Five nights in Bangkok

Five nights in Bangkok

No but seriously, have I mentioned we love the heat?

Urgh.

We’ve been to Bangkok several times before. We love this city – the whole noisy, hectic atmosphere of food, markets, people, shops. But Bangkok is hot. Like, really hot. Muggy, sweaty hot. We can no longer wear the same clothes five days in a row hot. It’s quite a dramatic change.

To counteract the heat, Don has purchased cloth trousers and more sarongs, and I have purchased batik* Thai** pants and an elephant singlet.

I shall wear all of these back in Australia.***

However counteracting our new, cooler outfits we are eating chilli for breakfast, lunch and dinner at street vendors across the city. Big, fat red chillies that take you completely by surprise**** if you’re not looking. Chilli to turn your face red and make sweat cover your brow.

To counteract the chillies, we’re drinking gallons of water. Bottles and bottles of water, as well as bottles and bottles of Pepsi***** and Coca-cola.

Counteracting all of this water and cola consumption, we are walking everywhere (in our new outfits), for miles and miles, seeing temples and markets and statues and shops and people. It’s pretty hard going.

To counteract being hot and worn out from walking****** we’re buying fruit at every corner. Vendors sell it from ice laden carts, chopping it fresh in front of you – watermelon, pineapple, mango, other fruit.*******

Yep, Bangkok is pretty fabulous, but pretty darn hot.

I guess the other thing we could use is our air-conditioned hotel room and the swimming pool, but then that would be quite lazy of us.********

________________________________________________________

*not really batik, just “batik-look”

**not worn by any Thai people, worn only by tourists

***probably not, going on past experience

****yep

*****not really Pepsi, a kind of sugary cola substitute

******ok so perhaps we’ve jumped in a tuk-tuk several times

*******small, round brown things, sliced green things, pale yellow segmented things

********alright yes we are totally being lazy every afternoon from around 3:30pm

University challenge

University challenge

Cambridge

Don, Tim and I went on a day trip to Cambridge yesterday. Tim’s niece studies at Cambridge so we met her there and she showed us around. Such a beautiful town, with glorious old buildings, a superb gallery and lush manicured lawns.

Tim’s niece told us about uni life, her studies and ambitions.

Tim and Don and I told her about what we did when we were at uni. Because young people love it when you do that.

“I sent some friends to stage a coup of the the Conservative Association.”

“I spent more time finding somebody who had already read Great Expectations than it would have taken to read it myself.”

“I was founding member of the University Alcohol Appreciation Society.”

“I jumped in the fountain and won a bloodthirsty garden gnome in the annual statue competition.”

“I got elected student union secretary in order to stop the candidate we didn’t like being elected.”

“I instigated an occupation of the university teaching block when I was accommodation officer.”

“I was involved in the protest when the condom vending machines were removed at our uni.”

“I wore my pyjamas to uni once when I was late for lectures.”

“I washed the inside windows of the uni hall with a fire hose.”

Suffice to say yesterday was educational for everybody involved.

The Christmas markets

The Christmas markets

Dresden

We had a moment last night. Standing on the cobblestones of the Neumarkt in Dresden, the majestic Frauenkirche looking down on us and Christmas markets surrounding us. The bells of the church were pealing, our fingers and toes were icy and it was absolutely magical. We stood until the bells were silent, soaking in the atmosphere so as to never forget it.

We are beside ourselves with the pure joy that is the Christmas markets in Germany. They have been a beautiful surprise and a highlight of our time away.

Each market we’ve visited has been in a fairytale setting – huge domed churches, squares that are hundreds of years old and filled with history, cobblestones and gaslights. It’s been freezing cold, but that’s ok, there’s glühwein at every third stall. Enormous copper pots steam invitingly from the front counters. You can add rum, or amaretto, or even alcoholic cherries. There’s eggnog, there are hot toddies, there’s cider, and from 10am onwards everybody has their hands wrapped around a ceramic mug filled with their choice of hot drink.

There are rows and rows of stalls to wander down, all surrounded by decorated pine branches. Exquisite wooden Santas and Christmas figures holding steins, fishing rods or rolling pins. Delicate white ceramic stars and hearts, miniature German buildings to house candles. Ironwork happening as you watch, lacework, felting, glass. One stall filled with brushes of every kind, another with tiny mechanical boats. Wooden candle holders, trees and cutout decorations. Christmas figures made of prunes!

There is so much food – barbecued bratwurst, currywurst, goulash, potatoes. It’s being dished out as fast as the alcohol. Cured meats, the biggest slabs of grilled cheesy bread we’ve ever seen, chestnuts on open fires. Something sweet? Enormous mounds of nougat piled on top of one another, hot sugary nuts being stirred around bowls, gingerbread hearts hanging from the eaves. Dough balls frying in hot oil before being covered in icing sugar or filled with marmalade. Stollen, apple fritters, pancakes, chocolate covered fruits. The food smells mingle with the glühwein – sugary dough, warm alcohol, barbecue smoke.

Everybody is smiling, laughing, talking, having a good time. It’s like a gentle happy murmur across the square. There’s Christmas carols – in Berlin there were choirs all night, in Dresden a small group of trumpeters in the giant German Christmas pyramid. Our room was so close in Dresden that when we got home, frozen but full of food and glühwein, we could keep our window cracked open and listen until late.

We’re in Nuremberg now, our last stop in Germany. I’m sure I’ll add to the many photos I’ve taken and beautiful decorations already bought, but the best souvenir I’ll have is the memory of that moment last night.

A winter onesie

A winter onesie

Dresden

I know I’m on the most fabulous holiday, but can I just indulge in a short whinge?

I have no problems getting out of bed in the morning. I’m excited waking up in a new city. I’m excited about exploring the sites, trying new foods, wandering through markets. And it’s not like I’m getting up at 5am like I do at home, it’s closer to 9.

I’m just so over getting dressed.

For a Queensland girl who’s used to wearing next to nothing, I feel like I spend half my morning wrapping and binding my whole body in thick blankets so that only my eyes are visible. It takes forever. I no longer care about fashion, it’s just a case of ensuring enough goes on to stay warm. Ergo my colour scheme today is red, aqua stripes, pink, black, grey, navy blue, brown and a hint of purple.

Trying to make it a bit easier, I’ve been putting my daily proposed ensemble on the bed to create a pile the size of Don, and then systematically working my way through it until I’m completely covered, exhausted, and unable to move or breathe.

What I need is a European winter onesie – socks, hat, scarf, the lot. Step in, zip up and you’re done.

Whinge over. Thank-you. Pass me a glühwein.

Berlin

Berlin

We’ve been to many new cities on this crazy around the world journey, but we’ve also returned to places we visited on our original adventure over 20 years ago.

Berlin is one of those cities.

Berlin had a big impact on us all those years ago; we were there only four years after the wall had come down, on one of those 18 – 35 tours; we camped outside the city and were taken by bus to the important landmarks.

This time we’re staying in the middle of town, on the east side of the city. We’ve walked almost everywhere, exploring the museums, revisiting places like Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.

If anything Berlin has made even more of an impact – there’s just something about this city. It’s bold and dramatic, dominated by huge domed cathedrals, classical columned buildings and more modern solid structures. It’s a complex, fascinating and distressing place, its turbulent history stamped across buildings, streets and landmarks, and remembered in museums and memorials. It’s also vibrant and alive with genuinely friendly people, shops, restaurants, lights and decorations. Locals and tourists are all out and about enjoying the Christmas markets and magic atmosphere.

We have two more days here before we move on, but we definitely won’t be waiting another 24 years before we return to Berlin.

One of everything, thanks

One of everything, thanks

Barcelona

I am in dire straits when we get home. Other than the fact that this will mark the return to reality and I’ll have to go back to 9 to 5 and all that carry on, the thing that’s most worrying is what on earth I’m going to cook for dinner.

It was all going ok until Barcelona. Until Barcelona we’d tried many different delicious new dishes. The tuscan sausage and bean dish in Florence, cioppino in San Francisco, the lamb soup in Iceland, eggplant parmiagana and seafood chowder. All of these dishes have made me think about looking up recipes, experimenting with flavours and adding to my repertoire of possible dishes.

And then tapas happened.

We love tapas. We’ve had tapas before. We’ve been out for tapas at home. But we haven’t had tapas at least once a day every day for five days in a row.

Tapas is like opening up the menu and saying I’ll have one of everything, thanks. And if we’re not full after that we’ll have another one of everything. Yesterday at lunch when we asked for the menu our man told us he was the menu, and then proceeded to list and point.

“Baby calamari and white beans, tuna with oil and onions, grilled prawns, croquettes, peppers, asparagus, octopus with potato and jamon…”

We said ‘Sí’ to every single dish. Well come on, did you read that list?

I need to somehow transfer this to home. I guess all I have to do is cook seven dishes each night, after I get home from work, after stopping at the supermarket, after battling public transport, after changing out of work clothes, after pouring a glass of wine.

Or we could just get takeaway, times seven.

Hola!

Hola!

Barcelona

If there is one language that I’d love to learn, it’s Spanish.

I’m virtually fluent in it already. I mentioned this to Don.

“I think you mean fluid,” was his response. Ignore him, he’s just jealous of my uncanny ability to pick up words and phrases in a short space of time.

I already had a solid grounding in the language thanks to Sesame Street. I also have Feliz Navidad, despacito and macarena, as well as tapas and sangría.

I learnt queso (cheese) and jamón (ham) the first time we were in Spain in 2004, back in the days when I was a vegetarian. Worried that I would be served ham in the ham restaurant, I made Don walk the streets with me until we found cheese labelled cheese. Only then could we go to the ham restaurant for a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich – queso, no jamón!

Now three days into our Barcelona visit, I’ve added potato, street, house, fountain and grilled. I’ve just forgotten fountain and grilled, but I’m sure if I see them written down I’ll be right.

My favourite word is hola (hello). I’ve hola-ed everybody – every staff member at our hotel, all shop assistants, the people working at the museums, Don, our room, the shower, dinner, wine, the elevator, sangria, the bed.

Obviously I look like I speak Spanish. I’ve been stopped in the street several times and asked in Spanish for directions somewhere. Ok once, I was stopped once, but it just proves I look like a local.

Yesterday we sat for lunch at a little tapas bar.

“Hola!” I said to the woman serving.

“Hola!” she replied, before bursting into a string of rapid Spanish. The thing is, the whole time she was speaking I felt like I knew what she was saying. I didn’t. But I nodded and smiled, said hola and sí and queso a few times, pointed to random items on the menu and sounded them out in near-perfect Spanish. Wine and beer and food soon appeared, so all good, sí?

Perhaps when I get home I’ll enrol in Spanish lessons. Anybody is welcome to join me, however you’ll need to get the basics under your belt first.

Far be it for me to upstage you.

Layer upon layer upon layer

Layer upon layer upon layer

Iceland

I have completely acclimatised to the freezing cold weather, and have the cold weather habits of people who live here down pat.

Bahahahahahaha! I have no freaking idea what I’m doing.

It is cold in Iceland. Freezing cold. Several layers of clothing cold. It’s a science getting dressed for this, and every morning I drive Don mad with a string of questions. What’s the temperature? What does minus 1 mean? Is it much different to 3? How long will I be inside? How long will I be outside? What do I have to carry? Is it snowing? Is it raining? Will I be too hot? If I take layers off how much will I have to carry? How many days in a row can I wear these socks? Long or short sleeve thermals?

In the end the answers to any of these questions have been irrelevant because I’ve been in the same clothes for five days in a row. And everything about them is a drama.

I have three layers of pants. Thermals, followed by thick tights followed by even thicker leggings. They may keep my legs warm, but it’s a complete nightmare getting them on. And getting them off? Every time I need the bathroom I have to roll them down my legs, creating a giant black Lycra wad around my knees. The crotch of each pant hangs at varying levels between my legs so for even a hint of comfort I’m forced to try to separate each layer and hoik them up one by one. All this while holding all of my other clothes out of the way. At the end of the day I peel the whole lot off in one go, only to find I have three elastic band welts at various heights around my stomach. Charming.

I’ve worn four shirts with the same big red puffy jacket over the whole lot every day. It’s so puffy the one time I tried carrying a shoulder bag I got so tangled up in scarf, sleeves, strap, hair and hood that Don had to rescue me before I cut off my airway. Now instead I have cash, cards, tissues, camera, phone, spare battery, hair tie and gloves all stashed in the three pockets of the jacket. Every time I pull the gloves out, all of the other items go flying. Every time I need something and I’m not wearing the jacket I spend 20 minutes searching through metres of red puff just to locate a pocket. Almost always the wrong pocket.

I can’t put my hair up because if I do I can’t jam my beanie far enough down my head. I left my hair loose for two days and ended up with three enormous dreadlocks. I tried low hanging pigtails like a five year old, but have now settled on a sort of a side plait.

But all of this is nothing compared to the time and effort spent whenever I go from inside to outside or from outside to inside. We’ve been getting around in a big Nissan Patrol for the past few days, which has been great, but space is at a premium.

Getting out of the car? Pull on hat, wind scarf around neck, look for gloves that aren’t stashed in pockets like they should have been and put them on. Undo seatbelt. Untangle scarf from seatbelt. Wind scarf back around neck. Manoeuvre one sleeve of puffy jacket on before exiting the car and getting too cold. Exit car. Pull on other sleeve and try to connect puffy jacket zip while gloves are still on. Fail. Take off gloves, connect zip. Look for gloves again, find them in the snow, pick up and put back on again.

Go see waterfall/geyser/glacier/snow/mountain.

Come back to car. Unzip and remove one puffy jacket sleeve before entering car. Sit, pull on seatbelt. Remove the rest of puffy jacket, get tangled in seatbelt. Undo seatbelt, remove puffy jacket, stuff puffy jacket in a ball on the floor. Remove beanie, gloves and scarf one by one and stuff on the floor. Do up seatbelt. Realise we’ve already arrived at the next waterfall/geyser/glacier/snow/mountain.

As you can tell, it’s a slick routine I have going here.

Most people would think I’m a local if not for the accent.

Expect a slide night

Expect a slide night

It’s week nine and I have taken 2,562 photos. Many photos of buildings, paintings and churches, some photos of food, multiple selfies, lots of squirrels, even more lion statues, lots of Don and me standing in front of famous things grinning inanely. Photos with our heads chopped off, photos with only half the background.

But if there’s one subject with which I may have gotten a tad carried away, it’s autumn.

Well come on, everywhere is full to the brim with trees, their leaves changing colours at varying rates – we don’t get that at home. Clouds of red, orange, brown, yellow, rust stretched as far as you can see, blankets of yellow and brown to shuffle and swing your feet through, massive bursts of red. It’s just so beautiful, I could happily spend all day just walking through the parks, gardens and wilderness. Taking photos.

In Lucca, London and Scotland, Queen of the autumn leaf brigade, I’ve taken:

  • 9 landscape photos of various parks
  • 7 close ups of leaf litter
  • 10 selfies with background leaves
  • 2 photos of Don disappearing into a leafy wilderness
  • 6 photos of me crouched amongst the leaf litter
  • 15 photos of individual trees that looked particularly pretty
  • 18 photos up tree lined avenues
  • 1 photo of Don and Kristin disappearing into tree lined avenue wilderness
  • 8 photos of London landmarks carefully framed amongst the autumn leaves
  • 16 photos of Scottish castle surrounds
  • 15 photos of Scottish castles within their surrounds
  • 7 photos of trees along a bubbling creek
  • 5 photos of sheep in fields surrounded by autumn trees.

As I said, a tad carried away. Thank goodness our next stop is Iceland.

Welcome to Scotland

Welcome to Scotland

It was four degrees when we arrived in Aberdeen. Four.

That’s ok, we were expecting the cold so we were dressed appropriately when Kristin picked us up from the airport. And even better, Gary had built a roaring fire to welcome us after the long drive to their country home.

A burning, crackling, coal driven, flames hurtling up the chimney roaring fire.

I took my coat off at the front door and we snuggled into the living room with several drams of whisky, welcome to Scotland champagne, a determination not to peak too soon and the roaring fire.

After a while I had to take my shoes off. Gary put more coal onto the fire. We drank some more whisky and champagne, a bottle of red was opened.

It got warmer. I took my socks off. Gary put even more coal onto the fire. We switched to white wine, the whisky kept coming.

It got even warmer. Burning up a wee bit, I took my scarf off. Then I took my jumper off.

Gary put more coal onto the fire and brought out more whisky. I took my shirt off. Then I shoved the sleeves of my long t-shirt up my arms.

It was one degree outside, yet sitting in that tiny living room was like being in a bikram yoga class with endless alcohol.

In danger of stripping down to my underwear, Kristin eventually moved us into the dining room where it was icy cold and much more comfortable.

It wasn’t that we couldn’t feel the cold. Because there’s no way we peaked too soon.