Greece is the word

We don’t sit still for long. We’ve only been in London a couple of months, and I’m already feeling my feet start to itch. I’m plotting a road trip in France, a weekender in Berlin, and maybe even a stint on the slopes. (Let’s hope the freelance cheques start rolling in soon then, yeah?)

But I knew that after moving back to this side of the world, my first port of call (quite literally) would be Athens, to see my big sis Sarah. Partly because I haven’t seen her in two years, and partly because she’d have bated me if it wasn’t.

Not content with simply sorting a date with her and booking a flight, I decided to rope in some partners in crime in my Mam, my Dad and Marko, and we hatched a plan with my sister’s boyf Dimos. Two weeks ago, we rocked up her driveway, knocked on her front door, scared the bejaysus out of her, and a stream of profane consciousness ensued.

It was marvellous. I love nothing more than surprises (when I’m in on it, of course) and if you know my sister, you’ll know she likes to be involved. She loves the run-up to big events, and she’s the best hype-girl when it comes to getting everyone excited. So I did feel (a tad) bad about depriving her of that part. But I loved how well Dimos took to all the plotting, and I was thrilled that my parents were so game to take a trip all the way to Greece via London.

Our family has had something of a turbulent year; this month marks a year since my Mam was diagnosed with cancer. My mam and dad have been rockstars over the past twelve months, and now she’s on the mend, I think that should be celebrated. And what better way than a family reunion?

It sounds strange to say out loud that I hadn’t seen my sister in two years (apart from an all-too-brief 12 hours we crossed paths in Dublin last year) but I guess it’s a credit to Skype that we didn’t really feel it. But of course, no interweb catch-up can make up for memory making and photo taking, so we did a lot of that.

Near hourly photoshoots, an inflatable banana fight, 80s-style packed car journeys, six attempts at a Kris Kindle, a shopping spree in a pound shop, wine, cheese, cake, more wine, more cheese and more cake, and a late night (and rather tipsy) debate about why I wasn’t allowed to go to Syntagma Square. We climbed the Acropolis and we had a paddle in the Ionian Sea.

It was all too short, but it was pretty magic. The food is incredible, the bars are very cool, and the parts of the city I saw were beautiful. I can’t wait to go back and explore a little further, but for now, here are some pics.


 

Three months, four countries and a new home…

A very apt poster in Singapore

Since I last blogged I’ve taken eleven flights.

No I haven’t traded places (and other halves) with Victoria Beckham. And I haven’t scored a gig as a jet-setting, high-flying travel journo (yet). I’ve just come home, headed off to find a new home, then headed back again a few times to make sure the old home was still there.

How talented is my Dad?! Khmer-style script and everything

For those who aren’t privy to my all-too-often Facebook updates, Marko and I have left Siem Reap for the less-tuk-tuks-more-taxis streets of London (via stop-offs in Singapore and Dublin along the way).

The last few weeks have been choca with gut-wrenching goodbyes, jubilant hellos, then more of those pesky goodbyes again.

Leaving Siem Reap was like breaking up with a boyfriend you know it’s time to break up with; you know it’s the right thing to do, but you’re going to have a cry about it anyway. I plan to do a more comprehensive eulogy of my time in Cambodia soon, but for now, as with any amicable break-up, I left a little piece of my heart there, and I still miss it every day.

Next we get to the rebound fling; Singapore. Big, bold, rich, shiny and beautiful, can you think of any better traits a rebound could muster? The only problem was I fell a little too hard for the place, I loved the glossiness of it all, the people were friendly, the vibe was multi-cultural; it somehow feels like the centre of the world, yet no place specific all at the same time. The perfect rendezvous between Asia and Europe.

I was only home a few hours and we were out digging potatoes. How Irish?

The most incredible peas from my oul fella’s allotment

Then we got back to Dublin, back to the warm bosom of friends and family, back to the familiar and back to the downright lovely. Seeing as I’ve started this analogy, I guess I better continue. Arriving to Dublin is like getting back with the safe ex, the one you know it would be grand to get married and have kids with, your life would be happy, but would it be exciting? I love Dublin, it’s home and someday, I hope I’ll live there again. But at the moment, Marko and me, we’re still getting around.

Back with my buds

Is there really anything more wonderful than wine, cheese and chats with old friends?

Which brings me on to the new love our our lives, London. The next chapter in our great adventure. It may only be an hour from Dublin, but after a year in Cambodia, it still feels like a world away.

 

Our first night in the new flat

It’s looking a little better, 15 boxes, three Ikea visits and a lot of flatpacking later, it’s nearly ready.

Old friends, new city – our London posse

 

 

Asia-versary

This day last year an airplane spit us out in Bangkok. We weren’t sure how we felt about Asia. It was hot, it was sticky and I saw a rat within my first ten minutes. It took all the strength I could muster (which was a lot cos I’d been carrying some really heavy luggage) not to hightail it back to the airport. Let’s just say there were more than a few tears shed in a skybar that was full of screaming kids, smelled like popcorn and charged for the view in the price of a cocktail.

Arriving in Siem Reap was the first time I knew we’d made the right decision. Like so many people who pass through and never leave, it instantly felt like home. (I swear that has nothing to do with the $1 tacos we discovered on our first night in town). A large part of that was down to the blooming wonderful people we’ve met here.

While we’ve still another few while to go yet, this week sees us say farewell to our little gang of pals that have been with us since the start. Mike, Nat, Lucy, Richard and Miranda have been an enduring force of drinking buddies, mani-pedi partners, sounding boards and cheerleaders.

Among floods and mossie bites, homesickness and culture shock they were the dollop of familiarity we needed; a constant reminder of why we we’re all here, and why a dash to the airport was never an option.

I have little doubt that our paths will cross again, but until then guys…thanks for the memories.

Off to the Seaside

So last week we were supposed to go to Laos for Khmer New Year. In a series of events which involved Marko and I not actually ever discussing it, we realised the night before, when we finally, and simultaneously, ‘fessed up, that we didn’t actually want to go. It wasn’t that we don’t want to see Laos, we really really do, but we don’t want to half-ass it. So we’ll go back when we’ve the time, and resources, to do it properly. ‘Sure we’re only young.

So, with a whole week at our disposal and a few quid in our pocket, we got out the guidebook and decided to head for the beach. We bought our bus ticket from a very drunk man – it was New Year’s Eve after all – packed our swimmers and hit the road.

Over the week we stayed in Phnom Penh; amazing tapas, Serendipity Beach; kinda gross, Koh Rong; a paradise island and Otres Beach; in a hut ten feet from the sea. It always amazes me how many sides there are to this country, that you can go from a town of temples to a cosmopolitan city, to a backpacker boozefest to a tropical hideaway, all in one day. It’s rather incredible.

Despite all our travelling, our week was filled with lazy days spent between the sea and the hammock. But I did manage to haul my ass up and take a few pictures. Here are the results which heavily feature drift wood, blue water and sand. Lots and lots of sand…

And just in case you missed it, I finally made it into a broadsheet while I was away. Check out my Cambo story in the Irish Independent, here and here.

Cambo Catch-Up

The Old Market area in Siem Reap

So my buds on Facebook and Twitter are kept well abreast of daily musings, drab details and frequent photo uploads of life here in Cambodia. Thus the blog, which was supposed to be a Dear Diary-type, permanent record of my time here, gets sadly neglected. As I vow for the seventeenth time to be a better blogger, here’s a pictorial catch-up of all that’s been going on over the past month or so. I could have written more words, but as we all know, I’m in the wrong profession, reading is for chumps and people prefer books with lots of pictures…

So this month…

...The Phnom Penh post set up a mini-supplement, here's the first issue featuring my interview with the might Cambojam.

...Marko's parents came to visit and we had an incredible time. Battambang was the best part because we got to hurtle down the tracks on this hunk of junk.

...We also brought them to Phnom Kulen which was really spectacular. I got in under the little waterfall but was way too chicken to take a shower in this.

...We also nabbed swell seats for the Giant Puppet Parade, which was incredible. Me thinks the Dublin parade could learn a lot from these kids, they built the floats in just three weeks.

...Speaking of kids, I'm just obsessed with Cambodian ones, they're just the best. So happy, so spirited and so smart; no wonder Angelina stuck one in her suitcase.

...We had some swish events, one was the Eric Raisina fashion show at Hotel De La Paix, a rather extravagant affair, and not the kind of thing I expected to be attending in Siem Reap. This is Marko and I getting a tuk tuk for the occasion.

...We celebrated St. Patrick's Day at an I Heart Cambodia party.

...But managed to sneak in some cheeky beers.

...And rather ironically saw our first snake.

...I didn't eat the snake, but I did have this cricket. Unfortunately his roachy mate got me back karmically today by creeping up on me during lunch and putting me off my food. I deserved it.

...Has been whopper hot. People say it's the hottest March in yonks and it's set to get worse in April. I've been improving my tan, but mostly just earning more freckles.

...I've been missing my family and pals at home tonnes, Skyping up a storm (though not quite enough) and plotting potential visits from some of them before the year is out. (Pic; Taken at Christmas by Sarahlee.)

...Biggest news of all, we've decided to move to London in September. We don't have jobs yet, so if anyone would like to give me one, I'm cheap, I'm enthusiastic and I'm available. That's all any employer wants, right?

But enough about me…how are you?

P.S. Click the links for more about the Giant Puppet Parade, bamboo train and the Eric Raisina Emotions show.

Before Sunset*

So we’ve been lucky enough to be having some incredible sunsets lately (and one sunrise – I don’t usually see that time of the morning). I’m not sure if it’s our proximity to the equator (there’s no 4pm to 11pm nightfall extremes here), the time of year aka “Winter”, or the fact that it’s been dry for the first time since we arrived in Asia, but dusk at the moment is a rather spectacular affair.

It’s only now that I realise why Asian sunsets are so renowned and why many bars, restaurants and hotels here market their sunset status. Our tribal hut in Kampot boasted two balconies (for sunset and sunrise) while the rooftop and balcony bars of Phnom Penh’s buzzing Sisowath Quay are crammed by 5.30pm with hoards of tourists hoping to catch the closing of the day. (The Quay actually faces East though, so perhaps they should market it as a moonrise location instead.)

While I could get all poetic about the caliber of Cambodian sunsets, no one wants that. Plus, with all the ramblings about amber hues and autumn skies there are in the world, words never quite seem to capture the sense of calm you get from watching a burning ball of orange turn the sky all manner of shades from cerise pink to pale lilac before darkness descends. (Okay, so that was a pretty transparent attempt at wordyness.)

Anywho, throughout all this loveliness, we’ve been making at stab at snapping the sky in all its glory. Maybe these pictures will do the Great Cambodian Sunset even a shred justice…

Here I am, taking in the sunset from Natalie's Siem Reap balcony

I think this sky looks like heaven. Well, what heaven looks like when someone paints heaven. Does that make sense?

This picture is Marko's handywork from aboard a boat on the Tonle Sap

Sunset over a paddy field in Kampot

Before sunrise*...

Nearly there...

Here comes the sun (do do do do)

The view from bed in our Kampot tribal hut

Oh dear, I very nearly forgot these ones. Sunrise from inside Angkor Wat. Absolutely magic.

Despite promising no poetry, seeing as we’re in “The Orient”, I’ll leave you with a Haiku I stumbled across:
Asian Sunset by Sonny (parents with a sense of humour) Rainshine

Pollen from saffron
blossoms and pink silktree blooms
tinge the western sky.

Eh...My attempt at being arty. Along with the Haiku of course.

* P.S. Anyone else love those films? I don’t know if I prefer Before Sunset or Before Sunrise more. Just me then? Okay.

Carnivorous Feast *veggies look away now

The other week I ate five different meats for dinner. Oddly the chicken was a bit gross.

After months of passing them in every second tourist restaurant in town, we figured we’d try out the traditional Khmer Degustation Barbecue. A metal steam plate is placed over hot coals in the center of the table, there is stock around the sides in which you cook noodles and vegetables, while the meat is cooked on a raised part in the centre.

It all starts with a hole in the table

Pork fat in the middle - gross but delish

We choose to dine at the aptly named Cambodian BBQ on The Alley. It’s a bit swankier than the other barbecue joints, but the food always smells good as you pass, and it’s always pretty busy which tends to be a good sign, even in a tourist town like Siem Reap.

For about $15 we chose five meats and got all we could eat of the noodles, steamed rice and vegetables. We went for snake, crocodile, ostrich and then beef and chicken -just in case the rest didn’t go down so well. There was also the option of goat, frog, pork, prawns and squid – being so far from the sea though, we tend to stay away from seafood around town (especially the generic “river fish”, if you saw the colour of the river, you’d know what I mean; kind of like the Liffey minus the trolleys).

All-you-can-eat crunchy veg

Dipping sauces on the side

Accompaniments boiling in the broth

A waiter comes over first to help you get started. He chucks the noodles and vegetables to cook in the stock then asked us which meat we’d like to try first. We opted for the croc. Though giving it was flooding and there were lots of rumours of crocodiles escaping from the many farms around town, I was a little worried that this was the definition of bad karma. But hey, you have to try these things at least once, even if it does get you comeuppance-attacked on the way home.

He dutifully dipped each piece in some egg-yolk and left it to sizzle over the coals.

The crocodile before I chowed down

The crocodile was really tasty, a pink meat it had a bit of a bacon hue (though that might be attributed to the mound of pork fat it was cooking in) it was tender, not gamey-tasting at all, definitely something I’d try again.

We went for the chicken next, just to break things up, unfortunately it wasn’t the best part of the bird – but we’ll put that down to more elaborate fare being the restaurant’s specialty.

Next up was the Ostrich. Cambodia doesn’t strike me as an Ostrich-suitable habitat though, so I’m not sure how “native” this one was. Nonetheless, it was delicious, I think my favourite of the night; I was expecting something like turkey, but the red meat is like a really nicely marinaded piece of fillet beef, tender, light, but packed with flavour.

I didn't know birds could have red meat

We decided we’d finish with the beef, just in case the snake was awful and we needed to get the taste out of our mouths. But in fact it wasn’t so awful. The closest thing I can pair it to is a chewy pork chop. Though by the time we’d reached our fourth and fifth meats, we were on our own. The waiter had abandoned us, and given we’d never cooked snake before, it may have been overdone. Some parts were quite tasty, others too elasticated to eat. Perhaps snake is like squid, it needs to be cooked just right or the texture and taste are ruined?

This was the one that got to me the most though, the one I could actually picture as a living creature, slithering about. Picturing my dinner in a field is something I, as a guilty meat-eater, try exceedingly hard not to do. Lamb anyone?

Snake...looks good enough to eat

All in all it was a pretty awesome dinner. While it was pricey by local standards I loved the novelty of watching it cook and I’m sure we’ll head back if we have visitors throughout the year. I also think those kind of meals are great for helping you digest, as there’s a gap between each “course”.

For me trying new food, as much as I enjoy expanding my palate, is more about the bragging rights than anything else. I can now scratch snake, ostrich, crocodile and beetle* off the bucket list. Next up tarantula, and by the end of the year, I might have been ballsy enough to sample one of the fertilised duck eggs they sell all over town.

More off my culinary bucket list

Can you spot the fried intestine with ants? Maybe some day...

*I ate one of these suckers at the Baray a couple of months ago, feel itchy just thinking about it, but it was actually pretty good.

One Cambodian dish I won’t be trying is dog. I know it’s an animal like all others, but I hope to own one some day, and I want to be able to look it in the eye.

I’m still alive…

…I just suck at this blogging lark.

Thigh deep - and it got even higher after that...

Following my last post (which seemed to worry a few people, sorry about that) I had another few days of being sick, followed by a day or two moving house, followed by a week or so of mammoth work catch-up, which still seems to be ongoing. All this was interspersed with lots of flooding to slow things down even more – hence why I’ve been a tad AWOL.

I do promise though I’ve some cool posts in the making, and will turn them from draft status to published very soon. Until then, that’s a picture of me during the second round of flooding, making my way to Marko’s school. No, I’m not standing in a river, that’s normally a road.

While Flood One was lots of fun, Flood Two, a little restricting, and Flood Three, just a bit shoe-wetting, by Flood Four we’re all getting pretty ticked off. Marko has taught just seven full days of school in the past month, (I’m cheating a bit there, he did have a mid-term in the middle of all that, but it’s still pretty bad.)

But far more important than the inconvenience it’s causing around town, are the lives that have been lost and devastation caused during what has been the worst flooding in a decade. The death toll in Cambodia now stands at 206, and this will only increase as the dengue fever season creeps on and crops fail throughout the country.

If you want to read more about it, here’s a link to the Phnom Penh Post and for some incredible images, check out The Guardian.

MOAN!(And a few words on homesickness)

My thought for the day (pinched from the very lovely http://www.blanaid.com)

So this week I’ve been under the weather. So far under the weather, I’m practically lying face-down on the ground – I think they call that planking?

You see I don’t get sick very often. In fact, since I stopped using the daily services of the fabulous people at Dublin Bus a few years ago, I’ve barely been sick at all – not in the blow-your-nose kind of way anyway. But what with last week spent wading about town, going from wet to dry to wet again several times a day, I picked up a germy combination of tonsillitis and the common cold. But when you live in Cambodia, there’s nothing common about it.

I try my best not to be a moaner on the internet, and aside from the odd Facebook update, it’s a healthy habit I hope will transfer to the rest of my life, (over the past 12 months, I’ve become one of those positive-affirmation-visionboard-loving-Secret-reading types). However recent days have just taken the biscuit – biscuit of the gross, non Jacobs/McVities/Irish/UK variety.

You see I sometimes like being sick. After all, it is your body’s way of telling you to stall the ball. A guilt-free few days of wandering your house draped in a duvet, obeying the gospel according to Oprah, taking a mid-morning nap before Loose Women, and catching up with some Aussie soaps late afternoon. You’re practically drip-fed tea and toast, and if you’re really lucky, your mam might offer to pick you up, take you home and make you dinner. (If you’re really really lucky, mashed potato might be involved in said dinner).

All in all, it’s a sweet deal in exchange for a sore throat and red nose.

Here, it’s an altogether different kettle of tea. Firstly there is no tea. None that competes with the holy combo of Lyons pyramid bags and Avonmore milk anyway. Secondly duvets don’t exist, and if they did, it’d be too hot to wear them. And thirdly, I’m self-employed now, so that means any sick days I take our at my own expense. Days like the last two, where I couldn’t think straight on account of the atomic sinus pressure and bag of blades I have for a swallow mechanism, have to be kept to a minimum.

Then to top off “the week of a million tissues” our house flooded last night. Not too badly (though I haven’t been home since this morning) just our kitchen for now. There’s about 10cm more before it gets into the main house, so here’s hoping we’ll be safe.

So the point of my moany rant – if you’re still with me? – is to address something I’ve really wanted to write about. Homesickness. An illness that’s altogether more consuming than streptococcal, and takes a good bit longer to shake off.

In the midst of all my nose blowing this week, I received two amazing deliveries. One from my folks, and the other from my bestie Ciara. Between the two there I was sent about 20 chocolate bars, five bags of sweets, my all-time favourite belt (I somehow accidentally left at home), my all-time favourite hair product (Body Shop Brazil Nut Define and No Frizz – USE IT), my runners (I WILL exercise over here), a load of new knickers (Penneys’ finest) and Ciara and John’s wedding DVD.

While getting post is one of my favourite things in the world and all these goodies cheered me up no end, they also helped to spur on my ever-growing yearning for home.

Leave anyone sitting on their tod for eight hours a day and they’re bound to feel lonely. But add my under-the-weatherness, watching a video of my parents, best friend, and all her family on an incredible day just before I left, and going to ring someone for a chat and realising it’s 4am back home, all culminates to feeling rather underwhelmed with the whole living-on-the-other-side-of-the-world-thing.

(Man-I’m-using-a-lot-of-this-today. Sorry.)

I’m in no way ready to go home, and I am still so happy, excited and grateful to have the opportunity to live and work in Siem Reap and I know I’d be disappointed if I didn’t stick out at least a year – in fact, I’m kinda disappointed at myself for feeling these doubts so soon – but just over three months into the adventure, I’m finding a real longing to see my parents, my sister, Marko’s family, all our friends, my old work friends and eh, tea.

I’m sure it’s just a phase, and that a week on the couch is no good for anyone’s mental health (unless it’s that sort of couch). Pangs for home are inevitable, as too I guess, are more prolonged periods of homesickness, but I’m hoping they’ll become less frequent over time.

I really felt I had begun to settle in once I started working, the last few weeks had been going really well but suddenly I seem to have hit another wall. It’s such a horrible feeling to be homesick, one I can only really compare to a break-up; no-where near as awful as a death, but heart-wrenching and tear-inducing all the same. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this way, but in all the people I’ve met here, and all my friends who have gone abroad, it’s something that’s rarely discussed. One friend of mine mentioned a “seven month wall” she hit during her year as a back-packer – perhaps mine has come early. Another said it took her almost a year for a pang of homesickness, and at that it only lasted a night – maybe I’m a complete wuss. While a third pal said after emigrating, it took her six months to get settled, and after that she never looked back – I’m hoping I fall into this category.

I think I need to keep in my head that this is what I want, what I’ve always wanted, and I’m not alone here at all. I have Marko, who is unrelenting in his patience with me and we’ve made some awesome new friends here. I have the kind of lifestyle I’d kill for at home. We’re moving into a new place next week (it has a swimming pool – how fancy?) and I think that will be a mid-fresh-start, fresh start. (Does that make sense?)

Until then, I’ll wallow in my pile of tissues, flooded kitchen, chocolate bars and thoughts of home, friends, tea and duvets.

But for the record, despite all my smashing new pals, smug poolside status updates and sporadic ability to stay in touch, I’m missing all you lovelies back home and around the world bigtime xxx