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Cambodia 2010, Days 6-9 – Siem Reap

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

 

I am lumping the four days at Siem Reap together as they were spent touring the various Angkor ruins.  It has been said that one could spend seven,  eight or even more days here but, unless one is a dedicated temple freak, I believe that Kuoni got it about right and we had plenty of time to visit the the important of the temples without too much rush.  It is a fact that one can only assimilate so much knowledge in a given amount of time and as I have mentioned before the complex mix of Khmer, Buddhism and Hindu mythology which are found here leave the mind boggling.      

We were back in 4 star luxury as far as accommodation went, the Tara Angkor Hotel,which could nearly have qualified as a 5 star which was the perfect place to recover after a hard days sightseeing. Air conditioned throughout, great spa, nice restaurants and free wi-fi in the lobby.  Service also impeccable.      

Our first day started with an elephant ride across the bidge and through the Victory Gate into Angkor Thom, (literally Great City) which was the Khmer capital founded in the late 12th century by king Jayavarman VII.
 
We were then deposited back onto solid ground and headed off toward the Leper King Terrace which is off the royal square and boasts a replica of the 15th century statue of the Hindu god of death, Yama. You really needed to know that!

The terrace is named because of the lichen and moss which grew on the original statue and was reminiscent of leprosy and this complemented a Khymer legend of a Angkorian king who suffered from the disease. This is a cheery way to start the day.
 
From here we moved on to Phimeanakas, a Hindu temple in the shape of a three tier pyramid with a tower on the top. According to another legend the king was supposed to spend the first watch of every night there with a woman who represented the snake diety, Naga. Not even the queen was allowed to intrude. He was able to return to her at the second watch. It was believed that if he did not show up each night disaster would strike the land. I do not think this ploy would work at home.

   

 
A short walk down the road and one comes to the Baphuon, another three tiered temple the original of which was built in the 11th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva the destroyer. It was converted to a Buddhist temple in the 15th century and a reclining stone Buddha, 9 metres tall and 70 metres long was built on the second tier.  Due to the inherent instability of the site much of the edifice has collaplsed and it is currently being restored with aid from the French.
 
 Then on to the main attraction, the Bayon Temple, which sits in the exact centre of the city and represents the intersection of heaven and earth. It is a Buddhist temple but, believe it or not, has Hindu cosmological elements. It is famous for the huge stone faces of the Avalokiteshvara carved into the towers. One on each side facing the cardinal points of the compass. They really are amazing and there are vantage points which gives one  differing perspectives. The smiling image is thought to be a portrait of King Jayavarman an has the attracted the dubious title of “the Mona Lisa of South East Asia”!  There are 51 smaller towers surrounding the Bayon each with four faces. There are two long walls round the temple which carry bas relief scenes depicting legendary and historical events. In total there are about 11,000 carved figures. I cannot do justice to it here but i hope that the pictures on the page and the ones you will see on the links go some way to showing it attraction.
 
We were supposed to see the sunset over Angkor Wat but our guide, Srey Thy,  suggested that we give it a miss as it would be difficult to get a vantage point due to the crowds and the weather was not the best for photographing sunsets.  We were booked to see the sun rise over it (see the title photo) on the morrow and we were templed out by this time anyway.  Like many other temples  Angkor Wat started life as Hindu, dedicated to Vishnu the creator, and was later  adapted to Buddhism.  Not being a Khymer classicist I think Bayon has the edge but Angkor Wat is considered to be the epitome of Khmer architecture and is embodied in the national flag (so they must be right)!  It is imposing and is a favourite place for wedding photographs.  We came across this couple with their photographer on one of the collonades.  Unlike in the west orientals have their photography done weeks or even months before the wedding and the photos are then displayed at the ceremony, often blown up to poster size, or larger in some cases. Angkor Wat also boast the famous bass relief depicting the “churning of the ocean of milk”, the Hindu creation myth.
The following two days were spent visiting various diferent Angkor city/temple complexes which were interesting in their own right and in various states of deterioration.  The Khmer Rouge were responsible for some of the wanton destruction and lack of money and resources means that restoration many is unlikely to take place for years, if ever.  There are acres of collapsed stone like huge jigsaw pieces that would take lifetime to put into place even if one had the picture to work from. Nature has also had quite an effect especially at Ta Prohm where huge strangler fig trees have engulfed the buildings. Our tour here was enlivened by a large group of Russians, who were probably the rudest and most obnoxious crowd that we have come across on our travels, climbing over barrier ropes to photograph each other hanging from porticos and completely ignoring the protestations of the guides.
As you may have realised Siem Reap is host to a myriad of complexes all of which have their own particular histories. The last place that we visited was the minature temple  of Banteay Srei, Citadel of the Women. This is renowned for the detailed stone carvings and air of  tranquility. Our final evening in Siem Reap was spent at the Apsara Theatre for dinner and a dancing display.  The tables and benches are sunk into the floor so one is sitting with one head at roughly stage level.  A somewhat different experience to western cabaret.  This ended our time in this district of Cambodia and we prepared for the day journey to Kratie, a small town on the Mekong River and home to the Irrawadi dolphins.
 

   

 

Simplon Orient Express, Venice to Paris


This was to be an “experience of a lifetime” holiday with our friends Trevor and Helen Rankin; with them celebrating their 45 wedding anniversary and for us, Josephine’s (if you don’t know, don’t ask) birthday.  After a completely uneventful journey, all flights being on time and the Aviance business lounge at Gatwick North being a haven of peace and quiet whilst dispensing restorative alcoholic beverages, we arrived at the Hotel Kette in Venice by water taxi in the pouring rain.  22⁰ mind you. 


It is an old fashioned hotel with a charm of its own.  The staff are friendly, the rooms comfortable and the prices reasonable. We dropped our bags and hied us into the bar for a much needed cool drink.  No local beer, but they do a great line in 7.7 proof Danish Ceres! 

We elicited the concierge’s help in picking a restaurant for dinner and he recommended the Antico Martini.The report on this can be found as a separate post.  It was magnificent! 

Having got back to our room we discovered that it was only nine pm so we ordered a bottle of Chianti from room service and endeavoured to stay awake until a reasonable hour for bed. I will not  enlighten you with further details of the evening.

We awoke early to the sound of the hotel service boat exchanging laundry three floors below. The weather had cleared so I decided to go out for a stroll and found that St. Marks square was about a 3 minute walk away. Six thirty in the morning is the ideal time to wander the streets of Venice. The only people about are the early shop keepers, joggers and a few hardy tourists. The clean smell of the sea wafts between the buildings and one can take in the sights without being bustled along. 

I collected Josephine and retraced the walk before meeting up for breakfast at eight.  A goodly spread it was; fruit, cereals, cold meats, cheese and coffee to die for. 

We were collected by a water taxi to take us to the station to embark on the next stage.  We thought that it would just run round the Grand Canal, however, we were treated to a tour of the one way system which short cuts the curves of the major thoroughfare. 

Our bags were collected from the taxi and transported to the booking in desk for the Orient Express. A word of warning;  do not use the currency exchange on the station – I was offered €47.60 for £60. I know sterling is not particularly strong but that is ridiculous.

The train, 17 coaches long,  is everything that you would expect; even before one embarks it exudes an aura of opulence, added to by the liveried carriage stewards who greet you at the door.  The cabins are luxurious without being large; with built in washing facilities, complimentary dressing gowns, fan etc.  As we had adjoining cabins we opened the connecting door which gave the appearance of far more room. Our carriage steward duly instructed us as to how everything worked. 

We went to the first sitting for lunch, a three course extravaganza starting with asparagus lasgne and followed by monkfish tail on a sweet pepper crepe with a curry sauce, fennel and basmati rice in a red pepper shell. Josephine and I chose a Chianti Classico whilst Trevor and Helen went for the Sancerre. The sweet was a mixture of fresh berries with ice-cream and splashed with fresh prosecco. Yum! 

We retired to our accommodation to take a snooze and watch the passing scenery. If you are contemplating a trip on the Orient Express do pick the Venice to Paris option. We have spoken to people who have taken the London to Venice route but the views are of flat countryside and by the time it reaches the Alps it is dark. 

Dinner is a black tie affair, although this is not de rigueur , and it was disappointing the number of people who appeared in lounge suits.  This did not detract from the food.  We opted for the 7.00 sitting which proved a good choice.  This time four courses, opening with sautéed filet of Turbot meunière, tarragon and tomato sauce and diced vegetable ragout (not my favourite accompaniment). The main was a roast rack of lamb with pesto and simmered purple artichokes, accompanied by a lamb spring roll with parmesan cheese and crispy potato “Anna” cake. The lamb was perfect. I would normally cremate mine but this managed to be medium and still fall off the bone. A cheese board followed, fairly frugal but tasty and then came the coconut blancmange with cardamom scented mango. If this was not enough coffee (or tea) was served with pastries. 

We hied ourselves down to the bar for a nightcap.  The bar seats 39 people approximately and the second dinner sitting were there.  We managed to acquire seats and get served.  What followed can only be described as Pythonesque. more people came from our sitting and passed down the car towards the bar and the piano. This continued for some 30 minutes. At about 9.30 they called the second sitting for dinner and people began to file back up the carriage.  I am still do not know where the came from as once again there was a steady stream. I am just glad that we did not opt for the 9.00 dinner as it was served nearly 45 minutes late which meant it would not have finished before 11.00 – not too good to sleep on! 

We returned to our couchette which was now transformed into a sleeping compartment with bunk beds.  I had the top.  Given that it was a strange environment we slept remarkably well.  Note that these are Victorian and there is no en-suite toilet.  They supply dressing gowns (€40 from the boutique if you want to take one with your) and slippers for night time excursions. 

We had booked breakfast, which is served in the compartment, for 7.00 so at 6.45 our steward arrived to convert it back to a sitting room. A class act that took no longer than three minutes!  Breakfast consisted of fruit juice, fruit salad, yoghurt, rolls, croissants, honey, cheese, jam with coffee and tea on the side! 

We rolled majestically through the countryside for a further hour and duly arrived at the Gare de l’Est around 8.20. 

Our luggage was delivered to us at the end of the platform and the next stage of our adventure began! 

Click on the photo below to go to the album for the trip and the choose “slideshow”.

Orient Express Trip

To read about the Paris adventure click here.

Italy visit Oct 09

The pictures below are from a flying three day visit to our major Italian furniture supplier, Las Mobile, who is based in Tortoreto on the adriatic coast between Ancona and Pescara. The town is major holiday resort, especially frequented by Germans, between April and September. It boasts a long beach which extends to the neighbouring fishing port of Guilianova.

Our objective was to see if there had been any major developments in manufacturing technology and to meet with the designers and manufacturers to see if could find a machine particular to our needs. Unfortunately the only one which had the operational scope was not only extremely expensive, approx €200,000, but would also have taken up half my warehousing space. Back to the drawing board but with a couple of possible simpler solutions. Having completed our business and being taxied back across the Appenines we spent half a day sightseeing in Rome.

Café de Paris, Rome

Café de Paris, RomeI spent half a day sightseeing in Rome with two business partners whilst waiting for a late evening flight on our way back from Tortoreto on the Adriatic.  We had left our bags at the Hotel Medici in the Via Flavia and had decided to walk to the Spanish steps and thence to the Vatican.  By the time we reached the Via Veneto it was well past lunch time and the Café de Paris just happened to be adjacent.  It certainly has the air of celebrity and the waiter ushered us to a table in the corner which gave us an all round view of the street.  We ordered water and soft drinks, I had an exceptionally good fresh orange and grapefruit mix.  A basket of rolls and butter, olive oil, a spray container of balsamic vinegar, black pepper and salt were left whilst we contemplated the menu. For starters two  had soup, one onion and one seafood.  Both were extremely tasty and definately substantial. The third choice was a lasagne alla bolognaise and again there was no complaint.  I chose escalope of veal with a mushroom sauce and artichokes and my companions had escalope Milanaise and sirloin steak: we ordered a plate of fries on the side.  The portions were of a  reasonable size and well presented.  The escalope was well cooked and the sauce delicious.  The vegetables accompanying the other meals were shaved carrot and sweet potato.  We did not bother with coffee.  The establishment is not a place to visit if you are travelling on a budget and the price tag of €201 plus some small change reflects this.  Still, if you want a great ambience and to sit and watch the great and the good go by I can think of far worse places to do it.

Greenhills Hotel, St. Peter’s, Jersey

Our last day, a beautiful September morning in the garden

Our last day, a beautiful September morning in the garden

We went to Jersey, and the Greenhills Hotel, on the recommendation of a friend. It was a short break from work, flying from Belfast on Wednesday and back on the Saturday. From the moment we arrived we were made to feel totally at home and the staff could not have been more friendly or helpful. The management team of Carmelita and Joe have everything organised to a T. As we only had a few days we booked half board. This was a good decision as, after a days walking the cliffs and visiting the attractions, it was great to have a shower, a drink in the bar and then be served some of the best food I have had in a hotel anywhere, (5 courses if you include coffee and canapes). The soups and fish would warrant special mention. Breakfast with a magnificent choice of fruit (and cereals if you are that way inclined), kippers, smoked haddock, or complete fries set one up for the day. All in all, considering the price of a hotel of anywhere near this quality in Ireland, at £188 a couple with a car thrown in, this realy was value for money. The gardens are beautiful and I would like to see them in the spring or summer. Although the weather was really good we did not venture into the pool. Altogether a memorable experience. We will be back

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge

Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge, Ballingarry, Co. Limerick

Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge, Ballingarry, Co. Limerick

I stayed at the Echo Lodge on a business trip to Ballinvreena, Count Limerick, and an excellent choice it turned out to be.  Built as a convent in 1884 it has an old world charm which is reflected throughout, including the welcome from the owner, Dan.  There is no bar as such and on requesting a campari and soda before dinner I was seated on a large sofa in the library. The drink arrived accompanied by complimentary smoked salmon mousse with radish on crispbread.  This definitely set the standard for what was to come. The Mustard Seed menu is compact but offers a variety to cater for all tastes.  I started with a crab and nori seaweed roll in tempura batter with mango and avocado salsa which brought out all the flavours. This was followed by a leek and potato soup.  The soup was a puree and had a delicious hint of lovage.  As a main course I indulged in a pan fried breast of guinea fowl with foie gras.  This was accompanied by garden greens (they have their own kitchen garden) a truffle and shallot velouté  and crispy sweet potato.  This was washed down with a half bottle of an excellent Pinot Grigio. The wine list leaves nothing to be desired either.  To complete this delightful meal they served a crème brûlée that was to die for.  I was listening to a party of Americans discuss whether or not to try it and my recommendation not to hesitate reaped an avid response.  As often happens in such a congenial atmosphere we got talking over a bowl or two of Armagnac and thus concluded the best meal I have had this year. With a price tag of €63 for dinner, plus €17 for wine, it cannot be said to be expensive, in fact I have had far poorer meals with double the price tag.  A word of caution, do not expect early an breakfast.  The chef starts at 8 am.  Of course this is worth waiting for as well!