The Last Stop.

It had long since been decided that New York should be the last stop of our year-long adventure. For Nick we had to literally circumnavigate the globe in order to say we had been around the world. It wasn’t the easiest or indeed cheapest way back to the UK from New Zealand but the little matter of a 36 hour aeroplane journey wasn’t going to stop the Johnsons.

New York, New York. The Big Apple. So good they named it twice. Concrete jungle where dreams are made. New York’s reputation certainly precedes her and my expectations were huge. We got a taxi from the airport, yellow, naturally, and made our way towards Manhattan through the rush hour traffic. The oh so familiar skyline silhouetted against a fabulous sunset. I was buzzing with excitement. But after our epic flight and crossing the international date line our exploration of New York would have to wait.

The next morning we woke up in the city that never sleeps. We’ll have to take their word for it though as we all enjoyed a solid 12 hours kip. We consumed our first cliché of the day by breakfasting on bagels and coffee before heading out to see the sights. Our hotel was just off Fifth Avenue and our aim was to make the obligatory pilgrimage to the American Museum of Natural History to check out the dinosaurs. New York had other ideas.

Although this was my first time there, as the back drop to thousands of movies and TV series, New York was immediately familiar. I walked along her Avenues in awe, making frequent stops to ogle her architecture, with a pervasive sense of deja vu and a suitable soundtrack running through my head. New York is such a ubiquitous part of popular culture that I spent the duration of our stay feeling like I was in a movie.

We eventually made it to Central Park and sat on a bench eating a hot dog we’d bought from a vendor with a striped umbrella. I had to pinch myself with the surrealness of it. We soaked up the atmosphere, watched street performers and fell in love with the vibrant fall colours while the boys clamboured on the famed rocks. We were so waylaid that the afternoon had run away and our trip to the museum would have to wait. Much to George’s chagrin. That evening we ate pizza at a quaint little Italian restaurant in Greenwich village with checked table cloths and a brash waitress. And I pinched myself again.

The next day was Halloween and after a morning with the dinosaurs we went in search of some costumes. We were invited to Trick or Treat with a New York family we’d met in Japan and needed to get into the spirit of things. Macy’s. Bloomingdales. JC Penny. Nothing. We ended up with two very happy boys Star Wars-ed up to the nines thanks to the Disney Store. And a couple of zombie parents thanks to some fake blood and make-up at our friends’ house. The enthusiasm with which Brooklyn celebrated Halloween was infectious. Everyone in costume, decorated houses, a suitably spooky spectacle put on a stage outside someone’s house. Even the local dentist was giving out candy (well, thats one way to drum up business). Later we took the subway home along with a human Watermelon, a Goat-man and all of the Ghostbusters. That evening will remain one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Over the next couple of days we whistled through our Big Apple hit list. We took a walk over Brooklyn Bridge and rode the Subway back again. We thought about taking a helicopter ride to see the Statue of Liberty for about 30 seconds before the fear of the credit card bill got the better of us and we opted to take the (free) Statten Island Ferry instead. We walked through Battery Park and had a go on the Sea Glass Carousel. We stood in quiet contemplation at the 9/11 Memorial and tried to convey what it meant to the children. We rode in a horse-drawn carriage around Central Park. We saw a show on Broadway and Nick ate a mac n cheese burger that was bigger than his head. We strolled the high-line with a dear old friend who now calls New York home. We stood inside Grand Central Station and I was moved to tears.

On our last night in New York as I looked down on the dizzy heights of NYC from the Empire State Building I thought of everywhere we had been and all the things we had done. All the people we had met and all of the places we’d slept in the past year. 24 hours later we would be back in our house in Brighton but it felt good to know that as long as the four of us were together, anywhere in the world, we would always be home.

Advertisements

Two weeks in Thailand

As much as intrepid is the name of our blog, it has also become a bar by which we measure ourselves. A reminder to be brave and do things out of the ordinary. Despite this, I just couldn’t get my head round the idea of the 30+ hour journey it would take us to reach Laos from Vietnam. And so we flew to Thailand.

We had a couple of pleasant days in Bangkok before heading North for our elephant rendezvous. Our hotel was on a quiet soi (lane) not too far from Khao San road. After securing our train tickets at the station we joined the backpacker throng on the infamous street. The boys tucked into scorpion and declared it much tastier than in Beijing. We partook in a fish spa but resisted the urge to get a tattoo or buy elephant pants.

The following day we had a date with a lovely Thai man, Earth, who we had met trekking to Annapurna Base Camp back in November. We enjoyed his narrative as we sped around Bangkok’s canals on a long tail boat. Afterwards, he took as to a local eatery that has been in the same location for 40 odd years. We left the ordering up to Earth and sampled a range of authentic Thai dishes – delicious!

After our wonderful visit to Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary we headed to Sukhothai for a dose of ancient temples. We hired bikes and cycled round the historical park. This UNESCO world heritage site was built around 800 years ago and is similar in style to Angkor Wat. We had fun playing hide and seek amidst the ruins. That evening we enjoyed some tasty food near the market. Our food stall of choice shared their seating area with the local mechanic and we chowed down our noodle soup under the hydraulic lift.

We took a bus up to Chiang Mai. The five days we had there flew by and we could have easily spent longer. We had some wonderful food and met some wonderful people. The boys highlight was definitely our visit to the Siam Insect Zoo where we got up close and personal with all manner of bugs. George and I even held a scorpion! I decided to treat myself to some RnR and went for a Thai massage. Despite going for the ‘relaxing’ option, it was agony and I would hate to experience a ‘strong’ one! We really enjoyed walking around the old town and even dragged the children kicking and screaming persuaded the children to visit a temple or two.

We were thrilled with the sleeper train back to Bangkok. The bunks start the journey as seats and are converted about hour into journey, complete with sheets, blankets and comfy pillows. We were in lower bunks and they were pretty roomy, even sharing with a small wriggly child. It was best sleep on a night train we’ve ever had.

We split our last couple of days in Bangkok between doing something for the adults and something for the children. The grown ups chose a visit to see the massive golden Buddha at Wat Pho (My brain is still processing this as it would in Vietnam – what fer?). The boys were in a cooperative mood and we discussed the various merits of Wat Pho’s Buddha versus the giant one we’d seen at Leshan in China. We’d taken their sketch books and they were happy to sit by the pond drawing the fish.

For the children we went to KidZania the following day. A miniature city where the children get to dress up and role-play different jobs. They got to be firefighters, riding on a mini fire engine to put out a fire. They looked for a missing person whilst being police officers. They were vets, doctors, 7eleven cashiers and even took part in a stage production of the Little Mermaid. They earn kidzos for their endeavours and can spend them on other activities such as making a drink at the coca-cola bottling plant or having a good old boogie at the disco. There is also a department store where they are supposed to be able to by items with their hard earned kidzos but they all cost too much. A life lesson too far perhaps. The boys however had lots of fun. It is very clever marketing for the companies involved, an exercise in brand recognition and capitalist brain washing for the next generation of consumers.

This was not our first visit to Thailand and I’m pretty sure it will not be our last. The country is beautiful and the people friendly. It is easy to get around (apart from Bangkok where the traffic is awful) and the food, as you may have gathered, is amazing. We were happy and well fed for the long road to Cambodia.

Our six month travelversary

About this time last year we made a decision that led us to where we are today. There’s no way we could have predicted on that bright and breezy day in Brighton that a year hence we’d be in South Korea but here we are exactly six months since we landed in Delhi and what a ride we’ve had! 

  

We are often asked whether it is difficult to travel with young children. Usually the question is posed by young travellers who don’t have kids. My stock answer is that life with children is life with children. We have the same issues on the road that we’d have at home: disagreements over screen time (George), drama over getting dressed (Tomas), refusal to get a haircut (both) and I still often impale my foot on lego when I go to the loo at 3am.

  

We’ve mediated sibling squabbles at the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. Their clothes always need washing and they need to eat all the bloody time. But that’s life with children! Now they have six months travel under their belts the boys are seasoned travellers. They can sleep anywhere, greet the locals in their lingo and ‘Home’ is wherever we drop our backpacks. 

  

We have continued with our nightly ritual of sharing a highlight (or highlike as T calls them). As we approached the half way point  of our adventure we reflected on all we have done so far. Trying to nail down a highlight from each of us for the past six months was tricky but here they are:

  

Nick has really enjoyed having time together as a family and we both agree that trekking in the Himalayas was the high point of our journey so far. 

  

I have also loved making new friends, spending time with old ones and eating all the food!

  

For George it was the camel trek we did in Jaisalmer and eating scorpion in Beijing of course!

  

Tomas has enjoyed seeing rabbits in all the countries we’ve visited and the pony trek he did on his birthday in Nepal.

  

Together we have experienced more of the world (and each other) in six months than we’d have managed in 10 years of family holidays and for that we feel truly blessed. Here’s to the next six months there’s no knowing where they may lead!

  

 

 

Don’t worry be Hampi

As we approached Hampi we were greeted by an incredible landscape. Paddy fields and banana plantations interspersed with surreal giant boulders sitting on top of each other at improbable angles (I still have no idea how they came to be here and need to pick my Geologist Uncle’s brain).

2015/01/img_8863.jpg

We’d heard a lot of positive things about Hampi but spent the first day feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Hampi Bazar is the kind of traveller enclave that offers respite from the onslaught of Mother India. However after a month of easy living on the beaches of South Goa we were over the same same but different chill-out vibe.

We had breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of our guest house and loved seeing all the beautiful birds including parakeets and kingfishers as we looked out on the river.

We had a wander round the nearby sites on our first day, giving us time to recover from the sleeper bus journey. We visited the Virupaksha Temple. With its troop of resident monkeys and Lakshmi the temple elephant this was lots of fun for the children.

2015/01/img_8906.jpg

In the afternoon I had a spontaneous haircut looking out over the Tungabhadra river. It may not be the best style but it is definitely the best view I’ve ever had during a haircut.

2015/01/img_8910.jpg

The next morning George and I wandered down to the ghats to catch Lakshmi the elephant have her morning bath. We were told she would be there about 8.30 but in fact arrived nearer 10. It was worth the wait. She seemed to really enjoy her bath and George loved feeding her bananas and having a smooch (blessing). I really enjoyed the one to one time with my boy as we shared bananas and chai and watched the world go by.

2015/01/img_8941.jpg

We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the ruins in an Auto Rickshaw. This is when I fell in love with Hampi. Trying to imagine life in its hey day when it was a bustling commerce hub and home to 500,000 people. The boys had fun running around playing hide and seek and being explorers. George got a driving lesson from Sadiq our tuktuk driver.

2015/01/img_8953.jpg

The sites in Hampi are spread over 36 square kilometers so it is easy to explore in relative solitude, unusual for India where tourist attractions are often overwhelming with the number of people. The grand elephant stables were a highlight for the boys. We stumbled on an art class at the Vittala Temple, it was really lovely to see all of their watercolour paintings of the impressive stone chariot.

2015/01/img_8996.jpg

We had fun over the river in Anegundi. It shares the remarkable landscape and ruins of Hampi but remains a sleepy village. The boat across the river squeezes on motorbikes with the passengers and one wonders how it can possibly stay afloat.

We had a fab thali and the boys played with the cafe owner’s daughter. After lunch we explored the ruins of army barracks and elephant stables. I enjoyed seeing the contrast between these stables and the ornate ones across the river that housed the royal elephants and the boys enjoyed chasing lizards.

2015/01/img_9009.jpg

It was great fun to be the only people around, scrambling over boulders, humming the Indiana Jones theme tune as we went. A couple of local boys tried to sell us baby birds but we declined, it wouldn’t be a very jolly life for them in our backpack!

The streets of Hampi Bazar are car free. There are rickshaws and the odd motorbike but the kids could play and make friends without us worrying they were going to get run over.

I’m happy to say that after a couple of days exploring the ruins we really enjoyed our time in Hampi. And would definitely recommend it as a great place to go with children.

2015/01/img_8982.jpg

Christmas Quiz

We have a family tradition (that started 7 years ago when Nick and I had our first Christmas together) – a Christmas quiz that we send to family all over the world. The idea being that whoever is with them for Christmas will join in round the table and then we get to speak with family members as they phone in the results.

Please find the quiz below – should you wish to join in. Answers below – no cheating! Let us know how you got on!

We wish you a wonderful day!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/511/70476264/files/2014/12/img_8618-0.jpg

By the way the winner sets the questions the following year so these are curtesy of my step dad Jim!

1) the Bing Crosby song White Christmas originally came from which 1942 film?

2) which year was the first Band Aid ‘do they know it’s Christmas’ song made?

3) who is Aladdin’s mum ? (Oh no it isn’t !)

4) the season before Easter is known as Lent….but what is the season before Christmas known as?

5) Boxing Day is also known as which Saints feast day? Is it
St Mark…St Nicholas or St Stephen?

6) who composed the music for the Nutcracker?

7) Christmas Island is the territory of which country?

8) What colour underwear do Mexicans wear on New Years Eve to bring good luck for the coming year?

9) What are traditionally the names of the Three Kings/Wise Men/Magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus ? ….a point for each name and a bonus point if you know the ‘fourth kings name’ in literature.

10) in which country (the world’s seventh largest) is Christmas known as Bada Din or ‘Big Day’?

11) what year was the film ‘Zulu’ released?

12) Father Christmas’ home in the North Pole is in which Ocean?

13) St Nicholas’ birthplace is in which country?
Turkey, Germany or Russia

14) Nadolig Llawen is Merry Christmas in which Western European language?

15) which year was the first King’s Speech broadcast by radio?

16) In the 1946 film ‘It’s a wonderful life’ what is the name of George Bailey’s guardian angel?

17) What was the occupation of the inventor of the Christmas Cracker?
Butcher, Baker or Lawyer?

18) Viscum Album is the technical name for…. Mistletoe , Holly or Poinsettia ?

19) In the carol ‘ the twelve days of Christmas’ how many pipers were piping?
Bonus point to anyone who can sing the whole carol without looking up the words (performance must be videod )

20) The famous song ‘O Christmas Tree’ was originally sung in which language? (Bonus point for knowing which socialist song is set to the same tune).

Scroll down for answers…

……..

Answers…

1. Holiday Inn

2. 1984

3. Widow Twankey (oh yes it is!)

4. Advent

5. St Stephen

6. Tchaikovsky

7. Australia

8. Red

9. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar (One Point for each) And a bonus point for ‘Artaban’ the fourth king in Henry van Dyke’s book in 1895.

10. India……bonus point for actually being in India!

11. 1964……they had a ‘premiere’ showing earlier this year to mark the fiftieth anniversary.

12. The Arctic Ocean

13. Turkey

14. Danish …………Naaaaa Only joking..It’s Welsh…

15. 1932

16. Clarence

17. Baker

18. Mistletoe

19. Eleven

20. German (O Tannenbaum)…….and ‘the Red Flag’ is the socialist song for a last bonus.