A very special November! 2015

Jimmy and I finally plugged into Pacific Standard Time (from Beijing and the immediate switch from daylight savings to standard time), though it took us over a week to adjust.  It took me more like two weeks to return to my regular sleep pattern.  About the time we fell back into our groove, my sister announced she would come visit the week of Nov 16-20.  Mind you, I'd been pestering her about coming out to see us!  It would necessarily be a short visit, but it's always sweet for Nannie and me.

When quizzed, she said she'd like to go for a hike one day, so Jimmy and I accommodated her wish!  We took her to the Independence Trail East, all the way to the Miner's Tunnel (which we call a cave), roughly a 5-mile round trip.  The day was sparkling -- coolish -- perfect for hiking.  We had a terrific time, too.

On the old Hwy 49 bridge across the South Yuba River,
which has very little flowing water, sorry to say.

The trail is wheelchair accessible for a good part of the way, following the gentle gradient of an old mining ditch. Here we're walking across a long wooden bridge that replaced the old flume.  Except for the mellow yellow of Oregon Maple leaves, not much tree color could be found alongside the trail.

At the "trail ends" sign, we followed a really steep ... track (I wanted to say poorly maintained, but I don't think it's maintained at all, and careful footing is required) down to the So Yuba River.  Close to the river, we spotted ladybugs and tried not to step on any ... and then we realized they were everywhere!  Hundreds and hundreds converging on the ground, atop logs and in the center of plants.  I don't know if they were clustering to keep warm or possibly seeking mates or even breeding.

When Jimmy and I hiked down to the Miner's Tunnel once before, it wasn't accessible -- water flowed freely. Here you see Nannie standing inside the tunnel (there really is a light at the end of the tunnel).  All three of us had to perform some serious footwork to get into the entrance and not get a soaker, or worse!

Polished granite, worn smooth by the force of water, glows white in the sun.
It's beautiful rock.

Yes, the water is cold!

Took only two strong women to push this boulder up off the trail.

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Nannie's other request was to "go up to the snow."  Thursday the 19th was the day we picked, so that Matt could join us on his free day.  Much of the snow that had fallen earlier in the week in the Sierras had melted, at least in the Truckee area where we started.  We ate lunch at Squeeze Inn and explored Truckee on foot, and then decided to drive the approx 10 miles to Squaw Valley.  We found snow! 

Squaw Valley Village.

In our family, snow means horseplay and snowballs!
Nannie and I grew up in Niagara Falls NY, so we know about snow!

She beaned him pretty good.  He got her back!

I'm standing out of the line of fire for this one!

The snow was cold, for sure.  Nannie was the only one who remembered her gloves (except for Jimmy who was taking pictures and definitely out of snowball play); I'd left mine in the car.  Matt and Nannie shared her gloves for a while to make snowballs and throw 'em.  We had so much fun!  We always do.

Time flew by, as it always does, and we drove Nannie back to Sacramento (SMF) Airport on Friday the 20th, so she could be home for Thanksgiving preparations.  The visit was entirely too short, but it was grand that she could spend a few splendid November days with us.  Stay longer next time!

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Jimmy and I both had birthdays in November -- his is first.  He's nine days older than me; I always enjoy that!  We were Out and About on both our birthdays, walking the leaf-strewn canal paths in the cool autumn air, and feeling grateful for bodies (and a new knee for him!) that continue to allow us to walk or hike as we want despite our ages!  Very grateful, indeed.

Early morning birthday walk toward the canal trail.

 Flawless days with blue skies and cool temps, and pretty leaf color.


On our way home, we passed this golden beauty.

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And then, just a few days later, a cold front approached, this one carrying moisture with icy conditions and lots of wind. Wednesday, the 25th, after a steady, significant rainfall the day before, snow began falling at our house. Our leaf color is gone, along with our leaves.  They're now piled in the yard.  Fall suddenly turned to winter.  

The Sierra Nevada mountains picked up a foot or more of snow.  Come back, Nannie!

A lone leaf hangs in the Pink Dogwood tree.

Tergel looks cold.  I wonder if she's ready to head south?

This looked pathetic to me, and to the hummingbirds, I'm sure!  I donned my down jacket, went outside and knocked off the snow, then brought the feeder in and refilled it with sugar water.  Two days later, I spied the hummingbird sipping nectar!  Our hummingbirds stay the winter.

Oooh, it's been cold since the snow fell.  Both of us like to stand on or near the hearth with the fire toasting us like marshmallows.  Patchy spots of an ice-like snow still dot places where no sun reaches.  On Thanksgiving Day, Jimmy and I drove down to Sacramento to spend the day with Matt and Jen at their new-to-them warm and comfy home.  Her parents joined us.  The food was superb, as usual (thanks, Matt!), the turkey grilled to perfection.  It was a pleasant day, a day to give thanks for every single thing.

In two more days, we'll flip the calendar over to December, and the Christmas season will be upon us, with all its attendant festivities.  We've already begun enjoying holiday events, with yesterday's visit to a nearby alpaca farm and "Holidays at Empire Mine" today, complete with a cheery long hike afterwards.  Life is good.


Wrapping it up! Wed/Thurs, Oct 28/29, 2015

Our driver parked the bus and we walked to our boat launch, more like stumbled in the heat.  Lunch was across the murky Chao Phraya to Supatra River House - "Exotic Thai Seafood Cuisine."  11 hot, thirsty travelers sat down in the air conditioning and cooled off.  Water and juice were served and we drank our fill.  The food was delicious. Thailand had the best food on our trip by a long shot.

You guys get away from that dog!

All of us were undone by the heat, but it was nice to cool off, sit with friends, and enjoy lunch. 

While we waited for the river boat to return following lunch, I wandered into the courtyard where enormous orchid plants were in full bloom.  Bangkok can grow some flowers!  The cute little elephant below was nearby.

Back at the Majestic Grande, Jimmy and I shucked off sweaty clothes, showered, and decided to join Sheila, Bernice, and Irwin on the streets near the hotel to search for T-shirts.  After the fact, Jimmy and I wished we'd gone to the pool instead.  Sheila found a T-shirt, but none of the rest of us did.  We managed, however, to get hot and sweaty all over again! 

I just don't know what I can say about this picture!!!

Dinnertime found us back on the bus and then walking toward the river, but the sun was down and the evening air was balmy.  Did we see a flash of lightning?  Was that thunder?  Yes and yes.  We made it to Arun Restaurant on the river, seated inside (that's important) in air conditioning and watching the lightning show before rain fell in sheets. The first rain of our entire trip, and the rain stopped before we left the restaurant!  Lucky, lucky us!  

Last night's dessert was white sticky rice.  This evening we had black sticky rice with fresh mango and a tiny dish of ice cream -- delightful and delicious!  Double thumbs up.  After dinner we strolled back to the bus on wet streets, returned to the hotel and packed our suitcases.  The bus left the hotel at 9:30 pm for Bangkok's airport; our flight to Beijing would depart at 1:05 am on Thursday.

So, this basically marked the end of our three-week trip to the Best of the Mountain Kingdoms.  Months of planning and anticipation went into our trip, and though I failed to keep reliable notes at times (blame it on overwhelm?), the pictures we took and this blog will serve to jog our memories when we need an assist.  Truly, a trip of a lifetime!

The sights we saw, both natural and man-made, won't fade in our eyes anytime soon, if ever.  New friends, new countries and cultures, fantastic experiences, hikes to monasteries most can only dream about, all these things we'll cherish.  

On a lighter note, some of the bathrooms we used were, uh, certainly different than anything we'd seen in the west.  The worst was having to squat over a smelly cement trough with liquid running along the bottom, but at least it had stalls with doors!  Everybody has to go, and it's any port in the storm, so to speak.  Many of the toilets in ladies rooms had what looked like a man's urinal, only flat on the floor, and that was what we had to use.  

As I was saying, Krish and Matthew guided us through the cavernous, crowded airport, avoiding long queues, and we made it in and out of customs and security without delay.  Our luggage was checked straight thru to Los Angeles (LAX) for which we were grateful.  We bade Krish and Matthew goodbye ... we'd grown quite fond of Krish and his impulsive, fun nature.

We didn't see Mount Everest or the Himalayas this flight, but I wanted to leave you with this photo.

The flight from Bangkok to Beijing was peaceful and uneventful, with little sleep for me unfortunately, and we landed at 5:30 am Thursday (6:30 Beijing time).  We had a fairly long layover in Beijing, and the lounge we had passes for turned out to be less than stellar, so four of us scouted out a breakfast place.  Our next flight -- the long one -- from Beijing to LAX left at 12:30 pm Thursday afternoon, and landed at LAX something like 12 hours later at 9 am Thursday morning.  How's that for flying into yesterday?  Food was served twice, the first time shortly after we boarded.  As we traveled into night, the cabin lights went dark and the plane became quiet. We slept off and on.  Between 3-4 hours pre-LAX, life aboard the jet stirred and more food was served, which we ate; we were hungry.  We still had three hours till we arrived at LAX.  I was next to a window and even with my blanket and pillow, I got cold.  I grew tired of sitting and got up occasionally to stretch and walk in the aisles.

Finally, at LAX, all went smoothly and our little group of 11 split as people went to find their connecting flights. We changed (and paid for it) to an earlier flight from LAX to Sacramento (the last flight this trip!) and got into SMF (Sacramento -- we call it Smurf) a little after noon on Thursday.  Still Thursday!  Matt picked us up at the airport and soon we were home.  Home.  We spent the next week-and-a-half trying to get right-side again -- jet lag supreme!

Lastly, Jimmy requested no more rice for a long time, since we had rice with every lunch and dinner!

On to the Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand, Wed, 10/28

Even as we were wilting in the humid heat, our little Road Scholar convoy of 11 (plus our Thai guide, Matthew), continued on to Bangkok's Grand Palace complex.  This was established in 1782 and has been the royal residence of the Thai King for the last 150 years.  It also houses a number of government offices, as well as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  And the complex is big, covering close to a square mile, surrounded by four walls.  

From the bus window, I spotted a Common Myna.
The last time I saw a Myna was on the Big Island of Hawaii, but they are native to Asia.

From the outside, looking at the Upper Terrace, which consists of four main monuments: A reliquary in the shape of a golden chedi; the Mondop, a repository for Buddhist sacred scriptures inscribed on palm leaves, contained within a beautiful mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinet; a miniature of Angkor Wat; and the Royal Pantheon.

We're near the entrance to the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha.
Long pants and shirts with at least a little sleeve were required, and the area was crowded with tourists.

And pretty little girls like this young lady!

Golden warrior statues and some of us!  The nameplate below the statue reads:  Singhapanorn.

Golden Garudas vs Nagas at the Emerald Buddha (Phra Mondop).

Phra Mondop:  The demons that stand guard on top of the stairway are the work of King Rama I period and are regarded as the most perfectly proportioned of all existing classical sculptures of Rattanakosin craftsmanship.  

Again, shoeless, we entered the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, which is, in fact, carved from a block of green jade and was first discovered in 1434 in a stupa at Chiang Rai.  At that time the image was covered with plaster and was thought to be an ordinary Buddha image.  Later, the abbot who had found the image noticed that the plaster on the nose had flaked off, revealing the green stone underneath.  The abbot initially thought the stone was emerald, and thus the legend of the Emerald Buddha began.  Alas, no photos were allowed inside.

Angkor Wat model.

Matthew carries a purple umbrella, so we can follow him in the crowd.
We're envious of the shade it provides.

Irwin, Bernice, Marilyn and Jimmy.
Statues of the monkey-dragon characters.  
How could we tell the monkeys from dragons?  Monkeys wore no shoes!

Wat Pra Kaew to the side of the Grand Palace.  The entire complex is open to the public.  We especially liked the English-Thai architecture mix.

So much detail -- dragon on the roof!

Modeled after English palace guards, young men (the guy on the right!), stand guard at the Grand Palace.
Jimmy asked if picture-taking was ok.  The guard said, "Yes."

We were at the right place to watch the changing of the guard.

We were all wringing wet, literally dying in the heat.  After walking and touring, I veered away from the group, turned off my "whisper," and sought shade anywhere.  I simply couldn't do it anymore.  It was about at that point that our guide led us back to the bus (the AIR-CONDITIONED BUS), for the transfer to a restaurant (lunch) across the river.  The Grand Palace was, indeed, grand, but 90 degree humid heat in the sun overwhelmed most of us. Everyone was ready for a" cool" boat ride, and lunch in air-conditioned splendor!