We flew out of Yogykarta in the very early morning, leaving behind the island of Java for a stopover in Bali, and then an arrival in Flores, an island in East Nusa Tenggara. Though we waited in Bali for two hours, the flight on either end was just over an hour, in an Airbus A320 type of six-seater plane that brought us to a still up and coming part of Indonesia. Flores is known for its coffee, some hiking, and mainly the gateway to the Komodo National Park, islands situated just west of Flores and not easily accessible through other destinations. When we landed in Labuan Bajo, it felt like we had just flown back through time to an Indonesia that was much less developed.
The worn SUV that picked us up had a young man with a toothy smile and an older man who didn’t speak any English. We left the polished newly-built airport and rocked our way down the mostly dirt (some paved) roads to our lodge, which was thankfully quiet and clean. Our first afternoon there, we simply walked down the long dusty road (sans sidewalk) that comprises the main part of the town of Labuan Bajo, which took about half an hour in total, not because it was all THAT long, but because it was hard to navigate, and you had to . It was noisy, filled with little vans that came by every 3-5 minutes blasting rock music and decked out in neon, and people ducked in and out of them, the local unofficial bus service. There were some restaurants ranging from very high-end Italian food serving locations with pristine terraces over looking the bay to tiny local hole-in-the-wall without any sort of English signage out front. And a billion travel businesses – everyone advertised some sort of day trip or 2D/1N or 3D/2N tour to the Komodo National Park. You could find liveaboard experiences with A/Ced cabins, with open upper decks where you slept with other people on a giant mattress and a sheet wrapped around you. You could find tiny fishing boats that were repurposed for tourism purposes or large speedboats that could cover the same distance in half the time. We ventured into a few joints to get quotes back and forth, and ended up settling on one place. However, when we went out to go get our money from the ATM, it did not cooperate, and we ended up going back to our house to figure out if there were any problems. While Steve wrestled with his bank support on the Skype, I took a nap, and after visiting about all the ATMs in the town of Labuan Bajo, we finally put in 400.000 IDR (about $30 USD) per person for our day trip to Komodo National Park. Continue reading Gateway to Komodo National Park.→
Summer is in full flower in Basse-Normandie, and it has brought the funniest weather I’ve ever seen. Murray and Julie joke that there’s no point to checking the weather forecast (or what the French call the météo), since it always has a bit of everything: we wake up to brisk and sunny mornings that quickly warm up to hot middays, and work through cloudy afternoons interspersed with drizzle against the windowpanes. It usually clears up in time for brilliant sunsets around 10 pm, and true darkness only descends after midnight. We’ve been keeping quite busy, with our animals and our work, but finding time somehow to admire the weather and the landscape around us. Continue reading The dog days of Normandy.→
It has been five days since we got into Lyon, and we are slowly beginning to learn this French city, walking the hills, crossing the rivers, accustoming our ears to the language, and memorizing the street names.
Our apartment is located in the 6th arrondisement, on the very edge of the upper northeastern corner of Lyon. Our street is bare meters from the dividing line that marks the beginning of Villeurbanne, a neighboring city to our north and east. Some parts of Villeurbanne are distinctly different — three blocks to our north begins the quartier Tonkin, which is some sort of suburban housing development from the ’60s and ’70s. The large apartment buildings resemble ones I’ve seen in China, but with much more geometric, artistic, and interesting architecture.
The Tonkin complex has within a hospital, an elementary school, and some large playgrounds. It really has a flavor of its own, and we really enjoy wandering around this part of town. There is also a large Muslim population in nearby Villeurbanne, which comes out not only in the populace, quite a few of whom wear headscarves, but also in the streetfront kebab restaurants which hang “Hallal” signs above their shop. Due to the May 1 (Labor Day) holiday, many normal restaurants were closed, and as a matter of last recourse, we visited twice a place with I got pretty decent kebab sandwiches (for 4.5 euro, the normal price). Steve ordered a “taco au choix” with steak, which turned out to be a thick burrito with steak, vegetables, and fries inside. Continue reading Promenades en Lyon.→
On Tuesday, we boarded the HSR (high-speed rail) outside of Tainan and speeded into Taipei barely an hour and a half later. This is the way to travel! It felt just like the bullet trains we’d taken in Japan, and made for an ultra smooth ride. We trekked our way with heavy bags through the unreasonable cold to Da’an District, where we had reserved five nights in a hostel. That evening, I made Steve stay up with me to debate how to travel about in Thailand and reserved a few hostels and flights before we fell asleep.
Yesterday morning, bright and early, we left our hostel for the Taipei 101 Tower, just a 20-minute walk away. Once you get onto Xinyi Road, which cuts east-west, it is hard to miss the Tower because it looms over everything else for dozens of blocks. For comparison purposes, the Sears (never the Willis) Tower in Chicago is 442 meters tall, and Taipei 101 Tower is significantly taller at 509 meters. (Though both are small potatoes compared to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at a lofty 828 meters.) We took the fastest elevator in the world (deceptively labeled “a life-changing experience” according to a quote from CNN in the lobby) and emerged onto the 89th floor, a 360 degree viewing observatory. It was a beautiful day to see Taipei — slightly cloudy, but not oppressively so. Taipei lies in a basin on the very northern tip of Taiwan, and we could see mountains in several directions as well as a city (Taoyuan, maybe?) to the southwest on an elevated plateau, surrounding the sprawling metropolitan area.