Saturday, July 10, 2004

La Vendée, France--La Flèche, France-- La Vendée, France—Day 161

Today we woke up and headed right back to La Flèche again. I was keeping my fingers crossed on the way back to the zoo that everything was going to turn out ok at the zoo but of course I was thinking, well, what if they let Masaë out again today instead of Prosper and Elisabeth just by accident or something? What would we do then?
We made it back before the zoo even opened and waited with several other families before being let in. We told the girl working at the ticket counter that we were here to see Sandrine and she said that she was expecting us and to wait for Sandrine to come just inside the gates. So while Mom and Peter waited for Sandrine, I walked back towards the hippos (it was about 9:50am and since I knew that feeding time started at 10am I didn’t want to miss any of it!).  I walked up to the hippos and found one hippo sitting in the water. Oh no—could this be Masaë? Where was the baby?
And then I saw just about the CUTEST thing I have seen in a really long time.
Just when I started worry about where the baby hippo was, he pops his head out of the water only to disappear quickly again. I laughed and then realized that while the mother hippo can stand on the bottom, the baby hippo surely can’t so it would sort of bob up for a second, then disappear again to the bottom.  I called Elisabeth over and she came and opened her mouth (boy I am getting good at this!) and then Prosper sticks his head up again and starts climbing onto Elisabeth’s back.  After quite a struggle not to slip off, he wiggled his way onto her back and I just started laughing. It was so cute and I was so happy that we had decided to come back just to see this. While Elisabeth was opening her mouth for food, Prosper just rested his head down on Elisabeth almost as if to rest after his long struggle to get on top of her. She moved around a bit and Prosper just rode along and it was so funny and so extremely endearing. I snapped away and at this point a group had gathered around to see the feeding and Mom, Peter and Sandrine showed up, with Sandrine carrying a big bucket of vegetables to throw to them.
So she threw them in while the loudspeaker came on again and we were all just delighted. She even let me throw some in (my first hippo feeding!).  Apparently Elisabeth has to chew up the food for Prosper to eat since he was so small that his teeth were JUST started to show and he would open his mouth a bit and would hardly be able to chew up all of these hard foods. Sometimes he would go for some of the vegetables and apples that didn’t make it into Elisabeth’s’ mouth but this meant that he would have to reach over which would disrupt his balance and he fell off a few times and wasn’t able to get back up in the same way that he did for me when I first showed up. 
So cute.
So after the public feeding time was over and when Elisabeth and Prosper got out of the water, she took the three of us back around to a side entrance where she tossed in hay and hand fed Prosper a few lettuces while we asked questions about them (well, more like Peter talked to Sandrine about the hippos and then translated it to me).  Turns out that Elisabeth was originally from the Prague Zoo, which was exciting since I’ve been there, and that on the night that Prosper was born, a disgruntled ex-employee from the zoo came in and let all three of them (Elizabeth, Masaë and Prosper) all out into the outdoor enclosure, which is a horrible thing to do since hippos are so territorial.  Apparently Elisabeth attacked Masaë and it was quite the ordeal (the ex-employee is now on trial for it all!) and they have yet to attempt to reunite all three since then.
We talked with Sandrine for a while and I got some great pictures, but none of which could top Prosper sitting on Elisabeth’s back. Turned out that coming back today was well worth it.  We thanked Sandrine and she promised to send us a CD with photos of Prosper’s birth and she showed us out of the zoo.
We then drove back to the house all feeling very lucky that we had met Sandrine and that she was so willing to help with the project.  It really makes a difference when you meet a zookeeper who not only really wants to help you, but whose love for the animals is so genuine.         
(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith.  All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Pont-Scorff, France--La Flèche, France--La Vendée, France—Day 160

Today we set off again a little later this time, around 8 o’clock. We stopped for a quick breakfast at another little small patisserie (yay for French pastries!) and made it to the La Flèche Zoo at around 9:45am when we expected it to be open.  We bought our tickets and this time had a much better map than before so we headed straight to the hippos.  We were also handed a piece of paper that had feeding times on it and lo and behold, the hippos were being fed at 10am on the dot. We had five minutes to get to the hippos!
It seemed like our luck was too good to be true! Not only did we have great luck yesterday getting the hippos but today there would be a public feeding.  So we found the hippos and still have a few minutes to go so while Mom and Peter waited for the keeper to come (and the hippos which were no where in sight which caused me to slightly panic), Peter went off in search of a keeper.  Soon a small group of people had also gathered at the hippos and the hippo came out (again with the gasping on my mom’s part) and the keeper showed up with a big bucket of food.
So she started calling to the hippo (Masaë) but he was definitely more interested in eating the tree than coming over to us.  The enclosure was set up so that he had to walk over to us and then get into the water to be fed. However due to recent winds and rain in the area, there were several branches that had been swept into Marsaë’s enclosure which seemed to be much more exciting to him than the bucket of carrots and cucumbers that he must get everyday.  So we had to wait a bit but after a bit of coaxing he finally came over to us and opened his mouth.  A loudspeaker had come on at this point and was telling all of us (in French of course so I couldn’t understand any of it) everything you would possibly want to know about their hippos.  So we realize that there are in fact two more hippos at the zoo, Elisabeth and Prosper, a 3 month old baby!! So where were they?
Peter asked and was told that they alternated having mother and baby out one day and the father out the next. The other two were currently inside. Oh great. I knew that our luck would run out at some point. So Peter explained to her what we were doing and she told us that we would have to go back to the front desk and ask to speak with the veterinarian who might be able to let us in to see the hippos if s/he were here.  So we walked back to the front and after explaining, asking and waiting again we were told that we were not going to be let in to the see the hippos. Dang. But then the girl who was helping us got a call on her walkie-talkie and told us that someone would come over to help us and talk to us about the hippos if we wanted.
So we said yes and waited a few minutes more and that’s when we met Sandrine. She was the hippo keeper (and the elephants too!) and Peter told her all about the project. She was excited and said that while we weren’t allowed to go into the enclosure, she sure as well could and she could take the pictures for me! Didn’t sound like a bad idea to me, so I thought we should give it a go? So we all walked back to the hippos and I showed her how to use my camera (while Peter translated) but she seemed camera savvy so she took my camera and disappeared. So maybe we weren’t quite out of luck yet!
She returned a few minutes later and while the pictures were good, they were just so dark. I could see already just how cute the baby was and decided that it would be best to come back in the morning to see the other two hippos out in the daylight. Sandrine then told us that if we wanted to come back, we could get in for free and she would come meet us at the front gate. Then she could take us around back to where the hippos are “officially” fed (they are just given apples and vegetables for the public then taken around back to be fed hay afterwards) which just sounded great. She was SO helpful and friendly and her enthusiasm for the animals pretty much excels every other keeper I have met so far.  So we agreed and headed back out of the zoo.
We decided to head back to my Mom and Peter’s house instead of getting a hotel for the night, even though this meant five more hours of driving on top of what we had already driven so far. We spent the afternoon watching the Tour de Franc (like actually being AT the Tour—we drove and had a picnic and watched the riders go by) and were all happy when we made it back to their house and enjoyed NOT being in the car for at least another 10 hours or so.   
(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith.  All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

La Vendée, France--Pont-Scorff, France—Day 159

Today we got an early start and drove out to Pont-Scorff to hit up our first zoo.  We rented a car for the trips to the zoo and set off through the French countryside and fields of sunflowers in search of hippos. We arrived at the zoo around 10am and bought our tickets and headed in.  The map that they gave us to find the hippos was pretty shoddy and it was hard to tell where they were (we realized that the hippos were in fact polka-dotted on the photocopied map so it was hard to distinguish them as actually being hippos!) and set off of this long route to get to the them.  The zoo itself was organized sort of haphazardly and almost felt like we were in someone’s backyard. 
After walking for quite a ways (in the wrong direction) and then assuring ourselves that we were actually on the right path we made it to the hippos. Mom and Peter spotted them first and Mom started shouting, there they are Sarah! There they are!! So we rushed over and after a while I was able to spot them too—two of them.  They were in this huge sort of river looking enclosure (the first I’ve seen that actually looked like there were rapids!) and the hippos were swimming around eyeing us all the while.  I snapped away and then realized that Peter had wandered off over to where a few zookeepers were working on the landscape around the hippo enclosure.  He came back quickly and said that the keeper wanted to know if we wanted to see them being fed! Well of course! Thank goodness Peter is fluent in French—I guess he got just about a few sentences into my story of why we were at the zoo and the zookeeper just offedred to feed him for us.
Thank god.
So soon thereafter the keeper emerges (he must have been just about my age or even younger) with a box containing several green apples. He starts calling to the hippos (Palmyre and Linda—which he wrote down on a piece of paper for us!).  Linda was right up there ready for her apples but Palmyre was a little bit more reluctant but soon we had both opening their mouths and happily being fed apples while I was happily taking pictures of them.  Mom and Peter were happy to see them being fed (Mom was gasping with excitement) and I think the keeper was happy to see just how happy we were to see the hippos being fed. 
So I took lots of pictures and when the apples ran out we thanked the keeper and he went back to working on the plants with his colleague and we watched Linda and Palmyre a little longer before heading back out of the zoo.  We wanted to buy some souvenirs at the store but it wasn’t open (and didn’t seem to be opening any time soon even though it was open when we passed it on our way to the hippos) so we decided to leave the zoo.  We then drove for a few hours more and stopped at a winery on our way to tonight’s hotel which was basically in between today’s zoo and the La Fleche Zoo which we will be heading to tomorrow.
(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith.  All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Budapest, Hungary--Nantes, France--La Vendée, France—Day 158

 Today I flew from Budapest to Nantes, France via Paris. My flight left early in the morning took a taxi to the airport. After getting dropped off at the wrong terminal, I had to lug all of my stuff back to the terminal next door but still had about a half an hour before I was even allowed to check in. I checked in and boarded my flight. Arriving into Paris, I had to book it to my connecting flight which was in another terminal.  But to get to that terminal you had to go through the passport line and then exit through a small walkway back into the airport terminals rather than heading into the baggage claim.  Luckily I didn’t get lost although I was sure that I was heading in the wrong direction.  After running for a bit I was finally able to slow down as I found my gate and jumped in line.  At this point I had just 10 minutes to spare before it was going to take off so I was lucky that they had started boarding a little bit late.  On my way I passed a Hippopotamus Restaurant that I know are all around France but didn’t have time to stop and take a picture.  Maybe on my way back!
I made it to Nantes and met my Mom and her husband Peter at the baggage claim. Despite losing one of my pieces of luggage (which we will have to pick up in the morning from the Nantes airport on our way to the Pont-Scorff Zoo), I made it on time and was really happy to see them. We then drove back to their house which is located in the La Vendée area of the western part of France.
(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith.  All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Photo--Holocaust Memorial Tree, Budapest, Hungary

Photo--The Great Synagogue, Budapest, Hungary

Photo--The Market, Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary—Day 157

Today was our last day in Budapest. We got up and headed to the Hungarian National Museum but first went back to the Market to get breakfast. Despite the impending rain, we walked to the Museum and stopped at the post office to (finally) mail some postcards that we had been carrying around for quite some time.

The Museum itself was truly impressive—well organized and extremely informative about Hungary’s history. It was really a great way to start the day and to avoid the rain, so we were happy that it turned out to be a great museum. Afterwards we walked to the Great Synagogue which is the largest Synagogue in Europe (the 2nd largest in the world) and walked around its grounds and visited the adjoining Jewish Museum, which was also very informative. We then went in search of a good place to eat lunch and after a bit of walking finally found this small Falafel place that we had heard was good and got lunch.

We then kept walking around a bit and after picking up an alarm clock for Sarah (so she doesn’t miss her flight in the morning!) we then headed back to the area near the hotel, stopping off at the park for a bit. We gathered up Sarah’s things and walked over to the subway and as we tried to buy tickets from the machine (it was confusing and our first time since for the past three days we have had a three-day tourist pass with unlimited rides). There was a nice girl standing next to us that really helped us out and told us that the subway line was temporarily closed, but that w could take a bus that acted like a subway (only stopping at subway stops!). So she led us right outside where we needed to be (even though it wasn’t where she was going!) and we thanked her and climbed on.

Three stops later we were at the train station. We had a little while to wait before Sarah’s train was leaving so we checked the times and waited outside. We finally walked back to the platform and got Sarah’s stuff onto the train and still had about a half an hour before her train was to leave. So we talked on the train and then it was time for me to get off (wouldn’t that just be perfect if the train left with me on it!!) and so I hopped off and Sarah and I continued “talking” through the window which must have looked funny!!

Sarah’s train pulled away and it was so sad—I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown with her here and how much of a help her being with me has been. I watched as the train disappeared and walked back to the “subway” and three stop later was back at the hotel. I then went and got dinner down the street, got some ice-cream and came back to the hotel to finish up a few things (including this blog!) before I head to France tomorrow. I will be there for a week before I head back to the United States for a friend’s wedding AND for the hippo conference! There are three zoos in France that I will be going to but email access will be limited, so if this isn’t updated for a week I apologize!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Photo--Sarah and I (and a random man!) on our night boat tour, Budapest, Hungary

Photo--Budapest at Night

Photo--Szechenyi Baths, Budapest, Hungary

Photo--Hungarian National Parliament, Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary—Day 156

Today Sarah and I had quite a day. We started off by visiting the Hungarian National Parliament (on the Pest side of Budapest) and took a 10am tour of the inside, which turned out to be pretty impressive. We weren’t, however, impressed with the way that you had to get tickets for the tour. There were these chain linked fences that you had to stand behind and the guard would only allow five people at a time to go buy tickets—but it was very confusing to figure out what line you were supposed to stand in the first place, and what happened once you got your tickets. I went in search of breakfast while Sarah waited around for the tour after we got our tickets and when I came back, it was time for the tour.

The inside of the Parliament was really magnificent and they have the Hungarian crown jewels there which are impressive considering how old they are supposed to be! The tour lasted about an hour and afterwards we went and looked around the indoor market. The market was huge and filled to the brim with stall after stall selling all sorts of Hungarian goodies. We picked up a few things to take home with us and then ended up at a Scottish pub for lunch (don’t’ ask me how!) We then stopped back at the hotel to grab our swimming gear.

Why? Well we were headed to the infamous Hungarian baths. We chose the natural hot spring that we wanted to go to and luckily the subway station was right outside of the Szechenyi Baths. We headed in and found a long line of people waiting. For what though, we weren’t sure. So we stood in line too and realized that we had to not only buy tickets for the baths, but had to specify what baths we were going to be using. Miraculously, the couple standing in line in front of us just so happened to speak fluent English AND Hungarian, so they happily translated things for us, helped us get our tickets and our things put away in a safety box and showed us where the changing rooms were.

When you buy your tickets you are given a little token that you scan upon entering the changing rooms—that’s how they know how many people are in them at a given time. On your way out, they drop your chip into a little box which records you going out. Then they give you a slip of paper that tells you just how long you were in the baths and depending on how long it was you can get a refund by presenting your little piece of paper back at the ticket booth!!

The changing rooms were something I have never seen before. After you rent your towel (you can bring your own) you are then shown up to a room, sort of like a little cabana of shorts. There are tons of these little changing rooms lining the walls of this huge room and you are allocated your little room where you can change and then leave all of your other belongings in them. Then you are given a number and a little key that corresponds to your cabana. You then have to find the man (in very tight white shorts I might add) who then comes and opens your cabana up again so you can change back into your clothes!

We changed, locked up our things and found the couple waiting for us to show us exactly where the baths were. Turns out that the baths were not just one, or two, but like twenty different ones—thermal baths all of different temperatures and all for different purposes (some to swim laps in, some for “fun”, some for just pure relaxation, etc.).

After winding through the maze of indoor baths, we found ourselves outside. We thanked the couple for helping us and set down our things on the bricks surrounding the pools and got in. The water was absolutely PERFECT and we were delighted in not only how crazy it was getting in (all of the little things that you have to do!) but in the people surrounding us—never have I seen so many old Hungarian men in such little swim suits!  It was really fun and we spent almost three hours hopping in and out of the baths, spending our time out of the water reading and of course people watching.

The bath we were in was the “fun” bath which meant that there were all sorts of jets that produced bubbles and currents. There was a circular ring around a central small bath section in the middle of the “fun” bath and every so often these jets would come on which would create a strong current going around and around the center bath. It was so much fun—you would get sucked in and it was very hard to get out of the circling whirlpool of water, and hard not to bump into anyone as you got pushed along!

We finally decided that we had had enough sun and after going through with all of the steps it took to change and get back out into the real world, we relaxed in the park with our ice creams. We then took the subway back to our hotel and walked to find where you could get a river boat cruise. We found a tour that left at 9:30 and decided to go have dinner and then come back for a cruise down the Danube for Sarah’s last night here with me. So we did and got distracted by several shops along the way as well as with finding dinner, which took quite a while. We were both starving and were happily stuffed as we walked back to the river.

The cruise that we took was really fun—just a short hour long trip down and back on the Danube. It was really nice because it was all at nighttime which really changes the atmosphere of Budapest when everything is lit up. It was really beautiful and the boat was small so it felt more like a personal tour. We cruised past the sights that we had seen during the day, including the Parliament Building and the Buda Castle, and with the warm summer breeze and the twinkling lights, there really could have been a more perfect way to end the Eastern European leg of this trip.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Photo--Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

Photo--The Castle, Budapest, Hungary

Photo--View over Budapest from Gellert Hill

Budapest, Hungary—Day 155

Today we explored the Buda side of Budapest—starting the day out by having breakfast, then walking across the Chain Bridge over to Castle Hill. We took a trolley up to the top of the hill (which overlooks back onto Pest) and just so happened to be in the same trolley car as a few Swedish guys that we have seen three times now, twice on the train and once on the cable car. Feels like a small world when you keep running into the same travelers!

We spent the morning walking around the Castle grounds and saw the outside of Matthias Church (one of the most photographed buildings in Budapest) and then hiked up to Gellért Hill. The hike was sort of strenuous and we both managed to get badly sun burnt on the way up. After walking around the Citadel at the top, we took photographs of the Liberation Monument (which the Soviets built to remember their fallen soldiers during the “liberation” of Hungary (according to our guidebook)), then walked back down through a park, taking in St. Ivan’s Cave Church. All of these sights are beautiful and we felt pretty exhausted once we found some lunch to eat and were able to finally sit down.

After lunch we tried to visit the Parliament building and hopped on the subway, only to find ourselves on the other side of the Danube River from Parliament, realizing then that the subway stop for Parliament was closed. So we took the subway back under the river and ended up at St. Stephen’s Basilica, where we were yesterday. Since it was getting late and our chances of the Parliament being closed upon our arrival was increasing, we decided to head up to the top of the Basilica and see the view from up top. Fortunately there was an elevator for us to use for the ride to the top (a first—usually we have to hike up like 300 steps) and found the view from the top amazing. We took a bunch of pictures, headed back down and sat in a park for a while enjoying the sunny afternoon and some ice-cream before heading back to the hotel. After a shot while we were back out on the town again in search of dinner, which we finally got a really neat Thai place.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.