Tag Archives: Travel

I Still Call Australia Home

10 Oct

We just got back from three weeks in Australia! We were efficiently visiting for two weddings – Julian’s and my cousin Jon’s. Like last time, we used pretty much all our free time to catch up with friends and family (and also gorge ourselves).

Plane Anthropology

On our flight to Melbourne, our section of the plane (the blue Economy Plus area) had hardly anyone in it – behold!

Screenshot_20170904-223549I had optimistically put myself in 21L and James in 22L but had been obsessively monitoring the situation in case of a flood of newcomers to our section – I figured rows 16 (the one we vacated), 17, 18 and 20 would be my canaries in the coal mine, and if I saw those starting to fill up I’d change our seats so James and I were in the same row.

It was pretty interesting to watch people figure out that there were empty rows for the taking, and start to spread out and stake their claim. The first people to catch on were a group of guys in rows 22 and 23 – they separated and took the DEFs in row 20 and 21. The other empty rows were taken maybe 10-20 minutes after we’d sat down, and well before the boarding doors closed. 24DEF was the last to go, and after that it was people just circling around looking for empty rows. I counted eight of us who had the very best situation – an ABC or JKL row to themselves (DEF was less optimal because you didn’t have a wall to lean your back against to stretch your legs out on the seats).

I also thought it was interesting how reluctant people were to move to a row where someone was already sitting. As far as I could tell, almost everyone who started with their own row stayed that way. Everyone technically only had the right to their own seat, but clearly the seat poachers realised how desirable it was to have a row to yourself and didn’t want to be the one to take that away from someone (also a lot of people had defensively moved to the middle seat of their row).

Which brings me to the 17JKL bloc. I was particularly fascinated with it because it was one of the few filled rows. 16JKL was also full but the guy there moved to 16ABC pretty quickly, and the 16s weren’t really that desirable because the seat arms don’t lift up (which was partially why we had moved our seat allocation). But anyway, early on in the boarding process (after the 22/23 guys had spread out but before other rows had been taken) I saw a lady from 17JKL look around and realise that the blue section was likely to have empty seats. She asked a flight attendant if she could move, and I guess the flight attendant told her that after boarding she could take any empty seat, because she stayed put but kept looking around.

Which was a huge mistake, because by the time she started walking around, all the rows had been claimed, and even people who had moved (and had just as little “right” to the row as her – except for the apparently crucial part of being there first) had started to feel territorial about their space. I heard her ask to sit with a single in 17 or 18 ABC, who straight up lied to her face and told her that someone else was sitting there! She got rejected from another row and was roaming around looking for someone who was too nice to say no (from my live email updates to Cat and Ivo: “the unwanted lady just moved seats again to someone else’s row. She was like “can I join you here?” NO! Nobody wants you!!”).

Obviously she had to do it because moving would be a significant upgrade for her, but just as obviously people didn’t want her in their row because it would be a significant downgrade for them. I think she ended up in 18DEF on her third attempt.

The flight took off 30+ minutes late, but watching people tetris around was the most engrossing 30+ minutes I’ve ever spent on a plane. Also I slept nearly the whole way, sat with my legs stretched for the rest, had nobody reclined in front of me, nobody pulling my seat to get up, no lines for the toilet, and had three tray tables/seat backs to organise my stuff – highly recommended!

(I had high hopes for our return flight which was looking similarly empty, but it filled up a couple of days beforehand. So we did the only reasonable thing and upgraded to business. =P)

Catching Up

The whole point of visiting Melbourne is to catch up with family and friends, and we always make the most of it! I love our friends in Seattle and SF, but there’s nothing quite like being around the people we grew up with. We met up with my school friends, James’ school friends, James’ computer science friends, and my cousins.

Being with my cousins reminded me of when we were kids and hung out every weekend (except half of them have kids of their own now!)
IMG_20170928_163922I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but Cat said that she also got teary-eyed looking at that picture. We were so close growing up, and it’s so much fun hanging out with them – we’re only fully assembled every couple of years or so, because of Klene living in Sydney and me in San Francisco.

Last time we visited Melbourne we didn’t see as much of my parents as I would have liked, so this time we had a weekly dinner with them and Cat/Mitch.

It’s funny, because I feel like at times, Cat and mum didn’t always get along that well – Cat used to get exasperated with her easily, and mum would come to me and be like “you tell Cat to do X, because Cat won’t listen to me”. But now Cat writes all these funny, sweet anecdotes about mum on facebook, where apparently “Mama Chen” has quite the following among Cat’s friends – even some of my friends have told me they love the Mama Chen facebook updates!
21768353_10156217380865656_6916487172671501806_n (1)All of James’ high school friends have kids now, and about half of my school friends have kids. Everyone is getting so old! Here we are with James’ uni friends after a brunch catch-up:
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Stuff I Had Totally Forgotten About:

Chicken Salt

The first time we went to get fish and chips (with flake! Not that cod bullshit they have here) and they asked if we wanted regular or chicken salt, James and I were like “OMG how could we have forgotten about chicken salt???”

How is it not a thing here? Possibly for the same reason the US doesn’t have Burger Rings, chicken Twisties and chicken flavoured chips (that aren’t a novelty flavour like chicken and waffles) – Nancy said “people in the US don’t like meat-flavoured chips” (!!!)

But anyway, we brought back three different kinds of chicken salt.

Magpies

I never saw them in Seattle or SF but they’re everywhere in Melbourne. I was walking down the street and heard a magpie sing and was hit with this intense wave of nostalgia. I used to hear that sound all the time, and hearing it again after all those years felt simultaneously foreign and familiar.

Melbourne Food

It is so good, especially the Asian food. James and I reckon the best Asian restaurants we’ve been to in the US would be middle of the pack in Melbourne.

James had his first proper Melbourne coffee and said he’d forgotten how good it is – and also how strong it is! We went out to brunch with Joel, Nancy, Damo, Joan and their kids, and afterwards James said he was really jittery from the coffee – whereas Joel and Nancy made themselves another cup when they got home.

Anyway, here is a random selection of food we ate and took photos of:

My pavlova freakshake at Naughty Boy cafe:
IMG_20170917_095758Sushi platter from Shyun:
IMG_20170923_181953The “Money to Burn” cocktail at Eau de Vie:

20170925_085924-ANIMATIONEau de Vie was really fun – the cocktails were delicious and beautifully presented. We love speakeasies and didn’t realise that they were now a thing in Melbourne. Mitch had a cocktail with some fairy floss and a paper plane:
IMG_20170913_204716 I think this one involved a drink being poured into a glass full of hickory smoke. 00004IMG_00004_BURST20170913212612_COVER
Next time we go back to Melbourne James wants to do Eau de Vie’s food/cocktail tasting menu because he was absolutely in love with the place.

(Also, James fell asleep on the train ride home. It turned out he had actually started to get tired after dinner and before we went on a 20 minute hunt for a speakeasy, and certainly well before we had 3-4 drinks each at said speakeasy – but he said he was having such a good time with Cat and Mitch that he “wanted to keep the party going”).

The “Meat Fruit” at Dinner by Heston:
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Vegemite gyoza at Shizuku Ramen & Craft Beer. You can take the girl out of Australia …
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Zombie VR

Ivo said she wanted to do this, and to be honest at the start I was dubious. I mainly went along with it because I thought it would be fun to hang out with everyone – I could take or leave the VR experience, really. It was at Zero Latency in Melbourne and it ended up being amazing.

They were running a bit late so we could see the people before us. They were wearing their gear – VR set, headphones, motion capture stuff, guns, some sort of computer backpack – yelling at each other, and sort of shuffling around tentatively in this massive warehouse space. I imagine we looked just as goofy when we were doing it.IMG_20170917_205923_1It was really immersive – not just 3D but completely responsive to our actions because of those little motion capture bobble things. I can’t believe there isn’t something like this in SF!

We did the zombie and the space one, of which I think the space one was better. There was some really cool stuff, like where you walked up this torus, and when you looked down you could see your friends still down below you and it felt completely real. And walking across high platforms, hiding behind boxes, dodging baddies … it was really, really cool.

The zombie one was just a straight up shooter experience, which is why it felt a little less interesting. It was still really immersive though, and thus pretty freaky having a zombie running right at you.

Mitch did really well and ended up coming with the third highest score ever. The guy working there was really impressed! They sent us all these cool stats afterwards, like how accurate our shots were, how many points we’d scored, how far we’d moved etc. I thought the funniest stat was that during the space boss battle, all of us moved a pretty consistent distance – from 8-17 meters … except James, who apparently just spent the whole time walking around and had travelled 112 meters! WTF James!

Souvenirs

Generally stuff is way cheaper in the US so we tend not to buy too much stuff when we visit Australia. James usually replenishes his supply of Bonds undies, and I pick up some clothes, but this time we decided to go all-in on Aussie snacks:
IMG_20171001_174837Things James missed the most: banana lollies, wizz fizz and musk sticks

Things I missed the most: chicken Twisties, Burger Rings, honeycomb chocolate, noodles

You can’t really tell in the photo but there’s a couple of boxes of Wei Lih noodles that the Pringles and chicken salt are sitting on. They’re sooo much better than any other instant noodle I’ve had and I can’t find them in the US. They were $23 for a pack of five on eBay – outrageous!

James and I taped two boxes together and checked them as luggage, and they survived the trip really well. And it was only a little bit embarrassing collecting them from the carousel and carrying them through the airport. Cat reckons I’d be able to tape four boxes next time – I think definitely three, but I’m not sure if four would exceed the allowed luggage dimensions.

I also bought some sneakers from Country Road (I’m having mild regrets on that one – they look cool but they’re made of fucking neoprene and make my feet sweaty) and this awesome croissant rain coat from Gorman that I will never, ever regret:

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image from Gorman

Every time we visit, we’re surprised at how much cooler Melbourne is than we remember, and how our friends are just as wonderful as we remember. And we sort of get stars in our eyes and think about moving back even though it doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes we just miss being around people who sound like us, you know?

But anyway, we’ll be back next year for Cat’s wedding!

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New York – Again!

15 Aug

Cat and Mitch were visiting NYC and James was able to time one of his work trips so we’d be there at the same time. Then Brian joined us from Atlanta on the weekend, so it was a big week!
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AirBNB Disaster

We usually get a hotel but went with AirBNB this time – but when James called the host to let him know we were on our way he didn’t answer. So for the next couple of hours James was on hold with three different AirBNB customer service reps trying to figure out what to do. Apparently they couldn’t get a hold of the host or their emergency manager, who was the person that could authorise James to get a hotel room. Eventually James got fed up and told them it was unreasonable of them to expect us to sit around until they figured their shit out, so we were going to get a hotel and they were going to pay for it.

Easier said than done – we tried four hotels in the area and they were all fully booked. Panic was definitely settling in as we wandered the streets of NY at 1am with our luggage, frantically looking up different hotels on our phones.

Finally the host called and said he’d fallen asleep. We were pretty angry but mainly just relieved that we’d have somewhere to stay that night.

The next day AirBNB called James (while he was in a meeting), apologised, and said they hoped last night hadn’t soured him on AirBNB. They offered him $100 credit, and James got them to give it to him as cash.

So yeah, that was incredibly shitty. When I told Brian and James told his NY colleagues what had happened, we found out they all didn’t use AirBNB anymore because they’d had similar experiences.

The Great Comet

Every time we go to NY we like to see a Broadway show. This time we saw The Great Comet – and it was a good thing we did because it’s closing in early September. The set is absolutely spectacular:

IMG_20170801_185734-PANOI loved the interactiveness of the show. The story was kind of weak, but I liked several of the songs and it was a great experience.

Afterwards we had dinner at 2nd City and it was fucking amazing.

Dear Irving, Momofuku and Pouring Ribbons

On Wednesday James had work drinks at Dear Irving and then we headed to Momofuku Noodle Bar. It was delicious (though James preferred the pork buns from 2nd City) and we got in just before the main rush so didn’t have to wait at all.

We ate lots of food – ramen, buns, lychee slushies, ginger scallion noodles – and took lots of photos but this one of the bo ssam is the only one that turned out.
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Afterwards we walked to a speakeasy called Pouring Ribbons. They change their menu regularly, all of it based around a central theme. This time it was Revolutionary Artists (James said he can’t remember what it was last time he went – “maybe movies or something”)

James ordered an Andy Warhol and it came in a sealed glass Coke bottle. And this was his Cai Guo-Qiang (an artist who is apparently famous for using gunpowder and fireworks in his art):

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Google Tour and Various Bars

On Thursday James gave Cat and Mitch a tour of the office and then we had a Google lunch. For dinner James went to Nomad Bar, where it was way too loud and crowded but James said the burger was the best he’s ever had. Then we met up with Cat and Mitch at Raine’s Law Room afterwards.

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photo stolen from Cat

Now that James and I are old we can’t stand loud bars so we pretty much exclusively go to speakeasies. We went to Angel’s Share with Brian and it was so lovely, quiet and uncrowded, and the drinks were also wonderful.

I also discovered that I only really like going to NY bars on weeknights. This trip was our first experience with Friday/Saturday night and it’s such a huge difference when we’re used to short (or no) waits for the best bars in the city.

Central Park and Sleep No More

On Saturday morning we had brunch and then cycled around Central Park. OMG it is so much easier than cycling around San Francisco!

Here are James and Brian at Belvedere Castle inside the park – so majestic!
IMG_20170805_150124 And the view from the castle. IMG_20170805_150229Earlier that week it had been really hot and humid, so we got  lucky that it was such a nice day for cycling.

In the evening we went to Sleep No More, which we were looking forward to because we had such a great experience last time. Unfortunately this time was a complete bust – I hadn’t realised how different it is now. They pack in the crowds and it’s gone from being really intimate and intense to being part of a huge mob that chases the performers around.

The first Sleep No More was one of my favourite memories of NYC but our second time was really disappointing. =( I was so pissed that I stayed up late writing an angry Yelp review lol.

We should have taken the money and gone to a Broadway show or a really nice dinner. But here, have some cool street art that we saw on our walk to Sleep No More:
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Bagels, One World Observatory and Dead Rabbit

Brian wanted a bagel on our last day in NYC so we went to Russ & Daughters. We got there around midday and it was pretty busy, which seemed like a good sign.
IMG_20170806_125719 Inside it was really crowded at the door but much roomier at the back of the store. We took a number and waited maybe 20 minutes. It would have been shorter except there was one guy making a monster order – like 50+ bagels!IMG_20170806_124429Brian and James weren’t super wowed by their bagels but mine (plain bagel, caviar cream cheese and western salmon) was awesome – much better than the Murray’s bagel I had last trip.
IMG_20170806_130356Then we headed to the One World Observatory, which is the tallest building in the Western hemisphere and had amazing 360 degree views of the city. Of course we took a billion selfies.IMG_20170806_141126

At the base of the windows they had these cool cityscape silhouettes (Statue of Liberty in the background):
IMG_20170806_143740 I’m super intrigued by this photo. What am I pointing at? Is it the reason I’m making that distressed face?IMG_20170806_140749Afterwards we wandered to the NY Stock Exchange and then had drinks at Dead Rabbit before it was time to head to the airport.

We sprung for first class on the flight back because at the time of booking economy was so expensive that first was only $200 more. We normally fly economy (or, as our Hungarian friends call it, “chicken class”) so it was pretty cool, though kind of unnecessarily fancy – they give you a little tablecloth for your tray table!

Here was the dinner menu (we both got the lamb):
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We also got a little amenity kit and a constant stream of very weak Moscow Mules. The pillow and blanket were also significantly upgraded from economy (which sounds like faint praise but when I saw James unwrap his blanket I made an “oooOOOoooh!” sound).

James really liked the extra room and has decided all of his future work flights will be in first.

When we got home we felt super sluggish cos we’d been eating out and going to bars all week. Like I said earlier, we are super old now and no longer spring back from a week of gluttony. But it’s still totally worth it for special occasions, like seeing Brian and entertaining Cat and Mitch. =)

2 Days at Universal and Harry Potter World

16 Jun

OK so our next stop was Universal!

In an auspicious start to this part of our holiday, James made a special friend in our hotel elevator on the first night.IMG_20170503_190151 (1)We stayed at one of the Universal hotels, which came with express passes and early entry for both days. Highly recommended!

The main reason we were excited for early entry was because of Harry Potter world. Brian said that last time he went to Universal with his family he couldn’t even get in – they’d stopped letting people into Harry Potter world because it was too crowded.

And it was amazing. So immersive and detailed – James doesn’t even like Harry Potter and even he had a great time wandering around experiencing everything.

Like Hogwarts!
IMG_20170505_065831 In the background you can see one of the Universal employees – she was walking up to offer to take the photo for us, which was super nice. =) And here it is!IMG_20170505_065848We went on the Hogwarts ride once on the first day and once on the second day – we pretty much walked straight through both times, so didn’t get a chance to take many photos inside.

There was a greenhouse, a couple of rooms with talking/moving portraits, the sorting hat, a giant dining room with a dragon skeleton, and probably a bunch of stuff that I’m forgetting now. The lead-up to the ride was better than the ride itself IMO.IMG_20170505_070217Then outside the castle there was Hogsmeade.
IMG_20170505_065716 You could visit Honeydukes! IMG_20170505_073002We also tried butterbeer, which was delicious. Protip: the frozen butterbeer is much better than the regular.

James and I got a photo with the Hogwarts train conductor.
IMG_20170504_093913Here we are waiting for the train to take us to Diagon Alley (some of us were more excited than others).00012IMG_00012_BURST20170504100657And inside the train:
IMG_20170504_100945In the other park you could visit places like Gringotts bank, the Knight Bus (with a shrunken head that had a conversation with us), that joke shop that the Weasley brothers started, and that hardcore forbidden alley that only bad wizards went to.

You may or may not be able to tell that I have only a passing recollection of the books.

Here James is on the bus:
IMG_20170505_081943_1And this was a money exchange where you could buy wizard currency and talk to a goblin: IMG_20170505_082521The coolest (or at least the most photogenic) attraction was the dragon that sits on top of the Gringotts bank. Every so often it would roar and shoot flames out of its mouth.
IMG_20170505_082754Apparently I missed the memo that we were going to be making stupid faces. thought we were taking a nice group picture.
IMG_20170504_102017There were lots of little stores where you could buy souvenirs, but set up like they were actual stores in the Harry Potter universe. Even for non-fans it’s great, so for actual fans it must be mind-blowing.

I enjoyed Universal a lot more than I thought I would! It did lean heavily on the “wear 3D glasses while you sit in a vehicle” type of ride that I’m not all that keen on, but there were lots of other fun rides to make up for it.
IMG_20170504_150515(That one was actually not as bad as it looked!)

We also really liked the Simpsons part of Universal. You could eat at Krusty Burger and drink Duff beer at Moe’s Tavern. The guys said that the Duff beer was quite terrible, but they still drank it for the experience.
IMG_20170504_182328A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.
IMG_20170504_182513Universal was definitely a lot more relaxed than Disney. We had express passes for everything, so (aside from Harry Potter world) we didn’t have to be strategic about when we went on rides, and there were way fewer crowds.

So yeah, that was our holiday! It was great seeing Brian again – some of the best times we had that week were at dinner, just laughing and drinking and catching up. We’re going to try and figure out another group trip later this year (only with Matt added because we all miss Matt).

And then … the Five Horsemen shall ride again!

A Visit to Google NYC

15 Dec

James has to go to New York several times a year for work and sometimes I decide to tag along because we both love the city.
IMG_20160713_135543Though I love it a lot less now I know how humid it gets in summer. I’m not sure if New York is particularly disgusting when it’s hot or if living in Seattle and San Francisco has spoiled us. Probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

But yeah, James worked during the day, and in the evenings we did fun touristy things like …

Book of Mormon!
IMG_20160714_184320We got pizza afterwards. =) The top one had pepperoni and honey and it was delicious.
IMG_20160714_220500On one of James’ travel days we visited the Museum of Natural History. The insanely massive Megalodon was my favourite – it was so big its head was peeking out of the room.
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The t-rex was also cool.
IMG_20160715_103154But the main reason I joined James this trip was because I’d managed to get dinner reservations to Eleven Madison Park!

Here are our pre-dinner cocktails:
IMG_20160713_174615The food (and wine matching – with frequent refills!) was wonderful. These were our appetisers – the boxes were handmade and arrived stacked on top of each other.
IMG_20160713_175313When stacked, they looked like the chandeliers above us. =)
IMG_20160713_201044I am such a sucker for fancy butter – I just spoon it into my mouth like ice cream. The bread was also amazing and they kept offering me more and I kept taking it.
IMG_20160713_181022This one was really fun. A picnic basket was delivered to our table with little jars of condiments. (The drink was the only dud of the night. I thought it was cider but it was some sort of gross tomato flavoured thing)
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Fast forward to the end, and this was part of our dessert being made:
IMG_20160713_202649The second part was a chocolate game (apparently dessert used to involve a magic trick so I was a little bit bummed … until I saw how much chocolate they gave us!)

There were four bars of chocolate and we had to guess which was which out of coffee, smoke, maple syrup and chilli.
IMG_20160713_204922James and I guessed identically … identically wrong. We only got one out of the four correct. =(

We couldn’t finish that much chocolate so we asked for a little bag for the leftovers and they were like “oh we’ll give you a fresh set!” (We ended up taking that extra set AND our chocolate leftovers – because duh).

Afterwards we went to a swanky bar with James’ coworkers and made them play the chocolate game while we all drank cocktails. It was an awesome night. =)

James also gave me a tour of the Google NY campus. He always talks about how much cooler it is than Mountain View, and how it must be so disappointing for the NY employees whenever they visit HQ.IMG_20160715_151912The building is opposite the Chelsea Market and basically takes up a whole city block:
IMG_20160713_140539There was a cool lego room where people could make and store their own lego projects:
IMG_20160714_123900And a project display wall and a weird ladder that only Google employees were allowed to climb:
IMG_20160714_123927Someone made a replica of the Google building:
IMG_20160714_124041The area also had a lego-themed micro kitchen:
IMG_20160714_124238 With brain food.IMG_20160714_124224James really liked the temporary work spaces at the New York office. He said he normally goes to a high floor and sits somewhere with a nice view of the city but he was also fond of these impressively orange honeycombs:
IMG_20160715_160841We also found a couple of trams:
IMG_20160714_124726James was super jealous that the New York office has Killer Queen. It’s an awesome 10 player arcade game that our friends introduced us to. There’s one at Brewcade in San Francisco … but it’s not free like this one! There were a couple of guys playing while we were there so our group joined in and we had a mini battle (we won, primarily because of James’ queenly skills).
IMG_20160714_130741And this is the bouldering wall. There’s also one in Mountain View but it’s so far away that James never bothers going.
IMG_20160715_162136(Oh, and you know how you travel on bikes around the Mountain View campus? In the New York building you get little kick scooters to ride around on)

Here’s James and his team on one of the decks. It was so hot and humid that we all sought shelter inside as soon as I took the photo.
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The New York campus has a lot of cool food options – they bring in a lot of guest chefs to cook for the employees. I saw David Chang (of Momofuku fame) featured on their wall of fame. =O

This was a food truck that was inside the building, though it was closed when we toured it at the end of the day.
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Above the Chelsea Market there’s a Google cafeteria decorated like a cool loft.
IMG_20160714_133046 We ate upstairs in one of the meeting rooms. I really liked the fancy animal portraits. =)IMG_20160714_133819We did a bunch of other stuff – saw Then She Fell (an interactive play like Sleep No More), ate and drank a lot, and I did some shopping while James worked. Did you know New York has no sales tax on clothing that costs less than $110? That was a pleasant surprise. =D

Cat and Mitch are planning to visit New York next year so hopefully we can time a trip to coincide with that (although ugh, it will be in summer again).

So it looks like there will be a lot of trips to NYC in our future! (Though I hope it’s not like how we visited San Francisco a lot while we lived in Seattle and then ended up moving there and thinking … well that was a waste)

Bye NYC! See you soon!
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Indonesia: Adventure Tour of the Komodo Islands

18 Aug

James really wanted to see the Komodo dragons while we were in Indonesia. There are heaps of tour companies offering multi-day trips but we ended up going with FloresXP because they seemed like a decent compromise between the overcrowded budget tours and the $10,000 luxury tours. The owner Max was great to communicate with, the website was easy to navigate, group sizes were small (ours was 6 people), and the reviews were great.

The sleeping quarters were pretty basic. This photo was taken before they put sheets on the mattresses, but you get the idea – we were all sleeping in the same room together.
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And the combined shower/toilet room was a little offputting. Think of those teeny tiny powder rooms with a toilet. You had to manually flush the toilet by pouring water in (there was a tub of water with a scoop floating inside), and the toilet paper was disposed of in a bin. There was a handheld shower at the opposite end and when you wanted hot water you had to let the captain know so he could run the generator. The toilet was so close to the shower I was worried it would splash all over but the water pressure was so low that it wasn’t a problem if you were careful.

I’m not going to lie – I was bloody worried. This is not the Diary of a Deprived Housewife. But wow, was it worth it! The trip was packed with trekking and snorkeling, and the physical exertion and crazy natural beauty made for a memorable four days.

Day 1

We were picked up from our hotel and taken to the boat. The crew introduced themselves, explained the itinerary and boat rules, then we headed to Rinca Island to check out the Komodo dragons.

A pod of dolphins escorted us part of the way. Awesome.

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photo from Justin

We went to the park office to pay the fees allowing us to trek and snorkel the national park that day. This was easily the most unpleasant part of the trip (yes, I’m including using the marine toilet).

The fees are ridiculously high but hey, whatever, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, they need the money and rich foreigners can afford it. But it was insult to injury that if you didn’t have exact change the staff (the fat old guys in the office – not the young guides working outside) would keep the extra for themselves – they called it a “tip”. Ugh. I think it’s just one of those things that’s really annoying but you have to learn to let it go because ultimately it’s a few dollars and just what happens to tourists. =/

The Komodo dragons mainly lazed around the office so you didn’t need to walk far to see them.

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photo from Justin

We also did a light hike (maybe 45 minutes?) around part of the island where they showed us some dragon nests. It was soo hot – no wonder the Komodo dragons just lie around all day.
IMG_20160521_125506We had lunch and did some snorkeling afterwards to search for manta rays but no dice. =(

We couldn’t linger too long because we had to go to Padar Island for a hike to see the sun set. Here we are at the top:

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photo from Ciara

Our group was James, me, Ben, Ciara and Justin. We are missing one member because even though he was a strong hiker he didn’t like the height and the tiny ridges we had to walk to get up there. He missed this gorgeous view.

Padar Sunset II

photo from Ben

It was actually a pretty short hike distance-wise but it was very uphill – remember we started at sea level! Going up was fine – just a matter of cardio and leg strength – but going down steep hills in the dark was pretty dicey and I kept skidding on the dirt/gravel and making our poor guide very nervous. But I made it back to the boat in one piece and we had dinner before showering and going to bed.

Day 2

I didn’t realise this at the time, but we had signed up for the 4 hour adventure trek on Komodo Island (in hindsight it’s obvious – it’s the name of the tour!). There were no bullshit “tips” to the office staff this time but the fees were doubled because it was a Sunday so we were all a bit unthrilled with that. =/

Like with Rinca Island we saw a lot of Komodo dragons at the start, but we were also fortunate enough to see some more about 30 minutes into our hike. We asked the guide how he could tell the males and females apart and he said that the females were smaller and had “a more beautiful shaped head”. So I think this one was female?

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photo from Justin

I checked the weather and it was 33C but apparently because of the humidity it “felt like” 45C which sounds about right. It was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done. We didn’t have enough water – maybe 1 litre each – and had all pretty much run out before the halfway mark. I actually left my second water bottle on the boat because like I said earlier, I hadn’t realised we were going out for 4 hours!

I think the head guide told us that the distance was 10km and we went up about 200 meters (it’s been awhile so I might have that elevation wrong). We were all in reasonable shape but humidity makes weaklings of us all.

Check out James’ intense torso sweat:IMG_20160522_110754(I was no better. I looked like I’d been swimming in a pool.)

This next photo was about the halfway point – lots of downhill to go. The sweat has reached the crotch but James still has some pep left in him:
IMG_20160522_110345Our two guides were machines – they barely broke a sweat, shared their water with us, plus after we reached the boat pickup point they had to turn around and do the hike again in reverse. We all did the super American thing and tipped them heavily because they deserved it way more than those desk guys did.

It sounds weird, but the experience of pushing through the dehydration, tiredness and humidity was one of my favourite parts of the trip. Or maybe my favourite part was getting back to the boat and drinking my bodyweight in water.

After lunch we set off to Batu Bolong for some snorkeling. James and I were still exhausted from the hike and almost decided to just stay on the boat, but the crew told us we’d be missing out if we didn’t.
underwaterWhoa.

From the surface it looked like nothing special – just a giant rock in the middle of the ocean – but underneath it was a watery paradise! There were so many species of fish and all this gorgeous colourful coral. I also saw some eels and a turtle.

I think it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Every direction we turned it was unbelievably gorgeous; we were giddy swimming around just staring at everything.
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This black brainy thing in the bottom right was one of my favourite things. I don’t know what it was (I found it in the marine life guide afterwards but it’s slipping my mind now). You can’t really tell from the picture but in real life it was glowing like crazy and just so, so pretty.
prettyseaurchin2So yeah, that was pretty amazing! I can’t remember what we did afterwards – I think we might have gone somewhere else to snorkel and then we docked at Gili Lawa for some swimming while the crew prepared dinner.

Day 3

We woke up early in the morning for a hike on Gili Lawa to see the sunrise. It was nonstop steep uphill, but because the sun hadn’t risen it was a cakewalk compared to the day before.
IMG_20160523_060115Steep gravelly path – my downhill nemesis!

Again we were treated to gorgeous views where you felt like you were on top of the world. IMG_20160523_061242In the photo below you can see the sun rising on the left at the same time as the moon setting on the right. I think it’s kind of cool that James is lit from the sun and I’m still kind of in shadow.
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I felt simultaneously wholesome for hiking before breakfast but kind of gross from the dirt and sweat.

After breakfast we went on another search for manta rays. The captain went looking for one of their feeding channels so we could see a lot of mantas without expending too much effort. And this time we hit jackpot!

You might remember we saw some manta rays in Hawaii and I fucked up with the GoPro and didn’t have the camera running. This time I wasn’t taking any chances and gave the GoPro to James. Afterwards he was super excited and was like “I got some awesome footage!”

I couldn’t believe how close they got to us – pretty much within touching distance.

Here is a manta ray, a whole bunch of fish, and even a jellyfish. We got stung a couple of times by jellyfish in the water but it wasn’t too bad. Totally worth it to see the mantas!
mantafishandjellyAfterwards it was time for lunch and then snorkeling at Sebayur Island. It was this protected little area with really calm water.

There was a lot of cool stuff to see – lots of fish (including a barramundi!), sea cucumbers, coral, a couple of eels, an octopus, and a cool blue starfish.
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I got separated from James and started following a trigger fish around. I must have gotten too close to its … I want to say … nest? – do fish have nests? Anyway, I got too close to where it didn’t want me, so it full on attacked. (FYI: mute the video if you don’t want to hear a LOT of shrieking)


What a mean fish.

(Also I showed this video to James and he laughed and laughed. James, you are no better than that dickhead fish.)

No wait, he’s OK. Here he is getting revenge for me. It’s probably not the same one, but it’ll pass on the message.

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After all the excitement at Sebayur it was time to head to a pirate island to spend the night on land. On the way we saw more manta rays and some flying fish.

The island had a separate shower and toilet – luxury. And a hammock!
IMG_20160523_173054These were the sleeping cabins which all had ocean views. The building on the right was the kitchen and communal eating area.IMG_20160523_173511The hills behind the camp had goats. Goats! (I don’t know why that excited me so much since we’d probably seen hundreds of mantas that day)

We were climbing before dinner and heard some bleating which we all thought was one of the other group members. So we kept bleating at each other until we figured out we were actually having a conversation with the hill goats.

And this is where we watched the sun set.
IMG_20160523_173534James getting some meditation in before dinner (also you can see our boat in the background!)
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Surprisingly, sleeping in the cabin was less comfortable than sleeping on the boat – it was much hotter (it took me forever to get to sleep) and I missed the ocean breeze. But still, it was still a fun experience and a nice way to end the day.

Day 4

The next morning we did some more snorkeling and saw some more manta rays. They are so chill and graceful in the water – I could spend all day watching them! In the video below there was just one manta to begin with but he lead us to a big group.

Then it was time for lunch and off to Mawan Island for some free time. Look how gorgeous and secluded it was! We were the only ones there the whole time.
IMG_20160524_130614Ben was off scuba diving and the others were resting on the boat which was their loss because I saw a freaking shark. It was just a little one, but still really cool.

We spent the next hour or so relaxing and exploring the beach. James is wearing Justin’s spare pair of bathers because he left his on pirate island. =(
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Also at the top of my leg where it meets my bikini you can kind of see my original skin colour to get an idea of how dark I got! The backs of my legs were another few shades darker than the front since that was where the sun hit the most while I was swimming.

It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo but the wet sand has a slightly pink hue from the mix of the white and red coral. If you grabbed a handful of it you could see the individual flecks of red that gave it the pinkish tint.

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photo from Nicola

After our beach time we visited Rinca village and did another short (but so hot and so humid) hike to visit a bat cave. Then it was time for our Komodo adventure to come to an end. =( We sat on the roof of the boat in the dark, watching the stars and and flying foxes as we headed back to Labuan Bajo.

So yeah, it was a pretty intense few days. I’m pretty sure we stank at the end of it. I’m definitely not used to the humidity and lack of mod cons, but the FloresXP crew took such wonderful care of us that the boat felt a lot more luxurious than it actually was. I can’t believe how much amazing stuff we got to see in just a few days and what a beautiful world we live in.

Indonesia: Bali & Ubud

3 Aug

To kick our holiday off in style, James and I splurged on a business class flight from Melbourne to Bali. It was only a few hundred dollars more expensive than economy, and totally worth it.
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You can’t really tell from the photo but the chairs fully reclined (which we took advantage of later on for super comfortable naps).

When we arrived we were not prepared for the horrible humidity – it was like being inside someone’s warm, wet mouth. We’ve been spoiled by the temperate climate in Seattle and San Francisco and anything outside of that has us flailing around in a panic. In every photo you see, just picture me quietly dying from the humidity.

We got to catch up with all our friends which was great. =) My favourite activity (“activity”) by far was getting spa treatments. They were so cheap – something like $15 for 2 hour scrub/massage treatments. Massages every day – living the dream.

There was a restaurant down the street that we quite liked, so went there a couple of times for Balinese feasts.
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They also had these lemon iced teas that were so refreshing. James said he didn’t like the drinks in Indonesia because they were too sweet, which probably explains why I liked them so much.

We also had suckling pig! It was delicious but enormous (you had to reserve the whole pig in advance rather than ordering a la carte). We had to gather a giant group to eat the pig together and we only just managed it. I think it was pretty much my favourite meal in Indonesia; good food, good friends – what’s not to love?
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The day of the wedding was a bit of a worry because it was bucketing down in the morning. Thankfully it cleared up and the humidity even dropped down a bit for a gorgeous ceremony. =)

Afterwards while family photos were being taken, we all nicked off to explore the beach and take our own fun photos and pre-game before dinner.
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The reception was lovely – right by the beach! We ate, drank, danced and sang lots of karaoke.

The next day Chi Kai had organised a group tour of Ubud, which was super thoughtful of him. We all piled into a van that drove us to all the tourist attractions, including …

Monkey Forest

Admittedly touristy trappy, but it was quite nice walking around the shaded forest looking at monkeys. This one kept trying to groom her kid, who was not having any of it and kept trying to run off.IMG_20160519_131058_1 Ubud Market

I think only the girls ended up buying stuff here! Madeleine picked up some singlets, Quincy bought a handheld fan (smart), and I picked up a metallic saarong. I bargained it down from ~$20 to under $4, which I’m sure means I still got ripped off, but it’s $4 – how much cheaper could it possibly have gotten?IMG_20160803_125953Tegalalang Rice Terrace

We just stopped briefly here for photos.
IMG_20160519_125532We also had lunch overlooking a volcano which was pretty cool.

Kopi Luwak Plantation

The next stop was a coffee plantation to check out kopi luwak, where the beans are harvested from civet poo. That stuff sells for like, $30 a cup in the US, so $5 is a comparative bargain.

They gave us a brief tour and showed us the harvesting and roasting process. Here James is, roasting some beans and earning his keep.IMG_20160519_152737

They also had generous samples of other teas and coffees for free. They were very sweet though, so James didn’t really enjoy them.IMG_20160519_153736And as for the super expensive kopi luwak …

Bleh.

I thought it was super sour and was not a fan at all (though I don’t like regular coffee so I am a poor judge). James didn’t really like it either, but he thought maybe it was how they prepared it so he bought some beans to take home and experiment with.

We also went to see a temple and finished the long day with a seafood dinner at Jimbaran Beach. You’re really paying for the ambiance, but seafood on the beach is pretty cool.IMG_20160519_194539The next day I went for one last massage while James packed (I know, what a sweetheart). After the previous day driving around in a van it was heavenly and it felt like she worked out every knot in my body. Here is a dramatic reenactment:

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We said goodbye to our friends and took a flight to Labuan Bajo, ready to begin our Komodo Island adventure. As an aside, I am sooo daunted at the prospect of sorting through my Komodo Island videos photos. We had 4 days and 3 nights of gorgeous hikes, snorkeling and wildlife – it is definitely going to be a media-heavy post and I’m scared I won’t do justice to how utterly gorgeous everything was!

A Visit Back to Melbourne

18 Jul

Since we were going to Indonesia for Chi Kai and Quincy’s wedding it was convenient to add a trip back home instead of making a separate one in December. And now I know that off-season is the way to go – as fun as it is to spend Christmas with our families, for nearly twice the price it does seem like shockingly poor travel value.

We caught up with family and friends every day which was awesome. Klene and Ray even came down from Sydney so we could have a full cousin reunion. I always forget how much fun I have hanging out with them.

Cousins united! =D
received_10154265961935086 (1)Another important part to being in Melbourne was eating all the food we’d been craving (flake! Dainty Sichuan eggplant! Nhu Lan banh mi for me! Melbourne coffee for James! Rose Garden chicken ribs!)

Oh! Rose Garden now has outdoor seating! They still do brisk business even outside of traditional eating hours, which is always a great sign. My expectations were super high – we didn’t get a chance to go last time we visited, so that’s four years I’d gone without and I’d been freaking vibrating with excitement.

And oh, they were perfect. The crunchy/shattery batter, the moist chicken, the salty/spicy/little bit sweet combo, that amazing chicken (duck?) juice broth that they drench the rice with, and even the stingy broccoli florets (aka the polite fiction that I’m eating a balanced meal). After every bite I’d swoon with mouth-happiness but then be a little bit sad because I lack regular access to Rose Garden chicken ribs. And then I’d take another bite. It was a meal full of conflicting emotions.IMG_20160514_112046 (1)

James had some Seven Seeds coffee and was intensely disappointed. He said the coffee was really shit compared to what he remembered, so at least he was spared my rollercoaster of emotions. He said he had excellent coffee elsewhere though, so maybe the barrista was bad or that location has gone downhill. Next time we visit we’ll probably make a pitstop just to confirm.

We walked around our old area checking out what had and hadn’t changed. The CBD is fantastic and James and I agree we didn’t appreciate it nearly enough while we were here. It’s so dense and full of restaurants and shops; more so than anywhere in SF.

And in other news my mum is a beekeeper now!
IMG_20160508_135830 (1)Mum and dad have been harvesting lots of fruit and veggies from the garden and mum has been harassing Cat to give her some of her chickens. Mum has a coop ready and everything, but Cat is understandably attached to her chickens.

I’m trying to think of what else there is to report on from our trip. Shopping was pretty good because of the exchange rate. Lululemon is even cheaper than it is in the US, and James stocked up on his favourite Bonds undies.

We missed out on a couple of things that would have been nice – Vic Market donuts and boreks, Beatrix in North Melbourne, seeing Pat, etc. I imagine once we’ve come back a few more times we’ll have a set routine of people to see, food to eat and things to buy. But after a week and a half in Melbourne it was time to move on to the next part of our holiday … Indonesia!