A train, a monkey and a fiesta

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It’s still Friday somewhere in the world. Happy Friday!

This was one of those weeks. Catching the cold that is sweeping through city offices. Photos disappearing from the SD card (huh?). Scheduling this post to publish on Friday 15th rather than Friday 8th (huh??).

A Fiesta

Belatedly, may I present some photos from Myanmar (Burma), as I dash over to take up my duties as co-hostess of this week’s Fiesta Friday. My co-host Margot @ Gather and Graze has been there for hours, pouring out her signature Dame Edna cocktail, and generally being wonderful. Think of Margot as your on-time, organised, gracious chatelaine. And me as the sitcom-style comic relief (“icing sugar!” “monkeys!” “photo disappearing trick!”).

Please come and join us, last week there was a flood of zucchinis and chocolate and a cat dressed up as a human as a cat. I can’t wait to see what this week’s party will bring.

A train

Not many train lines in the world become attractions in their own right. One of them is the train over the Gorteik viaduct in Northern Myanmar (Burma). When it was built, was the largest railway trestle in the world, and has been described as one of the most beautiful train rides. It also featured in Paul Theroux’s book The Great Railway Bazaar.

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The journey starts at 4am in Mandalay. It is 12-15 hours to get to the mountain village of Hsipaw, and several more hours to the end of the line in Lashio. (The same journey to Hsipaw is 5 hours by bus.)

We ambled, lurched, stopped, reversed, shuddered, lurched and even went forward! It was so bumpy in “ordinary class”, we may have been airborn. Something to do with narrow gauge tracks, and the train not fitting perfectly – gulp.

And, it was one of the highlights of my trip. Where else would you sit with a group of sleeping soldiers, with durians and clay pots under your feet….

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… feel extremely brave as you lean out the door of the train, holding the handrail, to get the obligatory “we are going over the Viaduct!” photo? We comforted ourselves with the thought that, if we fell off, at least there would not be a slow lingering death …

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… and catch the first glimpse of Hsipaw as you roll in, slightly battered, 15 hours later?

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And a monkey

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Gazelle’s Horns and Fiesta Friday: a party with a sugary snowstorm

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Out of your forehead branch and lyre climb,
and all your features pass in simile, through
the songs of love whose words, as light as rose-
petals…

The Gazelle, Rainer Maria Rilke

The party starts at ten to three.
On the second floor, room twenty two
two co-hosts who had come down from Crewe were wondering just what to wear,
to the shindig going on down there.
They collided, both decided to put on Dame Edna frocks,
this was not a ‘do’ for cassocks or for smocks.

Fiesta, a SG travesty, with apologies to John Edward Smallshaw

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This pastry is pretty, graceful, messy (if you add a snow of icing sugar as I did). Its names (for the variations of this pastry), in English, Arabic, French, are exotic, pretty, alluring: gazelle’s ankles, gazelle’s horns, kaab el ghazal, tcharek el ariane, tcharek el mssaker, cornes de gazelle.

I saw one variation of this pastry on Linda’s blog, La Petite Paniere, and it went to the top of the baking list. Almonds, orange blossom water, vanilla, cinnamon, and more orange blossom water, can you smell the gorgeous smells?

I used a different recipe from the NYT archives, because it used far less butter in the pastry and avoided a late-night dash to the shop (and here’s a butter-less version). The NYT recipe probably produced a pastry that is less melt-in-your-mouth than Linda’s butter-ful one. Instead, the pastry was shattering-crisp, and scatters icing sugar in all directions when you bite into one.

Messy, and fun, especially at work with colleagues trying to protect silk blouses and ties from the sugary snow storm.

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And a sugary snow storm always makes a party better, yes? That is why, as your Fiesta Friday host this week, I’m bringing a few trays of these pastries to crank up the party vibe a notch. If you haven’t been to a Fiesta yet, please do! It’s a lovely bunch of peeps that bring tantalising food, drinks, DIY, sausages, Harry Potter theme park photos, and lots of bloggy love.

Your co-host Margot and I, we’ve even dressed up for this party. Because the only thing better than a sugary snowstorm is a sugary snowstorm on fancy costume. Right my possums (and gazelles)? Ps, don’t you think Dame Edna’s glasses look a little bit like gazelle’s horns? Coincidence? I think not!

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Wanderlust: Yangon, first impressions, pomelo salad

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My taxi wound its way through an endless arterial road. We were heading towards Yangon downtown. Whenever the car stopped, which was often, I fanned myself – in vain – with the city walking map I found at the airport.

It felt like 90% humidity and close to 40C (100F). This is not Sydney winter anymore.

I was travelling alone, going into a country that I knew almost nothing about. When we were flying into the airport, I looked out the window and saw rice paddies, with golden stupas (pagodas) that stood out for miles around. If I were a child, I would have held my breath from sheer excitement. I whispered to myself, I am looking at a Burmese stupa. I am in Myanmar. I am a traveller in Myanmar. Exotic, humid, colourful, unknown Myanmar.

The taxi wound its way past concrete walls inscribed with the curly, circular Burmese script. Past men and women wearing longyis. Past a school where girls and boys wore white shirts and green longyis. Past more people, fruit stalls, durians, traffic, and there was my hotel.

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That afternoon was a jumble of noise and wires and food stalls and people and more moments of holding my breath – as I walk between street stalls, past more durians, into the traffic to cross the road. Streets of British colonial-era buildings, decaying before my eyes, fern and moss reclaiming them for the swamp that Yangon was built on. Footpaths covered by street stalls, pedestrians walking, fearless, slow and longyi-clad, on the road.

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Wanderlust: Myanmar and the people

You guys, you are awesome people. I’ve been away for what seems ages with the occasional peep, and you have still come to visit. I’m just starting to catch up on all that’s been happening in the bloggy space – as well as start a newish job. Watch out for me, soon.

And what a trip that was! The colours, sounds, smells, sights, the sensory overload. The derring-do of solo travel. And the sheer fun.

I’ve just packed away the suitcase, realised I’ve really lost my phone (sob – it had so many food photos on it), still trying to revive Patrick the Sourdough Starter, and sorted through those 2500 photos. Now, how do I start to talk about the trip?

Perhaps, we’ll start with the people. Locals and travellers, only a few caught on camera but many more remembered.

Like this guy, energetically looking after me and a German backpacker on an epic 14 hour train ride, who drives a truck between towns in Northern Myanmar and has a girlfriend in Yangon. This photo caught him in a rare non-chatty moment.

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These women, one of whom offered us some jackfruit and laughed with me as I tried (and failed) to find legroom in between the luggage that filled all the space between the aisles and the seats.

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Ginger, ginger, fresh ginger cake, read all about it!

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*Another post while travelling, from the Shan mountains in northern Myanmar!! Also sending this to Angie’s Fiesta on a bumpy but oh-such-fun horse cart, or maybe that water buffalo with birds standing on his back*

Looking through the SG archives, I couldn’t believe I’ve never written gushed about my love of fresh ginger cake. David Lebovitz’s fresh ginger cake.

But first, is it a proper ginger post without a ginger pun? No? Ok, here we go: “What do you call a redhead that works in a bakery? – A gingerbread man/woman.”

Ahem, now we’ve got that out of the way, onto the fresh ginger cake.

This cake is described by the great DL himself as one of his most popular recipes, and one that appears in a number of Bay Area cafes. From a pastry chef/cookbook writer who is famous for his books devoted to ice cream, chocolate, and other contemporary good Parisian things, it is a big claim to say that a favourite recipe involves neither ice cream, nor chocolate, nor anything particularly Parisian.

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It is, indeed, a beauty of a cake. Especially if you like the zing, heat, tingly back throat warm, of fresh ginger. This is fresh ginger dialled up to 10.5, approaching 11.

And lest you worry about eating a mouthful of the root, the ginger is beautifully supported by equally strong flavours from the molasses and spices. I’ve tried a few variations on the spice mix, from the classic cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, to a generous dash of allspice in a pinch, to a light sprinkling of five spice powder (which adds a slightly deeper, savoury note). All of the above, happily, have been approved by family/friends/colleagues.

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Wanderlust 3, from the snowy mountains to the sea

*A post! For Fiesta Friday no less! brought to you by a messenger mangosteen, and that awesome breakfast paratha, freshly made, fluffy, wonderously layered, drizzled with condensed milk AND sugar…*

Here’s Part 3 of the Wanderlust series.

I’m taking you away from steamy hot Yangon, back to late autumn/early winter in the Snowy Mountains, Australia. The Snowy probably evokes all kinds of folklore-ish associations for Australian school kids, from that Banjo Patterson poem about the man from Snowy River, the history of the Aboriginal people, and later, gold mining in Kiandra and the Snowy Hydro scheme. A place of legend and history and old fashioned pioneering.

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We drove from Albury, through the Upper Murray Valley, and into the mountains for a couple of days. Part of the Valley is a floodplain, punctuated by the occasional abandoned town and many skeletal trees.

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After the floodplains, the mountains became closer and closer. They became a backdrop to fertile farms and really neat, pretty localities. Sometimes, it’s just the general store, pub and the petrol station. Occasionally, it was just the pub (at least the priorities are right, right??). Once, there was even a hipster cafe that would cut a dash in Sydney.

But the main event was always the mountains themselves. Especially the climb to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest peak.

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The climb was made, really, embarrassingly easy by the ski chairlift (as this is part of the ski field in winter). Only a 13km return journey, all of it on a steel mesh/rocky gravel boardwalk – I think they also serve to protect the environment from the flocks of tourists. This short walk was full of “oh look over there” views of the surrounding mountain ranges, as there are no trees at that altitude and we had an uninterrupted view around us.

In particular, the mountains faded in colour as they were further away, creating a gorgeous, hyper coloured layers of blue. Blue that matched the sky. I wanted to stay there until sundown…

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Wanderlust 2 – vintage railways and a windmill

*Also sending this to Fiesta Friday 22 at Angie’s, this time with a messenger monkey! I think he likes anything and everything food and drink, and sometimes cameras*

A few years ago, I discovered a book called “100 great books in haiku” by David Bader. Witty, sometimes plain funny, it was a great way to while away an afternoon.

For Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, party of the haiku was:

“roadde trippe!” (the rest, appropriately for Chaucer, was a tad demi-scatological…)

Ever since then, before every road trip, I always said to myself, “roadde trippe!” (childish, isn’t it?)

I said the same thing before heading off to Myanmar. And before our regional NSW road trip during the Easter/Anzac Day break. So in the spirit of road tripping and wanderlusting, here are some more photos from that trip (the first lot of photos are here).

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This trip unexpectedly became a journey around historic railway monuments in our regional centres. Some were sad relics. Like these wooden truss bridges in Gundagai. What a project! The bridges spanned the Murrumbidgee River flood plains (by the way, isn’t Murrumbidgee a great-sounding word that just wants to roll around your tongue?). The first was the Prince Alfred at 922 meters, which formed part of the Old Hume Highway. The second was part of the Gundagai to Tumut railway at 819 meters.

But the engineering ambition was greater than the size of the public purse, or something. These bridges fell into disrepair later in the century.

Despite some equally ambitious, perhaps utopian, restoration plans, they remain crumbling and fenced off with no public access. The sign described the pair of bridges as a ‘managed ruin’. Poetic, more than a little sad, especially in the twilight hours.

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