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I’ve discovered that there’s perhaps more joy in returning to a place than in visiting it for the first time. At least that’s the case if you’ve lived in a place, left it and come back. Our mind favours good memories over bad, so we rediscover former homes through rose-coloured lenses.
With that in mind, let me tell you about some of my favourite spots in Dublin:
Trinity College - I had the good fortune to walk through this gorgeous, 500-year-old campus every day for most of the time I spent in Dublin. Today I walked through it at dusk, and the light hitting the campanile that stands near the entrance was beautiful. I have fond memories of pausing on my walks home to watch rugby practices and sometimes cricket on the rugby ground and College Park.
Merrion Square - Is there a finer block-long park in the western world? Walk through it during a rainstorm, and its smells like a jungle. It's a tremendously charming place, with its well-tended flora and peculiar statuary.
It is a macabre paean to the Victorian era in all its splendour. Nearly hidden behind the Dail (the Irish Parliament), it's a fantastic Victorian building. The stuffed bestiary that resides inside is beyond compare. Most of the animals are inside glass cases, and each is fastidiously labelled with the name and date of death and purchase by museum. They go on and on and on. There is every animal under the sun in here. And it's not just mammals either--there are four floors, and two of them just have birds and fish and insects aplenty.The second floor window of the Winding Stair Bookstore - It's as bohemian as a cafe gets in Dublin, and despite the uncomfortable benches is an oasis of casual calm in the centre of the city. I wonder, is it named after Yeat's poem, or did Yeats name his poem after the cafe? Probably, but not definitely, the former. Sadly, it recently closed.
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...like everywhere else, you have to start by not passing judgement based on YOUR paradigm of "how the world oughta be".
Warning: I am french. You might think I am biased, and you'd probably be right. Technically though I have spent more than half my life living outside of france, so I consider myself pretty broad minded and open to self criticism.
Now that I got that out of the way, let me share with you my own view of "les francais", hoping that it will make your trip to france (assuming you are going there) all the more enjoyable.
First myth. The french aren't just "rude" to tourists. I also experience that apparent rudeness. Here I'm not talking about stock standard rudeness - that exists the world over, and particularly in big, busy cities like Paris where a lot of people can struggle with day to day existance and being nice is low on their list of priorities.
The "rudeness" I'm talking about is what you experience at that first interaction in a cafe, a shop, on the sidewalk etc.
The best way to put it is like this. The french don't believe that they should treat you in any special way because (a) you're a tourist and (b) you are spending money in their cafe/shop/country. The notion of 'customer service' is still in its infancy back home. YOU and the cafe waiter are on equal terms. Simple. The fact that your tip contributes to his wellbeing is more or less a given, his job, that's what I'm paid to do. So he will treat you like any stranger. And in france, that often starts with a bit of distance, testing you.
I can't begin to explain how many places I've been to where after a few tense words I found the 'hook' that turned a cold face into a warm smile, a hand laid on my shoulder, good hearted banter and a firm handshake at the end of the evening. There is no recipe for the 'hook', other than treating people respectfully and politely, acknowledging that they may have very good reasons for having a bad day, and being genuinely interested in who they are, and not what they do.
So here's my tip for the day. If you want to be pampered and 'yes sir right away' then I can think of a 100 better places to go than france. If you are ready to shed your pre-conceptions, take the rough with the smooth and treat people as equals even when they don't return the favour, I think you will experience a people that can surprise you, interest you, and treat you with a real kindness that will make your trip memorable.
Chile is definitely a place to visit. The good thing with this country is that, with 4000 kilometers long, you can see almost every landscape you can imagine, from the dryiest place on earth (Atacama desert) to the ice desert of "Tierra del Fuego" (Spanish for "Land of Fire").
If you plan to go there late 2006, I guess it's not warm enough to visit the southern part of Chile, the best season being January to March - summer season. I also recommend the 8th region and below (South and Far South regions), including Patagonia, Chiloe and the Lake region.
I spent a few weeks visiting the Far North last year (June-July). Some places like San Pedro de Atacama are worth visiting. It's a cute little village in the middle of the Salar de Atacama. We stayed in Hotel Kimal (http://www.kimal.cl/index_i.htm), a bit expensive but it has everything you need (and more: spa) and the osners are nice. There's a lot of tours organized for visitors: Valley of the Moon, Tatio Geysers, Salar de Atacama, and some volcanoes treckings. The Landscape is simply unbelievable.
Other places worth visiting up in the north are: Parinacota village (Lauca National Park, 1st Region), Humberstone salpeter works (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1178), Giant geoglyphs at Pintados, near Iquique.
I've posted the photos of this trip in my Flickr photosets: http://www.flickr.com/photos/99155568@N00/sets/652441/
Let me know if you're deciding to go to Chile.
One last thing: Chileans are sooooo nice! I've never met such a nice people. They're always glad to help you.
Zorbing is great. It's not something that you can really explain or try to compare to anything else, it's just fun. You get done at the bottom, you're soaking wet, smiling, laughing, and wanting to do it again. If you have any questions about things to do or see there, I've travelled throughout the country all tolled for over 7 months now. It's a fantastic place to be. For images, check out my website: http://homepage.mac.com/jasonkearns/nz or email if you have any questions about things to do, places to stay, whathaveyou.
Before China's capital was called Beijing, it was known as Peking... which is where that famous duck comes from. Just like going to New York for infamous thin crust pizza, there are just as many places to get Peking Duck in Beijing. When I was there in March, we went to a restaurant chain called, Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant. This place has been in existence since 1864 and since has opened 5 additional restaurants with similar names. Unlike the peking duck you get in the states, the serving and preparation comes from 13th century China, when only the upper classes could afford it.
When they bring the duck out, a carver (wearing a surgeon's mask) rolls out a cart and cuts the duck in front of you. We were told that expert carvers can consistently cut a duck into 120 pieces, with each piece having a section of meat and a section of crispy skin. Amazing. I can barely cut a turkey into 10 pieces without the whole thing falling apart. Throw in those thin pancakes, some scallions and a little hoisin sauce and you're in HEAVEN!!!
If you're in Beijing, don't settle for the inferior ducks.... go to the original. One caveat though.... it is rumored that there are 2 menus. One in Mandarin and one in English. The dishes listed on the English menu may not be as "adventerous" (read: sea cucumbers and pigs feet) and are probably not as cheap. Why do they discriminate and charge non-chinese more for the same dishes??? Because they can. But it's still so cheap (probably $10 per person) that you won't care. Wo Bao La = "i'm full"
An early morning trek to the top of the outer crater of Mount Bromo, in Eastern Java, produced the most amazing photography of my trip. Mount Bromo actually is a steaming active volcano situated in a large outer crater, and is part of a chain of still active volcanoes on Java.
During the day, the outer crater is an ashen moonscape in which sits a somewhat ghostly Hindu Temple.
However, in the early hours of the morning, mist fills the outer crater transforming this moonscape into a stunning lake of cloud from which emerges the inner crater, often giving off quite a bit of steam. In the background, another volcano in the chain lets fly some ash.
I shot about 12 pictures and got three or four nice ones, of which this is the real stunner of the bunch. My scanner is not so hot, but hopefully it will not interfere with what you see.