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Monday, March 14, 2011

Traveling England - London

Arrived in London – We went directly to the “Tube” Station(Subway) and tried to buy tickets at one of the electronic Kiosks but found that they couldn’t read our credit cards. Apparently most bank cards in the UK have chips in them so the card readers don’t recognize the magnetic strips. We found a booth in the rail station that books hotels & hostels and they set us up with a Bed & Breakfast called the Wellington that isn’t far from the Victoria Tube station. It is fairly centrally located and you can walk to most everything but, it is still quite a bit of walking. The room was nothing special but fairly comfortable. We took a quick nap and then headed into the city to see some of the sites. We headed over to The Tower of London, which is a fortress built by William the Conqueror, and walked around it and made our way down to the banks of the Thames river where we walked along the well-kept boardwalk until we reached the Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is very colorful & worth seeing, we happened to arrive around sunset, so we got to see it in the daylight & by the time we had crossed over the sun had set and we were able to see it at night with all of the lights on. We then walked along the opposite side of the banks of the river and stumbled on a street performance of a play but only stopped briefly to catch a glimpse. It was free and we watched it for a few minutes but, we arrived late & didn’t know what the play was about, so we continued on to the London Bridge that was also lit up. Walking along the banks we ended up going down quite a few streets that had an old typical London feel to them with the street lights, cobblestone roads, and of course plenty of pubs. We kept walking until we got to the Waterloo Tube Station where we boarded and went to the Westminster Tube Station, so that we could check out the London Eye, the largest Ferris wheel, which was lit up with bright lights and we were also able to check out Big Ben and Parliament at night when they were lit up. After that we headed back into the Westminster Tube Station and caught it back to the Victoria Tube Station where we walked back to the Bed & Breakfast to get some sleep.


Day two in London started out by eating fiber granola bars because we missed breakfast. We headed to the tube station to head over to parliament and big ben to see it in the day. The parliament building was a lot bigger than expected when walking around it during the day. On the east side there were protestors camping out protesting the war in Iraq and Tony Blair which I thought was a bit unusual as it seemed a little late in the game for that, unless they started when the war started and are just very diligent. Across from parliament is Westminster Abby, which dates back to the 600’s and is an incredible large cathedral. It is very impressive from the outside and we didn’t go inside because it is Sunday and closed to the tourist. We will probably head back Monday morning to check it out inside. After walking around a bit we jumped on the tube and headed over to St. Paul’s cathedral over by the Tower of London. It was pretty big, but not near the size of Westminster Abby. After not being able to find a donor kebab stand for lunch, we settled for McDonald’s. After it rained pretty hard for about half an hour (we took an internet break in Starbucks) we headed back to the other side of town to check out Hyde Park. This park is impressive by its size and also very nice to take a walk and enjoy the good weather. It reminds me a lot of Central Park in New York because it is so big and a lot of people go there to get away from the city, even though its still right in the middle of the city. While walking a lot the waterfront seeing people feed the pigeons, ducks and swans, we saw a kid about 10 years old trucking along talking on a cell phone. He had a bright blue shirt with big yellow letters that read “I’d do me”. It was comical. After enjoying Hyde Park for a bit we kept moving and went to the front of Buckingham Palace. We saw the guards that don’t move an eyebrow and it was bit, but not all that impressive, at least from the angle that we were at. On our way back we stopped at a few souvenir shops and looked at a few things. We also found a kebab stand which we returned to later in the evening to eat. It was good at first, but overall I think everyone was disappointed when comparing them to the kebabs we had a couple years ago in Australia.


We checked out our hotel in London and headed to the Victoria Tube/Train Station where we could use the internet to check out a few things we wanted to see during the day and look for the next nights accommodation. We then walked to the Hertz rental car station near the Victoria station and picked up our rental car. After a few minutes to get familiar with the manual gear shifter on the left hand side and the driver seat on the right hand side we were ready to head out. We started out heading to Windsor Castle, which is about 1 hour outside of London. It is a nice little town with a lot of shops and restaurants to eat at. We paid 16GBP to get into the Windsor Castle grounds and walk around. The size of the Castle is fairly impressive and we spent a good hour just walking around the grounds. Also on the inside there is the St. George Cathedral that we were able to go in and look around. It also was fairly impressive with all of its ornate detail and stone carvings. We also watched several times as the typical British Guard with black hat & pants, red uniform, and gun did his march up & down the courtyard. We then headed out of Windsor and made our way to Stonehenge. It took us about another hour to get there from Windsor. It was a nice drive and as you approach you can look out over green rolling hills with pastures where sheep are grazing. Right up on the hill are the formations of rocks and it is fairly easy to see Stonehenge sticking up on the hill. We walked around for a few moments and then headed out towards Devon & Cornwall which are providences where it is supposed to have some great views. We drove to Exeter and stopped at a gas station where we decided to keep going out towards the coast. We drove until about 9pm & then found a hotel to stay at in Truro.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Traveling Bolivia - La Paz, Oruro, CopaCobana, Lake Titicaca

La Paz

03/07/2010-03/10/2010 - I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a work service project that involved teaching 4th and 5th grade teachers how to use computers as learning tools in the classroom and then work with the students to teach them how to use the computers.

I arrived in La Paz at 6:30am with some other co-workers, and even though we were tired from the red eye flight we were excited at the opportunity to explore the city of La Paz a little bit.  The first thing that I noticed is that just by walking a block or 2 I was short of breath and already a little light headed.  The altitude sickness is a valid concern for many travelers because La Paz varies in elevation from 9,840 ft to 13,450 ft.  They suggest that you pick up some Acetazolamide (Diamox) which has been used increasingly as a preventive medicine to decrease the symptoms of altitude sickness. Also, upon arrival several hotels will offer Coca Tea which is basically boiled Coca leaves in water which the locals suggest to help acclimatize yourself and helps with the sickness.  I didn't have any severe symptoms other than shortness of breath but, several of my co-workers developed headaches and sickness.  After a couple of hours of admiring the towering triple-peaked Illimani mountain, which is always snow-covered and can be seen from several spots of the city, and getting something to eat we decided to make our way out to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon).  This is just a short drive of about 30 minutes(10km) from the center of La Paz to the southern part of La Paz.  Valle de la Luna is basically where the mountain has been eroded to create some interesting stalagmite type structures that are unique.

We then had the taxi driver drop us off at the Plaza San Francisco which is kind of the center of La Paz.  There is the San Francisco Church and around the plaza there are plenty of places to buy some of the local handicrafts.  If you follow the streets up the sides of the church and behind it you will find all kinds of souvenirs.  Also downtown and around La Paz at various cross walks you will notice people dressed up in Zebra suits directing traffic. A local told me that the logic behind it was that there were no stripes on the streets of where cars should stop, so they have people in striped Zebra suits instead to direct traffic.

We met with several 4th grade students and teachers over the next couple of days but, I won't elaborate much on the service project because my blog is more focused on the places I have traveled and about them. 


3/10/2010-3/13/2010 -After several days in La Paz we headed to Oruro, which is about 3-4 hours south of La Paz depending on the transportation that you take.  We opted to rent a small SUV with a driver, which was a little more expensive but, it fit our time schedule better and we didn't have to share a bus with others.  The trip was fairly flat once you get up out of the city to the "Altiplano". Along the way you can see the various beautiful mountains with their peaks covered with snow.  If you are lucky while driving you can see a similar species to the Llama which is the Vicuña.  There are some wild Vicuña up in the Altiplano and they look similar to Llamas but have a smaller head and thinner neck. 

Once we reached Oruro we found that there are several unique statues upon entering the city and the city its self is fairly plain.  You will hear great stories about how big Carnival is in Oruro and that it is the best place to be for Carnival and from all the pictures that I have seen it looks amazing during Carnival.  I am assuming that is probably one of the only times the city is really lively and since we weren't there during that time the city seemed pretty plain, tame, and a little boring.  There isn't a ton to see there and you won't find too many nice hotels.  We stayed in the Hotel Sucre which was supposedly one of the best ones in the city and you can expect to pay about $45 a room per night and they are small and really nothing special.  The funny thing about this hotel was they had plastic flowers in a planter that they watered every day & I had really never seen anyone water fake flowers?  After our short stay for a couple of days which was plenty we were back off towards La Paz.

CopaCobana - Lake Titicaca

3/13/2010-3/14/2010 - We decided to go straight to Lake Titicaca to a town called CopaCobana for the weekend before returning to La Paz for the following week.  The drive from La Paz to CopaCabana which is a city that lies right on the shores of Lake Titicaca took about 3 hours.  It is a windy road that half way through you have to put the car/bus on a ferry to cross a small piece of the lake to get to the other side.  Copa Cabana is a small little city with quite a few things to see.  We decided to go for a cruise on the lake and see a floating community.  The cruise was great but the community was pretty lame.  This one was just a small put together demonstration for tourists.  If you want to go to the real ones they are up north more and on the Peru side I heard.  Supposedly the authentic ones are quite impressive where they actually have communities that live on the water and they have almost like a small island that floats on the lake which is supported by soda bottles.  Other than that there are plenty of shops to see and buy souvenirs.  There was also a church in the town center that we stopped in and checked out.  Nothing too special but, it was your typical Catholic church.  That night after dinner we headed down to the lake to catch a beautiful sunset. The next day we decided to take a boat over to the Isla Del Sol.  This is a small island with hiking paths on it and great views.  There are even some small ruins that you can walk through and check out.  Overall it was a relaxing day on a boat to and from the island.  The hike we did was basically steps up a steep slope and then we traversed the side of the island with great views of Lake Titicaca and the other islands.  It was great activity for the day.


La Paz

3/14/2010-3/22/2010 -