Oh my Thor, Alfresco Breakfast in Iceland!?

Who woulda believed the weather in far north Iceland would be so pleasant? I packed hands full of hand warmers and a boot full of foot warmers and we have not used them at all! They are heavy, too. We may leave them behind… the weight savings may make up for Some of the beach rocks Somebody has collected…

When we left you, we were checked into Ytra Lón guest house and sheep farm. What a lovely place.

It was nice to have two nights in one spot for a change.

Sunday is the 1st day of the year (at this latitude) with no ‘sunset’. The sun goes down at 12:01 am Monday- back up at 1:53. We have yet to see the moon or stars.

Breakfast included home smoked trout caught in the river running through the farm as well as eggs from their own hens. I asked later in the day what the fuel used in the smoker is since there ain’t a lot of trees in Iceland (but it is getting better – Ytra planted 4000 last year). Sverrir (our host) told me he uses a traditional and VERY plentiful and organic material – sheep chips! Yup; just what you are thinking they are.

We were taken on a 5 hour tour in his LandRover to the Lighthouse at World’s End. It is where the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans meet. We stopped at bird cliffs, a town built about 1900 and abandoned in 1946 and is now in ruins, a ship wreck and an old US Army base that is just rubble now. Then the Lighthouse.

Dinner that night was more trout ?not smoked) & lamb that was very fresh….and local!

We then headed up the Meleakkasletta Peninsular to Iceland’s northernmost mainland town – Raufarhöfn 66° 27.733. Almost to the Arctic Circle. Only one little island crosses that line but we ain’t going there.

We had read about this thing being built called Arctic Henge. It is supposed to emulate Stonehenge in the sunrise/sunset solstice/equinox observations. Also supposed to include the 47 named elves and other beliefs that are still popular here. Well, construction started in 2007 and is still sloooowly moving along. We actually saw a truck delivering gravel (the Druids in Britain did not use trucks and probably built theirs faster!).

It is photogenic though!

When we were in Iceland in 2015, our weather was a bit less conducive to seeing some sights so we were washed out of 2 big waterfalls then – Dettifoss and Godafoss so we made sure to visit again during this heatwave as well as the north’s answer to the very touristy and overpriced Blue Lagoon. This one is called Jaròbödin and is about 1/2 the cost and less crowded.

We actually had some car trouble- our Duster had 2 warning lights come on. Fortunately we were close to our next stop, Akureyri which is the country’s second largest city – 17,000. I called the rental company and they arranged to have a mechanic standing by. It took about an hour for him to replace a couple hoses. Phew!

The shop had an interesting reception desk.

There is an amazing restaurant in Akureyri that is worth the trip if you are in Iceland. It is called Rub23. Great sushi, other seafood and steaks (I hear – I’ve only eaten the fishies). We are there twice last trip. Luckily they are still in business and thriving.

One of the great pleasures of this trip is the level of spontaneity we have. While perusing a great book store we saw a postcard showing a great waterfall – Aldeyjarfoss only about 90 drive from Aky. We headed over there and saw from one of our guidebooks that it was listed in the Top 10 Fosses. That makes 8 of those for us – but who is keeping score?

When we arrived, there was a chopper parked there and I don’t mean a Harley. It took off a bit later and flew right down the canyon headed upstream to the falls. I did not get pics of the scariest bit as I was not expecting such aerial maneuvers but I did get some plus what I think are some other good shots.

We returned to Aki and found a great beer bar for sale – anyone wanna go halves?

Aki has some funkiness to it.

As well as a great botanical garden

We had dinner the 2nd night at a place that had this sign

I asked if was the # of meals served- nope it is the # of Icelanders. They update it daily. Funky, funky, funky…

Another bit of spontaneous action on our part involves the eastern Washington couple we met. They told us of a town north of Aki called Siglufjordhur- Siglo to the locals and since we had two nights unbooked (intentionally for just this eventuality) we decided to head up. They also recommended a terrific hotel right on the harbor and a restaurant that serves seafood pizza. I could get used to this!

But not before the aforementioned alfresco breakfast this morning

Along the drive, in the town of Askógssandur is the home of Bjorbodin, the country’s 1st microbrewery. That alone is a reason to visit but they do one better- a BEER SPA! Yup. A hot tub full of their fine young brew. It has all sorts of restorative properties and is organic, local (except the hops which come from Washington), antibiotic, probiotic, free radicals, chained up radicals, vegan & vegetarian, low carb, non toxic and tres cool!

That tap you see is free to use. I did so but sparingly as I had a drive ahead of me through winding roads and 3 tunnels of 6, 7 & 4 kilometers (the 1st is one lane with pullouts)!

I uttered a phrase for the first time today – “I have beer in my ear.”

I am very lucky that both countries we visited on this journey have great beer cultures. Nancy is not a beer girl but more a wino. Germany had lots of good wein but Iceland does not make any vino so the pickins have been slim.

We are now in the town of Siglo and I am sitting outside still in shorts at 5:45 pm. This is a fishing town and we managed to be on the dock while a boat was unloading

I’ve mentioned before about the endless days here. I have 2 pics to illustrate- 1 shot at 11 pm last night and the other of the same little piazza at 5 this morning (it is hard to sleep when there are no blackout curtains- lucky we brought eye shades! (I am not sure without looking at the time stamp on the photos which is which.)

Well, consider yourself caught up with the latest chapter of this glorious trip. As George Harrison said, All Things Must Pass and this adventure is no exception, alas. We have only 3 more days before heading home (to plan the next trip, no doubt).

Here is my view now

Time to have a beer!

Adios!

Nancy and Chris

I Got Your Puffins Right Here, Pal!

(Check out the puffin photo bombing us)

So, when last we left you, we were headed up the east coast of Iceland and boy have we done that, twice in fact for several hours (but more on that later).

So, currently , I am sitting outside, sans foot coverings on a beautiful afternoon on the Langaness Peninsula at a guesthouse on a sheep farm. No Kiwis here – luckily for the sheep!

Here is the corridor

The place is built with converted shipping containers. Funky, funky, funky…

So, the day after our last post was supposed to be spent going out to Papey Island on a puffin colony tour. However, late in the day before the excursion, Gunnar emailed me to let me know the boat no longer complied with EU regulations (those had changed) so he wasn’t able to put it in the water for the start of the season.

So, I started scrambling as we REALLY want to see puffins. Our first trip to Iceland was a week or so too late for their nesting season here. Asking around, I found a place in the far northeast called Bakkagerdi Estry (Estry is east , as there is another Bakkegerdi in the south. This is a small country and they have a LOT of words, why do they need 2 towns with the same name? Oh, and there are at least 3 Reykholts!)

So, anyway, it is a 3+ hour drive somewhat in the direction we are headed anyway. We changed hotel reservations for the next night and in the morning we took off.

So, that evening we met a couple from eastern Washington who used to live near us, in Richmond Beach, WA. In getting to know them over dinner, it turns out their son is marrying a young lady we know from Edmonds!

So, next morning we had a late breakfast and hit the road. We stopped for waterfall photography along the fjords.

So, since we had plenty of time we had a cappuccino in a cute little town, took our time & stopped for lunch in another town that had a bakery with amazing cookies. We then checked email to learn the hotel where we spent the night before, 2 hours south of us, had sent a message that one of us left a small pair of hiking boots at their hotel.

So, I figured since they are small boots, it wasn’t me so must have been the previous guest. Nope! My traveling companion… nuff said. So, back we go to Djúpivogur A slightly different route so we had more fosses to shoot.

So, it really is a beautiful country and even when you are in a rush to backtrack, you HAVE to stop and smell the waterfalls.

So, we grabbed the boots, turned north again & finally made it to Bakkegerdi Estry and found the puffins’ summer residence. The road, once you are north of Egilsstadir , has some very rough sections. They call them gravel roads here but you can’t think of a US gravel type road. These are more hard packed dirt with rocks from pea sized to softball sized. Sometimes there are potholes and sometimes not. That’s why you rent a 4wd vehicle here. We have a Dacia Duster – a Renault/Romanian joint venture. (The car is well named) This is what we had in our 1st trip too. I’m used to Iceland roads and driving but, oh my Odin, this day was for the memory bank. Very steep and hairpin turns thrown in with thick fog. Take your time and all will be well.

So, here they are in all the glory I can provide- please pardon the plethora of pics. I even ran out of space on my memory card or I would have more to show you.

I especially like the last one as it looks like his arms are behind his back and he is asking, “Are you looking at me?”

So, then we found a little bar and grill in BE that had just opened that day for the summer. The menu was limited to lamb burgers (about 10 varieties) + ham and cheese sandwiches. They also are one of only 2 pubs in Iceland serving a particular craft brewery’s wares.

They were quite concerned about their WC etiquette it seems

So, if we thought the drive TO the puffins was tough, the trip to that night’s stop made it look like a walk on a glacier. Oy! This one included all the same road for the 1st hour and then what turns out to be Iceland’s highest mountain (road) pass – also ‘gravel’ but with 17° grade up and then down. About 10 miles of this intensity- with no guardrails and sheer drops – in both sides at the same time occasionally. The only good bits of this leg were it was still light (‘sunset’ at 11:30) and we did not see one other vehicle on the mountain the whole time – & I know why! It was a real clencher. I’m glad we do not have to go back that way. We found out this morning that the road just reopened for the summer about a week ago.

So, today, we drove up here –

after stopping at the gas station to clean the rental (sacrilege!). All the stations here offer free hoses and brushes for just this purpose. If you take out your map, and look in the northeast for a peninsula that looks like a goose, that is where we are.

We stopped to play with some horsies along the way.

We had lunch nearby in Pórshöfn at the only restaurant in town. The waiter told us it is Fishermen’s Day so all they are serving is lamb soup and Guillemot eggs (I have seen a documentary where people go down the cliffs on ropes to collect the eggs from the birds’ nests. It is pretty dangerous. I did not realize this is where they do it.), and it is free. The town is buying everyone’s lunch today!

We heard some commotion at the harbor (Höfn) after lunch and they were having a knock him off the log competition- into the cold water of course).

So, that is all I have to report for now. Tomorrow, we are headed out on a landrover tour of the area including more birds. Gannets, (they mess their nests), guillemots, gyr falcons, auks, ptarmigan and of course, PUFFINS! Maybe some pufflings (babies), if we are lucky.

Mikid af Ást

Nancy and Chris

Yesterday a glacier; today an Iceberg…tomorrow?

Ok, we are on the plane to Reykjavik and my first Icelandic beer. This is named after the biscuit baron, Sæmundur. This one has mango for those hot summer 66° North nights. How cool to have a beer bear your name! Think they will name on after the tax genius?

I remember this brewery from our last visit. They have a beer called 14/2. I thought it was the European version of Valentine’s Day but nope. It was to commemorate a soccer game score between Iceland and Denmark. I was quite enthused that my guys whooped the Danes by such a lopsided score. I was corrected though – the visiting Danish team beat Iceland baaadly. It seems the owner of the brewery is Danish too. Nice nose rubbing, Lars! (At least it is a good beer).

Iceland Air is taking delivery of new 737 Max jets and the same brewery has come up with a 737 brew full of PNW hops. An IPA no less.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Ok, that was the getting to Iceland part of the adventure.

Now it is Wednesday and we have had our hiking boots on the ground for three days. What a beautiful country – we are very happy to be back.

Last visit here was September ’15 and boy has the place changed. We think it is a combination of the following three provisions – the time of year, the part of the country where we be and it is 3 years of more advertising and marketing to get people here. It has worked.

There are a lot more tourists, hotels, restaurants and outfitters for excursions. Rick Steves has written an Iceland book now & holy moly, there is even a Costco here!

On Monday we had a zodiac tour of a glacier lagoon called Jökulsárlón. It was pretty darn cool to be on the water (very cold, I might add) with ice bergs all around us.

As you can see, we had a great weather day, too.

Right by our hotel was our own private waterfall (Grófarlækjarfoss – foss means falls).

It was a great first day but the fun continued for us on Tuesday- this time we hiked ON A GLACIER! Now, we have been close to these things in boats and boots before but never actually treading on thousand year old ice and drinking from the river created by the melt. Our guide, Simeon, said, “…yesterday this was glacier, now it is river.” We were a group of 12 and it was a very long but fun 5+ hours. We hiked up about 1000 feet elevation gain and about 6 miles on Falljökull Glacier.

We strapped on crampons, a helmet and carried an ice ax. Plus cameras, food and freshly glacier filled water bottles.

Just when you thought we couldn’t have anymore adventures, today we kayaked in another glacier lagoon – Heinbergslòn.

Another small group of eager adventurous tourists and two guides, Svanna and Arnie spent a couple hours on this amazingly calm and picturesque body of coooooold water. About 1°C or 34°F. We were in dry suits and life vests. Nancy and I shared a kayak with me in the back directing the paddler up front. Boy is that tough work watching her do all the paddling but how else could I take photos?

Being right at water level in such a location is awe inspiring. We even were able to get onto a berg! How bloody cool is that?

In between these adventures we have visited a couple black sand beaches,

wandered small towns,

and bird and lamb watched.

Good food of course is part of the appeal of Iceland

Nancy also found some of her favorite giant marshmallows here!

So far, we have been very lucky w the weather. Beautiful sunshine Monday, overcast yesterday and today with most likely more of the same the next couple days. How is that lucky, you ask. It could be cold, windy and raining, that’s how. We will take overcast (good shooting light) and mid 50s anytime over being rained out of our mini adventures.

Speaking of light, the ‘sunset’ is funny. Even though we are not at the solstice yet, we have 20 hours of daylight now! Sunset at 11 and sunrise at 3. Since the ‘set’sun is never far below the horizon, it has not been dark for even a minute since we arrived. We are next going into higher latitudes and June is coming…with even more daylight to come. It is hard to sleep when I could be snapping away with my Nikon.

In case you are wondering what part of Iceland we have been through so far, take out a map and trace the south coast from Reykjavík headed east all the way to Höfn (hoepn).

Tomorrow, we head up the east coast. We will have more to report soon we hope.

Until next time,

Bless í Bili

Nancy & Chris

“OK, Danke, danke, ciao”

You might be wondering about the title of this piece. Remember me saying last time what a diverse place is Berlin? This quote typifies my assertion. I overheard a woman on the phone taking a reservation in a restaurant tonight. Three languages in one sentence!

As I write this, it is Saturday evening (& now Sunday at the airport waiting to board) We have finished most of our packing and will be sad to say ciao to Berlin morgen nachmittag (tomorrow afternoon). We are looking at the Iceland leg with a lot of anticipation but I gotta tell you, Berlin ist wondervoll! We urge you all to visit here.

So, last I wrote, Matt was headed home. How’d he do, you ask? Well, his early morning flight from Berlin was delayed so long, he missed two connections outta Barcelona. Not a bad place to be stuck overnight. He kept sending food pics from there. He then flew to Chicago where his plane to San Francisco was canceled due to mechanical issues so another overnight stay. In all, 60 hours door to door. That does sound dreadful until you think back not so long. A couple days to cross the Atlantic and the USA ain’t so bad (but don’t tell him, now). We certainly appreciate his coming for a birthday surprise.

So with Matt gone we decided to drown our sorrows by doing another bike ride. This time our guide was Brett (pronounced with 2 Ts) from Anchorage. We, along with an international cast rode the train 30 minutes to Potsdam, picked up our bikes and rode around this cute and oh historic city. Not only was the division of Germany decided here by Churchill (then Atlee), Truman & Stalin (no French representative) but the conference where the nazis came up with the final solution was held in Potsdam (a different Schloss though).

The pic of Nancy on the bike has the famous Bridge of Spies in the background.

it really is a very nice small city. Lots of Berliners retire here. We rode all over, stopped for lunch in another bier garten (I could get used to this!), rode some more and trained back. (When you come to Berlin, we cannot recommend Fat Tire tours any higher – they do great work and take you to bier gartens!).

Back to BRŁO for dinner and a coldy

On Wednesday we bought the 3 day museum pass. This covers @35 places in the city and costs 29E. The admissions we would have paid at the 8 we visited would have been about 90e so it was a great deal.

There is a group of 5 museums on the appropriately named Museum Island. This passel includes the Pergamon and the Altes, homes respectively to the Ishtar Gate and the Nefertiti bust.

The Bode museum is reckoned to have 3 Caravaggios but don’t be fooled. After searching for an hour or so, it turns out they were moved to another joint across town. Schiezzer!

The Technical Museum is quite the place. All sorts of industries and technologies are represented. The biggest exhibits are the choo choos

And the aerospace- including s Berlin Airlift Gooneybird taking off from the roof.

They have a flight simulator donated by Boeing and I was able to get in the left seat for a flight out of and into Innsbruck airport in a twin engine Beechcraft. It was actually pretty intense and I was sweating after. I only slightly crashed upon landing!

Next was the Jewish museum which was more a memorial than a place of exhibitions. There is one though to share. These are thousands of disks (10,000) made of steel. Each is unique in the face. Different thicknesses as well. You are invited to walk on them to make them ‘scream ‘ – quite effective.

we even went to the Espionage Museum- what better place to have it then Berlin? I’m even reading John Le Carrè’s memoir of his days w MI6 right now.

Some other thoughts about Berlin- it is a very clean city. Not much litter at all. People wait for the crosswalk signs – ALL the time. No horn honking. The weather was perfect the whole time but a lot of pollen this week. I went through a whole box of tissues. Bikes are everywhere but so is cigarette smoking. You want to sit outside and figure wind direction to stay outta the slipstream. All the young kids smoke. When will they learn?

The food is great. We found an Italian place last night (diversity) and had a great German/Italian waiter named Antonio who used to dance w Nureyev! He brought us biscotti and limoncello just like in Italy.

We had dinner twice in a row at KaDeWe- 1st time Nancy had Thai but I had Boullabaisse and the counters are across the store from each other so my chef led the way to Nancy with my dinner!

Burgers made by bergers the new night

When you come here, DO NOT rent a car!!! The public transit is better than I have seen anywhere. A comprehensive combination of long, medium and short distance trains, trams, buses make this city a joy to get around. Also, very walkable. We never took a cab, uber or any other car type ride. Getting to the airport was one stop on the U2 (a 10 minute walk from the apartment), and then a 15 minute express bus ride right to the terminal. We bought a week pass for the train for about 30e and that was it. Covered all public transit.

If you like chocolate (& other than my nephew, Jack, who doesn’t?), this is your city. At least 4 high end gourmet schokolate hauses are here. Custom make your own Ritter Sport bar, have a custom made chocolate covered cream bar at Neuhaus or amazing hot chocolate at Rausch.

Great Turkish food too.

Don’t get me started on the bier! We were hear 4 years ago and do not remember any craft breweries

They even have baseball!

We are boarding the plane to Reykjavík now so I shall close here.

Until next time, OK, Danke, danke, ciao.

Nancy and Chris

It’s a Berlin kind of day!

Guten Morgan alles,

Nancy and I have started another adventure and hope you will enjoy joining us vicariously on the haunt.

We are in Berlin now having arrived a few days ago. What a beautiful and vibrant place! Much more diverse than we expected. We are hearing many languages and seeing people from all over the world. Not just tourists either but residents too. Very nice to see when you consider the not so distant past.

We rented an apartment in the Schöneberg neighborhood right around the corner from the KaDeWe department store which all by itself is worth the trip to Berlin. What an amazing place. The 1st 5 floors are full of general merchandise but we think they are only there to hold up the top two floors – food heaven. 6th floor is groceries + munching counters, cheese at one, potatoes at another, finned fish, shell fish (with a separate one for oysters – Austern), bouillabaisse, sushi, lobster but the sausage counter is the wurst (sorry, a little German humor there).

Not only is it all delicious but the displays are mouthwatering.

Sorry to say, we cannot go back Sunday or Monday as they are closed. All Sundays and holidays- Monday is Pentecost Monday orWhit Monday. Can you imagine US retailers not open when everyone else is out and about and ready to spend? Oh well, when in Roma…

But I’m ahead of myself here. I’ll start at the beginning of Berlin time.

We spent our first full day here walking 3 miles to the start point of Rick Steves’ best of Berlin self guided tour. We had downloaded his audio commentary onto our phones and walked along using it. A nice way to see the city as we took our own darn sweet time. This included pauses for lunch and coffee and munchies. A nice way, indeed to perambulate around the city.

We saw many of the old and new highlights:

Brandenburg Tor (Gate), Trabant stretch limo, Vespa riders, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, self contained wurst portable kitchen, selfie in the Reichstag dome, some knucklehead jumping off a perfectly good building, more dome shots , a sobering memorial to the unknown soldier and victim of hitler, river Spree sightseeing boat with only two passengers as the day was not as pleasant as the rest of the time here (so far), and Nancy with Marx and Engels (she did go to Cal, you know).

At the end of a very long day of walking, we went back to our digs and found a Schnitzeleria. Yum, bloody yum. I’ve always loved weiner schnitzel.

Throughout the city (Frankfurt too) there are these little brass plaques in the sidewalk

These are commemorations to murdered Jews who lived in the houses right there.

The picture below is of another memorial. This one represents all the members of the Bundestag (parliament) who voted against hitler when he took over as president and chancellor – everyone who voted against him were dead within months .

Waking around Berlin is a feast for the eyes, history buffs absolutely go nuts. The very sobering flip side of the coin is the number of lives lost to make this fascinating history. Other reminders of the past is bullet holes in buildings

And a bombed out church that has not been rebuilt

(By the way, there is an amazing chocolatier called Rausch that has rendered the church in guess what…)

So, Saturday was a day for Nancy. She was thrilled to be only 1 time zone away from the Royal Wedding so she did not have to get up at 4am to watch it. I had googled places in town to watch it and a surprisingly large number of pubs came up including Irish ones. I very much doubted the Irish cared a hoot for the English royals so I found a British pub and we trained and walked across town to the Rizz. They had huge crowds inside and out, two big screen TVs and this fellow:

Yup, those of you in the know, recognize this Herr, but for those of you who don’t, please let me introduce you to my youngest sibling, Matt. Yup again, he made the long trek from Northern California to surprise me for my birthday- of course my bride was in on it! ( this actually happens frequently in the Fleck family). She even arranged for him to bump into us at the wedding- I’m so glad he was there so I didn’t have to watch the bloody ceremony.

We could not find a seat with a view of the tv but we had a view of the crowd – there was even a tv crew taping the scene – sheesh!

After the torturous 2 hours had just flown by, we found a humongous festival happening not too far away – the Karnaval of Kulturen. Food and crafts and music and drinks from all over the planet. I ate Ghanaian food for the first time (just between you and me, it isn’t much different from Togoian cuisine).

After that, we found a brewery called BRŁO and besides excellent beers (including west coast style IPA) the whole place is built from 38 shipping containers. Talk about recycling!

On my actual birthday, I received lots of congratulatory emails – thanks!

We decided to do a bike tour with 13 of our new best friends. This 3 hr tour (cue Gilligan) took about 6 including a lunch break at a bier garten. What a hoot and how nice this is a flat city.

There was even an alt right demonstration at the Brandenburg gate. Hmmm, they have those kooks here too!

What a fun way to spend my birthday with my favorite current wife and one of my top 4 siblings. (Wonder what the next big one will bring?).

Probably not birthday strudel

We had such a good time at the Karnaval, we went back on Monday as it was a holiday- Pentecost Monday and a return to the brewery. We did tons of walking @30,000 steps each), and of course we needed foot massages!

I think I’ll just walk down the street with open beers and drink from them both.

Well, my friends, little Matt left us today and is having a dickens of a time getting home. Delay outta Berlin, missed connection in Barcelona and will get home at least a day late. I told him to stay here but kids these days – ya can’t tell them anything! . At least he is ‘stuck’ in a good place.

Nancy and I moped around all day missing him including a stop at Ritter Sport’s chocolate factory and retail store.

They have a pretty cool aquarium here where there is an elevator going through a vertical tank!

That’s all the new that is news so I shall say Aufwedersein for now. Off to Potsdam tomorrow.

Chris & Nancy

Chapter Last (for this trip, anyway)

Okee dokee. Nancy and I are having a few relaxing days in the former fishing village of Hua Hin on the east coast of Thailand’s loooong isthmus south of Bangkok. I found a lovely place 50 meters from the beach. It is a 5 room ‘resort’ (their term). It is beautiful though.

We were a bit (very) concerned when Mr Wan – our driver from Bangkok stopped in front of a guesthouse he thought was our destination. Flashbacks to the Moon Resort (their term) in rural China 8 years ago ricocheted around our skulls with blaring horns, bright lights and warnings from multiple government agencies adding their voices. Fortunately after a couple phone calls, it was straightened out. In those few minutes though, I was willing to have him take us to the Sheraton, Hilton or Marriot and I would do battle with Expedia later to get back our prepaid reservation.

This is right outside our room….our own private but small pool. Laps are dead easy. Three nights here. Yay, we can open the windows with zero traffic noise. When we check out will hope to forget nothing.

Our window is on the right. Yup, our own private pool! The other 4 rooms have to share the rooftop pool with a great view.

After testing this out we went to the beach

A late lunch,

small early dinner and to bed.

Sunday was a day of lots of walking but not too strenuous in the heat and humidity. But before hitting the road we did some dawn beach photography

Lots of pampering too. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean my razor broke. One of the early hotels had a disposable shaver in the bathroom and I used it a couple times but there is a reason those things are disposable. It dulled quickly and I never really had time to find a new one with all the gogogo we had on. So about 10 days since my last shave. H&H is not good for whiskers so I was itching. We found a nice barber who gave me a 25 minute straight edge (cut throat) razor scraping. He even pushed my nose up like you see in mafia movies before the Don is machine gunned in the chair. What an indulgence. I coulda bought a new blade and shaved myself but why? $1.65 for a shave!

How does one follow that on such a day, you ask. Well with a foot massage for me and a Thai massage for Nancy of course.

I had one a few years ago and that was enough. Pity I couldn’t take Nancy to the Chiang Mai Women’s Prison Massage School where I had mine though.

We then found the Blupoint Resort (that word is used a lot here) Mall. Quite a place. International food court, ($2 lunch) grocery store with more food stalls and a department store.

Then to the beach to walk home

Dinner was amazing at Oceanside restaurant. Grilled sea bass, beetroot salad (!!!!) and chicken satay. An expensive dinner for Thailand but worth it.

To celebrate our last day in HH and in anticipation of the rather leeeeengthy flights home, we had a spafternoon Monday. Foot bath, body scrub, massage and facial! OMB. 3 1/2 hours for @ $70. Wow. What a great time. This was more than other places charge but the Raintree Spa is quite beautiful and comfy.

We finally hit the Night Market for dinner.

But first a Piña Colada at a tiny corner bar.

The seafood on display is just so enticing and we ate at one of the restaurants that was cooking on the street. A whole fish, prawns, squid and cockles. The sauces were full of chilies and fish sauce, garlic and cilantro. Chilies too!

They were pretty busy so I had to get behind the grill to help out a bit. Good thing I can handle a pair of tongs with the best of them.

The street market is a hoot. Lots of people, both local and tourists having dinner and shopping.

Tuesday morning had a glorious sunrise on our beach.

Our ride to Bangkok was pretty easy and we arrived by noon. No major traffic issues. (It just occurred to me this chapter is particularly detailed- I think that is because I’m able to keep this up as we go due to the slooooooow pace we have set for ourselves these last few days).

Off to another food court at a basement shopping center. We actually went to a Vietnamese place for our last lunch.

Since we had to walk sooooo far for lunch (about 10 minutes) we of course had to have a last foot massage

Some of our first pics years ago when this trip started was from the Bangkok hotel Rooftop pool, some of the last are as well.

The hotel Amara Bangkok is a terrific place. Good location for the Night Market, restaurants and sights. This was set up for us by the world’s greatest travel agent – Allan Boyce. He also helped out Callum and Abi who were traveling with us. They have an extra 12 days in Thailand and Allan found them a great place to stay in Patong – all via email with never meeting. Allan has been doing our travels for @ 20 years. If you need a good travel agent (& you DO), reach out to him –

allan@passport2travel.net 800.373.6160

The Amara has a great happy hour with free beverages and food.

This is the wasabi sculpture to go with the sushi. It pained me to ruin it, but …

Up early for our cab ride to the airport and quickly through security and passport control and to the JAL lounge (I love using our miles to fly business class internationally!).

We are currently on the flight Tokyo. Looks like we will be early- go figure after the last time we flew in here a few weeks ago with the typhoon causing a 2 hour circling.

A few notes on the trip. Kinda stream of consciousness rambling I suspect.

We were quite impressed with the food as I am sure you have gleaned from my subtle hints sprinkled here and there throughout my writings. It is reason enough to make the trip.

The people we met, got to know and just happened upon helped make this a trip that when asked will be one of our top vacations. The fellow G Adventurers, and our CEO, the Phenomenal and Phantastic Phong was the supreme highlight. Even catching the eye of pedestrians, motorbike riders, and other ‘local people’ invariably led to a smile and a nod from them. These were not the service staff at hotels and restaurants that ‘have to’ be friendly but the everyday folk. We would be asked all the time from where we hailed. Telling them America always brought a smile and usually a thank you for coming. It seems like a lot of Yanks don’t travel to SE Asia. (Some of these pics may be repeats). Every person we spoke with was incredibly proud of their country. Nobody had a derogatory statement about their native land. Quite nice to see.

We were also quite pleased about the lack of smoking indoors. In prior trips to Asia this was not the case. It was an issue I thought we would have to deal with but happily, no.

All three countries were the same and very different at the same time. Thailand was much more touristy and cleaner. Cambodia was a little less developed but growing. Vietnam is also growing (I read in the Hanoi newspaper that the country will need to make its own sand within five years because of all the development, they are running out!). We feel of the three, Vietnam is the friendliest and has the best food but that could be because we spent more time there. We’ll have to come back and do some more experimentation. It would be nice if there was not so darn much litter though.

The inventiveness of the people in carrying a dizzying amount of stuff and people on a scooter, cart, bicycle or small truck is amazing. If I tried that at home with my Vespa I would get multiple tickets daily. Imagine a family of 5 on my scooter?

The all pervasive scooters and motorbikes was stunning. If everyone in the US drove those instead of SUV’s imagine how easy to park anywhere it would be.

English was spoken most everywhere which is a great relief to us monolinguists. We could usually make ourselves understood and had some words in each language.

We were able to keep in touch with home and our group as all the hotels, restaurants, coffee shops etc had WiFi and it seemed all the local people had iPhones. I did not expect that.

The effortlessness of having G doing all the logistics made things very simple for us. I usually plan every trip but realized that we did a LOT more things than I would have arranged. These include the motorbike, pedicab and tuk tuk tours among others. I probably would have hit on the big things like the cities visited, the caves outside Saigon, Angkor Wat etc but not the things that made this trip unique for us. I highly recommend checking them out for your future travel. (Allan can help with that.). Phong told us the number of Yanks on his tours is quite low compared to Brits, Canadians and Aussies.

We highly recommend also Japan Airlines and love the Dreamliner designed and assembled by Boeing with the help of our friends and neighbors in Edmonds.

(I think I am sounding like an infomercial).

We are in Tokyo now and I will finish this rather lengthy chapter. Here is a video of the self service draft beer dispenser. Note that it adds the bane of beer drinkers everywhere- more foam!

I would be remiss if I didn’t throw in a huge thank you and I love you to my favorite traveling companion, Nancy. Your adventitious spirit really showed itself these last few weeks. You never cease to amaze me. Let’s keep doing this!

Okay, a last (and final this time) update. We are in Vancouver waiting for our last flight of this very long day. So far we have been up for 23 hours today and it is not yet noon!

As they say in Japan-

Sayonara until next time

Lots of love,

Nancy and Chris

Farewell Cambodia, we will miss you

As I write this, we are in a van headed to Bangkok and our group’s last night together. Nancy and I have enjoyed the heck out of the trip, including in no particular order the CEO (chief experience officer) Phong Nguyễn, our 21 other travelers (8 left in Saigon to be replaced with 8 newbies), the way G Adventures organized everything, the people of Vietnam and Cambodia, learning about them and their histories and cultures and OMB, (I am sure you remember that that stands for “oh my Buddha”) the FOOD!

We were a day behind a group from G on the same tour and two days ahead so we would sometimes see them at the various hotels. Without being catty, I would say our peeps were much more fun and animated. We lucked into some very interesting companions. Thanks to all of you! Nancy and I enjoyed meeting, eating, drinking, talking, riding, eating, touring, tuk-tuking, cyclocabbing, eating, sweating, cooking, trying to cross the streets, and learning with you all!

A special thank you to Phather Phong for your guidership. We ALL will reach the next level of Enlightenment on our way to Nirvana due to you. Càm ón ban! We hope to travel with you again. We also cannot wait for you to open a Vietnamese Coffee shop in Edmonds.

We were happily taken with how well G organizes their trips. One example is Phong gave us a suggested amount to kick in to the kitty for tips to local guides, drivers etc. that way we did not have to think about it again. Just that part was impressive enough but after the Vietnam leg of the trip, he posted on the group WhatsApp an accounting of the $$$.

Speaking (so to speak) of WhatsApp, Phong organized a group chat for each part of the trip to keep us updated on times and schedules as well as sending out photos from each of the activities. The passengers too were able to put up pics. After the early leavers went home, we have kept them updated and heard of their travels home (and how much they missed us!)

The activities ranged from tuk tuk rides to cyclocabs to circus performances to historical sites and lessons to cooking classes to boat rides to stair climbing to EATING. Plus more that I can’t think of now.

Needless to say (but I will), we had a great time and will definitely travel with G again. We know all the guides won’t be as Amazing as Phong but maybe he can become the director of training to teach what he knows.

Okay, time to fill you in on our time in Siem Reap. When I wrote last time, we were on the bus from PP. (Seems like a good time to write. Sometimes I get editing and metaphor and simile help, too).

We arrived at the hotel (a word on the hotels in general for this trip – comfy, working a/c, decent -usually (& excellent once)- breakfasts but not posh.) Definitely this hotel was very nice due to the swimming pool. The train did not have a pool but the boat sorta had one. We all immediately plunged in for a refreshing dip.

Nancy and I headed to one of the plethora of spas for four handed massages. OMB what a bit of decadence that was. But, for $14 per hour, how could we not?

SR is very touristy with tons of bars, restaurants and of course t-shirt snd trinket shops. Dinner as a group then an early sleep as we wanted to be to Angkor Wat for the dawn. We made it in time with boxed breakfast in tow. AW is awesome. It made schlepping my tripod 14 time zones worth it. (As usual, all the pics here are iPhone ones). I’m sure you have all seen similar photos but actually being there is a serious Highlight of this trip.

We then toured around this immense edifice with Mr Dat, our local guide, who took us to three more temples after AW – Angkor Tom, Bayon and the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm. We climbed all over them and were happy with the cloud cover. It made for more interesting pics and marginally cooler.

We were all very impressed with the architecture, history (going back to the 12th century!), size and accuracy of the NSEW positioning of the buildings for the solstices and equinoxes. Way back then. Très cool.

Some pool time after lunch then dinner was at a restaurant/school/culinary academy (The New Hope) sponsored in part by G (something else to like them for) & Planeterra. Again like in Hoi An, this is for under privileged kids to get an education and if they want, vocational training. The school also has an adult learning program in the evenings.

Our meal included yet another opportunity to munch on crickets and other insects. Yummy in my tummy. (You can wash down anything with a cold beer.)

Thursday. Ahh, thursday. A day of rest – at least until 3pm. I did one of my favorite activities – an EARLY morning walk with my camera around town. After breakfast w the bride, we set out again on a wander through this pub ridden but oh so character filled town. A second brekkie at a French pastry shop, some t-shirt buying, market visiting & lunch followed by, yup another 4 hand massage (why not?) for me and a tamarind body scrub for N.

I mentioned 3 pm before and you were probably wondering just what occurred then. Well, I’ll tell you. We hit the local countryside with quad bikes. What a blast that was. Again, G made sure we were taken care of. The rental company had outriders stopping traffic the few times we were on actual roads and spaced a guide after every 3rd quad in case there were any problems. Happily there were none. A great time was had by all.

That evening, several of us went to a performance by the local ‘circus’. More of an acrobatic show (no clowns, elephants or bears on bikes). The show was tied in to the time of the Khmer Rouge and quite good, impressive and moving and with original music.

This morning (Friday) had us in the bus to the Thai border. We left early as this crossing is reputed to one of the most chaotic and time consuming. About 35 minutes to get out of Cambodia and miraculously only 10 minutes into Thailand! Phong said it had never been less than an hour into Thailand and usually 2! He was quite impressed- he does this trip about 7 times a year.

Tonight we spend our last time together in Bangkok as a group then go our separate ways in the morning. Some are headed on other tours, some are doing independent travel (like us) but way too many are headed home. We will be sorry to say so long, farewell, aufwedersen, goodbye ( or, tót bye, sosa bye and ดีลาก่อน) to our new buddies.

Nancy and I are headed to the town of Hua Hin south of Bangkok for three days on the beach. When planning the trip, I gave Nancy the choice of travel modes there from Bangkok – train, bus, or private car. She chose the bus as it would be fun to take a public bus through the countryside. Well, am I glad I did not book it! Turns out after all the busing we have already done through the countrysides we will have a car and driver take us.ดีลาก่อน I think I will finish here and you can expect a final chapter in a few days.

Toodle doo for now.

Lots of love,

Nancy and her scribe, Chris

Phantastic Phnom Penh 

Xin chào các bạn (hello friends in Vietnamese),

Nancy, 13 friends, our guide the Phenomenal Phong and I are on our way to the city of Siem Riep in NW Cambodia. This is the jump off site to Templeland (as Disney would call it if they owned it), the location of Angkor Wat and many other temples. We are on a 6-7 hour private  bus ride. 

I stress the private bus as opposed to the public one we took from Sai Gon to PP for a reason. The bus itself was fine as were our fellow travelers. None of my hoped for chickens and goats clucking and bleeting that we know from the always accurate Hollywood depictions. 

We stopped a few times for the border crossing, lunch, happy room and refreshments. Lots of scenery, traffic and amazing hubbub along the way. Photo ops galore as you see. 


However, what made the ride most memorable for us was the almost 7.5 hours  constant, incessant, continuous, never ending, always on (have I made my point?) blaring of the world’s loudest and most unnecessary horn. O M  B!  Matt in our group was ready to commit chauffeurcide!  

It would have been ok if there was a reason for it but none we could see and we sat up front. It is possible the driver was deaf and had a twitchy thumb sitting on the resistanceless horn button. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as I am in my forgiveness mode since we are driving through countryside dotted with Pagodas (Phong has told us Hindus have temples and Buddhists have pagodas). Ommmmm…
PP was not at all what I expected. It is a large, thriving, bustling and growing city. Full of scooters of course and drivers who make up their own rules, just like in neighboring Vietnam. “Roads, where we are going, we don’t need roads.”  Sidewalks work juuuuust fine. Pedestrians should walk in the street where it is safe, silly people. 

Our first evening we did a pedicab tour and then a terrific dinner. I had the local favorite Beef Lok Lat at the and it was delish. Served with a passionfruit mojito- yummy. Nancy had a spicy yellow curry w French (they used to hang out here too) wine. 


Yesterday was a gut wrenching day. First off was a visit to Tuol Sieng Museum (aka S23). This used to be a high school that was converted by Khmer Rouge into a detention /torture center. Just awful. We met one of only 7 survivors from the prison. This place is in the heart of town and you think the screams would cause some problems with the local population. Perhaps they would have but the entire city of PP was forced out into the countryside to perform backbreaking manual labor so the constant screams and moans of the shackled prisoners went virtually unheard by anyone who MIGHT have been able to help them.


If that wasn’t enough, our next stop was Choeung Ex Killing Field Memorial. This is where the prisoners from S23 were taken for execution. Even worse than the prison. Again, the sounds had to be mitigated so the authorities installed huge loudspeakers and played music to cover the noise of their atrocities. 

Nancy took no photos there because she knows the images of that horrible place will be forever in her memory.  


<I lived in LA during the Rodney King riots. A lot of people criticized and ridiculed him for asking ‘why can’t we all just get along? ‘ I have always agreed with that question. More so when I see places like we have seen in the last several days. >

Lunch was at another riverside local restaurant in PP. I finally ate frog. Tasty and better than chicken. Nancy had sautéed eggplant with tofu.

We went to the Royal Palace with fellow G Adventurers Dan, Heaven, Holly and Allan. Paid for Guide who showed us around. It seems the current king is gay. He is 64, childless and wifeless but has not come out. The official story is he is living as a monk. Imagine the good he could do if he came out. He does have a nice “house” so he would be a good catch!


We went to central market after to see what was for sale. The answer is EVERYTHING!  


Dinner on a riverboat (upper deck) and we cruised down the Mekong River and back. Fun. Bit of a breeze which is nice since the conditions are h&h here. It was a bit dodgy getting on and off the boat. The gangplank was pretty flimsy, the angle was steep but the pièce de rèsistance was the hand rail. This was held top and bottom of the plank by two ladies on their shoulders!!!

After, we all enjoyed drinks on the rooftop of the FCC – Foreign Corespondents Club which was a hub of activity buzzing with CIA, KGB and other letters before, during and after the war. We know a former CIA dude who was here, we will have to ask when we get home. 

Now this morning (Tuesday for us) we walked to a French patisserie for breakfast 
and then boarded the aforementioned private bus to Siem Riep and you are now caught up. Except for a mention of the stop we just had at the bug market. 


​​


During Pol Pot’s time in the late 70s there was so little food, the people resorted to eating whatever they could. This includes grubs, a bit spicy, crickets (crunchy) and spiders (gooey). 

Lunch at a roadside/riverside place. 

​​
So, faithful reader, we hope you have been enjoying our trip with us. Please feel free to drop us a note or question. 

gặp lại sau

Nancy and Chris

Typhoon Update

Hi everyone- a pretty strong storm hit Central Vietnam yesterday and today – including Hoi An and Hué. These are cities we just visited a few days ago. 

Nancy & I along with the rest of the group are safe but our hearts go out to all those wonderful people when are there. 

Shops, restaurants and fields we just traveled through have been devastated. There is another group from G Adventures following us that is stuck on the train we rode. It is stranded on a high section of track and we don’t know for how long or if they will be rescued anytime soon. 

Other groups have been rerouted but fortunately not us. Once again, timing is everything. 

Let’s hope this beautiful area recovers soon
Chris and Nancy 

Sai Gon (aka Ho Chi Minh City)

When last we visited with you we were on our way here. I regret I left out a picture that was key to OMB 

They sell Buddhas in many shapes and sizes. Genders too. This one was bought by Cullum. He is keeping it in his pocket. 

We flew into Sai Gon (as the locals call it. Officially it is HCMC but nobody uses that).  Phong took us to 

This is where President Clinton dined in 2000. We had an delicious lunch (I’ve run out of superlatives, I know) 


Then hopped into cyclecabs for a tour of the old city. We would get out at different attractions such as the post office that looks like a railroad station

A very tall building 

A memorial to a Buddhist monk who immolated himself to protest the South Vietnamese government in 1963. 

We also just had fun being pushed around 


In case you were curious, the traffic here is not like that in the other H cities. There it is organized chaos. Here, you can remove the adjective. Nothing organized about it here!  Still fun though. It is especially easy to be a pedestrian if you are in a block and only make right turns. The next day, for variety, you can make left turns. Just don’t step into the street (oh, and keep an eye out for errant scooters)


I must get a bit serious here. Our last stop on the bike cabs was the War Remnants Museum. There is a large outside area where there is a static display of mostly American military equipment. A fighter jet, tank, artillery pieces etc. 

Inside, there are a lot of exhibits about the war. I absolutely broke down in one room dedicated to war photographers. Many of these journalists did not go home. Their photos are heartbreaking. 

I think what affected me here was a combination of it being my country that caused all this destruction, the short amount of time that has passed, the whole nonsensical reasoning for the US to be in Vietnam, the absolute beauty of the people and country here, the veterans I know who came over here as young men and the damage they came home with.  Please don’t think I am being critical of our grunts on the ground who were sent here or what they had to do to win. I respect the hell out of them all. 

In the bus on Friday to the Cu Chi tunnel complex our local guide said something that resonated with me. He said neither country won. The only winners were the various defense contractors who sold both sides the weapons from AK47s & M16s to A4 & MiG fighter jets and tanks +++. Vietnam was a good testing ground for the US and USSR arsenals. 

I have never been affected like that at any other museum, memorial or battle site (the US cemetery in Normandy came close though) I had to leave the exhibit and sit out in the lovely coffee shop and try to stop crying.  Fortunately a couple of our group members, Amanda and DJ were there and held my hand – thanks ladies for being so empathetic, I will always remember your kindness!

Ok, back to travelogue. Six of us attended a show in the19th century opera house. This was built by the French while they occupied Indochine (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). The show is called Ooh & Ahh (for good reason). Nancy and I would love it to come to ECA (we might be willing to sponsor it, hint, hint). 

It is a beautiful theater and the show was acrobatic with the only props big bamboo poles, bamboo boats and other stuff made from the biggest grass in the world. After the show (which included dancing and music) the performers came out to the lobby. 


I do not know who the lady in the front is. A photo bomber I guess (who am I to complain & I am sure my sister can photoshop her out!).

Dinner afterwards was a walk to the Saigon Street Food Market. OMB, what a terrific place. 40 different food stalls making everything from local to Italian, Indian, Chinese, and even a fish taco guy!  He is from Orange County, CA. I told him I would love to sample his wares but I couldn’t bring myself to doing so in Vietnam. Of course we had an amazing dinner. 


To jump ahead, we had lunch there Friday after the tunnel trip. In addition to my spring rolls, marinated pork skewers, I did succumb to the fish taco


Ok, the tunnels. What an incredible feat of engineering these tunnels are. The HCM trail was working for 5 years before the VC started the war. They brought materiel south and built the tunnel complex so they could pop up, and hit and run. 

Here is a video of how one of the entrances worked. I am happy to state that the size of the opening was NOT changed for westerners. Also happy to report that Vietnamese food is obviously NOT fattening. 




This is an air vent used to get fresh air down there. 


On Friday night we say goodbye to 8 of the 15 in our Phong Phamily. They were just doing the 10 days of Vietnam. We will meet their 8 replacements and be with them through Cambodia and into Thailand. Hope they are as terrific as the 1st team. 

(Saturday morning now)

We had a lovely going away / welcome dinner last night. It was bittersweet to see some new friends go but we met the new gang coming in from Ireland, Scotland, England and Canada. Once again, Nancy and I are the sole standard bearers for the USA. 


As an aside, being the only Americans (& now the eldest members of the Phong Phamily now) we know we are not only ambassadors to our host country but to our fellow travelers. We have done a lot splaining of US history and current events (especially current political events – as best we can, anyway. ) With the age of our friends mainly in their 20s and 30s, most of them had only a slight understanding of the Vietnam War. Phong has taught a lot of the history as did our guide to the tunnels yesterday. Nancy and I have filled in what we know as well. (Glad we have read up on it.) 

Not only are we the only Yanks in our group but we hear very few US accents amongst the other tourists. 
Another note – I believe I mentioned in an earlier chapter that I would be putting Nikon pics in the posts and not iPhone- well that has not worked. Two reasons, the time involved in getting imaged from the big camera onto to the phone to see at a proper size. And, the phone is a very good camera. If it was better at zooming in on far subjects I would not need the Nikon maybe. 

Alrighty, we are in the bus coming from our Mekong Delta outing. It is about 90 minutes from Saigon to My Tho. We met a local tour guide Hung who took us hither, thither and yon. We boated to a honey farm, tropical fruit tasting, rock python petting place (named Banana not Monty), coconut candy and brandy sampling a tuk tuk ride, small stern rowed boat then lunch. I’m worn out just remembering it all.  At the honey place we held the hive and poked our fingers into the honeycomb to taste the sweetness. 



Tomorrow we will be on the road to Phnom Penh (pronounced Fenom Pen according to Pong). It is a seven hour ride in a comfy but public bus. Hmmmm, wonder if I should buy a couple live chickens and a goat for the journey.  

Until next time… from Cambodia most likely. 

I’ll go into our impressions of Vietnam soon. Let me sum it up with “you must come here!”

All the best

Nancy and Chris