Schonnbrunn Palace, Austria

Now, I debated on whether or not to write about this palace… you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside.  So is it worth it to write about it?  Or just skip this and move onto the next thing?  But ultimately, I really enjoyed it- and wanted to share it. Continue reading “Schonnbrunn Palace, Austria”

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Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Since the moment I saw a picture of Plitvice for the first time, it had sat on the top of my place to go wishlist. I had a brief pinterest account which had exactly one board ‘travel wishlist’ with exactly one pinned photo ‘Plitvice National Park.’ My first trip to Croatia I was seriously running low on funds while there and couldn’t make it out to Plitvice. So, when my cousins and I were putting together an itinerary for our trip, my first and pretty much only ‘must visit’ was to go see some lakes and waterfalls. Continue reading “Plitvice National Park, Croatia”

Monkey Park, Japan

I spent three days in Kyoto while I was in Japan.  On one of those days I headed out to the Arashiyama District, which is on the northwest corner of the city.  There are many temples and shrines in this area.  There is also a monkey park, and a bamboo grove.

Now, I took the long way out to Arashiyama, and did a lot of sightseeing on the way.  I also chose the hottest day of my entire trip.  It was just about 40 degrees, with 95% humidity.  (104F)  So after a pretty full morning of walking around, I was pretty exhausted.  And found myself by a beautiful river, that really made it seem we were leaving the city.

 

 

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Now, the trick here was that if you turn right, you can go to the monkeys, and if you turn left- bamboo here you come.  I was about dead enough that I really considered just getting back on the bus.  Seriously.  I’m a winter kid.  This heat and humidity combination wasn’t fun AT ALL.  But I decided not to go back.  “You only have three days in Kyoto!”  I told myself.  “You definitely won’t be coming all the way out here tomorrow, so make the most of it!”  I convinced myself.

I decided to go to the monkey park, because I had already been to a bamboo forest in Korea, and bamboo’s really cool… but after the first 1,000 sticks of identical looking bamboo… it kind of loses it’s charm.  Also, because monkeys.

I got to the gate of the monkey park at 4:55.  I didn’t realize the park closed at 5:30.  Last entrance was 5pm, so I had just made it.  The ticket person took the money, gave me the ticket, and explained that it was about a 25 minute walk to the actual monkeys.

What.

How can you sell me the ticket, and then tell me it’s a 25 minute hike up a mountain?  How am I supposed to get up and back down in 35 minutes?!  I gave it the old college try.  Because it was so close to closing, there were almost no people on the trail, which was actually really peaceful.  Were it not for the horrific weather, it would have been really pleasant.  I walked and walked, and got to the point where I was expecting to see monkeys just around the next bend in the trail or so.  And then in the distance, I saw a big sign with a map of the trail.

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Please note the ‘present location’ dot is as far away as you can get from the monkeys on this giant sign.  Definitely not what you want to see when you’re seriously considering just turning around.  Because really… how much do you like monkeys?  And why didn’t you take the nice lady’s suggestion and buy a bottle of water before heading up?

Onward!  (It’s a good idea to put the baby monkey picture next to the ‘stick it out!’ uplifting quote.  We’ll skip through this next part.  Just- walk walk grumble grumble walk walk.

And then finally- monkeys!

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These baby monkeys were having a lot of fun fighting with each other.  And responsible adult monkey (I assume mom) looked on with almost complete indifference, it seemed.

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This one just chilled on the roof.  Watched everyone.  I read a book by Dean Koontz when I was quite young.  Perhaps too young to read such a book… but it involved genetically altered Rhesus monkeys attacking a town.  And I know one thing has nothing to do with the other, but this monkey just watching everything started to freak me out.

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The little guy on the other hand was pretty funny.  He (she??) was leaning over the edge of the pond, trying to get a drink and accidentally fell in.  Let me tell you he was NOT happy.

So, I felt a little disappointed in the monkeys.  They were interesting, but after climbing all the way up there, I don’t know… maybe I just thought I liked monkeys more than I actually do, because yeah, turns out- not such a big fan.  Pretty awesome view of Kyoto though:

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Final verdict:  probably worth going to, but go earlier.  Right before closing time was not ideal.  Perhaps don’t go on the hottest day of your life.  And for the love of God, bring water.

 

 

 

Soviet Amusement Park, Lithuania

In Kaunas, Lithuania, there is a too much overlooked semi abandoned Soviet amusement park.  Tucked away up a hill, behind a park; it was kind of difficult to find.  Definitely not something you would just stumble on.  When I heard about it, I knew that is was something I would want to check out.  These are the things that I like to see, and the things that make me pretty sure I would be unhappy sipping a fruity drink with an umbrella at an all inclusive resort.  Well.  Maybe unhappy is a strong word… unsatisfied?  If I looked back and that’s all my trip was.  But fruity drinks at a resort sounds pretty sweet right now…  Looking forward to the end of winter…

ANYWAY.

Amusement park.  Now, I’m not sure if it was designed this way specifically, or if it was just  happy accident for the Soviets, but in order to get to the amusement park, you had to walk up about a million stairs.

lith7There were even more stairs than that.  But you get the idea.  Once I got to the top of the stairs, completely winded, I was met with what would have been a little kid’s dream at some other time.  Some of the rides were quite obviously no longer in working condition.

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But some of them were still operating.  There was a woman still working this ride.  She looked pretty lonely. I wanted to go and ride the giraffe, just to give her something to do… but perhaps that would have been weird.

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I also really liked this little car ride.  The cars were so basic, but I knew that little kids would love it!  I liked the little car, but I think most of the kids would probably like the motorcycle the best.

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Now, the one ride that I thought was the coolest was the non-Ferris wheel.  The wheel?  What do you call these contraptions if it was not designed by Ferris?

lith1Or, would it be called a Ferris wheel anyway?  I’m unsure how what entails that classification.  But I really liked this wheel… it was cute, and not too tall.  As a child afraid of heights, I may not have even freaked out if taken on this one.

There was also a very odd “fun house”… It boasted curvy mirrors to make you look weird, and a table and chairs, possibly for arts and crafts or some kind of game.  This was clearly still open to kids, but there was no one there.

lith2All in all, it was really fun for me.  The park also had a big pool, and an infinity walking path, where you could walk along the never ending figure 8 for as long as you wanted.  It was kind of surreal to be in a place that represented so much fun, but for it to be just overgrown, and completely silent and empty.

Herastrau Park, Romania

Bucharest is a big city.  Over a million and a half people, lots of cars, people, buildings, roads… and some really nice parks.  Easily my favorite was Herestrau Park.  The park is huge, wrapped around the largest lake in the city.  It was just such a nice calm oasis in the middle of the city. 

At the entrance to the park, you suddenly find yourself asking, wait… where am I? 

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But, in fact, we are still in Bucharest.  The replica Arc de Triomphe, complete with insane looking traffic circle, stands just outside the park.  It is a showcase of the French influence in Romanian architecture and life in general.  So much around Bucharest was designed in the French baroque style, but I love that there was an arc de triomphe as well. 

Just inside the park, was a skate park.  Skate park’s are usually one of my favorite places to visit.  This one was not very busy, and the people that were there were mostly kids on razor scooters.  Pretty fancy what the can do on a razor scooter though.  Kids these days….

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I did really like some of the street art around the skate park.  Especially on this big crane. (I don’t know why there was a crane there)

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The park is huge and split up into a ton of different areas.  The first one that I came to, was the swan pond. 

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Not only were there several beautiful swans, and lots of really cool looking ducks, there were also…. black swans! (Natalie Portman, eat your heart out)

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In addition to all the lovely swans that were very happy to be swans, there was also this swan standing off to the side… wishing he were a flamingo.

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(P.S.  the swan pond was in fact all fenced in, otherwise you KNOW I would not have gotten so close.  They are big, and though they’re pretty… they don’t seem especially nice.  In fact, most of the time, I just assume they are down right vicious.  And ever since the great seagull fiasco of 2012… I try to be cautious.)

After the swan pond, was the Rose Island.  A whole island devoted to showcasing the beauty of the rose.  My heart leapt!  FLOWER PICTURES!

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Wasn’t exactly what I was picturing when I heard about the rose gardens….  However, never one to let a wilted flower get me down, I soon found some other flowers that were beautiful.

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These flowers were part of a big canopy over the walkway around the edge of the island.  While it was a little to short for me to walk comfortably under it, I liked the jungle feeling it provided.

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From the Rose Island, I just walked around the lake for a bit.  It really is truly exceptional.  So pretty, and so so quiet.  When you’re in the park, you can’t hear any of the sounds from the city.  It’s like the city does’t even exist, and instead of being in Bucharest- you’re here:

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Heading back towards real life, and the big city, I came across the Japanese Garden, which was less spectacular than the Rose Island, so I’ll leave you without any of those details, but I did happen upon on of the many playgrounds spread throughout the park.  It was such a cute little playground, but I didn’t want to be that weirdo that hangs out at playgrounds taking pictures…  so I moved quick! 

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And then just as I was leaving the park I came across one of the more ironic things I saw in my whole time in Bucharest. 

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The designated space for dogs.  The dog park.  Now this is only ironic if you have ever experienced how many stray dogs there are all over the city.  Everywhere you go there are stray dogs wandering around looking for food.  This one even went on our walking tour with us.

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It seriously followed us around for the entire tour.  So I just thought it was funny that stray dogs kind of have the run of the city and the park.  But a dog with a family is relegated to a 20’X20′ fenced in patch of grass. 

So, that was my favorite part of Bucharest, though the old town was nice as well. The park was just the one place that I really fell in love with. 

Lahemaa, Estonia

I have been staying in Tallinn, Estonia for the last few weeks.  While here, I decided to go on the Lahemaa National Park tour.  It was gorgeous.

We started the afternoon by going to the largest waterfall in all of the Baltic countries.  Interestingly, the water was very brown, because of the high amount of limestone in the area.  Ultimately, the waterfall looks like a waterfall of beer, which is appropriate considering how much beer is consumed in Estonia.  This is not, however, the place where they bottle the beer, as one person on the tour actually asked.  Beer is not naturally occurring.  Wouldn’t life be different if it were?

I was also happy to continue to take pictures of trees and flowers.  Two of my favorite things!  Wild geraniums were growing all over the place.  I enjoyed taking pictures of them because while they looked purple in real life, they photographed blue.  That’s always fun.

After the waterfall we went to visit one of the largest manor houses in Estonia.  It was very run down, but it was just awesome.  Interesting fact about Estonian manor houses?  While many large houses around the world are built with wine cellars or some such, manor houses in Estonia are built with vodka distilleries.

This is the main building of the house.  The manor also housed the only grocery store in the town.  The building was for sale, for the low low price of just one million euros.  Everyone in the tour group pooled their money together but we were still roughly a million euros short.  Sad. We could have had, not only a great house, but also control of all the food for an entire town.  Whoa.   Also, as part of the cost of buying the house, you have to renovate it.  So that would probably need another four or five million.  But you even get a vodka distillery!

The distillery wasn’t in very good condition.

From the manor we continued on to the swamp.  Now, normally, swamp is not a word that gets me really excited to go visit a place.  I picture a gross looking marshy bit with lots of mud.  This wasn’t like that at all.

It was one of the coolest parts of the trip, due in large part to having a research biologist in the group.  She pointed out a ton of interesting things, carnivorous plants and interesting birds.  It was a little like being on a high school field trip, but hey, a flashback is nice every once in awhile.

There was a tall observation tower in the swamp, which I did climb, but it was windy and I I’m afraid of heights, so I only took one picture before going back down.  Too scared.   We walked through the swamp for several kilometers, along a boardwalk.  At one point we even stopped to go swimming.  Swimming in an Estonian swamp.  That wasn’t something I pictured myself doing.

It was really pretty, however.  And really, it changed my views on swamps forever.

Our last stop on the trip was a beach sort of in the middle of nowhere.  In Estonia, the water is very shallow.  You can walk out pretty far, and still only be in water up to your knees.  There are also a ton of boulders and large rocks.  Makes great places to sit.

The whole beach area was pretty deserted, so it was really calm and relaxing, even in the middle of summer.

All in all, I had a wonderful trip in the national park.  It was great to get out of the city (even if Tallinn is a pretty small city) for a little while and get back into nature.  The biggest downside?  The crazy Estonian mosquitoes.  Seriously.  I probably got about 30 mosquito bites in just the few hours that I was out there.  Worth it though.