Archive for the 'vacation' Category

No more highways!

In Eugene we were hosted by another friend and his sister next door who teaches about sustainable agriculture at the university. She and Axel visited the lands and came back with a bounty which we ate. At dinner Faro had his before last melt down and it was time to go home. The length of our trip, which seemed short at first, turned out to be 2 days too long for our four year old. We should have known when Faro started to protest when he heard the word ‘highway.’

But before we got on our planes we split up three-ways. I went ahead to Portland with my fellow grandma. We overnighted on the outskirts of Portland in a lovely AirBNB. An enormous redwood rose at least a hundred feet right through the deck, a statement of the tree that it was there long before the deck and of the owners that they accepted that fact.

I dropped grandma off at the airport and visited a young colleague who had recently followed her husband to Portland, sadly leaving MSH. For lunch I joined another colleague, of Dutch stock, who retired from MSH several years ago. We caught up in a fluid mixture of English and Dutch.

Sita and Jim did their last sightseeing and nature walking on their way to Portland and Axel had lunch with the daughter of a dear friend from where he bussed to Portland. We met up at a fountain made for kids to Faro’s great delight – maybe it was the highlight of his trip – no more highways!

He had his last meltdown, regrettably, over a spectacular sushi dinner. I had booked a hotel room to serve as a pied a terre before we would all head out to the airport for our respective red eye flights. But Sita and Jim got delayed by another hour every hour until it was time to rebook for the next day. Delta was on time and took us quickly home via Detroit.

Crisscross CA

After Sea ranch we split up. Sita and her family went up north to admire the redwoods and stay in Crescent City. Axel and I meandered over several mountain ranges towards Mount Shasta. Along the road we experienced many more of the diverse facets of the state of California, not all as pleasing as what we had experienced so far.

We did stop at a vineyard – how could we leave Sonoma County and not do so, and purchased the best of the wines we had tasted – made from grapes that thrived on the rich lava soil. We were to see much more of these lava soils for the next two days.

From there it was straight north along the Anderson valley through some cowboy and honky-tonk towns. We made a brief pit stop at a dusty café where we found, to our great surprise, the stuffed front part of a large giraffe. The giraffe could not have imagined in its wildest dreams where it would spent its afterlife. It was kind of sad to see it reduced to decorate such a depressing place, in between old farm equipment and white animal skulls. The donors were locals, a hunting family according to the framed newspaper article, who had taken their kids on a hunting trip to South Africa a few years ago where the doomed giraffe found itself in their visor. They gave the meat to the locals and had the skin shipped home and stuffed someplace.

We got some strudel and the worst coffee of our entire trip, and made it to our next AirBnB, having covered more than 350 miles. We checked into our AirBNB in Weed, had a superb Indian meal in Mount Shasta and then tumbled into bed, too tired to drink the welcome bottle of wine offered by our host.

The next morning we entered Southern Oregon and drove along Klamath Lake towards Crater Lake where we stopped for a picnic overlooking the deep blue waters that had filled the caldera, eons ago.

Our destination that day was Bend, where an old-time friend of Axel awaited us for a 24 hour visit. I am still digesting the experience of Bend which reminded me of Utopia and the Stepford Wives all at once, with mostly beautiful lily white people, in excellent shape because of all their outdoor activities. I asked our friend who couldn’t stop singing the praise of Bend if there was anything wrong with the place but he couldn’t think of anything – and so there it was again, a Stepfordian Utopia. After lunch we set out straight West through endless pine forests, some blackened from fires, towards Eugene.

Toddling up the coast

With the conference behind us, a last morning of discussions about what next, we got into our respective cars and made our way to Oakland where our next lodging was arranged, in an old music recording studio, stuck to the side of a mountain in the Oakland Hills above Montclair. It wasn’t a child-friendly place although our host was. When we left he gave us several bottles of beer, the business he was in.

As for the child-appropriateness of the place, he could (and should) have mentioned that there was a deck over a 50+ feet drop with a bannister not up to code – Saffi could easily slide in between the slats and tumble into the depths. Thus we kept the door to the deck locked. Inside there were wires everywhere, requiring us to say no a lot. The sitting room of this AirBNB is essentially the deck, which I enjoyed in the quiet early morning hours with a cup of coffee, watching the mist rise out of the valley, but which was off limits after the kids awoke.

There was a small indoor sitting room off the deck but it was turned into a bedroom for Sita and Jim. As a result, with the deck unusable, there was no safe living space or place to sit for a meal or cereal (the dining room table also being on the deck).  It was essentially an expensive crash pad, which is how we used it: bagels and coffee in the village below, then the whole day in San Francisco (SFMOM, also not that child-friendly) and a walk at Land’s End towards the Golden Gate Bridge which was repeated the next morning when Jim’s mom arrived. We had picked Oakland to be close to Axel’s cousin who had misread our dates and turned up on the east coast at exactly the same time – a big shame.

We visited Bolinas for a long walk on the beach and took our sweet time as one should during vacation, blissfully unware that we nearly missed getting the keys to our next AirBnB at Sea Ranch that night, several hours of meandering coastal road north. Sea Ranch is known by our architect friends. It is an extensive (vacation) development along a 10 mile stretch of the Sonoma County coast south of Mendocino. Here is what Wikipedia says about (The) Sea Ranch.

For us it was the highlight of our stay. In contrast to our Oakland abode it was wide, light, spacious and very child friendly, especially the neighborhood, populated by beaches, trails, seals and sea lions.

We spent a wonderful day and two nights at Sea Ranch, including a soak in the hot tub overlooking the Pacific.

Misty 2

The weather in California so far has been mostly cold and misty in the morning and evening. Micro climates abound. In one place I wear a warm fleece jacket and scarf, in another I peel off to my tanktop. In the morning clouds obscur the view, then lift for awhile in the afternoon to reveal blue sky. Then, towards the end of the afternoon enormous cloudbanks appear on the horizon and I look for my coat again.

We went on several expeditions while opa and mama were busy exploring how to change the world. First there was the famous Monterey aquarium. Despite the stickershock (120 dollars for Jim, Faro and myself, including a 10 dollar discount for my white hair), we entered the sprawling arrangement of buildings along cannery row, and enjoyed the various displays, not so much the screaming children. Saffi couldn’t care less and slept through it all. Faro was less inerested in the displays and more in the countless hands on activities, perfectly geared to his age.

We drove to Big Sur and hiked up to the Pfeiffer waterfalls, a steep hike for a 4 year old. He fell twice over roots and stones and now has an eggsize bump on his head and two scraped elbows to show for it. After the initial shock and tears, and four arms to hold him, he forgot about it in about 5 minutes. Dad was more concerned. I recognized my own mother’s nonchalance in my response: not a big deal – kids are not as fragile as parents often think. Grandparents know this.

Monterey has built an enormous playground for kids of all ages, it is called the Dennis the Menace playground. Jm would keep an eye on excited Faro and I would look after Saffi, usually asleep in her baby carrier. I observed Californian parents hovering and praising their kids. It brought back memories of my days as a student of child psychology, observing how kids moved in a playroom. I saw little signs of cooperation, or even contact, unless it was about territory.  Everyone, including Faro, were busy experiencing the various playground activities as if they were isolated pieces on a chessboard, only making contact when they were in competition. This is the downstream of what Sita and Axel were trying to remedy.


First Axel and I got spoiled, on our way to California. An upgrade to first class on the short hop to New York, then a personal pick up at the jetway by Delta Customer Experience rep Carol who whisked us away in a Delta Porsche across the runways to a far off terminal from where our San Fransisco flight would leave one hour later. The only thing missing from our total delight was an upgrade on the second leg of our trip. But we are not complaining, as the car rental agency also upgraded the smallest car we had rented to a more comfortable size.

Although Sita and family had arrived two hours earlier on a direct flight from Boston, we pulled up at the same time at the Asilomar Conference grounds and state park on the Monterey Peninsula, in Pacific Grove.

While Sita and Axel were busy networking with nearly hundred people who had streamed in from all corners of the world to basically change the way we do business and interact with one another, Jim and I explored the peninsula and the things it had to offer to a four year and a one year old. We met each other ar mealtimes.

The conference center consist of various large standalone halls, built in the Arts and Crafts style in between the world wars, designed by architect Julia Morgan for the YWCA. The houses, the rooms, and even the designs of carpets, curtains and furniture are spectacukar in their simplicity and charm. The sticker price of our three days there was also spectacular and gave us a hint of how Califrnia keeps itself running with about six lines of taxes and fees slapped onto what was already a significant bill for food and lodging.

And so I also spoiled Faro, with constant attention and an occasional icecream, lots of hugs and bedtime stories. I spoiled Sita by being a free babysitter, and Jim by being a companion.

Cooking with Koong

For my last full day, solo, in Bangkok I took the train to the weekend market early in the morning to see if I could find the lady who had sold me one wonderful top I wanted more of. It is an easy ride on the train, no stops, less than a dollar. Surprisingly I was able to found her again amidst the 7000 stalls. I wandered around a bit more, a strong ice coffee in a little plastic carrying back to keep me awake and hydrated, until I couldn’t stand the heat anymore.

Returning to the train I walked against a stream of thousands, no tens of thousands of people on the way to the market. My timing had been perfect.

For the afternoon I had signed up for a cooking class. After our private cooking class in Changmai last year, this was a very different experience. I counted some 25 people waiting at the assembly point. We were swiftly formed into three groups each with an instructor. We walked a few hundred meters to the mostly deserted vegetable market. We were each given a cute little basket to create the illusion of shopping for the food we were going to prepare though most was already purchased in the morning, when the market was a bit more alive and the produce fresh.

Our instructor gave us a brief intro to Thai herbs as greens are called, sniffed and smelled a few and then, from a pre-arranged pile, we each took some stuff and put it in our basket and headed back to the school.

Three classrooms on three floors were filled for the afternoon session. The morning session was already full and the evening session was too late for me. Our instructor was a peppy young Thai lady who had learned a smattering of Dutch (ik hou can jou, lekker, eet smakelijk), German, Chinese and other languages from her students. My fellow students were two Filipina sisters (one living in Japan, the other in Vienna), a Brit living in Malaysia with his Malaysian wife, two young German men trekking on a low budget through Southeast Asia, and a couple from Singapore.

We donned our aprons and then had our class sitting on the ground, like cooking is done traditionally in most of the world. We each had a sharp knife, a cutting board and, outside the room, our own gas stove and wok. We learned how to make coconut cream and milk (not entirely from scratch), tom yum soup, fresh spring rolls, pad thai, green curry and mango sticky rice. It was more or less the same menu we had in Chiang Mai, except here two helpers did a lot of the prep work, so our cutting and squeezing and pounding was mostly giving us a feel for what it takes to get ready for the actual cooking. Only the wok part we got to do entirely on our own – a row of 9 people standing in front of stoves and the teacher on the other side giving us instructions and doling out the ingredients we had played with, plus more fillers and protein.

After each menu item that we had prepared we returned to the dining area where we sat at tables and consumed the fruit of our, not so very hard, labor. It was an enjoyable experience although I was not very impressed with the green curry. My table mate also pushed it away; too salty, too much fish sauce.

On my way home I had one last foot massage, splurging with the whole hour one for 8 dollars. How I will miss these. Back at the hotel I followed Axel in his plane across the Chinese Sea and then the Pacific and then the great American planes, using the Flightradar24 app which even shows the land (or water) gliding by underneath the plane. When he landed at JFK I was asleep.

I had one more work call for my next assignment, one of only very few work incursions into my vacation, and then packed my bags.

Off he goes

It is really too hot these days to do any visits to places that are not air conditioned. Still, we went to visit the Wat Pho temple complex which is worth a good sweat. And best of all, it has a massage school which was founded to make sure the Thai art of massage and ancient healing would not get lost to the tablet and smart phone generation. Part of the temple is dedicated to the art of healing massage with ancient stone tablets explaining which touch heals which body part. I had expected a large waiting time to get a massage but I was wrong, some 40 or so masseuses (presumably in training, though we couldn’t tell), in white dentist uniforms stood at the ready. The prices are a little more than at our local massage place but still little and still worth every baht. I was glad to contribute this way to the upkeep of the magnificent temple complex and the ancient art of massage-healing. We received an expert treatment and our feet, having been massaged so much in these last two weeks, are starting to limber up. I didn’t hear Axel whimper one bit.

We collected ourselves at Starbucks which will forever be associated with respite from the great heat, and less so with free wifi which requires putting in your passport data and more complicated stuff when you are a foreigner.

On the way home we stopped at the massage place and had a Thai massage. The last Thai massage Axel had was in Kabul when the Thai lady walking over his body broek (we think) a rib. I remember Axel letting out a fierce cry. It ahs taken more than 5 years for him to try again. It was a good experience, no ribs broken and much tightness released.

At night we found another mall (all have foodcourts and airco) for dinner and had our first and one and only sushi dinner of this vacation. It was our farewell meal.

A few hours later I helped Axel drag his overstuffed duffle bag (no wheels!) to the train for the airport. He left at 2:30 on China Eastern Airlines, going East to JFK via Shanghai. We whatsapped when he got there and then he settled in for his 14 hour flight and I went to sleep.

December 2017
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