Seeing the forest from the trees

Europe ~ Germany ~ Cologne, Bonn & Freiburg

Germany is a really green country. I don’t know if that surprises you, but it sure surprised me. Of all the images I had concocted of Germany, green forests and luscious fields wasn’t one of them. We were happy with our flight over here from France – on Thai Airways when you finish a flight, they pin an orchid (their symbol) onto your shirt. German Wings gives you a bottle of neon orange Schwarzkopf hair dye. Woohoo!

We’ve been enjoying ourselves the German way, spending a lot of our time and precious money hanging around beer gardens. So many varieties of beer to sample – only so much time to do it in! My friend Andy took us out for a night on the town, German style. When he told us he was taking us to a ‘rock club’, I never expected that the German word for rock translates roughly into the Australian word for heavy metal!!! Inside we found guys with long hair head-banging along to Rammstein and the like. A completely different experience – very different from Brass Monkey back home!!! Typically, we ended up stranded before the night was out, but eventually caught the 4.30am train home…

Tash and I decided to take a weekend off – from world travel – to Black Forrest travel. We headed out towards the Black Forrest via the train system, leaving our big packs at the hostel in Cologne, along with our common sense and our Lonely Planet. After missing trains and getting off at the wrong stops, we ended up in a little town on the edge of the Black Forrest 8 hours later. We spent 2 and a half hours wandering around the tiny town of Baden-Baden, attempting to find a hostel. Eventually I gave up and wandered into a fancy hostel and asked if they knew of a hostel in the area. The guy behind the desk wrinkled his nose in disgust at my traveling cloths and informed me that there were no hostels, and furthermore (if we even had the money) every hotel in town was booked. There was some kind of festival for the rich and well-to-do folks on. Ahh, that would explain all the Mercedes and BMWs whizzing past us. We gave up and headed to a bigger town and fell into the last two beds available late at night. We spent the next day exploring Freiburg, a town in the middle of the Black Forrest. Didn’t find any trees, but did have some lovely Black Forrest Ice-cream. Still traveling first and foremost for food!

Tash and I, on our train trip

Tash and I, on our train trip

Cologne has been heaps of fun to explore, it has a HUGE Dom (cathedral) that overlooks you right as you come out of the station. It really looks like some-one has painted over the landscape and just plonked the Dom right there. Impossible to get a good photo – you just can’t fit the damn thing in one picture. We’ve also gone and explored the chocolate factory (YUM!!!) and the eau de Cologne store. Bonn (where Andy lives) is an interesting town too. It boasts that it is the birthplace of Beethoven, and has every single thought-of Beethoven attraction dotted about the town. Now we’re busy planning our next travels – watch out, people of Amsterdam!
xo me

Being famous in Xi’an

Asia ~ China ~ Xi’an

Well well well, hasnt been long since my last blog, but so much has been happening that I thought I should write it all down… We managed to catch our 14 hour train trip from Beijing to Xi’an, home of the Terricotta Army. Train trip was good, we were in a cabin with an older Chinese couple who went to bed as soon as we got onto the train (about the same time that Tash went to bed!). I stayed awake for a bit longer, chatting to a Mongolian guy who was travelling to Xi’an to go for a job interview. He had some really interesting views on life. At one stage, while waiting to go to the toilet another woman starting chatting to me, telling me all the good places to go to in Xi’an. Many many other people were happy to talk to me on the train, unfortunatley they didn’t speak English. However, when trying to communicate this, they obviously didn’t care and continued to chatter away to me in Mandarin!!!

On arriving in Xi’an, a group from the hostel that we’re staying at met us at the station. With them was another woman from our train who was to stay at the same hostel, turns out she was at the same hostel in Beijing with us! We all hopped on the local bus with our HUGE backpacks on, quite an effort, and ended up at the Bell Tower Hostel. Ended up sharing a room with Tracey, the girl from the train, really nice girl from Wales. Getting ready to go out for the day, we stepped out onto the street to find some food. Straight away a guy jumped in front of me and started snapping photos of me (no doubt because of my hair!), the first photo he took must have looked a treat, me completely shocked, with little sleep from the night before and just in general absolutley buggered!

We spent the day with Tracey, going to the Terracotta Army, an amazing place! About 30 years ago, a farmer who was digging a well found some statues buried in the ground. Come feel it was the greatest archeoligical find of the 20th century. 3 Large pits of terricotta statues have been uncovered, it is thought that there could be more, not yet discovered. The biggest pit is thought to contain over 6000 peices, including soldiers, horses, carts and weapons. They are believed to have been built over 2000 years ago, although there is some dispute over that. Really interesting site though.

That night we went out to a bar with Tracey. Turns out that whilst on the train, she met a group of guys and gals from Xi’an, who treated her as their guest all night, taking her to dinner and wining and dining her. One of the guys, Stanley, owns a bar in Xi’an, and he invited us out, so out we went! Upon arrival he started pouring our drinks, and didnt stop! The bar was awesome, made from old railway carriages, really interesting paintings and murials on the walls (he’s an artist as well, it turns out). After a couple of drinks at his place, he took us to another couple of bars, all the bartenders were shouting us too. Last stop was the Music Man, where we staying to the wee hours. Night was really good, only problem was that only Stanley and another girl, Jojo could speak English, so we were forever translating between them. And then we discovered that one of the other guys had been to Japan for 6 years, so I was able to chatter away to him in Japanese, it was great! We ended up getting back to the hostel at about 3am, late, but well and truly before the other people in our dorm room!!!

This morning we were all buggered (one of the other girls didnt get back until 7am!), so we slept in. At about 10.30, one of the girls that works at the hostel came barging in, saying “Bobbi, I have a surprise for you!”. Bit of a shock, we all sat up in bed, as I was given the morning newspaper with my photo in it! Turns out that the crappy photo that the guy took the other day when we had just arrived was in the paper! We spent today touring the markets and every second stall had the newspaper, so I had people shoving it in my face and pointing to it all day!! Who knew, I don’t have to earn millions to become famous, I just have to have purple put through my hair!!!


Me with my purple hair, scary!!!

Me with my purple hair, scary!!!

Running wild in Agra

Asia ~ India ~ Agra & Varanasi

Hey guys, how is everyone? We’re starting to get ready for Beijing (gunna be cold there, brrr). But before we go, wanted to do a quick update… In the last couple of days we have been to some of the most well known spots in India… First stop was Fatepur Sikri, which is a castle built in the middle of nowhere. The maharaja of the area built it for his 3 wives. It was pretty awesome looking around, we were shown his bedroom, which was all made from stone. In the middle of the room was a very tall (about 3 metres off the ground) very big (he did have 3 wives!) bed. Apparently, it was so far off the ground because in the summer they would flood the castle, and so the water would come up to just below his bed, thus making it cool enough to sleep. The bedroom was next to the kitchen, so that in the winter he was set as well. Other interesting things abot the castle included the games room (which was set up play hide and seek) and the wives’ quarters. Each had their own areas, the biggest one was allocated to the wife that gave him a son…

On the 26th we visited the Taj Mahal in Agra. Truly impressive. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is basically a tomb. When she died giving birth to their fourteenth child, he was so distraught that he ordered it to be built (with the tax-payers money!). It took 20,000 workers 22 years to finish. The main building was built by digging huge wells and putting wooden supports into them. The building then sits on all these supports, not on the ground. This way, in case of an earthquake, the building wont fall. The whole area is perfectly symetrical, one the left side there is a mosque – on the right side there is an identicle one that cant be used as it is facing the wrong direction, it was built purely to keep everything else in line. All the decorations on the buildings aren’t painted on, they are semi precious and precious stones that have been carved into the marble.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

While we were taking photos we were approached time and time again by people who wanted to take my photo, its beginning to become a standard thing because of my hair. Finally we had to leave because people were starting to form queues to take photos of my hair. Oops!

The day we visited the Taj Mahal was Holi, the festival that I talked about earlier (where everyone celebrates ‘colour’). Everywhere we looked there were people running about in shirts stained with pink, blue and green! Krish kept us under careful guard so that we didnt get caught up in the festivities! For days afterwards we kept seeing straight faced guys going to work in their business suits, with pink and blue ears and necks!

Saying bye to Krish

Saying bye to Krish

After Agra we caught a 12 hour train to Varansi. Train wasnt too bad, we had our packs on our beds with us though, so there was absolutley no room. Even still, we managed a bit of sleep. In Varansi we saw all of the usual sights, all of the temples and forts. We also went on a river boat, on the river Ganges, totally amazing. We passed all the famous ghats (stairs next to the river). One of the more interesting ones was the cremation ghat, where we saw a couple of cremations taking place. Right in front of everyone they had the fires going, you could see everything. Its just a way of life over here I guess. Anyway, we’re back in Delhi now, roughed the train again, this time we went without air conditioning, we decided we could handle it. Got on the train to find out that our entire area berth was full of foreigners, we had a European couple with us and a couple from New Zealand. Very interesting… That was yesterday, got into our hotel and crashed, didnt wake up tilll 2pm this afternoon, very exhausted!!!

Train to Varanasi

Train to Varanasi

Signing off for now… xo

Phi Phi Islands

Asia ~ Thailand ~ Phi Phi Island

Well well well, another day another adventure. Tash and I are just about to leave Phi Phi Island, its been like a dream. After spending two nights on trains we ended up in Phuket (Southern Thailand). The trains weren’t tooo bad, the first one was a sleeper train, we had beds and everything. The second one, however, didn’t have any sleepers left (we didn’t book early enough), so we ended up on seats for a 13 hour train trip. Ugh. Oh yeh, while we were in Bangkok, on our way down here, I had my hair plaited. Blonde and Purple, almost down to my waist. Very different, have got quite a few comments.

Anyway… Phuket was different, we spent the time on Karon Beach, there was no evidence of the Tsunami there. People were really nice, but obviously hurting, it was so quiet, no tourists anywhere. Meanwhile, we managed to find a mexican resturant that sold jugs of mararitas for about $4. mmm. Tash and I have got quite accustomed to the local drinks, the beer (Singha is the best) and the cocktails (mmm Mai Tai is awesome). But dont drink the whiskey….

We also went and visited Katong beach, the destruction there was obvious. All the resturants along the main beach had been wiped out, but were well on the way to being re-built. Construction was happening all around and people were really happy to see tourists starting to visit again. When we were there, they were having a bit of a celebration, to get the tourists through, so we sat on the beach for a while, having dinner and drinks.

The next day we set off for the Phi Phi Islands. Ferry across was uneventful, after watching a horror movie on giant squid we kept our eyes open though… Arrival at Phi Phi Don (the larger of the islands) was, well, theres no way to describe it. The tsunami had really hit here. The main beach, which used to be a collection of beautiful beach huts, stores, resturants and bars was just sand, dirt and corrugated iron. Some of the stores were being propped up by who knows what, others were tumbling into the sea. On our way through town to our hotel, we could see that basically everything had been wiped away. Surprisingly, here and there were places that apeared not to have been touched at all. Scary.

Eventually we made it to our resort, which only survived because it is on a hill, the waters didn’t reach it. It used to have a bridge crossing the canal in front of it, but that was washed away. In its place stands three planks that we had to wobble across (with our huge, heavy packs!!!) to get to the resort. Tsunami aside, the island is absolutley beautiful. The beaches are white sand, the water is the prettiest blue you’ve ever seen. We spent four days on Phi Phi Don, with a visit to Phi Phi Lei. Phi Phi Lei is where the movie “The Beach’ was shot. We visited Maya Bay and did some snorkelling, there were fish everywhere. They all loved trying to nibble on my hair – i guess the purple and blonde is a *BIT* strange… Back on Phi Phi Island we went to a beach party on of the nights, where songs were sung and people were auctioned off for charity… All proceeds were going to helping the people re-build, so everyone was quite happy to drink up! We also had fire twirling, which was quite awesome. Met quite a few foreigners from around the world. I must admit though, Australians are definetly the loudest drinkers, that and the Irish, Tash and I pretended we werent aussie… Theres only so many times you can hear ‘Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie Oy Oy Oy’ in one night. There are about 100, maybe 150 people staying on the Island as far as I could see, an Island that used to have thousands visiting it, if anyone wants to take a holiday, I suggest Phi Phi, they definetly need the tourists, and its a beautiful place.

If you guys could see where I’m sitting to type ths email, its like paradise. I’m sitting on one of the decks at the resort, overlooking the bay, palm trees swinging in the breeze… Mmmm… Hope you’re all having a great time at home, next time I write, I’ll be in India, can’t wait, Indian food yum.

xoxo Bobs

ps Met some guys from England yesterday, they’re leaving for home today, its -4 Celcius over there right now, ugh! By the time we get there, it had better be warmer!!!