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The Majestic Beauty of the Angkors
Southeast Asia Travel Day Four: Michael and I were both up and wide awake way too early this morning. Not that unusual for me but Michael is usually a good sleeper. Between jet lag and the exciting day ahead, it was difficult to go back to sleep.
We were the first ones at breakfast and there was an incredible spread. So many choices from traditional breakfast to local cuisine– everything that Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor does is first class.
In regards to this trip, today was probably my most anticipated day. That can be dangerous this early in a long vacation but there are also so many unique and exciting things ahead. As a precaution, I try not to allow my expectations to be too high; just to avoid any chance of disappointment.
Today did not disappoint.
Today was one of those few days in your life you’ll remember forever. A whirlwind of experiences that totally consumes you. Every sense heightened and challenged. Memories indelibly imprinted in your mind.
I have a bit of an obsession with history and what was left behind. I’m not as consumed by the facts as I am the aura of the experience. To put it bluntly: I like old things.
History not only connects us from the past to where we are now; it connects us metaphysically to all the people that came before us. For me, it’s magic. It gives me chills. There’s nothing else like it in the world.
On the Road to… This was our first opportunity to meet some of the people that would be continuing on with the Broadway On the High Seas 5 (BOTHS5) cruise. About 80 of the nearly 300 BOTHS5 participants came to Siem Riep for the 3-day pre-cruise adventure. As we’d find out later, the group was pretty evenly divided between three choices of hotels; then split again into groups of about a dozen for our tour experiences in Siem Riep. This gave us a perfect opportunity to meet new friends, more intimately; prior to the whole group coming together in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in a few days.
We all boarded tuk-tuks for the short ride to Angkor Wat. What a fun and relaxing way to travel!
Some tuk-tuks are bicycle-driven but most are now powered by motor bikes.
We were all connected to our guide, Jun, by headset so he was able to narrate the sites along the way.
Angkor Wat. Depending on the source, Angkor Wat is frequently called the unofficial 8th wonder of the world. It’s often on lists of must see places in your lifetime. I think all the Angkor temples (as a group) should be included.
Angkor Wat was built in the early part of the 12th century, over a 30 year period. The workmanship is almost impossible to comprehend. From a distance, it looks like a massive, crumpling stone ruin. As you get closer, the impressive detail begin to be revealed. There are so many elements to be appreciated. The bas reliefs alone contain more than 12,000 square feet of intricate sandstone carvings. What stands out most about Angkor Wat from the other temples is the size. It’s pretty incredible that it has survived the centuries and much of the detail is in such good condition.
Tomb Raider, Jungle Temple or Ta Prohm? Here is a spot that nearly everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t realize it. Most famously recognized from Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm has survived from its origins in the mid 12th century.
The famous Banyan tree root snakes its way through the temple. There are hundreds of statues in the complex. Ta Prohm is under a long, delicate preservation and restoration process. Primarily, this involves structural strengthening to prevent any further, rapid deterioration.
Angkor Thom. It means the great city. It is the temple of faces. Each tower has four carved faces so they can be seen from any direction. Angkor Thom was the final capital of Khmer Empire. The city was surrounded by a wall with causeways lined with 54 statues on each side leading to the entry towers. Inside the ruins is the magnificent Bayon Temple… a sight to behold.
I took nearly 800 photos today. In an effort to try and keep up with posting here, I’m only sharing a few now. Later I’ll do a couple photo essay posts with many more pictures of the Angkor temples. This was such an incredible experience.
Exploring the Fox River Trail
Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, and whether you know it or not; there are some amazing walking and biking trails near you. I found sights, sounds and smells that can dazzle to extremes, just a short distance from my home. I can experience the city, farm and fields, beautiful river and forest views; all in a relatively short distance. The sounds of traffic, babbling brooks, chirping birds… even silence. Stale city smells, pungent livestock, fresh forest air… are all there waiting for you to explore.
Last week, I took my longest ride so far, traveling south from Elgin down to the heart of St. Charles. There and back, my ride clocked in at just over 22 miles, round trip. To date, I’ve covered about 16 miles of the Fox River Trail (FRT) between St. Charles and East Dundee.
In total, the trail is approximately 43 miles long from Montgomery to the south, to Algonquin on the north end. The trail links in multiple locations with other Illinois trails branching out in other directions.
Here are some highlights, as well as some tips to help you avoid getting lost and to work around some trail closures. I’m sharing some photos I’ve taken along the path over the past few weeks.
Detours. I was naive enough to believe once you were on the trail, you’d stay on a clearly marked trail. It’s not the case. There are some closures and detours you’ll want to be aware of along the trail.
Traveling north from Elgin on the Fox River Trail. There are really only two minor considerations you’ll want to know about traveling north of downtown Elgin. The first, is a pretty simple jog that takes you a few blocks east of the river, around the Gail Borden Library, to allow you to cross near the Kimball street bridge. There are green bike signs that help get you across this busy street. You then have the option of taking the sidewalk around either side of the library until it reconnects with the trail. This is a permanent part of the path. I should note that once you cross Kimball, you should take the side walk south of the library back down to the river or you’ll miss a beautifully maintained section and the Veteran’s Memorial. Otherwise, you just continue straight ahead, passed the library and a large (currently) vacant piece of land, back to the actual trail going north.
The second spot is at I-90 about a quarter mile passed Trout Park. The path is not closed there. I saw one post online stating it was closed. You are crossing through a construction zone– and there are signs requesting you walk your bike through the short stretch, although most cyclists I’ve encountered, ignore the signs. The bridge that crosses the river at I-90 (taking you off trail) is closed and under construction.
Traveling south from Elgin on the Fox River Trail. A couple miles south of Elgin the FRT is closed. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll suddenly find yourself traveling along the Illinois Prairie path, and not know how you got there, or how to get back on the FRT. Forking off to the west is a closed path that appears to dead end at a train trestle. There is actually supposed to be a bridge
going under the trestle that connects the trail. This spot tripped me up my first ride. It is not marked as part of the FRT and there are no signs anywhere that instruct how you can detour back to the trail.
The best work-around I found, is to take the Illinois Prairie Path to Middle Street and go west, into South Elgin, go north one block on South Gilbert Street to State Street and then taking the State Street Bridge west, putting you are back on the trail again.
On my return trip, I did investigate the ‘skipped’ portion of the FRT and it is walkable but not easy to ride– up to where the bridge is out. That portion of the path is in extreme disrepair, lots of steep and bumpy, twisting spots that need to be redeveloped– if and when the bridge is replaced.
Seba Park on the west side of the Fox River is currently under construction but you can follow the path through, staying on the trail. From there, the trail is quite beautiful and unobstructed. Following the shoreline of the Fox River, along side a railroad track for some distance, is a nice peaceful ride.
There is one long, fairly steep incline that I find too difficult to ride and walked it instead, when heading south. It’s fun riding north though— but you need to use your breaks.
As you get close to St. Charles, there are a few spots where you have to ride main roads and residential streets between gaps in actual dedicated paths— so you’ll need to use extreme caution if walking or cycling. Some spots aren’t marked, you just continue straight ahead and the trail will become clear when it picks up again. I used the TrailLink app and GPS just to be sure.
I stopped when I reached downtown St. Charles because I was confused where to go. The map shows the trail forking and following both sides of the river through downtown. You cannot ride your bike on the sidewalks in downtown St. Charles though. The narrow roads and traffic congestion make riding in the streets a little daunting as well. Signs are posted requiring cyclists to walk bikes on sidewalks. Since I was out for a ride, not a walk; I decided to turn back towards Elgin at this point. I found out later, there is an actual riding path on the west side of the Fox River, which after some distance, must cross back over the river to the east side, before heading south towards Aurora.
On my way back, a work crew on the path forced me on a bit of a detour through a small portion of Tekakwitha Woods. I was rewarded with a stunning bridge view I would have otherwise missed.
I’m looking forward to more exploring this summer. My next goal is to ride from Elgin to the northern trailhead in Algonquin. A friend of mine just told me yesterday that north of East Dundee, is a beautiful scenic ride.
There are thousands of miles of trails across the United States and some are bound to be near you. Some you never knew existed. Get out there and explore!
- Trail Link- Fox River Trail
- Kane County Forest Preserve- Fox River Trail
- Fox River Bike Trail
- City of Elgin- Biking & Walking
On the Road Again: Back On A Bike
I was almost at my six-mile mark, having just crossed a newly constructed, planked bridge– and there was the sign that greeted me: BIKE PATH CLOSED UNTIL SEPTEMBER 2015. Not what I expected to see when I reached IL-Route 25 and Stearns Rd. a week ago. It was my first ride south on the Fox River Trail from Elgin, Illinois. This was an exploratory test run.
I’d ridden north on the trail a few times, going as far as East Dundee. This was my first venture south on the trail. I’d set a goal to ride all the way to the south end of the trail by the end of the summer. Now with the trail closure, it looks like I might have to come up with a new challenge.
As a kid growing up in Florida, I rode my bike a lot. We lived in a new, sparsely populated subdivision with plenty of safe road to ride. We also made our own trails, even though it was pretty difficult to ride in the Florida sand and clay. On a rare occasion, I’d leave the subdivision and ride up the main road to the convenience store. Usually, picking up pop bottles along the way to redeem the deposit for penny candy.
Yes, I’m that old.
We lived in three different places when I was in my teens; all within four to five miles of the schools I attended. I didn’t ride my bike to class on a regular basis but sometimes I would ride there after hours or on weekends.
I also really loved to ride my bike after a good rain. I’d ride through puddles with the water and sand splashing; spinning off the tires and spokes– coating my calves and ankles.
That was so many years ago.
I’d only been on a bike a few times since then.
So what’s the sudden interest now?
Exercise. Exploring. A Challenge. Entertainment. Pick one.
Elgin, Illinois is a fairly, bike-friendly city. Downtown there are some bike lanes, many of which, strangely, don’t connect from block to block. The streets aren’t terribly congested most of the time, making them fairly safe and easy to ride. The bonus is that home is only about a half-mile from the Fox River Trail.
I’d seriously thought about getting a bike a number of times in the past few years. I was always afraid I’d end up not riding it enough to be worth the investment. Then last November, we were at a charity event, anchored by a huge silent auction. One of the auction items was a bike, we bid— and the rest is history. I’m now the proud owner of a 2014 Raleigh Talus 3.0 Mountain Bike.
I was only able to go for a couple very short rides (last fall) before the weather got too cold and icy. My first real ride wasn’t until March— still cold— snow on the ground— at least the roads and sidewalks were clear. Maybe not so ironically, it was also rainy. We’d had a couple of warmer days, so I hadn’t really considered the weather when I went for the early morning ride. Besides the rain, the temperature was hovering around freezing and I hadn’t thought to wear gloves. After a couple miles, frozen fingers and wet with rain, I cut my ride short. Not to mention the burn in my legs from unused muscles I forgot I even had.
So far, I’ve only ridden about sixty miles total. I found a great fitness app, Runtastic, that uses GPS tracking to record and map my rides. In addition to mapping and distance, it also records elevation changes, calories burned, time and a lot of other information.
Biking is great exercise and a perfect way to clear your head. It’s also wonderful way to see the city and nearby trails. Riding on two wheels, you see things in a completely different light.
It’s never too late to reignite a passion for an old hobby or activity. It just takes the motivation to get out and do it.
In my next post I’ll share some photographs from my rides, so far; exploring the Fox River Trail.
In the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning I had an epiphany. It wasn’t a new thought. It was so obvious and had been in my head for a while. Sometimes though, a clear realization suddenly hits you like a ton of bricks. I waited before I shared because I felt like I needed to let a few things play out first.
No more theatre.
Let me explain.
In addition to trying to find gainful employment in the industry for the past year and a half, I had spent nearly six months of the past year, working on a plan to produce my own season of five shows– that was to begin the end of January 2015. After waiting for months, I’d finally received dates but by then it was too late to market, sell and produce a theatre subscription series effectively and be ready to open by the first set of dates. I could have still thrown something together for the first show– but with no assurance of an audience. I’m not in the financial situation to do anything that is a likely, losing proposition nor do I want to. (There were more “complications” that I’ll go into in another blog post.) So, I felt I’d reached another dead end.
My epiphany was quite simple. I’ve come to the realization I don’t need to do another production. I want to– but want and need are two totally different things.
If I never have the opportunity to work on another show– I’ve done pretty much every thing in every area of theatre that anyone can possibly do. With over 30 years and more than 200 productions under my belt; including the production of my top two bucket list shows– I think I can say, I’ve pretty much done it all.
Don’t get me wrong, I have not lost an ounce of my passion or creative drive for live theatre. I just feel I’ve come to a point that it’s time to let it go. If opportunities come up– great. If they don’t, I’m okay with that too. I’m not going to obsess over it anymore.
I don’t really want to work on vanity productions… work for less than I’m worth without substantial creative rewards… or donate my time to efforts where my passion and commitment is greater than that of anyone else involved.
My last production, Spring Awakening, was a thoroughly rewarding experience. Maybe that’s the best way to go out.
After a year and half, the job search– inquiries, applications, interviews have been a huge disappointment. Especially when I see so many of the people being hired are younger, inexperienced and/or friends of somebody making the hiring decisions. I’ve watched a number of the positions for which I applied and was past over, be reposted a short time later. I’ve watched organizations hire the wrong people and a short time later– they are looking for a bail out. Other positions, particularly those a substantial distance away, don’t pay well enough to make the commute worthwhile or only offer poverty level wages for exempt, full time hours.
I’ve also noticed a large number of organizations are only seeking part time without benefits but with full time expectations; or unpaid interns to fill what should be full time paid positions. I understand for many organizations, this is their only choice, or final attempt, to stay afloat. Quite a few long-standing organizations are on the edge of financial collapse and a number have shut their doors in the past few years. Many arts organizations are struggling to survive. What they really need is someone like me, with the experience and background to help them stabilize their company and infuse their efforts with new growth.
Office politics and financial instability are killing many fine arts institutions. That, and poor leadership without vision.
So I’m going to stop frustrating myself in the search and instead, focus on being productive through other facets of my creativity.
Less looking and more doing.
I know the right situation is out there, whether it’s yet to be discovered or I create it myself. The time for me to act is now. I’m really tired of waiting.
Maybe that right management or creative theatrical position will turn up. Who knows? I’m not going to wait for it though.
It’s a new year. So, on to new challenges, new adventures and new discoveries.
Writing, photography, design… creative management, consulting, branding, marketing… who knows where I’ll end up. I have more creative interests and talents than I have time to pursue. Maybe pursuing one of my often overlooked interests will leading be in an entirely different direction.
Wherever it is, I’m sure the journey through 2015 will be an exciting one.