The Freshest Day is Friday

In Tuoro Sul Trasimeno, Italy (the small town in Umbria where my family has a house) because it is market day! On Market day the streets of the town are lined with vendors selling everything from Porchetta (a delicious italian pork treat served sandwich style, made only on special days) to shoes or bed spreads.

But I come to market day for the in between.. the fresh produce picked by the local farmers and handed right to you and the beautiful meats handmade and cut to order.

I love the way these little guys grow!

Can't forget about what I like to call "stinky fish." Anchovies cured in salt. All the men in my family love these horribly smelling things, I'm guessing it's a test to their manhood.

My mom and I walked to the market and were going to “buy just a few things,” but of course that never happens when fresh produce looks this good so we bought “just a few more” and ended up with a fresh feast!

Our table full of produce!

Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil from our garden, olive oil from our olive trees, and basalmic glaze.

I was missing a little asian taste so I made my favorite dish- chicken bun with vermicelli noodles, salad, cucumbers, peanuts, grilled chicken, and a sauce made with fish broth, sugar, soy sauce, and hot peppers. And of course a big glass of green tea!

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Gracefully Difficult

Beautiful dancers in Cambodia. I love this photo because her graceful dance is exemplified with the way she is holding her hand, while the small tear in her outfit and sweat on her neck show the reality of her hard work.

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Three Excuses to Visit a McDonald’s Overseas

There is nothing worse than a traveler that goes to new places and searches endlessly for the comforts of home. When you visit a place, take it all in! The food, the scents, the sights, the customs, the CULTURE.

However, with the great Americanization of the world, it is apparent that McDonald’s is spreading faster than the black plague did, and I have found the only three excuses to visit one when abroad.

1. ICE
Ice is a rarity in many places overseas (especially all over Europe), and after a while of drinks with no ice, it is common to crave some frozen water with our soda. McDonald’s, of course, is ever-flowing with these frozen morsels. So if you need your ice fix, it is OK to visit McDonald’s for a cold one.

I have seen a few McDonald’s overseas that have prime real estate. In Hong Kong I visited one that was on top of a hill and had a wrap around balcony that offered the best view of the city. Who would have thought! (No I still didn’t eat, just enjoyed an iced beverage).
When you fly into Rome, and then arrive at the train station in the city, you will quickly run into Piazza della Republica. A beautiful square with a fountain in the middle, ancient ruins on one side, and a giant old hotel that wraps around half of it. It is a perfect people watching spot, and busy roundabout for traffic of all kinds. And what is conveniently located at the base of the hotel? A Mcdonald’s. But no ordinary McDonald’s, here you can sit out in their covered tables right on the Piazza, and enjoy a freshly pressed espresso in a ceramic cup paired with a delicious croissant for 1 Euro.

Perfect for people watching!


I got hungry! But impressive for McDonald's right?

And lastly, McDonald’s across the world offers a cultural lesson. Yes, I will admit that. While we have burgers and fries because that is the “American Diet,” each McDonald’s around the world offers the common foods of that country (yes, they do also still offer the common burger and fries).

McDonald's Japan


McDonalds Middle East


McDonalds China

Well there you have it. The 3 excuses to visit a McDonald’s overseas.

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Ancient Sticks and Stones and Floating Homes

In Siem Reap, Cambodia we visited what is probably my favorite ancient site I saw on my trip through Asia – The Bayon Temple in the ancient capital city of Angkor Thom.

Ancient City Entrance

The temple was giant and from afar you don’t notice right away what makes it extra spectacular- there are 53 towers with 4 giant Buddha faces on each side of each tower. So the temple is decorated with 212 giant Buddha faces.

Entire 1,000 year old temple, 53 towers with 4 buddha faces on each. Amazing!


A couple of the 53 towers in the temple.

The heads of dancers were stolen from all over the temple to be sold.

I love how it looks as though the sky is opening just at the point of the temple.

We also went back to Ta Prohm, the temple with all the trees where “Tomb Raider” was filmed and had a tribute battle.. of course.

Tomb Raider Tribute.. of course.


Dad wins? Oh mann.

Our tour guide said this was the first time visitors have asked him to take photos of a tribute battle.. who would have thought! Poor guy.

Trees growing from everywhere!


I love how the trees just form and melt into the temple.


Melting Tree

After we finished exploring these ancient marvels, we took a boat to a floating village. Wasn’t sure what to expect, but would have never imagined what I saw! It was an entire huge village all floating on bamboo rafters. There were restaurants, stores, schools, farms, and homes. This is one of many floating villages along this river, 80,000 homes in all.

A village of floating houses and grass.

The grass you see is a plant that grows on the surface of the water, and is extremely thick in parts. We ended up getting stuck in it a few times.

Such thick grass on top of the water! We got stuck several times.


House on bamboo rafters.


Storm coming(house along the bank of the river)!


Pretty peaceful place for a nap!


Laundry Day


Such a beautiful and happy family! They would not stop waving.


There was boat after boat with kids of all ages rowing to school, some had to fight the grass in thick parts too.


Jumping between floating school buildings to get to class.


After school ice cream, a tradition everywhere!


Floating house of nakey boys. The oldest is being modest.


This Face!

When I told the girl on the right that she was beautiful she replied with “Thank you, but my brothers are also very beautiful.” I didn’t expect that response but you can see in her what a beautiful person she is!

Beautiful Family

Another wonderful day of sites that I never could have imagined I would be seeing or even existed.

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Bad Camera Day…

… everyone has one, and today was mine.

We visited another part of Angkor today where giant trees have grown in and around the temples. It is an unexplainable sight, and almost seems staged. I expected Indiana Jones to show up at any minute, or a roller coaster to go by like the “ancient” worlds in Busch Gardens.

So how could it possibly be a bad camera day you ask? Well, as you could assume, I went crazy with the “click, clicks” at every corner of the complex, but when I got home to upload the photos only half were there. HALF.

I held my composure, and have decided to relive today again… tomorrow. Luckily trees and stones won’t be moving around on me tonight so I should be able to get some of my shots back tomorrow.

Here are two of the photos that weren’t deleted to give you a sneak peak, but I will be posting lots more tomorrow.

Tree growing on temple at Angkor


Peek- a-boo

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Angkor Wat and Chanting Monks

This morning we took a flight from Luang Probang, Laos to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The airports were both so tiny and the flight was only just over an hour so it was an easy trip!

We arrived at our hotel, called the Grand Hotel D’Angkor – the oldest hotel in Siem Reap. I jumped right into the pool and then got changed to go visit Cambodia’s most prized posession- Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a temple complex built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his personal temple and capital city. It is a world heritage site and the world’s largest religious building.

Outside Angkor Wat

Me at Angkor Wat


Bass Reliefs at Angkor Wat, 1,850 girls throughout the temple.


Buddha inside Angkor Wat


Monk praying at Angkor Wat


Rock formations found throughout.


Oh daddy..

It was also used in “Tomb Raider.” We ran into a film being shot while we were there and when we asked what the film was we got the response of “it is going to be like Tomb Raider, but with Tigers! And Chinese.” Keep an eye out!

Filming of a Chinese movie "like tomb raider but chinese and with TIGERS!"

After we finished walking around Angkor Wat, we went over to a small temple next door. It was around 6 p.m. which is when the monks gather at each temple and chant. They do this twice a day, once before sunrise, and once right before sunset. We sat with the monks before they began their chants, and I was surprised when they began talking to me and looking me in the eyes. I have been under the impression until now that you are not to look a monk in the eyes or talk to one if you are a girl. This is because they have given up the ability to have any type of relation with a woman, so talking to them or looking them in the eyes is seen as tempting them. While it was still clear that I was not to touch any of them or even get too close, it was nice to have a conversation with them.

Their chants were almost hypnotizing. I closed my eyes and took in the humming and words of the ancient words. It was beautiful.

Sunset chant

After we listened and watched the monks chant, we walked back through Angkor Wat in the dark. A slightly eerie but also a spiritual experience. We were the only ones left in the complex because it had closed almost 2 hours prior.

Silhouette of Angkor Wat at night.

Good night!

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Buddha, buddha!

Got back on the boat in the morning and began heading down the Mekong further towards our destination of Luang Probang. It was an incredibly overcast and misty morning, which are usually perfect for curling up and watching a movie, but I was blown away by how beautiful the mist was over the unique terrain along the Mekong. I could make a whole photo book out of the shots I took just that morning, but I’ll just share a few for now!

Morning Mist on the Mekong River.

Lao Mountains are breathtaking.


Traditional boat.

We stopped at another lodge for the night called Kamu Lodge. I thought I was staying in the jungle the night before, but this was REALLY the jungle. Each room was a tent set on a tile landing. Everything was run by solar panels, so no sun no electricity. The lodge was integrated into a neighboring village, “The Kamu People,” which is completely self sustainable. They grow and raise or hunt all the food they eat and sell, they pump running water from the mountain, and they use solar energy. I was so impressed by the quality of life and kinship I found in this village and lodge, I would love to be a part of a community like the Kamu people.

Kamu Lodge Tent.

Is it a bathroom? Shower? Sink? All in one?!

When we arrived our guide at the lodge name Khamla took us on a little tour. I got the chance to shoot the traditional bow and arrow, pan for gold (a source of income for the village), plow the rice field and plant rive, swim in their natural swimming pool (part of the Mekong), fish for river fish, and walk around and learn about the village.

We had a wonderful dinner in the lodge dining area, which was a platform in the middle of the rice fields. I have become immune to large bugs whizzing by at every moment, and actually captured 5 inch long fat beetles that wondered into my dinner.

After the sun went down we went back to our tents and since you can’t turn on a light to read or your bed will turn into the hottest bug bar in town, we went to sleep. Between the calming heat and the harmonic song of millions of insects, I fell into the deepest sleep I have had in a long time.

In the morning we had another eventful breakfast in the rice field when a cow from a neighboring village invaded the rice patties and was running ramped while 10 men chased him. All was well though and we went on our way to Luang Probang.

We made a pit stop at the Pak Ou Caves. Two story caves that are in a mountain side on the Mekong river. There are over 400 Buddha statues in the lower cave alone. The upper cave is 204 steps above the lower cave (yep, we counted). Both are something I have definitely never seen before.

Pak Ou Caves


400 Buddhas in the cave.


Pak Ou Cave


Pak Ou Cave


Me in the Pak Ou Cave.

Pak Ou Cave Buddhas


Entrance to the Upper cave of the Pak Ou Caves.


Old carving on the door to the Upper Cave.

Luang Probang is the 3rd largest city in Laos and used to be the capital. Because of its beautiful valley and river setting, the quality of life, and the culture, the whole town has been named a world heritage site. I took one look around and saw exactly what they were talking about. What a town! In a town of 60,000 people there are 65 temples (all gorgeous) and about 1,500 monks (disciples of Buddha).

We went to a few temples that seemed more for the local people than to impress tourists (a relief) and then to a lookout that was quite a climb where we could see the whole city.

Collection of Buddhas in local temple.


Collection of Buddhas in local temple.


Monk dormitories.


Memaid Carvings!


Buddha Army?

At night we went to the night market where there were many local crafts, but what was most interesting was an alley of the market where food was being sold. There was stand after stand of amazing looking food where you pay $1 for a plate or $1.50 for a big plate and fill it up! There were tons of backpackers eating around these stands, but also lots of local people.

In the morning we were out the door at 5:30 to go watch the monks get fed by the local buddhists, an ancient tradition since monks are not allowed to cook for themselves. They walked through the streets of the town with a metal bowl and each person gave a pinch of sticky rice to each monk.

Monks collecting food.


Monks collecting food.


Local giving food to monks.


Locals giving food to monks.

We then went to see a local food market that was already quite lively for 6 a.m. This market wasn’t for the faint stomached. They were selling everything from grub to bats, and from ant larvae to buffalo tail. And no, this wasn’t for show. These ingredients are found in traditional Lao dishes.

Mound of snails.


An assortment of ant larvae, red insects, and grub.

Huge Mushrooms.


River catfish. They grow to be up to 600 lbs!


More River Fish.


: (


Yes those are bats next to the grub.


Bats at the local food market.




All parts of the Buffalo, tail included.

After the market we went to a place where students wanting to learn english gather. Anyone can stop in who speaks english and can have conversations with the students, read with them, or help them with their homework. it was a really neat way to learn a bit about the life of a young Lao person, but also a great way to give to them.

We had an amazing lunch by the river. I had coconut soup with chicken and noodles, sweet and sour tofu, sticky rice, and vegetable spring rolls. You might say: “Wow Marina, you really pig out!” But I say it is the best $6.50 I have ever spent on a culinary experience. And no, I didn’t finish it all, but I could have!

In the afternoon we split up and were on a quest for sun dresses (since we mistakenly only packed pants and hot dresses, luckily I did sneak in a pair of shorts) when we came across a spa. $5 for an hour long massage, mango smoothie included?? Yes please!

Our quest for a dress was a fail, but the day was wonderful.

Tomorrow we get on another plane and head to Cambodia. Second to last leg of our Asian adventure.

(Don’t want to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth from the market photos, so here are a few from a village we visited!)

Hmong Children


Translucent Butterfly!


That face!

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Wifi on the Mekong?

Well here I am.. sitting on a porch at a camp over looking the Mekong river in Laos.

Mekong River


How did we end up here? Well we got on a boat today in Change Rai and headed south towards the heart of Laos. You would not believe how close these countries are. I could literally thrown a pebble from thailand to laos across the mekong river.

but let me fill you in on the past few days since I was without internet. We spent a few days in the Golden Triangle. Famous for the trade and production of Opium. For such a corrupt place in the past, it had an amazingly peaceful ambiance. To tell us a little about that era in this area, they have a museum called the “Hall of Opium.” It was honestly one of the most elaborate and well thought out small museums I have ever been to. I couldn’t take many photos inside because it wasn’t allowed but i snuck a few of the tunnel walls that lead into the museum. They are cement depictions of people that suffer from opium. Pretty powerful.

Hall of Opium Wall.

After the museum we checked into our beautiful hotel called Anatara. and then were met by a master mahout (elephant trainer) in the lobby. He took us up to the elephant camp. Yes there is such a thing, and it is comparable to what I believe heaven to be like. What unbelievebly intelligent and emotional animals. I quickly turned my attention toward the baby elephant. 5 years old and still wobbling around like a newborn puppy. He plays tag and hide and seek and begs by hoisting himself up onto the bars of his pen for a banana.

5 year old elephant!


Phil Loves Bananas!

We then learned the controls of an elephant and got our very own. there was no seat and there were no reins. You sit on their neck, balance yourself with your hands on their head. and steer by kicking behind their ears and yelling commands such as “bai” (straight) “map long” (sit down). it was crazy how well they listen.


Bananas for bananas!


First splash.

We then road our elephants down to the river, took about an hour. my elephants name was Lana and she is the same age as me… and as feisty as me! Everytime there was a pond or puddle she would suck it up and splash me with it. I was soaked in no time. That thing is like a fire hose!

When we got to the river, she walked right in with all the other elephants. she didn’t really care that I was still on here and immediately began wallowing. I had to get my balance and try not to fall off as she completely emerged her head and body into the river (but I did fall off… twice.) It was like balancing on a barrel in water. I couldn’t stop laughing! meanwhile my dads elephant who was about 53 just laid under the water and didn’t move.. my dad lounged comfortably on top of him like he was a day bed or something.

I spy some bats in those caves!



Dad Lounging

When Lana finally stood up she doused me another probably 20 times with water and then we got out. It was an experience that is truly hard to explain, but is now a top 5 favorite memory of mine.

The next morning our master Mahout invited us back to the camp to wash and feed the baby and its mother. The baby kept wrapping his strong trunk around my arm that had the hose and pulling it into his mouth. Then he would run away like a dog that just played a funny trick. The way he walked it looked like he could fall over at any time, and many times he stumbled over his own feet. I also fed the mom water, but she would fill up her trunk (which held a couple of gallons) and then put her trunk into her mouth.

Giving the elephants water and a bath!

After we washed and fed the mom and her baby, we headed to the border of Thailand and Myanmar (formally called burma). We walked across the border and entered Myanmar. It had a different feel immediately. It was not as clean and didn’t seem quite as friendly as Thailand. Interesting what borders can do!

Standing in two countries at once!

We went and visited a tribe called the Karen People. There are a few different divisions of the Karen tribe but my favorite are the Longneck Karen. The women place rings around their neck to lengthen it. This tradition stems from a superstition that a tiger spirit was coming to kill the women in their tribe, so since the tiger bites the neck to kill, they put metal rings on it. It is now more of a sign of beauty and status. The woman with the longest neck in the tribe is thought to be the most beautiful.

Longneck Karens


Beautiful Burmese Girl


Inside burmese village home.

We shopped for a while at the market in Myanmar and then headed back to thailand, walked across the border again, and went back to our hotel. It began to pour so we just took it easy and called it an early night.

This morning we boarded the boat I was talking about at the beginning, and are now in the jungle of Laos, absolutely beautiful! And absolutely full of giant bugs. We stopped at a village where we were met by tons of kids waiting our arrival.They had embroidered bracelets for us to buy, and my dads soft spot once again hit and we ended up with about 20 of them. The kids were all so happy to see a photo of themselves, and video seemed to blow them away.

Girls on the shore of the Mekong river.

We made it to our camp lodge and are here for the night. I have my mosquito net up and my eyes open. Already found a huge tarantula looking spider in my room but was comforted when it seemed much more scared of me than I was of him (I hide my fear well). And a beetle the size of a small bird slapped me in the face while I ate dinner. The lady next to me screamed.

Should be an interesting night! Tommorow we continue down the river to the next camp.

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Floating Market Day!

I only got about three hours of sleep last night… I’ll thank my childlike excitement about going to the floating market for that!

Imagine hundreds of little souvenir shops, food vendors, and grocery stores lined up along a canal and placed into canoe-like boats. This is the floating market. We drove for about an hour and a half outside of Bangkok to reach the small town where the floating market is located.

We arrived at a small boat landing where we had ice cream for breakfast, a treat from our guide because it “is too hot out to not have ice cream.” We boarded our boat and were on our way through a series of canals surrounded by coconut plantations and dilapidated houses.

Canal to floating market.

The market was originally for locals to buy groceries and trade goods, but since it was discovered as a place for tourists to visit it has turned into a bit of a souvenir nightmare. But most of the souvenir shops are along the side of the canal, and the boats are mostly filled with the traditional goods.

Souvenir man!

Soup boat.

Women trading.

Monk shopping.

Up front and center! Me on floating market boat.

Market after it died down a bit.

I did give in and buy one of these beautiful monk paintings from this guy. He was painting them right there. I also bought a crazy four-eyed laughing man painting which he made in college and was very reluctant to give up, but after I told him that I would be hanging it in my house for all my friends to see, he was pleased to pass it on to me.

After we got off of our boat, I went over and befriended this gem of a lady.


She even let me sit on her boat (which is not easy to balance, let me tell you!).

I wanted to grab some soup in the market, but you would think I were wanting to play Russian Roulette the way my dad reacted. This is the first very exotic place that he has traveled to, and is terrified of the local water and sanitation, which is probably good thinking but I like to take my chances and absorb everything I can.. especially the food! But I let him win this time, and really it was a win win because look at this lunch! Curry pineapple rice with tofu.. served in a pineapple! Yumm.

Pineapple rice with tofu!

After lunch, we headed back to our hotel.. which is absolutely beautiful!

The Peninsula, Bangkok.

We ended the day with a traditional Thai massage, which is like yoga for a lazy person. You stay clothed and the bend and stretch you every which way. It feel wonderful! And is such a steal.. they come to your hotel and give you a Thai massage for an hour and a half for $20.. and that’s the tourist price! I couldn’t bring myself to even attempt to bargain when It is already 1/4 of the cost of a massage at home.

So now I’m heading to bed, and waking up at 5, jumping on another plane, bidding adieu to Bangkok, and moving onto Chang Rai, a city in northern Thailand which is supposed to be beautiful. And in the afternoon I get to play with elephants! Probably going to be restless with excitement all night again.. Oh well!

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A day in Bangkok…

Felt like three! If we would have planned any more to do today, we wouldn’t have had time to blink.

We began early with another amazing breakfast.. photo as promised:


If you know me, you know that I LOVE food, but am not a breakfast food fan.. well looks like Asians aren’t either! Ah what a treat!

After breakfast we headed to see the Golden Buddha, the world’s largest solid gold statue which weighs 5.5 tons and is about 10 feet tall.

Golden Buddha.


Parents and me infront of the Golden Buddha.

Then we went for a stroll through Chinatown. But let me tell you.. I have been to Chinatown in a few cities in America, but this was a completely different experience. No fake purses or watches being sold here! It was a place truly for locals to buy their groceries and everyday household items.. which to us are really not so everyday.

Chinatown in Bangkok

Vendor in Chinatown

Beautiful dried fruit!

Crabs in Chinatown

Fish Kissy!

Rice cake chef.

I also learned something new while I was in Chinatown today. It is Chinese tradition for when someone dies to bring paper representations of material goods they used while alive to their funeral and burn them. There was shop after shop of paper models of planes, watches, phones, crock pots, coffee makers, cars, shoes, clothes, anything you could imagine.

Chinese Funeral.

Chinese Funeral.

After Chinatown we went to visit the Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace by Tuk Tuk. The compound that the palace is on is unbelievable. The colors, plants, layout, and intricate detail on every inch of every building is like nothing I have seen before. But of course.. I accidentally packed an extra tank top in my purse instead of a coverup so I got to wear a super stylish Hawaiian button-up shirt. Luckily I wasn’t the only one walking around with the island vibe.

Looking stylish at the Grand Palace.

Emerald Buddha


Grand Palace

After we finished exploring this astonishing palace, we moved on to a possibly even more breathtaking sight.. the “Reclining Buddha.” 154 feet long and 50 feet high. It is housed in a small building so hard to get a good photo of the whole thing but i was about as big as three of his toes.

Reclining buddha.

Then we took a longtail boat for a ride through a few of bangkok’s 500 canals which are lined but slightly decrepit but incredibly interesting houses.

Longtail boat ride.

Me on the longtail boat.

House on a canal in Bangkok.

Bangkok canal convenience store.

We ended the day with a punch.. or two.. or three..and some kicking..

At a Thai Kickboxing match. These guys were brutal! And the best thing about it was the crowd going crazy after each round placing bets with each other. They were yelling and throwing up hand signals all over, looked like a Thai version of wall street.

Getting thrown!

Crowd going wild.

Sitting Ringside!

My mom and I with the winner. He won 40,000 baht (=$1,333.00)

Photo overload? Never….! Just wait until tomorrow, we are visiting the floating market. Something I have wanted to see for years!

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