A Travellerspoint blog

Magnificent Malaysia

sunny 28 °C

Okay, I am waaay behind on the blog, as we are actually back from the trip now and were further slowed down by unpacking our shipment from the UK, job hunting and sleep training baby. But I really want to record all the fun we had before the details escape me! So back to our next stop, magnificent Malaysia!

Naim had been to Malaysia a few times before, but it was completely new to me (and Z, of course!). It is such and interesting place, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, and it is reflected in every aspect of the country, especially eating! We arrived in Kuala Lumpur on 21 August. After figuring out the confusing way to take a taxi from the airport, we were on our way to KL, passing the F1 racecourse along the way. Some pics entering KL via cab:

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We stayed at the Prince Hotel KL. A typical city hotel, it was very nice, but not very much character. Our plan was to decide where else we wanted to go in Malaysia once we arrived and decided how we felt, and therefore had booked only 4 nights in advance. We were in the Bukit Bintang area, a very popular section known for its shopping centres, al-fresco cafés, swanky bars, night markets, as well as hawker-type eateries. On our first night we explored the Jalan Alor street, which is stall after stall of mostly chinese cuisine. Although we couldn't read much of what was on the menus, there are plenty of pictures and everything is cheap and amazing anyway! The street was busy and had a great buzz and atmosphere.

Our hotel room
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Bukit Bintang & Jalan Alor
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The next day, we explored the area near the KL Convention center and did some indoor shopping to escape the heat.
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We kept asking people where we could find the Jalon Alor equivalent area of Malaysian food. Chinese food is plentiful here, as is Indian and Middle Eastern food, but we were dying for some real Malay stuff and oddly we couldn't find it. We later learned that we had arrived during a very unique period in Malaysia, Idil Fitri, or the festivity after completing the fasting month of Ramadan. So, as the Malays, many of which are Muslim, are fasting, all their fantasic street stalls are closed until it is time to break the fast, between 4-7 PM only. We were usually out or it was nap time, so often missed the stalls by the time we headed out for dinner, hence we never saw them. Once we learned this, we made sure to be around when the stalls opened. But for that evening, we had to go for non-Malay, so we hopped a cab to Chinatown.

Chinatown, or Petaling Street, was another haven for fake goods, and we spent a little time debating whether or not to pick up any more fakes! We didn't but instead enjoyed another fantastic meal al fresco and Zavian amused himself watching people selling weird but interesting stuff, like fake tomatoes that you can smash on the ground and reconstruct themselves a few seconds later. Thrilling! :)

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Dancing in the streets
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Carefully inspecting some (not very good) Longchamps
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Posted by jknazef 18:25 Archived in Malaysia Tagged chinatown malaysia petaling jalan alor Comments (0)

Sawadee Thailand!

Last stop, Phuket!

sunny 30 °C

Phuket was our last stop in Thailand. I’m glad we only stayed two nights in Patong, as Phuket didn’t feel especially Thai, and certainly the most westernized spot we had visited in the country. Good shopping, great international food options, tons of tourists and a fun spot for partying, but that’s about it. We stayed here as we needed to fly out of Phuket to Malaysia, but we wouldn’t really recommend Patong. Although we heard there are some nicer spots elsewhere on Phuket island.
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We stayed at The Nap Hotel near Patong Beach. The hotel was really great, very new andclean (aside from a few teensy tiny ants in our room, but they sorted us out, and it is kind of unavoidable in Thailand). We passed a lot of mediocre hotels on our way to Patong from the Phuket airport, so were pleased with our choice. Here are a few photos:
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One of the nicer spots in Patong is Patong Beach. We strolled through one afternoon. It is pretty long and once again, massages on the beach are always an option!
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Along the beach, and all over Thailand during our visit, we saw many enlarged portraits of their Queen, Queen Sirikit, such as this one.
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As the Queen is also regarded as mother to all Thai people, her birthday is also celebrated as ‘Mother’s Day' on 12th August every year since 1976 (the King’s birthday is Father’s Day, too). For this occasion, people all around the country raise national flags and houses are decorate with the portrait of Her Majesty the Queen. This is their way of expressing their loyalty and honor to her. Following the Thai tradition, kids kneel down before their mother to show their love and gratitude. They present her with white jasmine flowers or garlands, in return, mother shower her blessings on kids. On this day, white jasmine flowers are a common sight in Thailand as they are the symbol of maternal love.

We used our time in Patong to get organized for our the next leg of our adventure. We stocked up on some baby items at their big grocery store, Big C.The local tour booking agency near our hotel also did laundry very cheap, so we had some washing done. The lady who owned the agency wasn’t in when we came by, so the man who owned the shop next door told us to just leave our clothes outside the door and he would tell her what we wanted. We crossed our fingers and luckily all was washed and folded by the next day. 7 kgs of clothes for about 5 GBP! Here's Naim picking up the washing!
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I got beautified and had my eyebrows done in one of the hundreds of beauty salons and massage parlours around town, and Zavian reviewed a list of treatments he was considering.
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Check us out indulging in some authentic Thai experiences before departing:
Sushi!
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Hanging out with Alien and Predator!
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Having a kebab!
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Hee hee!

We packed our bags and prepared for our next spot, Kuala Lumpur. But not without saying the traditional greeting of Sawadee! See our friend Ronnie doing the greeting here.
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We heard this greeting (insert info on meaning, etc,) throughout our trip, always accompanied by a warm smile. Sawadee is a polite hello or goodbye, and is followed by "khrap/krup" for men, and "kha" for women (Zavian often got that! ha). You do not shake hands but make a "wai". Both hands are put together as if in prayer. As higher the hands are hold, as higher is the social position of the person greeted. The wai originated from an ancient greeting that was done to show neither individual had any weapons.

Thailand was a fascinating country, and we will always remember our time here and look forward to exploring it more again. In the meantime, thank you and sawadeeeeee!

Posted by jknazef 10:37 Archived in Thailand Tagged phuket patong Comments (0)

Koh Phi Phi Islands

sunny 32 °C

It was sad to leave Krabi Island behind, and the early start made it even sadder, but we gobbled up our last fabulous breakfast at the Centara Resort, snatched up a mini tub of plain yogurt from the buffet for Zavian to have with his lunch (he has become a total yogurt lover on holiday) and hopped aboard our ferry to the Koh Phi Phi Islands. It lasted about 3 hours and and rained a little, but fingers crossed it would be brighter in Phi Phi. We passed some gorgeous islands on the way, including Chicken Island, which we didn't have a chance to visit, but perhaps next time. See if you can make out the chicken head and neck in the second photo.

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We first arrived in Phi Phi's Tonsai Bay, from where we would have to take a longtail boat to our hotel. The Phi Phi Islands are along the western Andaman seacoast. It is made up of 2 islands, Phi Phi Don, the larger of the two and the only one with permanent inhabitants. Phi Phi Ley is also visited for its beaches, and of course, Maya Bay, where the movie The Beach was filmed (hello Leonardo!). Tonsai Bay is the only port, and our hotel was a 40 minute longtail ride away. We didn't really know how secluded our hotel was, and how easy it would be to get back to Tonsai Bay, so I decided we needed to stock up on baby supplies. We couldn't haul all our luggage and baby around Tonsai Bay, so Naim stayed with the bags and haggled with some boat drivers on a price to get to the hotel while I strapped baby on for a mission for formula and nappies. I first checked 7-11 (they are everywhere in Thailand, even on tiny islands!), but no luck. Then the pharmacy next door, who told me I should check the grocery store. I eventually found it and low and behold, all the formula info was in Thai! From my baby item research before the trip, I could recognise the brands and wanted to get Wyeth S-26, which is closest to what Zavian used while we were in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, I couldn't read the age or anything else for that matter! So I had to ask the woman at the register who tried to explain to me in broken English, and I just hoped she was right (then later needed someone at the hotel to translate the directions). So I bought that and some nappies and thanked the lord I stocked up Zavian's jarred food while in Krabi which had a much larger selection compared to NONE in Phi Phi. By then it had started raining hard so I opened up my umbrella (word of advice, never listen to your husband when he tells you there is no need to pack an umbrella for your trip to Asia during monsoon season) and we raced back to Naim. All aboard to the hotel!

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Our hotel in the distance
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It was a good thing we stocked up, as we learned upon arrival that there is no way to get anywhere without taking a boat, as the interior of the island is all jungle and you can't walk it and there are no cars! We arrived at The Holiday Inn Phi Phi. The hotel grounds are lush and tropical and they have a very nice beach, but all the activity is centered around the hotel and the activities it offers. You must eat all your meals there (unless you discover the hidden gem, Jasmin restaurant, but no staff will tell you about it, thank you Tripadvisor), and book your boats at hotel prices (unless you find the same boat guys who work for the hotel but will give you cheaper prices if you book with them, and coincidentally they are located right next to Jasmin). We didn't like the bungalow they gave us, and the baby cot they had for Zavian must have been a child's prison in a former life (it was grey, metal and a recipe for disaster), so I asked the manager if we could change rooms. We read on Tripadvisor that there is a newer section of the resort and we were going to try our hardest to get into one of those rooms! So I followed this tiny little manager man around (who I swear was wearing makeup) and who was probably the most uncheerful Thai person I had met thus far on the trip. He reluctantly let us take the furthest room away in the new section, told us he couldn't put a baby cot in the room and that he really should charge us another 1000 bhat per night for the room, but he didn't, and we were happy as the room was a million times better and had a great back porch with a semi-ocean view where we could chill out while Zavian napped. Some pics of the resort.

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How often do you see a sign like this?
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Or this one?
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Also, we arrived just in time for toad mating season. We, amongst the other hotel guests, were astounded by the extremely loud croaking that began for 2 nights around dusk. We had never heard such a sound, and there were thousands. Here's a pic of a little one that crossed our path.
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Our time here was very relaxed. Maybe too relaxed as after a while we started to get a little bored. Perhaps 3 nights would have been sufficient in Phi Phi. Can't complain too much though! We did some crab searching at low tide, enjoyed gorgeous sunsets from their Sunset Bar, swam and just chilled out.
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Delicious meals on the beach at Jasmin.
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Our big adventure was a early morning longtail boat ride to Phi Phi Ley, to check out some of the amazing beauty, and of course The Beach. IMG_2123.jpg
Viking Caves where you can find bird's nests for bird's nest soup! See the bamboo scaffolding they climb.
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Phi Phi Lagoon, or "Blue Lagoon." The most stunning and serene spot. We were the only boat inside.
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Maya Beach, The Beach, was pretty, but if you arrive after 10 AM is packed with tourists. It is a pretty beach, but there is an extra set of cliffs the moviemakers added to the background, to make it look like a lagoon, which it really isn't. We learned that the residents were really upset after the making of the film, because of some damage to the beaches by all their boats and equipment, but the tsunami later wiped it all out and actually restored the land back to its original beauty. No Leonardo at the beach, to my dismay!
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Tonsai Bay, where we did our baby shopping.
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And take a look at the teeth progression. First in Italy, second in Thailand!
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Posted by jknazef 23:50 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach the thailand phi maya Comments (0)

Monkeying Around in Krabi

sunny 32 °C

After much demand (no names mentioned... Matt!). I decided to contribute at a minimum, one entry to this blog so at least I can refer to it as 'our' blog without getting called out....

It was sad to leave the hustle and bustle of Bangkok but I think by now we were all ready for some beach time. We took a late afternoon AirAsia flight to Krabi. For those of you not familiar with AirAsia, they are the Asian equivalent of RyanAir, enabling you to fly to most destinations in Asia for only a portion of the cost of the more well-known larger airlines. Of course they charge you for everything from extra baggage weight, food, seat selection but because it’s in Asia these charges are fractions of the cost of RyanAir's :-) We found them to be excellent and just like previously, having Zavian with us proved to be a bonus as we were given priority at both check-in and security... one of the many benefits of travelling with kids in Asia! They do make it easier for families.

After a speedy one hour flight we landed at Krabi airport, not much to write home about here as the airport was the size of a roadside motel but it was nice to notice as we got off the plane that we were the only plane in sight.... I guess it is off-season after all! A taxi was waiting for us and we arrived at Nopparat Thara pier in 45 mins. Our place for the next 5 days was the Grand Centara Resort, which is only accessible by boat and we had to wait a short while for the hotel's private speedboat to appear out of the darkness, as by now it was late evening and it was pitch-black outside. Jutika and Zavian took the recommended safe option of staying in the cabin whilst I decided to join the local hotel staff on the front of the boat to get a feel of the area. At night we could see Ao Nang beach all lit up by the restaurants, bars and nightlife. Our hotel was very secluded, set in magnificent limestone cliffs (a common geographical feature of this area) with its own private beach and located next to Ao Nang. Disembarking off the boat was fairly straight forward but the manmade pier was a bit precarious as it was a plastic floating pier! Apparently the hotel is not permitted to install a permanent wooden structure as the area is a national park and has to be kept 'as is'. This meant the whole pier moved with the motion of the waves and at that time of night the waves were a little rough, a definite challenge for Jutika with Zavian strapped on. We made it one piece with the help of the hotel staff who obviously had no problem navigating the pier on their own.
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Greeted with welcome drinks, we were happy to have an ocean view room even if the view was obscured by the vegetation outside. Surprisingly we were told by the staff to make sure we locked all the doors and windows when we leave, not just close them, as monkeys are plentiful and these crafty little creatures have mastered the art of opening doors/windows! We even heard from other guests somebody was billed for a bag nuts even though the monkey stole them from their room! The next day, we elected to chill out at the pool and take Zavian swimming.
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Zavian loves the water, flapping his legs and arms continuously like Flipper the dolphin! Zavian also loves staring and smiling at other kids that are typically older than him as if he wants to join and play with them all. Of course, he made many friends there, young and old, including a couple, a guy called Tim from Chicago who was in the business of pharmaceutical advertising (not something that I believe in but a nice guy nonetheless) and his Thai 'lady friend', Dao, ;-) We ate at the hotel for the first two nights as you have to reserve a boat to get to Ao Nang (the closest town) but the Thai set meals at the hotel were fairly reasonable anyways plus it was easier to take Zavian back to the room to sleep if he began to feel tired and cranky. All the Thai staff loved Zavian even though most of them thought he was a girl! We took it as a complement because we thought it must be his beautiful face that confused them... ;-)

We had heard of a mystery "monkey trail" which as the name suggests is occupied by many monkeys! The trail like the floating pier is sometimes not for the faint hearted, and certainly not if it had just rained. Everyone kind of told us that it was not safe to take Zavian, especially at night. We decided to venture to Railey and Phra Nang beach the next day (see a great Tezza's blog for an in depth detail of the beaches in the area), this was the main reason why we chose this location as according to many people Phra Nang beach is considered the most beautiful in Thailand and one of the top 10 beaches in the world. We took the infamous monkey trail which was very rickety at places and understood why it would be difficult at night. Jutika was immediately followed by two monkeys, must have been some funky body odour that attracted them to her. One determined primate attempted to steal Zavian's brightly coloured sun tent from her bag.... and Jutika used her Jedi skills to fend them off with her umbrella! Check her out!

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Long tail boats are everywhere as this is the method of transport between beaches and islands. These boats are made of wood and use a very large and old diesel engine that makes a terrific amount of noise…. Not really baby friendly especially if trying to sleep We took the first of many long tails to Phra Nang beach via West Railey beach but had some difficulty communicating this as although ‘Phra’ would be phonetically pronounced as ‘fra’ in English, in Thai, ‘Phra’ is pronounced as ‘pra’….. We had lunch at a small restaurant on West Railey beach and took a 10 min walk to Phra Nang beach past some limestone caves with its wonderful stalactites and stalagmites.. Phra Nang beach was spectacular to say the least, white sandy beaches with crystal clear blue water set against picturesque lime stone cliffs. The water is also very warm, not even slightly cold, and the scenery out to see is also amazing as there are a few large limestone rocks located off the shore that are found often in the picture perfect photos found in travel brochures of Thailand. We immediately saw some adventurous people attempting some rock climbing on the limestone cliffs. Rock climbing is a very popular activity in this area as there are many limestone cliffs providing climbers with many challenges and the deterioration of the limestone provides nooks and crannies that can be used as foot and hand holds for even beginner climbers. We set up camp on the beach and installed Zavian’s little tent to protect him from the sun. The tent attracted much interest from passers-by… some even decided to take a photo!

West Railay Beach
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Phra Nang Caves
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Phra Nang Beach
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Climbers
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Also at Phra Nang beach is an unusual temple or shrine set in cave in the limestone cliff. Phra Nang (Princess) Cave has been where fishermen, before going out to sea, have made offerings to the symbolic Phallus of Shiva (known as the Siwaleung or Palad Khik in Thai). The fishermen, who say the cave is the home of a mythical sea princess, believe their offerings will bring them success in their fishing and protect them from danger, but what is more remarkable is that the cave contains a large collection of carved wooden phallic symbols, offerings and other objects believed to help with fertility! Some still go every morning paying their respects before they go fishing.
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Zavian fishing with locals
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There are a number of long tails there to take short trips to other islands and beaches. Some are also thai floating fast food boat docked on the beach equipped with a full kitchen selling anything from corn on the cob to curries and pad thai… yummy! We enjoyed our lunch there.
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We had checked out some of the other beaches on our way in, and decided that Phra Nang was by far the nicest, so we returned to Phra Nang beach the following day but spent just a few hours. We met a Glaswegian guy and he gave us some tips on our next destination, Koh Phi Phi Islands. He also told us about the crazy full moon parties, which we would be missing since we are parents now!

Our last days spent relaxing at hotel, since the Centara resort was so nice. Our rooms were like private bungalows in the trees of the rainforest, with amazing balconies with ocean views and coconut trees. Fortunately didn't have any monkey run-ins in our room, although you could definitely hear them outside at night. We did have some geckos and there was a huge lizard wandering around the resort that Jutika saw, but I missed. Jutika enjoyed some of the spa facilities, we had some cocktails and spent our evenings in Ao Nang. On our last night, we took a motorcycle tuk tuk to dinner from the pier. We ate at a restaurant where we heard a lot of hotel staff ate, oddly called "After the Tsunami." The food was incredible and we could pick out our own fish and seafood. Zavian chose ours!
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Our room at Centara
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Dinner at After the Tsunami
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The aftermath
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This is Dr. Naz signing off. Until next time, but for now my gorgeous assistant, Jutika, will be taking over...

Posted by nnazef 09:34 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches grand krabi tail long limestone phra centara ao nang Comments (1)

Eat and shop till you drop in Bangkok

rain 31 °C

Bangkok is a shopper's dream, or a nightmare depending on which way you look at it. There are huge, shiny, modern air-coned malls and buzzing street markets if you are up for the hustling and bargaining. There is also the in-between, a mall where you can bargain! Most things are in fact up for bargaining in Bangkok. This is fun, and Naim loves to barter over prices, whereas I love to get a bargain, but if you have to haggle for every little thing, if kind of turns me off after a while. But bargaining you must do in Bangkok unless you are buying the real brand name stuff in a shop. The biggest centres are MBK, Emporium, Siam Paragon, CentralWorld. We spent a bit of time cooling off or staying dry (when it rained, it poured) at the MBK Centre, one of places where you can negotiate on price. It has eight floors and over 2,000 shops. We scored some fake watches, although we won't tell you which brands, as you must try to see if you can tell for yourself the next time we see you! Fakes are everywhere, and there is nothing wrong with selling them, everyone sells them and everyone buys them. Your taxi driver is wearing Dior glasses and the kid at the coffee shop is bopping his head along to music on his knock-off Dr. Dre Beats headphones. You can buy fake jewelry, handbags, brand name clothing, sunglasses, trainers, music, phones, etc. They have the latest and greatest knock-offs for every new Apple product, video camera, stuff I didn't even know was out on the market yet. Everyone loves buying fakes because if they break, you have an inexpensive excuse to buy the newest copy of another product. Naim was a total geek and probably earned himself a second PhD in fake watches. He would come home and research fake watches because he wanted to be sure he paid the best price and got the top-of-the-line AAA++ copy. He got tutorials from the sellers, experimented with pricing on a few others, and then gave me a dissertation on what he learned. All that work and it is not even the real thing!

Despite buying stuff, shopping centres are actually excellent places to eat and try loads of different foods. Many Thai people eat in the food courts and the quality of food is actually very good (and cheap). We would walk along the rows looking at all the options and always choose a few different things to try. The only silly part is you have to decide everything you want from all the vendors first, then go to the ticket counter and purchase tickets to pay for your food, as the vendors don't deal with money. Kind of annoying if at the last minute you change your mind or want that extra dumpling at the last minute! :)

Some dumplings, mmm.
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Look like candy, but made from beans!
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Dessert counter for Nam Kang Sai, a combo of jellies, fruits with chunks of ice and sweet syrup. I enjoyed mine with coconut milk, water chestnuts and sweet corn, too! And that spiky thing is durian fruit.
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Sipping a thai iced coffee outside Siam shopping area
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Where's Waldo? (Zavian this time)
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There are many floating markets throughout Thailand, and they are a lovely way to see the old style and traditional way of selling goods over the water. It is one of those things that you can't find in many places, so really unique and interesting, but nowadays it is more of a "show" for tourists, and not many real transactions take place between the locals. There are 2 main floating markets near Bangkok (about 100 kms away). We decided to go to Amphawa Floating Market. Unlike the famous one at Damnoen Saduak, this one doesn’t start to get going until the late afternoon (good news for us late risers). From what the locals and our hotel told us, Damnoen Saduak market is more touristy, but a great photo opportunity. However, Amphawa's atmosphere is much better. It is also more authentic as you won’t find the rows and rows of stalls selling the same tacky souvenirs. The best thing about Amphawa Floating Market is that it is still relatively unknown among Western tourists as isn’t featured in many travel guides yet.

We organised a taxi to take us from our hotel and wait for us there and bring us home. It was about 2500 bhat (about 50 GBP, and kind of expensive we thought!) The concierge promised a nice, comfortable taxi and English-speaking driver. As soon as we set off, it began to rain crazy monsoon rain. We didn't worry too much, since it would take at least an hour to get there and although it is monsoon season, it never seemed to rain in Bangkok more than an hour at a time. It rained the entire journey, to the point where the driver stopped the car and we debated whether we should just return as we couldn't walk around when it was raining sideways with Zavian. The driver, who actually spoke very little English and kept calling Zavian "my baby," like he was his baby, tried to offer to return and pick us up the next morning to take us to the other market for the huge discount of 2000 bhat (on top of today's payment- yeah right!). He was very concerned about "my baby," but we decided to take our chances. We were lucky and it stopped just as we approached the market. Yippee!

We enjoyed exploring the market, eating amazing, scallops and clams cooked out of a boat next to us along the canal, sampling loads of local delights... Unfortunately, Zavian was super cranky, so the atmosphere by the canal was not so chilled out. That's travelling with baby sometimes, I suppose. So we opted to pass on the boat ride to see the firefly's as it could possibly ruin everyone else's trip. :)

On the way in our taxi (raining outside) and the driver popped in some Celine Dion for our listening pleasure!
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Enjoying some rice coconut covered sweet
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For our last market adventure, we went to was Chatuchak Weekend Market. It is one of the world's largest weekend markets and covers 27 acres divided into 27 Sections, and containing more than 15,000 booths selling goods from every part of Thailand. It attracts 200,000 people each day on the weekend. It was immense. Of course it poured that afternoon too (perhaps the retail gods were telling us to stop shopping), but it was our only chance to see it. You can find absolutely everything/anything you want here from antique wood carvings, handicrafts, plants, food, clothing, animals, anything! Here is a short clip to give you a taste!

It was hectic, but fun. There was no way we could get a cab back to the hotel in that crowd, so we hopped the SkyTrain back, met a couple Americans (from Salem, MA in fact!) and shared some of our Bangkok stories.

Posted by jknazef 09:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged market bangkok floating chatuchak mbk Comments (0)

Big Budhas and the Grand Palace

sunny 34 °C

We visited a few Buddhist temples during our 6 days in Bangkok, but nothing was as cool as Wat Pho, The Temple of the Reclining Budha. Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest temples, and they say is the birthplace of traditional Thai massage (it houses a massage school). The impressive Budha staue is 46 meters in length and the temple itself has over 1000 images of Budha, more than anywhere else in the country. It was breathtaking!

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Naim making donations at the temple
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We also went to see the Grand Palace, which has been the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government for more than 150 years. Although the present King Bhumibol (Rama IX) lives in Chitralada Palace (not open to tourists). We took a taxi from the hotel, and I had read that you have to be sure the taxi drops you off near the entrance, as for some reason they don't like to, but of course we had no idea where we were, so believed our driver that is was just around the corner, and ended up a bit further than we thought. It was boiling outside and we only had the baby carrier since the stroller wouldn't arrive from the airport until later that evening. Zavian also chose that moment to be sleepy and prefer to be held, so my sweaty arms were tied!

One thing you learn about Bangkok, is that if you are a tourist, everyone tries to take you for a ride. Prices are inflated, lies are told (even where there is no personal incentive to do so) and many attempts to get you to take their friend's tour or taxi. Towards the end of our 6 days in Bangkok, we started to get a little sick of it, as we didn't feel we could really trust anyone. On our walk to the Grand Palace, a man who said he worked for a hotel, stopped and asked if he could help us. We asked to be directed towards the Palace and he told us, but then said it would be closed during the lunch time because of Budha's birthday. Hmm, hadn't seen or heard anything about Budha's birthday...He then reassured us if would reopen by 3:30 PM, so don't worry and then tried to get us a taxi, but we said no. When we finally arrived at huge white walls that enclose the Palace, we stopped at what we though was an entrance and asked a security guard where we could enter. He said the entrance was down to the right, but that the palace was closed during lunch, so he suggested we take a river tour and then return, and pointed us towards a tuk tuk who proceeded to harass us. We said no and then walked towards the entrance anyway, as we could surely just see if it was closed once we arrived at the correct spot. As we approached, we saw loads of tourists entering and leaving. Both guys were telling lies, and the second one was security for the Palace! Inside where you buy tickets there was a big sign that said don't listen to anyone on the street as you try to enter telling you it's closed for a 'Buddhist holiday', 'cleaning' etc, or asking if you want to see the 'Lucky Buddha' instead. I found out later it's all part of a sophisticated gem scam. Good to know, but they really should post these signs on the way to the Palace!

In any case, the palace was worth it, as it was simply stunning, well maintained and interesting. The beautiful architecture and intricate detail give a proud salute to Thai craftsmanship. They have a very strict dress code and we did have to cover up, no bare shoulders, shorts, etc., so we had to wear more clothes once we got inside (sooo hot) and Naim hired some great trousers that I thought made him look like he works in the ER.

Grand Palace pics
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You can get blessed before you enter to see the Emerald Budha, and Zavian giggled when the water touched his hair and made this woman laugh.
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An illegal photo Naim took, not supposed to take photos inside! At the top the very small, very famous and greatly revered Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century
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Naim thinking he look like George Clooney from ER
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Posted by jknazef 08:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged palace grand bangkok reclining budha Comments (0)

Thailand - The Bustling Land of Smiles

Welcome to Bangkok

sunny 33 °C

We arrived in Bangkok on the 3rd of August. The flight was long, with a stopover in London, but BA's air cot for Zavian really made a difference. This was the first time we had the chance to use one. It was kind of like a car seat and he slept for a good portion of the flight and Naim and I were able to eat, sleep and even watch a film, which felt like an incredible luxury.

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The Bangkok airport was quite impressive, really new and modern. They zipped us through passport control in the baby line and we went to collect our bags. Of course, something had to be missing! This time it was Zavian's stroller, but they assured us it was on the same flight tomorrow, so we would just make do with the baby carrier until then. Bangkok was hot. I think each place we go to is progressively hotter. But not only is it hot here, but incredibly humid. I was hoping Zavian would be able to cope with this for a couple weeks. The poor fella has already been dealing with his first tooth the past week. Check it out, although you have to look very closely!

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We hopped into one of many hot pink taxis lined up and headed towards the hotel. Zavian had a little sleep as we sat in standstill traffic for what should have been a 35 minute ride (probably at least double that). We highly recommend the SkyTrain (their elevated rapid transit system for general travel around Bangkok as traffic is a huge problem. Taxis are cheap but it take up to 3 times as long during working hours to get anywhere.)
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We arrived at the Sukhumvit Radission Suites, which was a new hotel in the popular area of Sukhumvit Road. It was shiny, sleek and really comfy (and super airconed). Exactly the type of place you want to be in when you have been on a long flight, are super sweaty and have a baby literally glued to your torso in the baby carrier. We rested, cleaned up and then ventured out for dinner.

The Radisson
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Street food is everywhere, and although some can seem dodgy, a lot of it is fine and really yummy. Our first taste of Thailand of course had to be street food, so we each had a satay skewer on our way to the dinner. It was great and no repurcussions the next day. Yippee! We ate around the corner at a place called Suk 11. It was Biggy' s recommendation to us (the conceirge). He was on the larger side for a Thai person, so maybe that's why he is called that? :) Suk 11 is actually a hostel, but with a cool outdoor restaurant and backpacker vibe to it. It was pretty happening that evening.

Bangkok streets are busy. Like any major city, it never sleeps. There is the constant buzz of cars, motorcyles and tuk tuks, music from some restaurant, bar or club, street vendors for food, clothes, anything you could want. However, there is not a lot of car horn honking and the streets are generally pretty clean, which I was pleasantly surprised about. There are massage parlors every few feet and lots of people constantly asking you if you want a taxi, tuk tuk, massage and goodness knows what else! You never have to go far to find food, the street vendors making all sorts of interesting delights for pennies, lots of restaurants, little no name spots with plastic chairs and tables. There are mini camper vans that are actually bars and they pull over, throw out a few folding chairs, have music and lights and voila! Instant bar.

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The Sky Train
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Oh, and about Thailand being called the Land of Smiles. Well, it is absolutely true! Thai people always give you a big smile, whether it is for happiness, embarassment, disappointing news or anything else! The smile is considered the most appropriate reaction to any possible situation. What the smile means depends on the 'type' being used - out of a possible 13 they have in their language! You really do notice it as a visitor.

Zavian however got the most smiles. Thai people adore babies. The Greeks and Italians really like babies, but the Thais take it to a whole new level. Women, men, taxis drivers, vendors, even groups of men, no one hesitates to stop to talk to Zavian, to touch him, ask to hold him and a few even kissed him! One woman actually stopped traffic in the middle of the street market to play with him, tickle his feet and pinch his cheeks. She then ran into us on our way out of the market and did it again. Zavian could be Thai himself, as he smiles constantly, and that only invites more attention. He can't help but smile, even when he's crying. He will stop crying if a stranger comes up to smile at him, and then when they go, he just goes back to whining like nothing happened. It's hilarious. The only down side to their love of children, is that even if Zavian was sleeping, they would go up and touch or talk to him. They don't seem to mind waking a sleeping baby, but as a new mum, I kind of minded that sometimes. Every moment of peace counts! Oh well, it was always with good intentions and Zavian generally went back to sleep. Here is is asleep on a tuk tuk with me.

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Posted by jknazef 22:31 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok Comments (1)

Mmm mmm Umbria!

Our last stop in Italy

sunny 29 °C

Florence (and therefore Tuscany) has always been my favorite spot in Italy. My first memories of Italy began there and I had so much fun as a student, and our good pals Hilary and Omar were married in a castello there some years later. So there have been some superb times had in Tuscany. Then after our great time in Cinque Terre, I thought that was my next favorite place. But can I not add Umbria as my new favorite region? It is too hard to choose, but Umbria brought us all sorts of delights over our last five days in Italy.

We stayed at a great agriturismo called Agriturismo Cioccoleta, just minutes outside of Orvieto in Bardano. The beauty of this place, despite its gorgeous farm full of grape vines, pumpkins, olive trees and more, despite its wonderful view of the town of Orvieto and despite the very large and well thought-out rooms and facilities, was Angela and her family. The made us feel like part of their family from our very first night. In fact, we were too tried to go out our first evening, so Angela let use her kitchen to make some pasta and we sat in the dining room where she was with her family. Her brother, his wife and children were visiting, so they had a big dinner in the agriturismo and shared with us wine from their own grapes, juicy tomatoes from their garden and even scrumptious sausage and salami from their pig! Here are some pics of the agriturismo.

There was a looong, bumpy road to the agriturismo
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Angela, her husband Alessandro and their darling little boy of two year, Federico were fantastic hosts. They gave us great tips about town of Orvieto, booked us some meals at delicious restaurants and gave great suggestions of things to see.

Federico kindly let Zavian use all his toys! Here are the two boys together.
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Zavian's first real swing! He loved it!
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Naim and Zavian in the agriturismo's vineyard.
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On our first night, then mentioned a small town of Civita. Angela and Alessandro gave us a few tidbits of information, such as it was a unique place, go at sunset, there are only a handful of residents that live there, but did not reveal too much and said it is better to go and be surprised. Our interest was peaked so on one of our evenings, we went. It truly was magical, and as it is only about 60 miles north of Rome, I would recommend it as an easy day trip. The surprise of Civita, is that this little tiny village teeters atop a vast canyon. It is an absolutely sight! There is only a footbridge that connects the town to its larger, sister town, Bagnoregio, and there are no cars in Civita. You enter the town through a cut in the rock made by the Etruscans 2500 years ago, and through an arch. There are no sights to see here, but beautiful little lanes and paths to explore, a small piazza and the amazing views. Much of this part of Umbria was formed by ancient volcanoes, and Orvieto itself is also set atop a volcano and very dramatic. I will let the pics talk for themselves!

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Outside Gepetto's house from the recent remake of Pinnochio!
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The rest of our time here was spent exploring Orvieto, eating the most amazing food and gorging on black truffles, sipping white Orvieto wine, and dodging the occasional rainfall. We also had a picnic on a little mountain park one afternoon and chatted with a local cheesemaker who runs an agriturismo for disabled people and their families- really cool!

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Angela and Alessandro were married in the duomo and the frescoes inside are beautiful!
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Enjoying some quiet time with baby asleep.
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Even better with vino and a truffle and pork sandwich from Cantina Foresi outside the duomo.
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Truffle pasta anyone? From the cave restaurant Le Grotte del Funaro.
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Zavian making friends with the waitstaff, as always! Here with Diana from Girrarosto Buongustaio.
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Another highlight from our time here was Zavian's 7 month birthday. Truthfully, he turned 7 months a week earlier, but we didn't have a printer, etc, so we are a little late. Oops!
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And the final milestone from Italy was Zavian's first tooth! We had a few bad nights with little Z, only to realize that he was teething, poor guy! First tooth in Italy, wonder where the next one will come in!

Mmm mmm Umbria. Oh how I will your truffles, your homemade umbrecelli pasta, your porchetta. Your wine is divine. We packed our bags and headed for the airport. What a great two weeks in Italy. Ci Vediamo Italia!

Now on to Asia!

Posted by jknazef 10:42 Archived in Italy Tagged orvieto umbria civita Comments (1)

A stop in Siena, and sunflowers

sunny 30 °C

Our farewell to Tuscany included a stop in Siena. Despite many visits to Italy and it's proximity to Florence (just 1.5 hours drive at most), I have sadly never visited Siena. I can see my dear friend, Anna, shaking her head in disbelief. Anna has spent a lot of time in Siena, and her PhD thesis focused on St. Catherine of Siena, one of the two patron saints of Italy (the other is Francis of Assisi, in case you were wondering!). We could only stay for a few hours as we needed to be in Orvieto that evening, but it was fantastic and their duomo is gothic and amazing. Really different from Florence's, better one might say!

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We explored many of Siena's streets and the Piazza del Campo, which is most famous for the Palio, a traditional medieval horse race run around the piazza twice each year.

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Relaxing in Piazza del Campo
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We also visited the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina.

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Siena was gorgeous, and like many Italian towns, is not without many hills to give you a good workout. Oh my goodness. These streets were steep! Here I am huffing and puffing trying to push Zavian in the stroller. And also Naim!

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We left Siena, but were really happy we stopped in briefly. Off to Orvieto now! We drove along the A2 , which has the biggest, and most stunning sunflower fields we had ever seen. Umbria produces a lot of sunflower oil, and one can see why. Zavian was asleep, so didn't get to participate in the pics, but Naim and I had fun!

Where's Waldo?
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Posted by jknazef 10:05 Archived in Italy Tagged sunflowers siena Comments (1)

Tuscany...where la vita è bella!

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After four fun days at Lago di Garda, we went to my personal favorite part of Italy, Tuscany. That's where it all began for me. Having studied abroad in Florence for a semester and having studied Italian for some years (and this trip certainly highlighted all the bits I need to brush up on!), it always brings back lots of wonderful and fun memories. This is Italy for me.

We stayed about a half hour outside Florence in the countryside of the Chianti region in a small town called Rufina.
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We spent three nights here, at a cute agriturismo called Il Pezzatino. An agriturismo is a particular type of holiday in Italy. It is basically a farm stay, where many of the foods, wines or items served come directly from the farm. They can be rustic, or quite luxurious, depending on where you stay. We had always wanted to try vacationing in Italy this way (and of course leaned towards as luxurious as we could and somewhere that had Wifi, of course!). We somehow managed to neglect photos of Il Pezzatino, but you can see their link and it was veyr pretty. We do have one pic of their dining room with a long table, which they served breakfast at every morning. Il Pezzatino had lots of wood beamed ceilings, and a real homey feel. Lots of apple, pear and walnut trees in the front, grapes growing in the back. They also had a cute dog named Pepe (pronounced "PayPay", exactly like Naim's mum's dog named Pei Pei!).

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The weather was warm for most of our stay, although there was some rain, but it was nice and cooled it down. We drove around several little towns in the region, including the popular Greve in Chianti, which is the principal town in the wine district. Amongst wine and olive oil, Greve and the area is know for the Cinta Senese pig, which produces some outstanding pork, and is home to one of Italy's oldest and most renowned butcher shops, the Macelleria Falorni. It was a sea of prosciutto in there! Naim was in heaven.

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Zavian loved Greve, too and chose to take a spin around town on a Vespa!
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Being in Chianti, we had to take in some wine tasting. With the rain, it was the indoor activity of choice, of course! We choose a place called Casa Emma, and had a great afternoon. The great thing about Casa Emma, besides the lovely staff and vino, was their lunch! The recently completed a little osteria in the back, and they serve a lunch of Tuscan delicacies. We dined on crostini, omelette with sweet onions, local cheeses and salamis, prosciutto with melon, tuscan beans and a scrumptious torte polished off with vin santo!

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We then had a private tour by Carlo of the winery and tasted some great wines. Naim became a little celebrity while there as one of the staff loved his Norm (from Cheers t-shirt), which says "Drinking is the Norm" (so cheesy) and took photos to add to Casa Emma's facebook page! If you want to combine good food and wine (who doesn't?), then we would definitely recommend Casa Emma to anyone looking for a small winery and nice people. And the rainy day ended with a rainbow- perfect!

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Since we were so close, we had to visit Florence as every time I go to Italy I must return there! We started the day with a trip down memory lane to stop at NYU's Florence campus where I studied. I really wanted to show Naim and Zavian, but unfortunately we didn't realise that you can't get in these days without an appointment, so were sadly turned away at the gate. :( The Italians working there did make it clear however that this was not an Italian rule, but in fact, "thiiis iiis American security, signora." We were so not surprised.

Nevermind. So we got back in the car and headed down for the centre. Parked in Piazza della Libertà and walked towards the duomo. We enjoyed all the touristy spots- the duomo, various piazzas, various churches, Ponte Vecchio, etc.

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The highlight of the day, however, was the most random and unplanned meeting. We were almost on our way out the city, when we stopped near the duomo for a drink and to give Zavian some milk. I was feeding him a bottle and then saw a young boy who looked slightly familiar, but didn't think too much of it and didn't even mention to Naim. Then I saw his brother and father, and then realized it was some of our extended family, who live about 10 minutes from my parent's house! The Moholkar family were on their last day in Florence, just minutes from their hotel and on their way to Venice. It was such a great surprise to see them, in Florence of all places!

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We had a delicious and fun time in Tuscany, where life certainly is beautiful!

PS, I forgot to include pics of Naim's amazing bistecca fiorentina (Florentine steak). Here it is. Oh, might I also add that Naim was not able to finish the steak, and wanted to take home the leftovers. But the truth was, as he said quietly to me, was that he really wanted to clean that bone properly (Tasmanian devil style) and wanted to do that in privacy. If anyone else has every seen Naim eat a chicken leg, rib or something similar, you will understand why.

Being cooked...
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...and the final product!
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Posted by jknazef 09:58 Archived in Italy Tagged florence tuscany chianti rufina Comments (2)

Lago di Garda

with a side trip to Verona

sunny 27 °C

The next morning after breakfast we set off for Lago di Garda (Lake Garda). Lake Garda is Italy's largest lake and one of the north's most visited locations. We hadn’t really spent much time looking into Lago di Garda, so didn't know a tremendous amount about it. We choose it as we had never been to the lakes up north in Italy before, and thought it might be cooler that our original plan to stay in southern Italy. And certainly cooler than Greece. We may have lived in Scotland, but we don’t want fried baby! Hehe!

We spent 4 days in the town of Bardolino, towards the southern tip of the long lake. Bardolino is a great place. Where it bordered the lake, it had a long and stunning boardwalk where you can sit and enjoy your dinner al fresco, have a gelato, like Zavian did, or just enjoy a nice walk. There are lovely little shops and everything is open late. It is a great place for families. Most people take a ferry to visit the some of the other towns that border the lake. There were a lot of tourists everywhere, especially Germans. Many of the menus and signs were in Italian and German. As a nice old Italian lady told me,” they invaded us once before, and now they invade us again as tourists.” It was no joke!

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We stocked up on groceries as our apartment, Blue Lake Bardolino, had a kitchenette. The apartment was pretty good. We had private parking, a lift, and a private terrace where we ate most of our meals. Naim’s dad was planning to join us there for a few days, as he was not that far away at his home in France, but got a bad cough and couldn’t make it. We missed him!

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Naim chilling on the porch, trying the surf the web, but it was poor. Hence, I am behind on blogging!IMG_0707.jpg

The next day, we decided to visit the nearby city of Verona. It was gorgeous. It’s huge ancient, arena hosts opera at night during the summer, which we could have loved to do if it wasn’t for baby’s bedtime. We saw a very strange pink baby man who made baby noises in a high pitched voice who was odd and somewhat scary!

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We toured some beautiful churches and streets and had a lovely lunch in a cafe. The city is considered a world heritage site by UNESCO, and is probably most famous for Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet, which was based in Verona. A highlight was definitely visiting the balcony of Juliet's house.

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Statue of Juliet
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Juliet's balcony
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We spent the rest of our days mostly lakeside. We explored some of the other towns, Sirmione (gorgeous, but packed with tourists), Riva del Garda, Lazise, by both boat and car. We do think that Bardolino was by far the prettiest and were really happy we stayed there.

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Decisions, decisions...
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Divine seafood risotto
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Our final lakeside adventure was a cable car summit to Monte Baldo in the Italian Alps. You have a spectacular view of lake Garda. Thank god we brought a jacket for Zavian, as it was freezing up there! Monte Baldo is 2,218 m (7,277 ft) high. The ride up and down was rather lengthy, as you go up half way, then have to get off and then queue up for the next cable car to the top. It took almost an hour each way, although they advertise it is 10 minutes! But the views...fabulous!

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So far in Italy, Zavian has coped amazingly well. Bedtime has definitely become interrupted as most places don't serve dinner until 7:30, so he usually gets overtired, screams and cries in the middle of dinner and one of us takes him outside to rock him to sleep. Then he wakes up when we get home, and of course, wants to play for a while before he is ready for bed. Then milk and back to bed. We felt really bad, so we made quite a few meals at home in Bardolino and let him sleep. But we think he is used to his 8:00 pm nap and wakes up to party with us later anyway! Oh well!

Posted by jknazef 11:00 Archived in Italy Tagged verona garda bardolino Comments (3)

Hidden Gems of Cinque Terre

sunny 28 °C

On our last full day in Cinque Terre, we visited the final two small towns, Monterosso and Vernazza. Along the sea, we watched teenage Italian boys jump off a paved platform into the sea and get pushed up by the waves back onto the platform and land on their feet. Zavian also learned a new trick, how to hide in his stroller. Luckily, we found him. :) He also filled in temporarily for a dwarf! Lots of people seem to have little ceramic dwarfs from Snow White in their gardens or doorsteps. Zavian fit right in.

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We had a relaxed evening and per the recommendation of our new friends from the inn, Frank and Ninita, we went to another teensy tiny hillside town for dinner (as I write this I can't recall, its name, but will find it!). Frank and Ninita have spent a lot of time in Italy, as they can drive from Frankfurt where they live. Frank is an ears, nose and throat surgeon and Ninita used to work for NATO. Frank loves to motorcycle on holiday, so they have a special car that allows them to store the motorcycle inside and they can drive around, and then use the bike whenever they want. Pretty cool! Dinner, was nice, although we weren’t exactly sure where it was once we parked the car. We saw a lady walking and asked her where the restaurant was. She said there was only one place trattoria in the wee village, and pointed us in the right direction. To our surprise, Ninita and Frank were there, and we enjoyed chatting with them during our meal. They were both interested to hear how people from so far away were able to find these obscure, tiny places like L’Antico Borgo and Zita restaurant from the previous night. They had only found them in a special German book that is not translated into other languages. Naim borrowed Frank’s book one night, but it was in German (doh), so we couldn’t read it! We did all our holiday research on the internet, but we had to call a lot of places from the US to find our availability and information. I am sure both Naim’s family and mine will agree we spent a lot of time researching, bargaining and creating a humungous itinerary with every detail of our trip. Naim’s mum and sister Sulin also helped us do some research, and I still think Sulin should consider a career as a travel agent. She would be amazing!

For anyone planning a trip to Cinque Terre, we would highly recommend staying outside of the 5 tiny villages. They are small very cute, but somewhat isolated as walks between, if possible, can be 1.5 to 2 hours in length. Otherwise you must take a short train ride in between, and trains do not run all night. The town of Levanto, about 10 mins down the hill from where we stayed, is considered the gateway to Cinque Terre, and we were originally looking for accommodation there. It was so busy, we couldn’t find anything, so we had no choice but to look slightly further away. It was certainly the best choice (if you have a car). You cannot beat the amazing views, the feeling of being tucked away in a secret spot that other people don’t know about, but still close to Cinque Terre. Aside from our German friends, there were never any tourists where we ate and prices were cheaper. And we certainly cannot say enough about our fabulous stay at L’Antico Borgo.

Posted by jknazef 10:41 Archived in Italy Tagged terre cinque Comments (2)

Cinque Terre and the Walk of Love

28 °C

We left Rome in the late afternoon, on the 19 July. Everything seems to take a lot longer than expected here in Italy, or maybe this is just what happens when you have a baby. In any case, everything takes forever.

We left for what will be our longest drive while in Italy. We made three stops and hit some unusually wet weather. We were heading north towards Cinque Terre, to a hilltop location up winding and dark mountains. Upon entering the tiny village of Dosso around 10:30 pm, we parked outside and took our bags down a paved, but very steep path towards our B&B, L’Antico Borgo. For this time of night, the B&B was buzzing. A group of 5 English women travelling together sat in the living room planning out their next day’s adventure. An Italian couple had just returned from their day out and there were a few people sippng wine on the terrace. You could hear something going on in the kitchen and the entire place had the most amazing smell of cakes baking for tomorrow’s breakfast. The warm and exuberant signora took us up to our room, which was spacious and they had made up a cute little bed for Zavian. We quickly settled in for the night.

The next morning was bright and sunny as we headed downstairs for breakfast. We took a table on the terrace and were treated to a fantastic view. The previous night’s arrival in the late evening had not revealed how high we were in the mountains and the perfect view of the town of Levanto below us. The B&B was adorable, but by far, it was the staff that made the stay superb. We enjoyed cappuccinos and the most delicious breakfast, far better than you can normally expect in Italy! There was an assortment of homemade cakes, cereals, cheeses, salamis, fruits, freshly squeezed juices, homemade yogurt, breads and more. This place was tucked away in the mountains, a complete gem! Here are a couple pics of L’Antico Borgo.

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Breakfast on the terrace every morning
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View from the terrace
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The signora helped plan our visit of the area. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO National Park site and protected marina of 5 small fishing villages, each with their own charm and tiny street and alleyways to explore. You can take a train to visit the towns (only about a 5 minute journey to each), walk or bike between them. From afar, each of the villages have a characteristic pastel coloring and are peppered along the coastline. You can visit a few in a day, so on our first full day, we took the train to Riomaggiore, walked from there along the Via dell’Amore to Manorola, and then took the train to Corniglia.

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The Via dell’Amore is a great walk, paved well, and hugs steep cliffs with gorgeous views of the sea and some of the other villages far ahead. Along the walk, you see lots of love-related signs, art, sculpture and graffiti. You also see along the walk thousands of padlocks affixed to fences, doorways, anything. The pathway's legend holds that it was a meeting place for lovers from the two towns, and is now a favorite site for tourists to place their locks and throw the keys into the sea.

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We ended the day at a little local restaurant, Zita, in the neighboring village of Lavaggiorosso. Zita was a family-run place, and the beauty of eating there is that they have no menus. You choose from the various pastas, meats and vegetables they have that day and drink the only wine they serve. You eat very well, pay very little, and meet lovely locals. We met a nice Italian couple about our age who gave us some tips about Lake Garda, our next stop in Italy, a nice family with their cute 9 month old boy, Gabrielle, and the restaurant owner’s father, who told us about his travels all over the world while in the Italian navy. We also met Frank and Ninita, a couple from Germany who were also visiting the area. It turns out Frank and Ninita were staying at L'Antico Borgo, too, but we only learned that upon returning home after dinner, and they gave us some great suggestions for our upcoming trip in Lake Garda.

Posted by jknazef 16:23 Archived in Italy Tagged terre cinque amore Comments (1)

Benvenuto in Italia!

After a slightly delayed flight from Santorini, we arrived in Rome, went to the wrong place to collect our rental car and waited for 40 minutes at the bus stop to be picked up by the rental agency with the hugest container of Nutella we had ever seen (no joke see below, and we have since found these everywhere in Italy). But we got a free upgrade with our car and our GPS got us to our hotel without problem in Rome, and there was one good restaurant near our hotel that was still serving food at almost 11 PM, so we were happy. We didn't have any cutlery back in our hotel, and the restaurant didn't have any plastic for us to take, so they gave us their real cutlery and told us we could just bring it back tomorrow. And once we sunk our teeth into that cheesy truffle-icious pasta as Zavian was asleep on the bed, all the hassle was worth it. Mmmm, Italy. Ti amo, Italia.

It may not look large, but it is next to a 2 liter bottle for scale!
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Staying in Rome wasn't part of the original itinerary. We changed our plans to stay for just one night to be able to go to the Indian Embassy in Rome so that Naim could get his visa. We many reasons, but mostly because we forgot, we weren't able to get his Indian visa for our last stop. We found out it could be done in Rome, so the plan was to drop it off at the start of our time in Italy, and pick it up before we flew out of Rome two weeks later, as they don't process foreign passports quickly.

Yet we couldn't go to the consulate until 2 pm, so we had some time to kill. Naim got a hair cut, "Italian style," as the stylist said. We stocked up on some Italian baby food and then took the bus into the center. We walked a lot, saw St. Peter's from afar and spent some time at the Trevi Fountain. Zavian and I even threw a coin into the fountain together. A legend holds that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. It worked for me before some hopefully Zavian will return one day soon!

St. Peter's from a distance
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Trevi fountain
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Z taking delight in throwing a coin into the fountain
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We then headed to the consulate that was pretty nice on the outside, but actually looked and felt like we were in India on the inside. However, the drop off process seemed to go without a hitch. I guess we will know soon enough!

Posted by jknazef 15:01 Comments (0)

Picture Perfect Santorini

sunny 36 °C

Santorini is one of those places they say you must visit if you go to the Greek islands. Now that I have visited, I can see why. It looks exactly like the postcards and pictures you see. It's characteristic blue domed churches and white homes built into the hilly landscape are breathtaking (not to mention the steep walks along the stone steps, which are not very stroller friendly! :)) Around 1500 BC, the volcano of Santorini Island in Greece exploded and the eruption was so strong that the centre of the island sank and took the shape with the caldera that can be seen today. Santorini, and specifically the town of Oia, where we stayed, is perched on the side of one of the extinct volcanoes, but one of the other volcanoes is still active. The whole place is just so dramatic and stunning. Oia has cute town, with lots of shops and restaurants. Lots of jewelry and art. There were families there, but Abha and I both felt Santorini might be a nicer place to come without the kids!

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We enjoyed three nights in Santorini, two with the Mooneys. We stayed at the Danai House, a caldera cave apartment, a traditional cavernous home built inside the rocks, with a dome-like roof. They are very famous in Oia and all have amazing views of the Aegean Sea. Many caves have been transformed into apartments and hotels. Here is a pic of ours:

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Danai House had a nice outdoor seating area, but it was pretty cozy for two families and two baby cots, with one bathroom (which left a lot of be desired for) and Santorini was boiling! Naxos had a strong breeze and felt a lot cooler than here. We had an A/C, but it would shut off after every 5 minutes and so we were all a little sweaty at night. This is when Zavian began to get a very mild heat rash on his chest and shoulders. Night time was cooler, though, and Abha and I sent the boys off in search of cakes to bring back and share outside on our patio, while the children slept. Mmmm!

We all took a day trip to the capital, Fira, one day. Well, Naim, Zavian and I almost didn't make it as there was a mad rush for the jam-packed bus. We were slowed down by trying to sort out the stroller, but didn't worry too much as Abha said she would save some seats for us. But then the driver said no more, there was still loads of people ahead of us, and Abha and family couldn't get off at this stage. It was to be a 20-30 minute journey, and as we saw Abha wave and mouth "don't worry, we'll wait for you," we wondered how the heck we were going to get to Fira and find them without mobile phones. Luckily we got a cab and it was only 15 euros to Fira, so we sat back, Zavian had a little nap and by some miracle we all met up in perfect time in Fira. It was a nice day in the end and we enjoyed a cable car down the side of the cliffs and Cara and Adrian took a donkey ride back up to the top!

That last night with the Mooneys in Santorini we had delicious Greek pizza with a sea view...
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...and we were able to enjoy a gorgeous full moon in Santorini, too!
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We'll miss you Mooneys!

Posted by jknazef 14:42 Archived in Greece Tagged greece caves oia fira Comments (1)

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