Thailand – Thai food adventures and Chanthaburi sunset

First day in Thailand! We travelled from Bangkok to Chanthaburi today and it felt like we basically went from one new amazing food experience to the next! Thai people love to eat!

Stop One was a large road side stop with loads of coffee shops, food stalls, fast food places and several Seven Elevens. You cannot throw a stick in this country without hitting at least one 7-11.

There were strange new chip flavours ( spicy lobster chips?), yummy coconut treats made fresh and scalding hot and fresh fruit of all sorts. 




We also had a wonderful hot pot lunch where you cook for veggies and meat in boiling water, then you add noodles to the broth to make egg drop soup. Dessert was balls of sesame in a ginger broth. So delicious!

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For dinner, we went to a restaurant by the ocean and were treated to a beautiful sunset. The weather was perfect, warm with a bit of ocean breeze. and, I made friends with the local stray cat and gave her a treat of some yummy fish. good food makes for good friends, indeed!

Romans and Ruins: A Day in the Wye Valley

It was a rare sunny day in Wales when we headed out from Cardiff for a day tour of Caerleon, Tintern Abbey, Raglan Castle and the Wye Valley.  I could tell the sunny day in Wales was a unusual because every Welsh person we spoke to from the waitress to the hotel clerk to the tour guide remarked on it with excitement. Plus, the minibus we toured in had no air conditioning and few windows.

First stop, Caerleon or “Fortress of the Legion”. It was the headquarters for Legio II Augusta from about 75 to 300 CE, and the Romans called the site Isca after the River Usk. The current town sits atop the old Roman town, with parts of it including the Roman Baths excavated for research and viewing.

“I oil myself, I take my exercise, I have my bath.”
(Pliny, Epistles IX 36,4)

The baths would have been open to one cohort (about 500 men) at a time. It’s thought that soldiers bathed separately from the women and children. Typically, they would exercise, bathe and then relax socially. For exercise, they could swim in the outdoor pool (natatio), play ball games or wrestle in the indoor sports hall (basilica).

After exercising, they would wash in the frigidarium and go through to the tepidarium, or warm room, where they would rub themselves with scented olive oil. Beyond that, the steam in the sauna-like calderium would make them sweat. After sweating, they used a strigil to scrape off the sweat and dirt and end their bathing with a dip in the plunge pool in the frigidarium.

Afterwards, it was time to meet friends, get a hair cut, and maybe have something to eat or play games and gamble. There wasn’t a strict routine, though, you bathed as you wished.

Just outside the walls of the fortress was the amphitheatre. Not dissimilar to stadiums of today, the stone and earth walls would have been topped with wooden stands where up to 6,000 soldiers would have watched gladiators fight to their death. Well, the death part is a little bit different but I imaging the yelling and cheering would have been similar to today’s sporting matches.

Death in the arena was particularly popular in the western Roman Empire. British warfare even inspired a new type of gladiator, the essedarius, who began his fights on a chariot. Games were a religious event, a  means of executing criminals and a hugely popular sport. The goddess Nemesis oversaw combat, ensuring that divine justice was done, and the amphitheatre contains a shrine to Nemesis where the gladiators would pray before combat began. Watching the games was supposed to be good for the spectators!

 

Jumping forward 800 years, our next stop was Tintern Abbey. The Abbey was founded in 1131. The monks for Tintern came from a daughter house of Cîteaux, L’Aumône Abbey, in the diocese of Chartres in France.

The Cistercian monks (or White Monks because they did not dye the cloth for their robes) who lived at Tintern followed the Rule of St. Benedict. The Carta Caritatis (Charter of Love) laid out their basic principles, of obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer, and work. With this austere way of life, the Cistercians were one of the most successful orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. The lands of the Abbey were divided into agricultural units or granges, on which local people worked and provided services such as smithies to the Abbey.

Tintern has a cruciform plan with an aisled nave with two chapels in each transept. The abbey is built of Old Red Sandstone and measures 69.5 meters (228 feet) from east to west, while the transept is 45.7 meters (150 feet) in length.

In the reign of King Henry VIII, his Dissolution of the Monasteries ended monastic life in England, Wales and Ireland. On 3 September 1536 Abbot Wyche surrendered Tintern Abbey and all its estates to the King’s visitors and ended a way of life that had lasted 400 years. Valuables from the Abbey were sent to the royal Treasury and Abbot Wyche was pensioned off. Lead from the roof was sold and the decay of the buildings began.

I have to say, I know the Abbey would have had a proper roof and floor, but on a sunny day I kind of liked the blue sky above and the green grass below.  There was also a gorgeous oak tree in the yard, planted in 1911 to mark the coronation of George V. And, on the day we were there, you could get your picture taken with a bird of prey. I declined since there was a lot of flapping around and those sharp beaks seemed a bit too close to the subject’s eye for my comfort.

 

Last stop of the day was Raglan Castle. Not much to say, here (or maybe I was just warm and tired and thirsty at this point). A pretty standard  medieval castle located in the county of Monmouthshire. The modern castle dates from between the 15th and early 17th centuries, when the successive ruling families of the Herberts and the Somersets created a luxurious, fortified castle, complete with a large hexagonal keep, known as the Great Tower or the Yellow Tower of Gwent.

For those who are knitters, you will be familiar with raglan sleeves, which drop down off the shoulder.  According to our guide, raglan means “land which drops off sharply”, which the land around the castle did do. And, apparently, so do the sleeves. There was also a reenactment society group (think SCA in North America) setting up for a week stay around the Castle. They quite ignored us.

The thing I liked most about Raglan was the beautiful views of the Monmouthshire countryside from the windows.  The dark castle walls framed a picture of blue sky, yellow fields and green trees. I wish I had better photography skills to more accurately depict the light and colours.

 

Altogether, a lovely day spent in and around the Wye Valley and learning about Welsh culture, history, poetry and music from our tour guide.  Or, I should say, learning about Cymru, which is the Welsh word for Wales and means “land of the people” (Wales is a Roman word meaning “foreigner”).

I also learned that it is from the Welsh that we get the tradition of singing national anthems before sporting events. A tradition started in 1904 when the New Zealand rugby team played Wales in Cardiff and the Welsh people needed a response to the All Blacks rather intimidating haka. A timely bit of knowledge as the Olympic games were also being staged this summer.

Which kind of brings us right back in a circle to the amphitheatre and the crowds cheering for blood sport and their favourite gladiators. After all, it’s good for you, right?!

 

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A stroll through the poisons and cures

I have unexpectedly found myself in London for a few weeks, helping a friend who broke her leg. Of course, if you have to be “stuck” in a city for a few weeks, London is a pretty good option.

I have been aiming to get out of the flat at least once per day (for the sake of my sanity if nothing else) and have been finding places to explore. Yesterday’s “sanity excursion” was to the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London in order to grow medicinal herbs and train apprentices in the identification and use of medicinal plants, the garden has played a key role in plant exchange around the world. The location was chosen due to its proximity to the River Thames. This allowed the Apothecaries to moor their barge, collect plants in the surrounding areas and take advantage of the river’s warm air currents, which contribute to the Garden’s unique microclimate.

The seal of the Apothecary can be found on the gates that used to be the entrance from the river (until the embankment sewer system was installed). It consists of the God Apollo astride the dragon of disease. The crest is topped by a rhinoceros, long held to have healing properties (to the detriment of the rhino population today).

One of the apprentices who trained at the Garden was a guy named Hans Sloane. That’s him in statue form. After qualifying in 1687, Sloane moved to Jamaica. When he returned two years later, he brought with him a recipe and a compound, sourced from plants, that would make him a fortune. The recipe was for milk chocolate- a drink he had seen Jamaican mothers give to children with colic.  The compound, sourced from the tropical tree Cinchona pubescens, was quinine – a medicine capable of preventing and curing malaria.

With his fortune, Sloane purchased the garden in 1722 and, by way of thanks to the Apothecaries who had trained him, he rented the Garden to them in perpetuity for £5 per year. The same rent is still paid to his descendants today.

The Garden is laid out with different beds for different purposes. There are the order beds, where plants are grown in separate beds according to their family. This is a long-running botanic garden tradition, developed to aid the teaching of plant classification.

Then, there are the medicinal beds, with over 400 medicinal plants grouped by what part of the body they help to heal.  There was a section for anaesthetics and analgesics, oncology, gynaecology, lungs and respiration, ENT (ear, nose, throat), etc…  In the anaesthetics and analgesics, there were  poppies (for opium, codeine and morphine) and willow for salicylic acid (ASA or aspirin).

In the oncology section, there was Madagascar periwinkle, which contains vincristine and vinblastine, which have been used successfully for the treatment of leukaemia and lymphoma, especially in children. There was also a yew tree, from where we get the compound paclitaxel which is used in treating ovarian, breast and prostate cancers.

Some of the plants had descriptions from Dioscorides (c.40-c90CE), who was a Greek pharmacologist, physical and botanist who produced a medicinal, De Materia Medica, which became the standard reference for medicine for over a thousand years.  My favourite was for Lady’s Mantle (alchemilla vulgaris), which apparently helped with sagging breasts?!

There was also a whole section for poisonous plants (very Agatha Christie) including hemlock (alas poor Socrates), oleander, the caster oil plant (where ricin comes from) and the Indian plant  Aconitum ferox, which contains the highly toxic alkaloid pseudaconitine, which was used by the Curry Killer to murder her lover in 2008.

 

There is also a great section called the Garden of Useful Plants (aren’t ALL plants useful?!). It had beds devoted to plants for dying, plants for building and making ropes, plants for scent and perfumes and plants used for cultural and faith purposes.  Our guide proudly pointed out the pot plant that the garden grows and made sure to mention that they had a special permit to grow it for demonstrating the use of hemp for rope. I refrained from pointing out that it should really also be in the medicinal section; no one likes a smart ass.

Other interesting finds in the Garden included the largest outdoor fruiting olive tree in the UK, the oldest rock garden in Europe and two gingko biloba trees (one male, one female). Gingko biloba trees are thought to be the oldest trees on earth and were around at the time of the dinosaurs. Traditionally used to treat asthma and bronchitis, modern uses include improving memory and circulation.

The pond rockery was built in 1773 with black basalt rocks from Iceland brought back as ballast by the famous plant hunter Joseph Banks. It also holds fused bricks from an old brick kiln in Chelsea, clam shells which travelled from Tahiti with Captain Cook and carved stone cornices and other masonry that were once part of the Tower of London.

 

There were lots and lots of other plants and areas to explore. There were glasshouses, which have been used by the Garden for over 300 years to cultivate exotic species. And, there were wide areas of lawn to sit and relax and sketch or draw the many garden features.

A great place to explore and spend a sunny afternoon, I highly recommend a visit!