Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Hong (Thai Lagoon) by Starlight

Today Donna had arranged a day trip for the whole gang to sea kayak to the limestone lagoons off of Mainland Thailand, North of the island of Phuket with John Grey`s Sea Canoes.  Of course, nothing goes exactly according to plan.  Tyler and his family (Donna's eldest, my cousin) were set at arrive in Phuket yesterday around noon, but flight delays in New York City (!) kept them in Vancouver an extra 36 hours - I am sure that was fun with a baby and two young kids.... ugh.  So by noon today, they still had not arrived, so missed the trip.  Jaclyn woke up not feeling well, so she and Rick also stayed behind, and our group was reduced to 14, not the orignial 20+ plannned in September.
For the remainder of us, a great day.  We had a whole dive boat to ourselves, a ton of food, and a relatively uncrowded sojourne to some incredible cave-accessible lagoons on the inside of the islands.  We watched monkeys in the wild, crafted some banana-leaf flower wish-makers (I cant rememeber the thai word for them?)which we floated away at dusk, and then played in the glowing water (seriously, Avatar-like algae that flashes when stirred.... you could see jumping fish 30 feet away, and released sparks by swishing your hand around, splashing sparks onto the cave walls,etc.  super cool.)  The Hong (lagoons) we surrounded on all sides by high cliffs, completely covered in jungle, and often a tight squeeze to pass through the only sea-worn access.
As we visited near high tide, there was a traffic jam to get out (quickly) while still able, and a very funny episode with my cousin Janelle and Scott stuck prone in their kayak, while her guide argued with another operator who refused to move out of the path, and another guide yelling loudly that he needed to pass NOW as he had a "watermelon belly" man in his boat that still needed to pass through.  We did all manage to pass through the narrow entrance, not sure what happened to "watermelon belly man" though, lol.
We didnt return until 10pm, a long and full day, and hopefully Rick and Jaclyn will be able to join Tyler and his family at some point in the next week, though at this point our plans are really up in the air.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beach Days

The Beach is right across the street from our hotel, and a nice beach bar attendant reserves our chairs and umbrellas for us each morning. Sometimes the ocean is calm, but we have also seen it red flagged and with a fun surf for boogie boards.  Beer and french fries, as well as ice cream and even wonton soup arrive at a whim, and you could shop for dresses, singing frogs, folding fans, wisk brooms, jewelry and tablecloths while you sunbathe.  All at bargain prices.
Most of the tourists are European - many from Sweden, Germany, some Russians, Japanese, Singapore, some from Kenya, England, Hong Kong, Australia, NZ and elsewhere. Few North Americans.  Many families, but it is Christmas holidays so that is to be expected this time of year.  The Thai people are very friendly and helpful, quiet spoken for the most part, and lots of smiles.  I dont know what to say about the men hooking up with the Thai girls, as I just dont really get that.  But it is obvious, and seems to be accepted here, even by the other tourists.  I try not to be totally revolted, but that is my true reaction.  Those poor girls.
Janice only has until the 28th, a short trip for such long flights.  We are extremely glad she joined us, as it was wonderful to see family and made our Christmas special to have some items from home, as well as a chance for all of us to get "grounded", like home coming to us!
We managed to go for pedicures and leg massage (for some reason, leg swelling seems really common here - humidity, long flights, heat, not sure why?) but boy that felt good.  For all three of us girls we spent 950 baht ($35) for nails and massages lasting 1.5 hrs.... very nice. The boys had Thai massage, which was rather humerous as they explained the pretzel formations and finger snapping it included.  The advertised "happy ending" was passed upon.  Only in Thailand.....

A day at Phi Phi

Boxing Day, and we arranged a private charter speedboat to Kho Phi Phi islands. ( go pee pee, Katie laughs)  Our Swedish friends that we met the first day on the beach,  four parents, four teens, plus our German friends from the hotel, Claus and Corolla, joined us to make 17, so for 18000 baht ( like 30 bucks each) away we go!
The boat left from Phuket town, and first stop was a coral atoll for snorkling, but the jellyfish were as big as Rick so none of us felt like swimming with them (apparently harmless, but we werent taking any chances, thanks).  Next stop, another atolll with mobs of tour boats, all of them feeding the fish bread, so yes, hungry tame fish that bite.  Nibble, nibble, ha ha, but one particularily hungry fish took a large bite of Travis' ankle and drew blood.  not so funny.  They seemed more attracted to hairy legs.... of more amusement than the fish were the Japanese non-swimmers who were screaming at the top of their lungs while being swarmed, bread bags in hand.  click, click, click.
The Phi Phi islands themselves are limstone, so very beautiful columns of green rising from the green of the sea - and our day was clear and bright, so very pleasant.  Once we were away from the other tour groups we could enjoy the little coves and bays for some time in the water with the fish.  We stopped next at Monkey beach and were at first disappointed to find it deserted.  But as we were returning up the shore along came a monkey parade - adult male in the lead, next the crew, about 30 feet apart and following the same path as the leader, 25 monkeys big and small and not too concerned about our presence.  Rick moved himself closer into their path, and the male gave him a slight pause then stepped right on his foot to get by, and continued on the way.  Once they all passed, Travis and Katie went with Emilie, Victor and Mats down to the place the monkeys had stopped and watched as they were fed by another group of tourists - Katie watched a baby take a banana from one girl and peel it then munch it up.  So cool.  We stayed a little longer then headed back to our boat for our lunch on the main island at a restaurant.
One more stop at Maya Beach, great snorkling stop but we were already getting tired, and I think all of us fell asleep on the boat ride home.... about 45 minutes back to Phuket.  It would be nice to stay longer at Phi Phi, and we will see about an overnight trip in the new year, once all the Christmas rush slows down.  Those monkeys deserve another visit.

Christmas Thai Style

Katie was pretty concerned that Santa would not find us here in Thailand, so we went to extra efforts to alert him.  We released paper laterns on the beach on Christmas eve, and each made a wish as the latern lifted high into the Thai sky.  The firecrackers were an extra boom.
To celebrate Christmas morning, we exhanged names and asssigned a 1000 baht limit (it is quite amazing how much we can by for $30 in the markets).  Santa brought Katie a stocking with some candycanes and chocolates (kinder!) from home, and Tim hortons hot chocolate too! Thanks Auntie Janice!  After our breakfast at the hotel, we hired a private tour and headed to the agriculture area south of here, to the elephant farm.  And for Christmas day, we played with the baby elephant and then the kids went for elephant rides.  Very sweet.  The baby could do tricks, kissing your arm and saying hello, as well as thank you bow when we fed him some pineapple, his favorite treat.
The rest of the tour saw us up to the Big Buddha, over to the elephant temple and down to the Rai lei beach area for lunch. We also visited the pier in Phuket town to arrange for a PhiPhi island tour the next day - and then back to Caron Beach.
We changed for dinner then headed to the little street behind our hotel, via the market shortcut.  The Calypso Bar was rocking, with Donna and Mark (my aunt) and my cousins in the front row, pina coladas flowing.  The bar has a great singer with 80's,90's rock and Swedish favorites (Livin next door to Alice - Alice? Who the #$%@ is Alice?)  We rocked along with our Swedish friends and Alberta/Ontario family til the wee hours ... it wasnt til the next day that Derek reminded us we never did have Christmas

Christmas Break - Diving the Deep Blue Sea

I truly thought it would be easier to write every day, since we are settled in one place and have had time to catch up and breathe here in Thailand.  But the reverse is true. We are much more relaxed, and we have shifted frm traveller to vacation mode. Hveing Janice here for the past week has been wonderful, and I didn't want to miss any visiting time by curling up over my keyboard, so I apologize, I have been very lax in our posts.
What has happened in Phuket?  Well, Travis and I completed our diving course with 2 shore dives to 30 feet and 2 boat dives to 40 feet.  He got 100% on his exam, I am so proud of him.  And he took to the underworld like a pro, too, even managing to astonish our instructor when he lost his weight belt and did exactly the right things rather than shooting dangerously up to the surface in panic.  He is a natural diver, and I can see it as a life-long hobby, career opportunity for certain!  The final boat dives were extra-special as our instructors at Phuket Pro-Dive allowed us to invite the rest of our family along on the trip, and we enjoyed the boat ride to Raya Island and lunch together, and they were able to snorkle while Travis and I were beneath them.  A great day on the ocean.
On the way boat-trip back to Phuket, Derek and I met some other travellers, a mom and her 14 year old son (Job) from London, enjoying Christmas break in Thailand. Job plays rugby and football, and seems a very outgoing friendly young man - athletic and charming, and a new "facebook" friend for Derek.  The whole world is linked to Mark Zuckerburg now..... he, by the way, is also in Thailand right now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seaside at the Golden Sand inn

Our family room in Karon Beach is wonderful - clean and quiet, a view of the ocean from our room, and tucked in a neighborhood of restaurants and shops and everything we might need for an extended stay... we are very pleased.  Beer is less than a buck, ice cream 80 cents, and an excellent meal for about $3.50 Canadian.  It is Christmas season, so busy time, but still not crowded, just many other families particularly from Northern Europe happily escaping winter snow.  A very friendly, welcome place.
Travis and I started our PADI scuba course this morning, and are enrolled for the pool and dive site classes over the next three days.  That was the main thing he wanted to achieve on our trip, and I am going to be his "buddy".  Derek and JC are joining us on the third day as resort divers to try it out (Derek is not certain he will like scuba) and Jaclyn is a little young.  Katie and Rick will be able to snorkle at the same location (and Janice too, scuba or snorkle, we will ask when she arrives)
Yes, we are getting company, and very happy to see family for Christmas.  Rick's sister Janice is coming to Thailand tomorrow night to spend 10 days with us in this little piece of heaven.  Also arriving is my mom's sister Donna and all of her family and extended family (I think there are 23 of them in total!)  They are staying at the sister property to here, and from what I understand have different flights/timeframes/etc, but we are all getting together on Dec 30 to do one activity together... 30 of us in all!  Wow, what a clan that will be!
So, good internet here, and we will be able to post more regularly... though the odd beer clouds might get in the way.... lol

Middle East to South East Asia

Travel day.  Pack up all our stinky, sandy gear and had a big travel day - three planes overnight trip from Amman 2.5 hrs to Doha, Qatar (on the Persian Gulf, city-state that has won the 2022 World Cup bid, if you follow soccer) quick layover (wow, incredible duty free in that airport!) then 8.5 hours to Bangkok (5 timezones) quick switch to domestic, then an hour flight south to the island of Phuket, our home for the next month or so.... ahhh.
The first six weeks of this trip have been fantastic, so much to learn every day, but experiencing only a taste of each destination and the "top 3" of each location... too fast.  It is our hope that by this positive sampling, the kids will wish to return on their own those places that most intrigued, and that they will have the confidence and spirit to explore further (on their own dime! lol)  We have followed the path of Ancient Civilizations, and now need time to reflect on what we have learned.... so the beach it is!
We arrived at our sweet beachside resort around 1:30pm, on Katie's 7th birthday.  And for that little water-baby, boy was she in for a treat.  The ocean here is 28degrees celcius! and the sand so soft and clean it squeeks when you walk.  Air temp is the warmest we have had since we left Canada too, low 30's and humid, with jungle flowers sweet and birdsong loud - the perfect place for r and r.
We all dug through our smelly clothes for the buried shorts and bikins and hit the waves!  (Laundry can wait til tomorrow!)  After swimming til sunset, we sampled our first Thai food (mmm) and Katie enjoyed a virgin maitai served in her very own pineapple, followed by chocolate ice cream in a coconut (what more could a girl ask?)  Jet lag then settled, and after a quick dip in the pool, off to bed to recoup and adjust to our new clocks (14 hours ahead of Canada, eh)  Happy Birthday Katie (hope you enjoy your elephant ride! coming soon....)

Another Peek at Petra, and Down to the Dead Sea

We woke early to return to Petra, this time with special arrangements to enter via the “back door” in order to view the areas further from the entrance and closer to the Bedouin town where our company from the previous night all lives.  A short walk into the valley past the collanaded streets, then we were met by our guides and a pack of donkeys.  Riding on a donkey up the steep stairs to the Monestary was so much fun –  the steps were difficult yet the donkeys were very sure-footed and it must have been 1000 stairs to the top!  Our young guides, boys ranging from 10 to 15 years old, ran behind (smoking!) slightly winded but with huge smiles and grateful for the drinks we bought them at the top.  Many gentle offers of mint tea,  hand-beaded necklaces  and sliver bracelets,  and a few other tourists but not crowded.  Again, we are lucky to travel during off-season, as there is generally more space and patience all around.  The morning was cool today, but once the sun shines down jackets are not needed, though the local people are very cold. They are more accustomed to the 45 degree heat of summer, which for us would be unbearable.  I would love to see these desert cliffs in February, when the wild daffodils would be in bloom.  The beauty would be even more spectacular – this is a very special place on Earth, and worthy of its treasures.
Off the donkeys, into the van, and a three hour drive down, down, down to the salt plains of the Dead Sea, at 400m below sea level.  There is a lot of industry in the southern area, extraction of salts and minerals, as well as agriculture irrigated from the mountain springs above.  Tomatoes galore, also cabbage, banana trees, sugar cane, lots of vegetables for export.   The soils look rich and the farmers happy, also picnicking with their families this Saturday, lots of children playing and meals being shared on a blanket in the shade near the sea.  The Dead Sea is very blue, and the mountains of Palestein are clearly visible in the distance on the opposite shore.  It is strange to be in such a place, as we have heard about in biblical reference or in news stories of war.
The Amman public beach in the northern shore is where the tourists are taken for a dip, with full facilities and a certain level of comfort for us ladies – I have been acutely aware of the level of modesty and different role of women in the Middle East, though easier here than in Egypt.  Still, most local ladies do not bare themselves in a bathing suit (or even take off their head scarves)  to join their families, but rather sit back and wait on the shore…  We changed and braved the cool waters, as we arrived around 3 and the sun was already cooling down.  We all laughed at the sensation of great buoyancy, it was ridiculously easy to float, and in fact when the three older kids went deeper, they found they could not sink deeper than their shoulders even if they tried.  The water is very salty (duuhhh) and actually hurts – Katie was almost in tears with the burn so only stayed a little bit in the sea before washing off very well.  Trav and Derek had to taste – and it burnt their tongues ,  no one wanted to dunk their head, even for a chance to “break the rule”.  The mud bath could be applied for an additional 3 JD each, but with the cost of over 80JD to get into the “public beach” (like 110 USD), we felt we could make do with the grey mud on the bottom rather than the black mud they would sell you.  It did leave our skin soft, especially feet and legs, but my hands were dried up like a prune and sore…. could use some olive oil instead of more salt.
Our arrangements were a night at the Dead Sea, but there is a snow storm on its way (really? In Jordan? Yes, I guess it snows in the mountain areas here in the winter, and the roads become impassible).  Rather than chance a missed flight to Thailand, we returned to Amman for dinner and hotel.  Our Amman guide took us to his favourite haunt, on a pedestrian high-end shopping street , more proof of the extent of globalization – Gap, Mavi Jeans, Sposabella wedding gowns, all western styles sold to customers in the land of the Birha… I don’t really get how it goes together, unless the cultural shift is just on the cusp….  The King and Queen of Jordan have strong ties to America, and the culture we know is invading the Middle East.  I cannot help but wonder if this is good, bad, or just the way of the new millennium.

The Magic of Petra

Feeling well rested after a night of pampering and good meals in our belly, we met our guide,  Jafer,  this morning and drove the three hours south of the city of Amman to the Bedouin community that has inhabited the siq and valley of Petra for the last 1500 years.  Here we visited “Little Petra”, a smaller practice type area that pre-dates the well-known Petra that UNESCO protects.  The carved cliffs are markers for the hidden caves where water is stored, having been channelled from the mountain above.   Then to a wonderful hotel in the Swiss Movenpick chain (seriously, this hotel is HIGHLY recommended with its unbelievable views, 5-star design and service, and pastry chef/staff extraordinaire!  If visiting Jordan, BOOK HERE!)
The afternoon was super.  Off to the site of Petra, dating to pre-Roman and Roman times, and area of many hidden secrets. The Treasury is just one of sights to inspire, with the natural cliffs in shades of red, orange, pink, black, even blue, and like the sand pictures layered by artisans in their bottles of colored sand. We rode horses to the main site (Katie loved that, as she rode her own horse without being led), and we stayed until the sunset played off the colors of the cliffs.  Our van then transported us back to the hotel then on to a Bedouin BBQ that Jafer arranged for us.  Many family groups were out for the evening, with fire grates and food, blankets and candles in tow.  Weekends in Muslim countries are Friday/Saturday, so a Thursday night is a great time to get together with family and friends around a campfire…  lots of laughter, good food and company surrounded by the beauty of the Petra valley.  We were grateful to share this evening not as a tourist, but as welcome guests.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Onward to Jordan

Truthfully, we are getting a little travel weary.  We have been moving at a very fast pace for the last month.  Early mornings, long drives, information "overload" and cultural/food/language differences are starting to take a toll, so we decided to do a quick pause.  This morning an early flight to Cairo (we were up at 3:30am), with connector to Amman, capital city of Jordan, got us to a sweet swimming pool and soft cushy bed before our last three days in the Middle East.  Air Miles are awesome.
Jordan is very different from Egypt - their dollar is stronger than the Euro.  The tour here was arranged by our friend Thimo in Cairo, and promises to be great.... so rested again, we will be off first thing tomorrow!  Stay tuned for the next three days in our Amazing Race!

Valley of the Kings

After a restful night at the Queen Valley hotel (with an incredible rooftop view of the Nile and the Temple cliffs beyond), we rose early for our tour of the Ancient city of Thebes (Luxor, called by the really old Egyptians Ba-Ra, house of Ra, the sun king).  An extremely knowledgable local guide/Egyptologist joined us and led us into the tombs of three ancient pharaohs, one tomb only recently re-opened (like, 4 days!) to the public.  The sights were amazing, entering the wide tunnels carved into the sides of the cliffs, with carvings and paintings on walls and ceilings (and well-lit, airy too).  We were glad to have avoided the high tourist season, as there were crowds but we understood it is usually way worse, and way hotter.  From the tombs, we visited an alabaster vase carving house, with beautiful glass jars I would have loved to take home, but can't since we aren't headed there....)  Then to the incredible Temple of the Egyptian Queen Hush.... gotta look that one up....) then the Colossis of Memnon back on the East bank of the Nile, and after a quick bite to eat, one more stop. 
The grande finale was the greatest monument in Luxor, the Temples of Karnak, a series of spendor with each pharaoh outbidding the one before to create the best spire, statues, columns, etc to the main god, to guarantee their own eternal life.  Absolutely breathtaking, and 3500 years old, to boot.  Talk about a lesson in history.
We are very glad we have taken our path in the order we have, from Inca to Roman, Greek to Egyptian, because the Reverse Time Machine gave good perspective on the ages of the monuments we have seen.  I think the kids were impressed by the scale, by the obvious expertise these ancient cultures had mastered.  And we are all inspired.

Long drive to Luxor

Waking in the desert was a pure delight.  The sky was pink, reflecting off the sand and the formations, with the star shining so bright in the East, you couldn't help but feel a link to the biblical story of 2000 years ago.... We enjoyed a cup of desert coffee, then broke camp for a journey through the southern oasis region normally closed to tourists, by special permission of our Bedouin hosts.  Unfortunately, this meant a stop every 20 minutes or so (and sometimes for up to half an hour!) to confirm our papers and ensure our safety.   At one point we had a police escort join us in our vehicle,  and at times a car helping us along our way.  It was a slow affair, and our 5 hour journey extended to over 12 hours before we spotted the lights in Luxor, the ancient city of Thebes. 
Our drivers Mohummed and his brother Momut were wonderful and patient, but we were all weary after the long trek, and we had no choice but to rethink our travel plans for the next couple of days.  Rather than the single night in Luxor, followed by another such drive (but twice the distance) we pulled the "fly" trigger to Amman.  Our guide, Thimo was incredible and understanding, and was able to re-work our itinerary for both our last days in Egypt as well as Jordan, and we truly appreciate his help.   The differences in language and culture make Egypt a magical place, and one that is best with a good navigator.  To you, our friend, a huge Shukran!

A night under the desert moon

So we left our humble hostel in Cairo to head out into the desert, on a safari to the Bahyrian Oasis area in the Western Desert.  After a four hour drive, we checked into Badr's Safari camp for a lovely cup of mint tea and a review of the days itinerary:  Black Desert, Crystal Mountain and White Desert for a night under the stars.  Our Bedouin guide expertly steered our Landcruiser through the sandstorm that whipped up for us (Rick thinks he would do well in the Dakar rally), with the grill of the jeep smeared in Palmolive to keep the paint from blasting off during the drive.  We found a shelter spot between two towering cliffs of lava sand in the black desert, and the wind calmed down for better visibility by our lunch break, a delightful "cafe" with a natural spring pool that was routed through the building to provide natural air conditioning.  As the temp often reaches above 50 degrees C in the summer, this is no doubt a big drawing card.  As it is winter now, we enjoyed a day of roughly 20, which for the Egyptians we travelled with translates to parka weather.  Thimo, our main guide, purchased a new touque and gloves especially for our journey (and to be fair, with the wind, it was cool.)
Next stop was a sparkling mountain made of pure quartz, natural desert formations left on an ancient seabed that makes up this desert area.  As the sun was setting the wind calmed and we enjoyed a surreal moonscape in the White desert, where each strange formation takes on shapes similar to how you might look at clouds - truly bizarre, and a wonderful place to set up the two-sided tent (windbreak) for our fire-baked dinner and sleeping spot.  The night brought a calm, clear sky and together we counted well over 50 shooting stars.  It was truly a magical place to be.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

To the pyramids, by camel

This morning we headed to Giza, just outside Cairo and home to the iconic Great Pyramids.  The weather for the day was sandy.  When the wind blows in the desert, there is no other way to describe the effect, other than dusty, grit-in-your-teeth, this is the desert in winter, kind of day.  There, we boarded our camels and horses in the stables, and headed through the gates around the backside of the pyramids, away from the tourist bus mobs, to a mountain lookout for a great photo stop.  The camels were picturesque, but not particularly comfortable.... Katie's quote was "bumpety, bumpety, bumpety BUMP!" and we were happy to trade between the horse and the camel during our 2 hour tour.  Jaclyn did a great treble jig, Travis walked like an Egyptian, Derek and JC held the pyramid in their hands, and we all built our human pyramid to mimic the Egyptians, it was great fun (and now we all have sand everywhere!)
Next stop was Saqqara, the oldest pyramids, where we were able to go inside! the tomb (down a 50' corridor, rather claustrophobic but well lit) to see the hieroglyphics on the walls, and experience the feeling of discovery first-hand.  Again, amazing.  All the kids loved going inside, and the sense of discovery and amazement of history.... There is still so much more to be uncovered, with an estimate 10 percent of sites uncovered at this date.  So much more to learn!  From there to the ancient city of Memphis, old capital of Eqyptian time, where we met the greatest pharaoh, Ramses II in super-human size, like 150 feet tall?  Also impressive, but we are finding that of everything in this incredible place.
Tomorrow we head to the desert on a jeep safari, and to sleep overnight in a Bedouin village, underneath the stars.  We are all hoping the wind will settle down...

A Date with King Tut

We arrived in Cairo Egypt, population 22 million, and settled in our Bedouin abode, very central to the Egyptian Museum and a fully cultural experience.  From here we were able to plan our eight day adventure hitting all the highlights from here to Jordan, traveling overland with a private guide.  Our first step was to find a quick bite to eat - donair with meat cooked on a spit, very tasty - and head to check out King Tut.  Just crossing the road to get there was like a giant game of Frogger, honestly, one lane at a time and lookout! everything in traffic from a cement truck to a donkey cart, all full steam ahead.
The Museum was certainly the best yet.  The Tutenkhamen exhibit is home to all the treasures found in the Valley of the Kings, preserved underground (and undisturbed by centuries of grave robbers) and completely amazing.... gold masks, statues, the scargophagas, even his chariots and a boat.... wow.  Also in the museum: ancient tablets and pillars, pottery from 7000 BC, jewelry, and Katie's favorite, real mummies of Royal descent.  Absolutely fascinating, and truly the climax of our study of Ancient History.  Truly, there were so many items that it was overwhelming, and apparently it is still only a fraction of the artifacts that they have found.   A new museum is under construction, set to be the Worlds Largest, and not due to be complete for another 8 years.... perhaps on another visit?
For dinner, we enjoyed a special night out on a Nile River Cruise, with buffet and belly dancing, and a special "twirl dancer" -  I don't know how else to describe this male dancer.... he spun in circles (maybe 500 times?) to music, while spinning a special quilted skirt out like a top, only to lift it into pieces like 2 tops spinning at once.  While spinning, he was able to converse, and then did a trick holding a tray, pouring himself a glass of water, it was truly terrific, and like nothing we've ever seen.  The belly dancer joined us for a second show, and chose Derek to be her special assistant, encouraging him to spin the baton, then balance it on his chest (like she could...with her rather ample bosom)... she stuffed his shirt with napkins to help him out, to the enjoyment of the crowd.  He was a very good sport about it, and hammed it up well, which earned him a great photo op...)   Certainly a highlight of his trip.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sour grapes?

Today started off an hour late.  I thought I was up early, with time to spare, but when we woke Derek, he grumpily corrected my error - I did not change my clock from Italy time to Greek time... so an hour late.  UGH.  Rick had made arrangements with a private car company to drive us to Athens in time for site seeing, but the day just did not unfold as planned.  Understatement of the year. (Never dull with the Andersons?)
So, after a hurried breakfast and Caio! to our lovely Greek refuge...highly recommended! we drove not 3 minutes down the road into a roadblock.  Police in wait, and two taxis coming up behind us.  What? 
Yeah.   So, the local cab company,who had given us the great tour only yesterday into the port city after Olympia, were upset we did not give them theransom fare that they had quoted to take us to Athens.  They suspected they were being "undercut" by the van rental company (from the same small town) and had voiced their complaint to the policzia.... off to the cop shop we all go.
Seriously.  After the translator, and the lawyers, and more cabbies, and the father of our driver/car hire company owner, and the police chief all showed up, and we waited for the correct "papers" we were finally able to start our 4 hour journey to Athens. Three hour delay - crap.  So much for seeing anything but the dark.
Okay, that covers hospital, fire dept, and police so far on this trip, and we would like to think that will be it for emergency situations.  We have the tri-factor, and feel complete.  Please, all good from this point forward right?
So, Christos got us safely to the capital of Greece, population 4 mil.  We did the quick must-do Acropolis and museum, ate the donairs and greek salad, and now off to Cairo in the am..... how to get to the airport? I really don't want to take another cab.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


This morning we had a wonderful fresh-baked breakfast, and then a quick taxi down the hilly path into Ancient Olympia, the archeological site of the ancient Greek games,circa 750 BC to 430 AD give or take....  The artifacts in the museum dated much earlier.  There was pottery and bronze dating to 4000 BC, proving this the home to peoples for at least the last 6000 years or more.  Wow.  The site of the museum has been under re-construction since the late 1800's, mostly by German scientists and funding.  Considering the historical value of the site, it is amazing that it is not more fully excavated, but obviously there is motive in having it remain looking "ancient"....  The Olympic flame starts from this very place every two years (winter and summer games) and it is well touristed in the summer, but we had it virtually to ourselves today as it is off-season.  That in itself was a treat.  The kids enjoyed challenging Dad to a hundred yard dash on the original stadium ground, which Rick thought he should try in true Greek fashion, naked and covered in olive oil.... Jaclyn veto'ed him on that part.
Lunch was a side trip to the port of Nakikikikiiii what?....( my Greek is truly aweful) where the cruiseships dock.  We have made a pledge to return to this part of the world in the summer months (sans enfants!) at some point soon... Greece is truly beautiful.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Special note for Fabrizio

Ola!  Just letting you know Rick took my stitches out and all is healed - mucho gracias again for your incredible above-and-beyond help, and the greatest adventures in Peru.  It is truly the people that make a country special, and we have very fond memories of yours.  We hope you allow us to return the favor and make it to Canada some day.  Cheers, amigo!

A room with a view - OPA!


you should hear the music for full effect...

All Greek to Us

Waking this morning on the ferry as we cruised between Crete and athe Greek mainland, then into port in Patras was beautiful.  The sky was covered and the sea calm, then the sun peaked through to shine on the mountains on the shore in the distance - truly inspirational view.  Last night aboard ship, Rick managed to find his way to the casino and hooked up with a few fine folk from Michigan with a tour group through Italy and Greece.  Seems we were following basically the same path, and were both disappointed in not being able to climb into the crater at Vesuvius due to icy road conditions.... not driving on ice? Heck, Canadians would be stuck at home half the year if we didnt!! Anyway, great people and cold Heinekin meant a re-think on travel plans this am, as we had intended to rent our own car and find our way up to Olympia ourselves.... but, well, ever tried to read a Greek road sign?
So, enter two Greek cabbies and a two hour coastal tour of the Greek area of Peleponesia, a olive-tree and oranges drive through small towns and up to the site of the original Olumpic games, held to honor Zeus around 2500 years ago...  Another great penzione (we are really lucking out on accomodations so far this trip), perched on the mountaintop, and here I type while listening to greek music sent from the valley below, as greek farmers are raking olives off their trees onto tarps (much the same way Derek and Travis picked cherries in Penticton a couple summers ago!)
And again, the food, ahhh.  Our family owned inn is also a taverna with the best Greek meatballs and feta salad, tomoatoes picked from their own gardens.. This is a sleepy little village of Pissa, 3k above Olympia, where we shall visit the museum and center tomorrow. After a very restful sleep!

Two days in Pompeii

What a beautiful little b and b, the Certi Notti, and our hosts Antonio and Ione (and the sweet puppy Romeo) were wonderful, even delivering us to their favorite restaurnt and again to the correct train station when we left yesterday morning.  To confuse things, there are three entrances to the ruins of Pompei and three train stations, so it is easy to get turned around in that town.  We loved the oranges and lemons and pizza and especially the people, who were very friendly and helpful.  Well, apart from the lady at the ruins park entrance, who insisted we could not possibly from Canada since my children could not understand spoken to in French.... Canada is a bilingual country right? Then either we are not Canadian, or they are not my chldren...Well, tough to argue that one in my rudimentary
Yesterday was a big travel day.  We enjoyed a quick train to the town of Selarno (seaside capaccino bar, awesome view) then a "train-bus?" well, a bus, operated by the train company and touring each town along the way.  Lots of mountains, and small farms with vegetables and orange orchards and vineyards, very pretty.  Then to Taranto, another seaside town on the in-step of the "boot" to catch the next train (a real one again) to Brindisi for a quick in-the-dark jaunt to the ferry station to board the Endeavor Lines Ionian Queen.... these ferries are awesome!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Past Fat City.... Napoli to Pompeii

After another late night pasta and pizza (have I mentioned we eat A LOT here?), we were off to the train station this morning to travel south to the ancient city of Pompei, where Roman civilization was trapped in time by the unfortunate eruption of Vesuvius, a supposedly distinct volcano above the town of 20,000, at 11am one hot summer day in 79 A.D.?  Under the hardened ash and cinder-stone, in the 1800's archeologists discovered the voids of human victims, as well as ancient art, buildings and truly, a town trapped in time.....
Our home here is a delightful bed and breakfast, with an orange and lemon orchard in the backyard.  December means the fruit is ripe on the trees, and incredibly sweet on the tongue.  Our cab driver gifted us each upon arrival, as did our hosts, and our restaurant, and even the man at the cappacino bar, leading us to believe everyone has a tree with more fruit than they can eat right now.  We don't mind, the fruit is small and sweeter than any we have tasted before.  Pompeii is now a modern city at the foot of the ancient, "scavi" ruins.  The church and its square are central, and the restaurants and hotels are anxious for guests, as we are in off-season so the prices are half of normal - very nice!  A huge dinner buffet - more than enough to fill us all including dessert is under 40 euros (about a third of Rome)... maybe we will stay longer?  If yes, we will all be FAT! ;)

When in Rome...

So Friday morning, we woke to a bright sunny day in Rome - and a long list of things to see, but only a day to do it?  Well, time to focus.  Our trip so far has been structured on Ancient Civilizations.  First the Inca in South America, then the Spaniards who conquored them.  Now to the Romans, who were the founders of Barcelona the Spanish city we visited... so Ancient Rome it is.
We started on foot from our beautiful penzione towards the Colesseum, about 6 blocks south on ancient paved stones.  Past the Opera House (last night was opening night, and the fur coats and tuxedos were in full force). downhill to the incredible piazza and a glimpse of immense propotions around the next curve.  Truly AMAZING!  We opted for a guided tour that allowed us to queue-jump to the front of the line and have a Romanian/English leader give us the history of the Empire as well as the popes who "borrowed" its materials as a quarry for the churches of the Medieval age.  There, the gladiators and animal hunters, as well the "man condemned to death" fought to the end surrounded by blood thirsty Romans, citizens and Emperors alike.
From there, a tour (included) of Paletine Hill, home to the 160 acre castle/courtyard of the ruling class, build on the place where Romulus killed Remus, his brother, for ultimate control in around 750 B.C..... wow, that is old.  Beautiful columns, pillars, domes and arches, ancient fountains, spires, and pools, Ancient Rome is still amazing, and inspires awe at every turn.  After another wonderful Italian lunch (veal, pizza, canneloni, tiramasu!) and beer (twice the volume, half the cost of coke!) and a spin past the Trevi fountain, we headed on sore feet back up the hill for a nap.... what an incredible day.  Italia - ti amo!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cruising the Med Sea

The ferry was surprisingly nice.... it was actually a re-fitted cruise ship complete with casino, swimming pools and disco, though it was off-season so though 3200 persons could ride the ship, only 150 or so did.  Mostly it seemed to be in use for commercial vehicle traffic (we could smell the load of pigs in the hold below), but it was very comfortable and warm, and our cabins were a perfect place to rest with jetlag while we continued our voyage.
Also en route to Roma was a young American student travelling by himself for 4 months before college.  He is doing something called "couch surfing", staying with host families for a night or even a week in different cities across Europe.  He is enjoying his experience, and recommends the way to travel as very affordable as well as a great way to meet local people in each place... what a great idea - he is off to Hungary and Austria before returning home to Seattle.  We enjoyed his company as we ran from the ferry port in Civitivicchia in the pouring rain to the train for Rome, which wasn't the easiest with our backpacks and carry-ons in the dark, rather lost but determined.
Now we have another gem of a lodging here in Roma, two triples which are spacious and friendly.  Apart from the elevator that is - Rick and the boys had to be rescued by the fire department after dinner tonight (honest to god, not exaggerating here, pictures to follow).  That was good for some excitement.  But after the delicious dinner of Italian pizza and desserts, they didnt mind, as they said that could have been their last meal and they would have been happy.  Italy - pizza, calzones, bruschetta and gelato, all adding up to heaven.  Bikini?  Who cares!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Definately returning to Barcelona in the summer!

Wow what an incredible beautiful city, founded in 15 BC by the Romans, and huge in history.  Home to two native languages, Spanish and Castille.... Catherine of Aragon lived here, and Christopher Columbus sailed from here to discover the New World.  Modern impact of Gaudi makes for incredible architecure.... the church he built is unbelieveable.... deocrated in the usual gothic mystical figures, and fruit? beyond bizarre..... colorful, huge steeples, really amazing ideas, all designed at the turn of the last century 19 to 1926, when dear Mistro Gaudi got hit by a train, of all ways to go..... The city tour on the double dekker bus was well worth the money, esp the olympic stadium and the soccer 100,000 stadium and the views from the Mont by the olympic flame....
We stayed in a 500 year old hotel right on the Romblas, THE happening place to be in Barcelona.  All kinds of street performers, and market stalls and amazing shopping '5 story H & M store!  Great restauants and street cafes, open even in the chilly 10 degree air.  Awsome energy in this city, and we definately want to return here for a longer block of time when we can enjoy the beaches and museums.  Great pizza and seafood, and tiny wine bars too.
Now boarding a cruise ship ferry to sail across the Mediterranean sea to Roma, right past Sardania and Sicily to arrive in Civitaviccia, just like the Romans of Troy... All Aboard!

Coffee with Juan Valdez

Quick stop after a 3 hour flight to Columbia, then a short layover (yes the coffee was excellent) in Bogota, then a 10 hour flight to Barcelona.  Night flight, so with jet lag and not so great sleep was a tough haul.  We flew over the Amazon jungle, which is amazing from overhead too.  Very cool, and now the culture shock of going from South America to Europe!