Elizabeth's Corner

Last Updated: August 2014

SOUTH AMERICA Jan-Mar 2012

In South America I was pleased to see some attempts at recycling even though excess rubbish was quite a problem in some areas. Sometimes the two went together: in Montevideo (capital of Uruguay) people would go through rubbish bins and take away useful items on their horse-drawn carts. There was a hut on the beach that appeared to have been built entirely from recycled materials.

Water wastage was a problem. There were signs everywhere asking people to conserve water yet taps, shower hoses and toilet cisterns would constantly drip due to lack of maintenance. It was nice though to see signs in hotel bathrooms prompting people to only change towels when necessary ie drop on floor for replacement if dirty & leave hanging if unused or still clean.

Some supermarkets charged for plastic shopping bags and some airports had recycle bins. Our hotel in Lima (capital of Peru) recycled batteries. Many toilets had dual flush cisterns.

Smoking laws are more modern than I expected. The five countries we visited do not appear to allow smoking in confined spaces like hotels, toilets, trains and airports. Argentina has a law requiring all indoor spaces to be non-smoking areas. Chile still allows smoking and non-smoking floors in restaurants that have two levels but our Santiago tour guide said a law will soon be coming in banning smoking in all public places in Chile.

Of course, as anywhere, smoking rules require individuals to do the right thing in order to succeed. In one hotel in Chile the hands-on owner allowed his local patrons to smoke throughout the hotel restaurant while he served their meals. As this is practically the only hotel & restaurant in this tiny Chilean town and the owner has been there for decades, we weary non-smoking travellers just had to 'suck up' the smoke. Likewise, when the manager of a quaint little hotel in southern Brazil lit up over coffee with a friend at the next table we also had to 'suck it up'. At least she lit up late morning when there weren't many people around rather than during breakfast. 

EGYPT Mar 2012

Lots of rubbish & lots of smoking. Luckily smoking is only allowed in designated smoking rooms in airports so at least you can escape the smoke there. In our 5-star Cairo hotel there were smoking & non-smoking areas within restaurants just like the days of smoking & non-smoking areas in aeroplanes. And what was even more irksome was that smokers were generally given the restaurant areas with the speccy river views. Still it was a bit better than the 5-star Alexandria hotel where the restaurant tables were mixed indiscriminately & we had a chain smoker within a few feet of our table all through dinner. At least there were separate floors of hotel rooms for smokers & non-smokers. 

The Cairo hotel had a sign you could put on the bed if you were happy to use the same bedding for another night, which impressed me greatly as I wouldn't have expected this amazingly luxurious hotel to have such a down-to-earth water saving technique (and it was one of the few hotels I came across in my Southern Hemisphere travels that offered it).

Rubbish is rampant, I suspect due to the incredibly high population in Egyptian cities. Our guide in Alexandria said household rubbish is collected regularly but admitted that building rubble is simply dumped in outlying areas of the city - judging by the amount of rubble piled up everywhere this dumping takes a long time to happen. Obviously in this chaotic environment not much Western-style recycling seems to be happening. On the plus side, there are lots of bikes and horse & donkey-drawn carts to make up for the old gas-guzzling cars everywhere.     

SOUTH AFRICA Mar-Apr 2012

Same problem as in South America - signs everywhere requesting us to save precious water but constant wastage due to lack of maintenance of toilets & bathrooms in both public & private facilities. Attempts to recycle are often stymied by misuse & infrequent clearing of recycle bins. Of course the language barrier might be an issue in the misuse of recycle bins in popular tourist areas where often only the local language & English are on the signage (but I suspect it's also due to carelessness). Lots of prompting to re-use towels & occasional prompting to re-use bedding. Rubbish issues in some areas - as in Egypt & South America excess rubbish generally appears to be related to over-population.  

JAPAN May 2012

Hardly any rubbish at all in the cities we visited. Although Japan's population seems high for the size of the country I think it must be fairly evenly spread amongst rural and urban areas because the population of Hiroshima & Kyoto is relatively small compared to the population of major cities in South America & Egypt. This would appear to fit my theory that cities generally lose the battle with rubbish when they become too highly populated. It would be interesting to find out where excess rubbish is stored in Japan as the country is so into plastic packaging. They are very good at recycling though. Adrian reports that household recycling involves separating paper, plastic, PET bottles & general waste into four separate bins. "Every single bin in shopping centres & stores has three separate bins. Even in McDonald's you have to take the lid off your cup so you can put it in the plastic bin." Japan is certainly the cleanest country we have encountered since leaving Australia. People are expected to clean up after themselves in fast food outlets, hotel breakfast areas etc.

Except for the overwhelming use of packaging in supermarkets & other food outlets everything in Japan seems to be done on a small scale. Houses & apartments are generally narrow as are the new fuel-efficient cars & many of the streets in smaller cities like Hamamatsu. Tiny back gardens are packed with beautifully manicured small trees. This fits perfectly with a landscape that often seems miniature too: densely wooded hills are packed into relatively narrow slices of countryside with only a few tall mountains like Fuji standing out from the crowd & rivers are generally not very wide. However, this is probably not an accurate impression for all of Japan. This is how it appears from the bullet trains as I speed through southern Japan on a whirlwind week's tour.         

Air pollution is hard to judge in Japan as in all the countries we've visited due to our lack of knowledge of local weather & climate conditions. Sometimes what we perceive as pollution is natural mist or haze rather than smog created by cars & heavy industry. But we suspect in large over-crowded cities it is a mixture of both.

Smoking is an issue in restaurants because there don't appear to be designated smoking & non-smoking areas. In trains there are designated smoking rooms.

Great to see so many people riding bikes, especially in Hiroshima.

TURKEY May 2012

In Istanbul there appears to be rubbish disposal via underground systems underneath street bins and people go through bins collecting cardboard & other re-usable items to sell. Recycle bins at airports.

Smoking is common. The bus driver smoked twice on our long distance bus trip from Goreme to Istanbul (no-one else did as I'm pretty sure smoking wasn't allowed!). Inside areas of restaurants were generally smoke-free. 

GREECE May 2012

We saw wind turbines from the aeroplane on a Greek island. The expensive hotel we stayed at in Athens had no-smoking rooms but the cheap one didn't.

ITALY June 2012

Recycling bins at train stations, & on streets in both cities & tiny villages. Smoking prevalent everywhere although not allowed in inside areas of restaurants. Wind turbines & solar panels near Pisa. Banks of solar panels on roofs in Ventimiglia. Fields harvesting solar panels in Northern Tuscany! (& panels on a carport roof).  Bike hire stations on streets in Milan where you pay a small fee at an automatic paying station that looks like a parking meter. 

SWITZERLAND June 2012

Claims to be 100% recycle, according to a sign on a billboard. Recycling station in a Zurich supermarket. Solar panels used to power street lights & occasional sighting of solar panels on house roofs. Cycle paths on Lucerne roads.

AUSTRIA June 2012

Wind turbines in countryside. Dedicated bike paths in Vienna beside pedestrian walkways, & bike hire stations. The hotel we stayed at in Vienna advised us on arrival that it was a no-smoking hotel.

HUNGARY June 2012

More wind turbines in countryside. More dedicated bike paths.

CZECH REPUBLIC June 2012

Solar panels on some roofs on the way to Prague. Lots of bike riders in Prague although I didn't come across any marked bike paths.

GERMANY July 2012

Solar panels everywhere. In Bavaria we saw farm sheds with every available bit of roof space covered in panels, sometimes on both sides (King Ludwig the technology lover would probably be very proud). Occasional wind turbines as well. Huge recycle skip bins at train stations & recycle bins on trains. No-smoking sections on trains & no-smoking signs on platforms, & inside Dresden train station. Our hotel in Hohenschwangau was a no-smoking hotel. Our hotel/hostel in Dresden had no-smoking floors & signs behind hotel room doors warning of the financial penalties for disobedience (pay one extra night's accommodation to cover the cost of cleaning the room, in Hohenschwangau the penalty was two extra nights' accommodation!). Heaps of bikes in Dresden & a large bike parking station & marked bike paths. Big green belt around Dresden of lovely large parks to walk, jog & cycle in. 

FRANCE July 2012

Environmental tips in our Paris hotel information book. Recycling at our Nice hostel & no smoking in some areas (warning signs about fines & police action). No-smoking signs in Paris metro stations & Nice train station. Wind turbines near Narbonne & Tarascon. Banks of solar panels on shed roofs near Montpellier. A terracotta-tiled house roof near Gonfaron had its solar panels placed in an interesting geometric pattern, maybe to preserve the charm of the fairly old house. Recycle bins at Montpellier train station.

BELGIUM July 2012

Wind turbines, & recycle bins at train stations.

DENMARK July 2012

Wind turbines everywhere. Our friend in Copenhagen said no-one ever questions the aesthetics of the turbines because they know how good they are for the environment & that makes them beautiful. Lots of bike hire stations.  

SWEDEN July 2012

Recycle rooms in our Stockholm youth hostel, big recycle skip bins outside a sports stadium & recycle bins elsewhere. Lots of parks & communal gardens. 

NORWAY Aug 2012

Recycling station at supermarket in Lillestroem like the one in Zurich ie built into the wall with slots to insert different recycle materials into. Sign about re-using towels in our Bodo hotel.

SPAIN Aug 2012

In Barcelona our eco hostel had recycle bins in the kitchen, signs about energy saving and water saving taps & showers. There were large recycle skip bins in the streets like in Stockholm & recycle bins at main train station. Dry gardens in public areas (gravel walkways instead of lawn) to conserve water. No smoking anywhere on metro & sign on train to Pyrenees warning not to smoke cigarettes or pipes (as pipe smoking is a local custom). On way to Pyrenees saw solar powered lights & a bank of solar panels. More recycle skips in streets in Ribes de Freser, a small town in the Pyrenees.

BRITAIN Aug-Sept 2012

Recycle bins, solar panels, wind turbines & better smoking regulations ie smoking banned inside all public spaces & a good deal of outside spaces too. Youth hostel in Stratford Upon Avon had recycle bins and notes on energy & water conservation like the Barcelona hostel.

USA Sept-Oct 2012

Recycle bins & good smoking regulations - Central Park in New York City is a totally smoke free zone & people appear to be obeying. NYC also close down some of their multiple escalators at less busy times of day & have hybrid electric buses. Seattle has separate lanes for buses, 'pooled' cars (3 or more people in them) & cars with single/dual occupants as does San Francisco. 

In SF there is a rule about not smoking near public windows, doors etc similar to the Vancouver by-law, & smoking is banned on Alcatraz Island except for the dock. Ferries to Alcatraz have solar panels on their roofs & the island is partly powered by solar panels. One SF supermarket uses cardboard containers & paper bags instead of plastics. Wind turbines covering  some hillsides between SF & Yosemite, also on way to Grand Canyon. Free hybrid shuttle buses going around Yosemite Village every ten minutes so people don't need to use their own cars & they don't allow tour buses to run their engines when stopped (tour buses do this just to keep buses cool even though their occupants are all off having lunch or whatever!). 

A few solar panels in Death Valley (should be more!). Grand Canyon National Park "proudly recycles" (written on a sign as you drive in) - big recycle skips everywhere. Also has solar panels on its visitor centre roof & water saving measures like dual flush toilets. Has free shuttle buses in the many areas of the park where people are not allowed to drive.  The tourist train runs on recycled vegetable oil & snow melt water. Our hotel in Tusayan near Grand Canyon had re-treated water toilets & signs about re-using towels & bed sheets. It also had a sign saying $250 cleaning fee if caught smoking in the rooms of this non-smoking hotel. Pollution from Eastern States of USA often causes visibility problems at Grand Canyon due to haze.

Our Las Vegas casino hotel had lots of recycle bins & the grocery shop placed our purchases in paper bags instead of plastic ones. $250 fine for smoking in non-smoking rooms & sign to place on bed to say we're happy to re-use bed linen (like in Cairo).

Car pooling fast lane in Los Angeles for cars with 2 or more occupants ($271 fine if single occupant car uses it) - the lane hasn't been very successful cos LA is so spread out it's hard for people to car pool so government is thinking of making it a general toll lane to recoup the enormous cost of creating it. It has speccy double storey sections where you can get great views from a tour bus window. Whole petrol stations devoted just to natural gas. Approx 30 miles of bike tracks around Venice Beach area. Strict controls on car emissions in California has improved air quality in LA. Universal Studios use solar panels, recycled water irrigation & waterless urinals. 

CANADA Sept-Oct 2012

Recycle bins, solar panels & good smoking regulations - sign in Banff boutique hotel said "If you're smoking you'd better be on fire" & anyone caught smoking there incurs $400 cleaning fine. In Vancouver there is a by-law preventing smoking within 6 meters of a public window, doorway or air intake. Grouse Mountain is a completely smoke free zone which is policed (cafe employee told tourist to put his cigarette away) & the wind turbine at the very top of the mountain generates some of the power for its tourist centres. Vancouver Youth Hostel has recycling & compost bins. Bike hire stations on streets in Montreal (great network of 132? kms of bike paths around city) & sign about re-using towels in our hotel. A bus in Montreal had a sign on it saying (in French) "This bus equals 70 cars".

AUSTRALIA Nov-Dec 2012

Solar panels on some houses. Bank of wind turbines near Canberra. Recycling big in Thredbo & signs at leisure centre pool asking people to conserve water by limiting showers to 2 minutes and reporting leaking taps & toilets. Signs in hotels, motels etc about re-using towels. Jenolan Caves powers most of its LED lights from its hydro power station.  Scenic World at Blue Mountains uses bio plastic bags & cutlery. It also has signs on tables in restaurant area asking people to leave their rubbish for the staff to recycle (probably because people can't be trusted to recycle properly when they clean up after themselves). Echo Point's toilets use recycled stormwater. National parks now use raised platforms & boardwalks for tourists to walk on to protect forest & mountain ecosystems. Recycling bins in streets in Thredbo, Apollo Bay etc. Plastic bag recycling bins in supermarkets. Areas of some farms set aside as wildlife sanctuaries or native bush. A section of a beach in Apollo Bay fenced off during an endangered bird species' breeding season.

GENERAL 2012

We've been pleased to see solar panels occasionally in South America & South Africa & now in Europe. As Michael says, 'The sun has no borders & no ideology', so it's one of the best solutions for peaceful global energy provision.  

Automatic movement censor lights in hotels, toilets etc everywhere in Europe & came across some in South America & Africa as well. Energy saving light globes in most of the world.

Lots of bike riding in Europe - good to see riders getting priority with safe paths separate from both pedestrians & cars. Even in city streets without marked bike paths pedestrians seem to accept sharing the wide, low-kerbed footpaths with cyclists.

Smoking is everywhere in Europe & no-smoking signs aren't always adhered to. On a train station platform in Osnabrucke (Germany) a man lit up right next to a no-smoking sign.

RANDOM MUSINGS 2012

Very friendly service in Scandinavia.

Staff in restaurants generally check to see if you're happy with your meal, especially in Northern Europe.

Nights in Europe accompanied by music - buskers, restaurant musicians.

Locks on bridge near Ludwig's castle & on Prague & Paris bridges.

Love Uruguayan architecture & Scandinavian skies. Also the cleanliness of Carcassonne, coastal cliffs of Cannes, niceness of Nice, pyrotechnics in Paris, art in Amsterdam, spectacular Spain, perfect Pyrenees & beautiful Budapest.

Tiny birds dive-bombing tiny lawns in amongst the hugeness of Las Vegas.

Movies to see when we get back home: The Mission (Iguazu) Manhattan (New York) Birdman of Alcatraz, Escape from Alcatraz & Vertigo (San Francisco) Thelma & Louise (deserts & Grand Canyon) Zabriskie Point (Death Valley).

Top deck & peppermint chocolate mountains in Death Valley ie the mixture of colours in the rocks.

FOOD 2012

Fancy meals in Hohenschwangau: creme brulee with passionfruit & candied sugar - best dessert ever, black pudding in creamed vegetable soup, strawberry sorbet with sago in champagne sauce & berries, superb steak. Superb steak in simple cafe in Dresden too. Steaks accompanied by pots of home-made mayonnaise & garlic sauce (must be very light cos I'd eat the lot & not get sick!).

Strongly flavored ginger chicken in Dutch home cooking restaurant in Amsterdam & wonderful Argentinian steak in Argentinian restaurant (better than in Argentina). Kicking myself that I missed the opportunity to try reindeer at Stockholm Youth Hostel.

Great salads in mayo in Paris & duck medallions cooked fairly rare in honey & lemon sauce. Fantastic chocolate fondant in Nice (chocolate mousse with the tiniest hint of cake under the dark chocolate liquid casing & a sliver each of dark & white choc inserted like wafers). Cassoulet Carcassonnaise in Brasserie de la Comedie restaurant in 'modern' Carcassonne ie duck leg & pork sausage stew with haricot(?) beans. Michael had the best turkey escalope ever as chicken doesn't seem that common in this part of France, duck & turkey on menus instead - unsauced at his request (comes with a cream sauce) but thick, juicy, beautifully grilled instead of the usual thin dry slices. I also had salmon salad & dark chocolate mousse as part of their three-course special menu. In medieval walled city part of Carcassonne I had wild boar stew at Le Trouvere restaurant - came in thick gravy that tasted like vegemite (luckily I like vegemite, wouldn't be able to tell you what boar tastes like cos the 'vegemite' drowned it). It came with potatoes baked in cheese & cream. Had generous blue cheese (Roquefort) & walnut green salad too. My pancake was very average but Michael had flamed custard that was like the great creme brulee I had in Hohenschwangau. It came to the table flaming (presumably brandy) so the sugar on top candied. These three-course meals in Carcassonne were great value, hardly cost any more than a main meal. Le Trouvere offered it as an early bird special to people eating between 6pm & 7pm; we typically pushed our luck by ordering after 6.30 & not finishing eating till after 8 but they still honoured the deal & didn't rush us too much at the end! (Restaurants in Nice offered these 'degustation' three-course meals as well.) Both my stews were served bubbling in pottery bowls they appeared to have been cooked in so they stayed hot throughout my leisurely eating - nice in the 30+ heat, would be even better in cold weather. The black rice paella I had in Barcelona was also served in the cooking pot (looked like a small wok).

Meringue with double cream in Gruyere. Also fondue & raclette (see Michael's Swiss blog).

Sweet meat dishes in Austria & Hungary ie with cranberries, plums etc, especially duck dishes (also sweet pork dish in Prague). Amazing sweet duck cooked like a very rare steak in Italian restaurant in Budapest. 

Sour cherry jams & pomegranate juice in Turkey (sour cherry juice also in Eastern Europe & Germany). Also meze, aside (flour, butter & fruit syrup dessert), rice pudding, baklava, lentil soup & yoghurt soup.

Seafood skewers Rimini & Santorini. Good gelati in Florence. Amazing gelati in Lucca.

Walnut icecream Hungary & Czech Republic.

Pure fruit juice smoothies called Froosh sold in bottles in Northern Europe & Iceland supermarkets - combinations like apple & kiwi, blueberry & raspberry, banana & pineapple & coconut. Innocent brand sold in British supermarkets - triple concoctions like apple, kiwi & lime; pomegranate, blueberry & acai; pineapple, banana & coconut; double concoctions like mango & passionfruit, strawberry & banana.  (Don't wear a white top while pouring purple berry juice on your breakfast cereal.)

Can cook your own meal in some Japanese restaurants by dunking slivers of meat & veg in either plain boiling water (coeliac friendly) or sauced water.  

Yummy breads in French & Italian restaurants (not coeliac friendly).

Ceviche (raw fish marinaded in lime juice & chilli), guanaco steaks (gamey like kangaroo), guinea pig in peanut sauce & creamed polenta in Peru.Pisco sour (spirit alcohol, lemon juice, sugar syrup & egg white) favourite drink in Peru & Chile - described by a fellow traveller as an alcoholic lemon meringue. Caipirinha is national alcoholic drink in Brazil.

Typical middle-Eastern dishes in Egypt eg falafel, tahini, semolina pudding, halva & baklava type pastries.

Ostrich steak (strong flavour like guanaco & kangaroo) in South Africa. A nice mincemeat dish - can't remember the name, think it had some cornmeal in it (was also made with steak-type meat cuts). Deer also - a tour group buddy had springbok I think in a Capetown restaurant & I forgot to steal some to sample. Cornmeal porridge (corn is the national staple dish). Cape fruits yoghurt (made with tropical fruits like mangoes) as well as passionfruit & strawberry yoghurt. Dried fruit stewed in syrup & spices.

Goat curry in Indian restaurant in New York City - seemed like lamb. Bison roganjosh in Banff, Canada - seemed like typical beef (hard to gauge the exact taste of these meats through the spices & flavourings but both were beautifully tender).  A few Banff steak houses have buffalo & caribou on the menu (but I didn't get around to trying them). (Also missed my opportunity to try reindeer in Stockholm Youth Hostel.)

Potato pancakes in Irish pub in Banff - tasted like hash browns (potato grated). Served underneath medium rare sirloin steak pieces in caramelised onion, red capsicum, mushroom & gravy. Fantastic gluten free cheesecake with chocolatey base & turtles (pecan nuts) on top.

Pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving in Vancouver - nice spices (nutmeg etc) but powerfully sweet.

In a pub in Grovelands near Yosemite I had roast chicken breast in yummy mushroom gravy, with fried onions & red capsicum & zucchini, and mashed potatoes. The meal had quite a kick  - I think it had a lot of jalapeno chillies; seems like this part of California is quite Mexican influenced cos there's lots of Mexican restaurants.

In Tusayan near Grand Canyon (Arizona) most restaurants are Mexican. In Plaza Bonita Family Mexican Restaurant next to our hotel I had the best Mexican meal ever  - Pollo Poblano: grilled fresh chicken breast served in an authentic Pueblan mole, mole being Poblano pepper, chocolate, spices & fresh apples (to create this 'mysteriously dark, bittersweet sauce' - the waiter called it a red sauce, apt name cos it was a lovely dark red colour). It came with fried rice, refried beans with melted Monterey Jack cheese, a really fresh lettuce & tomato salad, & subtly cheese flavoured warm tortillas that looked like pancakes. The portions were enormous - lucky I was starving after missing lunch.  

Naked brand of 100% mixed fruit juices & fruit juice smoothies (Naked brand also available in Britain).  Like the Froosh & Innocent brands. Particularly yummy concoction is pomegranate, blueberry, red & white grape with a bit of apple as are the mixed berry ones. 

Sweet tasting BBQ baked beans & warm corn bread (also sweet) in Las Vegas. McDonald's salads more interesting in Nth America - one with teriyaki chicken & cashews in Montreal & South West 'ranch' chicken salad with black beans & corn in SW USA with choices of different Paul Newman salad dressings.

Baked banana squash (called banana pumpkin in Australia) in honey sauce in LA cos Americans like their pumpkin sweet. Wolfgang Puck Diner on main street of Universal City Walk has great curried chicken salad - avocado, gourmet lettuces, toasted pecan nuts, apples & sultanas with sweet nut bread.

Good GF food in US - cereals, muesli bars, microwave meals etc.

Great GF dessert called Lemon Posset at Barefoot restaurant on Magnetic Island (Horseshoe Bay) in Queensland. Michael said it tasted like a lemon cheesecake without the base. GF options at Thai Smile restaurant in Hervey Bay Qld. Great GF food at Cascades restaurant in Thredbo NSW. Gluten free cafe/bakery Cafe Strada in Melbourne (Ivanhoe). Thai House restaurant in Apollo Bay Vic has mostly gluten free menu.

CHILE & ECUADOR  Jan 2014

Memories of PUCON - the beautiful blue hydrangeas everywhere, the cute little colourful wooden houses including our hostel House of Colours with our tiny bedroom & a view of the mountains from our tiny bathroom, speaking to Martin the party loving vampire (partied at night, slept during the day) employee of House of Colours in my schoolgirl French, the log-hewn benches & chairs in the shade of the small trees & the colourful flowers in the beautifully landscaped surroundings of the Termas de Pozones hot springs, my yummy quinoa risotto with tomato, basil & mushrooms & the homemade rye bread at Trawen restaurant (Michael had chicken breast stuffed with pine nuts & veggies), the icecreams & gelati at the huge icecream parlour with the high vaulted ceiling & the friendly smiling staff, the happy park between the beaches with laughing little kids negotiating the bends in their hired toy motorised cars, the fireworks falling on top of us on the beach at New Year, chatting to Rob the Canadian & his wife & daughter after trekking at Huerquehue, the man conscientiously pulling up his trousers & wading out into the freezing water of the lake at Huerquehue to rescue the plastic bag his girlfriend dropped while picnicking on the bank, chatting to an English couple after our sunset boat trip on the lake at Pucon on our final night, relaxing in our hostel room with a good book on the rainy days, all our cheap Menus del Dia at Club 77 restaurant - grilled chicken or steak (sometimes scored it with creamy mustard sauce unfortunately for M not gluten-free) with rice or buttery mashed potatoes & fresh side salads (& warmed bread rolls for me), all the cute stray dogs that co-existed comfortably with the humans.

SANTIAGO - as grimy & polluted as last time but Happy House Hostel the proverbial oasis in the desert: beautiful architecture (big rooms with high ornate ceilings, columns etc), brightly painted walls in lime greens & oranges, funky furniture, bands playing some nights in the al fresco area with a pool lit up in constantly changing colours at night, wooden decking, BBQ area, lounges, table tennis & pool tables, cobalt blue tiled common kitchen, fantastic breakfasts (fresh squeezed raspberry juice). On our second stay (on return from Pucon) we scored the Valparaiso room (Rm 12) which had two balconies overlooking the street & a four-poster bed plus two single beds. The four-poster didn't have curtains but it was still fantasy-fulfilment for me cos I don't remember ever sleeping in a four-poster bed before. So much room to spread we didn't know what to do with ourselves after falling over each other in our tiny Pucon room.
(Tur Bus to & from Pucon - very comfortable buses with loos onboard & can order a decent hot meal to keep you going on the 11-hour nonstop journey Santiago/Pucon.)        

Tips for GALAPAGOS -  ***carry $100 each CASH to pay the fee for staying on the islands that's charged on arrival at Baltra Island airport or you'll need to surrender your passports until fee is paid at National Park Office on Santa Cruz (SC) island. Also keep your receipt for the $10 tax paid at mainland airport in Ecuador to enter (fly to) Galapagos or you'll have to pay it again on leaving Galapagos. Ecuador appears to be a mainly cash economy cos had to pay cash for hotel near Quito airport, 22% extra charged if don't pay Galapagos hostel cash, supermarkets & shops only take cash, the tour operator we chose would only take cash. Isabella Island does not even have ATM's. The only place so far that accepts credito (Visa not Amex) is the restaurant overlooking the beach called D'Mar Y Cris (yummy surf & turf in pesto sauce & vegie-stuffed or cordon bleu chicken breasts both GF - the waitress actually knows the term coeliac).

FOOD: Limited choice of GF food on SC island - no rice crackers or rice milk & no oats for wheat avoiders like me (even the bikkies that are called oat biscuits are mostly wheat flour with a small percentage of oats). Luckily in the humid climate my appetite has lessened so I'm not coping too badly without my muesli. And there's fruit in abundance. (Correction - 3 days after arrival M found GF maize & rice cruskits in the large supermarket overlooking the bay & I found oats on Isabella Island a week later.)

ENVIRO: Recycle bins in airports Santiago, Quito etc but could only find recycle bins at the end of town in Pucon whereas SC has recycle bins including organic waste ones every few metres on major streets & heaps at the playground near the bay. Can only drink bottled water in Galapagos so we buy it in 4 or 5 litre containers to reduce the number of plastic bottles we go through (much cheaper too). Note in our hostel (Germania Hospedaje) bathroom asking us to please take short shower. Note in our hostel (Terro Real) bathroom at Isabella telling us water is a limited resource & asking  us to take short showers & turn off taps while soaping (as the water in the shower was stone cold this was a very easy request to comply with). This same hostel had a hose running constantly in the lawn of its lush, admittedly very beautiful, garden that we couldn't turn off - I asked M to try after I used it to wash my muddy post volcano trek shoes & he said it appeared to be connected to a pipe coming straight out of the ground.  They're currently building a fresh water supply on Isabella so must be ground water there. M wondered why they don't use water tanks in Galapagos with all the water they get during the wet season. (Pelikan View restaurant on SC had sign in toilet asking to turn off tap while soaping hands.) Three wind turbines on Baltra but they never seem to turn (hardly any wind in Galapagos). Solar used on SC: Charles Darwin Station runs on solar with excess used by the town), Exhibition Centre currently being built incorporates solar panels. Lan Ecuador airline has sign at Baltra Airport saying their company uses solar & wind power. Incidentally the new airport at Quito has signs in toilets saying to throw toilet paper into the toilet ie opposite of the usual advice everywhere in Sth America to place toilet paper in a bin next to the toilet (often written signs are accompanied by pictures cos such a huge problem with blocked toilets if tourists don't obey this instruction).

10/1/14: We've been in SC 3 days. I'm in heaven cos there are trees laden with red & yellow blossoms right next to each other (my favourite flower colours). The reds are poinsianas; don't know what the yellow ones are - maybe a different variety of poinsiana cos they look similar. There are fully laden red hibiscuses too. Michael's in heaven cos he's discovered two new varieties of GF magnum icecream - Chocolate Almond & Chocolate Truffle. Chocolate Almond's the favourite - that's now lunch! Another good omen is the street overlooking the beach has a hostel bearing my name and an art gallery fittingly bearing my sister's name Angelique.

Got to see tortoises at Rancho Promicios in the middle of Santa Cruz island. Great to see them in a natural setting in native bush rather than behind barriers in the National Park cos can view them much more closely (they're only in the National Park to breed until they're old enough to safely return to the wild). Our hostel owner said they live for 150-200 years & weigh 300kgs so no wonder they move so slowly (have long graceful necks to reach out for food so they move that body weight as little as possible). Michael said we're like tortoises lumbering slowly around the world - he's changed his Facebook page picture to two tortoises. The bush was lovely too - very lush & green undergrowth & bushes & much more open to the sky than I expected bush in the tropics to be (trees quite small & sparse).

Seeing the tortoises today & the gorgeous sea iguanas yesterday at the National Park has really whetted our appetites (not to mention the brown pelicans & huge frigate birds & lone seal fighting for the innards of the freshly caught fish filleted on a slab at the open air fish restaurant on the beachfront)  - can't wait to see more on our day tours next week to other islands. Was such a thrill to see the wildlife as soon as we jumped on the ferry from Baltra to SC straight from the airport - Rafael pointed out a seal resting on a concrete block floating in the water & a brown pelican landing on top of a bush near the pier & introduced us to the huge frigate birds. I didn't expect to see the animals so soon. We've since found out that nothing except the skink lizards & Darwin finches come small here - all the grown up animals are BIG.

20/1/14: Still loving Galapagos - volcanic scenery on Bartolomei Island was beautiful & Volcan Chico at Isabella Island yesterday was spectacular (colours so vivid especially the red colour from the iron & the candelabra cactuses looked eerily beautiful under the grey rainy sky - definitely do this tour even if the weather's lousy cos it's even more atmospheric then). So much fun being amongst so many animals who don't mind you being close to them (as long as you don't touch them - see below). More fun than in Africa where you generally have to stay at binocular distance cos they want to eat you. Such a great feeling too being in the middle of the world. Mix of building materials & styles on SC - wood, stone, brick, concrete. Lots of beautiful tiles on floors, pavements, walls & shops that can't afford to tile paint walls & concrete floors bright colours. Every restaurant seems to have its own theme eg one cafe has sand floors to create a beach theme. Hostel La Casa del Lago across the road from ours looks like a cottage in a nursery rhyme - gorgeous. Some vividly coloured buildings on Isabella - bright orange & crimson ones a particular knockout (felt like taking photos of them for the prospective tenants of M's house who complain about the colour of the walls & saying "You think our salmon colour is bright? Check out these colours!"). Boat trips fun - going full pelt on the roller coaster commute to Isabella, sitting on the top deck three storeys up sliding sideways in the swell coming back from Bartolomei. Putting my hand in a volcanic fissure at Volcan Chico & feeling the warmth reminded me of the sensations I experienced coming down Volcan Villarica - the dampness of the clouds on my cheeks & the refreshing feel on my face when the warmth just under the black volcanic soil came up to meet the cool outside air as my feet slid into it.

About not touching the animals: the brochures tell us to stay at least two metres away from them but it's often hard to do that because there's so many of them surrounding us & they don't seem to mind us being closer. However I saw a seal rear up for a moment when a man touched it on the back while it was sleeping (SC pier) & several iguanas scrambled over a wall for cover when a young girl chased them & pulled a baby's tail (Isabella beach). Her mum thought it was funny until I did my teacher proximity thing by moving really close & then she told her daughter off. I laughed with M about the proximity technique being the best thing they taught us at teacher school: you don't need to say anything, just stand & look menacing - which is particularly useful when the people doing the wrong thing don't speak your language (although a loud deep 'Oy' I find works in any language). So I think they use the two metre rule to deter people from getting close enough to touch the animals. (On North Seymour I saw an iguana running away from a man who put his long distance (on extender pole) camera practically in its face.) I said to M after the incident with the young girl, "Some people should only be allowed here on a leash". And those long distance cameras should be banned. (They're designed to take better selfies, not to disturb wildlife.)    

FOOD: D'Mar Y Cris has become our local at SC like Club 77 did in Pucon. They do such yummy sauces - a sweet & sour tasting soy sauce with mayonnaise on oatmeal battered fish (albacore which I think is a type of tuna) was my favourite after the pesto sauce (the coconut sauce was the only disappointment - GF but a bit bland). And the service rocks. On the night we ditched them for the outdoor fresh fish cafe we went away still hungry so we turned up & explained the situation & asked to share M's favourite GF chicken dish. When they came out with a generous portion of chicken, vegies & chips on two beautifully presented plates we thought they'd misunderstood but the English speaking waitress Noelle confirmed it was definitely one meal (we took a photo).
On Isabella we had chicken thighs in coca cola sauce (like a sweet very light gravy) at the Red Lobster restaurant & next morning had plantain dumplings (plantains are big not very sweet bananas used as an alternative starch in savoury recipes & also dried to make chips - fairly tasteless & stodgy but GF). The waitress spoke better English than we thought, answering our earnest enquiries about flour & wheat in recipes with "No gluten". After eating there for lunch & dinner on Saturday she ensured our Sunday breakfast was GF, hence the doughy plantain dumplings M initially looked at in horror. And they opened early for us so that we didn't have to rush our breakfast before going up the volcano. Idiosyncratic though - you never knew what you would get to eat (they didn't appear to stick to the meal as described on the menu even for non GF meals).
Il Giardino (The Garden) restaurant on SC is on three levels with a poinsiana tree in the middle & has a lovely ambience being semi outdoors with views over the bay from the upper levels. Had a great tuna steak there (they ask whether you want it cooked medium or well done!) - food beautifully cooked in subtle sauces, eg 'Dijon mustard perfumed with champagne & parsley', that M liked although I preferred the stronger sauces at D'Mar Y Cris. They also served yummy GF patties that they called potato (yucca) but appeared to be sweet potato going by the orange colour as well as GF plantain patties like on Isabella. And they had an icecream bar downstairs that made fresh fruit icecreams gelati-style like in Pucon - the coconut, passionfruit & blackberry were fantastic. The blackberry was a vivid deep red colour; I thought it was raspberry. They tasted much more fruity than the fresh squeezed juices we had at one cafe that tasted very insipid as though they'd been watered down. And more fruity than the commercial Los Coquieros icecreams 'made with fresh Equadorian fruit' - the guanabana (soursop - custard apple? - green outside with white flesh inside according to Samara our volcano trek guide) was mostly very milky icecream with just a bit of fibrous fruit pulp; still very refreshing in the heat though. (Waiters at Il Giardino pretty switched on: M told them flour & bread makes him sick so they adjusted our complimentary starters on toast - hummus, pickled eggplant etc - to starters with dried plantain chips.) On our final night we ate at Pelikan Bar, a three-storey building with fantastic views over the bay. Their fish with passionfruit sauce was fantastic; I wanted to lick the plate cos there was still so much yummy sauce left even after I mixed it through the fish, the chips AND the salad.

Summary of Galapagos: Day 1 arrived early arvo & settled in Day 2 Charles Darwin Station  Day 3 Ranchos Promicios & lava tunnel  Day 4 Mangrove Lagoon & Las Grietas  Day 5 Tortuga Bay  Day 6 Relax at 'Home'  Day 7 Bartolomei & Santiago tour  Day 8 Nth Seymour tour  Day 9 Santa Fe tour  Day 10 Recover  Day 11 & 12 Isabella  Day 13 Tortuga Bay again  Day 14 SC half day Bay Tour (fantastic - swam with seals at Lobos Island, visited Playa Los Perros (Beach of Dogs) & Las Grietas)  Day 15 Charles Darwin Station again  Day 16 Left in morn
(Because of the midday heat it was nice to have so much time at Galapagos so we could just do one activity most days & siesta like the locals in the afternoon.)
Babies on motorbikes without helmets or restraints wedged in front of their parents - holidaying Oz police officers would cringe.

QUITO - Gum trees grow at well over 3000m (cos no frost at Equator at that height) & pink/red blossomed bottle brushes line the paths in the main park that houses the botanic gardens. Lucky to catch a tree with beautiful yellow blossoms that flowers for just 2 weeks in January (took photo at foot of Virgin Mary statue) - Diego told me its name but I forgot. Bit disappointed by the UNESCO world heritage declared old town - lots of it (largest area of old buildings in the world) but most buildings fairly characterless. Seen better at Paraty & Carcassonne. But it looked beautiful at night viewed from surrounding hilltops with the churches alight. Topography great - city nestled in amongst the volcanoes. Middle of the World section interesting, A couple of parks with artificial meandering lakes & paddle boats/rowboats for hire. The botanic gardens park is huge & heaps of people congregate there on Sundays visiting the small snake zoo, playing sports, using the exercise equipment, riding ponies & bikes, rowing/paddle boating, eating fairy floss & fresh cut mango slices from the outdoor food stalls, wandering through the botanic gardens (which don't have the amazing views of the Rio/Capetown/Dunedin ones but are a nice addition to the park) - a haven for apartment dwelling families without gardens.

FOOD: Ecuadorian potato soup with avocado (light but creamy & beautiful orangey-gold colour cos potato seems more like sweet potato), tropical fruit like mangoes freshly sliced & served in big plastic cups, get avocado in all the restaurant salads cos so cheap here, more complimentary tidbits like at SC eg Indian restaurant across the road from our hostel gave us complimentary creamed rice dessert on second night we ate there, pork steak in plum sauce at Juan Fogon restaurant in Plaza Grande & cedron herbal tea for relief of altitude sickness symptoms (cedron stalk resembled lemongrass), Mar Y Tierra (surf & turf) with at least 8 huge prawns sitting atop the beautifully medium rare chunk of steak at Coffee O restaurant down the road from hostel (they didn't ask me how I wanted my steak cooked, it just came out exactly the way I like it). The very friendly waitress also brought us a complimentary addition (can't remember what it was but I remember her saying "On the house" as she put it down.) Greek restaurant Cafe Mosaico had million dollar views over the old town from its hilltop terrace yet the food was as reasonably priced as everywhere else. The owner arranged GF complimentary starter of carrot/celery sticks with tzatziki instead of bread with meal & I had an incredibly moist GF beef patty filled with melted fetta cheese as well as green beans in a tomato sauce & more tzatziki (the tzatziki wasn't dripping with garlic like I remember it many years ago in Melbourne - don't think garlic's very popular here cos none of the meals are very garlicky).

ENVIRO: felt guilty about using taxi for just two of us for the 1-hour journey back to Quito airport after missing another hostel inmate by only minutes who we might have been able to share with, enviro signs at Travellers Inn 'Our planet is in desperate need of everyone's help. By conserving energy, we reduce emissions to the atmosphere. Please Turn Off The Computer When You're Done Using It. Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Rethink' & sign about placing coca leaf teabag paper wrappers in basket for reuse as scrap paper, signs about turning off lights & saving water & handing in paper & plastic water bottles for recycling (I think Travellers Inn is accredited as an enviro hostel like the one we stayed at in Barcelona), recycling bins at park, lots of parks, a few bike tracks.

Summary of Quito: Day 1 getting used to the altitude  Day 2 tour to Middle of the World & Old Town  Day 3 Botanic Gardens park  Day 4 Walk to Old Town  Day 5 Teleferico & Trek up volcano  Day 6 Trek to Cotopaxi

MEXICO/GUATEMALA/BELIZE  Feb 2014

MEXICO - more varied scenery than expected, mountains & jungle between Palenque & San Cristobal very lush & green, beautiful colonial buildings in Merida (loved the Spanish/Italian/French/Moorish style mansions at night - didn't look so speccy in the daytime) & San Cristobal, cute stray dogs like in Sth America, buildings painted bright colours, blue & white theme in churches in richer part of San Cristobal where doctors live - spotless fresh paint & even the iron palings in the walls that surround the church grounds gleam with gold tinged paint (watched an excited Alsatian chase after a tennis ball in the church ground & return it to its owner in its mouth), topography attractive cos town surrounded by mountains, bougainvillea growing out of the roof of a small house (wish I'd got a photo), valley between San Cristobal & Sumidero Canyon reminiscent of desert scenery in US in its scale & scope, kids standing on road outside Palenque in Halloween type masks (part of a religious festival of some sort). Dreamy last day in Playa del Carmen getting massages, taking a dip in the ocean in my underwear (couldn't find bathers I liked after handing back the ones I borrowed from Linda), walking along the beach at night past the outdoor lounging beds on the deck in front of a hotel (shame we didn't get a photo). Crashing waves so white in the night lights & the tiny crescent moon. Sea breeze so balmy on my skin. Next morning went for a jog at 6 o'clock on the longest shopping avenue in the Americas (5th Avenida) in perfect shirts & shorts weather. By 8 o'clock we were bathed in sweat walking to the airport bus.   

FOOD: great soups & spicy sauces like Salsa Verde (has green herbs like cilantro, which I think might be the Spanish name for coriander), great value complete meals (dirt cheap 3 course meals of soup, main course & fruit or pudding AND bread or tortillas - & you get quite a few options to choose from in your soup & main meal), Had choices like egg & garlic soup, creamed corn soup, Aztec soup (creamy tomato), tortilla soup, chicken soup. Had a couple of great chicken in mole sauce meals, mole being a savoury chocolate sauce - good with either chicken legs or chicken breasts, provided the skin wasn't left on the legs. Had patacones in tiny Venezualan restaurant in San Cristobal - crepes made from fried plantains very thin & crisp so very tasty wrapped around shredded beef & guacamole with mozarella-like cheese melted through them. Another Venezualan speciality is pure lemon juice with brown sugar as a drink (lovely mix of sweet & sour). Frijoles (refried beans) & rice accompany most meals. Sauces spiced with jalapeno chillies for salsa verde (green) & with red chillies for salsa roca (red). Ground pumpkin seeds spread on tortillas taste like peanut paste; also spread on fresh orange halves at street stalls.

GF ALERT: Fajitas in Cancun at Picnik restaurant - fajitas are meat cooked with tomatoes & onions in 'English' (Worcestershire) sauce so not GF but tasty. Maize tortillas free GF accompaniment to meals (need to make sure tortillas are maize not flour) - bit thick & dry unless drowned in sauces but very filling. Most Mexican restaurants will bend over backwards to accommodate, substituting maize tortillas for bread and/or flour tortillas when they're included in buffets and menus complejo (three course meals) so that coeliacs don't miss out on these complimentary extras.

ENVIRO: organico & inorganico bins but no plastic, paper & glass recycle bins (although salesman at timeshare resort claims their resort recycles & composts cos it's accredited by an environmental organisation). Been saving all my paper rubbish to dump in airport recycle bin but finally found in-house recycling trays for paper, plastic & aluminium cans in communal kitchen at Vive La Vida hostel in Playa del Carmen.

GUATEMALA - drier than expected, mostly mountainous, marred by rubbish thrown everywhere (hardly any bins of any kind let alone recycle bins although I saw a man carrying a huge garbage bag full of cans through a market area). Volcano areas like Panajachel stunningly beautiful & UNESCO world heritage declared Antigua has lovely mix of ruins & beautifully restored colonial buildings now used as shops, restaurants & hotels. Rio Dulce & Flores also very pretty but didn't think much of Livingston (no proper beach & lots of rubbish near Caribbean Sea).

FOOD: Ranchos restaurant in Panajachel served fantastic soup - chicken broth with chick peas & vegetables served with crisp toasted corn chips (which the waitress indicated should be used to scoop up the soup ingredients) & two huge mounds of avocado. Not only was the soup enormous & cheap but it came with a complimentary soup entree, a blended vegetable soup. Hotel across the lake from Panajachel served GF maize enchiladas (crepes) for breakfast with minced tofu so full of tasty vegies & melted cheese you couldn't recognise the tofu (came with refried beans & fried potatoes). This was a hotel so dreamily located on a cliffside reminiscent of the Mediterranean that I asked Linda if we could just stay there (pause) for the rest of our lives. Dish called tapado at Livingston - coconut milk soup with big chunks of seafood at Happy Fish restaurant where "The vegetables, food & drink are preparated with purific water" (menu note).

GF ALERT: Need to ask if soups have noodles or pasta in them cos not mentioned in menu descriptions & staff often forget that pasta & noodles are made from wheat. It's generally the more expensive restaurants in the tourist sections of towns that are careless about checking GF status - M & I suspect it's because they've got so many one-off customers whereas the small local restaurants rely on repeat business & good word-of-mouth publicity. When we eat at the quiet little restaurants the staff provide fantastic service, throw in freebies & ensure the meals are GF. If they see us the next day they beckon us back in with huge smiles. We always feel torn when choosing a new place to eat cos although we like trying different places & food styles we feel disloyal to the restaurant that looked after us so well the day before. (Especially the Venezualan chef in San Cristobal who shook our hands at the end of our meal & thanked us for our custom. And the waitress at Ranchos who looked so disappointed when we passed her the next night & explained we couldn't come back cos we were eating somewhere else with our tour group.)  

BELIZE - only there a couple of days. Tubing in caves near San Ignacio was fun - especially seeing the underground waterfalls cascading over the pink & yellow tinged rocks by flashlight. And Caye Caulker was the perfect Caribbean island with its long lumpy white sand main street running alongside the beach from one end of the island to the other. Finally got the knack of snorkelling in the last 10 minutes of our sailing trip to the reef near Caulker - so used to breathing through my mouth since I got a cold that it felt normal. Felt elated but stupid for it having taken me this long, although Linda said it does take time to get the hang of it. Feel cheated - need to go back to Galapagos now & start again. Going to regularly practise breathing through my mouth while chewing on rubber so I don't forget again. Was blissful watching two huge stingrays crossing each other's path directly underneath me without having to come up for air every 8 seconds. And catching a turtle swimming right past me with three beautiful bright yellow fish attached to its butt.  

FOOD: restaurant next to Ragamuffin Tours did great chicken & prawn 'kabobs' (huge slices of onion, pineapple & capsicum) & blacken fish fillet (chargrilled in 'sweet & sour & slightly spicy rub') & conch in tomato & onion sauce (conch tasted like squid only in chunky fillet form rather than rings). Served with dark coloured rice with a few kidney beans spread through it & coleslaw. Ambience great cos restaurant on main street with an outdoor section overlooking the beach with swings as chairs at one of the tables. Also did yummy fresh mango smoothies with yoghurt & just a little milk - so much nicer than the watered down fruit juices we usually get when we buy 'fresh squeezed juice'. 

ENVIRO: frustrating that environment needs to suffer to meet economic needs eg tour bus driver who'd been driving us all day through Belize was happy to drive us all the way to the jetty to meet our boat to Caye Caulker but got into trouble with the local taxi drivers for stepping on their turf when he tried to leave the bus terminus in Belize City (supposed to share the wealth around). They were so angry that the 15 of us had to pile in to four taxis with all our luggage; mercifully it was a short trip so not too much wasted petrol.

Summary of Central America - Day 1 assailed by timeshare salesmen but got an enormous free buffet out of it & a half price tour on Day 2 of Xcaret theme park  Day 3 bum around Cancun  Day 4 start of Mayan Circle tour travel to Merida  Day 5 visit cenotes in Merida  Day 6 travel to Palenque via Chichenitza  Day 7 visit ruins & waterfalls near Palenque  Day 8 travel to San Cristobal  Day 9 visit Mayan communities in San Cristobal  Day 10 boat trip Sumidero Canyon near San Cristobal & carriage tour of town  Day 11 travel to Panajachel   Day 12 hang out at hotel in Panajachel cos got a cold  Day 13 visit lake towns near Panajachel  Day 14 travel to Antigua  Day 15 hike up Pacaya volcano near Antigua & explore town  Day 16 travel to Rio Dulce  Day 17 boat trip to Livingston & travel to Flores  Day 18 travel to San Ignacio  Day 19 cave tube near San Ignacio  Day 20 travel to Caye Caulker  Day 21 boat trip to the reef near Caulker  Day 22 travel to Playa del Carmen  Day 23 visit Tulum ruins nearby  Day 24 bum around Playa del Carmen  Day 25 board plane for Norway (nice hotels with roof terraces Merida, San Cristobal & Panajachel)

NORWAY/INDIA  Mar 2014

TROMSO - warmer than we expected ie temps mostly above zero, sunsets take ages unlike the seconds they take near the Equator (the stunning sunset we arrived to at Flores in Guatemala was so short-lived that by the time M got his camera ready the beautiful purple & salmon glow had faded into more ordinary shades). First time we've experienced full-on snow. Now I understand the expression 'white as snow' - it's such a pure white, especially when it gleams in the sunshine, & viewing the snow covered mountains (technically hills) under the clouds in the distance it's hard to tell where the mountains end & the sky begins everything's so white. It looks lovely at any time of day; moody grey under the clouds & at sunset. Crunchy underfoot in the icy parts & my feet sink into it where it's soft like they sink into the volcanic gravel at Villarica. Houses look best in the evening when all their lights are turned on & curtains are still open so you can see inside their cosy lamplit rooms, especially the big white houses with lots of rooms (lucky they use renewable energy as their houses are lit up everywhere inside & out).

Day 1 hired a car & went looking for the northern lights. At about 11pm I saw something plummeting through the sky like a shooting star. It appeared to bounce bright green off the mountain top & shoot off to the left disappearing into the air. It lasted about a second. Day 2 relaxed at our cosy hotel 'home' for M's birthday (pizza dinner at Egon restaurant). Day 3 explored town & visited tourist bureau. Started to head over the bridge toward the cable car but the numbingly cold wind drove us back home. Day 4 hiked up the mountain behind cable car summit - so good to finally reach the top of something after not making it to the top of anything other than Volcan Chico so far. So good too to get some decent exercise for the first time in 5 days. And the snow looked beautifully white under the perfectly clear softly sunny mid afternoon sky & then subtly tinged with colour when the endless sunset arrived. Day 5 spent the afternoon at Tromso Museum looking at info about the northern lights, Norwegian rocks, Sami culture, climate change & snakes (anniversary pizza at Egon; M the accidental romantic chose the one table in the place that had a chandelier over it).

Day 6 had fabulous dogsledding ride (run by Villmarkssenter booked at the counter at Radisson Blue Hotel) in countryside on way to Sommeroy 25 mins from Tromso in perfect weather toasty warm in our arctic duty overalls & boots under a blanket in our sled. Dogs so cute the way they scampered along in their socks, rolled in the snow with excitement & howled whenever they stopped they were so impatient to get going again. Our gentle young driver had to put an anchor on our two front dogs whenever we stopped to stop them taking off. At the end of our ride he invited us to thank our dogs, saying "There are no angry dogs or sad dogs, only friendly dogs & shy dogs; they love their work." Sure enough, when we stroked them they all looked very happy but a couple were a little shy. (They wear socks to protect their feet from the hard icy ground underneath when there is only a thin snow cover. They love to run - this was obvious from the beginning when they were howling & jumping with anticipation waiting for all the sleds to be harnessed. They're built for cold - none of them like to stay inside their kennels; they all sit regally on top surveying the scenery. If insulating mats are misguidedly placed in their kennels they chew them up.)

Day 7 another perfect clear day - went to Polaria Museum & saw two great documentary films, a short one about the northern lights & a longer one filmed on Svalbard near the North Pole, & a seal show & other marine displays. The trainers claim the seals enjoy learning to perform tricks cos they're more intelligent than dogs & get bored in captivity without stimulation. They certainly seemed to enjoy playing with their ropes & chew toys after the show. Had average quality very expensive Indian meal. Didn't get to see Gravity cos cinema staff gave us the wrong time earlier in week so M got promise of discount out of staff member for Thur. Day 8 saved money by not doing anything. Day 9 ferry trip south to Finnsnes & back again by quick Hurtingbat then slow Hurtigruten. Brooding wintry day perfect for viewing Norwegian mountain scenery with appropriately chilly wind to match. Having trouble feeling our fingers & toes by the time we got back. Got more than a discount to Gravity that night, got an entirely free ticket as the staff member from Tues had rung in sick; his replacement said as it was their mistake giving us the wrong time they would only charge us for the 3D glasses. Day 10 went to the gym, the only place you can get fit this time of the year in Norway so people of all ages were there. Amazing range of exercise equipment. Day 11 snowed so spent all day inside except for quick shopping trip for a bit of exercise. Day 12 went to Tromso Art Gallery which specialises in 19th & 20th century works by northern Norwegian artists. 

Day 13 hired a car to go in search of the northern lights again cos moderate chance of seeing them according to aurora tracker. Chance to see more scenery too, especially the Lyngen Alps & the other lovely places Nadia, Fred & Simon marked on our map. Took a detour to Skulsfjord in the morning then went to Lyngseidet, via Nordkjosbotn (where we stopped for both lunch & dinner the food was so good). Then ferry to Olderdalen & car down to Skibotn (dark by then) & on to Nordkjosbotn & retraced our steps back to Tromso. (As we left Skibotn we saw the snowy remnants of the avalanche that had closed the road earlier that day.) Ended up being a very white wintry day - the photos looked black & white. Scenery stunning - stark semi snow clad mountains of black rock, grey still fjords occasionally iced over in parts, mounds of ice clinging to cliffs at the side of the road like frozen waterfalls or mini glaciers (glowed in the car headlights at night), streaks of blue hued ice in the snow fields on the road to Skulsfjord, pee yellow water where the snow had melted to slush. Most buildings the primary coloured rust red, mustard yellow & quiet blue like in Tromso but occasional splashes of green or cobalt blue as well as the typical greys & off whites. At night we could see a glow behind the clouds which we're pretty sure was the northern lights cos it was too late to be the sunset & was coming from a different direction to the moonlight. The white world was just as beautiful at night with the snow glowing in the car headlights & town street lights, & houses lit up by lamps. Day 14 snowed again so after dropping car off to Erik in morning only went out once (to kebab shop for dinner). Day 15 snowing - only went out to gym & to get pizza for dinner.

OSLO - may be unfair to comment cos only there for about 7 hours between flights but wasn't a patch on Stockholm or Copenhagen. Nicest part was the area behind the royal palace where all the fancy embassy buildings were. M took a photo of a particularly Rapunzelish castle looking building. We found GF bread, muffins & cakes at a tiny bakery/cafe which is part of a chain (was another one in centre of city). Vigeland Park interesting with all the nude statues sculpted by Gustav Vigeland (high up so nice views of city). Modern opera house on harbour also interesting - seems to be a snow & ice theme cos outside all white & sand coloured tiles (can walk all over the sloping roof) so looks from a distance as though it's got snow on it. Inside at ground level there are walls of glassy tiles reminiscent of glaciers. There was a sea mist when we first arrived at it about midday but by evening the mist had cleared & it looked lovely under a pink sunset. Didn't get any decent photos though cos construction work all around it. (Brit Airways staff member at airport gaves us the tip to take the NSB train into Oslo from airport instead of the express train - said express train twice as expensive as NSB & only arrives about 5 minutes earlier. She also issued all our boarding passes super early to give us extra time to explore Oslo. Love British Airways.)      

Will miss the scenery & sensational arctic tap water (both the taste & the ability to drink water safely from a tap) & everyone speaking English. Won't miss taking 10 mins to dress to go outside: waterproof pants, coat, scarf, 2 hats, 3 pairs of gloves, spikes over shoes to prevent falling on ass on icy roads, wash hands after handling spikes.

FOOD: Had great breakfasts after stocking up on muesli ingredients at the health food shop. Supermarket food good & not too terribly expensive - all the Schar GF range there for M including a newie - chocolate chip cookies, enough 'fresh' veg & fruit trucked in from warmer parts of Europe to satisfy me. So we had lots of simple dinners at 'home' of boiled eggs, cheese, ham & salad with Schar toast. Froosh mixed fruit juices as delicious as I remember from 2012 (my favourite was banana, pineapple & coconut which was the consistency of a smoothie). Frozen yoghurt bar had flavours like coconut & apple, a bit like the sorbets in Pucon - expensive of course ($10AUD for 2 scoops) but fruity & low fat.
Egon restaurant does GF pizza (Norwegians very gluten aware), & Mexican meals like fajitas & quesadillas. Doesn't do maize tortillas though, only flour ones. Heaps of pizza houses. Ate stew of reindeer (tastes like beef) with root vegies & silverbeet for lunch on our dogsledding trip. (A man we met said not cruel to eat reindeer cos there are so many they need culling cos not enough food available for all of them.)
Best local food was at Vollan Gjestestue (Guesthouse with public restaurant) in Nordkjosbotn - had Norway's national dish, a hearty casserole of root vegies & meat. The casserole we had was with salted mutton but an ABC Hotel staff member said they don't normally mention the meat type on the menu cos it's usually left over cheap meat rather than good quality meat like mutton. Vollan provided fantastic warmed gluten free bread with our chicken salad & curry sauce (sauce was very light & subtle). The GF chocolate cake was really moist. Most of the meals were GF or could be made GF. Coffee was free & we could get a free second helping of the casserole cos it was the meal of the day. M felt embarrassed to go back for seconds cos we were already sharing one casserole between us, but not me - I brazenly turned up at the counter after our enormous first serving & was given the second helping, on a slightly smaller plate.

GF ALERT: Carluccio's restaurant at Heathrow airport (Terminal 5) has a 2-page menu of GF meals for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Had a great GF porridge there (oats, berries & apple) on way to Norway & M had salads. Went back on way to India & got typical British-style breakfast (scrambled eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes & crispy bacon) with gluten free bread as well as porridge and fruit & yoghurt - M & I shared all 3 meals as our own mini breakfast buffet (got photos of food & menu, M will review on Trip Advisor). Not cheap (20 pounds for the 3 meals, 22 pounds including tip) but delicious & satisfying. Can get great GF muesli bars from most W H Smith newsagents in Terminal 5.
In Norway coeliacs get 3000 Krone (approx $600 AUS) per month from govt to help with food bills. Burger King chicken salads not GF in Tromso. Mexican style meals not generally GF cos mostly use (wheat)flour.
American Airlines only provide GF meals to their business & first class passsengers. No airlines provide GF snacks on short flights.

ENVIRO:  households get 5 bags for food, plastic, paper, cans & general waste cos recycling very big in Norway, according to staff member at our hotel (says food scraps treated in a facility in Tromso). Get paid a bit of money when place recyclables in recycling stations at supermarkets. One shopping centre had a food waste bin as well as the standard recycle bins. Cinema places large trays next to bins to put empty soft drink bottles in. Kebab shop had trays for drink bottles as well. Don't appear to be fussed about saving water; no signs about that & towels changed daily at our hotel (probably partly cos it takes so long for towels to dry in Norwegian climate). Have touch censor toilet taps in places like airports though. 

LONDON (enroute to Delhi) - ***Heathrow Lodge is a 5 minute free bus ride from Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 approx twice hourly until 12.40am on Bus No. 423 that you catch just outside the terminal exit. It's at 556 Old Bath Rd Longford Hillingdon UB7 0EF just a short walk down the road from the first bus stop after leaving Heathrow. Only cost 24 pounds for a big warm room with a comfortable double & single bed (best pillows ever) and shared bathroom (towels, soaps & shampoos provided). 24 hour check-in obviously. Perfect for the 12 hour gap between our late night arrival from Oslo & our late next morning departure for Delhi. Slept like babies. This will become our local for any future Heathrow Airport layovers. Never again will M & I suffer the slings & arrows of an overnight stay in Terminal 5. 

INDIA: amazing how quickly you adapt to the dirt - within a few days of arrival cows, goats, dogs & an occasional pig wandering all over the streets becomes normal, along with dodging their droppings & all the other rubbish strewn everywhere. Day 1 - Delhi not nearly as chaotic as I expected & lots of unexpected green belts as well. Architecture of the ancient Qutub Minar & surrounding ruins amazing as is Humayun's Tomb. Not much impressed by the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh temple though, even with all its gold - preferred the spacious white tiled terraces pierced with sunlight outside it. (Our tour group shared a cab to see those three main sites, two of which are UNESCO world heritage.) Day 2 - travel by 2nd class train to Bikaner. Arrived near sunset to visit the Rat Temple - lucky I find rats cute cos there were plenty of them. Loved the train cos it had long benches instead of demarcated seats so between us we could take turns lying on a bench to sleep. Only down side the layer of grime you wake up with on your body from dust blowing in through the open windows, the only form of aircon. When I washed my face at the hotel that night my white towel turned black. Day 3 - travel by private mini van to Jaisalmer through the Rajasthan desert which at that stage seemed more like the Nullabor Plain with lots of scrub. Staying at Hotel Sand Castle tonight & on Day 5 (sleeping in desert on Day 4) - a mini palace among the ruins of this dusty desert town. All hotels so far seem much better than you'd expect for the grimy streets they're placed in, albeit with basic bathrooms. Bedding very colourful & beds firm.   

Day 4 - Vishy took us on tour of town to see the lovely intricate golden architecture of the havelis & the fort overlooking town which about 10,000 people live in (oldest lived in fort in the world). Then took jeep to meet our camels for our desert safari run by staff from our hotel (KK acted as guide & Bali was cook). Safari was wonderful - finally got to see dunes in the desert on our camel ride; textures & contours beautifully strongly defined in the early evening light. Green bushes between the dunes, some with purple flowers. Scattered dog & goat & sheep footprints in the sand. A cute dog followed us all the way to the campsite - she was old so she had to stop & rest frequently. I thought we'd lost her at one point & was so happy to see her again when she caught up. While we sat on the dunes watching the sunset, swift & subdued except for a golden orange ball for a few seconds, black beetles burrowed into the sand around us. KK told us stories of long ago beside the campfire & we had a delicious late night dinner of mutton (their name for goat) roghan josh with vegies, rice & bread. We slept under the stars on comfortable camp beds under thick blankets. We didn't need our torches - the full moon gave us the light to find places to pee. I awoke at 6 (dawn) to the sounds of birds small & large and sat up to watch the sunrise which was as soft as last night's sunset. By about 7 everyone was awake for a quick breakfast of eggs, toast & bananas before packing up camp. 

Day 5 - massages in arvo after KK took us to deserted desert city in morn on way back from safari. Sky such a deep blue behind the open windows of the deserted temple that if I'd only seen it in a photo I'd have thought it was the result of a polarising filter. Very nice dinner at Trio Restaurant on their little semi outdoor landing between upstairs & downstairs sections under three colourfully tiled bowl style light fittings, overlooking a beautiful pink bougainvillea & across the street golden coloured brick buildings that glowed even more golden in the sunset (didn't get a chance to take a photo till glow had disappeared so colours a bit washed out). Day 6 - travel by public bus to Jodhpur. Like a peak hour train in Perth, with people jammed in the aisle between Eastern bunk benches on one side & Western style double seats on the other. Curtains covered windows cos no aircon so, without desert scenery to distract me, I settled into my blog notes. Whenever I looked around I'd catch the eye of a local child staring at me through the crowd from the opposite bench. I'd smile & they'd usually smile back. So there was a lovely sense of silent camaraderie despite the crowded heat. A nice middle aged man saw me still bent over my computer & let me know we'd arrived, 'This Jodhpur, last stop'

Day 7 & 8 - Jodhpur (Blue City) had our best hotel yet, Krishna Prakash Heritage Haveli 'A Royal Abode', looking straight up at Jodhpur Fort with a beautiful central courtyard on four levels, an undercover swimming pool & great food including buffet breakfast. City was big but not too big, fort was wonderful, & lassis at the famous lassi cafe were to die for - lemon one with cream that was almost butter was fantastic. M bought food at a street stall for an old woman begging outside. We took our first tuk tuk to go in search of GF snacks. No luck with finding GF food but enjoyed the ride - driver went the wrong way on a roundabout and several streets but we felt surprisingly safe cos he couldn't drive very fast in the wall to wall traffic & everyone weaved around eachother like ballet dancers on speed. Sad to see a donkey with a sack of bricks on its back so overloaded that its knee was buckling under. 

Day 9 - by aircon'd bus to Udaipur (City of Lakes), past marble quarries & heaps of places selling white/pink/green/grey etc marble. Countryside still dry but wooded hills & winding roads as we approached U. Hotel was Janak Niwas 'a family stay in the Old City' run by Sanju, Babu & Pinku www.janakniwas.in or sanjusolanki2001@yahoo.com (91) 294 2419224. They're artists & drew complimentary miniature paintings on our thumbnails & henna designs on our hands & legs. Hotel had rooftop terrace with great views of the City Palace & surroundings. We had an Indian cooking class at their rooftop restaurant, learning how to make chai (spiced tea), jeera rice (cumin seeds), dhal makhani (black lentils), palak paneer (spinach & cheese) & samosas.

Day 10 & 11 - U beautiful. Reminded me a bit of Budapest at night (tour group buddy Lauren agreed) with the City Palace on the hill overlooking us & the lights dancing in the lake at its foot when viewed from the fancier restaurants across the bridge. (Rooftop restaurants on hotel side of bridge gave nice night-time city views on the non lake side.) On last afternoon tour buddy Judith & I walked with Vishy to the gondola that took us up to a high hilltop to see over the whole city & surrounding mountains & lakes. Views were awesome & monkeys in the trees on walk back cute. Vishy warned us not to smile at them cos if they see your teeth bared they view it as a sign of aggression. But it was so hard to stay stern watching the babies swinging all over the branches. Overnight train to Jaipur (Pink City) - not as comfortable as last train trip cos couldn't stretch out in bunks (daypacks behind our heads for safekeeping so not enough room).

Day 12 - first experience of J unpleasant. Arrived at 6.30am to a dusty, smelly tuk tuk ride in polluted hazy air that the sun struggled to shine through. M sick from ingesting gluten yesterday so slept in hotel while I joined Vishy's orientation walk to the supposedly speccie old pink part of city. Walked for an hour through noise, heat & rubbish to a glorified shopping street in the old orange (not pink) part of city. Went straight 'home' with tour buddy Fred, leaving the rest of the group to shop, as I was now feeling sick myself. Day 13 - J redeemed itself a bit when we visited the palace but the really special part of the city centre was the Janta Manta (astronomical instruments' complex) near the palace. It only recently became a popular paying tourist site when walls & a garden were added to enclose it. Before that people could wander amongst the instruments freely but not many bothered. The renovations are great - the new walls have been built to look like the original wall & the garden's immaculate. M & I went there with Judith on a guided tour then the three of us took tuk tuk to Amer Fort & stopped to view the Lake Palace on the way back. Fort was stunning - best part of Jaipur.

Day 14 - long bus journey to Agra to see Taj Mahal. Beautiful but not surprising cos seen too many photos (like Grand Canyon), although did stop my breath for a moment as I saw the big dome in the centre loom up for the first time in the distance through an archway. Loved the buildings & grounds leading up to it, & the dogs sleeping in the formal gardens in front of it. Hated Agra - even more polluted & poverty stricken than Jaipur (only redeeming feature apart from Taj was a restaurant serving GF South Indian food). Day 15 - visited Fahtepur Sikri, a beautiful red sandstone palace & fort complex on a hill outside Jaipur built by a shah for his wives (each wife chose the style of palace she wanted eg Muslim wife chose a tiny palace with stone carvings that have survived fairly intact while another wife chose a larger palace with paintings that have mostly deteriorated). It's a great example of Mughal architecture & has a few informal gardens outside its walls.

Day 16 & 17 - escaped into the serenity of small town Orchha, staying at rudimentary Hotel Ganpati which had a lovely view of the castle. River beautiful especially in the sunset light - could actually get a fairly decent sunset here cos air less polluted. Castle had spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, which was so beautiful it looked like a painting. A cute dog accompanied us on our morning jog around the castle. Got great meals & great castle views from the top terrace at Open Sky restaurant, especially the breakfasts booked the night before that came bang on time at 7.30 for us & at 8 for the girls. Delicious chocolate lassi. (Manager very service oriented - our lunch came very late so he made sure our breakfasts were on time & checked we were happy with our food.)

Day 18 - even more peaceful at village Basari where we met the locals & stayed at Hammeer Garhi Heritage Haveli Resort. Wish I'd got a photo of the cute little bird who waited patiently on the balcony ledge with a nest-building stick in her mouth while we ate breakfast, before she finally gave up & flew away; her mate waited with her for a little while. I got a photo later of the nest itself that they'd made at the top of the fancy light fitting dangling above the second storey meals alcove.

Day 19 - on to Khajuraho to see the Kama Sutra & Jain temples including an evening sound & light show at KS temples. Our first experience of bicycle rickshaws on the journey to the Jain temples. Overnight train to Varanasi - more comfortable this time cos M hid my daypack under his bottom bunk so I could stretch out on my middle bunk. Day 20 - V the worst city yet: so polluted it's hard to breathe, the narrow streets are hard to navigate & the noise levels are painful. Getting the trapped feeling again that I had in Jaipur & Agra. Can't wait to leave.

There's a saying that the problem with India is 3 P's: poverty, pollution & population. What I remember with affection is 3 A's: architecture, animals & alimentation (food). 

FOOD: we don't have to become vegetarians. Our tour guide advises us where it's safe to eat mutton (goat) & chicken. In Rajhastan specialities are mutton roghan josh, mutton rajputan (only sauce I didn't like - overly strong muddy taste & gritty texture), dal makhani (black lentils - very yummy), jeera/zeera rice with cumin seeds. South Indians use more lentil & chickpea flour so their dumplings & breads eg missi roti are often GF but they don't seem to use as much variety of vegies as North Indians. Yoghurt (curd) used a lot both in lassi drinks & in fruit/veg raitas. Variety of lassis - from basic sweet/ salt to fruits like banana, mango, pineapple, papaya, lemon, strawberry & also coffee/choc/coconut (although our guide said Indians prefer the basic sweet/salt - only variation they like is banana).

Thali combination meals (veg & non veg & regional speciality) allow you to try a variety of dishes in the one meal including a dessert. Got GF ravioli made with rice? flour in my thali at rooftop restaurant in Jodhpur hotel & I'm pretty sure the gulab jamun was GF as well cos tasted like made with chickpea flour, much more substance than the spongy one in Delhi restaurant. Lovely kulfi (pistachio) icecream at Saga hotel open air courtyard restaurant in Bikaner - prefer it to the vanilla icecream served in Delhi & elsewhere which I find too creamy & sweet. Didn't like texture of rasgulla I tried in Khaduraho which is a similar doughy dish to gulab jamun. Delhi region does a really tasty tomato based sauce called lababda (more tomatoey & less creamy than masala). Indians can even make tofu taste good, drowning it in such lovely sauces that it tastes more like paneer, their white cheese. Also make vegetarian dishes using curd either in its original soft form or rolled into firm balls or chunks.

Numerous range of dishes especially vegetarian ones. White sauces an option if don't want spicy - made with dairy products & enlivened by nuts & dried fruits eg navratan korma (white sauce potato dish with pomegranate seeds at the amazing Gulati restaurant in Delhi). Could write whole pages on the amazing variety of delicious food in India. After sampling for 3 weeks all over northern India, on return to Delhi I still encountered dishes I'd never tried before at Gulati's buffet lunch. One of the reasons for the variety is that they use their main sauces like masala, korma, lababda in both meat & vegetarian dishes eg you can can get paneer (cheese) & chicken lababda & tikka masala, & aloo (potato) kormas as well as meat ones. Indians even make great Western dishes like porridge & omelettes (masala omelettes have tomato, onion & capsicum). If you have a sweet tooth you'll love the scrambled eggs - they put sugar in them. La Sagrita hotel in Delhi made porridge from oat grits instead of flakes (so thinner than normal porridge but still filling & tasty with milk & honey).

ENVIRO: no recycle bins here (not many bins of any kind) but signs in Jaisalmer asking people to keep it clean. Jaisalmer haveli section & inside of fort kept clean for tourists. People seem to keep their homes clean no matter how humble. Stray animals pick amongst rubbish for food (told 50% of cows die from gastroenteritis from eating plastics). Lights tend to be left on but often hotels only turn on hot water when requested for showers. A few wind turbines in Rajasthan desert & some small scale solar panels proposed for villages but problems with people stealing expensive German cable from renewables to sell on black market. Air pollution everywhere. On return to Delhi in April found recycle bins & food bins at airport. Brightly coloured bins in Lodhi Garden painted with slogans like Use Me & Do The Right Thing as well as signs saying Keep Delhi Clean & Green & requesting to keep dogs on jogging track & pick up their droppings. Place spotless so people appear to be obeying. People going thru rubbish skip bins near Khan Market the way they do in Uruguay & Istanbul etc. Sign in our hotel La Sagrita requesting save water & detergent by using towels more than once (but staff ignore it & replace towels daily whether on the floor or hanging up). Smoking banned in all public places (lots of anti-smoking ads on TV) but our tuk tuk driver smoked a foul smelling cigarette & an elderly man lit up at India Gate. Billboard sign on major road saying Help Delhi breathe easy - use public transport.    

NEPAL/CHINA  April 2014

NEPAL - national flower is rhododendron but we've missed the Spring flowering season in March. Belladonna & red lillies, pink bougainvillea & the tiny blue flowers in the alpine areas that seem to grow in all alpine areas in the world from South Africa to Scandinavia. Houses similar to those in the poorer areas of South & Central America - simple square structures with rooftop terraces, often painted bright colours. Grow wheat & corn in dry season & rice in monsoon. A lot more goats than cows. Noticed the difference immediately on crossing border from India - better roads with roadwork being done regularly, less rubbish, less tooting horns.

Arrived Lumbini 3/4 & 4/4 visited Buddha's birthplace & nearby Buddhist temples erected by Myanmar & other neighbouring countries. Then went to Chitwan National Park where we stayed at a hotel inside the park. 5/4 did boat trip in long canoe that sat scarily low in the crocodile infested river then watched a one-horned rhino from the river bank on our morning jungle walk in varied terrain (ranging from steamy green tropical forest to dry open bushland). Did jeep safari in same area in arvo to try to spot tigers but saw more wildlife next morn on elephant ride: boar, monkeys, deer. Guide on our safaris was Bishnu Prasad Rimal 9845086287 chitwan.guide@yahoo.com He does jungle walks, canoeing, elephant safaris, bird watching, trekking, rafting, ticketing etc.

Onward to Pokhara arriving mid arvo 6/4 at Baba Lodge - lively tourist town with great band playing Pink Floyd, Santana etc numbers at our pub restaurant (singer & guitarists had heaps of long hair). 7-9/4 did trek in Annapurna Foothills staying first night at Australia Camp & 2nd night at Sarangkot. 10/4 M & me spent our free day boating across lake to walk to Peace Stupa on hill then waxing/massage at Fingertips Salon. 11/4 long bus journey to Kathmandu past incredibly steep hillside farms. Visited Bhaktapur City (the old city of Kathmandu) & Buddhist stupa Boudhanath & Swayambhu (Monkey) Temple complex (all three are UNESCO world heritage sites) with the tour group girls 12/4 after early morning Himalayas flight. Arrived at Babu's Homestay in Langol that night. Spent 13 & 14/4 visiting Taudaho Lake & Kirtipur. 15-19/4 did 5 day Hidden Nepal trek then back to Babu's for quiet recovery day 20/4 then to airport morn 21/4 for flight to Delhi - almost as spectacular Himalayas scenery views as $US191 Yeti Airlines Himalayas flight but Delhi flight cost only $130 each. I remember how cool it was seeing the peak of Everest peek out above the clouds during Yeti flight - it truly does touch the sky. The most amazing chain of mountains - glacier white jagged upside down V's at the top, black undulating slopes dusted with icing sugar snow on the next layer below & below that jet black peaks & folds that drop down steeply into darkness. 

FOOD: Dhal bhat is Nepal's thali, a combination meal of rice, dhal (lentil soup), pickled & curried veg & sweetened curd (yoghurt) for dessert that you can have second & third helpings of. Locals often eat it twice daily for lunch & dinner. No missi roti but millet pancakes & corn bread & corn porridge in high alpine village (Australia Camp) during our trek near Pokhara. Lassis of all flavours (Love Kush restaurant in Pokhara does a coconut one with fresh chunks of coconut blended into it as well as a spiced rice pudding also with coconut chunks in it). Oat porridge with banana & curd with fruit salad & masala (tomato, onion & capsicum) omelettes for breakfast like in India. Pakaudas are Nepali version of pakoras - more filling than pakoras but tend to be greasier.

ENVIRO: disappointed by the amount of air pollution in highly populated areas but occasional recycle bins. Kathmandu similar to Santiago - lies in a bowl surrounded by mountains that trap the pollution. Hydro elec reliable in monsoon (so much produced they sell some to India) but power goes out for several hours a day in dry season. Solar panels for power & heating at some hotels. Rubbish tip in Kathmandu. Cow dung used to produce gas for cooking on farms in Chitwan.

DELHI - stayed at La Sagrita Hotel in expensive embassies' area from arvo 21/4 to late night 24/4 to get Mongolia visas. 22/4 visited lovely Lodi Gardens which had nice ruins. 23/4 walked to India Gate & saw a bit of Purana Qila fort. 24/4 hired taxi for 4 hours & visited Jamal Masjid Mosque (largest mosque in India), drove past Red Fort (seemed similar to Fahtepur Sikri outside Agra) both built by Shah Jahan who built Taj Mahal, then visited Lotus Temple (built in 1986 by Bahai religion followers) & Iskcon Temple (built recently by Hare Krishna followers) - both had beautiful gardens.

BEIJING - very hazy in the distance from pollution (views of Great Wall on Day 4 hampered by haze at Badaling) but surprisingly sunny with blue skies on our first two days there (Day 1 took subway to Jenny Lou's specialist supermarket to stock up on GF food & Day 2 stayed in hotel room doing notes & blog. Stayed at Mei Yuan Hotel in Hai Dian area before transfer to Botai Hotel in Dongcheng district on Day 3 for start of Tucan's Trans Mongolian Railway tour. Day 4 - Great Wall & Ming Tomb tour. Day 5 boarded train heading to Mongolia due to arrive next day (May 1).

FOOD: not as many GF choices as India & Nepal cos so many dishes have soy sauce that M can't risk cos probably has wheat in it. Trying to go vegetarian now for health, environmental & ethical reasons - main protein source tofu.

ENVIRO: recycle bins everywhere in Beijing from the airport to the Great Wall (bins on the Wall at Badaling). Signs in both hotels asking people to conserve water & detergent by re-using towels but like our hotel in Delhi management don't seem to have informed staff; even if we left our towels hanging instead of placing them on floor for cleaning all the towels would still be replaced.

MONGOLIA/RUSSIA/CHINA  May 2014

MONGOLIA - arrived Day 4 of Tucan tour on Thur 1/5 early arvo at capital Ulaanbaatar (UB) after spending Day 3 on train from Beijing & crossing border at about midnight. Scenery on China side was mostly fairly tame due to pollution haze obscuring distant mountains, but when track passed close by rugged mountains & dams it was impressive. When we awoke on the Mongolian side it was all desert steppe scenery with the most beautifully contoured sandy coloured slopes. The pollution was gone & we could see clearly into the distance. Day 5 went to ger camp via Turtle Rock & some Buddhist sites. Snowed so mostly stayed inside our cosy wood stove warmed gers.(Snow seemed to be falling in slow motion as I looked out the ger restaurant window, whereas it sheeted sideways in front of the loungeroom windows at ABC Hotel & blew in all directions both fast & slow at Listvyanka.) Day 6 trekked with tour buddies in the local hills - awesome snow capped ridges & wide windswept valleys punctuated by silver birches glowing white in the sunshine. Granite boulders everywhere with lime & orange lichen. Purple flowers that pale to mauve when they fully open. Day 7 visited enormous Genghis (Chinggis) Khan statue & museum on way back to UB. Had drink at top floor of Blue Sky highrise tower with great night views of city, great modern architecture of sloping steel girders & floor to ceiling glass loo with a view. Day 8 did city tour of Buddhist monastery, royal winter/summer palace & lookout in hills.

FOOD: impossible to stay vegetarian - all included meals at ger camp have meat. For dinner at Modern Nomads restaurant UB on Day 4 had broth with millet & beef tripe which was pretty tasteless whereas M had a delicious salad of chicken, blue cheese, walnuts, apple & greens with a raspberry dressing & an amazing dessert called Icecream Mix (or was it Mix Icecream?) - lemon & vanilla icecream scoops with mixed nuts, strawberry & caramel sauce & dried fruit. Great fresh green salads & coleslaws at ger camp as well as hearty veg soups & meat stews for the cold weather. Choc custard mixed with choc icecream with huckle berries (taste like dark cherries). M got rice mixed with dried fruit as GF breakfast (& rice pudding with milk next morning).

Ate at fancy Japanese restaurant at Blumon Centre when returned to UB (added veg/meat to soup bases by cooking on individual electric elements at round table in private room). Treated to an impromptu piano performance by a visitor in the downstairs art gallery as we came out of the lift after leaving restaurant. Next night M & I ate at lovely Indian restaurant Namaste (great customer service - did veg korma & chicken tikka in coriander & mint mild for me but served chile sauces in bowls for M so he could spice up to suit his taste. We didn't ask for this - they did this themselves after M told them he likes food spicy & I like it mild so requested medium spice for our shared meals as a compromise.)

GF ALERT: got GF muesli bars & cereals at State Department Store supermarket.

ENVIRO: saw lots of wind turbines on hills from train (& a few on China side). Still use a lot of coal (anthracite) for keeping fires going although trying out a new type of stove that filters the smoke better. Also using solar panels for heating. Countryside fairly free of rubbish.

RUSSIA - Day 9 on train after crossing Mongolian border during night. Day 10 arrived Irkutsk early morn & went straight to Listvyanka where it was snowing. Nikolai our   hotel owner a real character using lots of clownish gesture as he spoke no English. Braved weather to eat fish soup & chips lunch in a dingy cafe with out of character flashing disco lights (wish I'd got photo of tour buddy Peter with lights dancing on his face). Three middle-aged male guests entertained us with guitar playing accompanied by Russian songs & then initiated our fearless tour leader into Russian sauna etiquette: 20 mins approx in sauna being whipped with birch branches, 10 seconds writhing naked in snow, 20 mins more sado-masochism in sauna, 10 seconds plunging into ice bath, interspersed with food, copious amounts of vodka & story telling; the ultimate male bonding experience. They showed us some fabulous photos of Lake Baikal, which was just as well cos it snowed so heavily the next day that we never got to see the lake as visibility was zilch. Luckily the hotel was bright, warm & had a cosy little lounge area where we could sit while the snow howled outside. This is the most snow M & I have seen & the novelty still hasn't worn off - the white world outside our windows was a wonderland, a Christmas postcard as tour mate Kevin described it. Took train that evening (Day 11) to Moscow.

Day 12 to 14 on train (4 nights & 3 days) - occasional cute wooden farmhouses with richly soiled vegie patch gardens, lots & lots of birch trees sometimes interspersed with pines & firs & looking loveliest in morning & evening light, wide rivers, but often flat & drab & swampy landscape with dilapidated houses. People don't smile much. The best architecture is the train stations - beautifully preserved old buildings with fresh paintwork (the one on the China-Mongolia border had a lovely formal garden with trees in full mauve & white blossom). But the company was sublime - Kathryn had us rolling on the floor at her antics & charades on movie titles were great fun, as well as the card games & dominoes. Haven't laughed so much in forever. Felt like I was a kid again at a school camp, bunking in a 4 bed cabin with a fun couple for companions. (Kevin taught M how to charade the word 'cold' by hugging himself & going Brrr so that the station kiosk attendants would get him a Coke from the fridge instead of the shelf.) Our names on betting sheet for how long it would take for our '12 o'clock' lunch to actually arrive: Don't call me late Kath (25 mins) Big Kev (15) Little Lizzie (20) Mighty Mike (47). M was closest - it took over an hour.

Day 15-17 in Moscow - free walking tour with guide Irina in Red Square region 1st day, included tour of Kremlin 2nd day with guide Helen followed by her paid bus tour of city, cemetery, saw nunnery from lake outside, views of city from hill where university is & visited some of the speccy Metro stations (good value tour at about $40 each). 3rd day visited Kremlin's armoury - silverware, jewellery, clothes, carriages, oh - & armour. Amazing architecture in onion domed churches. And Seven Sisters buildings (University, apartment block, govt, finance, etc) easily rival New York art deco buildings. Beautiful Spring flowers in lovingly tended gardens in & around Kremlin: yellow, red, pink, white & variegated tulips; mauve, white & purple flowered lilac trees; white candle blossoms on chestnut trees. Irina said Russian people are happy - reason they don't smile is they're brought up to smile only at family & friends. Stayed at suburban highrise Gamma Hotel - lovely 24th floor rooms with great views towards city, our first hot water baths, to die for buffet breakfasts included & free communal filtered water container on our floor. LOVED Moscow. (Train late night Day 17 to St Petersburg arriving early morn - shared cabin with new tour buddies Sarah & Tizzi.)

Day 18-20 in St Petersburg - Ist day tour leader Chris showed us around city, included tour of Hermitage Museum with local guide 2nd day (tour buddies sung Happy Birthday to me before leaving) then boat tour of river to harbour with Kathryn, Kevin & Sarah & dinner with them at cheerful Biblioteka cafe. Kevin bought me a birthday Magnum icecream from a street vendor before boat tour. Hermitage overwhelming (housed in Catherine The Great's sumptuous Winter Palace) - spent most of my time looking up & down at the ornate ceilings & floors or out the windows at the view over the river rather than at the artworks. At 12 when the cannons went off gas flames were lit on two brick towers on opposite river bank which we decided were my birthday candles (M took photo). 3rd day visited Catherine's palace & Peterhof fountains & had dinner at jazz club near Church of Spilt Blood - great swing band & ate (grilled fish with buckwheat & tart white mushrooms) on 2nd floor which looked like a cave with very low ceilings. (Catherine's palace beautiful but style of rooms' ceilings, walls & floors generally similar; not as much variety as Winter Palace rooms. Amber Room & furniture gorgeous.)

Said goodbye to tour group on morn of 18/5 & stayed in St P until arvo of 21/5. Crashed in hotel 18th - lovely ground floor room with roomy bathroom overlooking large courtyard in suburb close to city (I think hotel provides accomm for State Railway Transport Uni); buffet breakfast not a patch on Gamma except for the hot milky porridge. Expensive at over $200 per night (we originally wanted to book into cheap St P hostel at tour end but travel agent said too difficult cos need invite letter from all accomm providers on Russian visa app & didn't have time to get letter from hostel.) 19th did free city walking tour with guide Svetlana, saw panoramic view of city from top of St Isaac's Cathedral & walked around Peter & Paul Fortress with all the sunbathers on its sandy riverside 'beach'. Also took M to see the cute cafe we visited with Chris on 1st day while he was in bed sick - dolls in the window, chandeliers, ornate ceilings & mirrors, a piano that plays itself while flashing lights keep time with it & every type of fancy food from nuts, jams, chocolates, psychedelically coloured cakes in the shape of fruit to deli meats & cheeses. As Chris said, 'I love this place. There's so much happening.' Beautiful big parks with the same blooming lilac & chestnut trees as Moscow but not as many tulips, & whereas Moscow has manicured lawns but natural looking trees St P has mostly scruffy natural lawns but occasional manicured trees. Metro stop near Fortress resembled a space ship. Svetlana said St P has deepest metro in world at 86m (equivalent of several storeys - takes 4 mins to ascend some of the steep escalators).

20th went to Church of Spilt Blood - interior full of mosaics & marble with all religious paintings on walls made up of mosaics. Very brightly lit by chandeliers & natural light from high windows so less sombre than cathedrals in Kremlin. Saw more beautiful buildings such as Engineer's Castle near Michailovsky Gardens behind Spilt Blood. This area also beautiful cos has lots of canals, & ponds in gardens. All parks in St P feel very open to the sky cos trees are tall but let a lot of filtered light through. Leaves & grass are an incredibly rich bright green in the sunlight & stay bright until very late on these May 'white nights' (sun goes down only briefly from about 11 til early hours of morn). When first arrived in St P was a bit disappointed by how European it was compared to the 'Russian' onion domes of Moscow, despite its Prague-like range of architecture. But now I've fallen in love & wish I had more time to keep gazing at its wondrous buildings, slouch in its parks & take a canal ride. The city's very spread out & there's so much still to see. And in the humid 30 degree+ heat I can't manage 30kms in a day like Paris, 16 is my limit. In less than a week St P's gone from cool rugged up nights to still in blazing sun at 9pm.

21st left hotel early arvo & took Blue Line metro to Moscovskya station (not to be confused with the other Blue Line station that has Moscov in its double barrelled name!) then public bus 39 straight outside station (not to be confused with more expensive minibus K39 that leaves from same stand) to airport for night flight to Beijing - fairly straightforward & dirt cheap journey. Bus goes regularly roughly every 20 mins until about 11pm.        

FOOD: similar to other cold climate countries - lots of soup, bread, fish, fatty meat & root vegies especially potatoes. Speciality is barley. Buckwheat with mushrooms as accompaniment to savoury meals. What they call curd appears to be cottage cheese & a custard I had in St Petersburg seemed more like thick cream - yummy dessert in a glass made up of layers of coconut cream with berry jam, candied brown sugar & fresh blueberries. Ukha - fish soup with potatoes & tomatoes served with a small glass of vodka & a fish pastry (Russian version. Finnish version had cream in the soup). Borscht (beetroot) soups usually came with meat or fish in them. Tour leader had strawberry soup dessert at Soviet Restaurant - strawberries blended to a juice with a sweetened sauce through it & a dollop of icecream.

GF ALERT: After nearly 3 days of showing waitress on train his Russian language coeliac card (on his phone) on way to Moscow, she still served M a meal with barley. Whereas the Chinese dining car staff on way to Mongolia discussed in great depth M's needs & made him a meal with rice instead of pasta, offered him a second helping & came to check that he was happy. (He shook hands with the chef & thanked him.) Aeroflot does GF snacks - rice cakes with chicken salad.

ENVIRO: coal powered industries, no evident recycle bins in St Petersburg except at airport, but spotlessly clean streets in Moscow watered by Council trucks & Metro stations & trains in M & StP very clean. Moscow guide said govt turns on hydro/gas powered central heating in cold weather (7 months I think from Oct-April) - if it's still cold in May people need to turn on own heaters. Smoking allowed in restaurants & between carriages on trains.

CHINA - arrived mid morn 22/5 & took above ground express train 25 Yuan each airport to Dongzhimen Metro station terminus then 2 Yuan each Metro trip on to Jishuitan station near Mei Yuan Hotel in Hai Dian district. The young waitresses from simple restaurant next to hotel recognised us from 3 weeks ago & ensured M got a GF tofu & veg meal like last time once he jogged their memory with his phone translation telling them to hold the soy sauce. 23/5 stocked up on snacks at Jenny Lou's & had great Indian meal at Ganges Restaurant next to Abella? Italian Restaurant where we ate last time (opposite Embassies building) - only disappointment was even their missi roti has wheat in it. But their rose lassi seemed to be made with genuine strawberry juice (not strawberry sauce like in the lakeside cafe outside Kathmandu) & their chicken tikka masala & spinach with spices were both beautifully flavoured but not at all hot so first time ever I've had an Indian meal without my nose running.

24/5 Day 1 of Mandarin Sunrise tour with On The Go Tours so checked in at Rainbow Hotel in arvo - very swish but miss the bottomless filtered water in our previous two hotels (only 2 puny bottles of water per day here) & wi-fi only avail in lobby & very slow. Day 2 visited Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, rickshaw ride around Hutong houses, tea making demo at tea house (M & I liked the herbal fruit tea better than the ginseng & lychee & jasmine black teas) & acrobatic show. Day 3 Badaling climbing the 'easy' side of the Wall - stairs less steep than 'hard' side & able to go further before wall ran out. Brief tour of cloisonne area before lunch & brief view of bird's nest & ice cube Olympic 2008 stadiums & dragon shaped 7-star hotel on way back to our hotel. Day 4 Summer Palace (lovely grounds & gardens reminiscent of Melbourne's Botanic Gardens) then 4pm bullet train to Luoyang staying at Peony Hotel (good gym & buffet breakfast).

Day 5 UNESCO listed 6th Century Longman Caves with its 10K buddhas etched into cliffs along Yi River & White Horse Temple (first Buddhist temple in China) which had a tranquil ancient feel with beautifully carved stone benches, floors, staircases etc & lovely gardens with sparrows & small pagodas. Great neon lit night at Luoyang's huge Peony Square watching all the different groups dancing (ballroom, modern, belly, folk), doing T'ai Chi etc - very communal atmosphere with sandpit & toys for the littlies & a bar with huge TV screen to watch sports. Day 6 bullet train to Xian staying at Wan Nian Hotel (good gym with friendly staff). 1 hour bike ride on city wall. Day 7 Terra Cotta Warriors (Pits 2 & 3 best & the bonsaied bougainvilleas in pots in the gardens) & Big Wild Goose Pagoda (more modern, not nearly as nice as ancient White Horse Temple - too much gilt). Day 8 Pandas glorious pandas at rescue centre in the mountains & endangered takirs, monkeys, black (moon) bears, deer, red pandas, leopard.....and one stray cat trying to find a way in to the eagles' cage. Pity not quick enough to get photo of it sticking its paws through the bars. Hotpot lunch. Overnight train to Shanghai, sharing cabin with Jim & Barb.

Day 9 Shanghai - visited Jade Buddha Temple, beautiful Yuyuan Garden then returned to Paradise Hotel til rain eased. Saw aerial view of city from TV tower at sunset then night boat tour Huangpu River. Day 10 train to Suzhou for Dragon Boat festival, boat trip on Grand Canal & another beautiful garden (also demo at Silk Factory of what they do to silk worms to make silk - after seeing the worms boiled I've now sworn off silk products). Day 11 tagged along with the American tour buddy family to the famous Nanjing Road (just another wide modern shopping mall) then saw some beautiful colonial buildings when reached the Bund (promenade) overlooking the river. Bund was great with its view of the new & old buildings on opposite sides of Huangpu River & flowers sticking in wavy patterns to its walls. Shanghai very exciting city especially at night. Said goodbye to the Americans who were off to Hong Kong then the 6 of us left in the group took overnight train to Qufu staying at 4 star People's Palace? Hotel with nice formal garden. (M & I got late check out 6pm from Paradise for 185 Yuan ie $30 approx.)

Day 12 visited Confucius' temple, mansion, grave & gardens. M & I walked around town that night & had a rickshaw ride further up town past the fancy 5-star Shangri La Hotel & a beautifully lit up govt building for 10 yuan. Qufu magical at night with its lit up temples, city wall & willow banked river & Christmassy street lighting. Relaxing 'small' town buzz (population 300K?) cos lots of people wandering the streets in the cool of evening after a fairly hot day. Day 13 mini bus to Jinan via Bu Yang village (visited prep school & had lunch with Communist party official Mr Peng) & cable car ride to Mt Tai Shan 1540m. Stayed at 4 star Shungeng Hotel which had lovely gardens & a big pond. Day 14 visited the huge central square of Jinan & the natural riverside springs & had great buffet lunch including lots of desserts (water chestnuts in sweet lemon sauce particularly yummy). Then train to Rainbow Hotel in Beijing, tour finishing next morn 7/6 with buffet breakfast. Tour guide Justin arranged late check out 2pm then took us to Mei Yuan Hotel. First fully clear blue sky so wonderful views of city skyline from Rainbow's 13th floor room - could even see the distant hills. Had dinner at the little restaurant next to Mei Yuan (waitress communicated with us via translations on her mobile phone) then went to the local park in the balmy evening to watch kids practising their ping pong & badminton & a ballroom dancing club practising their steps to taped music.

8/6 stayed at hotel til 6pm for 95 yuan (about $16 - half of the full rate for our room). Had ground floor room so Internet worked in room. Spent whole day in bed on computer. Then to airport by express train for flight to KL. Lovely evening with a soft sunset after another mostly beautiful clear day - Beijing showing us her best face this weekend. M said he doesn't want to leave now - in the last few days he's had the best food, weather & sights of the whole tour. Sitting in the room with a view at Rainbow I felt very privileged too & realised that in the rush of the tour I hadn't been taking the time to fully appreciate our luxurious hotel rooms. Must take more notice - don't want to become jaded.       

FOOD: main flavourings MSG, garlic, chili & soy sauce. Steamed egg (consistency of custard tart egg) & plain tofu good non-meat (breakfast) protein. Nice meal at local restaurant around corner from hotel in Xian - fresh ginger & herbs in tofu & veg dishes & not much MSG. Similarly well cooked dishes at Shanghai Grandmother Restaurant in Shanghai. Hotpot cook-your-own meal in fondue style gas burner in Xian (similar to Japanese restaurant in Mongolia). Congee is like porridge - cooked oats, millet or maize generally fairly watery, sometimes served with soy bean milk. Not big on desserts - mainly cookies & small pieces of sponge cake. Green tea cheesecake at Costa Coffee at Beijing Airport tasted similar to any non-green cheesecake, with a yummy granita biscuit type base.

ENVIRO: seem to have lost the battle with smog although we had surprisingly blue skies this time at Badaling so mountains & Great Wall looked much better than last time. City streets kept fairly clean - workers go around manually picking up rubbish. Lots of trees, lawn & formal flower beds throughout cities. Few banks of solar panels near Badaling. Solar panels on windows of high rise apartments in Jinan. Street lights often powered by solar panels. Smoking allowed in restaurants but not in train carriages, only between them like in Russia. However people ignore no smoking signs, sometimes smoking directly underneath them. (A no smoking sign outside the men's toilet at Shanghai's main train station had men smoking underneath it, to the side of it & in the toilet behind it.) On our overnight train to Qufu people smoked at the ends of carriages instead of between them & staff did nothing to stop them just like in Russia. Smoking room at Beijing airport. Signs at buffets saying 'Right take. Don't waste food.' Shanghai's ground water supply poisoned by chemicals & heavy metals so not even the locals can drink it - everyone has to drink bottled water (cos can't boil out metals). Sign in Jinan hotel toilet 'Saving the environment. Everyone's responsibility. Please save paper. Thank you.' Censor lights in Qufu hotel.      

MALAYSIA June 2014

Spent 9th settling into Travel Hub Hostel in Chinatown ***(arrived mid morn off Airport Express train to KL Sentral Stn then Monorail to Maharajalela Stn 2 stops away from KL Sentral. Train took 30 mins & cost 35 ringits ($12) each. Monorail trip cost 1.60 ringits each). Friendly manager Leong & receptionist Sandy helped us book trip to Cameron Highlands for 11-13 June. Took free GoKL bus (Purple coloured bus that has 3 routes: red, blue & green) to Petronas Towers but shut on Mondays & costs equivalent of $30 each to go to top so decided not to bother. Ate at cheap Indian cafe & dodged wet season rain to catch bus back 'home'. Cute split level room facing street with couch underneath & bed on top via ladder.

10th took Hop On Hop Off bus 45 ringits ($15) each, had lunch at Sth Indian restaurant in Little India & ended day with walk through Botanic Gardens which have lovely hilltop views of city skyscrapers & impressive war memorial as well as world's largest covered aviary. Near Gardens were some wonderful relatively modern buildings done in Islamic style with domes, arches etc (got photos of a couple on way home eg old railway stn but not of the ones seen quickly from bus earlier. Raining when bus stopped briefly outside Royal Palace so didn't get a decent photo of that golden domed white wonder either.) KL much nicer than I expected with greenery & fountains, traffic not too chaotic & sky not too polluted (nice sunsets). Intensely humid.

11th took 3 and a half hour public bus trip to Tanah Rata (altitude abt 1500m) in Cameron Highlands 30 ringits ($10) each arriving early arvo staying at Kang Travellers Lodge (aka Daniel's Lodge) in small double rm with attached small bathroom for 60 ringits ($20) per night. 12th took Kang Travel's half day Mossy Forest tour of Highlands 50 ringits ($17) each that included visits to tea plantation, butterfly house, strawberry farm & walk in mossy forest & view (of clouds!) from watchtower at 2200m. Tea making factory smelt addictively earthily sweet, forest eerily beautiful in the mist, tea plantations & surrounding hills vividly green & contoured (reminiscent of Nepal trek scenery) & butterfly house was decked out with a great range of colourful flowers (gerberas, hibiscuses etc), reptiles, insects & even furry black eyed beige rabbits. Great tour - we weren't rushed (due back early arvo but got back late arvo cos the 7 of us were given plenty of time at each spot). Had huge dinner at Kumar Indian Restaurant on the main street for abt $12 (& breakfast next 2 morns for abt $7). 45 min foot massages for 35 ringits ($12) each.

13th did walk to Parit Falls just outside town - waterfall pretty puny but rainforest around it cool, lush & lovely in the filtered sunlight of a beautiful blue day. Surprisingly hot in the sun though, considering temp here is generally max 18-22 degrees C year round with lots of rain (lows of 9-12 degrees). Steamboat dinner at local Nyonya restaurant (reco'd by Kang Travel manager) around corner from main drag. 14th took public bus back to KL arriving early arvo. Did dummy run for airport trip tomorrow morn so no nasty surprises tomorrow when pushed for time trying to make 9.30am flight (on basis of Confucius saying: Prepare for success or you are likely to fail). Had dinner at Old China Cafe & Antique Shop next door to hostel then neck/shoulder half hour massages in Chinatown 45 ringits ($15) each (got a fair pummelling but felt better for it next day). Night-time exploration of Chinatown's streets & markets - great atmosphere with red & yellow lanterns strung across everywhere, people fed by street vendors from their steaming gas cookers eating at large tables spread out on the pavements, so lots of noise & colour. This is the liveliest Chinatown M & I've ever seen.          

FOOD: Mix of Indian, Chinese, & Malaysian (which seems similar to Indonesian with names like Nasi Lemak & the same hot sambals). M in heaven cos he can get his favourite Sth Indian dosai & iddly again (though here they're called thosai & vadai). I'm happy cos I got to try 'smelly' durian fruit done as a 'custard' blended with cream at Old China Cafe - probably an acquired taste but I liked it after I got over the first mouthful. M tried sweet potato & yam cubes with sago in coconut cream - yams don't really taste right as dessert food but the rest of it was really nice. Fresh mangosteen from market stall was delicious (like a cross between an orange & a lychee in taste & texture). Finding more & more ways of enjoying tofu - had 2 types of tofu at Old China Cafe & tofu wrapped in thin pastry at Nyonya restaurant as part of steamboat meal. Also contained a bready type thing & 'vegetarian prawn' (potatoes & mushrooms wrapped in pastry that taste exactly like prawns). Waitress was fantastic (got photo) - she knew exactly how to cater for M & my different needs in our steamboat meal from serving a previous coeliac customer. She put plain water in M's side of boat & stock in mine & put soy sauce bottle only on my side of table. She assured us that the rice noodles contained only rice & put the non-gluten items such as bready thing & vegie prawn only on my plate.

ENVIRO: large green belts around KL, recycle bins at airport but not elsewhere. Some lights turned off on buildings later at night. 

HAWAII  July 2014

23/7 Flew to Big Island (BI) via Honolulu airport which had a quaint 1940s feel with its wood paneling, carpets & huge dangling golden lights. Aerial view of Sydney on the way was great. Arrived Kona airport, upgraded to a red Mustang by Budget due to booking stuff up & drove straight to Hilo on opposite (east) side BI to Wild Ginger Inn. 24/7 arvo went to BI's famous waterfalls (Rainbow, Akaka & Kahuna) then had fantastic meal at Indian style vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Hilo. 25/7 visited volcanoes area crossing crater, walking thru lava tunnel & checking out lava flows at the rugged coast. Had nice salad dinner at lovely Volcano House in Uncle George's Lounge before racing to see the evening glow from live Kilauea Crater at best vantage point Thomas Jaggar Museum. Arrived too late for sunset so decided to return another night. 26/7 went to Mauna Kea the 4200m volcano in middle of BI, hiked up to 3300m then raced back to Hilo to fill petrol tank and fill ourselves at vegetarian Indian restaurant before returning just in time for sunset & free stargazing at astronomy station at 2800m on this clear moonless night. 27/7 visited superb Tropical Botanical Garden overlooking coast then went on to Waihilau Falls via very steep walk down road to Waimio Valley from carpark on coastal cliffs (rental cars not allowed down). Couldn't get right to base of falls (2nd tallest in world) due to fast flowing river. Thankfully about a quarter of the way back up the steep road a passing ute invited us to jump in the back. Then drove to Thomas Jaggar Museum in plenty of time to view sunset at Kilauea Crater followed by another nice salad meal at Uncle George's Lounge. Waiter showed us to our seats saying 'Bask in the glow' & I looked out the windows & saw Kilauea glowing in the dark directly opposite us where we'd just come from. After dinner we went back to Jaggar Museum for one last look. Was busier than we expected with lots of young students camped out in sleeping bags writing notes in journals. Lovely clear starry moonless night again. 28/7 drove thru middle of BI to Kona airport past a country property near Kona with a driveway lined with masses of purple bougainvilleas (no time to take a photo). Drove down a suburban street on outskirts of Kona going from altitude 600 ft to sea level within minutes in jumps like a cascading waterfall - felt like I was on the undulating slide at Melbourne's Luna Park. Flew to Kauai, hired a Ford 4 door economical car from Budget (more comfortable & practical than the Mustang) & settled into Aston Aloha Resort.

29/7 enjoyed the resort. Chef made the tofu & Asian vegies GF for M by leaving off the soy dressing. 30/7 trekked down to a waterfall in Waimea Canyon & observed the view from a few lookouts. Best view of canyon was from Waimea Canyon Lookout - almost as awesome as Grand Canyon even though only about a third as deep; much greener so a lovely mix of red volcanic soil & tropical greenery. Dinner buffet at Shivalik Indian Restaurant. 31/7 did Smith Family boat tour up Wailua River to Fern Grotto then drove to end of road at top of Kauai & trekked along coastal path to beach at foot of Napali cliffs. Dinner at Shivalik again. 1/8 enjoyed resort in morn then drove into middle of island on road beyond Opekaa Falls (before flying to Oahu) - lush rainforest, beautiful big gardens & lawns around houses, undulating farmland & green volcanic hillsides. M had great salad lunch at Papaya's organic food shop & lunch bar. Kauai full of wild hens & Nene geese, which seemed to coexist happily with the domestic cats. Full of yellow hibiscus (the State flower) pink & red hibiscus, poinsianas, honeysuckle hedges, bougainvilleas, white frangipanis & golden shower trees. Entertained at airport by Smith family doing same great songs & dances as they did the day before on boat tour.

2/8 settled into 4 bed dorm at Seaside Hostel in Waikiki Beach on Oahu & went for late arvo swim before salads dinner at California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). 3/8 explored Pearl Harbor then dinner CPK. 4/8 bus across mountains in middle of island & up coast to Diamond Head hiking to top of crater before night plane to Alaska after another dinner at CPK. Oahu much busier than other two islands but fun resort feel like Surfers Paradise & Playa del Carmen with Waikiki's busy at all times beach, bright night lights & high rise apartments. Golden gaslit torches outside restaurants particularly speccy night effect.

FOOD: Great for GF & vegetarian. Indian style restaurant in Hilo did vegan lassis by putting coconut milk in mango lassis instead of yoghurt. Its kheer (rice pudding) was also made with coconut milk. It offered brown rice as well as white, was a self service buffet charged by weight & had a variety of protein (chick peas, lentils, tofu & cheese). Full Moon Cafe in Hilo had a more limited range as did Uncle George's Lounge at Volcano House but both were prepared to tweak their meals by substituting tofu for chicken or adding tofu to salads. Uncle did a silk tofu green salad & avocado dip with crispy thin root vegie chips (beetroot, sweet potato, turnip/parsnip & potato). Also did a great non GF banana coconut cream pie - mashed banana, whipped coconut cream with coconut shavings on graham cracker (choc cookie) crust, topped with choc sauce. (Only GF dessert was a rather boring sorbet.) Never made it to the pancake restaurant in Hilo that offered GF pancakes. On Kauai Shivalik's buffet was almost entirely GF - even the dessert was made with rice vermicelli. Papaya's GF range was more limited. On Oahu we only ate at California Pizza Kitchen which offered yummy GF pizzas & salads, great bottomless lemonade with real lemon juice but no GF desserts (an amazing non GF tangy key lime pie on graham cracker crust with whipped cream). Never got around to trying shave ice which appeared to be a sorbet mixture.

ENVIRO: houses, schools etc covered in solar panels, hybrid buses on Oahu, shops on BI & Kauai used brown paper bags instead of plastic, CPK used brown paper napkins. Hard to find paper recycling bins on Oahu but other recycling fine.

GENERAL: minimum speed limits on BI, vines on signs (almost covering road signs sometimes), Merly name of manager at Wild Ginger Inn. Heard two people at Waikiki Beach hostel discussing how expensive Australia is - felt like saying 'That's why we're here!'  

ALASKA/CANADA  Aug 2014

5/8 arrived Anchorage ALASKA- slept & settled in. 6/8 trolley bus tour of city & saw moose grazing on a suburban street. 7/8 walked 20km along Tony Knowles coastal trail. 8/8 train to Talkeetna staying at Latitude 62 Hotel. 9/8 jet boat trip to Devil's Canyon run by Mahay's Tours - took us to the foot of Class 6 rapids, now I know what clothes feel like in a washing machine. Stayed at Roadhouse Inn which was a lovely mixture of art deco elegance & cosy country cabin with its deco-ish mirrors & wardrobes, black & white tiled bathrooms, lots of lamps, soft dolls & teddy bears, piano, bookshelves, comfy couches & long wooden benches to encourage communal eating. Their legendary food was to die for. 10/8 wandered around town taking photos of all the painted wooden moose, pretty flower festooned shops & funny signs. Talkeetna is the town the TV show Northern Exposure was based on. Stubbs a 17 year old ginger tomcat is honorary mayor - he sleeps in Nagley's Store. 11-18/8 Norwegian Sun cruise Whittier to Vancouver.

FOOD: lavender coloured fireweed blossom & honey icecream, birch syrup & walnut icecream outside Ulu store in Anchorage (didn't try the kahlua truffle one in Talkeetna). Good awareness of gluten generally - in Anchorage MyThai Restaurant had GF veg menu & GF soy sauce & Sizzlin Cafe & La Cabana adjusted menu items to create GF veg dishes for us. Waiters usually aware of contamination issues. Roadhouse Inn in Talkeetna had quite a few GF items on its restaurant menu & in its bakery (but watch out for the 'GF' cookie - the oats in it are not GF): very creamy Hungarian mushroom and broccoli & blue cheese soups, black bean chile, crustless quiche with cheese, potatoes & corn (very light & creamy), moist fluffy corn muffins, amazing choc brownie with choc icing. On cruise boat we got great desserts: creme brulé with coconut (& a lemon & ginger one), pineapple & lime sherbets (missed out on coconut one), flourless choc cake, choc blancmange, blueberry, blackberry & strawberry soups (full of cream), rhubarb, peach & blackberry cobblers (crumbles) with vanilla custard (not GF).

ENVIRO: recycling of everything except glass, bike paths, signs about re-using towels.

GENERAL: Flowers & veg grow really big cos of silty soil & long summer daylight hours. Don't bother paying double for Gold Class viewing domes on trains - you get great views from big windows in upstairs viewing carriage of cheaper section called Adventure Class. Fantastic service on trains & beautiful scenery between Anchorage & Talkeetna/Anchorage & Whittier. (Chugach Mts & Cook Inlet outside Anchorage awesome in late arvo light.) Humorous warning sign on Tony Knowles trail saying an angry moose is likely to 'stomp the living daylights out of you'. Waiters surprised by us eating everything on our plates: comments like 'Well done, guys'.

18/8 ferry to Victoria (capital of British Columbia) on Vancouver Island CANADA staying at Metro Inn. ***Easy to get there from Vancouver city on your own (don't listen to the tourist advisers at the cruise boat terminal who tell you it's too hard, you'll get lost & you should take the way more expensive charter bus) - take Canada line train from main city train station to Bridgeport for about $4 for Zone 2 transfer ticket & that same ticket will get you on the public bus waiting outside Bridgeport train station to take you to the ferry terminal cos the $4 ticket lasts for 1 & a half hours of travel. Ferry costs about $16 & runs 2 hourly to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island (hourly in summer). From Swartz Bay there are quite a few public buses that'll take you to Victoria for $2.50 but you must have exact change cos the buses are cashless. These buses will be waiting when you get off the ferry. We started soon after 9am & were at our motel in Victoria well before 2pm (ferry takes about an hour and a half & all the other journeys take about half an hour each). So total cost of about $23 versus charter bus at $65 that wasn't even leaving Vancouver city until 11am so would have been a 2 hour wait as well as 3 times the price. (There's a money changer at Vancouver city train station & the coffee shop will change US money to Canadian if you buy something.)

19/8 quiet day. 20/8 spent all afternoon & evening at Butchart Gardens including boat tour of harbour nearby & evening concert by wonderful folk/country band of 3 men & 1 woman who played their own compositions. Took last public bus out at 9pm after a quick look at the night lights in the sunken garden - unfortunately not dark until 8.30 so no time to see lights in Japanese or other gardens. 21/8 walked around Victoria harbour, did guided tour of parliament building & walked to Beacon Hill Park. 22/8 ferry to Seattle, hired Toyota Yaris & drove to Yakima (town about 180km from Seattle) staying for weekend at Guesthouse Inn so can plan Yellowstone tour cos too expensive to stay in Seattle to plan. (Costs about $24 each to go up Space Needle in Seattle so didn't bother.)

FOOD:  Lifestyle Natural Foods in Victoria had amazing range of GF products in its supermarket section, salads (hemp, chickpea, quinoa etc) & cakes etc in its eat-in section, natural cosmetics & pharmaceutical products, & a fantastic recycling station. Food at Butchart Gardens' cafeteria awesome - great tomato soup, dhal, salads with blue cheese, cranberries, roasted hazelnuts or cashews & honey mustard vinaigrette dressing, & huge fatal dark choc mousse with heaps of cream (we had the sense to share one!). Portions huge, garden setting idyllic, prices reasonable & service fantastic - M asked for broccoli in the Moroccan chickpea dish instead of cauliflower & although the cauliflower was already cooked into it the chef added several huge chunks of broccoli for the same price. They had clearly labelled GF items on the menu for both lunch & dinner so we ate there twice (restaurant also had GF options but was more expensive).

ENVIRO: bike paths, recycling station (including compost) in Mayfair shopping centre in Victoria.

USA  Aug 2014

After spending weekend 23-24/8 in Yakima WASHINGTON catching up on blog, emails, Facebook & planning Yellowstone National Park (YNP) trip we drove to Missoula on 25/8 staying at another Guesthouse Inn. 26/8 drove to YNP WYOMING staying in warm & comfortable cabin at Canyon in centre of YNP. 27/8 did ranger walk to Yellowstone Falls then drove to Yellowstone Country Inn West Yellowstone just outside YNP staying 27-30/8. 28/8 walked around Fountain Paint Pots, Midway Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, West Thumb Geyser Basin & Mud Volcano. Then drove through beautiful green & gold marshland meadows on plains between Old Faithful area & Canyon area on our way to buffet dinner at Canyon Dining Lounge.  29/8 walked with new friend Nancy around Biscuit Basin, Mystic Falls (watched female chipmunk playing hard to get, & introduced to red flower called Wyoming Paintbrush), Grand Prismatic Drive, Black Sand Basin, 'Thumper' & boardwalk around Old Faithful & Castle geysers. 30/8 drove around Mammoth Springs & Tower areas stopping at Roaring Mountain, Upper Terraces, Undine & Tower Falls. 31/8 checked into Grant Village Lodge near Yellowstone Lake (upstairs in Block B), did late arvo ranger walk around West Thumb Geyser Basin with ranger Alexandra & had dinner at Lakehouse Restaurant right on Yellowstone Lake (& buffet breakfast next morn too). Good non GF vegie burgers & great sweet potato fries. 1/9 morn walk with ranger Alexandra to Yellowstone Lake overlook then drove out south eastern side of YNP skirting Yellowstone Lake with views of Absaroka Mountains, continuing through beautiful Wyoming pine clad mountains & deserty rocky hills staying at Western Motel in Lovell. Friendly Filipino manageress had a Cauc-Asian menu of Filipino & American food & made GF rice & vegie dinner for us & yummy omelette brekkie with mixture of mild & tasty cheeses.

2/9 drove through deserty hills & mini canyons, dams & high mountain plateaux to Keystone DAKOTA at foot of Mount Rushmore in Dakota Black Hills staying at Washington Inn till morn of 5/9 (large beautifully decorated secluded room with view of pine clad rocky hillside, pool & wonderful hot spa, friendly reception staff - didn't want to leave). 3/9 toured Mount Rushmore. 4/9 quiet day in our lovely hotel room. 5/9 drove through the beautiful tree clad granite Black Hills to Fort Collins COLORADO staying with parents of Trans Mongolian tour guide Chris. Had dinner with Chris at Rio Mexican restaurant (great food & Margaritas). That night & next day Chris showed us around Fort Collins, taking us shopping at Farmers' Market & wholefoods supermarkets & driving around dam in hills overlooking town. Then we drove to Longmont staying night of 6/9 at Lamplighter Motel. 7/9 drove to Estes Park just outside Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) staying at Econo Lodge motel till morn of 11/9. 8/9 trekked to Gem Lake in RMNP.



FOOD: El Mirador Mexican restaurant in Yakima made sure our huge cheap tasty meal was GF. Grizzly Claw Mexican & American food restaurant in West Yellowstone has veg menu (but only 1 GF sauce). Ate looking up at two cute donkey statues & an enormous grizzly bear sitting atop a small mezzanine floor above restaurant. ***Fajitas usually GF in US cos just fried in oil without (Worcestershire) sauce.

ENVIRO: sign in Yakima Guesthouse Inn about re-using sheets, lots of wind turbines on hill outside Seattle & on way to Missoula, recycling bins in national parks & signs in accomm about re-using towels & sheets. Xanterra the company that manages national park food outlets uses real cutlery & crockery & compostable plastic cups (instead of the disposable plastics used in most motels & hotels), water bottle refill stations, recycled paper containers & napkins. Mt Rushmore even had recycling bins in the toilets as well as inside the cafeteria. Seattle had a recycling bin in McDonald's.

Sept 2014  Nth America


***** Travel tip - buy $80 annual National Park pass if visiting lots of NPs (we should have bought ours in Hawaii at Volcano NP or kept receipt from Volcano to put toward price of annual pass when purchased it at Yellowstone) cos the cost per vehicle varies from $10 to $25 depending on the park eg. Arches & Canyonlands & Capitol Reef $10 each, Yellowstone & Bryce & Zion $25, Volcano $20 or $25, Black Canyon of Gunnison $15, Sand Dunes $5?, Rocky Mountain $20? Mesa Verde $15? Gt Basin $10?

Arrived Estes Park at eastern end Rocky Mountains NP (RMNP) arvo 7/9 staying Econo Lodge Motel till morn 11/9. Lovely little town with 1916 built cinema, art & craft & homemade icecream/taffy shops & lots of flower boxes on the streets (wish I'd got photo of box of mainly pink flowers with vivid red ones amongst them - unusual colour combo & the red really glowed). Attended ranger talk about bears morn 8/9 then trekked to Gem Lake & almost to Balancing Rock (hard work trekking at high altitude, whole body ached). 9/9 drove to Alpine Visitor Centre (AVC) but weather lousy so came home quickly. 10/9 re-visited AVC in good weather, trekked Alberta Falls & Bear Lake, & drove to Fern Lake trail head - by now was early evening so saw brown bear, & bull elk with his harem of cow elk (M got phone video of bull elk 'mooing' which was a slightly screechy sound more like a horse neighing). 11/9 drove thru RMNP to Starlight Lodge Glenwood Springs in beautiful clear weather. Awesome high altitude drive thru snow spattered mountains & red rock canyons skirting sparkling lakes & rivers (rarely dropped below 2Km). Occasional Autumny green & gold & russet marshes like at Yellowstone. Glenwood cute town nestled into the hills with a swimming pool containing hot sulphur springs - didn't try it cos motel staff said it stinks, cost about $16 each & we were only staying the one night. 12/9 drove thru lots more beautiful canyony desert hills on Colorado Plateau, this time creamy & salmon coloured rather than rust red, on golden flower fringed highway (black eyed Susan daisies? sunflowers? wildflowers?) to Moab UTAH staying at Adventure Inn till morn 16/9.

13/9 explored Arches NP - attended morn ranger walk in Windows area & night ranger talk about night sky at Devil's Playground (saw rabbit & deer at dusk, & tiny skink lizards). M commented that Nature sculpted the Arches & painted Yellowstone. 14/9 explored Canyonlands NP - lots of white, yellow & mauve wildflowers, a lime coloured rock I never got a photo of, & wavy green feathery bushes. Amazing geologic formation called Upheaval Dome that looked like mini Himalayas, & wonderful wide canyon scenery. Dinner in Moab - nice little hippie town surrounded by huge red rock hills with great food & arts & crafts, like Estes Park. 15/9 home day. Moab people very friendly & helpful - Walker Drug charged only $3.99 to change my watch battery & Tech Zen (Sarah & husband) ordered computer parts for next day delivery that previous computer shops told M he could only fluke at a pawn shop. 16/9 drove to Torrey in Capitol Reef NP (CRNP) staying at lovely Affordable Inn (first inn since Yakima with desktop PC for guest use & first since Missoula with gym) with great view of canyons/hills till morn 18/9. Stunning scenery on way - best dunes & rock formations & colour mixes since Death Valley. At times it didn't seem natural, looked like it had been quarried it was eroded so symmetrically. 17/9 explored CRNP. 18/9 drove to Great Basin NP NEVADA staying at Border Inn (half in Utah/half in Nevada), spending that evening & the next enjoying the stargazing activities for the 5th annual Astronomy Festival - telescope viewing of stars & planets, pointing out constellations & telling related myths & legends, great talk by astronomer Vic Maris (also masquerading as Galileo), & a cute ranger talent show. Bushes full of golden wildflowers everywhere, & rugged high mountains with yellow & red Autumn trees similar to RMNP but drier cos of desert location. Views marred a little by smoke that had drifted across from California bushfires creating a lot of haze. Lovely limestone Lehman Caves right behind Lehman Visitor Centre.

20/9 drove to Salt Lake City UTAH staying at wonderful central downtown Comfort Inn (gym, friendly helpful hotel clerk James, breakfast included) till morn 24/9. Nice clean little city surrounded by mountains. 21/9 attended Climate March starting at City Hall with great speeches by potential politician, Mormon pastor, Mormon who started a climate action alliance a year ago, man who started a movement to clean up Utah's air &  vegan eco feminist. Slogans like We > Oil, There is No Planet B, little girl sat on her dad's shoulders holding up sign Invest in My Future, tiny dogs wore sign It's Pawsible to Stop Climate Change (got photos which M posted on Facebook). 22/9 tour of Mormon temple in city centre. 23/9 watched sunset at Great Salt Lake then went for night walk in city centre. 24/9 drove to Moab staying overnight at Lazy Lizard International Hostel. Did sunset hike to Delicate Arch in Arches NP. 25/9 drove to Montrose COLORADO staying at Affordable Inn til morn 28/9. 26/9 drove around south rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP stopping at every viewpoint including viewing sunset at Sunset View. 27/9 did scenic drive through Curecanti National Recreation Area on north side of Black Canyon, hiking down to the river on beautiful Curecanti Creek track from Pioneer Point, & returning to Montrose via Crawford & cute town of Hotchkiss (Used Book store in lovely cottage, & huge 2-storey farmhouse at end of town with shed in yard all painted a striking blue) & Delta the town of murals (no time to stop to take photos of any of these except the lovely mountains near Crawford). Couple we met on hike to river said little town Paonia nestled into the mountains near Crawford is lovely.

28/9 drove to Colorado Springs on very scenic roads through mountains (passed a house with a side wall covered in blood red Autumn Virginia creeper, & as we left Montrose a family of elk (mum, dad & baby) bounded across the highway in front of us) staying at Comfort Inn till morn 2/10. 29/9 visited Helen Hunt Falls in Cheyenne Mountain & did hike on Mt Cutler trail with beautiful mountain views reminiscent of RMNP. 30/9 cog train trip to Pikes Peak in morn & touring Garden of the Gods in arvo. 1/10 quiet home day enjoying pool & hot tub cos weather bad.


F: Canyon Dining Lounge Yellowstone does GF soups, creme brulé & buns (rolls). In Keystone Dakota there's an icecream shop that serves huge cups of icecream (single scoop!) for $1.50 - maple pecan tasted like it had real maple syrup rather than pretend maple flavoured sugar syrup. Homemade icecreams at Mt Rushmore good too (strawberry had real strawberry bits in it) but cost $4.50. Only places catering for GF in Keystone were All American Family Restaurant that made us a huge breakfast omelette with hash brown potatoes ('You won't starve with me' said the manageress who thought it was 'crap' that the other eateries don't cater for allergies - 'People still need to eat') & a restaurant that served Mexican style food. (3rd waiter to comment on how well we demolish our meals, after the two comments in Anchorage - waitress in Indian restaurant Longmont Colorado said 'So clean' when she cleared our totally food free plates at the end of our meal.)

In Estes Park Colorado there are two Italian restaurants next door to eachother run by the same owner: Mama Rose's & Papa's Pizza & Grill. MR has lovely old world decor & GF options of either substituting polenta for pasta in most dishes (no extra charge) or substituting brown rice pasta in most dishes ($3 extra approx) as well as two specific polenta dishes on menu - Polenta Puttanesca & Polenta Verdura. GF desserts chocolate cup containing ricotta custard cream, raspberry sorbet (very fruity & not too sweet), spumoni icecream (delicious - mix of choc, mint & strawberry icecream with tiny yummy bits (of nuts/fruit/choc chips?) in it like Mongolian icecream). Non GF canoli also has ricotta in the custard cream. MR also has good range of vegan/vegetarian options & alerts about the spiciness of dishes. Service great & portions generous. PPG has more casual style but still with great service & portion sizes & GF options - its most interesting GF option is a shredded zucchini 'pizza' base (for no extra charge) with cheese & pesto on top baked like a casserole, & it has a superb flourless choc cake with fluffy pastry cream.

Peace Tree Cafe in Moab Utah also has yummy flourless choc cake, & tangy GF vinaigrette salad dressings citrus ginger & cilantro lime on the side with its generously sized salads. Eklecticafe has a beautiful garden & does wakame (steamed seaweed) with curried scrambled tofu on wholemeal rice, & fried eggs on polenta with roasted vegies, & Indonesian satay tofu - tofu squares covered in peanut sauce on skewers with fried rice (open breakfast & lunch). Moonflower Co-op sells great GF products including salads & sandwiches & amazing vegan GF lemon slice & choc mousse (extra firm silken tofu, dark choc chips, vanilla extract, raw cacao powder, maple syrup, sea salt). Sabaku (Desert) Sushi is a fantastic Japanese style restaurant with a mostly GF menu incl GF beer - great deep fried tofu in savoury sake sauce, tempura vegies, red bean & green tea icecream in thin rice dough (mokhi icecream), & dessert rolls - sweet sushi made of banana & berries wrapped in rice, tempura battered & drizzled with dark chocolate. Restaurant attached to Red Rim Inn near Capitol Reef NP does a vegetarian enchilada in mole sauce (red chilli & chocolate) containing potatoes & portobello mushrooms & does a side dish of fried brown & wild rice. Historical Gifford store sells raspberry & lemon creamed honeys. Lectrolux Restaurant in Baker Nevada made us a great vegetarian meal of Greek salad including artichoke hearts & semi dried tomatoes, & black bean chili (two huge servings each for only $8.50 each & nice atmosphere with cute things like mini vacuum cleaners dangling from the light fittings - the couple running it escaped from the rat race in California two years ago & have been travelling in their mobile home ever since).

Zest Restaurant & Bar in Salt Lake City the first totally gluten free vegetarian/vegan restaurant we've encountered (all dishes vegan except the few with cheese) - salads with quinoa & hemp, vegie burgers, zucchini pasta, avocado stuffed with crushed nut paste containing Middle Eastern/Indian herbs like cumin, beetroot choc cake with avocado icing, salty choc caramel cake (caramel made from cashew paste), most amazing carrot cake M's ever tasted, interesting mixes of herbs in fruit juices, teas, beers & ciders. City Cakes is a vegetarian bakery/cafe that makes quite a few GF breads, pastries & savouries like jackfruit & black bean burgers. Cafe Molise does Italian food from the Molise region of Italy - another great polenta dish like in Estes Park: polenta with 3 varieties of mushrooms & very concentrated tomato sauce, as well as salads with smoothly blended tasty vinaigrettes & creme brulee. Like Moab, Salt Lake City has a great alternative food culture with friendly eatery staff who are knowledgeable & passionate about their top quality food. Gurus Nepalese Restaurant in Montrose Colorado does a great strawberry lassi full of real blended strawberries not pretend strawberry essence. In Colorado Springs Over Easy does great GF pancakes & Caspian Cafe does great veg moussaka with eggplant (not GF), veg platter with grilled avocado stuffed with legumes, grilled eggplant, artichoke hearts etc (their chef really knows how to cook vegetables) & GF dessert of orange & saffron flavoured custard with caramel sauce (like a very solid creme caramel).


E: sign at Econo Lodge & Adventure Inn about re-using sheets & towels, Starlight Lodge turns off fridges in empty rooms as does Affordable Inn, recycle bins on streets in Estes Park & Moab & Salt Lake City & in all national parks, can refill water bottles at Arches from taps with Colorado River water, bank of solar panels in Moab, Moab businesses pay to take part in recycling, national parks sell cool drinks in compostable plastic cups, sign about re-using sheets & towels at Comfort Inns, gas station powered by solar panels in Salt Lake City, 15 Mormon churches in Utah have solar panels & some congregation members driving Priuses, wind turbines near Salt Lake City, bike paths in many towns.


******* Remind M for blog about how the people standing in front of him watching a bull elk in the meadow thought there was another bull elk advancing on them when he played me his phone video of that elk 'mooing'.

October 2014  Nth America & Ireland


2/10 drove to Great Sand Dunes NP COLORADO staying GSD Lodge in Park til morn 4/10. 3/10 hiked up dunes to one of the high points with panoramic views of surrounding dunes & mountains. Nothing but tan sand & blue sky in middle of dunes. Such an excitingly different world: finally the pure desert experience I never got in Egypt. When you first see the dunes right in front of the snow-dusted Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ - cos they look red at sunset) mountains they look incongruous. But when you're amongst them they're perfect. And so peaceful: no sound but the wind. Attended ranger talk at visitor centre about the sounds of the dunes (frogs, wind, water etc) then hiked part way up Mosca Pass with some nice views of dunes. 4/10 drove to Durango staying at Spanish Trails Motel til morn 6/10. 5/10 did Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway return trip on a glorious blue cloudless day. Silverton cute Old West town with some gorgeous interiors in late 19th/early 20th Century buildings (beaten metal ceilings, wood panelling, intricately carved metal staircase rails, lace curtains, wallpaper, lovely lamps & plush furniture). Same in Durango. All used as inns, pubs & restaurants. 6/10 drove to Mesa Verde NP staying Far View Lodge in middle of Park til morn 9/10.

7/10 did ranger guided walks to Cliff Palace & Balcony House Pueblo sites then explored Spruce Tree House site behind museum & continued into the Spruce Canyon doing the loop hike to bottom of canyon & then back up to museum. Drove around Mesa Top Loop stopping at Pueblo sites around canyon rim. 8/10 hiked Knife Edge & Point Lookout trails through beautiful Autumn-clad hills. 9/10 drove to Page ARIZONA past wonderful desert rock formations (with stop at 4 Corners Monument), & unbelievably beautiful pink canyony hills just outside Kayenta (very annoyed there was nowhere to stop safely to take photo, cos particularly beautiful in the dappled light under a partly cloudy partly sunny sky). We have one Ayers Rock in Oz, US has thousands of them! Lovely colours in Arizona desert - beautiful pinks & salmons in the soil & rocks & canyons. Page has a soul-less factory feel, maybe because of the coal power station.

10/10 drove to Bryce Canyon NP staying at Foster's Inn til morn 13/10. Went to Sunset Point right on sunset & exclaimed to Michael, 'Wow, it's Cappadocia x 12'. Attended ranger Don's talk on Climate. 11/10 hiked combined Queen's Garden/Najavo Trail then did rim walk to Upper Inspiration Point & ranger guided hike to Sunrise Point. 12/10 very windy so did drive to all the speccy viewpoints from Rainbow Point to Bryce Point then Fairyland Trail as far as Tower Bridge. Good sign in Park reminding us re wildlife 'You are a guest in their home'. 13/10 popped back to see Fairyland from rim in full daylight before driving to Hurricane 41km from Zion NP staying at Comfort Inn til morn 16/10.

14/10 did Angel's Landing & Emerald Pools hikes at Zion, returning to Hurricane in lovely just past sunset light on all the canyons & mesas (Springdale nearest town to Zion pretty touristy but Rockdale just down road from Springdale a lovely tiny rural town). Everything in Zion is on a huge scale - the term majestic comes up a lot cos it has the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world. It feels like a massive Capitol Reef cos you're also at the base of the canyons here surrounded by greenery - tall trees, grass & shrubs including cactus. Bryce our favourite though cos it's so different & it's unique - I said to M that I could happily spend the rest of my life wandering among the hoodoos & that when we returned yesterday morning for a last look at Fairyland from the rim I so wanted to go back down into the valley & be amongst them. 15/10 walked as far as we could toward the Narrows without getting our feet wet then did short walks to Weeping Rock & to view of 3 peaks named after biblical figures before driving thru tunnel on east side of Park to hike to a high up canyon view. Then did hike to Watchman Point for views toward Springdale & surrounding area of canyon - not as special as we expected, Angel's Landing our favourite hike with awesome views. Another lovely sunset drive home to Hurricane & had quite nice artichoke hearts in tomato broth meal at TJ's Cafe. Your safety is YOUR responsibility is the mantra throughout the narration on the shuttle bus at Zion.

16/10 drove to Vegas on I-15 interstate highway (briefly cutting through Arizona) past beautiful Beaver Mountains & canyons & mesas, staying at Circus Circus Hotel until night of 19/10 when we board 11.30pm flight to Dublin Ireland via airport stop at Toronto. 17/10 saw David Copperfield magic show at MGM resort. 18/10 saw burlesque show at Luxor resort. 19/10 bummed around hotel watching the free circus acts. 20/10 spent 10 hrs from 6.30am-4.30pm at Toronto Airport. Vegas Airport was great - Westjet kiosk outside airport entrance door checked us in & airport staff got everyone through Customs efficiently; we were lucky enough to score the Fast Track line where they didn't even make us take off our shoes or take out our laptops (we were through to our boarding gate within half an hour of arrival - such a nice change from the interminable delays & rudeness of some of the staff at Miami Airport earlier this year).

21/10 arrived early morn Dublin Airport IRELAND, picked up hire car Hyundai i30 manual from Europcar (only cost 3 Euro extra per day for me to be added as driver so M & I can share driving whereas in US would have cost extra $10 US per day from Alamo for our Toyota Yaris automatic so we didn't & M did all the driving). Drove to Donnybrook Lodge B&B close to city centre staying till morn 23/10. Quite nice although tiny bathroom & no GF bread - they turned on heating for us on the 2nd night (usually only turn the heating on from 6-10am at this time of year). 22/10 did free walking tour of Dublin then 45 min river cruise - not much to see except bridge shaped like harp (Ireland's national symbol) that cost 16 million Euros & convention centre shaped like tilted beer glass that cost 30 million Euros both built in 2009. Great architecture but had to wonder at the expenditure by a nation nearly broke. Found Dublin underwhelming except for some nice Georgian buildings clad in blood red Autumn Virginia creeper.

*****Need to have exact amount in coins to pay bus fares cos drivers don't give change. Most locals buy passes with multiple rides on them to save hassles. Can get 19 Euro 3-day passes that cover all forms of transport including airport buses, which is a good deal but didn't suit our needs as we were only here one day.

23/10 drove to Killarney thru midlands on motorway - reminded me so much of Britain I kept forgetting I'm in Ireland. Staying at lovely Castle Lodge B&B decked in Halloween skulls & spiders with signs everywhere saying 'Enter if you dare' til morn 25/10. 24/10 after amazing breakfast (GF cornflakes with yoghurt & grapefruit segments, porridge with honey, scrambled eggs with heaps of solid soda bread, & hot chocolate) I waddled off to Killarney National Park. Took ride on open buggy with Paddy the driver & Molly the horse to beginning of strenuous track uphill (called 'the cardiac way' by the locals) to scenic views over lake & Killarney township. Track a bit like a mini Grouse Grind - mostly rock steps with rope railings to pull yourself up on. Stopped at Torc Waterfall near end of track then walked to 19th century Muckross House through beautiful Autumn coloured gardens. Paddy told us Queen Victoria was supposed to stay here for a week but only stayed 3 days cos she didn't like it - don't know why, maybe totally shitty weather, cos today under a partly cloudy partly sunny sky with sunlight sparkling on the lake the views from House across the manicured green lawns to the hills beyond the lake were wondrous. Garden Cafe had GF cakes & bread (Ireland really rocks for GF). The Park had gorgeous Autumn leaved chestnut trees, trees covered in fluorescent green moss & ivy creeper with a carpet of wavy moss covering the rocky ground, heaps of rhododendrons & the remains of a 14th century stone abbey destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. Today was a great introduction to the Irish countryside & so lucky with the weather, hardly any rain. Paddy said in June the Park's rhododendrons bloom purple & white and there are also bluebells & yellow irises. The 'mountains' near Killarney are the highest in Ireland at 1000m.

25/10 drove to Doolin on the Wild Atlantic Way via brief stop at Loop Head staying at Rainbow Hostel til morn 27/10. 26/10 explored Cliffs of Moher in blustery wind - very atmospheric with seaspray foam being chucked high in the air as if it were raining & snowing upwards. 27/10 drove to Achill Island staying at Achill Lodge Guest House (warm welcome from Bernie, Aisling & rest of family) til morn 29/10 - weather still blustery so yet another wild Atlantic day on the Wild Atlantic Way (apart from a 'detour' on a non-WAW country road through Autumn russet hills past numerous sheep). Soon after leaving Doolin we entered burren country - a moonscape of grey rocks reminiscent of the volcanic rock of Iceland & Hawaii only here it didn't just cover the ground, it went right up the hills & down to the coast. Passed by villages with colourfully painted houses among the grey & black stone ones (tiny memorably vivid pink cottage) & vine covered ruins on way to Galway. Drive from Cliffden to Westport wonderful with lochs, rivers, more russet hills, Autumn coloured trees & bushes lining the road, cute villages, Ireland's only fjord - the scenery just gets better & better. And this is on a bad day! Allow plenty of time to drive WAW - it's so windy & slow on tiny roads that we sadly ran out of light after gorgeous Westport & arrived at Achill Island accomm in pouring rain darkness. 28/10 our first good weather day (at start of our 2nd week) - blazed our own trail up boggy hillside beside Keem Strand (beach) to stand atop the highest sea cliffs in Ireland at 292m. What a view! Drove down the road & watched sunset at Keel Beach looking across to those sea cliffs we had been standing on just a couple of hours before.

29/10 drove to Londonderry via quick inland road cos not enough time to crawl along WAW :-( ended up on WAW some of the time though. 30/10 catch up day doing mounds of hand washing in comfortable Best Western Plus Hotel with great gym & swimming pool & friendly helpful receptionist Amanda. That night M's teaching colleague showed us around the artists' murals in 'Free Derry' & explained the political history of Bloody Sunday, & took us to the city walls where circus performers showed their skills in a pre-Halloween performance. 31/10 parked early arvo in St Columb's Park, walked across Peace Bridge, went to Guildhall where a man called Gerry took us on a fantastic free tour giving us a summary of the last thousand years of Irish history as depicted in the stained glass murals (building looks like a church cos it was designed by an architect who specialised in churches); great skeleton in The Thinker pose (pity we didn't get photo). Then walked all around the city walls (one of the best preserved city walls in Europe), had early dinner at Mama Masala's Indian & Italian restaurant & took up position across the road from City Hotel to watch the Halloween parade before turning the other way to watch the fireworks set off from a barge in the middle of the Foyle River. Parade started at 7 & passed us 7.30 to 7.45. Fireworks ran for 15 mins from 8. Cheerful discoey era music played on loud speakers before parade & fireworks & great mix of music during fireworks. The shimmering fireworks like stars on speed & the waterfally ones that seemed to slide down the sky in slow motion were particularly speccy & they all came fast & furious filling the 15 minutes with colour & action. I like them being 15 mins cos I can fully concentrate for that long, any longer & my mind starts to wander. (Had fun after fireworks watching all the people in fancy dress wandering in & out of Tesco's, while waiting for M to do shopping.)

1/11 drove to Donegal early arvo staying at Ros-Earl B&B. Weather still shitty next day so checked out & drove straight to Derrylahan Hostel in Kilcar with friendly owner Shaun & his cute dog Lucky staying til morn 4/11. Drove to Malinbeg Beach late arvo 2/11. 3/11 drove to Slieve League (also claim to be the highest sea cliffs in Europe) & walked along the top. Nice but not as nice as Achill Island. Surrounding hills & bays very beautiful. Also drove to Killybegs, a lovely coastal town, to shop & use ATM. Made our own simple veg & rice meal for both nights at hostel & felt very much at home in hostel kitchen & stove warmed little lounge room. 4/11 wrenched ourselves away & continued along WAW with a turn inland through beautiful Derryveagh Mountains til we reached Hegarty's B&B in Burnfoot near Derry with a view of Derry's city lights from its hillside location. Owner Geraldine very friendly & welcoming; helped us do our washing in her machine when we arrived. 5/11 drove to Malin Head (most northerly point of Ireland) via WAW through spectacular scenery & drove back to Hegarty's on road that skirts Lough Foyle towards Derry - very lucky with weather yet again with mostly blue sky until mid arvo just like at Achill & Slieve League. Boy, does this little island pack in a lot of beauty - my head hurts trying to hold in the memory of all the best bits when there are so many of them. (M saw a doll in Thinker pose on top of a black plastic wrapped hay bale on way to Malin Head but nowhere to stop for photo.) Saw a perfect rainbow at Malin Head - both ends dropped into the ocean just off the Head. M got a photo but the rainbow was so close he couldn't get the whole arc in the photo but he did capture the ends.
6/11 drove to Portstewart in the rain along the Causeway Coast Road past cliffs with water spilling over the edges, staying at Rick's Causeway Coast Hostel with ocean view til morn 8/11. 7/11 petted Gingernut the cat at breakfast before driving to the Giant's Causeway & getting tour all to ourselves with guide Greg the great storyteller. Then crossed Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge & visited Ballintoy Bay which served as Pike Beach in Game of Thrones. Quick night walk along the main street overlooking Portstewart Bay with the white surf crashing against the seawall under an almost full moon & a big white building that looked like a castle lit up on the hill. 8/11 stopped to take photo of Dunsferry (?) Castle ruin atop a coastal cliff on way to Giant's Causeway (pity nowhere to stop the evening before when we saw it silhouetted against a stormy yellow/grey sunset sky). Then continued along Causeway Coast Road thru beautiful colourful hills in county of Antrim (mix of green pastures & Autumn reddish browns) where the road ran right along the ocean (Northern Channel) at sea level with high cliffs on the other side of the road & nothing between us & the water except low stone walls. Passed lovely seaside villages. Wrenched ourselves away & on to the boring midlands motorway past Belfast as the light started to die on us (dark by 5 now) but passed lovely green hills again on way to Keernaun B&B in Dundalk as well as passing fairly close by cloud topped Mourne Mts (2310 ft - highest 'mountains' in Northern Ireland). 9/11 drove to Dublin via coast road most of the time although it only showed us the coast fully when we reached the outskirts of Skerriggs (?) where the Irish Sea looked stunningly beautiful as the still water reflected the shine of the white sky. Brief detour to Battle of Boyne site near Drogheda. Dropped off hire car at airport then took Airlink bus for 5 Euro each to Jacob's Inn Hostel in city centre. Walked to Cornucopia for another legendary veg meal. 10/11 took 3.10 ferry from Dublin Port to Holyhead in Wales. Jacob's rocks - they let us keep our room til 12 (normal checkout 11) & gave us a key that allowed access to toilets & kitchen on ground floor after checkout as well as being able to use their lobby with free wi-fi til we needed to leave for ferry. Good free breakfast too - included eggs. All for about 35 Euro a night. Saw lots of pink things especially along Causeway Coast - bicycles strung up on a fence & sculpture of man & bike on tiny rock island just off coast in Antrim, tractor sculpture in front garden of house near Giant's Causeway & also pink pub, pink restaurant with green window surrounds near Killybegs. M thought maybe these were painted for a breast cancer awareness campaign. Found out from a Palestinian man in Lisbon that the things are donated by an Italian cycling club that visits Ireland every year and then painted pink by the locals.     

F: East West Cafe in Alamosa near Gt Sand Dunes does cheap filling meals eg soba (buckwheat) noodles in ginger soy sauce with heaps of vegies for $6.95. Himalaya Kitchen in Durango does great cinnamon lassis, mung bean noodle & Tandoori oven baked vegie dishes - has a 95% GF menu so instead of asterisks or GF against meal descriptions, Contains Gluten is written in bold under the few non GF menu items. Dara Thai Restaurant in Page does big vegan tofu meals with included salad & dessert bar but doesn't understand allergies so not GF. Bryce Canyon Lodge serves hearty casserole style quinoa with onion, mushroom & black beans in cilantro oil & another amazing GF flourless choc cake. Foster's Inn staff rock - know what's GF & non GF on menu & substituted baked potatoes for their chicken stock based non GF rice pilaf in their stir fried vegies dish. Their prices great, meals filling & they halved prices of breakfast dishes without us even asking when we ordered eggs & oatmeal without the accompanying toast. Zion NP Lodge run by Xanterra (like Yellowstone & Mt Rushmore) has separate GF menu, does great soup & salad bar (one of the two soups is always vegan), sells GF beer, and its GF Southwestern Quinoa with black beans, corn, tomatoes & chunky slices of fresh mango was tasty drowned in their GF pear vinaigrette M was given specially from the kitchen for his salad bar. No GF choc cake though, only raspberry sorbet. California Pizza Kitchen at Mirage Resort in Vegas doesn't have GF pizzas but the one down the road in the shopping centre near Gilley's Restaurant does. Also has a very spicy non GF pumpkin cheesecake.

Cornucopia in Dublin does great veg food eg. shredded beetroot & grapefruit salad, Indian style curries, some GF cakes. Good Indian food at Bombay Palace in Killarney - great Chana (chickpea) Basmati Rice, generous sized portions in raita & main courses with lots of vegetables as well as tasty sauces (whereas Diwali in Dublin had tasty rich sauces but not much veg & jeera rice was very oily although staff very friendly & helpful - waitress organised exact change for us to pay our bus fare home). Lots of GF awareness in Ireland - GF bread at cafeteria in Dublin Airport, GF products in supermarkets, GF bread, sausages & black/white pudding in included breakfasts at Castlelodge Guest House Killarney. GF pub meals at Gus O'Connor Hotel in Doolin - had a dessert on Specials board that was GF (choc peanut slice with almond slivers drizzled with caramel sauce) & have GF bread. Do nice veg curry full of big chunks of mushroom accompanied by rice & chips for E11. Also do great blended mixed veg soup. Achill Cliff House Hotel on Achill Island made us a meal of beautifully cooked veg - carrots done in butter with rosemary, pumpkin, fried snow peas & mushrooms & peppers, steamed cauliflower & broccoli, mashed potatoes AND freshly made potato chips, & had GF warm caramelised pears with icecream as well as the usual sorbets (& more great blended mixed veg soup). 2nd night we ate there chef repeated the veg meal for Michael making it even bigger this time with mashed pumpkin & made me a veg stir fry & offered to make us a veg GF pasta meal if we wished (none of these dishes were on the menu - they were made up specially). Huge portions of tasty Turkka dahl (mix of lentils & chickpeas) & veg curry at Mama Masala's Italian & Indian restaurant in Derry. Great food at Harry's Bar & Restaurant in Bridgend where the chef cooks food from their garden like greens, chestnuts, celeriac - made us a great improptu GF meal 2 nights running of mixed beans & tomato stew with slivers of celeriac (tastes like parsnip). 1st night he made cous cous of polenta infused with lemon each to go with it & shared chips & salad greens. 2nd night he gave us each chips & salad - this time salad had wafer thin slices of beetroot & pickled carrot & little chunks of pickled beetroot with fennel as well as greens like watercress & rocket etc. Also does a great passionfruit posset (cream dish bit like creme brulee) garnished with blueberries & white chocolate bits (& on the 2nd night when he did it just for me it appeared to have croutons in it). Tried Dingle icecream at Murphy's Icecreamery directly across the road from Cornucopia on return to Dublin - nice cinnamon icecream & beautifully tangy & fruity blackcurrant sorbet (gorgeous reddish purple colour).

E: Huge solar panel farm near Gt Sand Dunes, wind turbines near Colorado Springs & recycle bins at airport, solar panel bank next to Mesa Verde visitor centre & powering its fire lookout tower, sign in MV says keeping views clear is dependent on using clean energy sources (2 dirty energy plants just down the road from MV), similar signs about pollution threatening clear views at Capitol Reef & other Utah NPs, signs in MV lodge & Hurricane Comfort Inn about re-using towels (which cleaners adhered to unlike cleaners in some other motels), coal power station at Page, aircon put on in room by cleaner at Border Inn & heating put on in room by cleaner at Foster's Inn, signs at Yellowstone & Bryce Canyon NPs & Circus Circus Hotel in Vegas telling tour bus drivers to turn off engines while parked (instead of idling for ages to keep interiors cool for customers' return), mandatory free shuttle bus in Zion NP to limit traffic noise & pollution like at Grand Canyon NP, non mandatory free shuttle bus in Bryce Canyon NP that doesn't go very far - would be better if it were mandatory & went all the way to Rainbow Point rather than just to Bryce Point, sign in Zion toilet saying how many trees they have saved by changing from paper towels to elec hand dryers, sign at Vegas (McCarron) Airport saying 'Recycling has Arrived' (odd cos I thought it would have arrived ages ago - every airport I've been in, even Delhi, has recycle bins), Circus Circus now pay a company to separate the recyclables from the normal rubbish - sadly they had to can the recycle cans they had in 2012 cos of the idiot customers who put the wrong things in them although the employees still keep recycle bins in the employee only areas, electric car being raffled in Circus Casino, toilet flushing mechanisms vary in US from old style water wasting ones to no-touch automatic censor ones which also waste water when they respond to the slightest movement (pun unintended). Recycle bins & some compostable utensils & napkins Toronto Airport.

Recycle bins Dublin Airport, Rainbow Hostel Doolin, Rick's Causeway Coast Hostel Portstewart, Derrylahan Hostel Kilcar including compost bins, same at Jacob's Inn Hostel Dublin. Lots of wind turbines seen on drive thru midlands from Dublin to Killarney & further north as well & also in Northern Ireland. Village near Galway had bike symbol on two roadside traffic signs - one sign said 'burn fat not oil' & the other said 'commuter not polluter'. Cliffs of Moher visitor centre housed in cliffside as are all the tourist shops to save energy & has waterless urinals, efficient elec hand dryers, recycle bins etc (has won awards for environmental measures & scientific displays in its environmental experience section show it believes in climate change). Recycle bins Guildhall Derry. Giant's Causeway visitor centre has water efficiency measures like toilets flushed by recycled toilet basin water & waterless urinals.

November 2014 Britain


Ferry from Dublin to Holyhead cost $60 each thru Stena Line & took about 4 hrs.
11/11 quiet day at Anglesey Outdoors Hostel in Holyhead (friendly owner Penny & husband Roger).  12/11 hired Skoda Fabia manual car from Europcar & headed to Bath staying at Youth Hostel Bath til morn 14/11. Lovely drive thru raining Snowdonia & Autumn high hills a beautiful mix of red & green like in Ireland, on Holyhead to Llangollen section of drive. Then M discovered Emily was still programmed to avoid motorways cos I stupidly opened my mouth & said "Do you think Emily's still programmed to avoid motorways?' (from our last day of travel in Ireland) when he complained about how long the journey was taking. So the rest of the trip to Bath was done on boring motorways. 13/11 walked around Bath visiting cathedral (Bath Abbey) with fan vaulting, Roman Baths & doing free walking tour to Circus, Crescent etc in this World Heritage listed Georgian city. 14/11 repeated most of the previous day's walk this time in glorious sunshine instead of rain & visited No.1 The Crescent Georgian home before taking the lovely drive thru Somerset to Hurstpierpoint in West Sussex past Stonehenge (I understand why Thomas Hardy loved this part of Britain so much with its ultra green spacious rolling hills). 15/11 quiet day with friend. 16/11 with friend & kids to see movie Interstellar in Brighton. 17 & 18/11 more quiet days relaxing at friend's. 19/11 quiet day planning Europe trip. 20/11 walked with friend on Devils Dyke on South Downs. 21/11 another quiet planning day. 22/11 saw Hunger Games:Mockingjay Part 1 in Burgess Hill with friend & kids. 23 & 24/11 more quiet days with friend, walked from Jack & Jill Lighthouse to Chandri War Memorial for World War 1 Indian soldiers on South Downs Way overlooking Brighton in distance.

November 2014 Hungary


25/11 flew Gatwick to Budapest. From air saw heart-shaped field in England in amongst fairly higgledy piggledy shaped fields versus neat rectangular ones in Hungary. Also lots of layers of clouds - cottonwool on top of flat ones.
***Took bus 200E (the only airport bus) from airport to Kobanya-Kispest blue line (4) metro station where the bus terminates. Took train to Deak ter (10 stops - need to count cos there's no English announcements of station names). Changed to red line (2) & got off 2 stops later at Blaha Lujza ter. Left by D exit when emerged from top of escalator into shops area so that on same side of street as Elvis Guesthouse when reached ground level on cnr of Rakoczi St. Walked for approx 5 mins to reach Elvis at 61 Rakoczi ut (street). (Ter means bus/train stop) (Felt very welcomed by Hungary on arrival - given 2 metro day tix usable til 10.40 next morning that had been handed in at the airport's tourist office cos not needed any more so staff member gave them to us, saving us about $6.50 (each?) from memory.)

***Receptionist at Elvis said it's best to use cash (Hungarian forints) rather than credit card in Hungary. He took cash (Euros or forints accepted). Manageress at Napfenyes Etterum asked if we'd be paying by cash or card before she gave us the bill, so I assume they add extra to the price if u pay by card. Euros seem to be accepted in most places except smaller shops & cafes.

26/11 food shopping, bought train tix to Sopron ($25 each) - NB not all staff speak English at train station although most shops & eateries have at least one English speaker, bought $5 Hungarian phrase book, searched unsuccessfully for a laundromat (man in bookshop told us Budapestians all wash clothes at home), admired all the beautiful buildings in the Jewish quarter (Wesselenyi ut). Really enjoying being back in Budapest even though cold & grey.

27/11 train to Sopron to stay with M's cousin for next 5 days. 28/11 & 29/11 caught up with M's aunt & uncle & other cousins. Night of 29/11 saw dance performance celebrating 25th anniversary of Pan European Picnic that led to demolition of Berlin Wall a few months later - great dancing, music & effects. 30/11 had lunch at a restaurant in Balf, a village in the hills near Sopron, with cousin, her son & his girlfriend. Then visited Balf rehab hospital with thermal baths & its attached hotel which has low arched stuccoed ceilings reminiscent of a cave. Then experienced Adventi (Christmas) fair in the city centre at night with pretend reindeer & sleigh, lots of lights, hot wine, outdoor wood stove, stalls, manger with real goat & sheep, & huge Christmas tree. All that was missing was snow. 1/12 walked around Sopron all arvo & revisited Adventi fair at dusk when looked even prettier than at night cos could see all the beautiful buildings in the square more clearly. Also looked around the Roman ruins area & went up to the top of the firetower with misty night views of the rain soaked city. Ruins area has been renovated but the additional buildings & landscaping blend in well with the ancient parts. Saw St Domingo (?) Church which is small but beautifully ornate with painted walls & ceilings. Theatre & museum also beautiful. Sopron has heaps of character. Like a mini mini Prague or St Petersburg in its architectural variety. The colour in the buildings made up for the bleakness of the grey December weather (rained nearly all the time).

2/12 took arvo train back to Budapest staying at Elvis Guesthouse again til morn 5/12. Evening of 2/12 M's cousin took us to a cute teahouse called The Green Turtle with a mainly American Indian theme one block away from Napos Oldal in Jokai ut. 3/12 planning day. 4/12 weather nice so went to St Istvan (Stephen) Square then took the Sziget (Island) Eye ferris wheel with great views over the city & surrounding hills, & tops of buildings glinting gold in the late arvo sunshine. Then walked up Buda hill to palace, citadel etc. Soft yellow-pink sunset followed by almost full moon & everything looked just as lovely through the wintry trees as it did in summer of 2012. New statues & buildings have been added to the complex & have been cleverly designed to look in keeping with the old buildings. Terribly hard to tear ourselves away. 5/12 walked along Andrassy Ut from Octogon past fancy embassy buildings to revisit Heroes Square & the lovely castle behind it that we saw in 2012. Also stopped briefly at the beautiful old yellow-painted building thermal baths are housed in further behind the castle in the park, where we bathed in 2012. We snuck in & looked through the windows near the ticket counter & saw outside thermal baths in the middle of the complex that we somehow missed seeing last time when we bathed indoors. If we come back in summer we'll bathe outdoors cos it's so atmospheric - huge sweeping old tiled pools with fountains, surrounded by old buildings. Also near the castle an ice skating rink has been set up. When it got dark we returned to St Istvan Square to see the night lights at the Christmas markets & admire the speccy light show on the walls of the church, as well as wandering other streets festooned with Christmas lights on lamp-posts & buildings. M said Budapest must be the most beautiful city at night in the world, which our taxi driver agreed with ('I think so too') when he took us to the airport early morning 6/12.

***Good exchange rate at money changer on corner Octogon - right hand side of Andrassy ut as you go towards Heroes Square (be careful cos there's one on another corner of Octogon that's not so good). Charges only a tiny fee to exchange & gives you new currency at the exact prevailing exchange rate. Even changed our leftover British pounds to Euros for us (by calculating pounds to forints then forints to Euros) for our impending trip to Portugal.

FOOD: sign outside Bath restaurant advertised coeliac friendly & one cafe had a GF high tea on its menu (very expensive though, high tea 16 pounds sterling). Great GF mezze plate for 8 pounds at Infinity Vegetarian Kitchen opposite vegetarian shoe shop in Brighton - tahini, eggplant dip, olive tapinade (sundried tomatoes), falafel, rice & quinoa salads, stuffed vine leaves, olives, capsicum & a delicious fluffy GF bread. Nice moist choc aubergine cake too.

Napfenyes Etterum vegan restaurant at 39 Rozsa utca (street) Budapest (open til 10pm) serves huge portions of vegan twists on traditional Hungarian dishes - I had spelt pancakes with veg cream (mashed veg), tomato sauce & a mound of fried potatoes & M had ratatouille with brown rice. We shared the only GF dessert: millet balls coated in amaranth seeds served with natural sugar substitute called xilin & soy yoghurt (vanilla rice milk used to hold the millet balls together). A week later I had dairy free cheese cooked in spelt breadcrumbs coated with sesame seeds (don't know ingredients of cheese cos made up for restaurant by outside chef). They use a lot of wheat - spelt bread crumbs, semolina dumplings, durum wheat pasta etc - but they did offer to make a meal GF for M by using tofu instead of seitan (wheat meat). Have varied salad bar. Great range of drinks - veg & fruit juices, homemade ginger/rosewater lemonade with real lemon juice like in Hawaii, heaps of herbal teas, but no coffee or Coke. Manageress very friendly & speaks good English. Menu has different specials for every day of the month as well as its regular dishes.

Napos Oldal vegetarian coffee bar & food store at 7 Jokai ut Budapest (region VI) (open M-F 10-8 & Sat 10-2) serves smaller portions but has great range of salads & pastries, and hearty soups which are often GF. Also uses a lot of wheat but had a great GF cake that was made entirely of dried & fresh fruit & juice held together with psyllium husks & chia seeds. Manageress also very friendly & speaks good English. Forgot though that one of the cakes wasn't GF cos it had oat milk in it. Menu is different for each day of the week. (Although called vegetarian it appears to be vegan.)

Both nights our meals including shared dessert came to about $20 total.

Tried two veg cafes, Ganga & Govinda, which served cheap filling GF veg meals in an Indian style eg. chickpea flour beetroot & potato pakoras, lentil soup. Don't seem to like chili though - generally use only mild Indian spices. Ganga had vegies in millet & rice that tasted good drowned in plum chutney that had hot chilies in it (the only thing that had a kick to it). Ganga also had a GF sugar-free dessert made from tapioca that I was too full to try but was bright yellow so I guess lemon-flavoured. A bakery at Octogon had fantastic GF bread rolls: crisp crust & wonderfully soft inside & still fresh tasting next morning with no need for toasting; also had a range of GF pastries.

Cereals don't seem popular in Hungary - could only find oats & oat muesli in Napos Oldal & M only found GF cornflakes in a Spar supermarket. Fruit & veg shops right in the city centre though, unlike most major cities.


ENVIRO: solar panels on some houses in Holyhead & lots at Anglesey Outdoors. Recycle bins at Anglesey & Bath hostels & on Bath streets. Wind turbines in Wales. Signs in Bath hostel about turning off lights & taking short showers. Thermal energy used to heat rooms in Roman Baths. Vegetarian shoe shop in Brighton (where M bought hiking boots). Slogans 'We Sort at Brussels Airport' & 'Livening Up a Greener Future' in Lisbon Airport on their respective recycle bins. Budapest Airport also has recycle bins.

Approx cost of accomm per night in pounds (double it to get Oz dollar equivalent):
Holyhead 35 (breakfast costs 5 pounds each)  Bath 56 (towels cost extra 2 pounds each & wifi only free if YHA member)

Dec 2014  Portugal


*****6/12/14 arrived Lisbon airport mid arvo & hired manual Opel Corsa (fairly small Ford-type car) from Goldcar Car Rental. No extra charge for me to be added as driver but price went from $10 per day quoted by agency we booked with to $30 per day once we paid the extra insurance to cover all dints & scratches to our vehicle, theft, excess, roadside assistance & replacement vehicle etc. Seems the loss damage waiver on hire cars is only ever for the other vehicle in case of accident (like 3rd party insurance in Oz). We were glad we paid the extra when a few days later we came out to our car parked on a suburban street in Sintra to find it had quite a few new scratches we hadn't put there! Francisco the salesman intimated as much when he said as we paid the extra insurance, 'Now you don't have to worry about anything that happens to the car; you don't have to check it for scratches before you leave'. He also told us that the most common problem in Portugal (surprisingly considering the way they drive - even police don't indicate & car indicator lights only stay on for a second) is not accidents but theft. We had to laugh though when we drove the wrong way out of the carpark & nearly hit a Goldcar employee's car head-on before we were even out of the airport. *****Also needed an electronic gadget placed in car to automatically pay all the tolls when we travel up motorways to Northern Portugal - comes off our credit card up to a maximum charge of E15 per day (varies from 50 cents to E1.15 per toll for cars (higher for trucks etc), depending on the region & motorway).

Drove to Hostel Praca de Espanha 44 Rua Doutor (Doctor) Alvara de Castro just out from Lisbon city centre near Praca de Espanha metro station, staying til morn 8/12. Very helpful manager Fabrizio took us to the metro station & showed us how to buy tix (you buy a travel card for 50 cents then pay E1.40 per ride which covers you until you leave the metro at your final destination ie can change metro lines on same ride; hang on to travel card cos it covers Sintra & Cascais as well as Lisbon), & also took us to the local shops, restaurants & laundromat. Helpful waiter at local restaurant organised us 'egg (omelette) & chips' as there was nothing veg on dinner menu. 7/12 took metro to city centre & explored Castelo de St George on hill overlooking river (estuary) & city - so beautiful we stayed for sunset & night views before descending to a main square to look at all the pretty Christmas lights on the shopping streets. Had a light but tasty ratatouille & legume soup dinner on way down hill at Cafe Pit. Lisbon lovely - did not disappoint after all the years I've waited to get here.

8/12 drove to Cascais while waiting for our apartment Sintra Hill Flat 10 Rua Sol Sintra (500m from Rio de Mouro train station in a modern suburb 7km from Sintra historical centre) to be ready but couldn't find parking so didn't stop. Apartment great & Daniela & family gave us tips: park at Boca do Inferno (Hell's Mouth) carpark in Cascais & visit Gincho & Cabo da Roca nearby; visit Castelo dos Mouros, Palacio da Pena, Convent dos Capuchos & Palacio da Cidade in Sintra; visit expo site at ocean, Mosteiro dos Geronimos, Palacio da Republica & buy famous pasteis de Belem in Belem (yellow tram No. 15 takes you around Belem but costs extra E1 if buy tix on tram, cheaper to buy tix at a Carris tix booth on street).

9/12 took train to Sintra early arvo & made a new friend Thanh when we got off the train together to explore the historical town in this UNESCO World Heritage area & Castelo dos Mouros (tix E6.50 each) high on a hill overlooking the town. We also walked to the entrance gate of Palacio da Pena before heading back to train station at sunset, passing lovely Christmas lights along the road. Sculptures, lush green nature parks & gardens, beautiful buildings, sweeping vistas - magical place. 10/12 drove to Cascais getting free parking at Boca do Inferno then walking around the historical city centre, the marina & lovely Parque Marechal Carmona with its fearless chooks, roosters & peacocks (never seen them come so close, first time I've seen a rooster crow just a few feet away from me). Drove along the coast following the beginnings of a beautiful sunset that finished stunningly in Belem, passing mansions & forts. In Belem we watched the colourful sunset from the tall expo monument celebrating Portugal's connection to the ocean, then walked through beautiful formal gardens with a fountain that danced to Christmas carols on our way to buy pasteis de Belem at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem 84-92 Rua de Belem. The elegant confeitaria went on forever, room after blue tiled room packed with people. We finally found a free table way at the back where I ate my warmed pastry which I was told is like a custard tart but is actually like a cross between custard & creme brule on flaky pastry not shortcrust. It was amazing, way better than any custard tart I've ever tasted. It cost only E1.05 so I bought another one to take home. They come with small packs of cinnamon & icing sugar.

11/12 drove thru quaint villages & farmland on coast side of Sintra, stopping at Praia (Beach) Adraga with its huge waves before visiting Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of continental Europe. The Atlantic coastal cliffs & white foam surf were like Ireland with sunshine. The waves crashed & skimmed around the rocks just like Ireland too. Helpful man in Cabo's tourist office suggested places to stay in Northern Portugal. On way home early evening we visited atmospheric Convent dos Capuchos built among the rocks by Franciscans in 1500s to look like it was part of nature. We were hustled out by 5.30 by an impatient employee when closing time was supposed to be 6 so complained to the tourist authority next day who emailed straight back & offered us a free visit (tix cost E5 each). 12/12 drove to Lamego on motorway staying at Camping Lamego - weather grotty with pollution haze so not much to see on drive except occasionally some nice hills peeping out from the fog. Lamego a lovely hilly town with beautiful buildings including the Santuaria on a hill with 683 steps leading up to it adorned with Christmas lights at night. 13/12 mostly raining so drove to town centre only briefly to get advice from the wonderfully helpful Maria at the tourist office. Spent the rest of the day enjoying the wonderful mansion we have all to ourselves at this quiet time of the year with a stove lit for us by the staff before we get up in the morning & every day a new Chrissy decoration added.

14/12 drove along Douro River following the only railway line in Portugal classed as scenic by Eurail (road one side of river, train line other side) ie the Porto to Pocinho rail line. Pretty but not jawdropping (lots of terraced hillside vineyards) so we turned north at Pinhao where the road stopped following the train line & headed to stunning Parque Natural de Alvao rising to a height of nearly 1000m amongst bare granite hilltops reminiscent of the Burren area in Ireland. Circled thru Parque, seeing several mountain goats, then returned to Lamego on motorway. The motorways have hardly any drivers on them, presumably cos of all the tolls the govt charges. 15/12 explored Lamego starting at Santuario early arvo & ending at Santuario just after dark. 16/12 took 8.50 scenic train journey from Regua to Porto (driving to Regua from Lamego thru beautiful countryside as the day was just waking up cos too hard to bus to Regua) & returned to Regua 19.25. Lovely day ambling around the historical centre of Porto, taking E5 each cable car ride to the port tasting area, E10 each boat trip to the mouth of the Douro River & finishing by watching the city lights from a simple outdoor restaurant then the Christmas lights on the streets & square near Sao Bento railway station. Snacked at a McDonalds in a historic building like in Budapest & Antigua. 17/12 drove to Coimbra staying at Jantesta Guesthouse til morn 20/12.

18/12 spent arvo & night wandering the historic centre of Coimbra (parking on city centre street cost E3.05 for 4 hours up until 7pm when free & the extra we paid beyond 7pm cos didn't have right change they added from 8am next day wo we didn't lose it). Didn't go into famous library of 16th century university cos costs E9 each & not allowed to take photos. Was fun peeking into lecture theatres seeing students sitting in front of the beautiful old tiled walls. Tiles are what sets Portugal apart - don't remember seeing any in Latin America. Christmas lights & lighting in general more subdued than Porto which makes sense as Coimbra is the city of starving university students & Porto is the second largest city after Lisbon. Quieter at night too due to less population. Lots of anarchic graffiti. 19/12 quiet day.

20/12 drove to Lisbon airport to drop off car then took metro to Living Lounge Hostel 2nd Flr 116 Rua do Crucifixo Lisbon (take red metro line from airport to Alameda then change to green line & stop at Baixa Chiado then exit through Rua do Crucifixio, turn left & it's just a few metres down on your right with 24 hr reception to answer door bell & let you straight in). Each bedroom is individually designed to a particular theme eg white dreams, dirty cop, jazz music, lomography etc. Our room was 'Sweet'. They arrange fado tours for E15 each, do laundry for E10, include breakfast of cereal & omelettes in price & have recycle bins. 21/12 did free walking tour with Jose of Lisbon Chill Out Tours from 3-6pm. Jose explained that due to a big earthquake in 1755 eighty per cent of Lisbon had to be rebuilt except for the Alfarma Jewish area & the other hilly areas that escaped the tsunamis created by the earthquake. Al is from the Arabic language eg.  Algarve, Alvao & the tiles everywhere are from the Moorish influence. 22/12 quiet day before fado tour at 10pm. (Met Philip from New York a 30ish man who grew up in Taiwan - was staying at hotel & came with us to fado show.) 23/12 plane Lisbon to Marrakech early arvo via quick stop at Casablanca.

FOOD: not having much luck finding veg food so mostly cook own meals in our self-catering apartments. Nice cheap risottos (one with strong flavoured Portuguese cheese & mushrooms and other with peppers & sundried tomatoes) & pumpkin soup at Paparisotto in big shopping mall in Sintra's commercial zone with lemonade made with lemon juice & mint, & good health food shop called Celeiro (Lisbon has a Celeiro too) with lots of GF products. Supermarkets in Lamego & Coimbra have GF products.
 Delicious thali meal at Mint Leaf Indian Brasserie 89 Avenida (Avenue) Sa Da Bandeira in Coimbra - although sharing one E20 thali chef made it with two extra rices (zeera & pilao as well as the included lemon (saffron) rice) instead of Naan bread & added an extra bhaji for no extra cost so it would be fully GF & fill us both up. He came out to discuss with us before cooking to confirm GF status of all items in thali: paneer lababda, dahl makhani, veg jalfrezi, potato dish, chickpea dish, salad, bhaji (cos made with gram flour). M was going to have a Sth Indian dosa choc filled pancake with icecream for dessert but after ordering manager came & explained that it wouldn't be advisable cos the chefs use a tiny bit of wheat flour along with the lentil flour. So we shared the included thali dessert of halwa - grated carrot fudge drowning in butter & cashew nut paste. Highly recommended - waiter, chef & manager all looked after us beautifully.

Back in Lisbon & now staying in city centre so found two veg restaurants, both buffet style. Jardim Das Cerejas 36 Calcada Do Sacramento charges E9.50 for dinner buffet that starts at 7pm & Restaurante Natural Terra 15 Rua Da Palmeira charges E15.90 for dinner buffet that starts at 7.30pm (most eateries don't open til 8pm). Jardim has vegan salads & veg hot food but most hot food not GF. Mix of cuisines - bhajis & pappadams, lasagne & pizza slices, couscous, white & brown rice, cauliflower & courgettes with tofu in cream sauce, cooked black beans. Place was packed on the Saturday night we ate there at communal tables (only a couple of couple tables). Terra is fancier with mostly couple tables, larger range of food & outdoor garden at back but with quite a few hot & cold dishes not GF. Does veg sausages wrapped in cabbage in tomato & onion sauce like a traditional East European meat version - taste like normal meat sausages. Dessert portions are big, justifying the approx E4 charged - had traditional Portuguese sweet rice which was luckily GF so M & I could share it. Served cold with lots of cinnamon sprinkled on top in a crisscross pattern, it was very very sweet & creamy. (I opted for the Tourist Buffet that includes dessert, drink & coffee or tea with buffet for E21.50. Had diluted berry juice with mint - light & refreshing.)

ENVIRO: wind turbines (heaps on hilltops in Parque Natural de Alvao & Lamego), lots of skip recycle bins especially in tourist areas like Cascais beach & Cabo da Roca carpark & streets of Coimbra, bike paths Cascais, weather unusually cold this winter & all over the place in general eg cold in August, warm in November, snowing in the south (whereas been unusually warm in Ireland), some banks of solar panels on stands in farmyards near Parque Alvao & other country areas, seems to be a lot of smog at times maybe from winter fires like in Ireland. Jantesta Guesthouse has solar panels, solar hot water & movement censors on its lights (lots of public toilets also have censor lights). Smoke from cooking at food stalls on streets in Lisbon & Porto.

Dec 2014 Morocco

Cute old style small plane with propeller took us from Casablanca to Marrakech so we felt like we were in the movie 'Casablanca' (except for the painful lady who kept complaining about having to stow her bags until the flight crew gave up & let her keep them on the seat next to her). Flew from Lisbon to Marrakech via Casablanca airport short stop with Royal Air Maroc. Stayed at Hotel Le Grand Imilchil in Ave Echouhada Hivernage in Gueliz Central area in newer part of Marrakech (the hotel arranged by Nomadic Tours).
We did an 8-day tour with Nomadic Tours:
Day 1 Arrive Marrakech 2 Gorges du Dades 3 Todra Gorge 4 Ride camels in to the Sahara Desert and spend the night with a traditional Berber family, sleeping under the stars 5 Head through the Draa Valley to Ouarzazate, a medieval resting place for African traders 6 Explore the fortified town of Ait Benhaddou and the many kasbahs before heading over the High Atlas Moutains back to Marrakech 7 Spend the day soaking up the atmosphere of the Medina and the lively souks of Marrakech 8 Depart Marrakech
 What's Included:
  • Camel Trek/Berber Camp
  • Guided tour of Ait Benhaddou
  • City tour of Marrakech
  • 6 night(s) in hotels, 1 night(s) in Berber camp
  • 7 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 6 dinners
  • Travel by Camel, Private Vehicle, Public Bus
  • English-speaking local guide(s) on included excursions
    (Copied from Tucan Tours website)
Sitting rugged up around the campfire in the desert on Boxing Night we felt like we were in a real live Nativity scene.


Marrakech had some beautiful buildings including the walled palace ruin Badi Palace that’s now home to families of storks with great views of the surrounding old town, Marrakech Museum & Ben Youssef Madrasa.  Great gardens too such as Jardin Majorelle designed by Yves St Laurent with its vividly coloured pots & tiles. Highlight was the Hammam 1001 Nights – place in the riads (markets) area where we were covered in mud & scrubbed harshly then had the most wondrous oiliest massages ever (took several showers to get the oil off fully).

Stayed at Hotel Agnaou at 1 Rue de la Recette in Riad Makha in the centre of the Old Town for our last 2 nights which was cheaper & more atmospheric than our hotel in the modern area but not nearly as roomy & comfortable. Our tiny room flooded when M had a shower so we moved – it was the first time I’d ever demanded a room change in the whole 2 years we’d been travelling and it worked out well cos we got a slightly bigger room on a higher floor with better views.

Blown away by the geology of Morocco & the amazing desert scenery. Gorgeous gorges, rocky ravines, oases & most amazing of all: snow-capped mountains in the middle of the desert. Also fun to be back in a country with French as its second language.
FOOD:  Tagines for breakfast, lunch & dinner. M loved them but I spun out at times from lack of grains, as vegetarian tagines consisted only of vegies, eggs & spices. Very bread oriented culture so for gluten/wheat intolerant there weren't the rice/corn/oats alternatives.

ENVIRO: Population issue in villages - families have lots of children & can't grow enough food locally to feed them so kids finish school in big cities, end up working there & send handouts to parents whereas back when population was lower families in villages were self-sufficient.

Somewhere along the way in my travels I came across the saying 'The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page'.


Trip to Antarctica, Peru & Bolivia 24 January - 19 March 2016

Trip to Buenos Aires (BA) not as taxing as 2012, even though almost as long in the air (30 hours versus 33 hours in 2012).  Slept relatively comfortably with my blow-up neck pillow; so tired after our busy Sunday in Perth that I slept most of the time on our 10.40pm Sun 24 Jan - 8.40pm Mon 25 Jan flight Perth to BA via 3-hour stop at Doha airport & short stop in Sao Paolo in which we stayed on the plane. Had to show our copy of receipt for Argentina reciprocity fee paid in Perth a few weeks prior to leaving, at Doha airport as well as on arrival at BA. Were then given stamps in our passports at BA allowing us 3 months stay in Argentina. Stewardesses on Qatar Airways flight had smart outfits - deep red pants & skirts & deep red scrunchies tying back their hair in buns.

Tienda Leon private buses take you from BA international airport to the city bus terminus then by minibus from there to your hotel for 200 Argentinian pesos (approx AU$20) per person. Takes approx 40 mins from airport to bus terminus & buses run every 30 mins. Can take a public bus for about a dollar but it takes 3 hours & you need to carry your luggage with you on the bus & find your own way to/from your hotel to the terminus.

Stayed at Hotel Republica 25 & 26 Jan (part of Hoteles Globales chain) right on famous Avenue 9 de Julio (nr cnr Cerrito St at No. 370) opposite the obelisk for about $75 per night due to massive discount M got online. (Ave 9th July is a very wide street in the centre of the city lined with trees with buses running down the middle of it.) Simple 4-star hotel with nice included breakfast & good service for M's coeliac needs - staff remembered his needs the 2nd day without prompting & gave him fresh squeezed orange juice free (normally costs $5) & GF maize crackers.

BA hasn't changed - dog walkers are out everywhere with their remarkably well-behaved broods of mixed breeds on multiple leads, pavements are still pot-holed & Ave 9 de Julio is lively & full of pink-blossomed trees just like this time 4 years ago. Carla our humorous guide on our BA city tour told us nothing runs on time in Argentina - buses come when they come (no timetable) which means people often arrive at work late. So if a shop is supposed to open at 9am you may often find yourself waiting til at least 9.10 for someone to arrive & open up. Carla says Argentinians are party animals: 'We have a philosophy you sleep when you're dead.' Finally got a chance to see the Boca area in glorious sunshine with tango dancers strutting their stuff in front of cafes (in 2012 we had to hide out in the souvenir shop in pouring rain). Saw pink palace up close & revisited the famous Recoleta cemetery with its over the top mausoleums & statues of angels. (One mausoleum had a simple statue of a gently smiling angel whereas another had 2 or 3 energetic ones looking heavenward.)

Spent night 27 Jan at fancy Sofitel hotel with gloriously comfortable bed and to-die-for food at breakfast/lunch buffets - had so much for lunch prior to BA tour that afternoon that we didn't need dinner that night. (Antarctica cruise officially began with check-in that morning at Sofitel) Took charter flight BA to Ushuaia 28 Jan after breakfast then bus tour into Tierra del Fuego National Park & charter boat tour back from Tierra to Beagle Channel with lunch on board. Saw lots of seals up close on a large rock in the channel. Boarded National Geographic Explorer ship late arvo. Good night with rolling sea in Drake Channel but not too rough - staff next day referred to Drake Lake cos it was so smooth compared to normal conditions.

29 Jan sailing on Drake Passage, made such good progress with tail wind that we got to first island in Antarctic archipelago by early morn 30 Jan. Everything after that is a bit of a blur cos I stopped keeping notes on a daily basis, things were happening so fast. Looking back several weeks later I remember food overload, penguin overload but can never get tired of penguins, & a white white world. Took me a few days to get into it but by mid week I had totally fallen in love with the place & told M if he wants to do a 3-month stint in Antarctica I can do it. When we went thru the Lemaire Channel a fellow traveller remarked that it looked as though we'd reached the edge of the earth it was so flat in the distance & I joked that we should become converts to the Flat Earth Society. 

I got used to the subdued light that came thru the low white sky just like I did in Tromso, Norway, although it was a cheerful novelty to finally experience a high cloudless sunny blue sky sparkling on the sea for one glorious day. And just like in the Arctic Circle I started to notice all the colours in this white world: soft yellows in the sky during the long sunsets, blues of all hues in the ice, pink moss on the rocks amongst the penguin poop, & the many shades of grey in both land & seascapes. The vivid colours came from the animals - the rich red beaks of the Gentoo penguins & the purply-blue eyes of the blue-eyed shags.

M's blogs show what fun we had - canoeing for the first time, meeting great people, watching amazing animals, learning lots, sliding in snow, crunching through ice, plunging into freezing water. Who knew trekking in such conditions could be so relaxing? And we were lucky with the weather - apart from a few icy wind blasts at the exposed front of the ship we were always warm & dry in our Lindblad gear. So what I expected to be an amazing but arduous & uncomfortable experience turned out to be an amazing & joyously effortless experience. Except for the canoeing against the wind - that was hard work, but so much fun. Want to do that again.

9 days was enough though. After that we were ready to see green again. Proud that we survived the Drake Passage at 5-6 out of 10 according to Maartje the expedition assistant leader. Wouldn't have wanted to be tested at 10.   

Next 4 weeks 9 Feb-6 Mar spent in Cusco area of Peru. First week we visited Macchu Picchu (MP) & Aguas Calientes (AC) again, teaming up briefly with an American couple Ray & Joan we met on the train to MP. So lucky with the weather - glorious sunshine most of the day at MP so we got to the sun gate as well as the bridge & everywhere else. Couldn't go up Waynapicchu - found out you have to book that the day before cos they only let a limited no. of people go up & they stop people going after mid morn cos it takes several hours to trek it. Met a lady late arvo who'd done it & showed us photos - looked lovely but no more lovely than the view from the opposite side of MP at the sun gate which is roughly the same height as the top of Waynapicchu. Would need to be sure of good weather to do Waynapicchu otherwise would have no view cos your head would be in the clouds at the top!

The trip to MP cost us approx $300US total including collectivo bus to Ollantaytambo 10 sols ($3US) each, scenic train with big windows to MP & back to Ollantaytambo approx $67US each (half price deal scored at the last moment when arrived at Ollantaytambo on condition we left on 1.30pm train - great cos 12.50pm when we arrived - & returned on 10.30am train on day of our choosing so we chose Sat 13/2 so could have 3 nights in AC. Accomm in mid range hostel La Payacha cost 105 sols ($31US) per night including continental breakfast. Bus tickets from AC to MP & back cost about $24US each & are valid for any day cos need to pre-pay MP entrance in AC & nos allowed up are limited so if you have to wait a couple of days to go up then your bus ticket is still valid. Luckily we booked at 5pm at the AC govt tourist office & were still able to get tickets for the next day for $36US each.  One of the travel agencies in Cusco had quoted us $330US each for a tour which is why we organised it ourselves for less than half that price. Found El Presidente hotel that we stayed at in March 2012 & it only charged about 150 sols per night so about $16US more than La Payacha with more glamorous rooms & a buffet breakfast. But we'd already booked La Payacha for the whole 3 nights by then. La Payacha was ok though with the same location as El Presidente directly overlooking the raging river but at the opposite end of the street, except for the lack of hot water (a constant problem in Peru). Next time we'll pay the extra for a hot shower, a balcony & better food at El Presidente.

Relieved to find AC is as charming as ever even though it's grown a bit since 2012. And MP was even better than last time with the stunning weather & a whole day up there on our own to explore lazily (no guide, no rain, no rush). We didn't plan to take any photos but we took heaps cos it had such a different look from last time. Also it's been renovated but in a sensitive way that blends in with the original site - just more walls & more gardens & smoother paths to prevent injury.

Ollantaytambo (O) turned out to be our favourite place in Peru. It's a living Inca town where people live in the original Inca houses on tiny cobbled streets & small canals run down every street carrying fresh water.  We stayed at Casa de Mama hostel 13/2 which had a very friendly manager Victor & endless hot water, yay! (finally got to wash my hair) We visited the ruins on the hill overlooking O, purchasing a 130 sol ticket each(approx $50AU) to 16 sites that needed to be used within 10 days. We only got to 7 sites cos we started teaching the following week but as each big ruins site cost 70 sols we still got our money's worth. O ruins were very simple ancient walls but gave fantastic views over the surrounding countryside & farms in the Sacred Valley & had lots of colourful native flowers growing all over the hillside. Next day we trekked to some ruins on the other side of the valley just above O which cost nothing & gave fabulous views over the old Inca houses in town & their lovely gardens & mini orchards. Mid arvo we took a local bus back to Cusco (15 sols each cos it was a Sunday & a festival day), arriving at our homestay early evening.  

For the next 3 weeks from Mon 15/2 - Fri 4/3 we stayed with Carola at her home in Santa Beatriz suburb & commuted to the outer suburb San Geronimo to teach children aged 8-14 English as volunteers for Maximo Nivel agency in Cusco organised online thru Global Volunteer Network (GVN). We had a wonderful time team teaching these very energetic, enthusiastic, motivated children at Inti Runakunaq Wasin ('School of the Sun Men' in Ketchuan language). We paid approx $2KAU each plus our airfares to be in the volunteer program & in return we got accomm & 2 meals a day (breakfast & dinner) at Carola's place & access to all Maximo's very helpful staff & teaching resources at their office & teaching complex in the centre of Cusco. We also elected to pay about $100AU each per week to learn Spanish for 2 hours a day 5 days a week for the 3 weeks. It was a busy time teaching 3 hours per day non-stop from 9.45-12.45 then rushing back to central Cusco (40 min bus trip in traffic) to have lunch & plan the next day's teaching activities then Spanish lessons with teacher Esperanza (same age as us) from 4-6 then walking home to get 40 mins exercise before dinner & then Spanish homework in bed, after keeping Carola company watching Peru pre-election news, soap opera El Secreto de Fereija, & Los Reyes del Playback: a manic cross-dressing karaoke show where the losing contestant gets dunked in a pool of cold water either with or without a life jacket (their choice) & the winner gets far more money than their meagre talent deserves. We loved it all. It was hard to leave. 

We used our first weekend back in Cusco 20 & 21/2 to check out sites on our 130 sol tickets, visiting Saqsaywaman (Sexy Woman) & 3 other sites on the hills above town near the Blanco Cristo on 20/2: Tochaymama, ? & ?  They were all beautiful but my favourite was little Tochaymama cos it was set in particularly beautiful countryside with a creek running through it & had fountains. It was also right next to a farm where cows grazed happily (just like Ollantaytambo ruins). On 21/2 we bussed out to Tipon about an hour's drive from town & then shared a taxi up to the ruins with a local couple for 2 sols each. Tipon was simple but beautiful with lovely views & fountains chanelling water from an underground spring no-one had ever found the source for. These ruins are all visited by local families on weekends - fun to watch the kids & parents sliding down the slippery rocks at Saqsaywaman.
Spent 5 & 6/3 at Hotel Casa de Mama in the lovely old Recoleta area of Cusco wih its tiny one-lane cobbled streets just up from Plaza de Armes with lovely views over the town. Almost as good as Casa de Mama Ollantaytambo except for the typical Cusco problems with the hot water cutting out all the time (& room not as big). Had a quiet weekend apart from walking up to the Cristo Blanco to get speccie sunset views over the town on Sunday night 6/3 then finishing with a wonderfully filling shared quinoa soup & plate of chips at the Mexican restaurant in Plaza San Francisco - huge servings. (Met a couple about our age - Daniel from Malaysia & Celeste from Sth Africa - one lunchtime at our Indian buffet eatery. They've been travelling for more than a year by motorbike & plan to keep travelling for the next few years, doing it all on their savings. They've seen most of Africa & are now slowly working their way up Sth America & eventually to Alaska. Celeste said her 5 favourite cities cos of their uniqueness are Santorini, Valparaiso, La Paz (cos use teleferico as their 'metro').....can't remember the other two. We had to rush off to our Spanish class & were kicking ourselves later that we didn't think to get their email address so we could keep up with their travels.)

7/3 took off on 7am tourist bus to Puno bound for Lake Titicaca with friendly guide Eduardo, cost $60US each including lunch & entrance fees to church, museum & ruins (local bus is about $25US each but no scenic stops & no toilet on bus). Stopped at a beautiful old church in a village not far from Cusco with murals on the walls & an ancient organ brought over from Spain in the 16th? century that still works today. Had nice included buffet lunch in restaurant overlooking a river & chatted to Sydneyite Ken (born in New Zealand but has spent most of his life in Oz) who shared our politics & non-religion. Got to try dessert quinoa pudding which was a yummy creme caramel, could hardly taste the quinoa. Also stopped for an hour to visit some lovely ruins in amongst quinoa & potato fields prior to lunch. Eduardo showed us that potato plants have purple, pink & white flowers growing above them & quinoa gets planted amongst corn plants (you can recognise it by its purply colour). Quinoa comes in white, red & black varieties, black being the most nutritious (24%? more nutrition than other varieties). Quinoa grown at high altitudes is more nutritious than that grown on the plains near Lima,  presumably because of the richer soil. Stopped at highest point on the high Andes plateau (tuft country as Ken called it, similar to New Zealand high country with tufts of dry grass dotted all over the hills & plains) at 4300 metres & we saw lots of herds of llamas throughout the area. Stopped at a museum which had interesting ancient archaeological artefacts. Our 10-hour journey ended in Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca at 5.20pm.

We hated Puno at first sight & found out later that it's an industrial town. Which of course explained its ugliness, dirtiness & greyness. But the girls at Hostal La Vierge de La Nieve (Virgin of the Snow) made us feel very welcome & got us a great deal on a 2 day/1 night trip to 3 islands on Lake Titicaca. The reed islands were the most interesting cos they were so different but sadly we didn't get to stay on a reed island. But the island we did stay on overnight was beautiful - all of us on the tour agreed we felt as though we were on an island in the Mediterranean with the calm blue lake so huge it felt like an ocean & all the colourful flowers & buildings very Mediterranean as well. M & I were billeted with a young French girl in a large hostel purpose built by a middle-aged local couple as their income source. After getting totally soaked on our rainy trek to the top of the island to watch the sunset, the wife fed us & dressed us in warm traditional clothing & the husband took us to the community hall for dancing to live music by a local band with the rest of our tour mates. They were a fun bunch of young Dutch, Scandinavian & Americans & a couple of French blokes close to our own age. Next day we toured another 'Greek' island where a local man gave us a great feed in his garden & demonstrated how they make shampoo from a plant that grows there. Returned to Puno late arvo & were directed by the manager of the vegan restaurant to a travel agent who arranged our next leg - a tour to Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia.

10/3 set off early on bus to La Paz skirting the shore of Lake Titicaca through beautiful high altitude hills with great views down over the lake on both the Peruvian & Bolivian sides. Great border crossing - relatively quick & no questions asked. Bumped into our mentor Daja from Maximo Nivel who was helping someone at the border. Could tell straightaway when we entered the countryside of Bolivia & saw our first Bolivian town that this was a poorer country than Peru. There were effigies hanging from windows & light poles making our introduction to Bolivia a bit sinister. Never found out what that was about although we meant to ask. Got dumped by the bus at the hotel in Pa Paz where a Tucan tour group were staying & had a nervous wait for the lady who was supposed to meet us in La Paz & take us to bus station for our overnight bus to Uyuni. All ended well with her meeting us at hotel & taking us by taxi to bus station where we met another couple who were taking the tour - young Costa Rican mates Juan & Jose. Jose was the chatty one & kept us distracted from the peak hour traffic making the bus crawl for the first hour. Bus was supposed to arrive at about 5 in the morning but arrived at about 3 & we waited a long long time in a coffee shop til the tour operator's shop next door finally opened at about 9.30. 

It was an interesting day. There were constant delays on this 1-day tour in which 9 of us were piled into a car that was supposed to only take 6. Luckily we all got along great - most of the guys were 'locals' from Argentina & other South American countries. First stop was a totally unnecesssary trip to a train graveyard but our luck held again - there was a Bollywood movie being filmed there so we spent the time gawking at that. Second stop was at a tourist market where we also spent way too long. Just as Jose & I were ready to write off Bolivia as a rude rip-off the driver finally took us to the salt desert we'd been waiting half the day for.  It was amazing. A friend in Oz had said to me when I told her I wanted to travel miles from anywhere to see the world's largest salt flats & Michael couldn't understand why, 'Well, think about it Elizabeth - salt flats!'

But what salt flats. The desert was endless & as it got nearer to sunset the textures & colours revealed themselves more strongly. By the time we got to the cactus island, our final stop on the tour, it was late afternoon & the walk around the island in the early evening sunshine was breathtaking. It's hard to describe the vast sparkling immenseness of it, you had to be there. But the photos certainly help!
We left so late - it was hard to drag ourselves away when the full sunset hit - we thought we were in danger of missing our overnight bus back to La Paz. But these tour operators obviously know what they're doing. They got us back just in time to grab a snack bar & jump on the bus (lucky they'd fed us fairly well at lunch in a large cave-like restaurant built entirely from salt). Leaving us with memories not of the wasted morning but of the jawdropping afternoon & evening where we imbibed every skerrick of scenery we could as the ever changing light made the desert more & more beautiful.
This time we arrived at the bus station at 4 in the morning so another long wait before Jose & Juan could get their bus back to Peru & we could respectably arrive at our hostel. The hostel turned out to be a bit of a dud - wrong room, cold showers, lost my travel pants & almost lost all the rest of our laundry. But it had amazing hill-top views over La Paz, which was also a bit of a dud except for the amazing hill-top views. (Views from the commuter cable car pretty good too.) Stay in La Paz for a day to check out the views of the snow-capped mountains from this highest altitude city in the world, eat at the 'vegetarian' restaurant Tierra Sana (Healthy Earth) which has non-vegetarian versions of all its vegetarian fare, then go. (And be prepared for taxes on everything, from the few metres trip from the bus station to the bus stop, to the tax at Cactus Island that you weren't told about in the tour itinerary.)

Stayed an extra 'unnecessary' day in La Paz: unnecessary for sight-seeing but necessary for recovery from our Uyuni trip - day & night on bus to get there, day there, whole night to get back. Yours truly then picked up a brochure at the hostel about the Peru/Bolivia Hop bus just as her long-suffering Michael was about to book us a plane to Lima for a few days' rest & a day trip to the Nazca lines, before flying home. 

So the last week of our trip was spent cramming in as many of the sights of Peru as we could by Hop bus. Left La Paz 14/3 & went straight back to Copacabana just before the border on the Bolivian side. Glorious sunshine so we planned to spend the day on Isla del Sol a Bolivian island on Lake Titicaca but there was an argument between the tour boats & the Islanders about money so they were on strike. We climbed to the top of a hill overlooking the lake & enjoyed the 'Mediterranean' scenery again. Arrived in Puno about 8, had dinner with fellow travellers in the cozy upstairs mezzanine area of a pizza restaurant, then off on overnight bus at 10ish bound for Arequipa which was supposed to be one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Peru. We were a little bit underwhelmed cos the colonial part of the town was fairly small but our free walking tour was good cos it explored the local market which sold interesting things like llama foetuses & cactus fruit. And ended at a restaurant which gave us free Pisco sours, our first Pisco sours since arriving in South America.

Next day we did a long day tour to Colca Canyon the world's second deepest canyon - scenery was beautiful, sweet cactus fruit tasted like kiwifruit, sour cactus fruit was so sour it made my eyes water but the most amazing part was watching the condors gliding overhead. The canyon was pretty but not a patch on the Grand Canyon or any of the other canyons we've seen like the one on Kauai or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado. Fun trip though with another nice bunch of travellers, a great buffet lunch & got to 5K metres on a plateau where we saw lots of llamas. Stayed at ? in Arequipa which was the less party hostel reco'd by our Peru Hop guide. Had a cute black dog called Misti (named after one of the volcanoes that overlook the town) who was very friendly as long as you waited for her to approach you but would bite if you patted her while in her special seat.
17/3 bus to Nazca staying at a very friendly hostel organised by our Peru Hop guide. Nice little town with the typical family-oriented central square like in most other Central & South American towns. The trip to Nazca passed through some beautiful desert hills winding right down to the Pacific Ocean. The very high & dry rocky dunes reminded me of the beautiful rockscapes in Morocco. Next day did the light plane flight over the Nazca lines which was as much fun for the dipping & swerving plane ride as for the huge figures of birds, monkey etc. Early arvo back on bus for a lightning trip to Huacachina with the highest sand dunes in South America. Shame we could only stay an hour but we got the best hour of the day - sunset hour. Just had enough time to climb up one of the dunes & get a view of all the other surrounding dunes & down over the oasis below in the tiny town. Then on to Lima where we arrived late at night to crash in a comfortable room in another Peru Hop reco'd hostel right opposite Kennedy Park. So we got to say a brief hello to the cats of Kennedy Park next morning on our way to pick up our bright red Peru Hop T-shirts & zip in a taxi to the airport. Travelling with United Arab Emirates so brief stop in Dubai - coming in by plane at night could easily see the lights of the world's tallest building towering over the other skyscrapers below it.

Costs: Uyuni trip $170 US each incl bus Puno-La Paz-Uyuni-La Paz & 1 day tour of Uyuni (this incl $10 each for sleeping seats on bus from La Paz to Uyuni & back which were well worth the extra as they were comfortable & warm with blankets provided)

Two-day Lake Titicaca tour 100 sols each incl boat to 2 floating islands & to the 2 main popular Peruvian islands (paid 10 sols each for quick trip betw the 2 floating islands by old style boat - relatively expensive but helps the locals on these islands),  Amanti overnight stay, Taquile next day, lunches both days, dinner, breakfast, boat back to Puno. Also incl guide Roye who supervised our whole trip incl island walks. Great value at about $60 US each.

Tourist bus Cusco-Puno 126 sols each incl buffet lunch & entry tickets to all sites & guide Eduardo.
Boleto (ticket) for 16 sites in Cusco area & Sacred Valley between Cusco & Machu Picchu (ranging from museums & cultural shows to ancient Incan ruins) is great value even though it only lasts for 10 days from time of purchase - ticket costs 130 sols whereas average cost to visit each individual site is 70 sols so even if you only get to a few sites in the 10 days you'll get your money's worth.
Bolivia/Peru Hop bus tickets $169 US each La Paz to Lima hopping off at Arequipa, Nazca & brief stop at Huacachina. Great service cos guides on the buses are very helpful, navigating you thru border crossing & booking accomm & tours for you along the way. You also get comfy seats & movies in English.

Random musings: M saw statue of man holding out his hands & said, 'There's a man with his hand out for a hand-out.' In La Paz we saw a black & a white street dog lying near each other (took photo) & said, 'Dogs can live in harmony. Why can't humans?' In Plaza de Armes in Cusco there was a pack of about 7 dogs all lying peacefully or roaming the street together - never felt threatened even when they ran around barking loudly. In La Paz we watched a dog deftly negotiate a notorious intersection where cars were performing a 'cosmic ballet' as M called it. The dog even looked both ways before crossing the intersection. It kept coming back so I figured this was its daily adrenalin hit to relieve the monotony of its street dog life forever searching for food amongst the rubbish. Still haven't got sick of the street dogs of South America. Funny watching them lying all over the roads forcing cars to go around them. As if they're thinking 'Either go around me or put me out of my misery.' By contrast in a rich area of La Paz we saw a pampered poodle being carried in its owner's arms while its boisterous mate kept jumping up as though it too wanted to be carried. 

This has been one of the most relaxed travel experiences ever. For me. Not for my partner of 19 years who says I'm low maintenance at home but very high maintenance when travelling. He's been very stressed trying to meet all my needs. 'Go there, do this. Ooh, Arequipa looks nice. So does Huacachina. Can we cram an 8 day itinerary into 5 days?' 'Of course' he replies with a sigh, abandoning his skilfully crafted plan to fly us straight from La Paz to Lima & on to a leisurely tour to Nazca & back with 2 days down time in Lima, for a hectic 5 day bus trip via Bolivia & Peru Hop bus with 2 nights sleeping on buses, a 2.30am start to the world's second deepest canyon & a 4.45am departure to the famous Nazca lines. All of this dumped on him after arranging a lightning trip into Bolivia to see the world's largest salt desert (3 day bus journey with 2 nights sleeping in the laughingly named 'sleeping' seats). So yes, relaxed for me, not for him. 

We've achieved quite a few list tick-offs on this journey: 7th continent (Antarctica) 48th country (Bolivia) world's highest navigable lake (Titicaca) largest salt desert (Uyuni) highest city (La Paz) 2nd deepest canyon (Colca), & tallest sand dunes in Sth America (Huacachina). Not bad for a trip lasting less than 2 months. Handy that all these Sth American wonders are within a few days' bus journey of eachother.
   
Wow travel moments: seeing these for the first time - Bariloche Lake from hill at top of cable car run, Lake Geneva with French Alps backdrop from shores of Vevey, Rocky Mountains from crest of hill on approach to Montrose, La Paz dropping deeply into a valley as snow-capped mountains towered above it on approach by bus, Bryce Canyon, steam rising in the distance at Yellowstone, waterfalls - all of them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Enviro - recycle bins at Doha airport (& Western-style toilets), bike tracks on BA streets, 9? (7?) different types of recycling of materials placed in bins on National Geographic Explorer boat. Hotel staff in BA still ignore their employers' enviro signs & wash your wet towel even if you don't put it on the bathroom floor. But at least they seem genuine about recycling - we saw all the recycled plastic & paper & cardboard in recycling bins in stairwells next to the waste bins when we were doing our stair exercises. Not much recycling in Peru but people in small houses & apartments with no private gardens plant flowers, herbs & vegies on their front verges. Bike paths in Lima. La Paz in Bolivia appears to be serious about recycling - saw recycle bins at a hipermarket (small supermarket) with a sign above them '10 minutes in your hand. 150 years in the ground' & at a teleferico station. Islanders on Lake Titicaca were given solar panels by the Peruvian govt - just enough to run lights, radios & TVs during the day.

Food - being vegetarian on our third trip to South America isn't cramping our foodie style. Everywhere we go seems to have a vegetarian/vegan subculture of colourful cozy little restaurants with Indian, reggae or good ol' rock n roll music playing and vibrant paintings & murals covering the walls. Now that we've given up the guanaco & guinea pig we're rewarded with a much greater variety of fruits & vegies and great quinoa, corn, tofu, rice & lentil dishes. Quinoa's a popular base for soups, main meals & even desserts - used in cakes, cookies, puddings & sprinkled on icecream. Makes sense as Peru is the home of quinoa. Restaurants also serve earthy tasting cheeses (made from buffalo milk in Argentina) & lots of omelettes. Yucca patties are made from yams/sweet potatoes - coated in egg as a GF alternative to flour when fried. Same trick used to make corn patties GF. Quinoa bread resembles pappadams & prawn crackers cos it's thin & crisp. Corn on the cob is a popular entree but it's a very solid dull coloured corn with none of the sweetness of  our golden corn. 

Chicha morada is a purple corn juice drink with lemon & sugar served hot. Lemonade is served hot the same way (with sugar & real lemon). Quinoa lasagna is basically a veg stew filled with quinoa & topped with cheese before baking (well, that was how it was made in Full House restaurant in Aguas Calientes). Quinoa pudding is mixed with milk like rice pudding. Palta rellena is avocado stuffed with tomato & onion salsa and other salad veg or cooked veg such as peas, beans & corn. Tofu dorado (golden tofu) is tofu steak marinaded in soy sauce or with herbs. Tofu is also served raw or very slightly boiled in salads. South Americans do great chips cos made from fresh cut potatoes in chunks or cubes. Our house mum in our Peruvian home stay made us great freshly blended juices for breakfast - tropical mixes of papaya & orange, papaya & pineapple, prickly pear, guava, tamarillo, kiwifruit etc.

Sattva veg restaurant in BA in Montevideo St near cnr Ave Corrientes serves dinner from 8pm. Does pizzas, burritos etc. Good range of GF - all omelettes & salsas & nearly all salads are GF as well as some of the main dishes including one of the pastas & a couple of the entrees. M had polenta toasted & covered in mushrooms (similar to the way M cooks tofu steaks), with mixed wok fried vegies with cashews sprinkled through as accompaniment. I had tofu & rice dish which was a bit dull - needed extra veg, only had mushrooms & some bits of dried fruit - but nicely cooked in oil with spices like cinnamon & garnished with toasted sesame seeds. And it was wholegrain rice so was very filling. Portion sizes were generous & prices seemed reasonable by BA standards. Sattva only takes cash (NO credit cards). 

Went back when we returned from Antarctica & found out there are two Sattva restaurants, one on one side of Montevideo St nr Ave Corrientes & one on the other side so turn right or left off Corrientes & either way you can't miss it (found this out cos directed to other one when we arrived starving at first one at 8.10pm & they weren't serving til 8.30pm). Other Sattva was equally good with equally friendly staff, one of whom (Nicolas) spoke enough English to ensure M's coeliac needs were met. This time had the gluten free veg lasagna made with tofu cream with a tomato & mushroom salsa, a salad, jug of real lemon lemonade with ginger, & chocolate flan which was the consistency of a chocolate blanc mange/creme caramel cos made with eggs & sugar no pastry so I think it was called a flan cos of the cylindrical shape (plate dusted with cinnamon instead of choc powder which was a healthy touch). Came to about $50 total including 15% tip cos bill was 425 pesos so we rounded up to 500 pesos cos of the great service from manager & waiter.

In Cusco in Peru there's Green Point vegan restaurant which doesn't do tofu dishes. They do mainly seitan (wheat meat substitute) but do great quinoa burgers & always prepared to tweak menu del dia (3 course set menu with 2 choices for each course) to make it GF. Also do Mexican style dishes like burritos - their burritos are GF cos made with pure maize flour.  El Encuentro veg restaurant does yummy platano (banana) fried chips & huge avocado salads and one time I scored sweet falafel balls in their salad buffet. Both restaurants cater mainly for the lunch crowd & allow one portion of their salad buffet with every meal so you can easily fill yourself with enough to get you through the rest of the day for about $12. At high altitude people don't eat much at night cos higher altitudes slow the digestive process so they sleep better if they make lunch the biggest meal of the day. 

Prasade veg restaurant does great falafels, salads & lentil burgers and ginger tea made with fresh ginger. Tweaked lentil burgers to make GF by dumping bun & replacing it with extra salad & salsas (sauces). Their sister vegan restaurant does Gf pizzas but we never got around to trying them out. Both Prasada & Green Point do great salsas like guacamole, spicy tomato & onion & spicy pumpkin/sweet potato to accompany meals. Green Point does non GF quinoa cookies (bound with wheat flour I think) - pretty dry so choc version ok cos choc adds a bit of sweetness but plain one is very plain. Good solid filler on treks though.

Restaurants in Ollantaytambo that do good veg meals are Quinua, Intikilla & Uchucata. Full House restaurant in Aguas Calientes has a separate veg menu (as do a lot of other Peruvian restaurants), unlike the cheaper restaurants that offer a 15 sol two-course meal plus drink but have only one or two GF veg choices for main dish & sometimes none at all. Full House was worth the extra money cos it had more generous portions & much more attentive service, a great location overlooking the thundering river right next door to our hotel La Payacha, lots of room, clean toilets & quite colourful decor. And you could haggle them down a bit on the price. 

There is no tax in Peru so if cheap restaurants add on 'tax' it's a way of bumping up the price. M & I didn't mind too much as prices are so reasonable compared with Oz restaurants, but if this happened in a restaurant that didn't offer good service we wouldn't leave a tip.

In Arequipa we tried queso helado - cheese icecream! So called cos it's served as a slab in restaurants so looks like a slice of cheese. It's creamy vanilla icecream mixed with coconut & honey & sprinkled generously with cinnamon. Arequipans blend frogs in their fresh squeezed tropical juices cos they believe frogs have high nutritional value. A vegetarian nutritional alternative is maca powder which comes from the root of a plant & is a good source of protein. I put it in my homemade muesli when we were in Cusco & it gave me heaps of energy,
  
Tried quinoa sushi at Tierra Sana restaurant in La Paz, which was made with tiny bits of fresh fruit like apple & strawberry. Tierra Sana also makes African style veg stew with banana & peanuts & has direct copies of nearly all its veg dishes with meat or fish added to appeal to healthy vegetarians AND non vegetarians. It has a saying on its publicity leaflet, 'You don't have to eat less. You just have to eat right.' Which brings me to the veg buffet lunch offered in a classy private house in La Paz connected to a bookshop & yoga centre - lots of choices & mostly GF. Great value - waddled out after trying every dish, the temptation too much for me as every time a dish ran out they would replace it with something different. My appetite didn't go unnoticed. The manager approached M as they were getting ready to close & said I was welcome to go back for third helpings to use up what was left.

Tried cactus fruit at street stall near Colca Canyon - sweet one had big seeds like pomegranate seeds & was red like beetroot; sour one looked like kiwifruit but tasted like a very juicy lemon. Sour one is used in a cocktail like a pisco sour ie with egg white, sugar syrup & the mashed fermented cactus fruit instead of the pisco grape as the alcohol source. Tour guide said he prefers it to pisco sour cos of the texture of the cactus fruit being mashed & shaken instead of blended. Mashaymama restaurant in Nazca does an aguaymana sour - made with small orange coloured tropical fruit instead of pisco distilled grape wine (fortified wine). I like it better than pisco sour cos it has a soft orange colour & more tangy fruit flavour from the aguaymana.

At Mashaymama restaurant I revisited palta rellena (stuffed avocado) & tried veg quinoa ceviche for the first time - cold quinoa salad with chopped tomato, onion, coriander & chilli. Then had moist non GF tea cake with 3 leches (milks) - caramel sauce, choc sauce, & cream & egg white icing. We thought this would be our last dinner in Sth America but next evening at Huacachina we had time for quinoa risotto & Thai veg coconut curry. The risotto was healthier than a rice one cos had more veg & only a small amount of cheese. Chef in Indian restaurant in Arequipa uses pomegranate seeds in his curries when in season to add sweetness. In Arequipa food market there was a passionfruit variety that a fellow traveller said tastes like jello.

Trip to South East Asia 2017

 

DAWN PRINCESS CRUISE (14/5 - 26/5)

Recycle bins, brown recycle paper hand towels in toilets, no plastic cups at water fountain in gym or anywhere else. Food heavenly: GF vegetarian clafoutis ie with an egg crust instead of flour crust, rich creamy goat cheese souffle, eggplant parmigiana almost as good as Michael's, pasta dishes, tofu dishes using the really soft melt-in-the-mouth silken tofu. Great fresh fruit 'soups' which were vitamised & served in a glass with a straw like smoothies - strawberries, kiwi & lemon, honeydew melon, rockmelon, peach & ginger etc. - sometimes straight & sometimes with milk. Sorbet desserts were combos of the same fruits - tamarind & mango ones were a standout. GF apple crumble & strawberry crumble, rice puddings, creme brulee & creme caramel. Superb slice of chocolate mud cake for my birthday. Plus tons of the lightest spongiest toasted GF bread we've tasted in a long time - would get several slices with dinner & they would toast it for Michael at breakfast too.

SINGAPORE (26/5 - 30/5)

SMRT (Singapore Metropolitan Rail Transit ie train service) has signs 'Your Journey is Important & So are our Staff' & a note underneath to the effect that abuse of staff will not be tolerated. Also signs urging people to report molestation with pic of attempted groping. Staff at station platforms are very helpful & friendly - they approach straightaway if you look unsure. Counter staff are fantastic too. Train service stops dead on midnight at whatever station you land on not at the end of the line although buses still run after midnight. Got to test the theory that you can walk safely at any time of day or night when after Zoo's Night Safari we arrived at midnight two metro stops short of our hostel & chose to walk home as too bloody minded to pay for a taxi & didn't know where the bus stops were. Took an hour so average distance between train stops seems to be about half an hour's walk. We joked that no-one except us would be so tight-fisted - anyone else would have jumped straight into a taxi (we did try grudgingly for several minutes to hail a taxi but they were all booked) - but acknowledged that our tight-fistedness is what keeps our travel coffers full. 

SO WARNING: Buses run til 12.15am from Zoo's Night Safari but check carefully what time to leave if you need to get train(s) home as well. Zoo's an hour & a half from city centre so with changes from bus to trains & waits in between you need to allow at least 2 hours to get home - which of course my long-suffering Michael knew instinctively so tried to get me out by 10pm but infuriating yours truly pushed it to 10.30 & learned yet another lesson. EXTRA WARNING: If queue too long for tram trip at Night Safari go off walking & come back later - we lost an hour waiting in queue til 8.30pm & by 9.30pm queue was gone. WARNING AGAIN: don't believe Jurong Bird Park (JBP) staff when they tell you it's about an hour's trip from JBP to Zoo - it's at least an hour & a half with waits at bus & train stops. 

4 Parks Pass (for JBP, Singapore Zoo, Zoo's Night Safari & Zoo's River Safari) is really good value if you have a few days to do all four justice. Might as well pay the $5 each for the tram ride at the first three as well cos it's a good way of orienting yourself when you arrive. 3 Day SMRT bus/train pass is also great value & saves you having to queue up at machines to pay for tickets & reload them. Allow yourself a day & night at Gardens by the Bay cos the Flower Dome is awesome by day AND night, the Cloud Forest is spectacular, & you may want to see the Sound & Light Show twice - at both 7.45 & 8.45pm. The only thing we didn't bother with was the skywalk between the artificial trees cos it was fairly short & was open reduced hours that day, although it's fairly cheap. 

Signs on billboards stating 'Distracted or Alert?' with picture of mobile phone & the words 'Choose Graciousness'. Most drivers seem to drive graciously except beeping taxi drivers.

Signs re terrorism stating it's a matter of when not if & saying government is working on it. Security check at airport when leaving for Bangkok involved a pat-down body check. 

Day 1 rest day. Day 2 spent all day at Gardens by the Bay. Day 3 at Jurong Bird Park & Zoo's Night Safari. Day 4 at Zoo. Day 5 at Zoo's River Safari & walking around river & city area near Merlion ending at Gardens by the Bay at night where we got to see a dress rehearsal of circus performance to celebrate 5th anniversary of Gardens next week.

ENVIRO

Water-saving taps come on, either by pushing in or automatically when place hands under them, for only a few seconds. Self flushing toilets. Heaps of huge green belts between the highrise. Bike paths & bike hire stations. Recycle bins at airport, seaport, zoo etc but not on streets. Gardens by the Bay uses biofuel from greenwaste to power lights, aircon etc as well as its solar panels on top of the artificial trees & its flower dome acts as a water collector. Zoo has water stations to refill water bottles & educates about the 3 R's of recycling (reduce, re-use & recycle); urges people to reduce consumption of products but has lots of merchandise stores so like elsewhere economic interests are at odds with environmental needs. At least our gift for doing a survey at River Safari was a drink in a sturdy re-usable plastic cup that we donated to our hostel.

FOOD

Shop at suburban shopping centre sold only popcorn - buttery, crunchy, caramel etc. (no photo) Mr Bean (photo) does mainly soy products - icecream, milkshakes, puddings etc. Had 'Pearly Bean', hot bean curd pudding with black chewy balls (pearls) of sticky rice floating on top. It could be done with 25%, 50% or 75% sugar. I chose 25% which serving lady said was a good choice cos dish is already quite sweet. That amount made it sweet enough not to taste too bland. I liked it cos it reminded me of the junket desserts I used to have as a kid. The shop also advertised mushroom & chestnut dishes held together with sticky rice as well as eggwiches - cooked flour on one side & egg on the other with ham in the middle in the pic. Presumably not GF but presumably can get vegetarian versions. (In Penang in Malaysia there were coconut milk jelly cubes at a buffet lunch)

THAILAND (31/5 - 26/6)

Bangkok a typical vibrant Asian city full of noise & action & neon lights. Locals help you cross the road when they see you struggling with the constant onslaught of cars & motorbikes. Security tight - you walk through a security screen every time you enter a metro station, department store, big temple etc. (there was a screen just to get on to the street of the Grand Palace) & your backpack is checked as well. Also had pat down check when we left Bangkok (Don Mueang) Airport for Cambodia (even had to take our shoes off).

WARNING: Watch out for scams - when we passed a man standing at a little side entrance of the Grand Palace he told us the palace was closed which is easy to believe cos an attractions brochure says the palace sometimes closes for religious events. But as he was near lots of touts we kept walking til we found the main entrance of a very much open palace. We then found a nearby tourist office with a sign on it about scams saying don't believe it if you are told an attraction is closed! The sign also said don't assume a tourist information office is just a tourist information office because it claims to be government-run. Which made sense of our experience at Hua Lumphong main train station when counter staff sent us upstairs to the 'tourist information office' cos we were asking too many questions & the 'tourist information office' tried to sell us package tours to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai & Koh Samui. The silky saleswoman wouldn't give us anything in writing, not even tour prices, & once she realised we weren't going to buy straightaway she swiftly dismissed us. Conversely, the operator of an official Bangkok tourist information office at Lumphini Park was wonderfully helpful & friendly, even allowing us to take a photo of an info sheet she didn't have spare copies of. (Privately run express boats on the river are quick but they sit low in very murky water & charge heaps more than the ferry. Check what jetty you are on before paying - ferries use a different jetty from the private express boat jetties.)

Can use reloadable Rabbit Cards on BTS (skyrail) lines. Counter staff reload them for you by adding on the amount you pay which must be a minimum of 100 Baht (about $4) or you can pay directly for single journeys like on the MRT (underground train) lines.

*** SBox Hotel at 4 Soi Sukhumvit 31(Klongtoey Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 10110)
Catch bus from airport to Mo Chit MRT/BTS station - bus conductor holds up sign or calls out on arrival at Mo Chit. (Ask at bus stands outside airport whether bus goes to Mo Chit.) Take BTS line at Mo Chit (not MRT line) cos it goes thru to Phrom Phong BTS station which is just a few minutes away from SBox which is opposite the big fancy S31 Hotel & behind a bakery on corner called Au Bon Pain. *** 

*** Bangkok Smile - Malo Clinic Soi Sukhumvit 5 (Klongtoey Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 10110)
Takes at least 30 minutes to walk there from SBox. Turn right on to Sukhumvit at corner after leaving SBox & keep walking on the same side of the street for about 25 mins til you get to a street with a McDonald's on the corner a few blocks after entrance stairway to Nana BTS station. Turn right into the street & keep walking on right hand side of street until almost the end of the street where the Malo clinic is on your right raised up quite a bit from the ground. ***

Cheap laundry that charges 80 baht per kilo to wash, dry & fold clothes is diagonally opposite SBox near end of a little lane just back from corner of Soi Sukhumvit 22 (?) on way towards Soi Asok.
Spent Day 1 (31/5) getting from Singapore to Bangkok by plane. Day 2 dental consult. Day 3 & 4 dental work & walked thru Lumpini Park. Day 5 rest. Day 6 river trip to outer suburban town Nonchaburi via viewing outside of Grand Palace & Wat Arun. Day 7 saw Wonder Woman in cinema in EM Quartier department store. Day 8-10 rest. Day 11 dentist. Day 12 excursion train to bridge on River Kwai & waterfall near border with Myanmar (nicest part was beautifully manicured rainforest resort River Kwai Cabins with cabin accomm right on the river nestled into lovely hills, which we saw from the train) - cheap trip so need to buy your own food along the way or on train, not included in ticket price. Day 13 dentist. Day 14 recovery from dentist. Day 15 day train 8.30am-7.30pm to Chiang Mai (CM), food included in ticket price.(Stayed at Pat's Kliang Hotel) Day 16 exploring CM old town behind remnants of city walls & 'moat' (river). Day 17 mini-bus day trip to Chiang Rai stopping at hot springs that locals cook eggs in, White Temple, Long Neck tribal village near Myanmar border & boat to Golden Triangle (spot on Mekong River near where Thailand, Myanmar & Laos meet) spending half an hour on Laos mainland. Day 18 visited Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescued elephants & for stray cats & dogs in rainforest valley an hour and a half drive from CM, then night train back to Bangkok. Day 19 explored Ko Kret island the cheap way - caught Bus 166 at Victory Monument to near Pa Kret pier & took the 2 baht local ferry across the small strip of river to the island instead of the tour boat that circles the island for an hour. Can walk, bike ride or motor bike the 5 km around island. Day 20 rest before late arvo dental work. Day 21 M recovering from dental work & me playing with cats at cat sanctuary Paws in Bangkok suburb. Day 22 more dental work. Day 23 same as day 21. Day 24 visited a photography exhibition in nice canalside location near Hua Lumphong train station. Day 25 & 26 (weekend) bummed around Benjasiri Park & visited Paws stall at Ekkamai BTS Station weekend market. Day 27 M's last dental visit while I played at Paws again then spent early evening at Benjasiri Park - for once it didn't rain so everyone was out exercising & the light was lovely, took lots of photos. Then had our last meal at beloved May Veggie Home. 

WARNING: 1st class night train to Bangkok charges for all food & drinks and prices are relatively expensive, bit of a surprise as on day train in 2nd class all our snacks & drinks were included in ticket price.

ENVIRO

Plastic cutlery & paper cups at hotel breakfast in Bangkok. Not many recycle bins (found some down the road from hotel at Benjasiri Park) but was told people go thru the bins to find recyclables. Bike paths. Underground trains, skyrail & buses but still heaps of cars & motorbikes on the road. Some greenery amongst the highrise & Lumpini Park a bit like Central Park in New York surrounded by city buildings. Not much rubbish in city centre but a fair bit in towns. (Was told you don't get public bins on streets in CM etc cos residents & businesses already have to pay for their rubbish to be collected every day so don't want extra 'public' rubbish outside their premises.) Air pollution seems quite bad at times.

FOOD

Go Mango food stall in Terminal 21 Asok Plaza in Bangkok sells mango smoothies, mango with sticky rice, mango pieces with milk & sago, etc. Vegan restaurant May Veggie Home near Terminal 21 reminiscent of vegan & vegetarian eateries in Peru with its wall & ceiling paintings of leaves & flowers & sayings written on the walls about love. Has varied menu of Thai, Vietnamese & Western dishes (great veggie burger & chips), & quite a few dishes that can be made GF. Pad Thai noodles in tamarind sauce a standout & a friend loves their tea leaves salad served in cups. Like vegan eateries in Peru it does a lot of non-GF fake meat & fish dishes but as I don't like the saltiness of seitan I'm happy to stick to the GF options with tofu & mushrooms as protein source. I love that they offer brown rice instead of white rice at no extra charge. Drinks are divine - fresh squeezed fruits blended with ice & you can either have the brown sugar syrup in it or separate (I suggest separate cos the pure fruit is usually quite sweet already). Watch out for the passionfruit though cos the passionfruit seeds are so strongly blended they're gritty. They do mango, kiwi, pineapple with holy basil, lime with mint, & Japanese melon. But our favourites are the cacao banana with rice milk & the coconut with rice milk. Has selection of GF desserts like brownies, sticky black rice muffins & chocolate & coffee cakes & has coconut milk icecream in black sesame, coconut, chocolate, mango, passionfruit (amazing) & Thai tea flavours, as well as strawberry sorbet. (Can generally get a decent dinner in Bangkok for about $20-$25 total for the two of us. May's particularly good value cos it's quite cheap so we can get drinks & dessert as well for under $20 total.) Broccoli Revolution vegan restaurant does a great creamy pumpkin GF penne pasta & a broccoli sorbet that tastes of lime to mask the broccoli. Prices a bit more expensive but portion sizes very generous. Not very many GF options. Quite a few Mexican dishes. Free water. Nice candlelit ambience. In CM we tried sticky rice layered jellies which are vegetarian cos use agar agar to set, as well as milk tapioca/sago puddings. On Ko Kret island there was a cafe called Lady Sugar which served only desserts including sugared toasts. There were also stalls selling miniature cakes loaded with sugar, white rice & chemical colour which probably explains the increasing incidence of diabetes in SE Asia. Veganerie Restaurant behind Benjasiri Park does some nice dishes but is quite expensive & doesn't have many GF options. More famed for its sweets (lovely creamy chocolate mud cake - couldn't believe it was vegan) cos it used to be a bakery.

CAMBODIA (27/6 - 10/7)

Spent Day 1 (27/6) getting from Bangkok to Siem Reap by plane. Day 2 visited museum to introduce ourselves to the history of Angkor Wat temples. Day 3 visited Angkor Wat, Bayon & Ta Prom temples then went to Phare circus at night (hired remork (tuk tuk) driver for whole day & night $25 US). Day 4 rest. (Stayed Lin Ratanak Hotel about $22) Day 5 $5 each bus to Battambang. Day 6 magic day visiting countryside - went to two hilltop temples/ruins via fluorescent green rice paddies, tropical jungle & palm plantations. Stopped at a swing bridge, fishing village, took a bamboo train ride & watched bats at sunset (hired remork $20). Day 6 resting & ambling around Battambang town centre. (Stayed Royal Hotel about $20) Day 7 bus to Sihanoukville via Phnom Penh. Day 8 wandering around Sihanoukville town centre. Day 9 trip to 3 islands on Happy Boat - ended unhappily when I broke my toe. Day 10 resting left foot. Ditto Day 11 apart from remork trip to Dao Cafe for dinner cos had exhausted veg dinner options at our hotel - fireworks on the beach, not sure if cos a Sat night or a Buddhist festival night. Day 12 ditto Day 11 plus trip to Otres Beach late arvo. (Stayed Don Bosco Hotel School about $25) Day 13 all day bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam via short lunchtime stop in Phnom Penh - fancy hotel 5 mins away was reco'd by Mekong Bus office staff member so I wouldn't need to walk far. Hotel staff custom made us a dirt-cheap ($2.50 each) delicious omelette in double quick time. Their friendliness left us with a nice memory of PP which we didn't stay in cos it didn't look all that special on the grey day when we first arrived.
Cambodia is coinless - deals in a mixture of US paper dollars & local paper currency for small change. On drive to Sihanoukville driver of minibus (tix $20 each) spent more time on the left side of the road than the right - unlike Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand, in Cambodia technically they drive on the right! (presumably because they were invaded by the French not the British) They love their techno disco music - Happy Boat had dancing music mid arvo so centre of deck turned into a disco complete with lots of soap bubbles released near end of trip & poles holding up upper deck being used for pole dancing. (On bus trip back from Chiang Rai in Thailand driver played loud techno song over & over at night while we attempted to sleep.)

ENVIRO

Depressing amount of rubbish in towns although relatively little in rural areas (although Siem Reap has supposed recycle bins everywhere & signs up asking people to protect the environment & Phare Circus has plastic water bottle refill station). Like Thailand everyone drives motorised vehicles - very few people ride bicycles. No train system. Was reminded of India for a minute when I saw cows searching for food among the rubbish on the roadsides on outskirts of Phnom Penh. On small islands off south coast near Sihanoukville there was very little rubbish - maybe cos of small population & signs everywhere asking people to use the plentiful bins. Don Bosco Hotel School in Sihanoukville has enviro signs about re-using towels & keeping bathroom doors closed so aircon doesn't have to work as hard. Also has censor lights in toilets, garden waste bins, saltwater pool etc.The students have been trained to actually obey towels policy not ignore it & change all the towels anyway like a lot of hotel staff elsewhere in the world. Thailand & Cambodia use way too many plastic straws - even the smoothies are generally runny enough not to need them.

FOOD

No heat, lots of flavour. M misses his chilli. Unlike Thailand, restaurants here serve free water. Sweet potato fries in Thai & Cambodian restaurants. In Siem Reap vegan restaurant Vibe does great moist falafel & Mexican & delicious desserts like mango mousse cake with layer of nut cream, choc caramel mud cake, coconuts filled with chocolate & mini donuts (took photo of them in the fridge - not all GF). Cheaper Peace Cafe does delicious curries & kebabs & hearty freshly cooked sweet pumpkin pudding with chia/sago? balls, which had a lovely caramelly taste from the pumpkin juice mixed with the brown? sugar sweetener (all Peace's dishes are freshly cooked - had to wait a while for pumpkin pudding but boy it was worth the wait). Yummy passionfruit & coconut sorbets at Phare Circus's restaurant. In Battambang it was hard to find coconut water in supermarkets - soy milk seemed more popular. A simple veg breakfast/lunch cafe for the locals served homemade soy milk made from soy beans blended with pumpkin & cashew nuts. In Sihanoukville vegan restaurant Dao also does great falafel & Mexican (& zucchini fritters) & uses bamboo straws in their cacao banana smoothie (almost as good as May Veggie Home's but not as creamy cos no rice milk just water, compensates with spices like cinnamon & nutmeg). Serves cashew nut cheese & sour cream (cheese is like a light cream cheese in texture cos smoothly blended) & banana based icecream. (Took photo of 2-page menu cos menu is on their website for online ordering so we figured it was ok to photograph, no copyright issues. They use biodegradable packaging for takeaway food.) Sticky rice with mung beans cooked in banana leaves sold on streets.

VIETNAM (11/7 - 4/8)

Day 1 resting & planning. Day 2 Vietsea tour of Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City ($60 each) - presidential palace, Notre Dame Church, railway station, pagoda. (Stayed IPeace Hotel about $30) Day 3 sleeper bus to Da Lat at altitude approx 1500m - beautiful highland countryside on the journey. Day 4 city tour to Emperor Bao Dai's 1933 built art deco summer palace, cable car ride, Datanla waterfall, pagoda, flower garden on lakeside, visit to dried flower showroom. Day 5 country tour to railway station built from 1933 to 1943 to travel 7km to mountain plateau village (now used for family joy rides on upgraded modern railway track & old carriages used as shops & cafe), flower farm, coffee farm, pagoda, crazy house, Elephant waterfall, meeting mountain people from minority ethnic group. (Stayed Phuong Hanh Hotel $25) Day 6 bus to Nha Trang. (Stayed Happy Angel Hotel $41) Day 7 tour of Nha Trang islands on Funky Monkey party boat then overnight sleeper bus to Hoi An. Day 8 toured Unesco listed old town morning & night & next morn. (Stayed Bi & Bi Hostel $26) Day 9 took taxi from Hoi An to Da Nang at midday stopping to visit Marble Mountain & Am Phu Cave on the way (taxi $26). Day 10 visited Dragon Bridge & Da Nang Beach. (Stayed Funtastic Beach Hostel $26) Day 11 took bus to Hue. Day 12 spent arvo exploring Citadel then short boat ride on Perfume River early evening. (Stayed Mondial Hotel $50) Day 13 took night train to Hanoi at 5.40pm (soft sleeper 4 bunk bed carriage shared with French man & woman who work in Hanoi - soft bed means bench seat has a mattress & sheet on it). Day 14 arrived Hanoi 8.45am & took taxi to Interbus bus station in Old Quarter. Found great little restaurant The Veg round corner from bus station where we holed up for breakfast & lunch under the aircon until our bus at 1.30pm to take us to Sa Pa arriving at 7.15pm cos left Hanoi 1.45pm ie 5 & a half hour trip. Day 15 walked to lookout at top of Hamrong Mountain park at approx 1800m (Sa Pa town is at 1650m). Day 16 took cable car & funicular to Fansipan Peak at 3143m overlooking Sa Pa. (Stayed Paris Boutique Hotel $52 - fantastic wifi cos separate connection in every room) Day 17 took 1.30pm bus to Hanoi arriving 7.30pm (took extra half hour cos went via Lao Cai city to pick up more passengers). (Stayed Pavilion Hotel $26) Day 18 did Rosa Cruises two day (1 night) tour of Ha Long Bay $240 total - visited pearl farm & swam & kayaked arvo Day 1 & visited Surprise Cave & had cooking class & Tai Chi lesson Day 2 morn). Day 19 tour guide Frank arranged Thang Long BMC Hotel approx 3km from Ha Long city $53 cos we wanted to stay an extra day on cruise but booked out. Rosa Cruises bus dropped us off near hotel early arvo & picking us up next day early arvo to return to Hanoi. We planned to go into the city to check out the nightlife but ended up staying in our very large airconditioned room with big bath watching movies for the rest of the day & next morn cos realised we hadn't had any down time since our first day in Vietnam. Day 20 arvo Rosa Cruises bus back to Hanoi 3 & half hours arriving about 4pm. (Stayed Pavilion Hotel again) Day 21 took HTS (Hanoi Transfer Service) tour of Hoa Lu & Tam Coc in Ninh Binh province to see Red River delta area & 'Ha Long Bay on Land' (limestone formations similar to those in Ha Long Bay) $40 each. Day 22-Day 25 in Hanoi wandered around streets in Old Quarter & Hoan Kiem Lake & watched water puppet show & did city tour Day 24 to pagoda on West Lake, Ho Chi Minh complex, Museum of Ethnology, Temple of Literature, Catholic Church plus pagoda on Hoan Kiem Lake $25 each. (Stayed Legacy Hotel in Old Quarter $53)
WARNINGS: ticket office at bottom of Marble Mountain tries to sell guidebook for several dollars that you don't need so make sure you're only paying for the basic entry ticket. You can easily navigate your way around using maps & signs on the mountain. Be careful what colour taxis you take eg only Vinasun taxis in Da Nang & only green taxis in Hue are honest & use meters. Also be careful what ticket seller you choose for your boat ride in Hue - our 40 minute ride ended up being barely 30 mins.

ENVIRO

Lot less rubbish than neighbouring countries but still too many straws. People make an effort to keep all areas clean, not just tourist areas, sweeping dust on balconies & even on awnings & putting rubbish in bins. More motorbikes than cars making emissions a bit less but still appears to be quite a bit of smog. Like in Sth America, you can't put toilet paper in toilets in most parts of Sth East Asia, need to put them in the bins beside toilet bowls. Lots of smokers in public areas & occasionally in restaurants but hotels & buses seem to generally be non-smoking areas. (People smoked on Fansipan mountain peak right next to signs stating 'No Smoking due to fire risk'.) Hoi An's old town is a totally smoke-free zone. It is also blissfully quiet between 8-11am & 3-9.30pm when motorised transport is banned (only bicycles & bicycle tuk tuks allowed). Recycle bins at hostel in Da Nang & enviro signs at hotel in Hue. Recycle bin on boat at Ha Long Bay & hotel in Ha Long city appeared to be separating recyclables when collecting rubbish from rooms. Sign on toilet roll dispenser in Hanoi Airport toilet cubicle stating 'Saving paper, electricity & water contributes to protection of environment'. Air Asia uses cardboard boxes for food & recycled paper napkins but still uses plastic cutlery & wraps things in plastic.

FOOD

More like Chinese. Got a great hot lime juice & honey in HCMC restaurant. Indian restaurant Ganesh in Da Lat makes GF gulab jamun from maize flour. Ganesh chain also do South Indian curries with coconut milk. (Ganesh franchise has restaurants in HCMC, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Hoi An & Hue.) Veg restaurant in Nha Trang does great tofu & mushrooms in sweet soy sauce & taro icecream (taro is a root veg). Fantastic food at Family Indian Restaurant in Da Nang - homemade 'chocolate mousse' that is basically dark choc icecream smothered in dark choc syrup (broke my promise not to eat chocolate especially at night due to caffeine hit). Most restaurants serve cheap fresh squeezed pure fruit juices with no watering down - pineapple, papaya, passionfruit, watermelon, lime, mango etc.- as well as smoothies. Indian restaurants use all these fruits to make lassis too. Breakfast foods at our Hue hotel included tofu in tomato sauce, cassava (tapioca) & corn porridge made palatable by sprinkling mixture of peanuts & sugar on, & mung beans & red beans in sugar syrups (called sweet soups). They also do logan & lotus seeds sweet soup, & banana with sago pearls in coconut milk, but those weren't available. (In Hanoi we had lotus seeds & red beans served in glasses of sweetened water as desserts.) Hue veg restaurant ? has a huge menu including tofu cheese (scrambled texture like ricotta - similar to the nut cheeses at Dao Cafe in Cambodia). The Veg in Hanoi has a fusion menu so includes Mexican style dishes like spinach tortillas with cashewnut cream, & Pad Thai & Thai style curries. Has kumquat juice & pineapple, lychee & lime mocktail. Also does banana coffee and banana & pineapple & soy milk smoothy. Does a great tofu with mushrooms in tamarind sauce, & cubes of tofu stuffed with finely diced veg in sweet & sour sauce. Mango & chia pudding dessert - chia seeds cooked in coconut milk then served in a glass with mango pieces. Savoury lotus seed soup - seeds are a bit like chickpeas. On Rosa Cruises boat they made fried sweet potato shaved so fine it was like vermicelli, & fried tofu squares coated in sesame seeds as well as non GF tofu balls wrapped in sweet dough & rice flour dumplings for breakfast (got fried rice flour dumplings in Hanoi - great with honey or jam). Mung bean cakes have sweet powdery texture. Variety of coffees in Hanoi eg. Egg coffee - coffee, egg & condensed milk, & a fatal one with cream, sugar AND condensed milk.