Friday, October 9, 2009

Cooking Up A Storm



8 to 9 October, 2009 – Bangkok, Thailand

To avoid a flat afternoon in Bangkok, waiting for our trip to end tomorrow, we decided to jump in to a Thai cooking course. It was fantastic. We went to market first to buy a lot of the required ingredients, and learnt a heap about Asian vegetables and spices. Then, we cleaned and chopped and prepared four main courses and a dessert. We made our own curry paste, too. Green curry. Yummo!


Ready To Go
Ready To Go
We started the afternoon with a trip to the market to buy fresh vegetables and spices. Now, ingredients washed, cleavers in hand, we are ready to be let loose on some Thai dishes.


Thai Cashew Chicken
Thai Cashew Chicken
Dish number two – Thai Cashew Chicken. The highlight of this dish was the fabulous aromatic dried chillies.


Grinding Chilli Paste
Grinding Chilli Paste
Green chilli paste being made from scratch. This was hard work, especially given the weight of the pestle.



Jo got into trouble for eating too slow, while I asked my questions too early (and began chopping before he told us to)!

Catch Up In Hanoi




6 to 8 October, 2009 – Hanoi

Both Mark and Monica were colleagues of Jo's a few years ago. Mark also became my footy cheering buddy, as he is even more passionate about the Kangaroos than I am. So, when we found a cheap Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Hanoi, where they are now living, we couldn't possibly not go. It was so exciting to see them, especially since Monica is 7 months pregnant! Also, what a great excuse to go back to Hanoi for a couple of days.

Oh, and thanks guys for spoiling us rotten!


This Is One Of My Favourite Things
This Is One Of My Favourite Things
I love getting a shave with a cut-throat razor. It must be quite the task for them to do me, too, as they have this soft facial hair that takes months to grow, while us Western men have our stiff whiskers that grow almost as quickly as we remove them.


Mark and Monica
Mark and Monica
On the streets of Hanoi, Mark and Monica on their typical Vietnamese family vehicle. Monica looks so well, really healthy. It was special to drop in on them so close to such an exciting occasion.


Fantastic Street Barbecue
Fantastic Street Barbecue
In Vietnam, street food is only authentic street food if you have to sit on tiny plastic stools with your knees up around your ears. We know this street food was cooked fresh, as we had to cook it ourselves. A large platter of beef and vegetables, a little stove and hot plate, and a few blocks of paraffin. Vietnamese barbecue.


A Typical Load
A Typical Load
Actually, it is quite unladen compared to some, but I like the shot. We assume that is the man's wife, and note there is ample space for some children on there with them.



I decided to get my shoes cleaned and shined. Two boys gave me some plastic slippers so I could stand while they furiously worked my shoes. They also applied a dab of glue here and there where my worn out footwear showed some signs of age, all the while muttering and mumbling about how dirty they were. “No clean long time”, one of them scolded me. “We fix!” However, I had to intervene when they began to cut a piece of tyre to “re-sole” my shoes. And, I had to be very forceful, as they were very insistent!

High Life in Bangers



4 to 6 October, 2009 – Bangkok, Thailand

Plan A was to come to Thailand for a few days, and head out to an island beach. Plan B was to go to Hanoi for a couple of days to visit some friends, and go to a Thai beach for the remaining time. When that seemed like too much running around, Plan C came in to action. Treat ourselves for a couple of really nice nights in Bangkok. We didn't do much, sights wise, but we are losing track of how many times we have actually come through this city, so doing particular things was out of our minds.

We stayed in Chinatown, We walked a few kilometres to absorb a bit of where we are. We ate meals in the streets to really remind ourselves where we were. That was our stop.


We Could Get Used To This!
We Could Get Used To This!
A luxurious splurge in Shanghai Mansion in Chinatown, Bangkok.


Cleaning Fish
Cleaning Fish
At least they put a plastic sheet down before cleaning fish in the gutters outside the restaurant. Chinatown, Bangkok.


Spare Parts
Spare Parts
“I'm looking for a ... for a 1981 Nissan Sunny?” “Yes, I'm sure I have one in here somewhere!”



A quick note about the importance of correct pronunciation. King Kaeo was the name of a road we had to get to. If not pronounced correctly, it apparently sounds like Thai food. Our taxi driver found this hilarious, once he worked where we wanted to go was NOT a Thai restaurant.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

But Wait, There's More!



29 September to 4 October, 2009 – Shobak, Karak, Madaba, Jaresh, and Amman, Jordan

OK, before we get stuck in to this entry, I have created a photo especially for Courtney, who suggested we need some help finding Jo at the Monastery in Petra.


For Courtney - There's Jo
For Courtney - There's Jo
Jo in front of the Monastery at Petra.



Now, down to business. I do really want to make a point that we think Jordanian people are wonderful. We encountered amazingly friendly and hospitable people everywhere, both Muslim and Christian. We had invitations to tea, and invitations to meals. We had friendly dealings (almost) every time with people who wanted to sell us things. This is one corner of the world where most will accept “no” for an answer. Thumbs up to Jordan.

Minor thumbs down for signposting. Usually, we found enough signs to get us most of the way to places we were looking for, but there always seemed to be one or two intersections where the place names marked would change, and the destination we were heading to would just disappear. Or, they would signpost for people coming the other way. Had us doing a few U-turns during the week.

We came to Jordan for one thing – Petra. We planned the stopover many months (almost a year) ago, but only started reading what else Jordan had to offer about a week before flying in. Wow. We did not realise just how many things there would be to keep us occupied. So, with Petra down, we decided a couple of things would not be achievable, and to focus on sights between Petra and Amman. This, thankfully, covered many of the Biblical sights. It also included a few of the better archaeological places.

We did three significant castles. Two were important and well preserved Crusader castles, while the third has historical meaning.


Descending In To The Secret Passage
Descending In To The Secret Passage
Shobak Castle, Jordan. This secret passage descends almost 400 steps, in pitch darkness, with many steps worn or missing. It starts in the castle, at the hilltop. Eventually, after walking or sliding down, listening to loose gravel bounce away from us in the darkness, we emerged at the base of the hill, a few hundred metres away from the walls. This secret passage could be used to bring supplies in to the castle during times of siege.


The Crusader Gallery
The Crusader Gallery
Karak Castle, Jordan. The Crusader Gallery, formerly the stables. One of the beautiful Crusader forts in Jordan.


Herod's Castle
Herod's Castle
The pillars stand around the Triclinium, or dining area. This is Herod's castle, so that triclinium is, in all probability, where Salome danced for Herod Antipas (successor to Herod the Great). Bewitched, Herod asked Salome what she wanted. She asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. This wish was granted, in this castle, although the hypothesis is that the beheading would have been performed outside of the castle.



We (well, I) did wonder about including sodomy in the blog title, but Jo convinced me that would be inappropriate. She is right, you know. Bad signage (see above) meant we never did find Gomorrah, but we found what was left of Sodom.


The Remains of Sodom
The Remains of Sodom
A layer of ash, a foot or so, covers all that remains of what was once a major town. While no records survive, some historians believe this to be Sodom (Gomorrah is just down the road, in a similar state). These towns were destroyed about 2300 BC, probably ending in a great blaze.



Other sights of Biblical note that we visited included Lot's cave, and Mt Nebo (where Moses stood when he viewed the promised land). We drove through a canyon that was once the border between the Amorites and Moabites, and we saw a number of towns and villages (both in ruins and currently occupied) that were mentioned in the bible.


Gorgeous Mosaic Detail
Gorgeous Mosaic Detail
Floor detail from the middle of the first century. Church of SS Lot & Procopius, near Mt Nebo.



Some “on the way” photos.


Common Road Sign, Jordan
Common Road Sign, Jordan
If Germans and Americans can run around Australia photographing kangaroo warning signs, then we can do the equivalent when we travel.


Tea With A Bedouin
Tea With A Bedouin
Invited by a Bedouin to stop for tea by the road.



We spent a couple of nights in the town of Madaba. We will remember that stop mainly for the hospitality of the hotel owner, which was just the start. The Queen Ayola hotel (remember that name, if you ever go to Madaba in Jordan). After giving us a discount for no apparent reason, we were invited to dinner that night (along with a German couple who were also staying) at his home. We met Khalil's wife, Deema, and soon the party grew with some other relatives dropping in. His aunt and uncle, Janet and Osama, were a fantastic and fun couple, too, and the 8 of us got along very well. Khalil made us “upside down”, which is apparently a very popular Jordanian dish. By the end of the evening, Janet had organised us all for lunch on Friday. She was going to make pizza.

Friday came, and we went for lunch. Lunch was actually about 12 or 14 people, and she made 18 or 20 pizzas! A giant pizza and bread oven sat on her balcony, and she is apparently renowned through the family and friends circles there for her pizzas. Fantastic.


Khalil and Deema
Khalil and Deema
Khalil owns the Queen Ayola Hotel in Madaba, where we stayed. He invited to his home, and he cooked a Jordanian dish, roughly translated as “Upside Down”. This is a great example of the Jordanian hospitality that we encountered continually.


Osama Delights In Being Surrounded By Beautiful Women
Osama Delights In Being Surrounded By Beautiful Women
Deema, Michaela, and Jo were posing for a photo on the swing chair. Osama thought the photo would be enhanced with his presence. Happy photo!


Janet Made Us Pizza
Janet Made Us Pizza
Yes, Jordanian hospitality extended again, as we ate pizza at the home of Osama and Janet, uncle and aunt of Khalil from the Queen Ayola Hotel.



We made it down to the Dead Sea (last time, I was photographed floating, so this time it was Jo's turn). We turned our back on the resorts and official beaches, and just found a place on the road where we could drive down and park the car, and then walked down the rocky slope to the shore. There, we applied our Dead Sea mud (bought, we didn't just slap on our faces stuff from the shore), dried off, and washed off in the highly saline water. Then, salty as all-get-out, we drove to some hot springs to wash off properly. Oooh, our skin felt so good!


Dead Sea Mud
Dead Sea Mud
Our Nephew saw this photo. “Will you still have mud on your face when you come to Perth?” No Ben, we did wash it off. And our skin felt magnificent.


Dead Sea Float
Dead Sea Float
Ben, this is how we washed the mud off. In 39% saline water. We then went to some hot springs (see next photo). And then, we did shower as well! So, lots of chances to get clean. In 1993, we were on the other side, and I had to pose while Jo took the photo, so it was Jo's turn this time.


A 50 Degree Waterfall
A 50 Degree Waterfall
This waterfall is 50 degrees – that's Celsius, not Fahrenheit. In Fahrenheit, that's over 120. We swam here. It was hard going. It was very hot. We didn't swim in the next one. It was 65 degrees! Hot hot hot!



Jerash, north of Amman, one of the major Roman towns of New Testament times, was a wonderful stop. The photos speak volumes. Pity the accommodation options were not better, but at least we had our tent with us. Oh, we also got a cheap lunch by playing hard to get. Not deliberately, but after eyeing off the amazing buffet and almost being tempted, we thought we might check one of the other options. The manager ran out after us and, very quietly, suggested we might like to consider eating if the price was a little lower. We did consider, and we stuffed ourselves on some really good grub!


Roman Forum, Jerash
Roman Forum, Jerash
The colonnaded oval plaza of the Roman city of Jerash, in northern Jordan.


Steps Of The Roman Theatre, Jerash
Steps Of The Roman Theatre, Jerash
Late morning on the steps of the South Theatre, Jerash.


Temple of Artemis, Jerash
Temple of Artemis, Jerash
11 of the 12 pillars at the Temple of Artemis in Jerash. The temple went through a number of different incarnations, but the pillars remained in each of the different eras.


A Stretch Of Roman Road
A Stretch Of Roman Road
This street in Jerash was lined with columns, behind which would have stood all sorts of buildings, and under which would have traded all sorts of goods. The paving stones are rutted by the passing of thousands of chariots. This would certainly have been one very impressive street.



One Jerash sight deserves singling out because of its slightly surreal nature...


Jordanian Bagpiper and Drummer
Jordanian Bagpiper and Drummer
A sight (and sound) we did not expect in Jordan. A nice demonstration of the acoustics of the Roman theatre in Jerash. They belted out tunes like “Ode to Joy”, “Amazing Grace”, and “Yankee Doodle”.



It was a long day. We had camped, so woke reasonably early. Spent 5 hours wandering around Roman ruins, ate a huge buffet lunch to keep us going, as we had a 2 a.m. flight to catch. All that was fine, but we still had some hours to kill. We decided a stop in Amman, Jordan's capital, would be just what we needed, especially since it was really not out of the way.


A Cute Pair In Amman
A Cute Pair In Amman
A pair of kittens to win the hearts of anyone and everyone.


Modern Café Culture Meets Traditional - Internet And A Nargileh
Modern Café Culture Meets Traditional - Internet And A Nargileh
We sat down in a typical café in downtown Amman to smoke a nargileh (peach flavoured in this instance) and drink some mint tea. It turned out the café had wifi, enabling us to check our emails. A classic merging of the traditional and the progressive.



And soon we were on our flight to Bangkok. Really feel like we are on our way home, now, as Asia is next door.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Every Bit As Amazing As Expected, And Then Some!!!



26 to 29 September, 2009 - Petra, Jordan

Not too many words needed with these pictures. Enjoy.


The Siq
The Siq
The Siq is a 1.2 kilometre rift in the mountains that provides the approach to Petra. It is beautiful rock, weathered to a polished sheen in places, and at some points, it is possible to match the rock patterns from each side. Narrowing down to only a couple of metres, with walls that rise up to 200 metres in places, it would be a fascinating and beautiful walk in its own right. However, the experience is enhanced by the anticipation of where you are headed. Additionally, there are some tombs, niches, and carvings to be seen along the way, and the remains of two aqueducts (one down each side) which were quite the engineering marvel of their time.


Petra – The Treasury
Petra – The Treasury
Rounding a bend in the Siq, suddenly you encounter Petra's signature facade, The Treasury. I'm in there for scale. Tucked into a nook, it is an amazing piece of craftmanship. Just note that none of this is “built”, the entire facade is carved out of the sandstone. Actually created as a tomb, the name “Treasury” came from a legend that Pharaoh had hidden treasure in the urn at the top when he was in pursuit of the Israelites. Bullet holes riddle the urn, from vain attempts at shattering the urn and causing said treasure to spill out.


A Desert Cat
A Desert Cat
A delightful cat amongst the ruins of the High Place Of Sacrifice, Petra.


Looking Out
Looking Out
From the Garden Tomb, looking out to one of the rocky ravines around Petra City.


A Camel, Masticating
A Camel, Masticating
One of the many animals amongst the Petra sights, waiting for a fair to the next group of tombs.


Another Carved Facade In Need Of Scale
Another Carved Facade In Need Of Scale
This time, it's Jo in there for scale. The Monastery, not quite as ornate as the Treasury, but larger. Although carved as a tomb, it was used in the first millennium as a church. The amount of stone that needed to be removed to create this is truly phenomenal. You can see on the sides how far recessed in to the mountain this is.


Looking Up At The Monastery
Looking Up At The Monastery
No crouching, no kneeling, no tricks. This is looking up at the carved entry. Yes, the whole building is effectively carved from a single block of stone.


The Royal Tombs
The Royal Tombs
Many of the hillsides and gorges of Petra are riddled with tombs, but this stretch has some of the more elaborate facades. The group are dubbed the Royal Tombs. In the foreground is another working animal of Petra.


The Silk Tomb
The Silk Tomb
One of the Royal Tombs, the Silk Tomb. The rock colours here are extemely beautiful.


Looking Down At The Treasury
Looking Down At The Treasury
On our second day at Petra, we climbed to one of the lookouts high above the Treasury. Over the edge, this was the view. I sent a “coo-eee” down, but my voice cracked part way and we just laughed so much that I was unable to do a proper one.


The Palace Tomb
The Palace Tomb
Most of the tomb interiors are undecorated, and are only coloured by the natural rock. The Palace Tomb, one of the Royal Tombs, is especially beautiful.


Petra Vista
Petra Vista
In the foreground, the remains of Petra city. Most prominently, the great temple and the colonnaded street. In the background are the Royal Tombs. This photo is taken from a hilltop with the ruins of a Crusader Castle.


The Great Temple, Petra
The Great Temple, Petra
Looking across to the Great Temple in Petra. This structure was only discovered in the 1990's. It has some great nooks and crannies for exploration, and even had its own theatre.


Outside The Treasury
Outside The Treasury
Early evening in front of the Treasury, Petra.


Moon Over Obelisks
Moon Over Obelisks
Leaving the archaeological site, we captured the moon over the Obelisk Tomb, near the main entrance to Petra.


Monday, September 28, 2009

The North Of A Divided Island



20 to 25 September, 2009 – Kyrenia and the Karpas Pennsula, Northern Cyprus

It is very hard to make references to the north without sounding political, particularly when it comes to place names. So once again, apologies if we say something which sounds like we are making assumptions about right and wrong for Cyprus – we really are not in a position to make conclusions or implications.

Our first base for the north was Kyrenia, also known as Girne. From here we were able to explore the northern mountains known as the Kyrenia Range, and the castle ruins this range holds. A magnificent trio of castles.


A View in North Cyprus
A View in North Cyprus
Taken from a castle called Buffavento. The city visible down by the coast is Kyrenia. Buffavento was one of three castles in the mountain ridge known as the Kyrenia Range along Cyprus' north. The three castles were built in line of sight of each other, allowing them to send warnings with beacon fires. This one required a bit of effort to reach, being a 30 minute steady climb in the sun from the car park. Little fortification was required as the natural rock provided considerable protection already.


Same Place, Different View
Same Place, Different View
This photo is also taken from Buffavento Castle. This is looking to the south of the Kyrenia Range, over the plain of the Mesarya. It is quite a contrast from the north view in the other photo. Visible here is one of the castle's lower structures.


Snacking At St Hilarion Castle
Snacking At St Hilarion Castle
In anticipation of a big late lunch, we had a light early snack. So healthy, hey, with our fruit. We found this cute little perch in the royal quarters of St Hilarion Castle. This is another of the three castles that I referred to earlier. A bit of climbing was required for this one, too.


St Hilarion At Night
St Hilarion At Night
Viewed from our rooftop terrace in Kyrenia, you can make out the castle structures of St Hilarion on the rocky peak. The moon completes the picture.


Kantara Castle
Kantara Castle
This is the the view from the third castle, Kantara, in the Kyrenia Range.



Kyrenia was also a great place to stay as it has a picturesque old town and harbour, along with its own incredible castle.


Dusk At Kyrenia Harbour
Dusk At Kyrenia Harbour
The massive walls of Kyrenia Castle create a beautiful backdrop to the tiny harbour. The very late sun throws a nice glow over the scene.


And This Was Just Entrée
And This Was Just Entrée
This was the start of the big late lunch I referred to. This shows the dips and salads. Soon, we were to start receiving the meats and hot dishes. This meze had about 25 different dishes! No dinner needed that night.



We headed in to the wild eastern peninsula of the country. Great beaches, and a few other sights worth a visit. Nice people, too!


Jo and Tayfun
Jo and Tayfun
Fantastic and generous restaurateur, Tayfun. This is his self decorated place in the village of Yenierenköy. After getting us in to his place with a good deal and a great atmosphere, he thrust a bunch of freebies on to us, too. Coffee, which is not an unusual “extra”, but also a bag of fruit from his own garden – pears and enough grapes to sink a ship.


Columns at Ancient Salamis
Columns at Ancient Salamis
Ruins of one of Cyprus' city kingdoms, Salamis.


Looking Across Famagusta
Looking Across Famagusta
Modelled on the cathedral of Reims (Rheims), France, this used to be the Cathedral of Agios Nikolaos. In 1571, the towers were severely damaged during an Ottoman siege, and after Famagusta fell, the conquering Ottomans stripped the inside and added a minaret. Since then, it has been the Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque.


Western Facade Of Cathedral And Minaret
Western Facade Of Cathedral And Minaret
Gothic features of the once-upon-a-time-it-was Cathedral of Agios Nikolaos, Famagusta, modelled on the cathedral of Reims (Rheims) in France. The added minaret (when it was converted in to the Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque) does not blend in all that well.



An odd road sign from on the way.


Please Drive Slower If Your Car Is Exploding...
Please Drive Slower If Your Car Is Exploding...
A “not so obvious” sign from Northern Cyprus. Our interpretation was that cars have one speed limit, trucks and heavy vehicles another, and cars that are on fire or are exploding should drive slower again.



We did return to Kyrenia, to go wandering up a nearby turtle beach in the hope of seeing a late hatchling or two, but it is very late in the season, and the volunteers did express that they were not holding much hope for the remaining nests to produce live young.

And then, through Lefkosia and back to the south. On the way, I decided to get our own photo of the map of Lefkosia to show the shape of the walls, so here it is:


Map Of Lefkosia (Nicosia)
Map Of Lefkosia (Nicosia)
This map shows the walled town section of Lefkosia (Nicosia) leaving out the north/south division. It is a good map to show the shape of the Venetian built medieval walls – sort of like a snow flake, or a cross section of plant on a microscope slide.