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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Stockholm: check

Stockholm has been both engaging and relaxing over the past few days. My favorite day here was still the first full day, but the past few days were enjoyable as well! I spent one entire day (Tuesday) in Gamla Stan, the old part of the city, where the royal palace and Nobel museum are located. I walked there across a bridge and had a lazy lunch in a sunny square. After some exploring I went through the Nobel museum, which I have to say, was underwhelming compared to the museums I was treated to the previous day. There was some live street music to enjoy afterward to end the day. Wednesday was spent in Södermalm. I basically spent my entire day eating – first, smørrebrød at a cafe for lunch, and then coffee and chocolates (rosehip, tea, salted caramel, lingonberry). And I am zero percent guilty about any of it (one of the days this week I walked over 12 miles!).
Today I opted for a day similar to those I have on my non-traveling weekends. I started the day with a yoga class. It was a standard flow yoga class, taught in English. It was a little more “woo woo” than I’m used to (and I’m used to pretty crunchy granola yoga), but still what my body needed due to all of the walking I’ve been doing. Another lazy lunch followed by light shopping (remember the single backpack as my luggage), exploring a pastry counter at the food hall in Östermalm, and a glass of wine on the terrace at the Swedish Royal Opera House, which boats a beautiful view. I ended my day of light shopping with a rather heavy bagful of chocolates – when in Sweden…right?
The Swedes really like their sweets (and the fika, a term for a break for coffee and sweets – but there’s more of a cultural overtone to this,  I’d liken it to the Spanish sobremesa). In fact, so much so that the government made an announcement/suggestion a few years ago that Swedes only enjoy sweets on Saturdays (not a law, just a recommendation for dental/health purposes).
Sweden has been fun and my host was lovely! Next stop, Copenhagen!

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Sweden

I’ve finished my first full day in Sweden!  I am really enjoying Stockholm so far.  The weather has been perfect, 70s, and I got to kick off my time here with 2 things I was super excited about. Yesterday I spent my morning at Junibacken, a museum dedicated to beloved Swedish children’s books (like Pippi Longstocking). I rode the Story Train, a moving ride that moved past dioramas depicting scenes from stories along with narration, and ended at a model of Pippi’s home,  Villa Villekula! Of course I shamelessly went in to explore (along with all of the other children…). Follow this with lunch and the most colorful,  extravagant ice cream I’ve ever eaten?  With pleasure.  I spent too much money at the bookstore and the next few hours walking around in the Djurgárden, a beautiful park near the water. Then off to the ABBA museum to continue my foray back into my childhood. The museum was awesome – I mean, I like museums in general, but this one truly was an awesome museum. Interactive, bright, full of music, flashy, the whole thing!  I really enjoyed learning more about them and some light history of Swedish pop (did you know Sweden is number 3 in the world for pop music exports -as in artists and songwriters- behind the US and the UK?).
Hopefully I continue to enjoy my time here – if the weather is any indicator, it seems like I will!
xo,
Genevieve

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Suomenlinna Island

Today I headed to Suomenlinna island for the day!  Words really don’t do it justice,  so the pictures I upload at the end of my trip will be much more telling than anything I could say about it. Finland is so green at this time of year,  and because everything on Suomenlinna is made of mostly stone (the old naval buildings and the fortress at least), I definitely felt like I was on Middle Earth. Helsinki is a pretty small city,  so I think tomorrow being my last day here works out well. Next time I write,  it will be from Stockholm!

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