Archive | September, 2011
September 28, 2011

POTD: Portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il on the Pyongyang Metro

Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il on the Pyongyang Metro

Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il on the Pyongyang Metro

You are always under the watchful eyes of the “Dear Leader” and “Great Leader” wherever you go in North Korea, including the metro. These portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il were spotted in a Pyongyang Metro car in September 2009. While we were only allowed in one metro car (seperate, of course, from the North Koreans) I imagine that these portraits adorn every car.

September 27, 2011

POTD: Fort Bokar, Dubrovnik

Fort Bokar in Dubrovnik

Fort Bokar in Dubrovnik

Completed in 1463, Fort Bokar is a key part of the system of defensive walls that surround the Old City of Dubrovnik. These walls are considered one of the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages, as they were never breached by a hostile army during this time period. Since its founding in the 7th century, Dubrovnik has been subjected to various sieges throughout its long history, most recently in 1991, when it was besieged and shelled by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav People’s Army.

Of all the places I have traveled to, Dubrovnik remains one of my favorite destinations. Its beauty is unrivaled, the food is amazing, and the people are warm and hospitable. I hope to return there sometime in the near future.

September 19, 2011

Plume Geyser at Yellowstone National Park

A short video of Yellowstone’s Plume Geyser erupting:

Created in 1922, the Plume Geyser is one of Yellowstone’s youngest geysers. It erupts every hour, often surprising (and splashing) whatever unsuspecting tourist happens to be passing by.

September 18, 2011

POTD: Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

This is the lower level of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the main railway station in Berlin. I visited this train station in December 2009, when my family and I were taking a train from Berlin to Prague as part of our Central Europe itinerary. Although it may not seem like it from the photo, the train station was actually quite crowded (we had apparently just arrived super-early for our train) with Berliners headed to various points in Europe to enjoy their weekends in the country or the all inclusive ski holidays for families they had booked.

I’m a huge fan of train travel, especially if it is an alternative to flying or driving somewhere. There is no invasive security, and trains themselves are usually much more comfortable, with larger seats and ample room to walk around the train car. Our train trip from Berlin to Prague took us only 4.5 hours. The scenery on the way was incredibly beautiful; we passed through the Erzgebirge mountains, which were dotted with small villages perched on the banks of an alpine river. In addition, the dining car was well-stocked with German beers, so the 4.5 hours passed quickly, and before we knew it, we had arrived at Praha hlavní nádraží, Prague’s main railway station. It was a cold and snowy that afternoon in Prague, the exact opposite of my previous trip there in July 2005, when it was gloriously sunny and warm. The winter weather, however, seems more true to the character of the city, and somehow makes the beef with cream and dumplings taste that much better.

September 11, 2011

POTD: Saints Cyril and Methodius statue on Prague’s Charles Bridge

st charles bridge in prague

st charles bridge in prague

Taken on a cold winter morning in late December 2009, this photo shows the statues of Saints Cyril and Methodius, two Byzantine Greek brothers who introduced Christianity to the Slavs and invented the Cyrillic alphabet. Prague Castle can be seen in the background.

September 8, 2011

Olympic National Park: Hoh Rain Forest and the coast

This past weekend we took a daytrip to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, which is a four hour drive from Seattle. I’ve wanted to visit the rain forest since we arrived in Seattle two months ago and figured we should do it while the weather was decent (as it turned out, “decent” was an understatement – it was 80 degrees and clear skies on Saturday).

On our way to the rain forest we stopped at the park’s Kalaloch Area, which features several miles of unspoiled beaches. I was surprised how warm the water was – I expected it to be much, much colder.

We continued onward to the Hoh Rain Forest where we hiked (well, more like strolled) the Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature Trails. The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the largest temperate rain forests in the United States and receives 141 to 165 inches of precipitation per year. The forest is incredibly beautiful and unique, featuring large bigleaf maples and Sitka spruces draped with thick clumps of moss and a floor of lush ferns.

After our short hike through the rain forest, we headed back to the coast for a quick stop at Second Beach. I had heard good things about this particular beach, and it did not disappoint. To reach the beach from the parking lot, you must hike a .7 mile trail through lush, green forest, but eventually rays of sunshine penetrate the thick canopy and the trees begin to thin out, treating you to some spectacular coastal scenery.

We had a long drive back to Seattle that evening, but stopped at 8th St Ale House in Hoquiam for dinner. After a long day enjoying the great outdoors, what could be better than a pint of beer and fish & chips?

The rest of the photos are here. Enjoy!

September 7, 2011

Yellowstone National Park, Part II

Continued from Part I

We were up around 6am on the morning of our second, and only full day, in Yellowstone National Park. We wanted to get an early start and visit a few more of the park’s attractions before the roads became clogged with the multitudes of RVs and trailers that crawl slowly along the park’s roads.

Our first encounter with park wildlife that morning was this impressive elk, who was enjoying breakfast on the side of the road. Check out those antlers!

Yellowstone Lake:

Another bison:


Yes, more bison:

Forest stretching for miles:

Tower Fall, 132ft drop:

We went hiking later that day but had to cut our hike short when we encountered a bison near the trail. He started coming towards us, so we decided to turn around and head back where we came from. He continued to follow us for a few minutes but eventually stopped, so thankfully this post won’t include any details on what it is like to be gored by a bison.

With our hike cut short, we headed to the mud volcano and sulfur cauldron area to check out some more of Yellowstone’s geothermal features.

The giant elk, again. This was the third time we spotted this guy. The first time was actually at night, when he was crossing the road and we were driving back to our camp (that encounter was a bit scary – thankfully we did not hit him).

Our campsite. Overall it was decent, but the campsites were very close together.

The campground was located on the shore of Yellowstone Lake:

Us, with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

Once we returned to camp that evening, we cooked a pot of chili, kicked back with a few beers, and sampled some bison and elk jerky (the bison was delicious, elk was so-so). Since we had a long drive to Spokane the following morning, we turned in early and drifted in and out of sleep, occasionally awakened by the howls of a nearby pack of wolves.

The rest of the Yellowstone photos are here.

September 6, 2011

POTD: The Valley of the Queens

Situated on the west bank of the Nile across from Thebes (modern day Luxor), the Valley of the Queens is the final resting place for the wives of Egypt’s Pharaohs (who themselves are buried in the nearby Valley of the Kings). The Valley of the Queens contains over seventy tombs from the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties, including that of Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses the Great. In addition to the queens, various princes, princesses and members of the nobility were also laid to rest in the Valley of the Queens. Unfortunately, when we visited, hardly any of the tombs were open to the public, so most of what we saw was exactly what is displayed in the above photo. Many of the tombs have also been ransacked by robbers, so some contain hardly anything.

I visited Egypt in 2005, when I was living in London and it was much easier to travel to the Middle East. I would like to return to the Middle East someday, perhaps to Jordan (Petra looks amazing), Lebanon (I hear Beirut is a fun city), or the United Arab Emirates (Dubai trips are quite inexpensive, especially if you live in Europe). I would probably choose to go in the winter, though, when the temperatures are milder.

September 6, 2011

Yellowstone National Park, Part I

Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Spray

During our 3,000 mile drive from Washington, DC to Seattle, we stopped in Yellowstone National Park for several days. It was my first visit to Yellowstone, and yes, it truly is deserving of its reputation – an incredibly beautiful area of our country.

Prior to arriving in Yellowstone, however, we purchased some bear deterrent. I had no idea this stuff existed, but I received an email from my mom insisting that we purchase some because a hiker had recently been killed by a grizzly bear in the park. While we were in Denver we stopped at REI and picked up a can of “Counter Assault Bear Deterrent”. At $46 it was a bit pricey, but better safe than sorry, I suppose.

Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Spray

On our way to Yellowstone from Rock Springs, Wyoming (about a 5 hour drive) we drove through Grand Teton National Park:

Beautiful, no? And this is just the beginning…

Our first stop in Yellowstone was the Grant Village Campground, where we would be staying for two nights. After quickly setting up our tent, we set out to explore the park. We only had a little over a day and a half in Yellowstone (not nearly enough time if you want to do any substantial), so we tried to see as much as possible. Our first stop was the Upper Geyser Basin, where Old Faithful is located.

The park built these wooden walkways so you can walk around the basin and view the geysers up close. These visitors were caught by surprise when the geyser closest to them started erupting.

And, of course, the main attraction, Old Faithful. Instead of fighting the rest of the tourists for a spot on the benches in front of Old Faithful, we opted to watch it from a viewpoint in the middle of the Geyser Basin:

We continued onward to the Midway Geyser Basin. This basin’s Excelsior Geyser pool discharges 4,000 to 4,500 gallons of 199°F water per minute into the Firehole River.

There are over 3,000 bison in Yellowstone National Park. Here is one we spotted off in the distance:

Geothermal activity is everywhere:

We were also lucky enough to spot a grizzly bear from the safety of our car. Unfortunately, the photo isn’t that good, but it was still cool to see one in the wild:

Yes, I took a photo of every bison we came across:

Our final stop during our first day at Yellowstone was Mammoth Hot Springs:

And one last bison spotting before nightfall:

That night we arrived back at our campsite around 10pm (Yellowstone is HUGE!). The temperature dropped to 39°F which I definitely was not prepared for, so I didn’t sleep very well. Lesson learned: I need to purchase a much, much warmer sleeping bag…or just stick to camping at the beach in the summertime. 😉