Thursday, March 15, 2012

My first time!

They say that your first time is something you'll never forget. When it happened, where it happened, who it happened with, what it felt like and how long it lasted... all that is information that will forever be stored inside you because nothing's as special as your first time. 

And it's true! 

I remember everything about my first time. 

I was 20 years old. I know that for some of you out there that might seem a little old for the first time, but we all have to live life in our own time, right? There's no good in rushing into things. And I simply wasn't ready any sooner, so I was 20 already when it happened. But I'm glad about the timing, because I'm sure it wouldn't have been the same had it happened any sooner. 

I'd read about it beforehands, because I wanted to be prepared and do everything right. Especially because I wanted to be safe, think about all that can happen if you don't know how to handle everything and how to be protected. Your health! Your whole life could change forever! So I read a bit and talked to people, asked some questions... just to make sure I'd know where everything was supposed to go.

And in the end it was perfect! I remember every single detail, every single moment, the way it felt... oh so special. It felt like it lasted forever, when it was over - all of a sudden - I couldn't believe how time had passed at all and all I wanted to do was to just keep going forever. 

I guess you know what I mean, right? At least I hope I do, I can only wish everyone a first time as wonderful as mine. 

I'm talking, of course, about my first time travelling to South America. 

I booked a flight to Lima and one back from Buenos Aires, with 5 weeks in between to get from A to B. Or, rather, from L to BA. I had this perfectly planned schedule, almost like a professional travel itinerary, that I threw into the trash on day 3 because already I could see what's most important when travelling South America: 

Don't make plans. You don't travel South America - it travels you! 

That's really the only important thing I have to say here, so I'll just continue by posting my all time favourite pictures from that trip. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I do every time I look through that album... oh the memories... 

Paracas, Peru.

Machu Picchu, Peru.

Aguas Calientes, Peru.

Lake Titicaca, Peru.

Copacabana, Bolivia.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. 

Potosí, Bolivia.

Standing in Bolivia, looking at Chile.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Cataratas de Iguazú, Argentina.

Obviously, this is just a teeny tiny selection, there's so many pictures from that wonderful first time of a trip, I couldn't post them all if I wanted to. And I don't want to, cos it's a lot of work. So here are my favourites from my album of favourites, although the memories behind those pictures are so incredible, the photos really don't do them any justice :) 

Was it good for you too, baby?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ed-in-burgh? No, Ed-n-bra.

This post is about when not to go to Edinburgh, Scotland, and how to enjoy it if you happen to, anyway. Because I went when I shouldn't have gone and ended up enjoying it very much, despite the fact that the weather was even worse than what I'd left behind in my then-home, Austria. 

The first part is very simple: don't go in the winter. It's cold, it's gray, it rains, it snows. 

In short, it's not exactly the best kind of weather for getting to know the place. At least not, if you want to get it to know by walking around, seeing all the sights and spending your days exploring the city. That's because it's all wet and gray and you'll soon be soaked and tired, both of which suck. 

The result of sightseeing in Edinburgh in the rain. You can't even see what's in the pictures because of the bad light...

BUT the second part is also very simple: go out anyway! At least, that's what I did. I took my umbrella, put on tons of clothes and started walking. I was staying at a friend's house, thanks to CouchSurfing. He lives close to the centre but still a little way out, a walking distance if you're not a wuss. And for the wusses out there, the public transport system in Edinburgh's pretty good so you can take a bus anywhere if you don't want to walk. Or maybe it's not that you're a wuss, maybe it's just raining or snowing too heavily, then you're excused. 

So, equipped with an umbrella and a warm jacket you can go explore the sides of Edinburgh that maybe you wouldn't even have seen if it weren't for the bad weather - which, actually, is starting to look not-that-bad now, because of what it allows you to do. 

Here's your possibilities: 

1 - go café hopping! Not only the centre of town but also, and especially, the area around the river when you walk toward the city's core from the harbour is full of tiny little places, that offer hot beverages and often really good food and pastries. A cup of coffee here, a scone there, a cup of tea with milk and then a sandwich or soup... options are endless! I'm not sure anymore how much time I spent walking around that area, because time flew by, as it always does when traveling, but from all the different places I remember at least poking my nose into it must have been at least 5 hours. And every place is not only a positive surprise, but also offer the perfect shelter from cold, raindrops and clouds (most of the time). 

Turkish coffee, beautiful interiors and police boxes.

2 -  find the hidden face of Edinburgh! OK, so it's really not hidden. But usually, when the sun is out and it's warm and nice, most people will spend so much time by the castle on the hill and in parks and not exactly going for walks through the maze of tiny streets that snake through the centre, behind all the churches and museums and famous restaurants.

They make shirts saying "I'm kind of a big deal" in this store. Awesome, or what?

Stumble upon that dress you've always dreamed of - or your friend - or your mom - whoever, it's pretty. And those tiny stores... just awww.

Enclosed backyards with parked bycicles that you come into all of a sudden after walking through the narrowes alleyway of all...

3 - go the other way and visit the dead - what better background to a cemetery than silent, gray skies? This might sound unusual - or plain weird - to some, but it's interesting how much a cemetery can tell you about a place and the people that inhabit it, and their culture. I've been to tons of cemeteries, for that simple reason of wanting to find out more about a place, and Edinburgh's is one of the most surprising and intriguing ones I've seen so far. Very old graves among rather new ones... history is sitting among the weatherworn and sometimes even broken headstones and watches you walk around... 

4 - go to a freaking museum! The weather's crap, you have no excuses now. And from what I've seen, Edinburgh has a lot to offer on the museum front! 

This photo proves that I'm not talking for the sake of talking, I actually was inside the place!

Spooky dude, I like him.

5 - drink Irn Bru. Lots of it. 


Now, please do follow my first advice and don't go in winter. But if you have to, follow the rest of my advices and make the very best of your stay, I hope you'll enjoy it! 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bahama, mama!

The Bahamas are probably around the top entries on all of our this-must-be-paradise lists, unless I'm the only one that has one of those. But still, it's right up there with places like the Maledives or Fiji or Disneyworld... mmm Disneyworld... - shut up, you want to go too! 

So, anyways. The Bahamas. 

I spent a little under 2 weeks in Fort Lauderdale last July and browsing the internet for cheap flights to nearby beachy places I came across a Spirit Airlines offer that would take me to Nassau and back for so cheap, I don't even remember what the ticket cost me. Whatever, it was like nothing. I guess that's because it's so incredibly close by, under an hour by plane. Although short flights aren't always automatically cheaper, maybe I was lucky after all. 

So, anyways. The Bahamas. 

I had wanted to go for 3-4 days to do some island hopping and see more than just New Providence and Paradise Island, but I went with a friend who had to work so we could only take a short weekend trip, Saturday to Sunday. It really sucks when you have a proper Mon-Fri office job that you're new at so you can't take a week off or something to enjoy fun time with friends. I'm just glad I'm still a student, even if it's not for long anymore, if I ever get to finally finish my thesis!! 

So, anyways. The Bahamas. For real now. 

This is me on the plane. I'm happy on planes. Especially when I'm on the way to someplace new. Especially when it's an island paradise.

First off, the main reason I wanted to go there, which wasn't the cheap flight. And I'll be really honest here. I've always wanted to order a Bahama Mama in the Bahamas. Sound stupid? We all have dreams, some bigger and some smaller. This was a small one so I jumped at the easy chance to fulfill it. Are you laughing? Do I have to tell you to shut up again? Think about it for a moment, you know it's cool. 

Also, in hindsight, alcohol really didn't play a big roll at all when I was there. It shouldn't, wherever you go. We'll explore that piece of information as we go along. 

But staying on the topic. The Bahamas is where Bacardi Rum comes from, although they're moved to Florida now (at least I think that's where they went). So when my friend and I arrived at the airport in Nassau and were picked up by a really nice and sweet CouchSurfing friend of mine, the first place that friend, Kenny, took us was to see where Bacardi came from. 

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na Batman!!!

Do you know why Bacardi Rum has a bat as a logo? Because their original distillery attracted a special type of fruit bat that inhabits the region and really close by this monument is a cave where you can climb into the darkness and be surrounded (really, really surrounded) by Bacardi fruit bats. For the true fans, you know. 

And because Bacardi Rum was born in the Bahamas, they have a flagship store in Nassau where you get all sorts of Rum, in big and small bottles, regular and añejo and pre-mix. You can even get Bahama Mama cocktails in big, big bottles! 


So, there's a piece of history for you. There's also forts on New Providence and you can learn tons about traditions and culture, but after all that rum, you probably don't want to learn much anymore. 

Also, history isn't usually why anyone goes to the Bahamas. Or is it? Well, I'm guessing it's not so I'm taking this to the next point, which is, of course: BEACHES! 

Did you know there's tons of those in the Bahamas? Like kilometres upon kilometres (or miles upon miles, for some of you). And they're all beautiful, no exceptions. 

Here's one on the southwestern side of New Providence, where Kenny took us so we could take in all the different impressions. You don't get to see this kind of thing when you look into a travel catalogue, because these beaches are not touristy and probably aren't what your typical tourist would expect of a caribbean beach, but they're natural and beautiful, the water is crystal clear and the skies, oh the skies... I'll just show you: 

Think of the island group of the Bahamas (700 islands in total, you can do a lot of exploring there!), they're like a bit like a diagonal strip of islands that bend away from Florida in a southeast direction. So you could say you have the open Atlantic to the Northeast and the Caribbean Sea to the Southwest. As this beach is on the caribbean side, the water is a lot calmer, there's almost no waves and for that same reason you have more seagrass and other plants, because the beaches aren't constantly rinsed "clean" by big waves like the ones on the other side. I write "clean", because they still are, they just don't look it to a typical tourist's eyes. 

The North and Northeast sides of the island of New Providence is where all the advertised beaches are. That's also where all the big resort hotels with their private beaches are. But you don't have to go to one of those and pay for using their beaches (you don't even have to stay at one of those unless you want the all-inclusive stuff and the extra service, if you're into that kind of thing). Right next to the highway (which doesn't affect the quality at all, not even with noise or exhaust fumes) are public beaches, that are free and just as beautiful or more so, because you spend the day amongst Bahamians, not only foreigners. Outside the centre of town and also right inside Nassau. My personal favourite on New Providene was Junkanoo Beach. 

Incidentally, Junkanoo also happens to be the name of a really funky type of traditional Bahamian music.

This beach is calm even though it's in the Northwest, because it's between New Providence and Paradise island and thus protected.

And what are we after a day at the beach, apart from completely burnt all over because the TSA officer took our SPF 50 sun lotion away when we left the USA? - Yes, hungry! 

An absolute must when it comes to cuisine in the Bahamas is: Conch. You can get that almost everywhere and in lots of different forms, conch salad or fried conch or conch burger or or or! And it's really good, too. Plus, when people at home ask you if you brought them a pretty, big conch shell as a souvenir you can go "I was going to but then I ate it, so sorry". Doesn't matter at all that, technically, you only had the inside! And the best place to get fresh conch is at the Fish Fry in Nassau, just ask anyone for directions because everyone knows it and then go and enjoy the best lunch of your life. If you're too late and it's already closed or you have my luck and it's closed all day for a privately sponsored festival, then get conch somewhere else. Either way, you'll enjoy it. 

My conch burger. Not a nice picture, I didn't have much time for adjusting the settings on my cam because I was STARVING!

And this takes us to the nightlife in Nassau. "Funky Nassau, funky funky!!" This is absolutely true. My friend and I had asked a few people about where to go out in Nassau and we always got the same answer and then my friend Kenny confirmed it as well so we had our place: Señor Frog's. Located right next to where all the cruiseships dock and thus filled to the brim with people from all over the place (world) it is a crockpot of crazyness. Awesomely good food (like, for real, amazing), reasonably priced and yet unreasonably big drinks and an atmosphere loaded with fun that's enhanced with things like a shot-conga-line (you'll see when you get there). No more words, I'll just post pictures here. 

This is Señor Frog´s and to get in you have to be this tall.

I forgot what that drink was (a Margarita? it was my friend's, I had a strawberry daiquiri) but if you order that size what you get is called a "Yard" and you can keep the huge cup. Also, we had fun. You might be able to see that in the second picture, if you pay close attention. 

Then we slept. Because we were tired. From all the sun, obviously. 

The next day we checked out Atlantis. Atlantis is the biggest holiday resort in the Bahamas and  it's so big and so famous that lots of people don't even say they go to the Bahamas, when asked about their next holidays they simply answer "We're going to Atlantis". Unfortunately, it's not really in the average I'm-a-student-and-I-like-to-travel-between-semesters-person's budget, so we only went in to see the place for a few hours on Sunday, mainly because it's like a mini-overview of everything Bahamas. There's beaches, pools, a waterpark, restaurants, a casino, shops, different hotels and an aquarium where you can enjoy watching fish and jellyfish and seahorses and sharks and TURTLES! You don't get in for free, but a day pass is affordable and as it's like a miniature island version of SeaWorld, I guess it's ok to spend a little bit. Also, next to Atlantis is the public Cabbage Beach so you can watch the fishies in Atlantis and then swim for free right next door (although the beach doesn't have a door, but that doesn't matter right now). 

Here's my favourite fishie picture: 


And this is Atlantis and the way many people get there: 

The main hotel in Atlantis, the bridge thing is the presidential suite ($40,000/night, min. booking is four nights - enjoy your stay I say...). And the Oasis of the Sea, the biggest cruise ship in the world, for like 6,800 passangers PLUS staff!!

I can't tell you much more now, because we went back to FLL after a final dip in the brilliantly blue sea of Cabbage Beach. But, oh you really should go. It's not just families with kids in all-inclusive resort hotels and it's not just drunk cruisers and it's not just honeymooners. There's also pirates and history and little hidden public beaches and small alleys in the centre of Nassau with the cutest little stores and even if you only have a day and a half - The Bahamas Are Worth The Trip!