Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Instead, I've been eating as much Indian, Thai and sushi as I can. Last night, my friend Michelle from clevelandfoodie posted about my favorite Indian spot in Cleveland, Indie's. She just had a baby last week, so she's accepting guest posts. Take a looksie and grab yourself some Indie's the next time you're downtown during the week and want a yummy, cheap lunch.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Yesterday, I did a half-day walking tour of San Diego from downtown to Balboa Park where many of the museums are located. My favorite parts of my walk:
-Crossing a pedestrian suspension bridge over Maple Canyon and a wooden one over a ravine...really cool (and bouncy).
-Exchanging nods with an older gent who was blowing grass off the sidewalk with a parakeet perched on his shoulder and a cig hanging from his lips.
Besides the kimonos, my favorite part of the show was learning how the Impressionist painters impacted Kubota's creation of his kimonos.
For example, as Monet and others painted multiple canvases of scenes (Haystacks, Parliament series) to show the effects of light (dawn, dusk, etc.), Kubota created multiple kimonos depicting his beloved Mount Fugi in different light patterns.The museums of Balboa Park are beautiful and charming. Long, stone tunnels span both sides of the street so visitors are pleasantly shaded when walking from one to the next. The lath Botanical Building is like another world.
In addition to my neighborhood tour on the way (Banker's Hill, etc.), I wandered along some of the crazy trails. See pics for graffitied cacti and zigzagging trails about the highway.
Now off for more exploring...
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Nothing too exciting happened yesterday. I walked to the mall to score my running shoes (yes, I finally worked out) and also snagged a pair of plum velvet pants from Banana that I noticed in a magazine spread I read on the flight out here (Phil: I swear I used gift cards left over from my bday).
Monday, December 8, 2008
I'm overdue for new running shoes and there's a store within walking distance that has my Asics shoe in my size, so it should all work out.
Yesterday, Phil and I meandered around the harbor while enjoying the breezy, fresh air and watching the antics of seals, pelicans and ducks. After our yummy breakfast, we walked around the Gaslamp Quarter, wandered through a quick farmers' market (avocados for $1) and checked out Seaport Village, which turned out to be a bunch of touristy shops but led us to the awesome candy shop where we scored the taffy.
We had a great stroll and kept commenting on the opportunity Cleveland is missing out on by not developing our lakefront. Big bummer.
Once Phil's conference started in the late afternoon, my friend Vikki's sissy, Mandi, picked me up and we went to Wine Steals for its famous cheapo Sunday wine tasting. Taste, a cheese shop next door, was having an open house, so we scored some awesome blue cheese and gruyere fondue and then planted ourselves back at the bar.
An interesting character named Bruce provided most of the night's entertainment. The short of it is that Bruce is a 50ish former theatre performer turned porn "star" turned screen play writer turned Wine Steals regular. Let's just say I got quite the education last night. Google flufflies and blushies fetishes and you'll get an idea. Warning: you'll never be able to look at Care Bears again.
Hysterically, the last time Mandi was at the bar with Vikki, Bruce was there, and their visit is still remembered by the bar
Saturday, December 6, 2008
The last time we traveled together was in March when we went to Vegas, so it’s been a long dry spell. It was mighty cold when we left today, so maybe Cleveland will have another blizzard so we can stay here for an extra week :).
I used frequent flyer points for this trip, and Phil and I were on separate flights coming out west. Everything worked out, so a small sacrifice. Zippy is boarding at doggie day care, and Ava is sleeping over at Uncle Rob’s.
I’ve had some fantastic trips this year, but all of them have been packed with activities, so I’m excited to take it slow this week. My plan is to read (already blew through about seven magazines on the flights out), veg and write (the PD accepted my outline for a travel story about my Thailand trip). I spotted fire pits by our hotel pool, and I plan to stake out a spot ASAP.
Regarding Thailand, I made it out of the country in the nick of time before the airport was shuttered for eight days leaving nearly 400k foreign tourists stranded. I loved my trip, and my heart goes out to the country for its political turmoil (and resulting loss of tourism revenue) and all the foreigners who got delayed.
And, you probably noticed I’m using a different platform for my travel blog. I’m still working out the design and functionality, but would love to hear your impressions on this site vs. travelpod.com.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I definitely know flying wasn't my favorite part...still 16+ hours to go...but I did get fed a ton on my flights and a pretty Thai orchid corsage. (I had tofu and udon noodles with ginger on my last flight..mmm. Phil says it's possible that I'm a giant udon noodle in disguise since I love them so much.) Business class gets a whole separate entrance to board the flight so they don't have to mingle with the riff raff. The cost was six times the flight of economy, so I'll stick with being a commoner for now.
Yesterday, we took our class at the Blue Elephant Cooking School, which is also a well-known restaurant. In the morning, our eight-person class took the Sky Train one stop to the Bangrak market. We tried red sticky rice with coconut and a concoction of duck egg, coconut milk and brown sugar. Usually I turn my nose up at coconut, but this was incredible. It was served on a banana leaf. We also sampled more spring rolls (been downing these from stands all week) and tried Thai coffee, which was iced and served in a plastic bag like the ones you were given back in the day when you won a gold fish in at the fair. Lots of milk in it and it was really tasty.
We smelled and touched a million herbs and veggies I have never seen or heard of before. Need to find some lemon basil stat at home since it smelled so refreshing. And, the sweet lemongrass iced drink everyone served us throughout the trip might be my new favorite refreshment.
For anyone who makes it to Thailand someday, I recommend taking the cooking class early in your trip to remove any intimidation of navigating the market for good eats. Mary and I sampled food beforehand, but I still wish we had taken the class sooner.
I really enjoyed the way the class was structured. After our market visit, we watched our instructor prepare our first recipe, tasted her dish, and then went in the kitchen to our own station to recreate it on our own. Other instructors were around to keep an eye on our progress, so I never felt abandoned when I got stuck. We repeated this series for four recipes. Then at the end of the class, all of the students sat in the restaurant and ate all of our own prepared dishes. It was fun!
I feel like I learned a lot and my curry will be much better because of the class (at least I hope so). I also learned about some spices in our spice cabinet at home that I've never used, like coriander, which is actually dried cilantro...ohhhh.
For my curry dish, I got adventurous and used a lot of bird's eye chiles and left the seeds in some of the other peppers to notch up the spice. At first, I thought I burned my curry, but it actually turned out really good with lots of color. I learned that you need to stop stirring every now and again to let the oil rise to the top to mature the color. At lunch, my dish made my eyes water, but it was nothing like the curry dish I tried later at dinner that torched my mouth on fire.
I also realized that the pee scent I smelled in pockets of the market was not urine, but actually shrimp paste. I do not like shrimp paste. To me, it tastes as cucka as it smells.
During the class, I kept eyeing a mortar and pestle set our instructor used to pound chilles and herbs for our dishes, so I asked her if I could find one like it at the market. She told me it was from a shop near where we visited that morning and explained how to find it and how to pronounce what I wanted in Thai. She also wrote it down in Thai for me in case I had trouble.
Our teacher's visual cues were on the money, and we didn't have trouble finding the little shop. Her Thai note came in handy because the shopkeeper didn't understand me when I tried to tell her what I was looking for in Thai (dammit). To me, the pronunciation sounded like "clok hin," but apparently I got it wrong. Oh well. At least I'm the proud owner of an awesome mortar and pestle from Thailand! I hauled that thing around for quite a while before we got back to the hotel.
Thankfully we had a massage in between the class and our hotel to get out the kinks, cuz that baby was heavy. I happily checked it this morning at the airport.
Speaking of the massage, Thai masseuses use lots of pressure, which can be uncomfortable to some people. If so, ask for gentle pressure. My masseuse used her body weight to exert even more. She practically folded me into a pretzel! And, she softly pounded what looked like a powdered sugar shaker on my head. It was really interesting, but still relaxing. I did like my Wat Pho massage better though. A girl can get used to daily massages on the cheap quite easily!
After we got to the hotel, we had our final suit fitting in our room. The jury's still out on my suit design, but I love the pretty grey blue silk.
Continuing our packed pace, we headed back out for dinner on the Chao Phraya River at the famous Oriental hotel, which also included a traditional Thai dance performance. Turned out dinner was prix fixed and 11 courses. It was our last night in Bangkok, so we went with it.
I tried my first Thaijito (love the name!) with maekhong whiskey (good stuff), brown sugar, lemongrass, lime and ginger. Really good, but a different presentation that the traditional mojito.
I had a love/hate relationship with my duck curry dish. It was so delicious, but it was absolutely fiery. I had to wait for the burning sensation on my tongue and lips to subside a bit before I went back for seconds. And, my eyes watered continuously. Mary thought it was hysterical! But the flavors were incredible...it wasn't just all fire. Definitely had heartburn later on, but it was worth it.
The performance was broken up into a series of short dances, and each one told a story relating to Thai history. The female dancers were very beautiful, the costumes were ornate and the fight scenes were elegantly choreographed.
The river at night is very picturesque with its lighted, wooden boats. Also it feels very Venice-like, which might explain why I kept catching myself almost saying "gratzie."
This trip made it clear why people can get the Thailand bug so easily (by the way, there were no bugs to speak of at all). It's a beautiful country with lots of culture and friendly people. The exchange rate is certainly attractive as well. I hope I can come back someday and see Chiang Mai in the north and the beaches in the south. Such a great trip!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
We were turned away at the palace by people who told us everything was closed until Friday. We didn't panic because we had been warned to be leery of people who would say places are closed and then try to get you to go in a tuk tuk for one of their tours. However, it turned out the Grand Palace was really closed (we made friends with another Thai professor who walked around with us and talked to some of the guards), but Wat Pho was open. Whew. I'm sad we won't be able to see the Emerald Buddha since the palace was closed during our entire trip, but at least we got to be part of the cremation festivities.
At Wat Pho, we admired the ginormous Reclining Buddha that's 150 feet long, and then dropped 100 coins into bowls along his side for a blessing. But first we removed our shoes before entering the temple, per Thai custom.
Wat Pho is also home to the famous Thai massage school, and we scored fantastic 30-minute massages for the equivalent of $7. During the massage, you lay on a bed inside an air conditioned area that overlooks the temple. It was the perfect combination of relaxation and reflection. My masseuse melted away the soreness in my neck from falling asleep in weird places over the past few days to catch shut eye whenever I could. Afterward, we sipped refreshing iced green tea.
Finally, we rubbed Buddha's belly for good luck. For a donation, you're given a flower, incense sticks, a candle and a few pieces of paper with a square gold fleck inside. After your reflections, you rub the gold flecks on Buddha's belly....
For lunch, I met up w a NYT reporter at Biscotti, an Italian restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. He's been living in Bangkok for three years and covers all of Southeast Asia...quite the territory. It's truffle season, so he treated me to a fantastic lunch...so funny to eat Italian in Thailand and have my first taste of freshly grated white and black truffles in a scallops dish. I also had a fantastic potato and saffron soup. Although he covers foreign affairs, he's a foodie, and it delighted me when he said he heard Cleveland has great restaurants. I found out from the reporter that gas is so cheap in Thailand because they use natural gas. The price is about 20 baht per liter, which is less than 60 cents. Take note America!
Mary and I met up again and visited the Jim Thompson house. Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur who's credited with rescuing the silk trade and establishing the Thai Silk Company that became a world-class designer brand. His home is now a museum and features integration of traditional Thai houses into one main house.
Next, I grabbed a drink with a Financial Times reporter who's only been in Bangkok for six weeks. Met up at the Foreign Correspondents Club for a few brews and chatted about his views on the best culinary destinations in the world since he's lived so many places (he's originally from London). His vote is for Australia because of their expertise in using local ingredients. He's a huge pork fan, so I told him he'd love Michael Symon and should visit Cleveland sometime. :)
Cleaned up at the hotel and then ventured off to score some food since we were starving. We wandered to Soi Cowboy, a short, lively street like none other I've seen anywhere, since it was recommended by one of the reporters. Giant neon signs glowed on go-go clubs, girls were everywhere and when we sat down to try some Thai liquor, a random elephant walked by. We saw her walking across the highway later on in the evening. At least she had a reflector tied to her tail. :( The animals we've seen in Bangkok certainly have a tough life.
Thankfully, we didn't have to use any of the pick-up rejection lines recommended in our phrase book like, "easy tiger" or "you just want to use me for sex."
For dinner, we wanted to try a restaurant recommended by locals, Hazara, which we were told was on Soi 36...not so much. After walking for a while, we stopped off at a bar that was playing country music just because it was funny. We were practically the only ones there and hot and sticky since yesterday was sweltering, so we asked the staff to point a fan at us. They ended up pointing a huge fan in front of us and one behind us so we were in a giant wind tunnel and we couldn't stop giggling. It sure felt good though. As I was walking to the bathroom, I saw a small animal climbing up a tree and assumed it was a chipmunk (don't know why). When I looked a little closer, I realized it was a Siamese kitten. Made me think of my little Ava at home.
We found out at the bar that the restaurant we were looking for was a couple sois over (@$&**!!), so we headed back. After 20 feet, we grabbed a motorcycle taxi who drove us a couple minutes to Soi 38. So, now we've used just about all forms of Thai transportation: tuk tuk, Sky Train, taxi, motorcycle taxi, bus.
Time is running out since we head home on Wednesday, but still lots to explore...
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Today's jungle adventure was fantastic! I had heard that Chiang Mai in the north offers incredible scenery, but since we only have five full days in Bangkok, we decided to opt for a destination within a half-day's drive of Bangkok, which led us to a Kanchanaburi one-day trekking trip.
We got picked up at our hotel at 6:30 a.m. this morning and made the drive to Kanchanaburi in a comfy van. There were only four of us, so we had room to stretch out and snooze along the way. At one point we were at a dead stop since a herd of cattle was walking in front of us on the road. Thai cattle have a distinct look and they reminded me of a cattle version of a Siamese cat...very lean and gaunt. P.S. Thailand used to be called Siam, so maybe that's why. :)
Today we had our first exposure to non-Western Thailand toilets, which are pretty much bowls in the ground on a raised platform. You have to squat (there's about a foot drop down to the start of the hole) and you have to throw your TP away (which you had to provide yourself). Then you use a ladle to pour water in the bowl to "flush. " Uber cucka.
Our first stop was the WWII cemetery, which houses the graves of allied prisoners who perished with building the Death Railway (of which we took a train on), which also includes the bridge over the River Kwai. (Phil and I saw The Bridge On the River Kwai movie a couple summers ago during Playhouse Square's Cinema on the Square summer series. Who knew I'd visit in person?!)
We walked across the bridge over the River Kwai, however, no one mentioned that trains still cross it, so it's an understatement to say we were surprised to see an oncoming train headed our way when we were half-way across. We scrambled to a platform on the side to dodge the train, which started crawling once it approached the bridge.
Next, we took a crazy train ride over the Death Railway. At first there was no where to sit or stand, so we were hanging off the side, but we eventually wiggled inside. We were packed like sardines and the only thing to hold on to was the ceiling. (I kept thinking that Phil would have killed me if I made him go along for this part of the trip since he's not a big fan of crowds.) Quite the bumpy ride, but really great scenery. Lots of bamboo, sugar cane, banana crops. We even saw a pagoda on top of a mountain.
Then we rode over to a floating restaurant with some fellow travelers from Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. We haven't met any other Americans yet in Thailand...mostly Aussies and Europeans. Lunch was light and satisfying. Thai beer was extra refreshing before we took a long tail boat to our bamboo raft for some lazy rafting down the river.
As we rafted, we noticed this Indiana Jones-esque wooden bridge with a jacked up hump in the middle. Some people were trying to cross it, and we laughed at them because it did not look easy...actually it looked crazy. Then I felt a flash of panic when our rafting guide gestured for us to climb up the hill because I guessed what was coming.
This bridge was insane! Tons of boards missing, swayed like crazy. Mary and I laughed and squealed like fools as we crossed...well, I mostly laughed and she mostly screamed since she's afraid of heights. I had nail marks in my left arm from her clinging to me as someone ahead of us started purposely swaying the bridge. It was an unbelievable and exhilarating experience! Indie would be proud.
Then we finally arrived at an elephant camp for a 30-minute trek through some light jungle on an elephant's back. Our elephant was an 18-year-old little girl. We found out most elephants live to be 100 years old. She flapped her ears against my feet, and her prickly hairs on her leathery skin tickled my legs. Every now and then she grabbed a branch to chew.
Afterward, we fed her bananas. Her trunk was like a big suction tube! She was eager to eat and got a bit pushy with asking for more treats. We were happy to oblige. Such a fun experience.
Finally, we stopped off at Sai Yok Noi waterfall and hiked up to the top to splash around in the refreshing water after a humid day. Some of our travel mates agreed to keep an eye on our shoes and snap our photo once we got to the top. It was a bit slippery navigating up the rock; however, coming down was more difficult and we slithered down the rock until we were back on solid ground.
Got back to our hotel around 7:15 p.m. and decided to stay in since it's raining, and we're exhausted.
One more thing to mention: we read in the paper this morning that more than 100,000 people paid their respects at the palace last night and many stayed over night to observe all of the festivities. Read more here.