Victorian Greenhouse

Jevremovac Botanical Garden Belgrade

~B~

We enjoy gardens and parks (here’s a post we did a while back about some of the local ones we enjoy around San Jose). In general, they’re a nice place to just go for a stroll – so when we explored Google maps to check out what was around us and found Jevremovac Botanical Garden we decided to give it a go.

Belgrade Botanical Garden Entrance

After a little research we also found that these gardens are allegedly actually one of the most visited natural monuments in Serbia despite not showing up on any “Things to do in Belgrade” type lists we found. If you are limited on time in Serbia you probably won’t get to it but if you’re there a while (we were there over a month) or nearby, it’s a nice place to go wander around for a little bit. In general, and this is the vibe we get from Belgrade as a whole – we found the area to be peaceful and pleasant.

Walking into the garden
Serbia

Altogether the park contains over 2,500 plant species spread over 12 acres. Some have labels to help you identify them.

Plant description
Spring

There are benches throughout certain areas of the park for anyone who gets tired or just feels like taking in the scenery and sounds of birds.

Park bench

Now, I’m sure the garden may appear different at different times of year, but also keep in mind that it’s not open year-round (info at the bottom).

RoseFlower

Anyway, you can wander about and enjoy the general park/forest garden, but there are also a few specific places within Jevremovac worth mentioning:

The Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden in Jevremovac

We really enjoy the aesthetic of Japanese Gardens. Of course, as far as I can recall we’ve only been to two others – the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Jose and the Japanese Garden on Margaret Island in Budapest (both impressive). We thought about visiting one in Vancouver which is supposed to be great but it was closed the day we planned to visit Vancouver (and prices were a bit high for us). This one was a little smaller than the other two but also very pretty.

Jevremovac
Japanese Garden

Not far from it there’s also this little bamboo area you can walk through which is neat.

Bamboo forest

The Greenhouse

Victorian Greenhouse
Outside the greenhouse

The greenhouse on the property was built in Victorian-style (which we enjoyed) in 1892 (and reconstructed again in 1970, 2005, and 2014) and contains over 1,000 species.

Greenhouse

Inside there are all kinds of different intriguing plants, succulents, and cacti.

Succulents
Jevremovac Botanical Garden
Cute Succulents
Succulents garden
Pretty flower
OrchidsWater drops

When we first made it to the greenhouse we also saw a couple cats and fortunately we had cat treats with us so we sat and enjoyed the company of one of them (the other one was scared).

Kyle feeding catCute cat

Old Oak

There is also a 150-year-old oak tree inside which is a natural monument itself. (Sorry, don’t have a pic of it.)

Now for a little history: the garden was created in 1874 by the Ministry of Education of Serbia. The first manager (Josif Pancic) is said to be the “father of Serbian botany”. So this place is pretty significant in Serbia in terms of plants. About a decade after its creation, the king (Jevrem Obrenovic) donated the garden to the Great School in Belgrade and named it Jevremovac in honor of his grandfather.

And here’s some basic info for a visit:
Cost: 250 Serbian Dinar (~$2/person)
Address: Takovska 43, Beograd, Serbia
Hours: 9am-7pm May 1 – Nov 1
Note: Keep in mind that this attraction is only open from May through November

Cute flower

Explore Galle Fort Sri Lanka

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 are some crazy drivers on the road! Ultimately, we chose to go by motorbike because it was the most flexible option. 

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 usual for this time of the year, the weather was a little dreary but not rainy, making 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 were within a few km of the fort. Luckily, coming from the south you can get to the fort and avoid driving through the congested city interior; whereas through the north, you will 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 is no fee for parking, and we had no trouble finding a space. We were visiting during the off-season though, so it may be more crowded at other times of the year.

IMG11391

Walking down the historic streets with no real direction in mind other than to find someplace to grab a bite to eat, the charm of the fort presented itself. Although the fort is over 400 years old, it still remains in good repair and continues it’s lively operations. The interior of the fort is filled with home stays, restaurants, religious and municipal buildings, museums, and residencies.

Road inside Galle Fort Sri Lanka

Our first stop was a unique, free museum that showcased various trinkets and artifacts from Galle’s past. While hard to get good information on many of the pieces, it still is very interesting. It also doubled as a jewelers 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. 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 we encountered frequently while in Sri Lanka – poor food. Colombo impressed us with the quality and variety of the food we could get – offering a wide variety of Indian, Sri Lankan, and south Asian dishes. But as we progressed down the coast, we found the quality dropped severely. Fish was usually decent, but nothing catering to locals seemed to be great – cold, poorly spiced, very starch heavy, and lacking in fruits and vegetables.

We can’t be 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. More expensive eateries could have decent food, but you will pay around $10 for a meal that should have only cost around $4.

So while the meal was satisfactory for me, Bri was still feeling ravenous, and thus we made our way towards an ice cream shop we had previously researched.

Along the way though, we happened upon a few key landmarks, the first being the Meeran Mosque. The building does not look like a normal mosque, but rather more like a church. This is due in part to Dutch colonialism, which encouraged the more European style architecture that is prominent throughout 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 that people were swimming in the jetties just below the wall. The water was rough in the bay, but the rocks surrounding the fort made for a safe place to swim.

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

After viewing the lighthouse, we returned to 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 coming out to ~$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 later fortified by the Dutch during their colonial period in 1649. The city of Galle itself however, has been 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

Other Galle Fort Activities

Wandering the fort is a great way to spend the afternoon. We made a stop for some sunglasses, which Briana unfortunately lost on a previous outing. You can also find local artists from whom to buy paintings – which we did. Ultimately, we were tired and only intended 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

Wandering, we eventually found ourselves back along the sea wall and ambled 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 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 South of Sri Lanka. And even if you’re up near Colombo, it is only a couple hour’s ride away. For those really wanting to experience Galle in a slow way, you can stay in a number of home stays within the walls of the fort for an authentic experience.

~K~

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

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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, Batu Caves was one of – if not the – top thing that we wanted to see. The caves are very easy to access. You can take the metro directly to the town of Gombak where the shrine resides for RM 4.40 (~$1.50) from KL Sentral Station. However, we had to take an Uber to the caves, as we were in Petaling Jaya which did not have rail access. This was not an issue though – it was cheap, quick, and efficient.

Consecrated Gold Statue of Lord Mudrugan

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

Batu Caves Stair Entry

The Batu Caves are an active religious site, and you should come dressed appropriately. This means wearing shirt sleeves and covered knees for me, and to covering shoulders and legs for women. If you don’t meet these requirement, you cannot enter – however there are usually attendants at the base of the stairs renting out sarongs for only a few RM each. Actually entering the cave complex itself is free.

We began our climb in the late morning under the surprisingly warm January sun. We took our time climbing 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 keep their distance mostly, but as we’ve learned in other locations, they are wildly unpredictable, curious, and will take a swipe at any opportunity. On the way up, we saw a baby monkey 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 of Dark Cave. The Dark Cave is an undeveloped part of the cave complex, which offers tours. There is a 45 minute guided tour for RM 35 (~$10) running every 20 minutes. For larger groups and advanced notice, you can book a 3 – 4 hour tour, further exploring the cave complex for around RM 80 (~$22) a person.

Dark Cave Entrance

We didn’t take the tour, because we didn’t have closed-toe shoes. If you have the time and opportunity it is a great tour though. The caves are home to the rarest spider in the world, endemic geckos, and other fauna found only here. The 2 km complex exhibits a wide range of geological formations with stalagmites, stalactites, cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops, and other features. Instead of taking of the tour, we read 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, we continued 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 opening to a large cave atrium. You will actually 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 vendors will sell you trinkets, drinks, and other items while up here. Keep in mind that the drinks in the shrine are more expensive than at the base because everything must be carried up by hand – no elevator or wheel-chair access here.

Proceed further into the cave and you find another shrine in the back. Here the roof gives way and light enters the cave. This allows the cave to feel 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. The caves are estimated to be 400 million years old, and has been used by the indigenous Temuan people for centuries. Modern day usage of the caves began in 1860 with Chinese settlers  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. In 1890 he 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.

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 holiday (we were in Kuala Lumpur during it).

The festival begins in the early morning hours and features devotees walking several kilometers from the the city. During their march, kavadi bearers pierce themselves will metal skewers, and elaborate shoulder carriers (Kavadi), as a display of their devotion. Priests tend to the devotees sprinkling 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 bringing good luck in the coming year.

The festival is extremely crowded, attracting over a million visitors on the day (which takes place in late January or early February.

Thaipusam

Other Attractions In Batu Caves

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

Art Museum Cave

There are numerous shops and stalls surrounding the entrance to the complex selling souvenirs, clothes, food, and drink.

I enjoyed my first of many coconuts on our travels here. Briana also managed to grab some vegetarian food 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 visiting Kuala Lumpur. It’s a great activity for most anyone, especially families and active adults.

Things To Keep In Mind At Batu Caves

  • 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 fighting a monkey 

~B & K

Briana Descending Stairs
Angry Monkey

Visiting City Park Budapest

On the Pest side of Budapest, away from the castle district (Buda), you can find the City Park 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.

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, also home to the House of Terror, the first and most iconic landmark you’ll come to is Hero’s Square or Hosok tere. It is a major square in Budapest and is noted for it’s statues that feature the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. 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

Surrounding the square, you will find the Museum of Fine Arts on the left and the Mucsarnok (palace of art) on the right. Following 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, during our visit, it was broken due to vandalism.

Palace of Art Budapest

Ice Skating Rink City Park Budapest

Proceeding into City Park Budapest, you 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 set up to be a large, “natural” skating rink. The facilities provide a large, open place to skate. Opening times of the skating rink are subject to change due to weather, but expect it to open starting around November 23rd most years. Admission is HUF 1000 (~$3.70) on Mondays and Tuesdays, HUF 1500 (~$5.50) on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and HUF 2000 (~$7.40) on Weekends. There are rentals if you don’t have skates for HUF 1500 (~$5.50) for two hours. While a little expensive for our tastes, it still is a good price and was an experience that we really wanted from Budapest.

Ice Skating Rink
Kyle In Skates

Skating the rink at night was nice as it was right underneath the Vajdahunyad Castle. There were three distinct areas to skate: 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 skaters good enough to play various games. We really enjoyed watching the more skilled skaters.

We didn’t care for the music playing – American Rap and Pop. It didn’t go well with the holiday vibe and took away from the atmosphere. In my mind it would have been better to be holiday music. It is still important to be careful though as there are always 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. What is not commonly known is it is a recent build. It was constructed in 1896 as for 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 of modern day Transylvania. The designs incorporate architectural styles of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. 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 offering tours of the interior.

Approaching Vajdahunyad Castle

Other Notables In City Park Budapest

City Park Budapest is quite large and offers several days worth of exploration. We limited ourselves and only saw what we mentioned above and spent a day at the Szechenyi Baths. 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 has since closed. It 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. Activities range from dining, to skate parks, and outdoor concerts.

Pond surrounding Castle
Wedding Photos in Budapest City Park

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

~K~

City Park Employee

Golden Gate Park San Francisco

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 San Francisco. 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

Other Activities in Golden Gate Park

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

 

~K~

 

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

Explore the Reunification Palace Saigon

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

Get In

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

Reunification Palace Main Grounds

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

Reunification Palace History

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

Reunification Palace Interior

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!

~K~

Plaque
Gold Plaque

Blogging For Book – Super Genes

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.

Paradigm Shift

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.

Layers of Genes

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.

Genes and Disease

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.

Conclusion

This book is excellent and engaging for anyone who has ever been interested in why their body behaves. Be it a geneticist or the layman who just wants a better understanding of the power of DNA.

~K~

House of Terror, Budapest

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 opened in 2002 in the building 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. The museum is at Andrassy ut 60, the primary street running 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.

Growing up in the US attending public school, history classes rarely cover Hungary. Usually nothing more than the most generic of world history is taught if not directly related to the US. So this museum really brought to light an important and dark period of history I was completely unaware of.

Arrival to House of Terror

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, ominous music played, conveying 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 at the storage area. No photography of any kind is permitted. Initially, we assumed it was busy because of the holiday, but it turns out that the museum is usually busy. So prepare for crowds.

House of Terror Exhibits

Inside, you will find that the museum consists 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 enjoyable aspect is the abundant video footage and interviews with the Hungarian people. While dark, and not kid-friendly at times, these are very informative and far more captivating than placards on a wall.

Another nice feature, every room provided a printed information sheet in Hungarian or English to take. These are very detailed, and even multiple pages long. The information helped reinforce the message of each exhibit and allowed for visitors to peruse the exhibit without crowding around a 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. Numerous exhibitions cover 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 committed and 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. It shows in 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

House of Terror Exterior Display

The museum does not allow for photography or videography inside. This limits us on what we can show here from the interior. But out front, there is an exhibition as well. Numerous plaques in English and Hungarian detail various events and individuals from the resistance. As well,  a monument made of chains (the “iron curtain”) stands before the entrance. 

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.

Visit the House of Terror

Address:  Andrássy út 60, Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 10am – 6pm (Closed Mondays)

Cost: 2000 HUF (~$7.25)

~K~

Keraton Palace Yogyakarta Indonesia

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

Getting Into Keraton Palace

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 down Malioboro street from the north, we re-entered the Kraton. We found ourselves looking at the Keraton Palace. The Keraton is a still functioning palace, and home to the current Sultan. As such, some of the palace is off limits to the public and 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. The artifacts are 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.

~K~

Keraton Palace Inner Courtyard

Getting To The Coast

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

Coastal Walk

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

Turning Towards The Interior

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

Proceeding to enter at their behest, we were shot dirty looks 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. Shortly after, we left.

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

Arriving At The Rock Of The Leper King

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 depicts an ancient king stricken with Leprosy. The king was instructed to drink coconut pulp for three months to cure his disease. 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. Of course, we were still a far from home at this point, with good walk ahead of us. We took a break watching some cricket players across the road.

Cricket Field

Returning Home

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. As we’ve found elsewhere, a simple walk in “mundane” neighborhoods can offer more noteworthy experiences than typical tourist fare.

~K~

Walking Down The Street