Someone once told me that you can always tell a Texan because the first thing they mention is always the weather. Well, according to their (his…I think it was my 6th grade English teacher) fool-proof method I guess this following statement proves I am Texan: The entirety of our stay in Northern Europe was filled with absolutely beautiful weather.  It was 68-65ish and sunny during the day and 55ish at night.  It wasn’t hot and it wasn’t cold and it didn’t rain.  I’m moving there, I’ll see you suckers later.

Let me begin by saying that I fell in love with Amsterdam.  I fell in love with everything about it. I loved the people, the city, ah! Everything!

We began our voyage in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is an incredibly walkable city which was wonderful.  There was more than adequate public transportation but we never really needed it.  We spent 4 days doing all of the touristy things; the Van Gough Museum, the Anne Frank House, Museumplein, the Sexmuseum, the red light district, etc. (on a side note: I will say that the RLD is not as raunchy as many of the books make it out to be…..it’s similar to Bourbon street…I was slightly disappointed there were no naked ladies, slightly. I mean if I want to see a busted girl in her underwear I’m pretty sure I can catch Leslie on 6th one Saturday). We also spent a lot of time drinking coffee and beer in cafes, sitting next to the canals doing nothing but talking and people watching. I almost cried the morning we left, but onward we went.

We then headed to Belgium. We stopped in Bruges, rented a car, and drove to Veurne and Westvleteren.  Both tiny tiny towns were nestled in the countryside. We drove through green pastures, past old country homes, and lots of old country churches; it was, to say the least, picturesque. One of the major highlights of the trip was the Westvleteren beer tasting.  Westvleteren is one of the 7 Trappist beers in the world and is only sold at the Sint Sixius Abbey, their pub In Der Vrede, and a few pubs in neighboring towns.  It sells outside the abbey for at least 10€ a bottle. It is the holy grail, the unicorn, of beers.  Westvleteren 12 was voted #1 beer in the world and it, along with the 8 and blond, were delicious and most definitely an experience.

On our way back to the car rental we took a detour and stopped by the North Sea, took some pictures, and then headed into the quaint medieval town of Bruges. I’m not sure what Colin Farrell was so upset about when he was stuck there.  I believe he said something along the lines of “I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” I think Mr. Farrell might have been upset about other matters and that clouded his judgment.  Bruges was amazing. We took a boat tour through the canals and the moat, looked at old buildings and such, but mostly we drank beer, lots of beer.  I think Colin Farrell would have liked that.  One thing I will say about Belgian beer is that it is strong, most are 9,10,11 percent alcohol by vol. so four different kinds with lunch makes you tired.

The last leg of our journey landed us in Brussels, the capital of Europe and now the presidency of the EU (they were very proud of that).  We met up with my cousin Genevieve, who was there for a wedding, and spent 2 days seeing the sights, eating delicious Belgian and Moroccan food, plenty of waffles, and of course drinking more beer.

Our travel home was less than pleasant or calm, but with such a wonderful trip I don’t want to dwell on the negative.  I will say that we had to go through customs 3 times (once with Canada and twice with the US) in Montreal and the only people who asked if we had anything to declare were the Canadians. I mean really USA, I have to undress to walk through security but you aren’t curious as to what I brought back from Amsterdam?

Here are some pictures for your enjoyment…

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Last July I made a list of my top 25 travel goals.  Since it has been an exciting year, I thought I’d check off some my accomplishments….and maybe add a few to dos.

Top 25 Travel Goals (as of July 2009)

  1. Teach English as a second/foreign language in Asia or Africa 
  2. Visit Egypt
  3. Cruise the Nile
  4. Learn to scuba dive 
  5. Oktoberfest!
  6. Stay in a bungalow over the water
  7. Petra, Jordan
  8. Pacific Island Hop
  9. Visit Angkor Wat
  10. Ride a camel in the desert
  11. Culinary tour of Italy
  12. Cheese tour of France (yum)
  13. Wine tour of Argentina
  14. Visit Turkey
  15. Visit French speaking West Africa
  16. Tour the Fjords
  17. Experience Ireland
  18. Relax in the Maldives
  19. See/Climb Machu Picchu
  20. Visit every continent
  21. Zip-line through the jungle 
  22. Visit the floating markets in Thailand 
  23. Walk across the Great Wall of China (cliche, I know)
  24. Ride the train across India
  25. Take a year-long round the world trip

I will say that checking off 4 items in less than a year is pretty good! Hopefully this next year will be equally exciting.

And, since I chose Thailand as my last adventure Seth gets to choose the next one….I’m hoping for Ireland, Oktoberfest, Italy, or Turkey! (not necessarily in that order). I’ll keep you informed🙂

I guess I’m pretty lucky. I left Thailand when the protests were peaceful, when they resembled the aftermath of a Mardi Gras parade. I’m sad to see it up in flames. I’m sad to see so many of places I loved, so many wonderful memories, a blaze. I worry about my friends who are still there and my students who must not only live through this, but deal with the aftermath in a time in their lives when they’re concerns should be more innocent.

This video is of a mall complex, Siam Paragon/Central World, on fire. I know what your thinking, “isn’t it just a mall?” Well yes; but, it was also a symbol of Thailand’s economic evolution. And although it wasn’t a historical site or a grand golden wat, it was, and still is, an important place. For me it was a place I could go to people watch, window shop, see a movie, visit an aquarium, and generally have a relaxing good time with friends. To me it was a sign of Thailand’s growth; their ability to combine their own culture and ideals with that of a growing global environment. It was a small symbol of the merging of east and west.

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It has been a little over a month since I so gracefully returned to the good ole U S of A.  Mostly I have been recovering both mentally and physically. It took a good three weeks for my body to readjust to the time change and about a two to get used to the richness of the food. And I can’t lie, I do miss a lot of luxuries I had in Thailand….the prices, the massages, the prices, the food, the prices, the fresh pineapple, the prices, the weekend traveling, the prices, and the beaches.  I miss my Thai friends, my Filipino ladies, and my students. But, I am so very happy to be home.  I am happy to be with my husband, my family, my friends, and kitty.  And I would like to think that they are all happy to be with me again (not sure about the cat–he’s kinda prissy).

So now what?? What do I do now that my adventure is over? Well, I begin my last semester of grad school in the fall and I’m starting a business with my friend Alison (more on that to come); but, mostly I’ve been enjoying my home city.  I’ve been lunching with friends, bike riding around the neighborhood, and taking trips to Barton Springs, South Congress, lake Austin…all the classics. Leaving always makes you appreciate what you have at home…so basically, right now, I am appreciating.

Katie, Me, and the Auntie appreciating Austin night life

Airports seem to be recent theme in my life.  Currently I am in Tokyo, Japan at the coolest airport, with 9 more hours to kill. It is weird to think that I will soon be sleeping in my own bed snuggled between my husband and my kitty.  I will reflect on my Thailand adventure at a later point (after some sleep and non-airport food), but for now here goes round 2 of the family vacation.

Highlights:

  • Sun
  • Sand
  • Crystal clear water
  • Boat trip
  • Snorkeling
  • Muay Thai fight
  • Old topless Swedes
  • Old Swedes in thong speedos
  • Good food
  • Massages…lots of massages
  • Suntans, sunburns, sunscreen
  • Shopping, shopping, and more shopping

Currently I am sitting in the airport waiting to catch a plane to Phuket while watching the sun set on my final day in Bangkok.  Since momma, papa, and baby Mire arrived in Thailand we have been running, going, moving non-stop. We’re having a great time and hopefully Phuket will give us all some well deserved beach time. Some highlights from the first leg of the vacation include:

  • Jatujak market
  • Massages where the masseuses hit on my dad and Dean– apparently Papa Mire looks like a great sugar daddy
  • Visiting my school in Samroiyod
  • Lunch with the teachers
  • Khao Takiab– a wat in Hua Hin
  • Playing with monkeys
  • Elephant riding
  • Sightseeing
  • Dinner and a traditional Thai dancing show at the swankiest hotel in Bangkok
  • Jungle/treetop ziplining–at one point in the rain
  • Driving and walking through the Red Shirt protests
  • Alice In Wonderland at the Imax– we bought the posh couch seats
  • Khao San Road on St. Patrick’s Day
  • Jewelry shopping
  • Tons of Thai food
  • Taxi price negotiating
  • River taxi ride
  • Tuk tuks– found out that we can all squeeze into one tuk tuk, quite impressive

My last three posts have been rather verbose…don’t you think?  Well to add some color to this blog here are some pictures from my recent tips to Ayutthaya and Bang Suphan Noi.

Ayutthaya Some background history: Ayutthaya was the former capital of Thailand and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The ruins of the old capital are often compared, as a much much much smaller version, to those of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. During this trip I managed to learn how to drive a motorbike, eat durian, lock myself in another bathroom, and forget my camera charger.  Overall an excellent trip with Brie, Lauren, and Nok (Lauren’s ladyboy coworker).  By the way,  durian doesn’t taste as bad as it smells. Don’t get me wrong it’s utterly revolting, but I would eat it over asparagus.

Here are the pictures I took before my camera died… Update: I’m not sure why, but some of my Ayutthaya pics are not showing up…sorry😦

Saved my battery for one sunset shot!

Bang Suphan Noi- This is the southern most district in Prachuap Khiri Khan; approximately 2 and half hours south of Pranburi (my town).  I went snorkeling with Oi, Wenzie, and about 8 other teachers from school.  We took a boat trip out to the island of Koh Talu, snorkeled, and splashed around in the beautiful clear water.  A couple of little known facts about Thais and swimming: 1. unlike westerners, Thais do not wear bathing suits. They wear clothes; usually long sleeve shirts and pants. This is because of both conservative beliefs and the fact that they don’t want any part of their bodies in the sunlight.  So being in my bathing suit, although it is a one piece, I was scantily dressed. 2: most Thais, especially women can’t swim.  Snorkeling was more watching 10 Thais in bright orange life vests bob up and down in the water than watching fish swim.  Still fun.