Bali, Indonesia

After Malaysian Borneo, Amber would part ways with Bing and I, as we continued on to the Hindu island of all Indonesia, Bali. (This is also to date the only time I’ve dipped south of the equator in my travels!) We arrived at the airport by the capital, Denpasar, and took a shuttle bus on very winding and narrow roads through rice paddies to the beach coastline of the north. It almost made me car-sick. I also have a distinct memory of hearing a foreign couple speaking with such rolling sounds, for a moment I mistook them for Russian or an Eastern European language, before I realized they were speaking Spanish but with a “th-” sound added. European Spanish sounds very different from American Spanish, I realized for the first time back then.

Fly into Denpasar, one night in Ubud, then Lovina Beach all the rest of the week

Our night in Ubud cemented the idea to me that this was the ultimate honeymooners trip. So future travelers be warned, it might be a little odd traveling around Bale with a friend of the opposite gender, especially after reading about Balinese social networks in Eat, Pray, Love and the importance of marriage. A male friend who isn’t a relative? Get a room, jeez. It started off where people would ask “Are you married?” to “Are you engaged?” to “Is he your boyfriend?” to “He’s a friend?” queried with a bemused expression. By the end of our week there, I was so thoroughly frustrated by everyone’s 20 questions, eventually I cut it off with, “Yeah, we are dating,” and a big smile thrown in for good measure.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, up until getting “Bali belly”, which might have been something I picked up in Malaysia, really. And then Bing tried to fetch stomach medicine from the locals. It wasn’t some time after I had taken a dose that I read the lead ingredient: “belladonna” — commonly known as “deadly nightshade” and historically used as a poison. Fun times.

Back in 2008, I had not yet travelled independently that much, so I didn’t have a credit card dedicated to travel, though I wish I had. US News & World Report has a list of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. When I moved to Germany in 2012, I enrolled with one of their recommendations, Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, which I have been using ever since as my main credit card. Miles or cash back, your choice. No annual fees. No foreign transaction fees.


I never saw the Bali myna (until working at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Konstanz, Germany), which is found only on Bali and is listed as critically endangered. Coincidentally, my research institute in Radolfzell, Germany would later become host to a mated pair for breeding purposes. They would bless my days there with their endless vocalizations, including a variety of sharp chattering calls and tweets, chirrups, etc. I did see a bunch of other birds, dolphins, monkeys, geckos, fruit bats, etc. Birding was fun though hard to see.


We felt so rich and pampered, at one point we ordered the “roast duck feast for two” the day before, which involved a multi-course meal culminating in a whole roasted duck. It was fun to spoil ourselves gastronomically. The vegetarian in me was shut away for the duration of that holiday. I also tried snake fruit, which gave me cottonmouth, and the much beloved mangosteen (nothing like mangos!), and wonderful fresh fruit and smoothie breakfasts. Plus complimentary English tea service.


Everything was so beautiful and vibrant, kind of like Hawaii. Plumeria, lotus, hibiscus, etc. And I loved the Hindu temples everywhere, reminiscent of so much Buddhist culture. The dawn boating trip to see dolphins was almost worth the seasickness, and a sun that looked like a sunset on the water. I loved the little flower and incense offerings everywhere — Canang sari.

The people were so kind. I’m glad I asked our tour guide about his life. I still recall him talking about wanting to earn enough money to marry a girl in the next village. He was only 20, I think. He introduced us to the bird guide (a cousin of his?), whom I believed in every bird ID he gave, as he would helpfully point out the guidebook version too; and he booked the dolphin tour we took, which afterwards felt a bit like harassing pursuit of passerby dolphins, and definitely got me seasick a bit (I don’t do well with 4am wake up calls and no breakfast — too low blood sugar). I loved the lists of birds I made, which I reviewed in my personal English language guide (I had purchased for just that purpose), and brought my Eagle Optics Ranger SRT binoculars 8×32 (Cornell Lab of O recommendation 2013). I’ve come a long way to my Zeiss Victory T*FL 8×32 of today (compare). Birding in every foreign land is fun!


Malaysian Borneo

“East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur), also known as Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan (Sabah, Sarawak dan Labuan) or Malaysian Borneo, is the part of Malaysia located on the island of Borneo.” (Wikipedia)

In 2008, after successfully completing my PhD qualifying exam, my friend Amber was wrapping up her two years as a JET. The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program meant she had been living in Japan, which of course included frequent, affordable forays into the rest of East and Southeast Asia. So to kick things off properly, she planned a proper (almost backpacking!) trip from Japan to Malaysia. I would join up her “entourage” via Kuala Lumpur, and then finish off with a week in Bali, Indonesia with our mutual friend, Bing. Something like this, borrowed from Seat 61, but starting in Kōchi and going all the way down to Singapore:

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The appeal to me was the environment, of course, Borneo being mostly lowland rain forests with areas of mountain rain forest. But, really, the wildlife! Hello, Tropics.

Most important of all? Conservation in Borneo.

“Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and the largest in Asia… The Borneo rainforest is estimated to be around 140 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainforests in the world. It is the centre of the evolution and distribution of many endemic species of plants and animals, and the rainforest is one of the few remaining natural habitats for the endangered Bornean orangutan. It is an important refuge for many endemic forest species, including the Borneo elephant, the eastern Sumatran rhinoceros, the Bornean clouded leopard, the hose’s palm civet and the dayak fruit bat.

Peat swamp forests occupy the entire coastline of Borneo. The soil of the peat swamp are comparatively infertile, while it is known to be the home of various bird species such as the hook-billed bulbul, helmeted hornbill and rhinoceros hornbill. There are about 15,000 species of flowering plants with 3,000 species of trees (267 species are dipterocarps), 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of resident birds in Borneo. There are about 440 freshwater fish species in Borneo (about the same as Sumatra and Java combined). In 2010, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) stated that 123 species have been discovered in Borneo since the “Heart of Borneo” agreement was signed in 2007.” (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, as in much of Asia, logging and agricultural interests threaten this natural biodiversity. Palm oil plantations are the main reason why I attempt to avoid palm products (found in everything, you know). Imagine seeing a real life rhinoceros hornbill in the wild… Sigh!


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a sadly bored male orangutan at a “zoo”

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Bornean sambar



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fried snack

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Mie goreng, also known as bakmi goreng



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Tropical adventures are the best.


Keflavík, Reykjanesbær, Iceland

“Reykjanesbær is a municipality on the Southern Peninsula in Iceland. It is made up of the towns Keflavík, Njarðvík, the village of Hafnir and, since 2006, Ásbrú” (Wikipedia). Flying with Icelandair, I had the option of a 17 hour layover in “Reykjavik”, although actually I was flying in and out of Keflavik Airport. And it takes 45-50 minutes to drive to the capital from the airport! It rained when I arrived at midnight, but the next morning, after a few minutes of drizzle, I was fortunate enough to have brilliant blue skies visible through dramatic clouds. So expensive, all in all, but if I had had more time, I would have liked to ride an Icelandic horse, go on a whale-watching tour (plus seabirds), see the Northern lights (in the right season). Another day!

Walking around Keflavik

Víkingaheimar (Viking World) is in Njarðvík, Reykjanesbær, Iceland. Address: 1, Víkingabraut, 260 Keflavík, Iceland. Adults ISK 1500, Students ISK 1300, Free admission for children under 14. The main feature is the “Íslendingur, the replica of the Gokstad Viking ship which in 2000 was sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, for the celebrations of the millennium of Leif Ericsson’s voyage and then to New York. The ship was returned to Iceland and placed on exhibit in the open air until being transferred to the new museum in autumn 2008.” (Wikipedia) Their website claims the Settlement Zoo is open in the summer, but I didn’t see anything except a pen with some sheep. Wish I had gotten the audio guide to do the Norse mythology exhibit properly!

Birds (and sheep) – I also saw Oystercatchers but couldn’t get a good photo. I think I saw Shag, Black-headed gulls, other gulls, Greylag Goose, Wheatear (photo too small!), etc. Would have been so cool to see an Eider duck, noted for their down!






Next stop from northern Germany: Amsterdam. I had never been to the Netherlands before, despite four years living abroad in Europe, and I have a great fondness for the Dutch, so this was a much anticipated trip. Because of mobility reasons, I did a cruise with the happy couple, before they were to drop off Daniel’s parents to return home to Chile. Heidi and I both wore bird dresses — great minds! On the tour was the “Skinny Bridge” which can be seen in the James Bond film ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971).

After they returned to Germany, I continued my intensive sightseeing tour. Rick Steves is my favorite city walk tour guide, so I had downloaded his app and podcasts in advance. The city tour made the most of my walk through Amsterdam on Day 1.

On Day 2, I booked a 9:30am slot at the Van Gogh Museum, a must see for my attractions list. There were no photos allowed except of the wall reproductions, but I snuck a couple in before I was stopped. Madness!

Things I learned:

  • “The Kingfisher is an oil on canvas painting by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. It was painted from July to December 1886. The Kingfisher was painted in Paris, France.” (Wikipedia)
  • “Wheatfield with Crows is a July 1890 painting by Vincent van Gogh. It has been cited by several critics as one of his greatest works.” (Wikipedia) I found out this painting was one of his last before his suicide and death, and happened to be the cover for my Kindle.
  • “Flying Fox (1884): This is a type of tropical bat – an unusual subject for an artist. The one painted by Van Gogh was stuffed and mounted. Just look at its stiff, unnatural pose. Van Gogh knew a man in Eindhoven (NL), Antoon Hermans, with a collection of more than 300 mounted exotic animals. This bat may have come from that collection. Van Gogh wanted to depict the translucent wings clearly, so he placed a light source behind them.” (van Gogh Museum)
  • “Almond Blossoms is from a group of several paintings made in 1888 and 1890 by Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Saint-Rémy, southern France of blossoming almond trees. Flowering trees were special to van Gogh. They represented awakening and hope. He enjoyed them aesthetically and found joy in painting flowering trees… Almond Blossom was made to celebrate the birth of his nephew and namesake, son of his brother Theo and sister-in-law Jo.” (Wikipedia) This reminded me of my new nephew, James! Five months old now ^_^

Finally, I finished off with Rick Steves’ Jordaan city walk, which allowed a glimpse of the more residential and less touristy aspects of Amsterdam, while including the Anne Frank House (which I couldn’t book tickets in time — they recommend reserving two months in advance!). I had just read The Diary of Anne Frank last year, so it was moving to be outside and think about the year or so of her life spent hiding indoors. The Amsterdam Tulip Museum, of course, just randomly showed up along the way, but I didn’t go in. Notice the uneven houses, due to “settling” Rick Steves informed me.

“Across the Singel is Torensluis, one of the oldest and widest bridges in the city. The big moustached bust is of Multatuli, the pen name of the brilliant 19th-century author Eduard Douwes Dekker, who exposed colonial narrow-mindedness in a novel about a coffee merchant.” (source) This was interesting to learn, of an author speaking out against Dutch colonialism, and compared to Rudyard Kipling.

And last, but not least, a panorama or two.




The river view outside the Anne Frank House



I traveled to northern Germany for my work best friend’s wedding in Cuxhaven on a Saturday, where the bride’s family is. This would be a seven day EuroTrip involving flying into Zurich, out of Amsterdam, with a 17 hour layover in Iceland (near Keflavik Airport, not actually Reykjavik). Pretty demanding, even by my standards.

My roommate had made friends with a Hamburg native, Rike, on an earlier Israel trip. I met up with Rike for the briefest of tours, because I was staying with relatives that evening. My father’s family is from the Hamburg region, specifically Aumühle, so his cousins were going to pick me up for my stayover with them that Sunday evening. Perfect weather, and an unusual amount of sun for Hamburg, or so I was told. It seemed I brought good weather everywhere I went, particularly to Iceland. But that is for a later post.


P.S. Here’s one panorama of Cuxhaven at the Wadden Sea, an intertidal zone in the southeastern part of the North Sea.


Cliffs of Moher

Aug. 30th – With Will’s friends, we would drive from Dublin to Galway, swinging down to the Cliffs of Moher along the way. We lucked out for the early afternoon with blue skies and sun. The coast is really windy though! The afternoon light from the south was perfect the further out we walked (it’s a two hour walk, one way! Time accordingly), to look back at the coasts. At times the winds were so strong, it was nerve-wracking to hike the rocky terrain (no fences) because it felt like the wind might blow you into the sea.


Galway was a nice city to spend the night in, because the nightlife and all the buskers. So much music around every corner, as long as the weather’s fine. And of course, my first chance to drink Guinness. More than two, and I’m in trouble!

best lunch: Moran’s Oyster Cottage (The Weir, Kilcolgan, Co. Galway, Ireland). The staff was so friendly (especially after experiencing French service), and we ordered so much food, and we amazingly finished almost all of it. Everyone wanted oysters and mussels, but after having the freshest quality shellfish in Sète, I was good.

best bar: Tig Cóilí (Mainguard St, Galway, Ireland). They had WiFi, a friendly crowd, and — of course — live music. This seems to be absolutely required for a number of Irish bars. A little group of three or four serious-looking musicians fiddling away despite the noise.

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Here’s one badly made panorama:




Aug. 29th – Will and I flew into Dublin, while Amber continued on to Barcelona. Our plan was to meet up with other NYC friends and drive to Galway. I would return to Dublin Aug. 31st and fly back to Germany myself the following afternoon, so these photos mainly comprise of a morning bus ride, an evening dinner + pub crawl, and a day’s worth of touristing under relatively decent weather conditions (for Ireland). I was fortunate in my friend Arianna offering to both be a host and tour guide! She lived out in the suburbs south of the capital, about an hour by bus or tram. Her sweet landlady, Ann, who in turn had a sweet cat and dog, was kind enough to regale me with Irish culture, history, and local attractions. Thank you, Ann and Arianna! I now know more about Riverdance than I ever have before. It was “grand” 🙂 The following are the tourist attractions I did get to see — sadly I had not time for the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology that Ann recommended!


Ha’Penny Bridge over the river Liffey

The Book of Kells (Latin: Codex Cenannensis, Irish: Leabhar Cheanannais) is an illuminated manuscript of the Gospel, written in Latin in 800 A.D., of the New Testament and “widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure” (Wikipedia). The rooms leading up to the actual viewing of the book (a little anticlimactic) were very enlightening in describing who wrote the texts and illustrated them, as well as the process of how books were made on animal skin and preserved in those olden days. I liked best the use of animal illustrations (loads of symbolism) to decorate various pages. But also, who doesn’t like books decorated with gold/silver? There’s an adorable animation of the Book that I’m glad to have seen before the real thing, for a little (fictional) historical perspective. No photos allowed!

The Book is housed within Trinity College Library, which is also part of the Kells tour ticket. The Long Room in the Old Library makes it one of the top 10 most beautiful libraries in the world. “The 65-metre-long (213 ft) main chamber of the Old Library, the Long Room, was built between 1712 and 1732 and houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books… The Long Room also holds one of the last remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic… the Trinity College Harp (also known as the “Brian Boru harp”) in The Long Room that is the oldest of its kind in Ireland dating back to the 15th century. The harp is made out of oak and willow and includes 29 brass strings.” (Wikipedia).

Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle was one quick visit I wish I had had more time to properly explore. Unfortunately there had been a line for the Book of Kells that threw my plans in turmoil. The collection of international art and literature there is open to the public (free admission), and such a treat! Wikipedia says they: “exhibit manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and some decorative arts from the Islamic, East Asian and Western Collections”. Fun fact: the library houses “the largest collection of jade books from the Imperial Court outside China”. Again, no photos allowed. But oh how I wish..!

best lunch: Gallaghers Boxty House (20 Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland). I finally got to try the Irish stew. Perfect for a cool, cloudy day. Yum!

best dinner: El Grito (Merchant’s Arch, Dublin 2, Ireland). Mexican hole-in-the-wall takeaway. Arianna had been there so often, it was impossible for me to pass up some ethnic American cuisine.

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Some panoramas, showing where The Edge (U2) and Enya have (castle!) residences by the eastern coast, south of Ireland:





Aug. 26th – We decided to go pick up our friend Will from Montpellier in the afternoon, so we thought to squeeze in a day trip to three-hours-away (from Sète) Carcassonne, yet another medieval city. The Cité de Carcassonne is a UNESCO-listed medieval “Citadel surrounded by double walls 3km in length, dotted by 52 towers, founded in Gallo-Roman times” (Google).

There’s not much to say about the city, as we didn’t research any back history. So here are some nice photos. Lunch was a real delight, so I included all the food porn photos. 😉

best lunch: Le Jardin Du Carcasses (7 Place Saint Nazaire La Cité, 11000 Carcassonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France). We had fantastic food here, where we tried the set menus of cassoulet, foie gras, duck, creme brulee, etc. We were late to pick up our friend, so budget your time! It was busy here, but fortunately we got in without reservations.

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Aug. 23rd – At last, this day Amber and I would reunite with some of our old university friends in the quiet little vacation town of Sète, and get a small break from nonstop travel. We left early, because I had the keys to the apartment, but Avignon (and Montpellier) is pretty direct to get to Sète. If the town was all sleepy and relaxing, that would have made it the perfect place to be, as when my sister visited. August is the holiday month in Europe however (and most Europeans get plenty of holiday time, e.g. I get 30 days in Germany), so it was pretty bustling, for such the “little Venice of the south of France”. This was my fourth visit to Sète, so I could compare it between the off-peak (March) and peak (August) tourist seasons.

We also had arrived for the last day of the Fête de la Saint-Louis à Sète, so we missed the biggest water jousting tournaments, but saw the fireworks over the canal and Mediterranean Sea. Temporary stadium seating was generally on Quai Général Durand. Even after the official festival however, there would still be water joust demonstrations throughout the month. It was something different.


The weather had been pretty much perfect this entire time, and Sète proved to be no exception. We visited the beach or pool just about everyday — I particularly was interested in working on my tan and catching up on Kindle reading. Since I would be staying here for a handful of days, it was also a chance for me to cook a meal or two. There is an Auchan, Carrefour, Monoprix, and we could stock up on baguettes, yogurt, cheese, cured meats… the essentials of French cuisine.

Another day, we rented bikes for 4 hours (although only Will and I went as far as we could in two hours, almost Agde). Unfortunately Will suffered a small mishap on the return journey. I decided not to include that photo. It was fun besides that bit.

Sète was a good base from which to explore other towns. Unfortunately we only made it to the medieval town of Carcassonne, which I will save for the next post. I would have liked to visit the nudist colony of Cap D’Agde, Montpellier, Barcelona, Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, etc. I had been to Barcelona and Montpellier before though, so Amber continued on to Barcelona alone to fly back to NY, while I was destined next for Dublin with a different set of friends — the last leg of my EuroTrip.

best lunch: Les Halles De Sète (Rue de Strasbourg, 34200 Sète). Sète has one of the biggest working fishing fleets in France, so for the freshest shellfish catch of the day, you go to the Central Market.

best dinner: Chez Paul (15 Rue André Portes, 34200 Sète). We were starving and had been turned away twice from other places already for not having reservations. We were served here, finally, but seated and with a bottle of wine, we were not going to complain.

best bar: Le Bistrot du Marché (1 Rue Alsace Lorraine, 34200 Sète). WiFi!

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A couple panoramas, one from the highest hilltop in Sète (drive carefully), the other shot from the main strip (Quai Général Durand) of downtown Sète:



P.S. To compare, here are photos from Easter 2016, which happened to overlap with the Escale à Sète (22-28 Mar. 2016):

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and August 2015, after I attended the ICCB 2015 in Montpellier:


and finally Easter 2015, the first visit:

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And a couple panoramas:





Aug. 22nd – We next intended to visit Nîmes and Arles, because of the Roman ruins in the former and Vincent van Gogh’s association with the latter, but between the morning interrogation at the Aix-en-Provence Police over the missing suitcase and Amber needing to replace her lost essentials (toiletries and underthings, to start), we instead went straight to Avignon to drop off my backpack and go shopping.

Our AirBnB was in a sketchy-looking location just outside the round city (like Lucca!), but the straightlaced host was very helpful, giving us recommendations both for immediate lunch and evening entertainment at the Palais des Papes. We dropped off my backpack, and went to the best French lunch ever, where the speciality was open-faced sandwiches. Fortified, we then grabbed tickets at the Tourist Office for the 10pm English version of the light show within the Papal Palace. Then we went to get Amber some clothes. We stopped at Monoprix for toiletries, H&M and Zara for stylish European clothes. I even found a pure linen T-shirt to purchase (ever notice how hard it is to find clothing made of natural fabric?). We dropped off our acquisitions in our room, and began touristing.


Amber led us to Avignon Cathedral (Notre Dame des Doms d’Avignon), then the garden surrounding the Rocher des Doms. We next took the free ferry crossing the Rhône river, to photograph the famous Avignon Bridge (Pont d’Avignon). I don’t know how many selfies and panoramas we took here, walking along the Chemin des Berges, but Amber was in ecstasy. We crossed back into town via the Pont Daladier, still photographing pretty Avignon in the evening sun.


After so much walking, we were ready to start hunting for our evening foraging grounds. We were mindful of the time, because we needed to be early to get into our ‘light show’, and service isn’t the fastest in this country, what with multiple courses and Slow Food. After a very good French dinner, we waited in front of the Papal Palace in the dark, tickets in hand, to be herded by security into a cordoned-off arena. The light show was visually excellent, with four cameras from windows each projecting onto the opposite walls of this inner courtyard that we were sitting on the floor of, but content-wise… it felt like some sort of pope-centric “historical” vocal propaganda mixed with mythological legend and I’m not sure what. To illustrate, at one point, there were unicorns and dragons. Perhaps it was meant to be taken metaphorically or artistically, or perhaps the French version would have made more sense than the English one, but, afterwards, I felt as though the narration had made me stupider. It was pretty at least:


best lunch: Ginette et Marcel (25-27 Place des Corps Saints, 84000 Avignon). So good. So popular. My favorite lunch in France! Tartine, an open-faced sandwich, was made with great, fresh rustic bread and pretty awesome toppings. We ordered a meat and cheese platter which we actually would have been fine without. But it was the most affordable French meal thus far, so we went a little crazy. 😉

best dinner: L’Epicerie (10 Place Saint-Pierre, 84000 Avignon). Really good. Fortunately we could sit indoors since we didn’t have reservations (outdoor seating for only reservations — the French love to see and be seen whilst dining). We started with shrimp, and I gave Amber the extra prawn, knowing her seafood love. Our main dishes were great too. No disappointments here!

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