Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Tropical Islands near Berlin and some travel plans

I'm done with writing about our adventures in Thailand. Took me a long time, but I managed to describe more or less everything I wanted to.

Which means that I can move on to some other adventures. Since for now we're staying put (I have to wait till August to get on road! I have no idea how I'm going to do that...), I will be describing some of our last year's adventures. Cause I still have not managed to share some of them with you.

In the meantime, I finally want to reveal our this year's summer plans with you. We've had them for quite some time now and I hope they'll come to life. We're planning a sort of European road trip. What does that mean? We're taking our tent (we bought a huge one last Summer, specially for this purpose), overpacking our car (hope everything will fit into it) and we're going to the West. Not wild, but still West. And no, not tomorrow. Not even in a month. I have to wait for my dream holiday till August! Which is a bit of a shame, but it's going to be my longest holiday ever. Not all spent on the road, but all is planned up. Oh, the destination. I almost forgot. Our goal is to get from Gdynia, Poland (where we live) to Gibraltar. And back, of course (not quite back home, at least me and the kids, but close enough). We're planning to see the Region of Dordogne in France, Northern Spain, move all the way down via Portugal, get to Gibraltar, see Alhambra in Granada, then drive all the way up to Andorra, Carcassonne and head back to Poland. We have some places on the way that we already know we want to see (any recommendations for must sees? Hopefully off the beaten path, off huge cities and off the coast?), but it's more of a "how about going to xxx tomorrow?" kind of trip. Having a tent gives you that opportunity. More spontaneous kind of trip.

But today's post is not only about travel plans (oh, those plans). It's also about last year's weekend getaway.
I was planning that trip for quite some time and finally promised myself we simply had to go. And so we went. I spent five years in Poznan and didn't visit Berlin (which is a shame, cause the two cities are well linked together and relatively close, too). And I simply had to go there. But, to make it more interesting to the kids, we decided to visit Tropical Islands as well.
Tropical Islands basically could be called an aquapark. Pools, slides, a lot of water fun. But not just that. Tropical Islands is a lot more than that. Animals living in the tropical forest section of the area. A lot of restaurants and minibars (mostly fast food, but not only, at least not entirely). A sandy beach (artificial, sand on concrete, but yes, it is there). A photo wallpaper with a tropical view (to make you feel like you're on a tropical island. Doesn't work too well, or didn't work too well for me). Zumba classes, dance lessons, fitness or something like that by the pool (made me think of our holidays in Egypt. Though we never take part in such activities). And a playground for kids. Am I forgetting something? Oh, yes, you can spend the night there. You can choose from a variety of sleeping options: a tent, a room (different kinds of rooms), a bungalow... There are a few options mentioned on their website.

Ok, so that's it for the general description. My opinion?

We spent one night in Tropical Islands. In a premium room. The room was big, comfortable, clean, with A/C, situated in Royal Harbour themed section (there were a few themed sections). And it really felt like an old harbour. Well done. Breakfast was included in the price. And it was delicious! You could choose from a range of dishes and products, from bread through cereal, eggs, sausages, to vegetables and fresh fruit. There was really plenty to choose from. And all was tasty.
We liked the tropical forest. A walk through it, seeing the animals. There were also descriptions of animals you could find there.
The kids enjoyed the playground, especially the car rides and paddle boats. We did not like the food in Tropino Bar. Even though it was said to be the choice for families with small kids, the food felt artificial and definitely not tasty.
The pools were ok. Both our kids enjoyed the water playground, we tried all of the pools. The only thing we didn't try were the big slides, cause (much to my surprise, considering how much fun we had in Lalandia, Artur didn't want to use them). Or even see them, for that matter.
The beach was... well... You can't expect miracles. It was decent. Kids played with the sand. But it wasn't the kind of sand you'd dream to put your towel on, lie down and enjoy yourself doing nothing.
All in all, I'm glad we went. We'd probably visit the place again. Though I'd rather visit a real tropical island (oh, to get back to Koh Lipe). But, then again, if you don't have too much free time and would like the experience, it is a place worth visiting. As I could see on their website, they're opening an outdoor section. So they are developing.

Oh, the place is crowded during the day! Lines to dining places during lunch hours are... huge, to say the least. You can spend an hour standing in line and not find a free table to sit and eat. If you stay the night, you can use the pools the whole day preceeding the night and the whole day after, so that is a good deal. Plus, the pools are relatively epmty early in the morning and in the evening.

Have you ever been to the Tropical Islands (near Berlin)? 
What were your impressions?

Monday, 9 May 2016

Our last day in Bangkok - the Dusit Gardens

We got back to Bangkok. With some adventures on the way, but we made it back. The journey took us practically the whole day. First the taxi boat + ferry, then a van ride to Hat Yai airport. Then a flight to Bangkok. And finally, the ride to our hostel. And it was that last part that was the most adventurous. We did not want to take a taxi, cause... well, we simply didn't want to. We took a bus instead. We found the right one, found out where we should take off, everything seemed great. Up to a point, though. As it turned out, the city was completely jammed. Totally stuck. We spent an hour on the bus, while the ride should have taken us a quarter. And we didn't even get to the place we were supposed to get to. We changed for BST the moment we could. As that is not affected by traffic jams. Then we finally gave in and got a taxi (there were no tuk-tuks available!), which took us to our hostel. It was already after dark. We were exhausted. And not really willing to move anywhere...We had the following day all planned. Since our flight back home wasn't until 2 am, so we had a whole day to spare, we wanted to take the train and go to Ayutthaye (I never know if I'm spelling the name right. I've seen a few ways of spelling it already :/ So forgive me any mistakes). See the ruins, the temples, see the former capital of Thailand... I was so looking for that trip. Yeah... I still am...

We spent our last night in Thailand in the same hostel, where we spent our first night. Instead of spending the evening in, we finally managed to get up and go out. It was hard, but we made it. We got to Khao San Road. But it wasn't the same street as two weeks earlier. It was much, much louder. And much, much more full of people! Gosh. I loved our first experience on Khao San Road and hated this last experience. Not what I was expecting, definitely not. We grabbed something to eat, quickly, and decided to wander around the smaller streets in the neighbourhood. Once we got back to our hostel, we started looking for alternatives to Ayutthaye. We didn't want to get through all the jammed streets again. Spent that much time on the bus, then train, just to get back to Bangkok to get transferred to the airport, get on one plane, then another, then on the train again until we got back home. That seemed too much for us. Plus the stress that we might not make it back on time due to traffic jam. No, definitely not.

But then, in our little travel guide (paper one. I love paper travel guides. I'm not a fan of apps), we found a place quite close by. A walking distance from our hostel. And we already had a plan for the following day.

We got up in the morning, ate a quick breakfast, packed our bags and left them in the hostel. We were off to exploit other parts of Bangkok. And on foot. Walking by beautiful places that, otherwise, we wouldn't have seen. Cause they're not touristy, not marked on maps. And they were right round the corner. Just a little bit in the back...

It was a nice, sunny morning, so it was even better for us (Bangkok in the sun, finally!). After a while of walking through the back sides of Bangkok, we finally got to Dusit Gardens. What did we want to see there? Vimanmek Mansion - that was our goal. Vimanmek Mansion, dating back to the beginnings of 1900s, is world's largest golden teakwood mansion. It took us a while to find the entrance through the big stone wall (we walked by the entrance to the royal palace before we finally got to the right one) , but once we found it... no, we were not there yet ;) I mean, we were, but it wasn't that eaasy to get inside the mansion. First, we had to buy the tickets. Then, there was a "proper dresscode" check. Phew, we made it. We could proceed. To the entrance? Well, not exactly. After a five minute walk through the garden (gorgeous, by the way), we got to another check point. Even though we were already right by the mansion, we couldn't get inside yet. First, we had to leave all our belongings in the lockers. And by all, I mean all. Cameras and phones seemed pretty obvious, not to mention any kinds of purses, bags and backpacks. But we also had to leave all kinds of hats, caps and even glasses. All we could take inside was a tiny travelguide that we bought at the entrance. Then, we could proceed to the mansion. No, not to the entrance. Don't run that fast! First, we had to get to the room in what seemed like a cellar to leave our shoes. And only then were we allowed to get inside. Ok, all that done. We can finally feast our eyes with the beauty of the building, the furniture, the china sets in various colours and the surrounding gardens. It took us about 45 minutes (more or less) to get through the mansion. We were in no hurry.

Having seen everything there was to see, we could go out, put our shoes on, collect our belongings and we were finally allowed to take some pictures of the mansion. Thank you.

We took a short walk through the gardens, wondering what else there was to see.

We saw some signs leading to a throne hall. We thought that that might be worth seeing. And we were not mistaken. From the outside, it reminded me a bit of a mixture of a few of European cathedrals, but it was worth getting inside. This time I had to put on extra clothes (women have to wear skirts, no pants allowed! even long ones are not enough. And what seemed like a proper sleeve length in the mansion, was no longer proper for the throne hall).

Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall looks impressive from the outside, but what it houses inside made an even bigger impression on me. Currently, it exhibits masterpieces of "Arts of the Kingdom V" by Support Foundation of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand. Of course, we cameras were not allowed inside.

I can't even begin to describe the beauty of each and every single item displayed inside. The detailed works of art can feast the eyes even of those most reluctant to the beauty of art (me insluded. I'm not a fan of art galleries. I would rather get lost in the streets of a town or city, go on a hike or something than spend a few hours in an art gallery). I loved this one. At the entrance, each one of us got an audio guide that gave a lot of information on every piece of art. Including the time it took to make a give thing. And how many people were working on it. The numbers were massive, really impressive. But it's not just the art displayed that caught my attention in the building. It was the richly ornamented walls, floors and ceilings as well. Plus the massive halls. We spent about three hours inside (if I remember correctly. Well, we difinitely spent way more time inside than we anticipated) and we ran through the last halls (we were already exhausted... And starving!). If you plan to visit the place, grab a bite before you get inside. Learn on my mistakes ;)
Finally, we went to the zoo which was right across the street. The animals we saw there were mostly endangered species. Totally unfamiliar to me. I haven't seen them in any of the European zoos I have visited. Lizards, though (huge ones! The ones that Bangkok is famous for) were moving around freely. There were times when I felt safe just beacuse I was in the cage (on the Bird Island). And the lizard was simply watching me in the cage.

Then we got back on Khao San Road. Had our last Pad Thais. Collected our luggage and got to the airport. It was time to say goodbye to Bangkok and get back home. Goodbye Thailand. I miss you. I will come back.

Side note: I already wrote a post on visiting Dusit Gardens as a guest post on The Thrifty Gypsy's Travels. If you like, you can read it here.