Definitely didn’t look nearly like this 24 hours prior to taking this photo…
After a week rampaging throughout Sardinia’s coastline including a pitstop in Corsica — with a final night belonging in a 90s teen prom movie (I really can’t describe it in any other way … it was that … perfectly bittersweet) — we tried to take it easy the next morning with a spa day relaxing in Olbia.
Some of us having pulled a second all nighter for our final sunrise, we returned to the yachts, quickly took the trash out, made one final camp check, gave our goodbye hugs to Mihaela, Ann, and Jeanette from the marina, and walked over to the hotel Priscilla, Gina, Alex, etc. were staying in.
All I can remember it was a dreary struggle of a morning, especially after coming down from a high of the night before. Once I saw a bed, my body fell hard without even realizing until later how the marina arrivals — Sabrina, Donna, Sampson and I — were likely pissing everyone else who booked the hotel as they graciously still let us use their rooms to crash in for an hour (I’M SO SORRY).
After Priscilla, Donna, Sampson, Sabrina and I got a quick hour’s sleep in thanks to a late check out, we tried to look for a quick brunch before the next round of goodbyes with Priscilla, Gina, Sampson, and Raubern. I then felt like I was living through the entire ending scene of the movie “The Half Of It.”
I don’t know how we eventually made it so underslept but Donna, Sabrina, Evie, and I then managed to take a cab over to Jazz Hotel by the airport where we then both ran into and said goodbye to Song at the Jazz Hotel, and then had an early dinner with Daisy, Ihita and Radhika before taking advantage of the hotel sauna afterwards.
The next morning Donna, Evie, and I said our goodbyes to Sabrina after breakfast and set off on a morning flight back to Rome, where we would transfer to a quick flight to Lampedusa.
However, while walking over at the gates in Rome airport I had mistakenly assumed “Palermo” was Lampedusa (we’re actually heading to Palermo the day after) and therefore was misled to the wrong gate. And the whole time we just sat, chatted and watched Evie perform on a piano nearby without realizing we had all the time in the world to go to our actual gate.
By the time we began to board at 1:06pm, it was already too late: the agents told us we had the wrong tickets, I then realized Palermo was not Lampedusa, and that the 1:10pm Lampedusa flight had already taken off. I took a deep breath, consoled myself it was only fair after a week of successes in flying 34 people into and around Sardinia, and walked over to the last flight out to Lampedusa in another part of the airport. Then leaving my bags with Evie and Donna at our new gate with only 2 hours to spare until that backup flight would take off, I ran out of the airport with their 3 passports and vaccine cards in hand looking all over for the ticket offices.
This particular Wizz Air flight out to Lampedusa from Rome was not showing up on my searches online, and the Wizz Air website did not allow me to buy a ticket on the same day. I therefore had no other choice but wait 30 minutes physically in line, sweating out everything I had drank and ate the past week wondering what my alternatives would be if I couldn’t buy this flight. After another 20 minutes at the counter figuring it out and finally getting our new flights, I was directed back to the check-in desk (thankfully having been allowed to cut in front), where I had the awkward task of explaining to them how I wanted check in 2 passengers who were already past security at the gate itself. By the time I had returned back through security to rendezvous with Donna and Evie, they had already began to board.
Crisis barely averted.
And the whole time I could recall how this near exact scenario had played out 4 years ago when I was trying to get to Slovenia, where Rome airport was also involved and I barely made it work (Mihaela was part of that experience, and it would be the same trip where we would meet Ashley Jia, who had just joined us for Yacht Week! …you never know…).
Yet what I find even more remarkable about this particular incident afterwards, was that everyone else in our Yacht Week group were also going through missed connections of their own AT THE SAME TIME: Priscilla and Gina were also led to the wrong platform for their train from Rome to Florence, and ended up instead on a wrong train to Bologna. Ashley missed her flight home in Rome. Sabrina would find out last minute her flight out of Sardinia would be canceled and would have to spend an extra night there.
I began to wonder whether these comedies of errors was emblematic of something bigger; that no matter how frustrating or random these inconveniences would seem at the time, they serve to remind us they’re just detours — or even required pit stops — that eventually get us back onto the paths we’re supposed to be on. They seem like mistakes at the time, but they might be anything but. Either way we all felt some sense of farflung interconnected camaraderie despite being separated by hundreds of miles of land and ocean knowing we were all going through the same thing…and instead of feeling frustrated at our present predicaments, we actually got a laugh together out of them. That’s a special kind of kinship.
Furthermore I wondered had we picked the right gate to Lampedusa, we wouldn’t have be sitting next that piano for Evie to play on, which could have inspired a random onlooking passenger, that mom dancing with her baby behind Evie, or even our social media, to look at life in a new light as if we became part of a greater ripple effect…
…and yet these are also thoughts I consider when I pull 2 all nighters in a row. One can dare to dream.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming:
Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea as the southernmost island of Italy, Lampedusa is the major island of the Pelagie Islands and considered to be part of Sicily. We arrived around 2 hours later than planned at 4:30pm.
This island has been inhabited by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. You can tell it has Arabic influences to moment you arrive into town.
After a week in the very Wester European influenced old towns of Sardinia and Corsica, I felt immediately at home here.
With population of 5800 people, the island is 12km long and 3km wide, boasting a Middle Eastern-influenced capital “town” full of charms and vibes.
Fun fact is that we’re not really in Europe; this island geologically belongs to Africa.
For the average visitor who must go somewhere “unique” to the island, they should head straight to L’isolotto dei Conigli (the Island of the Rabbits), regarded as the “world’s best beach” on an official TripAdvisor poll.
We took the hourly 1 euro per person bus from the center of Lampedusa’s central town which gets to the beach on the west side of the island within 15 minutes.
What we did not know was that you need to make reservations ahead of time via your accommodations to visit the beach, otherwise expected to be placed on a waitlist (aka sit on an uncomfortable rock wall) where you could wait up to 2 hours to get in.
Thanks to a kind Italian nuclear engineer named Claudia (and her parents!) from Naples living in London, her watermelon themed umbrella kept us sane for our 2 hours underneath the sun.
Once our 2 hour wait was up and after the folks with reservations having been let in first, we finally got to see what the fuss was all about. I also needed to stretch my legs after that.
For sustainability purposes, they only allow a maximum of 550 people at a time on a beach, with a maximum of 2 hour shifts at a time before you’re expected to leave to make room for another group to arrive. The beach opens late morning and closes at 7:30pm.
Once you’re in you have to hike down a rock path 15-20 minutes to finally reach your destination.
And once you do, it’s baptism by paradise.
Wait this long to get in and you just want to flip your hair:
Lampedusa was also a location for many film shoots, so movies fans may also recognize some locations and film stars here. We recognized one:
After our time here was up, we headed back into town for a cab pickup at our lodgings for our onward 6:40pm DAT direct flight to Palermo.
- At time of posting in Lampedusa, it was 30 °C -
Humidity: 63% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
After 3 days in the Azores, I took the 8:10pm flight from Ponta Delgada to Funchal, arriving at 11:15pm local time.
As long as you upload a copy of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of your arrival, proof of recovery, or your vaccine card (which we did) on their travel portal madeirasafe.com, and show the nurses at arrivals the hard copies before you head out from the airport, you’ll get through. Otherwise be prepared to get tested before they let you out of quarantine.
It was a 20 minute and €30 cab ride from the airport straight into the city center of Funchal, where I checked in at The Marketplace by Storytellers at midnight:
Funchal is the capital and main city of the autonomous region and island of Madeira. And where Ponta Delgada had soul, Funchal has attitude. The vibes here are so much more bustling than the surreal calm of The Azores, at least during daytime.
Because when night falls, it becomes a different animal:
Since my lodgings are located right across the street from the very touristy market hall Mercado dos Lavradores, that would be my first stop the next morning:
Sé Cathedral is a few minutes walk away:
I nevertheless began my first morning in Funchal with necessary coffee at Art Corner Café:
Eat all the local bread Bolo do Caco:
Next door you can orient yourself and where you really are at the Madeira Story Center, which features interactive exhibits of the island’s history:
After a stroll around town, take the Funchal Cable Car across the street from the Story Centre for 16 euros each way:
At the top you can stroll about the Monte Palace Gardens and the church at Monte.
You can also take another circular cable care back down to visit the Botanical Gardens below, or take a toboggan for a hefty fee down the hills:
Later in the afternoon we booked a fun last-minute 3 hour tour on one of Madeira’s Sidecar Tours, which picked us up in front of our lodgings at 2pm:
Our first stop outside of Funchal was the viewpoint over Camara de Lobos:
Further out west and you can’t miss the dramatic cliffs of Cape Girão; at 580m in height they are the tallest cliffs in Western Europe:
Free admission. Try (not) to look down!
We eventually drove as far west as the viewpoint over the village of Ribeira Brava:
If you look far off in the right place you’ll catch a glimpse of the controversial sea bass farms here:
If you are in need of unique things to visit in Madeira, consider a 15 minute walk along the shore to the CR7 museum to look at all the medals and trophies Footballer Christiano Ronaldo, who was born and raised on this very island!
There’s even a life sized chocolate statue of him here. Why.
After a slow 2 days here and on our departure from Madeira (and eventually beginning our 48 hour window on our return back to the USA), we scheduled a rapid antigen test beforehand at one of the pharmacies in our neighborhood. Many already have testing tents set up in front of them but they only take appointments, which you must arrange at the sponsoring pharmacy itself.
Timing our flight back to NYC to be 4pm exactly 2 days from today, we selected the 4:35pm time slot the next day to be tested. This way our tests could count not only for our return back to the States, but also our layover in Madrid beforehand just in case we wanted to leave the airport.
The next afternoon we checked in at the tent located about a 2 minute walk past the pharmacy in front of Sé Cathedral:
They really go up there in that nose here! Our rapid antigen test results were ready within 45 minutes and we picked them up back at the pharmacy where we originally scheduled our tests:
Then I uploaded my test result to the new app Verifly so I can make sure I minimize the fuss on my way back to NYC.
In the meantime, next stop: Porto!
A word of warning: make sure you agree on the fare to the airport to be €30 from Funchal; ours insisted on the meter, which seemed shady since it’s usually a flat fare, and during which he then sneakily pressed a button on the meter that went from “1” to “2” and claimed there was a “night surcharge” (there isn’t, otherwise our fare getting in at midnight 2 days ago in the same yellow cab wouldn’t have been €30). The metered fare then began to accelerate at to double the original rate.
We would have ended up €45 on the meter but after a little internet sleuthing and catching him in the act, he relented back to €30, but then entered €40 anyway on the credit card terminal. The shamelessness. :/
- At time of posting in Madeira, it was 15 °C -
Humidity: 58% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a
From Casablanca, we arrived into Marrakesh, Morocco’s third largest city that continues to teem with sights and sounds that emanate from its historical medina.
Although a frustrating place to explore for many travelers as if the rest of the country learned its manners and Marrakech continues to be the bad boy of Morocco, for me it feels good to be back after celebrating New Year’s here 9 years ago!
The only thing missing this time around is Gerard Butler running into us here in the souqs not once . . .
. . . but twice:
Alas, the company I have today is still more than enough! And besides, they say if something happens twice, it’s bound to happen a third time. . . .
After our uneventful 3 hour drive, we stopped at Koutoubia Mosque on the way into the city.
Koustobia Mosque just got served, 9 years ago.
Then after checking into our lodgings in the Gueliz neighborhood, we went nearly all out with a swanky night at nearby Azar:
The next morning we began our day with a drive to the 16th century Menara gardens and its famed pavilion which was used as a summer residence by Sultan Abderrarhmane and later renovated in 1869.
We then visited the tombs of the Saadian Dynasty. Only discovered in the 20th century, they were left untouched and blocked off for centuries.
Our next stop was the Bahia Palace, a 19th century masterpiece that captures essence of Islamic and Morroccan style.
Although Madrassa Ben Youssef is currently closed for renovations right now, I remember visiting it as a “must see” 9 years ago:
Just south of here you can walk around the Royal Palace and historic Medina, taking in the Marrakech city walls and its most famous gate at Bab Khemis.
And obviously although it can be an irritating experience if you’re not comfortable with pushy and touchy shopkeepers, a walk through the maze-like souqs are otherwise a must:
We then concluded our day at the exquisite Majorelle Gardens which was laid out by the French expat Louis Maforelle and later restored by Yves Saint Laurent. It now has become a breeding ground for aspiring instagram stars.
After a break at the hotel, we returned to Djema El Fna Square:
Musicians, dancers, snake charmers and storytellers mix in with aggressive food stall “greeters”, all packing the square and creating this unique atmosphere late into the evening.
We first parked up at a rooftop for an hour watching the sunset before heading downstairs for food. Then recalling my experience here 9 years ago, I braced myself for the worst …and boy did Djema el Fna not let me down: We barely stepped foot into the square before being immediately harassed left and right, called “ugly face” and “bitch” repeatedly by various food stall workers for walking past and not choosing them. Some strong armed us and pushed us into a stall, others grabbed our hands and began designing henna tattoos against our will and then demanding money afterwards, many yelled, one spat.
More specifically, while Stall #14 for example has remained to this day the most popular for fried fish, workers at Stall #5 next door will brazenly lie to your face by claiming their food will come from Stall #14 if you sit in theirs and order from them. It’s shameless.
Finally to add insult to injury, many of the stalls will also fleece you further by adding a number of extra dishes to your bill that you never asked for. If you’re okay with spending a few extra dollars just for that experience, then go for it with that expectation. You can’t win them all: Welcome to Marrakech.
However Marrakech later made up for it to us after an impressive redemption meal and drinks at MY Kechmara back in the Gueliz district. That was much much better.
Tomorrow we head onwards for fresher pastures south to Agadir!
- At time of posting in Marrakesh, it was 22 °C -
Humidity: 47% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
Special thanks goes to our Young Pioneer Tours guide Pier-André Doyon for the blogpost title.
240km east of the coast of Somalia and 380km south of the Arabian Peninsula lies a 132 km x 49.7km island called Socotra: a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to countless endemic species and described as “the most alien-looking place on Earth.”
Due to its isolation, Socotra is famous for its unique eco-system found nowhere else on this planet, and most notably being home to the famous Dragon Blood and bottle trees.
However, due to the civil war and humanitarian crisis on the mainland still ongoing at the time of posting, logistical and ethical conundrums have stifled the once booming tourism to Socotra Island. From what used to be hundreds of tourists a week have now trickled down to mere teens.
Therefore we have struggled since 2012 in finding the right time to visit Socotra in a sustainable, ethical manner, without feeling we would overwhelm the islanders with our presence. Now that tourism has been slowly reemerging as of late, we have been steadfastly reassured that our presence as Western visitors will ensure a minimal logistical and environmental footprint given that we would be camping nearly every night.
Furthermore, we have been reminded that arriving in small groups we would both create a steady, sustainable positive impact in improving the welfare of the island, and encourage the Yemenese government to find a way to broker a ceasefire and open its doors back up to the world. One could only hope.
If I learned anything from travel, there is no right and wrong, black or white; so when we were given the option under these circumstances, I decided the only way to find out was to find out.
Currently the only legal way into Socotra for Western tourists is via a once-weekly, frequently delayed, and $1200 USD Yemenia Airways flight every Tuesday night/Wednesday morning at 2am, with a 1-2 hour stopover in Seiyun on the Yemen mainland before its scheduled landing in Socotra at 8:45am.
The return flight from Socotra is also the same once-weekly, frequently delayed Yemenia Airways flight that departs one hour later at 9:45am, with a 1-2 hour stopover in Seiyun, before finally returning to Cairo sometime that afternoon.
That means if you’re planning a visit to Socotra, prepare to be, for the lack of a better word, “marooned” on the island no less than one week increments as that single weekly flight is your only way in and out of this lost paradise. Furthermore, Socotra Island has been one of the least developed places I have ever spent an entire week in — we camped outside nearly every night, the only 2 hotels on the island have no working internet or laundry (and one of which is infested with bed bugs), and our guides (and one day, even us) had to hunt for our food.
Therefore if you plan a stay here and want to go budget, be prepared to completely detox from social media and the rest of the world (which I think was a good thing), and have your patience tested by everything running on island time (when anything is planned to take an “x” amount of time, they really mean multiply “x” by 2 and add another 20-40 minutes extra)
Big picture wise, I personally enjoyed my experience here as there are far worse places to be stuck in for a week, but I have to admit despite after an eye-opening 4 days, I was beginning to come down with mild island fever after we began to repeat many of our activities, which you’ll be able to discern between the lines through my blogposts below.
Day 1: NYC to Frankfurt to Cairo to Seiyun to Socotra Island —
Hadibo Do Be Dooo…
. . . So after a 6-week hiatus from nearly a year of monthly travels, it’s time to hit the road again. With 85,000 miles I booked the Lufthansa LH 401 flights on business class from JFK to FRA to CAI all for $60 USD. The experience began with the quick obligatory visit to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge at JFK. . . .
. . . click here to read more: Hadibo Do Be Dooo
Day 2: Arher Ahoy!
. . . We soon headed for Homhil National Park, famous for its Dragon’s blood trees which cannot be found anywhere else. . . .
. . . click here to read more: Arher Ahoy!
Day 3: Life On Mars In Hoq’s Cave
. . . This cave is one of the most important spots on the island and the closest you can get to visiting an alien planet . . .
. . . click here to read more: Life On Mars In Hoq’s Cave
Day 4: Where There May Be Dragons In Dixsam
. . . After setting off for what I felt was an unnecessary hike, we all soon realized we had made a poorly timed decision as we soon got rained on and a flash flood prevented us from crossing back over to our vehicles. Yikes! . . .
. . . click here to read more: Where There May Be Dragons In Dixsam
Day 5: Always Up to Nogud!
. . . From here we hiked through Fermahin – a forest and the highest concentration of Dragon’s Blood trees on the island (and I guess by transitive property, the rest of the world). . . .
. . . click here to read more: Always Up To Nogud!
Day 6: A Monsooner Always Pays Their Detwah!
. . . We hiked around the cliffs of the lagoon to pay a visit to Abdullah, a man living with his family (who was nowhere to be seen…) in a cave since a hurricane. . . .
. . . click here to read more: A Monsooner Always Pays Their Detwah!
Day 7: Rico Shuaab-ey
. . . The waves were rough, as we almost capsized more times I would have wanted to count. But we passed by huge rock formations, countless jellyfish and a few dolphins . . .
. . . click here to read more: Rico Shuaab-ey!
- At time of posting in Habido, Yemen, it was 24 °C -
Humidity: 88% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny
The last time I was in Prague 19 years ago, I was 11 years old.
And I haven’t been back since. So does it count if I really don’t remember anything but this photo? NO IT DOESN’T.
Last month, when 7-time monsooner (Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait!) Ann Wen found out she had more days off than expected and asked me to extend my travels, the convenient thing was to ask her to join me in Fiji since I was already in the area. Of course, being based in NYC she balked so we had to find a compromise…where could we meet in the middle? And if she’s never let me down on past trips, how could I?
After finding ridiculously cheap flights from Fiji to Prague via layovers in Auckland, Shanghai, and Xi’an, it was meant to be. Prague was happening.
15 more people signed up within 2 weeks, and then Ann recruited a random stranger she met at the airport on the way to Prague: a medical student from Kazakhstan studying in Prague named Aia. Another monsoon was forming.
For “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
And nearly 2 decades later, I was back in one of my first European cities: Prague.
After 3 weeks island hopping in the Pacific and the least visited countries in the world, I took off from Suva for a 3 hour flight to Auckland (on almost the one year anniversary I was last there!) where I had a few hours to transit to a 17 hour Emirates flight to Dubai, and then a few more hours there before finally getting on a 7 hour Emirates flight to Prague. And right after disembarking and stamping into the EU, I hailed an Uber for a 25 minute ride into the city to meet up with the rest of the monsooners at a pre-reserved lunch at Terasa U Prince.
It’s known for having one of the best rooftop views in the world for lunch, although I don’t know which governing body would determine that.
After lunch and introductions, we returned back to our hostel and immediately hit the ground running in monsooning Prague.
There are sights everywhere; right outside our hostel grows a little statue called Embryo. Designed by Czech sculptor David Černý, it was created as his statement about the difficulty of creating art in an unimaginative world
A few paces east we found Man Hanging Out, aka “Zavěšený muž”: Černý’s statue of a dangling Sigmud Freud as a critical statement about intellectualism in the 20th century.
About 5 minutes away south we walked by the Velvet Revolution Memorial, which commemorates November 17, 1989, the date that changed the Czech Republic forever.
It was that date when a crowd of students marched towards Wenceslas Square from Vyšehrad to demonstrate against the one-party rule of Communism, as well as to celebrate the anniversary of a similar student demonstration against Nazi occupation 50 years ago. After being met with fierce resistance by riot police, the students’ numbers swelled from 50,000 to 200,000 within days, leading to the eventual fall of Communist Czechoslovakia.
Across the street is popular Café Louvre, where we grabbed breakfast on our 2nd day.
And if we hadn’t had enough memorials and monuments, A few paces more east is the fittingly enigmatic and constantly shifting Head of Franz Kafka:
We then walked 10 minutes more south, passing by the birthplace of Kafka (thanks Jommel for pointing it out!)
. . . to the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror.
After assassinating SS-Obergrupenführer Reinhard Heydrich in the Operation Anthropoid, 7 brave Czech paratroopers escaped to this basement crypt and over the course of 20 days killed 700 Nazis before they ran out of ammunition and killed themselves.
And next door to the memorial we had to take obligatory photos with Dancing House, the famously curvy office building designed by architect Frank Gehry.
Get creative here!
We then headed back north, passing by the Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc memorial, which marks the site where Jan Palach immolated himself in 1969, followed a week later by his friend Jan Zajíc, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Prague.
10 minutes more north you’ll reach hit the eastern edge of Old Town at the Basilica of St. James, which is known for its art-filled baroque interior, as well as a 400-year old shriveled mummified hand of a thief dangling from a chain (having served as a warning to other kleptomaniacs).
spot the hand?
And from there we entered the gorgeous Old Town Main Square.
We made sure not to miss the Prague Meridian, which was used like a sundial to tell time back in the day.
And in the spirit of telling time, the creme de la creme would be the Prague Astronomical Clock. Installed in 1410, this gem exists as the 3rd oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still in operation.
Legend has it that its creator was forcibly blinded by the Prague Council in order to prevent him from making similar clocks for other nations. In response, he committed suicide by throwing himself into the clocks’ gears, hence placing a curse on anyone who attempted to repair the clock in the future.
Then we walked north to Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto. Once you pass by another odd Memorial sculpture to Kafka, you’re at the eastern edge of the former ghetto.
We first visited The Old-New Synagogue, Europe’s oldest synagogue and Prague’s first building of Gothic design when it was completed in 1270. More famously, however, it is the reported legendary home of the Golem of Prague (that’s who that ladder on the outside is for!)
Next door we looked for the photogenic Old Jewish Cemetery, which houses over 12,000 tombstones of bodies up to 6 layers deep!
Leaving Josev to the south, we stopped in the Municipal Library of Prague, which features the “Idiom” installation: A literally literary (get it? hah!) tower that appears to stretch into infinity.
We then crossed the street to sneak into Prague City Hall, which is home to one of the world’s only Paternoster elevator, aka the elevator that never stops! Accessible after 10:00 Monday to Friday, we went through the huge doors on the front of the building, and then headed to either left or right to get around to the other end of the building where the lift is.
From the ground floor it goes up 4 floors but then it keeps going…I mean you can stay on the lift after it passes the last stop but only If you dare…
… you really can’t say you’ve ridden a Paternoster unless you’ve gone over the top and around the bottom!
Then the sight that all tourists who come to Prague for: We finally crossed The Charles Bridge, Prague’s landmark stone bridge that links Old & New Towns.
Be careful of your stuff here! This is where Joanne got pickpocketed, losing both her wallet and green card! However, luckily she was able to get an emergency re-entry permit from the U.S. consulate within 24 hours despite the current shutdown.
When we approached New Town, we made a quick left for the John Lennon Wall.
We then made an about-face north and passed the narrowest street of Prague to our right, built originally as an emergency fire exit.
Steps away we had a laugh at Piss Sculpture, also designed by aforementioned David Černý, which features 2 statues that will piss out actual messages that you can text to +420 724 370 770
Then we walked over to St. Nicholas Church, a structure that took over a century & 3 generations of architects to complete when it was finished in the 1850s.
We then walked 5 minutes south to the Church of Our Lady Victorious and The Infant Jesus of Prague, open late and famous for its statue of infant Jesus and its constantly rotating wardrobe throughout the year. According to Jommel, this was the statue that inspired the spread of Christianity through The Philippines.
Finally we walked uphill to Prague Castle, the symbol of the city and the holder of The Guinness Book Of World Records title for being the largest ancient castle complex in the world at 70,000 sq. meters (750,000 sq. feet) and the official office of the President.
The group then split, with a third staying at the Prague Castle for the numerous art galleries and other exhibits, while the rest headed west to Loreto Prague just to take a gander at the peculiar Statue of St. Wilgefortis, a bearded female saint. We sang our heart out karaoke style to “I Want It That Way” here.
They also have a treasury on the 2nd floor, of which in their collection the most famous being the 6222-diamond encrusted monstrance, the Prague Sun:
Then we walked up to Petrin Tower, a 378m cast-iron tower that was built to be taller than the Eiffel Tower in 1892, featuring a deck for city views.
We paid for the elevator up just in time for sunset.
Then as we headed out of the park back towards the direction of old town, we sauntered past an equally sauntering Monument of Karel Hynek Mácha.
As we exited, we took pause at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism, which commemorates all the political prisoners jailed during Communist rule.
That’s pretty much most of central Prague, all of which can be done in 10-12 hours over the course of 2 days!
For our third and free day, some of us caught on the latest trip gossip over a lazy brunch at Café Savoy,
. . . with others checking out the weirdness of the Kafka Museum:
Later in the afternoon, some chilled out at one of the handful of beer spas in the city.
…and there was a lot of socializing at our gorgeous rooftop maisonettes at Old Prague House:
And what would a monsoon be without group dinners and drinks at some fine establishments? On our first night we pregamed at Hookah Place next to our hostel.
And then across the street at 5-story Karozy Lane — aka the largest nightclub in Central Europe — we were able to turn this:
. . . into this:
And finally we celebrated Katy’s birthday at Mlynec!
What To Eat In Prague
Open faced sandwiches at The Sisters Bistro:
Next door is Lukásskálacukrár for sumptuous Czech pastries:
They can be generous with free samples!
And don’t leave without trying the Pork Knuckle
- At time of posting in Prague, Czechia, it was n/a -
Humidity: 86% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: snowy
After 2 days in Nagasaki, we headed northeast for Hiroshima, first boarding the 3:20pm Kamome 26 Train (which leaves hourly on the :20) from Nagasaki Station to Hakata.
We arrived on time into Hakata at 5:13pm, transferring to Platform 13 for the Shinkansen “Bullet Train” Nozomi 56, departing at 5:33pm heading in the direction of Tokyo.
Don’t fall asleep! The train only takes 2 stops, aka one hour to cover 282km (or 175 miles) to reach our destination of Hiroshima. Our train was literally was moving at the speed of 282km/hr (175mph)!
We thus arrived on time at 6:34pm, with the whole journey from Nagasaki to Hiroshima costing about 12,000¥ per person and taking us about 3 hours.
From here we took Bus no. 24 out 7 stops (180¥ one way) to our hostel, Hostel Mallika, located right next to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We then settled in and Donna and I headed out for some night exploration of the park about a 3 minute walk away while Trish said she would take it easy/sit out for the rest of the trip until Kyoto, citing to what I suspect now could be an occult fracture (!). I suggested that she visit a clinic and finally get that foot x-rayed, but at the time of posting Trish would poll her social media hive to decide whether to get it checked here, or wait until she returned home. So if you’re reading this, go support/encourage her in getting this checked earlier than later (after all, that’s what Charlotte did when her toe got fractured in the film “Lost In Translation”)!
As Donna and I headed out it began to rain lightly, which made a perfect backdrop to the eerie nature of the area considering what had happened here 74 years ago on August 6, 1945.
The Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims was the first thing we saw. It features a stone chest in the center that acts as a registry of every victim of the atomic bomb, regardless of nationality. Names are still added when people die from diseases related to the radiation of the bomb. The Japanese inscription reads, “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for the evil shall not be repeated.”
The arch also artfully frames the A-Bomb Dome in the distance, as well as the Flame of Peace, which will reportedly burn until the dismantling of the last nuclear weapon.
Walking further north, we finally came upon the skeletal remains of the A-Bomb Dome, the most recognizable symbol of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima.
Designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel in 1915, the building once stood out as the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall in a city devoid of any other European architectural influences. Although the dome was destroyed and the people inside were killed by the heat of the atomic blast, the inner walls has remained largely intact.
During the cleanup afterwards, this structure was first left alone simply because it was much more difficult to remove than other debris in the area. It continued to stand until it was finally designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
Around the corner to the east is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students, dedicated to the 6300 students working in the munitions factories before they were killed by the atomic bomb.
One block east from here around the corner is the Hypocenter, designating the exact spot where the atomic bomb detonated 600m above.
As the other sites in the park were closed, at this point we decided to return to the hostel and sleep in a little early.
The next morning we had a quick breakfast and returned to the park, starting by entering the park again through the Gates of Peace, which were installed by a pair of French artists in 2005. The word “peace” is written in 49 languages on the gates and the sidewalk, with the ten gates representing the nine circles of hell from Dante’s Inferno and an extra level of hell created by the atomic bomb.
Past the gates as the park begins is the Fountain of Prayer and the Statue of Mother and Child in the Storm. Both are currently undergoing earthquake-proofing so all we saw was tarp and scaffolding. So we walked west right by the fountain and entered the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which opened at 8:30am.
Although the entry fee was once 50¥, it’s now 200¥ to support the current renovations.
Like the museum in Nagasaki, this one is also a doozy. We spent 45 minutes here taking it all in.
A few paces north of the museum is the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Entry is free.
The Peace Statue is right by the cenotaph.
If you need a break from all of this, the Rest House of Memorial Park is a few paces northeast from the Peace Statue. Formerly the Taishoya Kimono Shop at the time of the atomic bomb attack, only one employee who was in the basement at the time, survived.
If you’re still curious and not completely wiped out at this point, you can visit that very basement — which has been unchanged since the explosion — if you register at the information desk inside. However, the building is currently undergoing renovations, so we were unable to check that out.
Photo Credit: visithiroshima.net
Continue onwards to the Children’s Peace Monument. In a poignant moment, we were fortunate enough to witness a crowd of visiting schoolchildren praying by it.
And the Korean Atomic Bomb Victims Cenotaph is a few paces west, dedicated to the tens of thousands of Korean forced laborers who lost their lives in Hiroshima.
Right north to it lies the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, where the ashes of 70,000 unidentified or unclaimed bomb victims are buried underneath. Services are held in their memory on the 6th of every month.
And at the very north of the park you can ring the Peace Bell.
Crossing the bridge to the west, we quickly visited the Honkawa Elementary School. Out of the 400+ people in this building, only 1 student and 1 teacher survived the atomic bomb.
A new school has been built since then, but this section of the original structure has been kept as a museum and the basement has been preserved since the explosions. Free entry as long as you register at the main office.
We then walked east of the park to visit the Fukuromachi Elementary School. Like Honkawa, part of the original school building that survived the bomb is now a museum.
Survivors here used the school’s chalk to leave messages for lost friends and family members on its blackened walls. Free entry.
Right next to Fukuromachi one block over is the Former Hiroshima Branch of the Bank of Japan. Other than the A-bomb dome, this is Hiroshima’s other best-known pre-bomb structure.
Only 380 meters from the bomb’s hypocenter, the exterior walls remained intact while all 42 people inside the bank were killed by the heat of the blast. Remarkably, the bank reopened and was back in service only two days after the bomb and continued operating until 1992 when it was acquired by the city.
The basement vaults have been converted to exhibits detailing another side to the atomic bomb explosion. Entry is free as well.
From there we walked up north to Hiroshima Castle. Although the original 16th century 5-story castle was destroyed by the bomb, the reconstructed museum boasts a view from the top that might be worth the 360¥ entrance fee.
The Gokoku Shrine is on the castle grounds near the entrance, having been rebuilt after the atomic blast and now serves as the center for annual Shinto ceremonies.
Feeling famished at this point, we grabbed lunch at Okonomiyaki (more on this hot beautiful mess or work of art below) back downtown at Mitchan. There’s one conveniently located in the basement floor of the Fukuya Hatchobori Store.
After lunch we took the 230¥ Astramline tram up 6 stops from the Kencho-Mae Station to Fudoin, a serene 14th century temple that survived the atomic blast. Free entry.
From there we returned to our hostel to recharge, and then took a 2010¥ cab a long way uphill to the Peace Pagoda.
Built in 1966 and dedicated to those killed by the atomic bomb, the pagoda houses two gifts from India and Mongolian Buddhists that contain ashes of the Buddha, as well as thousands of prayer stones.
At this point dark clouds began to gather and it began to flash flood, HARD. Flashes of lightning were being followed by thunder only mere seconds afterwards. I counted a few and noticed lightning strikes were getting closer and closer.
This felt personal to me as I had been struck once by lightning 7 years ago in Mandalay: I had been standing on top a hill next to a big pagoda, and here was I once again, standing on top of a hill next to a big pagoda. Donna and I started to sprint downhill as fast as we could, umbrellas be damned.
…but not before I could get a shot of Hiroshima from the pagoda first:
Ducking under roofs of random homes every 1-2 minutes and making a mad dash downhill before taking cover again, we managed to reach the bottom in 20 minutes where we looked up and saw we had just rushed down past the atomic bomb cenotaph without noticing. Just beyond is the Toshogu Shrine.
Afterwards we took final shelter back at Hiroshima Station, where we reunited with Billy, a friend we had made at the last minute right before we left our hostel CasaNoda back in Nagasaki.
Given that the rain began to improve at this point, we collectively decided to make a run for Miyajima (Itsukushima) for sunset despite the thunderstorm.
Photo Credit: GaijinPot Travel
However, this one just wasn’t meant to be. The 3 of us were shuttled back and forth between Platform 1 and 2 no less than EIGHT (no joke) times before the stationmasters announced that the JR Sanyo train to Miyajimaguchi Station (so we could catch the ferry to Miyajima) actually may not be arriving at all. Because of the heavy thunderstorms in the area, they were concerned whether it could operate safely for the rest of the evening. Nevertheless, they were able to fully refund us for our 810¥ per person roundtrip fare at the adjustment office right by the exits.
Although we had dodged typhoons and earthquakes so far on this trip, it would be a simple local thunderstorm to finally do us in. We’ll come back next time! Besides, we’re way overdue for a drink.
BTW if you’re not temple-d out at this point like we were, there’s also Mitakidera 15 minutes north of Hiroshima’s city center we thought about heading towards at the last minute. But we’ll save it for next time.
Photo Credit: Maikoya
7 hours later: Hiroshima can now claim one of the weirdest, most discombobulated nights out I’ve had in a while. We started with a quick bite at a random Mexican/Japanese fusion spot that we had all to ourselves, got turned away from an all-you-can-drink beer place because they were closing down early, shrugged our shoulders at cocktail shot bar, walked over to Nagarekawa (Hiroshima’s nightlife street), got paralyzed with too many choices, finally decided on a few drinks at Tropical Bar Revolucion on the 8th floor, took everyone not in our group from that bar out for dancing around the corner, lost a few of those people on the way, had more join us on the street, tried to haggle down cover prices at the door until we finally got free cover at Club G Hiroshima, raged to hip hop until 3:30am, took the last few standing over 2 blocks to a place without an English name (バー眠り猫) for shisha before finally crashing back at our hostel at 4:30am.
But it worked out — from left to right in the photo we have Camilla who’s from Brazil living in Melbourne, me, Donna, Luke who’s from Perth, Amy and Natasha who’s from Portland, Billy who’s from Austin living in San Diego, 2 Germans we met at Tropical Bar Revolucion who also joined us, Alexandria who’s from both Lima and here in Hiroshima, and a random Japanese woman who was collateral damage from being at the right place at the right time for the photo.
What To Eat In Hiroshima
Okonomiyaki. Literally meaning “cook it as you like it” and also known as “Japanese pizza” – A savory pancake made with egg, soba noodles, cabbage, mixed in with meat, seafood or cheese that’s then grilled in layers on a hot plate in front of you. Then it’s slathered with okonomiyaki sauce, with optional extras such as mayonnaise, pickled ginger, and seaweed.
Don’t know where to get one? There’s an entire okonomiyaki theme park called Okonominura where 4 floors of dozens of okonominura stalls bid for your patronage:
Next stop: Kobe!
- At time of posting in Hiroshima, Japan, it was 29 °C -
Humidity: 86% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear