tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:/posts Travel & Adventures 2015-07-07T04:27:41Z Paul Clip tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/877781 2015-07-06T03:39:15Z 2015-07-07T04:27:41Z Thanksgiving in Bali

It's a long story but our family decided that the only way to celebrate the week of Thanksgiving in 2014 was to do so in Bali.

We spent a wonderful time there. Not quite an authentic Bali vacation because we stayed at Club Med but oh so nice, because we stayed at Club Med. It was our first experience at one of these resorts and it didn't disappoint. Tons of activities (with trapeze being our favorite), great location, and the food... We still speak about it over 6 months later.

We alternated days at the resort with excursions. The snorkeling wasn't anything to write home about, nor was the scuba diving, though I enjoyed diving with my youngest son. It was amusing to see how my two days worth of classes & training dives in the US were summarized in Bali for Daniel as "keep breathing all the time" and "this is how you equalize your ears" :-)

Other excursions were more fun: An elephant ride, visit to a chocolate factory, a pet market, the Monkey forest... Indonesians were very friendly and a lot fun. We also loved how rich the currency made us feel: $8 buys you 100,000 Rupiah!

Katrine and I left the boys on their own one day and flew to the neighboring island of Java. We saw many sights but the highlights were the Hindu temple of Prambaran and especially the Buddhist temple of Borobudur.

All in all a great visit. I think we'd all be happy to return to Bali, or anywhere else with a Club Med :-)




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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342014 2012-06-25T17:46:00Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z A Summer Week in Iceland

We spent a wonderful week in Iceland. The country is beautiful in a desolate way. Its volcanic origins and geothermal energy makes for spectacular scenery, delicious crystal blue baths, and hot water that often smells of sulphur :-)

 

The Icelanders we met were friendly and spoke English well. The weather was never warm and often cold & drizzly though we were surprised to learn that the temperatures in winter (esp. in the Southern part of the island) rarely drop below minus five celcius.

 

Below you'll find pictures of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle (a must-do day trip in the outskirts of the capital), and further afield in the south of the island (admiring many waterfalls, mountains, as well as a fun speed boat trip around the icebergs of Jökulsárlón).

 

Quick travel tips:

  • In Reykjavik, we stayed in the second floor flat of this apartment building. It was tight for five people but comfortable and very well situated. We rented its car as well. Worked out great.
  • During our "South of Iceland" expedition we stayed at one of the cottages of the Vellir farm. Amenities were good though dinner was pricey.
  • If you want a great meal in Reykjavik I highly recommend the Around the World menu at the Fish Company.
  • We didn't end up doing it but I heard that the boat tour of Vestmannaeyar is really great.
  • Roads are good, internet is fast, people are nice, weather is... variable. Can't have everything! :-)
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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342036 2011-12-20T02:18:00Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z Four Parks in Five Days

After a great time in Vegas attending Minecon, our family took a road trip to some of the most beautiful and fascinating national parks in the Western US: Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, and Death Valley.

By far the most spectacular of the parks is the Grand Canyon. Its sheer size defeats any attempt to capture its magnificence in a picture. You just have to see it. We spent our day first at the National Geographic visitors center (the IMAX movie is worth it), then visiting many vista points along the south rim. Everywhere you stop a new view of the canyon takes your breath away.

Hotel-wise we were very happy with the rooms & amenities at the Best Western Grand Canyon: conveniently close to the park, plus not every hotel has pool tables and its own bowling alley. Great fun with kids!


Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are close together but worlds apart. Bryce's myriad stone spires make the park the more visually appealing of the two but our boys enjoyed climbing and exploring Zion more. Both are well worth a visit, you can stay at either park. Not knowing that up front, we chose Zion. The town is pretty and larger than I'd expected. We stayed at the Quality Inn. It was a little spartan but the price was great, breakfast good, wifi free, and the people very friendly. Dinner at the Spotted Dog Cafe was delicious and surprisingly affordable with kids.


Death Valley's strange landscapes and salt flats made us feel that we'd gone back in time a few billions years. Visiting in late November, the temperatures were very comfortable.

Lodging was a disappointment though. With no competition, Furnace Creek Ranch charges double what rooms are worth. If you make a long day of it, you can see most of Death Valley's attractions so you may want to stay off park. While we're at it, fill up your gas tank before entering Death Valley, or do so at Stovepipe Wells. The prices we saw at Furnace Creek hovered at a sweltering $5.50/gallon!


If you're driving from Las Vegas, set aside a day to get to each park (except Bryce & Zion which are two hours apart). Don't worry, you won't spend the whole day in the car: at some point the scenery along the way will be just too tempting...

 

A final tip: Buy a National Parks Annual Pass. At $80 this quickly pays for itself as the cost of a park entry is $25/day and, in some parks, card holders can take advantage of faster entry lane.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342047 2011-12-12T15:03:00Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z A Fortnight in Belgium

Being in Belgium reminded me that it was high time I blogged some summer pictures. We spent two lovely weeks in the small Belgian seaside town of Wenduine.

We swam in the North Sea (chilly but nowhere near as cold as Northern California's Pacific Ocean), played on the big sandy beaches, pedaled our go-carts madly around town, visited Bruges and Brussels, spent time with friends & family, and of course… Ate waffles!

The painting is Pieter Bruegel's "The Fight between Carnival and Lent", created in 1559. This is just a small part of the wonderfully detailed canvases Bruegel produced. As you can see, even back then waffles were a big deal here! :-)

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342062 2011-11-09T04:57:01Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z Fairmont Royal York, Toronto

Tried to capture the atmosphere of this stately hotel, the largest in the British Empire when it was built in 1929.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342077 2011-07-28T07:07:00Z 2013-10-08T16:34:46Z A Weekend in Quebec

I recently traveled to Montreal on business and, having never experienced Quebec before, I stayed over the weekend. Like most of North America, a heatwave was gripping the area and sunshine abounded.

When I asked my Montreal friends for recommendations of things to do, their suggestions almost invariably involved eating. "You have to try poutine!", "Montreal has *real* bagels," and "You should definitely stop at Schwartz's, it's an institution." (Sadly Schwartz's wasn't yet open for business when I visited. Tip: don't get there before 10:30 in the morning)

Friday evening I spent visiting the Vieux Montreal, the oldest, most touristy section of Montreal. Quaint cobblestone streets and old buildings. The Notre Dame basilica is worth visiting. I had my first poutine at a restaurant called, you'll never guess, Montreal Poutine. So what it this famous delicacy? A culinary masterpiece of fries smothered in gravy and cottage cheese (i.e. cheese curds). It wasn't that bad, but not really that enjoyable either. I expect this may well be my last poutine. The bagels were good.

On Saturday I walked over 15 miles, most of them in the company of a German tourist, Frederik, who I ran into in the morning. Having someone to enjoy the sights with made it all the more fun. We first explored the Mont Royal, a large hill just north west of the Vieux Montreal with great views of the city. On the other side of the hill is the biggest cemetery I've ever visited. It's well maintained and I took pleasure in wandering through it on our way to Saint Joseph's Oratory, one of the most famous churches in Montreal. A walk down Sherbrooke Street rounded out the afternoon with visits to McGill University and the Museum of Fine Arts (which is free BTW, I love it when a government sponsors learning!). In the evening I thoroughly enjoyed a hilarious rendition of Moliere's play Les Fouberies de Scapin.

Sunday was time for a change. I wanted to get out of Montreal and experience some of Quebec's beautiful countryside. So I set out for Mont Tremblant, one of the highest peaks in the area at 900m (3000ft) and about 2 hours' drive north. The area is very pretty and resembles a cross between Switzerland and Norway. After visiting the summit by gondola, I headed over to the national park (which is over half the size of Luxemburg!) for five hours of climbing a via ferrata. Our group of eight had great fun.

All in all I had a wonderful time, not least of which because Montreal is the first place I've been in North America where I can speak French to almost everyone. I just wish the rest of my family had been with me!

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342092 2011-06-07T04:08:25Z 2013-10-08T16:34:46Z Flying over the Bay Area
This May my friend and fellow pilot Serge and I flew from Oakland airport to Half Moon Bay to visit the Pacific Coast Dream Machines faire. While the faire itself was nothing special, flying in the Bay Area is always a treat. We flew in Serge's Piper Cherokee, which Serge has flown all over the world (well, nearly :-) including crossing the Atlantic twice. I'd never piloted a Cherokee and enjoyed the experience, esp. since it's more powerful than the Cessna 172 I'm used to. 

Pictures below: Downtown San Francisco & Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Ocean Beach, New (expensive!) Bay Bridge, and the Transamerica Pyramid.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342102 2011-04-08T06:55:31Z 2013-10-08T16:34:46Z Spectacular Panoramic Google Earth A few weeks ago my eldest son Thomas and I visited one of our friends at Google. Andy was a very gracious host and gave us a great tour. We were both very impressed, esp. Thomas as this was his first visit to the Googleplex.

Probably the coolest part of our visit was playing with a six screen, 180 degree, panoramic version of Google Earth. It was amazing. Extremely fluid and fast, very easy to control, and the 3D buildings made it a truly awesome experience.

Here's ace pilot Thomas as he travels the world. Many thanks to my wife Katrine who did a great job creating a movie out of my poor footage.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342119 2011-03-22T06:02:06Z 2013-10-08T16:34:46Z Essential Long Term Travel Equipment Our family traveled extensively over the last eight months or so, spending two months in Europe (FranceItalySwitzerlandNorway) and another two in Australia. Check out the links if you want to see what a wonderful time we had :-)

Here's what ended up being essential equipment for us. I'll skip all the "you really don't need as many clothes as you'd think" advice. You can read that countless other places. (Though it's true, you really don't!).

External Wifi Card

This one's easy. I've already blogged about it. At $40 this gear helped us get online all over the place and was worth every penny.

12VDC Power Inverter

If you're planning to spend a lot of time driving during your vacation, one of these converters comes in really handy. You can charge laptops, iPads, iPods, camera batteries, DVD players, etc. They cost around $30.

Plug Converters and Power Strips

Traveling all over the place, you'll obviously need some converters. Can't say we've found any that we're crazy about but we took three of these with us and they held up pretty well. Bulky though. Bring a couple power strips with you too, you'll need them if you have anywhere near the level of gadgets we have. Why a couple? We've had at least one strip that couldn't take the 220VAC in Europe and consistently blew a fuse.

About Credit Cards
Call your credit card company before you leave and tell them
  • When you're leaving
  • When you're returning
  • What countries you'll be visiting
  • And that they better NOT decline your card when they see transactions from those countries 
If you keep your credit card receipts (you should!), bring a few envelopes with you. Put each country's or each location's receipts in a separate envelope. It'll make confirming that mystery purchase so much easier.

Teva Dozer Sandals

Love these sandals. Took them on a 7 week trip to Australia and wore them almost exclusively: beach, rain forest, desert, rocks, driving, and city. They performed admirably: lightweight, good grip, easy to slip on/off, stayed cool, and were still comfortable at the end of the day. FYI it took about a day for my feet to get used to them.

Toshiba Canvio 1TB Drives

These made great lightweight drives, run off USB, and aren't much larger than a pack of cards. My wife and I each had one to backup our Macbook Pros and provide additional storage. They're about $100 each.

A tip for safe data travel: swap drives while on the move. My wife and I backup regularly during our trips and when we travel she carries my drive, I carry hers. A loss of either of our backpacks doesn't lose all our data. Yes, I care about my laptop, but I care a lot more about the information that's on it.

GoPro HD Camera

Yes, that geek is me, diving off the Great Barrier Reef, with a GoPro on my head. If you're in to adventure sports, or just want a handy high quality wide angle HD camera, you'll be happy with the GoPro. For underwater use, get this housing.

iPad Apps
I love my iPad and it proved itself a great travel companion. Here are a few apps we liked:
  • GPS MotionX HD: A great GPS program, we used it a ton. Make sure you download maps well ahead of time because that external wifi card won't help your iPad get online :-)
  • AllSubway HD: If you're visiting a number of large cities, it's useful having these maps in one place
  • Wi-fi Finder: Can't say I've really used this yet, but it's on my iPad just the same. Internet connectivity is right up there with air, food, and water :-) Download the offline database before your trip starts
  • Living Earth: Wish I'd had this with me. It's a beautiful world map and weather app
  • Star Walk: Not a travel app but a wonderful way to admire new stars and make new friends (seeing the app in action attracts people like moths to a flame)
  • If multiple people will be using the iPad, install a few browsers and assign one to each person. That way your facebook, twitter, gmail cookies won't get mixed up
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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342131 2011-01-20T23:28:14Z 2013-10-08T16:34:46Z San Francisco and Bay Bridge from Treasure Island
After many years of thinking about it, I finally got round to visiting Treasure Island. Lying between San Francisco and Oakland it was originally created from fill in the 1930s. The island was mainly occupied by the Navy and has only recently been donated to San Francisco. Nowadays it's a mix of residential housing, hangars, fields, and derelict places. My favorite landmark was a "Genetic Reclamation Area" sign.

Why go there? For spectacular views of the Bay and, if you're willing to explore, you can drive down to the base of the Bay Bridge and see some of the impressive construction work going on.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342138 2011-01-10T12:07:37Z 2013-10-08T16:34:47Z Sydney: A Splendid City
Having been in Australia for six weeks we wrapped up our trip in its largest city: Sydney. A lovely place, it reminded us of our own San Francisco: Huge bridge, bay, hills, good weather (better in Sydney I think, summers are warm here!), and both have very expensive housing markets. There are differences too: Sydney feels a lot more livable and relaxed than San Fran. It's cleaner too. I'd say San Fran is a tad prettier though. Oh, and for anyone who's braved the frigid waters of northern California... The ocean here is a lot warmer!

There's tons to do in Sydney, more than we could ever hope to fit into six days. We were also a little lower on energy than at the start of our trip so we took things easy. We celebrated my wife Katrine's birthday with a seafood lunch cruise (with Thomas Cook Cruises, not bad) and a circus performance at the Opera House (Le Grand Cirque Adrenaline: excellent). We also spent a couple days with friends in Manly and near Bondi beach (which we didn't visit). 

We mostly stayed close to our apartment which was well located just north of Chinatown, and enjoyed visiting Darling Harbour, the downtown area, and its parks. The Sydney Tower is worth it for the panoramic view and the Aquarium and Wildlife World are sure to please young and old alike, esp. with the cool Lego displays. If you like shopping check out the open market at The Rocks (neighborhood at the base of the Harbour Bridge). It's on every Saturday and Sunday, and there are lots of stalls to tempt you (we were won over by a didgeridoo).

Travel tips:
  • Visit the Opera House from the inside as well as the outside, check out the shows for any you might like (there's more than just opera!)
  • We enjoyed our cruise but you can get some very nice pics just by taking the ferry to Manly (bonus: they have free wifi on the upper deck!)
  • Manly is worth a stop: it's a lovely little seaside neighborhood with a very relaxed feel and a great beach
  • Contrary to San Fran in the summer you will likely get some rain but, even when heavy, it doesn't seem to last very long
  • Buy a combined ticket for these four attractions (Aquarium, Wildlife World, Tower, and Manly Aquarium), you'll save a lot and these are worth visiting. Well, the first three definitely are, we didn't have time to visit the fourth having spent all our time at Manly beach!
  • We didn't visit Taronga Zoo. We've heard many good things about it, both the animals and views, but we felt like we'd covered all the Aussie fauna already and didn't want to see boring old elephants, giraffes, and lions :-)
  • We stayed in a serviced apartment, the Sydney Waldorf Apartment Hotel. We'd stay there again: the location was excellent, the amenities fair, and $250/night for a two bedroom flat at peak tourist season is a great deal
  • Make sure you find out what's on in Sydney when you visit. As with any large city, there are always events, exhibitions, concerts, etc. to enjoy. In January for example Sydney puts on a month long festival of the arts

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342149 2011-01-05T02:37:37Z 2013-10-08T16:34:47Z Fraser Island: The World's Biggest Sand Island
Slowly making our way south to Brisbane we decided to visit Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. Fraser's a pretty unique place: over 1,000 square miles of sand with rain forests, fresh water lakes, dunes, mangroves, swamps, the purest strain of dingo in Australia and much more. Life is so abundant here thanks in large part to fungi in the sand which release nutrients for plants to absorb.

We chose a two day tour of the island via Queensland Bookings. We were picked up at our hotel on the mainland in Hervey Bay, bused to a ferry terminal, and then on to Fraser itself. The buses have a high clearance and, I assume, four wheel drive to able to negotiate all the sandy roads. Day one mainly consisted of stops at Lake Wabbi and Lake McKenzie. They were both delightful to swim in, esp. McKenzie whose waters were cool and blue. Diving to its bottom (depth 10-15 meters?) I startled some turtles rooting about its bed.

We stayed overnight at Eurong Station. The accommodations were very spacious but be aware that there is no AC here. Eurong uses generators to supply it with electricity and air conditioning would draw too much power. The fans kept us pretty cool though.

The second day we drove up and down Fraser's east coast highway... its beach of course :-) We saw what was left of the 1930s Maheno wreck, the colored sands further on, the view from Indian Heads, and cooled off in a delightfully refreshing creek. Thomas and I took a plane ride in an Air Van to admire the island from the air. As a pilot myself, this was a treat even if I didn't get to touch the controls ;-)

Travel tips:
  • There are many ways to see Fraser: in addition to 1, 2, and 3 day tours, you can also rent 4x4s and explore the island on your own. Use your favorite search engine to find options
  • It had rained the night before our arrival so the sand was moist. Turns out that was lucky because when the weather's very dry the sand can get everywhere. Protect your camera and other gear accordingly
  • There's plenty of food at the resorts and (on the second day) on the bus but it never hurts to have extra snack, esp. if you have kids
  • Sunscreen!

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342154 2011-01-02T22:42:03Z 2013-10-08T16:34:47Z Sailing the Whitsundays in a 100 year old ship
The Whitsundays, a large collection of islands off the east coast of Australia are a famous destination for tourists and sailors alike. There are hundreds of idyllic beaches and coves dotted around the islands, and a good number of resorts as well. Though you can rent your own sailing ship to tour the islands, we decided we'd have more fun letting more qualified sailors do the work!

We booked a three day / three night trip on the Solway Lass and were as taken by her as with the islands. Originally built in Holland, the Lass has had an exciting life that includes serving in both world wars as well as trading throughout the South Pacific. She moved to the Whitsundays about 10 years ago and was renovated for the tourism industry. That means her quarters were reasonably comfortable (with a decent AC system) but not up to the quality of our cabins on our Great Barrier Reef diving trip.

We had a great time. The first day was rainy which unfortunately didn't make for the best snorkeling conditions but we still saw plenty of marine life. Just as fun was the rope swing and diving off the bow, our boys couldn't get enough. The crew were always friendly and took good care of us. The second and third days were beautifully sunny and included island exploration, esp. the famous Whitehaven Beach, voted one of the top ten beaches in the world.

Perhaps the nicest aspect of the trip was the great company we had on board: a Danish bartender, British-Kiwi affiliate marketeers, a US investment banker, a German Nightwish groupie, a Brazilian environmental engineer... We loved getting to know everyone.

Travel tips:
  • Book well in advance, at least a month or two to make sure you get the cabin you want
  • The snorkeling gear onboard is OK but they don't have flippers, bring your own if that really matters to you
  • There's very little space on board so pack lightly. The good news is that you don't need much
  • Bring a few dry snacks (cookies, chocs, chips) in case you get peckish between meals (esp. if you have children)
  • Don't forget your sunscreen!
  • Have dinner before you board, your first on the ship is at 10PM that night
  • You can leave your car parked in the marina lot, it was pretty safe
  • Consider booking a room in or around Airlie Beach for the night of your return

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342170 2010-12-29T23:19:19Z 2013-10-08T16:34:47Z The Beautiful Atherton Tablelands
The Tablelands are a fertile set of plateaus to the West of Cairns in the North Eastern tip of Australia. It's a lush, verdant land with red red earth, rain forests, plains, hills, and much beauty. We spent a couple weeks in and around Atherton, the Tablelands' capital, and had a wonderful time (thanks to some great recommendations by friends).

Things to do:
  • The waterfalls! We visited in the "wet" (aka summer) and, thanks to recent rains, the waterfalls were in full bloom. Two are pictured below. The largest is Millaa Millaa falls, the smaller Malanda Falls. You can swim in both and it's a wonderfully refreshing experience...
  • ... As is swimming in crater lakes such as Eacham and Barrine (below). A remnant of the region's volcanic past the water is clean and free of crocs
  • Mount Hypipamee's crater is more impressive still but you can't swim in it
  • The Barron River cuts through the Tablelands, literally, giving rise to the Barron Falls which are over 200m high in places
  • There are unique fig trees in the area. Pictured below is the Curtain Fig tree. There's also a Cathedral Fig tree but we didn't have time to visit it
  • Yungaburra and Tolga both have large fruit bat colonies. Yungaburra also has a monthly arts and craft market
  • Keen on Aussie wildlife, Aborigine customs, and the rain forest? Take a day trip to Rainforestation, our boys had a blast there and, considering all you get to do, it was great value for money (more than Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo IMO). We took all three "tours" they offer and highly recommend a visit. BTW that's a cassowary, a dingo, and a saltwater croc below
  • If you're a World War II buff there's a decent museum on the road between Atherton and Mareeba, though a little pricey
  • The Crystal Caves is a shop / museum in Atherton. If you're really into rocks I'd take the self guided tour, otherwise just check out all that's on display in the shop
  • This list is far from comprehensive!

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342182 2010-12-22T23:08:33Z 2013-10-08T16:34:47Z The Beautiful Chillagoe Caves
Chillagoe is an outback town about 3-4 hrs west of Cairns in Northern Queensland, Australia. Formerly a mining and smelting town, it's now famous for its spectacular limestone caves. There are apparently hundreds of caves in the area, many quite small. 

Three caves have guided tours and we visited all of them. We not only enjoyed seeing and learning about the beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, shrouds, pools, false floors and more, but it was also cool to see the caves' fauna such as different species of bats, huntsman spiders, and even a spotted python. 

Well worth a visit if you're in the area, our boys loved it.

Travel tips:
  • The caves' aspect will depend significantly on the time of year: during the dry you'll have full access but the walls won't sparkle, during the wet you will see calcite crystals sparkle, you may see waterfalls... and you may not be able to enter at all due to flooding
  • Given the last point it definitely makes sense to call the Chillagoe Tourist Office ((07) 4094 7163) esp. if you're traveling there between Feb and April
  • Don't know if it ever gets cold in the caves but we were quite comfortable in shorts and t-shirst when we visited in December
  • After a visit, climb up to the top of the rocks to admire the view and check out some of the caves "from above" (be careful!)
  • The aboriginal paintings are few in number, really faded and not worth bothering with
  • More information on the caves at the state park site
  • We stayed overnight at the Chillagoe Eco-Lodge and Observatory. The new managers were super nice and the rooms decent. Chatting with other guests and locals was an added bonus.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342185 2010-12-21T13:52:00Z 2013-10-08T16:34:47Z Saving a Flying Fox and Pup
Australia isn't only home to many beautiful birds, it's also home to many species of bat. An everyday occurrence for many Australians, seeing flying foxes in the skies at dusk, was a magical moment for our family. This just doesn't happen in California!

A few days later we were visiting friends who live next door to a bat colony. Walking under the canopy we spotted something all too common these days: a fruit bat struggling on the ground. She wasn't alone either: a pup was desperately clinging to its mother.

Mum was slowly dying from a paralysis tick bite: most Australian animals have built up immunity to its venom but not bats. Since the introduction of the tobacco plant twenty (?) odd years ago, the bats now come into contact with these ticks. Why? Because the flying foxes like the fruit of the tobacco plants, which are much shorter than the other fruit trees they frequent. Since they're shorter, ticks jump from forest animals like wallabies onto the plants, along comes a fruit bat, and...

The bat we found had a single tick on it. Our friend removed it but the damage was done: she didn't think the mother would make it, nor would the pup if we didn't do something about it.

Wrapped in a blanket we rushed both of them to the local bat hospital: a group of very dedicated individuals working hard to rehabilitate sick, injured, and orphaned bats.

The good news? They gave mum an antidote and she recovered! Both mother and daughter are now doing well and when we returned a few days later, the pup had been moved to an external cage.

Sadly, unless bats build up immunity to the ticks, I don't see their future very bright. A shame as they're beautiful creatures.

Here's a short video of the bats we saved...

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342190 2010-12-20T12:09:05Z 2013-10-08T16:34:47Z So this is one of those Infamous Cane Toads?
Australia has an unfortunate history of introduced species running rampant and devastating native flora and fauna. Years ago it was rabbits. These days it's the cane toad (bufo marinus). Originally from Central and South America, the Australian toads were introduced in 1935 from Hawaii to eat beetles attacking sugar canes. Only two problems: one, the toads apparently don't like living in the cane fields; two, they're toxic and have no known predators in Australia. Indeed indigenous fauna such as lizards have declined from eating the toads. 

The toads are all over Queensland and rapidly moving into all Australian states. More proof that we humans are pretty poor at playing God.

That's one grumpy-looking toad.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342194 2010-12-02T01:23:18Z 2013-10-08T16:34:48Z More Diving in the Great Barrier Reef Our three day live aboard adventure is over and we had a wonderful time. Snorkeling turned out to be just as fun as diving: we could be with our children and close to the surface colors just pop out. The boys had a blast, seeing fish, small sharks, and even swimming with and petting a turtle.

If you're looking for a diving adventure, we recommend Pro Dive Cairns: the crew were friendly, enthusiastic, and professional, the accommodations good, and the dive sites excellent.

For an affordable stay in Cairns, we really liked Tropic Days Inn. It has great atmosphere with hammocks, a swimming pool, musical instruments, pool table, etc. The owner, Gabriel, was incredibly helpful and made us feel at home. He also owns a sister hotel in Cairns, the Travellers Oasis.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342198 2010-11-29T20:49:07Z 2013-10-08T16:34:48Z Diving the Great Barrier Reef Day 1 We're having a fantastic experience diving the Great Barrier Reef. The water is clear and warm. The fish are abundant. The corals beautiful.

Katrine and I are diving while our sons snorkel. They're full of excitement every time they return from the sea: "We saw this fish", "It was so big", "I saw a nemo fish, but it was black, so it was probably evil" :-)

Pro Dive, the Cairns-based operator we picked has been great so far. One difference with other companies is that we stay on the same boat all the time instead of transferring to a bigger boat moored permanently on the reef. This lets us get to know the crew and other passengers much better.

Biggest fish so far: a large barracuda (1.5m?) was very inquisitive during our night dive. 

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342201 2010-10-13T12:22:27Z 2013-10-08T16:34:48Z Norwegian Adventure Park: Høyt og Lavt
Høyt og Lavt (High and Low) is a large adventure park filled with ziplines (some over 600m long!), rope ladders, high wire bridges, and much more. About 1.5 hours' drive from Oslo it provided a fun filled day for two dads and five kids aged 9 to 13. The park is well worth a visit if you enjoy physical activity and aren't afraid of heights. There are eleven courses of varying difficulty to choose from, including some easy & low ones for littles kids.

No word on whether the park was named for a-ha's debut album :-)

Travel tips:
  • Dress in layers. We went in cool autumn but some of the courses really get you moving!
  • Bring gloves. Unlike similar parks we've been to in Switzerland, Høyt og Lavt doesn't provide any
  • There's a snack bar but you can pack your lunch and use some of the many picnic tables
  • You will be tempted by some of the tougher courses. They're fun but be careful if you bend the rules to bring your kids along. My 11 year old son Thomas completed most of the course rated 16 year old / 160cm minimum but only because he's tall and strong. A shorter kid in front of us had to be rescued!

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342203 2010-10-10T22:27:37Z 2013-10-08T16:34:48Z Boats of Venice
Gondolas, of course, are a big part of what makes Venice special. Popular and numerous as they may be, they're far from the one only boats on the canals. One of the games we enjoyed playing with our sons was trying to spot new types of watercraft. Ambulance boats, garbage boats, package delivery boats, bus boats (the famous vaporetti), and more all ply their trades up and down the canals. The world is so different when there are no roads!

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/341994 2010-10-06T20:33:49Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z Reflections of Venice These are two of my favorite pics from Venice. Both are reflections in the waters that flood San Marco Square regularly (daily while we were there). They have a surreal quality to them and remind me (just a tiny bit!) of some of Magritte's paintings. No photoshopping involved.

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342005 2010-10-04T23:22:00Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z Venice at Dawn and Piazza San Marco
The downside of taking the night train from Rome to Venice is that you arrive very early, around 05:30. That's also an upside: you can admire Venice at dawn (the other advantage is not losing a day of vacation).

We rented a lovely apartment in Venice, right across from where Marco Polo lived long ago (which made for good educational opportunities with our sons :-). Fortunately the landlord was able to meet us early on a Sunday morning so we could drop off our bags, then it was off to Piazza San Marco, the principle square of Venice, to show the boys some of the beauty of the city.

One of the great things about Venice is that just going somewhere is an adventure given the novel boat-based public transportation system. Our sons enjoyed the trip down the Grand Canal, esp. lovely (and quiet!) in the early morning. We had fun trying to spot as many winged lions as possible, the symbols of Venice.

At the Piazza we admired the architecture, walked around, climbed the campanile (tall bell tower) to get a panoramic view of the city, and visited San Marco Cathedral's museum. All hits with young and not-quite-so-young :-)

Travel tips:
  • A travel pass is expensive but if if you're going to take a vaporetto (a "bus boat") more than twice a day, it's worth it. We paid 33 Euro for 3 days, the cost of a single ticket is 6.5 Euro
  • Pay attention to tides (and this site) if you want to see Piazza San Marco partially flooded, the most you're likely to see, but be ready to stand on crowded walk ways
  • The museum in San Marco's cathedral is well worth seeing for its view of the Piazza and its beautiful mosaics
  • Time your visit to the campanile with the top of the hour and you'll be treated to nice bell ringing (loud too!)
  • FYI, Sunday mornings the cathedral itself is close to tourists until 14:00 due to mass being held, though the museum is open
  • It's easy to get a little disoriented in Venice's streets. A GPS or GPS enabled phone (or in our case, iPad) is easiest, a compass can be quite useful, but just paying attention to signs saying "Per Rialto" or "Per San Marco" can often be good enough when navigating the city. Besides, it can be fun to get lost!

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342006 2010-10-02T18:47:24Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z More of Rome: Castles, Temples, Fountains, and Baths
We packed a lot into our last day in Rome. First off: a visit to the Castel Sant' Angelo, located near the Vatican. Originally Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum, it was turned into a castle and intended primarily to defend the Holy See. The castle is many leveled and a fun visit with kids. The boys particularly liked the balista, the old weapons on display, and the view from the top.

A walk across the Ponte Sant' Angelo brings you to the center of Rome. Be on the lookout for clumps of "wishful" padlocks people have attached to the railings, their version of throwing pennies in a fountain.

The Pantheon was next on our list. A temple to all the gods rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in AD126, it's another example of astounding Roman architecture. Its dome is huge, perfectly circular, and is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Its oculus (the open hole at the top) provides a surprising amount of light. Once you're at the Pantheon, it's a quick walk to famous Trevi Fountain (better than I expected) and Trajan's Column.

Our last stop took us south on public transportation to the Baths of Caracalla. These are a little off the beaten path but very interesting nonetheless. Completed around 216AD (thanks to 9,000 people working for 5 years!) the baths are huge. A center of Roman life, these were used to business and pleasure. What impressed me most is that Romans built these baths at all. They must have cost a pretty packet at a time when funds were needed across the empire to repel invaders, shore up defenses, build critical infrastructure, etc. Clearly Roman culture was a lot more than blood and gladiators.

Travel tips:
  • Though fairly packed, you can easily see these in a day (as always, bring water!)
  • You'll find many opportunities to grab a bite to eat around the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, etc. just avoid picking a place right next to the monuments or you'll certainly be paying for it
  • The Baths of Caracalla are south of the Colosseum, but not much. Check bus routes before setting out and you'll be fine getting there and back

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342012 2010-10-01T18:04:49Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z St Peter's and the Vatican
It's not everyday you can visit a country within a city. The Vatican is one of the world's smallest states with its own post office, gas station, supermarket... And, of course, church!

This was one of my favorite visits in Rome: the Vatican museum is stuffed with jaw-dropping artwork, primarily from Renaissance and Baroque periods. We took a guided tour and our guide was talented enough to (mostly!) keep our boys' attention on the art and its many backstories. St. Peter's was also impressive: not only is it the biggest cathedral in the world, it's also home to much art. One letdown: the Sistine Chapel. It may be an amazing work of art but it was way too dark in there to properly appreciate it.

Next time we're in Rome, I'd definitely put the Vatican museum on our list of activities, there's a ton to see.

Travel tips:
  • As with the Colosseum, Palatine, and Forum, plan on spending a whole day (and bring water)
  • Make sure you send a few postcards from the Vatican's two post offices, one on each side of St. Peter's
  • The post office on the right of St. Peter's as you exit has tables you sit at to write your postcards. While you're there, check out the Vatican bookshop next door
  • Postcards are much cheaper in the Vatican and there are pictures of sites all over Rome
  • Visit the Vatican museum first: this will avoid standing in line to see St. Peter's as you end up inside the cathedral at the end of your museum tour after the Sistine Chapel
  • Get a guide for the museum: you'll avoid the lines and it's money well spent. There are precious few signs & explanations in this huge museum, a good guide will increase your enjoyment tremendously
  • I liked climbing up to the top of St. Peter's: it only costs 5 euro and the view is great. You also get a view of the inside of the copula and afterwards you exit inside the church, so you may avoid 

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342015 2010-09-30T07:06:18Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z The Colosseum, Palatine, and Forum
At these three sites, all very close together, I finally got a good feel for the might of Rome. The sheer scale of the constructions, the engineering needed to build them, the beautiful art work, and the fact that so much is still standing after 2,000 years, is just amazing. 

Having just watched Gladiator with the boys, we were most excited by the Colosseum but the Palatine, and esp. the Forum with all its temples, also captured our interest. If you have kids, I strongly recommend you watch programs about Rome before you visit. Firing up their imaginations is one of the best things you can do. We also watched one of Rick Steves' videos, and the decent Ancient Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire. Hunting for Roman numerals turned out to be a surprise hit: the boys really enjoyed learning these concepts and still make up their own Roman math problems.

This was the first area we visited in Rome and made for a great start.

Travel tips:
  • To take pictures of the whole Colosseum, visit at midday so one side isn't in the shade
  • A guided visit may be nice but you can learn a lot just through the extensive explanations and exhibits (though this will likely be long for children)
  • If you buy a Roma pass, which gives you 3 days' unlimited travel on public transportation + 2 free museums, the Colosseum / Palantine / Forum counts as one visit and you can bypass the lines at the Colosseum
  • Bring food & drinks: you can easily spend the whole day here and the nearest food stalls are very expensive (in the summer bring lots of water!)
  • The Colosseum's bookstore has a great selection of books on Roman history, mythology, games, customs, etc. including an excellent children's section
  • Contrary to the Colosseum, there aren't many explanations / signs to read at the Palatine and Forum, so get guide or buy a book to help you better appreciate what you're seeing
  • You rent audio guides at many sites in Rome though we did see people listening to guides on their iPods (something to investigate...)

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342027 2010-09-19T18:19:56Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z High in the Swiss Alps We took a cable cabin high in the Swiss Alps, at the Pas de Maimbre above the resort of Anzere. After a few days of inclement weather, the sky was crystal clear, the air crisp, the view spectacular. The flag is that of the Valais, the "canton" (state) we're in. Thomas and I hiked down and came across a mountain pool with thousands of tadpoles all crowded at one end. When we touched them they swam away in waves, only to return a few minutes later. We have no idea why but it certainly was fun to play with them (and examine them closely!).

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342040 2010-09-17T21:07:50Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z Le Puy du Fou: A French Amusement Park
We toyed with visiting Eurodisney but in the end spent a whole day at Le Puy du Fou, a different kind of amusement park. Located in the Vendee region, about 200 miles south west of Paris, Le Puy du Fou park was founded over 30 years ago by locals who wanted to put on a show commemorating their history. Today, it's a large theme park that draws over a million visitors each year. Not only that, it's also a well-known school of the performing arts for the thousands of actors (many of them local teens and young adults) that participate in the shows.

Le Puy du Fou is different from other parks in the sense that it's composed of shows, not rides. When you arrive you're given a timetable of the day's events and can plan your visit around each of the spectacles you'd like to see: Musketeers, Knights, Vikings, Romans, and more. The main shows are elaborate and extravagant, rivaling any you might have seen elsewhere. Our favorite was the Roman one consisting of chariot races, gladiatorial battles, wild animals, and a few dead Christians. Another was a show where over a hundred birds of prey flew over our heads, including falcons swooping in at breakneck speeds from high in the sky.

In the evening we took in the "Cinescenie", the historical show I mentioned at the start of this post. Great fireworks, battles, and props were offset by longwinded dialog and slow parts. Worth seeing once IMO but no more.

All in all a fun, and very different, day.

Travel tips:
  • Probably obvious but plan on spending a whole day here, there's a lot to see
  • Book a week or more ahead and you'll get pretty sizable discounts
  • You're allowed bring food into the park if you want to save money
  • Pay close attention to the schedule, attend the shows in chronological order to make the most of your time
  • The Cinescenie starts between 22:00 and 22:30 and lasts over 1.5 hrs: make sure you're ready to stay up this late (or book into one of the adjoining, themed, hotels)
  • There's a strong Christian bent to many shows: Jeanne d'Arc figures in the medieval show, the Vikings are converted to Christianity by St. Cuthbert (who pops out of a big box), and the Christians eventually prevail in the Roman arena. Personally I could have done without this: Odin, Thor, Jupiter and Mars are all fine with me

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342056 2010-09-16T20:03:00Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z The Creepy Catacombs of Paris
After taking the boys to Notre Dame, the Eiffel tower, la Cite des Sciences, and even a strike, we thought we'd show them another side of Paris: the catacombs (cue scary music). There are miles, uhm, I mean kilometers of tunnels excavated under Paris. Why? Building materials. Many of the houses and monuments above ground are built with stones from below. This practice goes back two millennia, having started in Roman times.

In the late 18th century a different problem afflicted Paris: it was seriously running out of space in its cemeteries. The stench was unbearable, the well water contaminated, and Parisians demanded a solution. Putting two and two together, the mine officials excavated millions of old bones, stacked them in the tunnels... And opened the resulting catacombs to the public in the 19th century. All told over 6 millions Parisians are interred down there.

It's a fascinating experience but not for the claustrophobic or "people of a nervous disposition". In addition to bones, bones, and more bones, you'll see artwork left by the excavators, as well as many depressing sayings about death, dying, and the afterlife. The one below reads "Where is death? Always in the future or past. Barely present, it's already gone" (thanks to Thomas for the scary shadows :-)

If that isn't enough for you, visit the nearby (above ground) Montmartre Cemetery. Many famous people are buried there, including philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (notice the lipstick on the tomb).

Travel tips:
  • Bring a jacket or sweater
  • Make that a waterproof jacket since some sections of the catacombs have water dripping from the ceiling
  • Careful if you visit with small kids, our twins (9) found the visit a little too creepy
  • No restrooms down there, plan accordingly!
  • Bring a flashlight to peer down the many off-limit side passages
  • You resurface in a different place than you went down, so bring a map

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Paul Clip
tag:travel.cyberclip.com,2013:Post/342058 2010-09-16T08:51:39Z 2013-10-08T16:34:45Z La Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie
The City of Science and Industry is a huge museum complex full of interactive exhibits, it's the largest science museum in Europe. We learned about astronomy, space travel, and light, we fired a water powered rocket varying its fuel to find the optimal weight, we discussed statistics and gaussian curve, and much much more. Outside the museum is a large sphere, the Geode, which serves as an IMAX theater, it's a beautiful structure. A little further is a decommissioned submarine that you can self-guided walk through, very cool. All in all a fun day of learning.

Travel tips:
  • Plan on spending a whole day here, there's lots to see and do (we only managed two thirds of the exhibits)
  • Though the main language is French, many of the exhibits have English and German explanations
  • You can eat inside the museum, prices are reasonable
  • The submarine and Geode are both worth seeing (we enjoyed a 3D film on marine dinosaurs, you can get headsets for other languages)
  • September is the quietest month to visit as its back to school month and classroom field trips haven't started yet
  • That said, the first two weeks in September La Cite des Enfants (City of/for Children) is closed. It's apparently very fun for the younger kids

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Paul Clip