Currently viewing the category: "travel"

I'm a sucker for a chihuahua
In the Belém district, Lisbon, Portugal. March 2013.

Last week, I noticed a dear friend linked here and realized how much time elapsed and how I should do something about that. I decided to save my next post for the one-year mark.

One year ago today, I was deep in preparation for a potential move to London. We were waiting on visas and approvals and getting lives in order to step away from Seattle for 6 months. I feared all that work would be for naught and braced myself for disappointment, but I shouldn’t have. Everything panned out as hoped.

Actually, better than hoped — I fell completely head over heels in love with London. Before we left, I thought it would be just another big city and I’d get my fill, have an adventure, and we’d be done with it. I intended to cover it online, but early on, realized I wanted to devote less time to sitting behind a screen and more time taking advantage of the good luck to be there. I saw it as the Study Abroad experience I pined for as a young adult, but never got to have in college. I set out to make myself an expert and explore everything. My strategy worked out. I’ve never been as content with where I was living and what I was doing on a daily basis. With just C & I in our tiny yet mind-boggingly expensive flat, I felt at home. I never took for granted that my local bus took me past Whitehall, Westminster, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, straight to Trafalgar Square. I remember walking the 3 blocks home from Pimlico station one blustery London January day, fighting the wind but realizing how alive my mind finally felt and how happy I was, just existing. In a January, in London! There was no S.A.D. this Winter. It was a charmed time and I’m grateful I was able to be appreciative while the getting was good.

*clap* *clap*
In Camden Locks Market. It made me want to drop my bags and clap. I should’ve bought this, as I never saw it again.

With our visas finished and work projects handled, we returned to Seattle on Easter Sunday. I’m totally upfront about this: I fretted & braced myself to come down from that high. Resettlement went easier than I expected thanks to good friends. Mother Nature seriously cooperated with Seattle this year, making up for all those prior cold & lame Summers. Well done, PacNW. You’re alright.

Sometimes, an image will float by and I feel like I miss England like someone cut a piece out of my heart. But if I learned nothing else there, it’s that there will always be London. And like life in general, there will probably never be enough time there for me. So, I’m just getting on with it.

I don't know how I feel about this fortune. More details, please.

This August finds me in another stage of preparation — we are expecting a baby girl in early December. Just like last year, I’m full of lists and plans and looking around at how I can take advantage of remaining free time and how I can prepare for change. This hasn’t been without a few speed bumps. (The day after a hospital visit, I took the fortune picture just above this paragraph. I was not sure what to make of it.) But we can talk about that later.

I miss writing online, outside of social media. While I suspect the ship has sailed for blogging styles of the past, at least, the parts I’ve loved in the past — I haven’t closed the book completely yet. In the last 18 months, I’ve experienced so many adventures. I have had a ball. I flip through photos on my hard drive, tracking down tips to pass along to friends traveling to places I’ve been, and I get excited all over again. I still can’t believe I’ve been able to see so much. I still want to share it somewhere, where I’m not limited to 140 characters or sketchy FB user agreements. I hope to pull it off somehow. I hope some friends will stick around while I muddle through the creative process.

In the meantime, I hope you’ve been well.




I found Nemo
Dear family and friends, sorry for the lack of updates! Been a little busy, not on a computer. Visited the Great Barrier Reef today. TTYL. 🙂

Bondi Beach
Before my trip, a Seattle concierge told me he’d lived in Sydney in college and if there’s one thing I must do in the area, it was the Bondi Beach to Coogee Walk. This is a 6 KM coastal cliffwalk from popular Bondi that takes you past Tamarama, Bronte Beach, and gives you great views of Gordon’s Bay. We used our hop-on/off bus to get us out there and back, but we trekked the footpath length on our own biped power.

Today really taught me how great Sydney-siders have it. Mr. T & I couldn’t think of another international city with such close proximity to sparkling beaches and pleasant weather. We were thrilled with all this sunshine!

Bondi
Bondi Beach Street Art

Gordon's Bay
Walking past Gordon’s Bay

Tamarama Beach
Tamarama Beach

We refueled midway at The Bogey Hole Cafe (mostly unmemorable). Except, I did find the Door to Narnia nearby:
I found the door to Narnia!

We followed our morning of walking with a visit to yesterday’s find in Chinatown’s Eating World: Gumshara Ramen. This was the thickest, fattiest broth I’ve ever come across, but that ramen sure was memorably delicious. The chef onsite offered to thin it down to our preferences. While I’m not scared of fat like I was way back in my teen years, I did need to go back once to him to balance the broth. Then, it was perfect.

Gumshara Ramen

Gumshara Ramen on Urbanspoon

More to come for March 14th: Sydney Harbour Bridge walk.

Aussie Pie at Cafe de Wheels
An old family friend relocated to Sydney a decade ago. In her advice, she suggested we take a hop-on/hop-off bus tour around the city to familiarize ourselves with the hoods. We were jet-lagged and this sounded easy, so we went for it. Plus, one of the routes would be a massive logistics help and time-saver for reaching Bondi Beach (tomorrow).

Today, we rode the entire main route with a few detours. This ride itself took hours longer than they advertise, but as suggested, it gave us the overview we needed to approach the rest of our week-and-a-half in and around Sydney. It was much easier to sort out public transport after today.

We took our first detour at Woolloomooloo for Harry’s Cafe de Wheels for Aussie Pies (pictured above). We ordered Harry’s Tiger: the house special with beef pie served with mushy peas, mash & gravy. Great lunch! And they had their food truck-style dining going long before American hipsters did.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels on Urbanspoon

Shiok, Sydney Chinatown

Later, we took another detour at Chinatown for laksa at Eating World’s food court’s Singapore Shiok. Mr. T seriously loved his laksa and asked if we could just eat this from here on out. The portions were so large, we only needed to share one bowl. It was a delicious, cheap meal — so budget-friendly yet satisfying for poor Americans suffering from sad exchange rates.

(I emphasize this rate situation a lot, but after expecting the Euro or the ruble to make me feel poorest, it was a shock to discover the most disadvantageous rates would be in Australia! You get what you pay for though, and the place is so lovely while being functional and overwhelmingly friendly that it’s worth every penny. Aussies give US Southerners a run for their hospitality trophies.)

Singapore Shiok!* on Urbanspoon

After a disco nap, we ventured out to Pocket Bar and Shady Pines Saloon. These two bars are within a short walk from each other in Darlinghurst.

Pocket Bar - Sydney
At Pocket, as basil was in season, it needed to show up in my glass. On par with the best cocktail spots in the US.
Pocket Bar on Urbanspoon

Shady Pines Saloon
At Shady Pines Saloon, we were greeted by steers. This place is an amazing slice of Texas situated in central-ish Sydney. We ordered a House Special, before we wrapped up our night:
Shady Pines' Special
Shady Pines Saloon on Urbanspoon

More photos from Sydney: here.

With Mr. at the Opera House
Mr. T arrived to meet me today! I showed him my extensive learnings of the gardens the day before, with a special stop above the Opera House and harbor/harbour.

Malay Chinese Takeaway

We also found his favorite dish–laksa–at Malay-Chinese Takeaway. It’s an excellent yet delicious choice for Americans suffering from a poor exchange rate.

Malay Chinese Takeaway on Urbanspoon

Stitch Bar

We settled our evening at Stitch. Try the Little Miss Sunshine, if you can, at Stitch. Right up my alley with ginger, chili, rum, lime, and vanilla sugar.

Stitch on Urbanspoon

More photos from Sydney: here.

More in the trees
For my first day in Sydney, I spent extra time in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Highly recommended, easy to access from The Rocks and CBD, free, and boasts waterfront and wildlife views. This place will make you fall in love with the city.

More photos from Sydney: here.

Bali Happy
The BaliHappy sign against tonight’s sunset was perfectly placed! Taken while en route to Sanur’s Night Market.

More on that market down the line — first, let’s rewind to morning.

On our little artwalk
We continued our streak of catching the sunrise before a long day of doing nothing on a beach. Today’s bonus feature: our friend B joined us for a post-breakfast stroll along the boardwalk. We took him for a southern jaunt to see tourist boats and the makings of potpourri.

Sanur Beach Boats

How Potpourri is made

I’ll pass over the gajillion pictures I took from my chaise, and skip ahead to:
for lunch, we walked into town with A & B.

Roar!
Rawr!

hey, new villa for rent!
Fancy a villa?

Warung Pregina

My first Kopi Luwak
We lunched at Warung Pregina where I chose the very average Fried Duck Special. Lunch highlight: our first Kopi Luwak. Good, but as worldly Seattle-ites we were simply whelmed by our cups of the supposed most expensive coffee on the planet. B declared the one he ordered in Venice by St. Mark’s was still his priciest ever. (A cup there comes with charges for the band, the seat, and supplemental food.)

I’d like to give a shout-out to Dave Barry, for teaching me cat coffee existed in the first place, way back in ’97. I remember thinking then that this was ridiculous that anyone would ever buy such a thing but in those post-college days, I’d never had coffee before.

Warung Jawa
When I read Lonely Planet’s blurb of the local night market months ago, I knew we’d end up there for dinner. It met all of my hopes — though we were far from the only westerners, there were plenty of locals stopping in for dinner. Some of the dishes we’d been trying in the warungs were easily recognizable here, and ridiculously inexpensive by comparison.

We followed the lead of some locals and picked out some novel offerings, fashioning our own Nasi Campur. Mr. T & I visited Warung Jawa (cart pictured above) for our main meals. After a chat with the affable purveyor, we selected bites from several dishes. These plates were our best meal yet. Our total charge for dinner for two adults: $3.50.

My plate at the night market

Though I knew intellectually that the standard of living here is different, this market is where I began to GET how different Balinese local life is, away from the beachfront. I didn’t grapple with these first thoughts, my place, or how I’d feel about it until tomorrow, when we visited the countryside. Today, I was still in the bubble.

Night Market, Sanur

Night Market, Sanur

The Dessert Cart

On the beach, Sanur

In a break from tradition, I was up for sunrise for the second day in a row. This is so unusual for me that I found myself often referring to the sunrises as sunsets whenever we talked about our mornings.

Double Rainbow!!!!!!!
Double Rainbow!!! Before the westside cloud burn-off.

Our friends, A & B, were set to arrive mid-afternoon. We spent all morning in the sun, moving only to walk into town for lunch.

Green Leaf Organic Warung

We found Green Leaf Organic Warung by happenstance, a restaurant west of our hotel by about a 10 minute walk into Sanur. I went for the Ayam Lalapan (fried chicken!) and guess what Mr. T ordered? Nasi Campur! He’s a loyalist, that one.

Fried Chicken - Ayam Goreng Nasi Campur #3

This meal was spectacularly fresh. Happy and well-fed, we walked back to our hotel to discover our friends had arrived and set up camp on the beach. I ordered celebratory Coconut Juice, with extra limes. Like all the watermelon juice I’ve been ordering for breakfast, this made me feel particularly detoxified. And also very very full. There’s a lot in that coconut.

Coconut Milk!

We put in more beach reading time before another serendipitous find for dinner at Rasa Senang.

Beef Rendang
I would later put in good effort hunting for fantastic Beef Rendang again.

We took a post-prandial stroll to the grocery for aloe vera, lotion, and more SPF 50. Some of us are real white and burned through all our sunscreen in two days. Locals even expressed concern about my SPF strength, in between solicitations for mani/pedis. Their comments strengthened my resolve to try to stay as pale as possible and not be silly and try to tan which NEVER EVER EVER works for me.

I missed sections, as you do, so at the store I bought lotion along with the SPF. The next day I discovered a key ingredient in the English Translation of the lotion was “skin whitening.” This explains why the salesgirl giggled a lot when she escorted me to the register. Girl, I’d giggle too if I was selling that kind of body creme to the whitest lady I’d ever seen. Well, it was soothing lotion anyhow.

I couldn't stop giggling at the notion of an Irish band for tourists in Indonesia
The leprechauns playing were of Indonesian descent. I found this charmingly amusing.

Husband Daycare Center
My husband did not take up my suggestion for him to pose in front of this, even though this venture would be perfect for him. (He does not share my love of foreign grocery shopping.)

More sunrise from my pagoda
The upside to falling asleep before dinner is that if you keep on til morning, you’ll get 14 hours of sleep AND be up in time for the sunrise.

La Taverna's Private Beach at Sanur
We kept today low-key: we stuck around the hotel mostly, but also wandered into townto check out some local food.

Come Sail Away

This sign is as old as film.
Fuji film sign photo by Mr. T

Sanur, Bali, has a 5 km boardwalk. We wandered the southern half on that into town to visit Warung Belanjung (aka Warung Blanjong) for more Nasi Campur (Mr. T’s beloved mixed plate) and Siap Betutu. Siap Betutu is chicken cooked in Balinese spices, wrapped in banana leaves with a side of rice and green beans. Later that evening at the Bonsai Cafe, I tried a similar dish, but this time with fish. Both would be worthwhile recreating at home.

Nasi Campur #2 Siap Betutu

Mostly, we relaxed into our surroundings today. We spent hours on the beach where I skillfully sunburned a single kneecap.

From our lounge chair, to the left

From our lounge chair, to the right

It was a delightfully lazy day.

A Happy Beach Bum

Somewhere over the Bali Sea
We flew into Denpasar on Bali by noon, via Air Asia. I’d never heard of them before this trip and now I can tell you they’re much like a cross between Virgin America in style, with a dash of RyanAir low-cost thrown in. We splurged the extra $5 to reserve in the front section, but passed on any of their meals or shopping deals. I was impressed overall with Air Asia and wouldn’t hesitate to book with them again.

See the world in green and blue

Our hotel, La Taverna, sent us a driver with an air-conditioned SUV. He was a welcome sight after a humid, 30-minute wait in the Visa line. After another half hour drive, we checked in, cranked up our AC immediately to counter the oppressive heat, and made hunting for lunch our first order of priority.

We only made it one more hotel down the boardwalk to Tandjung Sari before realizing it was not within us to trek further. I ordered my first Mie Goreng with Satay. (“Put an Egg On It!” would be my de facto request for the next few days.) He ordered his first Nasi Campur of many of the trip — an Indonesian mixed plate consisting of rice and a variety of other tastes.

Mie Goreng with Satay -- put an egg on it! Nasi Campur #1

And then we both crashed for 14 straight hours.

The Best Airport Idea
27 is my lucky number

For years, I’ve read Singapore’s Changi Airport recommended as designed for long layovers, and today we finally put that advice to the test. We were lucky to have a quick 2-hour connection at Tokyo, but conveniently direct 19-hour routes from Seattle land you in Singapore very early in the AM. As in, 1 AM early with an 8-hour layover before our next leg to Indonesia. This makes for a very long journey, I tell you what.

I followed the great Internet’s advice and reserved ahead at the in-terminal hotel. I didn’t know what to expect. What this place going to be gross? Was my luggage going to be stolen? Was this going to agitate Singapore customs and immigration if we didn’t show up right away to collect our luggage? I was very nervous about the arrangement. We’d have to head directly to the hotel from the gate. No customs, no immigration, no picking up baggage because you can’t re-enter the terminal once past a checkpoint.

I emailed the hotel manager beforehand about the luggage –> Is it safe? Did people do this routinely? I was assured yes. Google backed me up. Mr. T wasn’t too worried about our bags being stolen and reminded me the city-state was famously strict. I wasn’t sure if this would work for or against us.

We gambled for the solid 6 hours of sleep. We arrived on schedule. Lo and behold, our gate was one escalator from the hotel. I’m glad we made a reservation because we watched someone get turned away as we arrived. We whisked through check-in, showered in a private room, and were asleep within 15 minutes. (Bonus: I felt pretty pleased with myself for having remembered to pack fresh sleeping clothes in my carry-on!) It could not have been easier, plus they provided coffee, tea, and TV! Make no mistake, it was no frills and basic. We had a good laugh over the fact that the curtains didn’t actually cover any windows but hey, nice touch! The water was hot, everything was CLEAN, and the bed was better than some you’ll find in certain central European 3-star hotels.

When it was time to answer our wake-up call, we moseyed out to immigration. We found zero lines and zero hassle. Next, we found baggage claim. Our bags were kept safely in a secure area — we showed our boarding passes and baggage tickets to leave with them. This was a detail missing elsewhere on the internet, so I’m sharing that knowledge here.

In minutes, we were on our way to our first Asian breakfast of Laksa and Chicken Rice, before our next ride to Bali!

Above Singapore

Above the Java Sea

Off We Go
This afternoon, we took off for points in Southeast Asia: to Bali, Indonesia, via Tokyo and Singapore. This is somewhere over Puget Sound.

(More to come, after I make it through the first week of jetlag.)

Coastal Connemara
Mr. T and I rented a car from the D4 Sixt, bright and early. For our big weekend plans, we were off to explore the Irish backroads and stay in a castle.

By noon, we’d gone from the metropolitan east coast of Ireland to the rural west. We stopped at Westport, for lunch at a place I imagine is your typical Irish-style diner. I ordered a chilli chicken sandwich (I was going for spice). I don’t really know why I keep doing this in Ireland when I should EMBRACE THE POTATO. Mr. T fared better with this shepherd’s pie thing.

Pony rides!

We found a Fall Festival going in Westport.

Westport pony

After admiring their livestock, we moved right along to the coast. Mr. T’s (Irish) colleague strongly recommended we take the N59 from Westport to Clifden to Ballynahinch. Conveniently, this specific drive is also Rick Steves recommended so we had a handy Kindle guide to provide more context en coastal route. The whole shebang loops you through The Connemara, so you get a scenic drive past lakes and Kylemore Abbey and the bogs and a national park.

The Coffin Ship

Our first stop out of town was the National Famine Memorial, situated near Croagh Patrick. This Croagh (mountain, not pictured) is the site where St. Patrick expelled those snakes which is very near where many Irish left for other lands to escape dire poverty. We took a photo break at the famine ship sculpture before continuing onto the boglands.

Connemara National Park

At Connemara National Park (pictured above), we got out for a brief hike to see what a bog is all about. It is this precious energy resource that looks like it could easily be taken for granted but is now protected from over-development.

I kept asking Mr. T, so is that bog? What about over there? What do you think?

These Sheep Are Taking a Stand, They Will Not Be Herded

We rolled on through the wilderness, past sheep and the coast and lakes and farmland.

Before nightfall, we arrived at our evening’s destination, Ballynahinch Castle, in time for an early meander around the grounds and dinner at a pub.

Pictures on the castle tomorrow.

Haggis Chips
I reached the point I always get to in our travels, where I paid a quality solo visit to a grocery near where we’re staying. The Fresh market I found is bigger than a EuroSpar, but smaller than your average American cousin. Inside, my favorite find today were the Haggis chips from Scotland. Options seemed global in scope, I presume for all of the transplanted tech workers living in the D4.

Hot Dogs in a Can!
The hot dogs in a can sorta freaked me out though.

Tonight, we visited Dublin’s Crackbird out with an old friend — Sasha — and her partner. She’s lead me to all of my favorite Dublin restaurants. This one will be worked into my regular rotation for they specialize in my favorite addiction: fried chicken.

On this evening, they also happened (unexpectedly) to have a DJ…whose mixing made it practically impossible to carry on a dinner conversation but seemed popular with a hipster crowd. I took to calling the joint a Fried Chicken Disco.

Once we polished off our birds, we retired to a quite civilized watering hole, where our ancient ears could recover and we could catch up on life since our last dinner together.

A New Island in the Liffey
Late this afternoon, I met up with a Seattle friend who just relocated to Dublin. We headed over to the Dublin Oktoberfest at St. George’s Dock. They channeled Munich well — the entire festival smelled like sausage and beer and sauerkraut and pretzels.

For the first time this week, the sun broke out from behind clouds as we walked home along the Liffey.

That little island in front of my favorite Dublin bridge (the Samuel Beckett) with the orange tent is an art installation for the 2011 Fringe Festival — No Man’s Land/No Man is an Island. An artist is supposedly living there during the entire Fringe Fest. Later, a cabbie told me the conspiracy was that he had a trap-door to a warm room below. Conspiracy!

"That About the Size of It"
When I signed up for “That About the Size of It” as part of Fringe Fest, I was expecting an entertaining but nerdy 40 minutes of science talk by Niamh Shaw. Actually, I don’t really know what I was anticipating based on this festival sheet, but what I watched was better.

Yes, she started about CERN, the search for the God Particle, atoms, neutrinos, but quickly moved into very autobiographical stories about trying to find her calling, about lives she didn’t pursue and where those paths live on now. We imagined the co-existence with her as she talked, while videos projected behind her of those possible alternate lives, running along at their present courses in a 10th dimension.

It was absorbing and gave me a whole new way of re-imagining my past and present, for the next time I go wandering down those paths of my own.

Another Alley in Temple Bar

One of the things you should know about Dublin is that as a matter of course, it punches well above its weight class with its (frequently free) museums, special libraries, and cultural activities. We are especially lucky to be visiting during September for Dublin’s Festival Season. During our two week visit, there’s the GAA All Ireland Finals, Dublin Fringe Fest, Dublin Theatre Festival, Arthur’s Day, Culture Night 2011, Dublin Contemporary 2011, and even an Oktoberfest on the Liffey. That’s just in the city.

All Things Considered, It's a Nice Place to Start

Today at lunch, I checked out “All Things Considered, It’s a Nice Place to Start”, a play for Dublin’s Fringe Festival. These playwrights wrote letters to 300 strangers, targeted amongst all the counties and social classes, thanking them for the good things they’d done. Then they wrote a play about the response of their attempt to combat a grim climate in a dark time, fighting cynicism with quirky Irish optimism. It was a good hour.

I also made a quick stop at the National Photographic Archive, to check out their “Irish Children through the Ages” exhibit. It’s a small space, and this year, I enjoyed the 10 minute stop more than last year.

For dinner, we discovered Dublin’s Smoked Haddock Fish and Chips, at Leo Burdock’s. We’ll be making a regular place for this in our Dublin restaurant rotation. Does anyone in Seattle make smoked haddock? They should.

We then visited The Longstone Pub, whose backroom reminded me very much of Return to Oz.

A bit Return to Oz, don't you think?

One of the city’s Fringe outdoor art installations was next door — the “I am afraid” wall.

Dublin Fringe: "I am afraid" Wall
I took this photo for the office. The next day, all chalk items were erased except for AdWords

wagamama.ie
I awoke this AM, fearful of a looming cold. My 2nd thought: find pho. Between that and Emergen-C, it is my anti-illness voodoo. The internet turned up zed Vietnamese options in the Dublin metro area, so a Chowhound post suggesting Wagamama‘s chilli chicken ramen was my best bet. I doctored it up with extra chilli. It worked well enough, for I was cured of the cloudy head and my fear.

Tell Me Your Troubles, Darling

I made a quick detour to Boots to stock up on Berocca Boost. Then, I walked all the way home to Grand Canal Quay, looking for changes of the last 18 months.

Graf Eat Tea
New.

Celtic Tiger, Having a Bit of Lie In
Sadly, not new.

Why Go Bald

After dark, Mr. T & I walked over to South Great Georges St to hit up our favorite restaurant in Dublin: L’Gueuleton. Very French and remarkably good — we ate there twice on last year’s visit. The menu’s totally changed (I presume for Fall), but tonight, I had maybe the best french onion soup I’ve ever had.

L'Gueuleton's French Onion Soup and Brown Bread

The Liffey Cuts the City

I awoke as we descended into Ireland. My transcontinental sleep routine had been foiled by flight attendants who left the cabin lights on 2 hours longer than normal, so I wasn’t exactly bright eyed nor bushy-tailed at Customs.

Good Morning, Ireland

We gave awake-ness a fair shot on this blustery (and very Seattle-gray day), starting off at our beloved Junior‘s for brunch, then continuing along the Liffey towards the new Dublin Wheel, near the ferries to England and Wales.

Funny story: while out walking, I spotted a Seattle friend on her Sunday run. She moved here two weeks ago, but I hadn’t yet emailed her I’d arrived. This kind of random thing happens to me, more often than you would expect. It’s a small world.

If nothing else, the potatoes were decent.

Later, after an unintentional 3-hour slumber, we checked out the new Ely at Grand Canal Quay. Skip it if you’re in the hood — it’s not worth going out of your way to visit.

We cut our dinner losses and returned to the hotel for the thrilling Season 2 Premiere of Downtown Abbey! Huzzah! I can’t remember the last time I watched something on the night of broadcast, on its originally intended channel.

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