2012-12-26

The excitement of doing things on your own

There it is. In one month I will be off to see the world all by myself, and I'm thrilled just thinking about it!
Even if "On my own" is for me one of the saddest songs of all musicals ever, doing things on your own is not. 

Creating something on your own, such as your first timelapse video gives you an incredible sense of accomplishment.
video coming soon...
Planning your trip on your own, choosing which places you will go, only on the basis of what you really like and want to do, this is even more amazing. Let me tell you something, I am right in this phase right now, planning my trip to Australia and Asia, and I am so excited about it that I nearly forget about the life I still have here!

Of course, travelling with a companion is great, I have done that for six years, and sure, it is good to share your emotions instantly with your travel companion. But I'm not sure it gives you the same pride, knowing that you did it on your own, and that it went pretty well. My goal is to forget about travel agencies, and to concentrate on what is locally available.

And look at it this way: would I have been able to seat on the co-pilot seat on the flightseeing tour I took on the whitsundays? Certainly not!

So yeah, it will probably be sad sometimes, but looking back, I know I will be so much more proud of having done this trip on my own, and right now, all I can think about is all the amazing things I will do because I want to do them.

Edit: I found this article that sums up the joy of solo travelling

2012-12-18

Norway 2012


At first, I didn't know if it was worth it to write an article about my stay in Norway, as it was a 10-day short traveling experience with nothing else in mind than Aurora hunting... But anyway, I will still give some basic information about this beautiful country.
My first step was Å i Lofoten, that I reached via a night flight from Oslo to Tromso, then a short 30-min flight around 10h45 (enabling me to see the sunrise) to Evenes, the airport of Narvik/Harstad, and a night bus from there to Å i Lofoten departing at 4:30 pm with a 15 min break at Leknes. Finally arriving in the middle of a dark clear night, I could only wait the day after to see what this little village was made of. Well, it is quaint, picturesque and... hibernating in winter...


Next day is a bit clearer, and I decide to walk around to the next village called Sørvågen as pretty as Å.


After 2 days and still no aurora, I decided to leave the tranquility of this region and head down to Svolvaer, the main city in the area. The road to there, road E10, this time in dim daylight, is purely amazing, We pass through little towns like Reine, Flakstad, Leknes again and Bostad, before finally arriving in Svolvaer. 

Following the advice that I discovered afterwards, I found a little shop selling smoked salmon sandwich and a dessert called Svele, pure bliss! 

Then when night came, I went to an ice bar to enjoy a drink in a literally freezing place, which was rather an experience.

Unfortunately, still no aurora... So the next day, I take the bus to go back to Evenes airport, and the road between Svolvaer and Narvik doesn't disappoint. I arrive at Tromso, and take a taxi crossing this fairly pretty city from the airport to the ferry port to embark in the Hurtigruten ferry MS Polarlys.
My cabin: quite nice
Once the city lights are gone, I take myself to the cold front of the ferry, and yes, here it is, a nice and not-very-intense-but-still-pretty-good-for-a-first-time-with-a-camera aurora! Once the personnel of the ferry announces the Northern Lights, flocks of people join me in this experience, and as I had enough pictures for a first time, I went back to the warmth inside and enjoy my very comfortable bed. 

The next day, we arrive at Honnigsvad, small fishing village with an industrial port, and for which the only touristic interest is its proximity with Nordkapp. Also, the northern lights. Yes, as soon as I arrived there and for the time I remained, the sky was clear enough to enjoy auroras every night.

The next day (yes, the days are short in winter, here), I decide to get infos on how to go to Cape North. Attention, in winter, buses only go once a day at midday, and only in weekdays, not during the week end. So I was pretty lucky to be able to enjoy it, as I spotted the bus on my way to the Information Center and decided to go for it. There's only 2 passengers in the bus, a japanese backpacker and me, and the wind is getting worse. But for the charming bus driver, it's just routine. After 20 kms, we wait for the Hurtigruten bus (as a day excursion for its passengers) to join us and a snowplow opens the road for us for the remaining 10 kms. As the night is rapidly growing, there's just enough time to take a picture of the "Children of the World" monument before returning to the warmth of the Tourist Center, offering a mini museum celebrating the opening of the center by the King of Thailand (!) and a poetic 14-min movie celebrating with no words but traditional music the beauties of the region in every season.

Saturday is a dead day in Norway, and most of all in Honngsvag. The wind is growing even stronger, and I try to find a protected place to take pictures of the northern lights at their best. Once the night has come, which doesn't take long, I set for my protected place, and some time after that, I finally see the most amazing aurora so far. Mother Nature at its best. I can actually see the solar wind moving and undulating, it's purely magical.




The next morning, waking up early to take the ferry to Tromso, the wind is good enough for the boat to stop at the harbour and take on its passengers. The day is boring on the boat, but the food is delicious. Arriving at Tromso at midnight I need a hotel room for 4h because Tromso Airport is not big enough to stay open during the night, and the Rica hotel right next to the harbour is very handy and comfortable (and the delicious receptionist offers me half price for the room).

After the plane the next day, I arrive in Oslo and take the train from the airport for a day tour around the capital city. 
First impression: it's a perfect set for a Christmas commercial, with those quaint houses on snowy hills and pine forest
Second impression, out of the train station: no salt on the ice-covered walkway... Ok, so this is sporting, alright, ice-skating, more precisely...
Quickly put, because I only had a few hours, the Opera is modern but a bit tasteless, the City Hall is just dreadful, but the wharf looks nice. Spikersuppa, the place behind the City Hall, has nice buildings around, and an interesting Christmas market, with an ice-skating ring, and stands offering deer burgers, smoked whale and one last treat of brown cheese vaffel, before heading back to the station via Karl Johans Gate.

To conclude, Norway is obviously a beautiful country, and I'm sure I'll go back there soon enough. The fjords are so magical, and it must so different in summertime! I want to discover the "day" face of this country...

2012-11-30

Australia 2012


This is the report of my November trip to Australia, before the long gap year, mainly to enjoy the eclipse.

After a night near Sydney Airport, I take an early plane to Cairns, with the objective to go to Cape Tribulation. First problem when arriving at Cairns, the shuttle doesn't go to Cape Tribulation anymore, so the furthest it can go is Port Douglas. The road, Captain Cook's Highway, is beautifully scenic. It follows the coastline, between high hills full of rich vegetation and pristine beaches with no one on it. I think that's when I realize that traveling is like being in love. Your heart is so tight and beats so strongly, you jut want to get drunk on what is in front of you.
Arriving at Port Douglas, I realize that I definitely cannot go to Cape Tribulation, because I needed to book a tour to go there (no regular shuttle, contrary to what was said on the Cape Tribulation website), and it is too late as tomorrow is the eclipse. So I decide to cancel my hostel booking in Cape Tribulation and treat myself after a long and exhausting trip to one of the fine hotels of Port Douglas.
On the morning of the 14th of November, it is eclipse time. It is always a beautiful and emotional moment. You feel it in your guts, and you know that everyone around feels the same way. It is caused from the sheer wonder of Nature, and it gives the strongest sense of community.
Love is about looking in the same direction

The day has begun so early that I have plenty of time to discover the little town of Port Douglas. The eclipse adds a festive atmosphere to the resort town. I book a snorkel trip on the Great Barrier Reef on a speed boat, and I am not disappointed. The speed boat itself adds a lot of fun, and also, one white-tip shark and one black-tip one cross my swimming path, and two turtles swim by my side. One of my best memories, but unfortunately, all the pictures I could have taken were lost later on... 

The next day, I check out of the hotel, take the shuttle back to Cairns, and take the Greyhound Coach to Airlie, which means more than 10h of travel, arriving in Airlie shortly before midnight.
After a good night sleep, I can enjoy Airlie in the early hours of the morning, where the atmosphere is completely different than at night. I book an airplane tour for the afternoon, and wow, I still don't regret it.


I don't think you would either...
After this great day, the next day is as dull as a 20+ hours of coach travel can be. And we arrive in Brisbane in the early hours of the morning. I unfortunately couldn't enjoy the city after so tiring a trip, but at the same I didn't put the necessary effort to do so. 

Next step is Surfers Paradise, which is where I obviously take my first surfing lesson. But before that, I indulge into my favorite activity: walking on the beach. Beaches in Australia are particularly great for this, as they are pretty large with not much people on it (depending on where you are, of course). So I walk on the white sand as soft as flour for 2.5 km from the hostel to the city center, and there I discover the concept of schoolies, where student finishing high school just celebrate their graduation by partying really hard.
As for my surfing lesson... Let's just say that the board is really heavy, and even though the instructor gives simple instructions on the sand, in the water it's obviously much more difficult. I dare say that it is all a question of timing. But even though I wasn't able to get up on my board, the sensation is still pretty intense.
After that, I go back to the hostel to prepare for my evening tour to see the Glow Worms. It was my first time seeing anything like that, and I found it spectacular. After that, we visit an amateur astronomer who built two observatories for himself

Next day is once again a coach travel to Coffs Harbour, which is, depending on who describes it, family-friendly or very very quiet. The Marina is nice, but there is not much things to do. That offers a contrast with the next and final step of the coastal trip: Sydney

The hostel is the YHA in the Rocks, one of the liveliest neighborhood of Inner Sydney. And as it is Friday, there are food stands and animations in the streets.

A must see

After a week end just enjoying the atmosphere of Inner Sydney, Monday is Blue Mountains day. The weather isn't that good, but it adds a mysterious halo around the mountains and the Three Sisters



The next day, I decided to explore Avalon, and after a few mishaps, I finally arrived on this rigtfully named beach. It is simply very picturesque, the beach being framed by cliffs, and beautiful houses on top. 

From Avalon to Newport the coastal drive is impressive, Collaroy reminds me of a little Surfers Paradise, Dee Why (D.Y.) and then Manly, all these makes Northern Sydney worth seeing.

Next day is Bondi Day. The weather is still cloudy but it's ok, as I want to do the walk from Bondi to Bronte and back. And indeed, it is worth doing. I surprised myself day-dreaming about living in this neighborhood, and doing my jogging routine on this walk. Tamarama and Bronte are cute little beaches next to the 1-km Bondi, and once again, just the perfect settings for holiday pictures.

This marks the end of my coastal trip to the East Coast of Australia in November 2012. Little did I know that I would see so much more wonderful places on the West Coast... But still, I saw some amazing things that made for a beautiful trip.
What did YOU think of the East Coast? As it was only a 3-week trip, I certainly missed a lot, so don't hesitate to advise me on your favorite places!

2012-04-03

Vietnam 2012


This trip was organized by UCPA

The group arrives at Hanoi in the afternoon, where we meet our guide for the trip, an adorable Vietnamese by the name of Quyet. The road from the airport to the city center already shows the very typical architecture of the North of Vietnam, with narrow and high houses. 
Next day, we visit Hanoi, first with the Temple of Literature, where a school ceremony is taking place, making the visit a bit more interesting.
a rare peaceful place at the Temple of Literature

After this traditional visit, we head to Ho Chi Minh sanctuary where, despite the man's will, lies his body in a freezing cold room where you walk formally around it... 
Comes noon, Quyet leads us to a catfish restaurant, which is purely delightful. The catfish is served cut in cubes, and the pot fizzles with the most delicious sauce ever, that you can enjoy with rice noodles. I strongly recommend that you taste it if you're in Hanoi, because I guarantee it tastes like nothing you've ever eaten.
After a digestive stroll, our guide takes us to the Ethnography Museum, presenting the 54 tribes of Viet Nam (the Viets and 53 minorities). 
interesting figures from one of the minorities

Just like for China, we are then guided to a State shop selling lacquered items, but the fun part about this visit is that all the ladies of the shops looked surprised to see a 30-year-old group. That is the sad part about Vietnam, particularly for French. If you stay in the main cities, the tourists are mostly groups of retired people.

The next day is a road day under the rain heading North. After a few hours ride, the karstic landscapes will reveal themselves to you. We arrive at the Ba Be Park and its lake by the end of afternoon. The fog, the mountains, the paddy fields just add to the magic of the place.
isn't it beautiful?

We arrive at our host's house, where the largest room is prepared for us, mattresses lying on the floor and mosquito net for each of them.

The next day, there is no need for a wake up call, as the rooster is apparently in charge of waking us up while singing to the Sun... As we emerge from the room, we see that the fog is gone and we have a magnificent view on the paddy fields
50 shades of Green

Today is a walking day. After an hour of easy road, the guide tests us with a harsh ascent. We pass through a Doa village (Doa is one of the minorities of the region), we eat the lunch wrapped in banana leaves on the road, that we then follow for 8 km. Wherever you look, be it banana trees or bamboos, the vegetation is so rich.

When night comes, we hear music in the village, and Quyet suggests we assist to a village festival honoring the Communism Party with patriotic singing.

23/03
Kayak on the Ba Be Lake
The weather is grey when we leave the host house to sail on pneumatic kayaks. At the beginning, everything looks smooth, as we are protected from the wind, but as soon as we reach the open area, the wind and the rain fight against us, even though the landscape is just gorgeous.

We manage to cross the length of the lake and arrive on a river with little current. We stop at a sort of village where, for once, the men are cooking. After lunch, we walk 1 km to see a pretty fall, and we then return, freezing, to our departure point, but in a boat, this time.
we crossed the paddy fields on arrival, it was so picturesque


24/03
Road day
This morning, at around 4, our hosting family enters our dorm to honor their ancestors, with gifts and incense, as it is the equivalent of AllSaints for the Tais.
On the bus, the landscape changes rapidly, we leave the paddy fields and the very wet weather of Ba Be for a dryer landscape, and we finally see the sun!
Arriving at Cao Bang, we walk around town, its market, its central place with the statue of Ho Chi Minh. There is not much to do here.
sunset at Cao Bang


25/03
Today, after one hour of bus, we start with a tranquil walk among picturesque landscape.

At one point, an old man invites the group to taste his home made corn liquor (it was 11 AM), we then learn that "chuk suk hoe" means "cheers" and he also gives us green tea. After a while of this relaxed atmosphere, the woman of the house tells us that she knows a bit about France, through the information on the radio about the Paris  treaty between Americans and Vietnamese, that meant for her the return of her husband after 20 years of war. We were all dumbfounded by the casual tone she was using. From this moment, I was convinced that Vietnamese are good people, because a family genuinely inviting you to drink with them in their house after such an intense and recent past could not be anything else.

26/03
Today, 18 km of trail awaits us, guided by the man of the house. Funny how he seemed to know everybody, with greetings and laughters. Like this old woman crouching to cut sugar canes, that let the whole group taste and taste again from her canes. Or this other guy that invites us to another glass of corn liquor. For lunch, we stop at a small village with some festival activities, celebrating the founding of the Vietnamese Youth Association. 

We are soon surrounded by curious kids looking at us enthusiastically. We then decide to join the festivities with a tug-o-war between French city guys and Vietnamese country guys. The outcome was sadly predictable...
To "celebrate", they invite us once more to drink from their corn liquor, and we had to insist to our guide that we needed to go, otherwise they would have made us drink for ever... Vietnam is such a warming and welcoming country!
Strangely enough, the rest of the trail passed rather quickly...

The next two days were a trek under light rain, which passed rather easily, closed to the border with China.

And the 3rd day, we hit the road to Halong. On the 30th of March, we embark on our 3 days 2 nights on the Halong Bay, one of my dreams coming true.
beautiful screensaver, right?

The opportunity of kayaking in Halong allows us to enjoy a rather secluded part of the Bay, where we can meet fishermen from floating villages. 

At the end of the trip, on the 2nd of April, we go back to Hanoi, where we have leisure time. The whole group decides to hit the great market of Hanoi, where some Vietnamese refuse to sell us, which is surprising, but where I personally had the best meal of the whole trip on a food stand in a narrow street near the market. Street food is really the best in Vietnam!

On the whole, I really enjoyed that trip, because we stepped outside the main touristic tracks, and it was worth it. We could meet genuinely good people, full of smiles and laughters, it was the first time I felt intimate with a part of the world.