Sunday, 10 June 2018

KIEV. PART 1

2nd June 2018


Rodina Mat, or Defence of the Motherland Monument, or The Iron Lady.  Overlooking Kiev.
I had only two days to look around Kiev (Kyiv). The first being a guided tour by our excellent guide Vladimir and the second just a solo wander. So a fairly cursory glimpse. 
It is, in all respects, a lovely city with a very picturesque Old Town area. It suffered enormous damage during WW2 inflicted by both the Germans on their invasion in 1941 and by the Soviets when they re-took the city, with many ancient and beautiful churches and public buildings being destroyed. Amazingly most of the destroyed old buildings, especially the churches and cathedrals, have been painstakingly and accurately rebuilt to their original specifications. Must have cost a lot of money. As you may appreciate, the present day western Ukrainians are not particularly fond of the Russians and are comparatively westernised in their outlook.

Writing here is in Cyrillic alphabet, so Anglisised spelling is a phonetic equivalent.....as per Kyiv/Kiev. The enormous main river which divides the city is pronounced and spelt from Cyrillic as the 'Dnipro', but we know it as the Dnieper. I will, for simplicity's sake, stick to the Anglicised versions of spelling.

One of the most striking features, albeit of no historic relevance, is the appearance of the young ladies about town. The proportion of Pretty Slim Stylishly-Dressed Girls (PSG) to Ugly Fat Kangarillapigs (UFK) is about 50 PSG : 1 UFK. Nearly all girls/ladies ander the age of 35 are seriously attractive. In several towns and cities in UK (ie Newbury, Swindon, Reading with which I am currently familiar) the proportion is almost the reverse 1 PSG : 50 UFK. I can't be sure of the reason for this. Maybe genetics, or just the fact that they take infinitely more care about their diet and their looks. Just thought I would mention it.

Right: The Rus Hotel, our base in Kiev. It looks rather 'Soviet Grim', but was in fact comfortable, the lifts worked and it had a good bar and terrace restaurant with very pleasant and efficient staff. OK, the lights in my bathroom fused when I switched them on, there was no plug in the handbasin and the bedroom curtains collapsed when pulled together, but apart from that, no problem.





Our gang of 8 set off from the Rus hotel in a mini-bus for a conducted tour by Vladimir at 8.00am. We passed the entrance to Kiev University (left).










......and (right) on to the 'Golden Gates' (Zoloti Vorota) which was the original main entrance to the old city. Not golden at all but got the name from the 'gold' visitors had to pay to get in. You can go in and go up but we didn't get the chance. The statue outside is of Yaroslav the Wise, the former ruler, but is christened 'The Monument to the Kiev Cake' which you will understand when looking at it. What a poseur! I can't work out what he is trying to pose as.
Nearby is the Opera House which is internationally renowned and stages some spectacular performances (I am told). 

Sophia Square features one of many elaborately decorated and domed cathedrals, St Sophia's (left).








....and at the top of the square (right) was a stage on which a group of children were putting on a musical performance. Very jolly singing. This sort of thing just doesn't happen in British cities.












On north up from the square you pass this set of statues (left). The one on the left is of St Andrew. St Andrew who, legend has it, was St Peter's brother and features widely in the Greek Orthodox religion and is something to do with Constantinople. I really didn't work out his significance in Ukraine, but there is a story, of course, and a cathedral is named after him. He is also the Patron Saint of Scotland. I'm afraid I am left permanently baffled by all these religious connections and as far as I can see it is pure gobbledegook.




At the top, approaching St Michael's Monastery, you pass this monument (right). It is dedicated to the millions who starved during the 1932/33 period when the Soviets, under Mr Joe Stalin, introduced 'collective' farming in Ukraine which was, and is, renowned for it's wheat production. There was going to be an uprising by Ukrainian farmers, but the Soviets brutally purged any objectors and lots (millions) died either from military action or starvation. This suited the Soviet regime admirably. Cossacks, who inhabited Ukraine, came in for particular attention (they originally supported the 'White' Russian side). The Stalin Soviet regime was, by any standards, viciously, murderously, inhumane.







Next to this is a plaque dedicated to the 100+ people who died at the hands of 'government' snipers in and around the main Maydan Nezalezhnosti (Maydan) Square during the public uprising in 2014. You can read the story for yourselves, but it accounts for present day western Ukrainian dislike of Russians and the spark for the civil war in the east.






On to St Michael's Monastery at the top of the hill (right). This spectacular edifice was originally built in 1108, but destroyed by the Soviets in 1937. It was painstakingly rebuilt and completed in 2001. Apparently St Michael is Kiev's Patron Saint but please forgive me for taking no further interest in Saints, Patron or otherwise.  







Left: The pleasantly decorated doorway in.














Right. Inside, as with all these Orthodox cathedrals/churches, the decoration is incredibly elaborate. Women have to wear head-coverings, supplied if they don't have any, lots of candle lighting rigmarole plus praying and kissing of icons and no photography allowed. Well bollocks to that.



Left: The nearby (St Michael's is just to the right) Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A gloriously (Soviet) construction.












Also nearby is the British Embassy (right). A particularly unimpressive building. It may be more impressive inside, hopefully. To advertise its presence was a droopy little Union flag and a Range Rover parked outside. What have we become?!










Near which is the funicular railway (left) which takes you north down the hill through the old Podil district. A district full of cobbledy streets, street vendors and artists' roadside displays.














....an example of which (right). Lovely area.















......including this amusing bronze (left) which depicts the strange story of a complete peasant charlatan who dressed himself up in 'posh' clothes to seduce an aristocratic lady. It worked. For a time. Anyway he gained fame and notoriety. All these bronzes, as in many other countries, have shiny bits where passers-by have rubbed them for good luck. I have one somewhere of a well endowed young man with his nether regions almost shinily rubbed through. Can't find it right now.

The lady in this pic was not one of our party....more's the pity.










Right: St Andrew's Church at the top of the Podil district. Another example of a spectacularly ornate 'five domed' Kiev church. It was built in 1754 by the same Italian architect who also designed the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. Well, you can't say I am totally uninformed (courtesy of our guide, Vladimir).









We went on to the Chernobyl Museum (left) at the northern lower end of Podil. This is housed in an ex-fire station. More about that, and Chernobyl in particular, later.











Right: Then to lunch in a very pleasant restaurant called 'Pervak'. Guide Vladimir at the front. There are lots of good restaurants and bars in Kiev, as well as many 'Gentleman's Clubs'. I meant to check if any of these were affiliated to  the Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly, London.








Pervak had a most original bar. Bar stools with horses' bums as seats. Nothing if not imaginative.













Onwards to the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, a monastery. This covers a large area to the east of the city featuring several churches, a bell tower, a cathedral, monk's quarters and, most intriguingly, underground catacombs filled with open coffins containing dead monks.

Right: The only original part, dating from the early 12th century but reconstructed in the 18th, is the Trinity Gate Church at the main entrance. Inside it is filled with religious icons, frescoes, a lavish gilded altar and paintings which our 'specialist' guide tried to explain. He was an expert who knew what he was talking about, but it all got too complicated for me and I left more baffled than when I arrived.






Amongst many ostentatious bell towers and other churches was the 7 gold domed Dormitron Cathedral (left). The original had been blown up by either the Soviet partisans or the Nazis in WW2 (some doubt as to who was responsible), but reconstruction was completed in 2000.








Under  the central dome is the place where the monks congregated, and maybe still do, to do their chanting (no band). At the opposite end is a long banqueting hall which containes, as in many other areas of serious Orthodox worship, a large gift/souvenir shop. 








Left: A view south down the river Dnieper.

All this was at the Upper Lavra.

Down below at the Lower Lavra are the catacombs. On entry you are encouraged to buy a candle (they came in different sizes). I couldn't resist it and, wishing to be generous, demanded 'four candles'. The joke was rather lost on the lady selling them ('fork handles' for those not familiar with the Ronnie Barker sketch). I bought the largest ones and gave the other three to members of our group. Down steep steps into these catacombs, in alcoves, are the bodies of 123 ex-monks contained in open topped coffins. They are covered by embroidered cloth with the odd shrivelled finger or toe poking out. It was dark down there (hence the need fork handles) and jam-packed in shuffling single file with slow moving tourists, some fighting through from the opposite direction. The passageways are very narrow with uneven floors and it was stinking hot and quite claustrophobic. The women all had to wear (borrowed) and quite voluminous veil-like head coverings. Pressed nose to tail, holding one's candle (mine was a particularly big one.....the deluxe version, which painfully dribbled molten wax down my hand) it was a miracle that noone caught fire. One trip on a flagstone and the lady in front would have gone up in flames. I didn't notice any fire extinguishers. No photography was allowed down there and, in any event, it would have been difficult due to having to hold one's candle in very poor lighting conditions. 

A further note on the Rodina Mat (Nation's Mother, or Defence of the Motherland Monument, or The Iron Lady). It is 62 metres high standing on a 40 metre podium on top of the national War Museum. It is made of shiny welded steel sections and was inaugurated by Leonid Brezhnev in 1981 (there's another in Volgograd). It became a feature of ridicule when the communist authorities reduced the length of the sword so that it didn't rise above the cupolas on the upper Lavra. The sword and shield alone weigh in at 12 tonnes.
It is possible to take a lift and further steps up to the top of the shield. I wanted to do this, it would have been a great viewing point, but got there too late. The lift had closed for the day. Bugger.

Much more to come from this fascinating country/city. Hope I'm not boring you.







Thursday, 31 May 2018

BY PLANE TO UKRAINE

1st June 2018


Short of anywhere else to go at the moment, bored and thoroughly pissed off by our pathetic government's feeble efforts to get us out of the ghastly EU plus the equally ghastly weather, I thought I would pop over to The Ukraine for a quick visit. Is it 'Ukraine' or 'The Ukraine'. Why 'The'? I believe the word 'Ukraine' means 'Borderland', or somesuch, presumably in Ukrainian which they speak, apparently, alongside Rooshan. Maybe its like 'The United Kingdom', but not 'The Great Britain' or 'The France' but similar to 'The Gambia' and 'The USA'. I will make the effort to find out.

Arrived at Boryspil (Kyiv...that's how it's spelt here) International 6.00pm local time (2 hours ahead of UK) via the scrum at Gatport Airwick courtesy of Ukraine Airlines; 3½ flight.
Word of advice here; make sure you print out your boarding pass from the UA website before checking in...otherwise Ukraine Airlines charge £9 for the privilege of doing it for you.

Met by our guide, Vladimir, who seems a personable young man and a further 5 people on the 'tour'.  Two more to join later. More about them later, I expect. I am not usually one for guided tours, but on this occasion it was necessary as a planned visit to that great holiday resort of Chernobyl requires it. Mini-bus for the 32km ride into Kyiv proper and to our hotel, the Rus, just south of the old town. Not a bad place at all and had a rather good supper. A 'guided tour' of the city tomorrow........stand-by for more.........

Just found out an explanation for the terms 'The Ukraine' and just 'Ukraine'. It seems to make sense.

"The Ukraine" was once the usual form in English,[26] but since the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, "the Ukraine" has become much less common in the English-speaking world, and style-guides largely recommend not using the definite article.[15][27] "The Ukraine" now implies disregard for the country's sovereignty, according to U.S. ambassador William Taylor.[28] The Ukrainian position is that the usage of "'The Ukraine' is incorrect both grammatically and politically."[

So it's 'Ukraine' from now on.

For future reference, the currency in Ukraine is the Hryvnia (UAH). 32.5 to the £ as things stand.






So it's ]

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

SILLY SIGNS

24th April 2018


Having made comment in a previous post on 'annoying unnecessary announcements' (August 2015), I am now finding some very 'silly unnecessary signs'.

Left: Take this one for starters, on an escalator at Heathrow Airport.

Apart from telling you to take 'extra' care with luggage and children, it insists you must carry a dog. Why should you have to carry a dog to use the escalator? What happens if you don't own a dog or don't have one conveniently to hand? Do they provide one? Anyway, when you are carrying the mandatory dog, especially if it is a socking great big one, i.e. a Great Dane, it would be almost impossible to comply with the instruction to 'hold the handrail' as well which, as far as I can see, is at the edge from which you must 'keep clear'. Who thinks these things up?

I expect to find a few more of these moronic public notices. I will keep you posted.

Wandering around Parliament Square (London) I came across this recently erected statue (left). The only one of a woman in the Square. It is of Millicent Fawcett who was a 'Suffragist' at the end of the 19th century. Not to be confused with the 'Suffragettes' in the early 20th century. Suffragists were peaceful. Suffragettes were violent.

I think she is meant to be a bit of a feminist icon. If so I can't think why she is waving a dishcloth advertising beer. They might just as well have had her behind an ironing board.









Perhaps they will change the slogan regularly. An interesting prospect and asking for trouble in my opinion.

















Thursday, 15 February 2018

UPDATE OF INDEX


15th Feb 2018



I am now happily back home, yet again, amidst the fog, rain, ice, wind and general gloom which so characterises our delightful country at this time of year. Whoopee!

The reason I write this stuff is primarily for my own amusement and record. When eventually I sit, immobile, dribbling, and incontinent in the Sunnylands Home for the Elderly and Confused I will hopefully be able to re-read these posts and remember where I have been and what I did. Of course my memory will have gone by then so every time nurse opens up the computer for me each page will always spring out as a complete surprise. It might also give a potential visitor to the places I have visited a sort of light-hearted 'heads up' of what to expect. 

To remind my reader of how to locate a particular location: Click on to 'arrow' next to the relevant year at the blog archive list top right of page. This opens up the months with titles. Then click on to relevant month arrow and that will open up the blogs in that month.
Incidently, if using a 'smartphone', scroll down to the bottom of the first page where you  should opt to 'view web version'. This allows you to select the 'arrows' as above. 

List of Posts

2011

Jan
1.      The Beginning
2.      At Sea - Now Antwerp - Belgium
3.      Stranded in Le Havre - France
Feb
4.      Crossing The Pond
5.      Noo Yawk, Noo Yawk - USA
6.      Virginia - USA
7.      Washington DC - USA
8.      Columbia - South Carolina - USA
9.      Charleston - South Carolina - USA
Mar
10.    Miami - Florida - USA
11.    Fort Lauderdale - Florida - USA
12.    Savannah - Georgia - USA
13.    Boston - Massachusetts - USA
14.    Boston - Post Script - USA
15.    Niagara Falls - Ontario - Canada
16.    Toronto - Ontario - Canada
17.    Winnipeg - Manitoba - Canada
18.    The Canadian - Toronto to Vancouver - Canada
Apr
19.    Vancouver Island - British Columbia - Canada
20.    Seattle - Washington - USA
21.    Amtrak. Seattle to San Francisco - USA
22.    San Francisco - California (Part 1) - USA
23.    San Francisco - California (Part 2) - USA
24.    San Diego - California - USA
25.    Tijuana to La Paz - Mexico
26.    La Paz - Mexico
27.    Mazatlan - Mexico
May
28.    Guadalajara - Mexico
29.    Mexico City
30.    San Christobal de Las Casas - Mexico
31.    Antigua - Guatemala
32.    San Salvador - El Salvador
33.    Managua and Granada - Nicaragua
Jun
34.    San José - Costa Rica
35.    Panama City
36.    Flight to Lima - Peru
37.    Lima - Peru
38.    Nazca - Peru
39.    Cusco - Peru
40.    Machu Picchu - Peru
41.    Andean Explorer - Peru
42.    Puno (Lake Titicaca) - Peru
43.    Arequipa - Peru
Jul
44.    Panama to Auckland - New Zealand
45.    Bay of Islands - New Zealand
46.    Lake Taupo - New Zealand
47.    Cape Reinga - New Zealand
48.    Russel Birdman Festival - New Zealand
Aug
49.    Rotorua - New Zealand
50.    Napier - New Zealand
51.    Wellington - New Zealand
52.    Blenheim - New Zealand
53.    Nelson - New Zealand
54.    West Coast, South Island - New Zealand
55.    Queenstown - New Zealand
56.    Lake Tekapo - New Zealand
57.    Christchurch - New Zealand
58.    Kaikoura - New Zealand
59.    Auckland - New Zealand
60.    Across the Tasman Sea
Sep
61.    Sydney (Part 1) - Australia 
62.    Sydney (Part 2) - Australia 
63.    Melbourne (Part 1) - Australia 
64.    Melbourne (Part 2) - Australia 
65.    Tasmania - Australia
Oct
66.    Adelaide - Australia
67.    The Ghan - Adelaide to Darwin - Australia
68.    Darwin - Australia
69.    The Red Centre - Australia
70.    Back to Adelaide - Australia
71.    Onwards to Brisbane - Australia
72.    Brisbane to Singapore (Part 1)
73.    Taxis
Nov
74.    Brisbane to Singapore (Part 2)
75.    Brisbane to Singapore (Part 3)
76.    Singapore (Part 1)
77.    Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia
78.    Up Country - Malaysia
79.    Singapore (Part 2)
80.    Mozart. Malaysia to Sri Lanka
81.    Colombo - Sri Lanka
82.    Coffee
Dec
83.    Kandy - Sri Lanka
84.    Nuwara Eliya - Sri Lanka
85.    Back to Colombo - Sri Lanka
86.    Galle - Sri Lanka
87.    The Ancient Cities - Sri Lanka
88.    Trincomalee - Sri Lanka
89.    Negombo - Sri Lanka
90.    Tiruchirappalli - India
91.    Kerala - India

2012

Jan
92.    Goa - India
93.    Bombay - India
94.    Delhi - India
95.    Palace On Wheels. Rajasthan (Part 1) - India
96.    Palace On Wheels. Rajasthan (Part 2) - India
97.    Palace On Wheels. Rajasthan (Part 3) - India
98.    Palace On Wheels. Rajasthan (Part 4) - India
99.    Palace On Wheels. Rajasthan (Part 5) - India
100.  Calcutta - India
Feb
101.  Rangoon - Burma
102.  The Train To Bagan - Burma
103.  Bagan - Burma
104.  Mandalay (Part 1) - Burma
105.  Mandalay (Part 2) - Burma
106.  Inle Lake - Burma
107.  Ngapali Beach - Burma
108.  Bangkok - Thailand
109.  Siem Reap - Cambodia
Mar
110.  Phnom Penh - Cambodia
111.  Saigon - Vietnam
112.  Hanoi - Vietnam
Apr
113.  Sa Pa - Vietnam
114.  Ha Long Bay - Vietnam
115.  Beijing (Part 1) - China
116.  Hong Kong
117.  Beijing (Part 2) - China
May
118.  Mongolia
119.  Siberia - Russia
120.  Trans-Siberian to Moscow
121.  Moscow (Part 1) - Russia
122.  Moscow (Part 2) - Russia
123.  St Petersburg - Russia
124.  Helsinki - Finland
125.  Rovaniemi - Finland
126.  Up To Kirkenes - Norway
127.  Hurtigruten (Part 1) - Norway
128.  Hurtigruten (Part 2) - Norway
129.  Hurtigruten (Part 3) - Norway
130.  Hurtigruten (Part 4) - Norway
Jun
131.  Bergen to Oslo - Norway
132.  Oslo - Norway
133.  Copenhagen - Denmark
134.  Hamburg - Germany
135.  Hook of Holland - and Home
Jul
136.  The End
Aug
137.  Post Script - London
138.  Stand-by For More...

2013

Sep
139.  To The Democratic Peoples Republic Of Korea (North Korea)
140.  Pyongyang 1 - North Korea
141.  Pyongyang 2 - North Korea
Oct
142.  Kaesong and Panmunjom - North Korea
143.  Back to Pyongyang - North Korea
144.  Pyongyang 3 - North Korea
145.  Samjiyon and Mount Paekdu - North Korea
146.  Daehongdan County - North Korea
147.  Chongjin - North Korea
148.  Hamhung - North Korea
149.  Wonsan and Mount Kumgang - North Korea
150.  Mount Kumgang 2 - North Korea
151.  Mount Kumgang 3 - North Korea
152.  Wonsan Again - North Korea
153.  Back To Pyongyang and On To Nampo - North Korea
Nov
154.  Nampo and Back To Pyongyang - North Korea
155.  Train To Beijing - North Korea
156.  The Finale
157.  Impressions of North Korea
158.  Vids From North Korea
Dec
159.  Zambia
160.  Battledore Farm - Zambia
161.  Cool Bananas - Zambia
162.  Banana Hazards - Zambia
163.  Back On The Farm - Zambia
164.  Continued Jollities - Zambia

2014

Jan
165.  Christmas In Darkest Africa - Zambia
166.  Lusaka 1  - Zambia
167.  Lusaka 2  - Zambia
168.  Livingston (I Presume) - Zambia
169.  On Safari - Botswana
170.  Ndola N'Home - Zambia
Feb
171.  Onwards To Sarf America
Mar
172.  Buenos Aires and The Wedding - Argentina
173.  Around Buenos Aires - Argentina
174.  Jujuy Province - Argentina
175.  Salta - Argentina
176.  Cordoba - Argentina
177.  Mendoza - Argentina
178.  Santiago (Part 1) - Chile
179.  Olmue and Valparaiso - Chile
180.  Santiago (Part 2) - Chile
Apr
181.  To Osorno and Bariloche - Argentina
182.  Bariloche - Argentina
183.  Ruta National 40 - Argentina
184.  El Calafate - Argentina
185.  Tierra Del Fuego (Part 1) - Argentina
186.  Tierra Del Fuego (Part 2) - Argentina
187.  Iguazu - Argentina
188.  Buenos Aires - Finale - Argentina

2015

Jan
189.  The Saga Of My Nearly Lost Hat - UK
Jul
190.  We Wish To Apologise... - UK
Aug
191.  Those Blasted Announcements... - UK
Sep
192.  Tuscany By Train - France
193.  Mulhouse to Montecatini - Italy
194.  Florence - Italy
195.  Around Montecatini - Italy
196.  Lucca and Pisa - Italy
197.  Venice 1 - Italy
Oct
198.  Venice 2 - Italy
199.  Venice 3 - Italy
200.  Turin - Italy
Dec
201.  'Nam Revisited - Vietnam
202.  Saigon Again - Vietnam

2016

Jan
203.  Merry Keesmah - Vietnam
204.  Up The Mekong - Vietnam
205.  Happy Noo Yeer - Vietnam
Mar
206.  Snowdrops - UK
207.  Turkey - An Inspiration
208.  Istanbul Or Bust
209.  Budapest - Briefly - Hungary
210.  Brasov - Transylvania - Romania
Apr
211.  Bucharest - Romania
212.  Onwards To Istanbul - Bulgaria
213.  This Was Constantinople - Turkey
214.  Up The Bosphorous - Turkey
215.  The Turkish Bath - Turkey
Sep
216.  Up The Kennet - UK
Oct
217.  Down The Baltics
218.  Tallinn 1 - Estonia
219.  Tallinn 2 - Estonia
220.  Tallinn 3 - Estonia
221.  On To Riga - Latvia
222.  Around Riga - Latvia
223.  Riga Finale - Stuck Up A Steeple - Latvia
224.  Vilnius...And The Dark Side - Lithuania
225.  Vilnius...The Bright Side - Lithuania
Nov
226.  A Damp Day In Warsaw - Poland
227.  Berlin And Bed Bugs In Brussels - Belgium
228.  Cultural Day In Lille - France
Dec
229.  Bah Humbug And Chrexit - Vietnam
230.  Laid-Back Laos - Vientiane - Laos
231.  Va Va Vang Vieng - Laos
232.  Vang Vieng Voom Voom - Laos

2017

Jan
233.  Luang Prabang - Laos
234.  Luang Prabang And Elephants - Laos
Oct
235.  Ariba Ariba and Off to Cuba
Nov
236.  Havana Wander - Cuba
237.  Havana Further Wander - Cuba
238.  On West to Viñales - Cuba
239.  Cienfuegos - Cuba
240.  Ye Olde Town of Trinidad - Cuba
241.  Santa Clara. Viva La Revolución - Cuba
242.  Varadero. - Cuba
243.  Guanabo. Playa del Ested - Cuba
Dec
244.  Back to Havana - Cuba
245.  Havana Finale - Cuba
246.  Chrexit 2017 - Thailand
247.  Phuket and Beaches - Thailand
248.  Phuket Town - Thailand
249.  Saigon Again - Vietnam

2018

Jan
250.  Wats in Chiang Mai - Thailand
251.  A Day Out in Chiang Mai - Thailand
252.  More Chiang Mai - Thailand
Feb
253.  Chiang Mai - Bangkok - and Home
254.  Update of Index   

Sunday, 4 February 2018

CHIANG MAI- BANGKOK- AND HOME

11th - 16th Jan 2018

Trip up the Ping.
I took a short boat trip up the river Ping which runs through the centre of the city. There were only  three of us on the smallish 'long-tailed' boat, myself, a rather charming Chinese student and the boat driver. The Chinese guy was an IT student living in Seoul and spoke good English. We only went for an hour upstream to a riverside farm which grew all sorts of weird herbs and vegetables and we were given a conducted tour.

This 'farm' had an extensive restaurant and bar, and I believe tourists stayed here. The restaurant (left) had tables made from small canoes and could cater for large parties.











The menu looked quite interesting; especially item #93, the 'deep fried chicken knobbly knees'. 
I had eaten earlier and so resisted the temptation. There were indeed several chickens knocking about the place but they didn't appear to have knobbly knees....which is presumably why they were not on the menu.








Left: There was an interesting gents loo. The urinals and sinks are made out of carved tree trunks. Quite original, but I can't think very hygienic. 










Right: Another boat tethered alongside was kitted out for a cruise with dining. 
We were told that the river contained many large black and yellow coloured water snakes (in fact I saw one on the river Taing when we were on those rafts), but they are not venomous, apparently, and eat fish or perhaps slow witted knobbly kneed  chickens. 




On the way back, about 15 mins out from the farm, we had a total engine failure. After a bit of tinkering the driver gave up and dropped anchor. Fortunately he had a mobile phone and summoned rescue. We were passed by another boat (left) whose passengers gave us a cheerful, if unsympathetic, wave.

A rescue boat duly arrived and towed us back to the farm where we tetherd the broken one and then set off back to the city. My Chinese companion was getting a bit worried as he had a flight to catch back to Seoul in a couple of hours.

There are long stretches of tiered seating along the banks in the city, as there were on the river Wang in Lam Phang. I asked why and was told it was for spectators when they had frequent (rowing) boat races. And by the way, nobody here believes in  wearing life-jackets.

OK, not a particularly exciting voyage, but a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and thankfully the river Ping didn't pong after all.

After several blogs I can't think of anything else of general interest to record from Chiang Mai; a pleasant enough place as it is. Apropos of nothing, I asked myself 'why do the majority of younger western tourists here (as in Phuket and maybe other warm locations), who mostly wear those knee length 'cargo pants', have tattoos down their lower legs?' Am I missing out on something? Talking of which, I saw a young man in a bar here (of unknown language/nationality) with 'VOLE' and 'HATE'  tattooed on left and right knuckles respectively. There can be few more irritating experiences in life than being inscribed by a dyslexic tattoo artist. 
Finally, the poor old dog which went missing from the Guesthouse on New Years Eve never showed up again.

I returned to Bangkok by sleeper train; a 13 hour overnight journey. It was quite comfortable with a fold down bed made up for you by a steward with, unusually for this part of the world, a surprisingly soft mattress. I slept very well. Although there were two bunks I fortunately had the cabin to myself. Fortunate, that is, for any possible 'sharer' who would have got no sleep at all due to my 'alleged' mega-decibel snoring which has been likened to a maddened starving pig at feeding time.  The restaurant car was no great shakes and, as with all rail/bus services, did not serve alcohol. Also as with the rail/bus services that I have used here, it was all relatively cheap and on time.

I had three, or was it four, days (a bit hazy here) to spend in Bangkok and was mostly, and generously, entertained by a French ex-colleague and his family who live there. His wife had to go with their children to a house they own on the south-east coast which allowed her husband 'off the leash' for a couple of days. So I have nothing much to report, or willing to report, on a fairly debauched few 'soirées'.

One place I did visit, only because the description in my Lonely Planet tickled my curiosity, was the Siriraj Hospital Museum. This is situated amongst a vast hospital complex (some of the best hospitals in the world are in Bangkok) on the western side of the river Chao Phraya. I walked there from Silom and it took me nearly 2 hours including a ferry trip across the river. I had underestimated the distance, but it took me past the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew which I would have visited had it not been for the scrum of tourists and packs of ghastly unofficial 'guides' hassling you for a 'special tour' and undoubtedly trying to rip you off.

The Siriraj Hospital Museum boasts several 'departments' dedicated to anatomy, pathology, forensic science and entomology. It is, for the most part, fairly gruesome. Lots of dead bodies and, preserved in formaldehyde, babies and children with extraordinary birth defects. The forensic science part was particularly entertaining with graphic photos and stories of a variety of horrendous deaths, including murder victims, occasionally mummified and displayed in glass cases, murder weapons and the like. One particular exhibit of curious interest was the murder of a victim by a dildo!
The entomology display was no less worrying. I hadn't realised that there are so many horrendous and disfiguring diseases caused by tropical worms and insects. I won't bore you with painful descriptions of the exhibits but, suffice to say, I will now be jolly careful where I go for a swim.
Photography was strictly forbidden, for good reason perhaps, so I only managed to get a quick snap in the anatomy section.

Although Bangkok has a serious traffic congestion problem, one of the city's impressive features is its intra-city rail transport system. It is fairly new, and therefore state of the art, and consists of a skytrain (BTS) and an underground (MRT) which are still in the process of expanding. It puts our London Underground to shame (what doesn't). It is cheap, quiet, no unnecessary announcements, reliable and generally very passenger friendly. If you are a 'Senior Rabbit', ie half-price, (see right) a single ride to most places will not cost you more than 40p, often less.


On one MRT (Underground) trip the inside of the carriages were strewn, full length on every hang-strap, with an advert to go and see Liam Gallagher perform at some stadium in the city. The cost of the lowest 'standard' ticket was £100 (equivalent). I hadn't realised that Bangkok was so desperately short of musical entertainment. I can think of numerous things I would rather do with £100, indeed I would probably pay something not to have to listen to Mr Gallagher.





Right: A final excerpt from a menu in my hotel. Somewhat politically incorrect perhaps.













Well, that's it for now. Flight back to UK via Bahrain with GulfAir was uneventful and comfortable enough with most obliging cabin crew (much better than the flight to Havana with Iberia). Of course, it was so nice to be welcomed back to London Heathrow in the cold and damp and not a recognisably British person in attendance. I much enjoyed my 'Chrexit'. Where next? I'm thinking.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

MORE CHIANG MAI

8th - 11th Jan 2018
Thai kick-boxing
I met up with friends who live in Chiang Mai. Their whole extended family (19 of) were visiting for Christmas and New Year. Interesting bunch; one of the wives runs a successful jam and chutney enterprise based in Chiang Mai ( I plug; littlespoonthailand.com), and her husband runs a series of fitness centres (gyms to you and me). Another wife is a professional singer/pianist and her husband is an artist (see okdavid.com). There are a lot of ex-pats, mostly British or American, who have emigrated to this part of the world which I hadn't realised beforehand. I was told it is cheaper and there are more opportunities to set up businesses and, of course, the weather is pleasant.

Anyway, one evening we, the boys, decided to go to a Thai kick-boxing event. This had added interest because a lady called Val, from Wick in Scotland, who was living with one of the couples, was competing. She was a cartographer in her previous life but had given up on the rat-race in UK and was now in full time training as a Thai boxer. She is quite powerfully built.
Left: Val in action (red gloves). Poor pics because the lighting wasn't great and they just wouldn't stand still!
PS. The pic at the top is not mine you won't be surprised to learn.

Val won in a closely fought 5 three-minute round bout. She sustained a couple of black eyes and looked absolutely knackered afterwards. We met for lunch the next day and she was quite interesting about this Thai boxing system. As she explained, at one level it is seriously professional. At 'tourist shows' like this it is somewhat contrived. The boxers tend to be impoverished students who get paid £50 per bout, win or lose, so there is not a great incentive to win. In fact, she told me, that it is often better for a boxer to 'take a dive' in the first two rounds because it involves less effort by both parties, they get paid the same, they will be fit enough to fight again sooner and it amuses the crowd. Makes sense! In fact the first two bouts here were over within two rounds and the stricken boxers lay for dead before standing up and staggering around a bit for maximum effect. In a later lightweight girls match neither boxer ever appeared to lay a glove, or foot, on their opponent. They just walzed around and held onto each other. Val said that they were being very careful not to inflict any damage to their good looks. Val did not have this cop-out option because she had the home team cheering her on. She definitely fought to win and her opponent (a rather masculine looking lady) was forced to defend herself vigorously. They also had a 'special' bout involving four (rather overweight) fighters who were blindfolded. They rarely managed to hit anything other than thin air, and the referee.

Right: Archer's Restaurant on Ratchaphakhinai St. owned and managed by an Essex boy called Mark Archer who originally worked for the Midland Bank. He has been here for over 10 years. It is definitely worth a visit and does a proper English style Sunday roast lunch (including Yorkshire puddings of course). Delicious.








A few sights from the Night Bazaar.

Left: This little (real) dog was 'driving' a mini-car around the busy street. It must have had a lot of faith in the remote control operator.










Right: A colourfully attired bead seller.
















Left: This blues/rock group was performing on a roof bar inside the bazaar. I'm not really into this sort of music but they, especially the guitarist, were very good in a 'Jimmy Hendrix' sort of way.








Right: This wee lad was singing and 'strutting his stuff' on stage. Impressive performance. I'm not sure why it was considered necessary to have a 'no dogs' sign (if indeed that was what it was).






Again with aforementioned friends, we visited the Royal Project botanical gardens in the National Park to the west of the city. Left: This palace/wat was the central feature.


The gardens cover a huge area with a large variety of features. Some more well maintained than others. It is the brainchild of the previous King. A bus tour is available, although many visitors seemed to be whizzing about the place on bikes. We walked.




It includes an extensive orchid garden which was another popular venue for pre-wedding photographs (right). At another location there was even a large American chap, from Florida, posing with his Thai 'Qatar Airlines' stewardess fiancé. He was wearing an extraordinary costume of Thai origin, trying to look like the King of Siam I suppose. I had an interesting chat with him and then forgot to take his picture (he will be relieved to hear).
Just prior to this we had met up in a pleasant retaurant for lunch. I am always a bit suspicious of Thai dishes as they, unlike the Vietnamese, tend to present meals already spiced up with, sometimes, very powerful chilli seasoning. I ordered what was advertised as a 'non-spicey' dish; trout soup. It was excellent and no spice until half-way to finishing it I unwittingly spooned up a mouthful containing the mother of all chillies. I nearly exploded and must have somehow, when trying to dry my weeping eyes, wiped them with chilli. I was then blinded for some time. 
Swear words were uttered, vociferously. Why do they do this? Were the waiters hanging around to watch just for a bit of a giggle? Bloody annoying, and painful.


There are a few museums in Chiang Mai and I was encouraged to visit the Lanna Folk Museum in the old town. Frankly it was rather boring, consisting mainly of Lanna Folk handicraft, clothing and woven fabrics. It also cost 300 Baht to get in which was poor value for money in my opinion. I just mention this in case you are tempted.

Left: A model of a traditional Lanna folk music group making whoopee as only they know how.




I decided to go on a day trip, by train, to the town of Lam Pang, about 80 miles south-east of Chiang Mai. This sign (right) was in the Chaing Mai station. The service was indeed very polite and efficient, and cheap (about 50p one way) on a local 3rd Class slow 'stopping' train with no air-con, but cool and breezy with the windows open. It took about 2½ hours.  







We stopped at many stations through the hilly Doi Khun Tan National Park area. They were all beautifull maintained as per this one (left), Lamphun I think, and the station staff all wore splendid uniforms. The Thais obviously take pride in their little railway stations.

Lam Pang is 'quite'  an interesting town which is divided into 2 parts. The railway station is in the 'commercial' part and it is a 3 mile walk (which I did to avoid taxis and to get some exercise) to the more attractive part lying along the River Wang.  

I passed this rather strange arboreal umbrella display (right); unless there had been a sudden blast of wind when several umbrella wielding pedestrians were walking nearby and taken by surprise










.....and of course there was the inevitable wat. Left: This one with a large Buddha outside it was quite impressive.
















Right: Down towards the river there were many of these horses and carts.......













......which were often in long convoys taking tourists for a ride (probably financially as well), but going from where to where I couldn't think. There was really no beautiful part of the town that I could see. I suppose they just wanted a ride in a horse and cart.










The only civic construction of any note that I saw was this clocktower on a main intersection........



.......before arriving at the riverside.
Here there is a very pleasant guest-house, called, imaginatively, The Riverside Guest House (left). It had some lovely balconied rooms overlooking the river, and a very charming bar and dining area. I think it is run by a French lady. Nice place to stay if you want to look at a river.









Almost next door is the equally imaginatively named Riverside Inn. Again, a very pleasant place at which I had lunch. Fish and chips if I remember correctly, and they had a good selection of beer and wines. These two places catered exclusively for tourists.

I had a good wander around the area and, as far as I could see, there was absolutely nothing else of great interest.
In fact these two places were the only establishments that I could find that sold alcohol or offered a 'western' standard meal. There may have been a posh hotel somewhere or other which I didn't see.
Walking (3 miles) back to the station I passed numerous chemists, hardware stores, schools, health food shops, car spares shops and other rather technical and medical outlets, but with the exception of a couple of small basic cafés, absolutely nowhere to relax, eat and have a drink. I have gathered that the Thai government has a rather prohibitive attitude towards the purchase and consumption of alcohol. Even in the large open air markets, there is no alcohol on sale. They make exceptions for this in 'tourist' areas, but even these have a 2pm to 5pm curfew on the sale of alcohol, although I certainly didn't notice this in Bangkok. I was sweating hard and dying for a cool beer when I got back to the station. None on offer in the local market but, just before the train departed at 5.30pm, I found a local 'Tesco' store which opened at 5.00pm and I got some beer. Phew! The fire was extinguished.

Although I believe there is a national law which makes the wearing of crash helmets on scooters and motor bikes compulsory, I have noticed that outside the main cities (ie Bangkok and possibly Chiang Mai) that this is seldom enforced. It is  as good as voluntary. I reckoned in Lam Pang that about 20% of scooter/motor bike riders wore helmets. 

Now, I am the first to agree that wearing a helmet  when riding a motorbike is a sensible thing to do. I always used to when I rode a bike, and a good helmet at that. However, I am a great believer in the view of a famous politician/philosopher (whose name I have completely forgotten...and a prize for anyone who reminds me) who advocated that laws should only be made to protect you from the actions of others. They should not be made, and you should not be legally penalised, to protect yourself from your own choice of action, however stupid (or words to that effect).  I think I may have mentioned this somewhere before regarding the use of helmets, seat belts, life-jackets etc. if, in a private capacity, you choose not to. There is no end to how many laws could be passed to protect you from yourself. Think about it! Not long ago a lady was sadly killed in London when a brick fell from a building and hit her on the head. How long before there is a law to enforce the wearing of helmets on all occasions!......and seat belts on bar stools, etc. etc......

Anyway, I caught the 'luxury express' train back to Chiang Mai. It was indeed much faster, with comfortable seats and boasted a  powerful air-conditioning system. So powerful, indeed, that I was  almost hypothermic by the time we got home.

Just found it. John Stuart Mill, British philosopher,  political economist etc., 1806 - 1873 suggested:
"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant".
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_stuart_mill_169399.

These old boys displayed a modicum of sense in those days. I certainly agree with his philosophy!

Just a little bit more to come from Chiang Mai when I took a short cruise up the River Ping and then the return to Bangkok.