Monday, October 29, 2012
We'll keep trying!
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Our second day in Kandy, Sri Lanka, involved more than just the elephants (see Emily's post). We hired a tuk-tuk for the whole day, and while our driver, Suresh, spoke little English, he knew a lot of great spots. He showed us trees with branches heavy with bats, thousands of them, looking like seed pods except for the occasional lazy flight to check if anything tasty had happened by.
He showed us a porcupine vendor, selling needles he'd plucked, or the whole (live) animal if you wanted (we didn't). He bought us coconuts and red bananas, the former sourer than in West Africa, the latter sweeter. But that was just the little stuff.
After the elephants, we went to a tea plantation. At the factory, they show you the whole process to make the various teas. (I'd always assumed green and black teas were from different species, but they're both made from the same tea plant, the difference is in the preparation.) Then you get a complimentary cup of tea, which is very good marketing because it tastes so good that you can't help but want to buy some. Which we did. Then Suresh drove up into the plantation itself, acres and acres of tea bushes.
From there, we wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens, but a rainstorm was looming so Suresh brought us first to a gem museum. Sri Lanka has over 140 precious and semi-precious stones found in its mines, and all the mining is done by Sri Lankan companies, no outside interests. After the tour and video, you have the chance to buy them, loose or set in jewelry. Em really liked it; they treat you like an important jewel trader, sitting at a private table with the stones on a viewing tray while you discuss cut and color and clarity...even if you're just buying some cheap aquamarines or opals.
The rain had come and gone by the time we'd had our fill of discussing the finer points of turquoise, so we headed to the Botanical Gardens. Just beautiful. The cactus house was closed, but we saw some great orchids, a vast expanse of grass, an avenue lined with hundreds of palm trees, a tree kind of like a great oak in that branches might dip back to the ground (but very different in that when they did so, they dropped roots and became trees in their own right), and groves of giant bamboo!
We ended the trip by traveling up the mountain to a Buudhist temple with an 88-foot tall statue on top, the second tallest Buddha in the country. They let you take the stairs about halfway up the back of the statue, where you get a stunning view of the valley Kandy is nestled in.
See why we wanted to wait for pictures??
Before saying goodbye to Suresh, we gave him a small cake and a Buddhist talisman for prosperity that we'd bought at the temple, because it was his birthday! And because he was great. If you ever plan a trip to Kandy, we highly recommend him. Drop him a line at email@example.com, and tell him we said "hi"!
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Ok, ok, we've had pictureless posts already because of technical difficulties, but this one is about some things we've done where we didn't take photos anyway.
Last night in Paris
Saturday night we went to an underground art show. Not so much underground in the sense of illegal, though it probably was technically breaking some zoning codes since it was held in a residential building, more underground in the sense that the artists were all more or less complete unknowns. The "gallery" was the staircase and hallways (and one room) of a cheap apartment building. Mostly photography, some"site-specific" installations, and one participatory show (which we missed). Very avant-garde, very pretentious artists (that's not just my opinion either, Nico's Parisian girlfriend who is studying art history at the Louvre said the same thing), and a painfully earnest curator, and I don't pretend to have understood any of it, but it was certainly an interesting experience and I'm glad the world is big enough to have such things in it.
Since we started out the night doing something so very, very Parisian, we saw no need to quit while we were ahead, so after dinner we went to a little hole-in-the-wall bar that serves absinthe the traditional way: a slotted spoon is placed over a glass, and a sugar cube is put on it. The absinthe is poured into the glass, with enough poured over the sugar to coat it. Then the cube is lit on fire and the sugar allowed to melt into the drink. Once the flame has gone out, water from a small spigot is poured in, dissolving the remaining sugar and diluting the drink to something a bit more palatable. I asked Nico if he'd ever seen the green fairy. He said, "No, but she's around."
After an evening of watching traditional dancing (for which Em has composed a post with pictures and video...but unfortunately that's one of the technical difficulties mentioned above, so look for it soon!) in Kandy, we decided to go to the Temple of the Buddha's Tooth, which is right on the lake. The reason for no pictures of such a place? Confusion, mostly. The sign at the ticket Booth listed an additional fee for cameras, which seemed neither exorbitant nor extraordinary, so when Em asked for two tickets, I said "and a camera". To which the ticket agent simply responded "No cameras." Which I assumed was because we were there during one of the twice daily prayer times, when they open the chamber with the reliquary for viewing (not the relic itself, they only open the reliquary to display the tooth once a year). However, there certainly WERE any number of people taking pictures, and one sign even asked visitors not to take pictures of people (presumably implying that pictures of the statues, art, and architecture were a-ok), but by that point Em and I had already decided to err on the side of respect, and I let my camera be. Best guess is the ticket agent was just cutting us a break, but I'm happy with the outcome anyway; it was nice to look around and read the plaques and absorb the atmosphere without always looking for the next great shot. And it turns out the ticket came with a mini-DVD, so anyone dying to see what we saw need only fly out to Burkina to watch it with me; no need to go all the way to Sri Lanka!
We've packed a lot into our short stay, but I'll start by talking about one of the most incredible experiences in my opinion:
Cavorting with ELEPHANTS
The first place we went was an elephant orphanage where we watched baby elephants getting bottle-fed milk. Some were only 3 months old and about the size of fat great danes and others were a bit older with legs about the size of...me. Tourists paid to feed the bigger ones - they'd go thru a liter bottle in less than 20 seconds.
We then went over to the adult elephants and watched one get fed plates and plates of bananas, papayas, pineapple, and watermelon. The elephant would stuff its mouth as each piece was put on its tongue one after another, pick up any dropped pieces with its trunk, then chew and swallow the whole lot.
Next we wandered over to a field full of families of elephants, were coaxed into nervously standing next to and petting one (little did we know we would later be getting much more intimate with a much larger elephant), and saw a large blind guy eating leaves.
From there, we stopped into a small artisan factory with a sign outside saying "Poo paper sold here!" We learned that this was referring to paper made from elephant dung, which hardly smells at all as it is mostly comprised of fiber. We would have bought bunches of things from there as gifts that freaked people out had everything not been so expensive..
We left the shop just in time to see the whole herd tramp by on the way to the river to bathe.
It was super cool to see the younger, fiestier ones splash around and play in the water with one another.
After all this, we were feeling like we'd had our elephant fill and could move on to one of the other 100 things planned for the day. Good thing I thought twice and told our driver to turn his tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) around after passing an "elephant safari".
No, we will not be bringing home ivory jewelry...it was a spot where one could ride elephants. So DW and I clambered onto the back of Siita, a speckled older lady elephant and trekked off to the jungle..by way of a two-lane road. It felt so badass to be looking way over the tops of buses that were swerving to avoid us.
We then went into a river for an "elephant shower" where Siita, on command, sucked water into her trunk, pointed it back at us, and drenched us repeatedly. After getting thoroughly soaked, she sat down, leaned to the side, and let us slide off of her to stand in the river. Then she laid all the way down on her side and we were given coconut shells to scrub her down. Finally, we were told to come around to the other side of her and sit on her shoulder. As we got up to get out of the river, DW tripped on her leg but she was very chill about it and just moved it away. I suppose for her it was about like a dog brushing past your leg.
I never imagined I would ever be so up close and personal with such giant creatures and I could never have guessed it would be so relaxed and fun. We have tons more pics here and here. Wish us safe and easy travels on to Thailand (tomorrow)!
Saturday, October 20, 2012
I mentioned in an earlier post (and sorry for the deluge of posts, by the way, but Emily and I are both playing catch up) that Emily prepared a surprise for me.
My hair had been getting pretty long before we left, so much so that our friend Lorena begged me to let her cut it. But I told her I was holding out for a real Paris do. We looked around the part of Montmartre we're staying in, and found a couple salons, but we agreed (so I thought!) that I could just walk in Saturday morning or even Sunday, no need to rush.
But Emily was quietly scheming all the while. She had not only found a barbershop for me, she'd found one that offers shaves with a straight razor! I've been a safety razor user for years - you have to be more careful than with the modern stuff, but when you do it right it's a closer and gentler shave - but I'd never used a straight razor. Always wanted to though, I'd heard it's farther down the same path - closer and gentler if done right, but with a higher price if you mess up. And actually, I really WAS in need of a shave by Friday, when the surprise took place. (I knew in advance there would be one, but I had no inkling what it might be. The one word I'd thought I'd overheard was "hurricane.") It turns out that was in part because Emily had hidden my razor so I wouldn't think about it.
Emily got me the works - a cut and a shave. And it. was. AMAZING. The place itself, Les Mauvais Garçons, has an old school feel (for example, there's an advert on the wall for toothpast made with the "Curie formula" of thorium and radium so those pearly whites REALLY shine), but despite that feel they serve a younger, more chic crowd.
(Not pictured: The giant Mac monitor right next to the cash register.)
Ah, Paris....wining and dining and wining some more....
We've definitely taken advantage of the beautiful atmosphere of this city and all the good eats it contains.
One of the quintessential ways we did so was to go on a lovely prix fixe dinner date at a small french restaurant. Nico recommended a place called "La Baignoire", which as the name ("The Bathtub") may indicate, was actually quite relaxed and un-intimidating for a prix fixe Parisian restaurant.
DW was a perfect gentleman and got me these roses on the way there
Once there, I had a meal full of the lightest things I could find on the menu (still recovering from some small stomach issues..): an avocado, crab, and granny smith apple appetizer, then crawfish "poêlée" and vegetable cannelloni, and for dessert an apple crumble with vanilla ice cream...
DW, on the other hand, opted for the frenchiest things he could find on the menu: foie gras with fig jam, beef with cognac sauce and potatoes au gratin, and a cheese plate for dessert.
Needless to say, it was DELICIOUS.
Afterwards, we met up with Nico to go out on the town for a bit... He took us to a small neighborhood bar called "Rendez-vous des amis" where we had some blonde(!) Pelforths (you know what I'm talkin bout Burkina folks).
Then we stopped into this fantastic place with the oldest pacman machine ever (so fun) and the BEST cocktails in Paris. The most notable one was a basil and mango mojito with a fizzy lollipop - and liquid nitrogen - on top. We'd heard some bad things about this practice in the states, but the bartender assured us those were silly Americans who just did it wrong; and voila! We survived!
[photos from Nico to come]
Another romantic evening we had was going to a Burlesque show in which a friend of Nico's was performing. We didn't actually get to see his friend perform (she was at the very end of the show), but we did see some other very good performances in the tiny little cellar:
And even with my uber-feminist leanings, it was really a nice, empowering show. Lovely!
The other (less racy) romantic things on this trip have come from simply strolling around town. The beautiful little houses (and urban vineyards?!) we've seen are just picture-perfect.
Overall, we're filling ourselves up on great food and loads of romance. C'est Paris! Ou bien?
Emily was sick our first day in Paris, so I went out with her Aunt Jill to the Louvre. Emily did not spend ALL her time lying in bed, as it turns out - she also set up a lovely surprise for me later in the week - but that's a topic for a separate post.
The walk to the Louvre brought us through a very fancy pants arcade. We didn't have the money to shop, nor even really the interest to window shop, but it kept us out of the rain nicely.
Before entering the main room where you buy your tickets, you can get a pretty good view of some of the enclosed sculpture gardens.
Then you go into the main hall - the one with the glass pyramid Parisians love to hate.
Some random good stuff:
I'm not going to include the pictures I took of the Mona Lisa. That's just downright trite, even if I did take some to remember I was there. Honestly, this picture, which hangs just opposite her, I found to be much more impressive, but maybe that's just the American in me - it's one of the two biggest paintings hanging in the Louvre. This is "The Wedding Feast at Cana," by Veronese, and it just blows my mind to think about how difficult it must be to keep your lines clean and your lighting realistic when painting such a huge work. The colors are great too, though sadly I couldn't get that very well - no flash photography at the Louvre!
Scene of a Flood, by Girodet de Roussy-Trioson is not about the biblical flood, rather a natural cataclysm. The man is trying in vain to save both the past (in the form of his aged father) and the future (his wife and children). [Rough translation from the plaque next to the painting]
This is the coronation of Josephine as Empress, and is the other of the two biggest paintings in the museum. It is by Louis David, who I think was my favorite artist in this section; he had a lot of great stuff.
Giant slate sarcophagus. Wow, I wonder how much it weighs. To the right, the sort of thing that would go inside.
And at the display of what would go inside THAT, a couple children are introduced to the mummy that is about to eat them.
We also saw a few gems just walking around. Which is typical for Paris. Anyway, this statue commemorates what is apparently a famous story here about a man who could walk through walls - up until one day when halfway through, he found he couldn't anymore. We did our best to help him out, but eventually were forced to admit defeat and leave him to his fate.
Last but not least, we saw this on a random house on our walk and knew we had to have a picture of it. Shout out to Katie and Kelsey, whom we can't wait to see in Seattle!