Dominican Republic

Our introduction to the Carribbean was in the Dominican Republic. After a long day including a 12 hour stopover in Frankfurt, we arrived here at 03:00 hour – 3am in the morning.

By the time we exchanged money and found a taxi, bed was very welcome and we collapsed.

Breakfast was at a street cafe where we were entertained by a Michael Jackson look alike.

As it happened there were a lot of school children up and down the pedestrian street El Conde. They were preparing for the Independent celebrations.

If ever a Michael Jackson look alike was going to make money, it was from the school children who stopped by and watch his limited performance.

As well we visited the forts of early Spanish times and monuments to fallen heroes.

We hired a car and drove east to La Romana. Here we discovered nearly all the beaches had been gobbled up by one resort or another. No beaches for the common people.

The airports specialise in fly-in / fly-out holidays where most tourists won’t move out of the resort.

But as we drove around this eastern end of the island we saw colourful painted houses and heavily man-powered sugar crops.

Scooters and cars had there own rules such as drive 2 metres behind you, never use indicators and a must – overtake on double lines.

I am behind with my posts and stories, but hope to catch up soon.

Here’s Michael Jackson wowing one group of children.

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Faster than…

One of the frustrations on our recent travels has been the slow response of my website, not only for you the readers, but also for me the writer.

I couldn’t create a new page or upload photos in Firefox.  Internet Explorer was totally unresponsive.  Google’s Chrome managed with difficulty.

So after much research, and even more assistance from Hayden, I have moved my web site to a VPS with SSD at Hostsailor.  For those that need to know – Virtual Private Server with Solid-State Drive.

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So hopefully you will be able to navigate around my site more quickly (ie stay there) and I will be able to upload stories when the connection speed is not so good.  To be realisitc, I doubt if I could upload anything using a dial-up connection, but time will tell.

 

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That was very nice

For Christmas Hayden & Andrea treated us to an Arabian massage and bath in Barcelona. Today we used our treat. Down under the beautiful colonnaded buildings on Passeig de Picasso was a luxurious suite of hot, warm and cool ponds in a beautifully restored ancient bath.

It was Bruce’s first real massage, you can’t really call the ladies on a Bali beach an intimate massage. This was fantastic.

As if we need to relax! But the experience was beautiful. Thank you H&A!

Aire de Barcelona

Aire de Barcelona

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What happened to postcards?

I have always loved receiving postcards and even relish the opportunity to sit and rest weary feet and write postcards.

You just don’t see postcards for sale in great numbers any more.  Rather than have them “in your face”, I have often had to go in search of them.

But what happens to postcards after you have applied those precious words of “remember me…”? I am quite sure not even half reach their destination. Perhaps a few of those postcards destined for Australia end up in Austria. Postcards we sent from China arrived within a month, those from Uzbekistan took about 5 weeks to reach their destinations.

Perhaps postcards don’t even rate for many post offices around the world.

And finding a Post Office is often a challenge.  In Tonga we walked 5km each way because the Post Office in town was “under renovation”.  In Barcelona we walked 3km to the “Post Office” only to find it is an “office”, so it was another 2km to find a retail outlet – and then a 30 minute queue to be served.

I’d like to revive the old postcard. I will happily spend $0.50 to $1 on the post card and somewhere between $1 and $3 for postage. I select my good friends and I feel like I have communicated, shared a coffee, but my shout. It really is incidental cash in exchange for the joy of receiving a well thought out, well travelled picture of somewhere that inspired you. Communication can’t get much better.

Come on post offices of the world. Forget the ROI, just embrace the post card.

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The Statistics of Travel

I know that some people like to know how many, how far, how much, etc. And as a mother of a PhD graduate of mathematics, it really is my duty to publish such information, so here goes.

We left home on 31 August 2014 and flew to Hong Kong. From there our real journey started. Using a combination of road, rail, sea and air we travelled 22,623km to Istanbul in 95 days, of which 49% was by road – sitting in the back seats of cars on often bumpy, dusty roads.

But we didn’t stop in Istanbul. We continued to Barcelona, then on to London via Paris, popped across to Iceland for Christmas and back to London. By the end of 2014 we added 9,500km to our travels in just 18 days. Road travel dropped to 37% but air travel increased to 60%. We love train travel and stayed close at 24%.

In that time I added 15,828 photos to my album, of which 10,376 were on my now struggling Sony HX-300. Evan provided the most astonishing statistic, raking up 2261 of the 4486 photos the family group took in Iceland. But then again, I don’t have a count on Bruce’s photos, as yet.

Here are a couple of table to support the numbers.

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Iceland – ticking all the boxes

Following the success of Hayden’s PhD defence, we decided to have a family Christmas “somewhere exotic”. Think warm weather, tropical beaches and swaying palms. No, that is not exotic enough for this bunch.

After much communication and research, the family selected Iceland as an exotic destination. Three hours of sunlight, snow and cold all seemed far more interesting.

So Hayden & Andrea and Evan & Steph joined us at Gatwick airport for the short haul to Iceland. It was cold and dark, as we had expected and it was also exotic. The highlights were

  • Learning how to walk on icy roads without slipping over
  • Learning how to rug up before heading outside
  • Watching the sun rise at 11:30am over a lake surrounded by snow covered mountains
  • Touching the ever-expanding tectonic plate between Europe and North America
  • Waiting to get the best shot of the spouting Geysir after which all geysers are named
  • Walking on a glacier which was showing off the beautiful clear, frozen, compacted snow
  • Finding frozen waterfalls
  • Walking on a beach on Christmas Day in the snow
  • Building a snowman and throwing snow balls on Christmas Day
  • Bathing in the hot waters of the Blue Lagoon with snow falling on our heads
  • Watching the waving lights of the Aurora Borealis

Eight days is not enough to explore this exotic island, but time enough to have a heap of fun!

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Congratulations Dr. Hayden Stainsby
B.Dig.Sys., M.Eng.(1), M.Eng.(2), Ph.D.

Ten or more years ago Hayden announced he wanted to undertake a PhD. It has been 3 years preparation with two masters achieved, and 4 further years of research and study.

Last night he achieved his dream.  The Mathematics Department of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona awarded him his doctorate for his disertation on Triangular Basis of Integral Closures, and we were very proud to be there to watch his presentation.

Although we understood little of the presentation, it was clear that the panel took great interest in his work.

For us, this is the culmination of our long journey through the Silk Route to Barcelona. Evan & Steph flew in to join us, making it a family affair.

We are particularly proud of Hayden for an outstanding achievement and grateful to the gorgeous Andrea who has given him so much support along the way.

Well done Dr Stainsby!

 

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Silk Route – East to West

We arrived in Istanbul to celebrate a symbolic end to our Silk Road adventure.  It has been an amazing journey where we have seen other cultures and experienced their food.  We have met delightful people and been spoilt rotten by our numerous guides and drivers.

Our journey started on 31 August when we left Melbourne for Hong Kong.  We picked up the “Silk Route” in Xi’an China, following it west in China then to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyrstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and ended in Turkey.  We travelled by plane, train, boat and road (statistics will follow).

We learnt about ancient conquerers and their quest to keep the Silk Route open.  We also learnt about Russia’s involvement in Central Asia since the mid-19th century, and the impact of the collapse of the USSR on these countries.

The “Silk Road” is not a road at all – in fact many routes were used, and in our travels we swapped from one route to another.

The Silk Road Project

The Silk Road Project in Khiva, showing some of the many routes of trade.

In Iran we travelled a highway that had ancient caravanserai (resting houses) beside it every 30 kilometers.  This was a day’s journey for a camel train.  The highway has been built on that route.

The term “Silk Road” is also modern, created by the 19th century German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen who

is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road(s)” or “Silk Route(s)” in 1877.

The journey has been made famous by Marco Polo, and there is much debate as to whether he brought noodles to Italy or spaghetti to China.  He was not the first European to reach China,

but he was the first to leave a detailed chronicle of his experience, recorded in Livres des merveilles du monde (Book of the Marvels of the World, also known as The Travels of Marco Polo, c. 1300)

A new project called the Black Sea Silk Route Corridor describes what the Silk Route really was.

The fabled Silk Road of lore was more than a trade route, it was a road of ideas, a throughway of culture. History’s first transcontinental “super highway” enabled commerce, science, arts, culture and ideas to course the empires and nation states that hugged its spine. Perhaps its greatest gift was not any of these, as important as they are. Still, it was a conduit of peace, for trade cannot travel across closed borders nor can it prosper in times of conflict. At its greatest, the Silk Road promoted tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

Now it is time to catch up on photos and stories from our journey along parts of the Silk Route.  Stories are written in the Central Asia menu, and on Bruce’s blog site.

Thea pointing west to the Silk Road from the ancient city wall of Xi'an

Thea pointing west to the Silk Road from the ancient city wall of Xi’an

At Gate 5 of the Great Bazaar, symbolic end to our Silk Road journey

Thea at Gate 5 of the Great Bazaar, symbolic end to our Silk Road journey

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Rules in Iran

Our guide Rasoul told us that there are two rules to obey in Iran:

  1. Be afraid of Allah
  2. Be afraid of drivers of blue trucks

Blue trucks are everywhere. They are about the size of a pickup truck with a cabin and a tray back. The tray is configured in every imaginable way.

They cart hay, animals going to slaughter, furniture, fruit & vegetables going to market, stone & soil, building materials, …

They often have an extra tray over the roof of the cabin to add to the load. I’ve seen goats tied down in that tray.

They crawl up mountain roads and slide down on their brakes.

They consider they have right of way at intersections and will happily overtake each other on freeways. Road rules don’t apply.

And they are all “RGB #0000ff ” blue.

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Good bye Iran!

Yes touring is hard work and for the past ten weeks we have been under the watchful eye of one guide or another. In fact, since we left home twenty-three guides have looked after us with varying degrees of commitment and interest in what we want to know and learn.

But it was our guide Rasoul and our driver Hamid in Iran that had the greatest impact. Rasoul’s knowledge was exemplary and Hamid’s driving was excellent, but it was the other little things that happened like finding us a coffee shop when Bruce was suffering caffeine withdrawals, a watchful eye when I went to a public toilet, without imposing. The many jokes and laughs we shared during kilometres of driving, the courtesy extended by both of them.

Choosing a dinner venue was fun. They’d chatter in Persian and then present us with a heap of options. Plan A, plan B, plan C. Sometimes plan A didn’t work so it was plan B. One evening we got down to plan G and it wasn’t a good choice. Great venue but we sat in glass boxes in a beautiful garden with inadequate heating on a night where the temperature dropped to 0C. We never went as far as plan G again.

And with all the planning and also impromptu happenings I have began to feel like a twenty-something year old again. Throw away the shackles of age and conservatism and go with the flow! It’s fun.

Best guide and driver ever - in Iran

Best guide and driver ever – in Iran

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