Thursday, April 13, 2023

Adrift in the South China Sea

 Adrift, is probably too strong a word. As in reality, we simply sailed in circles for a couple of days.

Tender at the side of our Nautica ship

We were sailing from Cambodia to Nha Trang, our first stop in Viet Nam, on a 10-day Southeast Asian adventure aboard Oceania's Nautica. But when we checked the ship's navigational map, it appeared our ship was headed back the direction from which we had come. We joked with others at breakfast that someone had better tell the captain we were supposed to be going the other way.

Blue line shows our circling the South China Sea

Turns out the captain got the last laugh. We were going just the way he intended. The morning announcements confirmed we were going back the way we came as we were getting away from the storm and rough seas that would prevent our visit to Nha Trang. As the blue line on the map above indicates we didn't move very far either direction for a time.

Instead of one day at sea, we'd have two. Now we both like sea days, but when the selling point of the cruise had been two stops in Viet Nam, the news, I will admit, was disappointing. 

Koh Samui tenders were open to the sea and sun

But the port we were skipping was a' tender port'; one that requires the ship to anchor some distance out at sea, passengers descend a portable stairway attached to the side of the ship and board small boats that take them back and forth between the port and ship. 

Sometimes the shuttle runs in those 'lifeboat' tenders that dangle at the side of the ship and other times they are provided by the port. In Koh Samui, Thailand, we had colorful Thai tenders that opened to both the sea and the sun.   

Our ship at sea in a tender port, Koh Samui, Thailand

Neither of the small boat options would be good in a storm when the ship is a healthy distance from the shore.

View from the Nautica Horizon's Lounge

It was a good reminder that the best laid travel plans don't always work out, especially when traveling on the sea and subject to the whims of Mother Nature and the weather gods.   The nice thing about being on a cruise ship with such an itinerary change was not having to scramble to find an additional night's accommodations nor change airline tickets. 

For two days, the ship and the sea would be our world.

Days at Sea. . .

In today's cruise world, our ship with just more than 600 passengers, is considered small.  Yet, it came with a choice of dining venues (fine dining to grilled hot dogs and milk shakes), there was musical entertainment, a small casino, theater, movies, lectures, cooking demonstrations, and a wonderful wood-paneled library where you could spend hours. 

Staying on board was not tough duty.

Morning coffee on our cabin's deck - a daily event

We didn't completely avoid that storm and our ship was rocked both evenings of our sea days with wind and waves. Think of a cradle rocking from side to side and you've got an idea of the motion.  It was not frightening, but somewhat upsetting to those who don't have strong stomachs - luckily, we aren't among those folks.

Sun and sea beaconed on those sea days

The weather was hot, usually in the 80F to 90F, or 26 - 32C, range.  The chaise lounges at poolside called out to many of our fellow passengers. 

Our cabin - Oceania Nautica

We opted for the comfort of our cabin where we'd grab one of several books we'd purchased along the way and spend most of the afternoon reading.   

One of our delightful crew members

A highlight of any cruise for us is getting to know members of the staff. . . and sea days certainly give you time to visit with staff.  All of the service and hospitality personnel are primarily young people from all over the world. They are eager to talk about their families and the countries from which they come.  Their home country used to be printed on their name tags, but Oceania has quit doing that for whatever reason.  

A favorite Happy Hour waitress was from the Philippines. The ship's next cruise segment would get her back to the Philippines and afford her a day-long visit with family - she was thoroughly excited.  But, the 28-year-old, added, she was in her eighth contract on the ship. She'd begun with the idea of doing a single six-month contract and had liked it so well, she found herself signing up for more.

Senior Staff introduced at the Captain's Cocktail Party - guess the Chef

There is usually one staff member who stands out above all others for us and on this cruise, it was Aye.  This livewire seemed to work 24/7 behind the buffet counter. Always full of life, she was calling out greetings and flashing her smile whether she was serving early morning breakfast or late-night buffet.  

My name is Aye, that is A not I

'My name is Aye,' she explained one morning, 'That is A not I.' Aye hails from Myanmar. And that is all that I learned about her as her job serving at the buffet didn't allow much chat time. However, in that brief name discussion I told her I was Jackie.  From that point on she no longer greeted me as 'Ma'am' but flashed her smile and would call out, 'Miss Jackie'.  

Aye charmed us all

One evening in Viet Nam, she was dressed in a traditional Vietnamese outfit to help serve a special Asian Buffet dinner.  While always adorable, on that particular night she was simply stunning. I asked if I could take her photo and if I could share it with my friends on social media.  I stopped her in her tracks, she was so flattered: 'Oh Miss Jackie, you want my photo? Of course!' 

Early on I predicted that with her personality and skills, that we would likely have her as a cruise director one day. As our cruise went on, I changed the prediction: this young woman may well be the company's CEO one day!

And with the photos of Aye against a backdrop of Ho Chi Minh City, you have probably figured out that we eventually arrived in Viet Nam. HCMC was stunning and will be my focus next time around! Hope to have you back again and bring some friends with you! Until then wishes for smooth sailing to you and yours~

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Gasperetti's - A Taste of Home

 My taste of home arrived at our village post office last Friday. 

My taste of home

Exactly one month after it began its journey from my hometown, Yakima, Washington, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, it arrived in our adopted home in the rural Greek Peloponnese. 

Melt-in-your-mouth meatballs

'Gasperetti's, The Story of The Restaurant' was published as a tribute to the long-time Yakima business and the family for whom it is named. The restaurant is a part of Yakima Valley history, having been operated over a span of nearly 70 years, in two locations, by two generations of the Gasperetti family. It closed in 2020.

From the book, a menu, circa 1945

I liken the book to a multi-course meal at 'The Restaurant' (as it was called in its day). Its appetizer course is the opening chapter; a history that takes the reader back to the family's culinary roots in Tuscany, Italy. The main course consists of some 65 mouthwatering recipes for those favorite dishes that were once served at The Restaurant, now adjusted for home-sized cooking.  Sweet memories prompted by its photos was a most fitting dessert. 

Thursday nights Crab Cannelloni Nights

I was surprised by not only the hunger pangs it prompted, but the emotions as well. It was a shot of nostalgia, and memories both for the restaurant and the town.  It had been 'the place to go' when celebrating life's special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, or even the end of an ordinary work week. It was at this restaurant where we gathered with our close friends a few years ago to celebrate our move to Greece.

Gasperetti's Comes to Greece

John Gasperetti and the book

News of the book's publication many months ago had me contacting my now FB friend, John Gasperetti, about ordering a copy. I'd finally decided the logistics of doing it from Greece were too difficult and I'd risk waiting until my next trip to the States to get a copy. I was hoping it wouldn't be sold out.

Postage to Greece is outrageous

Then came a message from my college roommate and forever friend, Mary. She said a parcel was headed my way. She provided a tracking number, but its contents remained a secret.  

She and I both began tracking the parcel two weeks into its journey. By then, it had reached Athens. In fact, it had shipped from Athens five days before the day I checked on it- but to where, I wasn't sure. The travel time between Athens and here is about four hours, certainly not days. . .

Nikos, the unflappable clerk at our small village post office, checked his computer. He told me it had shipped from the Post Office to Customs in Athens. He speculated, that maybe it had, or maybe it hadn't gotten there; maybe it had or maybe hadn't been shipped. . .or maybe it had gotten there, and no one recorded it. Bottom line, it was in a Black Hole somewhere.  Another 10 days and we'd have to start some sort of process to find it, he advised.

But what did it mean?

Its whereabouts got murkier when I checked on it this week and found signs of movement, I just wasn't sure what they meant. So back to Nikos I went. He frowned at the news of 'held in customs' because that could mean a hefty customs fee. 

Then he flashed a big smile and said, "Oh! My computer says it is here. Yes, it came Friday!"  He reached to a shelf a few feet from his chair and there it was - my taste of home!  As I've written before, getting mail in Greece is always an adventure.

Stirring the Italian travel bug

Besides taking me on a trip down Memory Lane, the book stirred our collective travel bug.

Borgo a Buggiano Italy

The family's culinary roots stretched back in time to a small village in Tuscany. 

 '. . .the family culinary skills were first showcased when, in 1800, the first Mario Gasperetti earned the praise of Pope Pius VII for his superior chicken cacciatore'.  

'In 1906,' the book continues, 'Mario's great-great-grandson Angelo Gasperetti arrived at Ellis Island in New York City from the small village of Borgo a Buggiano, northwest of Florence, Italy.'

The Gasperetti 'roots' in Borgo a Buggiano

'Near Florence!' I exclaimed as I was reading the passage to The Scout. 'Let's go visit that village the next time we are in Italy!' The Scout was already looking it up on a map of Italy. The village, it turns out, is between Lucca, where we now have friends living, and Florence, a favorite of ours! (Since we are less than a two-hour flight from Italy these days, a quick trip might just be in the offing!)

The Arno - Florence, Italy

Over the years of dining at the restaurant we came to know John and his sister Jean who operated 'The Restaurant' that opened in 1966 while I was still in elementary school. Their parents, Mario and Minnie, had operated the original Gasperetti's from 1943 until 1960 at another location.

John Gasperetti and his sister Jean Gasperetti Lemki

Let's Eat!

The cookbook is a tribute to an Italian family and the mark they've left on the culinary scene in Washington State. I know people who used to travel across the state from the Seattle area just to dine at this Yakima landmark.  A visit back to Yakima for us certainly wasn't complete without dinner at The Restaurant. 

The recipes, while predominantly Italian, also include those that spotlight Yakima's agricultural base, like the Broiled Yakima Pear Salad. Others carry names of restaurant patrons, friends and family.  Brad's Avocado and Dungeness Crabmeat Salad is named for John's husband, Brad Patterson, the restaurant's long-time creative culinary artist and chef. Brad joined the Gasperetti's team back in 1966 at age 19.

Note: Kalamata olives in this recipe!

As I was reading through the recipes, the one above stopped me in my tracks! Back in our Yakima days, I'd never have any more imagined Gasperetti's closing, than I'd have imagined us living in and growing Kalamata olives in Greece.  Yet, both have happened! I've decided this Chicken Cacciatore will be the first dish I make and will use our Greek home grown and oil-cured olives in in it. 

My homegrown and cured Kalamata olives

Thanks for indulging in my trip down memory lane and joining me for a taste of home. I will resume tales of Southeast Asia in my next post.  How about you? Any similar restaurants located on your Memory Lane?  Any cookbooks that sparked a taste of home?

And for those of you who want a copy of this book, they are available from Gasperetti's Floral Design, 5833 Summitview Ave., Yakima, Washington, 98908. Details and ordering information from: or the FB page, Gasperetti's Floral. 

Until next time. . .

Friday, March 31, 2023

Cambodia and The Killing Fields

They were orphans, those children who followed us around on that hot, humid day in Cambodia.  

We were quite interesting specimens

As we made our way into temples, and around the grounds of this Buddhist Wat, the children watched us with as much interest as we were showing the statues and buildings that made up this holy place. 

Our guide explained as our tour bus pulled away, that the children are being raised and educated within the compound by the monks that oversee its operation.

The Wat Children - Cambodia

A collective sigh - the type prompted by learning something heartbreaking - seemed to echo through the our fellow cruisers processed the information. 

Temples of Cambodia

The temple compound was our first stop on a tour of Sihanoukville (see-an-oouk-ville), Cambodia, the third port of call on our Southeast Asian cruise.  Cambodia was one of the reasons we chose this Oceania cruise. It was all new territory and aside from guidebook descriptions and a few online travel articles most of our ideas about the country had been forged decades ago in our teen years.

Our welcome to Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Back in the mid-to-late 70's U. S. newspaper headlines and nightly news reports shaped our view of Cambodia; a country that was then a war zone.  Images were furthered cultivated by the chilling, but award-winning 1984 movie called, 'The Killing Fields'. 

1984 award-winning movie, The Killing Fields

A capsule bit of history: The Khymer Rouge, a radical communist movement headed by an individual called Pol Pot, ruled Cambodia from 1975 - 1979. He and the Khymer Rouge wanted to socially engineer a classless, agrarian society so took aim at intellectuals, civil servants, professionals and city residents forcing them to march to and work in agricultural fields as part of a re-education process. An estimated 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians died of execution, starvation, disease or of being overworked.  Their bodies were buried in mass graves that later became known as the killing fields.

Sihanoukville Today

Early morning arriving Sihanoukville, Cambodia

The Sihanoukville cityscape that greeted us in our early morning arrival was breath-taking - it looked both modern and large.  And definitely a contrast to those wartime images from 40 years ago. 

With just a day to explore this city we chose a highlight's tour which took us to some of the area's famed white sand beaches, the enormous and overwhelming Phsar Leu Market, with booths selling a bit of anything and everything, as well as its famous Golden Lion statues and Buddhist temples. 

The Land of Buddha - Cambodia

As we traveled between the 'sights', we found the everyday scenes to be as interesting as those places considered 'highlights'. For all the high-rise buildings and big boulevards, hotels and beaches, we also saw poverty.  

Street scenes Sihanoukville Cambodia

Homes made of corrugated metal, and small roadside businesses being operated off the back of trucks.

Roadside business - Cambodia

Seeing local everyday life is one of our favorite travel activities.

Street scene Sihanoukville, Cambodia

We saw some beautiful and contrasting sights on that taster-sized tour, but what we will remember the longest about this introduction to Cambodia will likely not be the places we visited, but our tour guide and the story he told in response to that collective sigh about the orphans:  

Our guide - witness to the killing fields

'Being raised by a Buddhist monk isn't all that bad,' he assured us. 'I was. My sisters and brothers and I were raised by the monks after Pol Pot and the Khymer Rouge killed our parents.' 

His father had worked for the government, one of the types of persons targeted by the Khymer Rouge.

Father of four with an infectious laugh and quick smile

'I was 10, I remember the march to the fields.' 

He then recounted some of the scenes he had witnessed along the way. I am not listing them, suffice to say, they were scenes no one should have to witness, especially a 10-year-old boy and his siblings. He lived with the monks for 10 years.

He didn't tell the story as a victim seeking sympathy. He recounted his experiences candidly. And he balanced the horrors of his childhood, by later telling us of his four college-age children, each on their way to graduation just as any proud dad would. Nor did he dwell on the country's past as he soon resumed his tales and tidbits about Cambodia.

Cambodia - thanks to maps

Sihanoukville, also known as Kampong Som, is younger than the two of us. It was 1955 when work began on a deep-water port in an area called Kampong Som and with the port's opening a year later, a town to house the workers was born. It is four-hours from the country's capital, Phnom Penh.

During the course of the day. we were blessed by a Buddhist monk, who prayed and sprinkled holy water on us.

We were blessed by this monk

And we were granted good luck (according to legend) because we posed for a photo in front of the Golden Lions Monument on a roundabout from which wide boulevards extend and cars race past. (We had good luck both getting to the monument and back across the street, that is for sure!)

How lucky are we now!

Several of our fellow passengers were heard commenting that the city had disappointed them. It had been dirty, there was poverty, and they recounted any number of items that hadn't 'wow-ed' them. We don't travel just to see pretty, so I can tell you that for us, this stop only whetted our appetite for more Cambodia! We are ready to visit Phnom Penh, Angor Wat and Siemreab among others. 

That is one of the selling points of cruising for us: these appetizer-sized tastes of places are often enough to bring us back for more comprehensive overland tours or to write a destination off as having 'been there, done that'.

 Thanks for being with us today and we hope you'll be back -- and bring some friends with you -- for my upcoming tales of rocking and rolling on the South China Sea thanks to stormy weather!  

Until then wishes for safe travels to you and yours~


Monday, March 20, 2023

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

'Mai Pen Rai' means 'never mind' in the Thai language. It is the only Thai we know, a phrase learned ages ago and used infrequently, serving as a fond reminder of that Southeast Asian country.

During our two-day stay in Bangkok in February we found ourselves using it on several occasions. 

Street scene in Bangkok - portable eatery heading to its set up spot

In fact, it came to mind during our first couple of hours in the country, beginning with the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel. Our driver spoke as much English as we did Thai.  Not a good combination, we decided, as we set off while he was trying to tell us something:

Rooftop restaurant and bar at Marriott Sukhumvit

We were headed to the Marriott Hotel in Sukhumvit (the name of both the street and the neighborhood where this Marriott is located) when the driver, -- by then, speeding down the freeway -- finally got across to us that he needed an actual street address to get us there. 

Our mobile didn't work in Thailand and the one thing I hadn't jotted down on my somewhat anal-but- useful, handwritten list of hotels and flights, confirmation numbers and details, was the street address for this hotel. After all, there is only one Marriott Hotel in Sukhumvit.

Oh, mai pen rai, problem solved when he handed us his phone and a Google search got him the address and Google maps got us there. 

Thai flower garlands - offerings to Buddha

Arriving at the hotel, we had no baht (Thai currency) and the driver didn't take credit cards. We uttered another mai pen rai as the hotel's doorman assured us the front desk would provide payment and simply charge it to our room. It apparently wasn't the first time that travelers have arrived baht-less in Bangkok.

Bangkok Revisited

Our room with a view - Sukhumvit Marriott

Bangkok is where we boarded the cruise ship that took us to other ports of call in Southeast Asia.  It was a perfect departure port as Bangkok is near and dear to our hearts. It was here -- many decades ago -- that we first considered having an expat experience. And for many years our expat daydreams were of a life in Thailand. 

Electric wires drape sidewalks and streets

Bangkok, like New York, is a city that never sleeps.  It's almost 13 million residents fill sleek, modern high rises and mid-century structures that stand side-by-side throughout the city. 

A mix of old and new

Massive numbers of electrical wires droop and drape overhead as pedestrians make their way along congested sidewalks lined with mom-and-pop businesses and eateries that spill out onto the pathways. 

Eateries line the streets

The mix of smells and sounds that assaulted our senses awakened our Thai love affair.   

Street eats across the street from our hotel

As we made our way along neighborhood sidewalks the smells of street food cooking on small portable barbeques combined with the heady aromas of spices and fruits offered for sale. Car exhaust, honking horns, flashing traffic lights, passing bicycles all contributed to the kaleidoscope of sensory experiences to be had just outside the hotel. 

You snooze, you lose on Bangkok streets

Rolling on the River

Our two nights in Bangkok were divided between the hotel and the cruise ship. Many cruise lines are now scheduling overnight stops in ports of call, and such was the stop in Bangkok. We boarded the ship on a Sunday afternoon, and we didn't depart until Monday afternoon, which allowed almost another full day of exploration.  

We could see our ship in the distance docked on the Chao Phraya 

We were aboard Oceania's Nautica, a small ship of just over 600 passengers. Because of its small size it was able to dock in the city on Bangkok's Chao Phraya River. It was so close we could see it in the distance from our hotel's rooftop. Large cruise ships - those that carry thousands of passengers -- dock at a port some two hours from Bangkok.

Morning coffee on the Chao Phraya

One of the selling points of cruising for us is our cabin's deck. I had thought there could be nothing better than sipping room service delivered coffee and watching the morning's river activity in Bangkok. But I was to find out that actually being on that deck and traveling down that river toward the Gulf of Thailand was even more fun. 

Tugboats accompanied us just in case we needed them

Our river journey was three hours long and provided one of the best sightseeing opportunities of the trip. We had a flotilla of tugboats escorting us as we made our way to the gulf, ready to assist should our ship have lost power.

River scenes on the Chao Phraya River

The scenes we passed were a series of contrasts.

Our minds wandered and pondered about the purpose of each place and its occupants.

Thai Buddhist temple

The purpose of some places was quite evident, such as this Buddhist temple with a large Buddha gazing towards the river. Thailand has the second largest Buddhist population in the world after China.  

River scenes along the Chai Phraya River

We'd pass rickety, weather-beaten structures barely above the water's surface and seemingly accessed through acres of undeveloped groves. Within minutes we'd be passing a suburb with high rise buildings and a most modern network of highways and bridges.

Modern freeways and bridges contrasted with other river structures

Our journey to the sea was a slow one, beginning in mid-afternoon and ending as Happy Hour was ushering in evening's activities on the ship. 

The Scout and The Scribe - a toast to Thailand

As the sun set, we were entering the Gulf of Thailand. The next morning we'd be arriving in Cambodia. . .and that is where my tale begins next time. . .

We were entering the Gulf of Thailand

As always, thanks for the time you spent with us today. Safe travels to you and yours ~


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