Archive for the 'Travel' Category

08th Jan 2010

Bangkok vacation

Tony and I are in Bangkok enjoying a bit of a holiday from the Indian leg of our trip. We’d planned on coming here for job fairs, but then signed contracts for a school in Japan before the fair started. So, since the tickets and hotel were already booked we decided to come visit and hang out with the many friends we had who were also coming to Bangkok.

We’ve both been reminded of how much we love Bangkok, its food, its shopping, Khao San Road, the sky train and the people. My Delhi induced bronchitis is finally clearing up. We’ve been to a couple tailors and loads of street food stalls.

Today we’re going to explore our current neighborhood before moving to Khao San Road tomorrow. That is as soon as the Longhorns championship attempt finishes. Eeek. Hook ’em Horns! I’m off to find some spring rolls, mmm.

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21st Oct 2009

Tibet

Tibet proved to be as impressive and confusing as I had thought that it might be. Because of this, I have found it really difficult to express my feelings about the area, other than to say that it is beautiful and the people are lovely. But here goes . . .

Arranging travel to Tibet is difficult. China doesn’t really want foreigners to go, but if we insist on it they are more than willing to allow us to pay loads of money for the opportunity to travel through this isolated region. As of August 2009, there were only two methods of travel into Tibet for foreigners: the train or a plane. Considering Lhasa is at 3600 meters (11,800 feet), which is way above the altitude where most people start to feel altitude sickness, we felt that the safest and more interesting way to travel into Tibet was by train. The train into Tibet is proudly celebrated by the Chinese government as the highest train in the world. On the journey it travels over a pass at 5100 meters. Oxygen is piped into the cars above each sleeping berth. It’s the newest and cleanest train I’d seen in all of China.

We left Chengdu (finally) with our newly formed group of 12 people. Three couples (including Tony and me), and six singles; six males and six females; four Dutch people, two Danish guys, one each from France, Ireland, England, Spain, Japan and the US. A very diverse, but surprisingly compatible group. We’d tried to get a group (divisible by four for the Land Cruisers we had to rent) and it just kept growing.

As we road the train into Tibet, past amazing expanses of untouched high plateaus, grasslands, mountains and lakes, I was reading the book “Riding the Iron Rooster” by Paul Theroux. The book was written in 1988, before Tiananmen Square and before it was truly easy to travel in China. When he went to Lhasa, in the last chapter of the book, the train reached only as far as Golmud, a stop that went unnoticed on our 48 hour train journey. Upon reaching Lhasa, after a train journey and a life-threatening car ride, Theroux finds the city and Tibetans to be an incredibly gracious and welcoming people despite the rapid changes being implemented by the Han Chinese and the government. He also expresses his relief that Lhasa will remain isolated as there’s no way (so he believed) that anyone would ever be able to build a railroad across the mountains all the way to Lhasa. I read this as we were passing over the mountains that he was so convinced would stop any train. I felt a bit bummed.

Lhasa is a strange city. The old Tibetan section of town is lively, with thousands of pilgrims prostrating and walking around the numerous temples and shrines throughout the city. The level of devotion to their religion is something we, westerners, only read about in histories of medieval Europe. The people are friendly. Most of the people in and around the temples of Lhasa are also visitors to the city and they seem genuinely happy that foreigners are there to experience the culture and see the impressive structures that have lasted there. I suppose to some extent they are happy because we are not Han Chinese. The Han Chinese presence in Lhasa is very apparent; particularly obvious is the military presence. Along the main pilgrimage circuits, uniformed and fully armed military personnel sit under umbrellas in the middle of the streets. They also march against the flow of the pilgrim traffic, machine guns at their sides, and sit perched on the tops of buildings watching the vendors, pilgrims and tourists as the move around. It’s an uncomfortably tense place and the fact that these police are most prevalent around the holiest sites in the city makes it all seem very disrespectful.

The Han Chinese residents of Lhasa live in the western section of town. The buildings are the same concrete buildings that exist in every other Chinese city and there are hundreds of them. The stark contrast between the characterless Han Chinese section and the unique architecture of the vibrant (and surprisingly clean) Tibetan section of town is dramatic. Supposedly, the government has given loads of incentives to people to move to Tibet. However, much like other cities, many of the new buildings still appear to be vacant.

We spent two full days in Lhasa, visiting the Potala Palace, Sera Monastery and the Jokhung Temple in the center of the main Tibetan area. After our days in Lhasa, we traveled to Nam-Tso Lake, the world’s highest saltwater lake and then began our 4 day journey to the border of Nepal.

The trip through Tibet caused a bit of a conflict in many of us. Being in Tibet, it is quite difficult to avoid the knowledge that many Tibetans do not want the Chinese there. Some people told us this directly. Our Tibetan guide’s frequent use of the phrase the “liberation of Tibet” whenever he mentioned the time when the Dalai Lama fled seemed somewhat forced and the fact that we had a Han Chinese driver who clearly understood English but never spoke it made it seem all the more apparent that the government still finds the need to control what is said in the area. I loved Tibet, the people were, as I’ve said over and over again, lovely and the scenery both man-made and natural was stunning. But at the same time, I felt a bit conflicted being there. There’s no doubt that the Chinese government has made improvements to the infrastructure of Tibet, but the whole situation seems so colonial. And I know that all the money we spent on permits is going to strengthen the military presence that makes the place so uncomfortable and at times dangerous.

Tibet

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20th Oct 2009

catching up is hard to do

Clearly, I’m not quite dedicated to the whole blog idea, as it has been over a month since I wrote anything. I’ve been thinking about it really, but the whole traveling thing is so time consuming. We are in Pokhara for the next week, relaxing after 22 days of trekking (Everest and in the Annapurnas) with only a short break in the middle. One job I have given myself, since I currently have none is to write and tell (the three of you that are reading this) about what we’ve done. So, I’ll finally say something about our time in Tibet and Nepal. Now that it is all almost over. We are planning to head to India in a couple weeks, assuming we can get plane tickets and visas that quickly.

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04th Sep 2009

From the roof of the world

It is our last night in Lhasa and I’m a little bummed. We leave tomorrow to head towards Nepal, which I am excited about, but Lhasa has been really amazing. The people are friendly and polite, the sights are stunning, the landscape is some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. And the food is great.

The train ride was really beautiful, but a bit difficult. On the morning of the last day of the train, we passed the highest point at 5100 meters. I spent most of the last day trying to sleep so that I wouldn’t feel the effects of the altitude. Lhasa, thankfully, is only at 3700 meters so we all felt a bit better once we arrived in the city.

It will take us about three and a half days to get to Nepal. So it will probably be a while before I get good internet access again. Once I do, I’ll write a more thorough account of Tibet and of course finally about Songpan. If I can still remember that trip.

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25th Aug 2009

Horse-trekking in Songpan

Upon our arrival in Songpan, we were immediately struck with the dramatic contrast between it and most other Chinese cities. The city has a much higher population of both Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Chinese. The town felt like a bizarre blend of Carson City and a Chinese village. It was small and divided by a dramatic city wall that stretched out and over a high hill to the west of the town. Surrounded by mountains, the city sits in a valley and the road is equally filled with pedi-cabs, large trucks with loud horns and horses and sheep. It also, up to that point, contained the friendliest people we’d met in all of China.

Our bus was met outside of the trekking agency, by one of the trekking guides. Knowing that the bus from Chengdu would have most of their clients, he jumped on and told us that this was where we needed to get off. The trekking agency was located directly in front of a lodge, which was owned by the trekking agency and next to a massage parlor and a cafe (Emma’s Kitchen), which was owned by a wonderful English-speaking lady, Emma and her brother David. Randomly, we had met their other brother in Chengdu the night before we took the bus to Songpan.

Our first night in Songpan, we were taken to another “hotel” to sleep since the horse-trekking lodge was full. Our hotel was in the bus station. It kind of felt like we’d been locked in accidentally at night, but it was quiet and had more bathrooms than the regular lodge, so we weren’t too unlucky.

The horse-trekking began the following morning. We met our group, which included Tony and me, three English girls on break from university (Joanna, Ayaka and Sara) and Kevin. Our three guides were an odd mix, though great fun and really nice and helpful. The oldest guide was clearly the boss, the quietest was in charge of the cooking and the loudest was clearly in love with the mountains and seemed quite depressed when we returned to Songpan three days later.

The trekking was great. We saw some amazing sights of the mountains. It was wonderful to get into the fairly untouched countryside and away from the car-horns and “civilization” of the cities. The food was amazing, as was the pain we felt after riding horses (or a mule in my case) for three days.

Songpan and Chengdu

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23rd Aug 2009

Forgoing caution for a car horn: The road to Songpan

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Chengdu, while we are trying to arrange travel to and through Tibet. The nice thing is that the hostel here is quite comfortable and full of fellow travelers with lots of tips on cool places to go and see. There are loads of trip possibilities around Sichuan and the owners of the hostel are more than happy to arrange pretty affordable trips for us. So, after hearing over and over how beautiful Songpan, in northern Sichuan, was, we decided to go for it. We’d heard from a group that the bus ride was pretty awful, but totally worth it as the horse trekking in the mountains was a great experience.

So, we left last Monday at 5:30 in the morning to get on a (supposedly) eight hour bus ride to Songpan. We’d booked our trip quite a few days in advance, which meant that we had the lucky privilege of sitting in the front seats behind the driver. This gave us the ability to see every time the driver pulled into oncoming traffic to overtake another driver, to be deafened by the ridiculously loud horn that he used basically every time he saw any living or non-living thing on the road, and to watch him clean his ear with a toothpick. I think I was the only one who had the joy of watching that, but it did explain why the horn didn’t seem to bother him.

The trip took ten hours rather than eight (the return journey was twelve). The extended time was due mainly to massive damage on the road caused by the earthquake that happened last May. Nearly every 100 meters, one lane of the road would be so damaged that the traffic was brought down to one lane. Given the general tendency of Chinese drivers to ignore the concept of yielding, there were quite frequently standoffs. Where two drivers would drive towards each other in one lane and wait for the other one to move. Also, whenever there was a backup of cars, caused by an area in the road with only one lane, smaller cars would try to get to the front of the backup, quite effectively blocking any possibility of the oncoming traffic getting through once the stand off ended.

Despite all that, the ride was fascinating. Besides the damage to the roads, the earthquake had caused major damage to nearly every village, town and city we passed. I know that this may seem obvious after all the news coverage last year, but it was quite startling to see it in person. There were thousands of temporary housing buildings and tents throughout the valley. Cement mixers littered the sides of the roads. In some of the towns, you could basically see everybody working to rebuild the damaged buildings. In most cases, there were some very impressive new homes already built and it seemed that there was always a brand new school finished. Rockslides were also quite common, adding to the hair-raising nature of the drive.

In the end, we obviously did make it to Songpan. And as everyone promised the ride (up and back) was totally worth the experience of horse trekking and visiting Songpan. Plus, we at least didn’t have a longer drive. We heard tales of a six hour bus journey from another area in Sichuan to Chengdu turning into a 30 hour “drive”.

Photos and more on Songpan are coming soon.

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16th Aug 2009

Trekking on horseback

We’re off again. This time we are headed to Songpan, which is north of Chengdu. We’ll be taking a very long bus ride to Songpan and then beginning a three day horse trek into the mountains. Hopefully, we’ll get some good weather and photos. More soon.

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30th Jun 2009

Japan: Day 1 – Introductions, Fish, Sake and Mystery Dinner

We finally stepped off the boat, after having our temperature taken for the third time in as many days, and onto Japanese soil. Well, the glassed in walkway from the boat into Japanese customs. On the way, we caught sight of the family piling out of a taxi. We made our way to immigration where we had a particularly “big brother” moment, where the immigration officer asked me for my brother’s address, which I of course didn’t have. He then asked me for Todd’s birthday, with which he was able to pull up a lovely mug shot of my dear brother and all the information he needed about the Welbes’ in Japan. After all this, we finally made it out and were warmly greeted with cheers of “Auntie!” from my adorable nieces. Of course, this may have actually been cheers of “Tony!” but I choose to hear what I like. They had clearly been well coached.

After all the introductions had been made, we left the ferry terminal and headed to the train. Kirsten told us that one of the best things to do in Osaka is the aquarium, which just happened to be one train stop away from where we were. Luckily, they also had storage lockers big enough to store our big backpacks. We made our way through the impressive aquarium. The girls were delighted. Upon leaving the aquarium, we had our first experience with okinomiyaki (roughly translated: stuff you like fried up all good and tasty). As we were in a food court, it wasn’t the best okinomiyaki of the trip, but still tasty, as the name suggests.

We collected our bags again and went off to brave the Osaka train lines led fearlessly by Todd and Kirsten. After making a brief pitstop at the apartment in Kobe, we headed off, in the rain, to a sake brewery in Kobe for a tasting and dinner. Needless to say, the sake tasting was lots of fun and educational as well. Dinner was an experience as well. We received our menus, which were only in Japanese and basically chose between multi-course meals of either 3000, 5000 or 7000 yen. After that, it was an exciting “what’s behind door number 1” style dinner. I think we all left satisfied. I was stuffed. Dan had eaten more tofu and Tony had more fish in one meal than I think either had ever seen in their lives. And of course, not surprisingly the sake was delicious.

That was Day 1. Tony and I were exhausted, but happy and cozy in the quiet and efficient country of Japan.

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29th Jun 2009

Shipping out of Shanghai

Shanghai was good as usual. We ate more great meals, including the absolutely delicious Shanghai dumplings (mmm), organized our Japan Rail passes and found the ferry terminal, after spending way too much time walking around the Port of Shanghai. Our wandering was caused partially by my inability to listen to anyone when they give me directions (a habit that I really need to break) and the unusual Chinese method of giving buildings street numbers for streets on which they do not have an entrance. That confuses me. Therefore we missed the building we were looking for over and over again. Though, I do have to defend myself a bit and say that plenty of people gave us directions that sent us way past the building we were looking for. Tony may beg to differ.

We left Shanghai on Saturday morning and headed back to the ferry terminal, much more quickly this time. The boat far exceeded both our expectations. We shipped out at noon, after which Tony and I spent about an hour enjoying the views of the Shanghai harbor and congratulating ourselves on our great decision to take the boat. After we’d had enough of the views we headed below deck to take advantage of the well-stocked Kirin vending machines. That’s right folks, beer vending machines. We had been told by the ferry company that they would accept both Japanese and Chinese currency on the boat. We were quite shocked to discover that the vending machines were not so flexible. In fact, we could only use Chinese currency in the restaurant, which at that moment wasn’t set to be open for another five hours. Despite our initial panic, Tony was able to find a very friendly, Chinese businessman who was willing to buy some yuan for some yen. We were ready for our pan-China Sea adventure!

After “several” vending machine beers and some painfully strong Chinese alcohol from our new money-exchanging friend, we had a great first night on the boat. If not the most hydrated night’s sleep. Sunday, our second day on the ship proved to be a bit more low-key as Tony and I avoided the beer machines. This proved to be a very wise move once we discovered all that Kirsten had in store for us on our first day in Japan. We spent most of the day watching over the sides of the ship at the schools of flying fish, luminescent jellyfish and hammerhead sharks. I saw two, Tony saw three. They were very cool and helped to stem the temptation of jumping into the crystal clear water. Sunday afternoon we also made our way into the southern tip of Japan and spent the rest of the afternoon with impressive views of the Japanese coastline.

So, I went to sleep Sunday night like a kid on Christmas Eve, eagerly awaiting what I would find when I woke up in Japan.

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08th Oct 2008

Shanghai

Those of you who know me (which I assume is everyone reading this site), know that the two cities I’ve lived in over the last 5 years of my life have been unknown cities in developing countries. Both are countries that I was interested in, but not convinced I wanted to live in. At least I knew that I did not want to live in the major cities; you know, the Shanghais, Beijings, Sao Paulos or Rios of the world. Too much crime, too much traffic, too much pollution. Yet, I find that whenever I visit these cities I love them. Shanghai proved to be no exception.

Tony and I spent the Chinese Golden Week eating our way through the fine western restaurants (and bars) of Shanghai, China. Shanghai, for those of you who are not familiar, was, after Hong Kong, the major foreign port in China. So, now the major areas of town have very un-Chinese names like the Bund and the French Concession. These areas also have very un-Chinese architecture. Shanghai also had lots of museums, theaters, and art galleries. We saw a couple of the museums, but since it was Chinese Golden Week it seemed as though everyone in China was also in Shanghai. Also, since the museums were free (Golden Week again) most of the people in Shanghai were in line for the museums or on Nanjing Dong Lu (#1 Shopping Street in China!).

All in all, Shanghai was very cool. And I’m now thinking that for my next job, I might try to move to one of those cities with traffic and the other problems of the big city, because they’ll also have restaurants and grocery stores that sell cheese and cereal. It’s the little things.

Shanghai

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12th Sep 2008

Wyoming

While I was home for a quick two and a half weeks this summer, I got to go to Wyoming. Teton Village to be exact, which is just between Jackson Hole and the south entrance to Grand Teton National Park. I don’t know if it’s because I was such a city girl growing up, but I was never too excited by the idea of a national park. Probably because I hadn’t really ever seen one, except for the Redwoods. The Redwoods were very cool, but I was also 17 so I guess I tried not to be impressed by much.

Wyoming? Gorgeous. The bit of Idaho that I saw? Gorgeous. Grand Teton and Yellowstone? Well, if you haven’t been there, you should go. If you have been there, you understand why I have difficulty explaining how amazing it is. And lastly, the Four Seasons? Spoiled me for life. I’ll never be the same again. I suppose that is unless I’m traveling on my budget and then I’ll be fine with the cheap hotel.

As photos of stunning natural beauty tend, these do not do the place justice, but here they are. Just to prove that I was there.

From Jackson Hole

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03rd Jul 2008

Day 5 – Jinghong

I am currently sitting in the cute and homey Mei Mei Cafe, where they have coffee, American breakfast and free internet. Seems funny to travel to the edge of China and order hash browns, but I’m not complaining.

The train trip was painless. Met an interesting Chinese-born American citizen named Tommy who lived in Kansas City for 14 years. Nice guy, who turns out to be moving to Xiamen to study at the University there.

We arrived in Kunming on Wednesday. Tony commented on how strange it was that the river in Kunming seemed to go right up to the buildings. That was seconds before we realized that most of the city was flooded. After a wet walk from the train station to our hotel, we managed to find some food and bus tickets to Jinghong. Actually, Tony found the bus tickets. I took a nap. Sitting on a train for 40 hours seems to tire me out.

Our bus journey from Kunming to Jinghong was hair raising at times, but overall fairly uneventful. Now, the plan is to check out the surrounding areas of Jinghong. Xishuangbanna, the region we are in, is fairly similar in culture to northern Thailand. It’s very lush and green and feels very different from other parts of China. I’m updating the google map that I linked to below. The green lines show where we’ve traveled so far. More soon!

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29th Jun 2008

China Adventure – Day 1

I suppose today counts as the first day of my China adventure, though at the moment I am sitting on my couch waiting for the clothes to dry. It sure doesn’t feel like an adventure day.

Tony and I are leaving on the train today at 4pm. We are headed “straight” to Kunming in Yunnan province. The train trip will take approximately 40 hours. From Kunming, the plan is to head south to Xishuangbanna (say that three times fast) and then probably up north to Lijiang and Dali. If we move fast enough we’ll end in Shanghai. Though we’ll probably spend the whole 2 and a half weeks in Yunnan. After the two weeks are up, I will fly back to Xiamen and then Houston, while Tony continues on the trip. If you’re really curious about the route, you can view a tentative one on my google maps. I will try to keep this updated while we are traveling. Yippee it’s adventure time!

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12th Feb 2008

Snow, Wine and Wii

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14th Nov 2007

Photos of Hong Kong, Xiamen and Chaozhou

October and November

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14th Oct 2007

Chaweng, Chatachuk & Chinese electronics

Thailand

I have few photos to show for my week long trip to Thailand, thanks to a defective compact flash card that I picked up in the electronics market here in Xiamen. Lesson learned. What few photos I did take were taken on Chaweng Beach on the island of Koh Samui on one of about 2.5 sunny days out of the 5 days I was there.

Koh Samui has some beautiful beaches, fabulous food and one of the most obnoxious ad campaigns for a restaurant that I’ve ever seen. If you ever go there you’ll know the one I mean. Let’s just say that photo after photo of the chef of a restaurant does not entice me to want to eat there. Even with what seemed like a pretty impressive menu.

As for Bangkok, I have no photos but I do have numerous souvenirs. I spent approximately 7 hours over two different days at the Chatachuk Market. The statistics about the place are pretty astounding, but nowhere near as impressive as the market itself. If you ever feel like you need dishes, bed linens, t-shirts, a dog and lunch all at the same place this is your spot. Plus there’s live “entertainment”.

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26th Apr 2007

Back to the Beach

I’m headed back to Florianopolis for what may well be my last trip to the beach here in Brazil. Warm weather has lasted for an oddly long time this year and so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for one more good beach weather weekend. Hopefully, this time I’ll remember to take my camera and all its parts with me so that I can actually take some photos of one of my favorite places.

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20th Apr 2007

Mandarin lessons and the quest for the Chinese Visa

Well since I last posted I have had approximately four Mandarin lessons. Our teacher is really good. He’s interesting, but yet knows how to teach and has a decent sense of humor. Most of this humor is displayed when he laughs at our slaughtering of his native language. Thankfully, he doesn’t take offense.

So far I’ve learned how to say good morning, “I am an American,” approximately thirty or so verbs and a bunch of nouns including peach and mango, plus five of the nine hundred meanings for the sound “ma,” which include, but are not limited to, mother, horse, hemp, some sort of insult and a question mark. I’m still not really sure how to say yes, but I do know how to say no, which I suppose is more useful. All in all it’s been useful, even if I’m pretty certain that I won’t build up the nerve to speak to anyone for about a year.

I’ve also had the joyous experience of completing the frontwork for my work visa. This has mainly involved doctor visits, three so far. I’ve had one basic physical, which was just weird because the Chinese physical form was so bizarrely translated. I also had the privilege of getting a chest x-ray and an EKG, both of these were performed with equipment that I’m pretty sure was made in 1952. But my heart is beating as normally as can be expected and I have two functioning lungs and all the necessary ribs, so I think I’m good to go fight off Bird Flu.

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10th Sep 2006

Sporadic Update: September Edition

So life has continued to truck along and I am staying very busy. After leaving England and Ireland, I jetted back to Brazil and jumped right back into work. We’ve already been back at school for over a month. Thanks to this rapid succession of events, the progress on my thesis has suffered a little bit. I intend to maintain my coveted “Biggest Procrastinator” award, by waiting til the last possible minute, but still meeting my deadline of December 8th. Anyone who would like to hold that deadline over my head, feel free. I work best under pressure.

In other news, the Welbes clan has expanded once again. The newest arrival is Tess Olivia. Tess was born on September 9th in Lima. For a look, check out Todd and Kirsten’s website.

Despite my hectic work schedule, I did manage to squeeze in a brief trip to Rio with some friends. There are a few pictures here, though many are repeats from my trip two years ago. But if you never looked at those, then these will be quite fabulous I’m sure.

I’m also attempting to take some photos of this wonderful city before I finally leave it. So, hopefully I will be updating the folder of photos from Curitiba.

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26th Jul 2005

Departing Fair Britain

After a pleasant, but costly, month in England, I am departing for the land of carnaval, samba and football. I will miss the endless amounts and varieties of draft beer; but not the high prices of it. I will miss the slightly (and I emphasize slightly) warmer temperatures. I will not miss the annoying familiarity of being in a country that is tense and awaiting more bad news. But whatever I miss, I will get to enjoy again next year when I return for another dizzying month of graduate work.

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