Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beaune Noel

The Christmas period was spent in and around Nolay.  Simon & Chazzy arrived on the afternoon of the 23rd and departed for skiing on the morning of the 26th.



We packed into the little apartment with heaters running full power to keep things warm.  Days have been fine and sunny, but cool.

There were a few walks around the area and some time in the French supermarket.

We had Champagne before lunch and before the lovely turkey Christmas dinner.while it was not surprising to see the bakery open on Christmas morning the small grocery shop and the florist were also open.




Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vroom vroom & Chocolat

We left Paris in our iittle rental car ~a VW Golf and had an easy run down the motorway for 2 hours and then left the motorway to meander through some smaller villages on our way to Beaune.  

We had Beef Bourguignon for lunch at Semur-en-Auxerre before heading to Flavigny-sur-Orzelain. Flavigny is famous for 2 things the 1st is it's Anise lollies.  And the 2nd is this is where the movie "Chocolat" was filmed.  

Sadly the factory lolly shop was closed - but we picked some up at the supermarket.  Most of the rest of the town was almost deserted, but you could see the atmosphere and character.  And I imagine it would be atrocious  in the height of summer with the bus loads of tourists teeming through the place.

We are staying at an apartment 20km out of Beaune, in the village of Nolay.  Not the most atmospheric of villages, but it is nice to be out of the tourist hustle that is Beaune.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Wandering around Paris

It was raining lightly this morning.   We used some walking routes as guidelines to explore the Latin Quarter not far from where we are staying.  

Of course the morning started with coffee and croissant (& an extra pain au chocolat for Andrew) to give us strength and energy.   




A bit of a look around Place St. Michel before heading towards Musee de Cluny and the Sorbonne and the Pantheon. A wander through the bare Jardins du Luxembourg where we took a couple of photos. Apparently I often give instructions when I hand my camera over to Andrew!

Lunch was back across the river near Les Halles.  The specials of the day were Veal Roast or Head of Veal.  if you are not sure what Tete de Veau is this might help to explain why I suggested Andrew didn't choose that.  Http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/20070614_2.html.  I suspect this happy face might have not looked quite so happy if he was eating the Tete de Veau :-)



A bit more wandering & exploring before returning to our hotel area and the Rue Mouffetard - a bit of a food, wine and specialty goods street.  We enjoyed window shopping but were very glad to get back to the hotel and rest the feet.  We haven't spent a lot of time in lace up shoes while in Laos and we noticed the change pounding the pavements. 


Paris

We travelled to Paris via Hanoi arriving about 6.30 am. After the usual stuff we purchased our day pass for public transport (20 euro each) and off to The Latin Quarter to our hotel on the RER train.  Then we needed to change to the metro at Notre Dame.  Easy peasy. We had printed out travel instructions but had not included the walk between the two (not interconnected) stations.  As a result our return to Paris started with a half hour effectively walking the blocks around Notre Dame before we found the direction we were supped to go and the 5 minute walk to the metro.  Our hotel was not ready as it was only 9:00am, so we dropped the bags and headed off.

Within in 5 minutes we had found the excellent Eric Kayser bakery and were nibbling on a croissant and having a coffee.  All the Bread, pastries and sweet temptations in the cabinets beside us were there just waiting for us...



The sun was shining and the temperature cool, but not cold.  So we decided to ease into France with a trip to Gallleries Lafayette - just to remind ourselves what retail is. 

We then headed off to find a menu for lunch and ended up at an excellent little place that was turning people away because it was full.  

To finish our afternoon we walked the Christmas market along the Champs Elysee.  It was busy, but it was twice as busy when we returned about 7pm to see the lights. To get into the spirit we had some Gluhwien and sausages & tartiflette for our dinner.  

Not a bad day where the only money we spent was on transport and eating.



Saturday, December 10, 2011

A few days on the beach on Phuket

On Monday we took an Air Asia flight down to Phuket. Normally Phuket would not have been our 1st choice of destination, but an hour and a half direct flight from Udon Thani (50km over the border in Thailand) made it easy.  And given that we decided and booked on Friday, left Monday, easy was important.

When we got there we had a feeling of hmmmm, might of made a mistake.  Phuket is one of Thailand’s most heavily visited areas.  We had made the decision to avoid Patong beach, with it’s go-go bars and bright lights and instead headed further to what the tourist information described as more relaxed Kata Beach.  The beach had umbrellas in rows 3-4 deep in places, the sea was full of swimmers, and it looked a (lot) unappealing.  Interestingly Club Med is built on this beach (just at the left of the photo) and the people paying $3000 per week share beach with everyone else…mmm no thanks

Then we walked 10 minutes over a hill and found a beach with 1/4 of the people & umbrellas and a beach with good waves.
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Busy crowded main beach ------------------> Bliss 10 minutes away


So the pattern for our time there was walk 10 minutes further than the main Kata beach to Kata Noi beach.  Hire a lounger for 100 baht each (NZ$4) and sit, read, drank, eat Pad Thai for lunch at a beachside cafe and swim.  Then at the end of the day walk back to the hotel in the afternoon before going for dinner.  The beach was spotlessly clean and the water warm and crystal clear.  It was tough, but we managed.  So after being a bit dubious to start with, we ended finding a nice spot and really enjoying ourselves.  We would not hesitate to go back.
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The odd thing about Kata was that we English speakers were in the minority.  We were completely outnumbered by Russians and Swedes.  Signs and menus were commonly in English, Russian and Swedish.
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If heading to that part of the world the Two-chefs restaurant has fantastic food at reasonable prices.  And we had the best wine in months there – a South African Pinotage – from Spice Routes winery. 


IMG_2946x1And in celebration of a beach holiday Andrew broke out his redIMG_2951x1 ensembles.  How many shades of red can you count in this outfit .
<= 


Unable to top the full on red look, the next day he substituted a pink t-shirt for the red one, and stowed his cerise beach towel in his maroon man-bag =>





It was much hotter in Phuket where the day/night temperatures ranged from mid-30s to mid-20s than here in Vientiane where the cool season is upon us at mid-20s to mid-teens. Not quite cool enough to acclimatise us to the European winter temperatures coming up for us in 9 days time :-?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Colds and incidents

It has been a quiet few weeks with life as usual.  So Andrew has taken it upon himself to make his own entertainment.

This week there has been the Cold – which half the rest of Vientiane has also been suffering.  Andrew didn’t get the same chest cold as me, he got an “infection”.  It seemed a lot like a chest cold, but ohhhh sooooo much worse.  Team him up with one of our neighbours, who is also “suffering terribly”, and you have the President and Vice-President of the Laos man-flu club.  (on a positive note the cough has reduced from seal-barks to a more gentle hyena hiss, and next week we hope for a miracle full-recovery)

[on reading this in his editorial capacity I was told I had to say he also had a sore back last week from trying to lift two large water containers.  We are lucky this has also come right]

The cold may be what led to a small international incident in a local supermarket.  He went in and purchased some tea bags and then found he had been charged too much.  On returning to the store he was standing in the aisle and showing the shop attendant the price on the shelf and the price on the docket were different.  The young man was swinging his arms around to catch the attention of a fellow worker for a second opinion when the cringe-worthy incident happened.  

Being somewhat shorter than Andrew, the returning arc of the swinging arm managed to hit Andrew in the privates in a solid, but non-injurious, thump.  Both parties were horrified!!!  Andrew started glaring at the man.  The young man could see his shop career disappearing in front of his eyes and started apologising and retreating at a rapid pace.  In Andrew’s words “he seemed to disappear through a solid concrete wall” and was not seen again.  On the positive side Andrew was refunded the $1 he was overcharged and managed to ride home with his chest infection, sore back and wounded crown jewels.

And in his spare time he has been modelling his ski hat and neck warmer.  While temperatures are dropping noticeably here – they are not quite needed yet.
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On the other hand I have caused no issues and have been generally well behaved.
[Andrew here, women sometimes have a blinds spot about their behaviour, and the impact of their cold.]

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Weekend in Bangkok

While I was away working at the start of November Andrew started a post about a weekend we had down in Bangkok. It was the weekend of the Rugby World Cup final.  It was 5 lines long and I decided to edit it and complete it. Then I forgot to post it. Since then Andrew has been in Bangkok again on the way back from NZ last weekend- still sandbagged and no real evidence of flooding in the CBD - here follows a long overdue post.........

We went to Bangkok on the overnight train.  Both ways the journey took 3 hours longer than it normally does because the train had to take a detour due to the flooding around Bangkok.  We expected to see water on our arrival, but there was none.  People were worried though, and it was a bit eerie to walk down streets with where there were sandbags half a meter high in front of buildings.  Other buildings had constructed concrete walls in front of their premises.

We did manage to visit Jim Thompson's house this trip, which was an interesting structure and very appealing.  (Jim Thompson Former CIA agent, revived the Thai silk industry, had an interest in architecture and disappeared while one afternoon while visiting friends in Malaysia - mystery never solved )

 

We did a food walking tour http://bangkokfoodtours.com/ which was enjoyable - but we were familiar with most of the plates we sampled.  It would be good for someone just starting out with Thai food.  There were only 4 of us in the group and it was a good way to see another part of the city we had not yet explored.

On our way back to the hotel to watch the rugby final we popped into the supermarket to buy a couple of beers and some nibbles.  The shelves were bare in places due to people stocking up on essentials, and the breakdown in the delivery-chain due to flooding. 
On the good side there was some beer left. 
On the bad side after standing in line for a number of minutes Andrew was told they couldn't sell beer before 5 pm. 
Not a smiley face on Andrew.  We tried a 7-11 next door with the same answer.  An even grumpier face now.  Walking down the street to our hotel he popped into a hole-in-the-wall place, charmed the elderly shop-keeper and came out grinning with a number of cans in his bag.  Money beats regulations everywhere (or was it the Andrew charm?)

Back at our hotel we watched the game (with a Thai commentary) and were so glad when the final whistle went!  To celebrate we went downstairs and had a superb Italian meal at one of Bangkok's best Italian restaurants - which just happens to be beside our hotel.  http://www.zanotti-ristorante.com/

If anyone wants a good explanation about why the flooding is happening this year and its implications this cartoon in Thai, but sub-titled in English is very good. http://youtu.be/b8zAAEDGQPM

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What we saw on the River

Along the river we stopped twice to visit villages and once for lunch.

The first village we visited was that of the Lanten people. Andrew and I were very pleased about this, because we have seen in Vientiane a number of pieces of weaving by the Lanten people  -at the Japanese Coffee house.

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The Lanten people are recognisable by the indigo blue clothing that they wear. They weave and dye cotton using indigo plants that they grow around the village. The women wear their hair pulled back off the faces and when they marry they shave their eyebrows

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The next stop we had was for lunch. It was a pre-prepared picnic made by the Boat landing. The guides went and picked banana leaves and laid them down as a recyclable tablecloth. As per usual, the food from the boat landing was lovely.

Further downstream we stopped at a Khmu village. Khmu are one of the many different ethnic minorities in Laos. This village did not seem as prosperous as the previous.

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Back on the river and the final set of paddling. We were all pleased to be out of the boats it had been hard work. While the guides loaded the kayaks on the van we spent a few minutes interacting with the locals.

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Andrew was MOST impressed with the lad in orange walking around the village with his slingshot  & the 2 boys showed off their prowess.  Sadly the little boy didn’t give him a go with it.
We were driven back to the boat landing, which was about 20 km away by road. Driving slowly along the pitted dirt road, it took us nearly an hour.
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And this is how you launder your money  - needed if you keep it in your pocket on a river journey – isn't that right Andrew?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

White Water Kayaking–Luang Namtha

As no one was taking up his suggestion of hiring motorbikes and riding to China, Russ suggested the kayaking trek.  And everyone agreed .

Two guides, and 2 sets of NZers headed downstream.  When it came to the white water one man could could be heard relentlessly yelling

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And the other had some female yelling
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(it’s a loss of control thing)

There were a group of younger backpackers on another tour doing the same route.  When asked the guides said they preferred the older travellers – less trouble.  And so it proved, none of us came out but the backpackers seemed to spend some time with overturned boats.

R&R steamed through most of the route but had one sticky moment caught sideways in some trees in the middle of the rapids
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We had one moment where we came out of the rapids into the calm and Andrew did a turn to watch the other boats.  He managed to spin the back of the boat under water and was a bit closer to swimming than he had intended
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It was a hard day and at the end we were pleased to walk up the hill from the river.  Both men had found the lack of back support in the kayak made it hard work but both managed to steer us safely for 5 hours

We stopped at some interesting villages during the journey …more to come

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Monday, October 17, 2011

4 bicycles in one horse Luang Namtha

The lodge had run out of mountain bikes so we headed off on what they described as smaller bikes.  Smaller, but we managed to ride the 6km into town, around town, up a hill and back again.
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Luang Namtha is small and very quiet in this off season time.  We checked out the market – which is a nice one and I got a new hat as my own was back in VTE.  It was stylish and when you velcroed the fabric around your face no dust from the road  (commonly worn by locals in the field or riding motor bikes)
We did the journey the hill to the new gold coloured Stupa, built in 2003.  The reason there a new Stupa was built is that the Americans bombed the old one in 1966
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Having seen the Stupa we headed back into town for lunch at the “Minority Restaurant” Run by members of local minority tribes it serves good Lao food…eventually.

We were the first people to arrive and it prompted a call from the lady wearing a military uniform.  Maybe 10 minutes later a motorbike arrived driven by what turned out to be our lunch chef.  Our orders were taken and we sat happily sipping some Beer Lao.  Twenty minutes passed and then our chef zoomed away on her motorbike. To return 10 minutes later with some noodles in her bike basket.  Our meals came a good 45 minutes after we had arrived and sat down.

Back on the bikes we took the back road back to the lodge.  Lots of rice about to be harvested or just starting to be harvested.
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Rice waiting to be harvested
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Some harvesting had started

The Chinese have invested a lot of money in Rubber plantation and everywhere you looked there were large tracts of rubber trees – it takes 8 years before the rubber tree starts producing.
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Then we had a little inconvenience.  Andrew got a puncture. 

However we dealt with this by sitting him on the padded seat while he guided his bike and I doubled him to a roadside stall that mended punctures a few kilometres away.  At one point we went past a gang of roadside labourers.  They watched as two falang (foreigners) rode up with a tall older man sitting on the padded carrier nursing his bike.  They broke into spontaneous clapping and cheers of encouragement – it was quite funny. 
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Returning home from school keeping the sun off


Back to lodge early dinner (working our way through the entire menu), early to sleep and early to rise for another day - white water kayaking...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Silk grown and woven under a house

When we were wandering around the village near the Boat Landing we came across a lady offering to sell us silk scarves.  We had seen the weaving looms all around Laos but this was the 1st time we had seen the silkworms being farmed. 
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Under her house she had an in meshed in area baskets and baskets of silk cocoons and eggs waiting to hatch and feed on shredded mulberry leaves
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Knowing nothing about the process we found when we got back to Vientiane the yellow cocoons were genetic – just like eye colours.  In the wild many cocoons are yellow for camouflage but farmers bred to get more white silk.  It’s obviously easier not to have to bleach the yellow ones before applying the colour dyes.  Some information resources about silk-worms are Silkworms for classrooms or About Silkworms
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In many parts of the countryside it is really common to see a loom under a Lao house.
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But this was the first time we had seen the go – to –woe of the whole process.  From growing the cocoons that unravel to be silk thread, the thread being spun and dyed, and the silk being woven into scarves.
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The lady was really good trying to show us what materials were used to make the colour – woods, roots, leaves plant stems...  She had been dying some gentle pink/yellow silk when we visited and to achieve that she used a special wood we were familiar with – we use it to light our barbecue here.
And we bought number of scarves
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Days in Northern Laos

Russ and Rosalba arrived in Vientiane after a brief look around the town we took them out for dinner.  A bit of torrential rain came down and we were treated to localised flooding and having to wade home through ankle deep water. 

The next day we headed north to Luang Namtha – 1 hour by plane, 24 hours if driving.  Bordering on Burma and just 50km from the Chinese border.  Russ was keen to hire a motorbike and ride to China, but sadly none of the rest of us wanted to participate in that 'adventure' so it did not happen :-)

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A few months ago we found the cook book:

 Food from Northern Laos - The Boat Landing Cookbook 

This is an excellent book not only full of Lao recipe but with superb photos, descriptions of ingredients and about the way of life in the region. 

Both of us had been there with work projects but this was an excellent opportunity to revisit the region, to do some more touristy exploring and to stay at The Boat Landing


The Boat landing is an eco-lodge located 6km out of Luang Namtha
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The Boat Lodge - situated just above the river
We wandered down to the river banks where large parts of the local community were watching teams practice for the upcoming boat races. 

Next Thursday all of Laos (except Luang Prabang who do it slightly earlier) marks the end of Buddhist Lent with boat races.

So we watched the teams coming down the river to the sound of pacing whistles and the cheers of encouragement of the locals.
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The lodge itself was quiet and peaceful. 

Except.... in the mornings when the roosters crowing would start about 4:00am, then the early morning boat practices and their whistles between 5:30 and 6:30am. 

And the calves that were grazing in the field by the boat landing after a boat ride from somewhere about a day’s journey downstream. 
Oh, we also had a rat in the ceiling  of our bungalow that got busy during the night to gnaw through the cane roof.  Thankfully the gnawing job remained a work in progress that was not completed during our stay. 

Otherwise the place was so peaceful and calm, the butterflies giant sized and the people friendly.  And we ate our way through most of the book, so we have some future inspiration