Author Archives: Uwe

About Uwe

Offering manager for IBM Bluemix

Good Bye and Good Luck

screenshot_476ListI thought it would be fitting to look back a little before stopping the updates to this blog. Being a bit of a nerd, I checked how many visits the blog actually got while we were away.

During the last 6 months the blog was viewed about 10000 times, or about 55 times per day. You all came from 50 different countries, not suprisingly mostly from Germany and the U.S. But some of you are from more exotic locals, we even got hits from Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Iran or Mongolia.

Meanwhile, our photostream on flickr was viewed 70000 times while we were gone, on average our pictures are viewed 388 times every day.

Currently about twenty people find this blog (via various search terms) every day. The traffic on our blog for the 2009 trip is a bit lighter, but even now, four years afterwards, we get mails from readers asking for tips or recommendations. We did the same when we prepared for our trips, so feel free to contact us via the contact tab above.

Until then, Namskaar, Good-Bye, Sawatdee and Allahaismarladik!

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The Best and Worst of Times

So what were our best experiences and which ones the worst? As we were sitting around the breakfast table on our last day of the trip, each talked about what he liked the best and least. Surprisingly, we all came up with pretty much the same list:

The best of times …:9282326272_e58c8bd653_o

Everest trek – We all agreed on it as the best time during the five months. Of course it was a great accomplishment to reach base camp, but both Finn and I thought that the week the two of us had together (while waiting for the girls to come back down) was very memorable as well. Spectacular scenery, very friendly people, great hiking … I’m sure we’ll be back yet again.

Beaches of Cape Tribulation – We weren’t all that impressed by the beaches we saw in Queensland, with the notable exception of Cape Tribulation. Wild, uncrowded, beautiful … as one of the guide books put it “where the rainforest meets the sea”.

Helicopter flight above Ayers Rock – We didn’t quite know about Uluru … we had heard everything from “once in a lifetime experience” to “just a big rock”. In our opinion, the combination of the rock and its setting is what makes Ayers Rock so spectacular. It’s all by itself in hundreds (thousands) of square miles of nothingness. And for us, the best way to get a sense of it in that setting was to see it from above.

Snorkelling – Maybe our most expensive day of all … but in the end the trip out to the Great Barrier Reef was worth it.

Bangkok – A great city in every respect … extreme, diverse and interesting. And when we had enough, we came home to the spectacular apartment we had rented and went for a swim in the pool high above the city.

The kids realising how lucky they are – Unlike some of our previous trips, we didn’t see a lot of poverty during these five months. But there were a few moments in Nepal, when the kids seemed to realise how lucky they are to live where we do. I remember one particular evening when we were walking through the backstreets of Kathmandu and saw some kids in ragged cloths that were living on the street and sniffing glue as we walked by. They were about Lara’s age and she grabbed my hand and said “daddy, I am really lucky!”. I know, I know, it sounds like a corny movie scene, but during the trip she even changed her “what do you want to be when you grow up” answer from teacher to doctor … who knows. Finn, by the way, is still firmly on the astronaut track.

… and the worst of times:

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Finn being sick at altitude – Almost two weeks into our trek, we were in Dingboche, at 4500 meters altitude and it was very very cold. Finn had been complaining about his stomach and, as it was getting dark outside, was beginning to vomit. Not once, not twice, but pretty much all night long. Altitude sickness? A stomach bug? Something he ate? Throughout the night we felt him getting weaker and by morning we were scared. Should we let him rest for a day? Should we walk down with him? Call a helicopter? It turned out to be a virus in the end and he was able to (barely) walk down by himself. But that night Anna and I were wondering whether we had maybe taken it (him) too far.

The tightness of the camper van – We underestimated how cramped the camper vans would feel after eight weeks. They were the size of a VW bus, mostly well thought out …. but in the end it’s just not enough space for four people and their bags. It would have been fine for a week or two, but eight weeks felt like a long long time in such a constrained space. Looking back, we should have rented a larger model and saved ourselves a lot of frustration.

A bus ride in Darwin – After a nice dinner downtown, we took a public bus back to our camp site in the evening. During the next stop, a group of very drunk aboriginals got on the bus and almost immediately became very aggressive towards a completely innocent passenger … they seemed to have an issue with him being Asian and their vocabulary wasn’t exactly child friendly. Within a minute, one of them got off his chair and started hitting his victim, thank God he was too drunk to be very effective at it. The others were cheering him on. As you can imagine, our kids were pretty shocked at what they saw playing out right in front of them. We got off at the next stop, but Finn was very shaken and wanted to talk about it for a long time afterwards. Even now, two months afterwards, he still brings it up once in a while.

And then there is one that that belongs into both, the best and the worst category:

Being so close to each other for so long – With a few short exceptions (maybe an hour or two), we were never more than a few meters away from each other for more than 150 days in a row. Disagreements turn into arguments faster, which in turn seem to more easily escalate into fights. It’s not that we argued more than we usually do, all of us actually got on quite well with each other. It just seemed that the times we did end up in a fight, the close physical proximity made it hard to “walk away” from them (and each other). On the other hand, all four us us (including the kids) where very aware of what a special chance this trip was to see and experience things together and as a family … creating memories that I’m sure will stick with us for a long time.

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We’re back!

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Back home after five months. A big thank you to our friends and neighbours … who not only picked us up from the airport, but had us over for dinner and stocked our fridge.

A Week in Istanbul

I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excitied to spend a week in Istanbul during this trip. We were here last April (without the kids) and it felt a bit early to return. But there was no additional cost for the stop-over and Anna was very adamant that she wanted to show the city to Lara and Finn.

Thanks to the large in-flight movie selection (I don’t think the kids took their headphones off once) the 11 hour flight from Bangkok was easier than expected. As we step out of the airport we realize that it’s going to be a hot week … actually slightly warmer than in Bangkok. The taxi driver took us on a scenic route around the city to make a few extra Liras, but I was too tired to get into an argument with him … just one of those punches you have to roll with when traveling.

We had rented a flat in Beyoglu, which is the “up- and coming” part of the city and an interesting mix of up-scale shops and old apartment buildings.

Our block is in a very “authentic” part of the neighborhood, with all it’s up- and downsides. We haven’t seen any tourists in the streets around our flat and there isn’t (yet) a Starbucks around. On the downside, the neighbors across the street drag an old table and chairs out around 7:00pm … and talk until 2:00am every night. Every night! How can they sit on wooden folding chairs for seven hours a day? Doesn’t it hurt? What can you possibly talk about for that long with the same group of friends around the table … night after night after night? We only notice a single change in the routine … on one of the nights they bring out a TV set, crank it to maximum volume and watch a soccer game.

In spite of the noisy nights, we made a good choice with the place we rented. The flat is quite large and both the living room and the roof top terrace have a view with of the Galata Tower and numerous mosques with their minarets . It is also a real home and the owner is sleeping on a friends couch whenever he rents the apartment out.

And the location is great, we are very close to the tramway and only a stop or two away from all the major sights. We can also walk up the hill for a few minutes to the nightlife district around Taksim Square.

Speaking of Taksim Square. As some of you might have seen on the news, there were some serious demonstrations in the streets around the square during the last weeks. More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_protests_in_Turkey
Yesterday, when Finn and I went for an ice cream, we ended up standing right between the police (who already had their gas masks on) and the demonstrators … Finn thought it to be “a little scary” and our talk ended up with him learning a few new words like “tear gas”. It’s amazing how just one or two blocks away from the demonstrations life is completely normal. People sit in the street cafes, walk around with their ice creams and we went to play with the kids in Gezi park (which touched off current wave of demonstrations).

Just like in Kathmandu or Bangkok, we had seen the major sights already and that allows us to see the city at a much slower pace with the kids. We end up concentrating on the culinary side of Istanbul and wander from one street stall or restaurant to the next. Anna even joins one of the “Food Walks” (http://istanbuleats.com/walks-2) and has a great day with them … HIGHLY recommended!

Finn loves to watch the anglers on the Galata Bridge and we stop countless times throughout the days to wait for the kids to finish petting one of the stray cats (there must be millions of them in Istanbul).

We hop on one of the ferries and cruise up the Bosphorus to the mouth of the Black Sea. A great day out, but don’t do it on a weekend like we did. Seems like all of Istanbul either heads up the Bosphorus or out to the Princes’ Islands.

Unfortunately, Lara starts running quite a high fever midway through our week and Anna and I alternate taking Finn through the city. A bit of a downer during our last days of the trip.

But, all in all, we have a great time in Istanbul and I’m happy that Anna convinced me to schedule a whole week for it. We like the city even more than during our first visit … the people are unbelievably friendly, there is a ton of sights to see and the food is fantastic. I’m sure we’ll be back!

More pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157635040520268

Tomorrow we fly back to Germany … and none of us is really looking forward to the end of our trip.

Goodbye Thailand

We spend our last three days in Thailand in (yet another) Bangkok apartment that we’ve rented via airbnb.com . It’s just across the street from the previous one we’ve stayed at, same great location at less than half the price … but without the pools and view that we had enjoyed so much when we were here a month ago.

We’ve decided to take it easy (which means even less sight seeing) for our last days here. A night out with a friend we know from California (Vertigo Skybar) …

… a movie with the kids (they hadn’t been to a movie theater in almost a year) …

… a canal tour with a long tail boat we rented …

… and a sun set drink at the Oriental.

Onward to Istanbul!

Hua Hin

I wasn’t so sure about Hua Hin. From what I had heard during my earlier Thailand trips, it was “boring” and catered more to the older crowd. Anna argued that we are both (boring and old) now and we ended up renting an apartment for five nights.

The all-day ferry and bus trip from Koh Tao was uneventful (largely thanks to having an iPad fully loaded with movies for the kids) and we step off the bus in Hua Hin just as it’s getting dark. The apartment itself turns out to be quite good (the lack of warm water being made up by a very nice pool) and in a perfect location …just a hundred meters away from the beach and within walking distance to the markets and restaurants in downtown.

The main attractions of Hua Hin are the beach, the seafood restaurants and it’s night markets … and all three is where we end up spending our time. The beach is quite shallow and just OK for swimming, but it stretches forever and is the best one we’ve seen anywhere in Thailand for long walks.

The seafood restaurants are nothing short of fantastic! Our favorite is Chao Lay and we return twice for their fish and to watch the sun go down from their deck over the water.

All in all, Hua Hin turned out to be a pleasant seaside resort with a good mix of locals, Thai tourists, expats and overseas visitors. No wonder the king spends his summers here!

We wouldn’t want to stay here for a whole holiday, but it’s perfect for a few days and we enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected.

A few more pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157634922565513

Next it’s back to Bangkok for two days and then we’re off to Istanbul.

Koh Tao

Seeing the small island of Koh Tao again after 22 years was quite a shock. The ferry used to arrive on a beautiful long beach with a few simple bamboo bungalows, which has turned into a wild jumble of accomodations ranging from moldy concrete cells to higher end resort-style rooms. I remember a few longtail boats meeting the new arrivals … today it’s a cacophony of touts, trying to get you into whatever taxi and/or accommodation pays them the highest commission.

We had booked a simple bungalow, away from the main town and set into the hillside, overlooking one of the bays on the less busy east coast of the island. It turned out to be an OK choice and the next day we head down to the water for some snorkeling … which I remember to be spectacular. It’s not anymore. There are less fish, but what we notice the most are that the hard corals are mostly dead and broken … and the soft corals almost gone. I’m sure a lot of it is due to pollution or the warming ocean water, but a bit later we see what is likely the biggest factor. Around lunch time a flotilla of almost a dozen converted fishing boats arrive with day trippers. They tie up close to the best snorkeling spots and then proceed to spew out wave after wave of snorkelers. As we watch this, we realize that (amazingly) quite a lot of them don’t know how to swim … they are strapped into life vests, lowered overboard and then proceed to destroy corals that took decades to grow. Either by breaking them with their fins, or by simply standing on top of them and smiling for the camera.

Lara (indoctrinated by the marine biologist that we met in Australia) tells a few of them to stop killing the corals … but is overwhelmed by their sheer numbers and gives up. After an hour or so the first wave of day trippers move on to the next bay, leaving discarded plastic bottles and empty lunch styrofoam boxes behind. The next group of boats is already coming around the point, looking forward to their snorkel adventure.

Don’t get me wrong. The snorkeling on Koh Tao is still OK (especially in Hin Wong and Ao Leuk bay), but it’s not even close to what it used to be like.

After three nights on the muggy hillside (without much of a cooling sea breeze) we move on to a simple bungalow in a bay further north. Here the garbage problem isn’t much better, even our hosts just dump buckets full of trash between the large boulders above the beach. I’m not sure what they will do once all the cracks are filled up. To be fair, the amount of garbage generated by tourism must be huge, but there has to be a more sustainable way to get rid of it instead of just burning it or dumping it into the jungle. There are efforts to rid the island of plastic bags and one of the dive schools is organizing a weekly “clean up the beach” walk, but it feels like it’s too little too late.

After visiting all the snorkel sites (mostly via hired longtail taxi boats or a rented kayak), we move on to the main beach for our last week on the island. The quiet beach from years ago has turned into quite a party mile and we feel almost a bit out of place among all the semi drunk 20-something year olds with their “Koh Tao Pub Crawl” T-shirts on.

Our room (above one of the dive schools) turns out to be perfect. With a large balcony overlooking the beach and plenty of restaurants only a short stroll away … the only drawback (at least for us) is that the beach clubs keep pumping out their beats until long past midnight. The kids don’t seem to mind, but Anna is glad she brought her ear plugs.

And so we settle into a pleasant routine of not doing much of anything, except swimming, snorkeling, reading, eating and drinking.

On our last night we decide to try “Glow Scuba”, which seems to be one of the latest iteration on the snorkeling theme … there are now almost 50 diving schools on the island (which is only 8 square miles large) and they need a way to differentiate themselves. The concept is to go into the water at night (in complete darkness), armed with a blacklight torch and a special visor over the goggles. Some of the coral and fish are florescent and reflect the light back in various colors … quite fun!

Here are a few pictures I took during our ten days on the island: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157634806998251

We’re off tomorrow. Two hours on the ferry and then six on the bus … next stop: Hua Hin