Travel Journal Kit for the Silk Road

It's that time again... when I make a new journal and assemble supplies so that I can document my next adventure while I'm on the road. This year I'm heading out on the trip of a lifetime (I feel like I've said that before... lol) as I start in China and follow along the Silk Road in the footsteps of Genghis Khan and Marco Polo. We'll be keeping mainly to the Northern trade route through Western China, starting in Xi'an and then traveling by private train through five of the seven "Stans."

Of course, I'm going to need to document this year's trip of a lifetime. I've been making travel journals for ten years now, starting with my first trip to China in 2008. A decade later and things are coming full circle as I head back to China for the third time, only this time with a much different approach to my journaling. Below you can see the progression as I've continually refined the format and style of my journals over the years.


I started with a simple book made from cardstock, office supplies, a few scrapbook embellishments, and ephemera picked up on the road. This book was done as a project / scrapbooking class during my trip to China (back then I was still doing a fair amount of scrapbooking, it was a scrapbooking focused trip - with Heidi Swapp, which was a lot of fun.)

Next I tried some small 3-ring binders for shorter family trips, then took the Scrapbooking on the Road online workshop with Ali Edwards before my Foreign Business Excursion that was a part of my MBA program back in 2011; I used that method to document that trip. I loved it - that book is still one of my favorites, but I've found that between the amount of writing I do, the volume of paper and ephemera I collect, and the length of my trips, that using those giant metal rings is not my favorite way to go. (Not to mention, carrying a hole punch with you will get you stopped at airport security every time. Guaranteed.) I nevertheless continued to use that method over the course of the next few trips (Peru and Southeast Asia are the other two you see above,) before I decided to try binding my own journal, which I did for Bali, China / Mongolia / Russia, and then India. I found that while I much preferred the format, having to pre-determine the number of pages was a huge challenge that I only got right on one out of three tries.

That brings me to this year's journal. I decided to try a different approach that would still allow me to finish with a case-bound book, but which would give me more flexibility along the way so I wouldn't end up with way too many or too few pages. I decided to create a Midori-esque journal and make my own case and inserts... Boho style, of course! When I get home, I'll take the completed inserts out of the cover and bind them into a hardcover book. Then I can reuse this cover.


I set it up so that there are only three inserts attached inside the book at any given time, but I made four more so that I can swap them out as I fill them and also keep the book from becoming too unwieldy as the trip progresses.


In the first photo above that shows the cover of the first insert, you can also see an envelope. Right now it has my itinerary and travel watercolor set inside (more on that below,) but it's also great if I get larger photos or postcards so I can put them safely inside and then bind or tip the envelope into the final book. Each insert has a sheet of scrapbook paper as the cover - the back of each sheet is white so I can add writing if desired. I keep the rest of the pages pretty plain - there are four sheets of drawing paper, a sheet of watercolor paper, and a sheet of cotton rag paper. The size of the insert is about 6" x 9", and with seven of them, I should have plenty of room to journal as I go. (I also like to get postcards and hotel stationary and tip them in as extra pages.)

Of course, that brings up the question that I get the most when it comes to creating a travel journal... what do I take with me? I used to take a lot - alphabet stamps, ink pads, letter stickers... all kinds of stuff. The problem ends up being the obvious one of space and weight in your luggage (and when you travel by airplane in China, your checked bag has to be under 44lbs and your carry-on should be under 11lbs, so that's not really feasible!) The other issue with hauling all that stuff is that your journaling just takes a lot more time and space to accomplish. So while the format of the book is still evolving, I think I've perfected the travel journal kit itself - at least for the way I like to journal.

Here's what I'm bringing with me:



Yup, that's it! Here are some closeups of what goes into the supply case so you get a better idea. This year I'm using a case that's meant to store and organize your electronics and cords, etc... but I pulled out the dividers in the bottom half and filled it with journaling supplies. The top section has adhesives, journaling and drawing pens, eraser, pencil sharpener (important to have one that contains the shavings,) a mini stapler, and travel scissors. This particular pair cuts really well, but has the added benefit of blunt tips. While it's okay to travel with scissors in your carry-on in the US as long as the blades are under 3" (or is it 4?) when you're abroad, they don't care how short the blades are if the tips are pointed, so these are perfect. Sometimes Security will make me pull them out and show that they're blunt, but I've never had them taken away! (Obviously... lol.)


The bottom section of the case holds my colored pencils, water pens for watercolor, and drawing pencils. The little pocket has a few embellishments - a few rubons and a popsicle stick (again - nothing sharp,) some little pockets and envelopes that I can add in to hold various ephemera, and then my pre-made labels. I started doing this quite a few years ago and it's really the main thing that lets me cut out so many supplies but still make the pages look a little more designed. When I get my itinerary, I go through and stamp labels for the countries, cities, and major landmarks or places of interest that we'll be visiting. Then I tuck in a few blank labels if anything gets added along the way.

For my travel watercolor set, I cut a regular manila file folder in half, then cut about an inch off of various sheets of Peerless watercolors (which are watercolors that are actually dried on paper instead of in a pan - ideal for travel!) and adhered them into the folder and labeled them. I keep a sheet of deli paper inside to keep them from touching each other when the folder is closed. The slick surface also works great as a palette when I'm using them. I just bring a few water pens with different sized brush tips, and I'm good to go!

The only other things I bring are a mini photo printer and film so I can print off highlight photos from each day (this year I switched from a Fuji Instax printer to a new Kodak printer that I like a lot better so far,) and a few rolls of washi tape to add in photos and ephemera. Here are a few of my journal spreads from my last two trips so you can get a sense of how it all comes together:




That's it for the pre-trip work... now that my journal and supplies are all put together and ready to go, I'm excited to get on that plane and let the adventure begin!

Gwen's Gems - Using Stencils in my Travel Journal

Hi all! Today I'm up over on StencilGirl Talk with the September edition of Gwen's Gems! This month I'm getting ready to travel, so I'm showing how I use my stencils to help prep my travel journal so it's all set to go on the road with me :)


Head on over to see lots more photos, as well as a little overview of how I used stencils to make the covers and decorate the inside pages of my journal. Enjoy!

China, Mongolia, and Russia - Sites and Sounds

One of the things that's fallen to the back-burner with all the travel, work business, assignments, etc... going on over the last few months has been documenting my trip to China, Mongolia, and Russia on the Transiberian Railroad. I flew to China in August and spent a week there (where I took precisely one short video,)  before crossing into Mongolia and boarding the Zarengold private train where I spent the next two weeks going up through Mongolia and then into Siberia and all the way across Russia to Moscow.  From there I flew back to Salt Lake (via Frankfurt and Chicago.) My first trip completely circumnavigating the globe!

While I still haven't edited photos (I have over 2,000 - yikes!) I've been working on editing video for another project that will be shared soon, so I figured that while I was in that mode that I'd pull in all of the snippets of video I shot on my trip and make a little montage.

This video is mainly for me - watching it in conjunction with the memories and feelings I have from this adventure makes it much more enjoyable for me than anyone else, I'm sure... but, there are friends, family, and a few fellow travelers who have expressed interest in seeing it, so here you go. It's far from professional (I had never shot video on my Canon DSLR before, and it shows!) but I think this conveys a lot of the feeling of the trip.



2016 Asia Travel Journal - Before the Trip

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted anything that wasn't for an assignment I was working on!  Life is as crazy as ever, but I've also been in a bit of a slump where I haven't worked on much besides what I'd already committed to. Sometimes you just have to wait those out, you know? I'm starting to pull out of it, and what better to get me excited about new projects than a big trip that needs a travel journal? 

I'm getting ready to head out on this year's adventure which I started planning more than two years ago. To think that it's almost time to actually go is a little weird - it hasn't quite sunk in yet, but at the same time I'm very excited! I ran across a word the other day - "resfeber." Sounds like something that someone made up, right? But the definition is "the restless race of the traveler's heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together; wanderlust." That's exactly  how I've been feeling lately! But enough of that, on to the journal!

For the last 5-6 vacations I've taken, I've made a travel journal from scratch. I started with the Ali Edwards Scrapbook on the Road approach, using binder rings to hold them all together. I love the three journals I did that way, but I take big trips and save a lot of stuff, and the rings were HUGE - it makes the books a bit unwieldy and it's hard to turn the covers and pages. When I went to Bali last year, I made a case bound book and it worked really well, so that's what I did again this year. 

Here you can see where I've already made the signatures (14 of them!) and started pulling out things I thought I might use to decorate the outside and maybe some of the pages.

Asia Travel Journal - Preparing to Assemble

In case you couldn't guess, China is on the itinerary this year! I had a few bits and pieces I've picked up recently, along with some things saved from when I was there 8 years ago. Also some Russian book pages (because I'll be in Siberia / Russia!) I'll also be in Mongolia - I don't have anything specific to that (go figure,) so I just made do with what I had in my stash. I bound the book - here you can see where I left the end papers to dry overnight. I made the spine bigger than the text block (which is also bound a little loosely) so that I'll have room to add brochures, photos, and other ephemera as I go.

Asia Travel Journal - Gluing Down End Papers

When it was done, I used my Decorative Curvy Repeating Ornament stencil with some molding paste on both covers, leaving room for where I knew I was going to wrap fabric around the spine. I glued down letters for the title, then painted the whole thing gold. When it was dry, I added some color into the decorated area on the front cover, then I clear-coated both front and back and then waxed them lightly. I had a piece of beautiful Chinese silk that I cut to size and wrapped around, then added some dark blue flower trim along the edge.

Asia Travel Journal Covers 1 - Gwen Lafleur

Asia Travel Journal Covers 2 - Gwen Lafleur

Now for the inside! I had some Asian looking wrapping paper in my stash and I used that to cover over the end papers on the inside covers - I clear coated those too to help protect them since the paper wasn't all that durable. Then I started adding a little to the pages. For the front, it needed a title page! I had this awesome stamp of a map of Asia from Studio Calico (it's huge too!) and I stamped that and then added in my route and colored the countries I'll be visiting.

Asia Travel Journal - Title Page and Pre-made Labels - Gwen Lafleur

The title on that page comes from the fact that I will go in a complete circle around the globe on this trip - I'm really excited about that! You can also see all the labels... I've learned through experience that it's much faster, easier, and better for luggage space and weight if I prepare as much as possible in advance, so I take the absolute minimum of supplies with me. I go through my itinerary and make labels for the main things we'll see - cities, countries, points of interest... specific activities that we'll be doing (like sleeping in a yurt in Mongolia!) Then I just tuck them all in an envelope and I don't have to bring stamps, letter stickers, or anything like that. I do throw in a few blank labels so I can add dates or put in something that I did during free time. 

I made a pocket on the back of the title page to tuck in the official itinerary. This is handy, plus it covers up where you can see what I stamped on the front of the page :-P

Asia Travel Journal - Inside Pages 4 - Gwen Lafleur

In the second picture above, you can see where I added a few rubons to one page right at the front where I'll probably put travel info from my flight, add a ticket stub, etc... I also stuck in a fun Chinese envelope from my stash and stamped with a custom designed chop I got in China last time  I was there - it spells out the phonetic sounds of my name in Chinese characters. The third picture just shows a fun piece of paper I had that I stuck in the book to make it interesting.

I had very little to use for the Russia section of the book, so I carved a quick Matryoshka stamp to add into my book.

Handcarved Matryoshka Stamp - Gwen LafleurI mentioned it when I shared this stamp on Instagram / Facebook, but I tried a new kind of rubber for this one (Speedy Cut, ) and I did NOT like it. I keep checking around to see if I find anything new that's really wonderful, but I'll be sticking with my Moo Carve and Speedy Carve for now! I still like the stamp, even if the rubber was too soft for the detail I originally wanted.

Below you can see where I used the stamp along the bottom of one of the pages in my journal:


Asia Travel Journal - Inside Pages 2 - Gwen Lafleur

I also added a few rubons here and there, and I collaged in a piece of a map I happened to have that shows an area of China where we're going to be traveling.

Asia Travel Journal - Inside Pages 1 - Gwen Lafleur

The above-left photo has a little tipped-in glassine bag for ephemera, and I stenciled it with the 6x6 stencil from the August 2016 StencilClub kit - it's actually taken from a map of the Moscow metro! We're going to ride the metro while we're in Moscow in order to see some of the historic stations, so I tucked that in toward the end of the book for when we'll be there. Above-right, I found this stamp set by Lynne Perella for Paper Artsy and immediately fell in love. I think it's supposed to be Japanese, but I put her in my Mongolia section - I don't know why, but that's what I thought of when looking at her! I colored the image with watercolor pencils.

Asia Travel Journal - Inside Pages 3 - Gwen Lafleur

Just a few more shots of some of the more interesting spreads in the journal... most don't have anything extra done to them. Top left, I added a layered dragon diecut I've had in my stash for at least 10 years. Anyone remember L'il Davis Designs? Some flocked 7 Gypsies paper I've also had forever that I love... top right, I collaged in some Russian book text on a flap - I'll probably clip something to it. We'll see! Bottom left I've shared before, that uses the July 2016 StencilClub kit - I thought it looked a bit like Russian Folk Art, and since I didn't have much for that section, I just went with it! Bottom right is just the last page of the book.... I have this fun "globe" trotter stamp that I thought was great for the very end - I think that's from Evalicious.

That's it for the interesting (or even sort of interesting) inside pages - they'll hopefully be very cool at the end of the trip! Each signature in the book is made up of patterned paper, a sheet of watercolor paper, drawing paper (mostly for journaling,) and some of the signatures also have manila folders.

Here's what comes with me in my carry-on to work in the journal on the road:

Asia Travel Journal Supply Kit - Gwen Lafleur

I made a travel watercolor palette by cutting off small rectangles from my Peerless watercolors and gluing them inside of a partial file folder - I have a piece of deli paper that I put in to keep them from touching when it's folded. A few sheets of labels and my pocket of pre-made labels, water brushes, a small pair of travel scissors with blunt tips, a mini stapler, some clips and a little twine, a few rolls of washi tape, a glue stick, a tape runner (with a refill,) and a few pens and pencils (plus an eraser and pencil sharpener.) I bring ball-point pens since I've learned from experience that trying to use Microns or similar pens on drawing paper will dry them out quickly - I just use those for sketching. 

Here's the final package of what will come with me:

Asia Travel Journal - Ready to Pack

I also have a pouch with colored pencils that will be dual purpose - I can use them in my journal (since I'm really hoping to be able to add some sketching to this one,) and although I haven't gotten into the adult coloring book fad (despite owning several that I bought for the patterns,) I found one at Michael's recently called Imagimorphia that looks awesome - I figured it would be great for long plane rides when I need some variety to keep me sane.

So that's it! Depending on how much wireless access I have on the road I'll try and post some photos of the trip or maybe do some travel blogging. Hopefully I'll have a cool, bursting at the seams, travel journal when I get back :D Now I just have to get everything packed for a 3 week trip and still under the weight limit with room for souvenirs. Somehow I think I'll manage... I always do!


Bali Part 4

Finally wrapping up the trip! The last full day was Sunday 9/20. At breakfast we ran into all of the other ladies, so we were able to say our goodbyes to them before we went to meet Ketut for our last day of touring.

We started out by driving about 1 1/2 to 2 hours north to visit the Temple on the Lake - Ulun Danu Beratan. This was one of the country's postcard locations, and I was very excited to see it! I did think it was interesting that we didn't have to put on a sarong to go into this one... I guess at this point it's more a tourist attraction than anything, although the working areas of the temple were closed off to the public.

Entering the main compound...


IMG_2275We looked around a bit, but then went straight through out to the lake to see the view from there.


We were there toward the end of the dry season, so the water level in the lake was low. The real postcard shot is when the water is higher and it comes right up to the edges of the temple. But it was still gorgeous!

IMG_2285One thing that I thought was cool that we saw everywhere we went in Bali - they have these pebbled walkways and even driveways that all have beautiful patterns in them.

IMG_2291We walked around to the other side where you could see the whole compound:

IMG_2303Beautiful grounds...

IMG_2298We wandered the grounds a bit longer, but finally decided that we had seen all we wanted to see and went back out to find Ketut and move on to our next stop. We drove through some really beautiful hills, forest, and rice terraces on our way to Wisata, which is the biggest and most beautiful rice terrace in Bali. And of course, we had to pay a toll to see it. ha!

Here are two views - left to right, from the side of the road where we stopped outside of our restaurant.

IMG_2359For lunch, we went to Billy's Terrace Cafe, where we paid for another expensive buffet that included decent food and a very nice view. It was a smaller buffet than the day before, and no signs to tell us what it was, so I felt pretty adventurous making my selections.

IMG_2361The satay turned out to be chicken or pork mixed with peppers and lemongrass - it was a lot like what we'd made during our cooking lesson, and pretty good! The little spring rolls were good too. I never did figure out what the thing that looked like a thick oat cracker was.

After we finished lunch, we went back across the street to walk a bit and take in more of the views.

IMG_2376Ketut came out and met us, and we talked to him about what else we might be able to do... either we'd started out too early or something, because we were way ahead of schedule! I think he'd moved some of what we were originally doing on Sunday to Saturday so that the other ladies could see more. We had an option of a waterfall, but it involved a bit of hiking and we didn't have good shoes for that. We also passed on the butterfly park. We were supposed to get to Tanah Lot in time for sunset - it was supposed to be the best sunset view on the island. We decided to add a stop in Semenyak since it was near Tanah Lot. So we set off to go back down south, about a 1 1/2 hour drive.

On the way, another stunning view on the side of the road:

IMG_2395I was so exhausted that I think I dozed a bit in the car. When I finally got my eyes totally open again, it turned out that we were going to Tanah Lot first - I guess since it was the one we got to first. It was only about 3:15 in the afternoon - more than 3 hours until sunset. So we got out, bought our tickets, and headed in to see what was there.

IMG_2406There was kind of a maze of market stalls on the way to the temple. We'd thought maybe we could kill some time shopping, but we didn't see anything very enticing - it was probably the worst shopping we'd seen so far at the place where we most needed a diversion! We kept looking, but didn't see anything, so we continued out until we got to the gate leading to the sea and the temple.

IMG_2409And there it was... Tanah Lot.

IMG_2412We found our way down to the beach and walked along a bit to see what was there.

IMG_2415There was a place where you could see the "holy snake" inside one of the sea caves, but that was another ticket, so we passed. We walked along a bit, but since the tide was still coming in, we decided to go back up off the beach and explore in the other direction. We found another little promontory where you could go out and get some nice views.

IMG_2423We wandered some more, and could see where people were starting to stake out their spots for sunset and vendors were hanging around getting ready to sell food and drinks to those who were staying. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any place where you could just sit and order a nice, cool drink and relax and see the sunset without having to stake out a place in the sun. It was an extremely hot day, and we just couldn't do it. So we decided to head out and find Ketut and go to Semenyak and watch the sunset from the beach there instead.

It was about 30 minutes to get there, and Ketut dropped us off on the main shopping street and pointed the way to the beach. We walked in that direction until we found it, then took off our shoes and walked on the beach. Very fine sand! I think there's a bit of volcanic ash in there because it's gray on your feet. We walked in the surf for a bit and made our way up to a likely looking hotel where were could sit out and order something to drink.

IMG_2435We found a place to sit and someone to bring us a drink menu and take our order. I got a lovely mango vanilla milkshake and we just sat and enjoyed shade, a beautiful breeze, and just chatting and relaxing while the sun slowly sank down toward the water.

IMG_2440Sunset is at about 6:30pm, and that was the same time we needed to meet Ketut back where we started, so we watched as long as we could and then made our way back to meet him and drive back to Nusa Dua on the other coast of the peninsula. Since we'd had lunch at a normal time that day, we went to the Sorrento restaurant for dinner and had a lovely Italian meal. I ordered a steak that had some truffled potatoes, red lentils, and mushrooms. It was delicious. Of course, it would have been nice to have Indonesian food for my last dinner in Bali, but I'd had my fill of chicken and noodles and that was about all that they had at the resort restaurants that I could eat (still surprised by that, but I guess that's because it was a tourist resort.)

IMG_2442We enjoyed our meal and a quiet evening packing and getting ready to leave the next morning.

Monday morning, we went down for breakfast around 7:30, then came back to finish getting ready to go. Once we were dressed and pretty much packed, we went out about 9:30 to go out along the beach and take a last walk through the grounds. As I mentioned, the resort was gorgeous!


The tide was out - high tide was always in the afternoon, so we were never there to see the beach at its best, unfortunately. We wandered up and down a bit, checking in on the resorts on either side of us (the whole string of them is connected by a long walkway.)

IMG_2463Since neither of us was wearing sunscreen, we headed back to our rooms before too long - it was already very hot and it wasn't even 10am yet!


IMG_2473We hung out at our private pool for a while until they came to get our bags and we went to check out. My flight was quite a bit earlier than Emily's, so our trip guide, Kandi, came to get me first. We said our goodbyes, then it was off to the airport! I'd managed to balance out all my goodies in my bags so there was no trouble checking in, then it was time to eat lunch and spend the last of my rupiah. I couldn't find any decent souvenirs, but did find a few packages of the delicious ginger candies we'd found in our hotel in Ubud - greatest thing ever for an upset stomach! So those, a small package of TimTams, and some fun Indonesian chocolate made their way into my carry-on.

Finally, the plane loaded for my flight to Taipai, and we were off! My last views of Bali... I could even see the resort from the plane!

IMG_5642And thus ends my Bali adventure! I stopped briefly in Taipei... 5 hours from Bali...

IMG_5645Then was an 11 hour flight to San Francisco. Fortunately I had a window seat on the way home, so no one was poking and pushing me and waking me up to get out, and I wasn't getting hit by every person walking down the aisle! I was able to sleep a bit, then stayed the night at an airport hotel in San Francisco (which was unfortunately next to a loading dock that got quite loud and active at about 3:30am.) I finally made it home Tuesday afternoon. I can't believe how quickly it went! We packed so much into the 8 days on the island that it felt like we were there much longer, and yet it was over in a blink. But new adventures are on their way, and I'll always have wonderful memories. I'm so glad that I decided to go, and that I kept with it even after my job situation changed and I might have canceled! I'd go back for sure... Bali is amazing :)


Bali Part 3

Today I'm sharing our adventures from Saturday 9/19, when we hired a car and driver for the day to take us to some of the really great sites on the island. Emily and I were joined by Lisa, Eunice, and Judy, and we had a fabulous day together!

Starting out, we had breakfast at the resort before meeting our driver at 8:30am. This guy sits right outside of the restaurant where breakfast is served; he played every morning and always had such a lovely smile!

IMG_2040Our first stop of the morning on the tour was in Denpasar, where we went to see the Barong and Kris dance. This is a classic story of the eternal fight between good and evil. The Balinese Barong is a mythological creature that represents the good spirit - you see the Barong everywhere in the art, carvings, masks, etc... the evil spirit is the Rangda. The Balinese believe in the concept of Yin and Yang - they also use black and white as symbols of this concept. Balance is very important to them.

IMG_2045Fortunately they gave us a program for this show as well, so we could follow along. There was music throughout, and the actors don't speak much. There was a very funny comic section in this one as well. It was interesting that there was no ending to the play, because of course, the battle between good and evil is ongoing!

Our next stop was the Satria coffee plantation a bit further to the north.


I didn't realize that coffee trees had blossoms - and they smell a lot like jasmine... so wonderful. This plantation also grew cocoa, papaya, vanilla, cinnamon, mangosteen, and lots more! They also produce Luwak coffee here. This is a luwak:

IMG_2086We called it "poop coffee" because the luwaks eat the coffee berries, and the bean with its shell still intact get pooped out (gross, huh!) They clean the beans, shell them, then roast them. I guess the enzymes from the digestive process change the flavor of the bean and make a very expensive and sought after type of coffee! I don't know who decided that it was a good idea to try this, though.

We walked through some of the grounds...

IMG_2087And they showed us the difference between the beans... the ones in the very front are cocoa beans.

IMG_2089And a lady showing how they're roasted by hand (which I'm pretty sure was just for show.)

IMG_2092They take us to a little area where you can do a free coffee and tea tasting. Since I don't drink coffee, I just sampled the herbal teas.

IMG_2100The only tea I didn't try was the rice tea since the other ladies said it was gross and it didn't smell too appetizing. Of course, after you finish sampling, you exit through the gift shop... or past it, at least. The marketing is brilliant, though. You've just tasted this delicious free tea, so naturally we all stopped to buy some! I got mangosteen, rosella (which I think is hibiscus - my favorite,) lemongrass, and ginger. (For Nicole and Brian - this is like the apple tea we got in Turkey - different flavors, but the same instant tea pre-mixed with cane sugar.)

After leaving the plantation, we went to the Tirta Empul - Tampaksiring... basically, a local holy spring where you can bathe in the pool and they have fountains where you can make an offering and cleanse yourself. We went through the entrance where we had to put on a sash (or sarong if your knees weren't covered) so we could walk through the compound on our way to the changing rooms.


IMG_2114I was a bit surprised to find that the changing rooms were kind of unisex, and there weren't really private places to change... just lockers and then kind of a space. We took turns holding up sarongs to screen each other. We had to wear a sarong into the pool, so we got ready and then headed back out. Ketut took my camera to take pictures for us while we were at the pool.

IMG_2116He explained to us how we were to go through the pool and what to do, then we took off our shoes and got in at the beginning. It was cold!

IMG_2119The water was from a spring under the temple, so it was very clear, and what was coming out of the fountains was clean. You start at the first fountain and you wash your head first and then your body. Some of the people there made an offering at each fountain or left a candy or something that represented something they were grateful for.

IMG_2127You go down each fountain, skipping two toward the end that are only used if someone has died. Then you have to go over the barrier into the next section of the pool. Here we're all waiting our turn and the last fountain before we had to cross over.

IMG_2131We finished the last group of fountains and went back to take turns getting back into dry clothing. Unfortunately without any towels. lol. We managed!

IMG_2142We left the pool and headed north, up to Mt. Batur and Lake Batur. On the way up, we passed a beautiful green terraced rice paddy. Since the others wouldn't be with us Sunday to see the great big one we were going to, Ketut stopped for us to get out and take a peek at this one.

IMG_2153As we got up near Mt. Batur, we got our first taste of how tourism was handled in that area, at least. They stop you on the road as you're getting to the location, and you have to pay a toll of sorts for each tourist in the car. They give you a ticket and then they let you drive through. I think the money goes to the villages as repayment for having to put up with the bother of it, but it's the first time I've ever had to pay to see a view through the car windows! (There was another toll when we stopped at an overlook and got out.)

As we were driving, we passed another, smaller temple / bathe area nestled into the trees - very beautiful!

IMG_2164The more we got into the hills, the more we saw produce farms and lots of fruit stands with beautifully arranged fruit.

IMG_2173The view of Mt. Batur and Lake Batur:

IMG_2182We stopped at a nice little restaurant (for the tourists, of course) along the road where we were able to go sit on the patio overlooking the view.

IMG_2185We also had a nice (although expensive - view tax, of course!) buffet lunch... more chicken and noodles! They also had some really yummy tempura veggies.

IMG_2184Another view from where we stopped at an overlook on our way back down:

IMG_2189Then we headed off to our next stop. On the way, we passed a bunch of people going to the village temple for a celebration... there are over 2,000 temples in Bali - I don't think that even counts the family temples in each family compound or at the hotels, etc... every village has 3 temples - one for each of the aspects of God (Brahma, Siwa - or Shiva, and Vishnu.)

IMG_2196Finally we got to our last stop of the day - the biggest, oldest, and most important temple in Bali - Besakih on the slopes of Mt. Agung. Ketut told us that they'd try to force us to take a local guide with us into the temple, and to tell them no because it would be very expensive. So we put on our sarongs and went and bought our tickets, then they told us that they wouldn't let us in without a local guide. So I told him that our guide had said not to get one. He told me to go get Ketut, so I did. After they talked, suddenly we didn't have to have a local guide, but they would disavow all responsibility for what would happen to us if we wandered someplace we weren't supposed to go or took pictures that were forbidden, because there weren't signs to deter us (which was kind of a lie... lol.) So I told him that we completely understood, but weren't going to pay a lot of money for a guide. Finally he said he would provide us a guide for 50,000 rupiah (which was less than $5 - Ketut said that sometimes the cost was as much as 500,000!) So we agreed, paid, and took our guide with us into the temple grounds. What a racket! It was too bad they put such a bad taste in our mouths, because the temple was absolutely incredible.

IMG_2201The temple grounds were a happening place! There were lots of vendors on the grounds selling snacks, and also lots of locals there for worship.

IMG_2206There was a benefit to taking a guide with us... there was a big sign in front of these steps that said that only worshipers were allowed beyond that point. Apparently that also meant only worshipers and people with a local guide, because our guide took us up the steps and while we were there, we heard other tourists who were there without a guide being turned away.

IMG_2210The view from up on the steps was gorgeous!
IMG_2214The guide took us all the way up the steps and into the temple at the top where we stopped and he told me a bit about it - this was the temple to Siwa - the other two temples were higher up on the mountain on either side.

IMG_2220The clouds cleared a bit and you could see peeks of Mt. Agung in the background.


The guide took us around the compound, showed us areas for meditation (where we were, of course, welcome to make a donation if we wanted to meditate for a minute.) In the background, I think it's the temple of Brahma that you can see here.

IMG_2244We circled through and started back down... you can see a bit of how big the temple complex was, and also the temple to Vishnu is in the background on this side. With the beginnings of sunset in the background, it was just spectacular!

IMG_2248Of course, I knew what was coming... I was absolutely not surprised when the guide expected a tip, but I was a bit surprised that he just flat out asked for one. I decided to just go ahead and tip him - it wasn't really that much money, and we did see more because he was with us. So he left us and we made our way back down and out to meet Ketut, with only a small sidetrack at one of the stalls in the little street market to buy a beautiful sarong in a peacock batik pattern that was gold and blue. I'll either make it into a skirt or use it for something else - it was a pretty cheap meter of gorgeous fabric!

So with that, we piled back into the car and started out on the two hour drive back down to Nusa Dua. It had been a great day, and the other ladies were very excited and happy that we'd invited them to join us. As beautiful as the resort was, it was wonderful to get out and be a tourist for the day and see more of the country as well as some truly beautiful spots.

We got back to the resort at about 8pm, and since we'd had lunch at about 3:30, Emily and I just wanted something light for dinner, so we went to the El Patio coffee bar. The resort - the Melia Bali, is a Spanish chain, so they have a lot of Spanish dishes on the menu. I ordered a light platter of Serrano ham and Manchego cheese with bread and another delicious fruit drink. It was the perfect finish to the day!

IMG_5628Just for kicks, a cool statue we passed in the dark on the way back to our room.

IMG_5629That's it for Saturday's adventure! I'll have Sunday and the trip wrap-up tomorrow :)

Bali Part 2

Wow, sorry for the delay! I meant to get this post up sooner, but I had a whole bunch of things come up that I needed to do to get ready for my new job and my move back to Utah later this month so I had to take care of that before I could get to editing more photos and posting. But now I'm back! I finally finished editing all of my photos (I took around 1,000 during the 8 days I was there,) so I'm ready to finish sharing my trip!

Picking up where I left off... Thursday morning Emily and I got up really early so that we could go up the street to the local market that runs until around 8am. We got there around 6:30 or so - early! The sun wasn't even all the way up when we set out. I always love these kinds of markets - to see what the locals shop for. There was so much beautiful produce, and lots of flowers for the daily offerings!

IMG_1818The brown fruit here is salak - they also call it snake skin fruit because the outside has the texture and appearance of snake skin. But the inside is very crunchy and has a sweet, tart juice. We had them quite often at the hotel in Ubud and I really enjoyed them!

IMG_1812Lots of chickens everywhere we went in Bali. When the TV show airs, you'll probably here them crowing in the background in just about every scene!

IMG_1825And the peppers that are the foundation of the flavor profiles in Indonesian cuisine:

IMG_1826We got back to the hotel as one of the staff was coming out doing the rounds of daily offerings on the grounds. She let us watch and take photos - it's a short but beautiful ceremony.

IMG_1837Breakfast... fruit, pastries, and that morning I had Indonesian porridge. It came with a little tray of toppings - spiced chicken, mushrooms, and a hot pepper paste that I just touched my finger to in order to taste and my lips were burning for hours! I also make the mistake of touching just inside my nose at one point. Oops!

IMG_1839After breakfast we set out our suitcases and went to check out. As we were getting ready to leave, the staff came around and gave each of us a small, silver offering box that had two large versions of the little cookies that were in a jar in our room. (Did I mention that? They were like raisin shortbread - I really liked them, and they were a lovely touch!) It was so sweet for them to do that! They all came out to say goodbye to us - it was a great staff. They remembered our room numbers at meals, and even special dietary needs for some of the group! The friendliest hotel staff I've ever had. We even took a group photo with them, but it's on someone else's camera so I'm waiting until we trade pictures to get that one.

Our first stop that morning was at the Bali Bird Park. We had almost two hours there to just wander around and see the birds. A lot were roaming free (wings clipped) and then they had habitats from different islands in Indonesia, as well as other parts of Asia, Australia, and a few from Africa.


The cockatoos were just adorable:

IMG_1874This one (the one we held) loved to have his neck scratched. I just wanted to take him home with me.

IMG_1877A gorgeous peacock in one of the habitats - there was another one on the roof on the outside and they were calling to each other.

IMG_1901My favorites... we came outside and were interrupted by two of these Australian pelicans who were having a bit of a walkabout and couldn't decide which direction they wanted to go on the path. I hadn't realized how huge these birds are!

IMG_1906There are lots of species of Hornbills native to the area as well. And they're heavy!

IMG_1910(These are for my mother who was so glad I was finally on a trip where I wasn't playing with snakes or going into a cage with tigers. This was as dangerous as it got this time!)

As we were heading back out toward the restaurant for a bird show before we left, Emily spotted this guy. I would have missed him - hiding out in the shade and a bit camouflaged! He let me get fairly close to him... probably because there were no peahens in the vicinity. (It was mating season there, after all.)

IMG_1921Next we stopped at a silversmith where we could see how they make the jewelry - the detail work they were doing was amazing.

IMG_1931On the way to lunch, we passed this amazing building (in Denpasar.) Very modern, and so cool!

IMG_1940Then we stopped at a lovely little restaurant for lunch. With my severe mental seafood allergy, this was pretty typical of what I had every day. We also usually had some kind of fruit drink. At this place, I had an amazing raspberry coconut drink that I wanted to drink by the gallon. So good!

IMG_1942Next we went to the place that was a serious highlight for the quilters in our group (which was everyone but Emily and I... lol.) It was a warehouse for batik fabric where we could go through and pick out anything that wasn't already packaged for shipping, and they'd cut the lengths we wanted - we got the fabric for like $2 a meter! Insane. They even had packages of fat quarters and some jelly rolls. I tried to keep myself under control. I had been hoping for more traditional patterns and colors, so it's probably a good thing these were more modern batiks or I would have been in trouble.

IMG_1946Many of you saw the stack of fabrics I bought - most of which I got here - that I posted on Instagram after I got home.

IMG_5648From the warehouse, we went to the factory where they make the fabrics. I was prepared for something more modern. But this is what we saw:

IMG_1955Those are the dying vats. We also got to see them doing some silk screening which was fascinating!

IMG_1958All of the fabric in this "factory" is still batiked by hand! We also saw the wax stamping room where I once again drooled over all of the stamps.

And outside - this is one of the drying rooms:

IMG_1974It was all very cool to see, but the number of mosquitoes flying around made most of us pretty ready to go when the time came.

From here, we headed down south to Nusa Dua where we were going to check into our resort.

IMG_1980We were greeted at the entrance by traditional Balinese dancers.

IMG_1985All of us were lucky enough to have our rooms upgraded...

IMG_1989What's that you see right outside the doors? Oh yes. The room-side entrance to the private swimming pool that runs along the side of the building.

IMG_1992That was a pretty sweet perk. Emily and I both spent a lot of time in the evenings with our feet in the pool while we worked in our journals (and yes, I did get in and swim too!)

Friday morning, we got a lesson in how to put on a sarong and how to properly sit for making offerings and participating in the temple ceremonies.

IMG_2008Then they taught us how to make the baskets for offerings and how to fill them. There's a specific way to do it, and symbolism in each part of it. Mainly, it's about a daily offering of gratitude to God for sustenance, etc... and they're very particular about making sure that everything that goes into the offering is clean, of the best quality, and also beautiful. I thought all of it was really lovely and I think it helps explain part of why the Balinese people are so happy - you can't spend so much time being grateful for what you have and not be at least a little bit happy!

IMG_2015Here's mine:

IMG_2023Following our class, we got to go into the temple and make an offering - they gave us each some incense. Then they showed us the rest of the ceremony. I didn't get photos of that, but I think others did, so hopefully I'll get them soon!

Next we had a Balinese cooking class with the executive chef at the resort. That was pretty cool... he showed us three recipes, so we got to see how they get those amazing flavors!

IMG_2004One was chicken which was delicious, one was pork which I didn't taste because the pork had been sitting out for a while and I didn't see any ice (better safe than sorry!) and the third was fish. I assembled it and put it on the grill, but didn't taste that one. I heard it was delicious, though! If you like fish, of course (bleh.)

The afternoon was all filming wrap-up. We had lunch and then Emily and I went up to the concierge and found out where to find out about excursions. Since we were going to have Saturday and Sunday free, we didn't want to hang out at the resort - we wanted to get out and see more of the island! So we found Ketut - the guide / driver at the desk that day, and ended up hiring him for two full-day excursions. It was surprisingly inexpensive to hire a driver for the day, and we were able to work out some itineraries that would show us most of what we wanted to see, and even a bit more! The rest of the group was also going to be there Saturday, and we ended up adding three more people to that day and renting a bigger car. Then we just lounged on the patio chatting, enjoying the beautiful weather and ambiance, and taking turns doing final interviews on camera. I have a feeling I'm probably going to be totally embarrassed when it airs, but oh well! It was fun!

That evening was our farewell dinner on the beach:

IMG_2036Jim also handed out the batiked fabrics that we had made so we could all see what everyone had made. There were a lot of really beautiful finished products!

Here are mine:


We enjoyed a lovely dinner and then went around and exchanged cards and contact information, hugs and goodbyes to Jim and the crew who were all leaving the next day. We had a really fantastic TV crew working with us so there were lots of warm goodbyes. And that was it! The official part of the trip was finished!

Stay tuned for the recap of our free days :)


Bali Part 1

Well, I meant to try and blog while I was gone, but we were busy from sun-up to bedtime (which, since we were all jet-lagged, was around 9 or 9:30pm.) So I decided to just enjoy myself, take lots of pictures, keep up with my journal, and blog when I got home. I've been home a week now, trying to get over the jet-lag (coming back across the international date line always takes me at least a week) and then getting over the cold I got from not getting enough sleep. I'm finally feeling a bit better and have started editing photos to share.

We did a LOT of stuff every day, but as most of you know, we were filming for a TV show as part of the trip, so I'm just going to give some highlights from each day showing what I'm allowed to share right now. When the show airs next year, I'll be announcing it everywhere, and then you can watch it! Bali was totally amazing, and I'm SO glad that I went.

For the first part of our trip, we stayed at a wonderful little hotel in Ubud. It was beautiful, with a fantastic staff and a really good restaurant. This was our view during breakfast every morning:

IMG_1327On our first full day, after breakfast a few of us went across the street to the ATM and then explored the area around our hotel a bit before meeting our bus. 

IMG_1337We visited some local artisans who greeted us with fresh coconuts. I'd tried it in Thailand and didn't really like it, but the taste of the water varies, so I tried it again and really enjoyed it this time - I drained my coconut!

IMG_1360This was one of the views from their showroom - pictures don't do this place justice.

IMG_1380We had a chance to shop for ikat fabric and were able to stick our heads into their workshop to see where they make it all by hand.

IMG_1407That evening I went for a walk with two of the ladies in the group - we headed toward the Monkey Forest, looking in the shops and enjoying a beautiful evening. As we got close to the forest, we found a few of the inhabitants out making trouble.


We went back to the hotel and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. They had a very nice set menu that most of us tried. Here's the entree which was a tasting plate of Indonesian dishes. Delicious!

IMG_1447The next morning, Tuesday, we started out visiting another artisan shop - it was in their family compound, and they had decorated everything for our visit. The courtyard was beautiful, and their workshop and showroom were amazing.

IMG_1485This is the grandmother - the wife of the founder of the workshop. What a beautiful lady!

IMG_1487I was in Bali with Craft Tours, and all of Jim's trips to Bali include a chance to learn how to make batik fabric. That's what was on the schedule for the afternoon and I was pretty excited about it!

Some of the ladies at work in the workshop:

IMG_1554Eye candy (their batik is very traditional, and GORGEOUS! They sell to haute couture companies and their fabrics have appeared in several international fashion magazines.)

IMG_1532Some of the batik stamps in the stamping room. I wanted to bring just about all of them home with me.

IMG_1535We got to make two kinds of batik on our own. One was stamped, one we traced or drew a design in pencil and then painted over it with hot wax. After we were finished, the dyed them for us (our guide picked them up later and brought them to the hotel when they were done. How's that for service?)

Here are some of the other ladies tracing their designs:

IMG_1566Here you can see my stamped batik piece before it was dyed and the wax was removed:

IMG_1579 croppedAnd here's a shot of my finished ones after I got them back a few days later... I was pretty impressed! I want to find a way to do this at home now.

IMG_5647When we got back to the hotel, Emily and I went down to the pool patio for tea. Isn't that just the coolest? We had a pot of jasmine tea, and these are the refreshments they served us (plus some veggie fritters that were delicious.) That little handmade basket was full of corn and fresh coconut and it was awesome.

IMG_1605After tea, we got to go to the royal palace of Ubud, just up the street. We were able to meet the prince of Ubud! (One of them, there are 3.)

IMG_1613I didn't get a good photo with the prince on my camera - there were several other cameras there, and I'm hoping someone else got one! But here's one with him and Jim.

IMG_1645It was cool to visit there - especially since we got to go into a part of the palace that's normally closed off to visitors :)

Emily and I walked back from the palace through the local craft market. They were closing up, but it was enough to do a little bit of shopping and see what we wanted to see. Since we're gone all day, we usually miss it, so we wanted to find a way to see it while it was open!

Wednesday, we started out quite early so we could drive an hour to go see the elephants. The drive itself was stunning!

IMG_5583The elephants aren't native to Bali, but were actually brought there from Sumatra - they were rescued from government camps where they had been sent to keep out of the way of newly built plantations. We were told that there are now 43 elephants in the park - 4 of which were born in there, and the others were all rescued. (Here's an article that talks about the rescue and their new home.) I love elephants, so seeing these beautiful and happy ones safe and loved made me very happy!

IMG_1693Note the elephant totally laughing as he put the flowers around me.

I stole this one from Emily's Instagram until we have a chance to exchange photos... that's Gigi. Isn't she pretty?

Emily and I on ElephantI took some video a little later when some of the elephants had free time in the pool. They were trumpeting and playing - dunking each other and having a pretty awesome time. I have to get it off my video camera... eventually! It was so fun to watch - and listen to!


Eventually we went back to the hotel to have a late lunch. Emily had gotten a recommendation to try Watercress - very close to our hotel. We went and had a fabulous lunch. I had corn fritters with avocado and poached eggs, and this mango ice-cream shake that was to die for.

IMG_1706Next we went to the Monkey Forest in Ubud - full of monkeys, there were also a few temples and some very beautiful surroundings!

IMG_1747There were several monkeys with little babies - they're so adorable! You can just see the ear of this one:

IMG_1751We left the Monkey Forest about 3:30 so that we'd have time to slip in an extra stop for the day... some of the ladies had asked if it was possible to go visit the shamen from Eat.Pray.Love - Ketut Liyer. Since they close at 5, we had to hustle! We got there and his son, Niyoman was able to see us (Ketut is retired and wasn't seeing anyone that day.) This is where the scenes in the movie were filmed. Just for fun, we each sat with him for 10-15 minutes. Of course, we're all beautiful, intelligent, lucky, and successful. He told me a few things that he didn't tell anyone else (mostly common sense and probably fairly easy to deduce,) but it was all good advice! Most of it I'm even going to try and follow!
IMG_1780Since it was our last night in Ubud, when we got back, Emily got some recommendations at the desk for a dance show that we could go to. We had dinner and then the hotel drove us over to see the Trance and Kecak dance. We had no idea what we were seeing, but the lady at the hotel said it was the best! At the show they gave us a pamphlet with our ticket - I read it ahead of time which is the only way I understood the story. It was about Rama and Sita, and all of the music was from 100 men sitting in concentric circles who sang / chanted - no instruments. It was outdoors and dark, and there were several tall people in front of us, so I didn't get good photos. You can kind of get an idea from these:


IMG_1801I can't imagine how those men manage to sing non-stop for an hour (I got some video of this too - just to remember how it sounded!) That was the trance part of the show - the singers seem to go into a kind of trance for their portion. It was very cool, and the costumes were great and the dancing was beautiful. They finish by putting up barriers to protect the audience and then they light a big fire in the middle. A man comes out and kicks the fire around with his bare feet (it's a hoby horse routine - still don't know what it meant!) and they keep raking it back and he kicks it around again until it mostly goes out. That's the end of the show. After that, we walked back to the hotel and then called it a night.

Now, it's time for me to get busy editing some more photos so I can put up the next set!

Myanmar Day 5 - Home

Here it is! The last (and least picture heavy) post from my trip.

We got up early and had one last bowl of that delicious noodle soup for breakfast before getting back on the boats to head out to the jetty and meet the buses. I was sad to leave! I could travel like that pretty much indefinitely, really... most everyone was ready to go home, but I was ready to do it all again! But I digress...

IMG_8286From the jetty we took the buses back to the Heho airport where we were again split into flights. This time I was with 10 others, and we left first and met our bus in Yangon to go back to our hotel there and get our big bags that we'd left in storage. I was really glad we were on that first flight... the other group's flight was delayed so they came in quite a bit later than us. But it was good - I had time to repack and get everything ready for the trip home the next day and browse some of the shops connected to the hotel.

After the other group got back, those who were interested met up in the lobby and we took a bus out and around the lake so we could see Aung San Suu Kyi's house where she still lives and was held under house arrest for so many years. It was funny - lots of people got off the bus to go take pictures through the bars of the gate - holding the cameras up over the top since you couldn't see through. Turns out it was like the gardening shed and the house was further along... pretty funny to watch, though!

Then we went to a jewelry shop - Myanmar is known for top quality sapphires, rubies, and jadite. They had absolutely gorgeous pieces, and I was able to quickly confirm that yes, I have very expensive taste. lol. There were a few people who picked out some nice pieces to take home to family members and it was fun to see what they bought. Nothing for me, though! Not enough budget left.

That night I joined up with our blue bus group (group 4!) and the six of us had dinner together in the hotel restaurant. I went with the Myanmar beef curry again - it was a little different from the night before, but so, so good. I definitely need to find a recipe for that and try it at home - I bet it would be fabulous in a slow cooker or dutch oven. It was so fun to sit and chat, and we finished the meal with some delicious ice cream before we called it quits.

After dinner, there were four of us who were interested in going to the nail salon that was in the hotel, but they had closed early. Then another couple came by and happened to mention that there was a massage parlor down another hallway with dirt cheap massages. We looked at each other and immediately went to check it out. Seriously? $15 for a 90 minute massage - feet, head, shoulders and hands. It was absolutely wonderful and a great ending to the day (although in full disclosure, parts of it HURT! Especially when the masseur used his elbows on my legs. I still have bruises that haven't entirely faded on one shin.) Since we couldn't top that, it was time to head up and get some sleep before our big travel day.

The following morning we lined up our suitcases and took the buses to the Yangon airport where we checked all of our bags through to San Francisco.

We flew from Yangon to Singapore, which was only a few hours. And the Singapore airport is so cool! There was a group of us that decided to use the layover to find the butterfly garden that we'd heard wasn't to be missed (a butterfly garden in an airport? Awesome!) It was really cool.

IMG_2856Then we just walked the airport for a while, taking advantage of the time to get in a little activity and stretch our legs. Then we flew to Hong Kong, which was about 3.5 hours, and were able to get out and walk a bit there too. I did stop in a shop and buy a really cute magnet so I could have a souvenir from Hong Kong... lol. And then? The long flight to SFO. It was shorter going back - only about 12.5 hours. I liked that it was broken up so we could stretch and walk around, and miracle of all miracles, I SLEPT on the flight to SFO. Without drugs. That has never happened. Ever. The couple next to me on the flight said I had been really out (that says a lot about the level of sheer exhaustion!) Anyway, we made it back, got our bags, and I said goodbye to most of the new friends I'd made, many of whom were going straight home instead of going to the hotel. It was sad to say goodbye, but as Dr. Seuss said, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." So I'm holding to that advice because there's a lot to smile about.

Anyway, after that we took the shuttle to the Hyatt where those of us leaving Tuesday were staying, and I finally got some good wifi and a semi-soft bed! The next day was solid travel again, and I got lucky with the weather going through Minneapolis, but I finally landed in Hartford around 11pm. I was lucky that I didn't have to dig out my car (although it was 17 degrees and a foot of snow on the ground!) The snow was frozen on top so I could walk on it to get into the car, and I finally got home around 12:30am (and was up at 6am to work out and go back to work! Nuts. But I couldn't take another day off.) Sigh... what a trip! It was truly wonderful from start to finish, and I'm very grateful for all I was able to see and do and the new friends I made. As always coming home from a trip like that makes me very aware of and grateful for all of the blessings I've been given and the life I'm able to lead. And I'm grateful for small things... clean water from the tap (and in general!), my washer and dryer, western style toilets, and clean, safe food that's readily available. It's a good life, is it not?

For those who are interested, the tour company was Fun for Less Tours and they have a lot of awesome trips available. Most of the people there were repeat customers, and I can see why! I'm already planning on doing my next trip with them, so check them out if you're thinking of planning a big vacation!

And with that, we go... FINALLY... back to our regularly scheduled blogging (or lack thereof! lol.)

Until the next trip... :)

Myanmar Day 4

Okay, I've been home for two weeks and it's time to finish the trip blogs! I finally got over the jetlag just in time to get hit with Daylight Saving Time, which was kind of worse. It was easier to wake up when I was jetlagged than it's been to wake up when it's still so dark outside!

I'm pretty caught up now with work and everything else, and I edited all of my trip photos. All of them. That would be 2,689 photos (those are the ones I kept!) And I hate editing photos. A lot. But, I shot the entire trip on manual. Risky. Turns out, I'm pretty good with indoor shots, still learning with the outdoor ones... and we were outside in bright sunlight all the time! So lots of editing, but it was great learning! So now I need to do something with all those pictures, starting by finishing the blogs... this will be the first post NOT on my iPad and with photos that are halfway decent looking instead of straight out of the camera. I know there have been a lot of posts from this trip, but I decided pretty quickly to let the blogs be my travel journal this time... it took way to long every day to write and I didn't want to miss anything.

That said? Let's finish this! (Warning... lots of photos ahead!)

This was our full day on Inle Lake and it was really fun. We had an awesome breakfast (they do a really good noodle soup there) and saw dancers in the costumes for their local dances - they do versions of the peacock dance all over, and I love the costumes!

IMG_8075After breakfast we got into our boats and headed out on the lake. Lots to see... fishermen and others out and working for hours before we got started.

IMG_8082Our first stop was to the weekly market. They have about five different locations around the lake where the market is held, and they rotate every week so that everyone has one close to them at least some of the time. I couldn't believe how much was there for a mobile market! It was so cool... markets are one of my favorite ways to see the culture - local markets, anyway... anything from places like these to supermarkets - they all say so much about the people!

When we first pulled up to the market, I couldn't help but be reminded of Venice... long black boats everywhere, branches off of the lake that looked like canals... bridges spanning the water... it was so cool. Right as we landed was also a big pagoda.

IMG_8097We got off the boats and were given a time to meet back, and then broke up and headed out. Right there on the edges was the tourist market - we wandered through there and it was fun to see what they were selling, but it was lots of the same stuff. Fortunately, we were pointed toward the local market and decided to head off in that direction. That was super fun! We just kept randomly picking directions to wander and see what there was. It was so cool.

IMG_8104Can you tell I loved the market? I had a hard time narrowing down the photos to share! So much to see. I even saw this little barber shop... I saw several of these on the trip at various markets.

IMG_8139After we finished up at the market, we went to our big stop for the day - it was kind of a 3 in 1... lunch, a bamboo forest and the Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda Complex - I'd seen pictures of that online before the trip and was really excited for it. We got off the boats at the restaurant where we were going to have lunch and I bought a big bottle of water because before eating (even though it was about noon) we were going to take a little hike through the bamboo forest (such as it was... more like thickets of bamboo along the paths) and out to the stupas.

IMG_8158See what I mean about me still working on my outdoor shots in bright light? (Don't tell... this is AFTER heavy editing. But I'm totally going to just tell everyone that I was deliberatly going for that artsy overexposed edge to my photos. It's pretty cool, right?)


Gorgeous, right? Picture it with absolutely perfect weather, and a really peaceful quiet broken only by your footsteps on the path and the sound of the breeze ringing the bells attached to the umbrellas of all of the stupas.

So after wandering through the complex, the guides talked a bit about it and then were ready to lead the group back to the restaurant for lunch. There was a small group of us (including all of my boat) that really wanted to follow the road in the opposite direction and go up to the top of the hill overlooking the complex. We all had brought snacks with us and so figured that instead of taking the time to go back and order and wait for food, we could go up to the top and back and make our own way back to the restaurant. The guides and tour leaders were a bit nervous, but saw that it was a direct enough route that we were unlikely to get lost, so they let us go (we were such rebels.) We hiked up the road and got directions from a guy passing on a moped to the top of the hill. One lady and I had passed a path and wondered if that was the way, but the guys were ahead of us so we ended up just following them. We sort of had to hack our way up the "path" (I joked that we should have bought a machete from the knife shop we saw in the market!)


After busting through all of the thorns and plants while climbing over rocks and going up at a pretty steep angle, we made it to the top. And then discovered that yes, the path we'd seen was actually the right one. lol. But it didn't matter... the view was totally worth it.

Here's a panoramic from my phone to get an idea - that's going from far left to right about 180 degrees around where we were.

IMG_2851And a bit of the view:

IMG_8211And then coming back down the hill and approaching the complex again.

IMG_8214Then we went back to the restaurant and, as we had bet would happen, the people who had gone back with the main group still hadn't even gotten their food. Surprise! So we found seats and pulled out our water bottles, protein bars, and crackers and had our lunch. After that, we still had time to go back out and wander a bit and get some more photos. There was one place down the way with a bridge over the river where you could see all of the Saturday activity. This was apparently the day for swimming, bathing, and doing laundry. The people all bathe out in the water, and the women have bathing dresses that they wear for modesty.

IMG_8224Once everyone finished up with lunch, we headed back out in our boats. For the next part of the day, we split into groups and went to two different artisan workshops. On the way, we saw the water buffalo out for a bath...


Our group went to an umbrella factory first, where they made the paper and the structures all by hand. The bases and spokes of the umbrellas were all bamboo - no metal involved at all. We watched the guy turning the lathe - it was old school... he used his foot to pump it so it would turn.

IMG_8244The funny thing about this? There were no umbrellas for sale in the main showroom! It was cool, though. We weren't there very long - it was pretty small, and then we got back in our boats and swapped with the other boats and went to the silversmith workshop. There was a whole room full of men creating different jewelry designs and other pieces.

IMG_8253The workshop was gorgeous... they had these stunning silver worked curry dishes like the ones we'd bought at the lacquerware shop. If I hadn't already bought one of those, I could have gone for a silver one for sure! Lots of gorgeous work on sale, but I was actually starting to be a bit shopped out (I know... can you believe it?)

After that, it was time for the long boat ride back to the hotel so we could be back before sunset.

IMG_8259We came back out on the patio to watch the sunset which was even more beautiful than the night before, if that's even possible! Then our boat gathered around the table and ordered drinks from the bar for a toast (I had a Grape Forest - all fruit juices and delicious!) As we sat there, lots of others came to hang out with us and it was just fun to sit and chat.

IMG_8273After sitting out and talking for about an hour or so, our boat went into the hotel restaurant to have dinner together. They had a really great menu, and I decided to try something local for our last night on the lake - I ordered the Myanmar style beef curry, and it was absolutely fantastic.

IMG_8284It was an absolutely wonderful day... I loved every minute of being at Inle Lake and was so sad that our time was nearly up. But I'm so grateful I had a chance to go! The people who didn't go on the extension totally missed out on an awesome experience.

And with that, just one more post to wrap up the last of the trip!

Myanmar Day 3 - Inle Lake

Still playing catch up here... trying to get over the jetlag, fight off a cold from lack of sleep / trouble sleeping since coming home (I might be winning! knock on wood) and getting caught up on real life. And trying to GET WARM!!! (My well documented antipathy toward snow has only grown after my trip. This weather sucks.)


This was the day of my trip that our group split... our tour manager took the 9 people who weren't doing the extension and they went back to Rangoon and then on to San Francisco while the rest of us flew out to Heho for the excursion at Inle Lake with our educator and his wife. We left early in the morning... we needed to meet the bus at 6:30am, so I checked out just before 6 and then went down to get breakfast right as it opened. I went through and grabbed a bunch of fruit, some fried noodles, and juice and sat down, enjoying the misty view of the river and the cool morning before heading to the airport.

Because there were still so many of us, we had to be split onto different planes and airlines to get to Heho. I was put in a group of 6 that went on Yangon Airlines on our own. We got split off from the rest of the group and funneled into our own departure room, so we didn't see the rest of them again until they landed in Heho. As we headed to security, we passed a table marked "immigration" where we had to stop and show our boarding passes to a woman (boarding passes, mind you, that had no names or seating assignments, nor any information beyond flight number and a big product advertisement... lol.) The woman looked at our boarding passes, asked us where we were from (we told her "America") and then she looked at us, nodded, stamped the boarding passes and sent us through security. She didn't even write anything in the ledger sitting in front of her! We joked that security was a box with a blinking light and that it wasn't actually scanning anything as we all just cruised right through. I couldn't stop laughing about the immigration table. It was so funny to me... so apparently pointless... she didn't even ask to see passports! We got on the plane - not the puddle jumpers we were fearing, but definitely not big planes, and headed out. Our group left early and arrived first, then we found the buses and waited for the rest (again, I was so intrigued by how they run these tiny airports! They just bring the baggage in by hand on carts... so much faster than home, but easy to say when it's so small.)

Anyway, we were told that we had like a 2 hour bus ride and then a long boat ride to get to the hotel, but time estimates weren't always that accurate. This was one of those inaccuracies. We were going to stop part-way through at a monastery, which was pretty cool. That was only 30-45 minutes into the drive, and we took off our shoes and were able to go upstairs and walk through an active monastery and see all the young monks at work on their memorizations - they were all chanting in unison as they read from their books. It was cute to see that they were still pretty typical boys - one was leaning against the window frame and sleeping, and another had a Lilo and Stitch notebook under his scripture. I felt weird going through there like that - like they were being put on display, but I was glad to get a chance to see what monastic life was like. We saw the shrines, the living quarters, and the kitchen area where they stored and distributed the food from that day's collection (the monks go out daily with their big jars to collect food donated to the monastery for the day.) Image
From there, we were able to go into a temple next door. This one was interesting - inside were hundreds of niches, each with a small Buddha statue placed in the name of a donor. I found a few in a row donated from people from Connecticut! Then it was time to get back on the bus to go to the jetty. The rest of the ride was only about 10-15 minutes, and then we got off to get to the boats. They told us to get into groups of 5, I joined up with a group that I'd really enjoyed hanging out with and we headed out together. Image
Once we got in the boat, we found out that every time boat #1 was called (our boat - Number 1 Boat!), we were the ones on that boat. We had a super fun boat! From there we went out on the water for our ride to the hotel, which was about another 30 minutes or so. At first it was more like a river - a very narrow neck of water coming off the main lake, and then as we broke into the lake, we started to see the fishermen out on the water and get our first view of their unique leg rowing technique - they stand on the prow of the boat and use their leg to row the paddle. Standing makes it so they can see into the water and see where the fish are and where they're going. It was pretty cool. And then we started to come in to the hotel, and it was just as nice as I'd hoped from looking it up online. We pulled up to the dock and stood and got out one at a time where we were then greeted with a cool cloth and then a glass of sweet and sour fruit juice - it was really good. They also had a sesame cracker stick - they grow a lot of sesame there. The view out to the lake from the patio was gorgeous - the lake in front with the mountains behind. And the buildings of the hotel were all on stilts in the lake. Our rooms were like individual bungalows on stilts off of a kind of boardwalk that went throughout the hotel. The rooms were gorgeous - each with a private balcony. We settled in and then went back out to the front to meet to go back out on the boats. Image
Our outing that afternoon took us to the far south end of the lake (we were at the north end) and we went through the villages and saw the floating gardens, which were just amazing - hydroponics at their best! They had created floating islands of crops that were all staked to the bed of the lake with long bamboo poles. Tomatoes, rice, beans, corn... all kinds of crops. The villages and gardens were so cool! We also visited a workshop where they make silk and cloth from lotus plants. That was cool to see - the weaving was amazing. It was a little sad to see how old the women were who were working at spinning and carding though... I guess retirement age isn't something well known in most parts of the world.

Early afternoon our guides (one of whom is native to the lake area) took us to a restaurant where we could order lunch. The manager or owner came out and told us about the menu and offered to take any of us who were interested back to the kitchen. They had a lot of Italian food on the menu (funny enough) and served lots of pizzas. So we went in to see the kitchen and their pizza oven, and I was a bit surprised at how clean it was! I suppose the cater to tourists, but it was reassuring. Just to try something different, I had mushroom pizza - mushrooms were grown locally in the hills and the tomatoes in the sauce were from the floating gardens. It was pretty good, actually!

Anyway, we went back out and saw more of the villages and gardens before going back to the hotel. We needed to be back by about 5pm since once it started to get dark, it was too dangerous to be out on the lake - no streetlights, no headlights on the boats and all. So we went back and went to our rooms and then came out to watch the sunset, which was gorgeous. Image
Later that evening, those who were interested gathered around a fire pit on the pier looking out onto the lake for a lecture from our educator, Glenn (it's an LDS tour company, and his specialty is church history.) It was an excellent lecture about Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and I'm really glad I got to go. Then it was off to sleep in beautiful beds draped with mosquito netting. It got quite cool at night and the beds were slightly softer than the floor, but I still enjoyed it... it was another wonderful and incredibly memorable day.

Myanmar Day 2 - Bagan

This was one of the days I was most excited for on the tour, just based on the photos I'd seen while checking out all the places on the itinerary. I woke up early to a beautiful day and headed down to the restaurant on the river for breakfast before meeting the bus for our excursion. It was gorgeous - the air was still cool, and the sun wasn't all the way up so everything glowed silver in the morning light. Lots of delicious fresh fruit, and I'm going to miss having noodles with veggies for breakfast when all of this is over!

We got on our bus and started the day with a trip to a local market - not a tourist market, although there were stalls there geared toward us as well as street hawkers ready to swarm us with postcards and other trinkets as we got off the bus. I was immediately approached by a woman selling "thanaka" which is a local makeup - mostly worn by women, it's tan and is a natural bug repellant and sun screen, but also works to tighten the pores and improve the complexion. Most of us had a sample applied as we got there, and I also bought a cake and jar to put it in with water - if nothing else, it will make for a great face mask! Throughout the day, the local women would point at my face and say, "thanaka, very beautiful." It was fun.  Image
At first I just walked along the street looking into the shops, but quickly realized that there wasn't much to be found that way, so I doubled back to a side street and started to wander, and that's when I realized that once you got back in there, it was a veritable labyrinth of tightly packed stalls roofed over with tin, fabric, or open to the sky in some places. Everywhere you looked was a feast for the senses... it was fascinating. Most of the stalls were for food - produce of all kinds, baskets of rice and beans measured out by the can or using old fashioned scales. There were platters of beautiful green leaves artfully arranged in spirals - too big to be herbs, but obviously for eating... those seemed to be hot commodities as I saw people buying and selling them all over. Image
There were many stalls selling fish - dried and fresh. If I was a seafood eater, that market would have dissuaded me from eating fish on this trip! There was no ice to be seen - fresh fish were displayed whole in baskets on the ground, or in pieces laid out on countertops. There were also chickens - whole, or in pieces, with flies buzzing in circles, lazily waved away at infrequent intervals and occasionally an attendant would reach over to wipe off a piece of chicken where one had landed. Image
At one point I discovered a butcher shop - several people sitting cross-legged on the counter in a stall behind the banner, quickly and efficiently stripping meat from the bones as they prepared it to sell, stray dogs circling out front blatantly hoping for scraps to fall. The remaining bones were so clean the dogs wouldn't have found much to satisfy, even if they managed to get a hold of them. Image
The people in Myanmar wear ankle-length skirts - men and women, with the difference being color, pattern, and how you tie it. They're cool and comfortable, and many have quite beautiful patterns. As I wandered through the stalls, I found a woman selling the skirts (or lengths of fabric sized for them) and saw a pattern in colors that I loved. She showed me how to wrap it and tied it for me, and I bargained with her and bought it and wore it through the market. I'll need to put some seams in it and maybe a tie when I get home, but I look forward to wearing it! Next to that I ran into another couple from our group who were completing the purchase of a large, 100 year old gong. The proprietor at the booth showed me several smaller ones - they have a scalloped triangular shape and they hang like a wind chime and have a beautiful sound when you strike them. Those were also quite old - I found one that had faded engravings of an elephant and bought it, along with a worn wooded "hammer" to sound it. I have no idea where to put it, but I like the idea of an antique Burmese dinner gong!

Finally we all got back to the buses and headed out to see some of the temples in Bagan. We started with the most beautiful of them, covered with gold and ornately ornamented. We again took off our shoes to wander through, and found that the local hawkers were tenacious indeed! We realized that they would hop on their mopeds and follow our buses from one stop to the other, hoping to wear us down with persistent offers for their goods. I managed to resist them, but I enjoyed looking at the stalls arranged around the temples. At the first temple, we saw two monks and found out that one of them, who looked quite wise and venerable, had won an award for memorizing all of their holy scripture - I believe they said only six monks had ever achieved it, and that we were quite lucky to have the chance to meet him. Pretty cool... I got a picture, but I don't think I've pulled it off my camera yet. Image
And the second temple - if I remember correctly, it was noted for its architecture. Image
And the omnipresent stalls for shopping outside of the temples. I think it might have been this one where I picked up a set of wind chimes made from temple bells. I love the sound they make... solemn in a way, very peaceful. Image
After the second temple, we headed to a lacquerware workshop where we were able to walk through and see how they make it. They coil long, thin strips of wood (I think it's bamboo?) and then apply 16 layers of lacquer before painting designs. It's a very traditional handicraft in Myanmar, and it was very cool to see how they did it, as well as all the amazing displays of finished work in the showroom. I did pick up a small dish (ornamental curry serving dish, but a small one) lacquered in black and painted with gold leaf motifs and peacocks. We also found the most gorgeous marionettes - in this region in general, we'd learned that they're an important part of the cultural history - water puppets in Vietnam, and at the museum of ethnology in Yangon, there was a whole display of them. The ones we found here were the prettiest I'd seen for sale, and looked the most like the ones in the museum. So a bargain was struck! I have no idea what I'm going to do with a Burmese marionette (mine is an alchemist, I'm told), but right now it looks very cool on my couch :) Image
Next they took us for a lunch stop at a local restaurant, but we went to some pavilions on a hill overlooking the river where we could either eat what we brought with us or order from the menu. There was a row of comfortable reclined lounges facing out to the river, and we sat chatting, enjoying the breeze and the view and just relaxing in the sun. Instead of ordering, we pulled out our granola bars, nuts, and crackers and munched and then continued to listen while Glenn (Glenn Rawson - the educator who came with us on the tour) talked to all of us about some of the history and other things about the trip. Finally we finished up lunch and headed back to the buses to continue the day.

We saw another temple and also went to a local village. In this case, we were told to be careful not to buy things from anyone unless it was in a shop, and not to give away candy or money - this wasn't a tourist thing, it was real life, and they didn't want to start training the people in that place to have expectations or start begging from tourists. There was enough of that as it was! We got out and wandered around... it was very dusty, a fine brown dust that was pervasive everywhere in the village. We wandered through the buildings near the bus, looking at places where people were weaving or making the bases for the lacquerware pieces. There were adorable children excited to see strangers, piles and piles of what looked like small crab apples out to dry, and lolling cattle interspersed throughout. We stopped in here and there to look closer at farms and crops and get peeks into daily life as we wandered and talked and looked and talked some more. It was so cool to see a place that was so humble, and yet it was clean and it seemed that the people were mostly happy, hard working, and had what they needed. This stop (along with the market in the morning) hadn't been on our original itinerary, but we all agreed at the end of the day that the stops that had been added in were the best parts. Image
After visiting the village, we went to another temple - we saw one with lots of ancient murals that were painted on the walls depicting the 10 lives of the Buddha (we couldn't take pictures inside, though), and then another that had 86 statues of the Buddha. They were all interesting and different, but I also have to admit that at this point in the tour, we were about at our limit of visiting pagodas and seeing statues. They all blend together after a while (although I still have a fascination with all of the stupas! I think they're beautiful.) Image
Finally, we headed back to our hotels. At our hotel, our tour manager Mike had arranged for a horse cart ride for those who were interested. We really wanted a chance to see a panoramic view of the area (I'd seen it online and on the new catalog for the tour company), so we asked to see what the best way was to see that and found out that the horse carts would get us there, so off we went! I took the second seat in the back of the cart - it was bouncy, so I had to hang on, but it was so fun to drive slowly through the ruins and local villages and see so much up close. Image
Just as the sun was starting to set, they took us up to the base of a hill where we all got out and climbed to the top. You could see for miles around in every direction, with the golden glow of the setting sun reflecting off of the pagodas and the river behind us. It was simply stunning - all that we had been hoping to see. I had wanted the view not just because it was amazing, but because it shows just how many pagodas there are scattered through the area. Seeing them individually up close, you get a sense of their grandeur, and then looking at the larger picture, you begin to understand the immensity of all of the temples and stupas built throughout the region. We stood there watching the sun set and standing in awe, loving every minute and so grateful for the chance to be there. Image
Pictures just don't do it justice... it was awesome.   After that - the culminating point and definite highlight of the day, we went back to the hotel. Just as we were coming around the bend to stop, we heard people calling down to us and saw a couple from the trip who had done their own thing instead of the cart ride - they were on the top of a temple just around the corner from the hotel. So naturally, as soon as we got off the cart and paid the driver, we walked back over there to see what was up! It was almost deserted, but there were still a few kids there to lead us up for the view. It was pitch black in the stairwells, but I had my cell phone, aka flashlight, so we made it up okay. The view was stunning, but I decided not to join Scott on the top terrace seeing as how there were no stairs up! I figured I'd probably get up, but not down, and none of it would have been graceful. But I enjoyed it just fine from where I was. Image
After that, we made our way back down and I gave each of the three adorable kids a dollar to thank them for being guides. Then we went back to the hotel and joined up with a couple and their daughter who were on our bus and sat down for dinner at the restaurant out on the terrace by the river and watched as the last of the light disappeared behind the hills. We sat in lantern light and ate satay, curry, and pineapple shakes, and laughed and talked and had so much fun. Image
It was a wonderful, beautiful day full of memories of people and places that I'll never forget. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

Myanmar (Burma) Day 1

The first full day in Myanmar (or Burma) was awesome. I woke up to discover the beauty of our hotel in daylight. I was sung awake by a multitude of birds outside my window, which was facing the lake and its gardens. I headed down to give the staff my big bag for storage and check out, and then had a delightful breakfast looking out at the gardens (I'm loving the fried noodles and veggies they serve here.)

First thing was to go visit the Shwedagon Pagoda - the most important pagoda in the country, and I believe one of the most important in Southeast Asia. It was simply stunning. We had to take our shoes off before going in (something we were going to have to get used to) and then went in with our guide, Miou, to tour it. In some ways it was less splendid than the grand palace in Bangkok, and in some ways it was more. Image
The golden stupa in the center holds 4 relics of the Buddha, and is surrounded by many other smaller stupas and ceremonial "corners." We went into several temples to see paintings and statues, and also saw a photography exhibit that shows close-ups of parts of the pagoda, including the stunning umbrella on the main stupa, and historical photos (we loved that it labeled photos from the mid 1970s as "ancient times.")

After leaving the pagoda (and washing our feet!) we headed to the center of Yangon to see another pagoda, the Sule Pagoda. After seeing Shwedagon, it wasn't all that impressive, but it was just a short photo stop, and we also saw the independence monument and several of the old government buildings that were in use before they moved to the new capital. We saw a few other things before heading to the airport to fly to Bagan. On the way, we stopped at a roadside restaurant to grab lunch since we were told that there wasn't any food at the airport (you could buy things like chips and soda, but nothing else.) Most of the group ordered burgers, but I got fried noodles with chicken which turned out to be a really excellent choice... it was delicious! While we were waiting for our food and eating, our guides went on to the airport (only about 5 minutes away) and got all of our boarding passes for us and checked us all in. The tour company here had arranged everything for us, so I guess it was no problem for them to do that. Once at the airport, we got our first taste of Burmese airport security. Such as it is... lol. It seems like most of the checks are mere formalities. It was the first place where they let us through with water bottles, which was nice. We didn't have long to wait until we boarded our flight - a fairly small plane that took us about 40 minutes to Bagan. Image
From the air, it looked like the area was slightly hilly, dry and brown, and I couldn't see any of the temples from the air and was wondering how far we were going to have to drive to get there. Once we landed, it was fascinating to see operations at this tiny airport. They took the bags off the plane, put them in carts, hauled them by hand up to the building, and brought them out to the bus for us. That was baggage claim! The planes here, so we were told, aren't equipped to handle American tourists and our big bags - the overhead bins are quite small, and the space in the hold isn't large either. Anyway, we made it, bags and all, and got onto two buses to go to two hotels (there wasn't one big enough for all 50 of us.) Our group, the Blue bus, went to the Bagan Hotel right on the river. As we drove, although it was dusk, I was surprised to find that we weren't going to have to drive far at all to see the Bagan ruins! They were all around us, and the buildings and farms were all built around the various temples and stupas. We passed them right and left driving to the hotel, and found that our hotel sat in the shadow of the largest of the Bagan temples, a gorgeous one topped with golden spires. Image
Our hotel was beautiful, with rooms set in different buildings, and paths surrounding them lined with plants, flowers, and luminary lighting. I went out exploring right after getting my room assignment and met up with a few others who joined in and we followed the path out to the restaurant which turned out to be an outdoor terrace on the banks of the river. It was surrounded by 11th century pagodas, there were lanterns hanging from the trees and a musician playing traditional music on the Xylophone-esque instrument in the background. It was just stunning, and I could hardly wait until the next day to go out and tour the area. Image

Thailand Day 5

On the morning of our last day in Thailand, we left Pattaya early and drove the 2.5 hours back to Bangkok. We stopped at the same stinky rest stop (it didn't smell quite as bad, but maybe it wasn't as hot that day?) and this time I tried some cherry pomegranate juice that was delicious. I wish we sold some of these flavors in the states!

Once in Bangkok, we left all of our bags stowed in the bus storage compartments and went out for a little touring in the city. We went to the Grand Palace, and got on our headsets and went in. It had taken us a while to get there - the traffic was awful, and there appeared to be a few demonstrations going on here and there. They had just had their election early in the month and we were told that the protesting had to do with that, and the fact that one of the parties had abstained from the election because it was unfair... lots of the other tour members had questions for our guide about politics, but his answers weren't always clear, and he also admitted his own bias. So I got the gist of it... enough to understand that within 5 minutes of getting inside the palace and he started getting phone calls that he was taking during the tour, something was up. So while he talked, we wandered and took pictures - the place was gorgeous! The main stupa is covered in solid gold, and the other murals, decorations, stupas, temples, etc... were all amazing. Image
He started and stopped the tour a few times, and we eventually learned that the situation with the demonstrations was escalating, and there appeared to have been a police officer shot and killed. So the call was made to cut short our tour and leave the palace and get to the buses and out of the area as soon as possible. We were able to very briefly see the Emerald Buddha through the doorway as we rushed past, and then we were out and headed to our buses, seeing some of the vendors also packing up and getting ready to leave at the same time. Image
Among the others, there was talk about whether or not they were overreacting - after all, lots of other groups were still streaming into the palace and to all appearances, nothing was amiss. But we followed, and it was probably for the best. Unfortunately, there were no backup plans for other activities in case of a riot in downtown Bangkok (it was happening very close to where we were,) so they took us straight to the airport and we were there 5 hours early. Fortunately, because there were so many of us, the airline let us check in and they held our bags and we went through immigration and security to where there were at least things to do and places to sit. At that point, I ended up heading out with Scott - another solo traveler that I've gotten to be friends with on this trip, and we wandered looking to see what was available for food and shopping. He had never had mango and sticky rice, and we found a place that had it - right next to a Dairy Queen. So we got mango and sticky rice (delicious!) and sat and ate that, and then went and got Blizzards. lol. We wandered up and down the terminal, going into almost all of the shops and looking to see what they had since we both had Baht that we wanted to spend rather than exchange. Image
After a while, we settled down in chairs to read / play games on the iPad and Mike, our tour manager, started doing what he called "Mike's Magical Body Show." (I really think he might want to rethink that name!) which consisted of some fun little tricks that he did using Ki. He does a lot of personal training and the like, and has studied a lot. Some of it was pretty fascinating! After killing a few more hours, Scott and I headed off to get dinner - there was a little place we'd found that served Thai food (instead of all the Western fast food... ugh!) so we had some Pad Thai and more Massaman Curry. It was pretty good, actually.

After dinner, we got back to our gate and shortly after that, boarded our flight to Yangon (or Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma.) It was almost 9pm by the time we landed, and the buses took us to our hotel - the Inya Lake Hotel, on the banks of the Inya Lake, funny enough! It was actually quite a nice hotel, which was a relief considering we'd been told to expect that it was all downhill after the resort at Pattaya! We got into our rooms where most everyone spent half the night figuring out how to pack our small carry-ons with 4 days worth of clothes and everything else we'd need to take with us for the next 2 legs of the trip. It was a stretch, but I got it all in with a little room to spare, and then crashed for the night, totally thrilled (and a little incredulous) to be in Myanmar. 

All in all, a very busy day. Some was a bit boring, some was awe inspiring, some was exciting and stressful, and overall, it was a pretty good day. Especially finding out after the fact that there had been 6 deaths and over 60 injuries in the demonstrations and that it had really been a good thing that we'd left! I'm so glad we didn't get caught in that. A good day indeed.

Thailand Days 3-4

Well, time got away from me! The last few days in Thailand I didn't have internet and then in Myanmar, I had internet, but it was so weak that I couldn't even download email, so I figured posting a blog was out :) But I did try and keep up with taking notes on what we did each day and looking through my pictures, so now it's time to start catching up! After our big day with the elephants and tigers and shopping at the night market, we got up the next morning and went to a few last things in Chiang Mai - first was an umbrella factory where you could see them making handmade umbrellas. I think they also did some fans, etc... but the real draw here was the fact that they had this whole row of artists who would paint designs on whatever you wanted them to for dirt cheap! People were getting t-shirts and jackets, but there were also a lot of phone and tablet covers. My old iPhone case was falling apart so I got a cheap clear one there and had them paint a dragon on the back. Then she did my iPad keyboard case - I think I paid about $6, and that was with the tip I gave above the asking price. The work is gorgeous! Image
From there we went to a wood carving factory where I saw some of the most gorgeous furniture and home decor I've ever seen. I wanted to buy all of it and ship it home. But since that wasn't an option, I just looked and drooled! It was cool to see the artisans making some of the pieces. Their work is amazing. Image
Finally, from there we flew back to Bangkok where our bus met us to drive us about 2.5 hours to Pattaya on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand (or Gulf of Siam.) The drive was interesting - the city was huge, and it took a long time just to get out of the city. One of the most fascinating things to me, and something I've observed frequently over the course of this trip, is the number of beautiful, ornate, highly decorated monasteries and pagodas in the midst of what, just based on appearance, I might call a slum. The dichotomy was truly striking to me... just an observation.  About half-way through the drive, we stopped at what we might call a truck stop - basically a strip of restaurants and bathrooms lining both sides of a frontage road that runs along side the highway for a few blocks. We got out to use restrooms and get water or snacks. Many of us, myself included, felt that the restrooms (squatters) were too dirty, smelly, lacking in toilet paper and otherwise unsavory, to warrant their use. I'll use them in a pinch, and have carried tissues for such occasions throughout the trip, but if you can hold it, you do! So I bypassed the restrooms and headed for the 7-Eleven. I found it funny that they're literally everywhere in Thailand. I went into my first one in the Bangkok airport on our initial arrival and was fascinated how it's so different from any 7-Eleven I've ever seen, and yet still essentially the same. There were two at this stop - one on each side, so I headed that way, walking past stands set up on the side of the road selling hot food. First of all, it was a pretty iffy place. Food safety is totally unknown for the most part. Second of all, based on the stench, I'm pretty sure the sewage pipes running under the sidewalks were wide open. I think that surprised me most of all - this was the most commercialized and tourist-friendly of all the places (bar Singapore) that we visited, and yet it stank more than anywhere else... not just at the rest stop. But I digress (when did this turn into a potty rant?) 7-Eleven was full of things that I couldn't read or figure out. The hot foods looked equally unhealthy and unappealing to their American equivalents, and instead of rows of chips and candy bars, there was an entire aisle of instant noodle options. I also found it interesting how much bread there was. I saw lots of locals come in and select from that section, so I perused it to see what their was and ended up with some cream filled buns. I also got a pack of Mentos and a bottle of water... grand total? 32 Baht or about a dollar. (Makes you wonder about the profit margin on those same products distributed in the states!)

Anyway, we finally escaped the stink and got back onto our buses to finish the drive to Pattaya. We pulled into the city (which we were warned about... certain entertainments are apparently plentiful) and to me, at least, there wasn't a lot about the town itself that made me want to go to the effort of getting a cab from our resort to go in and visit it. And you could smell the sewage even on the bus. Yuck! But then we got to the resort which was a bit secluded from the main town, and it was just heavenly. Beautiful rooms surrounding lush tropical gardens and gorgeous swimming pools all leading down to a private beach with white sand so soft it was like walking on powder. Of course by the time we arrived it was already past dinner time, so we broke out into our rooms. I settled in and ordered room service (I think for the first time in my life, actually) which was a cheese plate - I wanted something kind of light. I sat and munched and read and relaxed. Here you can see the view of the sunset over the gulf from the balcony of my room. Gorgeous! Image
The next day, I wasn't sure what was going on... it was a free day, so nothing official was on the itinerary. There had been talk amongst the others about various options. I had thought the snorkling excursion sounded fun, but then found out it was 90 minutes by boat each way and that the snorkling itself was pretty murky. Of course, then everyone bailed on that and it fell through. There was also talk of going on a zipline canopy tour, which sounded fun, but I've done that and I'm scared of heights. I still might have gone, but I heard at breakfast that the $100 cost was off-putting and it didn't sound like anyone was going (a few people went, though, and had a blast!) So I went with Debbie, one of our tour leaders, and after a delicious breakfast on the terrace with a killer view of the gardens out to the gulf, we walked the grounds a bit and ended up on the beach. We claimed a few lounge chairs under the umbrellas and just kicked back to relax and chat. After a while we started taking turns going up to our rooms to get on our swimming suits, and then waded out into the water (just so I could say I'd done it - it was very rocky and salty so I didn't want to swim) and then we walked up and spent a few hours in some of the pools. Image
I found out later that there was another group that had gone to a nearby floating market, a lake, and a Buddha on the hill, and I would like to have done that. As great as the trip has been, that would be the only improvement I'd suggest... providing some structure and options to free day activities for those who were interested, so that people didn't get left behind. In any case, I'm not precisely sorry that I didn't do anything off the resort, but at the same time I feel like it was a wasted day to be in Thailand and not go SEE things and DO things. But I was also at a gorgeous beach resort that I'd paid for the privilege of using. So I kind of have regrets, but not totally. But it was a lovely day nonetheless.  That night for dinner, I ordered some massaman curry and mango and sticky rice - two of my absolute favorite Thai dishes, and they were the best thing I'd eaten on the trip so far. Image
I ate them while watching the sun set over the water. Gorgeous! And then I spent the rest of the evening relaxing with a book and enjoying the peace and quiet and the break from the hustle and the planes and buses and meeting times.  In all, Pattaya was lovely. I enjoyed what I did, but I wish I'd had time and had made the opportunity for myself to do a bit more. But at the same time, it also gives me more reasons to come back to Thailand some day :)

Thailand Day 2

Today was a super fun day! We got up early - the bus left at 7am to head out to the elephant camp for the start of our day. We were able to ride elephants over the hill to the Long Neck Village. It was about a 45 minute ride, and so amazing! I've always loved elephants but never ridden one. Since we had to go two to an elephant, I paired up with another solo traveler and we were on a big 30-year old male elephant named Poo Noi. He was just too cool.

Look at those tusks! After the ride was finished, we were dropped off outside the village. We walked through and found that the visit was actually walking through a working village complete with animals and rice paddies, and the visit was a walk through all their stalls of goods for sale, and we were able to see and interact with the members of the tribe. They were the nicest people! Very friendly and welcoming (welcoming our money too, I'm sure!) I liked this because it didn't feel like exploiting a village and trotting them out to do their song and dance and put their culture on display as a tourist trap. They were living their lives around the place we visited, but it was fun to get a glimpse. (Although it was a tourist thing, I did ask permission for my photos. Just felt like the thing to do.) Image
After our visit there, we went back to the elephant camp to see the elephant show. I have to say, it was really amazing! They're such smart animals. They were playing soccer first - the one in goal was pretty cocky, and the elephants were totally doing their version of talking smack and celebrating saves and goals. It was really hysterical. Image
Then they brought out a different group of 5 elephants and each one was carrying his paint box. The helpers set up easels with paper ready and helped the elephants load paint on their brushes, but then the elephants used their trunks to paint pictures. It was amazing! There are videos of it on YouTube, I believe, but seeing it live was awesome. The elephants have different levels of skill, but some of them painted better than most humans! You can see 2 of the 5 paintings in the second photo below. The others had already been purchased and taken away before I could get around to that side. Image
They actually have a showroom of paintings done by elephants that you can purchase. I admit, I bought one. Relatively cheap, quite beautiful, and with the embossed and stamped seals showing where it came from and who the artist was. I'm going to frame it... how cool is that? Anyway...

After the show and a little free time, we were able to see the elephants bathe. And after they got out of the water, they got a little playful with people. While one of them was still in the water, he reached up to the viewing deck and put a hat on my head and then patted me on the head with his trunk. I tipped him a dollar and he took it and passed it back to his trainer. Then back in their stalls, you could go up to them and they would pose with you. The one I went to wrapped me up, did the hat trick again, and then gave me a big kiss on my cheek. It was pretty adorable. Image
We finally had to leave the elephants, but we moved onto tigers! We went to Tiger Kingdom and had lunch first - some good spicy noodles (essentially pad thai), papaya salad - really good (even though I could taste the fish sauce), fresh papaya, carrot soup, and fried chicken wings - it seems to be a staple in this area. It was all pretty good. From there we got to go see the tigers! We got tickets to go in and see the medium tigers - they were about 10 months old, but at that point were quite near to full grown. We had to wait a while, but finally I was able to go in with 11 others from our group. The trainer showed us all how we should pet the tigers (did I mention we went into their cages? We had to sign a waiver. lol.) and while he was demonstrating, the tiger jumped up and knocked over the woman behind him. He was a bit frisky the whole time. There were 4 in our cage, and 2 of them wanted to play... they kept moving around and went right past me a few times. Actually not as scary as you'd think. I have to say, they're just gorgeous animals. Image
The top three pictures are of the tiger I got to pet, the 4th is the one that was laying on the other side. And when I got down on one knee to pet my tiger, the other one saw the back of my sandal sticking out, and being the playful guy that he is decided that he was going to pounce. I had my back to him, but the trainers caught him before he touched me. Freaked everyone else out, though! But I just kept petting mine. At one point he decided he wanted me to scratch his other side and flipped over, so I scratched that side for a bit. They're really quite soft and silky. Image
After leaving the cage, we explored a bit. There were some stunning white tigers - one of them was huge! There was a lion, and a few full grown tigers, and then a whole room filled with baby tigers that people could go in to play with them - it was a lot like when we went to the lion kingdom outside of Johannesburg. They were so cute! And several of them were trying to pounce on peoples' sandals. I can see where that big guy learned it.

After leaving the tigers, we had a surprise stop at the snake hut. They did a cobra show with siamese cobras. I maybe shouldn't have sat in the front row - it was a little tense at times - the snake charmers liked to mess with people a bit! They handled the cobras and then several other types of snakes and then brought out a big python. They walked around with that guy so that people could hold him - I decided to go ahead and do that too! He was cool and dry and didn't squeeze... I'm glad I did it. Image
After the snake show was over, we went back to the hotel (about 45 minutes away) and had a little bit of time to rest before going out for a little time at the Night Bazaar here in Chiang Mai. It's one street that's lined up and down both sides and some of the streets shooting off the main drag with booths that go up in the evening selling all kinds of wares. Image
I was able to find the one thing that I really wanted on this trip, which was a kalaga with an elephant on it for my wall (which wall is a different story! I was already low on wall space before this trip!) It's black and silver with hints of blue, and I got a pillow case that's similar, only instead of silver sequined elephants it has a pearl beaded one. Hopefully that means that most of my shopping in Thailand is done, because I'm at my weight limit on my suitcase and my carry-on is now full! I'll move to two bags for the flight home, but I need to be creative until then :) Image
So with that, it's time to pack up again and get some sleep! It's been a long but amazing day, and I'm exhausted! I have to recharge for tomorrow :)

Thailand Day 1

I'm in Thailand! Another long-time dream of mine, and I'm so excited to be here. We left Cambodia just after noon and flew to Bangkok where we had a short layover. Since we hadn't had lunch yet, we all went off to find something to eat while we waited for the next flight. I was thinking, yay! Thailand! Thai food! My choices for lunch? McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Subway, 7-Eleven, and Krispy Cream. Seriously? There were a few places to buy instant noodle bowls, but that was about it. So weird!

Anyway. We had a brief lecture from our educator Glenn while we were waiting - he talked a bit about the recent history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. It was all new to me and quite fascinating. Then we boarded our flight to Chiang Mai where we're staying for a few days.

At the airport, our contact Anong welcomed us with leis of jasmine flowers. They smell amazing! Then we got to the hotel and were welcomed with glass of delicious and bright green juice... guava, maybe? Hopefully they'll have it at breakfast and I can figure it out. Then we just had a few minutes to get to our rooms and freshen up... I think someone on my floor ignored the specific "no durian" sign out front (it also said no mangosteen which I thought was odd... they don't smell! Maybe something else?) Definitely a bit of a stench, but fortunately not in my room!

We headed out to go to another dinner and show, this time with dances to the region around where we are here. They brought traditional food as well, which wasn't what any of us were expecting!

Family style again, shared by groups of 4. We started with slices of fried banana (yum!) and then had this tray of different items brought along with rice and a broth. There was fried chicken, some curried pork in a delicious sauce, veggies, noodles, pork cracker thingies (like pork rinds, but shaped like Cheetos) and a few sauces for us to try - one was full of chili seeds and really hot, the other was a red chili paste that was hot but a good hot. We finished with some really sweet fresh watermelon. Definitely not was I was expecting! But quite good... we're thinking maybe it's regional? I didn't really do research before showing up, so who knows?!?

During dinner was also the traditional dance show. Different from Cambodia in some ways, similar in others. It was all very nice. Image
After the show we went outside where we were able to light lanterns and send them up into the sky "Tangled" style. This is a traditional thing here in Chiang Mai - it's symbolic of letting your cares float up and away. You can write messages or whatever on the lantern (and they were huge! So much bigger than I'd imagined) and then they light them for you and you hold on until they're ready to float away, and you just let them go and watch them disappear into the night. Image
All of us got to light one and send it up... they were so beautiful, and I really did feel a sense lightness and exhilaration as I let mine go and watched it drift up and away. They caught the breeze as they rose, snaking into the sky until it looked like its own constellation - one shaped like a dragon. It was wonderful.

So that's it for today... lots of travel and an early morning tomorrow (breakfast is at 5:30am!) so I'm for bed! TTFN!

Cambodia Day 2

My second day in Cambodia was really cool - one of the most impactful so far in terms of what we saw. We started the day with a bus ride to nearby Tonli Sap Lake to see the flooded and floating villages. It was interesting to get out of the city and our resort to see the countryside and how so many people here actually live from day to day. In the flooded village, the houses are built on high stilts because during monsoon season, the lake grows to about 5x the size and everything is flooded. So half of the year they live on land, half of the year they live on the water. Everywhere we went as we got into the countryside was covered in red dust... the plants were red, the fabrics were red... I can't imagine trying to keep clean. We saw people drying and smoking tons of small fish along the side of the road. Dried fish are chopped to use as fertilizer in the rice paddies, smoked fish are for eating. Image
We got to the edge of the lake where we got off the bus to get on the boats. Right on the edge is one of the Buddhist monasteries surrounded by beautiful stupas. Then we went down the hill (which would be underwater in monsoon season) and boarded boats to go out onto the lake. We went down the river - the water was so filthy and stank so badly that I couldn't believe it... they get in it, they boil and filter it for drinking and cooking (apparently they all live with parasites) and they use it for fishing and watering crops. Out of the river and onto the lake itself we were able to see just one of many villages that float on the lake. During the dry season they farm beans on the land (this village, at least,) and during the monsoon, the fields and surrounding mangrove forests are all completely submerged and the houses rise with the water, animals are moved to high ground. Image
Photos really can't do justice to this experience... it was beyond words. Just the opportunity to see into the homes, talk to the people and the children, watch them work and see just a little of how they live their lives was amazing. It wasn't an experience where you come away awed by beauty or amazing architecture... it was one where the cultural insight created a total shift in my perspective and gave me a new level of humility and gratitude for the live that I have and live. This will be an opportunity that I'll remember for a long time. Coming back from the lake, we went to a handicraft center in Siem Reap called Artisans d'Ankgor - it's a program that teaches and certifies people in handicraft skills - especially handicapped people, and gives them a career as they're able to sell their work and draw a salary. We went through various workshops - silk painting, lacquering and gilding, wood carving, stone carving, metal work and silver plating and I think one or two others. The work that they were turning out was really wonderful - I think these were more advanced students. Image
Of course, when we finished the tour there was a showroom where we could buy their work. Since the quality was excellent and the school was such a great concept, I decided to buy a few nice pieces there rather than get something cheaper in the market downtown. I got a beautifully carved black rosewood statue of a standing Buddha as well as a hand tooled and silver plated elephant. After the shopping, we were waiting for the buses and there was an ice cream stand... we hadn't had lunch, so I got a scoop of mango and one of "green lemon kaffir lime" ice cream. That was insanely good - very tart and super refreshing in all the heat! Image
For dinner, we were able to go to a dinner show that featured traditional Cambodian dancing. I think these were students as well, working to continue their education. There were 5 traditional dances, ending with the Apsara dance - the dance emulating the Apsara dancers carved on the walls of Ankgor Wat. They train with coconut shells to learn to bend their fingers backwards so they can match the positions of the carved dancers. Image
The dancing was cool, and we also had a 4 course traditional Khmer meal. It was all yummy (although I skipped the small piece of fish) and there was a super delicious but not too sweet piece of Khmer cake - like a coconut custard cake, along with fruit for dessert. I'll have to try and find a recipe for that one! Cambodia has been awesome, and now we're waiting to fly to Bangkok and then on to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I can't wait to see what comes next! Fun things planned :)

Cambodia Day 1

So yesterday (February 12th) was another day that I'd really been looking forward to - another check on the bucket list! We were heading to the Angkor temples here by Siem Reap. We started, of course, with Angkor Wat - we went out as early as possible to try and beat the crowds, but there were still a ton of people there. It was really amazing... pictures don't do it justice. Image
And our guide Dy (pronounced Dee), explaining to us the story shown in the carvings on the walls of the galleries. It was really fascinating to hear the myths / histories and what they represent. I also hadn't realized that Angkor Wat was a Hindu temple since the king at that time was Hindu and the country hadn't become Buddhist yet. Image
One of the walkways along the galleries... Image
And one of the towers - each represents the 5 senses - sight, taste, touch, hearing, and mind, I think... I might be wrong on one of those. Image
You could wait in line to climb the stairs to the central tower, the one that represents "mind" where the ashes of the king were kept at one time (each king built his own temple - he couldn't get to heaven unless he had one - that's why there are so many Angkor temples... this used to be the capital of Cambodia before it became obvious what an easy mark it made for Thai invaders.) So, I waited in line to climb up. Fortunately they had put up a set of stairs over the old ones that were much easier to climb, but still very steep! A few views from the top: Image
And you can get a sense for how steep the stairs were by looking down from the top as I was about to start down. Thankfully the two women in front of me were super slow, so I had time to take it easy. Image
After visiting Angkor Wat, we went to Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple. I really liked this one - it was very unique, with the 4 faces of Buddha adorning the towers - there used to be 54, I think. Image
Dy, our guide, took these for anyone who wanted them. He knew just the right angle to make it work. Hokey, but fun. Image
From there we stopped briefly to see the Elephant Terrace... Image
We went to a place for lunch where we had another family style set menu. I was able to eat about half of it, which was plenty for me! Spring rolls, another banana blossom salad (slightly different than Vietnam,) rice, curried chicken, and fruit for dessert. I also ordered something that's everywhere here - fresh coconut juice, served in the coconut - they just hack a hole in the top and stick in a straw. It was definitely interesting... I didn't dislike it, but I wouldn't get it again. It would definitely be better cold. Image
After lunch we went to Ta Prohm, otherwise known as the "Tomb Raider" temple - some of the first movie was filmed here, some at Angkor Wat. This one was left more covered by vegetation by the French when they came in and started to restore things. They cut down some of the trees when they get big enough to threaten the temple if they were to fall, but otherwise they're left. It definitely makes it atmospheric! Image
That was officially the end of our tour, but the option was offered for anyone who wanted to stay to go to the Pre Rup temple and climb to the terrace on the top to watch the sunset. Apparently this is a popular thing, and of course I was in! Despite the fact that it had been hot and humid all day and we were all soaked to the skin with sweat, sore and exhausted, I wasn't going to miss an opportunity like that! So we took a break to go to the happy room (bathroom over here), and then stopped for a bit by a roadside market to browse. I picked up a few things - scarves and a bag I really wanted, and then we headed off to the temple. We explored a bit and then climbed up to get spots for the sunset. And then we waited... about an hour. That part wasn't so fun, but it was really cool to be there, and the temple and surrounding area were beautiful! Image
After the sunset, we headed back to the hotel... hot, sweaty, and exhausted. When I got to my room I called the spa to see if I could get in for a massage that night... they had an immediate opening, so I washed up and changed clothes and went over for a 1 hour reflexology foot massage (for $24! not bad for a hotel spa.) It. was. fabulous. When it was over and she took the towel off my eyes, I was like, really? I have to move? Don't get me wrong, parts of it HURT! but in a good way. She even did my head! It took away all the pain in my knees and my headache! And I had the best night's sleep since the first nice after we landed and I had barely slept on the 18 hour flight. It was a long and exhausting day (my muscles are telling me about all the walking and climbing!) but so amazing and so worth it. Definitely memories of a lifetime.

Vietnam Day 2

Okay, I think I figured out how to get the posts to go up the way I want them by working around the app. Crossing my fingers! I got a little far behind... the internet at my hotel in Cambodia isn't too reliable, but I have some free time this afternoon so I'm relaxing in the air conditioning and trying to catch up on journaling. So... day 2 in Vietnam. We have fabulous breakfasts at each hotel - in Vietnam, we had to have pho - really yummy! Image
After breakfast, we checked out and loaded up the buses and then went out for a few more hours before heading to the airport. First up - rush hour in Hanoi: Image
And a very interesting method of getting your house wired up with electricity - we saw this everywhere, some much worse than this! Image
We started with a trip to the museum of Vietnamese Ethnology. It was pretty interesting, especially since there are still lots of groups out in the country that follow older lifestyles and traditions - especially the hill tribes. They had some outdoor recreations of different types of houses (apologies for the photos - the programs on my iPad won't let me edit that far back in imported photos and I think I had my camera settings wrong - we were going in and out of doors a lot.) Image
After visiting the museum, we were able to go by the mausoleum that was built for Ho Chi Min - very interesting. While we were there, we had some great lectures from the guides and our educator (Glenn Rawson) about Vietnamese history, and the Vietnam War (or American War as they call it.) It was interesting perspective and insight, and very educational for me since I was too young to know any of what happened. Image
And at the request of the group, we passed the "Hanoi Hilton," which was something I knew nothing about prior to the visit, but I got filled in! Image
From there we went back to the Old Quarter, and broke into groups. Since I'd already been out shopping the night before, I went with a few others and our guide to the temple in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake - I believe it's the Ngoc Son Temple. It was beautiful, with a lovely pagoda outside. Inside was a shrine, with lots of people coming to leave offerings and pray to Buddha. It was fascinating to watch. Image
We stayed there for a bit and then we were on our own. I joined up with a group - Willy and Carol, and then Sandy and Scott, both others like me on their own on this trip. We went to a restaurant around the lake a bit that they'd recommended called Dinh Lang - traditional Vietnamese food. We found a menu that had only a few courses with seafood since we ordered family style again. Once the servers found out that I didn't eat seafood, they were super accommodating! The first course came with shrimp, so they brought me my own plate of banana blossom salad, and it was DELICIOUS. It had a vinegar dressing and lots of peanuts. So yummy. We also had veggie soup, then came some other stuff I didn't eat, but we also had a roast chicken dish that was wonderful along with rice and fresh fruit to finish. I also ordered a yummy mango smoothie, which was just fresh mango and ice. The whole 7-course meal and drink was like $20, so not too bad! Image
After lunch we walked back around the lake to meet the group. We only had about 20 minutes - our lunch had taken almost an hour and a half! It was worth it, though. Since I'd already shopped the Old Quarter, I didn't feel too left out. We took a few more photos and I bought a post card before the group braved crossing the street (no pedestrian cross walks or right-of-way, you just start walking and they go around you!) and then we waited for the buses to come get us. Image
From there we went to the airport and caught our flight to Siem Reap Cambodia. I wish I had pictures of the greeting at the resort we're staying at here... as we walked in, they greeted us each with a colorful scarf (similar to a lei greeting) and then we had glasses of ginger tea, which was a ginger juice that packed a punch! It was delicious. At that point it was late enough that we all just went to our rooms to settle in, but the walk to my room in a different building was amazing - this place is incredible! I go by the pool which is huge and a tropical wonderland - there are koi ponds near the buildings, lantern-like lights along the paths, and strings of lights in plumeria and oleander trees that fill the air with the most amazing scent. It was another 180 turn - Singapore and Hanoi were amazingly different, and coming here from Hanoi was another big change. Of course, this is a resort in a city that thrives on tourism, but as I've learned since, still a huge difference. More to come from Cambodia :)

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

About three-quarters of the way through our cruise on Halong Bay, we stopped at one of the caves - our guide Minh said it's one of the most beautiful in the bay. The one we visited is called Dong Thien Cung, or Heaven's Palace Cave. It wasn't a huge sequence of caverns like some that I've seen, but it was quite beautiful. It was only discovered in the mid-90s, and has been nicely lit so you can see. We wandered through and looked at the different formations - so many of them looked like jellyfish. I also thought a lot of them looked like the mussel beds or the underwater plants that grow in coral. It was very beautiful.
After finishing the cruise, we drove about 2 hours to the rest stop where we were able to do a bit of shopping. On this trip, I'm looking to get a few nice pieces rather than lots of cheaper stuff, so my main souvenir from Vietnam is a beautiful carved alabaster candle stand - it has a platform and carved cover and the light shines through the holes left from the carving. Mine is decorated with dragons and a turtle - it's stunning.
Anyway, another 2 hours of driving and we were back in Hanoi. The bus stopped at the Old Quarter for those who wanted to get off. I decided to jump off with a few others and explore for a bit. We went into several of the little shops and found a few fun goodies - I was very good! For once! Of course, the real thrill was dealing with the traffic. Remember how I said that they essentially don't follow traffic rules? That makes it interesting to be a pedestrian. Mopeds frequently drive or park on the sidewalk, so you have to look carefully as you walk. Also, going in the evening meant that the locals would set out tables and stools in front of their shops and start eating dinner. (You can purchase food from them and join in if you'd like, but none of us were hungry enough to risk it.) The other super fun part of it is that in order to cross the street, you just start walking. They don't stop, so there's no waiting for a light or anything. You just go! We learned that the key is to walk slowly and steadily forward - don't go back, and don't run. As long as you do that, the traffic just flows around you. It was a lot less nerve wracking than I thought it would be! Anyway, after about an hour or so, the shops were starting to close up and we were getting tired so we hailed a cab and went back to the hotel (which cost us all of $3!)
So that was my first full day here, and I'm exhausted! We're up and out early tomorrow for a tour of Hanoi before heading to the airport for our flight to Cambodia. Hopefully I'll have a good wireless setup there, but we'll see!

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 3

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

So the main point of our visit to Halong Bay was the scenery! This has long been on my bucket list of places to see, and for a years I didn't think I'd ever have the chance to come here. The pictures I've seen have had me amazed, and they're nothing compared to the reality. It was an overcast, slightly misty day, which only added to the atmosphere. The island peaks are just stacked one behind the other, and in the softer light, it gave the most amazing ombre effect... I'd like to try and paint it some time.
It was cool - about 50 degrees fahrenheit, but with a jacket, not too bad on the deck of the boat. I kept jumping up during lunch to go outside and take pictures and once lunch was finished, I stayed out there for most of the cruise. Each time you thought you'd seen the view, you'd go a bit further or come around a bend and a new view would appear that was just as breathtaking as the last. I couldn't stop taking pictures! It was also so quiet and peaceful on the water... even with the other boats around. It was wonderful to just sit out on the deck in the cool air and watch the islands slide by all around us.
Totally and completely stunning.

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 2

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

My first full day in Vietnam! We're staying in Hanoi which was quite a shock to the senses. It's very crowded and a bit dirty, and it seems like most everything is pretty worn down. Of course, the city is over 1,000 years old, so I guess that plays a part.
This morning we headed out early to go to Halong Bay. The traffic going out of town was, apparently, pretty typical. People here don't really pay much attention to stop signs, yield, pedestrians, etc... you just go with the flow and push your way in and everything adjusts around you. The first picture was on our way out of town this morning from the bus - LOTS of mopeds here. They surround us everywhere! It's amazing to me that there aren't constant accidents, but I guess they're used to it.
On the drive, we got to see a lot of rice paddies and the people were out working them - plowing with machines or water buffalo, and planting. Very interesting to see!
Finally, after about 4 hours and one stop (bathroom / food / shopping) we made it to the tourist wharf and boarded our boats. Right after we sat down, they began serving us lunch. It was all fresh seafood, caught that morning, but since I have a severe mental allergy to seafood (and haven't liked what I've actually tried,) we let them know ahead and they had chicken and pork for me. It was all delicious, especially the sauce on that sliced, roasted chicken! There was also a lady running a produce boat - her floating store. They pulled up next to our boat and our tour manager bought a bunch of mangosteens and "hairy strawberries." I didn't get the real name of those, but they're a lot like lychee only with a smoother texture and a bit sweeter. He claimed that mangosteen were the food of the gods and we had to try them. I'd never had one before, but they were delicious!
There were several courses - little bites of meat, french fries, spring rolls, then for me, chicken and rice with steamed cabbage. We had fruit for dessert, including super fresh bananas!
Next post... the amazing scenery from our cruise.

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Vietnam Day 1 - Part 1

Singapore Part 3

Saturday morning, I got back on the bus to go around the city... I loved Chinatown - everything was all decorated to celebrate the year of the horse! Visually, that was probably my favorite part of the city so far (aside from the gardens). I also love how colorful some of the buildings are, and how there are plants everywhere! It's all quite lush.
I didn't do as much as I would have liked while there, mainly because I made the mistake of not making Saturday plans the night before, and I decided there wasn't anything else I wanted to do badly enough to do it alone. I do wish I'd gotten off the bus a few times, but now I have a reason to go back! It was a fun city... expensive, but very cool.
And with that, I'm now in Vietnam, where wireless is free at the hotel instead of $30! So I'm catching up a bit while I'm here. Hopefully more to come soon :)

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 3

Singapore Part 2

Continuing with the first day...
After we visited the Singapore Flyer, we took the Hop-on-hop-off bus (again, free passes!) and went around the city until we got off at the Botanical Gardens. We wandered a bit in there before going to the orchid gardens they have inside (another coupon!) It was just gorgeous... since the Lunar New Year just passed, everything here is still decorated for the celebration, and they had large sections of the garden geared toward the new year and the year of the horse. Horses are everywhere here!
We had also stopped and gotten a little snack. With the heat and fatigue, I didn't want anything heavy, and there was a dessert cart serving shaved ice. The man there told me what was good (again, I had a coupon for $5 free) and got me a dish of shaved ice and a Bird's Nest drink. I have no idea what it was - it tasted a bit like lemongrass, but it had small pieces of a gelatin like substance that were a bit odd. The shaved ice wasn't bad, the flavors were quite different from what we're used to in the states. It also had corn and black beans and more gelatin stuff on the bottom, and then condensed milk and corn on the top. I liked that part, but the beans were weird. Anyway, it was a fun experiment, and fortunately water and ice are pretty safe here (I had visions of the shaved ice scene from the movie "Outsourced," but fortunately I didn't get sick.)
Last photo in the post... on my second day, I went down to breakfast in the hotel and while we were there, there was a lot of drumming going on and then this dragon came through the room. I'm not sure if it was part of the new year's celebration or what, but it was pretty cool!
That's it for this post (still trying to figure out why the Typepad app only lets you use 5 photos... and why I can't insert them and type around! Surely they can improve that, but until then, I'll keep breaking them up like this.)

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 2

Singapore Part 1

I finally made it! I'm not sure when this post will actually go up since the wireless access here at my hotel in Singapore is so expensive, but I thought I'd at least start typing up the posts.
The trip here was... long. I left Tuesday afternoon and spent all day Wednesday in San Francisco, working remote and waiting until I could check my bags. I'm so glad I decided to leave a day early in case of weather, because if I'd waited, I would have gotten grounded in Hartford and missed my flight to Singapore. Every time I think of it I say a prayer of thanks! But I did make it, and made it onto the flight. We flew Singapore Air, which was quite nice, and I was lucky enough to get a window, so I could at least doze on and off during the 14 hours before we stopped in Hong Kong. We got off the plane a bit, so I can at least say I've been to the airport! Not much to see, unfortunately... it was still dark outside - it was about 6am when we got there. We flew another 4 hours to Singapore and got to the hotel just before 2pm on Friday. I now joke... A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, but a journey of 10,000 miles begins with a REALLY LONG flight. lol.
Singapore is nice - it doesn't quite feel like a foreign city on the other side of the world. They speak English here, and they have a lot of the same stores and fast food restaurants. I think this is a nice entrance into SE Asia... a chance to find our feet before moving on.
The first day, I went out with a nice couple on my tour that I sat with on the plane, and we started with the Singapore Flyer - the world's largest Ferris wheel, or something like that. I wasn't sure I could ride it with my fear of heights, but it was going slowly, and the cars were steady and enclosed, and we had gotten coupons for a free ride as part of our tour. It was actually great! We had great views of the city, despite the overcast day.
So that's the first post... you can see a few of the pictures (unedited) that I got from our visit to the Flyer.
More to come...

Singapore Part 1

Singapore Part 1

Singapore Part 1

Singapore Part 1

Singapore Part 1

Two new layouts and some recent photos

I've been feeling the urge to scrapbook again lately and I've done a few new layouts. The first is using a few pictures from my first trip to Chicago. I really wanted to use that background paper - the city with the river running through it reminded me of the city, so I added some vellum to lift the photos up off the background a bit.

I used a mix of old and new embellishments to finish it off.

Chicago Close-up 1
Chicago Close-up 1
And the second layout, one I just did tonight using a cute photo of Adorable-Niece-Eraleigh and Adorable-Nephew-William.


They just got new haircuts - William is looking so grown up with his new 'do!

And a few photos from two weeks ago - Francesca came for a short visit, and then I had an equally short trip out to Chicago to speak at a workshop hosted by one of the vendors I work with.

Lighthouse Point in New Haven:


Stony Creek and the Thimble Islands in Branford:

My hotel room at the W Chicago:


That's it! I have all of my photos printed for August / September Project Life, just haven't gotten around to finishing the pages. I also have some art journal pages and a canvas still to share... hopefully I'll get to that before I head out for my Dyan Reavley classes this weekend :)

Dr. Seuss' Garden, Chicago, and Gelatos

Not that those three things are related... just that they all happened within the last week, so I'm posting about them together to catch up a bit :)

First, last Saturday Patty and I went up to The Inspiration Station in Stafford Springs to take a class called Dr. Seuss' Garden. It was taught by their Zentangle teacher, and we did do some drawing and tangling, but the main purpose was to learn how to use color with Tombow markers. We got several markers with the class, and learned about 18 techniques on how to use them. I had a good time drawing out samples on my notes page and then using my favorites in the project.

Here's my in progress shot from the class:

Dr Seuss' Garden - In Class

After class, we ran over to West Hartford for my first visit to Jerry's Artarama where we happened to catch their Back to School sale. It's been YEARS since I've been to a big art supply store like this (last time was Pearl Art in Virginia like 15 years ago) so this was like walking into my personal version of heaven. Especially since I was greeted with this:

Jerry's Golden Sale
I may have stocked up a bit. But I will say, in the last week, I've used everything that I bought, and found a new favorite paint brush - it's a Silver Ruby Satin #1 Round (I needed that size) and it's fabulous. I have a store credit for next week's Golden Acrylic Grounds demo, so I think I'll get some more since they'll still be on sale.

Then at home, I finished the class project. Fun! I'll have to use these techniques more.

Dr Seuss' Garden - Final Project
Then, mid-week I took a very quick trip out to our new Chicago office for our first America's eCommerce team summit. The new office happens to be in the Willis Tower (old Sears Tower).

Willis TowerAnd the view out toward Lake Michigan from our office:

View from the Office
And the view from where we ate lunch on Wednesday:

Chicago - Lunchtime view
The weather was beautiful, and I really liked the area where I stayed and around the office. I'm hoping to explore more on future visits. Possibly my favorite part of all? This was right around the corner (literally like 50 feet) from my hotel.

Blick - Chicago Loop
I promise, I did not know that was there when I booked the room. I just picked it because it was a half mile from the office and my boss was staying there - convenient and reasonably priced. But I can guarantee you that I'll be staying there again! I got to go into Blicks (again... my own heaven!) and browse after work on Tuesday. It was probably a good thing since I was traveling with just a carry-on, so it limited my ability to buy more paint (like I need any.) But I got a few tubes, a few more brushes, and a very nice set of pastels that were on sale - I've been itching to do more pastel work soon.

Anyway, Chicago was nice. Aside from the 3.5 hour delay from the thunderstorm. We were boarding the plane on time (unusual for O'Hare from what I've heard) and as we were getting on, we were watching lightening flash outside. So we knew we weren't going anywhere for a while. But I read a book and then the captain enabled free DirecTV for everyone... and since Economy Plus was the only option for my return flight, at least I had some leg room while we waited it out! I got home just before 3am, but I made it. At least it wasn't a blizzard (this time!)

Finally, Thursday night was our Mixed Media club at Papercraft Clubhouse. This month we were learning about Faber Castel Gelatos (unfortunately, no ice cream involved, but this was just as good.) We went through several techniques and got to play and try them out. I learned quite a bit which is good, since I have a lot of Gelatos that I don't use like I should!

Mixed Media Night - Gelatos
So that's it... I do have a few new canvases to post, so that will come soon.

And for anyone interested (and local!) I'm actually going to get back into teaching... just a bit. I'll be doing my cardboard journal at Papercraft Clubhouse on October 26th. Watch for more info on that!

The Calm Before the Storm

I've found something I don't like about living in Connecticut. Sitting here on an abnormally quiet Sunday evening, worrying... stressing... trying to stave off anxiety attacks over the coming hurricane. Most of the shoreline was evacuated today which is kind of scary. I'm far enough from the actual shore that I should be okay, but that's only a partial relief. I'm sitting here, constantly worrying over whether or not I took this seriously enough. Do I have enough water? Enough food? Should I have bought more batteries or a generator or something? I probably should have refreshed the stuff in my 72-hour kit. I'm high enough that I shouldn't have to worry about flooding, but there are only so many places where I can park my car, and none of them is particularly safe. I had to settle for not parking directly under the giant maple where I usually park, and hopefully out of the way of as many trees as possible. I pulled some loose branches out of the way and picked up some junk from around the yard and stowed it in the basement, but did I leave any other potential missiles sitting out overlooked? Should I have tried to put my trashcan in the basement?

I'm managing to worry about every.possible.thing. Twenty-seven times. each.

I have a blistering headache and my stomach is in knots. I'm a pretty independent person, but this is one time when being on my own really blows. But it will be okay. Although I've never been this close to the water before, it's not my first hurricane. Unfortunately the memory of the winds slamming into the house and making me afraid the windows were going to give way at any moment isn't helping. lol.

My attempt at blogging as a distraction? Fail. Heh.

Well, since I'm here anyway, and since I haven't been around for a while, I thought I'd share a few things from the last week or so while I still have power.

Last weekend, I hopped on the train late Friday afternoon for a quick trip down to New York City to meet Mom and Nicole. Nicole wanted to come up and see some shows as her birthday present, but we couldn't get a time that would work closer to the actual date, so we planned this as a last minute trip. I had a terrible time getting into the city, but finally made it, got to the hotel near Grand Central, and managed to catch a cab to Times Square in time to catch a little dinner.

The view from our hotel while I was waiting for a cab:

New York B-day trip 1

And then our birthday desserts at the restaurant after I finally found them...

New York B-day trip 2

New York B-day trip 3

As we walked through the square on the way to the theater, we had a little treat! The Naked Cowboy!

New York B-day trip 4
Mom wanted us to go in for a photo, but this was good enough for me!

Then, onto our show for the evening - we saw Mary Poppins, which was really quite wonderful.

New York B-day trip 5
After the show we walked a bit until we could catch a cab, then went back to the hotel and just crashed!

New York B-day trip 6
Saturday morning we slept in, then got up and called and managed to get tickets to Newsies. Woohoo! We also enjoyed the view of the Empire State Building from our room:

New York B-day trip 7
So since we didn't have to go stand in line at the half-price ticket booth, we went over to the restaurants at Grand Central and had lunch at Juniors. They had good reviews on my Foodspotting app, plus Rick swears their cheesecake is the best. I had a salad, but we shared a slice of cheesecake and it was indeed delicious.

Then, off to the theater for our matinee!

New York B-day trip 8
After the show, we went back and picked up mom's car and they dropped me at Grand Central before heading out to drive back home. While I was at the train station, I stopped in at the Apple store to see if I could get an appointment at the Genius bar to fix my iPod. Both my iPod and my Kindle crapped out while I was home in Virginia at the beginning of the month. I'd replaced the Kindle, and as it turned out, I had to replace the iPod too. But doing it at the Genius bar saved me a lot over buying a new one (and of course, it died after my Apple Care expired!) so I was all set and grabbed the train back to New Haven. It was a super fast trip, but it was fun - good to see mom and Nicole, and we saw two really awesome shows. I can't really say which I liked more - they were both outstanding!

In other news, I bought myself a new toy this last week. It wasn't intended to be a birthday present to myself, but it works out that way, which is probably going to be a good thing considering that my birthday will probaby be, quite literally, a wash out this year. (Ha!)

Happy birthday to me - new tv
I'd had my old 30" TV since... well, a long time. lol. Like 18 years! So I decided it was finally time to get a new one. Craig and Ryan went with me on Tuesday and we had lunch at Chipotle (Ryan's favorite) and then went to Costco to get the TV. I had narrowed it down to a few choices, and they helped me make the final decision, then we loaded this bad boy into Ryan's truck. After work Tuesday they all came over and brought it in and installed it while I made a thank-you dinner - braised short ribs and creamy parmesan-garlic polenta with yummy appetizers and stuff. It was delicious, and the TV is awesome. I'm absolutely loving it! Of course, I had to get a blu-ray to match... I feel like I'm finally out of the technology dark ages. It's lovely.

And today was Adorable-Niece-Aubrey's 2nd birthday. We had a terrible time getting my Skyped in for the party (interference from the storm killing the signal?) but finally I switched to FaceTime and that worked great... in time for me to see her devouring her cake and opening my present - I got her a hoppy ball thing that she can bounce on. She's still a little too short for it, but loves having someone set her on it and help her bounce. She had quite the birthday, and it was fun to see and chat with everyone.

Aubrey's 2nd birthday call
The kids always love seeing me on the video, and this time William got in on it too. They were all trying to give me kisses on the screen... so adorable. What did we do before technology got this advanced? I love how it makes it easier for our family to stay close no matter where we are.

Well, that's about it. Other than that, I've been doing laundry and cooking things to have that I can eat cold... trying to get as ready as I can for the storm. So now that I'm done with this, I think I'll go back to trying to keep myself from panicking. Hopefully everything will be okay and we'll all be safe and sound two days from now!

A little NYC, a little layout fun.

Last week I got to go down to New York for work. We had training with one of the vendors that I work with a lot, so Ryan and I headed out Monday afternoon to get checked in and settled for the first session early Tuesday morning. We took the train out of New Haven down to Grand Central Station (my first time visiting it, and my first state-side train ride!)

New York 1
The train ride is about an hour and 45 minutes, but pretty picturesque for the most part. Unfortunately there are too many starts and stops for me to read without getting sick, so I chatted with Ryan a bit and enjoyed the scenery. We got there and took a cab to our hotel - the Tribeca Grand. The hotel was awesome (our boss got us a great deal on Priceline!) and it was in a great location. We checked in and headed out to find food. While Ryan was Yelping, we happened to see Harvey Weinstein walking out and pausing for the paparazzi right in front of us - apparently the screening for Sinister was being held at our hotel! (Not that we knew who he was then... we had to look it up later. lol.) Anyway, we found a great Italian place just up the street - da Mikele. The whole meal was divine, but the appetizer we ordered was probably one of the best things we ate all week.

New York 2We saw these salumi platters on menus everywhere we went. Trendy? Whatever it was, it was simple but amazing. And something I can do at home when I have people over. Yum! Seriously... the honey is what made it. So good.

Our first day of training was good... a LOT of information and great stuff to take back with us. We finished about 4 and walked from their office in Soho back to our hotel to drop our stuff and change clothes, and then we set out to see some sights. We walked over to the World Trade Center since I hadn't been to NYC since way before 9/11 and I wanted to see the memorial and the new towers. We got there too late to go into the memorial (another time!) but it was cool to see the progress on the new site.

New York 3
We wandered from there over to Battery Park and saw The Sphere...

New York 4
and a few other sights.

New York 4b
New York 5
Then we went through the financial district and down Wall Street (another first for me) and then went back near our hotel to a restaurant I'd found on Foodspotting - Bread Tribeca. That was another totally delicious meal!

Wednesday on the way to our second day of training, we passed quite a crowd - we never did figure out what it was, but there was some filming at a building we passed - you can see the actor harnessed up on the window ledge with some of the crew and equipment around him.

New York 6
That was a super long training day. Good, lots of information, but LONG. After we finished, Ryan rested up and I went out to wander a bit in the shops on Broadway. I managed to keep from buying anything, but it was fun! Then I met Ryan and we had dinner at the hotel restaurant (great reviews on Foodspotting, and a good menu!) Another awesome meal, topped off with this:

New York 7
That's a salted caramel and chocolate tart with gold leaf on top. Ryan was afraid to eat it, so I endulged. You couldn't taste it, but it felt decadent! And boy was it delicious! We shared, but definitely couldn't finish.

Thursday was the last day - we checked out and hauled our bags 1/2 mile to the office where we had our last few hours of training (including a quick trip out to the street to get some fresh air and sample a cupcake from the street carts - delicious!) We finished up in the early afternoon and headed back to Grand Central for our train home.

In all, great trip. Learned a lot, saw great stuff, had some fun and ate really, really well. In the past I've never really liked visiting New York, but I think going back after 10-15 years and doing stuff that was less touristy and more *me* really made a difference. I'm looking forward to going back again... this weekend, as a matter of fact! This time to see a few shows with Mom and Nicole and hang out around Times Square instead of Soho / Tribeca. Should be fun!

In the meantime, I started a layout with some pictures from my trip down to Virginia a few weeks ago and finally managed to finish it tonight. Most everything is from the October Studio Calico kit. (Again with the blurry! I just can't get these full layout shots to work!)

Hangin' with the KiddosI had everything done days ago except the title and journaling - those just weren't coming. I like how the title turned out, but I'm not thrilled with how the journaling looks on the page. But it's there, it's done, and it's not too horrible, so I'm letting it go and moving on.

Hangin' with the Kiddos close-up 1
I do really like all the decorative details. I got back a little bit to the kinds of pages I used to do. Lots of fussy little details. I also challenged myself to use my Silhouette Cameo on this one. Love the circles! And for once, I decided not to stint on the Thickers. It's not like I'm in any danger of running out any time in the next 10 years!

Hangin' with the Kiddos close-up 2
Love the texture from the wood veneer stars (I need like 20 packs of those as backup for when they don't make them anymore!) and the liquid pearls.

Hangin' with the Kiddos close-up 3
So there you go. And hopefully... maybe? On to some more Project Life? I seem to say that a lot lately, so we'll see. I won't be around the next few days, so I guess another week will go by. But whatever... I refuse to stress!

I'm out!

Back from Tahoe!

Okay, so I've actually been back a few days, just busy. There are big changes coming around here... it's going to be quite a challenge if things work out the way I think they will. Cryptic, I know. But hopefully I can share everything soon.

In the meantime, I just got back from my family reunion at Lake Tahoe. It was so fun to see everyone! I need to put photos into an album to share, but for now, here's my finished Scrapbook on the Road. I picked out 48 favorite pictures and had them printed as 5x7s and then used a coupon I had for Persnickety Prints and got a bunch of Instagram prints done (which I loved!)

Here's the cover - I used a Heidi Swapp memory album from a few years ago - the pages are 5x7 and it's a smallish 3-ring binder. I used a lot of the pages that came with it and added some of my own.

Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road Cover 1

And here are the inside pages... there are a lot (and I didn't even take pictures of all of the pages that are just photos or just journaling), so I'm using the thumbnail gallery below. Enjoy!

  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 1
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 2
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 3
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 4
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 5
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 6
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 7
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 9
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 10
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 11
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 12
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 13
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 14
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 15
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 16
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 17
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 18
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 19
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 20
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 21
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 22
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 23
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 24
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 25
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 26
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 27
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 28
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 29
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 30
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 31
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 32
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 33
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 34
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 35
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 36
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 37
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 38
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 39
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 40
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 41
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 42
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 43
  • Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 41
Tahoe Scrapbook on the Road 41

Now I've got to get caught up on my Project Life. Hopefully I can knock that out soon... I hate not being caught up! But, life comes first, and I've got a lot going on right now so we'll see. If I don't? No biggie, right?