Thursday, 31 October 2013

Hop on Drop off Sydney

After an excellent sleep, I woke up thinking I was at our old house, Manor Farm.  Leaping out of bed, I headed to the en-suite, only to be confronted by a partition wall.  Who put that there?!  Oh yes, this was the Ibis.  Once washed, dressed and coffeed, we went in search of breakfast and wifi.  One out if two wasn't bad.  Bacon and poached egg served on sourdough bread made a good start to the day and set us up for a trip on the Hop on Hop off bus.  Having used them in places like Barcelona and Dublin, we are fond of the quirky commentaries plus they help us to get our bearings.

In the past, we've stayed on for the full circuit before choosing places to 'hop off'.  Today the sight of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge was too much to resist.  The sun shone and there was a beautiful blue sky for a backdrop.  We helped other tourist couples by taking their photos then they did the same for us.  Being in this spot was a highlight of my life.  I have never been a fan of cities but I profess to have fallen in love with Sydney.  I just hoped nothing would mar this feeling before we left.

Strolling through the Botanical Gardens was pleasurable too.  Of course, I used my £4 umbrella to protect my delicate skin (plus the factor 50).  What a pretty place to stroll and to see such unusual birds. Hubby fell for the white cockatoo (cockatiel?).  My favourite was an unknown one-legged bird.  Hubby confirmed that it did only have one leg. I have been teased mercilessly over the last seven years.  I thought I saw a one legged gull in Kaikora. I hadn't realised the other was tucked up, resting. 

We posed alongside statues.  No amount of persuasion could be employed to make Hubby reveal his manly body.  I think he has a lovely bottom.  One to rival any of those statues.

We hopped back on the bus to complete our tour.  Doesn't the mind work in funny ways?  When I saw the words 'The Star', I was transported back to my early childhood.  A newspaper van would deliver a pile of 'The Star' newspapers to our house.  Mum or my sister would mark them.  Sometimes I would have a lift in the van to a local garage to drop off their paper then I would skip merrily home.  Other times, I would go on the round with my big sis (only big in the sense that she was older.  We used to think she had hollow legs because she could eat so much but never gain weight.). She would carry the enormous bag, packed full of papers.  I'd walk alongside until she neatly folded a paper and told me where to post it.  She looked after me and never sent me to houses with snappy dogs although some of the letter boxes could be vicious.  Thanks sis x.  

But, back to today.  Hubby was somewhat exhausted and his eyes drooped.  He swore his eyes were just sore.  I'm telling you, he was napping on the bus!!  I prodded him awake if I thought he might be interested.  One time, he opened his eyes, said 'Ibis' and insisted it was our stop.  Ever the obedient wife, I followed him down the steps.  Wrong 'Ibis'.  Good job the bus was still waiting.  We climbed back on which bemused some travellers.

Down by the Circular Quay, the bus had a longer stop.  Some Americans became very worried as one of their gang had left the bus to get an ice cream.  He was nowhere to be seen and the bus was about to leave.  Their loud voices bellowed, 'Has anyone seen Jerry?' 'Was he wearing his hat?'  'There's a man in a hat there.  Is that Jerry?'  'No, that's not Jerry.  Where's Jerry?'  I wanted to shout back, 'Maybe he's chasing Tom!'  I thought better of it.  Someone finally had the gumption to check the upper deck. He'd slipped upstairs, probably to escape the noise!!!

We left the bus at the Town Hall and walked back to our Ibis.  Hmmmm.  Towels, buckets and a yellow warning sign in the lobby did not bode well.  Nor did the drips from the ceiling.  We toddled off to our room for a quick drink and shower to freshen up, except we had no water!  Houston, we have a problem.  Phoning reception, I enquired about the water situation.  I was thirsty and needed a shower. Could they resolve my dilemma in fifteen minutes as pledged on the card by my bedside.  If not, they guaranteed the service was on them.  The receptionist, a trainee, said she would check with her manager.  Six minutes later (exactly, I was timing). She arrived with the last drop of water squeezed from the system for my drink.  Sadly lack of shower water could not be fixed by the plumber within the allotted time.  As a major problem this was NOT included in the fifteen minute guarantee.  Well, what a surprise  (said sarcastically in my head).  However, as a gesture of goodwill, we would be provided with free breakfasts for the remainder of our stay.  (Whoopee, said happily). Well done Casper, the friendly manageress.

After Hubby's very mini nap, we hopped off to the Hop on Hop Off bus again.  When we reached the intersection for the Bondi Beach bus,  we clambered off and joined a group of German students heading to the famous beach.  So, in a temperature of 34 degrees we sat on the too deck.  At each stop I raised my umbrella for some respite from the sun.  As soon as the bus set off, I folded it down.  Once I was a little slow.  It blew inside out to frustrate me. So I left it to our hats to keep the rays at bay.  They made valiant attempts to be 'Gone with the Wind' but the straps held them firmly in place.  My brim, none too happy, kept flapping in front of my eyes.  I thought I had a good shot of Harbour Bridge, but who knows?!

The famous golden Bondi Beach was not as long as Hubby had imagined.  That did not deter from his appreciation of the scenery, especially the moving parts covered in skimpy bikinis!  

The next cove had a name dear to our hearts 'Rose Bay'.  What a special lady she is and what an exclusive place this was.  Expensive and full of luxury cars and yachts.  The commentator asked us to count them.  My hat went into flapping mode again so I lost my score.??

Then I started hyperventilating.  Woolworths!!  Mum's favourite store, sadly defunct on the UK mainland now.  There might still be one on a Scottish island somewhere though.  It was lovely to see the sign, although it's not quite the same.  II wondered if they still had pick and mix sweets.  

I now have a confession to make.  I once shoplifted from Woolworths.  Oh I can hear you all gasp in horror.  It wasn't deliberate.  With one husband, one daughter, four foster children, numerous relatives and a full time job, my mind was rather preoccupied one Christmas time.  Hanging a few Christmas stockings over my arm, I wandered through the store.  Nothing else took my fancy, so I wandered out the other end, stockings still attached to my arm.  At the end of the precinct, I realised I was a thief.  I chased back like Linford Christie to pay my dues.  I have only ever run faster - the time I left my newborn outside a shop, then stood by my car wondering what I had forgotten.  Sorry Sally x x

But that was then and this is now.  In Sydney we had been congratulating ourselves on what an easy city it was to navigate.  The frustration of not getting wifi in MacDonalds after eating a fat buster burger threw us off kelter.  Hubby insisted one way, I the other.  We spent at least twenty minutes dithering, parting company, making up then agreeing I had been right in the first place (although now he insists I was wrong!!)  We did find our street and the water was back on.  Hurrah.  But the air-con wasn't.  Another phone call, some adjustments to the controls in the room next door and we were back in business - all in less than fifteen minutes guaranteed!!!!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Off to see the Wizard

Maybe it was my early morning trip to the toilet that set the upstairs guests off again.  Hubby said it was just air in the pipes.  Well, there was something in someone's pipes and that was not air!!  So, that was the end of my sleep in.  A long cool shower seemed more fitting.

We were transported to the airport in good time and there was no check-in queue.  Now I must pose a question.  Would you turn down 800 dollars, a night in a 5-star hotel and a free flight?  I cannot believe it but we just did!!  Our flight had been overbooked.  We were offered the deal if we stepped down from the flight.  We were do torn.  We only had a few days in Sydney and we had never been there before. Should we?  Could we?  No, we couldn't.  So, a little miffed that the only time this had happened to us, we had to walk (and fly) away from it.

Our nearest flight attendant looked just like our friend Bernard.  All the attendants belonged to the senior age category.  Was Qantas in league with B & Q?  We settled into our seats, played around with our mini TV sets.  I was convinced that Hubby's set was not working.  I could not see a picture.  I had not realised you had to be looking directly at the screen to see the picture.  Hubby teased me dreadfully and said I HAD to put it in my blog with a smirk on his face.  I have but I still don't think it's funny.

Time for take off.  How smooth was that?!  Hubby was so engrossed in his film, he hadn't even noticed we were in the air.  We settled down to watch our movies and eat our meals.  The after dinner hot chocolate was delicious.  Combining that with the boring movie I had selected, I nodded off.  Most unusual for me to do that on a plane.  I woke and looked through the window to the sight of twinkling diamond stars placed on a deep velvet sky.  I just wanted to stretch out my arm and catch one.  

To help me nod off again, I thought I would listen to some relaxing music.  Headphones in place, I selected a CD.  Nothing.  I was just about to summon the flight attendant when the penny dropped.  The headphone had parted company from the arm socket.  It was very dark so I had to slide my fingers down the thin wire to find the insert.  Using my other hand, I traced the socket.  'Will you sit still?' came the voice from Mr Grumpy aka Hubby.  'I'm trying,' I whimpered.  'Very!' he mumbled.

Music activated, I covered my head and shoulders with the scratchy airplane blanket.  With a rendition of 'Sally', ( I just had to mention my little love) I could have passed for Gracie Fields.  Several yoga and tantric positions later, sleep was restored, only to be broken by the deafening announcement 'Ladies and gentlemen, we will be arriving at our destination in two hours time.  Breakfast will be served shortly.'  Now Mr Qantas owner, I'm telling you, it did not take your elderly staff more than fifteen minutes to deliver the trays.  A muffin, juice and coffee were down my gullet in five.  Allow a little leeway for landing, on my reckoning I'm allowed at least 1 hour 15 minutes more shut-eye.  That my dears was Mrs Grumpy talking.  My normal self recovered whilst watching the Tequila Sunrise outside.  Another natural wonder.

As light dawned, I could see land below. Not a lot of houses and rather dusty brown but I could see AUSTRALIA!!i watched our flight path on the screen.  Had our pilot been on Happy Hour?  We were weaving like a snake past places with names like Wogga Wogga.  A brief announcement revealed the truth.  This was Sydney's answer to Manchester's stacking system.  Far more enjoyable and less stomach churning.  As for the landing, give that man a medal.  It was the best touchdown of my life.  Worthy of a hundred points at least.

Having completed my immigration card earlier, I was somewhat wary of one of my 'Yes' answers.  This referred to the importation of wooden goods and the unknown Chinese ointment.  Hubby thought I needn't declare them.  I followed my 'better safe than sorry' rule.  

Passport control first.  My passport is newer than Hubby's, yet it does not have the little buttons that allow me to sail through the fast track service like He does. He waved, said, 'See you at Luggage Collection 12' and disappeared.

I was resigned to wait in the slowly moving queue, where a man was filming with an enormous camera and a fluffy microphone.  'What an unusual way to check people on,' I thought.  I noticed the board by his feet.  'Border Control' if you do not wish to be filmed, please inform staff.  Not be filmed for 'Border Control'!!  Sister Rose loves that programme.  Running my fingers through my nightly ruffled hair and running my tongue along the breakfast debris, I stepped forward with my best cinematic smile.  I will probably appear for at least ten seconds as the man quickly stamped my book and waved me on.  Grrrrr.

As he'd said,  Hubby was at number 12 waiting patiently for our luggage.  My case had just come down the chute, landing awkwardly.  He wrestled with it.  It did not want to come quietly.  He tugged and pulled but the moving conveyor belt did not want to relinquish my bag.  It was dragged from his fingers.  'I've got it mate,' said a 6-pack Australian as he lifted it with ease.  Not to be outdone, Hubby came to the rescue of a lady having a similar experience.  Like a knight in shining armour, he proved the 'We Brits' can play this game too.  Like a man possessed, he tackled her Titan case levering it to the floor.  Success.

On to Customs.  Would I get another opportunity to appear on TV?  I joined the queue.  'Go to Number 2, madam,' said the officer.  So I did.  'Go to Number 13, madam,' said the lady officer.  Was this an in-house Bingo game??  The man at Number 13 looked at my card.  He asked me with the kindly air of 'oh no I've got one here', exactly what I was declaring.  So, I told him and showed him.  'These are my bracelets.  They're made of wood.  At least I think they're made of wood.  I might have been conned.  They could be painted plastic.  They are supposed to keep mosquitoes at bay but I still get bitten.  That's why I think they may not be wood.  I have more in my case for my ankles.  Oh and I have a strange ointment in my case too.  A lovely Chinese lady gave it to me to ease the bites.  It did that and took the swelling down but oh it stained the sheets.  I have a wooden animal for a gift too.  Would you like to see it?'

Verbal explosion of diarrhoea over, I waited for him to summon the tv cameras over and prepared myself for a body search.  I hoped they would be gentle.  'Is your animal painted, madam?' He asked in a resigned tone.  (I'm glad I hadn't mentioned it was a pussy). 'Oh yes.  It's very pretty.  Would you like to see it?'  I enthused, hoping my Russian keepsake might attract the cameras.  'No thank you, madam.  You are free to go.  Welcome to Australia.'  Ah well, you might still spot me on camera with my head drooping as I left Customs.

Now we just had to find someone waving a Kangaroo card.  No-one there but we did link up with some fellow Brits searching for the same thing.  After 30 minutes Kangaroo Ken arrived with his card.  We assumed the lemming walk and followed him to his vehicle and drove into Sydney.  We were all chatting like long-list friends when conversation ground to a halt.  There was a man at a pedestrian crossing.  Nothing unusual in that, except he had a very large Gloucester Old Spot pig on a lead.  We watched as he collected a doggy (or should that be piggy) bag from a bin.  He released said pig from its lead at the edge of the park. It was off like a shot out of a gun.  The last we saw of it, it was pursuing two miniature dogs and their terrified male owner.  Who would have believed that, in the middle of Sydney!!!

Our hotel was in the heart of Sydney, close to World Square.  It was pretty basic but clean.  The lifts took some figuring out.  We stood for ages, going nowhere until a kind soul took pity on us and told us it would not move until we inserted our room card.  

After a little tidy we went for a stroll and got caught up in the international Fleet Review.  Navies from across the world paraded down George Street.  We joined hundreds of others to cheer them on.  Our boys looked so smart and together as the marched with their military band.  We sang along to 'Hearts of Oak' as they passed by.  The guys from Indonesia were cheered loudly as they shimmied past in their colourful costumes.  But the crowd saved the loudest cheers for the veterans marching as smartly as their age and disabilities would allow.  They loved it and so did we.

Parade over, we followed our instincts towards the harbour.  Eagle-eyed Hubby spotted the Governor's car complete with a police chauffeur in all his regalia.  Never one to miss an opportunity, we requested, and were granted, a photoshoot.  That's one for Tania and Frank.  We will tease them that Lord David had a special invite to the ceremony!

In the harbour tall ships and warships were moored side by side.  I watched aghast as young people shinned up the high masts.  HMS Endeavour was recruiting people of all ages and abilities to join their trip next year.  I passed on that as I didn't fancy being sent to the crow's nest.  Anyone our there up for it?  They have a website.

There was such a happy, relaxed atmosphere around Sydney.  People were willing to pose for photos.  The Navy lads and lasses were starting to enjoy Happy Hour.  Clutching a wealth of maps and leaflets we wandered back to our hotel.  We saw some unfamiliar birds with long beaks.  What were they??

Back in our room, we watched the news.  Guess what?  Having avoided the typhoons in China, floods in Vietnam and Cambodia it seems that Sydney is due extreme winds and heat tomorrow.  Ah well, it was bound to catch up with us some time!!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Bites Bonking Boats and a Buddha

What a dreadful night.  My bites were itching terribly.  I convinced myself that the little beasties were in my bed.  To try and relax (and to give the also suffering Hubby a break) I took the well-thumbed Saga puzzle magazine and pen to the bathroom. I avoided self-garrotting by ducking under the pull-out washing line which held our fast-drying undies (still wet!!)  Climbing into the empty bath, I searched for a puzzle that was within my limited brain capacity.  Ah, a word search.  Boring but necessary.  

For over an hour I sat looking for words related to food and suchlike.  I tried a sudoku - the last one - messed it up good and proper.  Didn't even have space to re-write it.  Eventually the anti- histamine kicked in.  Bleary eyed I returned to bed, looking forward to some sleep before the alarm.

Except an alarm of a different sort started from the room above.  Oh it was embarrassing.  Bonkety bonk.  On and on.  Oh, hurry up and get on with it.  I need my sleep.  Silence.  Ah good.  Oh no!! They've started again.  Is Roger Rabbit up there?? Yes,yes, ye-esss!!! Hurrah.  Now we can all get some shut-eye.

Dragging myself to breakfast, the dour expressions of the two staff did nothing to lift my spirits.  Neither did the very standard, plain breakfast.  Little effort had been used to display the food.  The employees just stood watching, arms BT their sides. No offer of drinks or escorting us to our table.  4 star it is not. A rethink on grading is needed here.  

The car, driver and guide, on the other hand, are top notch.  They took us to some great places.

Tiptoe through the tulips.  Maybe not, but we did have to tread carefully to avoid the water in the fruit and veg market.  The stalls outside used flowers, fruit and veg to create gifts for the temple or as special arrangements.  One might be used to propose.  That had a banana on it (Ahem!). Another was to try and make amends when you had done or said something to offend.  If I have, please accept it.  If you have, please feel free to print it off and send it on.

All manner of fruit and veg were on display.  Hubby was rapturous.  I was impressed.  Once or twice, a worker 'Whistled a Happy Tune' as he wanted to get by with his handcart.  Ah, that reminds me.  'The King and I' is banned over here.  The Thai Government believed it did not give a true representation of their king who was well respected.  Also, they believed the main characters should have been Thai nationals.  Guess I shan't be impersonating Deborah Kerr today then.  Hubby does a good impression of Yul Bryner - at least in the head department. (Oh he will kill me if he reads this bit!!)

  We should have visited the Royal Palace today.  We requested a change of venue, owing to the little change in our pocket and to stretch our budget further.  The guide suggested a visit to Wat Po Temple.  We shall be forever indebted to her as this was a highlight of our trip.  Both our breaths were taken away at the sight of the enormous, reclining Buddha.  Made with cement and covered with gold leaf it was 43 metres long and 15 metres high. We were dwarfed by it.  

At the Buddha's 3 metre tall feet was an ornate screen, inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  I was reminded of a dear friend in England who had some great craft ideas for abalone.  She would have loved this.

In another section of the temple, our guide pointed out inscriptions and diagrams, carefully inscribed on walls.  The people of Thailand had many massage techniques kept secret in their families until a king encouraged them to share their knowledge in this way.  I took a few photos to try out later.

I was re-introduced to an old friend of mine in the courtyard.  I had written about him many years ago in Junior school.  He had a fascinating life.  Here he was as a statue.  Now I stood next to him.  Who was he?  Our guide introduced him as 'Mark Op Oh Low'.  Have you twigged yet?  I will tell you at the end. 

Along with the Big Buddha there were over a thousand other images, made of various elements and in a range of poses.  Monuments decorated with porcelain flowers towered over us.  Another tower was erected for the ordinary people to bring their relatives' ashes.  A Bodhi tree, created from the original tree where Buddha gained enlightenment added to the spiritual atmosphere.  We loved it.

At the main part of the temple, we were given little bags for our shoes.  A good job too as there was a shoe thief around today.  One poor chap was hopping mad as his best Nike trainers had disappeared.  I am glad I had my shoulders covered.  The fluorescent green robes they loaned would have done nothing for my complexion.  

I did begin to look a similar colour as we took a ride along the river in a brightly decorated boat.  It was rather choppy.  We stopped for a lady to row across.  She tried to sell me a peculiar hat that turned into a fan.  No fan-q!

Further along the river, by the side of a temple, we broke bread.  Not in a religious way.  Just to feed the protected (and very greedy) catfish.  

We turned around and were speedily returning when the driver suddenly cut the engine.  I was worried.  What was happening.  It turned out he had just spotted a river monster.  Being from the land of mythical sea horses, we were sceptical but, there it was!  A large creature with a turtle's head.  I could not get my iPod out quick enough.  In a flash it had gone.  The boatman said we were very lucky people to see it.  We thought so too.  We have been to Castle Urquhart on many occasions and have never sighted Nessie!!

So, from one boat to another.  I've never been able to do the splits.  At college they tried to help by bouncing me down between two benches.  That didn't work.  Today I almost achieved it.  Standing on the edge of our boat, I stretched one leg up to the side of the restaurant boat.  A rippling wave chose that precise second to separate the two crafts.  'Hoy,' shouted fhe waiter.  'Hee,' I replied as together we facilitated a most ungainly landing.  Definitely no piping onboard today.  It was like the landing of a giant whale.  Flobberlops.  Hubby had a similar experience.  I watched him wince and feared a return to a surgeon was imminent.  A hip and a hip and he was almost as right as rain.

It certainly didn't prevent him from walking to the buffet table a few times.  Once more our eyes and stomachs feasted on delicious local dishes.  Oh, the bread cobs rivalled my favourite Cromarty morning rolls.  I must admit to lathering them in butter and savouring every last mouthful.

After lunch we were taken to a gem factory.  Here we were presented with a free soft drink and shown into a small cinema for the obligatory film.  Needless to say, it was not a comedy.  The doors opened and we were taken to the workshops to observe  how the gems were cut and fitted.  Very clever.  

Afterwards we walked around the shop, closely followed by a little lady making encouraging noises in a vain attempt to persuade Hubby to buy his oh-so-deserving wife an oh-so-beautiful piece.  How do you tell someone oh-so-politely that we were only here for the film and the free drinks??  At last we escaped, joining our guide for an oh-so-delicious coffee which just happened to be oh-so-free.  

We requested some free time to search the shops.  We were dropped off at the local shopping mall with map, instructions and a telephone number in case of emergency.  It did cross my mind that our guide had been alerted of our navigation skills!!

The mall reminded us of Meadowhell back home.  It even had a Boots!  I was grateful to see that as I had left my flight socks at home.  Knocking a nought off and dividing by three became quite taxing.  Prices seemed inflated after the bargains in Cambodia.  We bought a couple of items then headed for the Sky Train.

The ticket vendor must have thought I was a mute as I passed my note through the opening.  It was supposed to say, in Thai, 'Two tickets to Salaaming please.'  Our guide may well have written, 'another two daft Brits wanting to get to Salaaming' because the vendor replied in perfect English. 'That will be 50 baht.  Take these coins to that machine for your tickets.'  

No problem.  Tickets dispensed we went in search of the platform.  A kind lady sweeper said,'Just up those stairs.'  A train was in.  I waved my ticket in front of the guard.  'Yes,yes.  Jump on quick.'  The doors closed behind us and we were away.  It was a most pleasant journey, spoiled only by a posh elderly Brit who was rather drunk.  He was leering at a shy Thai lady, telling her what beautiful eyes she had.  Thankfully she was left in peace when he departed at the next station.  He was about to get a piece of my mind, and not a nice piece.

Back at the hotel we had plenty of time to prepare for our evening's entertainment.  In best bib and tucker - or in my case the harem pants from Vietnam.  Oh yes, wait till you see them! -   we caught a tuk-tuk with our guide.  We love this mode of transport.  Tonight it took on another guise.  It was like playing a game of 'sardines' as we were tightly packed into the tiny vehicle.  None of us were exactly on the slim side.  Still, no one could have tagged us if they wanted to play because we were so speedy.

We arrived at our destination.  There was a short walk through a well-illuminated walkway, full of shops and eateries.  Climbing a few stairs, we were asked to remove our shoes.  Handing them over, the attendant gave Hubby a numbered key in exchange.  Was that wise?  Entering through a curtain, we beheld a room full of tables for dwarves with a stage at one end.  Hubby's face fell.  He had already suffered a near dislocation on the boat today.  This would just about finish him off.  After a short discussion we realised that the seating was cleverly disguised.  We did not have to sit cross-legged after all.  Under the table was a deep drop where your legs could dangle.  Mine did.  Normal sized ones reached the floor.  Getting into place was somewhat troublesome for Hubby.  Laid on his back, feet forward, he shuffled in.  Like a Commando in reverse.  He HAS been trained!  

The waiter arrived and took our order.  We had quite enjoyed a cocktail beginning with M on previous nights.  There was only one starting with that letter.  It must be that, so we chose two. When delivered we remarked how pretty it looked with an orchid and piece of lime as decoration.  Something  was different though.  This was pink.  The other had been green.  Perhaps they used different food colouring here.  We drank it anyway.  Then I remembered.  This was a Mai Tai. The other was a Mojito.  Nothing like travel to educate the mind. 

Our waiter brought forth a tray of dishes. Instead of passing them over, he clambered in front of us on his knees in a servile pose.  Keeping his head lower than ours, we were served as though royalty.  I took the role of royal taster and noted that his Lordship had been served shrimps.  I explained that he did not eat fish.  'No feesh.  Iz shrimp.' That's shellfish.  'No feesh.  Iz shrimp.'  We changed tack.  No eat shellfish.  No eat fish.  Success.

Bring on the dancing girls.  Dressed in all the colours of the rainbow, in costumes studded with gold and coloured crystals, they demonstrated traditional moves before performing a few well known Thai dances.  Same, same but different.  I loved the parasol number and thought I might give it a go later with my umbrella.  

Show over, we collected our shoes.  Hubby did not lose the key.  Phew.  Hubby and our guide walked quickly ahead.  I meandered.  'Hello lady.  Like your trousers,' said a shopkeeper.  I told him sorrowfully I would like another pair but had not seen any in Thailand.  Quick as a flash, he produced several pairs.  Like Goldilocks I checked them over.  Too heave.  Wrong colour.  Just right.  Some minor haggling and Hubby was called back.  'Mr David.  Your lady love , she want buy.'  And buy I did. 

No squeezing into the tuk-tuk on the way home.  Our guide left us in peace.  Back at the hotel I completed the day with our last two coffee sachets from home.  As we drank I read the hotel's charge list for items in the room.  Flying pan.  Yes, flying pan!! I searched all over.  Ours must have spread its wings and taken off!!

And so our last full day with the tour company ended.  It had been such fun.  We could not thank Sarah aka Land Lady enough for her fine organisation.  Off course, our adventures will continue.  I may not always have time to write every day but, like a good Girl Guide, I will do my best.  Night night.  

Oh, I almost forgot.  Mark Op Oh Low.  Give yourself ten points if you worked out it was Marco Polo, the famous explorer!!!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Crucial Crossing

Throughout the night, the thunder had roared and the rain had lashed down.  I wouldn't have been surprised if we had been found bobbing around on our beds on top of the beautiful, briny sea.  The swimming pool was full to overflowing and we had to skirt carefully round it on our way to breakfast.  (Oh, before I forget.  When I did finally fall asleep, I dreamed I was caught in a spider's web. I woke in a panic, entangled in the voluminous mosquito net!).

Breakfast was cooked to perfection.  Poached eggs with crispy bacon and proper bangers.  Mouthwateringly good. I had just savoured the last piece when Savon, the guide and Mr Tour, the driver arrived.  As they loaded our luggage, I watched as a man next to us filled his vehicle with petrol from a can.  He was paddling in water.

I wondered about the advisability of travel today but we had places to see and planes to catch.  The two Cambodians seemed quite calm and cheerful.  They passed me an iced coffee to calm my nerves.  Now that did help.  

The air-conditioning had to be turned off as we drove through the flooding waters. We had experienced the same thing in the bus yesterday.  At least we had a clear view of other travellers.  Two piglets with their trotters in the air were in a cage on the back of a bike.  That would have been a brilliant score in 'Pass the Pigs'.  Two Razorbacks on the move.  Further on, two male motorbikers held hands to keep their machines stable as they drove through knee-high water.  

Temples, schools, shops and houses.  They were all flooded.  People were hurrying around trying to move their possessions higher or to build up a bank of sandbags.  

The flood waters receded a little as we travelled along.  Savon turned around.  With his cheeky grin, he asked if we minded stopping for five minutes at the next village while he said 'Hello' to his FB friend.  Hubby pointed to an old cow tied up by the roadside and said that might be her.  Savon laughed.  He pointed to a building and the driver slowed down. A pretty young woman stood outside and a grim-faced lady sat on a stool nearby.  Savon got out for a brief chat.  The old lady looked very stern.  When Savon climbed back in, we asked if she was prettier than his wife.  He said not, but she had a younger sister who would be visiting him in Siem Reap.  Well I never!

Savon tried several times to phone the guide in Thailand but got no response.  He was not happy about this and phoned his office to check if anyone had tried to contact them.  No one knew what was happening.  All he could do was to give us his phone number so we could phone if no one was there to meet us.  

The border was busy and bustling.  We said farewell to Mr Tour and hoped that his dream of becoming a guide would succeed.  Savon waited while we queued at Cambodia's passport control.  All straightforward.  We retrieved our cases from Savon and said goodbye.  We were off into the unknown.

Having crossed through No Man's Land, we had to complete a short form and join a short queue.  Five minutes later, four tour groups arrived, turning our very short queue into a very long one.  Thank goodness we wrote quickly.  

Hubby was first to be stamped and allowed through.  He pointed to a 'No Waiting' sign and disappeared through the doors.  He had abandoned me!! I was quickly stamped and dispatched.  I hurried through the door and caught up with my other half.  In perfect harmony we walked through the female/male drug sniffing area.  This us not where you get to sample it.  It is where the patrol dogs come to test out their training.  Eat your heart out Bridget Jones.  We made it through.  I had kept a firm eye on my luggage - except when I left it with Savon.  Ooh-er!!

Exiting the building and entering Thailand, we were immediately greeted by Tatalia, whose name meant gift.  Well she was a very pleasant present for us at that moment.  She even gave me some money so that I could use the toilet.  We hadn't changed any to their currency yet.

As we drove away, in an extremely comfortable car, something felt wrong.  It didn't feel right.  Then I realised we were on the left-hand side of the road.  My brain had only just realised.  Hubby's hadn't clicked until I mentioned it.  It felt so weird.  

Not only that, the few hundred yards separating the two countries, also separated a wealth of development.  Dual carriageways, service stations and better housing came into view.  Even the pigs had better transport.  No bikes for them.  They were in a triple-tiered truck.  
There were no 'no honking' signs here.  It was so peaceful not having to listen to the constant horn blowing.  The drivers seemed better trained too.

Our driver and guide seemed surprised at how quickly the flood waters had risen.  They had driven there two hours earlier.  There was no sign of water.  Now it came well up the sides of the wheels.  At one point, it was difficult to work out the edge of the road.  Thankfully we had a good driver.  Of course, we had to manage without the air-con until the danger area had passed.  That was a small price to pay for reaching our goal.  

We stopped for lunch at a service station.  Once again, the guide loaned us money. It was fun choosing from the photo boards. A tasty pork noodle soup was polished off, followed by curly coconut shapes.  I resisted the ice-cream as the booth was placed next door to the toilets!  

Back on the motorway, a driver cut us up badly.  It was only the sharp reaction of our driver that prevented a nasty accident.  We both donned our seat belts, having been lazy over this whilst 'On the Buses'.  I was very tired but noticed a sign saying 'Waste Elimination Centre'.  I made a mental note of several people I would like to send there. 

The high skyscrapers of Bangkok started to appear.  Hubby joked that I should send the photo of one to his friend Gordon, of the popcorn and Sunderland fame.  Why?  It sported a picture of Wayne (in my eyes Shrek) Rooney.

Very tired, we arrived at the Silom Serene Hotel.  Yes, we had free wi-fi.  We also had free little black insects.  Once again, I was the target. I summoned the housekeeper who arrived bearing a large aerosol can.  'Nest, nest,' she repeated.  Nest of what?? Not a nest of tables, that was for sure.  Hubby thought they were only storm flies but I knew different. Tired and weary I crawled into bed, pulling the sheets so that no creepy crawled would get me.  Now turn out that light please 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Cambodian Cuisine

I really hate goodbyes, especially when you want to spend more time with someone who you don't know if or when you will ever see them again.  Today, we were venturing on our own again.  We were just about to head off for breakfast when there was a knock at the door - Tania and Frank clutching two glasses.  Was Happy Hour starting early?  No, they just wanted to make sure that we would not be charged for the missing tooth glasses and to accompany us to breakfast.

No gravy boat holding the milk today and as much yoghurt as you could consume. Hurrah for being early.  We made our promises to keep in touch and to meet up in 2015.  They had better keep to that or I shall be most upset.

Time moved swiftly.  Our vehicle arrived.  Very grand with leather seats befitting his Lordship.  Tears welled in our eyes as we hugged and kissed.  I waved and blew kisses until I could see them no more.  So sad.

We learned about the unusual life story of our guide.  He was married but his wife's parents did not approve as he came from a village family who were poor.  So, the parents sent his wife to live and work in Japan.  He saw her a few months ago when they had a 'honeymoon' day.  He was working and saving hard in the hope that he can provide a home for his wife in the future.  I felt so sorry for him UNTIL he kept getting text messages from a young woman who he knew from Facebook.  He hoped to meet her tomorrow.  Hubby teased him mercilessly about his FB friend, saying she would be old and ugly unlike her photo.

Our driver, on the other hand was a devoted family man.  He had a brilliant sense of humour and would have made an excellent guide.  That was his dream but the university fees were far beyond his reach.  His name was Mr Tour.  What a great name that would be for a guide!

We drove along mile after mile of flooded roads.  We learned that the rice crop would be ruined.  The resourceful locals turned their hands to fishing for the influx of fish.  They would need as much as they could catch since the rice had failed.  We watched them casting nets, diving under the water and sitting with a single rod.  All for survival.

The effort of telling his life story had worn out our guide.  Following in the footsteps of other guides, he was soon fast asleep and snoring loudly to everyone's amusement.  

We were taken to a temple with 360 steep and large steps.  In my heart of hearts I was defeated.  Neither of us were fit enough to tackle those plus they were very slippery from the rain.  Our guide, feeling fresh after his nap, offered to take the IPod up the steps, so we could see what we were missing.  Off he went, like a leaping gazelle.

And we waited and waited.  My over-imaginative brain went into action.  What if he had taken the iPod to try and gain access to all my accounts?  Would he have taken what little money we had left? And where was the car?  It had moved.  Perhaps they were in on it together and had driven away.  Well we still had our passports if nothing else.  We could fall at the feet of the monks and ask for compassion........and so it went on until I saw the guide returning with loads of new photos for me.  Big relief.

Hopping around puddles and extremely muddy patches, we were taken to a low down treehouse with a thatched roof.  This was the lunch stop.  There were no chairs.  The choice of seating was a carpet or hammocks.  Hubby needed a little help as he gently lowered his bottom into the hammock while two of us kept the canvas well spread.  We hung on until he had swung his legs in and was swinging away with a happy grin on his face.  I was more than happy to copy him in my own little hammock.

The food began to arrive.  Large steel containers, bowls and dishes which contained very aromatic food.  I didn't have a clue where to begin.  Mr Tour invited me down onto the carpet where we sat cross-legged.  He showed me the Cambodian way of serving and eating.  We filled our bowls (and tums) with wild boar soup, chicken and rice.  We had one of those uneasy moments when the guide told us the price of our meal.  It far outweighed anything we had spent on a meal so far.  Hubby queried the amount and the price suddenly halved.  Methinks there could be more to this chappie than meets the eye.

  An old lady with very few teeth climbed into our hut.  She was very poor with ragged clothes.  She started to massage my feet and legs.  She had been taught well.  I asked her to stop which she did.  She was fascinated with my folding umbrella.  She thought it was a hat!  I showed her how it worked and she was impressed.  Through Mr Tour's help, I learned that the lady was the same age as me.  Poor soul.  Life had been hard on her.  She started to clear our dishes away and I gave her a small tip.  Well, that started a commotion.  The owner's young son has been coming over and thought the money should be his.  The old lady gave him short shrift and things calmed down.

We headed for the hotel.  There it was.  The one with the flooded road outside.  No chance of going out tonight, unless we could find a boat!  Our vehicle reversed in so we could avoid getting wet feet.  The hotel seat cushions must have caught the rain at some point.  I had a soggy rear end after sitting on the sofa.

Registration complete, we were shown to our room.  The hotel was classed as boutique.  I thought shabby chic was more appropriate with the emphasis on shabby.  The floor tiles looked as though they had been immersed in mud and partially cleaned.  In contrast the bed linen and ensuite were very clean.  Ouch, something bit me.  Ouch and again.  No way could I sleep in here without a net around the bed.  I went to show the receptionist my red bites.  She called housekeeping who came armed with sprays and a voluminous net.  We gave her a hand to tie it up.  I would be safe in there.

To try and forget about the real possibility of being stranded, we hit the bar.  Here we met Pat, the jolly owner.  He was originally from England but had fallen in love with Cambodia.  He used to be a builder.  Now he is a very good host.  As we were unable to go into the town, he treated us to our cocktails.  So kind.

We ate our evening meal and retired to our room.  With the net securely fastened, I contemplated the fact that choosing to visit Cambodia during the monsoon season might not have been my greatest idea.  Indeed, I put it up there with the time I bought a thousand brown buttons, bagged them ten at a time and tried to sell them at a car boot.  Think I will go with the locust popcorn idea next time.  

My final thought as I drifted off was whether I would wake in the night to find our bed floating down the road.

Just Messing about on the River (Siem Reap)

This was our final day as Mini Happy Family.  The honeymooners were last to arrive at the coach, both sporting harem pants.  It seemed Nathan had lost his bet with Krystal and his penance was to wear them.  Actually I thought he looked better than Beckham in a skirt and quite trendy for their planned ox-cart ride.  

Our trip this morning proved quite eventful.  The heavy rains had caused rivers to flood.  Already roads and houses were deep in water.  The people here did not wallow in self-pity.  They carried on with life as best they could, waving and grinning as we passed them by.  

Many were taking offerings to the temple on whatever transport they could find, if any. They continued to smile, even when our coach splashed them, drenching their best clothes.  Little children screamed with delight to see the crazy tourists steadily plodding on through the flood waters.  Some others swam in their newly created garden pools.  

Four of our gang had opted for the ox-cart ride.  The locals really made a fuss of them as the heavy carts were towed slowly along ahead of the coach.  Jemma  informed me that she had learned a valuable life lesson - Always wear a sports' bra when riding in an ox-cart!

So, that left Frank, Tania, Lord David and his Lady to amuse ourselves as we followed behind the plodders.  Eye Spy would have been restricted to something beginning with 'W'.  Water, water everywhere and ne'er a drop to drink.  Except Ny pointed out a well which had been provided thanks to his fund-raising efforts.  He hopes to have more built in the future.  At least some families will have fresh water to drink here thanks to this kind, young man.

We reached the end of the road.  There was nowhere else to go except climb aboard a boat being steered by a lad who looked about fifteen, yet sported a wedding ring.  The boat's mechanism was a concoction of parts taken from different vehicles and machines.  Steering wheel, gear stick and ignition came from various cars.  Lord David was convinced he had seen other bits on his lawn mower!  As for the rudder, a rope went around the boat, controlled by a clutch and brake pedal contraption.  

It was so noisy, we could only continue our conversation through sign language.  So, that didn't last long.  Looking around, we could see that the floods were causing problems here too.  A poor tuk-tuk was stranded on the last available piece of high land.  Would it still be there later?

On and on we drove.  For us, it brought back memories of a rather boring Norfolk Broads trip.  Stop shouting.  I know some of you like the Norfolk Broads, but we find them boring.  Flat and lots of reeds.  Here it was flat too but at least it was broken up occasionally by beautiful lawns of water lilies.  

At last Frank spotted buildings ahead.  On high poles, they stood clear of the water.  They even had a Community Centre.  Lord David decided he would not apply for a posting here.  

We pulled alongside a cafe and were given the chance to transfer to smaller crafts.  Lord David and I took two steps backwards (mentally that is, otherwise we would have been swimming).  I am not over fond of boats at the best of times and these looked decidedly wobbly.  I was also concerned that Lord David might dislocate his new hips during this venture.  Sitting straddling my bottom was far beyond his consultant's advice.  

We watched the other couples boarding. Pam created a bit if a stir when she started to slip.  Gasps of horror and loads of helping hands shot forward.  She just plopped neatly into place and they were away.  Off they sailed, happy on their travels.  It looked fun. 

 One boat looked slightly larger and it had a seat.  Surely we could manage that one?!  So Lord and Lady C boarded their craft (no piping aboard though).  We floated around the kingdom with a little female paddling for all she was worth from the bow (if that is the correct term for the front of a boat.  I thought it was prow but Himself who is never wrong says that I am and it is bow).  

Here, everyone lives in the stilted homes. Little children were swimming next door or popping across the road in a boat.  I wondered if they were going to borrow a cup of sugar or if they were on a play date.  An elderly gent was assisted by his toddler grandson in paddling the boat.  They learned early here.  

Tour of the Floating Village over and it was back to the roaring revs for the return journey.  We were kept amused by the antics of travellers going in the opposite direction.  They were celebrating big style, drinking and dancing.  If we had been closer, I would have accepted their offers of a drink.  Other revellers were jumping from high balconies into the water below.  Our boat soared on, buffeted by wind, rain and the swell from other crafts.  We waved to all and sundry.  A lump swelled in my throat as I was reminded of our Motorhome waving tradition in Scotland, so far away.

The landing was not far away and getting off was a little tricky.  The boat was high and the landing platform was low.  Sinbad the Sailor (aka Nathan) and Fearless Frank leapt ashore to offer much needed assistance.  I would have still been there now without their help.  

The road back was too flooded for us to continue.  The alternative route, down really small country lanes was rarely used by tourist buses.  We caused some eyebrows to be raised.  Our hair was almost raised too when a low electricity cable scraped along the top of the coach.  A little tricky situation but nothing fazed our driver.  I kept my hands well away from the metal in order to avoid a frizzy, frazzled look.

Oh look, another temple with yet more children chanting the 'One Dollar' song.  I'd tried to improve their repertoire in an attempt to distract them from poor Jemma and Pam.  Their purses were emptying faster than Harrods' shelves in the New Year sales.  I burst into a 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' song.  Just blank stares then back to their requests for one dollar in exchange for a small item.

One group of charmers were making best use of modern technology.  We wondered why a photographer seemed to point his camera at mine and Krystal's chest.  I could understand why he'd pointed it at Krystal's but mine??!!  All was clarified as we were leaving. Small dishes were produced with our faces imprinted.  Very clever but not clever enough for Lord David.  He insisted on bartering (and badly bartering).  I fear my face now had another printed on top and my little momento has gone.  There went another Miami Hat.

It was almost Happy Hour.  We all declined another temple as the weather was poor ( that's our excuse and we're sticking to it).  We took along our tooth glasses to visit Tania and Frank.  We needed them to polish off the wine from an earlier time  Down in the bar even Lord David was a little daring with the cocktails.  We laughed, joked and swapped stories of our travels.  It was one of those evenings you just didn't want to end.  Hiccup!! Friends Forever x