Beautiful Cambodia

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Latimer: This post has been such a long time coming. For various reasons I never got round to finishing off my South East Asian adventure posts! 

Yummy Fish Amok, a Cambodian dish

Yummy Fish Amok, a Cambodian dish, it’s inside a coconut!

Well, last time I left off, I was leaving Vietnam for Cambodia. I was really looking forward to this. One of the main reasons I’d gone on this trip was to make it to Cambodia. I’d heard such good things about it from my brother, who is still as taken with it now as it was when he’d first been there. It grabbed hold of him somehow. And, now I know why.

For those of you that don’t know, Cambodia was once the jewel of South East Asian; prosperous and full of very well educated people. It was once the ancient empire of Kampuchea; it ruled South East Asia.

That glorious past was blotted out in the 1970’s when Pol Pot’s terrifying Khmer Rogue communist organisation came to power. I wouldn’t get into the horrific details; these people, if you can call them that, declared that the country had entered Year Zero, and that meant going back to the Stone Ages in some respects. The educated people were viewed as traitors (the  were sent off to the countryside to work as labourers on the farm, the country entered a famine; neighbours were encouraged to ‘spy’ on each other and inform on each other (even though no one did anything, it was all about fear and mistrust).

Pol Pot’s regime committed genocide; they tortured thousands of people, wiped out whole families (men, women and children), sending them off to the Killing Fields.

People leave bracelets at burial markers in the Killing Fields

People leave bracelets at burial markers in the Killing Fields

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When we visited one of the most horrific and infamous prisons, Tuol Sleng (S-21), our guide told us that in Pol Pot’s reign of terror (which he lived through), there were only two words; Friend, or Enemy… Friend meant ‘life’, Enemy meant ‘death’. The Khmer Rouge preached that they had the ‘eyes of a pineapple and ears everywhere’ – they preached that everyone should spy on each other (or face death), and so no one was safe.

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Tuol Sleng prison

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Our guide, his father (a Professor) had been taken by the Khmer Rouge during the regime. They never found out what happened to him.

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This is the dark side of Cambodia. To this day the Cambodian courts are trying the last living high ranking members of the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot died in the early 1990’s having never acknowledged how he’d tried to destroy his people and his country).

It’s very, very sad, but the Cambodian people are truly incredible. They are strong; stronger than I think I could ever be. I was very touched by what had happened to them, but I think they should be beyond proud of their resilience. 

It was a hard day when we went to Tuol Sleng and then the infamous Killing Field, Choeung Ek. A very hard day. But Cambodia is more than that, so when we went to the amazing Angkor, we got a glimpse back in time at the ancient Kampuchea Empire.

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Walking towards something wonderful

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in the Angkor complex; it’s a Hindu temple originally. And it was interesting to learn that the languages and scripts of Khmer, Laotian and Thai derive from Hindu and India, not China as I always expected. Many of the temples in Angkor are Hindu; or at least originally, they later became Buddhist.

We got to Angkor Wat for the sunrise – which as it turns out it very popular – haha, of course it is. Anyway, it was packed full of people and I didn’t get a very good picture… but I was there and it was amazing. This is me trying to remember it’s not about the picture but the experience.

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

This is the sort of photo people try to get, where the temple is reflected on the lake in front... yeah we all tried!

This is the sort of photo people try to get, where the temple is reflected on the lake in front… yeah we all tried!

Inside Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

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A guy getting a Hindu bracelet in Angkor Wat temple… I still have mine!

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Blessing bracelets inside Angkor Wat

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After Angkor Wat, we went to Angkor Thom, the ‘great city’. This was an emperors capital city during the Kampuchea empire. There is a temple inside that has his face built into the walls.

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My travelling buddha makes it to Angkor Thom – onward Buddha, onward…

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We then went to the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, where the first movie was shot. The temple is actually called Ta Prohm. It’s spectacular. You might know it as the temple with all the roots on it.

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Cambodia really is an amazing country.

We had the opportunity to visit some schools, built and run by international donations and the people of the New Hope Cambodia organisation (which is fantastic). We had dinner at the school, cooked by local teenagers being trained to enter the hospitality industry, giving them a trade. We also sat in on an English class (the kids were amazing) – there’s one classroom called the Irish Classroom (I wasn’t in it) – it’s because there’s an Irish woman that donated a lot of money to the school. That’s great.

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The thing to remember is after Pol Pot’s regime the country lost it’s teachers and educated people. The schools in Cambodia are far behind the rest of the world and lots of children don’t even go to school. So it was great to see that there are grassroots initiatives for Cambodians to help get their country back on track. 

It goes to show you that you can’t keep good people down; people are more resilient that you’d think.

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After a few days in Cambodia I was back in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, where I’d started my amazing journey. I had some time to collect myself before flying back home.

As always, I’m thinking of the next adventure to come! 

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Natural Wonders

Latimer: It’s been very hectic these last few weeks here at M. Latimer-Ridley! We’ve been busy with Unbroken Ties, Keeping Secrets 2… and editing the follow-up, Keeping Secrets 3!

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Added to all that – I’ve just moved country! Yup, for now I’m M. Latimer-Ridley’s London correspondent, at least for the foreseeable future!

I’ve been trying to get out and see things, subliminally advertised to me via the London Underground! There was recently an exhibition in the Natural History Museum, so last Saturday I took myself off to see some Mammoths and Neanderthals!

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I made the mistake of thinking London would maybe not be packed with tourists (this will never happen I’m sure)! There was a big queue to get into the museum, a queue to get to the exhibitions and a queue to see the dinosaur skeletons, which happen to be super popular (I’m not surprised, dinosaurs are great!).

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The Natural History museum is amazing. No one does buildings quite like the English – always so grand!

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The Mammoth exhibition was very cool; the museum had on loan Lyuba, the baby mammoth that was found in Russia – the most intact specimen of a woolly mammoth, she even has hair!

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I also learned here that ‘woolly mammoth’ is just a type of ‘mammoth’ and the biggest was actually the Columbian Mammoth. They had a life-sized model of it and it was amazing. I could have stood starring at it for hours. Nearby there was also a statue of a Short-Nosed Bear; which basically dwarfed a grizzly.

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The Proboscidea family tree!

The Proboscidea family tree!

This all led me onto the ‘evolution of man’ exhibition. I love me some evolution!

The great man himself!

The great man himself!

Recently, in the last few years the Neanderthal genome was sequenced, and it turned up some interesting details. Among other things, the results showed that non-African populations had some Neanderthal markers in their genomes, indicating that there had been some crossovers, and interbreeding between Neanderthal’s and modern humans in Europe.

It appears that when our common ancestor moved out of Africa they migrated north and eventually became Neanderthals, who were adapted to survive in the frozen climate. While, the African common ancestor evolved to become modern humans. Some of these modern humans then migrated north and became lighter skinned Europeans, and encountered their cousin the Neanderthal.

It was assumed that Neanderthal couldn’t talk, but actually the genome work showed that they have a similar gene to us called the FOXP2 gene that is involved in speech and language.

In the exhibition they also said that the Neanderthal markers that are present (to varying degrees, about 2%) in Europeans, largely affected the immune system. So it poses some interesting questions about responses to diseases.

There were also more ‘types’ of humans than just Neanderthal’s wandering around at the time, and they may have also contributed to the modern genome. This all raises the question of what we actually mean now when we say ‘modern human’.

Anyway, these were some great exhibits and I’m looking forward to seeing what else they show during the year!

And of course, I’ll be doing a series of museum hops around the city while I’m here 🙂

Good Morning Vietnam

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Latimer: What else could I call a blog post about Vietnam? It’s a phrase I overused so very much while in Vietnam. I said it basically every morning, and if I forgot, I’d say it mid-way through the day.

This post is a continuation of my trip around South East Asia, as it’s getting to the end of summer now; I find myself reminiscing more and more about my adventures in the past. They were so good; they make me consider what the next adventure will be!

But well, back to my South East Asian adventures! I had made it through Thailand and Laos, with lots of fond memories and exciting adventures, onward to Vietnam, a place that I was expecting to love, though I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting to love about it…

I was right about the loving part; it’s a gorgeous, bustling fun place, full of amazing places to see and history to learn about, all inter-spaced with yummy food, cool art and random livestock on bikes (the motorbike is everything in Vietnam!)

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Beer corner, Hanoi where local people sell beer and we all watch the crazy traffic go by, as we sit on the street and drink. Yup. I randomly met up with some of my China-travel buddies here too, so the world is a very small place guys!

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Bun Cha, Vietnamese delicacy, Hanoi

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Crash site of Senator John McCain’s plane, shot down by the Viet Con during the Vietnam war (it is still there in Hanoi where it fell)

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They are super happy about having shot down this plane, so it’s very well sign posted – I think it’s because Senator John McCain is a Senator now

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This is the Hilton Prison, Hanoi. Hilton was a nickname placed on the prison, by the prisoners, who were American POWs

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Motorbikes on the streets of Hanoi

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More yummy Vietnamese food!

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Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) propaganda artwork for sale in Hanoi

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Artwork, Hanoi

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Chinese monument in Hanoi – there is a heavy Chinese influence in Vietnam, as the country was part of/occupied by the Chinese during it’s history (Vietnam feels like it has more Chinese influence than, Laos, Thailand or Cambodia)

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Halong Bay

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Sunset, kite-flying off the back of our boat in Halong Bay

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Yes, that is a cow on the back of a motorbike… yeah

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Food wraps and kawaii fingers, Hue

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Vietnamese dragon and my Chinese Travelling Buddha, in the Vietnamese ‘forbidden city’, Hue

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Just on the road in Vietnam, amazing

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Blurry Buddha and me in an old American war bunker, on the road

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The Mighty Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City (kinda)

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Fresh coconuts on the Mekong Delta

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he's at the Chu-Chi Tunnels

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he’s at the Cu-Chi Tunnels

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Tofu, noodles and veggies, yum!

I saw a lot of amazing places, but my favourite had to be the laid-back beautiful Hoi An, I could have spent a long time there, it was a small, but very lovely town?

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Beautiful wedding couple. As in Chinese tradition, red is the colour for the bride in Vietnam, not white

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Laid back streets of Hoi An

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Hoi An streets

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A bridge across the river, Hoi An

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Lanterns, beautiful Vietnamese lanterns

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Sunsets on its way over Hoi An!

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A cool eatery Hoi Ah, though it looks very Spanish or something!

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Super fresh noodles and yummy avocado smoothie (delicious!), Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Hoi An has a lovely river running through it. I went on a boat ride during the sunset and cast some lanterns out on the water, sending my wishes with it!

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It’s where people get clothes made lots of the time, but it has some cool art shops also, and also, the best tea shop I have ever been in in my whole life. It’s called Reaching Out Teahouse and it’s run by deaf and mute staff, so everything is done by indicating via the menu and also these little notes where you can ask for a re-fill of water etc. It is a Fairtrade shop and it works with people with disabilities in the community to find employment and live an independent life, so it’s well worth supporting. They also sell these amazing crafts in the shop – and all the tea cups and cutlery (metal and ceramic) are made by the Reaching Out artisans.

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Used to communicate with staff

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Iced coffee, with coffee ice… haha

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Crafts from the shop

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Traditional seating

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The tea tasting menu (3 types) – soooo good, plus you get three interesting treats with it! Like, eg., a sweet potato swirl, or green tea biscuit

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A platter of very interesting treats!

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The famous Vietnamese coffee (iced) – three type tasting menu here! It was so good!

It was really serene and it was nice to sit in this traditional style teahouse and look out of the open shutters at the front at the people passing by in the street. Some Chinese tourists randomly stopped in front of the windows and took photos with us Westerns in the background, which was… well, hilarious and random, but I had noticed this happened a lot in China also, so I was kind of used to it, in a very weird way!

Vietnam was a brilliant place, I would definitely go back. Maybe one day I will, but from there it was onward to the place I had wanted to visit the most, Cambodia (and the stunning Angkor Wat… what)!

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Trekking around Thailand

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Latimer: Lately I’ve been doing some globetrotting. Every time I hitch up my trusty wheelie bag and head off into the far blue yonder, I come back with lots of stories and lots of ideas. I think the most recent trip to South East Asia has me all inspired for writing!

Ridley and I are really excited to be working our way through our Keeping Secrets series, plotting and outlining all the books to come. We are back firmly on track now – and we’ll be releasing Book 2 by the end of August! So stay with us for updates!

In my recent travels I visited Thailand. It was a quick run through the north of the country from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, to a fly-by visit at Chiang Rai and then Chiang Khong (to cross into Laos). I didn’t see that much of Thailand really, but what I saw was stunning, beautiful, strange, inspiring and… stranger still!

Bangkok is a pretty cool place. There are lots of things to see there – when I was there I took a trip around the canals in the city and went to Wat Pho to see the huge golden reclining Buddha, which was amazing. Buddhism (and monks) feature strongly in my Asian travels; I sometimes think I’m starting to understand it, then I always get stuck and realise actually I don’t know much about Buddhism, but it’s really interesting.

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Bangkok canal views

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Reclining Buddha… massive!!

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He looks like he’s pretty comfortable here!

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Wat Pho outside views

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More of the Pho

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Yet more Pho!

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Another Buddha inside another temple in Wat Pho – I ear-wigged as this guy was explaining Buddhism to these people!

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Lot’s of monks – notice how young some of them are! All men in Thailand must serve a year (at least) as a monk before they get married, to be considered ‘a good man’ for marriage

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Thai green Curry… because… it’s Thailand!

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From the back of a tuc-tuc… the only way to travel in Thailand… I love tuc-tucs!

From Bangkok, I got an overnight train to Chiang Mai. Lots of people on the tour were worried about the overnight train, but having experienced the Chinese ones, I was no longer afraid. The ones in Thailand are actually brilliant; and compared to the Chinese ones, they are very spacious and comfortable – this coming from someone with extreme ‘creature comfort’ problems!

Chiang Mai was a fun place; we had a walk around in the blistering heat, went to see beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple ate some lovely Thai food and went for a cool bike-ride around the city. While on our bike ride we stopped at an orphanage for Hill tribe children, for dinner. I bought some lovely artwork by the children – it was Naruto inspired 🙂

During my time in Chiang Mai, I was coming to terms with the heat, I won’t say I ever ‘got used to it’, just learned to accept I would always be dripping sweat and needing to drink water and isotonic drinks.

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Train station catching my ride to Chiang Mai

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These trains are fantastic! So clean and comfortable. There’s a bunk that comes down from over these seats and the seats themselves are transformed into another bed – big and very comfy.

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I had the top bunk, which was fine… but not as big. I had some pocky for the trip!

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Some cool outside dining in Chiang Mai

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Artwork on the streets

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Beautiful, random temple

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More temple action

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Buddha outside the temple

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A very cool dragon vomiting snakes… well, maybe not but that’s what it looks like!! Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Walking up to the temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep bells

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Getting my fortune at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Monks visting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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I got this white blessing bracelet from a monk in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; he said a prayer over it, for luck and safety in travel.

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A delicious vegetable spicy soup…. it was feckin hot though!

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Buddha overlooking the river on my bike ride around Chiang Mai

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Handle bar views in Chiang Mai

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Buddhas in Chiang Mai

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More views from my bike in Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Cool artwork done by the Hill tribe orphans

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More temples from my bike ride Chiang Mai

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Buddha and candle wax – from bike ride Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai, we stopped off briefly in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, which is a bit like Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, in that it’s unfinished at the moment and being built by the artist that designed it. It’s full of demons and cultural references – though I never got to go inside, as we were late getting there and it was closed! It’s supposed to have like cartoony stuff inside and be really strange and interesting. This temple was badly damaged after we had seen in, in the earthquake that hit Thailand – so I feel lucky to have seen it before that happened!

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Batman and Pinhead… heads.. .weird!!

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Freddie, Pinhead and Hellboy… retro weirdness!

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Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Then from Thailand, I took a bus into Laos! But that’s a post for another day!

For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Lovely Laos and Laotian Living

A Chinese St Patrick’s Day

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Latimer: I know Saint Patrick’s day is long over, but this year was the first I’d spent ‘off world’ and it was a little out of the ordinary!

I didn’t really expect to see any Paddy’s Day stuff in China and just as well because I didn’t. I had to explain Paddy’s Day to my Chinese guide. In primary school we all learned about Patrick from An Bhreatain Bheag (Wales, that’s what we were told anyway), and how he was kidnapped by the Irish slaver Niall of the Nine Hostages and taken to Ireland.

I got a bit of a way into this story and paused.

‘Well, Saint Patrick’s day itself is more about celebrating your Irishness’; the guide looked confused, so I carried on, feeling the weight of the whole of Ireland bearing down on me. ‘It’s for the people that went away’, I smiled, ‘you know like in China when people leave and then they want to feel connected to home?’

He nodded. I’m not sure I explained it well enough in the end!

It’s just an Irish holiday to celebrating your culture and where you come from, or just having fun (or craic – Irish for fun)!

I spent the day in a monastery! I had fun letting everyone back home know I was in a monastery on Paddy’s Day!

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During the day I climbed the Giant Stone Buddha at Leshan, looking for any ‘signs’ of Paddy’s Day –  haha, which I didn’t find!

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There were no signs – no green, no shamrocks, nothing… BUT! When we got to the monastery to check-in we were introduced to our local guide.

Aside here: in China, people take Western names (like Tom, John, Seamus, Charles) so it’s easier for Western’s to say their names (their parents don’t actually call them John etc). These names are usually given to the Chinese people by their English teachers.

The local guide introduced himself; “Hello, my name is Patrick!” And I just started laughing. Brilliant.

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 So that was my Paddy’s Day in China – a simple name had me smiling all day!

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My Bailey’s Irish Cream drink 🙂

The Art of Terracotta

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Latimer: Overnight trains in China are an experience, let me tell you! On my tour I think I ended up taking 4 of them. I was really worried about the first one, because I like my creature comforts; I’m not proper backpacker material at all!

So, standing in an unbelievably crowded Beijing train station waiting to board the overnight train to Xi’an, my mind was racing with the thought – “I really don’t want to do this…”

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Coming from a small Island where the longest journey from one end of the country to the other is probably about 6 hours, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the fact that 14 hours on a train doesn’t even take you from one end of China to another, not by half. It reminds me how vast the country is – I thought you could go to Beijing, see the Wall, then pop off to Xian and see the Terracotta Warriors, almost in the same day – oh what a fool!

The train to Xi’an could carry up to 1,000 people, and it felt like there were 1,000 people waiting to board it. I must have looked like a caged animal – there are more people living in Beijing than there are on the whole island of Ireland, I was well out of my depth!

The train ride wasn’t so bad in the end and by getting to Xi’an I was off to see the glorious Terracotta Army!

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Pit 1

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Pit 1

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Pit 1

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Pit 1

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Pit 2

Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)

Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)

Pit 3 (broken statues!)

Pit 3 (broken statues!)

The Terracotta Army belongs to Emperor Qin Shi Huang – he of the Great Wall fame.

He became the first Emperor of China at age 13yrs and started planning his tomb straightaway. He is buried inside a man-made mound that is overlooked by Mount Li (a scared mountain), in a valley that is considered to have excellent Feng Shui. The Emperor’s body is said to rest with his feet towards the Yellow River and his head towards Mount Li, because this is Feng Shui (which means ‘wind-water’).

The Emperor’s tomb has never been opened – it’s said to be an underground palace with rivers of mercury and Terracotta concubines. The reason it hasn’t been excavated is the technology doesn’t exist to open the tomb without damaging it. And the tomb is booby-trapped.

It’s also said to be full of great treasures. In fact, the whole city of Xi’an is said to rest on top of enough treasures of jade and gold to purchase the whole of America (I might take that with a grain of salt though!). No one’s excavated so it’s hard to know, but if it’s true there could be more amazing things yet to be uncovered in China!

The Terracotta Army stand in battle formation around the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. They face outward, ready to be led into battle by the Emperor. Each of the men in the army has a different face; this was a mandate by the Emperor, each warrior had to look as unique as any person did. If the artist failed to do this, he was executed and the warrior destroyed.

They used to be brightly painted but once they were excavated the paint faded and was destroyed. They were painted green, pink, gold and blue; bright colours that were lucky and said to fend off evil spirits. The one’s uncovered in recent times are sprayed with special chemicals to keep the paint from fading.

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When the Emperor died and was entombed, the army was buried in underground pits and covered over with wooden planks and grass to hide them from the rest of the world.

But after the Emperor died, there was a rebellion in China (called the Farmer’s Rebellion) and the rebels broke into the Terracotta Army pits to steal the bronze weapons that the army held. On the way out of the pits, the rebels set fire to the wooden planks, this caused a cave-in that smashed and buried the statues, so that today they find the warriors in pieces. There are always archaeologists in the pits trying to excavate the statues and piece them back together.

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3 pits have been uncovered to date. They contain; infantry, chariots (and horses), archers, lieutenants and generals. In the first pit there are estimated to be 6,000 warriors and only 1,000 have been excavated.

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The warriors were discovered in the 1970s by farmers. They discovered the head of one of the warriors in their field. They thought it was bad-luck (evil spirits) to their families and the village, so they smashed the head and brought it to a priest. The priest sent to the cultural department in Beijing and the excavation of the field began.

Today you can meet one of the old farmer’s at the site and shake his hand if you like!

Seeing the warriors, was amazing 🙂

On my way off the site, I managed to pick up my own mini warrior – it’s the General (pronounced Jun-Jwin in Chinese)… 🙂 well I couldn’t leave China without one!

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Previous post: Walking along a Wall

Walking along a Wall

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Latimer: There are lots of things to be excited about when you’re going on holidays; you don’t have to worry about work, you’re going somewhere new and you can relax and do what you want – it’s a great feeling. Aside from the food, which is one of my most favourite things about being on holidays, one of the best things is getting to see famous places you’ve only seen on the TV!

In Beijing there were lots of famous places to stamp my foot on.

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You can’t go to China and not go to the Great Wall.

To me it was one of those places that I’ve known about my whole life; it’s a place of massive human achievement, but had it been overhyped in my mind – could it really be that good?

Yes, as it turns out! It was as amazing as people say.

Getting to stand on the Great Wall and stare around the valley (like a boss), as it criss-crossed the landscape, weaving up and down like a great stone snake slithering over hills through smog into the far north of China – spectacular!!

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The Great Wall started its existence as a series of small walls that were unified into one Great wall by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (namesake of the Qin Dynasty). This is the Emperor who also built the Terracotta Army – a busy man right? Up to a million people died building the ‘Great Wall’ and are actually buried within the wall itself. So there’s an eerie feeling walking along the wall and thinking about that!

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The part of the wall that I was on is called the Jiangshanling Great Wall; it’s a bit of a less touristy spot. It was great because there was hardly anyone else on the wall. It was basically empty, so it was even more incredible to be able to stand on one arching swell and look into the distance and see nothing but the wall and its watchtowers 🙂

As I walked I noticed that there was a lot of graffiti – people had carved their names into the wall. This started a conversation about how if the graffiti’s been there long enough it becomes historic (is a 400 year old piece of graffiti terrible… or historic?).

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When people used to visit Shakespeare’s home (a long time after his death), they used to write their names on the windows to say that they were there. Lots of famous writers (Dickens etc) signed the windows, and now they are a museum piece within the house.

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It’s an odd one and it happens everywhere; I’ve seen names carved into the stone at our own Newgrange (which is 5,000 years old, which makes this really bad).

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It is sad, and you do shudder at seeing it; ‘I’d never do that! That’s terrible’… but then if enough time passes… does it become alright? Do you start to think; ‘someone in the 1800s was standing where I am now, in awe of this thing I am seeing that they once saw too… (of course they were busy carving their name into it, so we aren’t really experiencing it the same way, but still!)’

People like to write their names on things because it says; ‘I was here, I existed once and I was here’. And I get that, but…

Argh, it’s a tough one; but people shouldn’t be doing it anymore – that’s what the visitor’s guestbook is for!

While on the wall I ate the bag of Hula Hoops I’d gotten in Dublin airport (and failed to eat on the plane – I told you we’d be seeing those food items again!)… That was bizarre!

Then it was on to the Forbidden City (give or take a day, ha). That place is amazing.

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It was built according to the rules and laws of Taoism – the cultural religion of China. For example, Taoism is crazy about numbers. The number 9 (and 5) is very important and lucky in the religion. The doors of the city’s gates have gold circle embossing – there are nine rows with nine circles across.

The Forbidden City is also said to contain 9999 rooms; the Emperor is the only one on earth who can have 9999 rooms. This is one less than the Jade Emperor (the King of Heaven in Taoism); only he can have 10,000 rooms. The Jade Emperor sounds cool doesn’t he?

There’s a lot to see in the Forbidden City, I found myself just wandering on my own at one point, enjoying my own novelty as a white foreigner (I’m hardly ever exotic, so that was fun!).

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It wasn’t long before my time in Beijing was at an end, but I did manage to check out the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Cube before I was off on an overnight train (13 hours!) to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, but that’s another post 🙂

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Previous post: Middle Kingdom Musings and next post: The Art of Terracotta

Latimer watches… Indiana Jones

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Latimer:  I don’t think a Christmas holiday is complete without watching at least one of the Indiana Jones movies! They are all shown on television over the holidays.

This year I noticed that the fourth Indiana Jones movie (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) has been added to the marathon. To me, there are only really three Indiana Jones movies.

I’ve been watching Indiana Jones since as far back as I can remember. It started my obsession about wanting to be an archaeologist. I thought being an archaeologist was being Indiana Jones. For most of my childhood that’s what I was going to be, an archaeologist/Indiana Jones.

I was definitely going to go on adventures and find artefacts stuck in booby-trapped tombs. Yet, in spite of all the ways I would definitely die adventuring through Indiana Jones style tombs, I was convinced that was the life for me! I would have needed a lifetime of parkour, self-defence and weapons training for that career path.

I’m now convinced I would have died trekking to my first tomb!

Thankfully, I’ve grown out of considering that life (for my own health and safety!), but still love Indiana Jones! Out of the three movies (yup three!), my favourite has always been Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I watch it once every Christmas. I’m always happy to see it; I know it’s Christmas and it never fails to make me smile.

I love that movie because it’s just so much fun and not serious, and so 80’s – it’s pure nostalgia!

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It has the never-ageing Sean Connery, the zeppelin, the quick detour to Berlin, tombs, the leap of faith I never would have taken, the old knight of the crusade, the face melting scene (that always scared the crap out of me)… and you learn that Indy’s named after the dog 🙂

Latimer watches!

I think everyone has a favourite Indiana Jones movie – Ridley’s is Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom! What an epic movie series it is… cue music…

Also Happy New Year to everyone! Hope you all have a great 2014! MLR 🙂

Game Watchers

Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt... ho-yah!

Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt… ho-yah!

Latimer: I used to be a recreational gamer.

I wouldn’t say I was a real gamer, because I know what it is to be obsessed about stuff and I didn’t qualify for this one!

I do have a bit of a history with gaming though.

We used to have an Amstrad in our house, when I was young. I say we, but that’s a lie, my big brother owned it and it got passed down to us young’ens over time.

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It was a clunky, beautiful beast.

Games came on cassettes and you had to wait for it to ‘load’ whereby the title image would appear on the screen, one painful, pixelated line at a time.

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Games took a very, very, long time to load. I remember we had a game called ‘Run the Gauntlet’ that was a series of different races; boats, cars and a final cross-country level – that was impossible to pass!

I always wondered what came after that, as the computer AI’s whizzed past my character… I would sigh, thinking, ‘I’ll never know’. And I never did. The joy of being denied content because you have no talent for gaming – that was my lot!

I used to beg my parents to buy me a console.

A Sega Mega Drive?

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NO!

A Dreamcast (what happened to them!?)?

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NO!

A Playstation –

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No – look how are you not getting this by now? Stop asking!

Sometimes we would rent consoles from the video shop (I wonder do people do that at all anymore?) – it was about 10 pounds (back before the euro!) a night, and you’d get a game. Usually the console was a Sega. And it would be the best night ever and I’d wake up early the next day to get all the enjoyment I could before the console was pried away from me, never to be touched by my crappy, but loving, gaming hands again.

My brother somehow managed to wrangle a Gameboy out of my parents one year.

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That was brilliant… that’s when I met Kirby, in Kirby’s Dream Land. Oh what a game! The premise – you are Kirby, loveable vacuum-powered ball of joy, protecting his homeland from an evil dragon-creature.

Sssss... POW evil tree!

Sssss… POW evil tree!

This was one of the few I cleared and I still take it as a badge of pride. Ridley has this honour too I believe!

We did have games for the PC though. That’s where I met Lara Croft and I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist – ah, yeah, I was easily swayed!

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When my sister got a real job, she bought herself a Playstation and that was my first look into having a games console on demand. She bought Kingdom Hearts and to this day I will say that it’s my favourite game to play.

I'm a Keyblade Master!! I AM!!!!

I’m a Keyblade Master!! I AM!!!!

Here’s the thing, the ending made me cry and the whole game made me love Disney again. Yup, that’s the power of Kingdom Hearts – I won’t have a bad word said about Sora and the boys (Donald Duck and Goofy)!

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If I still had my young heart today, I would buy a console; a Playstation 3 or 4… or 5,000 – whatever it is now. But, truth is, being denied the content of a story because I couldn’t figure out the puzzle or beat the boss (which would be inevitable) would kill me. I remember telling Ridley once (as I was playing Kingdom Hearts 2) that I got a stabbing pain in my eye and had to lie down, because I couldn’t beat a boss (the one with the water guitar – ARGH!) – I got so frustrated I literately had to go lie down and sleep away the anger.

So I know that I couldn’t handle the stress.

That’s why today, I don’t play games. I’ve moved from recreational gamer, to avid games watcher. You see I love watching games trailers and game cutscenes.

That might seem weird, but computer games combine two of my loves, art and story-telling. Games are beautiful pieces of art and they’re getting smarter and bigger all the time – and this means the stories can get more complex and involved too. Games are like books; they draw you in.

Because I don’t play, I like watching people like Pewdiepie playing for me – because it’s fun to have the shock moments during the game and Pewds is fun!

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The new games today are amazing feats of world-building.

Bioshock Infinite had this massively involved story set in this epic world. It was a stunning place – a city in the clouds.

My ultimate favourite game to watch though is the Uncharted series! Oh how brilliant are they! It’s basically modern-day Indiana Jones treasure hunting.

Damn it's hot out in the desert...

Damn it’s hot out in the desert…

Uncharted 2 is a major reason for me wanting to go visit Nepal! I want to stand on a mountain surrounded by temples and prayer-wheels and flags… one day…one day!

I often wonder if there are other people out there who love to watch games as much as I do – other games watchers.

We should come up with a name for ourselves – unless it exists already, in which case… what are we? 🙂

Chillin’ at Court

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Latimer: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to Hampton Court.

But, I kept forgetting/never knew, what it was called, so I’d get really frustrated trying to explain to people where it was I wanted to go.

“I’d love to go to Henry VIII’s Palace… you know with the,” cue my distant expression, “with the red-brick gatehouse.”

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I would stare expectantly at the person and they would stare back rightly confused. I would get frustrated, thinking everyone should know what I meant and give me the name of said building (so I could forever remember it and not look like a fool every time I said I wanted to visit it!).

This has been the way it’s been for me for years. But finally I realised it was Hampton Court I wanted to visit.

It’s in London, so when Ridley and I went there, I just had to go!

Hampton Court is epic and after being stuck in a queue for every which-way-thing in London, it was surprisingly low on visitors, which probably made the experience all the better. We had an ice-cream on the lawn, enjoyed the sun and stared in wonderment at the gorgeousness that is the Court.

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While there, Ridley got real bohemian. She headed over to a tree, sat down, pulled out a notebook and pen, and with a big smile said –

“Let’s do book-work!”

I shuffled over to the tree, thinking this was a very quaint idea; we’d be like Jane Austen or something. A minute later I leaped up. “There’re ants crawling all over the tree! I hate nature -!”

Ridley jumped up, screaming, her dream of book-work in the park destroyed by nature. Deflated we gave up and headed into the Palace, letting the magic of Hampton Court wash over us.

If anyone watches/reads Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon reminds me of Henry VIII. I think that might be intentional – George R. R. Martin draws from history right? Well, the banquet hall has Baratheon stamped all over it – it’s so cool!

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In my head I was saying, ‘ours is the fury’! over and over again, until I annoyed myself!

Ours is the Fury!... or something.. ha!

Ours is the Fury!… or something.. ha!

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Apparently the tapestries that hang in the hall are made of gold and silver thread.

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Rich people back then got tapestries as a show of wealth, because of the cost involved in making them and the materials used. Henry VIII amassed tapestries like celebrities today buy diamond encrusted iPhones and fancy cars. Tapestries were the flash accessory of the day, and Henry VIII had the largest collection. The tapestries aren’t as bright now as they were in his day, but they are still impressive!

Throughout our holiday we were asking each other the question of – ‘what would you do if you fell back in time?’ Our hypothesis started out with the notion that we’d be gods! We’d know everything.

But, Dara O’Briain sums up the truth of what would happen…

Ridley struggled to read the tiny script writing on a massive charter in Hampton Court. Waving her hand she moaned; “And I wouldn’t even be able to read!”

Even if we could read it wouldn’t be written in the same English as it is today – we would probably not even understand what people were saying to us. That old adage by Wittgenstein that; “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him,” because his frame of reference would be so different to ours.

So, the portal that opens sucking me and Ridley into the past becomes more and more dangerous! I think our science backgrounds would also lead to us being burnt as witches!

We did conclude, on our travels, that it would not be good to get sucked back in time and end up in Edinburgh. It was hit by ‘plague’ (we never learned which plague) 11 times. We also would not have survived the closes, with people tossing buckets of waste down the narrow streets… or having to drink beer because the water was so dangerously full of bacteria (from the waste flowing down into the lake and therefore the drinking water).

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Walking around the Court is almost like walking through time (the safer version of it). You half expect to turn a corner and see a man in tights, a grey curly wig, heels and a fancy velvet jacket…

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Funnily enough, that did actually happen at one point. He was sitting talking to a 1700’s era woman.

We (the tourists) all walked past them, listening in on the conversation, confused as to whether they were in-character or not and nobody talking to them to find out.

We all kept a safe distance; blinking and straining inward to listen to them, but glancing to each other and giving a nervous laugh, like we were all thinking, ‘is this a mass hallucination?! Can you see them too?!’

We left the palace, happier for having been there! If you’re in need of an oasis of calm in London, head to Court!