Monasteries in the Sky

A magnificent formation of colossal rocks that seem to rise relentlessly up into the sky lies some 400 kilometres north of Athens. At the top of some of these rocks are monasteries founded as early as the 1300s.

This mythical existence of a place is Meteora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and historical gem, that was also made famous by a 1981 James Bond movie starring Sean Connery.
Why and how monks, unless hermits, chose to make their cells up there eons ago is a mystery but there are only six functioning monasteries today. We went to three in one morning – Rossanou, Varlaam and St Stephens. The fourth – Grand Meteoron – was closed for the day. Just as well because the walk up the staircase leading up to that one looked pretty intimidating. Heights are really not my favourite thing.
All three we went to had a little church each where mass and prayers were held. They all had what is termed ‘ecumenical radiance’ in the small but richly decorated domes and altars. Their surroundings vary and the views from each peak are completely dependent on where upon they are perched.

The walk up the Rossanou and Varlaam was a bit of a workout but worth the sweat. Access to St Stephens was very easy since it was a straight walk in. But for all, I had to cross bridges suspended near the peak between two rocks. Quite the adventure for someone with acrophobia.


What triumphs skill, courage, loyalty and honour? Treason by savage betrayal for pittance.
The battle at Thermopylae between the forces led by King Leonidas of Sparta and King Xerxes of Persia ended in favour of the Persians due to one man’s greed. Ephailtes had the blood of 300 Spartans on his hands.
The landscape around Thermopylae where the Spartans fell was very different from what it is today. They did not have as much land from the mountains to the shoreline, in fact, the breadth of it was just 15-men (standing shoulder to shoulder) long. This pass was a strategic battle front for the Spartans where they could exercise control over the advance of stupendously huge Persian armies so Spartans could fight them 15 men at a time. Imagine the stamina required to fight a 10000-men contingent with only spears, short swords and shields!
Xerxes lost rather badly the first two days of battle since he chose to rely on abundance and brawn. Neither of the two stand a chance against a well-oiled battle machine like the Spartans. In a moment of desperation, he used wealth to lure a snake that helped him slither his way into the Spartan stronghold to essentially stab Leonidas in the back.
It all went downhill from there. The Spartans had retreated into a small circle to make their final stand. Seeing that the Spartans were cornered, the Persian army fell back and their archers showered arrows at them instead. This meant that the Spartans never got to fight to their deaths but were instead mercilessly stabbed to death by curtains of arrows. For a people so adamant about honour and righteousness , I hope their dignity was preserved.
There is a wall at Thermopylae built to commemorate the bravery, dedication and patriotism of the fallen Spartans. Across the road from this wall is an excavation site. When the archaeologists dug up the place after WWII, they found Persian arrowheads.

School’s OUT!

Darn, I am tired. 

The last two weeks of school flew by in a mad rush of marking and rechecking exam scripts, chasing down the kids for their files for end-of-term book checks and preparing for the dreaded parent-teacher meeting. 
PTM. Painful Time Mostly. Blood-sucking day.

I literally spent 9 hours straight talking to parents with one loo break and no meal break. My throat is sore from all that and I am Strepsil-ing myself, silently praying that it will recover. 

Poor throat – third time this year now. 

It’s probably my fault since I didn’t tell the parents that I wanted to eat. But they kept streaming in and I just couldn’t catch a break. I wish the school would use its PA system to announce a break for the teachers so everyone would know to turn up their patience just a bit. Empathy would be appreciated. As much as I like my students, I am SO glad it’s over. Pfff.


I mostly need sleep though. Two days after and I still look tired. Recovery isn’t as quick when you are older…

To assist in my recovery, I had soul food today that is this glorious bowl of sliced fish soup. Heaven sent. 

There are a few more things left to do before I can truly say that I am on break. The hardest parts are done -woohoo!- and I simply need to chug through till the end of the month. 
After that, travel begins! Yay!!!

Summer in Greece. No kidding.

Bangkok Runs

There are new things to see every time we head this way. The highlight of this trip was the excursion to Chinatown where smells assail and costs are brought down by wholesale goodness at Sampheng Market. 

Walk in through the red gates guarding the secrets of Yaowarat, and you will be transported into a world quite unlike the rest of Bangkok. 

Shark’s fin and bird’s nest soups are advertised as a must-have, pungent-smelling raw shrimp await the next tourist with guts and a strong stomach, street stalls pedaling somewhat suspect offal soup. Fried bugs? No worries! There is always a pharmacy two doors away to help with loose bowels. 

Delicacies galore…

Walk in and find out…the best way to travel yet.

Bloody Nose reminds

It’s been a trying first term with full responsibilities heaped on. It isn’t even that big of a deal compared to the load of my previous job but it sure is hectic. I should thank my lucky stars if I even have a half hour to sit and eat a meal without marking or fiddling with some administrative matters at the same time. But it is what I chose to do, so I chug on.

Till this morning. I was clearing my nasal passage this morning when blood continually oozed out of my left nostril and stained the basin red. Yikes.

I have been feeling under the weather since late last week and have been been trying to herbal-drink my way out of my predicament. The sore throat is gone but Mr Cold and Ms Cough came to visit. Nose bleeds are rare for me – they appear only when I have gone too far to the dark side. The blood told me it is time to rest. I called in sick and thought I could spend time sleeping in. I could not. I did get some shuteye but woke up in between to grade papers.

It’s funny how I feel better looking at my now empty desk, free of ungraded worksheets. Maybe it’s the meds.

Did I leap from the frying pan into the fire? Not possible.

But health isn’t something to be reckoned with. I better get my priorities straight.

Valuable Bits in Travel

The best thing about travelling for me is the sense of freedom to roam both physically and mentally. Stroll, shop, wander. Observe, note and question. 

One of my favourite things to do is to collect bits of wisdom I see and hear. On this trip, I have quite the variety; from cafe tabletops to napkins to random things being typed by strangers using an old typewriter on demo. 

Some of my favourites:

@ Sur La Table, Portland OR

@Oblation Papers & Press, Portland OR

@ State Capitol Giftshop, WA

@Cipher Escape, Morrisville NC

@The Alamo, San Antonio TX

@Frog Cafe, Taipei City

Keeping hearts warm in cold Seattle & Portland

Columbia River, near Vista House

We heard from our Uber driver that a 2-bedroom apartment rents out for US$3500 per month in downtown Seattle. Prices have escalated since the tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Expedia started moving in/back a couple of years ago. Amazon alone is creating 60,000 jobs in Seattle over a year. That is an impressive number for someone who used to dig into archives for numbers like these to put on speeches for Chairmen and MDs. 
So Seattle is getting expensive. The city reflects that too with big brands, nice buildings and well-heeled clientele. That is generally a good sign indicating that the city is headed towards bigger and better things. But it also means that there will be people left behind. Along Pine Street, just slightly off the city centre, the homeless dot the area. I was rather surprised when approached by a young Caucasian couple – looking learned and all – asking for money to buy food because they hadn’t eaten in the past 24hours. Something might have happened to them but I found the approach strange. Maybe people are kinder here and are pre-disposed to help cases like these. They would have a harder time in Singapore – warm weather, colder people.  

They are very accepting of different kinds of people here too. Or at least what I have observed, in Portland particularly. The LGBT community is front, centre and integrated. It’s not as if an area has been sectioned out for them like in many cities and I sensed freedom for them here. Portland is smallish in terms of city-likeness; if NYC is a 10 and Orlando is a 3 then Portland would be a 6. Seattle would be an 8.

Opposite the Public Mrkt Center in Seattle

The markets we find here in the US are always enjoyable. Walking out and around in the open is not ideal in the frigid cold (-1 deg C) but to be able to watch and hear people go about their business, with white fogs emerging from their mouths every time they utter something, is oddly reassuring.  

Of course we couldn’t miss Pike Fish Co. The crew gamely performed their fish throwing routine when SJ requested for it. They must do this a lot and brought smiles to the faces of people gawking. They told us that they were invited to Singapore by the Ministry of Manpower a decade back presumably to share their business model and such. They are after all a famous case study. And the crew cheekily mentioned that they visited Orchard Towers for some ‘nightlife’. Not your usual tourist destination, they said. They are a fun bunch. 

I’d like to go back there someday just to take stock of changes, if not the coffee, preferably not when they are having a cold snap. As both cities evolve, I hope they won’t lose their ability to be kind and embrace everyone.