Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Oh Brazil...

Ok,  I know I have currently been posting about my trip to Europe in 2013 but I just had to take a minute and share current events here in Brazil.  I will get back to editing those posts from last year soon.  
It is a quite day here in Brazil. As many of you probably have seen, there futebol team was totally stunned in their world cup quarter final game against Germany.  Leading up to the game yesterday I am sure you could hear air horns being blown and cars honking as citizens made their way to where ever they were watching the game in whichever city you were.  You see in Brazil futebol is a huge deal. Since Brazil was named as the IMG_1283host country the anticipation for this World Cup has increased and reached its maximum early this year. Beating the top seated team Spain and winning the Confederate Cup after rioting in the streets last year set expectation high. Brazilians started to believe they could be days away from their 6th World Cup.   June came and the first deflation occurred when they tied IMG_1330Mexico but after that stumble they made it on to the elimination round and all was moving forward quickly.  They surpassed Columbia in the first round but lost two key players.  This did not seem to slow the fans as they looked forward to the next match.   Then Germany came to town and within a few minutes the score was 3 - 0 then 5 - 0 and finally 7-1 as the Germans obviously came to play.  It was like a huge air mattress getting deflated.  IMG_1326Brazilians really did not know what to think or how to react.  Fireworks reserved for victory became outlets for frustrations.  No crowd roars could be heard over the community where cheering fans once celebrated victory.   Even my friends who wanted Brazil to loose for political reasons were shocked at the result.  
 Well today,  I went for a wIMG_1331alk here in Goiania and found it interesting that yesterday 1 in every 10 vehicles if not more had Brazilian flags either protruding from their windows or covering the hoods of their cars. Today that ratio was 1 in 100 if not less.  Flags that once hung from balconies are no longer to be seen and vendors set up on every street corner peddling those yellow and green jerseys have packed their inventory for another day. I think the loss yesterday made this great country turn inward for reflection! We will see what tomorrow brings!

Monday, July 7, 2014

London... Need I say more?

Well,  I know this trip was almost a year ago and I do have some more recent drafts written (especially
about being in Brazil during the world cup)  so I hope to catch up quickly and finish editing my Europe trip soon.  I have decided to lump some of our days together as I am not sure I will be able to fill them all. Ok.. back to traveling.... London,  not sure I need to give any internet information about this city.  During our stay we get up daily and enjoy breakfast provided by the hostel,  one of the benefits of a hostel even if it is not much.  This trip is not my first visit to the large city across the pond and on our first day after waiting for a couple of stragglers to finish getting ready, I cannot help but realized I am no longer traveling on my own.  I will have to adjust a bit and be flexible on what I want to do or make the decision to head out on my own.  Agenda for today is to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhead to the main tourist area and catch one of the double decker bus tours and soon those stragglers join us and we are off.  Down to the tube *subway* and before boarding we quickly figure out which direction we need to travel.  After a few stops we exit the train and soon emerge into the sunshine above.  The day is partly cloudy and I must say perfect for sight seeing.  We choose one of the tour companies which has several different routes and we are on our way with cameras poised and headsets on.  I always enjoy these bus tours as they give interesting facts as you travel through the streets allowing you to plan what you want to go back to or stop and see in more detail. The next few hours are filled with enjoying the scenery of Big Ben,  Buckingham Palace and a lot of beautiful English Gardens in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbetween.  The bus is a hop on, hop off, so we take advantage of that and find our way to some of the usual spots and of course getting some great photos.  Some of my personal highlights are the over sized bronze horse head statue in Hyde Park of central London.  There is just something about that statue that draws my attention.  My other favorites of London are the gates at Buckingham palace,  Big Ben, and just walking through the city streets.  Spending a few hours in London and soon it seems so familiar.  After two bus tours the day winds down and we find ourselves in Piccadilly Circus with 1009862_10201747744633531_21909463_nits vibrant lights and crowds a bustling.  (OK maybe a little bit of information about Piccadilly Circus from wikipedia ... It is a circle at the intersection of several streets which was constructed in 1819 and has been a filled with people and traffic ever since.  Today the area is filled with lit billboards and on the southwestern side stands the statue of Eros on top of a fountain. It is definitely one of the circles trademarks.  During all hours of the day and night you can see people sitting on the stairs leading up to the statue.  The neighborhoods around the circle are filled with theaters and lots of entertainment opportunities. It is simply a must see when visiting the city.) On thisIMG_3858 evening we have decided to enjoy wandering through the streets and our plan is to see a show while in London so we are in the right area.  The group comes to a rather quick decision to see "Thriller".  We purchase our tickets for the next evenings performance and hang at Piccadilly for a bit.  A demonstration is going on so we move a little closer to take a look.  As we reach the curb of the street,  hundreds of bikers go peddling by with an occasional skate boarder in the mix.  It is fun to watch them as the make up of the group is full of characters and tricksters.  I can only conclude that they are riding for bike awareness.   After a quick visit to China town we head back to the hostel in hopes of a good night sleep.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

On To London

I wake up early and ready to go.  I am feeling much better and glad I did not try and do more yesterday.  Breakfast, shower and soon Pip and Jack (her son) stop to walk with me to the train station.  We have checked the schedule and a quick train ride to Cardiff will get me there with a little time to look around.   Arriving at the station it is the end of the route and no one is on the train.   I say thank you and good bye to my wonderful Merthyr Tydfil hosts and soon I am on my way.   I decide to play some candy crush and don't even notice the short stops along IMG_3782the way and soon we are in Cardiff at the train station.  Somewhere in between Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff the skies filled with clouds that turn dark gray and rain began falling.  This truly changes my plans to explore the city, although I had realized that I am traveling with my luggage which would have limited my ability to look around. I did take some time while I was resting the day prior to learn a little about this capital of WalesIMG_3790 called Cardiff.  With a population of around 350,o00 people it is the largest city in Wales.  A port city on the Bristol Chanel,  it has played a large part in Welsh exportation of goods for centuries.   It is the location of the Welsh government headquarters and has become the top tourist location in the country. Today the rain is falling hard and so I strategically plan my attach,  crossing the street to get to a covered entrance or dry spot on the opposite side.    I find it ironic that I cross the street to IMG_3800one of these first dry spots and end up in front of a Brazilian restaurant which may have ended my wet journey if it had been open.  It is closed so I continue my dodging from one canopy to the next  with carry on suitcase in tow and backpack attached.     The buildings of Cardiff are definitely old and line the streets with a definite pride.    Those same hanging tree forms filled with blooming flowers line several of the streets and one can find Welsh flags hanging all over the city center.  If only the sun was shining,  I would be able to enjoy this feature at  its fullest instead of in between sprints.    I walk quickly down the sparsely inhabited streets peering down the alley in between in search of sights to see.  In the distance I can see a castle like structure and itIMG_3797 becomes my destination.  Cardiff Castle,  is located near the city center and is simply spectacular even on this less then perfect touring day.  When I finally get to the castle the rain has let up a bit and I am able to take a quick look around.  Once again I have regrets that I did not get on the bus the day prior but I guess I will just have to put Cardiff on my list of must sees for my next visit.  I find my way in through the large front entrance and in the middle of a green grassy areas stands a small castle like structure on top of a mound.  Obviously a place I would love to explore more,  but my time in Cardiff is running short so I am able to just view it from a distance.  I leave the interior of the great walls and walk down the street to the corner where a large tower which once helped protect the interior buildings IMG_3814is located.  I observe the great details of the tower and can see by the clock on it that I need to head back to the bus station.  At this point I have traveled a little ways and am not sure how far away I am.  On my way I come to a covered street which is a nice alternative to dodging from one dry spot to the next and  the wet dreary weather outside.   Lots of quick window shopping to be done as I meander towards the station.  When I arrive,  my bus is just pulling up and I realize that I am like a wet dog.  Time to get on board and enjoy the ride into London.

IMG_3821The ride through the countryside to London is nice and soon we are traveling down many different streets of the city.  Stop lights,  people strolling along the streets, and lots of traffic bring me back to life in the city after my short stay in Wales.    I am meeting my travel companions at the place we are staying - a youth hostel.  Luiz's brother has made all the travel plans and there are 11 of us for this first stop London.  I arrive at the bus station and step into a large patriotic lobby filled with shops and people hustling around.  I attempt to get my bearings and soon find my way to the street and look around.  It does not take me long to find  the street that will take me in the direction of the hostel and after looking around a bit I am off in the direction I need to go.  Somewhere along the way I miss a turn or maybe I am just confused by the street signs which way to go.  After a short detour and unfortunately a long walk up hill,  I realize I am walking in the IMG_3822wrong direction and ask a couple of people for help.  I find my way  and arrive at the hostel safe and sound.  Since there are a lot of us in our group we are taking a full room at the hostel which house 12 people so we don't have to have anyone else in the room with us. When I arrive I am greeted by the group who have just finished settling in.  They have all flown from Brazil together to meet me here.  I join them and settle into our room and since it is evening at this point and we are hungry we set out to find a IMG_3849place for dinner.  On my short detour I saw some places to eat so the group decides to heads up the hill  in that direction I was lost in and decide on Jamies Italian restaurant for our evening meal.  We plan to start touring pretty early the next morning so after dinner we head back and crawl into our bunk beds and call it a night.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Merthyr Tydfil - The Final Day...

Ok - not much to write about today.. I woke up with the sun shining through the bedroom window and plans to take the IMG_3540short bus ride and explore Cardiff.   Upon waking up I am feeling quite under the weather and not sure if the jet lag has done me in or if it is the go go go I have been doing since arriving.  I head downstairs,  eat a little breakfast and take a shower but I still feel tired and all I want to do is go back to bed.  With plans to meet up with my other European travelers for the next leg our our trip tomorrow,  I decide that it is best I take a day and rest and relax.  Do a little bit of internet exploring and since Cardiff is a bus layover on the way,  maybe I can leave earlier then planned and still see a part of the city.   So by mid morning my day has been planned as I will stay at the house and get some well needed rest.  By IMG_3781Mid afternoon I wish I had boarded the bus and headed to Cardiff but maybe I can catch up on some blogging.  ( Since the trip was last year I want to share that this day actually allowed me to write all my experiences in Wales.  I did not spend time editing and proofing them until now but at least had a rough draft.)  So that is all for this post. Hot tea, television, and an early bed is planned for today.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Off to Brecon for the Day!

Well,   the sun is up and another day has set in.  I cannot believe this leg of the trip where I am on my own is almost over.  OnlyIMG_3735 two more days in Merthyr Tydfil and I will be heading to London to meet up with the rest of my Europe travel group.  Since time is running short I have decided to hop on a bus and explore the neighboring town of  Brecon on my own.  In making plans,  Pip's oldest son Nials volunteers to accompany me and so mid morning he swings by Bernard's dads house where I join him on the journey to the downtown bus station.
IMG_3729Ok... Let's learn a little about my destination - Brecon - This modern day market town was first established as a military base in the early 1100.  A castle was constructed on the top of the hill which was strategically positioned near the intersection of the River Handdu  and River Usk.  Not far away was the only location on the River Usk where one could cross prior to the building of any bridges for a long ways.  Soon a fortified community sprung up near by and the town has always had strong military ties.  A wall was built surrounding it to protect it from invaders.  Those walls were virtually destroyed in the English civil war and the small parts that still exist today are monuments to the towns history.  Present day Brecon boasts a population just over 8,000 inhabitants and is an ideal destination for holiday as it sits just on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Thanks wikipedia for the information but it is time to move on and enjoy the ride to Brecon and explore.
The sky is blue and filled with sunshine as the bus travels through the Welsh countryside IMG_3736towards Brecon.  On the edge of town we cross over a bridge spanning the Usk River and immediately I spot a must see destination standing tall on the top of a hill.  Yes the castle with all its glory is overlooking the town from above.  From this distance it is hard to tell what it exactly is,  but I know we will end up there at some point today.  A short distance later we exit  the bus stepping  into the business district and begin our exploration.  The narrow streets are filled with flowers from hanging baskets along the store fronts to what seems to be mounds of flowers strategically placed on the sidewalks.  It is quite nice and I can tell this is a town ready for tourists.   Our first stop is a local pastry shop where we enjoy IMG_3726some local fare. After my mouth waters for a bit,  I decide to try several of the treats since I am on vacation: a  cream filled doughnut, a custard slice, a mini cream Victorian sponge,  and a coffee choux all washed down with a cup of coffee.  Good thing Nials is along so I don't have to eat it all myself.  After our little breakfast we wandering around the streets and squares of Brecon.  Step after step I am impressed with how clean everything is with it brick and mortar facades.  I can easily tell this town is old and has a rich history to tell if one listens closely.  We use the church steeples which protrude high above the town's rooftops and can easily be see as a guide to explore.   They make good landmarks to walk towards and we visit several  of them on our journey.   St. Mary's church in the heart of the city with its beautiful stain glass windows we can only admire from the exterior as the doors are locked this day.  It is easy to see how its bell tower dominated the IMG_3727town skyline for centuries with its castle like top and gold plated clock.    Just outside the back of the church is a small concrete square with some of those flowering mounds and benches in front of a large statue of the Duke of Wellington. Across the street is the historic Wellington Hotel.  We take a peak inside and are transformed back many decades.  A simply elegant travel back in time if one is interested in staying in a setting like that I would suggest checking in.  We head back outside and down the narrow streets in the direction of the next church steeple.  Exploring the churches as we go,  some of them only from the outside and some of them we get to take a peak inside.   In between the churches are many little discoveries, like the town market with home made crafts, fresh meats,  and many more items The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh which looks to be a military museum of ome sort.   In front of the museum is a small yard with some military artifacts we can enjoy, but we decide not to go in the actual museum as we are enjoying being outside and the price to enter is a little more then we want to spend.
IMG_3760At this point we have been walking a lot and the morning has disappeared quickly.  We are now in need of some lunch and I am hungry for traditional fish and chips Welsh style.  We begin our search for a nice local restaurant as we cross over a nondescript rock bridge into another part of town.   When we get to the opposite side of the river,  I notice a plaque on a house wall stating that the bridge was constructed in 1563.  It was one of the first bridges constructed over the river and with some structural assistance over the years it still stands today.  We continue our walk down the busy street lined with row buildings showcasing  shops to explore just beyond the sidewalks along the right had side.  On the other side, beyond the sidewalk, is a large open grassy knoll behind a decorative fence.  We  pass by several little eateries on our IMG_3756way but they all seem to be closed or don't have fish and chips.   On the opposite side of the street we come to a gate with a driveway that leads through the open grass area to  several lovely building nestled not far down the driveway.  One of them has a tall steeple which is why we decided to head this way.   It is the campus of Christ College, a boarding school for kids.  A gorgeous campus just at the edge of town.  We decide not to check into the possibility of exploring the campus as we are in search of lunch and now we find ourselves on the edge of town and the only way back is the direction we just came.
IMG_3763The little detour sure has pushed back our lunchtime and when we are finished revisiting our steps,  we come to a small restaurant in a part of town obviously frequented by tourists.  Not exactly what we were looking for but by this time we are hungry and fish and chips are on the menu.  We devour lunch which is delightful and ask for directions to the fort returning to our quest.  At the top of a hill in the directionIMG_3740 we are traveling we see steeple which we decide to use  as a guide.   We wander towards the steeple situated on top of a hill, our hope is that we will be able to find our bearings  by looking out from there and that we can see the castle and know which direction to go.  Brecon Cathedral, a massive structure looming on top of a steep hill surrounded by well manicured gardens.  The views are wonderful and we are encouraged  to explore by one of the nuns as we wander through the gardens.  At least we think she was a nun. This time we are fortunate as the building is unlocked and we are able to take a look around.   Into the sanctuary we step quietly with it empty pews and acoustical chamber.   At the front of the church are five spectacular stain glass IMG_3739windows rising above the elaborate alter.   When writing this post,  I searched for information regarding the amazing alter but was not able to find any story.
After spending some time enjoying the building and gardens of Brecon Cathedral,  we look out over the city and are disappointed as we are unable to see the castle anywhere.  We were sure we would be able to see it from up there but no luck.  Like before, the only way down the hill was the way we came so we trace our steps back down the steep hillside.  At this point I am determined to find the castle although I am starting to feel a little under the weather.  We ask for some assistance from some of the locals traveling with us through the streets and after a little over an hour we finally arrive at the entrance of the Castle Hotel.   A three star hotel built next to the remains of the original Brecon Castle,  we look around for access to the castle but it IMG_3759
looks like just the outside walls remain.   We head through the lobby and dining area into the lavish gardens on the other side.  Walking around the side of the hotel we can get close but do not find anyplace to gain entrance.  I have seen my first bits of a true castle and look forward to more on this European adventure.  By this time it is mid afternoon and I am beginning to drag a little.  I think with the jet lag and all the miles of walking,  I have wore myself out and may have even caught a bug of some sort.  We decide to head back towards the bus stop only stopping for a quick look around the Brecon Canal.  I wish we would have found the canal earlier as it offers a cruise which would have been fun to take.   But as the evening is approaching we start our  journey back to Merythr Tydfil.   As I step onto the bus,  I am exhausted and cannot help but hope that I am not coming down with anything..