Tag Archives: experience

Trying to keep dry for a week!

28 Jul

For the second week or my mum’s visit, we weren’t so lucky with the weather. It has been unsettled for the past week but that is the downside to having glorious sunshine for so long. Sooner or later it has to break.

For a few days we have done little more than relax at home and pop outside when the weather looks like it will hold for a while. But we have been able to get out and about for a few day trips to cities nearby.

On Tuesday we headed out to Bern for the day. This was one of my mum’s favourite places when she came to visit last year. It is also one of mine, mainly because I always go to see the bears. The bear is the symbol for Bern and, in fact, Bern means bear. The bears are housed along the side of the Aare River. The conditions that they live in now are much better than in the past. We have been lucky that the last two times we have been the bears have been quite active. I have also been there at times when they just sit there and do nothing which is not so interesting. But you don’t have to pay to see them so I guess you don’t end up feeling disappointed if they are not in the mood for entertaining the crowds. After a wander around the old town and a hot chocolate in a nice café, it was time to get the train home.

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On Wednesday we went to Rapperswil, which is situated on the lake of Zürich but is actually in Canton St. Gallen. I used to regularly visit Rapperswil before I moved to Switzerland. This is where we used to stay if we came over for work because it was relatively cheap for the company to pay for and nearer to the office. It has been a while since I have been there though, so it was like discovering a new place. There is a small castle in Rapperswil which we walked around and on the side of the castle grounds is a small deer park. The deer are relatively tame and don’t seem interested in all of the attention that they get from locals and tourists alike.

On the negative side, a lot of the shops in Rapperswil were on summer holiday. This is a Swiss tradition that I haven’t got my head around yet. A lot of shops in tourist areas take off two or more weeks during the summer when more tourists are likely to visit. It seems a little counter-intuitive to me. As a result, it was a bit like walking round a ghost town. There is only so much that can be said for going window shopping.

Yesterday we ignored the weather forecast and headed to the Rheinfalls in Schaffhausen. I have visited once before and I had forgotten what a lovely quaint town it is. The architecture is different to other parts of Switzerland, certainly different to Zürich. After getting off the train, we walked the 3km to the falls. The Rheinfalls are the largest waterfalls in Europe and are close to the German border. Even though they are the largest in Europe, they are not even a fraction of the size of the waterfalls in Niagara. It is a relaxing walk from the station to in front of the falls and we managed it in about an hour.

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After a stop for coffee and some cake, we walked the same way back to the town of Schaffhausen. I was recommend to go to Murnot, which is a circular fortification from where you have a fantastic view of the surrounding area. It was pretty hard going. The steps up are steep and feel like they will never end. Once we got to the fortification, my mum had had enough. I carried on up the struture to get a look at the view. It was hard work but worth it. My mum was impressed with the picture of the view but not so much that she regretting not continuing up the structure!

After a wander round the charming town and buying a few more things from shops, we stopped for a beer in a local restaurant before we made our way back to the station and back home.

All too soon, two weeks are over and we will be heading to the airport this afternoon. It has been an interesting two weeks. We have both seen and done things that we haven’t done before. I have also enjoyed not working full time and having time to appreicate a bit more of Switzerland which is sometimes difficult when you are focused on work the whole time.

I am also flying to the UK tonight. But I am heading to London and, not Manchester, for a long weekend to, no doubt, see and do some things that I have done before.

Siem Reap

25 Apr

After exploring the capital it was time to head off to Siem Reap. Along the way we stopped at a food market where some of the food looked like it belonged on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – think deep-fried tarantula, cockroaches et al. Luckily I had had a big breakfast so I didn’t need to eat anything. Apparently Cambodians only eat these as a snack with a drink, a bit like a Cambodian tapas. Still probably best to give it a wide berth.


The next stop was a trip to a Silk factory. We learnt all about how the silk is made from the cocoons of the silkworms and how the thread is transformed and woven into silk scarves. It was an interesting story but as my home town is famous for silk it wasn’t anything that was new to me. Having said that it was interesting to see how it works in a completely different country with oodles of heat. They actually wet the silk to prevent it from breaking when weaving. I was also pleased but surprised to her that the women working there get 3 months paid maternity leave which is what women are entitled to in Switzerland!

The next stop was a floating village – a community that lives in boats and lives off the river. We even spotted a school. 

After a long time on the road it was finally time to arrive at the hotel. After food some of us headed to a local bar for drinks. At 1 Dollar for a beer I was not complaining. The bar staff were super friendly. We got caught up in a battle of Connect 4 with one of them. I knew when he offered to play us for drinks that he was Cambodias Grand Connect 4 Master. And he was! The four of us only managed to beat him once and that was with the help of another barman!

The next day we went to see the temples. The first on the agenda was Angkor Wat. This is one of the most famous temples in Cambodia and is on the national flag. Even at 8 in the morning the heat was oppressive and I was beginning to struggle already. The actual building is mind blowing. The intricacy of the carvings is incredible and the building is well preserved. But walking around in the heat was too much for me.

We left this temple to visit the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom. We explored around and learnt a bit more about he place from our guide. Again, it is incredible to think that this temple was built so long ago with limited technology compared with what capacities technology offers to us today. 

Finally we visited Banteay Srey temple. This was the oldest of the temples we saw and was one of the more beautiful. 

After a rest in the evening we went to a Traditional Cambodian dance show. I won’t say it was like Strictly Come Dancing because it wasn’t but it was interesting to see this style of dance with is similar to Thai dancing. The costumes were colourful and dazzling and the stories behind the dances were, not always clear, but entertaining. 

The next day was an early start and I mean early! 4am to be precise. Today was the day that we would see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Despite the early morning, it didn’t disappoint and was worth skipping s couple of hours kip for. We also climbed to the top of one of the towers that he hadn’t done the day befor because it was too hot to wait in the queue in the heat of the sun. 


After this, and it was still only early now, we went to visit the temple made famous by Lars Croft and The Tomb Raider movie. This temple is a lot different to the other temples in style and also in condition. Large parts of the temple are structurally unsafe and major reconstruction work is underway. 

I went back to the hotel and slept and watched some tv before heading down to the pool for a swim. Imagine my surprise when I realised it was raining. It didn’t put me off, I still went out for a dip in the rain and it was really refreshing.

Later it was time to visit a street food market where we tried some exotic foods. Our guide was keen for us NOT to try the street food as Cambodian street food is not as fresh and clean as in Thailand or Vietnam. I was happy to take his advice.


I was sad to be leaving Siem Reap. I misch preferred it to Phnom Penh. The streets were cleaner and a lot wider than in Phnom Penh which means it didn’t feel as hot in Siem Reap. I still got bitten to death by insects though despite my jungle formula insect repellent…

Off to the Cambodian Capital – Phnom Penh

22 Apr

It was already time to leave Vietnam and head to country number 3 of this trip – Cambodia. I am always a bit nervous about border crossings in developing countries and, after a bit of hopping on and off the bus, we made it through. In terms of transport, we were spoilt – fully air-conditioned and Wifi! Pure luxury!

The majority of the day was travelling in the bus and we arrived at our hotel at around 3. This was enough time to have a quick dip in the roof top pool. Refreshing is not the word. By now it was around 35 degrees and far too hot for my fair and pale skin!

Early afternoon we took a Tuk-Tuk for a city tour and visited a temple called Wat Phnom and the Independence Monument in the main square. It was then time for food, which is obviously the best time of the day. I tried some more of the local food which was nice but is, in general, not as good a quality as the Vietnamese food. Because of the heat and the long drive, it was an early night so that I could be ready for the next day.


The next day was tough because of the heat (it was about 34 degrees at 7.30 in the morning to give you an idea) and because of the subject matter. We learnt about the genocide in Cambodia and the brutal regime of Pol Pot which didn’t end until his death in 1998. Once again this is another period of history I know very little about and I will be looking into on my return home.

In the morning we went to the Killing Fields. This is the place where people would be executed. In total there are 129 mass graves, some of which contain women and children. What were people executed for? Basically anything. The people of Cambodia were so hungry but stealing food or picking fruit from a tree would mean that they were sentenced to death. 86 of the graves have now been excavated and there is a fitting memorial to the victims. You can even leave a flower and incense in memory of the victims. I have said before about my visit to Dachau, outside Munich, the places where these atrocities occur are usually transformed into a peaceful tribute to the victims.

After this visit, we went to S-21 which is where people would be brought to confess their crimes before being sent to the Killing Fields. Some of the details were horrendous. The guide told us that her aunt disappeared one day and no one knows what happened to her. Presumably she is in one of the graves at the Killing Fields. 

After an emotional morning and feeling drained from the heat, I had a nap at the hotel in the afternoon to recover. In the evening we went to see a kickboxing match. The match was televised live on Cambodia and because we were foreigners we had VIP seating right behind the Cambodian Minister of Sport.


The matches were really entertaining but it was a bit like watching a lesser known sport at the Olympics and not really knowing what was going on but enjoying it anyway. 

We saw a total of two knockouts. The atmosphere was electric: completely different to football or rugby but exhilarating. I would recommend watching a match if you have the opportunity. The matches had added spice as they were a Cambodian fighter versus a Thai fighter. Competitive stuff! 

After a few beers, food and 15 minutes of Fame on Cambodia TV, it was time to go back to the hotel to get ready for the next day’s adventure. 

Miss Saigon – Part 1: Vietnamese Food

17 Apr

After swapping my Swiss Miss (via Thailand) for Miss Saigon, I was eager to get my teeth into something tasty. I’m not sure I could name one Vietnamese dish, apart from maybe a noodle soup.

At 6pm, only a few hours after I booked into the hotel, I was collected for a Street Food tour which also included a tour of the the most famous places at night. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting for the guide to turn up on a motorbike, pass me a helmet and tell me to get on the back!

I’ve never been on a motorbike before and from my limited experience so far I’m not convinced that Vietnam was the best place to start. Ho Chi Minh City has a population of 10 million people and a motorbike population of just of 5 million. If Holland rode motorbikes instead of pushbikes this is  exactly how the Netherlands would be like. It doesn’t seem that there are too many road rules. People go where they want to. Roundabouts are a logistical nightmare. You round a corner on a main road and in the middle of the road is a man in the road struggling to push a cartful of mangoes up the hill. Gulp!

Luckily my guide was a careful driver and didn’t drive too fast or wildly. At first, I was hanging on to the poor sod for dear life but I soon got used to it. He left me outside a shopping centre while he parked up the car in the multi-storey. It wasn’t long before 3 children came up to me. Instantly, I put my guard up: I wasn’t sure if this was a trick to somehow distract me while an amigo helped themself to my bag. In the background, I could see a woman smiling ear to ear and I realised these were her children. The children simply wanted to practice their English with me. They told me they learn English at school and they practice as much as they can with foreigners visiting the city. One of them asked me if I was sad because I was on holiday alone? I said, no, I was having a great time anyway.

My guide took me to enjoy broken rice and poor spare ribs in a small restaurant. Broken rice is very common in Southern Vietnam and the grain of the rice is actually very small. The food was tasty as was the apple and grapefruit juice. We wondered around the main plaza which was alive with people. There are water fountain displays and lots of people were out enjoying the weather because it was Sunday. In the middle of the plaza and in front of the government buildings is a statue of Ho Chi Minh who the city is named after. I had no idea that the city is named after a person and I’m not sure there are many cities in the world that can claim that. 


After we met with a friend of his, who is also a tour guide. I think she wanted to practice her English, which was fine with me. We set off on the bikes again and crossed the Saigon River. On the bridge we made a quick stop to collect some corn that is typical Vietnamese. It was warmed with chili, spices and onions. Next stop was a few minutes away and was where the action was happening. In the evening young people gather on the bank of the river and barbecue. We found a street seller and had some fish kebabs, sausages (a bit like a German wurst), deep fried eggs in batter and a Vietnamese-style lemonade that had passionfruit in it. After stuffing myself to bursting point (as usual), we drove home in the tunnel going under the River and was back at the hotel.

The next morning was an early start. I had a cooking class to go to! Because of the bad traffic I was left waiting in the hotel lobby for 40 minutes, but the tour company had phoned in advance to tell me they would be late.

After getting stuck in traffic and arriving even later, I arrived for the class. I was in a group with four other ladies (2 Swedes, 1 from Portugal and a British lady who has been living in South Africa for almost 30 years). To being with we went to collect our ingredients and learn more about them. All of the produce is grown or produced at the site, with the exception of sugar and oil which they buy from the local market. It was so interesting to pick my own lemongrass and see how it is grown. They also grown their own oyster mushrooms in a really unique way in rubber plant shavings and plastic bags. 

I also found out how peanuts are grown. Did you know they were grown underground? When you taste them before they are roasted (like we did) they taste like peas. Really! They do! That must be why we call them peanuts in English. Thinking about it some more in German the word is Erdnuss coming from Erd for earth and Nuss from nut, which is exactly how they are grown!

On to the cooking and I was so glad to hear that we were cooking 4 courses! The first was spring rolls with a homemade dipping sauce, which I have always wanted to have a go at but I was too nervous to give it a go. They are so easy to make and I will definitely be making them when we get home and no we didn’t make that rice paper! That would have been a step too far for this amateur chef! 

Next up was a papaya salad with fried beef with lemongrass and ginger! Delicious and more and so simple to make again! Luckily, the chili was mainly for decoration for this dish or I would have been suffering later. Next was a chicken and mushroom dish that was marinaded and cooked in a clay pot. Again deliciousness personified! It didn’t look as attractive as the other dishes but the smells and flavours were incredible. 

Dessert was a banana spring roll. I have never heard of this before and to say I was sceptical was an understatement. Served with coconut icecream (I’m not a huge fan of anything coconut), it was a dream and a perfect ending to a fantastic experience and meal. Throughout the day I had learnt a lot about marinades and sauces as well as ingredients and flavour combinations. 


Our chef for the day was Mi (pronounced Me) and she helped us to prepare the dishes and answer our questions. She was a great head chef and was knowledgeable and funny (even though she told me off for forgetting to put herbs in my second spring rolls). The whole operation is run by Chef Tan who has appeared in cookery programmes with Gordon Ramsey. He told us he has two restaurants in Melbourne as well as his cookery school. If you are in the area, I highly recommend this experience to anyone and everyone. The atmosphere and staff are excellent and, even though the  course is commercially designed, it loses none of its charm and authenticity.

After the cooking class, I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is a large network of connecting tunnels underground that the Vietnamese people used during the Vietnam war to evade capture from the Americans. It’s incredible that people lived underground with living rooms, workshops and medical quarters. It was also possible to go underground and see the size of the tunnels, which have actually been enlarged for tourist to see how life was like. The tunnels are narrow, dark and oppressively hot. I have no idea how much willpower these people must have needed to survive.


I don’t know very much about the Vietnam war but I will go home and read up about it. It’s a war on recent history that I never learnt about at school and is definitely a war that has shaped modern day Vietnam. History is important and it can helps us understand the world today.

Traffic jams stop me getting to the hotel in good time but enough time to relax by the pool with some very cheap beer before another long day tomorrow.

Two Days in Bangkok

15 Apr

After a short delay leaving Zurich, I arrived in Bangkok on Friday morning a little later than planned but safely. After getting through customs and collecting my bag, I took the Airport Express into the city centre, where I took the Skyline to my hotel. The hotel is only 3 minutes walk from the Skyline which is one of the reasons I booked it. The transport was clean, fast and air conditioned. It was only 10.30am but I was already a baking in the heat.

The hotel itself was not entirely as I expected. It’s amazing how good photos can make a place look (this is also applicable to house hunting as well) but the most important thing was it clean, convenient and pretty cheap.

I only had about 45 minutes until a tour guide was arriving to take me to The Grand Palace complex. I was collected on time and we headed to the Palace. The guide (whose name I forget) told me that the traffic is normally a lot worse but because today was Thai New Year the city was a lot less busy than usual as many people leave the city to go to their homes in other provinces to celebrate. The road still looked pretty busy to me.

The Grand Palace itself is impressive, not just because of its size but also in how it was constructed. The Palace is adorned with handmade murals, gold leaf fixed by hand and mosaics. Also important to know is that the late King, who died in October, is lying in state in one of the buildings in The Grand Palace before he is cremated at the end of this year. Thai people line up for hours and hours, dressed head to toe in black each day to be able to spend 2 or 3 minutes in the same room as his body and pay their respects. In fact, memorials to him are everywhere you look – in the airport, at the train stations, along the streets. It’s hard to image how much he meant to the people of Thailand and how respected he was.

There is also a Emerald Buddha (which is actually made of Jade) you can visit. My guide told me that some times policitians come to the Buddha to make a vow that the policy or promise that they have made will be carried out and, if they don’t do what they promise, that they should be struck down with an illness if they don’t! I wonder how British politics would be if this happened at Westminster?

I got back to the hotel and, after not a great night’s sleep on the plane and the time difference, I was feeling pretty wiped out. I had already booked a Street Food Tuk Tuk tour for the evening and I was considering not going and having an early night. But I went anyway.

I’m glad I did go. Although the start didn’t go as I planned. The Thai New Year  is celebrated by a 3 day Water Festival which involves people lining the streets with water pistols and buckets of water. Guess what time of year I arrived? Yes, New Year! Any passerbys get covered in water. So far I had managed to not get wet. It was unavoidable this time as I had to walk from the hotel to the Skyline station. To say I was drenched was an understatement. One man even walked up to me and tipped a bucket of water all over me. It wasn’t very subtle and not fair, I was completely unarmed! I had to take the train in very soggy clothes and squeaky sandals!

On the actual tour, there was some really interesting food that we tried which was really tasty. Is it wrong that nothing was all that exotic? There wasn’t a deep fried grasshopper in sight! The other people in the group were really nice and chatty and it was nice to meet some fellow travellers and here what their travel plans were. 

By now I had started to dry off. The open sided Tuk Tuk combined with the water night air was proving effective. Until we turned the corner and completely unaware of what was about to happen, I took the full force of a bucket of water. Great, just great!

Along with the food, we also visited a few other places as well. My favourite place had to be the Flower Market. The smell of the place was incredible and the amount of flowers that are sold there on a daily basis is mind-boggling. So is the fact that the market is open 24/7! Apparently Thais like to have fresh flowers in their homes but lots of people take flowers daily to the temples as an offering. The market itself is always packed wih people running around with flowers on trucks and ice to try to keep the flowers fresh. 


The next morning I was collected from my hotel for a Temple and River Cruise. Overall I wasn’t so impressed with the tour guide. It was more of a “here’s a temple go and have a look and come back to the bus in 30 minutes”. I noticed that other people doing the same course as us had the guide taking them round so I don’t know why ours didn’t. So I’m not sure how important or impressive the temples were that we went to.

However , there were some impressive sights. At Wat Maha That (Wat is Thai for temple), there is a Buddha’s head that fell off from the statue and had some how been incorporated into the roots of the tree.

My favourite place we visited was Bang Pa-In Summer Palace. The grounds were so well maintained and so green, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in an English country garden on the warmest day of the year. The buildings, like most of the buildings in Bangkok, are impressively built and look stunning. 

Here is one of my favourite pictures I took while I was there:


While on the River Cruise, an all you can eat buffet was available. I’m always surprised by the selection of food on offer. It’s understandable that they try to cater for  international tastes but who want to eat a badly made Lasange in a 35 degree heat? If I want a Lasange I will go to Italy. Serve Thai food please but not the really spicy stuff – my lips are still tingling from the street food from the night before! 

I got back to the hotel and I’m exhausted now. Maybe a few beers and a chill out this evening. Tomorrow I fly to Ho Chi Minh City, former Saigon, Vietnam! I can’t wait!

Happy Holidays!

13 Apr

When I booked this holiday in November, I think it was, it seemed like an age away. But it’s already here and I am ready for holiday. Big Time. I have been ready for a least a week. I really start to get excited and in the holiday mood when I collect the money that I have ordered from the bank and I start taking a look at the exotic looking notes. I genuinely have no idea if I have an average person’s annual wage with me or if it will all be gone in a few hours.

Everything is organised, planned and packed. Or at least I hope it is. People have been making me feel a bit anxious about travelling to Asia on my own. In the last 3 hours, two separate people have warned me about the Bangkok Hilton. I am not sure what this says about me if people are warning me not to deal drug while on holiday! Once I arrive and I get to the hotel, I will be feeling more confident and ready to enjoy myself.

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This trip (I have said this before and failed) I have packed as light as possible. I always start off with a list (something that my mum always used to do before our family holidays) of everything that I need and just before I finish packing I decide I must have forgotten something and end up throwing more stuff into my bag at random just so I don’t feel like I have forgotten something. I was very tempted to do this this morning. I have resisted temptation for a few reasons.

Experience tells me that being a light as possible while you are moving between countries (3 in 17 days in fact) has many advantages. I think that the day we travel from Vietnam to Cambodia we use public transport so the less I have, not just to carry, but also to keep an eye on the better.

Apart from one in-case-of-emergency lipstick, I have not got any make-up packed whatsoever. I don’t wear a lot of make-up anyway and I figure that when the weather is forecast to be 37 degree with 95% humidity, a layer of foundation is the last thing that I will need. After my children’s Factor 50 suncream has been applied, it is not really worth trying to get an even coverage with my MAC make-up.

I took so many T-shirts with me to South Africa last year that I came back with 5 clean ones in the bottom of my bag that I didn’t even realise I had brought with me. This trip was a bit tricky because it involved camping and we moved every day so I didn’t have the luxury of being able to get everything out of my bag to see what was clean and what wasn’t.

There is one thing that I have been agonizing over – my electric toothbrush. If I was stranded on a desert island my electric toothbrush would be my luxury item. But only if it had unlimited battery life or was solar-powered because there would be nowhere for you to plug it in would there? My teeth never seem clean when I use a manual toothbrush but taking it with me means I need to take more cables with me and it is one more thing to forget or lose in a hotel room.

Discipline is the name of  the game! I do still have the niggling feeling that I have forgotten something. If I have it’s nothing that I can buy when I am out there or nothing that I can’t go without….

…. just had to quickly check that I had packed my glasses. I have! Panic over. Phew!

All being well, I will try to keep up with the blog on my travels but it is a bit fiddly to write on the WordPress app with my sausage fingers.

In the meantime, have a great Easter, whether you celebrate it or not. I’m not sure that my chocolate egg is going to survive the Asian heat…

Operation Full Immersion

8 Jan

Operation Full Immersion will begin in T minus 1 week. I’m a bit scared. This isn’t some swimming challenge, although it sounds like it could be. Operation Full Immersion means me going to Germany a week to just learn and speak German. For the whole week. Alone. Gulp!

The reasons for going are twofold. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly is that it is a lot cheaper to learn German in Germany than it is in Switzerland. Everything in Switzerland costs more than anywhere else in the world (or most places at least) and German lessons are no exception. The cost of intensive group lessons for one week (about 20 hours) and 6 individual private lessons in Germany costs the same as 6 private lessons in Switzerland. It’s a no-brainer. I know that you might be thinking that I am probably getting ripped off for my lessons here but that’s not the case at all. All lessons are around the same price. Also I would also say that cheap lesson here are cheap for a reason.

The second reason is I can just concentrate on learning with no distractions. I have two lessons a week in Switzerland and practice as much as I can during the week but with commitments like work and a social life it is difficult to stay focused on becoming fluent in a language is hard. It’s really hard in fact. One week when I only have to think about learning will accelerate my learning, at least I hope it will.

I was thinking about bringing some English books with me to read in the evening and to relax with but I think this defeats the object – full immersion means full immersion. The whole point is to leave every thing English behind and just go for it. So that is what I am going to do. Speak, think and dream in German. When I put it like that it doesn’t sound like so much fun, does it? I will make one except to the no English rule though. I think it will be a good experience and an interesting experience to blog about my time there to see how I progress. So, I will be bringing my laptop with me and you can join me to see how the experience pans out.

The German city that I will be going to is Munich. It is not a city I have been to before, even though we seem to be familiar with the city a lot in the UK. I know a lot about Munich from events surrounding the war, the Oktoberfest, the Munich air disaster involving the Manchester United football team and, more recently, terrorist attacks but not a lot else. It will be interesting to see what it really is like but I don’t have any expectation about what it will be really like. Of course, the stereotypical image of a Bavarian man with a gravity-defying mustache, wearing Lederhosen and drinking a Mass of beer (one litre) does spring to mind but I am sure that all Bavarians can’t be like that.

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