Posts Tagged ‘water’

Relaxing on the Beach in Ko Samui

bophut beach ko samui
Sunset on Bophut Beach

Our first stop in Thailand was an island in the gulf called Ko Samui. We stayed at the Smile House for the first two days on Bophut Beach at the north end of the island, which was a nice place, set back a bit from the beach, then we moved a bit farther out in Bophut to the Cactus Bungalows where we had a bungalow just steps from the sand.

bophut beach
Bophut Beach, Ko Samui

We spent the July 25 to 29 sitting on the beach, reading, napping and not going very far from our hotel. It was only on our last day on the island that we actually got out to do something — we went to Ang Thong Marine Park.

We took the Action Islanders Adventure speed boat tour, and somehow got on the slow boat. Well, the boat itself went quickly, but we had to make a stop at a neighboring island before heading off to the marine park, which was quite a bit detour. The ride between the islands was quite choppy and Evan was NOT happy — he’s not exactly a huge fan of boats or water. About 5 minutes into the ride, he turned to me and said, “I regret coming out here.” He decided to stick it out, though, even though our driver said that the trip to the marine park would be as bumpy if not more so than our first leg, and he took some Dramamine, which helped a bit.

When we got to our first stop — a cove to go snorkeling in — we relaxed on the boat for a while before going in. When we decided to put on our masks and head in, we both ended up having a good time. I was a bit scared at first, since I don’t like fish very much, but I steered clear of the biggest schools and the areas where people were throwing bread in the water, and some quite a few types of fish as well as lots of coral.

ang thong marine park
The Lagoon

Our next stop was an island with a saltwater lagoon in its middle — the island that inspired The Beach. We hiked up to a viewpoint, then hiked down to the lagoon, though you can’t go in. The hike was short, but it was on some super steep and treacherous staircases.

We then boated a short ways over to a picnic area for lunch where there were wooden swings between the beachside palms and beautiful views of other islands.


Kayaking — does the pose look familiar?

The best stop, though, was our last — kayaking. Evan and I shared a kayak, and our guide took us around a small island, going into some seaside caves on the way. It was beautiful and peaceful, except for when the guide started splashing everyone. We also stopped at a very small and quiet white sand beach to do a bit of swimming — definitely an island paradise.

Thankfully, the trip back couldn’t have been more different from the trip out — it was essentially flat, totally smooth cruising to Ko Phra Ngan. Evan said it it were always like that, boating could possibly be considered pleasant. The shorter inter-island trip was a bit bumpy, but it was pretty quick, and a one-eyed van driver took us back to our hotel. Thank goodness the sea got calmer and our activities were fun because aside from the trip over Evan did end up having fun.

Exhausted when we got back, we had a little snack, then while Evan napped, I read and napped on the beach, then had a Thai massage in a hut on the beach. It felt like I’d imagine a visit to a chiropractor would — lots of stretching and pressure — and I felt very relaxed when it was done.

Next stop: Chiang Mai.

See our photos from Ko Samui and our first days in Chiang Mai in Evan’s Facebook album.

12 Days in Istanbul

Sorry I haven’t written in a while — the keyboards in Istanbul are a bit hard to type on because some of the letters and punctuation marks are in different places, and I just haven’t spent too much time in front of the computer lately. Good thing I’ve been writing about my days in a journal. Here are some of the highlights…

blue sultanahmet mosque istanbul
The Blue Mosque

July 13, 2008

After our adventures in Jordan, we headed over to Istanbul on a very annoyingly timed 3:30 a.m. flight, which left us with no sleep for the night and brought us into Istanbul so early in the morning, we had to wait about 5 hours for our hotel room to be ready. In our waiting time, we had breakfast at our hotel, Hotel Tashkonak, on the rooftop patio, and took a short walk through Sultanahmet, the old part of the city where the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and plenty of the other tourist sites are. Then once our room was ready, we slept the rest of the day.

July 14, 2008

Once we were well rested, we started exploring Istanbul in earnest. We started out with the Little Aya Sofiya, which is a pretty church-turned mosque with a graveyard surrounding it and a pretty domed roof. Then we visited the tomb of a bunch of sultans, which we happened to come across. All their individual grave markers/sarcophagi were standing like little houses under a domed roof.

Next we went to the Blue Mosque, or  Sultanahmet  Mosque, which is one of the most beautiful sights in the area. It has soaring minarets, domes everywhere you look and a lovely courtyard and garden. Inside it looks like a pretty standard mosque, though it does have some nice tile work, with mostly blue floral designs on the tiles. I’m glad I bought a head scarf when I was in Egypt so I didn’t have to use a loaner.

We couldn’t go in the Aya Sofiya, which is right across from the Blue Mosque, because it’s closed on Mondays — we explored it a few days later — so we headed across the street to the Basilica Cistern, an ancient roman cistern with a hodgepodge of columns taken from across the city and a vaulted roof. There were some carp swimming around in the water, and in the far corner, there were two columns whose bases were upturned Medusa heads. The theory as to why one is on its side and the other is upside down is that the Romans, being Christians, meant to show that they were just using the blocks as building materials, not worshiping false idols.

Continuing our super-tourist day, we went to Topkapi Palace, a huge complex for the sultans and their families. The treasury had an interesting collection, with lots of rubies, emeralds and diamonds, and there were some very elaborately tiled walls in the harem. It was also neat to learn about the palace’s history, complete with scheming concubines, murdered princes and the sultan’s mother ruling the roost while the sultan walked around in silver-soled shoes.

We also walked around the hippodrome, which isn’t much to see, except for two obelisks, a column and a fountain. It functions more as a pedestrian thoroughfare and makes a pleasant place to stroll.

basilica cistern istanbul
The Basilica Cistern

July 15, 2008

We decided to head out of the city for a day to explore the Princes’ Islands, a set of 9 Islands in the Sea of Marmara where people from Istanbul keep summer villas. The only transport allowed on the small, hilly islands are bicycles and horse cards, though there are some motorized vehicles allowed for the police, garbage men, etc.

We went to the biggest of the Islands, which we got to by ferry, and got some ice cream straight away, since it was a hot day. Then we started our walk to the monastery up in the mountains, which ended up being more of a church than a monastery, but maybe we missed something. The walk was really lovely — the big houses had huge gardens, and because of all the trees, we had lots of shade. There were also great views of the sea, the other islands and Istanbul.

When we finally got up to the monastery area, we had a nice lunch, explored the small Greek Orthodox church where people had left little trinkets, like watches and jewelry, in hopes that their prayers would be answered. There were also lots of white bags, papers and cloths tied to the trees and bushes on the path leading up the hill, which apparently also symbolize prayers.

July 16, 2008

We woke up to rain for the first time on our trip, but by the time we had breakfast and set up a lunch date with a friend who lives in Istanbul, it had stopped. Before lunch, we decided to tour Aya Sofiya, which is much more impressive from the inside than the outside. Outside, it looks old and staid compared to the blue mosque, but inside, it’s all gold and there are some incredibly detailed mosaics in its gallery. It would have been amazing to see it in its original glory, with its large open spaces and soaring dome, which were unfortunately obstructed for us by scaffolding put up for reconstruction work.

By the time we were ready to leave, there was a thunder-and-lighting storm raging outside, so we ran to the nearby tram stop, getting soaked in the process, and trammed and funiculared to Taksim to meet our friend who took us out to a lunch of traditional Turkish food. We had dishes like “The Imam Fainted,” a tasty cold eggplant dish, dolmas, stuffed peppers and pureed eggplant. I also had Turkish coffee with dessert — strong and bitter as expected.

July 17, 2008

It was time to see something of contemporary Istanbul, so we went to the Istanbul Modern, a great museum that showcases Turkish modern art. We were introduced to plenty of talented artists we’d never heard of, and toured the temporary “Design Cities” show, which showcased important works from cities that influenced popular design over the years. The museum also has a fantastic cafe overlooking the Bosphorus, though it seems like just about every restaurant in Istanbul has some sort of water view, which is always a nice touch. The rest of the day’s tour included a trip up Galata Tower and down the Kamodo Steps.

July 18, 2008

We thought we might avoid it because of our crazy experience at the bazaar in Egypt, but we ended up going to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market anyway, and boy were we surprised. It wasn’t crowded, the shopkeepers didn’t hassle us too much, and the shops had some really interesting and colorful items. We also went in to a bunch of mosques, though at this point they all started looking a bit the same.

July 19, 2008

We had a nice relaxing day of sleeping in, then sat at a tea garden eating ice cream and baklava and playing checkers for most of the afternoon. Evan beat me every time.

July 20, 2008

We went to tour Dolmabahce palace — another home for the sultan’s, though newer than Topkapi and in a European style. The grounds were beautiful, with manicured gardens, fountains and little ponds with lily pads and an expansive view of the Bosphorus. Touring the interiors of the buildings, though, we needed to go as a group with a guide. The groups were pretty big, and the palace’s big rooms echoed and made it hard to hear our guide. We also kept running into the group ahead of us. Still, the building was impressive, with huge chandeliers, carved ceilings and a lot of trompe l’oeil painting. Touring the harem, our guide did a better job, though we had some rogue tourists who kept arguing with her and trying to strike out on their own.

After getting lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near Taksim, we took the metro to Levent to go to the mall. The Kanyon mall was huge, modern and gorgeous. It’s an indoor-outdoor multi-level space with posh shops, curving walkways and a spherical movie theater. We shopped a bit and saw Hancock — with an intermission that included commercials (not cool to interrupt a movie so abruptly like that and then make us watch even more ads!).

July 21, 2008

Lazy day lounging at the hotel, researching Thailand and reading. We ordered in food with the help of the super-nice staff at the hotel and spent a lot of time using their free lobby computer.

bosphorus
View of the Bosphorus

July 22, 2008

It was time to get out of the city again and go on a Bosphorus tour. We caught the ferry at Eminonu and took it up to Anadolou Kavagi, where we climbed up a hill to a ruined castle, where we had great views of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, which were both a  tranquil turquoise blue.

When we got down from the mountain, we caught a bus down to Kanlica where we had a strait-side lunch featuring the town’s delicious yogurt, which really was better than any of the yogurt we had elsewhere in Turkey. We watched plenty of ships passing by and even saw a dolphin. By the time we were done with lunch, it was too late to visit any of the other sites we’d hoped to get to — just about everything around Istanbul closes at 4 or 4:30 — so we hopped on another bus to Uskudar, then took the ferry back to Eminonu.

We walked along the coast back to our hotel, passing swimmers and sunbathers on the rocks (there’s no beach there).

July 23, 2008

One of Evan’s brother’s friends who we’d met for drinks earlier in the week played tour guide for us all day. She brought us to a Greek Orthodox neighborhood where we visited a church and an impressive large high school on top of a steep hill. We also toured Bosphorus University, which as its name suggests has some beautiful views, then had a long and relaxing lunch at a waterfront cafe in Ortakoy.

We spent the rest of our day in Istiklal, hanging out in a cafe reading while avoiding some rain, then going out for a makeup birthday dinner, since in Jordan we never had one, at a rooftop restaurant.

July 24, 2008

With our flight to Thailand in the evening, we had one last day to spend in Istanbul and I knew what I wanted to do — go to a hammam/Turkish bath. Evan didn’t want to come, so he went on his own errands while I headed to the Cemberlitas Hammam, right near the Grand Bazaar. The Hammam dates back to the 1500s, and the men’s side is supposed to be grander than the women’s, though it was still a neat experience.

The main bathing room has a warm raised central platform, where most of the activity takes place. I started out relaxing there in my bath sheet while others were getting bathed around me, staring up at the small circular skylights in the pink domed ceiling, and soon an attendant came in to give me my bath. There was lots of water, soap and scrubbing with a loofah mitten. There was also a bit of a massage and I also had my hair washed in an adjacent alcove. The most surprising part of the experience, though, was that the attendants don’t really wear much clothing. Like only bikini bottoms. The guide book did not prepare me for that — I thought I was the only one who was going to be exposed.

Well, I chalked this one up to being an interesting cultural experience, and I despite some initial anxiety, ended up enjoying myself and feeling squeaky clean and relaxed by the time I was done.

Evan and I spent the rest of the day relaxing at the Dervish Tea Garden, drinking tea and playing backgammon. I won every time.

When it was time to finally leave, we had a nice time at the airport, hanging out in the Turkish Airways lounge, which was really nice (we somehow managed to fly business class to Thailand — our longest flight!). There was a business centers with computers to use, a big dining/drinking area, a separate kids’ room, a TV lounge and a sleeping lounge. The flight itself was fine — we both slept most of the way — though Turkish Airways has the worst business class food I’ve ever had, worse than most economy meals I’ve had. There were at least huge TVs, and on their flight monitor, we could check out the front and rear views from the airplane — it was quite cool to see it approach the airport and land!

Check out our Istanbul photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

Hammamat Ma’in and the Dead Sea

July 6, we went to Hammamat Ma’in and the Dead Sea.

hammamat ma\'in hot waterfall
Going under the hot waterfall at Hammamat Ma’in

Hammamat Ma’in is a hot spring complex off a windy road with views of the Dead Sea. We got past the gates, where there’s a hotel and spa (which are both closed and apparently everything by them is off limits), parked, and were directed to the main attraction — a hot waterfall.

We walked up the steps to the caves behind the waterfall and found two men sitting in the steam who told us that the water up there is too hot to go in. On the lower tiers, under the falling water, the temperature was a bit cooler, but not much. We were only able to stay in the water for a few minutes before getting too hot.

I went in wearing my shirt and Evan’s shorts since there were some families also in the water, and the women were just going in wearing all their clothing, veils included.

There was also another waterfall we had access to, but nobody was swimming in it because it was even hotter than the one we went in. Our guidebook promised nice walks through the gorge, which we were hoping to do, but we were turned back by guards every time we tried to explore farther than the main waterfall, which was a bit disappointing.

Evan by the Dead Sea
Evan covered in Dead Sea mud

After the hot springs, we drove on a winding road down to the lowest place on earth — the Dead Sea. We got day passes to the Marriott resort, and went down to the beach to slather ourselves in dead sea mud, bake in the heat, and float around in the seriously salty water, which didn’t feel as slimy as I remembered from my trip to Israel 10 years ago.

When we were done by the sea, we had some lunch at a Champion’s sports bar, which felt eerily like being back in the U.S., then hung out by one of the three pools.

If you’ve been following my Twitter or Facebook updates, you should know that this is the day that my dehydration problems started — a rather uncomfortable combo of a stomach bug and not being able to absorb enough water, which resulted in spending the afternoon in a clinic getting IV fluids and antibiotics two days later… on both Evan’s and my birthday. More on that soon.

To check out more photos of us at Hammamat Ma’in and the Dead Sea, check out Evan’s Facebook gallery.


Touring Cambridge

King\'s College, Cambridge
King’s College from the River Cam

Yesterday, Evan’s parents and I took the train out to Cambridge. It was only about 45 minutes away from London on the express train, which made for an easy trip, and we took a taxi into town since it was a bit of a walk from the train station.

The first thing we did was take a walking tour offered by the visitor’s center. Our guide, who knew a ton of trivia — much of it likely town lore — showed us around town, took us to a few of the colleges, including Trinity, where we got a nice glimpse of the courtyard, and King’s, where we got a tour of the immense chapel, which is strangely devoid of much religious iconography in favor of having kings’ and queens’ crests, symbols and initials around. It also had some very old graffiti from the English Civil War, which was interesting.

The tour ran a bit long — the guide sure liked to chat! And afterward we took a bit of a break for lunch.

Punting on the River Cam
Punting on the River Cam

After lunch we were on our own. We walked down to the River Cam and hired a friendly punter to take us on a river tour, which was relaxing and a lot of fun. He knew a lot about the city, answered lots of our questions and did a good job of maneuvering around the less experienced punters. We also helped two people get their poles back.

Inexperienced punters
Inexperienced punters who resorted to dragging their boat from the riverbank

And remember the Bridge of Sighs from Oxford that went over the road? Cambridge has another version, though it’s not quite as ornate, doesn’t have glass and actually goes over the river. I’m guessing that it’s a just a common bridge name at this point because though tour guides like to claim they’re replicas of the one in Venice, neither looks anything like it.

Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge
Another Bridge of Sighs — though this time over the river

Unfortunately, we were visiting during exam time and most of the colleges were closed to visitors, so we didn’t get to really spend any time exploring them. We spent a bit more time walking around town, but it was after 5 and most attractions seemed to be shutting down, so we walked to the train station and headed back to London.

See more photos on Flickr.

Weekly Reading and a New Watercolor

hyde park serpentine watercolor

Today, after going to Tuttle and having a lovely Friday morning talking to friends and making new ones, I headed to Hyde park with my watercolors, intent on painting something in the afternoon sunshine. What you see above was my one and only creation — a view of the end of the serpentine, facing the Hilton Hotel (which you can see rising over the trees). I was never particularly talented with watercolors, but I still like to try. And sitting on a bench in the middle of the park, I just didn’t really have the patience for mixing colors or measured brushstrokes. I’m also pretty horribly out of practice, though it was fun to be outside, doing something.

In the park, I notice that things were completely different from two weeks ago when Evan and I went and took photos. The tulips in those striking gardens were almost completely gone and their flowerbeds looked frazzled. The supposedly dead tree that people were climbing — seriously, it had NO leaves or even buds — was lush and verdant, forming an intriguing bower. And the beautiful flowering tree, with full, pink blooms, had no flowers to speak of. My how things change…

Writingwise, this week has been busy. It was my last week at Sugarscape.com. In my 6 weeks there, working three or four days a week, I managed to write 69 stories, not counting competition copy (the numbers on my page are a bit off since it includes individual photos for galleries). It was sad to leave Alex and Becs, who were lots of fun to work with, and they bought me a lovely bouquet and a travel journal for my summer trip.

I also wrote a post for Londonist, “Shocking: Amy Winehouse Arrested, Let Out on Bail,” and a post for Workology, “Want to reduce your WTD? Get a VA!” I would love for all you freelancers and small business owners who read this blog to come join me at Workology, or at least comment on my blog posts — as of today, you don’t need invites anymore to join the new social network for independent workers.

And if you haven’t read the blog post about Best Supper Ever (I know, it’s just below on the page right now), go take a gander — Battlecat gave an awesome interview.

Springtime in Hyde Park!

hyde park tulips

Winter finally decided to loosen its clutches on the city of London, and we’ve had some lovely weather. The first really gorgeous day, Evan and I took an excursion down the road to Hyde Park. While we’ve been to the park plenty in the winter, and we knew it was a nice park, it was pretty chilly and barren save for the grass.

Two weekends ago, though, it has a fantastic facelift — there were tulips, cherry blossoms and daisies in bloom, the lake was full of row boats and pedalos (what the Brits call pedal boats/paddle boats — you know, the plastic kind you power like a bicycle), and there were plenty of children, pets and friends soaking up the sunshine. Even better, we left our jackets at home and were even able to go without our sweatshirts for much of the day.

hyde park serpentine rowboat

Evan and I went out on the Serpentine on a rowboat, which was very relaxing (I did some rowing, too). The only thing missing was a picnic and some sunscreen — I unfortunately managed to get a pretty decent sunburn.We also took a tour of the Serpentine Gallery, which had a very intriguing exhibit of Viennese artist Maria Lassnig‘s work. Though the gallery was very small, it was perfect for a 15-minute detour in the park, and Lassnig’s works were very intriguing — the first paining that greeted us was a self-portrait titled “You or Me,” where we were confronted by the naked octogenarian artist pointing guns both a the viewer and at her own head (you can see some more images of her work here).

And here’s a great photo of a duck Evan took while we were at the park…

duck at hyde park

For more photos of the day at the park, visit Evan’s site.

Leeds Castle Photowalk

Saturday, Evan and I went to Leeds Castle. It all started in a pretty dramatic fashion, when we nearly missed our train. Evan rushed to buy one from an automated kiosk, while I tried my luck standing in line. Of course, we both reached the front of our respective lines at the same time, and while I was being hassled by the Victoria Station ticket agent, who told me I really should just go to Leeds Castle another day since it was already the afternoon and kept hassling me about our travel plans while refusing to let me purchase a ticket, Evan managed to get them.

We ran through the station, rounding a corner where we could see our train beyond some gates, and the large digital clock, which was ticking down about 30 seconds from departure time. We struggled with our tickets to get through the gates, and finally hopped on the train — hoping it was the right one — before the doors shut right behind us. Whew!

The train ride itself was thankfully uneventful, and we had a rather relaxing, hour-long journey to Bearsted, despite the looming clouds which threatened rain. By the time we got to Bearsted it was quite rainy, the coaches had stopped running to the castle and the number outside the coach and car hire office wouldn’t connect us to anyone. So we walked into town and stopped at a pub for a bite to eat and directions. The pub, The Oak on the Green, turned out to have some good food, and our server helped us call a cab to take us to the castle.

Once at the castle, the fun really began. We walked through the duckery, where I got quite close to an albino peacock, which really became the theme of the day — me trying to get close to the birds, that is. And we caught some very nice views of the castle in the distance.

albino peacockalbino peacockLeeds Castle Peacock

We then walked along a winding garden path, and finally approached the castle. We passed black swans, some sort of snake sculpture that emerged from the grass and a whole bunch of very whiny children (they all seemed a bit tired and on their way out of the park). We entered the castle through the gatehouse across the moat, then walked around its outside to a back entrance.

Leeds CastleLeeds Castle

Inside the castle, we got to walk through a large number of rooms, mostly decorated for the castle’s most recent owner, Lady Baillie. There were also some really nice and clear exhibits on royal coats of arms, and the castle had an interesting history — it was used as a hospital during WWII, and Lady Baillie’s daughters served as nurses. And there were lots of bird drawings and sculptures decorating the rooms.

Once we finished the castle tour, we headed to the dog collar museum (sort of interesting, though small), another garden, the aviary and the labyrinth, which were situated along a river.

Leeds Castle Walk

The labyrinth, though it looked small, still took a while to figure out, and we spent a good amount of time wandering its green corridors trying to find our way to the center. Once in the center, we got to climb up to see the top view of the hedge maze, then descended into the cool, watery grotto to make our way out underground.

Leeds Castle LabyrinthLeeds Castle Grotto

Though we could have stayed longer, had a picnic and caught one of the falconry shows or duck feedings, half a day was enough to have a good time at Leeds Castle. We wanted to check out the Go Ape adventure experience, but they seem booked up for a long while, so it wasn’t an option. And our only slight hassle was getting a cab. But once we got the number, they came quite quickly and were pretty inexpensive — £6.80 each way, I believe.

Also, admission was £15 a person, which lets you return anytime for an entire year after purchase.

Check out more photos on Evan’s site.