there. One of them compared the mountain people of the Himalaya and the Alps. There were pictures showing that their lifestyles are quite similar, including their houses, the way they carry things and the way they herd animals. It was a very neat comparison! Another exhibit showed the evolution of climbing gear, and displayed the gear that Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay used to summit Everest in 1953. It looked very heavy. But then the museum closed, so we found some things to do outside.

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We rode a yak!
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They even had a mini mountain we could try and climb!

When we got back to Lakeside, my dad was back! We spent a few more days in Pokhara finding a guide for trekking and getting organized. We always ate at restaurants, because the accommodation didn’t have cooking facilities. The restaurants always had the traditional Nepali food, some western food, and a page with Indian curries. That was where we normally ordered from, the curries. Our favourite restaurants were the Tea Time Bamboostan restaurant and OR2K, and our favourite cafe was Perky Beans.

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This is OR2K. It's a totally vegetarian mid-eastern restaurant. We ate at the one in Kathmandu, loved it so much, and went back to the one in Pokhara. The food is amazing, and there is a really cool ambience. Everyone sits on cushions and eats at low tables. They play cool music, and there is neat artwork on the walls. It has a very "namaste-ish" kind of feel!
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Jake and I loved Perky Beans, because they had HUGE milkshakes!

Cows are very sacred in Hindu and Buddhist culture, so Nepalis always respect cows. If cows are on the road, drivers will always drive around them very carefully, so cows have learned that the streets are a safe place for them. They don’t care a single bit about the cars around them.

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So who owns these cows? Why do they live in big cities? Why do they sleep on the road? We asked a few people these questions, but we still don’t understand.
We headed out on our trek with Prakash, then 10 days later we came back to Pokhara. This time, we stayed at Hotel Khukuri, cheaper than Hotel Fewa because it wasn’t on the lake. It was run by a very nice family.
By far, the very best thing we did in Pokhara was paragliding. Pokhara is one of the best places in the world for paragliding, and it looked absolutely amazing. We first watched it from the Peace Pagoda. Every day, we kept watching the paragliders, and finally, we decided that we just had to do it. Jake and I received money from our uncle Craig before the trip, and we used it to for paragliding.
First, we went to Open Sky paragliding to sign some forms, blah blah blah.

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Then, we did the 30 minute drive from Pokhara to Sarangkot. The pilots were from all over the world: Turkey, Brazil, Romania, Russia, just to name a few. Jake’s pilot, Richard from Brazil, was telling us about different paragliding races there are in the world. In one of them, you trek/paraglide from Austria to Monaco over 20 days! He has even won an international competition in Argentina!
The drive to Sarangkot was very dusty and windy, and Jake was starting to feel pretty carsick. Finally, we arrived there, and by now we were practically fainting with excitement! Sarangkot is at the top of a hill overlooking Fewa Tal, and it’s where all the paragliders take off. Our pilots set up the equipment, and then we waited our turn to launch. Everyone had to wait for an updraft.

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My mom went first...

Then Jake took off…

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I was next. First, they lay the "wing" out on the field. When they feel an updraft wind, they say "run!". But by the time my pilot, Ziya, told me to run, I was already floating! We didn't have to run at all and the wind already carried us off.

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The first second was the best one, the one when you realize that you are flying for the first time without any motor.

My dad took off last so that he could take pictures of all of our takeoffs. Some of these pictures are taken by him, and some are taken by our pilot’s GoPro cameras.

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That's me!

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To watch a YouTube video of me flying, click here.

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Jake flying over Fewa Tal

And to watch a video of Jake flying, click here.

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We were so high above the ground! It was a warm day, and hot air rises, so it was a great day for flying. The only thing that could have been better was the view – it was quite clear, but the mountains were mostly hidden behind clouds. Still, it was such an amazing experience.

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My dad and I were circling around each other and when he caught an updraught he took this photo of me.

One hour later, it was time to land in the field (full of cows) beside Fewa Tal. Jake started feeling sick at the very end, and he threw up in a cup. But, he says that it didn’t ruin his experience at all, and he’s glad that it was only the last 3 minutes of the flight.
The landings were very smooth. Mine was a little less smooth, but still pretty good.

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The landing field
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The pilots quickly packed up their wings/chutes to get ready for their next flight. See the cows in the background.

Of all the adventure stuff we’ve done on this trip (ziplines, rafting, canyoning, caving, ect.), paragliding beats everything by far. It was just indescribable. If you are considering it but think that it’s too expensive, do it! It’s worth it! Thanks, uncle!

Our favourite Nepali snack was momos. Jake described them in his post about Kathmandu, but in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll describe them again. They are little dumplings, filled with either vegetable, chicken, or “buff” (buffalo meat, Nepalis don’t eat cow beef). They’re always served on a plate in groups of 10. They’re delicious!
We were actually quite obsessed with momos, and asked the family who ran our hotel if there are any places in town where we could learn how to make them. They told us that we could go to their friends, at the neighbouring little restaurant to learn.
The kitchen at the All in one Cafe was pretty tiny, but we all squished in. They had already made the momo dough, but they told us that it’s basically flour and water.

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They are very efficient in their tiny kitchen.
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First, you chop the vegetables very finely.
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Then, you make a mix of different vegetables and spices.
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Next, you wrap the mixture in the dough. This part was harder than it looked! The Nepalis make momos look so beautiful, I couldn't make them as nice as they could, but I tried my best. Finally, you steam the momos for 5-7 minutes. Then they're ready to eat!

Making momos is something I’m going to practice we get home. I hope to experiment too… how about fruit momos? Chocolate momos? It’s worth a try!
Nepal is notorious for selling very cool, funky clothes. They weren’t exactly Jake’s style, but the rest of us went a bit crazy.

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There are a lot of embroidered shirts. Some of them have neat Nepali designs, some say namaste, some have mountains or say "Nepal" or "Pokhara". My dad and I really liked these shirts, and we each got one.

First I went and chose my shirt. I loved the Namaste expression, and the man at the shop said that he could sew that on the back for me.

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First, he traced it with chalk, then he "freehanded" sewed it on with his sewing machine!

Here’s the full outfit:

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The design on the front is very special, and really represents Nepal for me. Firstly, the Lotus flower and and the wheel are Buddhist symbols. The little yellow characters are called "Om", and they are a Hindu symbol. Om is the sound you make while meditate. Finally, Namaste is a very common expression in Nepal. It literally means "I admire the divine in you", but it can be used as hello, thank you, or anything positive. This shirt really represents Nepal for me!

My dad also got a shirt like that:

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That is the Lotus flower and the Buddha Eyes.

Here are the rest of the shirts that my dad bought:

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For every shirt that comes home, one will disappear from my small wardrobe. These shirts are great souvenirs for me, because every time I put them on, I am reminded of the country they come from. When people ask me about my shirts, I will have many stories to tell them. I have many shirts from Africa, and I wear them all the time. -Cameron Douglas, PhD in Shirt Studies.

Nepalis wear beautiful and colourful clothing. To give you an example, we saw a wedding ceremony with both bride and groom dressed extravagantly.

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My mom loved the clothes that the women wear, so one day we went on a little trip to downtown Pokhara to see what we could find. We took a very crowded city bus to a neighbourhood called Mahandra Pul. My mom walked into a tailor and found some colours she loved. They measured her, then they told us to come back in a few days when the outfit would be ready. When she did come back, it didn’t fit, but when we went back a third time… Tadah!

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I loved seeing the local women wearing sequined, colour-coordinated outfits while doing their daily chores. -Yvonne Leicht, model of the clothes

Some more clothes we got:
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Nepal is famous for its meditation and yoga. Peace, serenity, happiness and clarity are the core of Buddhism. We heard that a place offered free meditation in Pokhara, so we decided to try it. None of us knew what to expect.
We went into the meditation room. The instructor came in, but she thought that everyone knew exactly what meditation was, and explained nothing. “Hello, Namaste everyone. We will start with five minutes of silence”. We sat quietly for five minutes. Then, she had us chant “Om, Om, Om, Om…” for the rest of the class, about 30 minutes. We didn’t know how long the class was, and we were worried that we would be chanting “Om” for an hour! My dad struggled not to laugh.
We left the class no further ahead on the question of “what is meditation?”. More on that in an upcoming blog about the Annapurna Eco-village. Here’s a picture of me meditating:

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But one thing I’ve learned to love is the “Om” symbol. It means peace and serenity in Hindi. Here’s what it looks like:

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Our last adventure in Pokhara was a very fun rafting trip. We chose the Upper Seti river, a short but intense two hour trip. The drive to the start took about 40 minutes. Then, we got a short safety briefing. The last time we had been rafting was on the Inka Jungle Trip in Peru.

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In the raft, it was the four of us and our guide, Santos. There were also two safety kayakers.
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It was a very fun ride! As you can see in this picture, I kept slipping!

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At one point, we got out of the raft and jumped off a cliff! The water was very cold.

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Lying down in the raft at the end

That was an exhilarating time!

Pokhara was a great place to spend time in. We met so many nice people there, and we just have to hope that they are okay. We heard that Pokhara wasn’t hit too badly in the earthquake, but we wonder if the Peace Pagoda is still standing. We hope that Pokhara and the area will recover quickly. Be brave, Nepal. Namaste.
Kaia

We’re fine … and so sorry about Nepal

In case you hadn’t seen our update two entries back, we are now in Germany.  We left the Kathmandu valley 6 days ago.  The earthquake is so tragic – reminds us of Haiti, insofar as its emergency response capability is very limited at the best of times, and now much of it is damaged or destroyed.  Most Nepalis live day to day, so the days ahead are difficult to imagine.  We are also really sorry about the temples that were destroyed.  We visited some of them last week and they are unique and majestic.
Stay strong, Nepal.   Nameste.
Cam, Yvonne, Kaia & Jake

Himalayan trek: Poon Hill

For anybody who is planning a trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal, we would like to highly recommend to you our guide Prakash Dhungana. He is based out of Pokhara. He is very easy going and friendly, and he knows so much about the area. If you’d like to contact him, his email is prakashdpd@gmail.com, and his mobile number is 0977-9846029552.

Nepal is very famous for its mountains. In the world, there are 14 peaks over 8000m above sea level, all are in the Himalaya, and 8 of them are in Nepal. The highest peak outside of the Himalaya is Aconcagua of Argentina and Chile, 6962m. The most famous mountain in Nepal is shared with Tibet, 8848m tall, first summited in 1953 by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary… Mt. Everest! Nepal is a dream destination for anyone who likes looking at, walking among or climbing the mountains.
Our number one reason for visiting Nepal was to go trekking. Nepal is an amazing hiking place because of the diversity. In some places, you can hike in a dense jungle, then walk over a 5400m pass, then visit a Buddhist temple, all in one day! The most popular trek is the Annapurna circuit. It circumnavigates the Annapurna range, just northwest of Pokhara. It takes about 20 days. The next most popular trek is the Everest base camp trek (EBC). It takes about two weeks. It starts at a place called Lukla, northeast of Kathmandu. Most trekkers fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, because it takes a long time by bus (the distance isn’t big, but the roads are bad). But we chose the Poon Hill – ABC (Annapurnna Base Camp) loop. It is a “teahouse” trek, meaning that you eat and sleep in basic guesthouses and you don’t have to pack a tent or food. Since we would already be in Pokhara to do the “Solar Sisters” solar panel install, it would be very convenient because the starting point, Nayapul, is only two hours away by bus. From Nayapul, we would trek northwest for two days and arrive in Ghorepani. Then, the next morning, we would do a side trek to Poon Hill (3200m) for sunrise and get a fantastic view of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges. From there, we would turn east and trek two days to Chhomrong. Then, for a few days, we would follow the Modi Khola river north all the way to ABC (4130m), where we would be surrounded by mountains. Finally, we would retrace our steps to Chhomrong and continue south all the way to Khare. This would take us about 10 days. As for the blog, we will divide the trek into three parts: approach to Poon Hill (me), approach to ABC (my mom) and descent from ABC (Jake).

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Our route is in red, and the places where we stayed are in green.

This trek goes up to 4130m altitude, which is quite significant, and it is not uncommon for people to get acute mountain sickness (AMS) at ABC. AMS is nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and pounding headache – not what you want to get in a remote place. I know this from experience, because last time we went up that high was on the Ausangate trek in Peru, when Jake and I got sick. We were a bit worried about getting sick on this trek, but one of the reasons we chose Poon Hill – ABC was because there were many quick exits. If one of us got injured or sick, there were places where we could make a shortcut to the highway. We had AMS pills, and, just in case, our travel/health insurance covered emergency helicopter evacuation.
One thing you need to think about before trekking in Nepal is hiring a guide or a porter. The trails can be steep and difficult, so many people hire a porter to carry their things. We decided to pack light and skip the porter, and turns out, that worked out just fine. But we hired a guide, Prakash Dhungana. You can’t really get lost on this trek, but having a guide can really enrich your experience by teaching you about what you’re seeing. And guides know how far/difficult it is to the next guest house in terms of planning lunch or the night stop. We learned so much from Prakash, we were very glad that we hired him!
So… we had bought our equipment in Kathmandu, we got our required trekking permits in Pokhara, we found a guide… we were finally ready to trek. We started with a two hour bus ride from Pokhara to Nayapul. The distance between the two is only 34km, but the road is so bad and the bus is so old, so it takes two hours! Most trekkers take a private jeep because it’s much faster, but we took the local bus. We were sitting at the very back, so on some of the biggest bumps I think I caught air! It was absolutely jammed with people, and getting on and off with our packs wasn’t easy. It also rained the entire time. But it was an experience!

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On the bus

We got off at Nayapul and did our final preparations. Then, we headed off in the rain.

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First, we walked through a village
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I loved this bridge! Those are Tibetan/Buddhist prayer flags, very common in Nepal.
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From then on, we were in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). It's the oldest and largest conservation area in Nepal. It is well managed, and there are many rules that locals and trekkers must follow. For example: no heating water with firewood, because deforestation is a big problem.
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The first few hours were on a rough road. It continued raining, so we had no view.
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We stopped for some lunch at a little guesthouse.

The food on the trek was something that surprised all of us, and I’ll explain why now. Everything in ACAP is controlled, and so is the menu. It’s pretty much the same everywhere, but the price varies from village to village, getting more expensive the further and higher you go. Unlike the rest of Nepal, it’s “fixed price”, meaning “no bargaining”.  It’s a good system, because it prevents neighbours from competing for the lowest price. Instead, it encourages the guesthouse owners to make good quality food, because the guides will always bring their clients to the best kitchens.
But the thing that surprised us the most was what was on the menu. Breakfast: pancakes, toast, french toast, muesli, porridge, “gurung” bread (Tibetan fried bread). Our favourites were gurung bread and muesli. Lunch and dinner: Dal Bhat (classic Nepali food. “dal” means lentil soup and “bhat” means rice. It usually also comes with some curry or veggies, and to eat it you mix it all together. The guides and porters always have it because they get a discount on it. It is high in protein and vegetarian, and it gives so much energy to keep walking), spaghetti/macaroni, roasty (very delicious potato pancake, felt like comfort food even though I had never had it before), various soups, momos (yummy Nepali dumplings), and even pizza! Imagine going to ABC, very remote, and ordering a pizza! Most of these meals came with the toppings of either egg, veg or cheese. Most Nepalis are vegetarian, so most of the meals were too. Sometimes, they could mix in a little bit of tuna or chicken, although that was much more expensive. Here’s why:

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Live chickens. Fresh meat. We tried to be as vegetarian as we could!
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And they aren't always carried by donkeys. A woman was carrying this on her back!

Our favourite meals were dal bhat and rosties. We loved them so much that we want to make them at home. We were very surprised and impressed by the food on this trek. But Prakash said that on the other treks, it isn’t the same. The menu is similar, but the taste is not.

So, after lunch, we continued on in the rain. We walked for a few more hours before stopping for the night in Tikhedunga village at the Indra Guesthouse. Now I’ll explain what the accommodation was like during the trek. Most rooms had two beds, so we needed two rooms. Sometimes, we got a family room for four, and once we shared in a 6 person dorm room. But at most guesthouses, the walls were so thin that you could hear the conversations 5 rooms over. So I guess you would call that half dorm, half private room! The mattresses were usually pretty hard. The sleeping bags were necessary, because we didn’t know how clean the sheets were. I don’t know if anything would ever dry in that cold wet weather! The guesthouses usually provided blankets if we asked for them. They were quite warm, but heavy! I felt so bad for the porters who carried them up!
There was always a shared toilet. Usually, it was an Asian style “squat” toilet, and if you’re lucky there was a western style “sit” toilet. Bring your own toilet paper. Most guesthouses had solar hot water as well as a propane tank, and charged about 100 rupees/$1 for a hot shower. They used to use firewood to heat the water, but deforestation was becoming a big problem, so ACAP banned it.

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All of the guesthouses were self sufficient in electricity and hot water using solar technology.

All of the guesthouses had connected dining rooms (or sometimes “dinning” rooms) where everyone hung out and ate in the afternoons and evenings. We played lots of card games: euchre, hearts, and we taught Prakash our favourite game onze. He kept winning! We also learned a Nepali card game, I forget the name. We all had our books to read, so we were never bored. The accommodation was nicer than we had expected.
Alright, so now you understand the food and accommodation of the Poon Hill – ABC trek. It’s time I start talking about day two.
Day one had been so rainy, so we were excited to wake up to a blue sunny sky. We saw the view across the valley for the first time because of the clouds on the previous day. But, as Prakash warned us, day two was of the most challenging of all. We checked the map, and here’s what the morning looked like: the trail crosses a river, then crosses a lot of contour lines in a short distance! Sure enough, we crossed a river, then we saw this sign:
Tikhedunga to Ulleri
3500 steps
Ok. Inhale. Exhale. We started up.

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The trail was in a very good condition, and there were a lot of trekkers, porters, and donkey trains!
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Here's what a porter's load looks like. Most of them use a tumpline around their forehead instead of a backpack. They must have such strong necks!

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This man was carrying stones downhill, probably to build a house.
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You really don't want to get stuck behind a donkey train!
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Across the valley
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At one point, the clouds shifted, and we got this view! It is Annapurna South, 7219m.
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This was painted on a post.

Two hours and 800 vertical meters later, we stopped for lunch in the beautiful village of Banthanthi. The dal bhat was so good. But my dad was having stomach problems that day, and he had eaten nothing for breakfast and ate nothing until dinner that night. He was hungry, though, and eyed our dal bhat enviously.

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Then, we continued walking toward Ghorepani village.

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It was really a cloud forest! Prakash said that he had seen red pandas before, but in a different season.

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One of the perks of coming to Nepal in April is the rhododendron bloom. It’s the national flower of Nepal, and it’s not hard to see why. I’ve got to say, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And the closer we got to Ghorepani, the redder and pinker the forest became!

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Prakash showed us that eating the petals helps sore throats. The taste was a little bit weird, though!

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It was a beautiful decoration to my mom's pack.
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Finally, after a hard day (we climbed 1300 vertical meters), we arrived in Ghorepani. Ghorepani means "horse water" because horses used to come to the nearby ponds to drink. It is a village built entirely for tourists, because everyone goes up to Poon Hill for sunrise, and that's only 1 hour away from Ghorepani.

Prakash took us to a very nice guesthouse that night, the Hotel Tukuche Peak View. It had a big dining room, and a fireplace! My dad was so hungry and he finally ate. Here is what my and my mom’s room looked liked like:

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We went to bed very early that night, because the next morning was the Poon Hill morning. The plan was to wake up at 4:30AM, and be walking by 4:45 to get to the top before sunrise. We got everything ready in the evening, including filling up water bottles, sleeping with our trekking clothes in our sleeping bag so that they would be warm in the morning, and perfectly placing our boots beside our beds. We didn’t have too much trouble waking up in the morning, and I think we were walking before 5. Headlamps on.

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Here is a steady stream of people walking up to Poon Hill. Apparently, in the October high tourist season, it can get quite aggressive.
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Then, we got our first mountain view of the day! This is Machhapuchhre mountain, 6993m. "Machha" means "fish" and "puchhre" means "tail", so the English name is Fishtail mountain. You can see the fishtail shape from some angles.
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Almost there...

The walk up took one hour. We found a “front row spot” and waited for the sunrise. The sun finally popped out from east of Machhapuchhre mountain. I’ll let the pictures explain… because words just can’t!

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First sun of the day on the Himalaya.
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Poon Hill has an observation tower.

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It took quite a long time for the sun to fully hit the mountains, but when it did, it was fabulous.

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This is Dhaulagiri mountain. At 8167m, it is the 7th highest mountain in the world, and the highest one any one of us has ever seen.
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Some tangled Tibetan prayer flags in the foreground.
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Namaste
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We took a lot of pictures.
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Douglas family + Prakash + Dhaulagiri

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Machhapuchhre again

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Prakash gave us a detailed explanation of all the peaks we could see from Poon Hill, and their height.
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These mountains look so small in the distance ... its hard to believe these peaks rise 4km from where we see their bases.

I don’t think that we would have ever left if Prakash hadn’t told us that in the next village, Tadapani, there aren’t many guesthouses, so to make sure we got a room, we had to press on. We found another picture spot part way down, where we could get the rhododendron AND Dhaulagiri mountain in the same shot!

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At the bottom, we went back to our guesthouse for a late breakfast that we had ordered the previous night. Poon Hill was absolutely divinely phenomenally jaw-droppingly beautiful. No wonder it is so popular! Some people turn around at Poon Hill and go back to Nayapul, so for the rest of the trek there would be fewer people. The adventure continues…
Kaia
PS- I was almost finished writing this post when WordPress app decided to throw it all in the garbage for no reason. Twice in a row this has happenned. I am very frustrated and will never use that app again. It has wasted so much hard work. Ugh! I hope take two was almost as good!
PPS – On our way out of Ghorepani, we saw a two-day-old horse! It really is horse water!

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