Not a moment wasted in Vienna

As soon as we hopped off the train in Vienna (Wien), we hit the ground running. Arriving at our host’s home, we quickly dropped off our belongings, freshened up (barely) and walked over to the hospital nearby, attached to a convent where I have an aunt who is a nun. She welcomed us, told us about the hospital, and the feeding and watering thus began. We tasted an Austrian soda but decided to stick with water (along with the beer we were given because, according to my aunt, “It is good to drink the beer. It is hot and the beer is cold, you should drink it”). She brought out dal, rice, and vegetables as the rest of the nuns (7 or 8) returned from evening prayer…and proceeded to stare at us. They don’t often get visitors, so they were glad to have us, and we had a lovely time once we felt settled, overeating, having ice cream, and laughing. They were certainly a sassy bunch and we enjoyed the conversation. Once we were much too full we said our thank yous and goodbyes and headed to a wine bar nearby for an evening glass, as I’d heard that Viennese wine is quite good. Lucky for us, there was an elder gentleman nearby who learned that we were from out of town and he gave us suggestions and information about the best wines in the bar. We both got the same thing, a Gelber Muskateller Tement, which was light and fresh, perfect to end our day. Exhausted, we walked home to our ridiculous circular bed to rest before our quick tour de Wien on Monday.
Most of the time, rain can be a great friend when trying to sleep. The rain in Vienna was no such friend, and we woke up tired but ready to hit the pavement. After a small breakfast at Cafe Ministerium, we spent our morning wandering around the First District, stopping in shops, gazing at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, admiring the state hall, and eating the Aida torte and apple strudel at Aida Cafe. Then it was back home to fetch our belongings before the 1 pm check out time so that we could store them in the train station. We had a few hours that we spent going to Belvedere Palace to see the Gustav Klimt exhibition, and enjoy an impressionism exhibit as well. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the palace, though, was not the beautifully landscaped grounds or the marvelous ceilings, but a strange room with large windows and yoga balls covered in burgundy velvet. Sometimes, when life throws you a surprise, instead of asking questions, you just bounce around on a velvet-covered yoga ball until you fall off, which is precisely what I did.
It wasn’t long before we headed back to get lunch and board the train to Salzburg. Luckily, our apartment here is quite close to the train station, and most of our time here is already planned. We are so incredibly excited for our Sound of Music tour tomorrow – stay tuned!

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Asante, Nairobi!

We started our last day in Nairobi in the afternoon, first heading to the Sarusaki Dance Trust to check out an open rehearsal of a dance performance. It was a mix of both African and modern dance, and it felt good to check out some local art. Next stop, Ranalo Foods, a downtown restaurant with authentic Kenyan cuisine where we had a full fried tilapia and greens, and ate with our hands.
Next up, a long drive to the Kazuri bead factory. Our tour guide n told us I was kazuri, which is Swahili for “small and beautiful.” The bead factory employs single mothers to make beautiful handmade beads from clay, and sends them all over the world to fair trade shops to be sold. After some shopping at the bead factory, we went to a Masai market which was also near a bookstore for me to keep with my tradition and purchase a children’s book for my international collection. Our day ended with another visit to thr David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to see the evening elephant feeding and bedtime. The first one in line running for her supper was baby Esampu! I watched her eat and wind down for quite some time, also learning that she is often hungry and also cheeky…not unlike me. We headed back to the hotel to get a couple hours of sleep before the next very long day – flights to Budapest with a layover in Istanbul.
My concluding thoughts about Kenya are that I mostly just can’t believe that we were allowed to be so close to wildlife. That’s something that we never get in the United States, and it was absolutely worth the trip to Africa to touch a baby elephant, see multiple dazzles of zebras, and watch giraffes graze on the side of the road.

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Flying around the world

3 Countries, 1 Day
Friday was a totally exhausting travel day, but it ended up being really enjoyable! Despite the 5 am flight out of Nairobi and the hour in the Turkish customs line, I still enjoyed a full hour to play in Sultanahmet. Surprisingly, there was no line to get into the Aya Sofya, so I spent my hour visiting that old friend, eating simit (a sesame seed-coated bagel-like snack), and wandering around the Arasta Bazaar before heading back to the airport for my flight to Budapest. I had just enough time to find a lovely, quiet café in the airport and eat before the flight. I met my friend in Budapest, and we kicked off our travels with a visit to Szimpla Pub, a quirky ruin pub in the city. It was chock full of both oddities and delights, ranging from a giant kangaroo, a black and white movie screen, and outdoor water misters to an open mic stage and a bathtub to sit in and lounge. We tried palinka, the Hungarian national liquor. Mine was pear flavored and Karli’s was plum flavored. With all due respect, it was vile. Served at room temperature, it was not at all my style. After a drink at the pub, we headed back to our apartment to sleep off our long days of travel.

Buda Day
We started off our 1 full day in Budapest with a slow breakfast across from the Dohany Street Synagogue on the Pest side. We walked to the Könyvudvar book market, which I’d read about but was, sadly, underwhelming. The books weren’t in English, so we cut that visit short and went to the Hungarian National Museum instead, to soak in some information and history about the country we were in. There were a lot of old artifacts there. Highlights for me there were definitely the musical instrument exhibit, Beethoven’s old piano, and the history of Hungary after World War I.
All of that reading made us hungry! We happened upon Budapest Baristas, which boasted creamy lattes, a filling granola bowl with yogurt and an assortment of fruits, and shelter from the rain.
On the way to our next destination, we discovered a most delightful shop with ceramic flowers, which we couldn’t resist, and ended up taking some time to create small bouquets for ourselves.
Onward we went to St. Stephen’s Basilica, where there was a wedding going on! We weren’t able to get a very close look at the dome, but it was nice to see the church in use.
We stopped at home to grab towels and then attempted to take the bus further north to see the Vajdahunyad Castle and go to the Szecheneyi Thermal Baths. I say “attempted” because we saw 1 bus go by as we bought tickets, another that wasn’t clear about which bus it was, and finally made it onto one that ended up kicking us off for some unknown reason, causing us to walk the rest of the way hot, sweaty, and slightly cranky. Luckily, the journey paid off, as the castle grounds were beautiful (another bride!) and there was a man playing a digiridoo to add to the ambiance. The thermal baths were fantastic and exactly what we wanted. One pool had a round portion which caused the water to create a whirlpool if enough people were in it swimming in the same direction. The other that we used (opting out of the lap pool…) was hotter, with steam rising off of it. We lounged for quite some time, watching the beginnings of a setup for a “sparty,” complete with large, inflated mushroom-like tents. Exhausted by the time we got back to our area (luckily our return journey was much easier), we gorged ourselves on salad and delicious pasta, and went right to bed.

Buda and Pest
A nice thing about being somewhere for an extended period of time is finding a place you like and frequenting it. Though our time in Budapest was short, we still managed to go to Budapest Baristas another time for morning lattes and breakfast sandwiches. We walked to the Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world (the largest being in New York). It was incredibly beautiful, and certainly one of the most beautiful houses of worship I’ve ever seen. The chandeliers, domed ceiling, and ornate tile came together to make a breathtaking space. The synagogue was a significant place before World War II, during which it was adjacent to the Budapest ghettos. I found a children’s book there, which freed up some time for us to grab our belongings and make it to the Buda side of the Szecheneyi Chain Bridge and cross over the Danube River, taking in views on both sides. We had a light lunch at a restaurant on the river and then off we went again, to hop on the train to Wien (Vienna)!

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Karibuni Kenya

Arrival/Day 1 in Nairobi
How very exhausting! We arrived at our hotel in Nairobi around 3 am and tried to sleep until 6:30 before jumping right into a full day of sightseeing. We were picked up at 8 am and headed straight to the giraffe center, which is a preservation center for giraffes. They had a number of Rothschild giraffes (also known as “white sock” giraffes due to the white fur up to their knees). These giraffes hail from Northern Kenya, where they are released back into the wild so that they do not cross – breed with other subspecies, which would make them weaker. Most giraffes are about 3 years old when released,  but if they don’t adapt b well,  they’re brought back to the sanctuary.   We were allowed to feed the giraffes,  and those that were brave enough could put the pellets in their mouths and let the giraffes lick them out of our mouths. You bet your bottom dollar I enjoyed a number of these giraffe kisses! After playing with the giraffes, we headed across the way to the nature sanctuary for a short walk before getting in the car (during which I had a close call with a sassy warthog who charged at me for getting too close -did you know that pumbas only have a memory that spans about 30 seconds?).
Next up,  the main event and reason for this entire trip: the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Orphaned Elephant and Rhino Nursery. We got to watch 26 sweet baby elephants (1 group of 12, 1 group of 14) feed from bottles and tumble around in the mud for a delightful hour. Those of us nearest to the elephants got to touch them as they sauntered by! The keepers were very knowledgeable (they have to be,  the orphanage doesn’t take volunteers, only trained people) and clearly care deeply for the animals.  The crowd was asked to be silent so as not to excite or stress out the elephants. People mostly followed this rule, which was nice.  Elephants rotate keepers daily so that they don’t get attached to one (this method is based off of Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s work and findings). They are released to a rehabilitation center around age 4 to prepare for being released into the wild.  The center doesn’t keep track of the elephants one they’re released,  since their life spans are so long that the microchips for tracking would have to be replaced. The trust does identify and treat sick and wounded adult elephants found in the national parks,  and then releases them back to their herds. There was 1 baby rhino on site,  but it wasn’t available for viewing. At the end of the hour, there was a chance to donate to the nursery by fostering a baby elephant, which I obviously did. I get to visit baby Esampu on our last day during her bedtime!
After all the excitement we were glad to enjoy lunch (the best falafel I’ve ever had) and rest in our hotel before a Japanese dinner at The Phoenician.

Day 2: Amboseli National Park
Early morning pick up at 6 am for a 3 hour drive to Amboseli! We were lucky to have nobody else on our safari tour, so we had the entire day to ourselves. The Kenyan government allows the Masai people into the park to let their cows get water, and there were many Masai around the park entrance. Nothing else except for pictures can describe how jaw-dropping this day was.  The only downside was that I let myself get really dehydrated since there was limited bathroom access. We spent a few hours exploring from the safari vehicle before enjoying lunch at the Ol Tukai Lodge in the center of the park – a delicious buffet with a view to boot! Animals spotted included:

•Birds: spoonbill storks, crown cranes, cormorants, vultures, and more
•A jackal
•Wildebeests
•Thompson and common gazelles
•Hippos
•Rothschild giraffes
•Elephants crossing the road right in front of us!
•Dazzles upon dazzles of zebras

We were so fortunate to be able to see these animals in their proper homes!

Day 3: Hell’s Gate
7 am pickup for a 2 1/2 hour drive to Hell’s Gate National Park. We drove into the park with a guide who took us for a hike into Elsa’s Gorge. Lots of scrambling around in a skirt, but being inside a gorge (we were lucky to be there during the dry season so we got to walk around inside of it) was totally worth it, especially seeing the parts that inspired scenes for The Lion King. According to our guide, it’s called Hell’s Gate because the Masai warriors would hide within the gorge to attack the explorers coming to Kenya in the 1880s.
We saw lots of zebras, Masai giraffes, warthogs, gazelles, birds, impalas, and buffaloes. After the rather draining hike, we enjoyed a view over Lake Naivasha during lunch before hitting the road again.
Tomorrow is our last day in Nairobi! We’ll be scoping out a Masai market, maybe seeing some dancing, and visiting Baby Esampu before I head to Budapest.

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New Summer, New Continent

It’s that time again! This year, I (kind of) successfully avoided a Europe-centered trip and am first headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Why Africa, and why specifically Kenya? Well, as things often go with me, it all started with a book. I read Love, Life and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick a couple of years ago, a memoir about her life in Africa and the beginnings of the elephant and rhino nursery that she began. As elephants are my favorite animals, I decided that I simply must go and see these graceful creatures in person. So nature is the impetus for my trip this time around.

I’ll also be heading to Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. The International Montessori Congress is in Prague, and since I’ve already been there, I thought I’d check out some places I haven’t seen before, since I’ll be in that part of Europe anyways.

No solo trip this year! The word is out about my fun travels – Mom and Dad have hopped onto my Africa trip, and I’m meeting up with a friend in Hungary so she and I can explore together before our congress. I’ve got four more years to fill up nine pages in my passport, so it’s safe to say that, at this point, I’m traveling as much as physically possible. But then…when am I not?

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Tour de Nordic Countries: Check

The end of my Nordic Countries involved a visit to Freetown Christiania, an area in Copenhagen that is not monitored by the government and run exclusively by its inhabitants. It was small and artsy, and fun to walk around. I also went to The Church of Our Saviour, where I faced my fear of heights and climbed up an enormous, winding, tower to overlook the entire city. Beautiful views, but I’m not sure that teetering on the side of a church tower is really my cup of tea.

The Danes on my dessert tour had recommended a canal tour to me – I tend to avoid these larger city tours, but since locals said that it was worth it – off I went! It was a nice way to get up to Nyhavn without walking, which is where the statue of The Little Mermaid is. Since so many people make a big to-do about this statue, I was expecting something much grander than was there, and I was glad to have been on the canal tour instead of taking half a day just to see it.

Language tidbit: “havn” means port. Anything preceding “havn” refers to the kind of port that something is. “Koben” means merchants, therefore “Kobenhavn” (Copenhagen) means “port of merchants.” 

After Copenhagen came Oslo. My hosts were absolutely delightful, and gave me a map of the city and very clear directions for everything I wanted to see. I spent my first evening in Oslo walking up to the Vigeland Sculpture Park, an expansive park with fountains, sculptures, and no shortage of green space. The amount of nature in the Nordic Countries did not cease to impress. My full day in Oslo was full of the Viking Museum in the morning, followed by the Nasjonalmuseet, the art museum. I was specifically going to see The Scream, painted by Edvard Munch. I was delighted to also find art by Picasso, Degas, Monet, Manet, and more! This was perhaps the most surprising and exciting part of my day. There was an additional special exhibit of Japanese art, including The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Katsushika Hokusai), which was another unexpected encounter. After, of course, buying my souvenir, another children’s book, I had fish cakes for lunch and wandered about the city. I climbed up the roof of the opera house to get a glimpse of the water on one side, and the city on the other (including the well-known “barcode” buildings, which are a number of buildings planned to look like, you guessed it, a barcode). There was a cafe inside the opera house where I sat, enjoyed a coffee, and gazed out onto the water. Though it was a packed day, I felt like I saw everything I was hoping to in Oslo.

I was so grateful to have had such a long time to explore these four countries on my own! I’m glad I did it by myself, but I did learn that about two weeks on my own is probably my maximum. I learned that I am quite the subtle traveler, as most people assumed I was a local, and I appreciate the parenting culture in Northern Europe, as well as the way that children are treated (like normal humans). I feel done with Europe for a while, but who knows what’s in store next!

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The hype about Copenhagen

For so many years, I’ve heard so much excitement, buzz, and hype about Copenhagen. I never really believed it because I’m not one for mainstream travel (I refer to my stint in and love for Latin America here). Well…I totally understand now.  Copenhagen really is a blast! I arrived in an exciting way, getting on the metro instead of the train and being super late to pick up my keys from my Danish host. I finally arrived at the beautiful, enormous apartment and settled in comfortably. My hosts here are fantastic and extremely helpful and social. They gave me a multitude of suggestions for sights to see as well as foods to eat (my favorite thing).
I started off my first full day here with a visit to the Black Diamond, a modern extension of the Danish Royal Library (anyone else noticing my apparent trend of starting each city with a bookworm outing?). There I saw some old papers from people like Nietzsche and Hans Christian Andersen. I had a small lunch as suggested ahead of time by the guide that led the dessert food tour I did next. 3 hours of walking, talking with Danes (I got lucky and was the only foreigner there, so I had 5 Danes to myself to learn about culture and customs in Denmark! ), and consuming an obscene amount of sugar?  Highlight of my trip so far. Food tours are expensive, but if you are with a good group, oh so worth it (check out the Sweet Tooth Tour by Foods of Copenhagen if you ever decide to do it!).

Treats sampled included:
•Napoleon hats
•Blackcurrant white chocolate truffles
•A sampling of pies
•Cinnamon buns
•Apple wine
•Chocolate coated licorice
•Blackcurrant candy and chocolate covered licorice
•Gourmet porridge
•Vegan ice cream sandwiches

After the tour I somehow managed, in my sugary stupor, to make it to Tivoli Gardens to hear some live jazz (the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is going on) and walk the beautiful grounds.
Yesterday was also a full day. I started at Christiansborg Palace (where Parliament meets) and made my way to Torvehallerne, a food hall. On my way I happened upon the best live jazz I’ve ever heard. They were a large group, and did some jazzy covers of popular songs as well as originals! I was also fortunate to discover a hot dog truck beside them with vegetarian hot dogs – yum! Eventually I got to the food hall… where I ate some more. Then it was off to Magasin, an enormous Danish department store, to see Hans Christian Andersen’s old apartment. One of the women from the food tour had told me to go in and ask about it, as it’s not really mentioned in any guide books or websites. A sales girl let me in (private tour!) and told me a little bit about it and Magasin, which used to be a hotel with slums behind it. After some shopping and trying floedeboller (again, per Danish recommendation), I took myself to dinner at a ramen restaurant and finally went home, exhausted!
One more day in Copenhagen and then the last stop: Oslo.

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