The Heart Melter

There’s something about coming home to dogs that are just great for the heart. No matter how tiring or crazy a day you’ve had, when the dogs run towards to you as if they hadn’t seen you in years, wagging their tails, and innocently staring up at you with the sweetest eyes;  a part of you melt.  It softens you and your heart goes all gooey.

It reminds one of nature and of life.

It reminds us to take time out from all the gadgets, TVs and technologies that surround us.   It reminds us to enjoy the nature that surrounds us, to feel the grass beneath our feet, feel the wind in our hair and hear the birds chirp.

Yes having dogs remind you of all that.  They do because you have to really stop and notice them, take care of them.  You also have to play with them so that they use up excess energy.  Excess energy they would otherwise turn into biting your trees, and digging up your flowerbeds.  So you end up on grass throwing balls and playing “Fetch.”  You end up gardening to fix those plants the dog dug up or finding ways to keep them from digging.  Then as you are doing all that, the dogs are running around playing, occasionally bumping into you as if they were six year olds.  You can’t help but smile.  They seem so happy just running around on the grass, like when once a upon a time we too used to run around.  That must have been over twenty years go.

To be happy doesn’t mean you need to have all the excesses of this world.  It’s purely a state of mind.

Dogs are happy with the simplest snack or a little scratch behind the ear.  Maybe we should train our minds to be happy just as easily.  Life would indeed be a happy one.  Yes, dogs are indeed good for the heart (even though your house and garden gets occasionally turned upside down.)  Have a good weekend!

Bangkok Dining: Buttercup @ Amari Residences

It’s been a busy few days for this writer but fear not, she has not forgotten Having “Me” Time.  It’s  has become a part of her life that can no longer be separated, for no matter how much there is to do, you must take time out to enjoy it a little, experience the moment, remember the little things in life.  One such way of course is to reunite with friends, chit chat, catch up on each others lives and all this while enjoying good food and good atmosphere. (Girls always like the nice ambiance)  Last weekend, I had the opportunity to explore this cafe and restaurant called “Buttercup.”

The name itself is so adorable it brings me back to my childhood days when you still ran around on the grass and got your hands dirty with dirt and flowers.    We’d play with buttercups (yes the real flowers) and put them under our chin to see if its beautiful shade of yellow would reflect onto our chin.  If it did, it was supposed to mean that your wish would come true (or something like that).  How wonderfully simple life was back then.

This cafe and restaurant was just as cute as it’s name.  I’ve always liked bright colours and this of course, to go with it’s name, this place was decorated in a beautiful shade of yellow.  Not too bright, not too orange, this was a nice soft yellow with a tinge of grey.  The minute you walk in, you feel relaxed.  I suppose the fact that it also borders on a beautiful lush green courtyard garden and the fact that it was raining the morning I went gave it all a more relaxed atmosphere.

There’s a table to greet with you a selection of scones, cookies and other little decorations.  There’s a large bookshelf cutely decorated that gives it a more homey atmosphere.  There are also plenty of magazines and newspapers for you to pick and choose.  If you want to check out the cakes, there is a large selection for you to choose from.

The seating is also quite nice.  You can sit on couches, normal dining tables as well as outdoors if you dare to brave the heat.  I suppose it would be a good place to come back in the winter months.  All the seats are comfortable so you can sit there and spend time with your friends for quite a few hours.

What’s on the  menu?  We tried chicken pot pie, spring rollls with ham and cheese, mini burgers,  fried chicken wings,  sphagetthi carbonara, spicy spaghetti with mushrooms and cake.  The food I thought was good and something you can come back again to.  It’s not out of this world delicious Michelin star level, but it’s a good everyday restaurant where you can come back again and again.  My favorite was the sphaghetti.  Both the carbonara and the spicy one were delicious.  Being a fan of pies and anything with puff pastry, I also liked the chicken pot pie.

Drinks and service? They had quite a selection of drinks from their own unique expresso with strawberry sauce (which my colleague tried), smoothies, and I had the green tea latte.  Now I’m particular about not having syrup with my drinks and always make a note to ask for it on the side.  In other restaurants, I might get a somewhat confused look from the waitress, but at Buttercup they understood my request.  A few minutes later, as desired, my green tea latte came with syrup on the side and no whip cream.  I have to tell you it’s a relief to not have to ask them to redo drinks.   Service at buttercup therefore gets top marks from me.  Everyone was friendly, food was on the slow side, but we spent the time chit chatting way, and they got the orders all correct.

So if you are looking out for a place to catch up with friends, reunions or just somewhere to go have a relaxing brunch on the weekends, I think Buttercup is really quite a little discovery. It’s quiet and there isn’t a buzz of people everywhere.   Oh the prices are also quite reasonable.  Most dishes range from around 180thb to 250thb.

Here’s their website:  www.buttercupbkk.com  They open from 9.00am to 8.00pm and their number is 02-319-9630 if you need to make a reservation.  Bon appetit!

Bangkok Day Trip: Bang Pa-In Palace

It’s a long weekend in Bangkok and what bliss it is to have a four day weekend. You do your errands, have family time, have time for friends and still you have time leftover for yourself. It’s a great opportunity to unwind, relax and slow down a little. It’s also a great time to travel. If you don’t want to go to the beach or to the mountains where a significant portion of Bangkok’s population has escaped to, you could choose to opt for a day trip to Bang Pa-In Palace near the ancient capital of Ayutthaya.

If you have visitors from out of town, this is a great place to take them without having to drive too far. The palace is only roughly forty-five minutes by car so you don’t feel too exhausted by the time you get there.

Bang Pa-In is also known as the summer palace and has a history dating back to the 17th century when King Prasart Thong first had the palace constructed. The most beautiful building in the compound is the Thai-style pavillion called “The Aisawan-dhipaya-asana” which was said to have been constructed in 1632 the year his son, and future King Narai, was born. It is definitely a site not to be missed. It is unlike other pavillions I’ve seen for it stands in the middle of a large pond which enhances its beauty by ensuring that nothing blocks its view. In the sunlight, its gold and tiled roof of orange, yellow and green reflect off the still water. It’s elegant. The soft downward sloping roof is lifted up towards the sky by decorations that represent the naga and the garuda.

Although the Thai pavillion is indeed beautiful, a lot of Bang Pa-In’s beauty also comes from its main other buildings which were built by King Rama IV and King Rama V. After discovering the palace abandoned and overgrown, the palace was revived and expanded to include shrines, an assembly hall for royal relatives which is a colonial style building, an observatory tower, a chinese style two storey mansion as well as other buildings or residences.

It’s a mixture of east and west. You can tell this was a time when Thailand had exposure to the best of both worlds. Czar Nicholas II of Russia was even said to have praised the summer palace for its building which was “furnished luxuriously and with refined taste and comfort” during is visit in 1890. I can imagine so. Each building is connected by the pond and if you close your eyes, add a few rowboats then you could very well be in a European summer palace. It reminds me of Poland’s summer palace and the moves of ladies and gentlemen out having a good time. Now imagine it in Thailand. I wonder if it was as hot back then as it it nowadays.

The Chinese pavillion was built by today’s equivalent of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and I have to say it is just as beautiful as the ones I saw in Beijing. The tiled floors, the ebony furniture and all the decorations are intact. There are a number of fine porcelein as well as gold and silver decorations. There was an intricate ivory bone carving that just takes your breath away. All intact and unspoiled. Even at the forbidden palace years ago I did not see such fine furniture in its orignal layout. This was a gift from China. A country that is once again a force to be reckoned with.

I like water, I like gardens and I like anything romantic. This place is romantic and a great place to go relax enjoy the view. My only advice is be prepared for the heat or come during the winter months. There are not many trees at Bang Pa-in and with Thailand’s sorching sun, you might altogether decide that no matter how beautiful it is, you’d rather go back to somewhere airconditioned. You could also rent the electric cart which will help but its really not that much of a walk.

If you are a fan of sending postcards (like I am) just across the street is a post office where you can mail your postcards or letters.. Sadly they don’t sell stamps together with the postcard at the souvenir shop so you will just have to hop over yourself.

It’s open from 8.00am to 3.30pm everyday including weekends and public holidays. You can also call to check them at (035) 261-548.

Old Vienna: Schonbrunn Palace

If you want to see a palace that looks like those in fairy tales where princesses and princes roam about in beautiful buildings and halls, then walk around in their fancy dress in a majestically beautiful garden, I say go to Schonbrunn Palace.  This is one of my favorite sites in Vienna. 

Schonbrunn was the summer residence of the imperial family and dates back to 1695.  The palace itself was commissioned since then, but it wasn’t completed until 1730.  It has lived through wars and seen deaths.  It was Napoleon’s headquarters from 1805 to 1809 and it was here that Emperor Franz Josef died.  It was also here that Emperor Karl I abdicated from the throne in 1918.

History came and passed by here.  In the olden days, this must have been considered far for the Viennese and outside of the city.  I imagine carriage trips through fields and hills, but now the city has grown and it is easily accessible by bus and underground.  A summer palace within the city itself.

When you first walk into the grounds, you are greeted by the Baroque building that is so wide you would find it hard to fit into your camera view finder if you went too close.  There are hardly any trees and all you see is a large expanse up towards the grand staircase.  I imagine trotting up towards the palace on my horse.  How much fun it must be with all that space to ride.  Of course everyone in the palace would also be aware of my entrance.  I guess the design is also for security.  I read also that Schonbrunn was inspired by Versailles in France.

Inside, the palace’s rooms are so beautiful I cannot help but wonder what it must have been like living amongst all this grandeur.  The wood paneled walls and themed wall paper give each room a distinct character.  There’s the Blue Chinese Salon, the Vieux Lacque Room and even a Great Gallery that was the site of imperial banquets.  This is where the aristocracy waltzed their nights away in beautiful dresses.  I wish I could see this place alive with people. How magical it must be.  There is the Round Chinese Cabinet room which shows you how far China came centuries ago. Vases and lacquered panels give it an oriental flair but in a baroque setting.  China was strong then , now it is once again becoming a world superpower.

Once you’re done with the palace, do not miss the garden.  The garden here is one of the highlights and I wish I had spent more time there.  I had spent afternoons writing away in my little notebook amidst the fountains and hedges that shaded you from the sun, but I still yearn for more.  The garden is a beautiful design and reminiscent of French gardens, but you just have to love it. Hedges, framed alleyways and openings give it a magical feel.  There is a maze where you can get lost in, a zoo with an octagonal pavilion, a palm house, japanese gardens and even a public swimming pool.  So large is this garden.  

But that is not all though.  The crowning jewel of the garden is the Gloriette which is a neo-classical arcade that stands atop the hill at the end of the garden. It towers above the garden and gives you a view of not only the palace, but also of Vienna.  By the time I climb up there, I’m usually ready to have a seat at the coffee shop in the Gloriette.  It’s a wonderful place to just really have “me” time.

No matter how many times I go, I still like Schonbrunn.  Even if its only to sit in its gardens and enjoy listening to the birds chirp.  Its a garden that’s open to all, but oh what a magical one it is.  I wish I could spend a summer there…but I guess that’s only in my dreams.  www.schoenbrunn.at