Tag Archives: travel

Wanderlust – Singapore!

*Still travelling – and sending this to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #22, hoping the messenger rooster (which lives next to my hotel in Yangon) will get to Angie – he looks pretty determined!*

This, hopefully, will be the first of 2-3 posts catching up on photos from previous trips in Singapore and regional NSW. Travel themed posts while I’m travelling. 🙂

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Singapore is said to have two national pastimes, eating and shopping. I’m not someone who goes ga-ga over luxury brands, anyway most of them have shops in Sydney too, so that leaves eating. So. Much. Eating.

I go crazy for the hawker food. Oh the hawker food – popiah, rojak, oyster omelette, laksa, congee, flaky roti, Hainan chicken, endless variations on rice and noodles, all those coconut or sago-laced sweets, durian cake, kaya toast, coffee or tea with condensed milk, masala chai, mountains of durian, and much, much, much more…

Can you believe I was so caught up in eating that I didn’t take photos? I really should practise taking photos of food I have in other countries.

Onto the photos I did remember to take. Here are the non-food bits of the trip.

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This time, I went back to Chinatown and visited the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple. I was lucky to be there during a ceremony led by a visiting monk from India. The smell of incense, otherworldly sing-song chanting (so unlike the western chromatic scale), punctuated by alien instruments and ceremonies. Despite the sound and color and motion, this was an hour of meditative stillness.

(As i’m learning in Myanmar, there are many variations of Buddhist temples. This one, like many in Malaysia, are in the Chinese style with lots of red, lanterns, incense, and bits of paper fortunes in mysterious shadowy corners. The ones in Myanmar are very different, dazzling in white and gold. As someone said to me yesterday, it’s like different types of sugar, but they all taste sweet – cute metaphor, non?)

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A complete contrast was Marina Bay Sands. The famous (and famously expensive) hotel that looks like a submarine.

I went there not sure what to expect. After all, it didn’t sound like my kind of place. Yet I was pleasantly surprised. Sure it was all about consumerism, but the building has some beautiful architectural moments. Inside, it was full of geometric patterns, tall, mysterious angles, silhouettes of figures, and details that remind you that – although this building is cool and shaded – you are in tropical Singapore…

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Another journey, and simple pleasures (aka yum yum squares)

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I’m planning another trip!!! (I know, it feels like I’ve just got back from the last work trip, but this one is a real holiday)

I’m giddy with excitement.

Because, because, because, guy, I’m going to Myanmar!! Think thousands upon thousands of Buddhist temples, giant Buddha statues, rows of novice monks and nuns walking by with alms bowls, slow boats, languid horse and carts, and slower train trips on colonial railways. (See here, this, those and that, and much more. Click on the photos below to go to the original page where I took the images from.)

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This trip will be memorable in other ways, too. Apparently, internet is slow or nonexistent, and there are no internationally connected ATMs outside the two largest cities. And, it’s monsoon season. Friends are expecting lots of selfies standing in puddles, with crazy hair from the high temperatures and 80%+ humidity, and down to my last pennies after failing to find an ATM.

Why Myanmar, you ask?

Reading Naomi Duguid’s book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor (also mentioned here and here) first piqued my interest in the country. While it is a book about food, Ms Duguid also talks about the people, culture, customs, the many different tribes. Most of all, she made me want to go there, taste the mohinga, shan noodles, thoke, tea leaf salad, curries, eat pomelos, mangoes and other tropical fruits, and have a real Burmese meal with all the side dishes.

I wish I was going with Ms Duguid, not the least because, um, I don’t speak Burmese. Instead, I’m hoping sign language will go a long way. Ones like, I’d really like some food, preferably an awesome bowl of mohinga? Or, could you drive me to the massive Buddhas that you can climb into? Or, is this a scheduled stop or are we just sitting here for a wee bit while the overnight bus gets fixed?

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I decided on this trip barely a week ago and paid for the flights on Friday. In between international flights, hotels (thank you Tripadvisor!), visa (fingers crossed….), bus schedules, train fares, calculating how much money I’ll need, and finding the perfect Colonial era hotel for the last night in Yangon, it feels like I’ve barely had time to breathe.

What does a girl do at a time like this? Make something simple, comforting yet utterly indulgent, of course. May I present to you Yum Yum Squares?

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Scotland (2): peat bogs and sunset on the beach

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This is the second of four posts, of photos from our holiday in Scotland and Germany. The first one features the castles in Scotland, and brooding Edinburgh. This one is about peat bogs, rain, the Calmac car ferries and the unbelievably beautiful landscape that accompanied everything.

Peat bogs became a constant feature in our life once we stepped off the Calmac ferry, onto the Hebrides. After a few days I learned:

a) hills can become wetter and boggier as you climb up (water flows upwards??)

b) some moss or patches of grass are 95% water.

c) following the sheep is often a bad idea.

d) the top of a hill is always windy, cold, and raining.

Rain, it wouldn’t be a holiday in Scotland without rain. The animals seemed impervious, unless a loch was lapping at their feet. We now have shiny new waterproof hats (which work really, really well!), and a new ability to snap photos in the rain:

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On other days, miraculously, the sun comes through the clouds and transforms what we see. Even the Calmac ferries had a touch of glamour in such sunlight.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such clear, intense blue in the sky. The Hebridean landscape is beautiful in the rain, but it is breathtaking in sunlight, and made us want to stay there for much, much longer. Our favourite time of the day is dusk. From some angles, towards dusk, the light shimmered and gave the landscape and animals a kind of golden glow. If we were standing on top of a hill, we sometimes looked out onto the ocean that – reflecting the setting sun – is at once silver, gold, hazy, almost too bright, and small islands in the ocean looking like stepping stones to magic. 

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The quality of the light seemed to change by the day, and gave us such different views of the hills, mountains, lochs and the machair. In the evenings, we sat in our rental house, looked at the light falling on the lochs and peat bogs (and sipped whiskey).

We saw spectacular sunsets at 11pm and saw the last of sunlight lingering, even after midnight. We didn’t know it, it was the beginning of a heat wave in the UK and the rest of Europe. 

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On our finals days there, the sky closed over and become slate grey, cold, the clouds seem so heavy that they flow down mountains and into valleys. Then, as we walked down non-existent paths, we occasionally imagined ourselves alone in the land of Mordor (minus the fire-breathing Orc battle machines, thankfully). This, too, was mesmerising.

If only my skills with the camera could do justice to these places.

Next posts in this series: Skipping ahead to the fairytale castles and a UNESCO listed monastery in Germany. Then, back to Iona Abbey, the black houses, and mysterious standing stones in the Hebrides. 

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Western Australia: quokkas, wine and beaches

For the past week, I’ve been walking around on a cloud, almost impervious to the pre-Christmas rush at work and in the shops. This was because of a short holiday to the Margaret River region of Western Australia. With a 4.5 hour flight and a few thousand kms, it was a different country there – the summer temperatures are higher, the sky was bigger and bluer, and the soil redder under the sun.

We saw quokkas, a native Australian that is almost only found on Rottnest Island, off the coast of Perth. Quokkas are endearing creatures, with a leisurely hopping gait – imagine a snail doing its best impression of a kangaroo. The two shops on the island had (somewhat ironic) no-quokka barriers in the doorway. We heard that ‘Rottnest’ is Dutch for ‘rat nest’, because the first Dutch explorers thought they were giant rats.

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We spent much of our time outdoors, exploring. Augusta, established only 40 years after white settlement on the other side of the country. Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse at the point where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. The unexpected sight of wild flowers along the coast (I think they are only in bloom for about one month every year!).

And of course the endless beaches with pale white sand and sapphire blue seas. We sank ankle-deep into the fine sand walking along parts of the 140km coastline (which is only a tiny fraction of Western Australia’s coastline…this state does everything on the grand scale).  The 140km coast is one of the top ten walks in Australia, and I want to come back next year and walk the whole distance.

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Margaret River region is known for its vineyards and good food. During the day, we imbibed good stuff at vineyards – one was built in a striking Cape Dutch style with elegant details, perfect symmetry and melodic lines. When not in a vineyard, we ate in quirky cafes and bustling tapas bar/restaurants.

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Onions in Abu Simbel

The man placed a chipped plate with slices of red onions next to the bowl of fried fish. No dressing. Since man (and woman) cannot live on fish alone, I shrugged and ate a slice of onion.

Then I ate another. And another.

The onion had …. taste. Not just whatever makes your eyes water, but real flavours that come from slow traditional farming. It was peppery sharp, a bit sweet (it would have made the best caramelised onion), and what I can only describe as a concentrated savoury onion-ness that made each slice a thing to savour.

Sitting by the shores of Lake Nasser, in Abu Simbel, Egypt we had one of the simplest meals on our six week trip around the Middle East, but we still remember the onions today. Its sharpness cut the slightly muddy lake fish (the fish was so fresh, it could have jumped right out of the lake onto our plate, or at least, into the frying pan). It livened up the wholemeal flat bread. The flavours were bright, like the colours of the sun, the lake and the desert. 

I looked around the large, dusty backyard of the house that was our eatery, and wondered if the onions were grown there. The kitchen, just inside the darkened doorway, looked like a domestic kitchen. Another corner of the yard had a large-ish thing that looked like a barbecue to my Australian eye. As I watched, a few men began to gather around and light a fire. Maybe there was going to be a roast of some kind tonight? The faded metal sign over the entrance to the eatery, Queen Nefertari (I think? It was definitely Queen something) will probably be lit up, and dimly vie with the Abu Simbel light show a long-ish walk away.

Most people come to Abu Simbel as part of a day trip, in a bus convoy, on a plane, or as the beginning or end of their Lake cruise.

We gave ourselves two days in this town, and after the cruises and convoys left in the afternoon, we felt as though we were the only tourists in the place. (It wasn’t true, but most of the other tourists were probably back in the hotel complex. As far as we could see, the four star sprawling complex was also Abu Simbel’s only hotel. Its jungle style sumptuous decor is a world away from the dry, dusty, hut-houses and concrete in the rest of the town.)

After lunch, we walked around the dusty streets. It was winter, the temperature was about 30°C, and some of the men wore thick jumpers or puffy jackets. I guess it was a lot colder than the summer temperatures of 50°C. Some kids and men were tall, long limbed and walked with a jazzy kind of step. Their faces and clothes somehow said Africa rather than lower Nile/Egypt. And no wonder, the sleepy little town of Abu Simbel is a bare 40 kms from the Sudan border.

Out of sheer laziness we ate our pre paid dinner in the hotel that evening. We had one of those inevitable buffets in the over-ornamented restaurant. Even though I managed to talk to the pastry chef about basboussa, dinner couldn’t hold a candle to the simple dish of onions and fried lake fish.

Back in the comforts of middle class Sydney, we buy organic onions from the markets, but somehow it is not quite the same. A colleague is traveling to Abu Simbel in December, maybe he can take time out from his convoy and find the Queen Nefertari eatery for me, and ask for that plate of onions and the bowl of lake fish.