Myanmar through my eyes

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Myanmar/Burma with several friends. This is a country that is ready to explode with tourists. They have doubled their American tourists in the past 2 years and you could see in each city changes that are occurring. Before I begin to talk about the country and its people a few house keeping notes.

First we organized our own tour with the help of Country Holidays, a travel company out of Singapore, http://www.countryholidays.com.sg. This is the 2nd time we have engaged Country Holiday to assist in Asian travels and I must tell everyone, they once again organized an over the top trip.

We departed from Singapore for Yangon for our first night. We were met by our guide and ventured out to the Gem Museum to see all the fine stones that are found in the mines of Myanmar. A couple of the ladies did buy pearl earrings and one purchased a beautiful ring. The prices were very good and everyone loved the opportunity to negoiate for the best price available. (Dr. Khin at May Mon Jewels was a great help, be sure to stop by her booth.)

 We continued on a quick over view tour of the city and headed to lunch at Monsoon Restaurant for our first real Myanmar food.  On the way to our hotel, The Governors Residence, we stopped for a tour of the old grand hotel of the city, The Strand Hotel. It was lovely and I am sure it was the best in its day. However, I vote for our hotel with a beautiful pool and large cool rooms in a garden setting.

We dropped our things off at the hotel and had a rest before heading out to the most unbeliveable spiritual Shwedagon Pagoda. It is hard to describe the energy you felt as you walk through this massive structure. There were hundreds of families sharing moments in their own special way, some in celebration of young men going to expereince monk hood, others celebrating a passing life. You will need to remove your shoes at every pagoda so having bare feet is something you will get use to as you venture through this country. After we watched the sunset from the high walls of the pagoda we ventured back to the hotel where we ate dinner and got to bed early. Most of the flights in Myanmar will depart early,

We boarded our 6 am flight to Mandalay after only one day in Yangon. Arriving in Mandalay we were met by our new guide and headed out to see a few of the temples along the way. We stopped in Palelk to visit the snake temple. Yes there are real snakes wrapped around the budha’s neck and arm. They seem to be very happy protecting the place, and were well taken care of. There are over 300 lesser know temples some of them now grown over by trees and vegetation. We wandered through the area and visited a fabric weaving project and wonderful small village along the river.
We stayed at The Sedona Hotel, a large modern structure across from the old kings palace. We dropped our luggage and went to lunch behind the hotel at a restaurant called “Unique”, good local food. Then out to Kuthodaw Pagoda where you experience over 700 individual structures housing 729 marble stone slabs with the entire Buddhist scriptures reproduced page for page.
We then went to watch the process of making gold leaf, and visit a couple of local work shops, wood carvers making masks and puppets. Our guide No Nyan Lwin: nyanmyohtel@gmail.com was so patient as we shopped in the markets and asked many questions about how these temples and structures wee built. We did a quick stop at one of the holiest pagodas, Mohamuni Pagoda before heading out to watch the sunset as we walked across the U Being Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. What a way to finish the day.
We had a simple dinner in the hotel and went to bed early since we had to get up early for a short cruise on the Ayeyarwady River. We boarded our wooden boat for a cruise to visit Mingus. When we pulled into where the boat would be held while we walked through the area we were met by carts drawn by cows/bulls, their taxi service.
There are ladies and kids running after you trying to sell you beads, cotton pants and hats. If you do decide to buy something, remember the price they ask is about half of what you are going to end up paying. As you walk through the ruins in this area you will realize that the king of this time, 1790, wanted to have everything be created to be the biggest. You will see the world’s largest working bell. Then walk a short distance to see Bodawpaya’s pagoda, at first it appears to be a huge pile of bricks, 330ft, There is a story that the tooth of the Buddha was a gift to the king and he had this pagoda built to house it. It was really never finished and then an earthquake struck and caused a lot of damage. Close to the other memorable sights sits the Hsinbyume Pagoda, worth the climb up the flight of white stairs. We jumped on one of the cow drawn carts and headed back to the boat for lunch and a two hour cruise to AVA.
When we arrived on the river banks of AVA we boarded horse drawn carts to travel on the dirt roads through the country side and visit many ancient temples. Then our driver pick us up and on the way back to the hotel we had a stop at “The Phaung Daw Oo School and Orphanage—www.phaungdawoo.org—. This was a very special moment in our day. The school houses kids that attend school during the year and then stay during the vacation since many of their families live to far away. Plus they have an orphanage for children that have no family. We gave them things for the school and visited with the staff. Before we left we pooled a small amount of cash as a donation. If you are in the area try to stop for a visit.
Up early for a flight to Bagan, we were the only 4 people on the flight with a whole crew. It was very hot upon our arrival, about 100, after a short drive and visit to two beautiful temples, Ananda and Gubyaukgyi we arrived under a huge tree and were treated to a fun picnic of local food. They had large umbrella protecting us from the sun and lovely dishes to share. Then off to our hotel, ” Aubeum Palace, Jasmine Villa” for a dip in the infinity pool and a rest before an early evening tour in horse drawn carts. We ended by climbing the Pyathagyi Pagoda to watch the sunset. There were two restaurants at the hotel so we just rested and enjoyed local fare at the hotel.
Up early for a magical hot air balloon ride over old Bagan and back at the hotel by 8:30 for breakfast. (Be sure to go on the hot air balloons it was wonderful)!!!
We ventured out to visit the local markets in Pakokku, it was about an hour away but great people watching and huge array of food and products all being sold to locals. We were the only Americans that we saw. On the way back we stopped at a place called “Queen”, it was along the highway but a great find. The entire lunch was about $15 for the 4 of us including fruit drinks. Be sure to allow yourself time to rest during the heat of the day. Then at sunset we went on a river cruise along the Ayeyarwady River, enjoyed all the river traffic and watched the sunset with a backdrop of many stupa’s and pagodas.
Next day we flew to Inle Lake and the cool air of a region about 3000 feet above sea level. We arrived at Heho airport and our driver pick us up and we headed out to a huge local market in the town of Nyaung Shwe. It is called the 5 day market because it rotates cities and only is back in this village in 5 days, so the selection of food to buy and fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and home products was over whelming. When we left we made a stop at the Yan Pyay monastery, where the young monks were having lunch and we watched them looking at their cell phones and chatting. It was a wonderful stop and the small temple next door had many little shrines dedicated to visitors from around the world.
Off to lunch at a local restaurant called “Viewpoint Lodge” located along one of the many canals. The lunch was one of the most interesting selections of local fare, served on small plates. They also had rooms to rent and the location next to the new bridge being built was fun people watching.
After lunch we boarded long boats for our 45 minute ride to our hotel “Villa Inle Resort”, our bags had gone ahead and were waiting for us upon our arrival. The lake is about 60 square mile lake. The trip was a wonderful snarl of weeds, fishermen rowing their wooden boats with one leg wrapped around the paddle. Our hotel was located on the banks of the lake about 36 individual cabins with every detail taken care of. We all headed tot he spa, I enjoyed a great 90 minute massage for $50.00 and went back the next day for another.
We had dinner at the hotel dining room since there is no place to go, they had a nice menu and a simple wine list but good values.
The next morning we were picked up early, stepped into our wooden boat and headed to tour the floating gardens. These gardens, called Kyunpaw are cultivated from boats, usually by the women. We saw rows of tomatoes, beans and cucumbers but they grow crops year round and these are another good source of income for the Intha people. The men are fishermen rowing their slender boats through the water with one leg wrapped around the ore their eyes looking for any movement so they can drop their nets.
When we left the floating gardens we headed out across the lake to visit Phaungdaw U Pagoda and our boat driver worked our little boat through narrow channels. We passed several other hotels along the lake, Paradise Resort was over the water and we also saw a lovely resort, Ana Heritage. Both were more centrally located but we liked our place on solid ground.
It was time for lunch and our guide had reserved at “Inthar Heritage House” we had a great lunch and spent time enjoying the beautiful Burmese cats that are being breed here. This area is home to the Pa O Village people, they are very proud weavers, and have a big factory making cheroot cigars.
The last morning we were picked up early by our boat and guide hades to the boat launch and off to catch our plane. We flew to Yangon to connect to our flight back to Singapore. Since we and several hours in Yangon we had a driver take us to lunch at Padonmar Restaurant for our last feast on local food.
Back at the airport waited for our departure to Singapore, loaded with all our treasures and memories.

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Skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Last week we ventured from our normal skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho to Jackson Hole. The drive was a quick 4 1/2 hours across Idaho and over the Grand Tetons. One the way we stopped at a fun little restaurant in Twin Falls called 3′s Company at 368A street. If you are ever in the area it is worth the stop, they are not open everyday so call ahead, 208-522-1510.

   Our group of 9 arrived and checked into  Snake River Lodge and Spa, 1-307-732-6000. The hotel is located at the base of the ski hill, steps from the Tram and many lifts. The hotel has a very good ski valet staff that takes care of you equipment, including renting fat skies to those that did not come prepared for the deep snow.

The hotel staff was ready to help with reservations, including the great ski guides we hired to help us navigate the mountain. This is a real plus since the mountain is vast and we realize that by having the guides we found places to ski that  were not the usual trails. It also kept us from going to area that could have been hard to navigate.

The hotel rooms were clean and large enough to accommodate all our ski gear. We did take a suite so had a nice sitting room. One of the couples had a standard room that faced the pool and because of all the kids in the pool after skiing it was very noisy, no nap for them.  Couple of other comments, the bar is in the lobby and was full of kids eating appetizers and charging around the area. Not a good place for the early evening drinks. Breakfast was expensive and not up to par, plus if you want to be seated with your group they will charge you 20% service charge, so sit at two tables and save the extra charge.

Now about the great dinners we shared during our visit.  The Westbank Grill in the Four Seasons was excellent. We had dinner on Valentine’s Day which is a challenge for most restaurants but the entire experience was good. The steaks were prepared to perfection and the sauces and sides came hot and well seasoned.  They had a full chocolate buffet that was a dream come true for chocolate lovers.

The next evening we went to the Wild Sage Restaurant at the Rusty Parrot Lodge in Jackson Hole. the space is well appointed and the wonderful fireplace gave a warm glow to a small special room. the dinner was a true gourmet experience, http://www.rustyparrot.com.

We had a great lunch on the mountain the next afternoon in a sit down restaurant called Couloir, at the top of the Bridger Gondola. The confit duck wings are messy but worth sharing, also the Reuben sandwich was great with fresh sliced cornbeef. But think about sharing the grilled cheese or Reuben. Remember you have to ski down after lunch. We had a late night dinner after a massage, it took awhile before anyone was hungry after lunch.   Dinner was back in town at Snake River Grill worth the drive. The grill is located across from the park(town square). Start with the onion rings, they are spicy but so good and we loved the presentation. We can’t say enough about the meal and the selection of wines.

The last night we stayed close to the hotel and ate in the Hotel Terra’s Il Villagio Osteria. Great pizza and the large portions of pasta were perfect to share. They have a nice wine list and the servers were fast and willing to make suggestions so you don’t over order. The room is small so the noise level is high.

On our drive back to Sun Valley we stopped to ski in Targhee and had breakfast at Pendl’s Bakery in Driggs. this is a great find, www.PendlsPastries.com.

  

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A week in Cuba

On November 15, 2013 Carl and I traveled to Cuba for a week of amazing insight into a country that we had only read about. I helped organize the trip through The University of Washington’s Academic  Abroad program. The provost at the U of W, is Ana Mari Cauce, Ana Mari was born in Cuba and joined us on our trip making the adventure that much more interesting. We left out of Miami and flew to Havana on a charter flight. The group of friends that we had organized brought together great energy and offered opportunities for unique visits with artists and Ambassadors.

We arrived before noon and checked into the Saratoga Hotel, across the street from the capital building. We had a couple of hours to get organized before our first speaker joined us at the hotel for a brief over view of Havana and Cuba as a whole today. We had several lectures with time to ask questions and try and understand how the politics work or don’t work. Dinner that first night was at El Aljibe restaurant serving the basic Chicken, rice and great black beans. They had a cigar room so the men were happy to start smoking their first Cuban cigars after a little music and desert we headed back to the hotel. The bar in the hotel had good late night drinks and music.

After an early breakfast and another speaker we headed out to explore the old part of Havana that is being slowly cleaned up and brought back to its original grand style. Walking along the water to understand how the island was protected during the early invasions, the old cannons sit on the shore as a reminder of wars long passed.

As you wind your way through the streets and see new bars opening up and street performers entertaining to get a few extra dollars. You see the energy of the people trying to earn money. As we all have read the average person makes about $30.00 a month, it does not matter if you are a bus driver or a doctor. Your only hope of earning more is if you are an artist or work in the tourist industry.

We walked for a couple of hours with our guide giving us the history of the area and then had time back at the hotel to rest by the pool or go explore on our own. A couple of us went to visit a young artist that friends had directed us to  (Karlos Perez—–   www.karlospereze.com)  It was a wonderful visit and a couple of us ended up buying paintings from Karlos. Our piece is almost 10 feet long and will have a perfect wall in our home to always remember this trip.

That evening we divided up into smaller groups of 6 and visited 3 different palador’s

The first was  “La Guarida” on the 3rd floor of a walk up home with beautiful art and a good menu with local fish. The second was “La Atelier is a rooftop restaurant with a lovely view and creative menu that changes during the year. The last one was ‘Moraleja” dining in a courtyard with an outdoor grill cooking up local lobster tails and a lovely lamb stew.
The next morning we headed to the Museum of the Revolution an interesting history from colonial times. Then a short drive to the hilltop village of San Francisco de Paula to visit the house that Hemingway lived in for 20 years. You can not enter the house but it is open to view inside and sits much as he left it years ago. The boat that Hemingway used for years, the Pilar, sits undercover for you to see. The grounds were beautiful and you could imagine him writing in his study.
We headed to lunch at a local home/restaurant called Don Carmela–CalleJ-257e/13y15 we sat in the courtyard with many singing birds in cages and a lovely selections of small dishes to share.
That evening we were guests of the Swiss Ambassador for cocktails and a tour of the lovely gardens designed by Roberto Burle Marx. Then off to a lively palador–San Cristobal on San Rafael # 469.
Tuesday morning we were invited to watch the rehearsal of the Contemporary Dance Company of Cuba, then of course the tour of the famous Colon Cemetery. When they call it the largest sculpture park in Cuba you can understand why. We had a lunch at The Hotel Nationale. this hotel is worth a visit or lunch on the outdoor patio.
That evening there was a tour of the Ceramics Museum before we were hosted for dinner at the Ludwig Foundation of the Arts. There were 8 young Cuban artist joining us for a wonderful buffet dinner on the terrace of the penthouse. It was interesting to have a chance to talk with the different artists to understand how they work and sell their art.
The next morning we boarded the bus and headed to a beach town of Matanzas. Along the way we stopped at a most interesting village of Varadero to visit Ediciones Vigia where a group of artist were creating handmade books. It was a very special visit and many of us purchased books and cards to take home. Around the corner we stopped at a sculptor’s studio before heading out to lunch at the former Dupont Mansion built in 1930. The restaurant Xanadu served a lovely lunch on the terrace overlooking the white sand beach.
We continued on to Cardenas stopping at an artists home to see her photographs and then on to Varadero. We stayed at an all inclusive resort called Melia Paradisus on a beach that went on for miles. the ocean was warm and easy to swim in but the many pools with bars and lounge chair was the perfect spot for that afternoon nap.
The resort has several restaurants, a large spa and we all had large rooms with outdoor showers. The next morning after a walk on the beach and lovely lunch we headed back to Havana stopping for a private concert in the town of Matanzas. Upon returning to the hotel we had a quick change before we were invited for dinner at Ambassador Portorey’s home, along with Cuban Ambassador Alzugaray. They served a beautiful dinner and of course cigars for everyone to end our evening.
Our last day was busy with a guided tour of the National Museum of Fine Arts. Afternoon we were on our own to have lunch, explore the crafts market, stroll the building along Calle Obispo and of course make a trip back to meet with Karlos and pick up our painting. Karlos had taken the piece off the frame and rolled it into a tube for traveling. (Just a heads up at the airport we had to open up the work and fill in forms but no duty or issue after they examined the piece)
We did our farewell dinner on the rooftop of the hotel and then headed for the late show at the Tropicana.
The week flew by and of course there were many more questions and places we all wanted to visit, but this was an amazing experience with wonderful friends.
Tthe next morning we bid farewell to our great bus driver and guide and headed home on Sky King Airlines back to Miami.

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A week in Northern France

A few weeks ago we pick up a car in Stuttgart and headed to France. We stopped in Baden Baden for lunch. What a wonderful surprise this quaint town was. Easy access from the freeway and drove into the middle of town. Parking underground next to the casino was a snap with easy in and out. We walked the beautiful streets and stopped for lunch at a street side café called Wallstreet Hamilton.  I would love to go back and spend a few days in the thermal baths and lovely town.

Back on the road we and drove on to the town of Illheausern across the French boarder in the Alsace region.. The town has one of the top 3 star restaurants in France, “L’Auberge de I’ll” www.auberge-de-ill.com phone 33389718900. The hotel is connected to the restaurant by a beautiful garden and is owned and operated by the same family, imageHotel des Berges–www.hoteldesberges.com. Go out of your way to experience this wonderful hotel and restaurant. Spend the night and then a lunch or dinner that you will never forget.

The family has also just opened a new in hotel and restaurant in Strasbourg called les Haras   www.les-haras-hotel.com. we did not have a chance to visit but I am sure that it will be an amazing experience since the families attention to detail is top. Next time!

The next morning we headed out to drive across France since we were headed to Normandy. The drive was longer than we expected, about 8 hours with a stop for a speeding ticket, cost 90 Euro, and gas with lunch in the same place. We arrived at Chateau de Saint Paterne, just at the edge of Alencon. The chateau is owned and run by a  young family, Charles-Henry and Segolene, 2 children and 2 dogs. They imagehave a wonderful new cooking school in the chateau, serve beautiful dinner and breakfast and  each room in the chateau is detailed to perfection. www.chateau-saintpaterne.com . imageWhile you are there be sure to enjoy their new restaurant in town called Rive Droite, wwwrivedroiterestaurant.com.

Next morning after a beautiful breakfast we headed to Normandy, first stop was Bayeux to arrange a tour and visit to the American cemetery. When we arrived at the cemetery everything was locked up tight because of the American lock down and budget cuts. We made reservations for a morning tour the next day and headed to our hotel in the town of Honfleur.  It was about a 45 minute drive and we should have planned ahead and stayed in Bayeux, but we were to late for a reservation in a good hotel.

In Honfleur we stayed at  “Les Maisons De Lea” contact@lesmasionsdelea.com. this quaint hotel had small rooms, no elevator and no help getting our bags up 2 flights of stairs. They did have a good location and good parking for our car. The location was in the very center of town and easy to walk to the wharf for dinner. there are so many fun places to sit outside and enjoy the local oysters it was hard to decide. We decided on L’Hippocampe on Quai Saint Catherine, sharing oysters and good duck confit. The next morning we did do our tour of what was open in Normandy, the beaches and several of the better know monuments, including the German cemetery. We enjoyed a simple lunch at L’Arthe and walked the town.

Next morning we headed south to St. Malo with a stop to visit the famous Mont-Saint-Michel. We all decided that it was better to look at it from afar. It is not unlike other tourist attractions, but unless you hire a guide it is just a huge climb through the old structure and so many people that you really don’t have a clue what you are seeing.

In St Malo we stayed on the beach at a lovely hotel/spa called ‘Le Grand Hotel des thermes, www.thalassotherapie.com. We ate dinner in the hotel dining room and enjoyed an easy relaxing dinner. The hotel sits on a beautiful board walk and great for just people watching and a good morning walk.  We did have massages and wish we could have spent more time. The next morning we had a 4 hour drive back to Paris to return our car and get ready for a flight home the next morning.

we stayed at the airport Hilton and took a car into the city for a very nice dinner at a new restaurant that we would return to. ‘La Rotisserie d’en Face”, 2 Rue Christine, make reservations at 0143264098. There was a very interesting new hotel across the street “Relais Christine, www.relais-christine.com. Look at this hotel if you want a new opportunity.

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Must do when next in Florence, Italy

I have forgotten to post the name of one of my favorite finds in Florence. The studio of Angela Caputi offers some of the most fun jewelry you will have an opportunity to buy. The  oversize pieces are all made with plastic resin. The selection is overwhelming, after you choose a few special things for yourself you will start thinking about what you can choose for your friends and family. 

The prices are reasonable from 10 to 300 euros. Make this a must do stop, even the men in your family will enjoy the many fun pieces.

angelacaputi.com

Via Santo Spirito, 58r 

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Italian wedding soup

I remember when I was a little girl an d my grandmother made this soup on a cold winter day. It had been years since I had recreated it. We had a granddaughter that was not eating much of anything so I thought of this old favorite and it was a hit. Today she continues to ask for star soup, so I thought I would pass it on.
This is very rich and does not freeze well so plan on sharing it with friends and family.

1/2 cup of butter cut in pieces
1 1/4 cups freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
5 large egg yolks
1 cup 1/2 & 1/2
6 cups rich chicken or veal stock, make sure you use low salt stock since the cheese tends to be salty
1 cup dried tiny star shaped pasta
Grate of nutmeg

Combine the butter, cheese and egg yolks in bowl of food processor using a steel blade process until blended. With the motor running pour in half and half.
In a large sauce pan, bring broth boil and add the pasta. Boil until pasta is tender to the bite. If you are making ahead, set pan on side and scoop out pasta but keep enough broth so the pasta keeps for sticking.
To finish the soup bring broth to a boil using a whisk add the butter/cheese/ egg mixture but try not to boil. Now add the pasta back in and heat through.
Serve immediately with a dusting of nutmeg. I also sometime drizzle a little white truffle oil or paste on each bowl if I am serving to adults.
Enjoy for that social occasion.

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Cruising in Turkey on a Gulet

imageWe arrived in Bodrum the day before our departure and checked into a lovely hotel on the hills above the town. The Marmara Hotel, info@thehotelmarmarahotels.com, offers large rooms,  great breakfast on a deck overlooking the valley below. After checking in we headed to dinner at a small restaurant in a hidden alley, Evimiz owned and operated by chef Stephane Leprince. We shared an amazing octopus salad and then selected main courses each one better than the next. Another find in Bodrum was a jewelry store called Brilliant Life Jewelry, diamondcut_f@hotmail.com, we all found special pieces and encourage others to go on line or in person if you ever go to Bodrum.

the next afternoon we boarded Carpe Diem IV and set sail for the village of Symi. We had some great winds on our first leg of the trip so the crew hoisted the sails and we all settled in. The next morning we had a 3 hour sail to the village of Chalki, this village has no water so they bring all the water in by tankers. We did not do much swimming these first couple of days since we had a lot of winds and the water was not as warm.

we were treated to some of the best Greek/Turkish food I have ever experienced. imageOur chef create fresh fish, local fruits and vegetables served in several courses at every meal. Just when you felt you could not eat another bite a whole fish baked in salt would be presented and no one said no.

Again  the next day after a beautiful sail we arrived at a Greek village of Tilos where we wandered the narrow streets, bought more wine and sat at the water front and drank. Offer. A few of the group went to a church about 20 minutes outside of town.imageWhen they arrived there was a small gallery and an artist that gave them the tour of her studio. Several of the group returned to the yacht with wonderful small paintings.

We work up to calm seas and warmer sun. We had a short sail to the village of  Niryos. We tied up to the shore and walked the small narrow streets. The next morning we rented 2 small cars from a local guy called Dimitris and drove up to the volcano and then stopped at the village of Nikia and hiked up the steep streets to the church that they are so know for. After our local adventure we headed out around noon to the village of Kilmnos where we went to shore to buy bread from a little restaurant  on the beach.

We then went  to the other side of the island for our last night. The last morning we tried to get organized for our departure on the island of Kos, Greece.

We all agree that sailing in Turkish waters is much better than going to Greece. The waters are much cleaner, the winds are less and the villages  are better for exploring, shopping for food and cute shops.image

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