Tallinn revisited

Posted by jswt | Posted in Estonia - Tallinn, General, Latvia - Riga | Posted on 09-04-2013


A week in Tallinn, Estonia.
Not much to say that wasn’t covered in my previous post from when I was here for NYE a couple years back, except that it was more fun with my friend S in town, and a cheesy Vengaboys show 😛

Read the rest of this entry »

Santo Domingo should be avoided.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Dominican Republic - Santo Domingo, General | Posted on 26-12-2012


So, Santo Domingo in the Domincan Republic sounded nice on paper… You always hear about the nice tropical resorts in DR, but those are in the north. Santo Domingo is in the south, and is a crumbling, poverty stricken, crime ridden far from the gated resorts up north. This city holds a special place for me, as it’s the first place I’ve ever visited where you’re right on the ocean, but cannot swim in the ocean – it’s so cluttered with garbage, pollution, and waves of human excrement that it’s been ruined. Our hotel was right across the street from the beach, which sounds nice, until you see the wall of people hanging out along the beach who are all waiting to eye you up and shake you down as soon as you leave the hotel, and occasionally step over and lean over the cliffs to shit into the ocean — the waterfront is literally their toilet.
Read the rest of this entry »

Hong Kong Wrapup

Posted by jswt | Posted in China - Hong Kong, General | Posted on 23-07-2012


After my niece left, I wasn’t so inclined to adventure around HK much more so I got back to work and had a couple nights out with some tourfolk. One special treat was that S&L were passing through town on their way home to australia, so we met up with them for a jetlaggy dinner out which turned out to be amazing… We went to Tim Ho Wan which is the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. No frills, small almost dive joint with barely any seating, byob from across the street, but that’s irrelevant to the food — omg the food… absolutely and hands down some of the best dim sum I’ve ever eaten. The chef found us amusing and showed us how to mix and match the sauces perfectly, and we quickly forgot about the 90 minute wait to get in as our tastebuds danced and smiled in our mouths.

Looking back on my time in Hong Kong I understand a lot more about my home in Vancouver. Back when HK was reverting to Chinese rule from the British, everyone who had the money to do so picked up some extra property in Vancouver as it was easier to get into than the states, and Vancouver would have felt like home – it’s basically a very similar layout and landscape to Vancouver, except that it’s much less populated, less polluted, and *much* cheaper. I also learned that in China, you don’t get interest on your money in the bank, so a much better alternative to stagnant wealth is to throw that into property. Over time, everyone with property in Vancouver has picked up a few extras, and moved their families over to Vancouver so they can go to school, enjoy retirement, and otherwise ride out the riches. There is now a 60% asian population in downtown Vancouver (higher in some suburbs). I know now that everyone in Vancouver who is bitching about high home prices are going to have a long way yet to go as the millionaires (and there are many) in HK and mainland China continue their exodus to what’s in their minds, a cheap paradise in Vancouver.

Would I go back to Hong Kong? Yes… it’s vibrant, noisy, and hectic and there’s much more to explore than I was able to do in 2 weeks. Not somewhere I’d ever go for a vacation, but I’d definately keep a few days available if I was ever passing through to do more exploring (and eating and shopping).

Macau – House of Dancing Water

Posted by jswt | Posted in China - Hong Kong, China - Macau, General | Posted on 16-07-2012


[These Hong Kong posts are being guest written by my 12 year old niece… enjoy!]

We spent the morning kind of lazy. later on, we took a ferry to Macau (the vegas of China) We went into a casino and I didn’t get ID’ed. I guess I look 18 🙂 MUHAHAHA! After coming out of the casino, we saw a cool drumstick sculpture for the hard rock cafe. After wandering for a bit, we went to the “house of dancing water” show. We sat in the 3rd row so we got SOAKED! The show was AMAZING! I loved it! the only weird things were the motorbikes, they didn’t fit into the story too well. It was awesome to see the stage. THe stage had so much effort put into it, it was amazing. After the awesome show, we went to the Venitian casino/hotel where we got dinner. It was weird because we got dinner in an irish pub, in a fake italian hotel in china…hmmmm.

After that long day, we took the bumpy ferry home and had a fun subway ride then slept. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Hong Kong – Backstage and Night Market

Posted by jswt | Posted in China - Hong Kong, General | Posted on 15-07-2012


[These Hong Kong posts are being guest written by my 12 year old niece… enjoy!]

[Editor’s Note: We actually started our day by waking up to the HK Supercar Club pulling up to our hotel for breakfast before going on their Sunday ride… 52 cars in total… just a few million dollars worth of shiny vroom]

We started our day by hanging out and waiting to go backstage for cirque de soleil. The view from backstage was really cool. You got to see all of the artists working on their part. Backstage, they did everything to the max. Everything they did had to be awesome. They couldn’t just do push ups, they had to do them upside down. They couldn’t JUST lift weights, they had to lift up another man vertically. Being backstage watching all of that can make a person feel really weak. [Editor’s note: No photos to protect artist privacy and magic…]

When we came back from that, we were tired so we had a nap. Later on, we went down to temple street which we heard had a lot of cool stuff. It had some cool things for sale and also, lots of fortune tellers. When we got tired of walking, we decided to eat at this place on the side of the road that had plastic stools. It had a crazy menu with snails, goose liver, fried baby pigeon and lots of frogs/toads. We chose to eat a little…less weird so we got some cool chinese food and stuff in a hot pot. The view from our tale included cars and people in the market going by.

Hong Kong – Saturday Shopping

Posted by jswt | Posted in China - Hong Kong, General | Posted on 14-07-2012


[These Hong Kong posts are being guest written by my 12 year old niece… enjoy!]

We started our day with our amazing buffet breakfast and then decided to go shopping that day. We started on Granville st. because we got a recommendation to visit it. We were walking down the street to find this itty bitty mall down an alleyway with people coming in and out. We decided to check it out. When we got in, it turned out to be really cool. Each shop was a person’s own individual collection or style. Most of the stores were stores full of handmade things by the person who owned the store. It was a very fashionable place. From there, we went on to walk to “The Ladies Market” It was HUGE. Although there were lots of things, all of the prices were too high and I didn’t want to argue with them so I didn’t get anything. From there, we went to the electronics market which was not really that exciting. It was just phone store after phone store. After walking for hours and hours we went to stop for something to eat. We were walking and walking and I finally said “Matthew, we’ve passed like 10 restaurants. We’re eating here! (I pointed to the building next to us)I’m starving and I don’t want to walk anymore!” The retaurant ended up being really good. We had awesome fruit juice with jelly in it (green apple green tea and lychee tea) , weird soup with good meat in it, and some dumplings.

Hong Kong – Full on Friday

Posted by jswt | Posted in China - Hong Kong, General | Posted on 13-07-2012


[These Hong Kong posts are being guest written by my 12 year old niece… enjoy!]

Friday was cool, we didn’t have to take the metro, our journey would begin at our local station(Tung Chung). We then waited in line for like 1 hour to get a ticket to the tram. We then got on the tram and went on our journey to BIG BUDDHA! The ride was amazing, the view was awesome! Before we even got there, we could see buddha from our tram. It was HUGE! When we got there, we were just in time to listen to the walking with buddha tour. We learned about who buddha was and how he was racing on a horse like a manly man to find peace in himself! He went to the point of starvation! Pretty cool buddha:) We then walked all the way up 288 stairs to see the giant buddha. The view was amazing and the statue was beautiful. I don’t know if it was just me or what but, I think that the statue was staring right into my soul. It’s eyes follow you wherever you go. While we were looking at the statue, we noticed the swastika in the center of the buddha’s chest and on its hand. We learned a lot about the swastika. We learned that it was not originally a symbol of the nazi’s. It was originally a sign in the buddhist religion that meant peace and eternal life. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the two are different, they face two different ways. The nazi’s made it a miror image of peace and eternal life like the opposite. Just to be able to tell that story to whoever we want, Matt and I bought matching t-shirts (twins:D) with a swastika on it. We also went into the beautiful monastery with carved gold pillars of dragons.

After we went there, we went back on the tram and went to the outlet mall near us. it was…BLEH! After, we went to the cirque du soleil show Saltimbanco which made up for the boringness of the mall. The people in that show do some crazy stuff, they can do weird flips and bend strangely.

Hong Kong – Ocean Park

Posted by jswt | Posted in China - Hong Kong, General | Posted on 12-07-2012


[These Hong Kong posts are being guest written by my 12 year old niece… enjoy!]

Thursday was pretty amazing, we decided to go to ocean park, an amusement park in Hong Kong. We went with some of our new friends, M and X.

We entered at the perfect time, just in time to see a dance choreography. Lined up in front of the stage, about 200 nine year old kids dancing to the music. The music was in English so we could understand it but nobody else could. We were laughing the whole time at all of the inappropriate and rude things the songs were talking about. Perfect kid’s dance:) After seeing that, we took a fancy tram up to the top of a mountain where the rest of the amusement park was located. First, we did a tube ride so that we could get wet and cool down. That kept me from dying in the heat. Then we saw……PANDAS! The amusement park had pandas! Again, AWESOME! We did some other cool rides like the space ride.

ON our way back from that, we saw seals and sea lions. For food, I saw chicken feet and cow shins on the menu, YUM! 😛 Around the park, there were a lot of vegetable sculptures, but none to eat O.o As we were leaving, we saw their jellyfish display room. It started with some little tanks with some jellyfish and as you move along another wall, it goes into some more small tanks, after one more room, you see this small room with mirrors all along the sides and a whole bunch of lit up tube tanks full of different types of jellyfish. The tubes lit up in different colors and so did the jellyfish. The mirrors on the walls just made it look way cooler. In the last room, there was a cool game that you play with your shadow. It’s a big light that shines on a wall and a bunch of jellyfish shown with the light. With your shadow, you can block the light and it will make the jellyfish move away.

Hong Kong – Wednesday Wandering

Posted by jswt | Posted in China - Hong Kong, General | Posted on 11-07-2012


[These Hong Kong posts are being guest written by my 12 year old niece… enjoy!]

On Tuesday, I don’t know what Matt and Chris did all day but as for me, major migraine and jet lag. My day consisted of major sickness and laying in bed.

Wednesday was our first day out, finally. We started our day with some awesome breakfast(an all you can eat buffet with awesome food and a whole section of chinese food). Then we hopped on the bus and went to the metro. We didn’t know where we were going but we were sure of one thing…it had to be AWESOME! We picked a random station, the one we chose was called Hong Kong, It sounded pretty good. We then caught a bus to Stanley market, a recommendation by my g’ma. When we got to Stanley market, we went through the actual market which ended up being pretty lame. It was only one street, the prices were meant for tourists, the stuff was not very cool, and it just wasn’t worth it. Near the market, we found a cool little hike up a mountain. It had very cool views and some interesting animals. We saw a lizard that was AWESOME, a bunch of beautiful blue and black butterflies, and a giant bright red wasp the size of my fist that tried to ATTACK Matt. On that hike, we also saw a really pretty temple with some cool offerings. When we got back from the hike, we were caught in another tourist trap, gelato. The gelto was good, but not worth the $32(Hong Kong dollars) for 1 scoop. Oh well. A bit later that night, we went to “the goldfish market”. It’s name pretty much explains it. It was an entire street of people seeling fish and other sea animals like turtles and tortoises. Matthew and I had a game we played…pet or food? Later that night, we went to see the light show made with the buildings. It was cool because all of the lights matched the timing of the music. It was well put together and was fun to watch.

Casablanca, Morocco

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Morocco - Casablanca | Posted on 15-04-2012


2 weeks in Casablanca held romantic ideals, but the reality was a lot less lovely than expected… You know the faded black and white Bogart memories and dreams you have associated with the place? Well… The film was shot entirely at a sound lot in California — the producers knew better than to spend their time in Casablanca itself.

The city is really just a slummy port town that’s been mangled and aside from the financial district and their (surprisingly good) mall, is falling into serious disrepair.

There were a few highlights of the couple weeks there though:

1) Chris’ parents were passing through on a cruise at the same time we were there, so though Chris has to work, I got to spend the day exploring the old city with them. We had a great day: strolled deep into the heart of the habbous, drank sweet mint tea, had a nice dinner @ Rick’s Cafe with some fantastic Moroccan wines, and Chris was able to get away from work and join us for dessert… Wonderful day!

2) The location of the hotel was superb – right on the beach, with a pool, where we spent a great afternoon hanging out with a bunch of the peeps in the sun. (Note: This nowhere comes close to making up for the absolutely terrible service at the hotel – see below).

3) The tour had it’s 20th anniversary party which was really, really, really good… Moroccan feast, snake charmers, shisha, drunken revelry on the dancefloor… The party popped 🙂

These three things don’t override the overwhelming negatives… Everyone on the tour got sick from the food/drink/sanitation (including me – brutally ill for 4 days), the women were all harassed by the Moroccan men, I caught pickpockets with their fingers in my pockets, the city is noisy and dirty and has zero charm, and we had the worst hotel experience we’ve ever had (seriously: never, ever, ever stay at the Riad Salam Hotel — the place is falling apart, and the service was agressively bad… we’ve stayed in 150+ hotels and have never experienced poor service like this – it was beyond rude to the point of confrontational and horrible.)

If you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, but if you’re looking to have a good time I have to encourage you not to waste your time with Casablanca… Fantastic reports came back from Marrakech and Fez, so aim for those instead.