Tag Archives: vacation

On the Road again

11 Aug

Today I set off to improve my German for two weeks with a holiday/German lessons in Vienna. I have never been to Vienna before but people have told me it is a great place so I am looking forward to it.

Of course, for a normal person two weeks away in one country would be more than enough. I am not normal. I fly to Vienna and then I take a bus to spend two nights in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. The bus only cost 5 Euros and it takes an hour so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore another country, especially as the German course does not start until Monday.

I don’t know a lot about Slovakia but I am looking forward to trying the food and exploring!

If you have been reading my blog for some time you will know that in January I went to an extremely cold Munich for a week to learn German. Although my intentions were good, it didn’t work out as I had planned. The school did not have a group who were the same level as me so I was forced to change from group lessons to individual lessons. This wasn’t the aim of my week there because I would happily chat with the teacher for 1.5 hours and then I was in the city alone. The idea was to meet fellow students in the school and be able to go for coffee and so on with people and be able to practice my German with people.

The school in Vienna seems a lot more rigid and, although they haven’t 100% confirmed it, I get the strong impression that they have the level that I am currently studying. What is a bit strange and is concerning me a little is that they haven’t accepted my B2 certificate as an indication of my level, even though I only took the exam last month. They have made me take a test which lasted more than an hour long to put me in the correct group and when I arrive on Monday I need to have an oral test to doubly confirm what group I should go in.

Although it is thorough and I am confident that they know what they are doing, I am a bit nervous that I do not yet know when my lessons will be. How well or badly you do depends on whether your lessons take place in the morning or in the afternoon. I just want to do enough that I can have the lessons in the morning because that is so much better and it is when I can focus the most. A lesson in the afternoon means that there is much more of a temptation to laze in bed in the morning and then my productivity will suffer.

As I have learnt from last time, I have also packed some exercises, vocab lists etc so if I am not placed in the right group I at least have some additional work to do.

I am sure that the rest of the time will be filled with sightseeing and more local food sampling!

My boyfriend is also coming for a week to spend some time with me. In my post from yesterday I mentioned that we will be running a half marathon at the start of October. He will be about an hour or more faster than me! By chance he has found a 10k run to take part in while we are in Vienna. So the training really will be getting a kick start them. I would complain but in the evening we will be going to a restaurant to eat a huge schnitzel. So in the end it will be worth it.

As I did last time with my German learning experience, I will be taking my laptop and blogging all the way. Check back soon to see how I am getting on.

sun-on-road-2413810__340

Life after exams

14 Jul

After finishing my exam and having to wait for 4 weeks before I get the result, I am finding a life again. For the last 6 week to 2 months, I have been constantly preoccupied every evening trying to fit as many ridiculously long German words into my tiny brain and trying to figure out which prepositions go with which verb, that I had completely forgotten the sheer joy of not having anything specifically to do and now I have a list as long as my arm of things that I would like to do while I have a small break from lessons as well as exam stress.

As a side note on the subject of exam revision: there is a funny juxtaposition between the stress of learning for an exam, while having the realisation that there is no way that you will be able to learn absolutely everything so what is the point? in the back of your mind.

So now I have nothing specific to do and this has begun to stress me out a bit. I always feel a bit guilty if I sit around and do nothing and “relax” a bit. There is always something that could be done or something that you can see and doing the opposite, seems to me, to be a waste of time.

For example, I decided to watch a film last week. One was starting on Film 4. It was an Eddie Murphy film that I had never heard of and it was an easy-to-understand, kind of a feel good movie. At the end of it though, I felt a bit disappointed that I had spent 2 hours of my life, watching a not particularly great film, when I could have been cleaning the flat or doing something else productive.

Having said that, I have also spent a good deal of time watching this year’s Wimbledon and I haven’t felt an ounce of guilt. I could easily take a two week holiday to watch the tournament every year but because it is always at the beginning of July, I wouldn’t be able to because it’s our busiest time of the month at work.

I decided to bake a Raspberry Pavlova last week just because I had time to and I can’t remember the last time that I baked something. Transporting a delicate baked goods in the train was a bit tricky and I was so nervous that I was going to end up with an Eton Mess by the time that I made it into the office that I was guarding it like a sickly child. I had to stop myself from shouting out, “Please stand clear! I have a Pavlova and if anything happens to it, I will not be responsible for my actions!” It arrived intact much to the delight of my colleagues. I would go so far as to say that delight doesn’t even cover it. People were asking if it was my birthday, why I had made it and telling me what a lovely person I was for making it and bringing it in. Good God! I think this is the most praise I have ever received at work in my whole career and I am seriously considering the option of jacking it all in and taking up baking as a profession. The appreciation and praise is immediate and not just once a year in a job appraisal!

Yesterday I finally met up for lunch with a friend who I have not seen for a long time. We met 2 years ago at our first day in the company on the Induction Day and since then we have met up regularly for lunch. It is always nice with her because I feel like I am meeting up with a friend that I have known for years and years. Never any stress at all. Even though I am English and she is Irish, we have still never made it to the pub for a few drinks. In fairness, I am a bit worried that it will be a dangerous night if she gets me going on the Guinness. We have promised to recify that soon.

In the evening, I went to see Despicable Me 3 (in German Ich – Einfach unverbesserlich which really trips off the tongue doesn’t it?) with some friends. It was not as good as the first two films I think but was really entertaining. It’s definitely a film that helps you switch you brain off and have a good belly laugh. I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema and I had forgotten how much I like the whole cinema experience. Shame it is so bloody expensive!

Later today my mum arrives for a two week stay. She seems to always come when the weather is not so great but I am hopeful that this time the weather will be better. A few of the girls at hockey training were complaining the other weather about parents coming to stay because they have to keep them entertained. I, on the other hand, like it. It means that I can save up things that I would like to do myself and then drag my mum along to come with me – whether she likes it or not. We have a few things planned and I am sure that you will hear about what we get up to if you check back here soon. Fingers crossed that the weather stays fine…

sun-2393743__340

 

Last few nights before home

1 May

After the Farewell dinner and drinks, I did not get up early on Thursday morning. I got up and transferred to my next hotel in the city, which happened to be the one where I had stayed for the first two nights in Bangkok. I hadn’t planned anything specifically for today because I knew after being on the road for so long I wanted to have time to relax and just do whatever I wanted. Also, from experience, the Farewell drinks on these sorts of trips never finish before midnight so I had already taken that into account.

I spend the day trying to stay cool and doing some shopping. One thing about the shopping centres in Thailand is that they are well air-conditioned and huge. The main shopping centre near to my hotel was Terminal 21 and each floor has a theme. The London themed floor even had a double decker bus parked on it!

The next day was an early start as I had booked to go on a trip to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai. This was a film that my dad had made us watch countless times when we were growing up so it one sense I felt obliged to go and see it. To get there we got into some motorised boats and were given life jackets that would have been useless in an emergency. The scenery en route was lovely and the river itself seemed relatively clean.


If I am brutally honest I was a bit disappointed. For some reason, I had it in my head that it would be a lot bigger than it actually was. The bridge was original but was reconstructed after the allied bombing shattered the bridge.

After the viewing of the bridge, we went to the museum which told the history of the Thailand-Burma railway and what the conditions were like for the POWs who were forced to build the bridge. Again, this was an eye-opener and part of history that I never learnt about in school. Something else to go on the history reading list when I get back home. The facility is also continuing research into the POWs who were detained and forced to build the railway and, if you have a relative who was a POW, you can receive all the details that you have about them for the cost of the print out.

There was also a cemetery to visit where more than 6,000 of the POWs who died are buried. The cemetery is impeccably maintained and even while we were there there were 6 gardeners tending to the lawns and flowers.

We drove for about 40 minutes and then took the Thailand State Railway from Nam Tok to Tha Kilen. The scenery was stunning along the way as we crossed over the Tham Kra Sae Bridge. It was interesting to travel through the countryside and see a bit how local people live. The carriage was nice but even in our “expensive” carriage for tourists who pay slightly more than the locals for nicer seats, it wasn’t so comfortable. The seats were wooden and across the train tracks you could feel every bump and divert along the way.


We transferred back to our hotels. This took longer than expected, partly because it was Friday evening. The Bnagkok traffic really is crazy. It seems that there are more rules in Thailand than in Cambodia or Vietnam but the vast quality of vehicles is mind blowing. It takes so long to get anywhere. The problem is that the public transport, like trains and metros, are not part of the infrastructure in certain parts of the city but as there is no alternative people have to sit in the traffic.

The next and penultimate day I had a bike tour of Old Town Bangkok. It seems crazy to be cycling round in Bangkok in the heat but this was why I had booked onto the morning tour. Luckily, the weather had cooled down a bit and it was a bit cloudy. It was still hot as we were cycling though. The tour was not quite what I expected but in a good way. We cycled along through back streets and residential streets. It reminded me a little bit of the opening credited of Naked Gun. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a Go-Pro because I am sure that it would be interesting to play it back and see the whole tour again. We did get some strange looks when we were cycling around.

I asked our guide why more of the locals didn’t cycle around the city. She explained that Thai people are a bit lazy and that it was dangerous! But not so dangerous that tourists can’t go around the city. I had already checked that the company had comprehensive insurance(!)

On the tour, we saw the hotel where Hangover 2 was filmed, tasted Roti – a sweetened version of the Indian dish, which is served with condensed milk and sugar and bananas, cycled through Chinatown and visited Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese temples. What I didn’t realise is that 60% of Thailand’s population is descended from Chinese and you can see this in the influences on food, religion and in the faces of the people (That sounds a bit racist but that is not how it is intended).

At the Buddhist temple, which was a temple dedicated to friendship and partners, the guide gave us a lotus flower and showed us how to fold it. I can’t remember if I mentioned but on the night Tuk-Tuk tour I previously did, they showed us how to fold the lotus flower but this was a different technique. Being the smart arse that I am I did two different folds on my flowers. We actually went into the temple and left the lotus flowers as an offering to Buddha. I’m not really sure how I felt about this as I’m not a Buddhist but I thought it was a nice touch anyway.

The last stop was to feed turtles at another temple. There were so any turtles it was unbelievable and the greedy things would come straight up to you and eat the lettuce leaves out of your hands. Some of them were big bullies and would literally push the other smaller turtles out of the way. All’s fair in true love and war.

All in all the tour was great: it exceeded my expectations and was a great last thing for me to do in Bangkok. In the afternoon, I wandered around some shopping centres and had a manicure and pedicure which I never do at home and was unbelievably cheap in comparison with what we pay here.

The next morning it was time to pack my bag and head to the airport. At the airport I had a Thai massage. It was more expensive that you could get for it in town but I had Bhat to use up! Thai massage is fully clothed and involves the therapist pressing on pressure points. I was seriously concerned I was being assaulted. It felt so awful and really hurt while she was going it. She was slapping me about and kneeing me in the back while pulling my arms until they cracked. I was convinced that I would have bruises all over me the next day. When she was finished it did actually feel ok and I felt a lot better. The price we pay for relaxation!

I arrived home in Switzerland to a lovely 18 degrees which was great because a few days earlier I had heard it had been snowing and I only had sandals to wear home. My trip had been a lot more than I had expected but I was sure that a night in my own bed was going to be like a dream come true…

Battambang and onwards to Bangkok

28 Apr

We left Siem Reap behind and headed to Battambang, a 3 hour drive away. Battambang is a very quiet town and not aimed at tourists in the same way that Siem Reap. It was a shame that we would only be spending a night here.

The weather was a bit stormy and I decided to have a swim before it started raining. I was faced with a green pool (just like the diving pool in the Rio Olympics!). It turns out that it was green because it was saltwater and not that there was anything wrong with it in anyway.


A short time later we went to take the Bamboo train. The bamboo train is a very basic trainlome which is was originally used to transport goods to the surrounding areas and for local who don’t have access to cars. Nowadays it is more of a tourist attraction. 

The strange thing is that there is only one track. If two carts are coming in the opposite direction, one of the carts has to be taken on the track so that the other one can pass. There are rules determining which cart needs to make way for the other one. Apparently, if there are multiple carts then these take priority. Then the number of people, how heavy the carts is etc etc. It sounds complicated but it is probably a lot easier than building a separate track for the other direction. 


After this we went to a see a bat cave. I was really excited about going into a cave but it turned out that we were going inside anywhere. There was a opening in the mountain side where the bats flew out of. There were hundreds of thousands of them swarming out of the cave and disappearing into the distance to find some insects for dinner. We then took 4x4s up the mountain to take in view. In the distance we could still see the swarms of bats making their way into the evening.

We later went to have a home dinner. The wife of one of the Tuk-Tuk drivers cooked for us at their home. He told us he married her after knowing her for only one month and I could see why. It was hands down the best food I’d eaten in Cambodia!

The next morning (after the best breakfast buffet of the whole trip!) we made our way back to Bangkok where the trip would end. It was a long drive and we had to navigate the border crossing and immigration procedure. This was hands down the most bizarre border crossing I have ever experienced – and Botswana was pretty special. We left the bus, put our bags in a wooden cart and left The Kingdom of Cambodia. While we were lining up to clear the Thai border our bags were being scanned and processed somewhere. There were people who were doing this by themselves without a guide but it wasn’t straight forward about what to do and where to go so I was glad we had the guide to help us. 

It was still a long way until we reached Bangkok and it seems that the evening traffic in Bangkok is far worse than the M25. It was time for the farewell dinner and some drinks on Khao San Road. Our guide had a habit of finding the best bars and tonight was no exception. The street was definitely lively and a bit crazy. I actually did something a bit crazy myself – I ate a scorpion! Ok it wasn’t the whole thing just a few of the legs and it didn’t really taste of anything. 


It was sad to say goodbye to the group but it was worth the memories! Just a few more days on my own and then it’s time to head home, where I believe it’s been snowing…

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…

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.

frog-830869__340

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…