Thursday, December 28, 2006

Exchanging Vows on the Beach

Beach wedding invitations aren't the thing most people are thinking about at this time of the year, the week between Christmas and New Year's. But that's probably because "most people" are living on the wrong side of the equator. Next year, right about this time, I plan on being in Sydney for a wedding, and I've received my proper beach theme invitation -- just right for this time of year Down Under.

I am not usually big on weddings, being not much into all the dressing up and so forth. The beach wedding invitation strikes me as just right, though. So I am looking forward to hearing my friends exchange their vows in a public celebration of the future they will spend together, right there on the beach. It will be my first trip to Australia, and I can think of no better way to spend it.

Showintale Journeys

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Zhang Jia Jie, Hunan, China

Zhang Jia Jie was China's first national park. While many others have since joined the ranks, Zhang Jia Jie remains one of the country's most noted scenic spots.

Situated outside of the city by the same name (a mere small town by China standards, with its 1 million inhabitants), the mountains of the national park create a sort of magical atmosphere. The mountains rise up out of the ground, thin as fingers reaching towards the heavens. They never quite grasp the sky above, though from the ground it appears they have a very good chance.

Falling just short of the sky, it seems the fingers do manage to plunge themselves into the clouds often enough. Perhaps that is the lower level of the heavens for which they reach. One way or another, the clouds often cover the tops of the mountains, hiding the views to be had from their peaks. The winds are strong enough and frequent enough, though, to blow the clouds away for a few moments at a time, giving the hiker a clear, if brief, view of the vast range of the mountains. They stretch out for miles, breaking up the land that lies before the eyes. It seems to me that these brief views are the way to see Zhang Jia Jie, adding to the mystique of the place. I wouldn't exchange my misty holiday for one with clearer weather. The continued veiling and unveiling of the grandeur that lives there is the perfect way to see the place.

Showintale Journeys

Thursday, December 14, 2006

London Nights

I loved London when I was there. It is a city with such a rich background. It almost made me feel, with real weight, what the word "history" means.

But there was one thing I didn't like. I also felt, with real weight, what the word "expensive" means. It is not a city where things come cheap, and I was a little caught off guard there with just how expensive everything is.

It wasn't easy, back in those days, to find cheap hotels in London. Thankfully, the Internet has revolutionized travel, and makes finding London's discount hotels just a little easier... well, a lot easier, really... than it used to be.

Showintale Journeys

Heritage Tourism

Heritage tourism is the journey-plans of choice for many tourists these days. Places in the UK like Bath, Chester, Stratford, York, Brighton, and Oxford attract many guests throughout the year who are interested in the locations' rich heritage.

When I was in the UK, I made it a point to visit the home of the bard in Stratford-Upon-Avon, as well as Oxford, where I managed to see "the Bird and Baby." That famous pub where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien used to meet over a round of beers with their writers' circle really hit me, since I've always been an avid reader of both Tolkien and Lewis. That was the first time I was consciously involved in what has now become widely known as heritage tours. I think I'd been a part of many other such trips, particularly field trips when I was a kid, but this move toward heritage tourism is a phenomenon that's slowly grown up over the years. From my own experience in those cities in the UK, and many subsequent visits to other heritage-tour-type spots, I can say that it is a holiday well-spent.

Showintale Journeys

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

50 Sites

I travel a lot and have been to many parts of the world. I even write about travel for pay, from time to time.

One thing that I have to say has made a dramatic change in travel habits since I began wandering the earth is the Internet. I use it all the time, whether for information or just for generating ideas about where to go next. And once in a while my own writing appears on a travel website too.

So I was really intrigued when I saw this website which claims to list 50 sites you've never heard of. For the most part, they were right. I'd only heard of one of the 50 sites. And when I started poking around the other 49, it was quite a delight to see what all is available! There are sites dedicated to complaints on specific topics, one for airplane seats and one for airline meals. There's a site that rates airports based on the need to spend a night sleeping in the airport (done that more times than I care to consider). There are sites with videos and photos, recommendations for games to play in long car trips, recommendations for events you've never imagined... all sorts of stuff. My personal favorite is probably the literary travel site.

All in all, it is a fun place to look around at. If you enjoy travel, don't pass this one up! Even for someone who has seen a bit of the world, these sites have something to offer.

Showintale Journeys

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Kukop Island, Malaysia

Off the west coast of Johor lies Malaysia's largest mangrove island, Kukup Island. It is infested with all sorts of wildlife, and the trees which cover the island are that interesting sort which have their roots growing up out of ground, in order to better soak up the salt water they need to survive.

When I was in Kukup, it was December, which is winter in the regions north of there. The island was covered with white birds, mostly perched atop the trees. These were Chinese egrets, flown down those thousands of miles from China to the warm climate of Malaysia.

While viewing the island from a floating fishery, I also saw 2 wild boars. The first was making its way back into the jungle from the coast. The second gave me a view of what they were doing along the coast. I watched it walk out from the jungle, plodding along the top of the protruding roots of the mangrove trees. It reached the edge of the coast, grabbed a fish from the fishing nets, and scampered back into the jungle. It seems the wild boars have found a ready supply of fish, stealing from the fishermen who make their livelihood just meters away at the floating fishery.

Showintale Journeys

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Esplanade

The Esplanade, home to Singapore's arts and performance scene, was officially opened in 2002. Before this huge structure, pictured here, was completed, performances in Singapore were held in varying locales, some more suitable than others. But since this site has become the central focal point for the performing arts, the quality of venues available has improved dramatically.

One of the best performances I've seen in the last couple of years was held in The Esplanade. World-in-Theatre's performance of Elektra at the beginning of 2004 was an outstanding fusion of Indian, Greek, and English-speaking cultures. I've written my reflections on the performance elsewhere, but I failed there to mention that the facilities at The Esplanade went into making the performance so memorable for me. It was, in a word, ideal.

Not only is The Esplanade well-constructed for hosting the performing arts, but it is also situated on the Singapore River in a very aesthetically pleasing way. Facing the Merlion, which sits across the river from The Esplanade, on one side, City Hall and the Padang on another, Suntec City on a third, and the Benjamin Sheares Bridge on to the South, it sits in a scenic area downtown. And it just adds to the beauty of an already attractive area.

Another blogger's view of The Esplanade

Showintale Journeys

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bottle Tree Village

On the northern coast of Singapore, out near Sembawang Park, there is a little restaurant nestled back in the jungle. It is off the beaten track, and mostly it is a place frequented by locals.

Bottle Tree Village, that isolated little eatery off the beaten path, is situated across the straits from Malaysia, with a nice view of the jungles on the Johor coast sitting across the water. It is a breezy little spot, and a wonderful place to while away the afternoon.

I've spent many afternoons there, soaking up the quietness. For that, it is the perfect place. It is hard to believe this hideaway is in Singapore, as it is the perfect escape from all the urban bustle.

Getting there without your own transportation isn't that easy. (Getting there by cab is easy, but catching a cab out less so.) However, if you are a bit of a walker, there is a nice walking path that stretches from Yishun (near the industrial park) all the way out to Bottle Tree Village. It's about a 3 km walk along a canal.

Oh. And the food. Well, it isn't the best in Singapore, for the price (not cheap, but not terrible). But if a quiet escape spot is in order, it is definitely a place to consider. And the seafood is the best choice from the menu.

Showintale Journeys

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Centre Court

It's been some years since I visited Wimbledon, but standing at Centre Court is an experience I will keep in mind for a long, long time. I was not really a big tennis fan before that, but had recently come to know some friends who were tennis-mad. Having spent some time with them, I had a growing appreciation of the game.

At Centre Court, there is a feeling of grandeur that seems to be lacking from other sports venues I've visited. It truly gives the feeling, standing at that spot, that this is a game of class and style.

During my stay in Wimbledon, the players began to arrive, and the air was electrified. The arrival of these top-notch tennis pros really lit up an otherwise sleepy part of London. I am glad, all these years later, to have that experience of the place.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Chinese Theater, LA

In front of the Chinese Theater in LA, there lies the famous stretch of road upon which you can see the names and hand/footprints of the stars, outlined and laid out within a star of its own. It is a fun walk to make, with one's eyes downturned, reading the names, seeing the little messages carved into the stone, and thinking about the careers these famous folk have made over the years.

Both times I've been there, I enjoyed the sights and the walk very much. Once I was there at midmorning, and once closer to midnight. The place has a very different feel at the different times of day. If you are the sort who might feel a little paranoia about parking on a dark, rather seedy-feeling side street, then stick to the midmorning routine. Or perhaps just plan your route better than I did to avoid those sorts of parking spaces.

But the creatures of the night who roam about the place after dark do add a special feel to the air, and it is worth seeing then too. If you are the sort who likes to keep company with vampires and night owls, making a trip down there in the cool of the late night is something that is worth keeping in the memory books.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Road to Penang

Stretched across the northern section of the Malaysian peninsula lies a vast jungle area. It expands out across the hilly region, a lush green landscape.

Somehow or another, a highway has been built through this jungle undergrowth, running roughly from Kota Bahru to Penang. It is an engineering feat, how that road was built, and it still lies today in one of the most rugged regions of Peninsular Malaysia.

Standing next to the roadside are signs that are common for many parts of the world, indicating a warning to beward of crossing animals. However, what is noteworthy about these signs is that they picture elephants, this being one of the world's few highways that would have to worry about elephants crossing it.

And I've heard that it can be a problem. Night driving there is highly discouraged because nighttime is the time the elephants most like to crowd the highway. The blacktopped surface of the road attracts heat throughout the day. In the cool of the jungle night, this heat can be appealing to the elephants, who often like to sleep there. And a collision with an elephant, no matter how sturdy one's vehicle, could be a deadly affair.

Tigers have also been known to roam the highway at night.

showintale's blog

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula, just outside of Dunedin, New Zealand, is a stunning spot to visit for any animal lover. The farmers and whalers there, for generations, had destroyed the forestation. It happened that the forestation was needed, though, to support the Yellow-eyed Penguins that have always lived there. When the forestation was destroyed, the penguins left. And so did all the animals that needed the penguins for survival.

About a decade ago, some farmers along the coast began to leave their lands closest to the coast for regrowing the natural forestation on the peninsula. When that happened, the penguins returned to their natural habitat. And the sea lions followed. Most recently, the whales have too. (There are no more whalers there.)

When I was there, we were so close to a yellow-eyed penguin that we could have touched him. He walked right up to where we stood, took a good look at us (we were obviously the oddity, not him) and started making his way up the hill to where we could see his mate waiting for him in the regrown forestation. We saw 5 penguins that day (though this breed is not very sociable). And we saw lots of seals and sea lions. In fact, the sea lions blocked the footpath, where they lay sunbathing. We had to make our way quietly around them.

I loved the way the place is being conducted. Though we were able to get close to the animals for a good look, the natural condition is well maintained. The tourists who are taken there are kept to a very limited number, and the place is well sheltered from the problems that often go along with a tourist boom.

Tours are hosted by Elms Wildlife Tours. No other company has permission to bring tourist to the peninsula. This has worked wonderfully to preserve the natural habitat of the wildlife there, which is what enables those few tourists who go to see so much of that wildlife.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Traffic Hotel, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

It's been years since I was there. But I can still picture it as clearly as if I were there right now. Located at Linjiang Zhong Lu 6, Next to Xin Nan Men bus station, which was a torn up mess when I was there years ago, the Traffic Hotel makes a perfect HQ for travelers to Chengdu. Like many other budget travelers to Chengdu, I made this hotel my base while I was there.

The hotel is a relatively simple place. It includes breakfast in the price of its rooms, but doesn't have a lot of high class perks. What it does offer is services and styles that cater to the back packer. There is a bicycle rental station (what a way to see any Chinese city!) and a great notice board for fellow travelers to exchange information and great finds around the area. Best of all is the book exchange service, where many backpackers are willing to exchange their Chengdu, Sichuan, or China travel guide for one related to their next travel destination.

The rooms are simple and clean. The little gift shop is simple, but has some fun things there. The breakfast is simple too, but fills the tummy.

Noticing a theme here? Well, if simple and functional -- and affordable -- is what you seek, the Traffic Hotel is the place.

The Journeys of Showintale

Monday, November 13, 2006

Seeing the World

I haven't seen the whole world. Not yet.

Maybe one day I can change that claim, and say I've seen it all. Every last corner. Tasted every sort of food. Smelled every smell. Seen every sight, great or small.

But today is not that day. Not yet.

I've seen a bit of it, though. And it's an interesting place, this planet I call home.

Keep checking in here, from time to time.

I'll share some of what I've seen along the way.

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