A plan to scan (a fog-less) Huangshan.

I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll just have to say it again: China has just so many unique natural places of off-the-scale beauty. Mountains, multicolored rocks, brightly-colored lakes. So much beauty that a trip to China is fast becoming a yearly tradition for me.

Ok, so here I was – back in China for this year’s portion of picturesqueness. First up this time: Huangshan, aka and literally meaning Yellow Mountain. We were here last year, but that didn’t count as we saw hardly anything of the place due to a thick fog. That’s why we made a beeline for it this year given the clement weather upon arrival. We wanted to finally see what all the fuss is about re this place – so many folks on the internet say how out-of-this-world stunning it is…

Well what can I say? I can say the internet doesn’t (always:) lie. This place is just oh-my-gobsmackingly gorgeous! A jagged-ragged mountain range, granite rock (the stone has a slightly yellow hue to it, therefore the name (黄山)), jutting rock columns with sheer cliff faces and pine trees on the thin peaks. But why am I trying to describe it in words? They will always be lacking no matter how descriptive. Just check out the pics instead:

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China trip-2018: warm-up.

Hi folks!

As you can no doubt tell by these pics, I was recently in China. In fact, a trip to China is becoming a bit of an autumn tradition already, timed perfectly to catch the lull after National Day Golden Week holidays (in honor of the founding of the People’s Republic), during which practically the whole country takes the full week off work. It’s a bit like the first week of every year in Russia: the whole country comes to a stop. Don’t even try getting anything done – work-wise (no ones’ working) or tourism-wise (the locals are doing the home-grown tourism thing so the lines you have to wait in are just silly).

Apparently, some 700,000,000 Chinese (!) were on the move during this this year’s Golden Week. Yes folks, you did read that right: a full eight zeroes there! So as I say, best to keep away during Golden Week. The week after though: knock yourself out! All the parks, cities… in fact any tourist attractions are practically empty – for a good two weeks.

Which is just as well, for China – being as massive as it is – has a lot of phenomenal natural beauty that needs checking out. I mean, the country is number two in the world on the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites (after Italy). Formidable rock formations, voluptuous valleys overgrown with gorgeous greenery, lovely brightly-colored lakes, and more – ensuring China has a full 10 entries on my list of the Top-100 Most Beautiful Places in the World (+ six bonus tracks:). And this list of mine I occasionally edit as and when new places need adding. And they need adding in China more than in most other countries. See for yourself:

Read on: a bit about the route …

Top-100: Australia.

As strange as it may seem, I’ve explored more of Australia than any other continent. I’ve been to lots of its many uniquely beautiful places, and plan on getting to the ones I’ve missed so far very soon. Outstanding ocean coastline and endless desert, multicolored rock formations, waterfalls, white beaches – Australia has them all. And if you add to that powerful mix kangaroos, koalas and crocs, what you get is one fascinating country!

90. Kimberley.

Sure, Kimberley takes forever to get to, but its limitless landscapes and venerable views are more than worth the trouble getting here. A week is too short a time for a full and proper ‘see everything’ visit (as I found out during my week long trip). And you really do need to get your route and logistics planned well in advance. Try to get here during a full moon or new moon – when the tides are the highest and the horizontal waterfalls gush the hardest! I’ve been just the once; my impressions are here. I long to get back soon. I’ve even drawn up a list of the must-sees I, erm, must see!

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Gulf to Geneva – wonderful weather.

During a recent flight I was overcome by some aviational-contemplative-meditative mega-good vibes. They were brought on by the super weather outside my window for almost the whole flight.

Said wonderful weather caused me to peer out of my window for most of the journey. Curiously, during the short time we were flying over the Persian Gulf, I saw not one plane flying nearby (a rarity), but two! I realize the airspace around these parts is fairly chokka with planes, but I wasn’t expecting… this:

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Four oceans and seven seas in 2018.

My friends and I have a bit of a tradition that goes back years.

Each time we find ourselves at the seaside – or ocean side – we make sure we get in that sea/ocean for a spot of bathing/paddling/swimming. But it’s not just seas and oceans; also a river or a lake… in fact, any body of water must be entered and our bodies fully submerged in.

A stream? In we go! Waterfalls – under we go! A hole in the ice? In we go! Natural – preferably hot – springs? In! (The only bodies of water we refrain from entering are the bubbling-volcanic-sulfuric ones which are extremely harmful to human health.) The best natural bathing places are even entered into a hit-parade (part one; part two). And because the bodies of water can be literally anywhere around the world, there’s no real start or end of the bathing season for us globetrotting H₂O lovers.

For example, we once found ourselves in the New Zealand seaside town of Raglan on New Year’s Eve. After seeing in the New Year (based on local time) we went for a night-dip in the local river, which flows into the Tasman Sea. But New Year was still several hours off back in Moscow. So whether that night-swim signaled the start or the end of the bathing season for us is far from clear.

Fast-forward to this year, however, and things seem a lot clearer cut: looking over my travel itinerary up until the end of the year, it looks like I’ve already ended the bathing season for 2018. ‘Eh? But it’s only October!’ Indeed, but all my appointments are in places where there’s no sea or ocean lakes, or whatever. Oh well. Still, I ended the season with a real bang splash…

At the weekend I was in Dubai, having joined the family there (they’d been there a week already (school holidays and all)). The air temperature hovered around 30°C in the shade, and the sea temperature was about the same too (though it felt cooler)!

Dubai is an undeniably unique place, having risen up out of the desert literally from nothing. It’s what you get when you have plentiful resources and wise management. I’ve written and length about the place before, so I won’t duplicate things here. But though I’ve already hundreds of photos of Dubai and I really don’t need any more, I find I still can’t resist taking a few extra each visit:

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Top-100: NZ, the rest of Oceania, and both Poles.

For most of the population of the world New Zealand (NZ) is simply to far way to be thought of as a reasonably realistic travel destination. There a zillion miles from practically anywhere! But that just makes them all the more interesting and exclusive.

Up until recently, out of all of the Oceanian countries/islands, I’d only checked out NZ (and not just checked it out: we had an almost three-week intensive tour of the two islands), and Hawaii, which both then made it onto my Top-100 List of Must-See Countries of the World. Those two are of course still on the list (how could it be any other way?) – and here you’ll be getting a mini-refresher on both – but I also got to see this year a good few other Oceanian islands. Handily, they can all be grouped under one heading (~country), but anyway – more on those in a bit…

So, now, the Oceania section of my Top-100 looks like this:

95. New Zealand.

An impossibly gorgeous pair of islands – and I don’t just mean their natural uniquenesses, but the whole of its countryside. NZ goes one-up on Western Europe, for besides being similarly neatly planned, trimmed and painted, it also seems to be Photoshopped, so bright and contrasting are all the natural colors everywhere. Even the sheep seem to have been given a trim and blow-dry before leaving the house for the day :).

NZ is two considerably sized, considerably contrasting, islands, each of which really needs treating separately in a list such as this. Still, since it’s long been the custom to refer to either island’s beauty as ‘that’s New Zealand’, I’ll follow suit and group the two together. LOTS of detail – here.

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Stairway to heaven.

Hi folks!

If you recall, in August I returned from Kamchatka with a broken leg. The fracture was a real pain in the… leg, since I was in plaster for six weeks. But finally, they removed said plaster; hurray!

I’d been advised by the doctor so take it easy with my mended leg – to build up the muscle and strengthen the bone steadily by getting plenty of easy exercise done – especially walking. Well, if it’s walking the doctor ordered, walking it’ll be. So off I (flew and) walked…

To warm up I headed first to Germany – for some steady-paced walking around a museum. The next day I upped the tempo at Oktoberfest. After that came strolling around Rome and another exhibition, followed by more walking (and lots of standing and crouching and leaning over!) on Santorini, Greece.

Despite my efforts, the leg still wasn’t fully recovered: I found I still needed my crutches. So what was I to do? Then I remembered what the doc said: in addition to just plain walking I should add walking up and down stairs. So it was time to stop taking the elevator, and generally to seek out stairs for my rehabilitation exercises. But much better would be steps not up a hotel or office building but up, say, a mountainside surrounded by natural beauty; there’d also be the bonuses of fresh air, pleasant aromas, a contemplative atmosphere and birds merrily singing – if I chose my mountainside carefully. So it was time to choose a mountainside carefully…

Turned out it was mountainsides – plural, which were opted for. I’ll be telling you where they were and details of our walks up and down them in upcoming posts. For now though I just want to give you some pics of what turned out to be an ‘exotic stairway experience’!

Now, I love paths. But I think I prefer steps, as then there are normally mountains involved, which I love too. But here, well, it’s a veritable ‘stairway to heaven’. Just look at these pics! Oh my gradient!

So it was up and down, up and down, up and across, and more up and down for us for days – perfect rehabilitation exercise. And the views – the pics speak for themselves.

Many of the stairways were deceptive – you’d think you were reaching the top, when they turn a corner and there above you opens up another zillion steps! Most of the time the steps were of the appropriate heights and depths, but sometimes they were really low and short, with your foot not being able to fit fully thereupon. On these we sometimes had to get on all fours so as to avoid losing our footing.

In all we were here for 10 days, and some of our smartphones reckoned we’d trekked more than 100 kilometers, and ascended and descended around 5000 meters (along the vertical) while doing so (that’s 300-600 meters up and down per day!).

So we had ourselves some excellent exotic and adventurous active tourism, as you’ll guess from the pics. Oh, and my leg? It’s almost fully recuperated already – doesn’t ache, and I’m walking now practically limp-less. And the crutches? Launched! Hurray!

All righty. Pics time. The steps and stairs:

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What’s in the box? A Cycladic surprise!

Γεια folks!

Once upon a time, there was an ancient civilization that lived on and around the Mediterranean island that is today called Santorini, part of Greece. But then that civilization just disappeared, and no one really knows for sure just where to. And that was before a catastrophic volcanic eruption wiped out all that remained of the civilization. I’ve already written on these here blog pages about this fascinating place (a few times a couple years back, and a bit earlier). Ancient legends, astonishing archeological discoveries, and unbelievable hypotheses and assumptions – that’s what this place is about.

More than 3600 years ago the Minoans lived here in a city made up of houses of three or four stories, with fully working plumbing systems. But ‘Minoans’ is the name given to them thousands of years after their disappearance; who they really were, what they called themselves and their island, what language they spoke and wrote, and so on – all that is still a mystery.

All that’s left of the ‘Minoan’ civilization is the ruins of their ancient city: houses and streets, most of which are still all under a thick layers of volcanic ash.

Well I think the above-mentioned is more than enough reason to carry out archeological digs here. And not just dig, but also restore and preserve all that’s already been excavated. And after nearly a year-and-a-half (not including the winter break) of work, something reeeaaal interesting’s turned up! Namely: earthenware boxes containing… hmmm – probably something very interesting… Here are these boxes:

So, what was inside them?

‘Nothing?’ Nope.

Turns out… – another earthenware box! But inside that… – no, I’ll save that for a bit later in this post…

Read on…

The islands of non-mass-tourism.

Oh my graying-a-touch! Just the other day I turned the ripe old age of 53. And I was lucky enough to spend most of my birthday on a beach in a tropical clime, at one point – under palm trees. Just like for my 52nd birthday, I was in sunny Seychelles singing ‘She sells sea shells on the seashore in Seychelles’: granite tropical islands, somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, more than a thousand kilometers from any mainland, and far from intercontinental transportation routes (only one international flight flies past the isles per day (Dubai – Mauritius – Dubai)!).

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Skaros: sad story, sensational sunset.

Flying around the world aplenty as I have a habit of doing, I find that – year after year, no matter where, and practically all the time – I come across all sorts of interesting stories about mankind. Sometimes they’re merry stories, but more often than not they’re sad. Why is that? I think it’s simply because throughout the whole history of humanity any upswing ended eventually turned in a downswing (or worse) – sometimes time and time again. But not only do upswings end in downswings; generally, sooner or later, all stories do.

So why all the negativity, you may ask. Well, I’ve just read the story of the ancient settlement-in-rock, Skaros, on the Aegean island of Santorini (where we’re helping out with the archeological digs). This rocky outcrop is part of an ancient ruined volcano – on the edge of the caldera. I’ve seen it many times, taken many a pic of it, and climbed up to its peak. But this here story I’ve only just heard.

Here’s Skaros:

Read on…