Thailand or Oakland?

Less than 14 degrees north of the Equator you’ll find the bustling city of Bangkok, a tropical metropolis that happens to be one of the most traveler-friendly cities in Asia. The city is surprisingly safe and more organized than it appears. It is predominantly Thai-Chinese but is also a 2nd home to millions of up-country Thai-Thai (people who come to make a living).

Colors- We had already been warned to avoid wearing red or yellow as the 2 opposing political parties were gearing up for major protests in an area we may venture into. They want to kick out Jean Quan…. Oops I mean their current female Prime Minister. For a minute I thought I was in Oakland not Thailand.

After my leisurely breakfast in the dining room, I was headed to the Terminal to see if there was any free wi fi but no luck so I hopped on the ship’s complimentary shuttle into town. Drop off was at the Central World Shopping Center. En route we saw hundreds of police decked in their riot gear and ready for action. Bangkok is quite a contrast to Singapore, where everything is so very clean and it’s difficult to find a vehicle over 10 years old. But the Thai’s are always smiling. I love these people! I just might do a trip here, Singapore with an accent on jazz in Tokyo. I’ve been fighting Tokyo but they showed me love when I passed through so just maybe,,,,,So’Mone. 🙂

Shoppers, there are high end stores all around, near the mall but the 6 level mall is huge and has something for everyone. Everyone but me. Can’t stand shopping. At any rate, I quickly found Starbucks, not for coffee but wifi. 150 Baht ($5) for 2 hrs. sure beats the heck out of $100 for 3 hrs on the ship. Of course I picked up Winfrey’s Starbucks cup for here and Singapore. We’ll see about Vietnam.
Cruising, whether with hubby or by myself means REST! my schedule is too crazy at home to rio and run in foreign lands. Last night was Thanksgiving for us here but I skipped dinner and took it easy. Lunch was delightful in Windows Cafe’ and I was Thankful so no need for dinner.

Today, took the ship’s shuttle back to Starbucks but was too early so hooked up a Tuk Tuk driver. A Tuk Tuk is a 3 wheel motorcycle taxi that zips in and out of the traffic and can get you to your destination in no time flat. There us a “scam” element about these drivers but thank God I had favor. ComeThai agreed to take me clear across town to a souvenir store and wait, and bring me back to the mall for 20 Baht which is less than $1. Additionally, when he blazed past a post card stand, he made the block, went back for me and waited, then took me to get Fitzroy some silk ties. I was ready for the East Oakland okie doke, and try to rock me to sleep with some Thai bull crap on the price hike when he returned me to where he picked me up. Surely, he would not drive me all over Bangkok for over an hour for $1. Well, all he asked for was 20 baht. I happily gave him 60 Baht ($3) and even that was too little if you ask me.
Some tourists have had bad experiences but mine was great and I say taking at least 1 ride in a Tuk Tuk is mandatory for a true Thailand experience. This would never happen in Oakland so I guess I am really in Thailand

The mall's atrium

The mall’s atrium

Erawan Shrine, lots of elephants all around

Erawan Shrine, lots of elephants all around

Kat in a Tuk Tuk

Kat in a Tuk Tuk

Sandy and Yolanda in a Tuk Tuk

Sandy and Yolanda in a Tuk Tuk

The Journey

Azamara, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity are owned by the same company. So even though this is my first Azamara Club Cruise out of 81; my elite status with Celebrity gets recognized here. The check in lines were very long so I welcomed the shorter “Priority” line. Azamara has 2 ships, The Quest and The Journey. They focus on destination immersion. No in and out but stay 2 or 3 days in a port plus the smaller ships such as these can get into ports the big boys cannot navigate

My last few cruises were on mega sized ships only 6 to 8 months old, carrying up to 4000 passengers so I had no idea how I would react to this 13 year old, 698 passenger ship. It reminded me of the Royal Lily when I cruised up the Nile. They called it a ship—- I called it a boat. It only had a capacity of 100 passengers. Man, how I miss Egypt! I hated to cancel 2014 but the Egyptians have got to get their act together. Fighting amongst themselves was bad enough the 2 times I was there and some of us brave ones weathered the storm and they were beautiful times but anti American sentiment will not be tolerated.

Most of our small group have balcony staterooms and I found mine to be quite comfortable with what it offered down to the “About Rose” amenities. Azamara Club is “resort cruising” with the following perks: Tips included, unlimited complimentary wines for lunch and dinner – from a different country daily, bottled water, specialty coffees, featured cocktails and unlimited soft drinks, even those in your mini bar. They also allow you to bring your own liquor onboard to be consumed in your stateroom, otherwise they charge a corkage fee. There are no mandatory formal nights, just business casual at dinner. There is no assigned seating; just show up with whoever you are dining with.
Last night, 5 of us reserved Specialty Dining in Aqualina. It is American cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. The cost is $25pp., service was impeccable and presentation divine. I had escargots, lobster bisque, duck duo (prepared 2 ways). It was pretty good but June has prepared it a few times from the recipe I learned at the Paris Cooking School and I must say, “She’s got them beat”. In a few days, the same 5 will go to our 2nd Specialty, which will be in Prime C (steak & seafood). I’m looking forward to it.
We ended the evening by going to hear jazz pianist, Kym Purling. This cat was phenomenal. He was abandoned at 3 days old during the Vietnam war. After several months in orphanages he was adopted at 9 months, becoming the first international adoption of any nationality in Australia. His fingers tickle the ivories with jazz, blues, gospel, and classical all in one. After his set, he came back with an encore that made my eyes water. 42 years ago my maternal grandmother, Dollie passed away. On this day, her birthday, she would have been 107 years old. His encore was, Louie Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly”. How befitting and a wonderful beginning to this “journey”.

Breakfast on my veranda.  Who's missing?  Fitzroy!

Breakfast on my veranda. Who’s missing? Fitzroy!

Sailing into Bangkok (Klong Toey)

Sailing into Bangkok (Klong Toey)

Singapore Sling

I chose to fly United vs Singapore, one of the world’s best, because I wasn’t about to miss my miles. I would have only earned a portion even though they are partners. Nevertheless, with my new Platinum status and comp economy plus seating I was happy. The service was great and the flight was nice and smooth.
My old pal Robbie Bell would already be in Singapore when I arrived at the hotel. We hadn’t traveled together in over a decade and a half so I was excited to see and break bread with my serious foodie friend from Miami Beach. She had already emailed me about hitting some Chili Crab hotspot but arriving after midnight and leaving by noon, there was just no way.

Singapore Changi airport is ultra modern and easy to navigate. Wheelchair assistance again this trip and so appreciated. It really saves a bad back. The 23 yr old, Terrence who was pushing me, informed me the lines were light and we would be through Immigration quickly. He said he wasn’t a racist but when the planes from India landed the lines were mad crazy because very few spoke English. Oh my! When he found out I was from California, he had to let me know he was a die hard Laker fan since he was a little boy. They could buy season tickets he could not afford for $130 that allowed them to watch the games on the internet or tv.

It was well after 2am when I checked into the lovely Marina Mandarin Hotel. My roomie Crystal who had already been here for 2 days had dead bolted the dang door and must have been dead to the world because she didn’t hear me knocking. So back down to Reception. They had to send the manager and I was not a happy Kat at this point.

Since my time was very short in this city before boarding the ship, Sandy and I had purchased tickets for the Ho Ho tour. No, not what it sounds like but the Hop On Hop Off tour for a whirlwind tour around the town. My plan was not to hop off but take it easy, stay on and snap a few pics So up on the top deck covered portion of the bus. The weather was a balmy 82 degrees. I enjoyed every bit of it as the Singapore wind blew through my platinum coif. I marveled at the cleanliness of this city as I learned several historical facts. Singapore (country, city and state) smaller than New York City, a beautiful, multi cultural place where folks seem to get along. Everyone speaks English even the cab drivers which is rare in Asia.
We passed Little India, Arab Street, Old Hill Street police station (their first police station) now Ministry of Information. It has 911 colorful shuttered windows. We went down Orchard Rd, a 2 km boulevard with over 22 malls and tons if designer shops. On this street Christmas is in the air. It is transformed into an enchanting winter wonderland of twinkling stars and sparkling diamonds. Lastly, there was the iconic Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling cocktail. She’s a grand old dame with lots if history but still holding high ratings.

Time was ticking and soon we would be boarding Azamara Club Cruises, The Journey

Singapore Flyer

Singapore Flyer

Singapore Skyline

Singapore Skyline

Old Hill St. Police Station

Old Hill St. Police Station

Christmas is in the air

Christmas is in the air

A beautiful garden paradise

A beautiful garden paradise

Cool Cooking Experience in the Cool Mountains

About 20 minutes outside of Negril nestled high in the mountains lies a very special place called Zimbali. Today was the day I was so looking forward to because I had heard so many rants and raves about this place. Could it be all that? Mmmm, I wondered.
Three of us arrived together, driven by their driver Eggy. My rasta friend Maggie, a resident of Negril for some 30 years joined me. She too had been hearing good things about this place. Also with us was Robin, a solo traveler from Boston,who runs a private school, and was here for 10 days.

We were greeted at the entrance by Steve, the owner. He and his lovely wife, Alecia, are a great team. Their staff served us a cool refreshing drink of fresh carrot juice. It seemed like it had a hint of ginger. It was delightful.
We made ourselves comfortable in the main lounge area that gave a bird’s eye, panoramic, open air view of lush greenery as far as the eye could see.

It all begins with a tour of the 100 percent organic farm where they have coconuts, fresh herbs, cocoa plants, bananas, plantain and a variety of vegetables and even honey from their own beehives. Those planning to visit next summer, pack a pair of sneakers. The farm is no place for designer sandals. Remember me slipping and sliding in my Louis Vuitton sandals in Egypt in the Nubian Village? Man! Wasn’t that a hoot?

After the tour, we enjoyed coconut water, were introduced to Chef O’Brien and it was on and crackalackin. We moved to the demo kitchen where it smelled as good as grandma’s kitchen and felt just as cozy. It was clean and neat, with a flat screen mounted on one of the walls showing the Chef at work. You can either just get the demonstration or you can have a hands on, interactive experience. In either case, you enjoy a wonderfully prepared 3 course meal with wine or champagne.

Our starter was coconut “sushi” which I’ve named “pseudo sushi” because there is no raw fish in this dish. It is grated coconut, carrots, other vegetables and then rolled in seaweed and sliced just like sushi and drizzled with honey.

The main dish was fillet of butter fish, seasoned with Italian seasoning and white pepper, topped with chopped vegetables, grated coconut then wrapped in a banana leaf. Chef showed us how to cut and “quail” the leaf which is holding it over the fire to make it soft and pliable. It was then steamed for 30 minutes. It was accompanied with what resembled a hash brown patty in appearance but was grated plantain held together with grated ripe banana then lightly fried. It was plated with chopped lettuce, tomato, avocado and the Chef’s special “guava vinaigrette”, which is absolutely heavenly

We finished up with a black bean chocolate cake, baked without flour and topped with flambéd bananas. It was wonderfully decadent and yes, this special place is all that…and more.

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View From The Top

View From The Top

Chillin in The main Lounge With My Cool Coconut Water

Chillin in The main Lounge With My Cool Coconut Water

Rasta Maggie

Rasta Maggie

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Pseudo Sushi

Pseudo Sushi

Fish and veg on Banana Leaf

Fish and veg on Banana Leaf

Wrapping Fish in Banana Leaf

Wrapping Fish in Banana Leaf

Let's Eat!

Let’s Eat!

What Time Is It?  The Kitchen Clock Says"4:20"

What Time Is It? The Kitchen Clock Says”4:20″

Ah, Dessert!

Ah, Dessert!

Tonight we celebrated the birthday of my brother, J Fox. We dined at Tree House. He loves their oxtails so I put in a request with Mrs Jackson days ago and then I ordered a special carrot cake from the best Baker in Negril, Ms Margaret. It was a very nice last evening in Negril and I look forward to returning in July.

If you would like to join us, we have a few rooms left. Inbox me.

Paul Island, Mi Come From

Unveiling of cake by  Ms Mavis and Gilda

Unveiling of cake by Ms Mavis and Gilda

Auntie Bev, me, Ms Mavis, Auntie Julie

Auntie Bev, me, Ms Mavis, Auntie Julie

Fitzroy singing

Fitzroy singing

Bride and groom cutting cake

Bride and groom cutting cake

Kennece and Lorraine at reception

Kennece and Lorraine at reception

Kennece, ring bearer

Kennece, ring bearer

imageOver 12 years ago I met my husband here on the West End on his way to work at the world famous, Ricks cafe, where he was the featured vocalist for the nightly “sunset show”. I had been living here for a year before meeting Fitzroy aka Silk. Born in Mo Bay but raised during his early years in Paul Island and later in a tiny community called Sheffield, 4 miles from Negril where we built our home.

So happy for this time back on the island we tried to put our short time to good use. Every morning began with a dip in the ocean which is steps from our hotel room, followed by a wonderful breakfast that can be Jamaican, American or a little of both. We would then plan out our respective day. He’s been going to our house almost daily cleaning and doing yard work and a stop by his mom’s to see if anything is needed. There will be a party at her house the day after the upcoming wedding so errands have to be run. His sound system, Black Ruby will provide the music so he and crew have been getting it together as well.
My day is straight leisure, not doing a dang thing. I love it!

The one thing we knew we would do one day would be to go to the spice factory to stock up because our supply in Cali needed replenishing. Fitzroy learned the art of Jamaican and Indian cooking from his maternal Indian grandmother, everyone called, “Mim”. He’s quite an accomplished chef. The must have seasonings are: garlic powder, chicken seasoning, all purpose, masala, and jeera. 3 lbs of garlic powder costs a little more than what we pay for a small bottle at home. Garlic is something we use everyday in our kitchen. The EasiSpice factory is located in Savanna La Mar, referred to as Sav for short. It’s about 20 mins from Negril and where locals go to shop for furniture, clothes, groceries, pay bills, etc. The main drag is Great Georges Street and at any given time traffic can be bumper to bumper with taxi drivers blaring their horns as they dart in and out of traffic. You will see every conceivable shop and business all along the way to the end of the road where you will find the outdoor fish, meat and produce markets. Talk about local color… This is where you will find it at its best. You will see street vendors hawking their wares in the middle of the street, on the sidewalk, and in front of brick and mortar businesses. Everybody has on their hustle hat as they scurry about trying to make an honest dollar.

Dinner Friday night was at the Blue Mahoe located at the Spa Retreat on the West End. I can’t speak on their spa or their hotel rooms but the restaurant is definitely on point. Check out my review on Tripadvisor (I’m katnegril). Coming to Negril? You’ve got to dine there at least once. The service, the food and presentation is 5 star.

Sundáy was the wedding and if you ever thought CP time was a mess, Jamaican Time is worse. The wedding was set for 1pm in Grange Hill at the SDA church which is about 30 mins from Negril. Before we were about to leave we get a call advising the ceremony would be an hour delayed. WTF?? So we re-group and leave later. We finally get to the church but the ceremony does not begin until 3:45. The groom was there patiently waiting with the rest of us. Finally, it begins and it was a lovely service. Fitzroy was to sing but was moved to perform at the reception which was held at the groom’s home in Paul Island.

Fitzroy’s sister, Lorraine did an expert job coordinating everything from Connecticut even bringing the 4 layer Jamaican rum cake and the handmade lavender iced flowers on the flight. She did the icing here. The area adjacent to Massa’s house was transformed into a very tropical setting with bamboo and palm fronds. Soon after our arrival at the reception; cups of mannish water were passed around. Mannish water is typically served at all Jamaican weddings. It’s a soup made from the goat belly and head with carrots, yam, green banana and spinners (spiral shaped flour dumplings).

The guests sipped mannish water while waiting for the bridal party to change clothes and make their entrance. At last, toasts and speeches were made, and the unveiling of the cake. Fitzroy serenaded the couple and soon after we slipped away. We hated to leave but we had another engagement. Our time is getting short, 2 more days and we will be headed back to Cali.

Auntie Bev, me, Ms Mavis

Auntie Bev, me, Ms Mavis