Cambodia Sept. 2015?

One of the places I have had my eyes on in SE Asia is Cambodia.  If we do start our trip on the cruise to Tokyo, we will quickly be aiming south from there to the more affordable areas in this part of the world.  I thought today I would consider Cambodia.

To enter, it looks like $20 fee for a 1-month visa, renewable for another month for $35, 3 months for $65.  I guess this will add up for the 6 of us but the living looks cheap and interesting so likely worth it.  Recommended vaccines are Hep A+B, Japanese B encephalitis, TB and Typhoid in addition to the standard polio/rabies/DTP/etc.  I guess we’ll have to suck it up and get all of these before we leave, sigh.

Now on to the biggest Cambodian city.  This blogger, a female 20-something writer from the USA,  has a lot of good information about Phnom Penh, the capital city.  She recommends the BKK 1 or Wat Phnom neighborhoods there, so I began by pricing rentals.

Initial searches are promising!  This site had many 2BR in the $450-$550 range that look great- furnished, modern/Western kitchen, wifi, pool, etc.  They purport to be near the Russian Market, cited by this blogger who lives there (an expat, might be American) as an excellent market and a great place to live.  Not sure how long is the minimum time to rent but we would want maximum 1-2 months.  BTW, the same blogger had a wonderful map of the neighborhoods in Phenom Penh, entertainingly pointing out the “dodgy white men” and “tuk-tuk mafia” areas, information I’m sure will come in handy.  She did not seem overly excited about the BKK neighborhood- “ex-pat/NGO/whitey land” – not what I am looking for either.

From Phenom Penh, it is a 5-hour bus ride to Angor Wat (L), a must-see for our trip.  Look at that temple!!  I can’t wait to check out the place.

This  seems like a good time to mention The Man in Seat 61,on whom I am quickly developing an inappropriate crush.  He is an advocate for and wealth of information on non-airplane travel worldwide.  Thank you Mark Smith!!!!  Wherever you find yourself in the world, this guy can give you the down-low on bus, rail, and ferry travel.  Here is his page on getting to Angor Wat from PP.  Apparently there is a speedboat at $35 per person, and the deluxe bus is only $12.

What else to do in Cambodia?  This blog post has a list of good ideas in Phenom Penh, though the kids look a lot younger than mine.  The National Museum especially interests me.  The Russian market certainly bears some exploring, as does the Art Deco style Central Market.  Outside of PP, this ecotourist floating village near Siem Reap where Angor Wat is located northwest of PP looks cool.

I am not a beach person, but ok, CNN, tell me about the 5 best Cambodian beaches.  The phosphorescent plankton in Long Set Beach, seashells at Kho Thmei , and snorkling at Southwestern Beach and Lazy Beach are all draws for me.  They all look pretty good except for the last (Sokha), where it appears the beaches are privatized parts of hotels.

Basically, I think once we get there we can figure out the fun stuff, for now I have to focus on housing, so a brief look at options outside of PP.  Siem Reap looks too touristy and expensive due to its proximity to Angor Wat.  Sihuanoukville looks to be a party beach town, not what I am looking for.  Battambang, now that looks pretty good.  Lonely planet says it has nice archetecture, a mix of modern and historic qualities, and a scenic river trip to Angor Wat.  Tell me more.  Oooh- bike trips!  This place might merit a week or more for the Fantastics.  Ganesha guest house looks decent, the price is right, I have to say Battambang might be a place for us!

So there is my first foray into Cambodia.  I have a few emails out to friends-of-friends, so I may post again about the area.



addendum- this is how much maple syrup we got

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That’s right!  A little over 1 cup, that’s over 236 milliliters!!  Woo-hoo!  Here’s the tiny jug we got to put it in.  It tastes great.  Not sure how we’ll use it, but we’ve all had a taste and there’s still a little left.



OK, I’m working on 2 articles: one about Cambodia and a 2nd about  another PA state park, but right now I have to go make dinner. Stay tuned!

Ithaca, NY March 2014

Mud season!  Maple syruping!  Guests!  Norwegian Fjord horses!  Snow! Tree house casualties!  Pond walking!

We have historically avoided the cabin this time of year, but from now on I will think differently.  We went up to try tapping our maple trees and expected the mud season madness of leaden shoes caked with the stuff, tracking it in the house and car, and difficult schlepping of necessary items to and from the cabin.  What we experienced, though, was a lovely mix of three seasons and an exciting sap run as the weather shifts from cold to warm in upstate New York.

Maple tree tapping

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The idea is really simple, but the 40:1 ratio we keep hearing about is intimidating.  Yes, that’s 40 (some say 50) gallons of maple tree sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.  We just wanted to try, so we got a set-up for each child – spile (tap that goes into the tree), hook, bucket and lid – and got to work.  We put two taps on an old maple tree of about 11′ in diameter, and one tap each in two smaller, maybe 2-3′ diameter trees.  We immediately could see sap dripping into the buckets, which had us all jumping around in excitement.  I suppose the excitement wears off if you have taps that number in the 3-digits, like our neighbors who have 135 taps that drain into a hose system that goes directly into their sugar house.  They told us they produced 20 gallons of maple syrup last year, so yeah, we are not any competition for their operation.  We thought we might get a cup or so of the sweet stuff.  We let the taps drain for the 4 days we were there and started the boiling process our last day.  We were surprised that the big old tree did not produce much sap, and that one of the smaller trees – but not the other right next to it – was a strong producer.

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The cabin was steamy as it snowed outside, and the smell was wonderful.  We boiled for several hours and took the result home to finish.

Trumansburg and some denizens

T’burg is like a little sister to Ithaca, smaller but still progressive and boasting of a stellar waterfall – Taughannock Falls – a good coffee shop, the rollicking summerfest of the Grassroots Festival and the lovable Trumansburg Fair.  We took a little field trip to see gifted writer and Fjord horse aficionado Ms. Plumlot and family there.

Ms Plumlot has an abiding affection for animals and a daunting knowledge of various topics including not limited to: fracking, Elkhounds, NYC, guernsey wool, Covert Township politics, cloth diapers and Norwegian Fjord horses, of which she owns two.  We love visiting her, the Mr., the 3 Plumlets, and whatever combination of animals are on hand at the time.  They also have a beautiful cedar-shingled house warmed with a wood stove, and unbelievably, space upstairs in the red barn for 6 Fantastics to crash for the night so we could maximize hanging out and minimize driving.  It was late-winter bliss, thank you Plumlots!!!

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picture from another visit – Ms. Plumlot and I photobombed by Fenya!!


The cabin + our land 

We were so pleased to have the lovely and talented Sylvia Starlight and kids join us for a few days!  The kids had such a great time, using the balance board (I loved this, too!), playing board games, hearing stories, playing in the treehouse, and generally running around outside.  There were two unfortunate episodes in which Really, and later Truly, each fell out of the treehouse but there were no serious injuries and the sun and cold were a joy to experience outside and inside.   The heater is still broken, but the passive solar energy, the oven, and the 6 kids running around warmed the place nicely.  We even had a fire outside and roasted marshmallows!  Also, the little ravine creek was running, and there were patches of snow everywhere.  The colors were beautiful in the waning winter.  We had snow and sun, mud and ice, brisk air outside and warm wood in the cabin.




The pond

I stepped on it gingerly as Mr. Fantastic and I collected sap the last day.  It seemed solid, I didn’t hear any cracking.  Looking around, the perspective was new since one usually can’t stand in the middle of the pond.  By the time we got back to the cabin, I decided it was safe for the kids – after all, they weigh less, right?  It was awesome!!!

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the cabin as seen from the pond


Ode to a Dilapidated Outbuilding

This is about a building on our property that I have looked at for 9 years but never really considered until today.IMG_1837

The insurance company- philistines, all- they said to demolish it or burn it, preferably both, but what do they know of beauty.


Who knows what your weathered wood has seen?


I can feel your textures with my eye.


I can touch the past in your walls.


I can wonder at the mysterious, rusted things.


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timeworn… ghostly… and strangely comforting.

RTW plane tix vs. seat-of-our-pants

If you have gathered anything from reading about our family, you might assume that, in all likelihood, we will never, shall we say, be accused of over-organization.  And you would be right.  That said, I am valiantly attempting to put a loose structure on the plan of traipsing around the globe with the spouse and four children as our target date, now a mere 18 months away, draws nearer.

A major, perhaps THE major, factor governing the trip is transportation.  Going RTW as a family may have its advantages, however, multiplying plane/bus/train ticket prices x 6 is not one of them.   Of course, we have to get from place to place somehow, and with our new timeline of one year instead of two, the RTW flight plan became more of an option.  So, I looked at one of the major companies that sells this type of thing, and the quote they gave me was more than half our budget for the year!  They give a slight discount for children under 11, but the tickets were about $7000 per person – a whopping $42,000. Yikes!!

Now, the Bootsnall website had a link to multi-stop tickets with much friendlier pricing, but I’m not sure how this works.  Apparently the website is and they do this monthly; here is the list for March.  Also, I ordered Bootsnall’s free e-report on RTW airfare in which they compared various companies that sell these tickets.  The conclusion from the report was that the DIY method was cheapest and most flexible, but there are advantages to having your tickets pre-paid such as: having proof that you are leaving the country (useful in certain countries I’m told), budgeting a known quantity, and perhaps most importantly, saving time and stress in finding flights.  This guy seems very pro-RTW plane tickets but of course is not budgeting for 6.  The 6-person family in Sixintheworld - who are inspiring in many ways but likely had a bigger budget than we have and covered more ground than we plan to cover- bought RTW tix for their year-long trip, but they had the significant advantage of frequent flyer miles and paid only $250 per ticket.  Sigh.

So, I don’t think we will be flying much.  I am closely watching the repositioning cruises to cross the Atlantic and/or Pacific, in fact the whole idea of our itinerary changed when I found a cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo leaving Sept. 2014.  If there is one the following year, that is my pick.  If not, we still could cruise with the fancy schmancy Cunard line to the UK from NYC to get the trip started.  It is not much more than flying, and the kids and I get more excited about ship travel than flying so it may be worth it.

After getting to Europe or Asia, there are supposedly cheaper local flights and there are always alternatives to flying.  I was impressed with the bus system for Mexico and Central America.  I once took a bus from Mexico City to Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras over 3 days, and Mr Fantastic (who spoke almost no Spanish) followed me a few weeks later and we both had safe, fairly comfortable, inexpensive trips.  I cannot say the same for Greyhound in the USA, but I am optimistic about other countries.  Mr. Fantastic is a big fan of the Trans-Siberian Railway for travel between Europe and China/Japan.  This website looks to be very detailed in how to use that system.  If we land in Tokyo, I also found this website on ferry boats to China/Korea/Russia/Taiwan from Japan.  Of course, within cities, I am very keen to use the subway systems because I just like them.

So, barring any sudden windfall of frequent flyer miles or other unexpected incentives to fly, it looks like it will be seat-of-our-pants for the Fantastics.  Personally, I think rail, boat, bus, tuk-tuk, bicycle, etc. will certainly be more adventurous and bring more memories than the sterile, bland interior of most airplanes.  Ideally, it will make the traveling more interesting, budget-friendly, and after all, don’t they always say it’s the journey and not the destination?  I’m not sure whoever ‘they’ are was talking about RTW travel for a family of 6, but it works for me for now.

Russia Feb. 2014 – ok, not really

No, we couldn’t actually get to Sochi, but watching the Olympic skiers from the hot tub at the Russian bath house was a pretty sweet alternative.  But it didn’t start out that way, no siree.  Before the Russian experience, there was despair.

Plan A as I envisioned then Googled

Design, Design Kempinski Hotel With Indoor Swimming Pool: Luxurious Look of Relaxing Indoor Pool DesignsPlan B, same, looks great huh?

We had a wonderful Plan A involving a friend’s country house in rural New Jersey and I had visions of writing about the Victorian architecture and the wintry beauty as the children ran around and we ate too much in front of a fireplace.  But with the weather, the long unplowed country driveway was not functional and we had to consider a Plan B.  As the snow began again, I wasn’t too sad about not driving to rural NJ and on an unplowed driveway.  I casted around for an idea and I decided we would stay at a local hotel with a pool and pretend we were somewhere exotic.  We could still get away together for the night, and we could swim despite the raging arctic winter!  The kids added swimsuits to their already-packed bags.  I spent close to two hours on priceline and calling hotel desks with disappointing results: several expensive hotel options, two fairly affordable ones with pools, and none in my price range with a pool and with vacancies.  It was getting later and with great sadness I decided to bail on the whole thing.  

Default Plan – ugh!

The situation was bleak.  The default was staying home surrounded by laundry and other chores, with the leak in my bedroom that is getting closer and closer to my bed since the roofer can’t get to it until the snow is gone…then I remembered the Russian Spa.


The weekend was saved!  Thanks to me (in pink spa sandals), Rafael (with the girls above), and the Russian Spa.

I had heard about the place from a friend during a discussion about alternative things to do on Christmas Day when tree/presents/family are wearing thin, or maybe you don’t celebrate Christmas, and everything is closed.  It turns out, as I learned from Master Russian, that the tradition  of ба́ня - banya (Russian sauna and steam bath) is a wholesome family affair and a viable option, even on December 25, and there is a facility not too far from where I live.  The place we went to charges $35 for the day – but kids under 10 are free!!!!  Fiercely had plans, so it was just myself and five under-10s.  Yes, we managed to pick up two extra girls – sisters with very trusting parents- and off we went.  If you are calculating, that makes me the only fee-paying adult.  I can’t condone their treatment of Pussy Riot or their anti-gay laws, but when it comes to hot tubs, God bless the Russians!

В ба́не помы́лся — за́ново роди́лся.
Washing up in the banya is like being born again.

How can I describe this place?  Well, it was next to a bowling alley and really didn’t look like much from the outside.  I had more than a little trepidation at herding in five children and only paying one fee.  But from the minute we walked in, we were welcomed and set loose – I truly felt we were out of the USA.  The guy at the desk said things like “Are you sure you want to come today?  It’s so crowded” and let us look around a little first.  Here is what we saw.


The place had this Greco-Roman thing going on near the ceiling, complete with “windows” looking onto painted blue skies.  There were plastic tables and chairs around a large pool.  True to the man’s report, the tables were all full and it didn’t look like we would get one.  But no one was in the pool!  Writing this now, it occurs to me that someone more cautious might have questioned this, but after the dashed hopes of a hotel pool and with five excited kids, and me having driven around for over an hour (part of the time lost and nervously phoning Mr. Fantastic at home on the computer for what amounts to poor man’s GPS), we were all like “POOL!! YES!!” and I paid the guy at the desk.  For the record, we did see others use the pool later, I used it myself, but I think most people do not go there for the pool.

I kind of skulked in and looked for a place to unobtrusively place our things – with six of us we had a lot of coats, boots, etc. – and that is when we met Rafael.  He offered us a shelf back by the linens for our gear then suddenly became elated and pointed to a table where some guests were leaving.  Before I could say “the kids don’t really need robes but thank-” he had five small ones at the ready and one for me, too.  He showed us the bins of pink plastic sandals and we all partook.  He gave us a tour of the 2 steam rooms, the sauna, the cold tub, the showers and the main room with pool and hot tubs.  He appeared unfazed that I had so many children with me and naive to the litigiousness of this country as he showed us the different areas of extremes in temperature and said the kids could roam freely.  “They’ll love it!  Kids are comfortable everywhere.” Rafael enthused.  The lax vibe seemed to extend to the clientele because not once did anyone look askance as the kids went from pool to hot tub to sauna.  As someone who has taken my kids at every age from newborn to age 13 to countless adventures like this, I have to say that this is notable.  And welcome.  I began to relax and enjoy myself.


Truly getting into the pool, Cleverly and friend watching the Olympics, the kids swimming, another view of that decorative ceiling thing

В ба́не ве́ник доро́же де́нег.
A bath-broom in the banya is worth more than money.

So with everyone so happy and relaxed, why were people hitting each other with bunches of branches?  let’s consult Master Russian again.

What do you need a venik in the banya for?

Russian family

  © Shchekalev

At Russian banya there are special bath brooms (ве́ник) that are used. These brooms or veniks are bundles of twigs and leafy branches bound together from some kind of tree—usually they are from birch or oak trees. The veniks are dipped into cold water and then smacked briskly all over the body. There is a special person who is responsible for this, called banschik (ба́нщик). But usually people don’t need banschik’s help because groups of friends typically go together and are able to smack each other with veniks.

So there, it’s therapeutic.  Lucky us, a friendly young Russian couple offered their venik to us and we tried it out.  Personally, I enjoyed it, and I know Cleverly had fun smacking me briskly with the branches.  The couple mentioned that the branches are imported from Russia because though the same trees grow here “they aren’t as good”.

So we spent over 5 hours enjoying the banya, the pool and hot tubs, and the people watching (lots of older men, tattooed youth, some hung-over college kids, a few other children, and a couple with an adorable two-month-old), not to mention the Olympics broadcast.  I have to agree that  Ба́ня здоровит, разгово́р весели́т.
The banya makes you healthy, it stimulates conversation.  People were so relaxed and friendly to me and the kids.  My skin felt great.  I loved the hot sauna followed by the pull-chain shower that was cold enough to be icemelt from the Kolka Glacier.  I kept thinking what a better mother and what a better person I could be if I could do this regularly.     What a great day.  Sometimes the best trips are unexpected and local and preceded by disappointment, and that makes found adventure all the better.


World’s End, PA and Ithaca, NY, Feb 2014

World’s End

We went back to the End of the World!!!  Damn the torpedoes, the snow, and the subfeezing temperatures, we went out there anyway.

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World’s End State Park was new to me last year.  Friends of ours arranged the trip again, so again we went.  Of course with the arctic front business this year, the temps were lower and the snow was deep.  Several trails were not usable, especially the one we were on last year, Butternut trail.  This steep trail goes up and down a gorge and was likely treacherous in the ice and snow. Instead, we went on a xc-ski/snowmobile trail that was groomed and walkable.  We walked about 1.5 miles in on the High Knob Overlook, but didn’t quite make it to the overlook.  We were passed by snowmobiles once or twice, also some xc-skiers swooshed by and I was wishing for xc equipment myself.  It was a perfect day for it, and the trail was beautiful.

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walking the High Knob Overlook trail

Our cabin was cold at first, but we had a roaring fire in little time and everything warmed up nicely.  Our group had six cabins and arranged for wood to be delivered to each one, so we just had to stack it and keep the old woodstove burning.  This did involve getting up to stoke the thing several times at night, lest the reader overly romanticize the scene.  It did get to the single digits, mind you.  Those cabins are just so darn cozy!  Each one has a stone fireplace with woodstove, lights, a refrigerator, and a cooking stove.  No water/sink/bathroom, but there are several nice bathhouses so no cabin is too far from one.

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Our cabin, #8 same as last year, inside and out.

We had a feast one night with all the families and way too much food, and made s’mores on one of the outdoor fireplaces.  Our cabin had one of these, as did several others.  The stone fireplaces are really beautiful.


Mr. & Mrs. in a rare shot by Fiercely, Mr Fantastic by an outdoor fireplace, me by the Office at The End of the World, another lovely cabin (across from ours) with the forested hill in the background

To Ithaca and Our Cabin

We headed to our Ithaca cabin afterwards.  It was cold and snowy the whole way there, and cold and snowy at the cabin.  Our heater was having problems so there was a lot of co-sleeping under as many blankets as we could find!  Our cabin has passive solar warmth and also retains heat well, so we used the oven to warm it up.  We were happy to get above freezing and see the snow from our boots melt after a few hours.  We also walked on the pond and walked around the property a little, but the more popular pastimes were drinking tea and hot chocolate and snuggling under blankets.  I made it through more than usual of the Sunday New York Times, which was nice.

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the cabin, the fields, schlepping stuff to the cabin

We really didn’t do much other than read, cook and eat, and enjoy the coziness of the fact that we were slightly warmer than the outside.  Just looking out the window was bliss.  This really is a great winter!


To heck with anonymity for a minute, Mr Fantastic’s first name the unusual Serbian moniker “Milan” (rhymes with smilin’, as he likes to say).  Well, passing through rural upstate Pennsylvania, we came upon a small town with that same name!  And it said ‘Pa’ afterwards, for the state of course, but much like our man who is of course a proud Papa.  We took a million pictures by the post office, unfortunately closed on Sunday, but could not find a Milan, Pa. citizen to tell us their pronunciation.  I thought this article might be helpful, but it didn’t mention the PA town.  Likewise this one on the name, this one that mentions a Milan in Michigan, awww I give up.


So, what’s your opinion on those glass insulators from old telephone poles?  Well, my late mother-in-law collected them and we are still in the habit of stopping by the side of the road once in a while in memory of Grandma Judy if we think we can grab a few.  This time we didn’t get any, but a little adventure walking on snowy railroad tracks for questionable reasons is always a plus.  Being a nonconformist and a bit of a daredevil, she would have approved, we think.


It appeared that the tracks were in use based on the fact that they did not have snow on them, but we did not see any trains as we walked there and later drove along that stretch of track for a while.

So back we went to the East Coast blizzards, which rage again as I write.  The kids want to watch a movie so I’m signing off until the next adventure!