Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Break 2011 - Thailand: Rangsit and Ayutthaya

This spring break was one of a select few trips in my life that I log in the "epic" category. Marisa and I decided to venture to Southeast Asia for the first time to visit our friends, Buck and Mae, in Thailand! Buck and Mae have been working in campus ministry at Thammasat University in Rangsit (just outside Bangkok) over the past two years and we were very excited to catch up and travel with them for two weeks.

The Grapevine campus ministry at Thammasat University.


Our first two days consisted of adjusting to 90 degree temperatures (it's been a while), easing our way into the spicy Thai cuisine (Germans don't really do spicy), touring the Thammasat campus, visiting the Grapevine ministry, and venturing up to the ancient city of Ayutthaya to see Buddhist temples. The first 72 hours were sensory overload for me as my senses took in a culture and surroundings so new to me - I was thrilled to be in Thailand.
While driving around Thammasat we came across these guys in an intense game of "sepak takraw ". It's a cross between volleyball and soccer using a woven ball and these guys were legit. "A loose groin is certainly a happy groin"....especially when you're getting your leg above your head like this guy.

My college campus wildlife mostly included squirrels, but in Thailand you might run across a Monitor Lizard.

Buck refinished a beautiful "samlo" (rickshaw) for Grapevine and gave Marisa a ride around campus. He hooked up the neon lights and had a sound system in this mug too. Did I mention that he makes custom furniture and has also made his own acoustic/electric guitar.....from scratch? Definitely one of the handiest guys I know.

Every night is karaoke night in Thailand. Buck and I got the party started our first night there by singing some country and classic rock. Thai people love singing along and the guitarist/singer was a pro at shredding American songs.


After getting settled in and touring the campus and grapevine ministry, we spent our second day taking a train north for a full day in Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was a very pleasant city with tons of Buddhist "wats" or temples and not too many tourists. We rode bikes around town, ate lunch at a water market, visited a few temples, and saw part of an elephant show. It was a busy start to our trip.

The train to Ayutthaya - not electric like the Deutsche Bahn ones that we usually ride.

Made it to the station.

One of my favorite pic's from the trip with Buck and Mae traveling like locals packed on the train. Through that smile, Buck is wishing he had a t-shirt saying "Don't hassle me, I'm a local."

Outside our hotel in Ayutthaya

Wat Mahathat with this famous Buddha head entrapped in the tree roots. It's one of the few heads that remain from the statues since the near destruction of this temple by the Burmese (from Myanmar) back in the 1700's.

Wat Mahathat - apologies for the awful blue coloring due to an incorrect ISO setting


Feeding water buffalo at the local "water market" in Ayutthaya. I've never seen animals get so excited about grass.

One of the cultural shows at the water market.

Some of the female performers arriving in style.

While at first I thought this guy was supposed to be Yul Brennar in a re-enactment of "The King and I", it turns out that he is supposed to be representing some sort of spirit or something.

Check out the fingers on these girls. Apparently they train to be able to bend them backwards really far as part of the traditional dancing.

So they have this underwater platform made out of bamboo and reeds for the sweet special effects here. I tried it out after the show and its more difficult than it looks because there's a lot of algae built up all over the platform. One wrong move and they're fish food.

Marisa and Mae enjoying lunch and entertainment at the water market.

You thought I was kidding about the fish food thing. These guys were ruthless when spectators starting feeding them.

The second show was more of a comedy and included lots of fire-breathing which is always cool.

Ladies from the second show.

Elephant show holding area. It had been a while since my last circus, so these guys were a little intimidating. They would randomly reach out and touch you with their trunks if they thought you might have food which scared the mess out of a bunch of unsuspecting spectators.

These elephants had talent. They played pop music and the elephants would all dance enthusiastically and wave around props like this guy.

As a finale they let people walk laps under this huge elephant (after his boner when down,which was kind of awkward). Apparently there is a lot of respect for elephants in this culture - all of the people were mouthing prayers and touching the tusks as they made their rounds.

You could buy corn, cucumbers, and other food to give to these guys who never seemed to get enough. It was amazing how far they could reach and how quickly they could take food to mouth and get it back out there for the next piece.

Ayutthaya is a city that is especially known for making a certain type of Thai candy called "roti saimai" that resembles fibrous cotton candy. It's basically sugar and flour with no other additives or preservatives.

We stopped by a place that was making the candy which required repeated stretching of this candy, almost like stretching taffy or something like that. After watching this lady in the apron do it like a pro a few times, she asked me to come down and give it a go. I got the job done with encouragement from the guy in black, but I was struggling much more than the girl. This is a great example of how friendly and awesome Thai people are.

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Chai Watthanaram

All of this happened within the first three days of our trip which kept me overwhelmed. The Thai people have some crazy shock and awe tactics that they unloaded on us upon arrival. Next stop.......Chiang Mai!

--Justin

Monday, April 18, 2011

A night in London and a conference in Oxford

One perk to my job is getting to go to conferences and since I live in Europe it usually means traveling to another country. Two weekends ago I went to Oxford, England for a college counseling course and stayed at St. Anne's College.

I was lucky enough to fly into London the night before the conference and enjoy a great evening with Joanna and Laura. We visited them last February so it had been awhile since I had seen these awesome ladies. I was even fortunate to meet Laura's boyfriend, Dan. He was one that took the adorable pictures below.

The girls!

Dan's awesome shot capturing my excitement for ice cream

The whole gang
(all three photos are credited to Dan)

The next afternoon I hopped a train to Oxford. I have to say Oxford was a great place and I would definitely go back. You could see and feel the history (and intellect) all around you. I met some fellow counselors as well as some IB teachers who were there doing revision courses for students. We had an awesome time sharing stories from our schools and learning from each other. The pubs in Oxford were a highlight. They were some of the best I have ever seen. I am kicking myself for not taking more pictures, but then again I was "working."

St. Anne's College

The Courtyard at St. Anne's College

Walking around Oxford

A cool building with heads on the columns

The tulips were in full bloom everywhere and I loved it.

I left the conference feeling inspired and having a new found love for Oxford. I would love to go back with Justin because I know he would love it. All in all it was a treat to see Joanna, Laura, and Dan and the trip to Oxford was a success.

I wanted to get this post in before we started posting about our Thailand trip (which we are currently on). Next post-Thailand!!!!!

--Marisa

Friday, April 15, 2011

I am moving up in the Blog world!

Today is an exciting day because I am officially a guest blogger!! My wonderful friend and photographer, April, asked me to write a guest post about traveling while her and her husband are away on a mediterranean cruise. How could I resist the chance to write about something I love so much! April writes a great blog and she is way more creative than me and I find I draw a lot of inspiration from her. Check out her blog and my guest post at House of April.

You might remember April from this picture
She took pictures for our 3rd anniversary last year.

And yes you might think I am a total dork for being excited about guest blogging, but I don't care. Happy blogging and happy traveling!

--Marisa

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Geneva

We've finally done it! We've found the MOST expensive city in Europe! If you're looking for a major European city that is lovely, but entirely overpriced then Geneva is your place.

Geneva street proudly waving the flag. If you invert the colors of the flag.......you get the Red Cross symbol. Coincidence? Nope! The Red Cross/Crescent Movement was started here by a Genevan man.

Flower Clock. The Swiss are all about their timepieces. They are home to Rolex, Swatch and other swanky watchmakers.

Marisa's favorite statue alongside Lake Geneva. Time for a side note........Pop Quiz.........what language is spoken in Switzerland?.....................scroll down for answer.

So we trekked down to Geneva for a field trip with the physics students at our school (see previous post on CERN) primarily to see the particle accelerator, but since we couldn't spend all of our time at CERN we ended up checking out the city as well. Situated on the French border and on its self-entitled lake, Geneva is a fancy town famous for watches, a very large and impressive water fountain in the lake, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and the home of John Calvin's "Calvinist" movement during the Reformation.

Lake Geneva and her mermaid

Marisa and our colleague, Kate, pretending it wasn't that cold.

Our beautiful boat cruise on Lake Geneva. Yes, it was this cold. Quiz Answer.........if you said "French", "German", or "Italian" then you are correct!! What was surprising is that the languages seem to be somewhat exclusive to certain regions and cities. In Geneva, for example, French was practically the only language spoken. Had we gone to Zurich, near the German border, we would've only heard Swiss German. Italian is spoken in a smaller region along the southern border with Italy.

Marisa and I planned a photo scavenger hunt for our students where they ran around the town to snap creative shots of their group in front of landmarks and other sights of interest in town. It was a nice way to see the sights and enjoy the mild weather. The only downside to Geneva, and most of Switzerland as I've heard, is that everything is wicked expensive. You would think that everything was laced with gold. Even the "Euro Menu" at McDonald's only featured items that were priced at 2.50 Swiss Francs (currently about 1.20 Swiss Francs = 1 Euro). Otherwise, it was a pleasant place to visit............but you won't need more than a weekend here.

Winning shot of Marisa's group in front of the Jet d' Eau in Lake Geneva.

Our colleague's group's shot in front of the Reformation Wall.

Justin's group in front of St. Pierre's Cathedral where John Calvin was known to lay down a fiery sermon (as fate would have it, we had a student named Pierre so this picture was perfect)

Marisa's group again, performing an opera in front of the Opera House in one of the main squares.

--Justin
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