Friday, 16 February 2018

Not at all those who wander are lost....

Christmas is over, hot cross buns are back on the shelves (did they ever leave?) and the brave bulbs are beginning to wake up - but there’s still a way to go before Spring is truly here, so what better time is there to go travelling?  

Bags are packed, Harry and Betty taken care of and I ready to go.  Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Myanmar...always somewhere hot and a long way from here.  One week, two weeks or more I waltz off clutching my gel seat and pedals to explore new and different places.


But not this year.  This is year I’m being either alternative or safe - depending on your point of view. I’m going back to a place I lived in and loved for so many years.  It’s going to be cold, very cold, the days are going to be short and there’s definitely no cycling involded!  I have another form of transport entirely planned!

But no matter where I’m travelling, I am guaranteed to be helped on my way! And before I know it I’m here:

It’s -6,  the ground  covered in snow and for the next few days there’s a Pearl of the Baltic to explore! But before then we need to negotiate the icy pavements (I’d forgotten all about the winter grit!)  to find our Airbnb.  Small and cozy, at the top of  one of the Helsinki’s historic buildings, it has everything we need for the next couple of days. 

Today is the start of the Year of the Dog and the Chinese community were welcoming it in  - Finnish style.  At least  the ice sculptures were being kept in optimum conditions... 

In the twenty years since I lived in Finland the country has evolved and changed, but it’s nice to see Stockmann’s doors are still open for business !

Saturday, 18 March 2017

One last day

Back in Yangon for the final full day of my third big adventure. This morning we had a walking tour with Alex in the main area of Yangon.  It's very hot, mid 30s and up, so we were grateful to be in the air conditioned bus part of the way.

Only in SE Asia would you see a sign such as this!

The streets provide rich still life opportunities, even in the shabby rundown areas there are pops of colour such as this door.

Or the personnel statements made in masonry paint.

Then there are the little quirky moments such as the bird seed seller.

More proof that I've actually come to Myanmar and not hiding away in my sewing room at home, here I am on the central pedestrian bridge with (yet another) stupa in the background.

As ever, street food is everywhere.  Deep fried cricket anyone?

No, I thought not.  Perhaps a punnet of fresh strawberries instead? I just wanted to buy some so that I could have the hand woven palm punnet that they came in ....

Plenty of book sellers lined the streets, most from what I could see they were school primers and revision books.  

We wandered down to the dock area and watched the ferries come in before heading off to the main market, the huge Bogyooke (formerly Scott market.)

Here food, handicrafts, clothing, jade, flip-flops and anything else you may need is sold, in vast quantities.  Longie, male or female, are everywhere.

Or if you prefer to have something custom made then that can be arranged too.

There's no need to worry about your safety either....

The dogs may command the streets, but the cats have the market under control.

We are on the move again, walking the busy streets to the south, where dilapidated colonial facades dominate the skyline.  There aren't many sky scrapers here,

but there are many colourful opportunities to be captured.

Other people's washing is always more photogenic than your own!

 After a hot morning full of bustle we felt in need of some cool calm and altogether different atmosphere.  So off to The Strand we went for lunch.    A colonial throw back, it was visited by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.  Lunch was very pleasant, if a tad expensive.

Before we headed back to the hotel we went on a mission to find Pomelo.  This is a fairtrade handicraft shop, take a look inside:

Just my sort of place to have a good rummage around.

And this is what Sue was on a mission to buy...a papier-mâché dog, which has now been christened Hazel.  I think it's a compliment from my roommate of two weeks!

Back in the hotel it was time for me to address my packing....will everything fit in I ask myself?  Of course it will....


Late afternoon we took a stroll around Lake Kandwgyi, home to the glittering Karawelk replica of the Royal Barge.

Finally our tour took us to the glittering Schwedagon Pagoda just in time for sunset.

This is the most religious site in Myanmar as well as being one of the most richly decorated with real gold sheet and leaf, 5500 diamonds and numerous other precious stones.  It is also said to contain eight hairs of the Buddha.

There were plenty of richly decorated screens and artifacts.

Plus devotes lighting candles, wicks and dinging bells.

 Recognise this little chap? Saw another one at the foot of Mt. Popa.

There were many people praying,  the two dressed in pink are Buddhist nuns.

Synchronised sweeping anyone?  Actually they are all regular citizens who after a day's work volunteer to come and help maintain the pagoda and keep it clean.

As sunset approached the place became more and more busy,

although in places I can't help but think that it all has the look of a theme park, with all the glitz, gold and flashing neon lights. There were even ATMs and foreign currency exchanges.  Baffling really.

But given all that, the main stupa does look magnificent at the close of the day.

As did the birthday cake Alex had arranged in honour of Rob's birthday.  A wonderful way to end the day and a two week adventure in Myanmar.

Tomorrow it's time to catch the flight back to London Heathrow via KL.  No doubt it will be raining and a little chilly, but life is an adventure and I'm determined to travel it well.  So be it London, Yangon or Saigon, there's always something waiting to happen just around the corner, another road less travelled. After all, the best adventures are the ones you don't expect to take!

One final temple

So, the last morning on the bikes.

Before we go let me introduce you to thanaka, a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark.  It's a very distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar.  Commonly applied to the face and sometimes the arms of women and girls, men and boys do use it, but to a lesser extent. It's been used by the Burmese for over 2000 years and is applied to the face in attractive designs.  Most commonly as a circular patch on each cheek and the nose.  It's main property is the cooling sensation and it also provides protection from the sun.  

Just as we had started cycling we came acros another Burmese custom, shinbyu is the Burmese novitiation ceremony in Theravada Buddhism which marks the ordination of a boy under 20yrs.  It is regarded as the best religious gift his parents can give a boy and it is believed to have a lasting effect on his lifetime.

It involves thee whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings, even as in the case of this little tot, if they are reluctant to wear the full regalia!  It's an expensive event for a family, especially if there is more than one boy, so, as in the case of the one we witnessed, the celebrations are shared with other families and all the village will be invited.

See the little girl in the decorated bullock cart? Still not prepared to wear her head dress no matter what the occasion is!

The temple we visited today was Kyuak Gu U Min, north of the main temple area.  Partly buried into the cliff face it was discovered by the British during the Anglo Burmese war. There was the usual Buddha statue, this time complete with two canopies, two attendants, a string of neon flashing lights and....

a lotus shaped rotating disco light.  Nice.

But if you ignored the 21century trappings it was calm and peaceful.

The stone Buddhas were finely carved

and with a faded charm no amount of neon flashing lights can change.

What makes this temple interesting is the tunnels leading into the hill side, deep under ground.  There were several niches for individual meditation

plus the usual white graffiti.  In this case the writing was on the roots of the tress which were growing far above! So I tickled their roots, but didn't hear them laugh.

The tunnel was much reduced in hight by the end and clostrophobically hot, so we were glad to come back into the open.

Framing the doorway were finely carved sandstone pillars

with the usual gargoyle embellishment!

Being off the beaten temple track there was only one vender outside, but she managed a sale from me - a string of temple bells and a mini Buddha.  When I handed over the kyat she then proceeded to chant and tap the stall, I was her first sale of the day and therefore 'lucky money'.

Back at the bike yard the team had our final snack all ready for us.  The bikes were handed back, seats, peddles etc removed and goodbyes made.

Here's the team, from left to right, the two drivers of truck and bus, the mechanic CoLee, the driving assistant and Alex, team leader.

All that was left for us to do was shower, pack and catch our flight back to Yangon with Alex.