Thursday, June 24, 2010

France: Train strike! Stranded in Hendaye

I never thought I’d get affected by a train strike in France. We always hear about these strikes in the news. But since we’re thousands of miles away, it never really affected us.

I should be in Bordeaux by now. But unfortunately, I’m stuck in Hendaye, the first train station after the border between Spain and France.

Everything was going as planned. I left Madrid Chamartin at 10:30 p.m. and got off at Valladolid Campo Grande at 1:20 a.m. to change trains. Then I boarded the train for Hendaye at 1:54 a.m. It all worked like clockwork. Trains left on time and arrived on time.

We were scheduled to arrive in Hendaye at 7:10 a.m. where I was to change trains for Bordeaux. I was a bit groggy but I noticed we stopped moving at about 7 a.m. at Irun, the last station of Spain.

By 7:10 a.m., passengers were getting restless. Obviously, we all had trains to catch in Hendaye. Then came in one of the train staff announcing that the train could move no further and would not be able to proceed to Hendaye because of a train strike in France!

We were advised to get off and take a taxi to Hendaye which was nearby. The taxi cost was €11,50 which I got to share with three other passengers. We crossed the invisible border, so invisible in fact that I did not realize were already in France until the driver pointed to the Hendaye Station. So I’m stuck here in Hendaye, no train to Bordeaux, hoping to get on board a 2:10 p.m. provisional TGV to Paris that will pick up all the stranded passengers along the way.

Unfortunately, there are no buses. I had this wild idea since I saw an Avis car rental across the street. But there were no available cars. Crap! I’m really stuck!

Update: The TGV did arrive and I'm now in Bordeaux!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Portugal: ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee meets in Douro Valley, Portugal

If you've noticed, updates have been quite scarce. That's because I'm currently in Europe and I'm using all the time I have to explore. Plus Internet access is not easy to come by. Anyway, I represent the Philippines in the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee (ICTC). And every year, the committee meets, usually in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ICOMOS ICTC 2010 Annual Meeting was in Lamego in the Douro Valley, Portugal. It also coincided with the International Conference on World Heritage Status: Opportunities for Economic Gain for Tourism Destinations – The Case of the Douro Valley which we also got to attend last June 17.

I'll tell you more about the trip in the coming days. The good news is, the 2012 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS ICTC will be in the Philippines! I'm very happy our colleagues voted to accept our invitation.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Indonesia: Nightlife and Surfing in Kuta & Legian Beach, Bali

The Kuta and Legian areas are the tourist centers of Bali. The area is very popular for both its nightlife and surfing. As soon as I arrived in Kuta from Ubud, I set out to find some budget accommodation near Poppies Gang 1 and 2 which are two popular alleyways where many of the budget accommodation are located. I found a reasonable hotel right beside the Bali Bombings Memorial.

Being a very popular tourist attraction in Indonesia, Bali was most definitely prone to terrorist attacks. And the unfortunate incident happened in 2002 killing 202 people, 152 of them foreigners. Bali has moved forward from then and is very much alive and kicking. A monument now stands in what was Paddy's Pub on Legian Street. At the memorial, the names of all the fatalities are carved on a large black marble plaque in the memorial.

I spent the rest of the night walking around the area with its vibrant nightlife.

The next morning, I explored Legian Beach (some refer to it as Kuta Beach) where most of the surfing activity happens. It's quite obvious that surfing is a major thing in Bali since there are dozens of shops that sell surf boards, surfing equipment or offer lessons. Plus the beach is lined with piles of surfboards and trainers offering lessons to those around the beach. And one look at the water, you'll see hundreds of surfers waiting for the next wave.

To bad I couldn't really do much that morning since my flight back to Kuala Lumpur was later that day. But Bali is most definitely one island you must visit in your lifetime!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Indonesia: Road trip around Bali (Part 3) Pura Besakih, the Mother Temple at Besakih

Pura Besakih or the Mother Temple of Besakih is the most important Hindu temple in Bali. Located on the south slopes of Mount Agung, Pura Besakih probably dates back to the 14th century.

This was the last stop of my road trip around Bali, northeastern Bali to be exact. Being the most sacred of temples, a sarong is definitely required. To blend in with the locals, I also got myself a traditional Balinese head scarf.

The driver dropped me off at the parking lot and warned me not to entertain the offers of ojek drivers to the top since they will overcharge me being a tourist. It was quite tempting actually since it's quite a walk from the vehicle parking up to the main entrance of the temple. The hike will definitely let you break a sweat.

Pura Besakih is actually a complex of twenty-two temples that sit on parallel ridges. It's on the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

You'll definitely see a lot of locals there, a perfect place to observe daily life in Bali as hundreds make their way to the temple daily to worship, pray and make offerings. It's enchanting as well as serene, especially as a thin blanket of fog makes its way down to the temple late in the afternoon.

Again, be prepared for a lot of walking because the walk from the entrance all the way to the top of the temple is no joke. There are some restricted areas though. And unless you know how to speak Bahasa Indonesia or are a Hindu visiting the temple to worship, the guards won't let you in the other parts which is reserved for worship.

Pura Besakih was the last stop on my Bali road trip. It took about two hours to get back to Ubud, just in time for me to catch my bus back to Kuta.

So when you visit Bali, make sure you allot a day or two for road travel around the island. There was still a lot to see like Tanah Lot, Uluwatu and Taman Ayun Temples in the southwestern part of Bali very close to Kuta. Unfortunately, I had no more time. I hope to come back again for another visit!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Indonesia: Road trip around Bali (Part 2) Mount Batur & Lake Batur, Gunung Agung and lunch by the rice terraces

One of the best views of Bali is that of Mount Batur and Lake Batur (Gunung Batur and Danau Batur) from Penelokan and Kintamani. You can reach these areas when you do a road trip around Bali. The best way to get around is by hiring a vehicle which is both the most convenient and most affordable option.

In Penelokan, the winding mountain road provides grand views of Mount Batur, an active 1,717 meter-high (5,633ft) volcano. We stopped over every now and then for me to take photos of the picturesque view of the volcano and the lake.

At 3,142 meters (10,308 feet), Gunung Agung or Mount Agung is the highest point on Bali. On the slopes of Mount Agung is the holiest of Bali temples, the Pura Besakih or Mother Temple.

Before proceeding to the Mother Temple in Besakih, I had a buffet lunch at the Mahagiri Panoramic Resort and Restaurant in Rendang Village, Karangasem, again by the suggestion of my driver. It offers a fantastic view of the rice terraces at the foot of Mount Agung, and Mount Agung itself. My driver stressed that these were the best terraces in the world. He hasn't been to Ifugao obviously. But he could be right about it being one of the most-visited since they are readily accessible to tourists.

The Indonesian buffet selection is quite good. I feasted on sate as always. The buffet was about Rp80,000. From there, we proceeded to Besakih to visit the Mother Temple.
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