Archive for April, 2011

Aussie Day in the Mountains

One of the many goals of our trip is to experience life as locals.  So today we set out to be Aussies. 

We’re up in the Blue Mountains.  Staying in Leura for two nights – a gorgeous little town voted as one of the 30 most scenic in Australia and yet only two hours from Sydney.  It reminds us of a typical small New England village, but located on the edge of massive cliffs overlooking tree covered canyons.  Even the weather reminds us of home.  It is cold (we wore long johns and socks to bed last night in our motel room since the room didn’t have a real heater.)  It’s raining (or misting and then raining.)  The leaves (those that are still on the trees) are turning gold, red, and orange before they fall to the ground.  And the fog is thick enough to completely hide the deep canyons just meters away.  Yep, definitely fall in New England.  No wait, it is fall in Australia.

So we celebrate our Aussie fall day by taking a couple of great bushwalks – down a canyon, past some water falls, and through a temperate rain forest (that one was definitely not New England like.)  The scenery is stunning and nature wilder than anything we find in the North East.  You constantly have the feeling that if you veer off the path, there will be poisonous things of all kinds waiting for you.  So we stay on the trails.  And be warned:  We will forever refer to our hikes through Bradley Palmer State Park back home as bush walks – it just sounds so much better. 

We have fika at a café (one of the many) in “downtown” Leura.  Long black with extra shot of espresso for Per and flat white for Sian.  Yummy!  They know how to do coffee in the Blue Mountains and we love it!  Two, no three, cups actually.

Then we end the day in our long johns and socks eating steak and gravy pies accompanied by a smooth Jacobs Creek Shiraz and watching the Royal wedding on TV – like everyone else around here and elsewhere.  On a brand new flat screen TV nevertheless.  When we got back to our small apartment after the bushwalks and fika, they had replaced our old analog TV (mostly snow on that screen last night) with a new flat screen – score!  And just in time for the big event.  The girls were psyched.  We watched most of it – except for the kiss on the balcony – the girls wouldn’t have any of that.  Good on you girls – keep it that way!

So Aussie day started and ended the same, in our long johns and socks excited to be here and curious about what’s next.  But as they say, “she’ll be right mate!”

… and yet so far away …

Over 10,000 miles away from home, Sydney, Australia is literally the other side of the world.   And yet, it is the closest to home we have felt in a long time.  We speak the language.  OK, we may not understand all of the Aussie colloquialisms, but we don’t spend any time worrying about how to figure out street signs, or menus, and we can read the local papers.  Nice.   It is also a really easy place to like.  The people are super-nice (“no worries” is a phrase we hear constantly), the botanic gardens are off-the-charts gorgeous, and the city is very walkable … and we can say that with confidence because we walked everywhere.

And though Sydney has a lot going for it all on its own, I love it even more because it reminds me of another place and another time.

I know you may not believe it, but Per and I had a life before having children.  Gasp!  The girls refuse to believe it, but it’s true.  And during those BC (before children) years, we had a 2 year period of time living in San Francisco.  We lived in a cute apartment on a hill in Tiburon and rode the ferry to downtown San Francisco every morning and then back home every evening, 5 days a week.   I vividly remember sitting with Per watching the sunset as our ferry boat passed by Alcatraz on the way back to Tiburon.  We really enjoyed that time in our life (post graduate school and pre family), and our time in San Francisco holds very happy memories for me.

Imagine my surprise when, seated on a ferry from Manly to Sydney, I looked outside and noticed the sunset.  With a quiet village on one side and a city on the other, passing an iconic place (the Opera House instead of Alcatraz this time, but you get the idea), all at once I remembered exactly what it was like to be on the ferry in San Francisco.  The happy memories rushed back.    But the bonus this time was that not only was I sharing the sunset with Per, but with Linnea and Kajsa too.

10,000 away from home?  Yes.  Close to home?  Yes.

Easter Sunday Singapore Style

As you can imagine, Easter is not a big holiday in South East Asia, Singapore included.  And despite the no doubt many German expats in this city/nation, Easter Eggs and Easter Bunnies (the tradition started in Germany in the 16th century) were nowhere to be found.  Clearly we did not know the city well enough and bunnies were notably missing from our maps.  So we improvised.  We’re in Singapore so what things are in abundance around here?  Many things, but entertainment, eating out, shopping, and walking comes first to mind.  We ran it by the girls who gave it two thumbs up and off we went to celebrate Easter Sunday Singaporean style (sans Easter bunnies).  (And don’t worry, we e-mailed the Easter Bunny at home, and we’re set to celebrate at a future date.)

We started by taking a quick taxi ride to the Singapore Botanic Gardens.  What a beautiful place!  The gardens are fairly small – much smaller than Central Park for example – but what they lack in size they make up in abundance of plants and wildlife.  We spent one hour exploring a rain forest, gardens, lakes, lawns, and just spectacularly beautiful nature located dead smack in the middle of this fascinating city.  It was like entering a different world and we loved it.  Plus (Sonam are you reading this?), it was complimentary so we had to enjoy it.

Around 10am we grabbed another taxi (the city is small so you can cab it everywhere) to the Cathay Cineleisure complex on Orchard Road to see a movie – Rio 3D.  The movie was fantastic – we very much enjoyed it.  But just as much fun was experiencing going to the movies in Singapore.  The movie theater was brand new with superb acoustics, spotless interior and comfortable seats, and efficient as you would imagine.  We bought the tickets online the night before, selected our seats ahead of time, and received a confirmation on my cell phone.  As the movie ended and we walked out, the theater was being cleaned right behind us and was no doubt ready for the next show the moment the last patron left the room.  Now that’s something I can get used to!

After the movie we grabbed lunch at one of many food courts before we set off to explore Orchard Road – the center of shopping and entertainment in Singapore.  Everyone was out and about doing the same thing as it was a nice day (90F and sunny) – like everyday in Singapore where it seldom gets colder than 70F.  It was quite the scene and very enjoyable.       

As it was our last day in Singapore, we ended the shopping to get back to the apartment to clean up, pack and get ready for our next adventure – Australia.  But before that, we had yet another small world moment.  Chris who lives right across the street from us back home in Topsfield travels all over the world for work.  At any one time, he might show up at some exotic foreign location.  So we have kept in touch over these past four months hoping to connect where our travel plans intersected with his.  And right here in Singapore, we found a 12 hour overlap which is more than enough time for dinner. 

As we were getting ready to take a taxi to the restaurant to meet Chris and one of his colleagues (John who lives in Singapore with his family and has helped us with travel recommendations throughout South East Asia), I get an email from Chris.  He is bringing another colleague of his to dinner and asked if we minded.  Of course we don’t mind.  And oh, by the way, his colleague is Greg who also lives in Topsfield and has a son who was in Linnea’s class last year.  So here we are in Singapore, going to dinner with friends from back home – a veritable Topsfield reunion over black pepper crabs, chili crabs, drunken prawns, and Tiger beer in the Singaporean night.  Needless to say, it was fabulous.  We were also glad to meet John and his family.  Their daughter, Laura, was particularly sweet with the girls, and they are now sporting a lovely hairclip and bracelet she gave them as we left.  We spent our evening eating awesome food, sharing stories, catching up on hometown news, and just laughing the evening away until we had to grab another taxi to the airport and end our Singaporean adventure for this time.  But no doubt, we’ll be back!

… eating our way through Southeast Asia …

Have you noticed that in almost every picture you see on our website, we are wearing pretty much the same clothes?  Sure, there is a little variation here and there, but there is a small rotation, and so far the clothes are holding up pretty well.  I was worried that the girls would outgrow their things quickly (and they are growing, but all is well so far), but I didn’t anticipate that Per and I would outgrow ours.  However, if we continue to eat the way we have been eating in Southeast Asia, that is exactly what is going to happen.

Needless to say, we have been enjoying the food immensely, ever since we landed in Thailand, and all the way through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.     

A quick list of some of our favorite foods:

  • Yellow curry, masaman curry… OK, basically any curry in Thailand
  • Mango and sticky rice with coconut in all its variations.  We had a particularly fantastic fruit and sticky rice “porridge” in Pakbeng, Laos at our simple guest house.  I still dream about it.
  • Stir-fried chicken and basil at a riverside café in Luang Prabang.  They served with a fried egg on top.  Brilliant!
  • Fruit shakes.  We had the in both Laos and Vietnam.  A brilliant invention!
  • The lunch we cooked at Tum Tum Cheng cooking school in Luang Prabang, Laos.  We were especially fond of the sour fish soup and the ginger fish.
  • Thai Ice Tea (also called milk tea).  It is an old favorite from home…and delicious everywhere we tried it in Thailand.  We were particularly fond of the one we got in the basement food court at the Paragon Mall in Bangkok.
  • Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio (Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork & Spring Rolls) in Vietnam.  We tried versions of this in Hoi An and Saigon.   All were delicious.
  • Pork in clay pot at Nina’s Café in Hue.  Per proclaimed it the best pork dish he has eaten.  Ever.  He had four helpings in two days.
  • Pho (noodle soup) for breakfast in Vietnam.
  • Fresh passion fruit.  Fresh mango.  Fresh pineapple.  Sigh.

We talked about how this trip will change the way we eat at home.  One thing that will definitely change is breakfast.  Don’t worry, we aren’t cutting out omelets, pancakes, Swedish cheese sandwiches and all those things we love.  But we are going to add Asian-style noodle soups too.  And now that we are armed with new information about how to cook Laos food, some trips down to the awesome Asian market in Malden will result in more stir-fries for lunch and dinner.

As for the expanding waistlines…well…we’re in Singapore right now… the chili crabs and black pepper crabs are calling.  As Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”