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Francis Ford Coppola Winery

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Today we went to Francis Ford Coppola winery in Geyserville.  It was spectacular, he is the guy who directed the Godfather Trilogy films, amongst many other great films and his winery is massive and very much stands out amongst the great wineries of Sonoma County.  The vines cover many, many acres and on the bushes grow many, many different varieties of grapes.

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At the winery there is wine tasting and at this one you can actually stay for a holiday, there is a hotel attached, very smart hotel so it’s not within my budget but we went to taste some wine anyway.  There was some really expensive wine there but the way I look at it, no matter how much you spend the hangover is the same in the morning.

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The people I am staying with don’t drink so we didn’t taste many but we got to see the splendour and did the tour of the vineyard and cellar but there is also a shop where they sell many other products which complement the wine.  One of the best things about this winery is the museum dedicated to all the films Coppola has directed.

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There are many wines made at this winery and they include Archimedes, Eleanor, Francis Coppola Reserve, then there is the Storytellers range, Sofia, Directors cut, Director’s, Director’s great movies, Diamond Collection, Rosso and Bianco and Vortre Sante which are all collections of very fancy wines in very fancy bottles.

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When we visited it wasn’t very busy as it was a week day and the weather was not good, it was unusually raining, so we had the chance to have a good look around, it was a beautiful place and you could tell a lot of money had been spent there and was still being spent by many visitors.

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The wine Eleanor is a new wine made in honour of Francis’s wife whom he greatly admires and attributes with playing a huge part in his and the family’s success.  A lot of his wines have won many awards not least Eleanor which has won Gold for the Sommelier Challenge 2016.

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When I say a museum in honour of his films I mean the car that was in the film Tucker is on display, the desk that Corleone sat behind in the Godfather, the costumes from Dracula as well as lots of other memorabilia all take pride of place in the wine house and shop.  Also there is a large ship on the second floor, I’m not sure if it was from a film or if it is there for effect, either way it looks fab!

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There are also posters everywhere, pictures of Francis with famous stars of the movies and there is a big cabinet with all the Oscars won and academy awards.  It is a beautiful place where what’s on offer is more than just wine and it was great to see all the memorabilia while tasting the wine.  But at the end of the day my favourite was a bottle of Pinot Noir Cherry Blossom which we bought from Trader Joe for $3.99!!!!

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Sonoma County the wine region of North California

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The last couple of days have been wonderful, the weather not so much, but the people I am staying with treat me like family, they are such lovely people, two ex-doctors, the lady is very interested in natural health and treating the whole person, they are very interesting and have very interesting lives and families, I have spent a lot of time chatting to them both and we have a lot in common.

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On the first day I helped them weed the garden, they have a small vineyard and they told me the grapes pretty much look after themselves but they are landscaping and developing their garden all the time, they have plenty of fruit trees, a vegetable patch, lots of flowers etc., it is a wonderful home too with beautiful views.  Yesterday the weather was ok and very sunny in the afternoon, I had to take my cardigan off to weed it was so hot, the peace and tranquility is only spoilt by the odd appearance of a small plane flying into Healdsburg small airport nearby.

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The beauty of these warm countries is the extra special things that happen in nature, there were hummingbirds buzzing around the Montbretia, lizards scurrying along the vegetable patch and plenty of bees making honey.  The lemon tree outside my room is so full of lemons it looks like it will collapse under the strain.

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The lady of the house is very much into eating healthy foods and eating home cooked foods, she made a lovely Philipino curry with Quinoa for our meal today.

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During the afternoon the man of the house took me in the pickup to the lumber yard to fetch supplies for the landscapers doing the garden, it was a lovely spin into the town of Healdsburg where lots of Redwood trees grow along the roadside, not as big as the Giants but only because they are so young, but still very impressive.

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Today there was rain forecast so they took me to Santa Rosa to do some food shopping and told me to choose whatever I needed.  We went to Trader Joes, a huge health food shop, the variety of different health foods there is amazing, the juices alone are wonderful, so many different fruits and healthy organic fermented drinks too.  They stock everything you need for a healthy diet.  The lady told me that in California more-so than other parts of USA the people are very health conscious so Trader Joes is a busy supermarket.

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Bought the apple juice but not the Dorritos, how about the size of that pack? Enormous!!

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We then went to Costco, a warehouse bulk buying type of shop, my hosts pay for membership cards to enable them to use this shop and while we were there they got me a cash card for petrol when I hire my car in the next couple of weeks.

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They say everything is bigger in the USA!!

We went home and had a lovely lunch of fresh chicken, kale salad with pumpkin seeds and cranberries and sauerkraut bought from the supermarket with delicious apple juice, called cider over here.

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Massive muffins!!

Next the man of the house took me to the wineries in the area where all the tourists go for wine-tasting.  See the next installment for the amazing photos of these fantastic wineries.

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The sign on my bedroom door!!! LOL!!

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Flying to San Francisco

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I had a bit of a panic the day before my flight to San Francisco, I logged into British Airways website to check in online but when I tried to enter my details I was informed, for the first time, that I needed an ESTA to travel to USA? What the hell is one of those I thought?  So of course I googled it and sure enough I did need one.

An ESTA is Electronic System for Travel Authorisation which is needed to travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme VWP.  When I read this I had a bit of a meltdown, I looked on the BA site and there was a link to apply for one so I did it immediately not knowing how long it takes, there was a problem with the site and it wouldn’t accept payment, I tried a few times and it just wouldn’t accept, so I tried ringing BA and basically they told me there was nothing they could do, I had to sort It out myself, I tried again to make payment and this time it was accepted, I paid 14 dollars and they told me that the decision on whether my application had been successful or not would be made in the next 72 hours and I was supposed to be flying in 17 hours.

I had to sort food out for my kids as they were all coming for tea to wish me bon voyage, so I got on with the cooking and we all had tea and I checked the website again later and by this time it was about 6pm and I had been accepted, panic over I could fly to the USA after all PHHHeeeewww!!!!!

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That night I didn’t sleep much, went to bed about 9ish was up by 1.30am ready to drive to Manchester airport.  I left at 2.15am and arrived at the car drop off point at 5.45 am which is not bad, the best thing about driving through the night is the little traffic there is on the road.  I caught the shuttle to Terminal 1 dropped my bag off and awaited my first flight of the day with Aer Lingus to Dublin.

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First flight done, lovely hour or so spent in Dublin airport which is another lovely airport, it’s a good job I love airports and planes, it was an epic day today.  I was then fast tracked because of my crutch onto the next flight of the day from Dublin to Heathrow this time on a BA plane, again seated in the middle seat, which I hate, but due to me checking in late online all the window seats were gone! Gutted!! Anyway it was another pleasant flight.

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But the piece de resistance was the next flight, from Heathrow to San Francisco on the Airbus380, a massive double decker plane.  It was huge; I loved it so much I just had to ask if I could see the cockpit.  As I was at the boarding gate I asked the stewardess if I could visit the cockpit and she looked at me as if I was mad and laughed and said “no we don’t do that kind of thing”.  I was first on the plane, I was allowed to board early because of my crutch so I asked the steward named Ian who was greeting me onto the plane and he phoned the pilot who agreed, so I went to the cockpit, it was amazing to see all the controls, talk to the three pilots who talked me through the control panel and had some photos with me. One pilot showed me their sleeping quarters and where they eat their food.  It was amazing to think that this tiny space controlled such a massive machine.  I was awestruck, so excited I could hardly speak, needless to say it made my day very special and the best flight I have been on, it was even better then when I flew business class home from Thailand on Thai Air and that was pretty spectacular.

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I went to my seat and settled in, again I didn’t have a window seat but at least I had an aisle seat, I was in the middle bank of four seats and I was on the one aisle end, a lovely couple from Idaho sat next to me and I made friends with them on the way, Karen and Derek, we exchanged details and they invited me to Idaho the next time I am in the states, it turns out that they like to travel like me, on a budget, using couchsurfing and Airbnb.  I got on really well with Karen and we chatted a lot during the 11 hour flight, I also watched Absolutely Fabulous film and it was Absolutely Fabulous, so funny, I loved it.  I also started watching Australia but there wasn’t enough time to watch it all.

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The stewards on the flight were wonderful, especially Ian and Karl, they were very friendly and gave me plenty of wine lol.  I managed to make the shuttle bus which was leaving for Santa Rosa at 6.30pm to meet with the lovely people I am staying with in May in Sonoma County, the wine region.  The shuttle bus had to go over the Golden Gate Bridge on highway 101 to reach Santa Rosa so I got my first glimpse of the bridge, Alcatraz and Sausalito.

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I met a lady on the bus who had just had some bad news, she had just arrived at the airport for her flight when she had a phone call to tell her of a death in the family so she had to get back on the shuttle and go back home, she pointed out some sights to me as we drove to Santa Rosa.

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I was picked up from Santa Rosa by the lovely people I am staying with and taken to their home, which is a lovely house in the middle of the wine country, the names of the streets are Chablis lane, Reisling road etc. It’s a beautiful area and they live in a beautiful house.  I have my own little flat in the basement with doors out onto the garden.  I had a small meal when I arrived then went to bed as I was exhausted it has been a very tiring but wonderful day.  Meeting fabulous people, going wonderful places and that plane!! JUST WOW!!!!

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alcatrazfrombusNot a very good picture but that is Alcatraz in San Francisco bay at dusk taken through the bus window!

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Another blurry bus window pic but this is Sausalito where I’m going to cycle to, the houses here are all floating houses built on the water.

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Do you know the way to San Jose??? La la la la la!!  The mad road system coming out of the airport, worse than Spaghetti junction!

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On the shuttle bus to Santa Rosa!

 

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Paris

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En route to Paris

Paris has been my favourite city for as long as I can remember,  my first visit was with my school, on a flying French trip to Paris and the Loire Valley.  We visited on a coach in 1974.  I went to an all girl grammar school,  so our trip was a 52 seater coach full of an equal amount of prepubescent girls and a few teachers,  who came along to try and keep us in order which they never quite managed.

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I have traveled to Paris by many means including flying, driving, by train, and coach, I have even cycled to Paris from London many times, each time has added to my growing love of this wonderful city and all things French! Oooh LA LA!!!

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This time is no different, I am staying in a different area to where I normally stay and I’m staying in hostels to help my money last longer.  I have always wanted to do the proper backpacker thing i.e. staying in hostels with a little  couchsurfing, while sourcing the cheapest way to get from a to b and carrying as little as possible, so this trip is all about that! I must say I think I prefer staying in nice hotels and taking taxis but I am determined to do this.

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My first night I am sharing a room with a young guy from South Korea, he wakes a lot in the night and makes weird noises, I’m not getting the best sleep so far! Lol I suppose it could be worse!  The hostel is nice and clean, has lots of amenities here including free WiFi in all areas and a kitchen to cook your own food! Thankfully there is also a lift, as my room is on the fourth floor.

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Today I set off toward Gare due Nord, near where I’m staying, it’s quite a central station toward the North of the city centre, I wanted to visit as many monuments as I could without going in or climbing to the top.  I have climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe many times before so don’t feel as if I have missed out! It’s pretty difficult while traveling with one crutch anyway!  Coping with all the steps on the Metro has proven exhausting today!  I got back to the hostel about 7pm totally worn out but have seen so much today!

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I bought an all day ticket in order for me to see as much as I could which cost me 7€ 30c, first stop was the centre Pompidou, which houses the largest collection of modern art in the whole of Europe.  I’m not sure why I have never been before? Probably because I was with others who did not want to go, anyway I managed to see it again from the outside only which in itself is a spectacle.  It is called the inside out building because of its design, all the pipework is on the outside and painted in primary colours! It still looked as spectacular as I remembered it when we drove past on our quick tour of Paris with the school.  This time I intended to go in but there was such a huge queue I decided to go for a walk to Notre Dam which I could see up the road.

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I took the scenic route near the river and came upon a temporary sports village, the kind that is erected overnight for marathon type events and disappears just as quick, anyway it turns out I was there for the Crystal run a 10 k run which goes along either side of the Seine,  starting up near the Eiffel Tower and finishing near Notre Dame.  I stayed around here for a while enjoying the atmosphere, everyone was really excited, it was a huge event with many many marshalls all wearing branded clothing, sponsored by the coconut water company cocoloco! They were handing out coconut water all over the place,  there was hot food being prepared at the finish line, with loud music blasting from the sound system while everyone did their stretches.  It was great to feel the vibe, I have missed it since I stopped running!  I watched them all start then walked over Pont Neuf trying to find the Metro so I could make my way to the Eiffel Tower which, by now I could make out in the misty distance!

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I got off the Metro with a little way to walk to the Tower and on the way I found a quirky, arty photography shop, very risque but fun and some great photographers work inside, I could have spent the day there!

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I love the Eiffel Tower with it’s imposing stature so very regal and majestic!  I have climbed it before with my children carrying a pram/buggy in one hand and baby/child in the other,  I had no urge to climb it today with my one crutch!  So I just looked at it in awe, although also with some disappointment due to the whole surrounding area,  which surrounds the base, being fenced off!  The last time I came people were able to stroll under the tower and gaze upward into its central structure, in wonder at such a huge feat of engineering, but now there are fences and gates for entry only if you are climbing to the top, there is talk of building a perspex wall around it but I think there might be quite a bit of local opposition to this.  Apparently it is because of the terrorist threat that Parisiennes feel they need to increase the security around the most iconic sites.  Today at some of the other monuments armed police quietly patrolled while armed soldiers were also on standby.

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I took plenty of photos of the tower then made my way back to another Metro station when I came across a fantastically green garden walled building!  It was Patrick Blanc’s vertical garden, a concept which is being realised in many major cities throughout the world! It’s quite amazing to see bushes growing within the greenery and very difficult to prune, I should imagine.

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My next Metro journey took me to my favourite monument in Paris, the magnificent Arc de Triomphe which is at the Western end of the splendid Champs Elysées and houses the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War 1 and where the Memorial flame burns.  I love it because it is so iconic and stands majestically on the hill, you can see it for miles around, the carvings around its arches are depictions of war scenes from French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, as well as the well known Marseilliasse also known as the Departure of the Volunteers of 1792.  The names of 660 generals are inscribed on the inner arch walls.  You can climb to the top of this monument too and there is a fantastic view of Paris from the top!  One of my favourite things to do here is drive around the Arch, it stands proudly at the intersection of about twelve roads and they all merge onto this roundabout in a mish mash of traffic with no rules, your insurance won’ t cover you if you regularly drive in this place, there is about 12 lanes of traffic with no designated road markings, that’s all you need to do is look ahead and don’t hit any cars, no lookng behind, if they hit you it’s their problem.

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My final stop for the day was Sacre Couer and Montmartre, the artist district of wonderful Paris.  The Sacre Couer Basilica is The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, a Roman Catholic church and it’s perched on top of an even bigger hill than the Arc de Triomphe, there are 300 steps, needless to say I definitely didn’ t climb this one, I will need to make another visit one day when my leg is fully recovered.

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What an eventful day, totally exhausted and need my sleep now, I will be looking for buses to Epernay tomorrow and trips to Mont St Michel and I definitely want to go back to the Pompidou centre and take a look inside.

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Cavelodge Spectator

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Cavelodge spectator

My days at Cavelodge have been spent observing or spectating, whatever you might call it, by that I mean I have had a lovely time watching others having a lovely time.

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Due to my fall on day 2 of arriving at Cavelodge I have spent most days in the communal area watching the world go by, I sit and listen to the cicadas, Geckos, frogs and the bells around the cows necks, as well as the many insect and bird sounds of the jungle.  I watch the many different coloured butterflies flutter around, the peace and tranquility sometimes spoiled only by new arrivals, checking in, or ordering food.

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The hospital where they treated my knee!

Cavelodge is where all travellers stay at some point, they come for a day to try one of the fantastic trips to the caves, waterfalls or simply the magnificent sunrise trip but end up spending much longer, the ambience, the jungle, the general feeling of the place is magical you just have to stay longer.

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The food is cooked freshly from locally grown vegetables and locally reared animals, the fruits are plenty and tantalizingly delicious, the people are warm and friendly and welcoming, you can’t help but want to stay and enjoy the atmosphere.

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Tom Ka soup made with chicken, vegetables and coconut milk with lemon grass and other herbs and spices locally grown.

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img_8009Growing outside my room and found in my soup, known as “rat shit chillies” they blow your head off!!!!!!!!

It is simply built, on stilts in the jungle,  out of teak , bamboo and leaves, the only entertainment is what you make yourselves, I have met some wonderful people from Belgium, Yorkshire, Surrey, USA, Canada, Netherlands and many other places and spent many hours chatting or enjoying music or listening to their tales of their day’s adventures.

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I have heard about the birds that come to the cave every night, swifts in their thousands swooping into the cave entrance for the evening, I can only imagine because I have not seen them but the photos look fab, I have listened to tales of leeches at the waterfalls and enjoyed looking at the photos again, in all it hasn’t been so bad not being able to experience it all for myself, I had the next best thing, excited traveller stories and of course I can plan my next trip back here knowing all the exciting things I will do.

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Everything is just more colourful here, the tribal people’s clothes, the flowers, the buildings and even the insects and fungi are colourful. Thailand is an amazing country which I have had the good fortune to spend some time in, next time it will be longer.

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The tribal people we have met have been so warm and welcoming, the friends I am with have been as good as family to me during this lazy time sitting around, we have played games (discovered a new favourite “Cards Against Humanity”), eaten together, shared wine, shared stories, shared the delicious fruit longan, made tons and tons of way markers for the fantastic Ultra Marathon and generally had fun with craft ideas for the tribal school children.

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Even though my time in Thailand has come to an untimely end, I have thoroughly enjoyed the company of the people and the ambience of Thailand and will definitely be coming back, wiser when it comes to choosing travel insurance, richer when it comes to having a safe buffer and more excited because now I know all there is to offer in just the few places I have been so far, I also know there is so much more to explore.

img_8025A darling little girl, daughter of Non, who works at the Lodge!

While at home I will be sorting my blog properly and doing my TEFL course so that when I come back it will be with better prospects and different expectations, hopefully with the promise of a job I will get paid for, teaching English to Thai children.  I also need to keep learning Thai although it seems the best saying you can learn is Mai Pen rai, meaning its ok, no problem, all will be well, which is how I am resigned to feeling at the moment.

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Chok, one of the sons of the staff, playing on the swing!

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Intrepid Travelers

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Intrepid Travelers

The main reason for me coming to Thailand was to help the lovely Julie and Marcus to run their Ultra Running events; they have a Beauty which is 50k and a beast which is 100k.  See their website, www.thailandultramarathon.com

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I came earlier so that I could spend some time in Bangkok doing my own thing.  Kate one of the girls also helping out at Cavelodge was flying in after me and we had arranged to meet on the 18th October and get the bus together up to Cavelodge which is no mean feat!

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So we met up about 10 am, checked out of our hotels and made our way to the official tourist board office because they give you information on the buses and trains and all transport to various parts of Thailand which is part of the official transport system.

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They have a very organised public transport system which is very cheap to travel on, if you use tourist buses etc. you will always pay more, a lot more.  So we caught the number 3 bus from outside the hotel to the main bus terminal in Bangkok which was the other side of the city and took us over an hour to get there.  We paid 11Baht which is about 20pence, we could have caught the 7 baht bus but this one came first.

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While we were on the bus we got talking to a lovely guy who worked in the airport and spoke pretty good English, although Kate is very good at speaking Thai so there was a bit of both languages being spoken, the man loved to sing and his favourites were Elvis and Cliff Richard which we sang together, him with a prefect American accent, especially when singing the Elvis songs.

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When we got to the terminal we decided to opt for the night bus to Chiang Mai which takes 12 hours and is supposed to be comfortable enough to sleep on, this cost about 500 baht which is about £12, it’s so cheap to travel here, it would only have cost us about £25 to fly there but Kate wanted to go by bus and I was keen to experience the night bus.

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The bus terminal is absolutely huge as you can imagine in a city as big as Bangkok and you can get a bus to anywhere from Chiang Mai in the North to Phuket in the South. We put our backpacks in the baggage lockers and went for some food while we waited for our night bus at 9pm ish.  I opted for the herbal soup with pork balsa and rice noodles, it was delicious then after I had coconut ice cream with lots of different things sprinkled on the top, not sure what they were but they tasted fine.  We spent most of the day chatting and swapping traveling stories, not having met before we had a lot to talk about to each other.  Kate is about 20 years younger than me but we hit it off and made plans for when we arrived in Chiang Mai.

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Kate has lived at Cavelodge for a year previously, she came to help Julie and Marcus in 2014 and John the Australian guy who runs Cavelodge with his wife Nang offered her a job for a year so she went home sorted it out with her parents and came back to spend a year there, which she absolutely loved, she was so excited to be going back to see everyone again.

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We caught our night bus, on which we had booked the front seats upstairs which gave us a lot more legroom.  The hostess came round with snacks and blankets and we set off on our epic journey, I didn’t sleep much, it wasn’t too bad a trip but I just can’t sleep well on buses.

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We arrived in Chiang Mai about 7am, went for breakfast then booked our ticket to Soppong which is the town we needed to get the nearest to Cavelodge.  This we booked on a mini bus and it took about 5 hours on very windy roads, when we got to Soppong mid-afternoon, John who runs Cavelodge came to pick us up to take us the final 10 km to the actual lodge which is in the middle of the jungle in the North of Thailand near all the hill tribe people.

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I loved it immediately on arrival, the structure is very higgledy piggledy having been added to many times over the years, it’s made completely from teak wood on stilts in a sloping part of the jungle leading down to the river, the roof is made from particular leaves which have to be collected when they fall from the tree and used at exactly the right time to prevent them becoming brittle, these leaves are woven into the bamboo roof sticks.

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It reminded me of a treehouse I had seen in an article on alternative living, even though it wasn’t quite a treehouse it looked and felt like one, we had a very warm greeting and Kate introduced me to everyone who runs Cavelodge and then we met Julie and Marcus and got to work on the way markers for the race and enjoyed catching up after last seeing them in June.

 

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Living on stilts at Cavelodge

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Living on stilts at Cavelodge

I am now staying at the most amazing place in the world.  Cavelodge has been in existence for about 30 years, it is a teak lodge built on stilts in the tropical jungle of Northern Thailand in amongst all the hill tribe people. I love it.

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Today I went for a walk in the surrounding jungle and Ban Tham tribal village, Kate the lovely girl who is a new friend and has stayed at Cavelodge for a year, a couple of years ago, took me on a walk around the village and to see one of the caves to be explored from Cavelodge.  There are some amazing caves here along with wonderful waterfalls, a beautiful people and stunning scenery.  There are also bananas growing everywhere along with Papaya, Passion fruit, mangoes, sweetcorn and rice, lots of rice.

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We were only allowed to go to the entrance of the cave today as we hadn’t booked a guide, no one is allowed inside the caves without a guide because of possible danger, so I will be going back tomorrow or the next day with a guide, you can kayak into the caves so I might choose that option.

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As soon as we arrived I fell in love with the place, it is a wonderful relaxing oasis in the middle of the jungle, the main communal area was built over 30 years ago with more and more cottages added over time.  There are hammocks for you to relax, wonderful healthy food, freshly cooked to order with the sounds of the Cicadas and the rushing stream the only noise to spoil the silence or maybe enhance the experience, depending which way you look at it!

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When Kate and I arrived we were greeted by Julie and Marcus who we have come to help with the running of their races and help with the craft days at the local schools.  We had some food and quickly got into the swing of everything by helping out with the way markers while chatting around the large communal tables.

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Later we put the mosquito net up in my room and I had a good night sleep, before going for a our lovely walk today, we went to the cave and fed the fish which swim in the river that runs into the cave, then walked back through the village admiring the views of Big Knob, the large mountain behind the village houses and met local people whom Kate knew from the last time she was here, they were all such interesting people who had led very interesting lives, a couple of the kids let me take a picture of them while another couple came for a walk with us and spoke wonderful English.

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I have been welcomed by these people so warmly that I already feel at home, there are so many things to do at Cavelodge I am worried that I won’t have enough time to do it all.  But I will give it a try, watch this space!!

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Riding the skytrain in Bangkok

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Riding the Sky train in Bangkok

Whenever I go to a new place I find things to do cheaply or free because I am on a budget.  I had read about the Sky train somewhere so decided to give it a go, it seemed to me to be a bit like the DLR in London so I got the 14baht boat from pier N13 down to the Central pier at Saphan Taksin which takes you directly to the train terminal.

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It costs 120 baht for a day ticket on the Sky train and you can get off and on as many times as you like, there were a couple of places on my list to go on the route of the skytrain and I decided to just get off where I felt there was something interesting to see.

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My first stop was at Bang Wa, which was the final station on the Chit Lom line, there wasn’t much of interest to me at this stop so I just jumped back on and went all the way to the other end of Chit Lom stopping at Chong Nonsi for some lunch and to see the Manhanakorn Cube tower because it looked really interesting, very artistic, I love tower blocks especially the more unusual ones.

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The beauty of the skytrain as opposed to the underground is you can see where you want to get off as you travel without planning your journey, because it travels above the road and above the buildings, brilliant idea.

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I had some lunch from a street vendor for about £1, walked around the cube tower taking photos, sat a while watching the world go by then jumped back on the train, on to my next stop which was planned at the Paragon shopping and entertainment complex with Imax, I thought about going to watch an Imax movie but realised after getting off the train that it would probably be in Thai language (how stupid am I lol) so I stopped a while in the lounge at the Imax and charged my phone then on to Erawan Shrine.

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I had read about Erawan shrine which was a welcome oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle right in the middle of an intersection, with roads, train lines and buildings completely surrounding it. It is very much a place for worship even more so now that the King has died, lots of people go there presenting flower garlands to Buddha, there is also a holy water well where people cover themselves in the holy water and one of the main things that drew me here was the Thai dancing, which takes place throughout the day by traditional Thai dancing girls.  I’m glad I found it, it was lovely to just sit in the small garden and enjoy the peace and tranquillity even though the hustle and bustle is still going on all around there is something special about this place and watching the dancing was a wonderful bonus.

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After the shrine I decided to go to another shopping place called Terminal 21 because I had read that there are special photo opportunities there because of the themed shopping experience, I didn’t really knew what was meant by this so decided to investigate.  Terminal 21 is a massive shopping multi floors complex with a different theme on every floor.  The themes are based on capital cities around the world.  The ones I stopped at were London, Tokyo and Paris and on every floor there were special landmarks or giant sculptures associated with that city, I was mainly interested in the London floor, where they had a huge red double decker bus serving a shop, the benches were painted in union jack colours, they had a sculpture of a bobby siting on one of the benches with an underground station train as another shop and an old red phone box.

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While I was in the shopping mall I needed to charge my phone again so I stopped in Starbucks and while I was sitting there having my soya decaf latte I was joined by a wonderful man and his daughter from Pakistan, we got chatting and soon his wife came and joined us, I spent about an hour or more chatting to the lovely Nosch and Imran, exchanging blog details and generally getting to know each other.  One of the main things I love about traveling is meeting different people all over the world and having the time to sit and chat with them. I am in no rush to go anywhere; it was one of those special moments which make it all worthwhile.  I am traveling to experience different lifestyles and cultures and meet new people not just to see the sights.

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It was getting late when I got back on the train but I still wanted to go all the way on the Sukhumvit line, it was dark by this time and the train is designed in such way that it is difficult to see out because everything is a reflection of inside so I spent the next part of my journey pressed up against the window so I could see the city all lit up which always looks fab.

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At the end of the Sukhumvit line I got off because I had stumbled upon another market, Chatuchak weekend market.  It was huge and I just couldn’t believe how far it covered, you could get lost within the complex, rows and rows of tiny shops, some, under a tin roof and others outside under canopies.  It is the largest flea market in the world covering 35 acres with about 15, 000 traders, you have to see it to believe it, and needless to say I didn’t see it all.  You can buy anything at all there, and I mean anything, things you didn’t even know existed are being sold there.  It is estimated that 200,000 to 300, 000 visitors trawl the market every day looking for bargains and you will surely get them here, already cheaper than anywhere else in Bangkok you won’t get the prices down much here but it is always worth a shot.

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I forgot to mention that during my journey I saw lots of temples, I stopped at a couple of them because they were near the stations, all of the temples in Bangkok are very much in use by the locals so you will always see people praying to Buddha inside, you are allowed to go in but you must remove your shoes.  You find these temple in the most unusual places which I suppose means the temple came first and the tower blocks grew up around them.  Bangkok is a very crazy interesting city with cultural contrasts everywhere.

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At the end of my journey I got back to the river at about 10 pm at night, by then the boat taxis had stopped because of the death of the King everything was closing early. So I didn’t think about getting a taxi but when I looked at the map there were plenty of places of interest en route so I decided to walk.  It was a very long way, much longer than I though and it was pretty tiring, but I stopped on the way at the monuments and temples just to take some pics.

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While walking through the city you see how the city really is, the people sleeping on the streets, the people working through the night, the dilapidated houses and rubbish filled waterways, it is not always pretty but no city is.  Bangkok have a lot of people sleeping on the street, they are not begging they just work all day then curl up on a mat on the side of the road and sleep, I saw some families sleeping this way with young children curled up next to their parents.  Some people who own food stalls just sleep behind their stall.  Not many people cook their own food at home here, they eat out because there are so many places to eat and I don’t mean in a fancy restaurant with air conditioning a glass of wine, I mean on a street corner where someone has set up a small cooking pot and provides soup or pad Thai for about 20 baht, equivalent to probably 50p for us Brits but cheaper to the locals, and this food is full of vegetables chicken, rice, noodles etc.

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I was talking to someone about the economy and he told me that since the military junta kicked out the government 20 years ago and ruled themselves, they have kept the economy low by not allowing the people to advance, keeping control of them.  It is not a democratic country; I don’t follow politics and am just repeating what this man told me.

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On the way back I was crossing the memorial bridge which is a big steel structure, I found many of the youngsters of the city just sitting around on the bridge, chatting, eating their food,  playing guitar, just generally hanging out, I really needed to sit by this point so I joined them on the bridge watching the world go by, it is so lovely in this country because of the weather to just do this, it is so warm at night, it was lovely sitting on the bridge watching all the traffic whiz past, watching the kids meet up, listening to the guitar, when it wasn’t drowned out by the traffic noise because I kid you not the traffic never stops, it is hectic nonstop all day and all night, beeping, whistle blowing, motorbikes, noise noise noise!! Crazy crazy city, I love it so much.

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I passed the main flower market by chance, it was on my list of places to go but I didn’t realise it was on my route, until I passed it, this was after midnight and they were working away, busy, busy, busy, making garlands for the King, also preparing all the flowers for sale the following day, every flower you can think of, wrapped in bunches ready for the retailers to come in a few hours.  They let me wander around taking some photos; the smell in there was wonderful.  They have some very exotic flowers in Bangkok that smell amazing.

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I finally got back to my hotel about 2am, I was pretty worn out but it was all still happening on Khao san road, quieter since the king died but still plenty going on.  I went straight to sleep, completely done in.  It turned out I had walked 3 miles back from the station.  What a mega day and I had already been to the National Art Gallery before I went on the boat taxi, Pheww what a wonderful day with wonderful people.

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Mourning in Bangkok

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Mourning in Bangkok

Sadly, while staying in Bangkok the King who has been on the throne for 70 years has died after a long time of ill health.  I have already done one blog post about waiting for the King to go from the hospital to the Grand Palace but I feel I have to write another to remind myself if not anyone else how unifying a moment this is.  The country will probably be in mourning for a whole year, which means they have to display outward signs of mourning by wearing black or white.

The whole of Thailand are descending on Bangkok and especially the Grand Place, many, many people have set up home there, sleeping on the grass, most of them don’t need tents it’s nice enough to sleep outside, but not very comfortable.  I have been told that 80 year old ladies and gents are traveling down to show their respects to the king and also sleeping on the ground outside the palace and this is early days, it’s only day 3 after his death and the area around the palace tonight was absolute bedlam.

There was some kind of ceremony tonight at the Palace and I got to the intersection as the official cars were leaving, the traffic had all been stopped, on a very busy intersection with each road having about 5 or 6 lanes each, all full of trucks, buses, cars, taxis, tuk tuks and loads and loads of motor scooters.  There was a huge military presence organising the traffic, but once all the official cars had passed us, which took a long time because there were about 70 cars and vans, the police had loud speakers and told everyone to cross the road quick before all the traffic starts proper, so it was a mad scramble between pedestrians, scooters, cars and the rest to carry on with their journey.

The mourning has turned into a kind of festival, I don’t mean that disrespectfully but there is quite a jovial atmosphere with everyone coming together for a common purpose, as humans I think we are conditioned to pull together as one when tragedy happens in our lives and the people of Bangkok are certainly coming together for this tragedy, they totally revere their king.  Apparently he has done so much to unify the country during his reign, the people all love him.

There is free food for everyone, free drinks but no alcohol, the sale of alcohol stopped on Friday and nothing has been sold in the shops since, everyone is just sitting around enjoying each other’s company, while three huge screens at Sanam Luang show footage of the King’s life.

While the traffic was on stop and the royal cars were passing we were asked by the military to all sit down in order to be lower than the Royalty which means the Crown Prince must have been in one of the cars.

I stayed around Sanam Luang for a little while mingling with the Thai people and watching everything, the military and police have a huge job trying to control the traffic because everyone wants to be around the palace to give their respects to the King and they bring garlands of flowers, which the flower market are up all night preparing and also food gifts which they offer in respect of his death which is part of the Buddhism faith, so I was told by the girls I met.

The city is working overtime to ensure the time of mourning is comfortable for all, which means everyone is supporting each other and taking part in all the garland making, the preparing of the food, the handing out of water, food, sweets etc.

This could all go on definitely for the next 50 days, possibly longer.  Everyone must wear black or white during this time and will probably carry on beyond that.

I met a lovely man today at the monument for the student uprising, who told me that the military junta kicked out the government 20 years ago and now rule, they keep the economy low by ruling the people and not allowing advancement, they have told the people that during the period of mourning they must not smile either.  He did say he found this a bit ridiculous and he laughed when he said if he sees a military he puts on a sad face till they have passed.

 

Street food in Bangkok

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Street food in Bangkok

I wrote my blog about Khao San road as soon as I had been there because I just loved the vibrancy but I felt I didn’t say enough about exactly what is going on on Khao San Road so I thought I would do another blog post but focus on the food sold on this street and many other similar streets that surround Khao San Road.

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I read a recent blog by someone who has been traveling a while who says he hates the tackiness of Khao San Road but I think he is missing the point; it’s the tackiness that is its attraction.  Everything is cheap, the clothes are cheap, the food is cheap, a massage is cheap and everything except the beer is cheap, probably same price as back home, and that is why they come in their hoards, they are not looking for something posh, they want to wallow in local culture without paying through the nose, well Khao San Road is the place to go.

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I came on Wednesday with the intention of staying only two nights but I am drawn to the road like a magnet, the vibrancy is evident as soon as you look down its length, of course there are people coming at you trying to sell you stuff, this is their living, this is all they have, they want to make a decent living.  Sadly many of them live behind their stand or sleep on the street, it is very sad to see them along the pavements at night after their stalls are closed.

 

I am sure if my life were different I might not go down this road so often enjoying the cheap food, because I am on a budget I have no option but sometimes being skint gets you into all the places you wouldn’t go if you could afford nice places.

Anyway this blog is to talk mainly about the food, you can get a very varied range of things to eat on Khao San Road from the street vendors to the restaurants, it is amazing what you will find each time you visit, I have been three times now and each time I have found something different.

Pad Thai is the main dish being cooked right in front of you by street vendors, perfectly fresh and made to order, it costs 50 Baht which is £1 also you can get chicken and fried rice for the same price and similar.  They also have amazing kebab stands which I am going to try next time.

There are lots of fruit stalls selling pineapple, dragon fruit, melon and mango and separate stands selling durian fruit on its own, which is supposed to smell horrible but taste lush, I tried it and I thought it tasted like it smelt! EEWWWWWW! Texture like custard!!

One of my favourite stands is the coconut ice cream stand, I don’t eat dairy products so don’t eat ice cream but this is made of coconut cream and is delicious, the fresh coconut is cracked open in front of you and the young flesh is scraped on the side then the ice cream is added using the shell as a dish, it is really lovely, there are many vendors up and down the length of the street.

For the more adventurous there is the fried insects, some people walk around with scorpions on a stick trying to tempt you (as if LOL) they look vile, there are also stands selling all kinds of other insects from grubs to cockroaches to large spiders, they look terrible and I’m afraid I just didn’t fancy them, I am on this trip t