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Wild elephants on the road

Posted: 2013-03-05 03:27:43, Categories: Travel, Thailand, Cycling, 787 words (permalink)

A wild elephant on the road to Palau waterfall, Thailand. Photo by Sandra Wilke. Sandra and I are now in Thailand and this photo shows one of our most exciting moments during the first two weeks. We were riding a moped back from Palau waterfall in Kaeng Krachan national park, when suddenly two big wild elephants were walking towards us on the road. A Thai man stopped his moped, turned around and adviced us to do the same. We drove back a couple of hundred meters and watched how the beautiful animals walked slowly forwards. One of them decided to return to the forest, the other continued on the road.

A car came from our direction and started slowly driving around the elephant. We followed behind the car together with the Thai motorist. Just as the car was passing, the elephant turned and started again crossing the road. The car and the Thai motorist got through, we weren't sure and stopped. Should we get off from the moped and slowly retreat on foot, or what should we do? Fortunately the elephant decided to stay in the middle of the road, leaving us enough space on the side. Sandra held her nerves well enough to point the camera towards the giant and take the photo.

We started our Thailand tour on the 14th of February by flying to Bangkok and taking a bus to Hua Hin. There we visited Sandra's father, who married a Thai woman after the early death of Sandra's mother, and who is now living in Thailand with his new family. In addition to meeting the family, Hua Hin was a good place to get adjusted to the climate, to try out Thai food and delicious fruits, to spend a bit of time on the beach, to enjoy a Thai massage, to visit a few temples and to get used to the left hand side traffic. The trip to Palau by moped was an exception, mostly we rode our bicycles which we brought with us.

After a week in Hua Hin we spent two days in Bangkok, which was a quite hectic experience after the more relaxed Hua Hin. We cycled once across the whole city from the western bus terminal to our hotel, which we had less wisely booked in the eastern part of Bangkok. After that we switched to public transport and walking. Once we rode motorcycle taxis, the fastest way to get around and an experience in itself. Of the most famous sights we went to see the big lying golden Buddha statue at Wat Pho, but skipped the Grand Palace. The backpacker oriented Khao San area was a bit more laid back, including roads without cars, with food stands on the side and foot massages outside in open air. We also shortly met my old friend Phisit, who kindly invited us for lunch near his workplace.

From Bangkok we took a train north to Phitsanulok and started our cycling tour. We rode first to Sukhothai spending one day around old temple ruins, and from there through the countryside and small towns towards Chiang Mai. Now we are at Chom Thong, near Thailand's highest mountain Doi Inthanon and the surrounding Doi Inthanon national park.

Especially smaller roads have been nice and motorists surprisingly polite. Cars and trucks mostly leave a large safety margin when overtaking us — sometimes vehicles coming from the opposite direction have to cope with a much less space than we do. People are yelling "Hello hello" from their houses when we're passing: the smaller the road the more attention we gather. A few times we've got spontaneous gifts such as bottles of drinking water or a watermelon. Unfortunately the locals' English ability is usually limited to the "Hello" and we don't speak enough Thai to really communicate with them.

Daily high temperatures are constantly over 35°C, and the sun shines strongly. We try to start relatively early in the morning and find accommodation latest early afternoon, leaving time to rest during the hottest time and to walk around later in the evening. Hotels and guesthouses are mostly easy to find, and cost around 400 Baht (10€) for a modern and clean room with air conditioning, less with fan only. Two times we stayed with CouchSurfing hosts, enjoying generous hospitality and learning more about the local culture and habits.

Staying connected in Thailand is quite easy nowadays. Almost all hotels and guesthouses have free wireless Internet. And when that's not available, we can use our one month / 1 GB mobile Internet package which we got for 500 Baht including the SIM card and some talk time. Phone calls with Thai SIM cards are cheap too, even when calling abroad. Roaming fees are absurdly high, so our Finnish and German cards we're keeping out of our phones.

Four weeks without sun

Posted: 2013-02-12 03:26:36, Categories: Travel, Norway, 546 words (permalink)

An early afternoon view over Karlsøy with the moon in the sky. Sandra and I spent the Christmas and New Year on the small 8 km² island of Karlsøya, Norway, 400 km north from the polar circle. That's north enough that in the winter sun remains under the horizon for two months, and in the summer it shines all around the clock for an equally long period, at least when clouds are not blocking it. For us it was the first time being so far north during winter time.

Compared to our expectations there was actually a lot of light. We thought it'd be mostly dark, with just a little bit of red in the horizon. But for about four hours each day it was bright enough to call it daylight. First it was an hour long sunrise with all shades of red and yellow, then about two hours of blue sky and after that a one hour sunset. Even at noon we didn't see the sun of course, so it felt a bit strange to see blue sky, sometimes with the moon in the middle of it. Taking photos with automatic white balance settings produced constantly more reddish results than the eye would see. Either the camera software was confused or perhaps our brain partly filtered out the red, hard to say. We tweaked the settings to make the colours as close as possible to what we saw.

On cloudy days it was clearly more dark, and the time one could easily walk outside without a lamp reduced from four or five to about three hours. Clouds also blocked the moonlight, which was quite strong on clear days. Northern lights appeared a few times, but unfortunately only relatively modest green stripes; no multi-coloured show filling the sky.

Another surprise was the temperature. We had not really checked any long term weather forecasts and were prepared for temperatures down to -30°C or so. That was indeed the case 100 km inland, but the coast is so strongly warmed up by the Gulf Stream that extreme temperatures are rare. On Karlsøya it was between 0 and -10°C, on some days even above zero. There was less snow than we had in Southern Germany in December when we left.

We slept inside a building which had earlier been a school and is nowadays mostly used only during a yearly summer festival. With more than 50 people the space was tight, but at least it was warm enough. The program of the gathering consisted of eating, preparing food, discussion circles, workshops, live music, singing, dancing and lazying around. Most of that happened inside, so it was good to also get out and go on walks around the island. That required a bit of attention — it was too easy to stay up until late night, get up late in the morning, have a slow breakfast and miss the daylight completely. Towards the end of our stay it happened to us more and more often.

One of our nicest walks was climbing on top of the nearby hill on December 21, the shortest day of the year. The peak rose to about 200 meter altitude from the sea level. There was a view over whole Karlsøya and towards higher snow-covered mountains on nearby islands in several directions. The midday moon and sunset over the scenery was a beautiful sight.

Traveling north for Christmas

Posted: 2012-12-17 02:14:02, Categories: Travel, Finland, Norway, Germany, Sweden, 376 words (permalink)

Our season's greetings card: Northern lights in Sarek. I'm traveling with Sandra to Northern Norway for the last two weeks of the year to join a gathering of other likeminded people. It will surely be a different Christmas than we've ever had before - non-commercial and without rush. We will celebrate the winter solstice with the sun remaining under the horizon all the day. The moon, stars and northern lights will be visible if we're lucky.

We wish all of you a merry end of the year, in whatever way you're celebrating it, and let the new year 2013 be full of happiness! The photo in our season's greetings card is from our summer and autumn trip to Finland and Sweden. We were hiking in the the Sarek national park in Swedish Lapland and set up our tent next to a small river in the wilderness, far away from trails and huts. Around half past ten in the evening the sky was illuminated by this beautiful arc of green light.

We spent also several weeks visiting family and friends in Finland. Mushroom and berry season was great so we ate plenty of chantarelles, blueberries and lingonberries, and also filled quite a few jars with them. At my father's summer cottage we spent a week renovating the sauna as a 65 year birthday surprise for him. We also had time to read a few books, but somehow didn't manage to update the blog. :-)

In the beginning of October we returned to Germany, in time for Sandra's best friend's wedding. October is usually a good time for outdoor activities in southern Germany and this year was no exception, many sunny days with blue sky. When not being outside we worked on a few more things in our flat and tried our best to get bureaucracy stuff done. It takes an amazingly long time after selling a business before bills and other letters from various directions finally stop coming.

During winter and/or spring 2013 we're planning a trip to South-East Asia, particularly to visit Sandra's father who is living in Thailand already since more than five years. But before that we'll see how we'll manage the cold above the polar circle. At least it's not only a camp - there should be some kind of heated building and maybe even a sauna.

Mountain view at home and other changes in life

Posted: 2012-06-21 12:09:54, Categories: Travel, Work, Germany, Hiking, 469 words (permalink)

Sandra enjoying the view on our balcony. In our new home in Halblech in Southern Germany, we have a direct view to the Alps. We moved here in the end of April after Sandra sold her food store. I quit my job at the same time, so we're both now free to move around and start any new projects we get excited about.

The changes had been in preparation already for some time. Like most small entrepreneurs, Sandra had endured stress and long working days for many years, and felt she needed a longer break. One of her employees was quite interested in taking over — a perfect opportunity to give her the chance of running the shop instead of a much harder decision of shutting it down.

I had continued working for CSC from home after moving to Germany. From a technical point of view it worked quite well, my employer had a positive attitude and I was able to make useful contributions to the projects. However, during one and a half years the lack of social contacts became more and more evident. I was more motivated to study German or help out with simple tasks at Sandra's shop than to work alone on a technical document in the corner of the living room. Therefore it was eventually not a hard decision to call an end to it.

The nature around Halblech is beautiful. On the east and south side are the Alps with high peaks up to 2000 meters and a large network of hiking and cycling trails. Towards the west and north are hills covered by meadows and forests, with rivers and lakes in between. I hadn't thought about it before, but a location at the foot of the mountains offers more varied scenery and opportunities for outdoor activities than a place deeper in a valley between high mountains would.

During the first weeks after moving in we didn't have to think about what to do with our additional free time. On sunny days we explored the nearby hiking and cycling trails, otherwise arranging things at home kept us busy enough. Building the kitchen was the largest amount of work.

In Germany it's common that apartments don't have any equipment in the kitchen: there are only connections for water and electricity. So we packed all our kitchen appliances, cupboards and the sink in the moving van, transported them to our new flat and reinstalled them there. That was already the second time within one year, including a new variety of small surprises during installation. In any case, after all the planning, cutting, drilling, screwing and sweating we have a functional and quite nice looking kitchen. And if we continue moving often, we'll do it faster and better each time. :)

Now it's time to enjoy the summer - and to have a housewarming party next week!

Every day a little bit more light again

Posted: 2011-12-23 16:50:48, Categories: Travel, General, Germany, 200 words (permalink)

Christmas bells in Memmingen, Germany. Two days ago was the shortest day and longest night of the year on the northern hemisphere of our planet. Now the light has won again, every day is a little bit longer than the previous one.

The autumn here in Southern Germany has been mostly sunny and beautiful. In November my mother Helena and brother Erkki came for a visit. They had a chance to see how Sandra and I are living nowadays, and we got to hear how things are going in Finland. We had a nice tour to the Alps and a couple of nearby towns, including Oberstdorf and Füssen.

The last couple of weeks have been busy especially for Sandra. She organized a series of small product tasting events in her shop. I helped a little bit at home by packaging small presents for her best customers, but mostly it was her and her employees who were taking care of all the Christmas preparations.

I will spend the Christmas and New Year in Germany together with Sandra, visiting and hosting friends. We both wish you all peaceful holiday times and lots of happiness for year 2012! Our card is available in English, in Finnish and in German.

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