At Home

This shouldn’t be a surprise!

Merry Christmas! We woke to a white Christmas this morning – the first one since 2017. That shouldn’t be a surprise. After all this is the year where we’ve had the highest temperatures on record, the longest dry spell, the greatest single day rainfall and I don’t know how many other weather events. So – snow and forecast serious cold is not a surprise.

The view to the west.

Bit of snow – not too serious yet. That almost looks like a chinook arch over Cowichan Bay, but we don’t have those here!

And to finish up – here is our Christmas letter for this year. Wishing you all a 2022 of good health, good friends and good times.

Greetings to you all. In ‘The Before Times’ we would be recounting our travel adventures from the year that was. In 2021 our adventures have been more of the domestic variety. In June there was the heat dome. In a temperate climate such as ours it was rather a shock. And then in November we had a series of atmospheric rivers that threw stunning amounts of water at us. Sometimes we grumble about the constant fight against gravity that living on a hill brings, but we were very happy to watch all that water pass right by.

We made travel plans for 2021 which didn’t happen, and have made travel plans for 2022, which it looks like might not happen either. We did have visits from Sharon’s brothers this year. Sharon’s Mom continues to live independently but is considering a move closer to us in Sidney.

The garden got a lot of attention this year, which was good, as it seems like everything reacted to the combination of rain and heat with a desire to grow. If we hadn’t been on our game we fear the house might have been swallowed by vegetation!

Sharon has continued her Japanese language studies at the University of Victoria, and after several years of hard work can now communicate at the level of a kindergarten student. She figures that by the time we return to Japan she may have worked her way up to a grade school level!  がんばって!(Do your best!)

At Home

Everything old is new again

My Instagram feed has a lot of sewing content, and lately there have been many rapturous posts with people posting about the new wonder garment, the Shacket. Yes, just what it sounds like – a combination of shirt and jacket. Now those of us who were young during the 1970’s are totally familiar with the concept of the shirt jacket. A piece of outerwear, cut like a shirt but made from a outdoor weight woolen fabric. Probably plaid. Perhaps corduroy was involved.

I submit as evidence the Stoneman family Christmas card for 1972.

That picture would have been taken in October of 1972 when we were visiting family friends in Choteau, Montana.

Being that I’m an Old Person™ I just thought ‘Aren’t those young uns and their shackets cute.’

Then I remembered. In 2018 we were packing up the Stoneman vacation home in Bigfork, Montana. The back hall closet had a whole bunch of utility coats – mostly older things that were used for yard work and such. But way in the back was a red Pendleton shirt jacket. Belonged to my Dad. It was such a nice jacket that I took it home, even though I couldn’t really imagine when I would wear such a thing – maybe in the garden.

I went looking for it and lo and behold!

A windy walk in Sidney – but I was warm in my shacket! We’ve had a lot of Big Weather here lately – you can see where I’m standing the stuff that has been thrown up from the water, across the beach, over the rocks, over the path and onto the lawn….

I guess it just goes to show that if you live long enough everything comes back around again and you can – entirely by accident – be on trend!

The Great Pause

Greetings from my backyard

Back in the first week of March, when we were sweatily clambering through the jungles of Cambodia I would remind myself – ‘This is out of your comfort range, but soon it will be different. You will be back in your cool coastal rainforest and you will remember this adventure fondly’. The last bit is true, but wow! How things have changed.

When I flipped the calendar over to April I realized that the calendar was now a decorative, not a functional object. The only items on it are the recycling and garbage pick up days. And we are very grateful that those services are still operating. But, living on a dead end street with only four houses on it means it is very quiet. Self isolation is rather the norm up here on our hill. I must admit that I’m startled when I go into town to see how many people are, in fact, out and about.

We are very lucky – we can stay home. We can arrange things so that we go out for groceries every other week. We can drive a short distance to go for a walk on the path around the airport, giving us a brief change of scenery and some exercise beyond what get walking up and down our driveway. I’m baking bread, and yes, I’ve got sourdough starter underway. I am anxious about my parents, but their situation seems to be stable right now. Other family members are working from home and everyone is staying in touch.

So – rather than be a blog about our travel adventures this will be about our at home adventures. There are things to make, things to bake and a garden to tend to. I’ll be back to report on what we’re up to.

And until then – the view from the back door.

Early spring
Asia cruise 2020

Southeast Asia 2020 – wrap up

A quick post, mostly for my own reference, to sum up details of our trip.

It has been just over two weeks since we returned home and the world looks like a completely different place. I don’t know what travel will look like when we reach the other side of this. Right now the idea of going anywhere seems crazy. But someday again, perhaps. So, in that spirit:

Firstly, however, I want to sing the praises of Cathy Larsen, our travel agent/advisor. Cathy is the co-owner of Departures Travel in Sidney, BC. We have worked with her on our trips since 2013. Among her many great qualities, Cathy loves to solve problems – a great thing for a travel professional, no? We know that when we are traveling with Cathy at the helm that if things start to go sideways she will be working tirelessly to get us sorted. And on this trip that is exactly what happened. Those of you who know Wilf and I know that our approach to travel involves Research! Plans! Questions! Cathy has been great every time with our endless questions. And she knows all the neat places to go and things to do. And if you are not all about the research she can build you a fantastic trip so all you have to do is pack your bags.

So – when the world is traveling again I would suggest you think of Cathy. And if you are in Sidney you can stop by to meet her – and her very sweet, very shy dog Sadie. And if you are afar – Cathy and her team have all the tools to help you wherever you are.

Cruise Line – Silver Sea. We cruised on the Silver Spirit, their largest ship which carries 608 passengers and about 400 crew. It is hard to talk about the cruise without referring constantly to the unusual way this particular cruise went. But let me start with some basics. The ship is beautiful and our stateroom was fantastic. It was a room to spend time in, not just get out of. The public areas of the ship are all gorgeous and full of interesting details. They obviously take a lot of care in the hiring of staff ,who were all highly professional and warm and friendly. The food and beverage options were all first class. Shore excursions were interesting and well organized. Embarkation and disembarkation were very well organized, both on shore days and at the start and end of the cruise. The pre-cruise communication was excellent. Really, everything was exceptional.

In the unusual situation of the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic I felt that Silver Sea did an excellent of managing the situation. Their biggest strength was communication – throughout the experience, beginning before we even left home, they kept us informed about what was happening. Onboard we were kept up to date as changes were being made and we never felt that they were hiding things from us or dissembling. At the same time they were managing a huge amount of disruption to their processes – the switch from Hong Kong to Manila as our departure port meant that they did not pick up three containers of supplies before the cruise started. I’m sure below decks it was all paddle paddle paddle but to us they presented an air of calmness and competence.

Tour Companies – for our Cambodia overland tour we worked with Cathy and a company called TourCan Vacations. They took our requirements and came back with itineraries that worked for us and in the end they put together a tour that we were very happy with.

TourCan is an aggregator, and they used a company called Trails of Indochina for the actual delivery of the tour. And it was great! We were met by Mr Sim and our driver at the airport and for the three nights, four days we were in Cambodia they took excellent care of us. We had an excellent driver and a very comfortable air conditioned van to tour in. They kept us hydrated, refreshed with cool towels and spritzed with alcohol hand sanitizer to make sure we didn’t succumb to the heat or germs. I’m sure there were times when they would have like to have hosed us down from top to bottom before putting us back on their lovely clean bus, but there it was. Mr. Sim was a terrific guide. There was not a question, historical, political, you name it that he could not answer. His English was excellent. We really appreciated his candour. We had many questions about Cambodia and what happened in the 20th century. The impact of war, of the Khmer Rouge, the rebuilding of the country. These wounds are so recent and so deep I never know if it is appropriate to ask about that history. Mr Sim shared his history and how he felt about his country and its path forward.

People ask us – why travel so much? And this is it. I will hold close the memory of sitting on the steps of an ancient temple, listening to Mr Sim tell his story and the story of his country, his hopes and his plans for the future. It was a privilege.

Okay – back to the trip wrap up. Trails of Indochina subcontracted our evening food tour of Siem Reap to Vespa Adventures. I’ve written about that adventure – they were great. And they have locations in several southeast Asian countries, so check them out if you are in that part of the world.

Hotels – well, we stayed in some of the most beautiful hotels in the world on this trip. My only regret is that it was only for one night in each one! Based on that short experience I can speak highly of :

The Peninsula Hotel, Manila

The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore

The Carlton, Singapore

And of course, Phum Baitang , in Siam Reap, Cambodia. We had three lovely nights there.

It was a great trip, and now, almost three weeks later it seems like a dream. So much has changed since then. But while we are being socially distant we have our memories of a wonderful experience to linger over.

Asia cruise 2020

Fourth Time Lucky

This trip included our fourth trip to Singapore. If you had told me some years back that Singapore would become one of my most visited cities/countries I would have been very surprised. And yet, there it is.

One thing we had never managed to do, though, was try Singapore Chili crab. Never seemed to line up. Last year when we were in New Zealand we met Liz P, who lives in London. She was in Singapore in January of this year and when she posted pictures of a crab fest we were all over it!

And so it came to be!

The restaurant is Holy Crab. I checked it out on Google to find the best way to walk from our hotel and saw that they took online reservations. Being a cautious type I of course made us a reservation – after all, a lot of people live in this city. Yes, it is taking me awhile to adjust to the situation on the ground. We found the place with no difficulty. And were greeted by name, being that we were the only customers, let alone the only reservation.

Anticipation. And beer
Satisfaction! Messy but oh so good!

Asia cruise 2020

An evening in Siem Reap

Out and about with the folks at Vespa Adventures.

Pickled mango – green mango or ripe mango.
Making friends with the fruit sellers
Hot off the grill – chicken, frog and quail
A little game of chance action. Throwing darts at balloons. I totally failed, Wilf won a prize of durian flavoured cookies

A memorable night!

Asia cruise 2020

So many temples!

It is really hard to talk about the temples of the Angkor Wat complex. Everything is so huge in scale. This was a highly developed civilization, supporting as many as a million people back when London May have had 50,000.

Kings being kings they wanted to build things and to be remembered. The empire of these kings did not endure and the great cities were abandoned. People still lived amongst the ruins and knew of the vast lost cities. When Europeans were colonizing south east Asia they ‘discovered’ the ruins and began to explore.

It should be noted that the 20th century was a huge challenge for Cambodia and its people. They have persevered and worked hard to create a better future for themselves and that effort has included preserving their storied past.

Part of the impact of the place is the size. The main temple at Angkor Wat is huge. Pictures hardly do it justice.

The iconic view of the temple
It was a long climb up to this level

And everywhere the carvings. A full panoply of Hindu gods and attendants, images of Buddha. Some in good repair, some not so much. But that any of it has been reclaimed from the jungle is amazing.

We had a wonderful guide who could tell us all about what we were seeing. He also knew all the best places for pictures and how to use features if our phone cameras that we didn’t know about.

Like this picture, taken at the exact centre of this complex looking up into the vault.

And look what you can do with the pano feature of an iPhone!

Truth be told the heat nearly did us in. But a delicious lunch and a rest had us ready to go again.

Next up – the temple of the trees. Famous for being itself, then famous again when Angelina Jolie dropped in to film the first ‘Tomb Raider’ movie. It’s pretty cool!

Looks suspiciously like a stegosaurus doesn’t it!

Last up for day one was Bayon, famous for the faces carved into the towers.

On our second day we went to see the pink temple which turned out to be a little jewel. Smaller in scale it was constructed mostly of a fine grain pink sandstone, which allows for incredibly detailed carvings.

You could spend a lot of time roaming from temple to temple – these pictures are only a portion of what we saw.

As I’ve mentioned before tourism has taken a tremendous hit during the coronavirus situation- as much as a 70% drop in tourists in this area. Huge parking lots with no buses, temples with no lines, vendors with huge unsold inventories. It really brings home how connected we all are and how an event in one place can send ripples out in many many directions.

This is where I give my pitch – hire local guides! They know so much and care so much. Guidebooks are great, but we learned so much from our guide Mr Sim. In a country with such a turbulent history it was really wonderful to sit down on a ledge of a temple that is a thousand years old and hear the story of the temple and the story of the man telling it.

Asia cruise 2020

Another day, another infinity pool

I didn’t mention how hot it was in Singapore. And it was. But we found hotter. OMG Cambodia! 35C! We flew from Singapore to Siem Reap in Cambodia, which is the gateway city for the Angkor Wat temple complex. We arrived, visited the museum for an overview of the area history and then had lunch. After lunch we were dropped at our hotel. You guys! This place! It is incredible. It is called Phum Bairang, which means Green Village. We went off the main road and down several very dusty red dirt roads – passed along a white wall – a man opened a gate and waved us in. Almost the first thing we saw was the resident family of water buffaloes munching on the grass. Scattered across several acres were small villas. We were greeted and formalities completed and then we took a leisurely walk across a board walk through a rice paddy to our villa. It is so beautiful! When our guide came the next morning he said it reminded him of the village where he grew up- rice, small houses, water buffalo, etc. I don’t think his village has this, though …

Not too hard to take

Our tour of the temples starts in the morning. The tour we booked had several options for the first night. We thought a boat ride, but it is the dry season and there isn’t enough water in the river. So –

A nighttime tour of foodie places by Vespa. The face masks are for dust and fumes, by the way. Our resort is a ways out of town, so the first adventure was driving first then back roads and then the busy roads to get to the city. Just a weaving back and forth through the traffic. The boss man led the way, and Wilf and I hung on as our drivers kept up.

We visited a brew pub for beers, then walked the local market to see what people were buying for dinner. We then headed to the night market, which sprawled for miles along the side of the highway.

My mother will be so proud of me, strolling the streets, beer in hand.

I think the tour group thought they were going to have a couple of rugby players on their hands ‘cause they had loaded up on beer and kept trying to get us to drink some. Actually they may have been rather taken aback when we appeared – probably old enough to be their grandparents. You should have seen them carefully getting us on and off the scooters, snapping our helmets on. They were very sweet to us.

Oh yes they are. Oh no we didn’t.

This lady was selling a wide variety of deep fried bugs. Crickets. Ants. Grasshoppers. Water beetles. Couldn’t do it, sorry. At the next stop we did have grilled stuffed frog, chicken and quail. You know what I’m going to say – tastes like chicken.

The gal who was my driver was also the photographer. She has sent me a bunch of great photos of the evening but I’m having trouble downloading them on my phone. I’ll have to post them later.

Let’s just say that in addition to drinking beer, eating grilled critters and zooming all over town we also played games of chance, and tried exotic fruit. And then had dinner. It was hoot and a night we will long remember

Next up – temple overload.

Asia cruise 2020

Goodbye Silver Spirit. Hello Singapore.

And all good things must come to an end. We really enjoyed our time on the Silver Spirit. It certainly was an unusual experience having so few people on board, but we enjoyed a lovely quiet time with interesting shore excursions.

Our stateroom, ready for bedtime.
Looking the other way.
Big closet!
Big bathroom with both a full sized shower and a full sized tub.
We finally got to the jazz club for dinner – great food, great music. I think that was the only restaurant we ate at that was full.

We departed the cruise ship, hopped on the subway and found our way to our hotel. Given the drop in people travelling we were able to check in to The Fullerton Singapore very early. It was built to be the main post office back in the day and is quite a building. We dropped our stuff and headed off to explore our favourite spots.

Orchard Street in front of the Ion Centre. It seems like there is a Louis Vuitton and a Tiffany’s in every corner.

Lunch was at Clarke Quay – beer at Brewrkz.

Back to The Fullerton. Where every time we went in they took our temperature. Walk around the block and come back? ‘Excuse me ma’am, may I take your temperature?’ It was a perfect afternoon for a swim

Floating above the Singapore river.

We had satay at the nearby hawker court then walked back along the bay. When we were here in 2018 the Merlion statue was under renovation so we had to take a look.

Yep, there he is.
Looking the other way at Marina Sands.
The Merlion with our hotel in the background.

Asia cruise 2020

A Thai tourist town

Our cruise stop in Thailand says Bangkok, but it is actually at the port of Laem Chenang, which is about 90 minutes south of the big city. The idea of spending a minimum of three hours on the bus to go to a very hot crowded city had us looking at other options. South of the port is the big international beach resort of Pattaya, but – eh. We decided to take a tour to see the market in a small nearby town of Ang Sila.

It turns out that while the foreigners are whooping it up at Pattaya the people of Thailand have their own beach getaway. First thing we saw was the souvenir market. Our guide told us this town is very popular with people from the northern mountainous part of the country. And they want to take seafood back with them. So – dried seafood it is.

No I don’t know what most of this stuff is.
Each of these bags of snacks is about the size of a bed pillow. I’m not sure what dinosaur flavour tastes like.

Next stop was a fish market. We were curious because fish markets are usually an early morning affair. Turns out it was seafood on offer – mostly live. I expect the fish part happens in the morning.

Big shrimp
Interesting clams
Not everything was fresh – huge variety of dried fish and seafood.

On these tours there is always a stop for shopping. Usually we walk around, observe local crafts people and rarely find anything to buy. This time the product on order was hand made mortar and pestle sets.

These were considered the minimum size for actual use in a kitchen and were of average quality. They weren’t terribly expensive – about twenty dollars. But no one seemed terribly interested in hauling several kilos of stone in their luggage.

While walking through the stone yard we met this fellow.

In the front of the picture is a cockerel in a wire cage. The man has another bird on his lap, preparing it for an up coming fight. He is giving it a bath. With apologies to my mother, this is therefore a picture of a man washing his c!ck.

Last stop was a Chinese temple. This one is quite new – built in the 1980’s – and expanding. It is very…. bright.

This was our last shore visit – next stop Singapore after two days at sea.