Family roots in Indonesia!

As I have told in a previous blog I am a proud Dutch, but I do have my roots in Indonesia due to my father´s family. Indonesia is a real part of my family´s history, let me tell you why…

My father was born in Indonesia, which was a Dutch colony until 1949. He lived there during the WWII, while my grandfather died in a prisoner of war camp in Japan he stayed with my grandmother on Java.

After seventy years, my father decided to go back and he invited his children and partners to join him on this unforgettable trip to Indonesia for 3 weeks!

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Image of my own collection: Semarang

The first 2 weeks we travelled with a driver, tour guide, my siblings and partners, through Java in search of our family roots. We tried to follow the places where my father has been living, following the memories of my grandmother´s diary. We visited the capital Jakarta and the cemetery where my grandfather still is buried. After Jakarta, Bandung, Yokyakarta, Semarang and Malang we ended visiting the famous Bromo volcano at 6 AM in the morning with a spectacular sunrise over the volcano.

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Image of my own collection: Bromo volcano

As we travelled by minivan and by train we enjoyed the street life, food markets, busy roads and smiling people during thousands of kilometres of our journey. On the road we noticed that scooters are the main transport for the Indonesians, they transport everything from beds, animals, food or the whole family!

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Image of my own collection: Indonesian transport

We were positively surprised when a Muslim tour guide took us to visit the enormous Buddhist temple of Borobudur, as both religions respect each other completely in this country without any issue.

And of course we enjoyed the fantastic Indonesian food, which in Holland is part of our national kitchen for decades. The flavours are very tasteful, spicy and lots of variants of dishes, especially for vegetarians.

The only thing we were missing, sometimes, was some alcohol as this is the largest Muslim country in the world. We ended up buying at the “black” market some bottles of whiskey so we could celebrate our fantastic trip in our hotel rooms…

After 2 intensive weeks, we had an emotional saying-goodbye with our driver and tour guide but the ferry to Bali was waiting for us!

Another paradise on earth we discovered when we drove through Bali. A peaceful and beautiful island, full with Hindi ceremonies, temples, rice fields, quiet villages and friendly people. We skipped the main touristic area of Seminyak and enjoyed some breathtaking sunsets, views and food with the locals.

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Image of my own collection: Buddhist ceremony on Bali

I am very thankful my father took us to his birth place and to visit this beautiful country that my grandparents called home for many years. Of course I will go back to visit some of the other islands like Flores, Borneo, Lombok, Celebes and enjoy the friendly Indonesians and their tasteful food!

For now, Indonesia is more than ever in my heart and that will never change!

Keep travelling and till next time!

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Stop-over in Dubai!

What is the first thing that pops up in your mind about Dubai: Luxury, expansive cars, sheiks, petroleum business and desert I guess? Me too, so when I had the chance to book a (long) stop-over in Dubai, I did of course!

Dubai was once a small fisher´s village at the Persian Gulf. When in the 60s oil was found, the Makthoum family changed this desert area in one of the wealthiest cities in the Middle-East. This city keeps changing, modern metro, artificial islands and incredible high skyscrapers.

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(image from http://www.bestagentdubai.com)

The local population in The United Emirates is only 10% , 70% is immigrant (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal) and some 20% are expatriates.

To avoid the typical tourist excursion me and my travel partner booked on the spot an affordable private tour through the desert and the palace museum in El Ain at the border with Oman. The roads are very good and we were lucky during the low season as we were the only visitors at the (open air) palace. We viewed beautiful views of the desert and desert towns, only a couple of hours drive from Dubai.

The visit to the camel market is one I will never forget. The driver took us, unexpectedly, to a famous camel market, and when we stepped out of the car we only saw sand, camels and their owners with their typical turbans.

You can imagine 2 blond modern dressed women in a desert camel market? All kinds of scenes were flashing in my head and I kept a good eye on our driver and the car, just in case… After all it was a nice visit with friendly camel farmers and we shot some great pictures of the animals.

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(image from www.5050travelog.com)

The day trip ended in a refreshing mall in the desert city El Ain, close to the border with Oman. We were probably one of the few tourists, we only heard some Dutch when entering the mall. It is interesting to watch how even the Emirate people enjoy American fast food hamburgers and milkshakes!

Dubai has a lot to offer and you never get bored. There are malls everywhere, an indoor ski piste, beaches, beautiful hotels with refreshing pools and great Middle-East restaurants.

It is really worth to visit the old harbour area, for US$0,25 you take a small wooden boat with the local workers from one side of the river to the other and don´t skip the authentic markets “souk” (herbs, gold, clothing, spices etc.)!

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(image from http://www.cheapairetickets.in)

Dubai had a very booming economy for the last 20 years and it keeps searching for new ways to attract business and tourists.

This city surprises, offers lots of pleasure and luxury but also beautiful nature, a Middle-East city which will entertain you for some days!

Just one last travel tip: being a Muslim country you ought to respect their culture, the praying hours, the food and alcohol restrictions and adjust your clothing as a woman.

I admit that luxury, biggest indoor ski piste and 5/6/7 star hotels is not what attracted me of Dubai, but the Arab style buildings, the beauty of the desert and the 1001 night ambience!

Keep travelling & till next time!

My own travel bucket list!

Yes, even a long-term traveller like me owns a so-called “travel bucket list”! The “bucket list” is a list with things you wish to do before you die, and in my case the destinations I wish to visit before I die…

I guess everyone has some destinations in mind which he or she wishes to visit, the ultimate dream, the honey moon, or where you would spend $$$ on when you win the lottery….

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Star fish island, Bocas de Toro, Panama (www.panoramio.com)

There are 195 countries in the world, some more interesting than others, some very safe others unsafe to visit, some too big for one trip, some too far away but there are enough countries to choose.

Herewith I share you my current top 10 travel bucket list:

1) St. Petersburg and Moscow: This will be my first visit to Russia and I cannot wait to travel with a classic train from one city to the other, enter the Hermitage and buy some real matryoshka dolls!

2) Japan; I only visited Nagasaki but I would love to see Tokyo, Kyoto and travel with the bullet train, enjoy the beautiful country side of Japan, the famous gardens and taste the best sushi!

3) Polynesia; the colors of the beaches, the typical island traditions, snorkelling and the tropical underwater life is what attracts me a lot, even if I need 3 days to get there!

4) Argentina and Uruguay; the tango culture, listening to the Argentinian Spanish, the way they live & love soccer and of course visit the expansive pampa!

5) Bounty islands of Panama: San Blas, Las Perlas y Bocas del Toro; Even though I lived Panama, I still have to go back for a visit to the amazing tropical islands!

6) Los Angeles and San Francisco; I have not been back to California since 1993 so I really should catch up memories of L.A. and finally take the famous tram in the steep streets of San Francisco!

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7) Italy; I visited some areas with my family in the 80s, but I would love to go back with my husband, enjoy the fantastic food, and visit the cities Florence, Venice, Roma and the country side!

8) South Africa; a stroll through Cape Town, visit the wine areas , taste some great wines and of course enter some National Parks for a real safari!

9) Myanmar and Vietnam, both South-East Asian countries with friendly people, tasty food and lots of great places to visit, before mass tourism discovers them too!

10) Oman, this country fascinates me for a long time, in the desert, Muscat, old mosques, incredible landscapes and lots of Middle-East culture!

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Currently it is summer in Europe, most people are enjoying their holidays anywhere they can afford it.

I really hope you have your own list of destinations to fulfil in the future and maybe sharing my travel bucket list gave you some ideas where to go to in the future?

Dreaming is for free, so keep dreaming and may your (travel) dreams come true sometime…

Enjoy your holidays and keep travelling!

 

The Forbidden City, the Wall and more

My first visit to China was one surprising and cold adventure, just before the Olympic Games, in Beijing during the month of December. Everything you can imagine is different in China, compared to the western world, but I loved it immediately!

I took my husband for a city trip to Beijing (also called Peking) with 10 below zero… We were prepared for the freezing temperatures but not for the culture shock! We moved around with the fantastic metro system, walked for hours and felt safe and comfortable everywhere we walked.

A visit to an alternative typical Chinese medicine man was a funny experience. He did a fast check on our health, with the help of translator, before he suggested we should use some special herbs to get rid of our bladder and kidney problems (??). When we calculated the price of these herbs back in US dollars we knew this was a trick, US$ 24 for a bag of herbs to get better from health issues we never knew we had… We smiled and walked away, without the herbs of course!

One of the high lights was the visit to the Forbidden City, right on the Tiananmen square which is the largest square in the world. The entrance is covered with an enormous Mao Zedong image who´s mausoleo is in the centre of the square and still attracts thousands of visitors every year from all around China.

The Forbidden City,Beijing,China
The Forbidden City,Beijing,China

(image from http://www.lonelyplanet.com)

Centuries-old wooden buildings and temples habited from 1400 till 1912, that is the Forbidden City. Only the family, concubines and servants of the dynasties lived inside the walls, the rest of the population was forced to live outside. The Chinese government maintained this wonderful place and you should never miss it when visiting Beijing!

Beautiful temples, markets, parks and thousands of restaurants is what you find in this enormous city. We were the main attraction in many restaurants we visited, as there were very few tourists in winter… Of course there were no menus in English and nobody spoke English, but we ate great meals and had lots of fun ordering food although we did not always eat what we ordered…

In general eating, is one big happening in China but you might need an iron stomach sometimes… In China they eat all kinds of animals and insects which might surprise you sometime. The real Chinese food has nothing to do with the Chinese we are eating in the Western world, it is delicious and with lots of variety, also for vegetarians! They offer you everywhere free Chinese jasmine tea when you order food or warm water as in China they prefer warm water over cold water…

I never dared to try the bugs, crickets and scorpions as a snack, would you?

You know already that the Chinese tend to make noise when eating, sipping their soups or spitting on the floor. I never get used to that, but it is part of their culture. I wrote about that already in one of my previous posts “Cultures, habits and traditions”.

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                                           (image from http://www.thelulife.com)

Some years later I visited Beijing again, but this time with my adventurous mother and in summer time! With 40 degrees difference, Beijing looked like a different city to me. I enjoyed visiting the summer palace and crossing the lake by boat instead of over the ice…. A walk in the old down town centre, climbing the Bell Tower and the Drum tower is almost an obligation as well as a visit to the Lama temple and a stroll through the authentic “Hutong” neighbourhoods.

And of course we took a day trip to the Great Wall; first we tried by ourselves to go by bus but due to the lack of English at the bus station we had no idea which bus to take… Some hours later we booked a private tour with an English-speaking Chinese guide and a driver to visit the Badaling part of the Great Wall.

The guide walked the wall with us as it was empty on the Great Wall and we could make the most beautiful pictures with her. It is not always busy in touristic places, if you are lucky…

What an amazing piece of human structure, centuries old and still standing strong. I walked over the Great Wall with 15 degrees below zero and with 35 degrees above zero, both times were unforgettable experiences!

the wall

 (image of my own collection)

Beijing and the rest of China are changing rapidly, maybe too rapidly. The metro has already 10 lines, the centuries old “Hutong” areas are torn down to make space for new apartment buildings, malls and neon publicity are rising everywhere.

Just check the right season to visit the historic capital of China, neither in winter nor summer I would recommend you.

If you have the chance, I recommend to travel to Beijing and submerge in a completely different but very interesting city culture. Stroll around the old neighbourhoods, eat with the locals and if you learn a few words Chinese, you will receive many smiles and laughs from the Chinese!

Keep travelling and till next time!

The east-meets-west city: Hong Kong!

This dense city sits on a very tiny space, packed with skyscrapers, green hills and surrounded by lots of water: Hong Kong! Let me take you to this east-meets-west city…

When I had my first opportunity to visit this Asian buzzing city, I was not prepared what to expect and it overwhelmed me…

After arriving at the hotel me and my travel partner found out that one suitcase was drowned in red wine from another passenger, so we smelled like a couple of alcoholic travellers when we arrived. Later we found out that we booked a hotel room without a window. After we changed, our new room had a window with a view, but on a brick wall… In any case, the affordable hotel rooms are like a shoe box in this city, where you and your suitcases barely fit. Welcome to HK!

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                                                   (image from http://www.excelsiorhotelhongkong.net)

We stayed at Kowloon, the down town area, where most hotels, restaurants and offices are. I recommend you to visit any (night) markets (technology, clothing, (fake) items, antique stuff etc.) Get ready to haggle your purchases, because they expect it from you and it is worth to try!

For pedestrians the traffic is a very hectic scenery, even for a city girl like me. Just get used to watch to the left to avoid to bump into the cars and buses that comes from that side!

Pedestrians crossing street in the Central District, Hong Kong, China
Pedestrians crossing street in the Central District, Hong Kong, China
                                             (image from http://www.blaineharrington.photoshelter.com)

The public transport is fantastic: modern subway, double-deck buses and even the ferries work easy and cheap.

The side walks are packed with people and you might feel like an ant in ant hill in the beginning…I mean 6500 people on one (1!) km 2 makes Hong Kong one of the densest cities in the world.

On these busy side walks many Indian sales man will try to sell you a new tailor-made suit or dress every 10 meters, as in the back streets they have small tailor shops. I did not buy anything but I am told it is really worth it to buy something tailor-made.

Besides high buildings, exclusive hotels and the well-known designer shops, I was amazed about the beautiful temples, coastal areas, green mountains and authentic fishers´s areas.

I visited this city 3 different times and I tell you that it is impossible to get bored, either you like hiking, shopping, Asian culture or Asian gastronomy, this city has it all!

Especially the food is fantastic and cheap and it makes Hong Kong a real “food paradise”.

At 8 PM sharp you should find a good spot at the Kowloon river side where a light and sound show is offered on all the skyscrapers on Hong Kong islands. I must admit this is very impressive and make sure you have a good camera ready to shoot some great night-time images!

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                                                              (image of my own #SamsungGalaxy S4)

If you had enough of the busy ambiance down town, jump in the cable car on Lantau island towards the largest outdoor Buddha statue in Asia and enjoy some wide views over the green islands of Hong Kong. Take the 268 steps to the statue and afterwards eat a very tasty vegetarian meal in an oasis of silence at the Po Line monastery. Or on Hong Kong island you may take the tram to Victoria Peak, have a drink and enjoy the wonderful view over the hundreds of skyscrapers. Yes, this is also Hong Kong!

Let me say that even after 3 visits to Hong Kong I cannot wait for my next trip to continue to discover the New York of Asia.

Discover it yourself and book a stop-over in this buzzing city full with surprises and I am sure it will not disappoint you!

Keep travelling and till next week!

Taxi please!

Wherever you travel, even with a small budget, you probably have taken a taxi abroad. For most travellers a holiday or adventure starts when they step into a taxi (at the airport) in an unknown part of the world…

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I lost count of the times I used a taxi, but I am sure I took one in all cities I visited on this globe. Even when I travel with a (small) budget, I often use taxi rides, as this is in many countries a cheap, safe and fast way to travel.

There were so many remarkable taxi rides: from cheating with the taxi meter (Bangkok), a taxi driver hidden behind plastic protection (Beijing), sharing taxis with strangers and negotiating every ride (Panama city) or having the greatest discussions about soccer with the taxi drivers (favorite topic of my husband inside the taxi).

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(image of my own: negotiating taxi prices, Panama city)

The funny thing is that in my own country, Holland, I have taken maybe five times a taxi as it is very expensive… Nevertheless, in other countries I enjoy taking them without any doubt!

When I travel overseas and I know I will arrive very late/early at my destination, I try to arrange a taxi service with the hotel I stay at. It feels fantastic when you arrive after a very long flight and a local gentlemen holds up a sign with your name (normally wrongly spelled….). That is the moment my holiday starts and I can observe the new surrounding through the window of the taxi. I really recommend you this!

Here I share with you some of my special taxi rides around the world:

– Japan: I felt very special with the taxi driver wearing an ironed white shirt, white gloves and hat. He did not speak English but he tried very hard to find the indicated direction. His taxi was very clean and modern exactly like all the Japanese are!

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(taxi driver in Japan)

– Dubai: I was driven around in a luxurious taxi and the taxi driver did also a good job as a tour guide. When he took me to the camel market in the desert, surrounded only by Arab camel farmers, I was really wondering why and how I ended up in this adventure…

– Panama city: Once I had to jump out of a taxi while in a traffic jam as the driver was violent and swearing to other drivers, his car was glued together with parts and pieces…. I ran for my life!

– New York: I was late for my flight and the taxi driver took my hurry very serious… He drove like a maniac through dense traffic jams, driving in the emergency lane, to get me on time at JFK. I was in shock when I arrived at the airport by the terrific ride but I was on time for my flight!

– Taipei: I learnt to speak some Chinese words to go around Taipei. One time I ended up at the outside of Taipei as the driver was lost and my Chinese was not good enough to help him find my home… It took him 30 minutes extra, which he deducted from the final price, as that is the way the Taiwanese treat foreigners!

There are so many good and bad situations when you travel and I am sure you have lived some remarkable taxi rides on your trips too.

Just be cautious and distinguish a legal taxi when you arrive at your new destination and enjoy the ride!

Keep travelling and till next week!

 

 

A dream come true…

After several years travelling and living in Spain and Holland, I took a big decision…

The best decision ever…. I moved to Spain!

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                                                     (image from http://www.peta.org.uk)

Somewhere I always felt attracted to the sound of the Spanish language, the flamenco music and the joyful Spanish people. As I have been writing before, I worked already as an au-pair with a Spanish family when I was 18.

After I found my first serious job at a great international company in Holland, I started to get interested in living abroad and leave everything behind. I was 23 years old and single so I had nothing to lose and lots to win!

My relationship with my au-pair family has always been very good and they invited me to stay with them while looking for work and a roof in Barcelona. So, I resigned my nice job, celebrated a goodbye-party with friends and family, packed my suitcase and left to Spain…

Finding work in Barcelona was not easy as I spoke very few Spanish. Reading the newspaper La Vanguardia on Sunday was more an obligation than a hobby, as most jobs were published there. But after 3 months, I was working and living in Barcelona, making my dream to come true!

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                                                               (image from http://www.proveddeele.es)

Making Spanish friends was easy, even though I did not speak very well Spanish or Catalan, the local language. I made millions mistakes, they laughed at my accent and compared me with Johan Cruyff… My friends still remember I mixed up words like “tenedor” (=fork) and “tenor” (=tenor) but after all I speak perfectly Spanish!

It was still the time without mobile phones or internet, only 20 years ago, but I never had problems meeting with friends, anywhere and anytime. Nowadays I can not imagine how I could meet with friends without my mobile phone…

After two years I met the love of my life and during the following years I met more amazing people who still are my dear friends. I felt at home in Barcelona and Spain from the beginning and never have been homesick.

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                                                                (image from http://www.travelchannel.com)

My Dutch culture and habits are different to the Spanish culture and habits and I had to adjust in many ways in order to integrate and feel at home in my new country. For example, in those days I was vegetarian but no restaurant served vegetarian food in the 90s in Barcelona… After many diners eating only omelet and salad I decided to try to eat fish and seafood. This adaptation made it much easier to me and I still love to eat fish and seafood today! The only thing I could never get used to, is to enjoy the famous Spanish ham: “jamon serrano”.

When I left at 23 I could never imagine that I would stay 10 years in Spain. My dream came true in all ways: I lived & worked in Barcelona, I learnt Spanish perfectly, I made lots of new friendships and I fell in love!

Looking back I took a big decision but it was worth everything and I would never regret it.

Everybody should follow her/his heart and fulfil a dream, remember that you only live once…

Keep travelling and till next week!