Travel

The travelling pen: Finding myself again

I recently embarked on a 10-day trip to England with a group of students. We were on the road quite a fair bit and on those long-distance bus rides, I would write. The next few entries are from those journeys.

When I took this overseas trip on, I was really in two minds.

Look, I have two little ones at home. I have never been away from them since they were born. The only times I spent away from Aidan were when I weaned, delivered Zac in the hospital and when Zac was warded for his respiratory infections. As for Zac, well, I’ve been there since the day he was born.

Lest you think I’m being overly attached or sad, it’s a deliberate choice. I made the decision to take a pay cut and this job because it’s stable, has good hours and allows me to be home with my babies. With the husband’s crazy hours at work, one of us had to have reliable hours. Not working is not an option, for the sake of my bank account and my sanity. My littles needed a parent who was “grounded”.

So I took on this assignment with trepidation, especially since I faced such vocal objection from my mother (long story) which layered on the guilt.

But now that I am here, I am glad. I have been first and foremost a mother for the past four years. My thoughts are never far from my children, even when I supposedly am having some “me” time. My hours revolve around picking them up, dropping them off, fixing them dinner etc.

Here, I lose all these other identities. I am just me. I worry about myself and what I eat, what I wear, what I do. I don’t have to think about what foods to get for fussy little palates, how to keep them warm, what to do when they are bored.

I’m just me.

And sitting in the tour bus, as I travel down to Oxford, there is a sense of poetry as the scenery rolls past. The glorious blue sky with giant puffy clouds, the trees – sometimes bare and sometimes lush – and the vehicles that zoom by. I reflect and realise just how much I have missed travelling and exploring and soaking up the sights. I miss figuring out the subway system, miss stepping into a foreign shop and being delighted by its offerings. I miss taking photos. I miss the words and thoughts flowing out of my mind and my heart and onto a screen, to be immortalised.

I do miss simply being, me.

Travel

Oh hey, Penang

So. Penang happened in September last year. And, err, I realised that I never really wrote about it. Well, not until now.

We were there partly because we needed a break, but also because we decided we wanted to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary out of the country. The plan was to run off and do our couple thing but unfortunately, our then 18-month-old son had other ideas. He was such a mess when we left him in my mother’s care to enjoy an exhilarating night of Formula One that we realised we couldn’t leave him behind and hiked him along.

(The Formula One night was pretty hilarious. We were all, yeah we shall have beer and enjoy the after party, whoohoo! And then at 730pm, my mum started texting me to say that he was fussing and unhappy and oops, she was taking him home. We looked at each other and went, OH WELL. Little party pooper.)

Anyway, Penang. We loved the place. Loved the food. Loved the people. It was mighty hot and we were all burnt to a crisp by the time we got back but it was worth it. We had some moments with the little man – like, when he refused to eat his dinner and was generally a PITA – but he is a pretty good traveller, I must say.

I don’t know when our next holiday will be (maybe when Two is like, err, two) but ah, I shall look at our photos and reminisce.

Penang 2013

Penang 2013

Penang 2013

Penang 2013

Penang 2013

Psst. I’ve put together a list of tips for travelling with a toddler to Penang over at Bubsicles. Have a read!

Travel

Ubud shops I love

When we were planning to go to Ubud, shopping was the last thing on my mind. Seriously. All I wanted to do was…NOTHING. That’s right. I didn’t want a holiday where I had to explore museums and check out new places – I just wanted to chill and do absolutely nothing.

But then, we got to Ubud proper and we realised that we couldn’t simply sit back and do nothing. For starters, we had my mum with us and it wasn’t very nice to have her sit in the villa the entire day. Also, my boo boo would definitely suffer from cabin fever and drive us all nuts! So we decided that venturing out from the villa was a better idea for everyone.

The private villa that we had rented was about 10 minutes walk from Ubud centre and we decided to spend some time exploring the area one morning. And Cousin Ching and I were pleasantly surprised by what we found.

Here are the three shops that we would have happily spent the entire day in.

Blue Stone Botanicals
Both of us are pretty into aromatherapy and we were intrigued by this local shop. We are also snobs when it comes to retail decoration and Blue Stone Botanical‘s clean and minimalist look definitely appealed to us.

It sells essential oils, balms and soaps that are made using natural ingredients and do not contain any additives. I especially love their essential oils, which are 100% pure and steam distilled. Plus, the oils are so easy on the pocket! I am a big fan of essential oils (just not the MLM sort, if you know what I mean) so I was really happy with my purchases.

Blue Stone Botanicals
Jln Dewi Sita, Ubud 80571
+62 812-3611-9431

Nava
Oh. My. Gosh. I wanted to buy everything that was in Nava. It has a large variety of wooden wares, ranging from cutlery to serve ware to decoration. Everything was beautifully crafted, so elegant.

I was highly restrained, as husband can testify to, and only walked out of the shop with a few pieces of cutlery. But, oh my, I could have bought so much more when I was there, everything was just calling out my name. I wanna go back!

Nava
Jln Dewi Sita 6D
+62 081-2390-6251

KOU Cuisine
This is something that all cooks and bakers would love – a shop that sells handmade and locally produced sea salts and jams. Aidan is going through a phase where he wants jam on all his bread (“bread and jam, mama?” he asks) and I thought to oblige him by checking out this shop.

There were all sorts of tasty concoctions that you can try before buying, including mango, milk caramel and strawberry and banana. I ended up with a jar of apple and cinnamon, which we have been savouring since we got back. Think chunky pieces of apple and the aromatic fragrance of cinnamon oozing in your mouth with every bite…mmm.

I also grabbed a jar of herbed sea salt, which I have yet to try. I think I might use it on a roast one of these days.

(No photos of the shop’s interior because I was busy tasting all the jams on display and it was our last stop so we were all pretty knackered!)

KOU Cuisine
Jalan Dewi Sita and Jl Monkey Forest
+62 0361-9719-05

So there you go: the three shops that I would love to go back to if we ever return to Bali. I love that they are all local shops, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to bring home a piece of Ubud with me.

Aidan, Travel

Dramatic tendencies

We took a quick holiday in Bali over the past week and, man, hauling around a toddler is an exhausting thing to do. There were times when he just pushed all the wrong (or right, depending on which side you are looking at) buttons and drove us absolutely nuts.

Thankfully, we took turns getting mad and were able to defuse the situation quickly. Ah, parenthood is really a partnership. And I feel like I need a holiday to recover from the holiday.

Having said that, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The OMGHEISDRIVINGMEINSANE moments were far and few, and there was plenty of good fun too. There are good stories to tell but right now, I need to edit my photos and I’ll leave you with this gem of a tale.

So there we were, at the top of some rice paddy fields in the middle of nowhere, waiting for the sun to set and our organic food to arrive. How we got there is a story worthy to be told on its own so I’ll leave it for another day.

Anyway, yes. Picture this. We were sitting in some rustic “restaurant” that’s really a hut. Over in the far horizon, the sun was slowly setting. The adults – me, Mr Thick, my mum and my Cousin Ching – were all hot and sweaty from the hike up to the “restaurant”. Aidan was in his element, yelling and attempting to run all over the place, refusing to settle. Mr Thick was at the point of eruption. He plonked A onto the chair and delivered a grim and firm ultimatum: “SIT!”

In a bid to divert Aidan’s attention, my cousin started to talk to him.

Cousin Ching: Oh look, Aidan! Look at the sunset!
Aidan: (stops whinging and looks up with a WOAH expression) Oh! (pause) My god!

– End of scene –

Travel

Hello Perth

Ah, Perth!

It was just a month ago that we were there and yet it feels like a lifetime. Yup, that’s what parenthood does to you.

(Sidenote: every time I forget something or have to stifle a yawn in class, I tell my students that I am exceedingly tired and that if they value their sleep, they should AVOID having children at all costs. Am I not a terrible educator? DO NOT BLAME THE FALLING BIRTH RATES ON ME.)

Anyway, we had quite a quiet time in Perth. Being there with family meant that we could not afford to be overly ambitious with our itinerary, given that we had to take into account the comfort level of the other members. If it had been just the three of us, I am pretty sure we would have explored more places.

But it was just as well, taking it slow and easy. Oh, tip: don’t go over to Perth during the Easter break. It’s ridiculously quiet. All the shops are closed and as one radio DJ said, Easter is the dullest period of the year. Hah, no shit. Lesson learnt.

What I loved about Perth: the wide, open spaces; brilliantly blue skies; laid-back pace; the breathtaking sunsets; and THE COFFEE. How can I forget about the coffee? We didn’t go cafe hunting this time around but the two or three cups that I had were excellent. And they weren’t even recommended by Foursquare!

Writing about this brings up the wanderlust itch all over again. There is just something about being on the plane that makes me feel happy. Never mind that I may only be flying to KL, the notion of going somewhere brings me so much joy. I guess I just wasn’t made to stay in one place for very long – I’m like the sea snail with an itchy foot (is it any surprise that it’s one of my favourite books to read to A?).

Some snapshots:

If you need more ideas on where to visit while in Perth, drop me a note and I’ll try my best to help!

Foodnotes, Travel

Sydney cafes

Four Sydney cafes down, three more to go.

bills
This was a recommendation from my friend Charlotte and it was spot on. See, always ask your foodie friends for recommendations – they will never fail you!

We checked out of our hotel located at the Sydney CBD area and moved into another one at Surry Hills. While we were no longer in the heart of the hustle and bustle, Surry Hills won us over. It was quieter, most charming and had plenty of indie and vintage shops to give the area character. We had fun exploring the neighbourhood on foot.

There are three bills outlets in Sydney and conveniently, one was situated within 10 minutes of our hotel. After checking in, we took a leisurely stroll over for a cup of coffee and a late lunch.

It was an amazing meal. The coffee was good and the miso charred steak sandwich that I had was delicious. The beef was well-seasoned and tender, and the bread was crusty.

We liked it so much that we went back for dinner on our last night in Sydney. Mr Thick’s lamb cutlet was so simply cooked and yet so fantastic, we couldn’t stop raving about it. Meanwhile, my veal ragout was melting in my mouth and I was reduced to a blubbering state of infatuation.

It wasn’t only the food that was superb, the service was impeccable as well. The staff never failed to make us feel welcome and at ease, and they took care of the little man too.

Definitely a must-go in Sydney.

Single Origin Roasters
Again a recommendation from Char, Single Origin Roasters was merely 15 minutes away from our hotel. Yay! We decided to make it our first stop in the morning before starting our day. SMARTIES!

The coffee was delicious. Fragrant and packed the right amount of kick. I was all zinged up after that. Mr Thick, on the other hand, couldn’t stop raving about his ham and cheese toastie while my banana bread with espresso butter was just as good.

We sat there in the cold, crisp morning, sipping our hot coffees and munching on our delicious breakfast. Life was good.

Bourke Street Bakery
Once again, this winning recommendation came from Charlotte. And again, we were lucky that our hotel in Surry Hills was within walking distance of Bourke Street Bakery.

We decided to pop over to the boulangerie as the afternoon faded away, and after a lengthy stroll in the neighbourhood. The weather had been chilly, and we were looking forward to having some nosh in our tummies to warm us up.

Oh. My. Word.

The hot chocolate that I had was spicy and had that bittersweet tang of dark chocolate. The crust of our lemon tart was buttery and crumbly, and the lemon curd was just tangy enough to make me squeal in delight.

I wish we had the time to buy and eat more baked goodies – we reached the bakery slightly before it closed. Regret maximus!

Poor little buddy though. He couldn’t partake in the yummy food and decided to eat his shoe instead. That happened a lot during the trip.

Foodnotes, Travel

Caffeine addicts love Sydney

My name is Yann and I am addicted to caffeine.

No, not really. Oh fine, YES I AM. I’m holding down a full-time job AND mothering a tiny tyrant so I definitely need my daily caffeine fix. And because I am still nursing the kiddo, I try my best to limit my caffeine intake to just ONE a day. And that means that my ONE caffeine shot has to be supremely out of this world.

Which is why I hate, HATE it when the coffee SUCKS.

And then we went to Sydney. And I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

A cafe! Here! And here! And there! Oh, look! ANOTHER CAFE?
WHEEEEEEEEEE!

Yeah, I kinda liked Sydney.

Anyway, one of my rules when we were there was that we would explore a new cafe every day. This turned out to be a fantastic rule because it forced me to check out new sights on the days that Mr Thick had to work and I was alone with the little man. I ended up walking and walking and walking and discovering fantastic new eateries.

And because I am not only Fabulously Gorgeous but also ridiculously nice, I am sharing my list with you! Nah, much of the list came from suggestions from very nice friends so I am merely paying it forward.

Le Pain Quotidient
We stumbled upon this cafe on the day that we arrived in Sydney, all bleary-eyed and exhausted from the red-eye flight. And it totally helped to soothe any frazzled nerves that we had.

The mocha with Belgian chocolate that Mr Thick had was nice and thick, with a hint of bitterness. My butter croissant and lemon tart were okay but his leg ham and gruyere cheese omelet was yummy.

I liked the place so much so that I went back to it one afternoon to rest my weary legs after shopping at Bondi Junction.

Taste Baguette
Convenience was the keyword in leading us to this cafe. It’s situated right at the foot of our hotel and we decided to just pop in for a bite.

BEST DECISION.

The Vietnamese Style Lemongrass Chicken and Grilled Portuguese Chicken sandwiches that we had were delicious. DELICIOUS, I tell you. Every bite was full of flavour. And I loved the crusty baguettes!

And the icing on the cake? The coffee (Campos beans) was kickass. As in, it kicked my sleepy ass into GO GO GO! mode. It made me very happy.

The staff was awesome too. When I was there for lunch one day with just Aidan, they were extremely attentive and friendly, and even helped me with the napkins and water.

Le Grand Cafe
A cafe situated at the Alliance Francaise de Sydney, this little nook is never crowded nor noisy. There’s always jazzy French music playing in the background, and it’s perfect for a solo traveller. In fact, I liked the place so much so that I brought Mr Thick back for a coffee break one afternoon.

The croissant that I had was nicely buttery and flaky, and the flat white was nice enough.

Flour and Stone
This was a recommendation by the fantastic Mrs Ergul. I had snapped a photo of Hyde Park on Instagram and she immediately left a comment, suggesting that I check out Flour and Stone.

I love them foodies. They always know where to go when it comes to good food.

It. Was. Yummeh.

The spicy chicken sandwich that I had hit all the right spots while the lamington was simply heavenly. The coffee was decent but then again, I couldn’t drink it fresh because the little buddy was demanding all of my attention.

Okay, that’s enough caffeine for now. I’ve still got a couple more to go and I’ll share that with y’all soon.