Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chiang Mai and Beyond

Another day, another Temple! Similar to Croatia, substituting 'church for 'temple'.

High in the mountains outside Chiang Mai, we visited a spectacular Temple. Many Buddha in various positions and colors (one in jade, or at least transparent green plastic). Very elaborate place. 308 steps to get there after driving for 45 minutes. It was a bit hazy so the view was limited, but we were on the top of a mountain with the city below.

Tonight we had dinner at the old Chiang Mai Cultural Center which is now a dinner theater. We were treated to 12-13 traditional dances performed by northern hill tribe people. One had two young men dancing and swinging 12 long swords. Thought we would try this at home.

It's off to The Flight of the Gibbon in the mountain 'jungles' about an hour from the city. "The Flight" is on zip lines through the tops of trees. We lost count, but there must have been 15 stations, taking a couple of hours with two guides. A very exciting and fun experience, once you could eliminate the fear factor. There were nine in our group from age 7 to 72. Very safety conscious guides, which was good !

After station 5, Emma was quite confident, so the guides sent her down the lines all alone. She was thrilled, and we were proud of her!

One line was 800km, almost 1/2 mile, passing over a deep gorge. Another, called Super Man, had us literally jump into the open held by a rope attached to our back. It was a close approximation to Bungee Jumping while on a zip line. You weren't hanging on to anything so legs and arms were dancing all around and then you landed in a rope net that you climbed up to reach a platform.

We had our final dinner at the Whole Earth Restaurant along with John and Yuko's friends. Great fun, and good variety of Thai food (Yuko rated it 7 out of 10).

Mom and I got up early to serve a group of Buddhist monks some food...rice, soup, fruit, and water. It's a Thai tradition for individuals to gain merit by offering alms. The hotel made up the trays, so we just had to show up. Monks are not allowed to store food or to cook, so they depend on collecting alms each day.

We rented bikes for an hour tour through small lanes in the old city. We stopped at the Treasury, a museum of Thai coinage used over the centuries, including a history of the Baht. Current coins are a tribute to the king whom all Thai people highly revere. The king awards high rank to people who serve the country in various ways by bestowing "the exultant order of the white elephant". The king was born in Cambridge, MA.

Had my third and best oil massage, so all those aches from yesterday are gone. With generous tips, my three hours of massage cost under $30.

Really liked both places that we stayed at and got to see a great deal of the old city. The people were like those in Bali, very kind, always smiling and helpful. Had several "lost in translation" moments, but they just seem to add to the adventure

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Day in Chiang Mai

Nicky and Emma knocked on our door about 8:30, inviting us over to celebrate Christmas gift-giving in Mom & Dad's room. Santa had visited last night. He left several fun small surprises for the girls, and a note to let them know he had been to their home in Singapore, too, with a few other things waiting their return.

Mom, Dad, Grammy, and Pops each exchanged a few items as well. John had gotten juice and coffee, so we all relaxed before going down to a great breakfast buffet.
We were able to Syype the Lupori clan and Matt and Lizzy. They were still busy working on a gingerbread house. Missed the Anderson family, so they must have gotten an early flight.

After a nice breakfast, we all walked to a nearby Buddhist Temple where we met Claire and Andy and baby Jo; Alison and Jonathan. We meandered on to the Chiang Mai Arts & Culture Museum which traces the history of this area's people. Got a quick overview of the last seven hundred years !

Back to our little hotel to enjoy a swim and a bit of lunch around the pool. The food here is very good and very reasonable. Actually the breakfast buffet comes with our room.

It cooled down after 4:30 although the temperatures have only been in the mid-70s.

We all met for dinner at a riverside restaurant, The Gallery, at 6:30. It was get fun getting to know John and Yuko's British friends better, having only met them a few days ago in Singapore. Baby Jo who is 15 months old is a real charmer, and well behaved. Emma set up a shop to "sell" some gifts and showed real salesmanship.
We started dinner with British tradition of pulling crackers. They pop open wilt a small gift and a British joke. Emma read the jokes aloud, and we laughed at the wry humor. We were seated river side and paper lanterns lit with candles were set off into the sky for good luck.

We all were able to pile into a truck taxi and some went to the night market and some of us went to our hotel for ice cream sundaes and grappa. Hated to see midnight come and Christmas to be over.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Eve in Chiang Mai

Today we transfer to a small resort in the old town of Chiang Mai. It is the Bodhi Serene. From the outside it is not very interesting, but once inside it is a 4-star accommodation. Tonight the hotel is hosting a free Christmas Party for all guests at 6:30pm. We have beautiful rooms, a terrace off each one and a nice large pool area. Yuko really does well in researching places to stay.

Before leaving Fern Paradise, the owner who is an architect treated us to a grand tour of the property. He bought old rice barns, dismantled them, brought nine of them to the property, reassembled them and, in the process, they were outfitted with modern facilities. They are on the original old log stilts. The nine barns make up the hotel. Under each one was a sitting area with a big wooden swing. Lots of winding paths to the pool and eating area.

The owner has a passion for ferns. He explained all about ferns of which he had started over 300 different species over the years. Ferns really make for a very serene atmosphere. He also runs a photography business and cares for these magnificent ferns. Quite a place.

All six of us take a long walk across the Ping River into the "new" town to investigate several restaurants for Christmas Day Dinner. Because it's further than we think, we take 2 tuk-tuks to a place on the river where we have a late lunch.

When we return to our hotel we have a couple hours before the Christmas party so I walk across the street for a Thai massage. Can you believe an hour great massage for under 10 dollars ! Then a quick swim and on to the party. The staff had practiced wishing everyone a Merry Christmas in English and wore Santa hats. Very helpful, smiling people here. Also a group came in to sing Christmas carols.

Quite a different way to celebrate Christmas Eve, but very lovely. The girls are excited about Santa. Great time to be thinking of the whole family.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand

We met with Andy, Judi, Alison, and Catherine, all friends of Yuko and John's on the top of the Fullerton Bay Hotel at 19:00 for drinks. A great outdoor bar overlooking the Singapore River with a view of the tall buildings downtown. The decorations, especially the flower arrangements, at the hotel are striking. The architecture in Singapore is way over the top and this view is spectacular. A laser light show from the casino across the river happens every hour. We will meet Andy, Clair and family in Chiang Mai on Sunday, Christmas Day.

We picked up Emma at her "Kids can Concentrate" and, then, Nicky. This is Nicky's last day at this preschool. We all had lunch at the hawker center and walked home. Packing for our week in Chiang Mai and relaxing until 20:45 when John announced our plane was scheduled for 21:30, not 23:45. We rushed to the Airport but the plane didn't leave until almost midnight. Arrived at our small, very unique, hotel about 3 am. We each have our own tree house among hundreds of ferns.

After breakfast by the "river" (dried up now because this is the dry season), John has arranged for a driver to take us to an Elephant Farm located in the mountainous area that surround Chiang Mai. We are pleased that the elephants are well-cared for by full-time trainers. Elephants are clever performers: their trunks function as a hand for bringing food to their mouth. They're surprisingly gentle and delicate, and hairy. We saw them take a bath in the river, too.

The show includes kicking a large soccer ball at a goal defended by an elephant. Most impressive is the artwork they create by holding a paint brush with their trunk. The trainer changes the color and somehow "tells" them what and where how to apply the paint. Each of five elephants produces her own "work", but the theme is pretty much the same, in our case a flowering tree.

And, we took an hour elephant ride through the Thai mountain jungle. Sandy and Emma were afraid the elephants were getting too near the edge of the trail, and might slip down the side of the hill. The scenery was very pretty and hilly. Another first for us, but it was Emma's 3rd elephant ride.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another first ! 7-5-3 Day!

We arrived yesterday in Singapore late afternoon. I think we both aged a bit on the two flights getting here and really didn't sleep for over 24 hours, so were very late getting up today.

Yuko and John have a large apartment on the 9th floor with a nice view of the city. Our room is a half circle with lots of windows. They have their place all decorated for Christmas. Of course, Yuko had a delicious dinner waiting for us and it was fun catching up, since we saw each other in July. Emma had made a Christmas cake in the afternoon, so it was a festive occasion. Matt had sent our summer clothes here, so we quickly got into Singapore attire, which is as little as possible.

Today was Emma and Nicky's photo shoot in kimonos as a gift from Yuko's parents celebrating a Japanese tradition called 7-5-3. When Japanese girls reach these ages (7,5 and 3) they get all dressed up in kimonos. This year, Emma is seven and Nicky three. It took several hours, hair dressing, kimonos, and all the extra fixings, and then the actual picture taking. The girls were so patient and looked great. Now, watching that was definitely a first. It is nice to see traditions continue.

I hit the tennis ball for about 30 minutes with Yuko and Emma and feel like I need another shower. Nicky was the ball girl while Pops took a nap. Next time I'll wear my bathing suit so I can jump in the pool.

We are continuing the 7-5-3 celebration tonight by going to the Mandarin Hotel for a buffet dinner.

What a dinner! Every known and unknown appetizer, main course, and dessert. We were there for almost three hours. Luckily nothing had calories! They had at least 25 people greeting everyone at the hotel entrance and up to the buffet. Fun watching the preparations, since many were certainly new to me. A very large, I mean really large, gingerbread house in the lobby.

Out on the main shopping street after dinner, the Christmas decorations were lovely. Plenty of people out enjoying the activity with entertainment for all ages...a young singing group, a larger-than-life-size manger scene all in white, a clown, new-car photo op, and snow! (just kidding, it's almost 80 degrees at 10:30pm).

John and Yuko certainly made it another very memorable day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Novigrad Redux

We are back "home" for a few days before leaving on Sunday for a lengthy trip to Singapore.

Time to wash clothes and dry everything. We've figured out a way to speed up the drying process...hang the clothes in the kitchen in front of the warm air heater/fan. It takes several hours and interferes with cooking, but it's faster than hanging outdoors especially now that it's raining and cooler.

The town is prepared for Christmas with street decorations. Also, several buildings on our street are covered in green material, not decoration, but renovation protection.

Grocery shopping. Our regular stops at the green grocer, the bakery, and the Konzum (grocery store). Using Kuna again. At the library to use Wi-fi indoors rather than outdoors at the town Trg (rainy and cold).

That's where we encounter a new problem...all of a sudden, we can not use our hotmail email account...can't even sign in because the password is not valid. I attempt several work-arounds, but to no avail.

Google comes up with the answer and a solution. We have been hacked (I thought that Apple products were immune to this kind of thing)! The website,, provides the solution (for a fee). It's not simple and it will take several days to work out. Evidently, FREE does not have much online support (a solution for the future is to sign up for a PAY-FOR version). Until we resolve this situation, we will use our Gmail account, (note two r's).

Duśka treated us along with her two secretaries, both named Luana, and Robert, our driver/police chief to a wonderful meal. It was the company annual Christmas lunch at Konoba Perci in the small village of Tar. Mom and I each had an ox meat pasta. Very tasty and tender meat. We started out with a large platter of meat (local smoked ham), cheeses( one with truffles) and olives. Had chocolate souffle cakes (like we make at home) oozing with warm chocolate in the center for dessert and then of course a bit of grappa.
They gave us some holiday gifts that was so thoughtful, since they don't necessarily exchange gifts. The bag included a box of candy and some local honey products.
We had a long enjoyable lunch/dinner.
Robert has quite a sense of humor and relayed several work related stories.

Been catching up on some NY Times articles. We are both finishing books. Really just able to get two English news stations on TV. Expanded our card playing to gin as well as cribbage. It feels like we are back "home", being able to relax in the morning over coffee and reading. I have just finished "Sarah's Key". What an enlightening story of French history during WWII.

There is a Christmas fair, starting this afternoon, at the square in front of the church here in Novigrad. Kids are singing and dancing, so it should be fun. Also, a singing group at 8:00pm.

Duška has arranged a driver to take us to Venice Sunday morning, so now we just need to pack up. Need to lighten our load, mainly of brochures and information of all that we have seen. All the tourist centers that we visited have very prolific writers and we would walk away with piles of material. Again, we are glad to have the blog!

We're in the process of taking care of last day activities. We just printed our boarding passes for tomorrow's flight on Qatar Airlines, a 5-star airline! Most of our clothes are dry for packing. Gin Rummy and Cribbage help while away the afternoon, watching BBC and EuroNews Re repeated every half hour.

Several shops and cafes that have been closed since November have reopened for the holiday season. The harbor (mandrać) is filled with fishing boats. It could be that the fishermen are enjoying a holiday break, or maybe it's the end of the fishing season, or most likely it's the bad weather...rain and strong wind the last few days.

Dinner tonight will be at a Novigrad seafood konoba Čok. One that we haven't tried, but this is the week for some kind of special fish and they are supposed to have it. Maybe we will see what band is playing at the fair too. Last night we did a bit of dancing to a guitar player and singer that were quite good. Luckily it is under a tent because of the wind and periodic rain.

We said good bye to Luanna and Duska and Robert stopped by, so we are on to see the Garretts !

Oh, our E -mail address is working again.

Dinner was great. Started with scallops, then noodles with white truffles, grilled fish with potatoes and spinach and then pannacotta for Dick and apple tart with English cream for me. Of course no calories ! Then they brought some complimentary grappa. Cute place and very cozy, Think we better set an alarm to get up !

Thursday, December 15, 2011

And on the 26th day..

After another wonderful breakfast, it was time to pack up and head back to Novigrad. I had a nice chat with the owner of the pension. She gave me an umbrella as a gift, which came in very handy as the day progressed.

We really feel great about all the places, history, beauty and especially the people we encountered over the last 26 days. It opened our eyes on many different levels. We were fortunate how things fell into place since we certainly didn't have it all plotted out. Thanks to the IPad we were able to contact places to stay and visit along the way, but usually just a day ahead. Since it is so out of the busy season we got bargain prices and enjoyed varied accommodations, all in the old city parts.

We took a bus from Lake Bled to Ljubljana, which was just over an hour. We then had over three hours before leaving for Novigrad. Headed right for the old city, roamed around thru the markets, had another wonderful sausage and sauercraut from an outdoor vendor. Then, we spent the rest of the time at the Slovenian National Museum. Another great museum tracing the country's history over ions. If only we could retain all the facts! They have proof of life in the area 200,000 years ago. A tiny little flute, made from bear bone, is over 45,000 years old. It sure seems that music, paintings and many sports transcend age, languages and cultures.

It was inspiring to read about their determination to become an independent country. They have certainly accomplished a great deal in 20 years. It seems the people have a relaxed, happy and healthy life style. Our host at the Bled pension (Tatijana is in her 40s) voiced some concern about the next generation regarding their willingness to work hard for their future. Is this a common sign of the future for developed nations?

We caught a bus at 4:30. We're back to Novigrad in less than three hours. Later, in bed, we heard thunder and heavy rain, so we lucked out weather-wise again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gingerbread cookies and Beekeeping

Another great breakfast at our pension. We had hoped to ride bicycles to the nearby (5 miles) town of Radoviča, but there is light mist and the pension owners advised against it.

We altered our day's plan by walking around Lake Bled (Blayd), about 3.5 seemed longer than going around Keyser Lake in NH even though it's a similar distance. At the far end of the lake, the "church island" is fairly near the shore, making a good photo opportunity. Seeing swans on the lake is a plus.

A short side trip brought us to Vila Bled, a hotel now, formerly Jośip Broz Tito's summer villa (one of 40 residences he maintained for different purposes). The exterior lacks any architectural interest, and the interior is pretty staid. There is some interesting wall art, in particular a mural covering the upper part of two walls, depicting Slovenia's involvement in World War II...a definite political statement to pacify the Russian communist government.

This hotel has a huge chunk of real estate and know how to charge. A standard room starts at 220 Euros. A very nice man that showed us around said a couple from "the states" (he didn't know exactly where) was having a wedding reception there next week after being married in the church on the island. Great setting and I'm sure huge price tag.

We then took a short bus ride to Radoviča, a couple towns away. Timing was good and had an interesting tour of the small old town. Actually had another couple with us who are from Ljubljana. This town is known for a famous playwright, Anton Tomaz Lindhart. It also has a well preserved moat, several medieval homes and a number of late gothic and renaissance buildings. It is a working, lived in town with interesting fresco paintings and our guide did a good job explaining it's existence since 1333.

We ate at the 500 year old Lectar family restaurant where we sampled several traditional, local dishes. The Lectar (the name means "gingerbread baker") museum is a clever small ginger bread workshop that's been around since 1766. They make cookies (some heart-shaped) covered with deep red, hard frosting and decorated, sometimes with a love note, a poem, or a company logo. If not eaten, they can be used as ornaments. Gingerbread is an important part of Slovene culture.

Then we took the tip from Rick Steves and visited the museum on Slovene beekeeping. It was fascinating. Elaborate beehive houses built in the 19th century are on display. Also, naive artwork painted on the front panel of beehives.

Wow, bees are smart little things! They have great social structure. (Dave Brazier should see this museum!) Do you know that male drones die after fertilizing the queen's eggs? The queen lays from 1,500 to 2,000 eggs, daily? And, some worker bees only clean the comb cells? While others only use their wings to remove heat from the hive? Or, after a few years the queen is "asked" to leave; she takes some drones and workers with her in a swarm to start a new hive. This is complicated stuff.