Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bitching, Moaning and Dancing

The danger of writing in the morning is that all my posts could easily become a saga about what has become a daily epic journey across London. There would be moments of pure delight and hearty laughter but mostly you'd be asking "Why do they live in London, again?" So for your benefit (and for my sanity) I am going to keep the morning journey saga to a minimum.

I woke this morning with my mom's voice ringing in my ears. For years I listened to her say, "its a school night, you aren't going to..." I hated the lecture that followed my persistence requests to go to where ever I had to be on that particular Wednesday at 11 pm. I don't remember the exact words but it was something like... If you could stay out late and still get up tomorrow without bitching and moaning then I would let you go. My argument would continue, But mom I can get up and I won't bitch and moan. I can close my own eyes now and picture my mother's eyes rolling like no teenager could ever even hope to duplicate. My mom knew the truth and there was no way she was going to deal with her spoiled rotten 16 year old daughter at 6 am without bitching and moaning.

So why was I left lying in bed thinking about this at 6 o'clock this morning? I went out last night. Defiant and confident that I would have no trouble getting up and making it in for my normal 8:30 start sans bitching or moaning. Not the first time I've set out to prove my mother wrong only to realise the lady was far smarter than her 16 year old daughter gave her credit for all those years ago. Somewhere Deb is looking down on me wiggling about with pointer fingers extended towards the sky doing a ridiculous victory dance and chanting "I was right!"

And in case you were wondering... It is 8:55 am and I am currently stuck on the jubilee line with 6 stops to go. The driver just informed us that there is a defective train ahead and we won't be moving for awhile. I am bitching, moaning and late. 0 for 3 on this Thursday morning. Dance away mom...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Things we learn the hard way..

1. To always lock your windows.
2. To take your umbrella even if Carol says it will be dry with sunny spells. Carol is crap at predicting weather.
3. That a 12 mile trip in London will likely take an hour or longer by car.
4. TFL's definition if good service does not always match your own.
5. The Metro does not use the non transferable newsprint ink.
6. No one will tell you about the newsprint ink smeared across your face. You will discover it yourself when you go to the loo around 11:45 am!
7. Wearing skirts in November in London is tricky business. London winds always know just how to blow even the snuggest of skirts straight up for every builders delight.
And 8. You will never be wearing the right knickers for the right occasion.

Just another manic Monday...

Definitely wishing it were Sunday!
Alas, it is off to work I go but got a nice little surprise when I ran into the hubby on the train. He left a good 15 minutes before me but is bus died and he had to walk. Bumping into each other on public transport is becoming a habit of ours. A sure sign we officially live here and are settled is when we run into other people we know while out and about on the city. Always nice to look up and see a smiling face on a crowded train full of grumpy Guses! Even if it only for one stop.
Changing the subject (as you already know how I feel about London trains!)... We joined Zipcar! Had our first jaunt about town this weekend in a VW something or another. The concept is simple , cars are parked in designated dots all over the city. You can reserve one online for as long or as short as you want paying a small fee by the hour including 40 miles and gas per rental. Our first rental taught us a fee lessons. 1. Never underestimate how long it takes to go 15 miles in London. 2. Returning the car late is a costly miscalculation. and 3. Always leave the house with adequately charged mobile phones.
Sunday's journey took us to IKEA for home purchases and then to a Christmas tree farm in Kent. We were able to walk through the fields and puck our tree! The man cut it down as we watched... the experience had a Griswold feel to it which added to the excitement. We gave the tree several good shakes to ensure any little critters had vacated prior to setting it up inside. Nothing ruins the holidays like a squirrel in the Christmas tree! A few finishing touches and the house will be ready for the 25th if December!
In that note, I am one stop away from getting this Monday officially underway. Thanks for keeping me company on my morning journey! X

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Renewed effort

So we all accept that I am rubbish at updating this blog. The main barrier is life... seriously real life is always getting in the way of the things I love. Writing, traveling, napping... I realised while in Hong Kong that I could get used to the easy, lady that lunches lifestyle. Alas, that lifestyle can only be mine at fleeting moments. Moments that I will take and cherish whenever I can get them, thanks to my fabulous husband and occasional Sugar Daddy!  But at the same time I am going to make a point to carve time out of real life for writing.
Currently, I am standing on the 6:45 am train into work, single finger pecking on my phone and not holding on... writing is a dangerous habit! Me being on the train with strangers before 7 am is even more dangerous. I think politeness and basic manners have lost there place in this word. Watching big burly men push ladies to the side as they head to open seats is common place. I get that we all have long days ahead and varying degrees of reasons for wanting to sit but to push another human to the side is just plain gross. Gross might not be the right word but I am in need of my morning coffee so gross it will be. After 7 am I am more likely to scoff, passively comment under my breath, shake my head and issue a dirty look at the culprit. Before 7 am, my mouth is making sounds before I have a chance to stop it."What is wrong with you?" "Seriously?" "Get up and let that poor lady you trampled sit down." "Yes, I am talking to you." All words accompanied with said scoffing, looks and head shaking... but nothing passive here. Just to put the icing on the cake, I thank him for ultimately getting up and tell him when he gets off (at the very next stop!) to have a good day. Chuckles erupt on the normally silent train and the ladies all share a knowing smile... a drop of water in the ocean but at least that one lady got a seat this morning.
Tomorrow commute will be an after 7 am'er.
On a side note, I have seen a man without pants (the American or British variety) two days running... and not the same man either. Here's hoping this won't be a hat trick!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day Five: Part 1

I define heaven as aNy place where I am treated like a queen. Silk robe laid out, slippers on stand by, bath waiting, room lit with candles and a specially chosen scent to match my mood wafting through the air. And of course my own personal (for 90 minutes at least) massuere to kneed away all my worries. By that definition, I have just spent the better part of my morning in heaven. Now I am sitting in the lounge sipping (free) bubbly and nibbling (free) treats. The only stress in my mind is knowing that as soon as I post this blog CK will get a copy via email while he is slaving away at work. Sorry dear... And thanks for bringing me to Hong Kong. X

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day Four: Hong Kongs Only Attraction

Shopping, of course.
I set out with a plan... Hit up the designer sample sales, then the Sosa Mall, maybe a few temples and then back to TST for an up and coming HK Designers mall. I have just sat down for the first time after 10 hours of shopping... No lunch, no water breaks and no temples... Just shopping except for the 60 minute semi lost excursion into lands unknown. I've been elbowed, kicked, stepped on and possibly poked in the ribs by little Asian ladies all day. They take their shopping serious. At one point I had a few things in my hands trying to decide on sizes when a woman took both items from my hands and walked away with them. I could have fought or said something but since I was slowly losing my will to live, I just let her walk away.I left the store and head out to ride the double decker trolley... because there is no other way to wipe away your shopping tears than on a trolley.
On I hopped and away it went (clang clang went the trolley), 15 minutes later I was suddenly aware that I had gone the wrong direction. So, off I hopped and then started the journey to the right place... 30 minutes, 2 buses and a subway ride later I was saddling up to mall number 3.
A good idea in theory as it was half way between the last destination, the next destination and the hotel. However, I quickly discovered that Ocean Galleria (or something to that effect) does not cater to my budget. I am pretty sure that only 1% of the worlds population could shop here. The mall itself was teeming with people but the shops (Valentino, Prada, etc) were empty except for security and the shop assistance. So needless to say I was on to the fianl destination rather quickly.
A lovely back alley, 5 story office building that has been gutted and filled with stalls. I had my heart set on designers manning their areas with needle and thread in hand but was disappointed to find most stuff was imported from Korea. The stall keepers were all painfully cool and did everything in their power to make shoppers feel uncomfortable in the stalls.
Not a total wash as I did make away with some bootie. Shoes, cardagian, vest top, jacket and scarf! However, there will be no photos to commemorate the adventure as photography is banned in the malls! Seriously, one snap of a poorly worded t-shirt sent security running from their secret hideaway threatening to take my memory card until I convinced them the blurry image had been deleted. Security told me in broken English that photos of public spaces were a threat to national security. I suppose if you want to inflict maximum damage in HK blowing up a mall would do the trick! Now this blog post will never make it past China censors! Just to be clear I in no way condone blowing things up malls or otherwise.
Tomorrow's plan... Traditional Chinese massage at 10:30 preceded by a ritual bathing to prepare me for ultimate benefit and followed by lounging at the rooftop pool. Closing out the afternoon with high tea at the Peninsula Hotel and then dinner with the hubby. A day of shopping followed by a day of pampering... Folks, you are witnessing the birth of a monster!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 3: An Attempt to Escape the Smog

Over (or under if you take the express bus) the mountain and through the semi jungle lies Stanley... More markets, a dip in the bay and unfortunately more smog, too. Most of the photos just look hazy. Hazy: noun, what the locals call the smog in Hong Kong.

Another bus, another country, another adventure

I am sat on the top of a double Decker bus to Stanley on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. Can't help but recall our adventures via bus in Laos and Cambodia. There are differences today; the bus was built in this century, it is not held together with duck tape and there is no thumping of bad techno music to be heard. And, of course, this is a solo bus journey.
I've been fighting the urge to visit the same markets as yesterday. Staying within walking distance of the hotel is appealing. But the thought of missing an adventure is mire than enough to pull me along through the subway, onto the bus and ultimately  wapping 15 km over (possibly under as I've heard rumor of a tunnel) the hills to southern Hong Kong Island.
Typing on a tiny phone on a bumpy bus is less than ideal... so I will end with this... I am a lucky lucky girl and am trying my best to make the most of every possible opportunity.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hong Kong

Thinking back to our trip to Bangkok, I remember thinking this is the land where West and East collide in spectacular fashion. Well, Hong Kong is the land the West consumed and the East is eager to reclaim! I have never seen so many high rise buildings in one place. Nor have I seen so many malls and shops. Around every corner is a Prada, Gucci, Dunhill, Longchamp, Tiffany, D&G, Coach, Valentino... You get the picture... And in-between are every other possible shop you could imagine including door to door malls and gallerias. And I suspect, from what I could see, they are full of people. As I type, it is Sunday night at 10:58 pm and as I look out my 40th story window I can see hundreds of people in the streets, the shops are all open and the neon lights are aglow! Speaking of 40th story, we aren't close to being the tallest building...by a long shot! The main thing reminding me that we are in Asia is the fact that I tower of most of the women and the majority of the men!

I have not fully formed my thoughts on this crazy little island. But I can say with certainty that I am looking forward to getting to know it. Today we wondered around Hong Kong Island, riding the Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak, took in the views of the Harbor and the skyline over a late lunch, then road the bus down to Central Pier to take the Star Ferry back to Kowloon and finally enjoyed drinks and dinner while watching the nightly laser light show along the skyline.

The bed is calling me now but I will try to upload photos tomorrow. I until then...

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Witchiest Witch There Ever Was...

My fondest memories of Halloween involve my mother applying rubber warts to my nose, green paint to my cheeks, gray color to my hair and long black plastic nails to my fingers as I would sit practising my best witch's cackle. For years, I choose to be a witch and my mother obliged. I wonder if she ever secretly hoped for me to be a princess or Mini Mouse or anything slightly less dark. There were other costumes, I am sure but none seem to stick so solidly in my memory. I recall a being a Gypsy; dressed in my mother's long white skirt rolled up countless times at the waist and a Hawaiian print shirt tied in a knot with plastic bangles on my wrists and several inches of my mother’s make-up plastered onto my face. I asked my mom what a Gypsy was and she gave me the reply that would become standard. “They are the people who left you on our doorstep as a baby.”  Looking back, I think the Gypsy costume was one of my mom’s last minute wonders, seeing as how my brother was a ghost fashioned out of a white sheet! But it didn’t matter; last minute or ages of planning my mother had a knack for making it happen on the big day. I don’t recall shopping for costumes or discussing options or the lead up to the big day. What I remember is my mom’s warm breathe on my face as she painstakingly applied mascara to my tiny lashes as I giggled uncontrollably. I can see her now stepping back to take me all in before applying a last minute touch of green or black paint.  I also remember her consoling hugs as I cried about the loss of every last one of those black plastic nails.  And then there are the photography sessions with the Kodak Disc that have produced a photographic essay of my transformation, year after year into one of the most believable witch’s to ever walk the trick or treat circuit since Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692.

Monday, August 22, 2011

From the Sky Train in BKK

Bangkok....again!

Found this in my drafts folder... Thought I would share!

It is hard to believe we are back in Bangkok and wrapping up our 3 weeks of travel. Seems like yesterday we were wondering through Chinatown in search of our first guesthouse with wide eyes and open mouths trying to take it all in. Now it has been 3 countries, 7 towns, a few villages, 10 hotels/guesthouses and a lifetime of experiences. Our last few days in Phnom Phen were relaxed. We have been moving at a pace that is impossible to maintain for 3 weeks straight and there are only so many temples and makets one can visit...that is clearly CK talking as I could go to markets and temples all day everyday and never get tired! We woke up early yesterday morning and enjoyed ourbreakfast by the pool before heading to the central market. I had told CK the day before that if we found a cricket vender I was going to eat one. As we shopped around, looking at all the same things we have seen at every market we have visited, we happened upon a a lady with 7 baskets of fried delicacies. She had massive cockroaches as well as itty bitty ones, crickets, scorpions the size of my palm, frogs fried whole, and huge grasshoppers. There we stood staring down at the baskets. Surprisingly, they did not look as gross as I had expected (a sure sign that we need to get back to the western world) but not so surprisingly I could notbring myself to eat one. I stood staring and repeating my mantra from the waterfall leap a few weeks ago... I will never stand in this spot again... but nothing. I guess there are just some experiences I am willing to miss!
We finished up at the market and headed out to meet our tuk tuk driver, Mr. Chum. He was one we picked up outside the hotel and not our trusty Rina who Lindsay recommended and who drove us all around PP for 3 days and even hired a boat for us to do a sunset crusie on the Tonle Sap River. Mr. Chum spoke English but I am not sure he understood what the words leaving his mouth meant. We agreed to head to a cafe on the way to the hotel so we could grab an iced coffee... material for another post iced coffee with sweet milk is YUMMY... on the way we turned down a street that was at a dead stand still. Motos, cars, tuk tuks everywhere with children of various sizes running in between. It only took a few moments to realise we were at a school. Most schools here run 2 sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, in order to fit all the children into lessons. Mr. Chum slowly weaved his way through the traffic as we thought "this is a funny road to take to the cafe." It was within a few minutes of hectic congestion and toes being run over (not ours) that we realised that Mr. Chum had taken a detour to pick his daughter up from school! What can you do in these situations but laugh. We have been subjected to many transportation detours during our travels and in comparison this one was not so bad.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kampot from CK's Prospective

A recent email from CK about our weekend in Kampot...
>

> A month or two before we left for our trip, our friend Vim from high school (who Michelle met in Atlanta) put us in touch with her friend who lives in Phnom Penh. Lindsey is originally from Buffalo but moved to PP a few months ago for an adventure and also to teach. After a few email exchanges, Lindsey convinced us that taking a weekend trip down south to Kampot would be a great relaxing break from our hectic travels...looking back now I think it was my favorite part of our trip yet.
>
> Lindsey met us at our hotel in PP on Friday night and we all split the cost of a taxi to Kampot. I can't begin to describe how luxurious the ride was when compared to all of recent buses, tuk tuks, etc! The journey took about 2.5 hours consisting of the constant swerving to avoid cows, water buffalo, chickens, children and pigs which has strangely become normal. Street addresses don't really seem to exist in this part of the world, so as we approached Kampot we called the guesthouse and had the taxi driver speak directly to the staff. Directions consisted of turning right at a temple entrance with two lions, following a dirt path to a mosque, driving through the mosque (seriously we almost hit it!), around a few villages (at which point our taxi driver was laughing out loud at how ridiculous the journey was) until finally being met on the road by a dog, which led us the way for another 5 mins down a few more dirt paths to the guesthouse.
>
> We arrived at the Ganesha "eco-resort" just after 9pm, just in time to meet with the eccentric German owner and receive our flashlights that would be our primary lighting for the weekend. Lindsey booked us a large Yurt to share, which is essentially a large tent - no bathroom, a/c, or any real walls in sight! The unexpected surprise is that unlike what was listed on their website, we did have electricity - well, enough to power a few lanterns and a single fan (which I made sure got a good workout). We fell asleep under our mosquito nets to the sounds of geckos calling just above our heads.
>
> After breakfast the next morning, we noticed a sign saying that the hotel could arrange motorbike rentals for 5 USD a day...I also realized that I finally had an ally in Lindsey, who had also never ridden one but always wanted to. A quick chat with the owner and the next thing we knew three motorbikes were delivered to our yurt. This was followed by me bringing up the fact that none of us had ever even been on one before. No problem, the woman who ran the guesthouse kindly pointed out to me the accelerator, gears, brakes and (most importantly) the horn. After a few shaky initial goings, we were off tearing up the dirt paths.
>
> We decided to ride up the the Secret Lake, which not so secretly was the most identifiable landmark on our unnecessarily large tourist map. However as we were riding on the main road through the town of Kampot, I suddenly realized I had no control over my bike - the back end was swerving all over the place. Realizing something was very wrong, I pulled over to the side of the road to find my back tire completely flat! Now I've had flat tires when driving cars before and it usually takes a minute or so to realize somethings not right, this is certainly not the case on a machine with only 2 wheels! However after a call back to the guesthouse and Lindsey somehow communicating with a few nice locals to get on the phone to tell them where we were, a new bike appeared and we were once again off to the lake.
>
> The Secret Lake was actually built by the Khmer Rouge some time ago, I'm guessing to help with irrigation for the fields but not entirely sure. We drove around the lake before spotting a couple of thatched roof huts next to the water with hammocks. We stopped, grabbed a couple of "cocas" and laid in the hammocks for the next hour or two just enjoying the scenery. The lake was surrounded by durian plantations, mountains and fields. We thought about taking a dip in the lake (which was recommended) but I was put off by the fact that we'd be swimming alongside cows! We met a few fellow travellers by the lake and were told of a couple nice places around town to go swimming so we jumped back on our bikes and headed to a swimming pool near the town.
>
> It was so nice to be able to drive ourselves around for a change and not be dependent on tuk tuk drivers or taxis. The best part by far was the children in the villages that we drove past. As soon as they'd see us they'd scream "HELLO" as loud as they possibly could and wave their hands. This is the extent of their English for the most part, but it was so cute and their smiles were amazing. This was the Cambodia we were looking for! We stopped all along the roads and talked with the locals and children - all were very friendly and happy to say hello, give us directions or simply give a smile. I think that single ride through town made the trip for both Jen and I, absolutely amazing!
>
> We spent the rest of the day lounging by a pool before returning to our yurt to watch the sunset while swinging from hammocks again. Probably one of the best days of my life, and we decided to repeat it again the next day before heading back to PP by taxi.
>
> Can't wait to share the pictures from this part of our trip - I only hope they capture how amazing this place is. I don't know if we'll ever make it back to this part of the world again, but if we do Kampot will be on top of my list of places to visit. Only next time I want to spend at least a week (if not month) just there, riding a motorbike around town and taking it all in.
>
> Sent from my iPod

Where Old and New Collide

It is not unusual to see chickens running about on a side street or a person pushing a wooden hand cart while just around the corner is a shop selling the latest tvs or motos. Saffron clad monks sit in internet cafes or zip thru the streets on the back of a moto. This is the place where old east and new west collide in spectacular fashion. It is almost impossible to capture this phenomenon in photographs for in the very moment you see it it is gone. The chickens duck into open air buildings, the motos zoom past or giant beer trucks obstruct your view of the old man selling mangos and bananas from his wooden cart. I've said it once but it is still true; sensory overload is my current state. It would take years to absorb every sight. However, the smells seem to arrive all at once! As breathtaking and amazing these last few weeks have been I have come to realize that the amount of environmental destruction is equally breath taking. Deforestation, litter, pollution, chemical run off into the rivers; you name it and it is here. In one snap shot you have mountains, streams, and piles of ripe rubbish. People have no descreation in dumping their trash. They pile it next to homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, and they do not seem to mind the pungent smell as it bakes in the sun. They sit eating their meals and their kids run about the mess in barefeet. It is amazing and terrible all in the same moment. Despite this I am still in love with Cambodia and Laos. Countries where worlds collide and ancient culture clings to the people like red dust to the cheeks of the children playing along the roads. I know why people come to visit and never leave.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Real life...

Will be next to impossible to go back to in less than a week. In Kampot we have found a little slice of paradise. Kind people, beautiful surroundings and scores of 'hello' children. Yesterday we rented scooters (against my better judgement) and set off to explore Kampot. First to the not so secret lake and then through the city (I use that term loosely) and finally we found a guest house along the river with amazing views and a refreshing pool. Reluctantly we left the pool to return to our yurt... and a brilliant sunset over the mountains from a hammock swinging gently. How do we go back to real life after this? Back to tube rides and traffic... here traffic is a line of motos carrying brightly dressed girls to weddings or a tuk tuk loaded well past capacity with 5 families as well as their market haul. Real life afforded us this amazing experience but now all I want to do is turn my back on responsibilities, on bills, on work, on real life... I just want to stay here a moment longer. I just want to hear the sweet, vibrant voices yelling hello and waiving maniacly as I zip past on my moto. I want this to be real life please.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Life is so good...

We have decided to take the day off from sightseeing and crowds to enjoy the pool at the Blue Lime in Phnom Phen. So far we've had breakfast by the pool, coffee in a cabana, gone for a refreshing dip and listened to the monks chanting at the temple behind the hotel. This is a tough life...
We will be meeting up with Lindsey (friend of Vim's who lives in PP) tonight to head further south to Kampot. I think it will be a 2 or 3 hour ride but we are sharing a taxi so no bus! Woo hoo!  However, all we have to do at this moment is wait until it is socially acceptable to order a cocktail... make mine a double!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Road to No Where

Everytime we get on another bus or into the back of a tuk tuk for a journey over 20 minutes I find myself humming the Talking Heads song, Road to No Where. No matter what is blaring on the bus speakers or what I have thoughtfully selected to play on my iPod, Road to No Where is what I hear. Although today's 6 hour journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Phen might have been better as the Road Through No Where!

I am starting to enjoy the bus rides. It is the little glimpses of life through the bus windows that take the sting out of spending most of the day on the bus. Watching as children play together in their front yards or in the middle of the street, seeing dogs running across the fields and cows grazing in the midst of thatched roof huts and road side vendors. As the sun set on todays drive I was disappointed  to think that I would no longer be able to catch these glimpses. However, to my delight most of the huts were flickering an iridescent blue putting the evening routines of Cambodia families on display. It only took a few minutes to realise that my road side attractions were being lit up by televisions. How funny that they still cook there meals over open fires, bath on a concrete pump slab in the yard, farm for sustenance and yet they all have televisions. These are the glimpses that make it difficult for me to stop staring as we breeze by at 15 to 20 miles per hour on the bumpy, partially paved road. I know they see me staring and I know staring is rude but I can't stop so I smile and even wave... maybe that makes it better?

I have realised over the last few days that there are so many things that I want to write about from the last 2 weeks. However, despite my best efforts it is difficult to find the time and even more difficult to single finger peck away at the keyboard of my phone. I have started jotting down notes to help me remember everything when we are back home. The notes look a little something like this: thousands of naked babies, satellite dishes on wooden huts, pigs on a scooter, monks in the rain, Angor Wat kids and candy, school yards, little legs on giant bikes, crickets for dinner, bald Buddhist nuns... I think you get the point. Since touching down in Bangkok my brain has been on overdrive, trying to absorb as much as humanly possible and at the same time trying to put all of it into words that capture the details as precisely as possible. I don't want to forget a single moment on this road to no where via everywhere.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dr Jones and Lara Croft take on Angkor Wat (with a guide of course)

Our tuk tuk driver, Mr Sith, insists that watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat is a must... so we wake at 4:30 and meet him and our guide, Mr Khem. It is early but already hot and humid. Mr Khem is a Seim Reap native and only lived away to finish his studies in archaeology... we tell him we will call him Dr Jones and he laughs shyly but smiles proudly. He is a good guide and steers us away from the crowds as best as possible. We watch the sunrise and it is beautiful, peaceful, and we see why this temple is so special to Cambodians. After the throngs of tourists interested only on ticking the sunrise box leave, we head inside. 2 solid hours of purposeful wandering through the galleries exploring the inticate hand carved reliefs and learning the history of the temple that is dedicated to Hinduism and we barely scratch the surface. Our final mission is to climb the very steep stairs to the inner temple, the views are breathtaking!
We leave Ankgor Wat and eat breakfast... it is only 9 am! The rest if the day is spent in and out of temples. There are about 400 temples in various states of repair in the complex. Many are only traces of foundation or less. Again we only barely scratch the surface.
My favourite is probably the Ta Prohm or Tomb Raider temple. Not because of the movie but because you can see the power of mother nature. 400 year old trees have slowly but surely undone most of man's work for the 12th century. The tree roots look like magnificent works of art and the bark is silver in the sunlight. I could spend an entire day here and not see it all. We can only hope some of our pictures do it justice!
Today we are heading to Banteay Srei or The Citadel of Women. No guide, just the intrepid travellers and our dependable tuk tuk driver, Mr Sith!
Pictures: Angkor Wat at sunrise, CK and Mr Khem, and The Bayon faces.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Holiday in Cambodia

A quick hop on our prop plane and we are now in Cambodia! Our first impression: holy wats it is hot! Seriously hot and humid like you wouldn't believe. We had an image in our head about poverty, beggars and constant rip offs. However, I can honestly say that has not been our experience so far. We checked into our guesthouse, dropped our bags and fought the urge to go back to bed. We started off in Phsar Chas or Old Market shopping for souvenirs.  A few high prices but easy to bargain down to reasonable amounts. However, I think I.have heard "hey lady" more in that 2 hours than I have heard me entire life! Hey lady you want scarf? Hey lady you like I make deal for you. Hey lady you want tuk tuk? Hey lady, hey lady, hey... enough to make me want to scream! We headed to Pub Street for lunch and to check out a potential cooking class before meeting our tuk tuk driver, Taul, to take us back to the hotel. The midday heat is absolutely draining so we caught a 30 minute power nap before meeting Mr Sith to take us up tothe Angkor Wat complex to watch the sunset from Bakeng Hill. Beautiful but the description of this event being like Disneyland is spot on. The crowds were massive and lessened.the experience a bit... and did I mention it was hot?!? Drenched in sweat I set about the crowd stalking a few monks for the 'perfect' picture. And all it took was a nice little smile and asking nicely to get the shoot I have been craving since seeing the first saffron clad holy man in LP!
Dinner was homemade Pat Thai and Paneng chicken at our guesthouse. Tomorrow we meet our Wat guide and driver at 5 am to catch sunrise and beat the heat and crowds! Until tomorrow.

Sunset at Bakeng Hill

Me and CK enjoying the sunset despite the heat!
The beginning of the sunset. Look at all the tourists!!!
Sunset at Bakeng Hill in Angkor Wat Temple Complex

In Air Entertainment

Near disaster averted...

Woke up yesterday morning in or French colonial hotel to rain. It was so peaceful laying in bed listening to the rain fall and hearing the creaking of the old wooden floors. Breakfast was delicious including CK's yogurt, banana and honey smoothie. We decided to check out of the old hotel and into the new first thing and then hired a few beater bikes to cruise around town. Unfortunately, the Hello Kitty bike I had at first needed repairs... I've always wanted a Hello Kitty bike! After a few hours seeing the sites (wats, stupas, old buildings and monks in saffron robes) we thought we'd spend the rest of the day relaxing at the Settha Palace Hotel pool. Why not we thought, we've got all day tomorrow to rent a motorbike and see the rest of the lazy little capital. Here is where the disaster started to develop.
The pool was perfect... blue, relaxing, and with a banana daquiri life was good! We finished the evening with an amazing three course French meal at Le Central. More storms after dinner knocked out our internet but we were happy to fall into bed feeling full from dinner and warm from the day full of sun. CK fell asleep the visions of our upcoming scooter day in his mind. Which is likely what saved us...
He had been mailing guesthouses in Siem Reap to arrange accommodation starting on the 2nd. However, we had somehow lost track of time and thought we had an extra day in Vientiane! So CK woke up this morning at 4:30 excited about renting the scooter only to realise our mistake. We dashed around the room, half dressed with toothbrushes hanging out of our mouths stuffing clothes into our bags! I had to wake the overnight staff to check out and we jumped in the back of the slowest tuk tuk yet. We made it to the airport with about an hour to spare. Feeling relieved we headed into the terminal only to have our path blocked by a security guard with no English language saying " no, you go other" and pointing at nothing. Sudden heart dropping fear set in again as we knew the next flight wouldn't be until the 4th... one more day in Vientiane would be ok but not two... as we reasoned unsuccessfully with the guard we saw a rather gloomy building to the right of the international terminal and realised the guard was saying domestic. We headed over and were able to check in with time to spare! The intrepid travellers averted disaster and are currently en route to country number 3, city number 5 and guest house number 6!
Sad to leave Laos and hopeful I can return again to explore more of this enchanting country.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Best bathroom sign... EVER!

Looks like we are in the big city!

Wee-en-chan (Vientiane)

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So far we are enjoying the capital city. I am back to single finger typing on my phone so forgive any mistakes! We got in around 2 pm... once again the intrepid travellers were out hunting down a guest house in the hottest part of the day! Not so lucky this time as option 1 was only available tonight and not the next 2. At first, we thought we would forge on but after sitting down to plan our next move CK decided (yes, I was chirping in his ear!) 1 night was enough for the moment! I think the stream of sweat flowing from his forehead was pretty convincing, too!
We settled into our 'one night only room' long enough to cool off and for the afternoon storm to blow in and then we sat in the lobby listening to the rain and looking for another room via my phone and the well worn guidebook. Success came relatively easy and we are now booked at a hotel up the street over looking a wat.
With the Cipro antibiotic and strange brown pills now in full force I was ready for food... all I have eaten in the last 2 days are a few Pringles, some Pho (bad bad idea!), a croissant, some oreos and french fries! A chocolate croissant and iced coffee at a little boulangarie did the trick. However, CK is fighting off traveller's tummy with a steady diet of curry and beer! It has only been moderately effective... the boy has a tummy of steel! We had a stroll along the Mekong and are now enjoying the cool evening at Full Moon cafe... curry pitas, Beerlao and free wi-fi, what more could the intrepid travellers want?

Fwd: On the road.. CK's account of our morning

So it's only 10am here and you might be thinking what could have happened in the few hours we've been awake that deserves an email?  Well our morning started very normal, after breakfast we checked out of our guest house and waited in the lobby for our mini-van to arrive.  We decided to spend an extra 10000 kip each (a little over a dollar) to upgrade to a minivan rather than take another VIP bus with no a/c.  Our hotel was kind enough to arrange for us for a small fee and have them pick us up from the hotel, which saves money on not needing a tuk-tuk to the bus station.
The minivan arrived and our hotel front desk guide said "here's your bus, and lucky you...you get first pick of seats".  To put his comment into context, all buses and vans cram as many people as humanly possible into their vehicles. A van built for 8 can easily fit 20 in their world...they even have short bar stools in the trunk and put them in the aisles when extra seating is needed.  So we were ecstatic to have a brand new, beautiful Toyota minivan pull up with free pick of seats.  We jumped in and our bags were loaded in the back....ecstatic with our extra dollar of spend. New car smell, plastic still on the sun shades and a/c vents everywhere.
We then pulled away from the hotel and the woman took our ticket and gave us another ticket in return. We drove about 3 blocks to another guesthouse, presumably to pick up more travelers.  We pulled up and the woman got out, looked at us and yelled "you get out and get on bus" pointing to another bus parked at the guesthouse.  This thing was a 1970s style van that looked like it was being held together by duct tape. It was already crammed with backpackers and luggage was piled high on the roof.  I said "hold on, I don't understand" and she explained in broken English that this was only the shuttle to the van that would take us to Vientiane.  This was followed by a shrieking "get out" and the driver getting out of the van and taking our bags out of the back.  I was shocked - I looked at Jen and she said "let's just get out".  I looked at the other bus again and said to the woman "we paid for this minivan and we're not getting out".  This didn't sit well with her - there was a stand off that lasted a few uncomfortable seconds and followed by lots of words in a completely foreign language but which I fully understood the meaning.  She got back in the van and our bags were put back on.  We then started driving back towards our guesthouse without a word from driver of the shrieking woman - I assumed they were just going to drop us off where we started.
We stopped at some random travel office and the woman jumped out - we then continued...passed our guesthouse...down a dirt road.  I started to worry where he was taking us, and then we arrived at a guesthouse with backpackers standing outside. We then proceeded to pick up lots more passengers, including the shrieking woman again, who acted like they hadn't just tried to rip us off and had the nerve to ask us again for our ticket!  We kindly reminded her of the incident and she ignored us and walked away.
I'm sure there plan was to pocket our money and buy us a dirt cheap ticket on the other bus.  Pretty sad scam.
The good news is that we're now on the road in the nice air conditioned bus with the best seats on the bus, and a little wiser from the experience.
Sent from my iPod

A Royal Wedding in Laos

While looking for a place to eat dinner we happened upon a pizza place showing the royal wedding. How strange to be sitting at a pizza joint with the karst mountains and Nam Song River behind us and the royal wedding on the TV in front of us. This week has been an experience to say the least. We have felt rushed to jam as much as possible into every minute so are constantly reminding ourselves to slow down and let it all sink in. We have met several travellers who arranged home stays in Laos or Vietnam and I am now wishing we had done this as well. I can't quiet come to grips with how day to day life must be like for a typical Laotian. Riding through villages and watching from the back of a tuk tuk or the top of a bus only gives a quick glimpse.

More on this later... We are waiting on our bus and trying to book a guest house in Vientiane and only have one computer!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha at Tham Poukham

The Long and Winding Road

I have never (until now) been on a bus of any kind for 8 hours. We left our guest house in LP at 7:15am sharp and realised on arriving at the bus station that one ticket said 8 am and the other 8:30 departure! A voice came on the intercom and spoke for about 10 minutes in Laos and then in English said "Eight o'clock to Vang Vien get on bus now." And away we went! CK and I secured the two front seats in hopes of preventing any unfortunate bouts with motion sickness... which also afforded us amazing as well as gut wrenching views! The mountains, jungles and villages along the way, including little children waving as we passed, left us wishing we could slow down a bit and enjoy it. However, the bus didn't stop in any of the scenic spots just at a few road side stands and a market that was muddy, hot and full of flies. Once in Vang Vieng we hopped in a tuk tuk with a few other travellers (including a couple who had been on the trek to the waterfall with us) and found a guest house.

Just a few minutes ride through the small town was enough to make us realise we were not in Luang Prabang anymore. We passed more westerners and backpackers than we did locals. All the restaurants serve 'happy' pizza, shakes, etc and are full of twenty-something stoners watching endless loop episodes of Friends. I couldn't help but think why would you travel halfway around the world to sit in a shack, get high and watch Friends... I think I am officially getting old! The town itself is rather dirty and lacks the atmosphere that LB offered around every unsuspecting corner. Gone are the little old ladies sweeping the streets in front of their homes with grass brooms, gone are the monks pattering down the street at dawn in their bare feet, gone is the silence as the sun sets... replaced by prostitutes soliciting their next marks, hippies with dreadlocks and Japanese tourists singing very (very!) bad karaoke very (very!) loudly!

So with all that being said this is still a beautiful place. The mountains are amazing and riddled with caves. The Nam Song flows gently through the middle of VV and is full of life. We watched this morning as a lady with her coolie hat and fishing gear waded through the water for her days catch. The clouds were low and the sun just barely skimmed out. It was one of the most breathe taking sites. We also took a tuk tuk about 7km out of town to a little village and climbed up a rock wall (maybe I am exaggerating but it was steep) to explore a massive cave with a reclining Buddha. This posture means that Buddha is about to enter Nirvana. The cave had a second opening that allowed sunlight to pour through and directly onto the Buddha. While we were inside a storm passed through and chased off most of the other tourists so when we came down to the blue lagoon outside the cave area it was empty. CK wasted no time jumping in for a quick, refreshing dip. Just as we made it back to the guest house another storm came through... a perfect opportunity for a nap!

On a side note to all this... the moment we dreaded has arrived. I am not feeling well. Likely just a case of traveller's tummy but not very pleasent to say the least. I survived the 8 hour bus ride but spent most of last night in the room and then made a trip to the local hospital this morning. In any other place I would just let nature take it's course but considering most loos here are turkish style I went to the doctor... Actually, I just walked up to a window and talked to a guy in a white coat. There were some rather entertaining hand gestures and after about 3 minutes I was hand a few different meds. The most important being Ciproflox an antibiotic that should kill what ever bug has taken up residence in my tum tum! Here's to a happy bus ride tomorrow as we head further south to the capital Vientiene!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

We've been blessed by a Buddhist nun...

It is 6:30 am and we are checking out of Villa Lotus in Luang Prabang and heading on our first Laos bus journey! 8 hours on a bus should be amazing!!
Yesterday was a rather relaxing day. We rented a couple of bikes and round around town. We found a 'local' swimming pool and went for a quick dip. It was a bit rainy and very overcast but the water was refreshing. The pool was pretty funny especially when compared to the photographs on the leaflet. It was down a muddy road full of giant potholes and local homes. I can't imagine what they were all thinking watch CK and I bounce down the road on our rented bikes with me in a ridiculous floppy hat... did I mentioned we found a market selling nothing but knock offs and I got a big brimmed hat...
Post dip we jumped back on the bikes and headed to a temple that the host at our guest house recommended. He said we could see the entire city from the temple and for some reason that did not register to us that the temple was atop a gigantic hill! So up the massive hill we rode to the temple. And yes it was well worth the effort. It was a massive complex of wooden homes for the monks and a huge temple topped in gold. After we had walked around inside a little old Buddhist nun offered us a blessing. She spoke no English but chatted away as she rubbed out right wrist with a saffron colored bracelet that she tied around our wrist. Once she had blessed both Chris and I she smiled widely and rubbed her two fingers together in the universal gesture for 'ow you give me money!' I guess not even a blessing is free these days! The host at out guest house explained that the blessing is meant to get rid of the bad, unwanted spirits and to tie the good spirits to us. Here's hoping this is a knot that doesn't come undone for a long time!
In all, LP has been an amazing little town. So relaxed and calm with incredibly nice people. I can't imagine it during peak season when the tourists and backpackers must out number the locals. Luckily the town has avoided massive bus loads of tourists descending on it all at once but I can't help but wonder what it was like 5 or 10 years ago.
I have so much more to write but alas... my chariot (aka tuk tuk to the bus) awaits! Until next time...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Florida Girl takes on Laos Waterfall

Apparently, all I needed to do for a good nights sleep was to trek 6 or 7 miles through the jungle and then jump off a waterfall!

The trek was through a few villages about 20 km out of Luang Prabang. It felt very weird to be walking through peoples yards and looking into their homes. However, the guide explained that the Laos people don't mind. Firstly, the tour company we used gives a portion of the money to the village and secondly, this is the only way these people get to see the world... through the faces and languages of the people who visit. When we first arrived there was a group of teenage aged youth sitting outside listening to Mary J Blige! I guess the saying "Same Same" applies here as well! The houses were mainly grass and bamboo with the occasional cinder block building... and by building I mean something the size of a medium shed big enough for a riding lawn mower, a few bikes and other bits. The traditional houses sat up on stilts about 4 to 6 feet off the ground. Apparently, these people used to live in the low lands and as they moved higher into the hills they continued to build the same way despite the absence of flooding. According to our guide, they are not Buddhist because they have too many mouths to feed (5 to 15 children per family) and because they need their sons to work the fields so don't want to send them away to be monks! They believe in 3 spirits: the House or Guardian Spirit, the Field Spirit and the Mountain spirit. They make offerings to the spirit and use a shaman if things get too tricky!

Once through the villages we headed into the hills and jungle. I have been surprised the entire week here at the butterflies. They are everywhere and not just a single variety... I have seen about 15 or 20 different ones! Throughout the walk little white ones would be fluttering ahead in the path... very magical! It was not a difficult trek but it was hot and rather humid... There was also about an hour of walking through the farmland with no shade which was probably the worst bit. We stopped  around noon in a clearing for a traditional Laos lunch... I am unsure what I was eating but had little choice but to dig in! The guide said it was pork, vegetables and an omelet as well as a tomato and cilantro salad all eaten with your fingers and balls of sticky rice. Thank the Guardian Spirit for hand sanitizer!!!

Post lunch we explored a cave with hidden Buddhas (and bats!) and then carried on for another hour or so through the jungle to the waterfall!!! We arrived to the top and were able to wade out to the very middle to look down and take pictures... relax everyone, there was a railing and we were safe ;-) the water was cool and refreshing on our tired feet. However, the leach in my shoes after the refreshing water was not so nice!

Once down at the bottom we were able to take in the full magnitude of the falls. It has 5 cascades and ends in limestone pools that are pale blue. Further down we were able to swim... and here is the part you have all been waiting for... I jumped from a smaller water fall into the pool below! It was about 15 feet and my knees were knocking like you wouldn't believe. Chris didn't have his swim suit (or shorts for that matter) so I was left to my own. I stood at the top and thought 'I will never stand here in this spot with this opportunity again' and before the last word left my mind I jumped! It was great! I think that thought will be the mantra for the rest of the trip and I plan to live every moment!!!

This morning is a bit rainy so we are going to head to an English language centre for a drop conversation and then off for a traditional Laos massage. And if the sun comes out we will go to the pool this afternoon. I think we earned our R and R yesterday! Tomorrow will be decided later!

I almost forgot that we enjoyed an amazing Laos meal last night... We ate green soup (I think it was most Mekong seaweed.. seriously it really was!), stuffed lemongrass, water buffalo, Laos sausage, Mekong fish in banana leaf and of course sticky rice. Yummy!!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wats, River and Mountains... Oh My!!

The Mekong River
Florida Girl and Boy and the Mekong River
CK on top of Mt Phousi
View of Northern part of Luang Prabang and mountains from Mt Phousi


Where to start... Luang Prabang is everything I hoped it would be and more. I am still struggling with the right words to capture the unique feel of this unfamiliar world. Being further away from home than ever before with nothing to compare every new sight, smell , sound... I keep going on about the senses because I don't know how else to put it!
We found a great guest house near the northern tip of town just a few blocks from Wat Xieng Thong. Once again we set out to explore in the hottest part of the day! However, within a few minutes we were watching as Laotian people washed a special Buddha with water, flowers and perfume. The host at our guest house explained that the ritual which ends tonight is part of the new year celebration... sort of like washing away the past year to make way for the next. It was so touching to watch as people, young and old, said their prayers. I wonder what it must feel like to the people who live here to have us watching them go about their normal lives? We are doing our best to be apart of it all without being in the way!

After we left the Wat we headed down to the Mekong and more importantly to a little bit of shade! Once again... no complaints just observations about the weather... it is hot and humid like I have only felt a few times before and when it is not raining we want it to but once it starts we just want it to stop! Our shady spot by the river offered a chance to take the two first pictures. We eventually wondered to the main street just in time to see the local school letting out for the day... Just to put this in context: Everyone in LP rides a scooter. They ride with and without helmets, with and without shoes, occasionally they even ride with an umbrella for shade or protection from rain. However, you haven't lived until you have seen an entire family of five on a single scooter. With mom driving and little ones (smaller than Trey!) perched in the front and the rest of the gang hanging on in the rear with school bags, dinner, laundry and the rest nestled in between the passengers! It is a sight to behold and makes me admire the ability of these people to teach their children how to be still from such a young age!

We found a nice little cafe across from the school to continue our silent observations over a bowl of beef pho... a delicious soup with rice noddles, beef, fresh vegetables, cilantro and broth. After eating we headed to the top of Mt Phousi and snapped the last two pictures. The views were amazing but a bit hazy as they are currently burning the forests to make room for more farm land... I won't get started on this but I will say we are staying at the most ecologically friendly guesthouse in LP. While taking in the views and enjoying the temple, the wind started to blow and before we could make to the bottom of the 300+ steps it was pouring down rain! We made a dash for the guesthouse only to make it about half way before dodging the worst of the down pour in a cafe... I guess it isn't a really trip until you get rained on!

The guesthouse is closing up the lobby so I can't write much more but will try again tomorrow... We are heading on a trek through the jungle that ends in a waterfall! Until next time...

de plane de plane...

On a prop plane to Luang Prabang!

Haven't been on plane this small since I went to Montgomery to meet up with CK! And that plane wasn't painted with palm trees and fish! On the agenda for LP are the Pak Ou caves where Buddha statues are taken when they are broken as it is against the religion to destroy them. There is also a waterfall about 45 minutes out of town. And CK will be hunting down any opportunity to take a boat on the Mekong... I think he was a little old fisherman in a former life!
However, the first order of business is to find a guest house! How odd it feels to be flying into a foreign country with no language understanding and no where to lay our heads!! Like nothing we've ever done.
Have a list ready of what to do when we come back through Bangkok. Mainly involves markets and photography. I am finding it tough to describe the scenery. Everything is so different yet also the same... I guess that explains the Thai saying "same same" but different. I have been hesitant to get my camera out for fear of offending people. So I will be trying some covert photography methods... report to follow ;-)
Will try to find a WiFi spot once we land and post this... until next time!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Emerald Buddha is not...

I am typing this entire entry on my phone with one finger so please forgive spelling errors. I am also sitting outside listening to the sounds of Thai people. From what we have seen in 2 short days this is a city that lives on the sidewalks. Cooking, eating, washing up and socializing even sleeping...on the front steps. It makes for an interesting combination of smells and sounds. There are stray dogs and cats everywhere as well. CK is constantly reminding me that we cannot bring them home... mean ol'Chris ;-) Needless to say between the people, the animals and us there is not much room for walking.
Last night we found our way to Khaosan Road... it was a people watching smorgasboard! This is the go to spot for backpackers and since we are backpackers we had to go... right? Found a bar with a Thai guy playing the guitar and singing. He played songs from the 90's and knew most of the words. Californication lyrics were particularly entertaining. We tipped generously and encouraged him to play more but he ended his set and was replaced by a guy in a Sex Pistols shirt. God Save the Queen... played a kazoo and we have video!  We eventually made our way to Upstairs Bar... yep, it was upstairs! Listened to more top 40s and enjoyed the local beverages... a good night in deed which end with a pad thai chicken pitta and a rather wild tuktuk ride back to the guest house. We had to ring the bell to get in and realised it was about 2am! Felt like we were back in high school about to get busted for missing curfew!
After sleeping in and enjoying the AC and hot shower, we went down to the Grand Palace. Wow! Not sure what I expected but this blew those expectations out of the water. I think we could have wondered for hours. However, being there in the hottest part of the day was not the best option! Please note that is not a complaint, just an observation. And here is another... it is hot as h e double l! I love it!! The Emerald Buddha sits atop a massive shrine of gold. As you eyes travel up to the top there is a itty bitty Buddha smiling down... okay he is about 2 or 3 feet tall. Originally found in 1434 covered in plaster until a monk noticed the green beneath a chip. Thinking it was emerald he dubbed it the Emerald Buddha but it is in fact carved from a single block of jade!
So much more to say but I am going blind staring at this phone and my typing finger has a cramp! Will look for an internet cafe. Until then...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pictures are not always worth a thousand words...

This time of year in London is amazing. Each morning when I open the windows to see blue sky and bright sunshine I am giddy with excitement. My path to the office takes me through St John's Wood Church Gardens, a place that I often photograph. However, I am nearly always disappointed with the photos... something is always missing but I can never figure out what 'it' is that is missing.  I've tried various compositions, angles, view points and nothing seems to fill the void. As I walked lazily along the flower petaled path yesterday trying to delay my arrival to work it dawned on me... Photos fail to capture the sounds of traffic in the background, of birds signing morning sounds, of children squealing on the playground. They don't capture the cool breeze or the warmth of the sun as you step out from the oaky shaded pathway. And they don't capture the scent of the slightly past their prime tulips that are spreading their pollen or the freshly mown lawn. Pictures can capture the color and the look but they can't capture the feel, the smell or the sounds of this peaceful oasis in the midst of morning rush hour. Days like yesterday it takes all the will power in world for me to not kick off my shoes and ignore the signs warning to 'stay off the grass' as all I want to do is feel the cool blades of grass between my toes and spend the day soaking up all that a photo can never capture.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Conflict of Heart and Mind

Since before Christmas we have been plotting the Florida Girl take over of South East Asia. Months of preparation have gone into the trip and we all know what I am like when it is time to plan. I initially told Chris, "let's just go for a few weeks and let the tide take us where it will. No need to plan or stress... just pack a bag and set off." He doubted my ability to give up control... he was right. It started with a few Internet searches and then I insisted on a few trips to various book stores around London. Now I have a calender, it has destinations, I have notes... pages and pages of notes, and I even bought an old school folding map of Laos and Cambodia. I have asked everyone and their friends about where to go and what to do... I plan like a germ-a-phobe washes their hands, without regard for our relaxed 'go with the flow' holiday. Alas, I am who I am and I am a planner. In 8 days, we are off to Bangkok and then to Laos and finally to Cambodia. That gives me 7 days to create daily itineraries, plan out every meal and ensure no stone goes unturned... just kidding, I am not THAT bad ;-)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Quintessential English Weekend at the Shore

A few months ago a friend posted pictures of a weekend in Winchelsea near Rye. A quick look at the pictures and I was on the phone getting details about where it was and how I could go there! Chris's birthday seemed liked a perfect excuse to rent a car and hit the road for a quintessential English weekend at the shore... coats, gloves and all! Lucky for us the sun decided to make it's long awaited spring debut! Not so lucky for us the heat in the house wasn't working. C'est la vie!
The front gate to Pebbles Beach House
  
    
Pebbles... our home if only for a few days!
        
        
Gnewa likes it... caught him out in the yard picking flowers to refresh his basket!

        
The beach... no sandy white beaches here. The water makes a hypnotising sound as it washes against the pebbles. I could have stretched out on the beach in the sun and listened to it for hours without getting any sand in my pants!


The house sits beside a nature preserve. We set off on Saturday morning for a short walk... a few hours and 7ish miles later we had walked along the beach, through the nature preserves, through the middle of some random campsites, hung out in a field with a horse, walked through a field of sheep, stormed a castle, bird watched, drank a pint in a harbour with the locals and explored the shale ridge. A productive morning to say the least!

The best part of the weekend was being disconnected from technology. We had no Internet, spotty cell phone reception and a tv out of 1978 that wasn't worth the effort that turn on. We listened to music, read, talked and just enjoyed being together... something that we don't do nearly as often as we would like!

We finished off the weekend with a drive to Dungeness... a uniquely odd but breathtaking beach in Kent. The beach is dotted with old rail cars once used to carry the shale but once the railway was abandoned they were turned into fishing huts. There is an eclectic mix of architecture and people but the most striking site is the massive nuclear power station and it's pervasive hum. And did I mention the miniature railway?

I was limited to only 50 or so pictures as I grabbed an old memory card but I think I managed a few good shots of the weekend. Have a look here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Happy Birthday Florida Boy!

A Very Happy Birthday to Christopher!

On Wednesday last week he officially 'caught' up with me. We are now both 29... again ;-)
I hope to update later this week with pictures from Nick and Kirk's surprise visit to London as well as our long weekend at Pebbles Beach House in Winchelsea.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gnomeo, Gnomeo, wherefore art thou Gnomeo


Step aside Juliet... this Gnome is all mine!


Friday, February 25, 2011

The times... they are a changin'

We have emerged from the most miserable time of year... the months when the sun is not up when you leave for work but has already set by the time you walk out of the office at 5:00pm. It is hard to drag yourself through the days and after 9 weeks of this you start to think that the sun has forever given up on London. The only light at the end of the tunnel is the train and it is coming straight for you. You long for the days of walking through the park at 8:30 pm with your sunglasses on and then question if those memories are real or just your vitamin D deprived brain playing cruel tricks on you...

And then you catch a glimpse of a tinsy flower bud popping its head out of the sun deprived earth. There is nothing like it... okay well maybe there are better moments in the world but to a Florida Girl living in London, trying to survive the dark, this is a pretty amazing feeling ;-)

I saw the first buds several weeks ago and then made a point to walk through a park at least once a day. But like a watched pot never boils... a watched buttercup never blooms. I stared to worry that the cold winter, lack of sun, excessive rain, snow... you get the point... had done the poor little wild flowers in this year. I put them to the back of my brain and got on with the day to day.

And then today happened. First, I noticed a neighbors window box was full of daffodils. Bright yellow, standing tall, waving at me in the breeze. I started to get a little excited and stood staring at them until I realised said neighbor was looking at me through the window. I wanted to skip away but figured she was still watching and I was carrying my laptop and gym bag which making skipping a bit cumbersome. So I casually made a bee line to St John's Wood Church Gardens and what I found was a glorious site...

Buttercups, Crocus, Snowdrops, and Daffodils... oh my!

Now... we are not out of the woods yet. There is still a lot of rainy, cold days and limited sunshine to get through but I think I have decided the light I see at the end of the tunnel isn't the train after all!

Friday, February 18, 2011

A few of my favorites from a quick trip home

After spending a short week in the states I thought I would come home with a hundred or more pictures. Turns out my camera does have an auto pilot and I wasn't as on my game as I had anticipated. The result... not very many pictures at all. However, here are a few of my favorites.


 Trying to figure out if Trey can roll his tongue. Uncle Chris lacks the appropriate gene and they say it is genetic. However, Trey is still a bit too young to understand the concept of rolling your tongue. Instead nephew and uncle spent about 5 minutes sticking out their tongues at each other and making other funny faces.

 I never set out to dress like my 86 year old Papa. However, Cricks can really rock the plaid so I am okay with this...

 Watching D-D-D-Dora. I tried for almost 15 minutes to get a picture but Trey was more interested in helping the baby red fish find his way back to the ocean. This included doing the crab dance, reading maps and shouting out various Spanish words.  Aqui! Ariba! 

 No explanation necessary...

This pic is a bit over exposed and full of shadows but too cute not to love. It was great getting to spend 2 days with Michelle, Matt and Trey. It was a quick visit and only left us wanting more. Thanks to the Farmers for their hospitality and for taxiing us all around Atlanta!

PS: I would have added the pic of my dad and Chris to this post if I hadn't already added it... just thinking about how excited they were with that 6 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon makes me laugh!

The proof is in the PBR

They say that girls grow up to marry a man that remind them of their father's. I have had a few moments in my life where this has proved to be the case. The following are just 2 of several examples...

Case in point 1: In the midst of a typical category 3 verging on 4 Florida hurricane just weeks before out wedding Chris could be found standing in the parking lot of our apartment complex pretending to be a weather reporter. The only thing he was missing was a camcorder. My dad on the other hand was standing in his yard in the midst of a very similar storm... with the camcorder.

Case in point 2: While everyone else in middle Tennessee were checking their milk and bread supply to hunker down for a few inches of snow and possible ice; Chris and my father made a trip to the local corner store and returned with Pabst Blue Ribbon...

And couldn't possibly have been more pleased with their purchase.
Love these guys :-)

Quality Time with the Russo's

 Preparing for the photo with 3 children...

 1st attempt... not too shabby but where is Trey looking?

 #2 Violet is clearly bored and just wants to chase 'new friend' aka Trey. Natalie seems to have forgotten that we were taking pictures. Notice the 4 adults have not moved...

Woo Hoo!!! Everyone looking at the camera... and Violet is still bored and Trey still has a death grip on his new Bulgie bus ;-)

Lovely catching up with the Russo's while we were in Atlanta. Can't believe they moved to Atl after we moved to London! We must improve our timing ;-)

Home Sweet Home

Beautiful sunset...

But more importantly, this Dodge Ram is rockin' the American flag bald eagle combo. 
And there is a potential I could be related to the driver...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Leaving on a jet plane...

But I know exactly when I will be home again. We are sitting on the plane waiting for lift off. We will be in Tennessee for a week and are dreading the cold weather! London is warming up this week and we are leaving... typical! Can't wait to see the family but sure wish I could see them on the beach :-)
Time to turn off all electronic devices... Until next time!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Look out Ginger and Fred... The Kipphuts are taking over this show!

Last night we headed to Wapping for a little vino and some dancing. To the relief of all involved in the evening there were no cameras. To answer your first question, Wapping is in east London. And to our surprise still in zone 2... However, I have not confirmed this on an official map so not sure I believe it! And now the second question, how on earth did I get CK out dancing??? This was easier than one might suspect. A friend, Tim, invited us and CK accepted without realizing what he was getting himself in to... That ought to teach him to read his email a bit more carefully!

Our friends, Tim and Laura, started the night off with a delicious roast and the first of a few bottles of wine. We had a great view of the dance venue from their dining room. The Wapping Project is an old hydro electric plant that has been converted into a restaurant, events hall, and exhibition space. Very little has been changed but it is a beautiful space with exposed bricks, huge windows and vaulting ceilings. A perfect place to take a spin around the dance floor!

There were 2 professional instructors. A sweet youngish girl who was patient, kind and did her best to stiffle her giggles as we trotted all over each others feet. And a rather gruff guy
who looked like perhaps his family was being held hostage until he taught us a few dance moves. His technique was simple... If they don't get it just move on and teach an even more complicated move... Including one that involves the guy sliding the girl along the floor, between his legs and then popping her back up to her feet. If you are having trouble picturing this just imagaine me flat on my back with Chris standing over me laughing uncontrollably.

All things considered and excluding the grande finale move, we rocked it! Chris even danced his way down the street to breakfast this morning just to prove he could still do it. And that is how a star is born!