27 November 2015

Golden Rock Perched on a Hair of the Buddha - Myanmar


Down south in Myanmar is a rock.


Kyaiktiyo Pagoda - perched on the top of a mountain. (Beautiful sunsets, too!)
 

A large one. 
At the edge of a precipice.

Held in place by one hair of the Buddha. 
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda.

(Yes, there's a golden pagoda on top-) 



Pilgrims press squares of gold leaf onto the rock, light candles, and pray.


(But only men. Women are not allowed to touch the golden rock.)



It's an 8 mile walk up. 
But now they take pilgrims up in large metal trucks. 

They took us, too. 

The mountain is VERY steep.

At night, it's a festive atmosphere. 
Disco lights, candle offerings.

Families camping out. Excited kids running around. 




Gold and glass and statues and candles everywhere. 
Quite the party. 

Guys selling horns and noisemakers. 
Groups up from the country sleeping out at the top of the mountain. 

The inns are full.




There are not many foreigners. 
People do a wonderful double take when they see us. 

Everyone has a cell phone, so they try to take a photo of us - without our noticing it.




Plenty of melons, limes, pomelos, huge avocados, fish, rice, noodles, fresh veggies, fruits, chilies, nuts and spices. Myanmar has some of the finest fruits and vegetables I've ever seen.


A Burmese full moon Thanksgiving.




All thanks to the Golden Rock.

And the hair of the Buddha that holds it in place.













14 November 2015

On the Road! Next: 5 Months in Southeast Asia.



I know it's not for everyone. 
A number of people have told me so recently. 

I understand. 
It would be a difficult world if everyone wanted the same things. 

But I'm (still) compelled to go exploring. 
There is so much that I know nothing about!

So many places to investigate.


This is my pack. With folding umbrella in the side pocket. About 8 kg.


We're heading to Asia for 5 months.
              
The first month, we'll be in Myanmar (Burma).





It's been on my "list" since I was a kid. 

They just had their first election in 25 years.  
The results are looking good, but - anything's possible. 

It's always a delicate balance, our world.





No credit cards, and ATMs are rare - if they exist at all. 

We're supposed to bring unfolded, new, pristine US dollar notes. 
Nothing older than 2006, and preferably without the letters AB or BC (I think).

My local Wells Fargo bank branch had a lot of fun searching for bills that fit that description! They have NO idea where I'm going, and I didn't try to explain. Everyone had their cash drawers open - "Is this one okay?" "How about this one?" 

It was great.




Then - we'll return to Bangkok, where son Erik works.

With him, we'll go sailing - to the Mergui (Myeik) Archipelago. 

It's in the Andaman Sea.





No, I had never heard of it, either. 

Apparently, it's beautiful. 

But impossible to explore there except by living on a boat. 





I thought it was part of Burma, but apparently, the people of Myeik have other ideas. 
I'll know more afterwards. 

Uncharted territory - at least for me.





That takes us only to early January. 
After that, for the following 3.5 months, not a clue.

Sulawesi? Borneo? Komodo? Luang Prabang? Borocay? Hoi An? 

Not sure. Nothing planned.




But - somewhere in SE Asia.
Probably.


It just FEELS like this is how much I'm carrying! But my pack is VERY small.
There's a rule: No matter how much you take, it's always too much.


We leave early tomorrow morning.
I'm pretty excited.



I'm not counting on any Wi-Fi in Burma, so Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

See you on the other side.




21 August 2015

Sailing the Greek Islands - Santorini

Sailing the Cyclades




Stan and I join 8 others on a 15m Beneteau sailboat in Santorini.

We head out into the blue waters of the Aegean. 




Strangely, our skipper, Dean, we knew from the British Virgin Islands. 

He works summers in Europe - and winters in the Caribbean.




The others we don't know yet.
They don't know each other, either. 

Yes, most everyone is much younger than we are. 
As usual. 

But - it winds up being a great bunch.




This summer, the Greek economy is on the brink of disaster. 

No one accepts credit cards. Cash only.
ATM withdrawals are severely limited.
And only possible for foreigners.

There's an atmosphere of uncertainty.





With the boat, sometimes - we anchor.

More often, we pull into a marina.

We bring the boat in stern first, which is new for us.

It's high season on the Greek Islands.
On some days, we have to wait until a space opens up. 





Usually, I prefer the freedom of being at anchor.  It's quiet.

But being in port is handier for getting around the islands and exploring.





These days, there are probably more pleasure boats than working boats.
Tourism is a big deal here. 

Especially this summer, with the economic issues.





On our stops, we visit olive makers and distilleries.

Churches and ruins and monasteries. 






By local bus, boat - and mostly on foot.





Greek seafood. Greek cheese. Greek olives. 
We're always on the hunt for a decent bottle of Greek wine. 
(-a difficult quest-!)


The Greek islands are normally known for their fierce winds in late summer. 

However, when we arrive to go sailing, the wind dies completely. 




It's glassy clear and beautiful. 
But not sailing weather.

Plus, without the winds, it's hot. Very hot.


"The magic of the islands settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen." - Gerald Durrell


We set sail from Santorini.

 To Ios - Amargos - Schinousa - Naxos
- to Mykonos - Despotiko - Sifnos
Folegandros (my favorite) and - back to Oia, Santorini.

The Cyclades.





After 10 days, dirty, sore and tired, we return to Santorini. 
Our Greek island sailing adventure is over.

I've always wanted to "sail the Greek islands"!
Channel my inner Ulysses...hunting for adventures.






Stan and I rent a place - a cave house (really!) just outside Oia, on Santorini.





Then - settle in for a week of unlimited electric power and running water.
On the grid. 

Unlike living on a boat.





The hills on these islands used to be fields of tomatoes, olives, grapes.

Now most of the water has been diverted to the hotels. 

It's VERY dry.





But it's still beautiful.

 The view is splendid. 
The temperature perfect. Quiet. 

A white cat is snuggled beside me, eyes closed. 
Neighbor women hanging out washing in the morning sun. 

Gorgeous sunsets, whitewashed walkways. 

Stan playing guitar. 





There's a nearby tavern for dinner. 
Outdoor tables. 

Low key and friendly. 

Or - we walk into Oia and shop for groceries. 

There are no cars in our part of the island.





The market woman has her son drive us home on our first day. 
"You have too much to carry!" she said. 

"My son will take you back. 
Finikia is not far." 





We do have a lot to carry. 
Water and wine, yogurt, pasta, cheese, olives - the usual.

But - I have NO idea what our "address" is! 

We just walked up tiny pathways. 

How to get to our house by car-? 
No idea! 




Tough times for the Greeks, but they're still friendly and welcoming to the many tourists who flock to the islands. It's easy to see why people have been coming here for so long.

It's dramatic and just so very thoroughly - Greek.






19 August 2015

Summer in Europe Watercolor Collections

I always keep a journal.
Especially when travelling!

A few drawings. Stories. Wine labels. 

Afterwards, a collage. 
A colorful collection of memories.

I love collages: A whole experience and several episodes - on one easy page.


La Vie en France - Burgundy, Provence, Alsace, Bordeaux


"He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left."

- Chinese Proverb


Ile de Ré, Island off the West Coast of France


"Traveling seems to me to be a profitable exercise. The soul is continuously stimulated by noticing new and unknown things." 

- Montaigne (French philosopher, 1500's)


Switzerland


"The world is but a canvas to our imagination."

- Thoreau


Greek Islands



"The magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen."

- Gerald Durrell


La Bella Italia


"If your arteries are good, eat more ice cream.
 If they are bad, drink more red wine. 

Proceed thusly."

- S.Byrd, Gourmet Magazine

08 August 2015

Swiss Lakes and Alpine Glacier Trains

There must be a rule in Switzerland:

Thou shalt not take photos unless the weather is absolutely beautiful.




Mikey and Iris and Kilian join us in Switzerland.

From various directions, we find each other at the "Meeting Point".
Zürich train station.

(My parents used to call it "The Center of the World."
Who knows?)


At - the actual - CENTER. The Meeting Point. Zürich Train Station.


Our plan was to take the Glacier Express
This time in summer.

From St. Moritz to Zermatt.

Across the Alps. 




I lived in Switzerland for 5 years
2 years in Zürich. 2 years in Geneva. And a year in Lugano.

As usual, Switzerland is postcard-beautiful.




We stayed in Samedan, a small town near St. Moritz before the trip.

Kilian had his first fondue.

A first for everything in life.


Kilian, Trish, Stan, Iris and Mikey - Lunch up at the ski resort...



... with a view of the Matterhorn. 


Then off - on my birthday!

In a lovely panorama train car.
With (of course - it's Swiss law) perfect weather.




And lunch on board.
With schnapps.

And a Swiss goat.




The Glacier Express is actually just a regular train route.
But now it has a name. 

But you can get on and just - ride the "regular" train.
And see the same ridiculously beautiful scenery.





At the end of the trip, we rented a small place in Täsch. 
Just outside the bustle of Zermatt. 


I booked places just outside St. Moritz and Zermatt.
Less expensive. 
Less crowded. 

Same train. Same Alps.


Kilian, Mikey, Trish, Iris. Matterhorn in the background.  


Got a chance to do some good hiking and Alpine exploration.

Kilian even found a lake to jump into.





The view of the Matterhorn was unusually clear.

Perfect summer weather.




Then - Iris and Mikey had to return to Berlin. 

Kilian returned to Boulder. 


And Trish and Stan got back on another train. 




At the moment, the Swiss franc is worth MORE than the US dollar.
When I last lived in Geneva, it was up to 3.9 francs - to the US dollar! 

About 25 cents. 
(It was a fine time to be living there!)

I was Airport Manager in Zürich for Pan Am for 2 years.
Then - Director of French Switzerland in Geneva for another 2.

It was a pretty sweet life.
But - nice to return to Switzerland as a tourist instead.




Stan and I rented a small apartment for a few days.
In Montreux. With a balcony. 

On the edge of Lake Geneva.




That gave us a chance to draw and play guitar.


Montreux - Château de Chillon - right ON Lake Geneva.



Hiking the Alps in Chamonix



Switzerland is one of those countries where it's pretty excellent to visit.
And the Glacier Express? 

Through the Alps?
With schnapps and a mountain goat?




-Can't really get much better than that.