Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Temple monkeys

We just finished a three day trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia to explore the ancient Khmer temples of Angkor Wat. Once again, transportation in Cambodia was a ridiculous fiasco, but we managed to get to our destination 7 hours and 5 stops later. The bus ran out of gas three blocks from our departure point. Believe me when I tell you, Lou Vasta would have been in tears.

On our first day we decided to go with our tuk tuk driver to the furthest temples and gradually work our way into the cream of the crop on the following day. The hour long ride out to Banteay Srei exposed us to the Cambodian agrarian life. We drove along side a few guys with live 200 pound pigs strapped to the back of their bikes.

The Temple experience was mixed. We woke up at 5am to see the sunrise above Angkor Wat, which was pretty spectacular. Most of the temples were awesome--over a thousand years old with some of the most intricate and extraordinary carvings we've ever seen. The entire area is covered with enormous trees that wrap around the eroding temple walls. In fact, the trees are destroying a number of the temples. With that said, after a handful of temples they all begin to run together. Plus, the combination of sworming vendors and over 90 degree temperatures was a bit rough. Gino, being the gentle hearted soul that he is bought all sorts of garbage from kids though (Tre, on the other hand, has no patience for children and tends to kick and scream a lot while calling them temple monkeys). Incidentally, we also saw a number of real monkeys on the way.

After Siem Reap we made our way into southern Vietnam...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Carpooling Cambodian Style

If you fancy driving in a 9 person van (no belts or AC) with 17 people, or if you fancy driving amid fumes so toxic that you happily wear a mask, or if you fancy driving on streets where people drive in complete anarchy, then CAMBODIA is for you! yes, Gino and I made our two day egress from Ko Samet to Phenom Phen, Camobia's Capitol city, on March 22nd. In the states, the trip probably would've taken 2 hours, but in Cambodia, where most of the roads are dirt, meaning the overloaded van can only drive 40mph, it took about 9 hours. It was one of the more eye opening experiences of the trip. Our friend, Tony the godfather, made the analogy that going from Thailand to Cambodia is a bit like going from the US to Thailand--things are simply more rugged and significantly less developed.

Despite the insanity of driving in Phenom Phen, the city is actually pretty awesome and Gino and I have had a fantastic 24 hours exploring it. We started this morning by hiring a tuk tuk driver for the entire day. He took us to a gun range way outside of the city where we shot AK47s. Gino, who has never seen a real gun before, promptly urinated himself upon sight of the range. Nonetheless, we both had a go with the machine guns, which was good for a thrill. Unfortunately, we didn't have a enough cash on us for the surface to air missle launcher session. Something to look forward to in the future.

Afterwards we took the tuk tuk to the infamous Khmer Rouge killing fields of Choeung Ek, where Pol Pot's regime slaughtered and buried in mass graves about 40,000 people. There is stupa (seen below) erected on the field to commemorate the tragedy. Inside are stories upon stories of skulls that were deinterned from the mass graves a few years later by the Vietnamese. From there we visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. The former Tuol Sleng Prey High School was turned into prison S-21 (Security Office 21) by the Khmer Rouge, it became Cambodia’s biggest and most infamous detention center and torture chamber – more than 17,000 people were held and interrogated here before being taken for execution to the killing fields of Choeung Ek. We saw the the cells where prisoners were detained, as well as instruments used for torture and displays of records and photographs of victims. The experience was chilling and one we will never forget.

In need of a change of pace, we went to a nice Cambodian lunch for a dollar each. Then we walked around the Russian market where every chachki known to man is sold, but it mostly consisted of cheap clothing, jewelry, cambodian silk serongs, and electronic goods.The meat section was particurlarly foul (below).Some of you lucky readers may be receiving some of these aforementioned trinckets/clothes upon our return.

The rest of the day was spent chilling the OKAY guesthouse drinking banana shakes and talking with random guests. Chris, an early 30s Brit who has been teaching in Phenom Phen for 2 years, gave us the 411 on the city. After showing us the 8 inch sword gash across his chest and other scars on his back, which he received in fights on the streets, he proceeded to tell us about how safe the city is for tourists (the government is cracking down on gang violence, particularly against tourists.)Unafraid after our pep-talk with Chris, Gino and I ventured out on the town. The bars were nice, but the crowd wasn't our scene. It was a bit reminiscent of Pattaya, only to a lesser degree.

It was a tremendous first day. Gino and I feel at home among the Cambodians already.

First things first - get to the beaches

Tre and I thought we were rock stars walking along the streets of Pattaya - it's hard not to when women are throwing themselves at you and calling Tre: "handsome man". Pattaya is a small city 2 hours south of Bangkok. I would recommend Pattaya to older, desperate men, so needless to say it wasn't our favorite spot! We bounced as soon as possible.

After a 3 hour trek east we found ourselves on the island of Ko Samet. This was the spot! Ko Samet is a small island about 1 hr. from the mainland. The island consists of about 7 beaches on the eastern side of the island and one on the west side of the island. We decided to stay Ao Phiu, known for its gorgeous beach and backpacker population.

The fun began as soon as we checked into our Bungalow at the Naga bungalows.

We immediately met up with an international crew: people from England, Finland, Israel, Australia, France, Malta, Holland and Sweden. The crew was led by Tony, the godfather, an Englishmen whom everyone seemed to know. Each night all got together Thai BBQ and drinks on the beach. We learned a ton about our new friends, and made some solid improvements to our travel plans. We're going to rendevous with Tony and another friend, Dutch Matilda, in Chiang mai for the Budda New Year in three weeks.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Our Itinerary

***We will be updating as we go along***

Two quick points: 1) don't holds us to it and 2) feel free to contact us about a rendezvous at any point along the way.

Bangkok (Thai) - March 11-15

Pattaya (Thai) - March 15-16

Ko Samet(Thai) - March 16-21

Koh Kong(Cambodia) - March 21

Phenom Penh(Cambodia) - March 22-24

Siem Reap(Cambodia)- March 25-28

Ho Chi Minh City(Viet) - March 29-31

Nha Trang (Viet)- April 1-4

Hoi An (Viet) - April 5-7

Ha Noi (Viet)- April 8-11

Chiang Mai (Thai)- April 12-15 (Thai New Year)

Pai (Thai)

Luang Prabang (Laos)

Vientiane (Laos)

Bangkok (Thai)

Various Islands in the South of Thailand(Thai)

The City of Smiles

Bangkok, Thailand has been called by some the "city of smiles." After spending two days here, we are firm in our agreement. Thais are such kind people, always willing to help American goons like ourselves. Overall, the initial Asia experience has been positive. We're staying with amazing friends, the Katona-Apte's who are the aunt and uncle of one of Tre's LA friends, Karly Katona. In the pictures you'll see Muhadev Apte and Judit Katona-Apte and their son's family Sharad and Apple Apte, with their two boys, Casino (big smile above) and Vegas (below, pictured with Sharad and Apple).

The prices here are unreal: Lunch - one dollar, Dinner - four dollars, Feeding an elephant -- 50 cents, Thai massage - 10 dollars (90 minutes!), Conversation with the cab drivers - priceless! I'm a little bitter because there was only one masseuse onsite trained in the art of the oil massage - and Tre quickly called her! I had to settle for the traditional thai massage, which was excellent nonetheless.

The traditional Hungarian dinner that Judit cooked for us was nothing less than amazing. The only meal in Thailand that is enjoyed while sitting down in a group is lunch, everything else is on the go, street food. Hungarian prefer to have dinner together as a family and we were lucky enough to experience one. We highly recommend Hungarian dumplings (basically a variation on Gnocchi).

We will be back in Bangkok to visit our friends and see more of the city a few times throughout the course of our journey. We're off to Pattaya Beach and Ko Sumat island for the next few days.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why Asia? The Game Plan

Italy has treated the two of us about as well as any other place on earth thus far, but it's time to move on. We are currently in Milan about to board a plane to Bangkok. Some have asked why we've decided to travel to asia after working the torino games, as opposed to traveling around europe or some other part of the world.

The primary reasons for traveling to asia are as follows: neither of us have ever been to the eastern hemisphere, it's the cheapest destination we could think of, and after working in the snow for a month nothing sounded better than warm beaches and Thai massages.

We hope to do a great deal of hiking, scuba diving, meditating, yoga, possibly bungee jumping and of course, disco dancing. The itinerary is still in flux, but we'll be sure to keep you posted.

We'd like to formally dedicate this trip east to David Nilson (pictured below with Tre), who will experience our trip vicariously through this blog and be with us in our hearts and minds. GELATOOOOOOOO!!!!!

Wish us luck on our flight tonight. Nothing but love for all those we grew so close to in Italia.

AC Milan vs. Bayern Munich

Risking life and limb, Christopher, Tre, and Gino made the bold decision to attend an AC Milan / Bayer Munich Futbol match in Milano on March 8th. Despite the fact that Gino is a committed Roma supporter, the three of us rallied behind Milan that night. It was Tre's first futbol match and it was one of the most memorable experiences of the journey. The two gangs of fans were as passionate about the game as any of us had ever seen (equal or more than gold medal olympic events). Milan ultimately won decisively 4 to 1.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Negroni and Cinghiali sauce

Few things have touched us deeper in recent months than our authentic tuscan dinner at the Guili's house. After working for the past month with Francesca Guili, one of the local italian guides, Gino and I were more than excited to visit her at her home in Riotorto, Toscana once the Olympic games were finished. We drove four hours south of Torino passing through Genova, before we arrived in beautiful Riotorto, where Francesca's family lives. Signore Guili has retired from a successful career in international finance, but now works in the olive oil business. The family home is situated in the hills over looking the sea. Surrounded by vineyards, olive trees, and a clear view of the mediterranean sea, Gino, Christopher, and I were in heaven. It looked just like the pictures and postcards.

After a day of sight seeing, we came home to have a very special dinner with the Guilis. Singore Guili's negroni aperitivo and Singnora Guili's cinghiali (wild boar) dinner was easily the best meal of the month. Negroni is made with red campari, gin, and martini rossi. After our aperitivo, we had the first course of cinghiali bolognese pasta and the two red wines we bought that day. For those aware of Isabel Wadsworth's bolognese sauce, it was quite similar, only, it was made with WILD BOAR, which changes things a bit. Afterwards, Singnora Guili brought out her delicious cinghiali meat and potatoes, which we're simply delicious. Very reminicent of short ribs, only, they were WILD BOAR short ribs. The next course was stricly parmiginao cheese from parma--without question the best cheese anyone of us had ever had. The dessert was mainly chocolates and what I like to call cherries of fire. They very well may have an italian name, but I can't for the life of me remember it because they are absurd. Signore Guili came out with bowls of small cherries, which he had just taken from his jar of 100% alcohol. The cherries had been sitting in this jar far some three to four years. Needless to say, they burned like the dickens when you first put them in your mouth, but after a little while you get used to them...

Toscana is everything you've ever seen or heard. We could not recommend it anymore. We'd like to take this time to thank the Guili's again for their warmth and generosity.

La Citta Di Torino

Turin is a city of roughly one million people located in the northwest of Italy in the region of Piedmont. Fiat, Italy's largest car manufacturer is located in Torino, often causing it to be comprared to the Detroit of Italy. While the winter Olympics is often located in a smaller city with a more intimate environment, Turin was surprisingly quite big--extremely commericialized, much more so than one would imagine. In fact, Turin was the largest city to host the winter games. The city venues were relatively close together and the mountain venues were no further than 90 minutes from town. NBC's Today show was hosted every afternoon in Piazza San Carlo (shown above), just adjacent Turin's beautiful via Roma, which was decorated for the games with light decorations (see above).

Breakdown of the '06 games

We are going to attempt to provide a background on our responsibilities, our favorite Olympic events and personal stories throughout this amazing month/”experience of a lifetime”.

Every 4 days approximately 350 guests of NBC GE will arrive in Torino on a chartered jet from NYC. While with us, they will get to view the Olympic games, participate in numerous activities and enjoy their stay in a brand new; five star Golden Palace Hotel, situated in the heart of Torino. Upon arriving in Torino we met our crew: the local Italians and the Americans. In total 35 guides helped facilitate the NBC Guide Client hospitality program. An all-star team, Chris Loftus, Sue Lynch and Matt Bijur, led the guides.

Now for a couple of our mentionable Olympic events and guest activities: We arranged a tour to Fontanafredda, a vineyard in Piedmont, where we learned the secrets of winemaking, and sampled a few glasses of their vino.

Opening ceremonies were held next to the Palasport Olimpico hockey venue, about a 15 minute drive from the hotel. We had to change the guest’s ingress route from P9 (the sponsor parking lot) to the venue at the last minute--luckily our team handled that like they had been working the Olympics for 20 years.

Gino’s favorite event was men’s ½ pipe snowboarding. On March 12, I took a group of guest to see Shaun white win gold and Danny Kass take silver. US dominated snowboarding. The venue, Bardonecchia, was situated in the Alps 90 minutes from Torino 1365m above sea level.

Tre's favorite events were the men's and women's free style alpine skiing mogols, the freestyle men's aerials, the men's hockey, and the men's short track. Watching Apollo Ano win the 500m gold was absolutely nuts. He really redeamed himself after his bronze in the 1000m.

On the program's final day, Feb. 26, we had the men’s gold medal hockey game and the closing ceremonies. Sweden beat Finland 3-2. Great all around game – go Peter Forsberg! The culmination of the program - closing ceremonies - was a very emotional expereince. The closing ceremonies signified the closing of the games, our program, and a very special momet in Italian history. Some of the circus acts blew our minds, particularly the indoor sky diving and the cirque du soleil ring master.

In The Beginning

Welcome to Garret and Ryan's travel journal documenting our work at the Winter Olympics and journey south through the tuscan countryside. For those readers unfamiliar with the two of us here is a bit of background.

On a warm sunny day on Greece's famous Vougliameni peninsula Garret and Ryan met to work as NBC Olympic Client program guides. After days of Uzo and Souvlaki, a friendship was established and potential plans for another round of Olympic games were born. Garret and Ryan decided to continue their careers at NBC/GE by heading to Torino, Italy this past February.

Garret, operating under the alias of Tre, just graduated in December 2005 from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in political science and a minor in hotel turnover logistics. He was brought aboard the NBC/GE Olympic staff as the Senior Guide and Turnover Captain, primarily for his expertise in Hotal Turnover logistics.

Ryan Arnold, operating under the alias Gino Panino, lives and works in Chicago and has a passion for Sicilian blood oranges and hunting cinghiali (italian for wild boar). As an NBC/GE Senior Guide he specialized in the airport security. Details included the ingress and egress of our clients in a swift and safe manner.

Due to the strenous hours of our work days in Torino, we were unable to keep daily log of the events, but we've decided to include some of our fond memories and anecdotes before moving on to the rest of our travels. We hope all our colleauges and guests will read this blog at some point and contribute their memories. The rest of the journal documents our exploration of the rest of Italy, which includes cities and villages such as Bardonecchia, Sienna, Bologna and everything in between.

Despite the fact that we have left our loved ones back home we will always be thinking of you.