Suitcase and World: December 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Island Time. Koh Lanta.

Koh Lanta at sunset.
(Photo by Rushen.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

We only have a few days in Thailand and while we could've have spent it all in Bangkok, I decided we needed to see another part of the country. At first, I had thought of going to Chiang Mai and doing a village trek.  I even spent quite a bit of time looking into a trekking tour and accommodation in Chiang Mai.  But, then the beach called with an invitation of white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters.  I answered.  A few pictures of the beautiful beaches that Thailand is world renown for and that was it.  To the beach are going.

Then, there was the question of which beach?   Thailand has extensive coastline - along both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.  Right off the bat, I eliminated Phuket - it's much too touristy for my liking.  I also eliminated Krabi because it has beaches but why just do a beach if you can do an island.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Not Your Usual Fair Lady.

She's a better looking woman as a man than I am as a woman!
(Photo by Andyindia. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
If there's one word that grabbed a lot of attention in the US this year, it would be *transgender*.   There were plenty of articles and even a TV show focused on transgender individuals and the struggles they go through as they evolve into what has been labeled as their *true self*.  
Of course, the transgender community was handed its most celebrated member when the Olympic athlete formerly known as Bruce Jenner transitioned to her true self - Caitlyn Jenner.  She came out on in a big way, introducing herself on the July 2015 cover of Vanity Fair.  She even appeared in her own reality show on E! TV docu-series called "I am Cait".

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Packing List. Myanmar and Thailand.

Miniature suitcase made from an Altoids mints tin.  It's so cute!
Crafted by Julie McGufee. Photo taken from her blog - Life in the Craft Lane.
We don't leave for Thailand and Myanmar for several more weeks but for me, it's never too soon to put together the packing list.

Every trip I go on, I try to reduce the load but I'm afraid I've not been very successful.  On my first trip, to Peru in 2006, my suitcase weighed in at barely 8 kgs....that was including the 2 kgs that the suitcase weighed!  Now, my suitcase generally tips the scale around 13 kgs and really that's not all that bad considering I'm packing for at least 3-4 weeks travel.

This trip will be to the tropics so it's going to be a lot of lightweight clothing.  However, for visiting the temples, I will need to bring a long sleeve shirt and a pair of long pants that I can then also wear on our day long trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake in Myanmar.  Keeping the clothes thin will also be important.  Except for the first few days in an apartment in Bangkok, the rest of the trip, we will likely be doing our own laundry though I hope that by the time we arrive at the hotel in Mandalay, we can pay for a load to be done.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Food of Armenia.

This could easily be my plate of Armenian food.  It all looks very familiar and tasty!
(Photo by Ketone16.  Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Like so many global cuisines, Armenian food reflects its history, traditional cultures and geography. Although the food of Armenia has its unique tastes, it is very closely related to eastern and Mediterranean cuisine - a big reason why so much of it looks familiar to me.

The main characteristics of Armenian cuisine are a reliance on the quality of the ingredients rather than heavily spicing food, the use of herbs, the use of wheat in a variety of forms, pearl barley, legumes, nuts, and fruit (as a main ingredient as well as to sour food), and the stuffing of a wide variety of leaves. The pomegranate, which features in many a dish has a symbolic association with fertility that represents that nation. The apricot is the national fruit.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Introducing Armenia.

Central Yerevan view from the Cascade.  Snow capped Mount Ararat in the background.
(Photo by Raffi Kojian.  Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
A few weeks ago, I also spent an afternoon with my friend and former colleague, Areg.  Areg is Armenian and she was keen to bake some gata cookies for me, especially since I had never had them before. They are a traditional Armenian filled cookie made from flour, tons of butter and sugar and eggs, yogurt and a bit of yeast. Areg made two versions of the gata cookie.  One that was filled with just butter and sugar and the other with nuts.  She told me she found her recipe on YouTube but I found a few on the web with very easy to follow instructions:  A recipe from plain gata from The Armenian Kitchen and nut filled gata from Food'n'Chef.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Food of Georgia.

(Photo from

I have been drooling for the past hour as I read up on the cuisine of Georgia and look at one image after another of delicious food. At least it all looks so delicious. I think Pat and I are really going to enjoy our meals here!

The added plus is that we get to enjoy at least of one those meals with Yuriy Klyuev, the Advantour travel consultant who coordinated our trip through Central Asia.  We had planned to meet up with him in Tashkent but at the last minute, he was relocated to Tblisi to help start up Advantour's offices there.  Yuriy and I have kept in touch, off and on.  I let Yuriy know that we'll be in Tblisi and we've agreed to meet up either for lunch or dinner.  It'll be nice to finally meet him in person!  I'm going to tell Yuriy to come starving hungry so we can order a lot of dishes!!  Oh....and he's not getting Uzbek food.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Introducing Georgia.

Tblisi.  Our two apartments are located somewhere down there :-)
(Photo by Nino Ozbetelashvili.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Pat and I will arrive into Georgia via train from Baku to Tblisi, the capital city of Georgia. We'll be staying in two different apartments during our stay in the city - a few days in one located in the old city and a few days in one located in the modern city. I've probably allotted more time than necessary to see the sights in Tblisi but both Pat and I agree that it's nice to just have time to chill out.  Hopefully, there will be some nice cafes that we can do just that in.

Like its neighbor Azerbaijan, Georgia is located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. It is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan.

The country was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1921 as the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic and became an independent nation shortly before the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Food of Azerbaijan.

Tava (fish) kebab.  (Photo from

Both Pat and I love good food. As much as we enjoyed our visit to Central Asia, the same cannot be said of the food. Sorry, but we were not fans of plov, lagman or manti.  We did like the shashlyk, especially when it was pork shashlyk but in countries where pork is rarely eaten, it was a real treat for us when we got to eat it.

Before we left for Central Asia, Pat and I headed to an Uzbek restaurant in Brooklyn, New York to try out the food.  For this trip, we have been to an Armenian restaurant but not Azeri or Georgian.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Introducing Azerbaijan.

One of the gates of Icherisheher (Old City) of Baku.
Photo by Khortan.  Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Yay!! I have finally wrapped planning the Thailand/Myanmar trip so I can now return my attention to the Caucusus trip. Much has happened since I last posted up anything on this trip.

I managed to find a reasonably priced hotel for our stay in Baku.  For our visa, we have to get a hotel voucher, printed on hotel letterhead.  I reached out to the hotel and got an email back this morning informing me that they are having issues with their printer and I can expect to get the voucher in two days.  Of course, I am anxiously awaiting for that day to come around.  I just hope they don't forget!  In anticipation that our names might have to appear on the voucher, I replied back to let them know that there are two travelers and what are names are.  Fingers crossed that I will see something in my email inbox on Wednesday, Thursday at the latest.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Burmese Cuisine.

A traditional Burmese meal.
Photo by Wagaung.  Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
I know the country is officially known a Myanmar but when I think of the food, I still refer to it as Burmese cuisine. Hence, the title of this blog posting.

I am a foodie.  Food plays an important part in my travels and while I have been to many countries where the food is not very palatable, the opposite is also very true.  There's a lot of lip smacking good food in the world!

I have been lucky to have worked with several people from Myanmar who have also graciously invited me to their homes for a meal.  The food was always utterly delicious.  More often than not, it looked familiar but tasted nothing like the Malaysian, Thai or Vietnamese cuisine that I know.  Unfortunately and this is my fault, I've not kept up contact with those friends and colleagues from long ago so it's been a long time since I've had any home cooked Burmese food.  We do have a few Burmese restaurants and the food is okay but it's never been the same or as delicious as the home cooking I've enjoyed.  So in many ways, I will be (re)discovering Burmese cuisine on this trip and I am very much looking forward to it.