After a weekend of thunderstorms which included a lot of lightning hits, California is ablaze with wildfires. The town next to ours is under an evacuation warning and we decide to get out of the fouled air and scary circumstances for a week in St. George, Utah. We rent a two bedroom “villa” in the complex where we used to have our vacation home.
Since Sarah is coming with us we have three drivers for the long trip. This is the first time we are on the road since the pandemic started and it is a little scary to be finding bathrooms and take-out food on the road. But it all goes smoothly and we reach St. George around 6 PM after a very early start.
We have had to make two reservations – one for the first night and then move into our digs for the the other six nights. The first one seems nice but we are so tired that we hardly notice it. The second one is unfortunately less nice and has many corners cut which seem like false savings for the owners. Polished concrete floors, terrible paper products, bad noise insulation, and no non-stick cookware are nits that really effect the quality of our stay. We even go out and buy a non-stick frying pan so we can cook eggs!
Sarah spends her time moseying around, taking some pictures, accompanying me to the grocery store, and reading. John and I get up really early several days to play tennis. We walk over to the courts in the semi-darkness at 6:45 AM. St. George is really far west in the Mountain Time Zone. Although we can use the tennis courts, we cannot reserve one which makes me quite nervous as to whether our getting up before dawn will come to naught. However, although some other people use one of the courts there is always one open for us. It is warm early in the morning, usually in the low 70s but the sun does not emerge from behind the cliff until about 7:45 so the weather is tolerable. Later in the day it will be over 100F.
Our other major activity is figuring what to make for dinner without our usual pantry to help out. A trip to our local grocery store, Harmon’s, is a daily activity. It is a beautiful, well-stocked store. Even Sarah is impressed.
We also take a trip down memory lane and take a walk over to our old house. The landscaping has really grown. It definitely needs to be cut back. We look from the front and the back. We are afraid to get too close. While we are in St. George I am nostalgic for our old house and even look at real estate listings but everything is too expensive! Plus taking that 10+ hour drive is beyond what our old bones want to do.
Fortunately the fire does not reach our town and the fire teams do a great job getting it under control. By the time we get back the danger is passed and even the air has improved. I think we will consider taking another vacation to St. George, though.
Our plan today is to visit the Portland Art Museum. It is about one half mile from the hotel. Walking to attractions and restaurants is reminiscent of being in Europe where you do so much walking that it burns all the calories from all the yummy food you eat.
Along the way we come across a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Since it is his birthday I snap his picture. Since the U.S. is going to hell in a hand basket I find an apropos quote of his. “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Abraham Lincoln
The Portland Art Museum is full of welcoming people. We buy our tickets and drop off out outerwear and start our perusal. First we look at a display of photos and paintings about Mt. St. Helens. It is actually pretty close to Portland. I always thought of it as a Washington thing.
Then after some difficulty we find the European collection. There is quite a bit of 18th century French stuff (not my fave)
and some mid-19th century proto-Impressionist paintings which are interesting.
I am pleased to see that there are some early Renaissance/Renaissance pieces as well.
Unfortunately before we get to the modern wing, I am feeling not too well. The combination of eating fried foods and drinking which I am not used to is rearing its ugly head. We return to the hotel around 2PM and have a quiet afternoon waiting for my system to calm down.
Luckily I am okay in time for dinner! We walk to a place called Q for dinner. They have small plates as well as entrees. We decide on small plates and order two vegetable dishes as well as duck spring roll and rabbit pâté. Thank goodness the vegetables come first because these are the biggest small plates we have seen. I am basically finished after the vegetables. The roasted root vegetables are great.
Tomorrow morning we are meeting very old friends for breakfast. I am really looking forward to seeing them!
Today is mostly a driving day and settling into Portland. When we get up this morning it is soooo cold. Ice is on the windshield! What a big difference from home! I am really glad I bought a winter jacket.
For lunch I find a Vietnamese restaurant, Ba’s Vietnamese Comfort Food, in Albany, OR. We are looking forward to a big bowl of beef pho. Of course when we get there the only thing they are out of is beef pho. We settle for chicken pho. This pho is different from the pho we had near Vancouver. It is sweeter, the noodles are different, and does not have an egg. It also is not served with spicy condiments. When we were in Vietnam we learned the spicy food is in the North and sweeter dishes come from the South around Saigon. Maybe the owners of Ba’s came from the South.
We reach Portland around 3 PM and check into our hotel, The Benson. We stayed here in 2007 when we came up to see the U.S. win the Davis Cup. Our room is large with lots of windows but the bathroom is tiny. No place to put anything!
Our goal this afternoon is to relax, shower, check out the hotel’s Sippin’ Hour, and go to Jake’s for dinner. We need to fulfill our quest for razor clams which we have not had since 2007.
When we go to Jake’s we are not disappointed. There are razor clams on the menu! These delightful clams are only in season during the winter and are dependent on weather conditions. They dig them up by hand, pound them thin to tenderize, and fry the clam in bread crumbs. So good!
I am so excited to be meeting Sophie in San Antonio. I have not been with her for almost two years. Way too long! I meet her at the airport and we are all smiles and hugs. We get our rental car and head to the Residence Inn near the center of downtown.
The first night we have dinner at a Mexican place near the end of the Riverwalk called Maria Mia’s. We eat seafood tacos. There will be a lot of seafood tacos over the next few days.
One thing that we want to make sure we do is take lots of pictures of us and where we visited. I think we accomplish that goal. We turn out not to be very good at selfies but lots of times there are willing tourists to take a picture of us together. Another thing we want to accomplish is lots of talking. We definitely accomplish that! Our hotel room has a nice sitting area where we talk for hours about our kids and grandkids, our husbands, trips we have been on, the terrible state of politics in the U.S., and lots of other random stuff. It is so great!!
On our first full day we visit The Alamo. The woman we rent the audio guides from tells us that it takes about 45 minutes to use the guide and see The Alamo. Hah! She doesn’t know us! It takes us 3 hours!
The Alamo is quite small but there are so many interesting facts. I only knew that it was involved in Texas independence and that Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie died there. We are hearing and seeing a lot more history than that! Lots of stuff about who was fighting there, what their causes were, and how it affected the U.S. as a whole.
Towards the end of our Alamo visit I am so tired and thirsty that I am seeing spots in front of my eyes. I think it is time for some food and a little sit-down. We walk to the nearest place we can find, Menger’s Bar, passing a statue of Teddy Roosevelt who sought volunteers for his Rough Riders while he was eating and carousing at Menger’s Bar.
It seems that the only person in the bar/restaurant is one guy. We give him our order and wait. And wait. We check with the barman who says the food is on its way. And we wait and wait. After an hour we are about ready to give up when the barman goes to the kitchen to find out what is going on. Finally we get our lunch. We are getting it for free due to the wait. Of course we had plenty to talk about and pictures to take while we waited.
After our very late lunch we go back to the room to chat and to have a little rest. Both of us fall asleep! In the evening we walk over to ORO, a restaurant in a nearby hotel. It is pretty much deserted except for some bar patrons. We have some fish and vegetables. It is pretty good although the fish is a little overcooked.
The next day is our Riverwalk day. Our introduction to the Riverwalk on the first night we were here was something like being in the middle of a food court with some water running through it. The famous San Antonio Riverwalk must be more than that! And it is. We walk up past the Alamo to La Villita, a little artsy village in San Antonio. Monday seems to be a pretty quiet day in La Villita with many shops closed or out of business. We look in one shop where they have a cross between tourist schlock and native pieces. We head down to the Riverwalk in the La Villita area. It is much prettier and quieter in this part of the Riverwalk. There are wide sidewalks with lots of flowers and the occasional bench to sit on. We take some pictures along the way.
We decide to take the little boat that plies the Riverwalk river (the San Antonio River). We meet some other people who think our idea of meeting in different places is a good one. We have a big conversation with them while waiting for the boat. On the boat our guide tells us about the history of the Riverwalk and how it was originally built for flood control. He points out the flood control features. He lets us in on what parts are natural river and what is man made. He points out a restaurant that is the oldest on the river. We decide to go there for a late lunch.
After deciding it is too cold to enjoy lunch outside we head into Casa Rio. I once again have seafood tacos and Sophie has the biggest taco salad I have ever seen!
Once again we finish lunch fairly late in the afternoon and decide to walk back to the hotel for some good girl talk and a little rest. Tonight we shall dine at Acenar, a restaurant that has been recommended. It is kind of a long walk in the dark and there are some sketchy characters along the way. We decide to walk back a different way.
Hey, I remember to take pictures of the food tonight. I have, you guessed it, fish tacos with black beans and rice. Sophie, who is still full from the gigantic lunch salad, gets three shrimp street tacos. The food is good and our walk back along the Riverwalk is pretty although pretty dark.
For our last full day of our trip we choose to go to the San Antonio Art Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden. San Antonio as it turns out has a very nice art museum. Among other things it has a Deposition panel by the workshop of Lorenzo Monaco and two John Singer Sargent portraits. There is an impressive Chinese ceramics wing and lots of early 20th century American paintings which look much like European Impressionism of the late 19th century. Sophie and I have a little fun doing our take of the Sargent portraits.
Then it is on to the Japanese Tea Garden. It is built in an abandoned quarry. It was renamed the Chinese Tea Garden during WWII when the Japanese-American architect of the garden was also thrown out of his house on the property. Anyway the architect and his family were invited back after the end of the war and the name was changed back to Japanese Tea Garden. It is lovely with water features, koi, and a great variety of plants.
For our final dinner we opt to go to the top of the Tower of the Americas. The Tower of the Americas is a 750-foot observation tower with the Chart House restaurant revolving 360 degrees near the top. It was built as the theme structure of the 1968 World’s Fair, HemisFair ’68.
In order to keep the view of the surrounding city visible, it is necessary to keep the lights very low. Sophie and I have to use the flashlight feature of our phones to read the menu! Really none of our pictures turned out well at all. Here is the best one of Sophie.
The next day was departure day. We were sad to leave each other after such a wonderful time together. We have made a pact to see each other a few times a year either on the East Coast, the West Coast or somewhere in between!
The last day of our trip and Bangkok is on the schedule. We have decided not to go on the excursion. We just cannot imagine a two to three hour trip each way on the bus. The temperatures today are supposed to be in the mid-90s with lots of humidity. I am still coughing from my cold and John is toured-out. We will have to visit Bangkok another time when we feel up to it.
It is lovely being on the ship without all the other people. Yesterday we could not find a seat for lunch but today we have the dining room pretty much to ourselves. Wish we still wanted to eat cruise food!
Update: 11/30/19. We are home having spent 26 hours in transit bus riding, waiting and layover, two plane rides (and the rigmarole associated with air transportation), and the car ride home. We each slept about 20 minutes over that 26 hours.
On the way to the Bangkok airport, Thailand looks much more developed than Vietnam and Cambodia. As we drive along the modern highways the terrain is flat with palm trees and little lakes and waterways. It looks a lot like Florida! There are communities of apartments which appear to have air conditioners. There is a lot of commerce and industry. I regret not seeing Bangkok on Thursday but do not regret missing the excursion. There has to be a better way to visit!
Here are three pictures of a fabulous statue in the Bangkok airport. It was so enormous that I had to take all three. It is called the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Based on a Hindu story, the Devas (demons) formed an alliance with the Asuras (gods)to jointly churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality and to share it among themselves. A mountain was brought as a turning point and a serpent was twisted around it to rotate the mountain. Vishnu, the chief Hindu god, sits on top of the mountain to stabilize it
Would I do this particular Viking trip again? No. I think this is mostly because the ports where Viking docked were mostly so far away from the things you wanted to see that we were scrunched on buses for hours, usually around 4 hours round trip. A 6.5 hour excursion was actually only 2.5 hours of actual experience. Trust me, an Asian bus is more suited to smaller Asians than tall and wide Americans.
On the other hand, it was an unforgettable experience. From sparkling Hong Kong with its fabulous setting, its clean, beautiful high rise towers, and wonderful every night harbor light show to Cambodia’s sad squalor we got to see four unique countries. The people were lovely. They were full of kindness and smiles for us which is amazing considering the fact that their history with outsiders from the Vietnam war to the massacre of the Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge and now the impingement of China in Hong Kong has been devastating to them.
If the first day of being in Cambodia was distressing, today is even more so. Our first stop is at a fishing village. Our guide tells us that most of the people in the countryside who are doing farming and the fishermen are uneducated. That must be nearly 80% of the people of Cambodia. The fishermen and their families look like they live in squalid, unsanitary conditions with the men going out at night to fish and returning in the morning and the women taking care of many children.
Our guide tells us that Cambodian people see the flies that are around the fish and produce in the markets are a good thing. He says if the food is not attracting flies then there must be something wrong with it. Considering that flies carry diseases, it is an odd concept. It also makes me wonder about the food we cooked yesterday!
Next we go to Independence Beach. This beach and its hotel were made famous when Jacqueline Kennedy came here in 1967 hoping to improve relations between Cambodia and the U.S. The sea looks inviting and there are benches to sit on. The garbage is a little less pronounced as this is the first place we have seen trash containers. We watch some young people enjoying the day. They go swimming in their street clothes. There are lots of tall buildings nearby. Most are unfinished. Our guide tells us that there have been problems with the Chinese construction. Inferior quality building materials have caused some of the buildings to collapse killing Cambodian people.
Our last stop is at a Buddhist complex. Traditionally becoming a monk was a way for poor boys to receive an education.
We see a demonstration of Cambodian dance, some large statues of Buddha, and a temple.
On the way back to the boat our guide, Senh, really unloads about what has happened to Cambodia and the Cambodian people. He talks about Pol Pot and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. Pol Pot had a view of Cambodia as an agrarian socialist society. So he forcibly removed the urban population to the countryside to work or collective farms. Anyone who was considered an enemy of the Pol Pot government was killed. This included intellectuals, minorities, teachers, doctors, and certainly anyone who spoke English as they could be secret CIA operatives. These mass killings plus malnutrition and poor medical care killed between 1.5 to 2 million people, a quarter of the Cambodian people. With the approach of the 21st century Cambodia was devoid of a generation of people who could have helped the country to advance. They are still largely uneducated. Senh said that if you have no education then you do not even know what to dream about.
So we are feeling pretty sad about the conditions that these sweet, smiling people have to live in as we return to our fancy boat and have our dinner where we can send back any food that does not meet our standard and go to bed in a king size bed with clean sheets after we have seen the Cambodian people swinging in their hammocks. I think I will not post pictures of what we ate for dinner today.
Today we have a cooking class in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I am expecting Cambodia to be a lot like Vietnam but it is far behind in development. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge basically wiped out, as in killed, a whole generation of people who were educated teachers, doctors, and professionals. So Cambodia is struggling to get back on its feet and is relying on Chinese investment to help. It looks like so far it has not helped enough.
Views from the bus –
Most of the roads are partly dirt due to construction or lack of maintenance. The bus has to go very slowly, probably about 20 mph or less. Then the bus driver cannot find the Don Bosco School where we are taking our cooking course and must make u-turns in the middle of the street with motorbikes and people everywhere. Finally we reach our destination and need to walk down a hot and dusty road to the school. Everything is set up for us to cook.
We are making two dishes, Fish Amok, which is fish in a curry paste steamed in banana leaves and Khmer meat pancake with sweet fish sauce. The parts we actually do are to make the curry paste, cook the meat, make a basket out of our banana leaves, cook the pancake, and make the fish sauce. Chef makes the batter for the pancake and steams the Fish Amok.
Making a little box out of the banana leaves is harder than you might imagine. You have to fold the banana leaves just so four times and secure it with toothpicks. We are all laughing pretty hard at our feeble attempts. John has made an unrecognizable box and mine is leaking the sauce that the fish is in slowly out the sides. They go into a big steamer.
We make a spicy fish sauce with spices and chilis and coconut milk. Then we cook a combination of pork and shrimp to put inside a rice pancake. With only minor conflagrations we cook the meat. No one cooks a successful pancake. Plus they did not tell us to put the meat into the pancake and roll it inside like an omelet. Mostly everyone’s pancakes just look like scrambled eggs.
It has been great fun learning about Cambodian cuisine. The people are so lovely and sweet that it makes you so sad for the situations they live in. We especially wonder about our female tour guide. What kinds of hard times did she have to go through to get educated. She tells us that most of the girls in the country side are uneducated and marry around 16. They cannot go to school because it is not safe for them to walk to school and the Buddhist monks do not teach girls. How hard must it have been for our tour guide.
Later we have dinner at the Chef’s Table. It is the same as the dinner we had a couple days earlier. I have a better picture of the apple dessert though. It is really yummy and is constructed out of thin layers of caramelized apple into the shape of an apple.
John seems almost better today but I am still going through a lot of tissues and feeling sort of miserable. We have breakfast in the room where I get a totally uncooked sausage. It is red, raw inside. Yuck! That is two culinary mishaps so far on this trip. What’s up with that!?
Today is a day at sea so we have nowhere to be. While I nap John goes to a culinary demonstration which turns out to be tiramisu. I have actually made tiramisu once with a recipe that Sarah gave me. It turned out well. I really don’t intend on ever making one again so I don’t feel bad about missing the demonstration. John also spends some time looking at the art around the ship using the Viking Art Guide App.
Around noon he comes back to get me for trivia. The topic is movies. I know one answer out of 15. John only knows a few. We are carried by the rest of the team and score a somewhat respectable 12 which is definitely a losing score. I feel like a movie dummy.
After looking at the lunch offerings in the World Cafe we decide to go down to The Restaurant which is open for lunch on sea days. Lunch is much fancier at The Restaurant than at the World Cafe.
In the afternoon I catch up with writing posts for my blog. I had gotten two days behind. Even though John takes lots of notes, once a few days have passed I have trouble remembering everything we did. It will be easy to remember what I did today because it was basically nothing. I am not going to post these entries to social media since they are mostly just about what we ate. John and I find it interesting to post all our culinary delights but most people just find it boring.
As the afternoon wears on we run into a line of thunderstorms. We go to the Explorer Lounge where we can see the lightning in action! Later we go to dinner at “The”.
As we are leaving dinner people are streaming into the Star Theater for a presentation by Patrick Roberts who is a violinist. He plays mostly pop tunes with a prerecorded backup orchestra (that is too loud.) He does do a creditable performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. We enjoy our evening.
Today we are supposed to have another tour of the Ben Thanh market except this time we go around with an herbalist/doctor. John is still recovering from his cold and mine is in full swing. So we decide to stay on the ship, nap, and try to recover.
In the early afternoon the ship leaves Ho Chi Minh City and is on route to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Tomorrow will be a day at sea and another chance for us to recuperate. We leave via the Soai Rap river which empties into the South China Sea. We see aquaculture farms and rice paddies along the way.
After spending the afternoon doing nothing we have dinner at The Chef’s Table where we have the menu – La Route des Indes.
After dinner we hurry back to our room for another night of healing sleep.
NOTE: Along with John I have also caught a cold. Because I need to take colds seriously, we have cancelled our excursion for 11/24, and 11/25 is a day at sea. This gives us two days to try and get well before we visit Cambodia. I probably will not have much to write about for those two days.
If you enjoy bus rides than this is the cruise for you. Today, especially, the ratio of time on the bus to time actually seeing something interesting is especially poor. Our excursion of six hours included about one hour and fifteen minutes of seeing something interesting. Since our boat is docked an hour away from the city, that is two hours sunk in just going back and forth. Driving in Ho Chi Minh City is especially tedious because there is so much traffic. And this is on Saturday when there is less traffic.
We finally reach a temple, Jade Pagoda, to see. It is a combination Buddhist/Hindu place built in 1900. Our guide suggests we go in and put our hand on our hearts and make a wish. Our guide, along with the majority of Vietnamese, does not belong to any organized religion. I find it uncomfortable to be making wishes and taking pictures where people are worshipping. Our guide does not come in with us so other than the Buddha we have no idea what we are looking at. This took up 20 minutes of our non-bus time. Some of the statutes in the Jade Pagoda –
Now we crawl along in the traffic while the guide points out a couple of things. Here’s the Opera House.
Here is the Post Office built by the French.
We stop for five minutes to take a picture of the reunification palace.
Interestingly our guide,who is a young woman, says that there are still a lot of people in South Vietnam (she refers to South Vietnam as if it were still a country) who are angry that North Vietnam took over the South. She also says that the Americans did not lose the war. They just gave up. She also told us that South Vietnamese and maybe all Vietnamese hate China and Chinese people and especially Chinese tourists. She says the Chinese are rude and crude. She gives us examples of bad behavior.
Then we ride around a block a couple of times so she can show us where the iconic picture of South Vietnamese trying to get on to the last U.S. helicopter was taken. She says it was not on the roof of the U.S. Embassy but on the roof of the C.I.A. Building. We cannot see what she is referring to.
Then we go to a wood lacquer workshop where art is made by inlaying pieces of wood, eggshells and other things. There is a short presentation and then a “buying opportunity.” They have western toilets and there is some weak air conditioning so we are pretty happy about that.
Our last stop is at the Banh Thant market which we saw yesterday. John and I walk in. It is crowded and very hot. We walk out. John stops at the men’s room while I wait outside. Unfortunately it is a place for sex workers to be standing. We all side eye each other. I move to another spot. John comes out and we spot our bus. We are early but the bus is air conditioned and quieter so we are happy to get aboard.
After this we go back to the ship. We take showers. Neither of us is feeling well but we go for dinner and cobble together a dinner out of four starters – shu mai, summer rolls,spicy prawns, and pho. It is quite enjoyable.
I am really glad that we have cancelled our outing for tomorrow and that I have two days to try to kick this cold before we land in Cambodia and have our Cambodian Cooking School excursion.