Saturday, March 30, 2013


Ah, so delightful to be back in bella Italia once more!

It was a long, grueling journey to get here.  My flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Rome was delayed for several hours, so the airline put in route passengers up at a hotel there (a Sri Lanka stamp on my passport!).  The hotel was right on the ocean, but it had definitely seen its better days—it was very old and run down.  But the bed was comfortable and I had a sound four hours sleep before being roused at 4 a.m. to catch the bus back to the airport.  It was dark when I got there and, of course, dark at 4 a.m., but I saw a beautiful full moon shining on the waves as they lapped their way to the beach.  I'm not sure why we had to be at the airport 2 hours in advance of the flight, because we didn't have our luggage and didn't have to go through Immigration again.  So we all yawned our way through the 2 hours until departure.

On the flight to Rome, I sat next to a young man from Sri Lanka who works at a bed and breakfast hotel in Rome because he can't find a job in his home country.  His wife, 9-year-old daughter, and 2 month old son live with her parents and they see each other about 2 months each year.  He's been doing this for 7 years.  He was talking to his wife on the phone before we departure until the flight attendant had to ask him to turn it off.  He said his wife was crying and he was close to tears himself.  What sad stories this depressed world economy is creating.

 I had a scare in the Rome airport when I couldn’t find my passport during the boarding process for my flight to Florence.  It had somehow slipped out of the side pocket of my bag and was under the chair where I had been sitting.  Small panic attack!  But the universe seems to be taking good care of me, and I found it in the nick of time to catch the last transit bus to the plane.

I love my little apartment here in Florence.  It’s owned by two artists—a painter and a potter.  And their touches are everywhere. 

His painting in the living room.

Her sculpture in the living room.

My living room seating area.

The wall opposite.

His painting in the bedroom.

I have a very small kitchen. Those are dishes on the counter were made by my landlady.  There is no oven, but I have a couple of pans and can so some cooking here.  

I love the spoon handle on the front door.

 I wasn’t aware of this, but there’s a restriction on how much heat you can have here.  You’re limited to 6 hours a day!  I think this may be true for all of Italy, because I remember being cold when I stayed with my friends in Puglia in November.  I thought they just preferred to keep their house cool, but it may be that they had no choice.  It’s going to be in the low 50’s for the next week and I guess I hit the rainy season here, because there is rain and gray skies forecast for every day between now and April 12!  A different form of culture shock.  I’m going to have to buy some long underwear and maybe a couple of sweaters. 

I have a television with over 200 channels, but only two are in English and there is no news channel in English.  Back to NPR on my computer for the daily U.S. news.

My landlady here is very nice.  She took me on a tour of the neighborhood yesterday to show me the best coffee shop, bakery, and trattorie, as well as the supermarkets, pharmacy, and laundry.  I don’t have a washing machine in my apartment.  I had lunch at the trattoria she said was the most economical and had the best food, and I had serious sticker shock when presented with a bill of 22 euro.  Granted, I had the pasta with truffle sauce at 12 euro, which was a little disappointing (black instead of white truffle—huge difference in taste, and it isn’t truffle season), but only a salad and some water with it.  That was a $28 lunch!  So I promptly trotted off to the supermarket and bought about 60 euros worth of groceries.  I will be making most of my own meals here.

There are so many more cultural activities here, and I’m delighted about that.  Next week, there’s a Middleastern film festival sponsored by the local movie theaters (there’s one theater here that shows films in English—yea!) and there’s also a music festival.  Tomorrow, I’ll see the Florentine version of an Easter parade.  I’m going back to language school for a couple of weeks—there are several within a 10 minute walk of my apartment.  I’m in an ideal location, in a “local neighborhood” across the Arno from the city and within walking distance of almost everything.   The streets here aren’t crowded with tourists, so I will have a more authentic living experience.

I wish all my friends and family and unknown readers of my blog a very Happy Easter.  To my friends in Italy, Buona Pasqua!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I thought I had done my last blog from Thailand, but my friend Dolly created an experience that I must share while I'm still tingling with the joy of it.  Dolly graciously hosted me in her beautiful 32nd floor condo last night.  She invited Anna, who I had met during my first month in Bangkok, to join us for dinner.  

When I arrived, I saw the dining room table beautifully set for 6 people.  

I asked Dolly if Ae, her husband's live-in support person, and Ploy, her housekeeper, would be joining us for dinner.  She said yes, which surprised me, because on my last visit here, she told me that Ae would never eat with her and Donald, her husband.  But I thought, great, it's so nice that they will be at the table with us, since they were doing all the work in preparing the dinner.

The doorbell rang at about 7 p.m., and Dolly asked me to answer it because she and Ae were helping Donald get ready.  I, of course, expected to see Anna, but when I opened the door, there were Connie, my friend from ChiangMai and her husband, Nat.  I wish I had a picture of my face when I saw them.  I was shocked and speechless, then turned to absolute mush when I thought about what a wonderful and generous gesture it was for Dolly to invite them and how touched I was that they had traveled all the way from ChiangMai to have dinner with me on my last night in Thailand.  

We enjoyed a delicious Thai feast, prepared and served by these two lovely ladies, Ae and Ploy.

It was an unforgettable evening with these lovely people I have been so fortunate to meet here--complete with storytelling, some really bad jokes, and a lot of laughter.

Dolly and her husband Donald.

Anna with Connie with her husband Nat.

The gregarious group.

I missed a a couple of great photo ops--should have had Ae take a picture of the whole group, including me, and one of Dolly, Connie and I.  I have a feeling the three of us will share some adventure together in the future.  I feel so grateful to have met these two fabulous women who joined me briefly in my travels, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting their spouses and friends.  I wish I could take both of them to Italy with me!

Monday, March 25, 2013


Ordinarily, I camp out at one location for around a month, but in March I’ve hopped around a lot—first Koh Samui for two weeks, then Ranong for four days, then back to Bangkok for three days, then to Pattaya for three days, and finally back to Bangkok again.  When I wake up in the morning, it takes me a moment to remember where I am!

Last weekend, I took a bus from Bangkok to visit my friend Scott in Pattaya, a beach resort about 165 kilometers southeast of Bangkok with a population of around 100,000.   Pattaya has a pretty seedy reputation for its bar scene where middle-aged men, many from Australia and the U.K., cruise for young Thai girls.  I didn’t witness this personally, but I saw more than the usual number of older white guys with younger Thai women.  Scott would prefer to live in Bangkok, but his job with GM brought him here.

Pattaya has its own Hollywood-like sign.

There was a music festival in Pattaya all weekend, so the city was pretty crowded.  On Saturday, Scott, his girlfriend Gun, and I had a delicious brunch at a French café and then went to a movie to escape the heat of the afternoon.  We saw Jack the Giant Slayer, which isn’t a movie I’d have chosen but would definitely recommend it.  

Afterward, we lounged at an outdoor restaurant bar to have a cool drink and watch the sun set.

There were several music stages, and the main beach road was blocked off for about two miles.  Both sides of the road were lined with vendors selling food, clothing, jewelry, hats, purses—everything you’d expect to see at the typical night market in Thailand—as well as a few county-fair-like games of skill and chance.   It was very crowded and very hot.  

A real bonus was having Gun available to answer all my questions about the street food being sold.  There are so many different types of fruit and vegetables here, as well as some very strange looking sweet things (like a cubed black jelly) and lots meat on sticks. 

       Grilled squid.

            Meat on a stick.

More meat and some veggies on a stick.  Also a good example of fairly typical Thai mistranslation of English.  That's supposed to be "pork", not "pock".  

     A little chotsky.

        A little dancing.

I haven’t eaten street food here, with one exception--mango with sticky rice and coconut milk, which is my favorite Thai dessert.   It’s risky to eat street food unless you have a stomach that’s become accustomed to the food bacteria here.  I’ve spent enough time being sick with the ordinary flu and colds….don’t need to add food poisoning.

I’m back in Bangkok now for my last two days in southeast Asia.  I’ll be spending my last evening having dinner with my friend Dolly and her husband Donald and staying in their lovely 32nd floor condo for the night.  I have almost two days of travel to Florence, my first stop back in bella Italia, so there will be plenty of time to reflect on my time here and all the wonderful experiences I’ve enjoyed.   

Sawasdee ka from Thailand!

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I thought I was headed for a beach town, but Ranong isn't quite on the beach.  It's close to the beach, but my hotel is in town.  I feel like I've landed in the "real"  Thailand.  This town doesn't look or act like a tourist destination.  In the two days I've been here, I've encountered maybe 6 other farangs (Thai word for people of European descent).  I went for a long walk yesterday to check the landscape and didn't see one restaurant that catered to Westerners.  Maybe the farangs are at the beach resorts close by.  

The restaurant in my hotel seems to be the only one in the vicinity that has Western menu items, which is ironic since none of the wait staff speak English.  I was trying to get a napkin yesterday and no one knew the word.  Pantomime worked this time, but my gestures for runny egg yolk failed at breakfast this morning.  Somehow I ended up with "hot pan eggs" baked in a pan in the oven, instead of the poached eggs I wanted.  This is my first encounter with hot pan eggs.  I guess my request for a napkin made some kind of impression, because now there are packages of napkins on every table.

At dinner last night in a Thai open air restaurant, complete with a bevy of flies, I was the only farang around.  Being the "only one" of anything is a bit uncomfortable, because people stare at you.  There were little children who couldn't seem to take their eyes off me.  I placed my order with a server and was trying to find out whether they made egg rolls, but the server didn't understand me at all and I couldn't think how to pantomime an egg roll.  She called over the one server who understood English and he told me no.  I learned, after waiting for 30 minutes, while everyone else in the place got their food, that the first server hadn't turned in the food order I gave her, although she did turn in my drink order.  She had apparently told the second server to take my food order, which he tried to do, but I told the second server that I had given my order to the first.  

"When in Rome" has pretty much been my mantra since I arrived in southeast Asia.  Since I'm an "elder" to most people I encounter, I'm usually greeted with a "wai"--a bow with hands in a prayerlike position.  I learned that my response, as an elder, should be a nod or smile.  I take my shoes off when I enter another person's home or a temple and some stores (wherever you see shoes outside the door).  Wearing sandals with straps is a distinct disadvantage here.  I don't touch monks--never feel inclined anyway--and you see monks everywhere here.  I learned from my friend Connie not to point any part of my foot at any person (this is when I was reclining on a chaise lounge, and my foot was directed at a Malaysian woman who was apparently feeling very uncomfortable).  I don't expect things or people to be on time.  Most transportation services operate on schedule, but patience is a great virtue here.  I try to use my right hand when giving or receiving, but this is hard for me to remember since I'm left-handed.  I should also eat with my right hand, but it's very awkward for me to do this and I usually drop food in my lap.

I make sure to dress respectfully when I visit a temple--about all I need to remember is no bare shoulders, because I don't bare my midriff or wear mini skirts.  I eat Thai food for almost every meal, specifying "pet nit noi"  (not too spicy), except breakfast.  I just can't bring myself to eat hot soup or other lunch and dinner like dishes for breakfast.  I've only had two burgers since I've been here and wish I hadn't.  

No matter how careful I am to respect social customs, I still stand out as a farang.  Even though getting a bit of a suntan makes me fit in a little better, my height is a definite giveaway, as well as the blond hair.  I'm taller than most men here.  So I amble around town like a blond giant, and I guess it's no wonder that I attract attention. I'm more of an oddity here than other places I've been in Thailand.  I'm surprised since this is a popular place for farangs to make a visa run to Myanmar, which I will do tomorrow.

Farang is also the Thai word for guava.  So I suppose there are a lot of Thai jokes about farangs eating farangs.  


Thursday, March 14, 2013


It's time to move on again.  This beach time has been very relaxing, and I'm once again leaving some really nice people behind.

This Thai woman has been my constant here...her name is Pupay, and she is the sweetest person you would ever want to meet.

Her lovely smile greeted me every time I went into the resort restaurant.

We joked that I was old enough to be her mother and she started calling me Mama.  I think it should have been Big Mama, since I'm a head taller.

This is the owner of this small resort, an Irish woman named Leonora....she's a little camera shy.

There was nothing shy about this bar regular, Paddy, a wild man from northern Ireland.

I hung out occasionally with this couple, Ray and Kelly, from Calgary, Canada.  They left Canada the same day I left the States and are also traveling for 10 months...quite the coincidence.

I don't want to forget any of them!


Last night at around midnight, I was abruptly awakened by a loud crashing noise that had me literally jumping from my bed.  My first thought was that someone was trying to break down the door to my bungalow.  It was pretty scary.  

I looked out the window but didn't see signs of any human life.  I kept looking around for a few minutes to be sure that no one was lurking outside.  After my thumping heart quieted a bit and I could calmly focus, I noticed a coconut lying in the sand close to my porch steps.  

The next morning I saw the damage to my porch roof.

I not an obsessive worrier, but I have given those coconuts an occasional thought and my hammock time would have been greater if they weren't hanging there above me.  I've been favoring the beach chairs the last few days, and I guess my intuition has saved me from a big thump on the head.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Being a beach bum is much harder than it looks.  First, there’s the sand.  It’s everywhere.  You think you’ve brushed all of it off your feet, but then every night it’s in your bed, and it’s in the bathroom, and it’s in your suitcase, and it’s in your ears.  Taking a walk in it is very taxing.  First of all, you’re walking on a slope, so one leg always feels longer than the other (or shorter, depending on walking direction).  Some sand is packed hard, but then you get surprised when you hit a soft patch and unexpectedly sink into it.  I’m telling you, it's nerve wracking.  On top of that, you have to be on the watch at all times for rocks and broken shells and palm fronds, etc. etc. 

Back at the beach bungalow, you have to be willing to share your space with other creatures of nature.  My roommates are several teeny tiny ants in the bathroom (at least I hope that's the only place they are) and two geckos who I occasionally see zipping up, down, and along the walls.  I think one nests behind the TV waiting to pounce on insects that are drawn to the light.

There are lots of decisions you have to make every day, sometimes hourly.  Do I lay in the hammock, sit in a chair on the porch, sit in a chaise lounge on the beach, or lay on a mat in the thatched cupola?  What about those coconuts in the tree above the hammock?  Might they drop on my head and knock me out?  It can be very stressful worrying about that possibility. 
At mealtime, you not only have to decide what you want to eat, but where you’ll eat.  Do I want Thai food or Western food (actually a choice here)?  Rice or noodles?   Should I try a new place today?  Should I take a tuk-tuk to Nathon and try some restaurants there?  

And then you have to decide whether you want to be around people or alone.  Can you tolerate Patty, the Irish drunk who frequents the bar by the bungalow and uses the “f” word in every sentence, or Paul, who is the the Alaskan friend of Pupay, the sweet Thai barmaid, and who trashes the U.S. in every conversation.   I often chose to wait until Pupay is by herself, because I enjoy talking with her.  She's one of the nicest people I’ve met here.

At night, I have to decide whether to put on the air conditioner or be cooled by a sea breeze, if there is one.  The level of humidity needs to be considered in making this decision, plus the muting of the wave sounds that occurs when the air conditioner is running.  Do I want to give that up?  Then I have to decide which of two television channels to watch—BBC News or the one channel that televises American TV fare (same programs over and over again).  Or do I just surf the net for a while until I’m tired enough to settle in for another good night’s sleep.

It’s a tougher life here than I thought it would be, but I think I can manage to ride it out for a few more days.   Yawn….do I take a nap inside on the bed or outside on the hammock?  Hmmm…..the coconuts.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I didn't think I would spend much time at the beach during my travels.  Haven't had the desire to bake in the sun--haven't had the desire to put on that bathing suit!

But here I am in Ko Samui, Thailand's third largest island, in the Gulf of Thailand on the east side of the Thailand/Myanmar Peninsula.  I'm in a relatively isolated spot on the northeast side of the island called BangPor.

I'll be here for two weeks, if I can adjust to the "chillin' out" mode.  I have to do my taxes, so having little to do but lounge should motivate me to get started on that unpleasant piece of business.  I also need to brush up on my Italian in preparation for my return to bella Italia.

This is my little beach bungalow.

This is my hammock, where I spent most of this afternoon.

There's one store here--a 7-11 (they're all over Thailand), and here's a shot I took on my walk there.

And another I took from the place where I ate lunch.  Pretty hard to take, eh?

Ko Samui was out of the mainstream of Thailand until about 8 years ago.  People here did pretty much whatever they wanted without interference from the Thai government.  But since it's become a major tourist destination, the government's interest has been peaked.  

I met a very interesting woman from Vancouver this morning while I was waiting to check in and we spent a lot of the day together.  She's traveled extensively and has lots of great stories about the 30 plus countries she's visited.  She just spent two months in India.  Unfortunately, she's leaving for another island tomorrow.  There's also a very drunk Irish guy hanging around the restaurant/bar that's part of this property--Patrick Joseph Martin John Laverty.  He came here for a 3 week vacation, and it's been seven months now.  If I'm to believe him, he's independently wealthy, but does pyrotechnics as a hobby.  So it's been an interesting first day.

I won't be doing much blogging from here, because it's a resort island and the golf course or the beach are pretty much your choices.  (I think everyone on the plane except me picked up a set of golf clubs at baggage claim.)  So don't worry if you don't see any postings here for a while.  I don't want you getting too jealous!