Myanmar/Burma

Jan 30-Feb 10, 2019

Going to Myanmar, I was still pretty nervous about travelling. I knew that Myanmar would be the least set up for tourists and I wondered how “rough” it was going to be. Rough being not being able to get around, no one understanding us, transportation might be sketchy… all these things went through my mind.

Mandalay

We arrived in Mandalay and it was a bit of a culture shock. Myanmar has so much garbage and was so hot. The garbage was really incredible. I wondered why people would just throw so much of their trash on the side of the road. Then I remembered it was like this in Turkey and also a bit in Thailand. I reflected to Luc and he said that they probably don’t have any way of cleaning up their garbage. No trucks come by and get it. So what do you do but throw it away or burn it? It was my first taste a real shock and realizing how good we have it in Canada.

We got to the hotel and went up to our room. Nice enough place but it smelled like kerosene or gas. I was worried about mosquitos as this was a malaria zone and we didn’t have any pills for malaria. It’s a bit of a long story but I should have got them before we left Canada but we didn’t know how long we would be in the Malaria Zones so I didn’t want to over buy as the pills are really expensive. I thought we could get some before we left Switzerland. And then I completely forgot when we were in Switzerland and of course you couldn’t find the pills that I wanted anywhere. There are other pills but one makes you light sensitive (not great in Asia) and the other can cause psychosis.

Luc of course wanted to go out and explore immediately. Me on the other hand just needed to get my bearings. This would be a common theme when travelling from place to place. Luc immediately wanted to explore and me wanting to take an hour or the rest of the day (depending on how long we travelled) to just gather myself. Neither is right or wrong, but it certainly adds to differences and conflicts in what we want to do. What he ended up doing is going outside and hopping on the back of a scooter and riding around Mandalay.

The next morning we changed rooms. I couldn’t sleep because of the smell and Luc thought he saw a bed bug. The we hired a driver who didn’t speak hardly any English and burped all day while driving us around to the sites. Driving through intersections was INSANITY.

We went to the Mandalay Royal Palace which was beautiful, the top of Mandalay hill where there was another temple, Kuthodaw Pagoda that houses the worlds largest book, Shwenandaw Monastery, we had a delicious and huge lunch that is typical Myanmar style with many many dishes to choose from and finally to U Being bridge where there seemed to be hundreds of people there to see the sunset. It was a long day.

The next day we climbed aboard a boat to take us down the Irrawaddy River. It was a wonderful day. What a great way to travel. Smooth, slow, watching the day go by, it was really beautiful. It wasn’t until the end when shit went waaaaaaay sideways.

The boat didn’t have some easy plank you could walk to get off it… it was essentially 1 piece of wood over the river about 50m long with railings that were sometimes on the right, sometimes on the left, sometimes none, sometimes too far away to reach. I lost my shit. First things first, I needed to change my shoes. Which essentially put me as the last tourist to disembark. I think I might have had an anxiety attack. I was crying, and just couldn’t bring myself to walk on this shitty plank. I finally did it but could only take about 4 steps before I started sobbing. It was just too much. By the end of it I was hating the people who drove the boat, hating Myanmar, hating that I had to do this, hating everything about it. Of course Luc, on the other hand saw the plank and thought “what fun!” I’m telling you, sometimes I just can’t handle it.

Walking the plank
One of the worst moments in South East Asia

We hiked up the hill after and someone was waiting there with a car to take us to the hotel. Small miracles. And then we got stopped as we needed to pay some fee before entering into Bagan. Which broke the bank for us and we had no idea about.

Bagan

We checked into our hotel again and I broke down crying. The hotel seemed like it could house bugs of all kinds. I think after all the bed bug incidents, I’m suffering from PTSD a bit because bugs just really creep me out now. I wondered why we had come here. So far I was NOT having a good time.

We slept and were awoken by either a dog fight, a rooster crowing, or birds that were landing on our tin roof. I was feeling sick like the beginnings of a cold so we totally stopped for that day and just chilled out. Luc couldn’t (of course) so he rented an ebike (electric scooter) and cruised around to different places. We watched the sunset and then took in a puppet show which is a thing in Myanmar to see.

Two things we learned while there: when two dogs are stuck together (because we saw this twice) and about the monks of Myanmar as they are everywhere. This also led to learning about Buddhism too.

The next morning we rented ebikes and it was sooooo fun! I was of course a bit scared to go at first but after a while it was so wonderful to be able to see all the temples in Bagan by bike. There really is no other way that gives you that freedom to just go at your own pace and see everything you want to see. I adored the ebike. It reminded me of when I was on the Camino and rented a bike and just got to go and be free.

The next morning we walked to a temple to watch the sunrise and see the hot air balloons over Bagan. What a sight to see. One of the highlights of the trip to see this gorgeous view. On the way back we were assaulted with the smell of burning plastic everywhere we went. It was revolting. I wasn’t sure at this point if it was the burning that was causing my cough or a cold but I continued to have it for a few weeks after Bagan.

Yangon

We took the longest bus we took the whole trip which was 12 hours this day. It was long but not too bad. A ton of garbage all along the side of the road. We lost a few things getting off this bus as I think we felt a bit rushed and it was dark and we were tired. We got to the train station and so many people trying to get you to take their taxi. It all becomes quite a lot to deal with after such a long day. So we didn’t have GRAB yet, so we were forced to go with the taxi queue to get to our hotel. The taxi didn’t have seat belts and it was really terrible. When it would stop, the car would fill up with smoke and I would choke and cough. It was terrible. After such a long trip, I was done.

Then we had about 6 days in Yangon. It was nice to just slow down and take things easy. I think Luc thought that it was entirely too long to be in one place.

The hotel was nice and the breakfast was pretty good. We started using GRAB to go everywhere and GRAB is just amazing. We don’t have Uber in Victoria, but it’s similar and soooo cheap.

The things we did: walked around the lake that was there, visited a beautiful garden, did a walking tour (on our own) in Yangon, visited a French patisserie, went to a super cold mall (oh the relief!), visited more temples and almost got scammed by a guy who wanted $20/gold leaf that we put on a tree (one for Jaedyn too of course). We ended up giving him $5 as he told us some interesting things as we moved around the temple. I think he was pretty disappointed.

We also took a train that was supposed to take us on a circular route but it was broken somewhere along the track so we could only go out and back. We really got to see some of the poverty stricken parts of Yangon on this train. Also on the train they sold everything you could possibly want.

Something that I wasn’t prepared for was what the locals eat. I thought it was chewing tobacco but it’s something called a Betel Nut Chew. They chew these leaf things that turn their mouth and teeth red. It’s a source of pride for them but for me, it was actually really hard to look at them with these crazy red mouths. At first I thought it was a drug that they put inside the chews, but after doing some research, I realized it makes them feel like they’ve had a couple of cups of coffee.

We ended our stay with an Italian feast at the Italian Embassy. What a thing to find! Food was delicious and so was the wine!

We had one night at a place with a pool before heading back to Thailand.

Reactions:

We had many mixed reactions about us going to Myanmar. Some people were nervous for us while others told us we shouldn’t miss out. We had one person say that they wouldn’t give their tourist money given the recent history of the country. It definitely was the country that I’ve had the most unsettling feeling in. I don’t really need to go back and see Myanmar again.

We decided not to go to the Philippines given some of the unrest that’s happening there.

I think Vivi might have had the hardest time there because everyone seemed to want to touch her and take photos with her and she really doesn’t like being touched by strangers. We have been practicing asking people not to touch her and saying no with the photo taking. This experience has given her a lot of practice telling people not to touch her and by the time she’s grown up she will be very well versed in saying what’s ok and what’s not ok for her.

Click to watch video of our Myanmar Trip
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Switzerland

October 6, 2018 to January 8, 2019

This post is going to be a bit longer than normal. I’m going to attempt to capture the highlights as well as what I was feeling on the inside. I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular blog post as I feel now, as I look back, that it was a really hard time for me emotionally, but now I see what I was doing and why and what I should have done and what I’ve learned about myself going forward.

Lausanne
I love Lausanne. The architecture, the feeling of the city, the cobblestone streets. I visited Lausanne several times. Once with Kim. Once with Vivi. Once for a date night. It’s only about 15 mins by train (the LEB) from Luc’s parents’ house in Jouxtens to Lausanne. Lausanne in Christmas time is just so picturesque. It’s hard to really put a finger on what it is but it’s like this fusion of old historical buildings with new funky vibe. When you go, visit the Cathedral for outstanding views of the city.

Vevey
This place has my heart. 8 years ago we lived here when I was on maternity leave. Jaedyn would go to school down in Vevey and me and Vivi (6 months old) hung out in a little apartment while Luc went to work during the day. Vevey is right beside the lake and has the most incredible vibe. The lakeside is the best part of it and we really loved Pizza Taxi both 8 years ago and even today. You might know this place by the giant fork or the Charlie Chaplin statue. This year they are having the Fete de Vingeron (only every 25 years or so) and Luc had hoped that he could go back there before heading home at the end of July. It’s not to be. We came to Vevey over and over again for a date day, for a date pizza and when Jaedyn came for Christmas we came here to reminisce and walk around and of course visit Pizza Taxi. I feel one day I will live here again beside the lake when I’m old and want to stare at the lake and mountains forever.

Montreux 
We walked from Vevey to Montreux one day and it wasn’t exactly as we had remembered. We thought there was a beautiful lakeside path that took you the whole way but in actuality there a lot of road walking. As you get closer to Montreux, the path comes back and it’s gorgeous. We had a DELICIOUS fondue at the Christmas Market (I didn’t really share because I think Luc made fun of me – you’d think he’d learn). The Christmas Market here is really outstanding. Lots of things to buy and mulled wine and so many things to taste. Montreux is where the rich and famous come so be sure to stop by here if in you’re in the area. It is beautiful and also lakeside.

Geneva
Vivi and I took a train one day to Geneva in December. Luc didn’t want to go but wanted to visit with some friends and play in the snow so her and I went. I really wanted her to see Geneva and I hadn’t been yet since coming back to Switzerland.

It was COLD! About -2 I think. We explored: visited the outside of the United Nations, walked along the lakeside, had a sandwich, hot chocolate, the Christmas Market and watch the Jet D’eau. We basically walked until we were too cold and then ducked inside to get warm and then outside again. Geneva is an old city. Almost hygienic in its cleanliness and lack of colour. I’m glad I went, I was equally glad we went home. On the way home, the train stopped for about a half an hour because it said that something was on the rail road tracks. I had heard earlier that this happens a lot because people jump in front of the train to commit suicide. No idea if that’s what this was, but we got out and walked home from that stop.

Opening of Dr. Gabs
Dr. Gabs…. Delicious dark (or light) micro-brew beer. I loved this beer. This company was created by 3 men who went to school together (one of them lived down the road from Luc and is friends with him) and started brewing beer from a birthday present that was given to one of them – a home brew kit. From there they have grown and grown and grown. Luc went to work very part time at the factory.

While we were there, they opened a store/small pub/the lab in the most famous and expensive street in Lausanne: Rue de Bourg. So we had to visit. It was the second week of December, and it was opening night. We had a blast checking out the new digs and the beer was exceptional. Another impromptu date night!

I only wish I could import their beer back to Canada. It’s that good.

The Olympic Museum and Ouchy
Some stuff about the school system in Switzerland bugs the hell out of me. You can’t take your kid out of school for a day unless you have a doctor’s note. When we went to Ouchy (by the lake) we wanted to meet Vivi’s class at the train (as they were coming back from the pool) and then directly get on the train to go to Ouchy. Instead of Vivi walking back to the school and us walking up to the train again (she would have missed about 20mins of class time) but the teacher wouldn’t allow it unless she had a doctor’s appointment. Sigh…

Anyway, after doing it the “right” way we got on the train and headed to Ouchy. There’s something about this place – I think it’s the proximity to the lake. I’m beginning to realized I’m a water girl through and through (I am a Pisces after all) and all these places that I adore are close to massive bodies of water (no wonder I want to go home).

I also have an amazing memory of my stagette starting here 10 years ago during August. It must be the memories coupled with the water that gets me all nostalgic.

We walked over to the Olympic Museum and had lunch with Luc’s cousin, Chiara. It was a delicious lunch and so nice to catch up with her one last time before leaving.

Chateau de Chillon, Luc’s Birthday and Halloween
On Luc’s birthday we had a loooooong lunch and then to Chateau de Chillon beside the lake just past Montreux. I’ve been in this castle 3 times now I think… It’s really beautiful. I especially love the dungeon and the story of the guy who lived there for years and years. Not sure why I like it so much… maybe I’m a bit twisted?

Being that Luc was born on Halloween, every year he has to share it with the trick or treating. But this year we made it back too late to trick or treat so Vivi missed out (I think Luc was secretly happy). We ate cake for dinner. Vivi asked for a salad. I think it was really nice for Luc to be home for his birthday to spend it with his parents and friends.

Vivi’s Canadian Birthday Party
Speaking of birthday’s, Vivi celebrated her birthday at a patisserie with a few friends the last week of school before Christmas break. Since she was really missing home, we had a Canadian themed party! If you can believe it I managed to find some Canadian and BC flags, little Canada pins for the good bags, Luc had Canada flag stickers from his stag and we decorated in red and white.

I think it was a pretty big success. It was a wonderful way for her new friends to send her off and for her to feel like her birthday was a big deal. Which it was. She maybe missed Canada just a little bit less for a little bit.

Making friends
While I was there, I got to reconnect with Lauren and Francois and their two girls. The let us stay in their place for a few days between New Years and Vivi’s actual birthday.

We had dinner with Julian and Stephanie and Emily and Yann and their kids. That was really fun. We also partied for Julian’s birthday (I partied a bit too hard if you know what I mean).

We had a few meals with Maxim and Filis and their two kids. One extraordinary fondue in their little cabin behind their house. And another garden meal with Maxim’s parents that was also out of this world.

I was happy to spend a day with a friend back home, Kim who coincidentally was there visiting a friend just about 10mins drive away. That was really neat to see a familiar face so far from home and to be able to talk about life and such.

Walking to and from school 4 times a day
But most of my days after returning from the Camino was filled with walking 1km to and from school sometimes 8 times a day. Vivi went to Luc’s old school and she needed to be walked to school in the morning (the I walked back). Two days a week, she walked home for lunch (we would meet her to walk her home and then walk her back 1.5 hours later). And finally at the end of the school day.

Now, something that Luc and I didn’t agree upon was whether should could walk alone. I felt that 8 years old walking that distance, without a phone, was too far. Call me reserved, scared, fearful, whatever, this is just how I felt. Luc on the other hand was totally fine for her to walk there and back alone – so you can imagine the contention.

For the most part I liked walking her. It got me outside, away from the house, in the fresh air. It was time that we got to be together and the view was gorgeous. It didn’t rain much either and sometimes we drove if we were running late. Sometimes I would meditate on the walk home.

Running and walking
A lot of times I would walk Vivi to school and then I would set off on a run somewhere or a walk to Renens to take some time by myself. I would also walk to a bench and then meditate.

I loved running around Jouxtens and the area. It was fall and the leaves were changing and it was cool. My body temp tends to run a bit on the hotter side so running in the fall is perfection. The cool temps, gorgeous leaves, beautiful swiss architecture – it’s all just a little wonderful.

Creating my business and writing my book
At least 3 times a week I would walk to Renens to a coffee shop there and work on building my business and writing my book. Sometimes I would do research for our trip. I would spend a good 4 hours there before I needed to come back for lunch or something. I loved this time to myself and away from the house. It was always a peaceful time for me – getting to be me.

Our Airbnb rental
After a while of living with Luc’s parents in their house, I felt we really needed to connect as a family unit again. So I looked up a little Airbnb not too far away so that Vivi could still go to school on the Friday and the Monday.

Luc and I had a lot of conversations about this Airbnb rental. He felt that his parents would wonder why. He wanted to go further so we could explore somewhere else. He didn’t want to spend a lot of money. I held strong in that I wanted this place to be a place of down time. To play games, watch movies, connect. This wasn’t a time for sight-seeing. To be honest, Luc and my relationship was not doing well and Vivi was so homesick. I was close to depression and I needed to have some time together and away. Some autonomy.

We went to visit the Airbnb about 4 days before our check in. It was perfect. We each had our own rooms, our own kitchen, our own living room and dining room. Then the woman said that we could come early – 2 days early even for free! It was like the universe was giving me exactly what I needed and wanted.

We took advantage of our time there and entertained for 3 meals. It’s something that Luc and I really love to do, to have people over to our house, cook a nice meal and connect. It felt so right to do this in our own space.

All in all, the Airbnb was amazing. I’m so glad we went. It at one point was almost just me and Vivi as I took a strong stand for my well-being and told Luc that if he didn’t want to go, that was fine, Vivi and I would go alone. He made a great choice joining us. It was so important for our family to get back to being our family again.

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