Showing posts with label TPThursday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TPThursday. Show all posts

Monday, November 23, 2015

Autumn In Greece ~ Days of Thanks-giving

The days are shorter now and the air softer in The Mani, the part of the Greek Peloponnese that we call home a part of the year. Jeans and long-sleeved shirts are the gear for watching the sun quietly slip away shortly after 5 p.m. – a much different sunset than those of the spring when at 9:30 p.m. it was boldly and blindingly still taking aim at the horizon.

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Sunset from the village of Stoupa
 
Even the morning sun’s arrival over the hill on which our house sits seems slow and timid compared to even a few weeks ago, in early October, when we came for our autumn stay. But even with a kinder sun, daytime temperatures are still reaching the 70F-degree level at times. We’ve been experiencing an Indian Summer, or Little St. Dimetrios summer, as they say around here.

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The Stone House and the Hill on which it sits

Stateside social media friends are reporting their hectic pace of preparations for Thanksgiving Day. It is curious to read their reports from afar where Thursday will be just other weekday – no marathon football on television, no stuffed turkey, no pumpkin pie. We do send holiday greetings to all who will be celebrating the day.

Instead of just one, here, you might say, our autumn has been filled with many  ‘thanks-giving’ days, including:

Oxi Day October 28th, celebrated annually in Greece since back in World War II when the Greek Prime Minister said “Oxi!” to Mussolini’s plan to bring Italian troops into the country. Oxi, pronounced, ohh-hee, means ‘no’. The nearby village of Kardamyli was decked out for the day and hosted a parade and presentations by students from schools throughout the area. That is the major autumn holiday in this part of the world.

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Students wearing school uniforms and traditional dress dance on Oxi Day
The Chestnut Festival – A small village, Kastania, tucked away in the hills behind us hosts an annual Chestnut Festival of singing, dancing and eating which draws hundreds from as far away as Athens (a four hour drive). We didn’t let a rain-storm keep us away – nor did others who made the trek to celebrate.

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Roasting chestnuts at Katania's Fourth Annual Chestnut Festival

Olive Harvest: The hills are alive with the sound of chainsaws and tree shakers. The pace of the harvest has intensified with the olive presses running into the late night hours. (Glad we beat the crowds and can now sit back and literally enjoy the fruits of our labors).

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Waiting their turn in the press - bags of olives 

Days spent with friends ~ We had two sets of ‘courageous couples’ who made the trip from Washington State to spend a few days with us this fall. They were adventuresome enough to get off the well-trod Greek tourist track and explore the beauty of this peninsula. There is nothing better than sharing a morning’s cup of coffee or an evening’s glass of wine with friends and doing a lot of exploring in between!

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Memories made in The Mani

The Days the Cats Returned – All of our previously reported upon stray cats are now present and enjoying life – with plenty of food and beverages – at The Stone House on the Hill. That would include Princess and Tom who we introduced you to last winter and Mom and the two kittens, now teenagers, who you met last spring.

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Tom, left, and Princess have returned
And hen there have been those ordinary-but-very-extraordinary kind of days . . .

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The Mani

‘It was one of the loveliest days in early autumn,
the general atmosphere had a tendency to subdue everything of the heart
and threw me into a thoughtful mood.’
    -- Charles Lanman, 1840

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The sea - The Mani

‘Autumn is the perfect time to take account of what we’ve done,
what we didn’t do,
and what we’d like to do next year.’
    -- Author Unknown

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A walk beyond Trahila

‘Autumn is the hush before winter.’ – French Proverb

And as always we are thankful for all of you who take a break from your busy lives to spend time with us!  We hope you are having a lovely autumn and that whatever the holiday is you are celebrating, it will be filled with happiness.  Hope to see you back again soon ~ in our next post I’ll tell you our off-the-grid plans for Christmas!

Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration
Mosaic MondayThrough My Lens
Photo Friday Wordless Wednesday


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cruising to Cochin ~ Our Gateway to India

The, already intense, early morning sun was a spotlight focused on the giant Chinese fishing nets that lined the waterway. A most striking sight to be sure, but not what we’d expected.

After all, we were in India.

The stillness allowed voices to carry from those on the fishing nets- distance and dialect making them indistinguishable – as our ship headed towards the cruise port.

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Fishing nets - Cochin, India

It didn’t matter whether we could understand the words, as we consider these distant voices an unofficial call of welcome as we approach a port of call. And on this morning we were gliding to Cochin, our gateway to India.

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Fishing nets believed introduced during the time of Kublai Khan - Cochin, India

Cochin, (Kochi, as it is more commonly called  there)  is often called “The Queen of the Arabian Sea”.

These slow-passing scenes that come with arrivals and departures are among our favorite parts of cruising. We find them far more interesting than the thud of an airplane’s wheels on the runway and the hustle through an unfamiliar airport.

TYangontoSafaga2015 103wo weeks before, we’d set sail from Bangkok, Thailand en route to Istanbul, Turkey, a 34-day journey -- a Magic Carpet Ride -- aboard Oceania’s Nautica.  

We’d finished three languorous days at sea crossing the Bay of Bengal (the largest bay in the world) and passing Sri Lanka as we headed to Cochin, located on the southwestern tip of India.

We find that approaching and departing cruise ports is much like watching an old-fashioned photo slide show; a glimpse at how people live and work in the place (which is to us often more interesting than highly touted tourist attractions).

Sometimes like in the photo below, you see both the beauty and the not-so-beautiful side of places.
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Garbage and Gondolas - Cochin, India

While we hovered at the ship’s railing not wanting to miss anything we noted  very few of our fellow passengers had gathered to watch this arrival. Maybe it wasn’t as fascinating to them as it was for us – this was our first glimpse of India!

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Morning commute - Cochin, India
Of course, many of our fellow cruisers might might have been packing as a large group was traveling from Cochin to the Taj Mahal and wouldn’t return to the ship until four days later in Mumbai (as I’ve noted in earlier posts, the land options were many and varied with this cruise line).

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A passing scene - Cochin, India
The passing scenes provided snapshots for us of the area’s history beginning with those giant Chinese fishing nets, called Cheenavala, and believed to have been introduced here by traders from the court of Chinese Ruler Kublai Khan (who reigned from 1260 to 1294)  to architecture reflecting both the influence of the Portuguese and British.

It all was a far cry from our preconceived notions of how India would look: a crush of people and traffic, rushing about dirty streets:  Why the water here was finally blue; not the murky polluted stuff we’d been sailing through in Southeast Asia!

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Tourist boats line the waterway - Cochin, India

Our departure that evening provided the same sense of serenity – ferry passengers found our ship as interesting as we did theirs:

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Ferries - Cochin, India
As we sailed past, we picked out places that we would like to explore in more detail on a future trip (yes, we’d love to return to this place that ranks the 6th best tourist destination in India):

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Scenes of sail-away - Cochin, India
A day in Cochin was simply not long enough! We didn’t make it to the modern part of the city, and we’d not had enough time to explore the areas lining the waterways.  We’d spent our time visiting the city’s historic district; the one with a mix of ancient mosques, a 400-year-old synagogue and the remains of a once-flourishing Jewish community and bygone era structures influenced by both the Portuguese and British occupancy.

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The TravelnWrite Duo Exploring Cochin, India - up close and personal in an autorickshaw

And we did it as any daring adventurers might: on our own as passengers aboard a teeny, tiny auto-rickshaw, (or tuk-tuk) pictured above. In our next post we’ll take you zipping along with us through the streets of Cochin! Hope to see you back again and until then, happy and safe travels~

Linking this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Monday, August 24, 2015

An Update on Greece ~ Because you’ve asked. . .

We are interrupting our tales of sailing from Asia to Istanbul this week because so many of you’ve asked about our stay at The Stone House on the Hill following the cruise and how we are faring in light of ‘the situation’ in Greece.  I’ve had so many things to tell you about Greece that I thought of starting a second blog, but since that hasn’t happened, here’s a recap and I’ll be back to cruise posts next week . . .

I’ll begin at the end. It was very difficult to leave The Stone House on the Hill after our stay this spring. Four weeks simply weren’t long enough. Since purchasing our home in The Mani area of the Greek Peloponnese last December we’ve spent nearly two months in it; three weeks last winter and our most recent spring stay.

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"Our" Mani Agios Nikolaos in the foreground and Stoupa in the background

“The Situation?” you asked . . .

Our departure for the U.S. from Greece turned out to be only days before the banks there closed and their economic world turned upside down. Had we been there, we would also have been under the same withdrawal limitations on our Greek bank account as were the Greeks. The banks have reopened as has their stock exchange, however, we are still unable to wire funds from the United States to that Greek bank account of ours.

Unlike the reports you’ve seen on headline news around the world, our friends and neighbors there assure us via emails and Skype conversations that the cash machines in our area of Greece have funds, the grocery store shelves are stocked and medicines are readily available.

Tourists, according to Ekathimerini, the English-language newspaper published in Athens, reported yesterday that tourism is going to hit record numbers in 2015 if the upcoming Greek elections result in a stable government. Estimates are that more than 25 million foreign tourists will visit. Arrivals during the first six months of this year show U.S. visitors increased by 41.6%, Germans by 23.5% and British by 21.2%.

The Stone House on the Hill . . . what did we do there?

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The Stone House on the Hill - Sunset, June 2015
Certain areas of The Stone House on the Hill or its gardens and grove were torn up during our stay, put back together and then another spot torn up and put back together as work progressed to make it ‘our home’ – one that reflected our colors, tastes and designs.

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After out with the old comes in with the new
There were several days during our stay that we made shopping trips to the big city and then a few days later The Scout would drive down the hill to meet delivery trucks from Kalamata and lead them back up to the house as you might recall, we don’t have an address so deliveries can be a bit of a challenge. Then there was the matter of getting items to the house – a good workout!

Many of those items required assembly and we discovered we were able to read directions and ‘build’ things, as well as paint walls – all of which was admittedly work, but also labors of love.

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Small bedroom on its way to becoming a den with bookshelf put together by us
Several major projects were completed while we were 'in residence' including replacing the buckled and water-soaked Formica gold-swirled kitchen counter and marble window sill with black granite. These projects we turned over to professional craftsmen who worked wonders with not only the counter top but also the window sill (which was a gift – no charge). An electrician hooked up the new stove and exhaust fan we purchased to replace the ones that weren’t working:

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Kitchen re-do Spring 2015
Many of the projects had been completed between our winter stay and our return this spring and only needed some decorative touches, like the stairway linking the upper and side garden. The previous owner had used a ladder to get between the two. Made a great place to start my potted herb garden!

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New stairway and herb container garden
One area that really took shape this spring – perhaps my pride and joy -- was my Lemon Tree Wine Patio. When we’d first seen it last year it was so overgrown I had thought it a small patio maybe large enough for a small table and a chair. We rolled up our sleeves, put on the work gloves and were reminded of what a bit of cleaning and clearing can do!

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Lemon Tree Wine Patio debuts
The house came with a small olive grove – 15 trees – and it was so overgrown that we’d never been able to walk through it.  Prior to our arrival, the orchard grass was cut and we had stairs constructed between the terraces . . .the idea being that guests might like to stroll through the grove and someday there will be table and chairs down there so we can entertain a la Under the Tuscan Sun style with long afternoon meals with visiting friends. . .

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The Grove at The Stone House on the Hill
Our days were busy and happy at The Stone House on the Hill.  We continue to be glad we chased and then caught that daydream in Greece. And how we are looking forward to our return this fall! To those who’ve asked about ‘the situation’  - your interest and concern are most appreciated. I'll tell you more about the house and 'hood in future posts. The photo below was taken from our main deck - sunsets like this made every evening spectacular.

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A Messinian Sunset
We’ll resume our tales next week of our time in India and then we’ll head west to the Middle East in subsequent reports.  Happy and safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Stay in Myanmar’s Grand Old Strand Hotel

“Dear Mr. Smith,

. . .You share our Guest Register with the likes of George Orwell, Sir Peter Ustinov, Somerset Maugham, David Rockefeller, Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and HRH Kin Taufa’ahau Tupou IV of Tonga (in 1936), who have all stayed at The Strand.

Enjoy your ‘Burmese Days’ and the magical experience that is Myanmar and its wonderfully friendly people.”

That excerpt from the welcome letter from The General Manager was to set the tone for an extraordinary stay at The Strand Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar.

Stepping into the lobby – admittedly small in stature and d├ęcor when compared to today’s 5-star behemoths – with its marble floors, rattan furniture and lofty ceiling felt as if we were stepping back more than a century in time into the British Colonial Far East.

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Lobby of The Strand - Yangon, Myanmar
For three days and two nights we’d get a taste of the genteel grandeur of British-influenced early 1900’s in the still developing Rangoon, Burma, as it was then called. Today it is Yangon, Myanmar, one of the ports of call of our Oceania cruise that took us from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey last spring.

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The Strand, Rangon, Myanmar, left, Raffles Hotel, Singapore, right

Because the cruise line allowed for on-shore stays, we’d planned to stay in this historic haven since booking our cruise. This neo-classic charmer was built in 1901 by John Darwood, and was later acquired by four Armenian brothers – the Sarkies – as part of their early 20th Century luxury hotel collection that included The Strand, the Eastern & Oriental in Penang and the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

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Serenaded at checkin; we sipped watermelon juice with another couple from the ship
‘Genteel’ became the operative word for this stay. Doormen greeted us and the reception staff ushered us to cushioned rattan couches and served us fresh watermelon juice while we listened to live music and another staff member completed the paperwork for our stay. No long lines or impersonal registration counters here.

A Brief Hotel History

From its beginning this three story hotel, “was regarded as ‘the finest hostelry east of Suez’ and Murray’s Handbook for Travelers in India, Burma and Ceylon, 1911 edition, says the hotel was patronized by ‘royalty, nobility and distinguished personages’,” according to Philippe Delaloye, the current General Manager.

However, during the intervening decades, the British Colonial period ended and Burma became an independent country (1948). The once-luxurious hotel served as a home for Japanese soldiers during Japan’s occupation in World War II and then fell into a state of disrepair in the 1960’s. A Burmese businessman purchased it in 1988 and commissioned its extensive renovation. There were no new towers, fitness clubs or pools added; it was simply restored to its once-luxurious self. And a few modern conveniences like free wi-fi and  flat screen televisions have been added.

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Fresh blooms and toiletries in our bathroom
It reopened in 1993 as a 31-room, all-suite, 5-star hotel and is currently the only hotel in Myanmar to be part of the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World.

We were shown our second-floor suite by the butler assigned to our floor.  A butler (or two) are assigned to each floor 24/7 and simply await a call from guests ~ they open your door for you when you return to your room, push elevator buttons, and lock up your suite when you leave.




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The Butler's station was manned 24/7 on each of the hotels floors
Double doors led from our suite's entry hall into an oversized bathroom with separate shower, tub and toilet area. At the end of the hallway we entered an enormous bedroom with king-sized bed. A separate sitting area with sofa, chair and coffee table was the perfect place for afternoon coffee and cookies – served . . . by the butler, of course!

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Suite 102 The Strand, Yangon, Myanmar where treats were left each night by the butler
My favorite spot in the room was the large desk where I could imagine literary giants of yesteryear penning novels that would transcend the decades and continue to tantalize readers like us with tales of the British Colonial period.

Dining at The Strand


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Dining was a delight at The Strand from breakfast to dinner
Several of you – who read the earlier post on drinking water served from communal cups attached to water tanks along the streets – asked about the food.  We didn’t try street food and ate one (very good) meal at a British pub a few blocks from the hotel. The majority of our meals were eaten at the hotel. Breakfast was included in the price of the room. The menu offerings included items like fresh banana pancakes and fruit for breakfast.

The hotel’s specialties included Onn-Not-Khao Sive, a chicken in light coconut gravy with egg noodles, crispy noodles, boiled egg, shallot and lime (pictured lower left) and the Strand Mohinga, a signature dish, a lemon-grass and ginger infused fish soup, not pictured. We tried them both - they were excellent!

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Enjoying the genteel life at The Strand, Yangon, Myanmar
Our time at this hotel, named for its address 92 Strand Road, was far too short.  We vowed we’d have to return. With any luck we will one day. 

That’s it for our visit to Myanmar. We returned to the ship and that evening set sail for our next port of call, Cochin, India. We’d have three ‘sea days’ while crossing the Bay of Bengal, the largest bay in the world before finally setting foot in India.  Was the hassle we had with getting an India visa worth it? We’ll let you know in our next post!  Happy travels to you and yours until we meet again~

Linking up this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

Friday, August 14, 2015

Yangon, Myanmar ~ The Girl Under the Bridge

“Hello!” a sweet young voice called out in perfect English.

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Yangon River

I turned to see who had issued such a cheery, understandable greeting. And then it took a minute to collect my thoughts as I  couldn’t quite comprehend what I was seeing  ~ the welcome  had come from under the bridge pictured above.

The bridge we’d just walked across was the roof of our little greeter’s house – a wooden bridge leading to one of the docks along the murky waters of the Yangon River, some three blocks from our 5-star hotel.

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Life under the bridge - Yangon, Myanmar
In her pink dress the little one  looked like a doll. Her smile was as bright as the sun, as she waved and again called out to me, “Hello!”

She was standing in a space under the bridge, (identical to the space in this nearby bridge shown in the photo above).  Note: Even this shutterbug could not bring myself to take photos of my young greeter and her family.

The scene was indelibly imprinted without photos: Her mother squatted by a small cooking fire, her father was asleep on a mat and her brother played off to the side. . .in her home under the wooden bridge at the side of the murky Yangon River

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Surveying life on the murky waters of the Yangon River
I smiled, returned her greeting and we retraced our route  across her roof to continue our explorations of Yangon, Myanmar – the place not so long ago know as Rangoon, Burma.

“Yangon means ‘end of strife”

We were spending three days and two nights in Yangon, Myanmar, formerly Rangoon, Burma, as part of our 34-day cruise aboard Oceania’s Nautica; a spring sailing that was taking us on a “magic carpet ride” from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey.

While the Hindu and Buddhist temples and pagodas were as stunning as tourist promotional materials promised in Myanmar, it was scenes like our little greeter that left the most lasting memories during our far-too-short a stay:

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Feed the Birds - that's what she cried, in Yangon, Myanmar
. . .like the lady selling crumbs to feed the birds on the street corner.

Burma,now known as Myanmar,a British colony for nearly100 years,declared its independence in 1948. It remained a representative democracy until a military coup in 1962 initiated an isolationist policy.

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Playing real-life "Chicken" in Yangon, Myanmar
. . . or the memory of the nerve-numbing frenzied, flurry of automobiles, pedicabs, ancient buses, and pedestrians on the labyrinth of streets – requiring all who entered or tried to cross to play a game of chance, an all-too-real reality game of “Chicken”.

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Yangon public buses
From the ship’s tour desk: “Yangon has an extensive bus network, but the buses are very crowded, do not have A/C, do not always adhere to published schedules or routes and are not available at the cruise pier area.” 

After seeing them, we understood the ship’s information. We weren’t inclined to climb about the buses. Walking was our preferred means of transportation during our stay. It was a great way of collecting memories. . .

From 1962 until 2011 Myanmar, formerly Burma, was ruled by a military junta. In 2011 the military introduced gradual political, economic, and foreign policy reforms.

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Who once drove those vehicles, we wondered
The street scenes were so varied they assaulted our senses.  The vehicles pictured above we found parked mid-way between our luxurious hotel and the beautiful MahaBandoola Garden below.

Since 1948 ethnic groups –- more than 100 -- within Myanmar have been infighting – the most recent draft ceasefire agreement signed in March, 2015 – only a month prior to our arrival.

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Mahabandoola Garden - Yangon, Myanmar
As visitors we had to remember we were still on the forefront; that tourism is a new phenomenon in this city of more than five million people. Walking along streets lined with charming worn buildings that reminded us of  its recent strife-filled decades.

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What stories the buildings could tell - Yangon, Myanmar
A tourism boycott was put into place in 1996 and lifted in 2010 when pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (referred to here simply as, “The Lady”) was released from house arrest. In 2010 international tourists numbered 300,000; in 2012 one million.

Yet there are signs of economic growth and a renewed effort to emerge from those dark, isolated years. The photos above and below were taken within a few blocks of each other and reflect the kaleidoscope of scenes we encountered as we explored but a portion of this sprawling city.

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Yangon, Myanmar
In 1988 the military cracked down on protesters reportedly killing some 3,000 people and displacing thousands more.

It is easy to jump to conclusions about a place, especially when you are there for as short a time as we were.  So we’d hesitate to make any grand observations about  this city – for centuries a small fishing village --believed to have been founded in the 6th century. 

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Street eatery - Yangon, Myanmar
We can tell you that we felt safe walking its streets; the people with whom we had contact made us feel genuinely welcomed.  We did not eat or drink anything sold or available on the streets – they washed and cleaned dishes but used water that was questionable to our Western minds and stomachs.

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Street cafe - Yangon, Myanmar
The city is clearly more worn than modern – still showing signs of damage from a 1930’s earthquake and from World War II – and that could be a turn-off for some visitors. We found it charming. We want to return.

Yangon has some of the most beautiful pagodas  and Buddha statues  in Southeast Asia. One day we’ll likely tell you about them. They were stunning, but those places get a lot of publicity. . .

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Yangon River taxi 
Today I just wanted to tell you about the warm welcome we had from the little girl under the bridge.

Thanks – as always – for the time you spend with us! I had a computer melt-down this week which means the half-written post about our historic hotel stay in Yangon will come in the near future.  Happy and safe travels to you until we see you again ~

If you have some time check out  these collections with which we are linking this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday - Pierced Wonderings
Wordless Wednesday

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