Menyambut Tahun Baru Dengan Tradisi Hatsumoude

Di Jepang terdapat tradisi yang unik dalam rangka menyambut tahun baru. Tradisi itu disebut Hatsumoude. Hatsumoude adalah kunjungan pertama ke kuil Buddha atau Shinto pada awal tahun baru dalam rangka berdoa untuk memohon kedamaian di tahun yang baru. Hatsumoude mulai dilakukan selepas detik-detik pergantian tahun. Menjelang pergantian tahun, orang-orang biasanya sudah mengantri di kuil-kuil untuk membunyikan lonceng kuil dan menghaturkan doa mengawali tahun yang baru.

Tahun 2013 yang lalu, saya dan adik saya berkesempatan untuk berpartisipasi pada tradisi tersebut. Pada tanggal 31 Desember 2012 kebetulan kami sedang berada di Osaka. Kami menginap di sebuah hostel murah di dekat Tsuitenkaku. Menjelang tengah malam, tamu-tamu hostel yang rata-rata orang asing sudah berkumpul di lobi hostel untuk pergi ke bar-bar sekitar untuk merayakan malam pergantian tahun. Namun tidak demikian bagi saya dan adik saya. Karena Desember di Jepang bertepatan dengan musim dingin, kami menunggu di hostel sampai sekitar pukul 10 malam sebelum meninggalkan hostel dan pergi menuju kuil Shinto. Meskipun kuilnya tidak terlalu jauh, kami harus naik kereta bawah tanah dari hostel kami untuk menuju ke kuil tersebut. Saya lupa nama kuilnya, tapi kuil tersebut di rekomendasikan oleh sebuah majalah lokal jika ingin melakukan hatsumoude.

 

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Pintu gerbang Kuil

Kami tiba di kuil sekitar pukul 11 malam, dan ternyata antrian untuk masuk ke kuil sudah mengular sangat panjang hingga ke jalan. Suasana di kuil sudah mirip seperti festival. Banyak stand-stand yang menjual makanan dan berbagai macam barang. Meskipun suhu udara saat itu hampir mencapai nol derajat celcius, tidak menyurutkan niat orang-orang Jepang yang ingin melakukan Hatsumoude. Mungkin kami satu-satunya orang asing yang ikut-ikutan ngantri di depan kuil pada waktu itu.

 

dsc00272dsc00288Dibutuhkan waktu sekitar 4 jam untuk kami sampai ke depan altar tempat berdoa. Selama menunggu 4 jam tersebut, kami bergantian mengantri. Jika saya masuk ke ruangan kantin yang hangat, adik saya yang mengantri. Demikian pula sebaliknya, ketika dia yang istirahat di kantin, saya yang mengantri. Di kantin, mereka menjual mie kuah hangat. Jualan mie kuah ini ternyata juga ada filosofinya jika dikaitkan dengan tahun baru. Katanya, orang Jepang makan mie di tahun baru supaya umur panjang, seperti mie yang dimakan. Ada-ada saja ya.

 

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Hampir sampai

Selain tradisi makan mie, orang Jepang juga suka dengan ramalan. Di saat momen Hatsumode ini, selain berdoa, mereka juga mengambil ramalan (secara acak) yang tersedia di kuil-kuil. Kalau ramalannya baik, kertasnya bisa di bawa pulang. Tapi kalau isi ramalannya buruk, kertasnya diikat di pohon atau di tali yang disediakan supaya nasip buruk tidak ikut bersama kita. Saya dan adik saya dengan semangat ikut mengambil ramalan yang tersedia di kuil tersebut. Belakangan baru saya ketahui dari teman saya orang Jepang, kalau mengambil ramalan itu cukup sekali saja dalam 1 tahun. Padahal saya selalu mengambil ramalan setiap kali berkunjung ke kuil. Hahaha. Yah namanya juga turis.

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Ramalan yang buruk diikat di tali-tali yang telah disediakan dan supaya nasib buruk tidak mengikuti kita

 

Setelah membunyikan lonceng dan ikut berdoa di kuil, kami kembali ke hostel kami. Saat itu hampir jam 3 pagi, dan untungnya subway khusus hari itu beroperasi sampai pagi (biasanya hanya sampai jam 10-11 malam).

 

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Hatsumoude di Fushimi Inari
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Jimat keberuntungan

Hatsumoude biasanya dilakukan sampai dengan 3 hari setelah tahun baru. Keesokan harinya kami pergi ke Kyoto dan mengunjungi beberapa kuil terkenal seperti Fushimi Inari dan Kiyomizu, masih terlihat antrian orang dimana-mana yang ingin berdoa di kuil.

 

 

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Batu Cinta/Love Stone di Kuil Kiyomizu, Kyoto
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Hatsumoude di Kuil Kiyomizu, Kyoto

Saya pikir tradisi ini baik sekali. Mengawali tahun yang baru dengan berdoa di kuil dalam ketenangan. Jauh dari hingar bingar panggung gembira, terompet dan kembang api pergantian tahun. Mungkin bisa coba dipraktekan di Indonesia di tempat ibadah masing-masing. Bagaimana dengan pembaca? Selamat tahun baru 2017 ya! Semoga di tahun yang baru ini, kita semua selalu dalam kesehatan, keselamatan dan keberkahan. Cheers! (npa).

 

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Safari Experience: Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and the Great Migration

December 2015, I had my first trip to the African Continent. I went to Tanzania. The highlight of my trip is to go on a safari in one of Tanzania’s famous national park, Serengeti. I have to admit that I was a bit worried traveling to Africa alone. Fortunately, I have a friend who was working in Dar Es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania), so I have a reason to visit her there. Although the national park that I want to visit is located in Arusha, far away from Dar Es Salaam.

 

Preparation

                There are two things that need to be prepared before going to Tanzania. First is Visa and second is vaccine. Tanzania offers Visa On Arrival to most countries (there are some countries or passports that is exempted from visa and there are others that is forbid from using Visa On Arrival). You only need to pay 50 USD and to bring your passport with some blank pages and make sure that it’s still valid for at least 6 months. Moreover, Tanzania is also endemic of yellow fever disease. So, make sure you had the vaccine for yellow fever at least 3 weeks before entering the country. All tourists entering Tanzania will be asked for the yellow fever certificate before you can apply for the Visa on Arrival. Thus, do not forget to have the vaccine. I had a discussion with my doctor about the vaccine and she didn’t recommend me to take it as the disease is only endemic in some part of the country and that I should be fine without having a shot of the vaccine. However, my friend who was working in Dar Es Salaam insisted that I took the vaccine. I’m glad I did because as soon as I arrive at the terminal building, the airport authority asked for my vaccine certificate before I can proceed to the immigration.

I flew from Amsterdam to Dar Es Salaam by Qatar Airways. I bought the ticket long before I made some research on how to conduct the safari in Serengeti and it was a mistake. To join the safari to Serengeti, Arusha is the nearest town to start the trip, but I will enter the country from Dar Es Salaam and as I checked on the map, Dar Es Salaam and Arusha is quite far. I have limited days in the country plus I’m gonna spend some days at my friend’s house in Dar Es Salaam and also will visit Zanzibar, neighbouring tropical island to the capital. Therefore, as I cursed myself for not doing my homework, I booked another flight back and forth to Arusha from Dar Es Salaam. If only I knew that the safari starts from Arusha, I would’ve bought my flight from Amsterdam to Arusha and skip all the hassle. Anyway, Arusha has two airports, Arusha and Kilimanjaro, so check before-hand to which airport you want to arrive. If you arrive from Kilimanjaro airport, you might get a chance to view the top of Mount Kilimanjaro as you descend.

The next preparation that I did is of course to find way to conduct the safari to Serengeti. Usually I travel with the Randomtravelers (my travel buddies, contributors of this blog), but since I was undertaking my master degree in the UK, I did this travel by myself. So, I have to find a group of people who are going to conduct the safari at around the same time as me and it is not an easy task. It is impossible to conduct the safari alone unless you are filthy rich because the fee to enter the national park alone is already over 100 USD. I have to find a tour operator and a group of people to share the cost.

I tried TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet to find fellow travellers that might want to share the cost for safari. I found a few, but as I contact them I didn’t get any reply. From what I read in the forums of the two website, the cost for safari can go as high as 1000-1500 USD. Geez, that’s a lot of dollars for me. The price can go lower if I travel in a bigger group, for example in 6 to 7 people. I asked my friend in Dar Es Salaam if there are better options to do the safari. She suggested to do safari at national parks that located near Dar Es Salaam, it’s smaller and there are some that can be done in just one day. That might be feasible, but I really wanted to visit Serengeti of all national parks in Tanzania. I almost give up on the idea of safari, but then again my purpose of went all the way to Tanzania is to do safari. Lol. Eventually, I found out that there’s a huge online market for safari in Africa. There’s a website dedicated for safari operators across Africa with ready itinerary complete with the price, called Safaribookings. In the website, there are also reviews from past customers on how the operator provide their services, so it’s really helpful for me to decide which operator that I will choose.

I immediately contacted an operator whose itinerary and price fits my interests. I was lucky as there is a tour that’s going to be conducted that fits my schedule. I ended up with 4 days and 3 nights of safari in a group of 6 people (2 girls and 4 guys, including me). To ensure that it is not a fraud, I asked if I can pay on the spot at the day we start the tour and they said it’s fine. So on the promised date, they pick me up at the airport and transfer me to my accommodation (airport transfer is usually included in the tour which is very convenient as taxi is not very apparent as I arrived in Arusha airport). The next day they pick me up at my accommodation and took me to the meeting point where I meet with the guy in charge (with whom I’ve exchange email about the tour) and paid the agreed fee in cash. However, I paid an extra charge for sleeping bag as It was not provided in the tour plan. So, if you don’t want to pay this extra, you should bring one.

 

How it goes

So, I ended up booking a 4 days and 3 nights safari covering Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti national park. Included in the package is tent, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a driver who also act as guide and a caretaker who took care of the catering and setting up camps. I went with 5 other tourists, 2 guys from Korea who just finished their climb to Mount Kilimanjaro, a Dutch girl who’s volunteering in Dar Es Salaam, and 2 Spanish guys who’s volunteering in Zanzibar. Yes, there are many foreigners doing volunteering work in Tanzania. They enter the country using tourist visa that are valid for 3 months and do volunteer work throughout the country. The Spanish guy taught Spanish language to the kids in Zanzibar, while the Dutch girl helped in local hospital (as she is currently studying medicine).

Birds-birds-zebra-baboons-elephant-giraffe-hippo… oh look another zebra! Lake Manyara is home to lots of wild animals. I literally lose counts after 15 minutes driving through the park in a jeep. Day one of the safari was great. There were only 4 of us for half day of the safari so the Jeep was pretty spacious for the 4 passengers.

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Inside the Jeep

 

It was dry season so the lake looked pretty small. Our driver took us to the supposed to be part of the lake but there was nothing there but dry sandy plain. He said, in the rainy season the volume of the water can get triple the size of the current lake or even more. He also took us to the hippo pool where we can watch many hippo taking a bath. From the Hippo Poll we can see The Great Rift Valley, a range of hills lining up as far as from Jordan to Mozambique! Awesome!

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Before going back to our camp just outside the park, we are reunited with 2 other guys who’s gonna join us for the rest of the safari. Now the jeep has become a little bit cramp with additional two persons. But hey, I’m going on a safari, who cares!

 

Our campsite is called Jumbo. It has bungalows and an area to set up camps. If you have more money, staying in bungalows could be a better option as it has its own bathroom plus you won’t get wet when it rains. In the evening, it was raining heavily. Electricity is only available after dark (but there was no light in the bathroom so it’s better to take a bath before dark), so you have to make sure that you charge all your cameras/phones for the next day. Bringing an extension cable might come in handy as all the socket will be full.

There was a cultural dance at night in the cafeteria of the camp site. It was interesting. They ask for some tip at the end of the performance, and they even sell music CD.

p_20151212_104610_pnIn the morning of the second day, we departed to Ngorongoro crater. Early noon we hit the camping ground in Ngorongoro that’s located on a higher ground. Ngorongoro crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. It’s 610 meters deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. It’s magnificent.

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I’m at lost in describing how pretty this place is. It is home to thousands of wildlife animals. Lions, hyenas, leopards, zebras, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, birds, impalas, you name it. I feel like being in the Disney’s Lion King movie. The crater is also home to some Masai tribes. Our driver told us that in the past, the Masai used to hunt for the lion’s head as proof of one’s bravery. As a result, the population of zebras, wildebeest, impalas and such animals grow significantly because the number of predator shrink. So the government forbid the Masai to hunt for lion’s head.

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We had lunch in a beautiful picnic area called Ngoitoktok. Our caretaker warned me for the eagle who flew above the picnic site as they love to steal food from tourists and it’s probably safer to have lunch in the jeep. I ignored him and proceed having lunch by the lake. He was right. As soon as I hold my chicken drumstick, an eagle attacked me. I managed to hold it in my hands, close my lunch box and return back in the jeep before the eagle attack me again. On the other hand, Gabriel, the Korean guy in our group wasn’t as lucky as me. He lost his chicken to the eagle and had to settle for egg and bread for lunch. As I ate my lunch in the jeep, I can see other people being attacked by the eagle in the picnic site. Well, it was starting to rain anyway so I’m content eating my lunch in the Jeep.

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The camp site we stayed in Ngorongoro is more remote than the one we have in Lake Manyara. There’s no bungalows, only tents. But this time we were accompanied by many other groups who also set their camp there. To prevent taking a bath in pitch darkness, I took a bath before dark. But this campsite’s bathroom has light so there’s no need to worry. However, since it’s highland, it’s so much colder than Lake Manyara. I remember waking up to the coldness in my feet early morning despite the fact that I wore my socks and securely tucked inside my sleeping bag. Staying inside the national park is a unique experience to me. Unlike the campsite in Lake Manyara that’s located outside the park, the campsite in Ngorongoro is located inside the park itself. I remember at night I need to use the bathroom and when I want to go back to my tent, a guide warned me that there’s a buffalo around my tent.

JpegA buffalo! A buffalo right in front of me. But I couldn’t see him as there’s no light in the camp area. The guide helped me with his flashlights so I won’t hit the buffalo while I walk back to my tent. I can hear the sound of the buffalo munching grass near my tent while I go back to sleep. To be honest, I was worried he will crush my tent while searching for grass.

On the third day, we departed to Serengeti. I feel so small being in Ngorongoro and then Serengeti. As the jeep drove towards the national park, I can only see long and straight road to the horizon, while on the left and right hand side I can only see the grass plain and the sky and wildebeests.

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Lots and lots of wildebeests! Serengeti means “Endless plain”, no wonder, the scenery speaks for itself. In fact, the time when I visited was the migration time of the wildebeest, zebras, buffalos (practically every animal) or also known as “the Great Migration”. It was the changing season of dry to wet so the rain moves further north. That’s why the wildebeest follows it because the plain in Serengeti will have taller grass for them to eat. I was so glad that I finally able to experience first-hand, seeing the Great Migration that I usually watch on NatGeo. Our Jeep is stopping by at times so that we can take pictures of the surrounding area. We can only take picture from inside the Jeep as getting out of the car will get us fined by the park rangers.

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At the entrance of the park, we took a seat together while our guide and caretaker took care of the permission to enter the park. From that discussion we found out that each one of us paid a different amount of fee to join the safari. The Korean guys paid the cheapest, the Spanish guys paid the most expensive, while me and the Dutch girl are in the middle. Turns out we book the tour from different company. Moreover, the tour that was currently serving us is also from different company. It seems like they hired a third party to serve their client on the safari. The Koreans booked from a tourist information in Kenya and they told them a black list of safari company in the market. They got the cheapest price compare to the rest of us with the same food and facility as us. I feel pity for the Spanish guys as they paid 3 times the price of the Korean guys while the only different of the service is, we got tent in Serengeti while they get to sleep at a hotel inside the park, but still with minimum electricity, just like us who stayed in the campsite. This could be a lesson for all of us to pick the company wisely and to do your research for tour company thoroughly.

The campsite in Serengeti is the worst of the campsites we have stayed in so far in regards of the bathroom and toilet. There’s not enough water for everyone to do their business at the toilet so some of us had to improvise and go “back to nature”. During the two days of our stay in Serengeti, it’s always raining. Our guide wasn’t lying when he said that the volume of water in Lake Manyara can triple its size during the rainy season. I saw it myself when a lot of area in Serengeti are turning into small rivers due to the heavy amount of rain. Our jeep even got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled by another Jeep that pass by. Our friend joked that we might run into a lion or leopard while being stuck in the mud. Thank goodness, we manage to get out of the mud before dark.

When it rains, we might find lions, cheetah or leopard on the trees. Like their fellow, the domestic cats, these big cats also hate getting wet. Therefore, we might get lucky to see one sleeping on a tree. And we did! We spot a leopard sleeping on the branch of a tree. However, we were not the only group that saw them. In the end, there were many jeeps lining up in front of the tree to catch a glimpse of the leopard. The big cat then woke up and move to a higher branch to escape the camera of the tourists.

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Sunset in Serengeti

Serengeti is the last national park in our list. The next day, we were transferred back to the city of Arusha where we will part ways. I can say that I had a wonderful experience joining the safari. Our driver did a great job. He managed to show us the highlights of the safari. I get to see all the Big-5 Game Animals (African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard and Rhinoceros). We also stop by at a Masai village on our way back to Arusha (I’ll keep the story for next time). However, there was a little problem before the group was dismissed. The night before, we already collected some money to give as tip for the driver and the caretaker. As tip of course we didn’t give that much as we already paid an expensive price for the tour. We were startled when we know that the amount of tip expected was 25 USD per person per day. Wow geez! That’s a lot of additional cost outside our safari cost. We then rejected the request (especially the Spanish guys who was already robbed so much since the beginning) and asked them to talk about it with the tour company. We then said good bye to each other and went our separate ways.

 

Despite the not so good closing of the safari, I had a great time with the group and an unforgettable experience. I was then picked up by the tour company that I used and transferred back to my accommodation. The next day, they pick me up again and transfer me back to the airport so I can catch my flight to Dar Es Salaam. All is well. (npa)

Made in China (Bagian 6) : Beijing dan The Great Wall of China

Rupanya ada banyak sekali objek wisata yang wajib untuk dikunjungi ketika berada di Beijing. Sayangnya pada waktu itu kami hanya punya waktu satu setengah hari sebelum harus berpindah lagi ke kota lain. Pagi hari pertama kami di Beijing, kami menargetkan dua tempat untuk di kunjungi, the Forbidden City dan the Great Wall of China (sisi Badaling). Untuk pergi ke Forbidden City kami menggunakan subway dari stasiun Pudong dan berhenti di stasiun Tiananmen East (atau Tiananmen West) dan dilanjutkan dengan berjalan kaki menuju Tiananmen Square.

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Mausoleum Mao Zedong

Forbidden City ini letaknya tepat di belakang Tiananmen Square, jadi kami sempat masuk ke mausoleum Mao Zedong terlebih dahulu sebelum ke Forbidden City. Untuk masuk ke mausoleum kami harus melalui security check-in. Di dalam mausoleum kami bisa melihat antrian panjang turis lokal yang ingin melihat jasad Mao Zedong yang disemayamkan di tempat ini. Karena antriannya cukup panjang, kami memutuskan untuk tidak ikut mengantri dan beranjak langsung ke Forbidden City.

Tiket masuk ke Forbidden City adalah 40 yuan dan bisa sewa audio guide juga. Karena pengalaman yang kurang begitu menyenangkan di museum Terra-cotta (baca: Made in China (Bagian 2) – Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses Museum) kami agak kapok menggunakan jasa tour guide. Akhirnya kami memutuskan untuk menyewa audio guide supaya agak paham di dalam Forbidden City nanti. Ternyata ada audio guide berbahasa Indonesianya juga lho! Keren! Pastinya kami sewa audio guide yang berbahasa Indonesia ini. Audio guide-nya bekerja secara otomatis tergantung di sisi mana Forbidden City kita berada.

Begitu masuk ke dalam, saya takjub dengan betapa luasnya kompleks istana Forbidden City ini. Tadi di lapangan Tiananmen dan mausoleum Mao Zedong juga ukurannya giant! (Museum Terra-Cotta dan Maosoleum Qin Shi Huang juga gigantic sih) membuat saya berpikir mungkin untuk mengakomodasi jumlah penduduk China yang juga besar kali ya.

DSC02369Forbidden City adalah kompleks istana di era 4 kaisar selama dinasti Qing dan dinasti Ming berkuasa. Kompleks istana ini adalah inspirasi untuk set film “Curse of the Golden Flower” lho! Ada banyak fakta menarik tentang kompleks istana ini. Misalnya, kenapa disebut Forbidden City?! Rupanya jaman dahulu, rakyat biasa tidak diperbolehkan masuk ke kompleks istana ini tanpa izin khusus dari Kaisar makanya disebut Purple Forbidden City atau Forbidden City. Ada simbol khusus yang dibuat untuk kaisar dan permaisuri dimana kaisar dilambangkan dengan binatang Naga dan Permaisuri dilambangkan dengan binatang burung Phoenix.

Setelah puas keliling Forbidden City, tak terasa sudah tengah hari maka kami memutuskan untuk makan siang di restoran lokal sebelum melanjutkan perjalanan. Tujuan selanjutnya adalah the Great Wall of China. Untuk pergi ke the Great Wall of China, ada dua jenis transportasi umum yang bisa dipilih, bis dan kereta. Kami memutuskan untuk naik bis, karena menurut hasil riset yang saya lakukan sebelumnya, bis menuju Great Wall akan berhenti di dekat pintu masuk ke Great Wall, sementara kalau naik kereta, masih harus berjalan lagi cukup jauh karena letak stasiun keretanya.

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Peta seadanya yang sangat membantu kami dalam menemukan jalan

Menurut sumber yang saya temukan di internet, dari Beijing ke Great Wall akan memakan waktu satu setengah jam (ternyata 3 jam lebih kami ga nyampe2!). Setelah makan siang, dengan berbekal peta yang kami foto di pintu keluar Forbidden City, kami mencari jalan menuju stasiun bis. Sebagai informasi, di sini berbagai macam social media kekinian diblok oleh pemerintah, yahoo, facebook, bahkan google. Sebagian besar website yang dapat diakses berbahasa mandarin. Karena kami berdua tidak bisa Bahasa mandarin, jadi meskipun di hotel ada wifi, kami tetap sulit mengakses informasi. Satu-satunya search engine berbahasa inggris yang dapat kami akses pada waktu itu adalah Ask.com dan itu butut banget! Sebaiknya segala macam riset yang perlu dilakukan seperti gimana cara ke suatu tempat, makanan apa yang mau dimakan, dll, dilakukan sebelum sampai di sini.

Dari restoran tadi, kami naik subway dan turun di stasiun Jishuitan dari sini seharusnya sudah dekat dengan terminal bis Deshengmen. Bis yang kami mesti naiki adalah bis nomor 877 atau 919 tapi hati-hati. Banyak scam di sini. Ketika kami keluar dari stasiun subway dan berjalan menuju stasiun bis, banyak minibus/mini van dengan tempelan kertas sesuai nomor bis yang kami mesti naiki dan tulisan yang menyatakan jurusan Great Wall. JANGAN naik minibus/minivan ini. Kalian akan dicharge dengan harga yang jauh lebih mahal dari bis umum yang seharusnya.

Bis yang benar ada di dalam terminal Deshengmen. Sayangnya, nomornya gak keliatan dengan jelas karena ditulis dalam Bahasa Mandarin. Kami muter-muter seluruh terminal beberapa kali untuk mencari bis tersebut. Akhirnya kami berhenti pada antrian panjang orang lokal yang kami yakini akan menaiki bis jurusan Great Wall. Saya mencoba bertanya pada salah satu ibu-ibu di situ menggunakan buku panduan berbahasa mandarin yang kami bawa dari Jakarta. No use. Dia tidak mengerti sama sekali apa yang saya bicarakan. Mungkin karena pelafalan saya yang kurang tepat. Akhirnya saya coba menunjukkan print out hasil riset tentang Great Wall yang kebetulan ada huruf kanjinya. Dia mengerti dan menunjukkan papan besar berisi jurusan yang tempat-tempat yang akan dilalui oleh bis. Saya cocokkan huruf kanji di papan dengan print out yang saya pegang, ternyata sama. Akhirnya kami naik bis tersebut dan berdoa mudah-mudahan bis ini benar menuju ke Great Wall. Kalau salah, wassalam deh!

Tidak berapa lama naik bis tersebut, kami terlelap. Sebangunnya dari tidur singkat di bis, saya mengecek jam tangan saya dan waktu sudah berlalu sekitar 2 jam sejak kami naik bis ini. Kenapa belum sampai ya? Padahal menurut informasi yang saya dapat dari internet, hanya memakan waktu kira-kira satu setengah jam. Hampir 3 jam, akhirnya kami sampai di suatu halte dimana semua penumpang bis turun. Otomatis kami pun ikut turun. Saya bingung mendeskripsikan halte tempat kami turun itu seperti apa. Terdapat gedung yang sepertinya sudah tutup dan depannya ada laman parkir dengan beberapa mobil terparkir. Tidak ada apa-apa selain halte bis, gedung kosong dan parkiran. Tadinya saya pikir ini pintu masuk ke Great Wall, tapi gak mungkin! Soalnya ga terlihat Great Wall sama sekali di sekitar tempat tersebut. Great Wall kan tembok terpanjang di dunia, jadi mestinya mudah terlihat kalau kami berada di tempat yang benar. Hadeeuuhh ini dimana lagii… -_- mana udah sore, ga ngerti ada di mana.

Kami mutar-mutar di tempat tersebut beberapa kali mencari petunjuk kami berada dimana. Beberapa pemuda menghampiri kami dan berbicara dalam Bahasa mandarin, bahkan ada yang sempat mengajak bicara dengan Bahasa inggris tapi tidak saya gubris karena saya takut kena scam lagi. Beberapa orang terlihat menaiki sebuah bis yang baru datang. Termasuk salah seorang pemuda yang tadi mengajak kami bicara dalam Bahasa inggris. Akhirnya saya bertanya pada dia karena sepertinya dia harapan terakhir kami untuk tempat bertanya. Rupanya dia mahasiswa s2 dari Uzbekistan Yang sedang kuliah di China. Tadi dia mengajak kami bicara juga karena ingin bertanya arah ke Great Wall. Yaampuunn! Maaf ya masnya saya udah su’udzon… habis dipikir tour guide scam yang kayak di Terrra Cotta.

Si mas ini bisa Bahasa mandarin juga, dan bilang bahwa bus ini menujur ke Great Wall yang letaknya masih sekitar 1,4 km lagi dari lokasi kami saat itu. Apakah bis yang kami tumpangi sebelumnya itu memang menuju Great Wall atau tidak kami tidak pernah tahu. Yang jelas meskipun kami nyasar, rupanya tidak nyasar-nyasar amat. Syukurlah…

Sekitar 7 menit kemudian sampailah kami di halte bis Great Wall. Kami berterima kasih dan mengucapkan selamat tinggal kepada mas tadi. Sekarang kami mesti berpacu dengan waktu karena kami sampai di Great Wall-nya udah sore sekali dan nampaknya sebentar lagi tutup. Kami berjalan ke arah stasiun kereta gantung supaya bisa diantar menuju spot yang direkomendasikan di internet yang terletak agak tinggi posisinya. Dari spot tersebut, kami bisa berjalan kaki untuk ke pintu keluar.

Ketika sampai di stasiun kereta gantung, stasiunnya sudah tutup!! Kami sungguh kecewa mengingat betapa susahnya untuk sampai ke tempat ini. Akhirnya kami berjalan kembali ke arah halte bis tempat kami datang tadi. Menurut petugas di stasiun kereta gantung, Great Wall-nya sendiri masih buka, hanya kereta gantungnya saja yang sudah tutup waktu itu. Jadi kalau ada pengunjung yang mau ke Great Wall, harus lewat pintu depan dengan berjalan kaki.

Tidak mau pulang dengan sia-sia, akhirnya kami berjalan kaki menuju pintu masuk Great Wall yang rupanya cukup jauh jaraknya dari halte bis. (Ga ada yang deket di China ini men!). seperti motto pemadam kebakaran “pantang pulang sebelum padam!” pantang menyerah sampai titik darah penghabisan! Sesampainya di pintu masuk, ternyata masih buka! Meskipun tinggal setengah jam lagi!

Akhirnya kami beli tiket dan menapakkan kaki di tembok legendaris tersebut! Horee!

Saya ingat betapa dingin dan angin berhembus cukup kencang sore itu dari atas Great Wall tempat kami mengambil foto. Kami mengambil sisi tembok yang sepi supaya mendapat angle foto yang lebih baik dan tidak perlu berdesakan dengan pengunjung yang lain. Rupanya ada alasan kenapa tidak banyak pengunjung yang pergi ke sisi tembok yang kami tuju. Sisi tembok yang kami tuju tidak terkena sinar matahari sore, sehingga jauh lebih dingin. Temboknya juga menanjak cukup curam tinggi ke atas, sehingga angin berhembus lebih kencang. Tapi kami cukup puas dengan pemandangan dari atas tembok. Kami juga bisa berfoto tanpa ada pengunjung lain yang ikut photo bomb di foto kami. Catatan kami untuk teman-teman traveler lain yang akan mengunjungi Great Wall, siapkan stamina dengan baik karena mengunjungi Great Wall membutuhkan banyak energi karena kita dituntut untuk banyak berjalan kaki.

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Lihat betapa cerah dan hangat kelihatannya sisi Great Wall sebelah sana
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Lihat betapa curamnya sisi Great Wall yang kami pilih (^_^)a

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Dapat pemandangan bagus dari sisi Great Wall yang kami pilih

Sepulangnya dari Great Wall, kami memutuskan untuk menggunakan kereta api untuk kembali ke kota Beijing. Antrian tiket kereta cukup panjang namun semua orang mengantri dengan tertib sehingga tidak menjadi masalah. Tidak lama kami mengantri, kami sudah bisa duduk nyaman di kereta bagus yang akan membawa kami direct ke downtown Beijing. Rupanya menggunakan kereta jauh lebih mudah dan tidak seribet dan membingungkan seperti naik bis! Meskipun harus jalan sekitar 1,4 km dari stasiun kereta untuk menuju Great Wall, naik kereta lebih praktis untuk traveler yang terkendala Bahasa seperti kami. Perjalanan kembali ke Beijing memakan waktu sekitar 1 jam tanpa drama seperti waktu naik bis sebelumnya. Kami sudah sampai kembali di hotel kami sebelum jam 9 malam dan bisa beristirahat untuk hari selanjutnya.

Hari terakhir kami di Beijing hanya setengah hari karena kami harus naik pesawat menuju kota selanjutnya. Ada banyak tempat wisata di Beijing, tapi kami hanya punya sangat sedikit waktu hari itu. Sebetulnya saya ingin melihat Temple of Heaven, tapi saya juga ingin melihat Summer Palace. Duh ribet ya. Akhirnya kami memutuskan untuk pergi ke Summer Palace yang letaknya lebih jauh dari hotel kami, dengan harapan masih sempat untuk mengunjungi Temple of Heaven sebelum kembali ke hotel lalu cus ke Bandara.

Maka pergilah kami menuju Summer Palace menggunakan subway dari stasiun Pudong. Ternyata Summer Palace itu besaaaar ya saudara-saudara! Hahaha. Terdiri dari kompleks kerajaaan yang super luas lengkap dengan istana, menara, danau, dan taman di sana-sini.

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Pintu Masuk Summer Palace

 

 

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DSC02550Yang saya ingat dari kunjungan kami di kompleks istana ini adalah kami terkesima dengan keindahan tempat ini dan berjalan berputar-putar tak tentu arah sampai kami tiba di pintu masuk/keluar yang berbeda dari tempat kami datang. Karena hari sudah siang, kami tidak sempat mengunjungi Temple of Heaven dan langsung kembali ke hotel untuk check-out dan menuju ke Bandara International Ibukota Beijing (Beijing Capital International Airport). Untuk pergi ke Bandara ini dari kota Beijing, cukup naik kereta khusus dari stasiun Beijing Realway kira-kira satu jam perjalanan.

Demikianlah petualangan kami di kota Beijing dan Great Wall of China. Selanjutnya, kami menuju wilayah utara China, kota Harbin, untuk melihat festival es. Stay tuned! (npa)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made in China (Bagian 5) : Balada Mencari Alamat

Memilih penerbangan malam untuk ke Beijing padahal kami terkendala bahasa dan ketiadaan koneksi internet adalah kesahalan saya pada malam itu. Kami bertolak dari Shanghai menuju ke Beijing sekitar pukul 7 malam dan tiba di Beijing pada pukul 8.45 malam. Untuk sampai ke hotel kami yang terletak di downtown Beijing, menurut sumber informasi yang saya temukan di internet, kami hanya perlu naik bis (line 1) sekali dan turun di terminal terakhir lalu berjalan kaki ke hotel. Sayangnya, saya miss terhadap fakta bahwa ada 2 bandar udara di kota ini. Hasil riset saya terkait bis line 1 yang harus kami tumpangi ternyata dapat dinaiki jika kami mendarat di Beijing International Airport. Masalahnya pesawat kami mendarat di Beijing Nanyuan Airport.

Udara dingin dan kami tidak tahu moda transportasi apa yang harus kami naiki. Taksi bukan opsi yang menarik karena jalanan sudah gelap dan kami tidak bisa berkomunikasi dengan supir taksi. Kami tidak tahu seberapa jauh jarak Beijing Nanyuan Airport dengan hotel kami. Beruntung ada seorang pemuda lokal yang kelihatan terpelajar sedang membantu serombongan traveler yang juga mencari jalan menuju hotel mereka. Dia membantu mencarikan alternatif kendaraan ke hotel kami menggunakan smartphone-nya. Karena opsi kendaran di bandara tersebut hanya bis dan taksi, dia menyarankan kami naik bis sampai halte tertentu (saya lupa nama haltenya) dan sambung naik subway. Menurut pemuda tersebut, perjalanan naik bis dari bandara ke halte bis “tersebut” memakan waktu sekitar 1 jam. Karena saya lupa nama haltenya, “kira-kira” satu jam setelah bis melaju dari bandara, kami turun dari bis. Waktu itu sudah hampir jam 10 malam. Kami turun di daerah yang cukup sepi dari orang yang lalu lalang. Sesekali mobil melaju kencang di jalan raya di samping halte bis tempat kami turun. Dari situ kami bingung harus berjalan ke arah mana. Tidak ada petunjuk jalan maupun orang lewat yang bisa kami tanyai. Akhirnya kami memutuskan untuk berjalan kaki sambil berharap menemukan petunjuk jalan menuju stasiun subway. Setelah berjalan kira-kira 500 meter, kami menemukan palang jalan dengan simbol kereta menuju ke arah yang berlawanan. Ya ampun! Saya memang ahlinya kalau untuk urusan nyasar. Kami kemudian putar balik dan berjalan sesuai arah yang ditunjukkan oleh palang tersebut. Ternyata stasiun subwaynya tidak terlalu jauh dari halte bis tempat kami turun tadi. Namun tentunya untuk orang yang tidak tahu jalan,  tidak punya internet, dan tidak bisa bahasa mandarin, ini bisa menjadi masalah besar.

Singkat cerita akhirnya kami berhasil menaiki kereta subway di Beijing. Menurut pemuda tersebut, kami harus turun di stasiun Dongsi dan berjalan kaki dari stasiun tersebut ke hotel kami. Namun, 1 stasiun sebelum Dongsi saya melihat nama stasiun yang sesuai dengan deskripsi petunjuk jalan yang saya temukan sebelumnya di internet sewaktu mencari informasi tentang cara menuju hotel saya di Beijing. Saya menjadi ragu dengan arahan dari pemuda tadi. Akhirnya saya memutuskan untuk turun di stasiun ini, satu stasiun sebelum Dongsi. Yang kemudian menjadi kesalahan saya yang lain.

Dari sini kami tidak tahu harus ke mana. Saat itu sudah pukul setengah 11 malam. Di kertas booking hotel yang saya print, terdapat alamat hotel dalam huruf alfabet dan huruf mandarin. Berbekal alamat dalam huruf mandarin dan buku percakapan bahasa mandarin yang kami bawa dari Jakarta, kami bertanya pada siapapun yang kami temui sepanjang jalan. We got no option. It was almost midnight and it was freezing cold almost 0 degree C!

Seorang gadis dan bapak-bapak lokal yang kami temui tepat di depan stasiun subway memberikan petunjuk arah dan dari arahannya mereka terlihat seperti tidak yakin. Tapi kami tidak punya pilihan, jadi kami berjalan ke arah yang mereka tunjukkan. Kami berjalan hanya lurus saja. Di sisi kanan kami jalan besar dimana mobil lalu lalang sesekali karena sudah cukup larut. Saya tidak tahu berada di sebelah mananya Beijing pada waktu itu, tapi tidak terlihat banyak gedung tinggi, hanya beberapa toko-toko tua di pinggir jalan. Kami berjalan dan berjalan sampai hampir tengah malam. Jalanan makin sepi dengan beberapa orang yang terlihat masih berjalan di trotoar yang sedang kami susuri. Di suatu persimpangan jalan, saya mulai frustasi mencari hotel kami dan ingin naik taksi saja rasanya. Tapi kata adik saya, sebaiknya kita coba tanya orang lagi perihal lokasi hotel kita. Siapa tahu sudah dekat.

Di dekat persimpangan jalan tempat kami berdiri, ada pos satpam yang sepertinya ada orangnya. Saya menghampiri pos tersebut dan ternyata penjaganya adalah seorang bapak-bapak tua. Dengan bahasa mandarin terbata-bata sambil menunjukkan alamat dalam bukti booking hotel yang saya print, saya mencoba bertanya pada bapak tersebut. Awalnya dia tidak mengerti, tapi lama-lama akhirnya dia paham juga. Dan sepertinya kali ini dia tahu alamat yang kami cari. Beruntung arah yang ditunjukkan oleh bapak-bapak itu tidak berlawanan arah dari jalan yang sudah kami lalui selama 1 jam terakhir ini. Artinya kami sudah berada di jalan yang benar, hanya saja hotelnya memang masih jauh.

Setelah berterima kasih pada bapak tersebut, kami kembali berjalan mencari hotel kami. Dalam persimpangan jalan selanjutnya yang kami lalui, kami menemukan stasiun DONGSI dan berbelok ke kiri dari stasiun tersebut. Setelah berjalan sekitar 15 menit dari stasiun Dongsi, akhirnya sampailah kami di Hotel 161. Astaga! Jadi memang seharusnya kami mengikuti saja saran pemuda yang kami temui di bandara tadi… Kalau saja saya tidak sok tahu dan turun di satu stasiun sebelum Dongsi, pasti kami sudah sampai daritadi! Tidak perlu nyasar selama 2 jam di malam gelap yang dingin itu….

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Hotel 161*
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Grand Entrance*
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Cafe on the Second Floor*
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Hotel room*

Anyway, kami bersyukur akhirnya sampai di hotel kami di Beijing. Akhirnya kami bisa beristirahat setelah malam yang panjang. Hotel kami ini budget hotel. Semalamnya cuma 200-ribuan rupiah untuk 1 kamar dengan twin bed. Hotelnya nyaman dan staff-nya pun ramah. Dan ternyata, hotel kami letaknya cukup strategis untuk menuju ke objek-objek wisata di Beijing! (npa)

*Photos are taken from the Hotel’s page in Booking(dot)com

 

 

Meteor Garden

During my first weeks in Glasgow, I stumbled upon a website run by one of the student body of the University of Glasgow (UoG) telling about the upcoming Draconid meteor showers which can be seen easily here in Scotland. From Glasgow, you don’t have to go very far to find a wide area with as little light as possible. According to the website, you can view the meteor shower best from Milngavie (a small town about 15 minutes by train from Glasgow). So, without further a due, I invited some friends to go meteor viewing with me on the evening of  8 October 2015.

I ended up going with my friend Chitra. There was supposed to be another 2 friends but they’re still in class at the time we plan to leave Glasgow. So they said, they’ll see us in Milngavie afterwards, we just need to share our location. Fair enough, shouldn’t be too hard to find us in a small town like Milngavie. So, Chitra and I went to Milngavie by train from Partic Stations. It was still summer so eventhough we arrived a quarter to 6, the sun was still up. From Milngavie train station we decided to walk towards Mugdock Country Park as suggested by the website to be the best place to view the meteor.

There are a lot of sources on the internet telling us different things on when the meteor shower started. However, all mentioned different times. So just to be safe we try to get to the park before it gets dark. It was a little bit cloudy that evening. We walked from Milngavie train station to Mugdock Country Park using google map to show us direction. According to the app, it’ll take us 45 minutes to walk. But it feels like forever. I think we walked more than one hour through a long, straight and quiet road. In fact, we were the only pedestrian walking on that road that evening. The rest was just cars and sometimes people riding a bike pass through us.

It was still summer time in the UK at that time, so the sun sets almost at 8 PM. Lucky for us because the road has no lighting along the way, so it must be very dark when the sun set. It was dusk and the light was so dim when we FINALLY reach the park. On an intersection between the park and another road towards “Mugdock Valley”, a car that was about to pass us, stopped and asked if we know where we’re going. It was a kind old man who perhaps thought we were lost. Well, it was understandable, 2 girls with backpacks at an intersection far away from civilization, at that time of the day. I mean, who wouldn’t!? He looked like he wanted to offer us a ride back to Milngavie. However, we said we were fine and he left.

At this point, Chitra was starting to get anxious as it gets darker in the park and I start to lose common sense as I have a company with me. Hahaha. Mugdock Country Park turns out as a very large park with a lot of things to see and do. There even a castle in the park. It was dim and quite when we arrived. Two ladies  were seen exiting the park with their dog and we asked them for direction. We told them that we want to see the meteor shower and we need to get to a place where the light is minimum. The friendly ladies suggested to go to the castle inside the park. They show it to us on the map (there’s a park map at the entrance) and tell us where to go from the entrance. According to them it’ll only take us about 10 minutes to get to the castle.

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Mugdock Castle this way

So we walked through the dim and quiet forest. Paying attention the signs we find along the way to go to the castle. We made a few turns, encounter a small loch (lake) with 2 swans and a few birds before we finally see the castle. The castle is a ruin. It’s small and just a few towers and walls that survived. It was half past seven I think when Chitra asked me now what do we do. I said we can wait for the meteor here and perhaps stay here until morning as it will be too dark and too far to go back to Milngavie.

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Loch Mugdock
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Mugdock Castle Ruin

With the look of horror in her eyes I can tell she disagreed. The thing is, my logic kinda turns dull in a (probably) dangerous (?) situation if I have a company around. It was almost autumn and the temperature was pretty chill. Moreover, there’s a change of rain as it was cloudy. Additionally, we didn’t bring any tent (I brought a blanket though) and there was no light there except for maybe the flash light in our cellphone. By the way we also did not have any other source of power to charge our phones in case its battery runs out. So yeah, she refused the idea and said we should leave the place.

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Selfies

I was hesitant at first as we were already at the (I think) perfect place to view the meteor, but finally agree to leave after a few selfies with the castle. As we exiting the park we tried several times to call the park’s visitor center. However, they hang up on us. Most likely due to me who kept saying “hello” or “pardon” as I can’t hear him/her clearly over the phone. Chitra then browse the internet and found a potential accomodation in Mugdock Village in case we need to spend the night somewhere. From the park, off we walk to Mugdock Village.

It was really dim at that time, but Chitra looks calmer as we approaching civilization. We starting to encounter houses as the day turns into night. We made another stop in front of a wide field with fences surrounding it. There were houses behind us but it was nightfall already. I again came up with the idea of spending the night there as we are already in a more civilized area, but tried to call the accomodation Chitra suggested anyway, just in case.

The accomodation is called Strathblane Country House. It supposed to be closer to get there than to walk back all the way to Milngavie. Little did we know that despite the closer route, there was no lighting whatsoever along the way except for the flashlight from Chitra’s cellphone. As I was finally convinced that it was not a good idea to spend the night outdoor with a very high change of rain, we were walking in the dark towards the country house back-to-front (I was walking in the back, navigating through google map; Chitra was walking on the front lighting the road with her cellphone’s flashlight). It was a very long walk through complete darknes. We didn’t dare to look around. All we saw was the road 2 meters in front of us while we avoid the cars passing by, depending on our hearings. We were walking on the road as the was no pedestrian side.

After 40 minutes or so, we were supposed to arrive at the country house but we saw nothing! OMG! What should we do!? It was late at night and we were standing on the side of a bigger road and have no where to go. We tried to call the country house again but it was really hard to explain our position over the phone. Three phone calls later we were desperate finding other way to reach the country house.

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Strathblane Country House

Thankfully, we were not wandering too far from the country house. We checked the website again and this time activate the google map from the website (previously, I typed the country house name directly from google map apps in my phone). Finally we arrived at the country house! There was no one at the receptionist. We rang the bell and someone came. We told them that we called before and wanted to check in for the night. It was Thursday night. The girl at the receptionist told us if we booked more than one night it won’t be possible, as the house has already been booked for a wedding over the weekend.

We paid 95 pounds (cries) for one night. I know it’s expensive but we had no choice. Anyway the country house was so lovely! Our room was so big and pretty! I think it’s worth the money. In the room we found out that people often reserve the place for wedding or honeymoon. After resting for a while we continue hunting for the meteor shower. Outside the country house was quite dark because the surrounding area has little light too. We gazed upon the sky to find our meteor showers. Sometimes the sky is clear, but sometimes its covered with clouds. We get out and get in the house periodically to see if the sky clears up. Unfortunately, until 4 AM I waited (yes, Chitra was sleeping soundly already) it was still cloudy outside. So, I finally decided to go to sleep.

In our adventure, we didn’t get to see the meteor. However we were greeted with the magnificantly beautiful scenery of the surrounding area of our hotel when we woke up! It was so pretty. We were surrounded by mountains and typical country side view. We then had our Scottish Breakfast before we went outside to have some pictures.

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The Country House

After check-out, we decided to walk our way back to Milngavie! Partly because we are short on money, but the other part is because we wanted to enjoy the scenery on our way back and we were not disappointed at all! OMG! It was the best leisure walk I’ve ever been! The air was fresh, the scenery was extraordinary, plus we get to excersise too! We saw horses, country houses, sheeps, mountains, ponds, and we happened to come across the Scottish water dam where they store the drinking water for the (most likely) Glasgow area!

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It was really an unexpected adventure. We only planned to see the meteor shower but we ended up with staying the night at the country side. Mostly due to my spontaneusity and zero sense of common sense. I hope Chitra won’t be discouraged to go on another adventure with me. By the way, Chitra told me that the castle we saw at the park yesterday was haunted and the loch with 2 swans we saw was used to drown people suspected as witches. Geez! I guess it was a good decision we left that place last night!

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Cheers! (npa)

Free Walking Tour: Visiting a City in A Shoestring

When I arrive in a new place, I always have the urge to explore it. It could be the history, urban legends, or foods of the city. Sometimes, trying to read everything to know the story of such places is too much work. Nevertheless, paying for a guided tour is often not affordable by (or simply not a priority of) travelers on minimum budget. One big solution for people like me: free (walking) tour! (Bless you who started this and make it available in various places!)

Those who are not familiar must be wondering how ‘free’ a ‘free’ walking tour is. It means the tour itself is free, yet you are encouraged to tip the guide (remember, the guides don’t do free walking tour out of charity. It’s actually their source of living!) The amount of the tip depends on you. If the guide is really good — on the terms that the explanation is compelling, hospitality, recommendations, etc; I will usually tip more though still within my budget.

Finding them is quite easy. Usually they are equipped with colorful umbrellas and/or jackets. They can be found in noticeable touristy places (squares, monuments, etc.)

I am summarizing my favorite walking tours (in no particular order) below. I put the website as I can because sometimes the information about free walking tour can be found in the hostels.

Hanoi's Temple of Litterature
Hanoi’s Temple of Litterature
  1. Hanoi Kids – Hanoi, Vietnam

My first encounter with free walking tour is in Hanoi. The activity is operated by Hanoi Kids, a non-profit organization. It is based on donation (could be given through their website here). Hanoi Kids is not really a walking tour. We can choose what places we want to visit. What means of transportation we want to use.  Where we want to eat. Hanoi Kids is not a usual free walking tour. It is more like a private tour.

The idea is spending times with Vietnamese students who are also the guides throughout the tour. They will pick you up in your hotel. Together, you will proceed to the sites you have chosen. You can also modify it yourself so long as you communicate it with the guides. 😀 They tell the history and legends of the places in Hanoi. The tour itself is very valuable because you get the chance to see Hanoi from local perspective.

Our guides were Nắng Lạnh and Bùi Trí Dũng. They helped us a lot! Especially to know the normal price in Hanoi. They also brought us to local restaurants and recommended the foods! I really had a good time!

Free walking tour in Prague! Though not clear, :p this is in the square to Charles Bridge
Free walking tour in Prague! Though not clear, :p this is in the square to Charles Bridge
  1. Extravaganza Free Tour – Prague, Czech Republic

My grumpy friends and I joined Prague’s free tour on the last day of 2014. It was winter. A little bit wet. Nevertheless it was still so much fun! Probably, it is the most comprehensive Prague walking tour. Our guide, Clara, was so energetic and interactive! She also told us ‘secret menu’ that we can order in the local restaurants. 😉 We spent three hours enjoying Clara’s explanation about Prague’s Old Town, its infamous Charles Bridge, Castle and many more! You will see the black dark story (or history?) of Prague despite its now reputation as one of the most romantic city in Europe. I will not spill them for you. 😀 The good thing about this tour is that it has a break in the middle of the tour. Therefore, if you miss the first part, you can still definitely go for the second part.

Do you see yourself?
Do you see yourself?
  1. Graffiti Walking Tour – Berlin, Germany

I felt so hipster for joining this tour in Berlin! It was different from the usual walking tour as its highlight is Berlin’s graffiti. Graffiti is part of Berlin and the tour operator understands it! Our guide, an Australian living in Berlin, provided us with explanation about the story behind Berlin’s graffiti. Through the tour, I found out how the artists avoid being jailed for drawing a graffiti; the artists persistence in ‘preserving’ their works from being removed by the authorities; the characteristics of the works of some (such as scratches of ‘6’s); and even how valuable a graffiti can be (because there is part of a wall with graffiti was stolen and sold!) This tour is so alternative that it gives people new perspective!

Here is Big Ben (I have no picture of the tour! haha)
Here is Big Ben (I have no picture of the tour! haha)
  1. Jack the Ripper Tour – London, England

I joined several walking tour in London because this city is so big that one walking tour is not enough! My favorite of all is this Jack the Ripper Tour. If you are a fan of thriller or horror movies, you will like this tour! You will explore East London’s White Chapel area in the evening (so you get the feeling, of course!) Instead of magnificent buildings, you will see houses and small alleys. The guide will then tell you story on the spot where Jack did his action. There will also be explanation of how the killing was done and the typical victims.

Eagerly explaining
Eagerly explaining
  1. New Amsterdam Tour – Amsterdam, Netherlands

I only had one day in Amsterdam, so I joined Amsterdam’s free walking tour to get overview of the Netherlands’ capital. The meeting point was at the National Monument, 10-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal. Our guide was a funny Dutch guy. We started from the monument itself and ended the tour in the Jordaan District. It was a tour about Dutch history, habits and arts. Through this three-hour tour, you will know that Amsterdam is not limited to weeds and prostitutions. 😀

Also, after the tour you can head directly to Anne Frank’s house as the last stop was close by and by evening there is fewer crowds.

P.S.:

Although free walking tour is popular, it is not available in every city. In substitute, you can hire an audio guide from the tourist office for little amount of money and do the walking tour by yourself. I did it in Trieste, and it was not less fun!

(eff)

Life in Malé

For you who doesn’t know, Malé is the capital city of Maldives. Mid year 2014, the Randomtravelers did another random travel. This time we traveled to Maldives. People said that it is an expensive travel destination and guess what, people were right. Haha. This time, there were 9 of us who traveled together.

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Waiting for the boat to take us to Male from the airport (yes, they are located in separate island)

We stayed at a hotel in Malé the first day we arrived. I knew that Maldives was an expensive holiday destination but I never anticipated that the prices of food there were also high. Because we didn’t get any complimentary food in the plane, I got hungry after we landed. While the others were buying a local sim card for their cell phone, I saw Isan in the Burger King restaurant buying some food. I went there to buy some food for myself but later backed away when I realized how expensive the burger was compared to the one in my country. 20 USD for a set of burger, cola and fries. Man, this place sure was expensive! Isan next bought a scoop of ice cream, and it costed him 10 USD. So expensive!

However, the horror (for me) didn’t end here. I came to this country bringing only 200 Singapore Dollar and realized that I couldn’t use my ATM card in Male! *gasp I was worried about how my life will be for the next 4 days in this country. I bring my credit card though and I already paid for the accomodation in advance (we’ll be living on board). So my spending will mainly be food and drinks and a little amount of souvenirs while in Male.

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Welcome to Male!
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To cut our spending, we hire a pick up car to take us to our hotel (which was not to far from the harbour)
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The currency of Maldives, Rufiya. But USD were also widely used in the country. In fact I got the feeling that the local people prefer USD of Rufiya.

The first time I stepped my feet on this city, I recognized that the ground was made of bricks probably due to the fact that the city was built on a small island (probably the biggest island in Maldives), and building asphalt roads might not be a good idea. The streets were also narrow, fit only for one car so there were many one way roads. The buildings were moderately tall. There were a big mosque, city squares, dump place, shopping area, schools, restaurants, and a university.

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A monument in Male

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The dump place of the island

We strolled half of the city while doing a morning run.

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The Presidential Palace

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The city feels a bit crowded due to its small area and big number of population, buildings, andvehicles. I was wondering how the locals live with the high prices of goods sold there. We went to one of the local restaurants and shocked that we had to pay 30 USD for a plate of fried rice. We also checked the local grocery and found that they do not stock much and the prices were moderately high. Our tour officer told us that Maldives imported 95% of its domestic needs from abroad. Be it food or other goods. This is the reason why everything was so expensive in Maldives. Their only incomes were from the tourism sector and fishery which they have quite abundantly.

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The expensive fried rice
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Rotten fruit was still on sale for 5 Rufiya

Also, the image of rich people couldn’t be seen in the local people of Maldives. Most of the expensive resorts in Maldives were owned by foreign investment and the local people were only hired to run the bussinesses. As we explore more of the city, we finally found stores that sell goods with cheaper prices.

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Scoop ice cream store
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The ice cream were only 40 Rufiya (around 4 USD)

Turns out, the local people shop there. So our tips is, go find a store where local people shops. You’ll get goods with a significant difference in prices compare to the stores attended by tourists. Not that we found many tourists in Malé anyway. (npa)