Galle Fort Sri Lanka

~K~

We didn’t make it to the Galle Fort until close to the end of our stay, but were glad we did go! The fort is located on a rocky peninsula that juts out from the city of Galle. Only about 35 km from our place in Weligama, a motorbike ride was around an hour away. 

If you don’t want to ride a motorbike around Sri Lanka – which is understandable – Galle should still be easy to reach via train, tuk-tuk, or taxi. We got into an accident just days before riding to Galle, but to be honest, you might feel a little nervous with any of the transportation options there with some of the crazy drivers on the road! We chose to go by motorbike because it was the most flexible (we could come/go when we wanted). 

South Coast of Sri Lanka

We set out for Galle around mid-morning with the intention of grabbing something to eat while in the fort. As was the usual for this time of the year, the weather was a little dreary but not quite rainy, which made for a pleasant ride along the the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

Crossing the Bridge in Weligama Sri Lanka

The traffic wasn’t too bad until we got within a few km of the fort. Luckily, if you come from the south you can get to the fort while avoiding having to travel through the congested city; whereas if you came in through the north, you’d have to ride through a congested city of over a hundred thousand residents.

Motorbiking The Sri Lankan Coast
Exterior of Galle Fort Sri Lanka

We crossed through the walls and parked in a small parking lot at the Ambalama in the northeast section of the fort. There was no fee for parking, and we had no trouble finding a space – though we were visiting during the off-season so it could easily be more crowded at other times of the year.

We began by walking down the historic streets with no real direction in mind other than to find someplace to grab a bite to eat. Although the fort is over 400 years old, it still remains in good repair and continues it’s lively operation. The interior of the fort is filled with homestays, restaurants, religious and municipal buildings, museums, and residencies.

Road inside Galle Fort Sri Lanka

Our first stop ended up being a unique, free museum that showcased various trinkets and artifacts from Galle’s past. While it is hard to get good information on many of the pieces you can see, it still is very interesting. It also doubled as a jewelers to a small extent and we were able to see some of the tools used to polish the semi-precious stones.

Free Museum Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Free Museum Galle Fort Sri Lanka Clocks
Free Museum Galle Fort Sri Lanka Artifacts
Raw materials at a Jewelers in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

Upon leaving the museum, we were really hungry so we stopped by the first place that seemed reasonable and had something for Briana to eat. The place seemed nice, and my food was pretty good – Fish and Chips – nothing special, but it was good. Bri, however, ordered garlic bread, and was very disappointed. I had assumed that she was just being a little picky, but upon trying it myself – no, it was just bad. Ultimately, the meal cost 1200 LKR (~$8.20) for us.

A Quick Lunch in Galle

This was a problem that we had encountered frequently while in Sri Lanka – poor food. While in Colombo, we were impressed with the quality and variety of the food we could get – with a wide variety of Indian, Sri Lankan, and other south Asian dishes. But as we made our way down the coast, we found that the quality dropped severely. While the fish was usually decent, nothing that catered to locals seemed to be all that good – cold, poorly spiced, very starch heavy, and lacking in fruit and vegetables. We can’t be for sure here, but it could be that many locals do not go out to eat frequently, and thus the local establishments cater to tourists who don’t know any better. The more expensive spots could have decent food, but then you’re paying around $10 for a meal that should only have cost around $4 relative to the local economy.

So while the meal was satisfactory for me, Bri was still feeling ravenous, and as such we made our way towards an ice cream shop we had researched prior to arriving.

Along the way though, we first happened upon a few key landmarks, the first of which was the Meeran Mosque. The mosque does not look like a normal mosque, but rather more like a church. This was due in part to the Dutch colonialism, which encouraged the more European style architecture that is prominent throughout the entirety of the fort.

Mosque in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

The Galle lighthouse is directly across from the mosque sitting on the southern end of the promontory. We found a few vendors trying to sell trinkets, but unlike most touristy vendors, they left us alone which was nice. Instead, we were able to take in the views of Galle Bay and the lighthouse.

Galle Fort Lighthouse Sri Lanka

We were surprised to find that there were people swimming in the jetties just below the wall. The water was rough in the bay, but the rocks immediately surrounding the fort made for a safer place to swim.

Swimming Bay by Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Sea Wall Galle Fort Sri Lanka

After viewing the lighthouse, we returned to the our previous goal of finding the ice cream shop: Dairy King. The shop features homemade ice cream, which was quite good. We each got our own, at 250 SLR each which came out to roughly $3.41 total. I got coconut flavor, while Bri got passion fruit flavor.

We then wandered down Church Street, where we found a friendly – though skinny – cat that enjoyed our attention.

Dairy King Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Coconut and Passion Fruit Ice Cream
Friendly Cat in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

The fort was first constructed by the Portuguese in 1588, and was then later fortified by the Dutch during their colonial period in 1649. The city of Galle itself however, has been historically acknowledged since at least 125 CE by Ptolmey as a major port for trade between Asia and Europe.

Ornate Door in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

Wandering the fort is a great way to spend the afternoon and has many sites to see within. We made a stop for some sunglasses, which Briana had unfortunately lost on our previous outing on the bike. You can also find local artists from whom to buy paintings – which we did. Ultimately, we were tired and were only intending for a half-day, so we went light on the activities. However, for those that are interested, you can check out:

  • The Dutch Reformed Church
  • Great Warehouse
  • National Maritime Museum
  • Old Dutch Hospital
  • All Saints Anglican Church
  • Clock Tower

As we wandered, we eventually found ourselves back along the sea wall and made our way towards the ramparts that face the the city. The wind here was pretty substantial, which encouraged the locals to try to fly kites. Some of them were very big.

Indian Ocean from Galle Fort
Black Birds At Galle Fort
Along the Sea Wall at Galle Fort
Locals Launching a Kite At Galle Fort Sri Lanka

Sitting about twenty feet below the wall on the sea-side was a tomb as well. It is known as the Muslim Saint’s Tomb. I don’t know what else to say about it unfortunately, I am sure there is information somewhere, but what I can find is all in Singhalese.

Saint's Tomb Galle Fort

The ramparts give a nice, sweeping view of the area in front of the fort and the sprawl of Galle before it. We enjoyed the overlook for a while before finally heading back to the motorbike to make our way home. We decided that we didn’t want to risk driving at night again.

Galle Fort Wall
Clock Tower at Galle Fort

Ultimately, Galle Fort is a great place to visit if you’re in the Southern end of Sri Lanka. And even if you’re up near Colombo, it is only a couple hour’s ride to get to. For those really wanting to experience Galle in a slow way, you can stay in a number of homestays within the walls of the fort for an authentic experience.

Bri in Galle Sri Lanka
Church in Galle Fort Sri Lanak
Monkey in Galle Fort
Leaving Galle

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

~ B & K

Guarded by a giant golden statue, with the cacophonous yells of monkeys, you’ll find the Batu Caves looking down upon Kuala Lumpur. Weathered and rugged limestone hills steeply climb upwards, adorned with festoons of jungle foliage, giving way to one of the most popular Hindu shrines in the world outside of India.

Upon coming to Kuala Lumpur, we knew that this was one of – if not the – top things that we wanted to see. It’s very easy to access as you can take the rail line directly to the town of Gombak where the shrine resides for RM 4.40 (~$1.50) from KL Sentral Station. For us however, we had to take an Uber to the caves, as we were in Petaling Jaya at the time, which did not have access. But this was not really an issue, it was pretty cheap, quick, and efficient.

Consecrated Gold Statue of Lord Mudrugan

Upon arriving to the caves, the first thing that you’ll notice is the golden statue of Lord Murugan. It towers above you at the entrance to the long staircase. Which brings me to the second part you’ll notice immediately – the stairs. There are 272 concrete steps that will bring you to the cave complex within the hill.

Batu Caves Stair Entry

As the Batu Caves are an active religious site, you should come dressed appropriately; which for men means wearing shirt sleeves and covered knees, and for women to cover their shoulders and legs. If you don’t meet these requirement, you will not be allowed to enter – however there are usually attendants at the base of the stairs that will rent you sarongs for only a few RM each. Actually entering the cave complex itself is free though.

We began our climb in the late morning under the surprisingly warm January sun. We took our time going up the stairs, but it only took ten or fifteen minutes to reach the first landing. Along the way, we took time to admire the jungle and local inhabitants of the caves – namely monkeys.

Climbing the Stairs
Monkeys Just Hanging Out
Mischievous Monkey

The monkeys will keep their distance for the most part, but as we’ve learned in other locations as well, they are wildly unpredictable, curious, and will take a swipe at food or loose items. On the way up, we saw a baby monkey that had managed to swipe an entire ice cream cone.

Monkey With Ice Cream
Monkey Stealing a Waterbottle

Dark Cave

We took our first stop at the landing at Dark Cave. The Dark Cave is an undeveloped part of the cave complex, which you can take tours of. You can take the 45 minute guided tour for RM 35 (~$10) which runs every 20 minutes. If you have a larger group and advanced notice, you can book a 3 – 4 hour tour which further explores the cave complex for around RM 80 (~$22) a person.

Dark Cave Entrance

We didn’t take the tour, mainly because we didn’t have closed-toe shoes, but if you have the time and opportunity it is a great tour. The caves are home to the rarest spider in the world, endemic geckos, and other fauna found only here. The 2 km complex also exhibits a wide range in geological formations with stalagmites, stalactites, cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops and other features. So, instead of taking of the tour, we looked at the informative plaques at the entrance to the cave, and watched the antics of the monkeys – very entertaining.

Cave Map
Batu Caves Flow Stone
Plaque at Batu Caves

Temple Cave

After a half hour or so, we continued our way up the last third of the stairs to the shrine. When you arrive at the top of the stairs you will find a large landing that opens to a large cave atrium. Here, you will actually then need to descend more steps into the main “room” which houses several small shrines.

Kyle and Bri on the Steps
Inside the main room
Shrine within Batu Caves

Various small vendors will sell you trinkets, drinks, and other such items while up here. Keep in mind that the drinks up within the shrine are more expensive than at the base due to the fact that everything must be carried up by hand – no elevator or wheel-chair access here.

You can proceed further into the cave and find another shrine in the back. Here the roof gives way and allows light to enter the cave. This allows for the cave to feel much more open and inviting than many other cave complexes you may encounter.

Staircase to Interior Shrine
Shrine Within Batu Caves

Batu Caves is actually a rather recent development, in the grand scheme of things. While the caves themselves are estimated to be 400 million years old, and has been used by the indigenous Temuan people, modern day usage of the caves began in 1860 when Chinese settlers began excavating guano for fertilizer. The caves then became famous after being recorded by colonial authorities and the American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.

An Indian trader named Pillai was inspired by the ‘vel’-shaped entrance to the cave and in 1890 founded the Sri Mahamariamman Temple within the cave. Wooden steps to the temple were originally put in, but concrete steps were placed in 1920 to accommodate the heavy number of visitors to the site.

Thaipusam

The Batu Caves serves as the premier place to be outside of India for the Hindu holiday of Thaipusam. We are still kicking ourselves for not visiting the temple during the time (we were in Kuala Lumpur during it).

The festival begins in the early hours of the morning and features devotees walking several kilometers from the the city, ultimately winding up at the Temple Cave. During their march, devotees (kavadi bearers) will pierce themselves will large metal skewers, and elaborate shoulder carriers called Kavadi, as a display of their devotion. Priests tend to the devotees and sprinkle consecrated ash over the flesh of the participants.

Thaipusam

This display is made to offer milk to Lord Murugan, the god of war within Hinduism – though he also features prominently within some sects of Buddhism in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India as well.

Thaipusam

Photo courtesy of: nina.bruja

While the display can come off as extreme and macabre, the surreal experience is viewed as a purifying event that will bring good luck in the coming year. The festival itself is extremely crowded and busy, attracting over a million visitors and devotees on the day (which takes place in late January or early February.

Thaipusam

Other Attractions

At the base of the stairs, you can also find two other cave temples: the Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave. Both of these caves feature Hindu statues and paintings. For those interested in the history of the lore of Murugan and other Hindu teachings, these are excellent places to check out – though they are not free like the cave temple.

Art Museum Cave

There are also numerous shops and stalls surrounding the entrance to the cave complex that will sell various souvenirs, trinkets, clothes, food, and drink.

I enjoyed my first of many coconuts on our travels here. Briana also managed to grab some vegetarian food very easily and for a very reasonable price.

Kyle with Coconut
Veg food at nearby stall

We really enjoyed the Batu caves and recommend it for anyone who is visiting Kuala Lumpur. It’s a great activity for most anyone, especially families and active adults.

Things To Keep In Mind

  • This is an active religious site, and as such you should dress and act respectful and modest
  • The complex is large and will take several hours to properly explore
  • The temple requires strenuous physical activity as there is no elevator or wheelchair access
  • Pay attention to the monkeys, we recommend not carrying food, and keeping water out of site when not actively drinking.
  • Keep all loose items on you or in a bag, don’t let the monkeys grab your stuff
  • Monkeys have personalities, some are far more bold and aggressive than others
  • Once a monkey has an item, it is no longer yours – don’t get bit by a monkey fighting for an item

Briana Descending Stairs
Angry Monkey

City Park of Budapest

~K~

On the Pest side of Budapest, away from the castle district (Buda), you can find the City Park of Budapest – or Varosliget Napozoret. This large park contains many iconic and beautiful locations worth visiting in Budapest that may be over looked by some visitors on a shorter stay due to the more prominent attractions along the Danube.

We visited this area several times during our stay in Budapest, each time with the park transitioning more and more from fall to winter.

Kyle and Bri on Castle pond bridge
Andrassy Street

Hero’s Square

When approaching along Andrassy road, the first and most iconic landmark you’ll come across is the Hero’s Square or Hosok tere. It is one of the major squares of Budapest and is noted for it’s statues that feature the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars (though originally featured prominent members of Hapsburgs). It also contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Rising from the center is the Millennium Monument, which was completed in 1900.

Hero's Square Budapest

Immediately surrounding the square, you can find the Museum of Fine Arts on the left and the Mucsarnok (palace of art) on the right. And if you follow the paths off to the right, you will find the Timewheel – a giant “hourglass” that is a cool stop if you happen to be nearby. Unfortunately, as of our visiting, it was broken due to vandalism and was no longer working.

Palace of Art Budapest

Ice Skating Rink

Proceeding into the park, you will find the ice skating rink immediately to your right before crossing the bridge.

Front of Ice Skating Building
Ice Skating building from behind

In the winter, the pond in the park is drained and then set up to be a large, “natural” ice skating rink. The facilities provide for a large, open place to go skating. The opening times of the skating rink are subject to change due to weather, but you can expect it to be open starting around November 23rd most years. Admission is HUF 1000 (~$3.70) on Monday and Tuesday, HUF 1500 (~$5.50) on Wednesday and Thursday, and HUF 2000 (~$7.40) on Weekends. There are also rentals if you don’t have your own skates for about HUF 1500 (~$5.50) each for two hours. While a little expensive for our tastes at the time, it still isn’t a bad price and it was an experience that we really wanted from Budapest.

Ice Skating Rink
Kyle In Skates

Skating the rink at night in particular was quite nice as it was right underneath the Vajdahunyad Castle. There were three distinct areas to skate as well: a common circuit rink where you go in a flow with everyone else; a “practice” rink where people were doing ice dancing and acrobatics; and a game area for those people who were good enough skaters to play various games. We really enjoyed watching the more skilled skaters, though we didn’t care for the music that was playing as it was American Rap and Pop and didn’t go well with the vibe of the area. It took away from the atmosphere in my mind (it would have been better to be holiday music). It is still important to be careful here though, as there are always the random slips that can occur – a wild child managed to take out Briana towards the end of our night.

Interior of Skating House

Vajdahunyad Castle

And speaking of Vajdahunyad Castle – it is a beautiful example of Hungarian castle work. But, what may not be commonly known is that it is a recent build – constructed in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition to celebrate 1000 years of Hungary.

Vajdahunyad Castle and Pond

It features copies of various castles from throughout the Hungarian Empire, including the Hunyad Castle which is in modern day Transylvania. The designs also incorporate the architectural styles of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. While originally constructed of cardboard and wood, it was so popular that is was rebuilt from stone and brick only a few years later.

Vajdahunyad Castle from Lake
Vajdahunyad Castle Chapel Relief Sculptures
Vajdahunyad Castle Gates
Vajdahunyad Castle Decorations

Today it is home to the largest agricultural museum in Europe and also offers tours of the interior castle, which is closed off to the general public.

Approaching Vajdahunyad Castle

Other Notables

The park is quite large and can offer several days worth of exploration. Ultimately, we limited ourselves and only saw what we mentioned above and spent a day at the Szechenyi Baths – but that is deserving of it’s own post entirely. But being amongst the most famous of the Budapest baths, it certainly deserves a visit.

Széchenyi thermal bath

You can also visit the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden which is in the northern corner of the park. There used to be an amusement park next to it as well, but it has since closed, and is only “open” to the adventurous few willing to jump a fence.

The rest of the park offers plenty for kids, families, couples, and solo travelers to explore, with activities ranging from dining, to skate parks, to outdoor concerts.

Pond surrounding Castle
Wedding Photos in Budapest City Park

While in Budapest, make sure to give the park the attention it deserves.

City Park Employee

Golden Gate Park San Francisco

~K~

After a decidedly wet winter here in the California Bay Area, we decided to take advantage of a nice sunny day by going to Golden Gate Park. While we’d been to San Francisco several times previously, we had never actually been to GGP.

One reason that we had not been to the park before, was because of parking. Parking in San Francisco is not cheap, and it can be an absolute pain to find a spot. Many parking spots can range from $10 – $20 an hour and as such we make a point to not do that – we’ll take BART or find some free way to do it if we can.

On this outing, we elected to park in one of the few free places that we’re aware of – Land’s End. The Land’s End area is on the west side of the Peninsula with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin across the bay. It is a little removed from the Presidio which is connected directly south of the GGB. Land’s End is also a great access to the Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights, and Ocean Beach.

Lands End from the Parking Lot
Sutro Baths

By parking at Land’s End, we got a great view of the ocean and cliffs as we walked down Point Lobos Ave, along Ocean Beach, finally arriving at the west entrance to Golden Gate Park after about a mile.

Rock Outcropping

The wind that whipped up from the beach was pretty substantial and occasionally blew a little sand in our face, but it wasn’t a big deal. In all honesty, the beach looked pretty nice, with large flat expanses of sand for whatever you would want – playing sports, playing with pets, laying out, cycling, swimming, surfing – it was all there.

Ocean Beach

But that was not our destination. We turned into the park at John F Kennedy Dr with our first waypoint being the Dutch windmill. It’s pretty iconic, and difficult miss as it stands above the surrounding trees.

Windmill from the Beach
Kyle near the Dutch Windmill

At this point, we needed to use the bathroom, and thankfully, there are public restrooms throughout the park. We chose to go to the closest to us, which were at the Chalet Soccer Fields.

View of Windmill from soccer fields

Golden Gate Park is a large park developed in 1871, organized in a similar manner to New York’s Central Park – a long rectangular park. In comparison to Central Park, Golden Gate Park is 20% bigger at a measurement of 0.5 miles by 3 miles.

Purple flowers

After our quick restroom break, we continued on to our next destination which was the Bison Paddock. Golden Gate Park has kept Bison in the park since 1891, and at one point housed over 100 Bison. Today, the number is far lower at 5, but that makes the animals and their size no less magnificient. It stands as a testemant to the beauty of the west and American heritage.

Bison in Golden Gate Park

After a relaxed photo shoot of the bison, we proceeded on towards Strawberry Hill, where we planned to ultimately end our day’s excursion. But that was actually quite a ways away from our current position. As such we made multiple stops along the way.

Horse Tours
Dog Park in Golden Gate Park

The first of these stops was at Spreckles Lake. The lake was quite lively, with plenty of people and wildlife enjoying the lake. We even got to see a few impromptu boat (miniature) races. It was very reminsent of Lumphini Park in Bangkok.

Bri at Spreckles Lake
Seagull with a Muffin

Continuing on from Spreckles Lake, we walked along John F Kennedy Dr coming upon Lindley Meadow. It appeared that there was some sort of a Yoga event that was being set up for here. We could see some people practicing AcroYoga in various areas, booths selling natural products, and other such items.

Wanderlust Yoga Festival
Aerial Yoga set up

We didn’t make a stop at Lindley Meadow, but did take a break upon arriving at East Meadow. By this point, we’d walked several miles and were needing a break. It would have seemed that a whole host of families had thought the same thing, and the East Meadow was filled with families enjoying the day. It does make for a nice picnic spot.

Briana in the Forest Trail

After resting for roughly twenty minutes, we made the final push towards Strawberry Hill. Our (my) main interest here, was a waterfall. After passing under the Park Presidio Blvd, we made a quick cut through a forest path before arriving at the Stow Lake Boathouse. Here you can rent paddle boats for Stow Lake, which a small lake that surrounds Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill is by extension, an island. But that is no worry, because there is a bridge to get you across. Multiple trails meander around Strawberry hill, with a few culminating at the very top.

Stow Lake Boats
Bri on Strawberry Hill Bridge
Forest Trail Stairs

We were a little less interested in climbing the hill, so we put a focus on seeing the waterfall which is on the east side of the island. We enjoyed the falls for a few minutes before calling it a day and beginning our several mile walk back to the car.

Strawberry Hill Waterfall
Strawberry Hill Waterfall

Our trip was pretty simple, but it should be duly noted that there is a tremendous amount to see and do while at Golden Gate Park. The park offers multiple days worth of activities and ultimately can’t be seen in one day.

Conservatory

Carousel

Botanical Garden

Hippie Hill

National AIDS Memorial Grove

Shakespeare Garden

Kezar Stadium

Polo Field

Archery Range

Golden Gate Nursery

De Young Museum

Academy of Sciences

Japanese Tea Garden

Turtles in Stow Lake
Duck and ducklings near Strawberry Hill
Black Bird On A Log
Goose In Golden Gate Park
Robin with worms

Reunification Palace Saigon

~K~

There is quite a bit of war tourism in Vietnam: In Ho Chi Minh, the main spots we saw related to this were the Cu Chi Tunnels, museums (including the War Remnants Museums which we have yet to write about), and the Reunification Palace. 

The Reunification Palace was just a few kilometer walk from our AirBNB (into the heart of District 1). The streets there can be a little crazy, but really, it wasn’t too difficult to manage. We set out just after noon and made our way towards the Palace. It is located at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, in District 1.

Approaching The Palace

You enter the grounds via a small entry building, where you purchase your tickets. The tickets cost 30,000 Dong each (~ $1.50). There was a short line when we visited. From there, you are free to wander the grounds and explore the expansive campus. 

Palace Ticket

We made our way around the outside perimeter first, before venturing inside. The grounds were well kept. A large fountain graced the front and a few tanks (including the one that crashed the gate in 1975) were off to the side. We also found a nice patch of grass to practice some AcroYoga in, which we’ve been slacking on for years now. It felt great to do. Near the back end of the palace are some tennis courts and a few other sports courts.

Tank That Crashed The Gates
MIG That Bombed The Palace
A Large Tree In The Surrounding Garden
A Tree Out Back

From there, we proceeded in towards the palace itself.


Approaching The Side Entrance
Briana On The Back Balcony

The palace was originally built in 1873 and served as the governor’s residence from 1887 to 1945. During World War II, the palace changed hands from colonial France to Japan, and then back to France. In 1954, after years of fighting with the French, the Vietnamese managed to win independence, and became divided along the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam. The South declared the palace, Independence Palace, and it served as the primary government building. In 1962, a North Vietnamese assassination attempt bombed the entire left wing of the palace, rendering it impossible to restore. So the current ruler of the time, Diem, ordered the whole palace demolished and commissioned a new building. The palace was built in 1963 and inaugurated in 1966. It served as the headquarters for the American campaign during the Vietnam War. On 8 April 1975, a communist spy managed to pilot a F-5 undetected and bombed the palace but caused no significant damage. The Palace fell on April 30, and signaled the end of the war. In November of 1975, negotiations between the North and South brought the two Vietnams together and the palace was renamed the Reunification Palace.

Front Lawn Fountain

The palace is quite opulent, with 5 floors and a roof top, all of which can be visited. A large central staircase could get you up and down, as well as stairs at the end of each wing. Elevators also are placed throughout, but they are quite tiny and can only hold two or three people at most. There are many halls, adorned with gold, ivory, and all manner of luxurious materials. Each hall also served it’s own purpose and function.

Reception Room
Reception Room
Reception Room
Reception Room
Palace Theater
Plaque

A residential area was near the top with a nice grotto open to the sky to admire.

Foreign Dignitaries' Quarters Courtyard
Animal Mountings

On the roof was an area originally designed as an area to meditate, but was eventually turned into a dance floor for partying. The entire palace was very open air, and felt quite welcoming.

Bonsai On The Roof
Helicopter Pad on Palace Roof

On the bottom floor, you can check out the industrial kitchen that served the entire palace.

Palace Kitchen
Palace Kitchen Mixer

We managed to spend a good two hours checking out the grounds. If you want, you can take a tour with a guide. But we just elected to walk around by ourselves and read the placards. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re in Ho Chi Minh, plus it’s located near a bunch of other great sites!

Plaque
Gold Plaque

Blogging For Book – Super Genes

~K~

This is our second entry for Blogging For Books. A neat service where you’re sent a free book if you provide an honest review of it on your blog. You can see our review for The Tunnels here. This time, we’re reviewing Super Genes, by Deepak Chopra, M.D. and Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D. We both really enjoyed the book and learned a lot that we’ve begun to incorporate into our lifestyles.

It seems all the rage these days is about your genes and how they affect you. But the narrative has been woefully incomplete and stuck in the past. Whereas in the past we’ve been told that our genes are static and the result of a roll of the dice on part of parents, Chopra and Tanzi bring to light the interactivity we share with genome and our abilities to affect them.

The book approaches the subject of genetics and epigenetics (the customizable genes that lay atop our ordinary genes) with a simplicity and clarity that would not be thought possible for a subject so complex and deep. The reader is carefully guided through the history of the discoveries, the mechanics of the genome, and the decisions one can make to take command of what was once believed to be beyond our control.

Diving into the subjects of diabetes, allergies, Alzheimers, inflammation, and more –  Chopra and Tanzi brings genetics to the public in a digestible way that maintains its potency through the use of real-life examples. They also bring to light how much our diet can affect our genes and those of our descendants. All of this, while bringing hope to those who have always struggled with health problems they previously thought were beyond their control.

This book is an excellent and engaging book for anyone who has ever had an interest in why their body behaves the way it does, or the layman who just wants a better understanding of the power of DNA.

House of Terror, Budapest

~K~

The House of Terror Museum in Budapest stands as a stark reminder of – and a monument to – fascist and communist regimes (and their victims) leading up to and following World War II. The museum was opened in 2002 in the building that was used by the Arrow Cross Party, AVH (Hungarian Secret Police), and Nazi Party.

Roof of the House of Terror

Coming to Budapest, we knew that this was a museum that we really wanted to visit. Our AirBNB was located only a couple hundred meters from the museum so we had no trouble finding our way there. It is located at Andrassy ut 60, which is on the primary street that runs down the Pest side of the city towards Hero’s Square.

Advertisement for a movie about the Revolution

We decided to visit on October 23 – Day of the Republic – the 60th anniversary. The initial reasoning for this was that museums are free on national holidays, and we were on a budget. But we would come to realize a certain poignancy to our decision to visit that day. The Day of the Republic commemorates the revolution of 1956, and the overthrow of the Arrow Cross Party on November 10.

As a kid growing up in the US going to public school, my history classes didn’t cover Hungary – or anything but the most generic of world history if it wasn’t directly related to the US – and so this museum really brought to light an important and dark period of history I was completely unaware of.

Our day started early, as we assumed that the museum would get crowded and that we might have to wait a while to get in. And we did. The line wrapped around the side of the building for about a hundred meters or so and slowly meandered it’s way to the front door. On the outside were pictures of victims and martyrs from the Nazi, Arrow Cross Party, and Soviet Communist Occupation. 

Line to House of Terror
Victim Portraits

Walking through the front entrance, we were treated to ominous music that strongly conveyed the cold Soviet demeanor that would be the motif of the museum. It took us a few minutes to get through and drop our coats and cameras (no photography of any kind is permitted) at the storage area- initially, we had assumed it was so busy because of the holiday (and it probably was a little busier), but it turns out that the museum is usually busy – so prepare for that.

Inside, you can find that the museum is made up of 3 floors and a basement. Each floor wraps around a central atrium, at the center of which is an old Soviet T-54 tank in a pool of water.

We began on the top floor and made our way down. Each exhibition takes a significant amount of time to work your way through and is excellently curated. You can find an extensive amount of information in both Hungarian and English, although there were a few sections that could use additional English explanation.

One aspect that we found enjoyable was the numerous video footage and interviews with the people affected. While dark, and not kid-friendly at times, these were very informative and far more captivating than placards on a wall.

Another nice feature was that every room would have a printed information sheet in Hungarian or English for visitors to take. These were very detailed, and sometimes even multiple pages long. The information on them helped reinforce the message of the particular exhibit and allowed for visitors to peruse the exhibit without crowding around a single plaque.

The museum covers the history of Hungary’s revolutions directly following and before World War II. It explores the relationships of the Hungarians with the German Nazis, USSR, and KGB. Its numerous exhibitions cover items such as arrests, gulags, imprisonments, torture, propaganda, murder, and resistance.

In the basement, they have kept the cells that were used to hold and break prisoners to the will of the communist regime. They are dark, cold, and dingy – a miserable place to be.

The experience of the museum is truly somber and sobering. It brings to light the atrocities that can be committed and just how easy it is for people to take these actions. But it also highlights the strength of the Hungarian people to resist. That pride still shows today, and especially around the time of the holiday, is exhibited by the Hungarian flag with a circle cut out of the center. The Hungarian people removed the communist insignia from the center of the flag during the revolution.

Hungarian Flag

The museum does not allow for photography or videography inside, so we’re pretty limited on what we can put up on here from the interior. But out front, there is an exhibition as well. Numerous plaques in English and Hungarian detail various events and individuals who were involved in the resistance. As well, there is a monument made of chains (the “iron curtain”). 

Chains of Communisim
Berlin Wall Piece

Revolution Plaque
Terror House Plaque
Terror House Plaque
Retailiation Plaque

I could say a lot more but regardless, the museum is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Budapest. It does an excellent job displaying the history of this tumultuous time.

If you want to visit:

Address:  Andrássy út 60, Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 10am – 6pm (Closed Mondays)

Cost: 2000 HUF (~$7.25)

Keraton Palace Yogyakarta Indonesia

~K~

The Keraton Palace of Yogyakarta sits inside the Kraton – the palace city of the Sultan. The walled city houses 25,000 people, 1,000 of whom are directly employed by the Sultan.

Today, the Kraton remains just as vibrant and bustling as it used to be – as it is a fully functioning city. In fact, it was the location of our AirBNB and made for a wonderful starting point for many of our adventures while in the Yogya city-center.

Keraton Palace Display

Our plans to visit the Keraton Palace did not go the way we had intended though – it was supposed to be the second stop after visiting Taman Sari, but we ran into a random student on the street who got us to go check out the Batik school instead, and that totally threw off our plan. Though this resulted in a much more fun, and unexpected afternoon.

After wandering our way down Malioboro street from the north, we re-entered the Kraton and found ourselves looking at the Keraton Palace. The Keraton is a still functioning palace, and the current Sultan still lives and works there – as such, parts of the palace are off limits to visitors and it shuts down on holidays and Sundays.

But for those interested in visiting, you enter from the north side of the complex, on the right side of the entry gate.

Keraton Palace Entry

Still, the complex can offer some interesting sights to wander around and explore.

Keraton Palace Roosterrs

If you come at the right time (which we didn’t) you can see performances which are included with your ticket. The specifics vary by the day, but generally are between 9 am and noon and include gamelan, puppetry, poetry readings, and classical dances.

Keraton Palace Covered Pavillion

As well, there is a museum on the grounds. As I stated above, it’s poorly curated, so we don’t really have much context on just what everything was, but it was still interesting to look at.

Keraton Palace Museum Weapons
Keraton Palace Museum Drums
Keraton Palace Museum Cars

The palace looked nice, but ultimately we found it sort of boring as it was uninformative to the casual tourist. Still, it’s worth taking a peek – especially if you plan to show up at the right time and day.

Keraton Palace Memorial Bas Relief

If you’re really lucky, you might even get to see the Sultan.

Keraton Palace Inner Courtyard

Nonetheless, with our destination set, we set out for a walk to get to the statue. We began with our customary walk out of the residential road and across the bridge (which was under construction) over the river to the main road.

Local Houses
Stormy Skies in Sri Lanka
River Bridge

Once on the road we proceeded out towards the waterfront road, where we proceeded to walk the entirety of Weligama Bay. During this time, we passed numerous fish mongers, boats, shrines, surfers, and cricket players.

Empty Lot
Local Fishmongers
Outrigger Boat
Small Roadside Shrine

The sky was on the verge of storming nearly the entire duration of our walk, but this had become customary to us. We had arrived in Sri Lanka during the monsoon, and as such it rained most days. But coming from Florida, this really wasn’t a big deal – we’ve heard people complain about monsoon weather, but personally, I think it is actually nice (less tourists, and cooling rains – why complain?).

Stormy Skies
Local Durian Vendor

Just as we rounded the cape of the bay, we turned inwards back towards the main drag of Weligama. Along this road, at this point, though, things were far more relaxed and residential.


Taprobane Island
Briana On A Beach Ropeswing With A Local Friendly Dog
Old man pulling his cow.
Kapthurai Mosque Weligama

We stopped by a small Buddhist shrine, but didn’t feel right entering because we weren’t properly dressed. A few locals outside the shrine urged us to go in and look around, but we still felt a little uncomfortable.

Grounds of the Buddhist Temple

We proceeded to enter at their behest, but were shot dirty looks like by other locals inside the temple. We opted to simply wander the grounds for a few minutes but not intrude on the temple operations themselves. We left shortly after.

Shrine In The Buddhist Temple

Continuing along the road, we came upon numerous homes and buildings of seemingly no consequence. However, they all bore a authenticity that made our wandering all the more enjoyable.

Home in Weligama
Woman walking in front of her house
Victorian Architecture With Brilliant Foliage
Briana walking down the street in Weligama
Buddhist Temple Buddha
Weligama Post Office

A long while later, we finally came to a fork in the road that I was expecting – near the train tracks and knew that we were close to the statue. A quick turn to the left, and proceeding across the tracks brought us to the entrance to the tiny park that held the statue.

Train tracks in Weligama

The statue was carved into a large boulder and stood a few feet above head height. The park was small, but offered a quiet respite from the going-ons about us.

Rock Of The Leper King Weligama Sri Lanka

Known locally as Kusta Raja Gala or Rock of the Leper King, it supposedly depicts an ancient king stricken with Leprosy who was instructed to drink coconut pulp for three months. The “cure” worked and the statue was built to commemorate him.

Rock Of The Leper King Weligama Sri Lanka

We stayed for a few minutes, before proceeding back towards our AirBNB. But of course, we were still a long ways off from home at this point, and still had good walk ahead of us. We took a break watching some cricket players across the road.

Cricket Field

This time though, we proceeded to make our way through the heart of Weligama and the main city center. It was very busy, and aside from the cell phones, evoked the feeling of being in the 60s or 70s.

Weligama Town Center Seasonal Shrine Under Construction
Local Gas Station
Old Man In His Home
City Center of Weligama

The walk took us several hours, and we were quite tired upon arriving back to our AirBNB. But as we’ve found elsewhere, a simple walk in seemingly mundane neighborhoods can be far more noteworthy experiences than the typical tourist fare.

Walking Down The Street

The Belgrade Ballet (Belgrade National Theatre)

~B~

The National Theatre in Belgrade was originally built in 1869 and is a protected cultural monument in Serbia.  Located next to Republic Square, it’s unlikely you’ll visit Belgrade without seeing this grand building, but you should take advantage of what it has to offer inside as well!

THe belgrade serbia opera theater

For around $5-$10/person you can see a ballet, a drama, or even an opera within an extravagant looking theater. Between the quality and price (and therefore value), I’m surprised this isn’t recommended by more people as an activity in Belgrade. Maybe they just don’t know about it! I read somewhere that performances are subsidized to allow more people to enjoy art and culture in Serbia which makes sense because I was wondering how they could pay all the performers and theatre workers based on the admission fees and the capacity of theater. 

Isn't it grand?

After we arrived in Serbia we checked out what was playing and decided on Don Quixote (the ballet) because we both were familiar with the story which we felt would make it easier for us to follow. There are usually several options at any given time, though.

I believe you can purchase your tickets at the theater but we opted to get our’s online (you can get tickets here). You’ll need to create an account on the website and while we had some issues with the site at first, it’s fairly straightforward.

Ballet tickets

Unfortunately, when I asked someone to confirm the time (we used Kyle’s email to reserve the tickets), they did not read it correctly (I guess) which resulted in us arriving several hours early. At least it wasn’t a couple hours late! It was quite a long walk there so we weren’t going to walk back to our place only to return, so we went wandering. At this point I think we had already been to Republic Square and even maybe the fortress multiple times so we felt very free to explore wherever we pleased. It’s a nice area and we enjoyed checking out some lovely streets, a couple churches, and somewhere in there we opted to have dinner.

Manufaktura food

We ate at Manufaktura which was a pretty nice place and between the restaurant and the theater, it felt like a pretty classy date night!

Outside the theaterDate Night

After arriving to the theater and checking out the decor, we were directed by various people to the correct location.

Selfienear the entrance

This was a little slower than it could have been because the ushers/workers would talk to us in Serbian and we’d pretty much just stare blankly, occasionally squinting to attempt to understand something until they realized we didn’t understand. Then they would laugh and start speaking in English. While most people in general did not seem to know a ton of English (if any) in Serbia, most people at touristy (if you can call them that- we hardly saw any tourists there) places (like museums and such) speak English.

The doors in

Anyway, while we pretty much remained in our seats, it seemed that after everyone was seated, the seats were sort of flexible because we saw other people change locations a little bit (like maybe over a few seats or down a row, something along those lines- you wouldn’t suddenly be able to get the $10 seats if you are in a $5 seat because the entrance would be different). Our seats were a bit tilted forward which made it slightly uncomfortable until you realize that in those seats you want to lean forward a bit anyway. They were fairly comfortable but I have read others report that their seats were very comfortable and I imagine they might have been in a different part of the theater.

Beautiful Belgrade TheaterView from our Seats

The performance itself was professional and high-quality and we were quite happy with it. The performance (including the, I believe, 20 minute break) was around 2-3 hours.

Chandelier

We walked home in the rain and it was a very lovely evening.

Me at the Belgrade Ballet