Clockwise starting with me that’s Laura, Mark, Jeanne, Jamal, and younger Jamal on C&O Canal’s Billy Goat Trail

We’re back in the States for a couple of months, mostly for a pretty grim reason: I have an 11-year-old great-nephew in the closing stages of terminal cancer. So we’re on our way to Duluth for what is likely a final visit. First, though, we had to get back to North America. One of the joys of traveling the way we do is that when we decide to change continents we can hunt around for both departure and arrival cities and just take the best option. In this case the best option was to fly into Dulles Airport outside DC which is perfect, since Mark’s sister Jeanne and her family, along with our great friend Laura and her family, all live in the area.

And then – notwithstanding the otherwise sad reason for our visit and the fact that we’d just flown 12 time zones from Bangkok (yes, that’s the worst jet lag you can get) – we had an absolutely wonderful three-day visit. Part of the fun was just hanging out, spending time with our niece and nephew, both of whom are growing up into interesting humans. Who would have guessed?

Just hanging out, reading the comics for the first time in maybe 10 years. I didn’t know Mark took this until I saw it here but somehow I think it’s cool.

And then there were the excursions. First up was a guided tour of the National Gallery, one of the Smithsonian museums in DC. Laura was selected for a two-year training program as a docent there and while she’s not yet finished the training it was still really interesting to have her take us around and show us several of her favorite pieces, hearing the back story that you’d never know without an expert guide. Unlike too many guides she didn’t just drone on and on so it was really a wonderful opportunity for us.

Jeanne & Laura exhibiting Hans Haacke’s “Condensation Wall” in the National Gallery. It’s just glass and moisture, with the shapes and intensity shifting throughout the day as the sunlight and temperature changes.

Another highlight was a little dinner party for what seemed like 40 people or so that Jeanne just threw together. Her family, Laura’s family, us, their friends Mike & Basil and Mike, even our old, old friend Grace and her husband Mark. So less than 40, but still a big crowd, and she just threw it together like it was nothing after we’d been out for a hike during the afternoon. Impressive.

The spread Jeanne threw together in her spare time. There’s hummus, beans, roasted veggies, kibbeh, fish, rice … and plenty of wine and cocktails.

Grace & Mark were happy to be reunited at Jeanne’s dinner party

Speaking of meals, we went to two really good restaurants in Vienna, both of which were notable. First up was Basin’s on Church, a nice restaurant with great cocktails where Jeanne had taken us once before. The difference this time was that her son Jamal is now the host there, acting all like a young adult and everything. The food was quite good but what really struck us is just how big the portions are. We’ve noticed before – and continue to be amazed as our U.S. travels continue – that portion sizes in American restaurants are just huge. Big.

At any rate, there was one other great restaurant experience, too, this one at a Vienna restaurant called Vienna. Set in a completely unassuming suburban office building just a couple miles from Jeanne’s house the restaurant was nothing short of spectacular. Not at all what one might fear from a suburban restaurant in a random setting, I thought it was great.

And finally, then there was a nice hike along the C&O Canal outside DC. Young Jamal had recently been there and showed us the Billy Goat Trail on a beautiful sunny late winter day. Very nice way to get outside a bit before Jeanne’s dinner party.

Laura, Mark, Jeanne, and the two Jamals along Billy Goat Trail

And then just that fast it was time to leave. From here we’re visiting Mark’s parents in Michigan before moving on to Duluth to see my family. We have a couple months in the States and so far it’s started out pretty great.

Jeanne, Jamal, & Laura take a break from hiking

Jeanne & here baby!

A picture of me and Mark that’s not a selfie!

And one that is a selfie

Me & Laura

Me & Jeanne on a great little trail behind her house that provide me with a few hours of good walking

And finally, Grace, Mark, & Laura. They were all friends back at the University of Michigan and then, pre-marriage for all of us, we were roommates in DC. Old friends are always the best friends.

Le Bouchon is certainly one of our favorite restaurants in Bangkok. Just a tiny little space right off one of the city’s most notorious sex districts, you walk in and are immediately transported to France. Small space, dark, tables close together, and mostly great food. Sadly, I had steak tartare that wasn’t really all that great. Mark’s meal, though, and my escargot starter, were all great.

Yup, Bangkok again. This time just two days as we transition from Koh Samui to winter in the U.S. No need to do any intense shopping this time in Bangkok as we can do all the shopping we want in a couple days. So this was just an opportunity to go back to our favorite restaurants and hang out a bit. Thus not much to add here except a few pictures.

Next stop: Dulles National Airport!

Our favorite lunch spot is the unfortunately named Tummy Yummy. The name is silly but the food, service, and space are all great.

That’s me, just outside Tummy Yummy

With nothing really to do I spent more time than usual in Lumpini Park, a big green space in the center of the city. To see this you’d think Bangkok is some pretty, perhaps even slightly green city. You’d be wrong, but this was still a lovely view. The sad part is that with mid-day temperatures in the mid-90s it’s just too damned hot to enjoy it that much. Of course, as I would stroll through the park or sit and read for a while, I’d see guys jogging around the park. I like running as much as the next guy but not when it is in the 90s for God’s sake.

Enjoying the amazing waters in the Gulf of Thailand

Koh Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand, is one of our absolute favorites places, perhaps the best beach town we’ve ever been to. We keep coming back; we’ve been here twice before since we started this adventure and I’m pretty confident it won’t be our last. The water is perfect, the sand is perfect, the town is … well, good. And all a lot more affordable than other idyllic locations.

Planning a trip to Koh Samui has always been a bit of a struggle. The best beach, by far, is Chaweng Beach, and that’s where we want to spend our days. But most of the nicer resorts are spread out around the island. And then there’s Fisherman’s Village with neither great beaches nor nice resorts, but the best little restaurants on the island. This time, for the first time, we decided to stay right on Chaweng Beach at a hotel we’ve looked at many times, The Library. It definitely worked for us.

The swimming pool at The Library is tiled in red, which is a little weird. The overall effect, though, is stunning.

Here was the routine, then. Up early to run on the treadmill for 40 minutes or so. After stretching a quick dip in the ocean. Breakfast and then the beach, where I would spend the morning reading The Three Musketeers (I know, it’s about time!). Mark & I would go for a dip now and then and just marvel at how incredibly perfect the water was. Well, almost perfect. The first couple days the water was really rough and it was even a little dangerous to go in. After that, though, it calmed down and then it was pretty much perfect. When my only complaint was that the water wasn’t really cold enough to cool down you know things are OK.

Then it was off to lunch, sometimes after a taxi ride to Fisherman’s Village, sometimes just up the road a bit from our hotel. In both we found tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of places with great Thai food at really cheap prices, just the kind of places we love. And it was good that we found them: both of our favorite places from earlier visits – Eat Sense on the beach and Nirvana in Fisherman’s Village – were closed. The case of Eat Sense is a sign of how things are changing. When we stayed at other parts of the island we would take a scooter to Chaweng Beach and then get loungers and an umbrella from Eat Sense; as long as we had lunch there the rest of it was free. This time, though, the place was closed up. What happened? I asked one of the guys at our hotel and he explained that the Chinese bought it. They’re going to open their own resort for Chinese package tourists, but for now it’s empty. Yeah, that’s what the world is coming to.

That’s a pretty nice beach

At any rate, after lunch I’d head back to the beach for a late afternoon nap and swim while Mark would typically head out for a massage. While there are plenty of the, ummm, less reputable kinds of massage available, there are also seemingly unlimited perfectly legitimate massage opportunities, all at crazy cheap prices. One day after lunch in Fisherman’s Village he came back just gushing that it may have been the best massage he’d ever had anywhere, and all for about $10. Two days later we were back there for lunch again and afterwards he went to the same place. Sadly, the masseuse he’d had wasn’t in. Not to worry, though there are others. The result is that the earlier massage is now only the second-best massage he’d ever had. He could never figure out if the person doing the massage was a he or a she – gender can be a little fluid in Thailand – but whoever he or she was, it was apparently amazing. And did I mention that it was only $10?

Four dishes that make up lunch at Khaw Glong Too. Thank heavens for TripAdvisor which points us to places like this.

Meanwhile I managed to finish The Three Musketeers, so the novel and the island will always be connected in my mind.

We had seven full days on Koh Samui and each day we seemed to enjoy it just a little more. We’ll be back in a year or two. For now, though, we’re off to Bangkok for two days and then headed to the States to see family and friends. The plan is to spend two months stateside, by far the longest return visit since we started. Who knows, maybe we’ll decide we like the States again!

Mark caught me running while he was walking to breakfast. In front of me, through a big window, is a great view of the ocean.

The resort is called The Library and they have these simple statues spread all over the property. I thought it was cute.

That’s our room in the upper left. The design was a little strange – the stairs leading up were so small front-to-back that I would pretty much always scrape my heel when walking down – but the lighting was cool.

The water, the beach, the umbrellas

We had lunch at the hotel once, just to see what that would be like. The food wasn’t as good and it was a lot more expensive, but the views were fabulous.

Another shot from lunch

OK, one more shot from lunch at The Library

And another picture of me. And the water.

Of course, there was more to Koh Samui than just our little lodge. The rest of it was pretty colorful, too!