Nine year ago I spent an idyllic week in a villa on Lake Como in Italy. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. It was transformational. This week Facebook keeps digging up photos of that week to show me in my “memories”. How thoughtful of them. (??) Anyway, I ended up picking out a few.
We had been to our school reunion in Lugano, Switzerland and five of us decided to extend the trip by renting a villa in Lezzeno, right on the lake. We took the bus to Bellagio. We rented a boat and cruised up and down the lake hovering at George Clooney’s place and the Villa D’Este hotel where people pay $1,500 to stay. We swung by the Villa del Balbianello where they filmed Star Wars. And watched sea planes land outside Richard Branson’s villa. We rode up the Funivia to Pigra and took in the view. A local chef fed us dinner. It was perfect.
I even made an attempt to copy that last photo in needlepoint form. The flowers surrounding the villa really impressed me.
Arrived at Fair Isle in the morning. A lot of rocking and rolling on the boat overnight. Big swells. Up at 6:45, breakfast at 7 am and then to the zodiacs at 8:15. When it was my turn to board the zodiac there was a huge swell and I ended up to my knees in water. The attempt was aborted and I had to go back and wait for the next boat. I managed to get to land but had to wait for a dry pair of boots.
Since I had such a traumatic experience and had a late start waiting for dry boots, everybody was taking care of me and I ended up in a car that took me to the museum. For most people it was an hour walk. So I had a bit different experience but it was very interesting nonetheless. The woman driving was originally from the Netherlands but lived in England for many years and moved to Fair Isle about 16 years ago.
The museum was in a one room stone building and run by a Fair Isle native who said her family moved to the island in the 1600’s. Since there is no wood on the island much of the furniture was made from or was actually recycled from shipwrecks. There have been a lot of shipwrecks over the past 200 years.
The island has about 70 inhabitants and is known for its knitted woolen sweaters and hats. Sheep were everywhere. It also has a large puffin colony. From the museum we went to the town hall where knitters and artists had displayed their items for sale.
After 10 hours sleep, I woke to a rainy day in Dundee. Still dragging a bit, I went off to see the Victoria & Albert museum down by the river Tay. Architecturally it was a beautiful, interesting place with a large open interior.
I learned that Scotland exported ceramics including Asian themed plates to Asia in the 1880’s. Also the Scottish Imp, made by Chrysler in the 1970’s had tartan seat covers.
But the best part was the cafe. I had a delicious pea mint soup and a scone. All while enjoying a view of the river. After lunch it was pouring rain so I went back to bed. I lucked out the following day. It was sunny and perfect for exploring. Dundee is a city of about 150,000 with several good museums, three shopping centers, and a university all in the center. It is very walkable and the people are friendly and helpful. In the morning I was out before anything opened so walked around and found a lot of public art.
Dundee is home to DC Thompson and Co. comic book publishers so several comic book characters were featured around town as well as prominent figures like Queen Victoria who visited Dundee in 1844. My next stop was the McManus Art Gallery.
I really enjoyed the museum. It had art and artifacts from around the world as well as Victorian and Edwardian paintings. There were sections on natural history, history of Dundee and the history of the building itself. The inside of the building was very cool
I headed to the other side of town to see the Contemporary Art Museum near the University of Dundee. It was small and there was one in depth exhibit on a lighthouse on the Algerian coast. I bought some postcards in the gift shop and the guy who checked me out was from Wisconsin. Lots of people working, studying and visiting from other countries.
Another big attraction in Dundee was the Discovery ship. There was a museum dedicated to it and you could board the ship. Since it cost 17 pounds, and I was pretty museumed out, I decided to skip it. The ship was built in Dundee in 1901 and its first mission was to carry Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their successful trip to the Antarctic.
On Wednesday I stowed my roller bag at the Premier Inn hotel and caught a local bus to Alyth. The driver didn’t announce any stops so I was a little nervous I would miss my stop but after about 45 minutes we arrived at Market Square, Alyth. I found the guesthouse where I had reservations to stay but I got the times wrong. It was 3 pm and check in was not till 4.
I walked down the road to see the Alyth War Memorial and was taking it all in when it started to pour. I managed to find a bus shelter but not until after I was soaked to the bone. Back at the guesthouse I spent several hours trying to dry out.
I arrived in London at about 8 am after an eight hour plane ride and a six hour time difference. There was a bright moon over the Atlantic. I took the Heathrow Express train from the airport to Paddington Station. Instead of messing with the Tube, I just hopped a taxi on to King’s Cross.
I enjoyed watching the masses of people posing for pictures at Harry Potter’s Platform 9 and 3/4. The line was very long. My train didn’t leave until 2 so I had plenty of time to watch them.
Trains are so much more enjoyable than planes. I had a six hour ride from London to Dundee. I met a woman who told me she had been a guest at the coronation the previous day. They had to be there early and by the time it was over they had been there six hours with nothing to eat or drink or access to toilets. It was kind of grueling but she thought it was very exciting. She saw all kinds of celebrities. She was most excited to see Kenneth Branagh. The railway gave each of us a Coronation Chocolate.
I was in first class and the guy in front of me was enjoying a free beer when the ticket lady came by. Not only did he have the wrong ticket but it was a coach class wrong ticket. She was very nice and tried to convert the ticket so he would only have to pay the difference instead of buying a whole new ticket but his credit card never did go through. Lucky for him he wasn’t going far.
The bright yellow crop growing everywhere is rapeseed which is made into oil. I was told it has an unpleasant odor.
We all took pictures of the Angel of the North. Located at Gateshead, the sculpture was finished in 1998 by Antony Gormley. it is the largest angel in the world. It is 66 ft. tall and has a wingspan of 177 ft. And it can withstand winds of over 100 mph.
There were lots of interesting buildings in Newcastle. Hard to capture them on a train. Immediately past Newcastle we ran into fog.
It was foggy off and on from there but lifted at intervals.
I checked into my hotel in Dundee, had a quick supper, drank a bunch of beer, watched the end of the Coronation Concert with Lionel Richie and Katie Perry and others. And then I passed out. I was up for 32 hours and then I was not. I’m just taking I easy today!
I figure I’ve been in about 80 airports around the world. That’s a lot of time spent in airports. I started out at 7 months and just kept going. As a typical TCK, I learned to fly before I walked. By the time I was 11 months old I had been in a car, on a train, on a plane, on a boat and up a funicular. All those “at what age” questions in my baby book were full in no time.
I know some people feel at home in airports, or love being in airports. I hate them. For the most part, they are just boring. I have spent hours zoned out, jet lagged, and sleep deprived on hard benches waiting for the weather to clear or the congestion to ease up or to make up for a lost connection.
Some of my life’s most terrifying experiences happened at airports. When I was 5, my family was in a plane crash in Denver, Colorado. When I was 14, I almost missed my flight from Miami to Bogota. When I was 18, I ended up being wait-listed on a midnight flight from Geneva to Nairobi, not knowing if I would be stranded.
It seems that whenever I was in these kinds of situations, I never had much money and I never had needed contact information. I just got on airplanes and expected everything to go okay and didn’t worry about it. Had I missed that flight to Bogota, all I had was my parent’s address in Bogota. No phone number, no other contact info. I suppose I could have called my brother but I’m not even sure I had his contact info. After all I was 14 years old.
But I was lucky. There were times when things didn’t go that well, but somehow I always managed to get where I was going. Over the years, I learned there were times when you really could depend on the kindness of strangers.
Travel has become more difficult, more crowded, more expensive, more stressful. But I keep doing it. My next trip is to the Arctic via Scotland. Wish me luck!
In the continuing saga of my mother’s letters from Burma, 1955… The family took a trip from Pyinmana to Kalaw for a mini vacation. Kalaw is in the mountains so cooler than Pyinmana (and of course was where the British spent their holidays in colonial times). Traveling in those days and places was not an easy task.
“We started out from here last Wednesday morning at 7:30 – The Hewitts and Doss, our bearer, in their jeep, and us and Doss’s mother (who lives near Kalaw) in our jeep. Kalaw is about 160 miles northeast of Pyinmana. In true Burma traveling fashion, we had our water, coffee, lunch, soap, and all other necessities right along with us. Hewitts even took an extra 5 gallons of gasoline, but we passed three oil stations between here and Kalaw, so used up the gas and thew the smelly can away. Since our jeeps are new, we did not bother to take extra tires and parts, as people do who travel in older vehicles.
The worst part of the road is the first 20 miles north of Pyinmana, and that wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been expecting, so rather enjoyed even that. The roads are only one car width with all passing vehicles putting one set of wheels on the often muddy and always rutty shoulders. One bridge was out, but there was a definite rut around that was passable. This end of the trip is in the arid valley and very dry and hot. Not much vegetation – sort of like scrub-brush land at home. There are no fences along the roads, no road signs to speak of, and certainly no billboards or advertising of any sort. We didn’t see a single real automobile – only jeeps, a few station wagons, many trucks all overloaded and often in a dilapidated condition, pony carts, bullock carts (which often have a separate rut on the shoulder), and lots of pedestrians; besides herds of cattle, ponytailed sheep, goats and water buffalo grazing over the roads. As I say, there were three oil stations – one at Tacon, one at Meiktila and one at Thazi – all without restrooms! We got to Meiktila, about 90 miles from Pyinmana, about 11am and ate our lunch in a sort of park on the highway mid the stares of many local people. Then we headed east toward the Shan States and the mountains. The road starts to rise and we found lush jungle growth on all sides with a big snake slithering across the road once, monkeys chattering, flowering teak trees, and perfectly gorgeous views on occasion. The roads are not so bumpy, but are still without fences or barriers of any kind, and passing one of those big trucks on a sharp mountain curve often made one catch one’s breath! We arrived in Kalaw (rhymes with guffhaw) about 2:30 after making excellent time. (Note: 7 hours to go 160 miles was considered excellent time.)
The main attraction in the hill areas besides the cool weather and lovely scenery is the interesting bazaars where the different hill tribes sell their crops and handicrafts. These hill tribes are very colorful and usually quite friendly. I am always interested in their jewelry which is solid silver usually in the form of heavy bracelets or heavy large earrings. One tribe of interest is the one in which the women wear brass bracelets just below the knee. I’m sure these must be painful at times – especially if the woman has gained weight, for they are soldered on and never taken off. These people make lovely trinkets out of silver which they sell, and also very interesting and pretty baskets of different designs and uses. You may be sure we came home well-stocked with jewelry and baskets – as well as delicious fresh vegetables and a bunch of blue orchids which we hope to grow here.
On Saturday evening we were invited to Kingswood School – a Methodist Mission boarding school, also a day school. A friend of ours, the minister’s wife from Rangoon, was running it for a few months until a regular headmistress arrives from the States, and so she wanted us to see the school and get to know some of the children. We found the school to be a beautiful place with fine brick buildings set in the hillside amid more beautiful flowers. It conforms to government standards for schools and prepares children for entering the University of Rangoon. It’s teachers are all very well qualified and the Christian atmosphere, although most of the children are not Christian, is a very fine influence besides being very pleasant. Pre-war the school was filled to capacity but now with the troubled times there are only 30 boarders but almost 300 in the day school. I feel sure now that the internal trouble in this country is diminishing, Kingswood will regain its former popularity. After dinner that evening we played games with the children and then all sat around the fireplace (with a real fire) and sang songs, ending with a prayer to the tune of Brahms’s Lullaby. It was a lovely evening for all of us.
Most of these bazaars are what we call “a five day bazaar” which means the hill people come into town once every five days, and that is the big bazaar when all the place is full of products for sale. It happened the big day was on Sunday – the day we left to return to Pyinmana – but we got up early and went bazaaring before we started for home. Our trip home was uneventful and we drove in here about 3:30 pm.
There was just one blot on our otherwise delightful holiday – while we were bazaaring in a little village not far from Kalaw one morning, a dog bit Bill on the leg. Since we do not know the dog and have no way of seeing it within a week or ten days to know if it has died of rabies poor Bill will have to take the 14 rabies shots to be sure! They are perfectly terrible to take, but we can’t take the chance, for dogs with rabies are very prevalent in this country and everyone takes the shots if there is any question at all. But I guess we should be glad that such shots are available and that we know enough to take them.“
I wonder if the trip is very different today. They stayed at the Kalaw Heritage Hotel, built in 1903, the second oldest hotel in Myanmar – still there today (pictured above in 1955).
This week I took a trip to the MIA (Minnesota Institute of Arts) museum to see “Eternal Offerings, Chinese Ritual Bronzes”. The bronzes were from the museum collection but the display was what made the show. It was very atmospheric. At first I felt disoriented. It was dark and there were mirrors and “pools” and silks blowing in the wind. Once my eyes adjusted and I figured it all out, it was impressive. The rooms were Setting the Scene, An Animistic World, Temple, Ritual, Banquet, Rule of Propriety, Coming Full Circle.
Rule of Propriety
Like I said, atmospheric…
It is kind of snowing, sleeting, slushing today. Winter’s last hurrah.
It’s snowing again. What else is new. I saw a movie years ago, I don’t remember the name of it or really much about it except it was about some nuclear war in the future. What I remember about it was the nuclear winter. It looked like it was snowing all the time. (It might have been The Day After) When I moved to Moscow I used to say I lived in the nuclear winter because it snowed constantly. That light steady snow that never accumulated much but just kept coming down. This winter feels like that. Constant snow.
I’m typing my mother’s letters she wrote to her family from Burma in the early 50’s. I’m almost done with 1953. She helped to edit the Rangoon International Cookbook put together by women, both expats and Burmese… and Indian and Chinese, American, English, French, Australian…In the Forward it says:
“There is a Thank You written invisibly to every contributor and source of treasured recipes, named and nameless. But here we wish to record our special thanks to Mrs. Sung San, honored with Burma’s martyr-hero, and beloved herself as Daw Khan Kai for her service to her people. In the midst of new and heavy responsibilities as Chairman of the Social Planning Commission for the Union of Burma, she has found time to give us her entire delicious “company menu”, with the recipes for the nine distinctive Burmese dishes therein.” (She was Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother)
One recipe contributed by my mother is an old favorite of mine. There were no lemons in Burma but she substituted limes and that worked fine.
(Mixture may have curdled appearance, but no matter)
Beat: 2 egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture.
Pour into buttered 1.5 quart casserole. Place in pan of hot water Bake at 325°F uncovered 40-45 min or until set (1 hr).
Serve warm or chilled. I like it warm!
The cook book was published by the Woman’s Society of Christian Service of the Methodist English Church, Rangoon, Burma 1954
About this time my father was traveling around Burma visiting schools to potentially help with agricultural education. He writes:
“I returned last Friday evening from my trip up country. We had a very enjoyable trip for that area is comparatively free from insurgent activity. We were able to drive about 150 miles away from Mandalay without a guard. That has been impossible until recently. On Sunday we were in Maymyo (by car) and the following Wed. the insurgents blew up the train and killed 14 between Mandalay and Maymyo. Day before yesterday the insurgents blew up the guard train and the regular train following behind between here and Moulmein. They then attached the train and killed several and robbed all the passengers. On our trip we were royally received everywhere we went. These people genuinely seem to like to have us visit their schools. At several schools we were presented bouquets of flowers and at practically every school we had to have tea or food. All the schools are clamoring for agricultural teachers so my program should continue to grow. They have never had teachers of agriculture in the schools before and the ones I turn out this year will determine how effective my program is for I’m the only one in Burma doing this work.
The Honorable Vice President of the U.S. is visiting here this week. There was some comment in the papers before his arrival that the Communists were going to demonstrate to protest his visit here but nothing has come off. There was a short meeting on Tuesday of the Embassy and TCA personnel to meet Mr. Nixon. So, when I get home you can shake the hand that shook the hand of the Vice President.”
More snow today. I’m getting tired of it. I drove across town yesterday to meet my cousin for lunch. It honestly felt like I was crossing a minefield. I was dodging potholes all the way. Some of them were very large. I feel lucky and surprised when I find a street that is fairly smooth.
I bought my train ticket from London to Dundee online but somehow I must have screwed it up because it turns out I have two train tickets from London to Dundee on the same train, three seats apart. There are so many different ways to buy tickets I guess I went back and didn’t realize I doubled up. Now I have to go back and try to figure out how to get a refund and hope I still end up with one ticket. I am obsessing over every detail of this trip. I was fine until I realized that I arrive the morning after Coronation Day. I’m sure London will be a zoo.
Today’s featured postcards at PostcardBuzz are of Guatemala. The postcards are paired with a couple photos I took when I was was there in the 1960’s. Here is more about that trip:
My first plane trip in many years was in the first class section on a PanAm flight from Mexico City to Guatemala City when I was twelve. We were the only ones in first class so I got to be kind of chummy with the flight attendant. Toward the end of the flight he asked me how I liked the flight and how I felt about it. I thought that was kind of odd and didn’t know what he was talking about. Apparently my parents had briefed him on me and my troubles with flying, and so he had made a special effort to distract me. (We had been in a plane crash when I was 5 years old.)
In Guatemala, we rented a car and drove up the mountain to Lake Atitlan. Volcanoes surrounded the city and the lake itself was a collapsed volcanic cone. On the way up the mountain, we saw people lying by the side of the road. We didn’t know if they were dead, passed out or taking a nap. It was very odd. We later found out that the previous day was payday and they had done their celebrating and not quite made it home. Apparently it was a familiar site in the countryside. We also went to Chichicastenango and to Antigua. This was major earthquake country. Antigua was the original capital of Guatemala but in 1776 there was such a bad earthquake they moved the capital to where it is today – Guatemala City. Antigua was surrounded by three volcanoes.
There was a new part of Antigua and an old part. The old part was all ruins. It was an eerie place. It was once a major city that tumbled down and was left there like a memorial. We stopped at a small restaurant and ate our meal in the yard. There was a group of musicians that wandered from table to table. We could see laundry hanging at the end of the lawn.
From there, we continued to El Salvador. One night in San Salvador we were staying in a high-rise hotel and I was sleeping on a cot. The building started to sway and my cot started moving across the room. All I could do was laugh at the crazy “ride”, as earthquakes were so common at home in Mexico City. In retrospect I guess we were lucky the building didn’t come down…
(excerpt from Expat Alien, My Global Adventures)
I continue to work on my mother’s letters. In one of them she describes a meal they had at a Chinese restaurant in Rangoon (1953).
The dinner was held at one of the Chinese restaurants, and consisted of about a dozen courses of perfectly delicious food. The one good thing about Chinese food is that it is served steaming hot, so that one may be sure that most germs have been thoroughly cooked. There was shrimp and vegetables, duck served with head and tail on and covered with big mushrooms and nuts in gravy, then a whole baby pig with head and tail of which we ate only the skin which was very crisp and chewy at that course, a whole fish with delicious sauce with vegetables, then the pig came back all cut up, soup with abalone, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, etc. served in a big gourd, fried rice, dishes of Chinese vegetables, tea with real flowers in it and cookies, then lychees for the final course served in ice water. I probably have forgotten some courses, for it is very hard to remember back. I liked most of dishes, and at least tasted all except a noodle dish (which I forgot to mention above). I’m not fond of Chinese or Burmese noodles! The fish and soup were my favorite dishes – always are of Chinese food.
March first. Winter is almost over?? So I never knew this but today is National Pig Day in the USA. Apparently National Pig Day is “to accord the pig its rightful, though generally unrecognized, place” as one of the most intelligent domesticated animals. Of course anybody who has seen the movie Babe already knows that about pigs… Happy Pig Day!
We arrived in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday afternoon. Our first goal was to get some snacks to tide us over until dinner. We decided to walk and I managed to get us lost going the wrong direction and we walked several miles out of the way. From then on we took Ubers.
Three of us from high school met up for a long weekend. We are part of a group who meet up fairly regularly and have a great time together. Because of Covid, we hadn’t seen each other for several years and our rendezvous was way overdue. I flew in from Minnesota, Jen came down on the train from NYC, and Daisy flew up from Florida. Our first night we met up with some local friends at Mia’s Italian Kitchen. I’m sorry to say my food was not the best, but others at the table raved about their choices. So maybe it was just my choice. Anyway the best part was the ceiling.
We stayed up until 2 in the morning catching up at our AirB&B. I don’t know what we talk about or how we can have so much to say but we just never want to stop once we get started. My friends from boarding school are like my family.
The next morning my roommate from the 11th grade was retiring from USAID and she had invited me to her retirement ceremony. I attended virtually and was a little late arriving but it was awesome to see how many people thought she was awesome. Although she spent her whole career at USAID she had a varied and rewarding time, living all over the world.
That night we met up with her and a bunch of other people at our All Class Reunion at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC. It was the first time we had attended one of these parties since Covid and they mentioned this was was the largest group they have had in several years.
You never know who you will meet at those parties. We ended up down in the lobby with two women named Pam who were several years older. One was from Venezuela, my friend is from Venezuela, and a group of recently graduated kids who were going to Georgetown also were from Venezuela. It never matters if we knew each other at school or what ages we are, we always seem to have a connection and sense of camaraderie.
We managed to pry ourselves away and ended up at a Whiskey Bar in Chinatown. It was chock full of very young people. From there we went back to the AirB&B and only stayed up until 1:30 am. We had a reservation for lunch at 2 pm the next day.
Old Town Alexandria has a Trolley that runs up and down King Street all day long. And it is Free. It was perfect for our needs. We jumped on the trolley and took it all the way down to the waterfront. A few blocks away is Ada’s on the River, a very nice restaurant right on the Potomac River. We managed to get a booth by the window and a view. Lunch was good but don’t remember what I had. I was eyeing the crab cake but at over $40 dollars decided to pass.
I lived in the area for about 14 years so I have seen all the sights a million times but my friends were eager to head to the Mall and take it all in. We took an Uber to the Lincoln Memorial. After watching several wedding photo shoots and saying hello to Mr Lincoln, we headed down the Mall to the Washington Memorial, stopping at the Vietnam Memorial and the WWII Memorial along the way. We can report there are restrooms at the Washington Memorial. We walked by the new African American museum but it was closed. The sun was pretty much gone by this time. Walking up 14th street, we spotted a rooftop bar at the Hotel Washington and decided to go for it.
It was pretty crowded but we pushed through all the way to the far side of the bar and found stools at the window facing the White House. We each had a drink and Daisy said she would pay for it. Haha. I then remembered why I had only been there once before. It cost over $60 for three drinks. And they weren’t fancy drinks. But the view was fabulous.
We had to be out of the AirB&B by 10 am the next morning so we had a fairly early night. Our brunch reservation was for 10:15 am at the Union Street Public House in Old Town. The restaurant was completely empty when we arrived but the bar was full of people watching the first day of FIFA.
From there it was back to the airport and home to reality.