Tag Archives: Travel

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.
jamesfish2
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.
starfishjames
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!

 

Finally! Mammoth Snow!

29 Jan

Last year we went snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain for the first time and conditions were pretty dire (though we still had fun).

Thankfully this year has been much better! The first few days of our trip were OK, but being between Christmas and New Years, were busier than I like. I am snow-curmudgeonly like Chuck – I only like to go on weekdays.

But then the storm hit! I think Mammoth got something like 3-4 feet of snow in as many days. It was cold, windy, and amazing – because everybody left. I’d board down without seeing a single other person, and it was snowing so hard that by the time back up to the top all my tracks had filled in.IMG_20160105_115338I think I took this photo on Day 2 of the storm and you can kind of see how heavily the snow is coming down. James is resentfully plodding through the snow because we had to unstrap to get to Chair 12 and it was really, really not worth skating there.

Cheer up Jamesy; it’s not so bad.
IMG_20160105_115326On an unrelated note, later that week he switched to skis.

Mike also joined us in Mammoth for a couple of days. On one of the days we were boarding together I was seduced by some pristine tree snow and was stuck for like … 20 minutes. I kept thinking I could rescue it without unstrapping, but finally just had to dig myself out and walk.
IMG_20160106_105207(When I took that photo I sent it to James. And he messaged back and was like “are you stuck? :(” Because he knows me. He knows I wouldn’t unstrap unless I had to)

Anyway, by that time Mike and I had gotten hopelessly split up so he went on without me and called it early. It was a shame though, because the second half of the day got so much better! Conditions got colder and windier and again, everyone went home! It was amazing having so much snow to (almost) myself. I kept telling myself just one more run, but giving in and going again.

The day after the storm was beautiful and clear. James headed out with me and I showed him some of the fun runs I’d found.
IMG_20160107_094657This was a comparatively tracked out bit but I don’t have a lot of action shots of James so I’m sticking with it!

They opened the backside and it was freaking glorious – about 3 storm days worth of untouched snow. There were huge lines at the gondola to get there, but it was worth it.
IMG_20160107_111002Each of those channels is at least knee height and you’d glide through them like butter. The steep terrain was easy – it was the flats where I had to worry because the couple of times I got stuck it was a bloody ordeal to get out.

So pretty! The trees looked like coral.
IMG_20160107_111844That yellow sign in the distance is a cliff warning. Welp, will be giving that a wide berth!
IMG_20160107_125052We were in Mammoth for 13 days and I boarded 11 of them. I was so exhausted by the end – both my feet had blisters and my legs were just not working anymore. I’m glad the storm was more towards the start of the trip. It played havoc with our inbound flights, but if I could time every trip for a storm I would be a very happy snow bunny!

Heading home. Going to miss that gorgeous view.
IMG_20160110_163336

A Slight Detour On Our Way to Australia

15 Dec

Our flight from San Francisco to Sydney made the news! We were supposed to arrive in Sydney around 10:30am but actually touched down some time around 6:30pm.

About half an hour before we were due to land, the pilot made an announcement saying that there was only one runway open due to debris. He said that there was a backlog of planes trying to land and the earliest they could slot us in was 50 minutes from the originally scheduled landing but that the plane didn’t have enough fuel to keep circling. So he diverted us to Canberra to refuel. James and I figured it would be tight, but we would still have enough time to make our two hour connection.

Nope.

We all sat there for an hour, and then another hour before they told us what was going on. Occasionally we’d get these stressed-sounding updates that they were trying to figure everything out and they would let us know what was going on as soon as possible.
IMG_5047It turned out that the pilots and flight crew had exceeded the hours they were legally allowed to work so the airline would have to bring in additional crew. But they were all in Sydney so they would have to be flown into Canberra so their ETA was in 5 hours. And we weren’t allowed out of the (increasingly hot and stuffy) plane because we hadn’t been processed by customs. And the airport didn’t have enough staff on hand to process us so we’d just have to sit and wait until the government decided to allow us out.

The flight attendants cooled down the plane by cracking open the emergency doors.

At the back:
IMG_5040And at the exit row right where we were sitting:
IMG_5043James was sad that they didn’t allow him to open the door. I was so glad we’d forked out for the extra legroom seats (even though they ended up being a mixed blessing because they were right near the toilets so a lot of people stood there to wait or stretch their legs).

For us, the most stressful part was not being able to contact our family to let them know what was going on. The guy sitting next to us was very nice and let us use his roaming to call James’ dad, and several hours later we were also able to use one of the customs guys’ phones. Then after that, the main worry was how we were going to get to Melbourne now that we’d missed our original connection – we did have a wedding to get to the next day, after all! The flight attendants told us there was a team on the ground who would be re-booking connections for everyone, so that was a relief.

After a couple of hours of not knowing what was going on, people were starting to get irritable, not to mention hungry/thirsty and the toilets were gradually failing. The crew brought us some crackers and water (donated by Qantas) which was nice. For the next hour we would get updates about how they were trying to negotiate with the airport to allow everyone outside of the plane but that it was difficult because the Ukranian President and the Australian Prime Minister were in Canberra (and we were like “whaaat?! The Australian Prime Minister is always in Canberra!”).

Finally (after 3+ hours in the plane) we were allowed out! And it was glorious.

IMG_5049Under the watchful eyes of customs and the federal police we frolicked around in our pen.
IMG_5048Rations!
IMG_5067We sat in the sun to have our lunch and then headed back in to use the rapidly deteriorating toilets. One of the toilets near us had a clogged sink and the other was no longer flushing.

Obviously it was a massive inconvenience but once we knew what was happening (and that our connections were taken care of) it became much more bearable. The crew were trying as hard as they could, and you could tell that everyone was making the best of a bad situation. It was kind of funny because a lot of the crew were also taking photos of us and the open emergency doors, so it was just as much a novelty for them as it was for us!

I talked to one of the flight attendants who said that two hours after we left San Francisco the airport had cancelled all flights because of the storm, so they had been talking among themselves and were like “aren’t we lucky to be on this flight!”

After our bathroom break we headed back out for one last moment in the sun.
IMG_5061As it turned out James should have done a bit less basking because he ended up getting sunburned!

When we went back in they had emptied the toilets and everything was back to normal, just in time for the new crew to arrive. It was a bit sad when our original crew was swapped out. They were applauded off the plane because they were awesome even though they must have been exhausted.

When we finally landed in Sydney, people with connections were directed to a new line where we got tickets for our next flight. We were pretty much rubber-stamped through customs (not sure if that’s normal or if they gave us a break out of pity) and waited to board. We ended up getting another exit row seat on the flight to Melbourne which was nice!

James’ parents picked us up from the airport – and as it turned out we needn’t have worried because they knew about the delay. Once we had an internet connection we read some reassuring updates about the cats from our house-sitter, and felt much better – especially the next day, when United emailed and offered us $500 each to apologise for the inconvenience.

All in all it was a really long day, but no harm done as we arrived 10 hours late, but well in time to see Ivanna get married! =)