All posts by Ridin' Rick

2019 emJay B-Day Ride

 

Here we go again! Last year’s ride from Madison to Minneapolis to celebrate my big birthday was such a success that we decided to do it again. I call it the “trick my husband into riding with me so we can celebrate my birthday together” ride. Whatever works!! This year’s focus is the Driftless Region of southwest Wisconsin.

We celebrated my birthday starting with lunch and flowers from dear friends, along with a hearty Belgian ale! All at a great bike-themed restaurant in Madison.

Smoochie surprised me with a lovely cake from the excellent Rolling Pin Bakery of FItchburg, WI.  We enjoyed it with ice cream at Siggi and Ron’s house.

Oh, this ride has a heavy food theme. Smoochie surprised me the next day with a hearty cream puff and an omelette! He bought one for himself too, of course!

Our ride this year takes us on state bike trails to Monroe, WI, then across the countryside to Mineral Point, then back to Madison mostly by state trails again. Fun!

The traditional departure photo, this time with both of us riding new bikes…”steeds” as I like to call them, hearkening back to my horsey days as a teenager.

We had a marvelous send-off by a group of neighborhood friends including Teddy, Michele, Arthur, Sammy, Walter, Edmund, and Lynne!

We headed south on the Badger Trail. This is a particularly scenic spot overlooking a farm lane.

Rick found a site perfect for a rugged personality shot of his new Trek Gravel bike.

This pup was lost last summer! Hope they found her. The instructions say “do not call or approach her as she will run away!”

The Garmin overly dramatizes the terrain, depending on how you have it set! This was a gradual 3% grade up to the top of a ridge…

…where you cruise through a fairly long, dark, damp, spooky tunnel through the ridge. You must have a light to get through! Woo hoo, then it is 3% grade down the hill into New Glarus where a yummy lunch awaited us.

Little did we know that the Annual North America Vespa Convention is being held this year in Lake Geneva WI. It is in a different locale each year. New Glarus was lousy with Vespas, which are cute little Italian scooters developed after WW II. Packs of riders were on excursions in southern Wisconsin. Nice people!

Aaah…our lunch time destination, the Glarner Stube!

All morning long I had been fantasizing about my lunch of roesti, a yummy cheesy fried hash brown potato dish. To die for! It is a big  plate so Rick and I agreed to share.  At the Glarner Stube, there is another “can’t miss” opportunity to see the largest of its kind in the whole world, as legend has it….

Read all about it here!!!

We continued south along the Badger State Trail. You see first-hand evidence of the funding cuts that have been made to Wisconsin’s state parks and trails programs over the past years. The trail was not at all as I remembered. Overgrown with vegetation in many places.

And the holes! Someone developed the moniker “Scottholes” for the thousands of potholes that have developed on Wisconsin highways  during the past 8 years. Seems like a good fit for bike trail maintenance problems as well! You had to be careful, because there were smaller holes that were unmarked. Only the huge ones got a traffic cone!

Here we are at the intersection of the Sugar River Trail and the Badger State Trail.

Prairie plants like this spiderwort were in bloom.

A garter snake was no match for the mower that had recently been in one area.  (This was the only mowed area we saw all day, so I guess the lack of mowing is good for the reptile population!)

Typical overgrown bike path! Shocking, just shocking.

But we do have a spiffy new trail rest area in Monroe.

We arrived at our Monroe B and B, the Victorian Garden, around 3:30.

We were checked into the White Lace Room…

…which boasts a  HUGE bathroom and even a chaise lounge!!

We enjoyed drinks at the Minhas Kitchen, associated with Minhas Brewery based in Monroe. Here they make beer, spirits and vino. The things that look like spaceships behind us are beer tanks. There was no one else at the restaurant! Guess I didn’t need to make reservations after all….

We had hearty, cheesy, pasta dinners.

After dinner we strolled around the town square, enjoying the stately Romanesque Green County Court House.

Ha HA! Wisconsin pride…?

A fancy kitchen store offered yet another item you don’t really need, soon to be in the bottom of your kitchen junk drawer…. or for use when biking on gnat filled bike trails!!!

Our room had a faux fireplace which reminded us of our friend Charlie!

The B and B came with a friendly cat named Alania who likes to visit each guest room.

Creme Brulee Frendh Toast for our morning carbo-load!

Alania helps me check my emails after breakfast.

First stop on Day 2 is at the chain-saw-art Apollo astronaut!

And on to the chain-saw-art Potato Chef!

Then out popped the savvy marketer Barb, who offered us a sample of Barb’s Best Potato Salad. It IS the best! You can find it in Monroe, Argyle, Verona, and other hot spots of culinary opportunity.

As we left Barb’s Best Potato Salad World Headquarters and headed west, a police car zoomed by, then an ambulance, then a fire truck. In a few miles we came upon the accident. The white car to the left of the fire truck apparently hit another car that was turning. Police report noted “under the influence of controlled substances”. Doesn’t mix with driving even if it is 9:00 in the morning!

We didn’t stop. Later we got a report from train-aficionado-friend Ron that the barn is enjoyable for kids, but not so much for serious train collectors!

We took a pretty detour into Yellowstone Lake State Park, which I had never visited. It is an impoundment, which I always look down on in the great state of Wisconsin. We have so many amazing natural lakes, but not in the Driftless Area. So impoundments we get.

Pretty view of lake. Cloudy day. Rick made friends with everyone, from the guy at the lunch counter to the ranger on duty. He knows no strangers!!

Traveling along a rural road we came across this “cattle stairway”. We felt like city slickers being mystified by this engineering feat. There was a gradual route, on the right in the photo above….

…and a steeper stairway nearby. For emergencies? The cows definitely use it because there was evidence of their….presence on the steps.

When we were about to turn onto the highway into Mineral Point, this team of three beautiful draft horses appeared, along with three young Amish men, making hay bales alongside the road.

Yeehaw downhill into Mineral Point!! It was a hilly fun day all day today.

We stopped to see Dr. Gibbons, the Friendly Dentist, but they have summer hours and are closed on Friday afternoons! This is where Rick has gone for dental care since his Dodgeville days.

In Mineral Point our digs are this groovy recently remodeled apartment, owned by the Mineral Point Hotel proprietors.

It has everything we need and is fresh!

We biked over to a local arts venue, Shake Rag Alley. This was the home of Cornish miners. Wives would shake a rag to show their husbands, who were off digging lead in the hillsides, that lunch was ready. Today it is a center for art and craft workshops.

Rick says this is the most interesting “little library” he has ever seen!

Historic  building at Shake Rag Alley.

Today the buildings are used for workshops, and some for lodging.

This is Buddy who really wanted Rick to join the upcoming blacksmith metal forging workshop. Here he shows off some of the finished products from the last class!

Based on our innkeeper’s advice, we decided to enjoy a drink in the brewpub prior to crossing the street to enjoy the Italian restaurant in Mineral Point. This nice couple scooched over so we would fit at the bar. then we got into a big discussion! They are recently retired raptor rehabilitators from southwest Wisconsin. She is a nurse and he is a falconer, and together, for over 30 years,  helped many hawks, falcons and eagles regain their health after accidents. Great folks!

Here is the back view of our home for the night. We were on the lowest level, the stone basement that looked out over the back patio and yard. Nice!

Patriotic expressions from the Heartland.

Rick relives the early 1990’s with a visit to the house he rented in Dodgeville.

No visit to Dodgeville is complete without a stop at the old-fashioned bakery. Looks like Cookie Monsters!

I enjoyed one of Rick’s favorites from his time here, the chocolate eclair!  Hope we burn lots of calories today.

Soon we accessd our route for the day, the Military Ridge State Trail.

We paused at the DNR headquarters and reminisced about how things have changed. Used to be open and service-oriented. Now it doesn’t have front-desk staff and you must make appointments in advance to meet with conservation experts.

This trail is known for its bridges over streams, and its leafy environs!

At the Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb, I just had to have a Swiss-mushroom burger. No vegetarian lifestyle for me today!!

This trail is in much better shape than the Badger Trail. Perhaps it gets more traffic.

We stopped in Riley for a water break. As we prepared to leave, this nice man named David appeared on the trail. He was from California and was headed to a wedding nearby, and while driving his rental car, got lost. We got him back on track, and learned that he was headed to the wedding of our neighbor’s daughter! Small world.

The calorie count keeps piling up! We HAD to stop at Culver’s in Verona for custard.

Almost home! We came from the south today, and we are headed just a wee bit to the east to our house along the Capital City Trail.

Deep Thoughts:

  • It is brilliant to go on a June bike ride with my hubby so we will keep up this tradition!
  • It is lovely to live the vagabond trail life. Especially with Rick!
  • Now that I have made plans to retire, I can see more of this in our future!
  • Wisconsin tourism benefits from taxpayer investments. Right now I cannot recommend our bike trails to my out-of-state friends unequivocally like I used to.  Very bad! Public investments in conservation, very good!
  • People are essentially good-natured and helpful. We had nary a bad experience with any one on this trip. Midwestern nice!

 

Horsey 100

A cold and rainy spring in Wisconsin meant some of the madison sunday cyclists’ were anxious to ride and decided to head south to Kentucky for the ‘Horsey 100’ weekend ride. Weather while we were there was sunny and in the 90’s!!!!

The BluegGrass Cycling Club out of Lexington, KY sponsors this ride and it was very well managed. Four loops offered each day ranged from 25 -100 miles, GREAT rest stops, well provisioned with all kinds of goodies, lunch in the afternoon and wonderful helpful staff. They have been sponsoring the ride for over 40 years!!! Above are the route options from Saturday, all lopping from the Georgetown College Campus.

But first we had to get down to the ride. Becky, Charlie Terry and Pam all went down the Wednesday before the Saturday start and were able to ride the optional 22 mile loop on Friday. emJay had a meeting until Thursday afternoon and we didn’t get on the road until Thursday at 4:00pm.  We overnighted in Campaign, IL. Easy Interstate Highway the whole way there. Oh . . . and those southerners like to take their casks of hootch wherever they go!!!

The event is held at the Georgetown College Campus with dorms and camping available as well as cafeteria food , a vendor show, food trucks and music!! Whatever loop you decided to ride had an ‘official start time’ used to space the 2,500 riders out on the road but everyone seemed to start around 8:00am. Since the 25, 50, 75 and 100 mile loops all use the same first 20 miles, the roads were CROWDED!!!

emJay, Pam, Charlie and Terry heading down the main drag out of town . . .

. . . past lots of cutesy shops!

But once we were out in the country is was easy riding . . . the road surfaces were all paved with narry a crack to be found . . . a far cry from what we have in Wisconsin!!

Great scenery along the way . . . .

. . . and everyone was very accommodating. Only had one car driver ‘act obnoxious’ the whole weekend!!!

The rest stops were well set up and located about 25 miles apart. LOTS of Gatorade. In fact the woman with the green top standing on the wagon was mixing the power into the water with a canoe paddle!!!

. . . and lots of choices for chowing down . . .

. . . which also had an accompanying  guide regarding caloric intake. What planning!!!!

Pickle juice is supposed to help relieve leg cramping. These cups had  pickle juice with a pickle spear to munch on to control the cramps.

. . . soon four of us were full and ready to ‘ride it off’ during the 25 miles to the next rest stop!!

. . . happy rider . . .

. . . happy horses!!!

Oh there is quite a Certified Farm Market system in Kentucky, too.

Scenic farms and homes along the way . . .

Houston . . . do we have a problem??? Not today . . .  no wind, nice temps, no skeeters and no cars!!!!

. . . and LOTS of great riding and scenery.

Soon we we were at the Finish Line where someone tried to join our photo at the finish. a madisonsundaycyclist wanna be???

Pam and Terry were camping and the BaVo’s and WoHu’s were hoteling it at the Country Inn and Suites . . . where we squired a nice supply of after ride goodies to get some salt back into the old system!!!

That night we all went out to the Broussard’s Delta Kitchen which had only been open for a couple of weeks, Great art, great food and . . .

. . . well earned desserts. emJay and I split one!!

No problem sleeping tonight and soon it was time for breakfast and back on the road for our Sunday loop.

. . . more great scenery . . .

. . . and rest stops, including this one where one of the volunteers, Kelly Jo, was serving up ice. We had met the the day before in a store and learned she was from Wisconsin Rapids but had lived in Kentucky for 20 years because her husband didn’t like the cold!!!

. . . back out on the road the numbers were a lot fewer today . . .

. . . on Saturday there had been 2,500 riders spread across the four loops and today there were only 1.500!!!

. . . I was surprised this was the only roadside memorial I saw in all of Kentucky. Way below the ‘national average’ I have seen on other bike trips. That’s a good thing!!!

. . .on we pedaled down country lanes until we arrive in Paris, KY, our next rest stop . . .

. . . where photos ops were available . . .

. . . with a French flair!!!

. . . more great settings along the way . . .

. . . we even passed over the interstate highway three or four times. Here emJay points to the sign indicating the town she worked in 34 years ago as a new  Nature Conservancy employee.

One last rest stop at a local winery . . .

. . . the last stop of the day being know as the ‘Zombie Zone’!!

Fifteen more miles down the road . . .

. . . with several more large horse operations along the way, we arrived back at Georgetown College . . .

. . . for a little late lunch in the cafeteria. Happy pigs . . .

. . . but we opted for salads.

. . . Terry had a little BBQ pork  . . .

. . . and we had a nice time sitting outdoors at the ‘Sláinte Public House’ tavern.

No trouble sleeping Sunday night. It was a great two days of riding, we covered over 100 miles  and we had all decided to stay over in Georgetown on Memorial Monday to avoid traffic returning home for the holiday. We had two tours set up. One of Buffalo Trace Bourbon Distillery and one of the Old Friends Stable for retired race horses.

Along with lunch and a stop in Frankfurt it was going to be another full day!!!!

Our first stop, Buffalo Trace gets it’s name from the bison. . .

. . . that many years ago, on their annual migration, would cross the Kentucky River at the site of the current distillery. Thus the name.

Oh and they make some terrific products. So much so that in the gift shop they were completely out of the three brands shown above and only had Bourbon Creme, similar to Baileys Irish Cream left for sale. YUMMIER!!!!

The buildings date back to the mid 1800’s

Hard to believe a distillery could run out of liquor for sale but they had over 5,000 visitors come through in the three days prior to our arrival and they bought it all!!!!

The four story warehouses have bars on the lower windows . . .

. . . originally used to keep the company from sneaking out barrels of bourbon in the middle of the night before taxes had been paid to the revenuers !!!

The nature airflow through the warehouse full of 500 pound full barrels continues for 9 to 25 years, depending on the navigate you buy. The below ground level is the coolest and ferments the best bourbon. The barrels on the top floor produce a more’ modestly price’ version!!! During the fermentation period a barrel can loose up to 47% of the liquid due to evaporation though the wood.

Freddie, our terrific guide, led us on our tour into the basement . . . and explained the whole process, quite nicely.

Their is a ‘railroad’ between buildings to move the barrels of bourbon that includes a train track signal!!! The arrows show the special mechanism that rights the barrel into the correct position so, as it travels down the little hill will, not fall off the trolley!!!

In the special bottling room, for the highest quality vintage, a machine is used to create a wax seal . . .

. . . around the decorative cork top. No production today because of Memorial Day.

After the tour it was time for the tasting . . . where we started with the raw product . . .

Pam gives her approval of the more refined and aged version . . .

. . . after four samples it was time for the Bourbon Cream. YUM!!!

They even had home made root beer for the little ones and non drinkers!!!!

emJay and Freddie had become fast friends. Cary and Scott had been down in Kentucky for the Derby, toured Buffalo Trace and recommended Freddie to us. He was a great guide and nice guy.

After the tour we walked around the vast grounds for a  while.  Here was a Trompe l’oeil style painting that fooled the human eye as you walked in front of it. The floor lines ran always ran towards you regardless of your position in front of the painting . . . or maybe we had too much BT tasting!!!

Near the river was the ‘special vault’, a building that only held one cask of bourbon, every millionth barrel that is.

This was the 10 millionth barrel produced at BT and it was signed by all the staff that were working the day it rolled off the line. FUN!!!!

 

Oh . . . and they ship the Buffalo Trace bourbon in generic, non descript trailers . . . maybe to prevent hijackings????!!!!

Pam and Terry bought some of Freddie’s Special Root which we would enjoy with some Bourbon Cream, think alcoholic root beer floats, later in the evening!!

We had notice these large, long, buildings along the highway as we had arrived and wondered what they were . . . ends up they are more bourbon aging warehouses, circa 2010!!!

Buffalo Trace is banking on the bourbon craze not ending any time soon . . . in fact the bourbon boom we often hear about just got a bit louder as has they recently announced their first large scale structural expansion since the 1950s. The expansion is part of the $1.2 billion (yes, that’s ‘B’ for Billion) dollars improvement and expansion plans to spend in the next ten years to accommodate not only more visitors, but more bourbon barrels and more bottling lines.

In to Frankfurt we went to tour ’emJay’s old haunts’.  She had not been back to Frankfurt for 30 years and things had changed . . . but Ruth Ann’s Famous Bourbon Balls (think chocolate truffles with a kick) were still in production. Of course we had to buy a box, but no tour today because production was shut down due to the holiday.

. . . in fact it looked like they had raised the tour price from $2 to $5 for the holiday weekend. The ‘temporary’ sticker was peeling off and I could’t help but look behind it!!

The pedestrian mall emJay remember now allowed cars to park on it. . . she was aghast . . . .

. . . but her old apartment still looked well maintained, at least the outside of it!!

A few miles down the road we came to ‘Old Friends’, the retirement farm for past racehorses. Click photo to find out more . . .

It was a beautiful afternoon . . .

. . .as Tom, our volunteer tour guide, gave us a fantastic tour . . . who knew horses could be so interesting. emJay did. As our resident former horse owner, and a prior Kentuckian (we still annually watch the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, etc, etc. ) she was in 7th heaven!!!

Charlie was the first to step up and feed Sun King a few carrots. . .

. . .as emJay fed Eye of the Tiger.

They even have a horse cemetery for the over 200 horse they have on site. Some prior owners have moved their prized horses remains to the cemetery here on site . . .

. . . of course the two Polska of the group were especially attracted to Polish Navy. He was a strong contender for three year old champions, among one of the best crops in recent history. He won 7 of 12 starts, earning $1,118,076.

Pam says Hi to this handsome team . . .

. . . even horses can eat too much resulting in weight issues and hoof problems . . . the solution? put one of these muzzles over their mouth which allow them to graze, but not get too much.  mmmmmm . . . wonder if that would work with for humans and the forks we use!!!

emJay was especially  drawn to one of the more famous steeds on site, Silver Charm.

Born in February of 1994) Silver Charm is an American Champion Thoroughbred race horse. He is best known for winning the 1997 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in the Triple Crown. He also won the Dubai World Cup (of which he is the oldest surviving winner), and stood at stud in both America and Japan. Upon the death of Hansel, Silver Charm became the oldest living winner of the Preakness Stakes.

After a quick clean up at the hotel it was off to Lexington for our farewell dinner. We ate at Carson’s . . . .

. . . a terrific venue where I had Salmon Oscar . . .

. . . and emJay had scallops on slabs of fried pork belly. VERY Rich tasting  . . . she ate it all, along with the grits!!!

Soon it was time to have a bourbon root beer floats back at the hotel, say our goodbyes and turn in for the night. We would all make the 8 hour drive home tomorrow.

Along the way home it became clear that Isaac ‘The Hammer’ was a very successful personal injury lawyer. There are LOTS of billboards for other PI lawyers, too but he took the cake for the most, at least one every ten miles all through Kentucky, Indiana and most of Illinois.

There must be something about the law in these states that precipitates so much advertising by so many lawyers  . . .

. . . see ‘The Hammer’s’ 2019 Super Bowl ad by clicking the photo above!!

There is always a choice though, and as emJay pointed out, “In this case it is either the Hammer or the Hottie!”

On the way home we stopped at the ‘Steak and Shake’ restaurant for lunch. Started in Normal, IL,  Steak ‘n Shake’s slogan “In Sight It Must Be Right” originally referred to the owners practice of wheeling a barrel of T-bone, sirloin, and round steaks into the public area of his restaurant, then grinding them into burgers in front of his customers. This practice was intended to reassure customers of the wholesomeness of the product; at that time, ground beef was still viewed with some skepticism by the general public, based on the likelihood of its having deliberate impurities introduced into it.  No mention of what is in the burgers today.

BUT it was one of Charlie’s favorite hang outs when he was in Champaing during his college years. He is shown above, by the red arrow, seated with another guy both looking for girls!!!!

It was a great trip! Relatively close to home, some fabulous riding, great weather, great food and great friendship . . . and we got to help celebrate Becky’s birthday (one that did not end with a 0)!

Day 1, Chicago to Ho Chi Minh City

So other than getting a bad cold two weeks before the trip I was pretty much on the mend, through the running nose and hacking stage but then . . . nose bleed problems.

Two trips to the clinic and one to urgent care, over a week period, still produced no good solution. Dry air they said . . . use petroleum jelly to coat the inside of my nose!  Didn’t get that advice until after three nights of bleeding in bed. My nose started gushing each night about 3:00am and by the time I woke up from the event, the pillows and sheets looked like a murder scene. BUT . . . the p-jelly coating seemed to work and I was ‘flow free’ the last two night before the flight.

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Oh they had the ‘nose kit’ ready when I went to urgent care but no cauterizing of nose blood vessels took place.

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With my cold and nose problems hopefully under control the next issue was the weather. Rain, snow and sleet predicted for MSN and ORD, the day before, and during my departures. emJay was able to take me to the bus stop and soon I was on the way to O’Hare. No delays. Did I mention she is ‘so nice” . . .can’t wait until she retires in a couple of years an we can do all these things together!!!

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I went down the night before my flight , to hopefully avoid any local travel issues and had a nice nights sleep, as it continued to snow outside. Lots of ‘white real estate’ in my bed. Hopefully no nose bleeds . . . and there were none. Now I just got to get my nose through the 23 hours of flight time.

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Anticipating TSA staffing issues at the airport due to the government shutdown, I got to the airport three hours early rather than the recommend two hours. No problem. It took 15 minutes to get through the JAL airline checkin process, mainly because of all the ‘packages’ visitors from the US were taking back home. A surprising number of what looked like TV’s from Walmart!!!

Then it was on to TSA security where there we only about 15 people in front of me and I was through the process in 10 minutes!!! Easy, Peasy!!! I thanked each of the staff who assisted me through the process for showing up for work during the slowdown. Might have something to do with the good old fashion ‘work ethic’ so common in the Midwest.

The concourses we’re we’re basically empty. Funny considering the hotel was full of people whose flights had been cancelled. Most were flying domestically.

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So . . . at this point I had some time to work on this, as I looked out the window watching the ‘de-icing’ process of our JAL airship that will carry me to Narita, Japan and then onto Ho Chi Minh city. More to come!!!

Oh and there was more to come . . . after ferrying out to the run way, the airport was closed for several hours. Our captain had the choice of sitting out on the runaway or returning the jet to the concourse , which is what he decided to do

The door of the jet was opened and folks were allowed to get out and mill around the waiting area. After an hour and a half it was time to refuel the plane. So were told to unbuckle our seats belts in case there ended up being a fire!  After that we needed to be de-iced one more time and them it was time to load everyone up and head for the tarmac again. We finally lifted off 4 hours after our schedule departure which of course made the 12 hour flight even longer!!!

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Our route . . .

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. . . would take us right over Watertown and Fond du lac, emJay’s ancestral homes. She had been up in Kolher for a meeting and was driving back to Madison about the time we flew over. I looked down and thought I saw her driving on Hwy 41!!!!

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. . . finally we were touching down in Tokyo . . .

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. . . all in all my Gamin watch told me it had been a stress free day . . . got to stay in the frame of mind!!!

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Japan Airline (JAL) has there act together. When we landed at Narita, they had a sign at the end of the concourse with the names of the 50 or so of us who had missed our connecting flights because of the delay. Dashi walked up to me, to ask me my name, and went and got my ‘dossier’ that had: my lodging voucher, dinner and breakfast vouchers (all paid for my JAL), my rescheduled flight info for the next day on Vietnam Airlines and a map on where to catch the shuttle bus  to the Nikko Hotel located adjacent the airport.

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I went to station 33, there was the bus and 10 minutes later . . .

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We pulled up to the Nikko . . .

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which had very festive lighting!!!

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I checked in at reception and went right dinner, had a nice Japanese dinner with of course a nice plate of desserts. Felt I earned it after all the delays!!!

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Then it was up to my room. spartan but very . . .

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clean and with everything I needed for the the night . . .

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. . .and my first exposure to the infamous Japanese toilet system which have heated seats  . . .

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. . . and should com with a users manual!!!! I climbed into bed planning on having a full nights sleep before my 5:30 wakeup call . . . but unfortunately only slept until 2:00am and then tossed and turned for the rest of the night. A chance for a good nights sleep wasted because of jet lag!!!

Day 2, Tokyo to HO Chi Minh City, REDUX

1

After a fitfull night of sleep it was time for breakfast, a HUGE buffet with a more options than one could even sample, western and eastern cuisine . . .

2

I had never seen one of these gadgets at a bread service table before. Honey for your toast that is SO FRESH it was literally dripping out of the honey comb, into the chute and down to a serving pitcher . . . IT TASTED GREAT!!

3

The phones that TommyH and I own, the Google Pixel, are powered by Googles Project FI and supply service in 147 countries similar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand included. Same $10/mb of data with NO ROAMING CHARGES!!! Interestingly the ‘free’, with ads texting program I use, Textra, always has an ad at the top trying to sell me something.

. . .  they are tracking me  . . .  it’s just they don’t know I am retired.

5

Interesting at the Vietnam Airline check-in the amount of ‘stuff’ people were taking back with them to Vietnam from Japan. Some folks had 5 and 6 boxes of ‘goods’. You would think whatever they were buying would be just as cheap in Vietnam!!

6

. . . with over 2 million motor scooters in Ho Chi Minh city,  I must have seen at least half of them on the drive from the airport to the Alagon Hotel. As far as the eye could see in front and behind us. Just a sea of humanity making their way home on a Friday night. Utter chaos but yet everything flows along . . . and hardly and horn honking!!!

7

I tied up with Tom at the Alagon and moved into our room. We went down the street for a nice dinner, dodging motor scooters heading towards us on the sidewalk. If the street traffic is not moving fast enough, some scooter drivers just come right up on the sidewalk! I ate those greens on the plate of spring rolls, which afterwards I thought might have been a mistake, but no ‘tummy issues’ Yippee!!!

We were both in bed at 9:00pm. I slept until about 2:00am and woke up ‘fully awake’ but fell back to sleep by about 4:00am, I think, and then slept until 7:00am. YESSSSSSSSSSSS

Day 3 & 4, Ho Chi Minh city

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Today we woke up after about 8 hours of sleep with another blue sky day in Ho Chi Minh City, 76 degrees, 72 percent humidity, no wind. A view out the back window of our hotel.

We had some infrastructure problems today. Steaming hot water coming out of both the HOT and COLD water faucets and our air conditioner was on the ‘frtiz’, not cooling. I was busy working on the journal, and since TommyH religiously watches ‘This Old House’, we decided he would take care of the problems by talking the universal language of home repair with the staff. Contacting the front desk resulted in one gent coming up to our eighth floor room to work on the AC. He ‘worked’ the AC remote for about 30 seconds and the unit started blowing cold air again. Problem solved: The problem? Two old Americans that can’t operate a remote control!!! Another guy came up shortly after to fix the water problem. He was in the bathroom turning water on and off for about 5 minutes and soon declared the problem solved. The problem? Not sure but he did get us our cold water back again!!!

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Lois, Eileen, Ellsworth and I decided to head to the War Remnant Museum, a facility built by the Vietnamese to explain the war from their perspective. We decided to take a taxi over to the museum and probably walk back to the hotel. Total taxi charge for the four of us 13,000 dong, about 50 cents, USD!!!

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We spent about 3 hours at the museum and it was a life changing experience. Here, we as Americans, saw the war from a completely different perspective than the Walter Cronkite reports of the ‘daily body count’ on the nightly news, which was widely recognized as the militaries measure of success.

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Outside there was a a fair amount of captured US military hardware, all in pristine shape, on display.

In all the journaling I have done through the years,  this experience caused me the most internal strife on what to ‘report’. It’s a long ways from reporting on what kind of place we stayed in overnight, what great desserts we had and how the biking has been. Once we got inside to the exhibits it was mind numbing. It showed a side of the US military that is hard to imagine. Sure some may have a ‘propaganda’ slant to it from the Vietnamese but it is hard to deny what one sees in photos and the capturing of the detailed information. I really struggled on whether to present anything further than the photo above as a report on our visit but feel I need to share some of what I saw inside. So here are a few of the photos I took.

For those of you who do not want to see or read about our experience, click here to skip down to the next section.

As American’s, I think we like to collectively think we are different from the rest of the world  but when it comes down to it . . . people are people. We are all innately good and just want to have family, and a safe, secure life. War can changed that I think, regardless of nationality or governmental beliefs. Taking an 18 year farm boy from the middle of Iowa, sending him to basic training, making him a killing machine where within five months he is on the front lines seeing and experiencing things he has never dreamed of in his worst nightmares, has got to have a life long effect on you. Seeing your new family of ‘squad members’ being slaughter could bring out the worst in any person, reducing your survival to the basic instinct of . . . staying alive. It probably has been happening since the Revolutionary war and every conflict we have been involved with since.  How anyone who has seen the atrocities of war could ever return to a normal life is beyond belief. I guess it really speaks to the resilience of the human mind and spirit to leave it behind, as best you can, and move on with your life. Hard to describe . . . and I am really at a loss for how to put it into words. Read the photo captions

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The sewer where the children were hiding . . .

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The museum had four topic areas, one being the results of the Agent Orange spraying operations. Interesting in how the military picks names for operations to maybe simplify or minimalize the notion. The spraying operation was known as ‘Ranch Hand’  . . . I guess like clearing brush!!! Eventually of 25% of the country was sprayed,. 11% of the area more than once. The room of photos showing the aftermath of  juvenile birth defects due to Agent Orange was unnerving. It almost made me sick to my stomach and I left the room after viewing about a quarter o the displays.

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We left the museum with heavy hearts . . . lots of discussion on what we had just experienced.

 

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On the street are were many food vendors working off the back of there scooters. These ‘Waffle Men’ were very common, cooking their waffles over a little charcoal burner.

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Ellwsorth lead us through the Central Park area he had walked through the day before . . .

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. . . which had some really interesting palms!!!

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We were on the way to the largest indoor market in Ho Chi Minh city, on a mission with Lois to find her a new pair of ‘jammies’, having forgotten hers back in CA.

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We went by a store where the staff had been cleaning something and were carting the wash receptacle outside to dispose of the water . . . down the drain!!!

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Tommy H, (Ellsworth), wants us to change hotels. He misses his kitties!!!!

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New scooters for sale, still in the box!!!

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Although scooters seem to have taken over the lowly bicycle for local transportation, bikes are still used for the ‘heavy hauling’!!!

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The market was something to see. A full city block in size, with hundreds, maybe thousands of vendors. The merchants are very tactile, reaching out an touching your shoulder or side, encouraging you to stop and buy something. One young girl poked TommyH and said ‘Big Belly’ . . . he did not stop there to buy anything!!!

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About a quarter of the market was vegetables including these Durians which are one of several ‘stinky’ fruits sold in the local area.

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So bad, that if you are caught with any remnants of one in your room there s an extra 50 USD cleaning fee!!!

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We walked by a large park selling trees including these flowering quince which are evidently a good luck purchase made during the Chinese new Year

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. . . lots of orange trees . . .

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. . . and the Vietnamese have developed a new cultivar of grapefruit that is grown with it’s own plastic bag attached. Brilliant!!!

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Eileen had told us about the ’High Tea’, offered from 3 until 5 pm at our hotel, so we all proceeded down for some strawberry tea and assorted yummies. Notice ‘pinkies’ extended while sipping the tea. Got to fit in you know!!!!

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Before you know it was time to eat again. We had such a nice experience at restaurant we went to last night, we decided to go there again and Eileen agreed to join us. Lois needed to ‘veg out’ after the jammie market shopping experience!!! The streets were jammed again, and as usual, if the traffic is not flowing fast enough, which it rarely is for many, they take to the sidewalk to pass cars and other scooters to move ahead . . .

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. . . a pedestrian REALLY needs to be on the look out, especially when they are coming up from behind. We’ve learned you just need to keep moving . . . DO NOT STOP. The riders are planning on navigating around you, using your present speed an trajectory in deciding their route. Stopping screws the whole thing up!!!

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We got to the restaurant and I REALLY had a hard time deciding between the two versions of stomach being offered . . .

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. . . so instead, had the soft tofu which was REALLY delicious. Soft gooey pieces of tofu, fried in a light crispy, batter. I REALLY have to get the recipe!!!

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There are what seem to be thousands of ‘scooter officers’, like the two picture on the left of the photo above that handle the parking of scooters along public spaces. Not sure who employees or pays them but they do bring an order to the chaos!!!

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You got to go with the flow, DO NOT STOP!!! There are traffic lights with pedestrian ‘Walk’, ‘Don’t Walk’ flashing lights which are generally observed by the sea of scooters but on roundabouts, like this one, it’s every person for themselves!! TommyH and I made it across while Eileen hesitated and had to wait for the next ‘break’ (which doesn’t mean NO SCOOTERS . . . just fewer scooters’)

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I was able to capture here successful crossing!!!!

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She made it!!!! Great night out and soon it was time for  . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Day 5, Ho Chi Minh City – Tra Vinh

Today we would leave Saigon behind (the name for the city most Vietnamese, other than government officials, prefer to still use), and head into the hinterland to pick up our bikes. We left during ‘rush hour’ and the traffic was unbelievable with special lanes for scooters. There are over 7.3 million scooters in Saigon and I think we saw everyone of them!!

Soon we crossed over the Mighty Mekong River, the fifth largest water system in the world.

Along the way we stopped what appeared to be a typical roadside rest stop. Just like ours at home but open air and with coconuts hanging around!!

About an hour out of Saigon we tied up with our new steeds.

Our guide Hai  introduced the rest of the crew, including ‘Buddha’ the fellow with the green shirt.  Huey and Buddha were old friends, having met on a prior ride.

Time for our first ‘official group photo’. (l-r) Paul, UK; Huey, CO; Brian, CA; David, CA; Eileen, CA; Tom, NY; Cynthia, FL; TommyH, WI; Lois; CA; yours truly; Bo, FL.

Half an hour down the road it was time for our first ferry ride . . .

. . . on what we were sure may not have passed a US Coast Guard inspection . . . but fun!!

On the other side of the river we toured this ‘backyard’ coconut processing operation . . .

. . . where the staff were busy separating the coconut from the hulls . . .

. . . here was the finished product. Ready for roasting and flaking!!

Heading on, we passed through our first small town . . .

. . . where not only did one need to navigate around the ‘business lorries’ . . .

. . . but also the pigs being hauled to market. Hello there big boy!!!

It was almost time for a little rest stop .  I’m hoping to continue my vegetarian lifestyle on this trip. This may make it easier than  thought!!

Not everyone in Vietnam uses a motorized scooters. Many older folks still ride bicycles.

Here was our morning rest stop  . . . ahhh shade . . .

Got to go pee-pee . . . no problem, men just stepped across the road!!!

Lots of cold drinks and goodies (Tom, a retired EMT from NYC), demos chest compressions, he still remembers how to do, in case any of us have the big one due to the heat!!

We all enjoyed a delightful drink of fresh sugar cane juice. The stalks are run through a motorized press, a glass is placed below the spout and when the glass is full you drink it. INSTANT energy . . .

. . . to get us down the road. This was typical of the ‘roads’ we traveled on during most of the day. They were about as wide as an alley, back home, but serviced all the homes along the way. It was like suburbia, Vietnam style!!!

Hai  and his wife have one child and are expecting their second. He was friendly with all the little ones along the way, in fact pulling these two little ones for a mile or so!!!

Lots of dogs along the way. Most looked like this one, reminding me of Daisy back home. When I asked Hai what the breed was he said, ‘Vietnamese dog’!

This is an example of the typical home we passed along the way today. Two rooms deep and two rooms wide.

Many homes had chickens. The roosters and hens were kept separate with these wire baskets . . . great idea!

In the afternoon, we stopped at another small ‘backyard’ industrial plant. Wonder  what happened to the husks from the coconuts we saw being hulled? They are hauled to a producer like this. The threads of fiber are mechanically removed from the hull, and fed into this machine . . .

which spins the fibers into 10 different strands.

The strands are woven into mats . . .

. . . which are made thicker and fuller with every process until they are thick enough to become the ‘cocoa fiber mats’ you buy at Menard’s to put on your front porch!!!

One more short ferry ride for the day. As we were waiting, this fellow rode up with some new puppies . . .

who were very anxious to get out of their cage.

The final run for the day into Tra Vinh was during rush hour and the last several miles made for ‘interesting’ riding!!!

Day 6, Tra Vinh – Can Tho

Off we went this morning for another beautiful day bicycling through the rice fields of the mighty Mekong delta! Not quite sure how Hai knew where we were going. Some of the paved paths were only the width of a sidewalk and MANY, MANY  intersections . . .

. . . on the way out of town we passed this monument in the middle of a round-about.

Most of the rice is now mechanically harvested but many of the smaller fields and those used for local family consumption are still planted and tended to by hand.

The majority of the Vietnamese people are Buddhist and part of their belief system is if you treat your relatives, both alive and dead, with respect they will look after you while on this earth and in the afterlife. A common practice is to bury relatives right out in the rice fields in well tended private little cemeteries.

Lots of domestic ducks today which are fed during the rice growing season but are released into the fields to ‘clean up the scraps’ after the rice is harvested. Their wings are clipped so they don’t fly away!

Great infrastructure on today’s ride. Most of the cement looked new!!!

Our first temple visit along the way . . .

. . . where an orchestra made up of youngsters was waiting for the arrival of a neighboring monk, from another pagoda.


 

Nicely appointed . . .

. . .  there are vendors everywhere. This woman was selling tubers of turmeric, a popular spice used in Vietnamese cooking .

Many of the little villages we passed through today had welcome signs over the road welcoming travelers. The bigger the town, the bigger the arches.

Almost time for lunch . . .the smell of grilling meat got my taste buds working overtime!!!

The little local stores are packed to the gills with merchandise. All very colorful!! Hopefully someone is keeping inventory!

Another typical rural home . . .

. . . where many times the scooters were kept inside the front door!!!

. . . ah, time for an iced coffee break . . .YUM . . .

As our group spread out during the day, Hai spent a lot of time communicating with our two van drivers and the sweep, keeping track of where everyone was. He used two phones and had a unique way of ‘attaching’ one to his ear!!

Although the temps were now in the upper 90’s, the biking was beautiful . . .

. . . as we wheeled along though endless fields of rice. There are three crops grown through the season and this one was about two weeks from being harvested.

Many of the little clusters of homes we passed have their own centralized water system with usually a little house up the top of the water tower!!!

Lunch . . . YES. Hai made sure the menu included vegetarian items for me and there were always at least two veggie/tofu dishes, many times served before the rest of the food was delivered. Huey and Bo ‘suddenly’ became vegetarians through the trip, although Huey tried to convince Hai he would like chicken or pork in his!!

Someone has to wash the dishes . . .

. . . and just like at home, someone needs to do clean up!!!

Day 7, Can Tho – Chau Doc

Today before we left town we would visit the Cai Rang Floating Market. We loaded up in the tour boat and headed to the market  . . .

Where Tom wondered if he might be able to cash his Bank of Zimbabwe, 1 hundred trillion dollar note!!!

It was a great experience seeing all the vendors . . .

floating restaurants . . .

and buyers, many of whom were buying veggies and meats for local restaurants.

. . .something for everyone.

Back on shore, we walked through the accompanying land based market . .  .

. . . where first we encountered the veggie section . . .

. . . soon transitioning into the fresh fish section . . .

. . .  and finely the MEAT section . . . where it looked like

. .  . every  cut of meat was available . . .

fresh I’m telling you, presented in a very clean and insect free environment . . . most locals shop everyday for  . . .

. . . everything from the hooves  . . .

. . . the the heads, and everything in between!!!

We had left the land of ‘western toilets’ (except for our hotels) and were in the land of the squatters which are enjoyed by probably 3/4 of the world’s population!!!

Once on the road, we stopped at a local noodle factory  . . . where the rice flour . . .

is mixed with water to create a slurry . . .

which is ladled onto a large cooking surface . . .

. . . and after several minutes,  is retrieved with a bamboo ‘wicket’ . . .


Watch the sweeping action above!!!

and placed on open air mats to dry  . . .

in the sun.

The dried ovals are then run through the slicer and packaged!!


Here Hai and Huey give it a try in the non-motorized mode!!!
 

Back on the road we continued riding though the beautiful and lush rice fields . . .

. . . where every once in a while there was a very fancy entrance gate!

Local traffic . . .

We had hoped to get to the Vietnamese Killing Fields but ran out of time. We did have time to visit the pagoda . . .

. . . and Museum . . .

. . .whee the remains of some of the 3,000 Vietnamese that were slaughtered by Pol Pot remains are kept . . .

. . . quite a moving moment.

Day 8, Chau Doc – Phnom Penh

Today would be a day off the bikes, as we bused to the local docks  . . .

. . . and boarded our boat for our ride into Cambodia, and our home for the night Phnom Pehn.

On the river we had to stop at the Vietnam immigration station to ‘check out’ of the country. I decided to check out the bathroom which was not very inviting. Maybe the ones when you are ‘entering’ the country are in better shape!!!

There were several Vietnamese customs boats ready to take off on a moments notice!!

Soon we traveled down river a bit more and came to the Cambodian Immigration station where we ‘de-boated’ and went through immigration ‘checking  into’ Cambodia..

Squatters!!!

We checked into the Royal Palace Hotel . . . which has lots of awards

and was quite nice.

We then toured Tuol Sleng Prison, known as S21, one of Pol Pot’s many prison that existing during his regime.

This one had been an elementary school . . .

and the classrooms were used as torture chambers . . . I’l spare you the details but it is safe to say it was gruesome. It is unbelievable the horror the Cambodian population suffered during his rein of terror. Nearly every family was affected in some way. Many were killed simply because they  wore eyeglasses, which Pol Pot took as a sign of some possible being an ‘intelligentsia’ and could be someone who might cause unrest by questioning his tactics and regime.

Tonight before going our to eat we visited the Famous Correspondence Club, located on the second floor of a hotel, THE local drinking spot for journalists during the Vietnam War. Great view of the waterfront.

Scanning the menu, I noticed they had Death’s Door White Bourbon which is made in Door County, WISCONSIN!!! Of course I had to have one. Very nice and it traveled well!!!

After dinner we walked back to our hotel where if you had not had enough, there was plenty more available . . . right outside the door!!!

Day 9, Phnom Penh – Oudong – Kampong Thom

Today we would bus to our new Cambodian starting point where we would meet our van drivers and new bikes. Our new Cambodian guide, Nak, accompanied us on the bus ride. Because of the current laws, the bikes and vans cannot be moved from country to country and our touring company, Spice Roads, needs to supply new staff and equipment in each country.

Our rest stop was a local market that specialized in insects, FOR FOOD!!! The locals also had pet tarantulas you could pose with for photos. Here is TommyH making new friends . . .

 

. . . me too, including the one almost out of view climbing up my tummy!!! (the poisonous pincers have been removed).

Huey had been here before and knew the routine. Before we left, he went over to his favorite vendor

and bought a fresh  sampling of goodies from about

four of the bowls.

Nothing was moving, all dead and FRESH!!!

Nicely presented

. . . even with a few scallions and red peppers for flavor and presentation!!!

Back on the bus Huey passed them around for everyone to sample . . . the only taker, Nak! He demoed with one of  the beetles how one had to remove the wings and the legs because they were too tought. But the thorax . . .

. . . tasty!! Made me wonder . . . whens lunch!!!

Soon we arrived at a large temple where we met up with the van and our new bikes . . .

NEW Treks, AGAIN!! Just like in Vietnam!!!

We rode around the grounds making sure everything worked OK . . .

. . . admiring the statues.

The Cambodians are big on elephants!!!

Today we would ride on ‘red road’, well packed dirt roads, which took us by schools that had just let out for lunch (no bicycles for these kids they all had scooters) . . .

. . . and by some of the other local critters . . .

. . . Hey, don’t forget about me!!!!

In most cases, mechanization has replace the water buffalo as the main ‘engine’ out in the ag fields. The motorized front units with a PTO and long steering tubes are know as the ‘Iron Buffalo’. They are used for a lot more than just in the fields, here one is moving some furniture down the road!!!

. . . don’t forget the mattresses!!!

Soon it was time for a break. It was close to 100 degrees and our guides pulled plastic containers out of the coolers that had wet, chilled, rolled up little cotton towels, just like the kind you get on some planes before dinner but these were cold. What a great idea and way to ‘freshen up’.  Down right civilized!!!

. . . oh and they had great goodies too . . .

. . . everything the American palate might want . . .

. . and right next to our van was a durian tree, complete with fruit. Some people regard the durian as having a pleasantly sweet fragrance, whereas others find the aroma overpowering with an unpleasant odor. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage. The persistence of its odor, which may linger for several days, has led to the fruit’s banishment from most hotels in southeast Asia. In fact, most of our hotels had fines, similar to our smoking in hotel fines, for bringing  durian on the premises!!!B

This was a typical Cambodian country house. Most are built on stilts not because of the possibility of flooding but to provide shade, allow the house to be ‘naturally air conditioned’ and allow a place for the residents to hang hammocks for sleeping during the heat of the day!

Away we went to visit the temple on the top of the hill and to have lunch!!

As we began our climb the road turned from dirt to asphalt . . . didn’t make the climbing any easier!!

Before we toured the pagoda we had a nice box lunch . . . it was very good.

Then up the stairs we went . . .and once at the top . . .

. . . had a great view of the countryside and the large temple where we ate our lunch . . . AND to the left and behind it, a HUGE Buddha!!!

Back on the road, soon we were at our home for the night, the Glorious Hotel  . . . and it was.

Nice pool . . .

. . . and sunset. Got me in the mood for . . .

 

a tini’ as we waiting

. . . for our food to cook over the ‘hot pots’ at the restaurant we ventured to in town.

The city was very active, and like most urban areas we have been in at night, come alive with LOTS of colored lights.

We decided to take a ‘tuk tuk’ back to the hotel and shared the cab . . .

. . . with David and Brian. Total cost for the ride back $1 USD / per person!!!