Category Archives: travel tales from faraway

I’m really proud of these little stories. One day there’ll be more :)

A bag full of glimpses …

It is dark. And still.

The storm and lightening have passed and compared to an hour or two ago it is relatively cool.

We are staying in The River Garden and down below in the open kitchen, the girls have stopped laughing.

It is late.

They are making their way home along the river. Apsaras all. The loveliest compliment I can give a Cambodian girl. So gorgeous. And funny.

We are lapping up the peace after the frenzy of Bangkok.

I am milking the last moments of a happy night learning to play Briscola with the kids.

The frogs are filling the garden with their deep throated tubercular croaks.

It’s been too quick a detour but what can I tell you …

 

 

Three days in Siem Reap will buy you a bag full of glimpses.

 

angkor-wat-and-child

Frozen moments at Angkor Wat.

monk-at-angkor-wat

Time and her entourage of characters will march right before your eyes …

monks angkor wat

You will see colour everywhere you turn …

angkor wat

And if you make a journey to a lost city in the dark you will see a sunrise, perhaps a sunrise that happens only twice a year and crowns a temple in gold.

sunrise angkor wat

You will see the most intricate stories. And bas-reliefs that will blow your mind…

details of angkor war

Hidden passages that lead to doorways bathed in blinding sunlight …

monk angkor wat

Seductive reminders of a world long gone …

reliefs at angkor wat

But still remembered.

dancer at bayon temple

 

You will see it all.

 

However, sometimes it’s not about what you see.

 

It’s about what you don’t see.

 

headless statues angkor wat

 

In three days in Siem Reap we saw no elders.

Not one.

We were treated with kindness and warmth and surrounded by smiles.

But there was not a toothless one among them …

Cambodia is a country playing catchup.

A country that has lived through storm and lightening.

Three days will buy you a bag full of glimpses but it’s what I didn’t see that has left its mark.

 

it is never too late to be what you might have been

 

And now makes me want to return.

 

 

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You’ve got to throw in some new horizons …

A not unfamiliar race to the departure gate in Sydney. My fault. Last minute frantic banking. Not a good start.

An easy 10 hour flight.

Dropping through the clouds the whole landscape became a sea of Rosalie Gascoigne assemblages. Watery patinated panels of dirty browns and greens, muted turquoise, soft mauves and pinks. Pinks! Camera bag in the overhead. Blink. Snap. Blink. Snap. Commit it to memory. The colours!! The shapes. The meandering channels of water breaking the geometry.

You can’t keep painting the same landscape, telling the same story.

You’ve got to throw in some new horizons.

fields of rosalie gascoigne

The fuggy moist warmth wraps its arms around you on arrival.

The chaos of the streets.

The chaos of colour.

Oh colour how I have missed you.

Trains and a taxi to our little hotel on the river. A blind dog barks at our arrival. We are walking through the grounds of a temple. No signage. Dark. Edgy. We have done this to the kids before “What the?” Finally a marker. A clue. An alley.

Loy La Long.

Enter The White Room. Smaller than it looked online but spotlessly clean with glossy white wooden floors and welcoming crisp white sheets. A secret door in our loft leads to a verandah overlooking the river, the main artery of the city.

first-floor-verandah-loylalong

Towering Sheritans and Hiltons in the distance.

view from the loylalong hotel

But I wonder … can you feel the warm breeze on your face you high risers? Can you smell the spices? Can you hear the tinkle of wooden chimes, the river lapping against the shore? The cacophony of boats plying their many and varied trades along the river?

We are resting with our heads on the chest of Chinatown.

We are in Bangkok.

And I can feel her heartbeat.

loylalong-detail

This chic little hotel caught my eye the moment I saw their website. It’s so clever. The owner, C, is an ex-copywriter, a young guy who worked for Ogilvy and Mather for 15 years till the day he saw a FOR LEASE sign from the water taxi on his way to work. In a matter of days the deal was done. The leap was made. It’s important to leap every now and then. One of my nieces is stag leaping her way around South America. No fear. I like it.

loy la long hotel details

loylalong hotel lounge

 

“HE was leaning against the pole of the water taxi, shaded by the canopy but already damp from the morning’s heat. Staring out at nothing in particular, the ramshackle shanties tenuously clinging to life on the water’s edge, the light glaring off the turquoise blue glass of the Sheriton and Hilton in the distance.

Same same. Every morning.

But then something caught his eye.

Amidst the dark rotting timbers, a woman in a white dinner shirt, early 50s maybe, sitting quietly in a shadowy corner of a little hidden hotel. Watching the cacophony of boats plying their trades along the river. She was watching but not watching. She was there but not there. The water taxi sped past. She was gone but he could still see her face. A once beautiful face now written with sadness.”

 

~

 

“SHE had woken at first light, the sonorous roll of engines on the river a sign that the city was waking up. The family was still asleep so she tiptoed her way over the glossy wooden floors, collected up her camera and watercolours and stepped up to the dark timber deck that all but touched the river.

A golden hour of light but she did not take up her camera and her sketchbook remained closed.

She was lost in her own thoughts and a wave of missingness washed over her.

Thinking about what was and what is.

Thinking about where she now fits if she fits at all. 

Staring at the river boats passing left and right she had a fleeting sense that someone was watching her from the water taxi but the figures were blurred – her glasses forgotten in the room – another sharp reminder of her vulnerability.

She knew she should feel happy. This might be a last family holiday together. Children growing up.

But there was a knot of sadness in her that she was struggling to understand and untangle.  

Thinking of what is and what might be.

Her shoulders dropped, her gaze lowered to the slow brown river below, the water taxi rounded a corner and the river, for a moment, was quiet. 

 

 

We had a mixed up kind of day yesterday which is often the way as you land in a new country and find your feet, not only as a foreigner, but as a family. It takes a few days to peel off the plastic and get used to each other again.

Two weeks ago I discovered my dormant Graves disease had returned with a vengeance and as much as I would love to follow Carla Coulson’s example and tackle it naturally, I’ve opted for meds as the trip was looming. Still not feeling quite myself. A little foggy and disconnected.

family

street food and shopping

A street masseuse latched on to me in Kho Sahn Road last night, told me I should come back tomorrow and he’d fuck me good, all the time working my neck, working his story. His grand finale was to tilt my head back and blow?/suck? into my nose (I think). Wham! Bam! WTF?! Have felt a little violated ever since as if he’s breathed some of his seedy spirit into me. Gag. Bill Nighy spasm.

Despite his inviting offer we took our leave and had dinner at Hemlock, recommended by C. Great call. The meal was special. Particularly the starter, Miang Kham. A mixture of freshly grated coconut browned and roasted, peanuts, dried shrimps, finely diced ginger, lime, Thai green chilli and French shallots – all placed on an individual leaf, topped with a spoonful of sweet sauce, wrapped up tight and popped in the mouth. A sensational mixture of flavours.

miang kham at Hemlock Bangkok

 

 

~

 

Stop.

Rest.

Breathe.

she said to herself.

 

~

 

 

reclining buddha Bangkok

 

There are fish jumping at my feet in front of the hotel’s verandah as I write.

 

A mattress is floating past.

 

Welcome to Asia my friends.

 

Sweet crazy dreams.

 

x

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Searching for the perfect white truffle in the Temple of Tartufo.

It’s white truffle season in northern Italy. We know this because our friend Paolo, who lives just north of Genova, keeps taunting us with little facebook messages to remind us that very soon, he will be heading to the 83rd International White Truffle Fair in Alba, or as he lovingly describes it, The Temple of Tartufo, for his annual pilgrimage.

He and his wife, our Australian friend Louise, took us there in 2010 and it is A. Very. Big. Deal.

entrance to the truffle market in Alba

A very serious business, anticipated for weeks in advance. People travel from all over the world to enter the hallowed Temple of Tartufo. Paolo made us all raise our hands and bow down at its gates. It’s bustling and crowded, so crowded in fact that there was only room in this picture for Louise and Paolo and me and Sophia and part of Gérard’s nose.

entrance to the truffle market in Alba The Temple of Tartufo, Alba

We let Paolo off the leash and just like those highly trained truffle hunting dogs he was off …

Paolo The Nose

Sniffing. Negotiating. Trying to find the perfect white truffle.

The Negotiation

Bringing in reinforcements as he got closer to his prize.

The Sniff Test

Getting a second opinion from the Giudice di Analisi Senoriale del Tartufo which via Google Translate, is the Judge Sensory Analysis of the Truffle (you get the idea).

The Master Sniffer

And just in case that wasn’t enough, he took advantage of the official verification service that confirmed that our truffle was indeed, the real deal. You know what the Italians are like. They love their red tape. I told you it was a serious business!

Guarantee your purchase

50 euros worth of white truffle.

A Truffle in the Hand

We’ll let Paolo do the honours.

Paolo does the honours

White truffle, ceremoniously grated over fresh tagliolini, with a little fresh parmesan. I think that was it.

Fresh tagliolini with white truffle shavings Close up of a white truffle

The smell of a white truffle …hmmm … have you ever smelt teenage boys’ socks? …

The taste? Well it’s one of the most subtle flavours I’ve experienced but interestingly it lingers for ages after you’ve had it.

Worth 50 euros? mmm? I dunno. The spectacle, the day, the thrill of the hunt, the meal, the fun … most certainly worth every dime.

After we had mastered the art of truffle hunting Paolo gave Steve a lesson in how to talk Italian. “We put it in this leetle box, then we move it across and put it in that leetle box.”

Two naughty boys

And then we sit down and we have a leetle rest.

Two naughty boys with a great sense of fun.

Two naughty boys

Oh if I could whisk us away anywhere at the moment Hogey, that’s where I’d take you.

Louise and Paolo run Forest View B&B about half an hour north of Genova in a tiny village called Sottovalle. It’s just near Gavi and not far from the huge Serravalle Designer Outlet. We have a bachelor friend, “He Who Shall Remain Nameless”, who spent not one, but two whole days lost at the designer outlet.  He finally returned, utterly jetlagged, with a car load of clothes and sporting a pair of verrrry nice Italian leather boots reduced from 350 euros to 120 euros. “My friend,” said Paolo impressed. “These are verrrry niiiice boooots. Even I would go home with you with these booooots. But you would have to keep them on.” lol

Louise and Paolo offer truffle and wine tours for guests and friends. Apparently the truffle prices are amazingly good this year because it’s been a high yield season. I can also tell you that if you want an insider’s perspective to Liguria and Piedmonte you’ll find none better. They’re gorgeous.

We miss you guys. Happy truffle hunting. Bastardos! xx

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