Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Budapest

My 22nd Birthday celebration in Budapest!

Budapest captured my heart. In my short stay there I fell in love with a city. The only other time I had felt this was when I was in New York, but my love for Budapest was for a completely different reason. It is very rare that a city grabs you, absorbs you and makes you feel at home, makes you feel like this could be a place you would want to grow old. Its beauty, the kindness of its people and the endless history around the city ensures that any stay here will be remembered forever.

St Stephens Basilica is in the centre of Pest (the city is split into two parts - Buda and Pest dependent on the side of the river). The building is majestic with 6 bells and a viewing platform where Budapest can really be seen. 

Situated a few roads away is the Hungarian State Opera House. Within this architectural masterpiece we saw 'Der Rosenkavalier', however - as this was our first opera - we were unaware that the subtitles would all be in Hungarian! So instead of truly understanding the opera we enjoyed the singing and made up our own story lines!

The second day in Budapest was my birthday and so we crossed Chain Bridge and went to Castle hill. To get up this steep hill was a 'funicular' which we were more than excited to use to get to the top. Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance and so we began the long climb up the hill. 

At the top was the small town of Buda. Many museums and restaurants were situated here as well as the castles. To the right is one of the fairytale castles in the region called Fisherman's Bastion. The hill also contains the National Gallery and the Royal Palace. 

That evening we dressed up and went to see the National Gallery and Castle hill at night, followed by drinks at the Budapest Four Seasons.


On our final day we climbed to the highest point in Budapest - Gellért hill. At the top is the Citadel which was used as a war time fort when Budapest was sieged. It provides unparalleled views down the Danube river and across Budapest. 


The forest surrounding the Citadel is magnificent with bright flowers and exotic plants. At the base is a water fall as shown to the right. 

At the bottom of Gellért hill there is also the famous Hotel Gellért. Here some of Budapests iconic thermal baths can be found. We went in the midst of winter so the Thermal Bath usage was low, allowing us to use the outside pool all to ourselves.

M.John Harrison, The Course of the Heart
"Budapest is a prime site for dreams: the East’s exuberant vision of the West, the West’s uneasy hallucination of the East. It is a dreamed-up city; a city almost completely faked; a city invented out of other cities, out of Paris by way of Vienna — the imitation, as Claudio Magris has it, of an imitation."


Friday, 27 September 2013

Bangkok, Thailand

After traveling from Cambodia to Thailand the difference in poverty was obvious. In comparison to Cambodia, Thailand is a very rich country - they have roads instead of dirt tracks, the buildings are more ordained and ostentatious and the motor transport is of a much higher calibre.


The temples in Thailand were full of statues of Golden Buddha's including the Giant Buddha in Wat Traimit. This temple is located in the temple district alongside Wat Pho and Wat Arun featured below.



Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang

After our volunteer work in Cambodia had ended we were able to explore parts of Cambodia. The area we stayed during our project was called Battambang. At weekends and in the evenings we spent our time looking around the local area and visiting tourist sites. On one evening we went to the carnival - initially i was very against the concept of going to the carnival, who wants to see innocent animals tortured? This, however, was not an animal carnival but an acrobatic display of Cambodian performers. The show was magnificent and resembled the Cirque Du Soleil.

At the weekends we went to the local killing caves - as advised by the gentleman we stayed with. This was a horrible time in Cambodian history under the Khmer Rouge Regime - a time that still haunts many of the people living in Cambodia. Due to this terrible government 50% of the current population is under 22 years old. 

These caves were a haunting place with much history surrounding them and they deserve to be mentioned here for how fundamental they are to Cambodia as a country today. Near the killing caves was a mountain where many fields of Cambodia could be seen and many monkeys could be met.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap

Siem Reap was the next place of visit. This is a highly touristy town due to the Angkor Wat complex. 

Angkor Wat is a temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. The temple is a symbol of Cambodia and appears on its national flag. We reached Angkor Wat at 5.30am so that we could watch the sun rise over the iconic building. The rest of the day was spent travelling between temples via Tuk-Tuk in order to see as many buildings as we could - or in my case, climb as many buildings as I could.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Volunteering in Cambodia

16th September - 4th August
Volunteering in Cambodia was a life changing experience - I know the cliché, girl travels to third world country and comes back a changed person. This, however, wasn't why this experience was life changing. The school we worked in was poor. When we arrived it didn't have running water and electricity is a commodity that will never reach the school, at least, not in my lifetime. We were tasked with connecting a local water pipe to the school so that the children would be able to wash their hands after they use the bathroom (with no flushes). 

Initially I was concerned about working directly with the children - what if I (an english person with scarce knowledge of their culture) offend them, what if they don't like me? As a result I threw myself directly into the pipe project. Dig trenches from the existing pipe, that passes near the school, to the sinks: easy. Only later that week did I begin to teach the students. I started in the 'reception' class where no student spoke English. Here we drew pictures and learnt the alphabet and numbers. By the end of the second week the reception class were experts in 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes'. 

At the beginning of the second week the library redecoration project was ready to begin - the room had been emptied of rubbish and the furniture that the school was planning on keeping was stored in the middle. The walls were to be sanded down and given a couple of base coats in white.


Meanwhile, it was my turn to teach the third class - students around the age of 11. This 'summer school' wasn't just for the students of the school but for children in the surrounding area also. This class had a range of children - some that came from richer backgrounds and went to the 'American Schools' in Cambodia and some they may never have been to school before, but instead supported their families by working in the fields. This class was much easier to teach.

The students wanted to learn English - they loved the fact we were there to talk to them. The students that couldn't speak any English were able to use these students to translate and to help them learn. But the most common feature of this class was how happy the children were.

Many students in England detest going to school, others hate it, some don't mind it and a few like it. Some students don't even turn up when they have the chance. I was always a student who enjoyed school - I enjoyed learning, being challenged and spending time with my friends. The contrast of an English upbringing to that of the children in Cambodia was heart-breaking. These children walked or cycled several miles each day to come to this school and learn from us. They enjoyed it. Working with us and being with us brought them genuine happiness. The life changing part was seeing how happy these children were - they looked forward to coming to school and seeing us and they enjoyed the amount of time they got to spend with their families. They had fake iPhones which allowed them to take pictures and send messages. Portable speakers where one student played Maroon 5 on repeat. They didn't need the new expensive handbag or newest toy for them to enjoy what they were doing. This wasn't what I had been expecting. 

The library was planned and finished with each member of the team fulfilling their duties. It was painted and decorated to the school's standards and requests. The students had two days in that library once it was completed before we left - they loved the books that we brought for them and the colours in the room (a sharp contrast to every other room in the school). 

It was rainy season whilst we were in Cambodia and large storms would suddenly appear. At the end of our second week the biggest storm we had yet experienced arrived. As a result, we had to close the windows of rooms to protect the classroom. As the school didn't have electricity, this made the rooms very dark! Many of the students were afraid of this storm, so instead of teaching my class held a disco. Soon other students heard the fun and shortly after the entire school was sheltering together in one classroom. 

On our final day of the project we held a sports day where the school was split into four teams with team leaders from the volunteers. In the break between morning and afternoon sessions, most of the children would return home for lunch. When they returned after lunch they returned with gifts. Although these students owned much less in material wealth than any of the volunteers, they were more than happy to give us their bracelets and toys to show their appreciation for our time together. This further shows the divide with western cultures. The sorrow many of these children felt and the sadness I felt upon leaving really emphasised the bond that can be made across nations by people that are willing to make it.








Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Madrid

 A trip to Madrid with Nana to celebrate her 65th birthday!

Our hotel was situated on the Gran Via and the view was over the main road - the most prominent road in madrid featuring all the designer shops. On our first day we explored the Royal Palace. To the right is a picture of one of the many dinning rooms within the building. The picture below was taken outside of the Palace in the Royal Courtyard.

After entering the Parque Del Retiro - Madrid's green oasis - we found a monument dedicated to Alfonso XII. The monument overlooked a big artificial lake. This lake was used by swimmers and rowers and had many boats which were available to hire.

After walking deeper into the park we came across the Crystal Palace. This beautiful structure consists of metal and glass and it reflects on the water in front of it. It is currently used as a home for birds - the design of the building causes the bird whistle to echo around the room. 

Further through the park we found the Palacio de Velazquez - an art gallery with a range of abstract art. This art gallery lead onto the Rose Garden. A gem inside a land of green.

North of the city is a rebuilt Egyptian temple - The Temple of Debod. It originated from southern Egypt, very close to the first cataract of the Nile. On the journey home from the Egyptian temple we came across the Spanish premiere of 'Man of Steel', with queues beginning to increase in length we remained there a while and managed to see Henry Cavil and Russell Crow!

De Madrid al cielo
From Madrid to heaven