Bali summer camp: Wedding edition

Over the past, oh, decade or so, there have only been a handful of times we’ve managed to take an adults-only trip. Once was New Year’s in Banff a few years ago, and otherwise a few long weekends here and there. So any time we can get away on our own is a fantastic opportunity all on its own. Throw in our best friends’ wedding, a visit “home” to Indonesia, meeting up with amazing friends old and new, and a relaxing week on a tropical island, and you have the makings of the perfect trip!

The happy couple – from Australia and Canada, respectively – decided it would be easier to have their families and friends meet halfway for their wedding, bringing us all back to Bali to celebrate their marriage where it all began in Indonesia. Grandma came here to stay with the kids for a week while we snuck out of town. I was fresh off my trip to Hawaii, so although I literally flew around the entire world within a few days, I was still game.

First we spent a few nights on our own in Sanur and then we headed over to Lembongan island for about a week. We were lucky enough to book in at a resort with several other (child-free) couples, and the entire week felt like adult summer camp – drinking bedside (and in) the pool, staying up late playing cards, watching sunsets and sunrises and evening stars, and sharing embarrassing stories about our mutual friends. We rented scooters and traveled around the island all week, stopping for snacks and drinks, exploring the beaches, and visiting other resorts.

The wedding itself was just perfect – at sunset, on the beach, filled with gorgeous colors and smiling faces. Everyone had spent the week already getting to know each other, so there was none of that wedding “awkwardness” of having strangers trying to bond over the course of an evening. That comfort might have led to me drinking too many ciders and spending the night being loud and underclothed in the pool, but it was all in good fun. And when you get a bunch of Canadians and Australians together with a bunch of alcohol, what else can you expect?

Other highlights included a snorkeling trip, which was rather poorly planned on the morning after the bachelor/hen party. Fortunately the ladies took it easy the night before, but the guys were up too late and got too drunk – as it turns out, a bunch of hungover guys on an early morning snorkeling trip is a terrible idea. By the way, when you throw up in the ocean while snorkeling, it doesn’t bring all the fish to you. It just fills the ocean with vomit. Disappointingly, the reefs around the areas we visited were not very healthy, so we didn’t see much. But I still enjoyed getting out with my snorkel while B napped on the beach.

I mentioned we rented scooters – well, by “rented” I mean we paid some local families to give up their scooters for a week or so. They were not in the best condition. Between five of us, we probably had one working scooter. All the brakes were questionable, no one’s speedometer worked, starters were patchy, but it was worth the freedom of being able to tour the island on our own schedule. There was one sketchy bridge connecting our island to the next island, which we crossed several times to visit the restaurants and beaches on that side despite it feeling unsafe – and horrifyingly, it collapsed only days after we had been there, so my gut feeling was terrifyingly correct. Oh and there was the time B broke his toe on a wall by driving a bit too close… but otherwise we were ok, moms!

Too soon it was over, our friends were Mr and Mrs, and we had to head home. We had a day to kill in Seminyak, and we were looking forward to getting some (slightly illegal) DVDs, Indonesian knicknacks, and visiting our other favorite Bali restaurants and shops. But the weather was not in our favour, and instead we spent most of the day waiting out the rain in various cafes until we gave up and went to the airport to kill the hours before our plane left.

Who is getting married in Bali next?? We’re totally there.

Aloha, Hawai’i, Mahalo

This one time, I went to Hawai’i.

But before you get too excited, it was for work, and I barely saw anything but the inside of the conference hall and my hotel room. One day, about 7 days into my trip, I managed to stumble outside and see the sun for the first time since my arrival.

I did try to make the most of my limited free time, however. I filled up a handful of evenings and one full day with trips to the beach, sunset cocktails, bowls of poké, midnight ocean swimming, and an epic bus ride to the North Shore to buy a locally handmade ukulele.

On the one hand, Honolulu is one of the most touristy places I’ve ever been. Walking down Waikiki strip is like walking through an American mall that has just been decorated to look like what people think Hawai’i should look like. On the other hand, taking the city bus through the city and beyond, I saw more homelessness and signs of addiction than I’ve ever seen. One guy even came and sat next to me on the bus, and he was vaping something and having loud psychotic outbursts – taking a disliking to a completely innocent gentleman in a nearby seat. After yelling and acting crazy, he eventually just got up and walked off the bus, to everyone’s relief. The bus ride also took me past both the biggest jail and the biggest army base I’ve ever seen, as well as pineapple fields spreading from horizon to horizon. Even in Hawai’i, America goes big or goes home, I guess.

At least the sweet baby ukulele I bought was 110% worth it. Imua concert size, made with Hawaiian Koa wood from the big island, with geared tuning pegs and abalone inlays… It is now my favorite thing in the world. Also, what’s up with all the rainbows, Honolulu? I thought the whole rainbow-over-palm-trees-tropical-island thing was bit of an exaggeration, but I think there was literally a rainbow in the sky at least once a day.

I’d love to go back and visit some of the other islands, have a full luau, maybe take a ukulele master class or do some scuba diving. Next time, I guess!

Savona weekend

I thought one trip to Italy while living here would be enough, but I was wrong! It’s so easy to get there, it might become a dangerously regular activity around here.

Only a few weeks after we had our Tuscany Tour 2016, we went on a spur-of-the-moment long weekend trip to Savona with some friends. Savona is on the north coast of the Mediterranean (actually the Ligurian Sea at that point), just 5h or so from our house. Spring was in full bloom by that time, so we had no snowstorms through the Alps, and enjoyed a beautiful drive down through Italy.

We rented an apartment right on the harbor, a modern place overlooking the whole marina. And it turns out that Savona is a major stop for cruise ships – so we had a great view of these huge floating apartments coming into dock. It was very cool.

We met up with our friends who had rented an apartment nearby and spent the afternoon on the beach, having a few drinks, walking around the city, and settling in for a pizza dinner, before heading home around 9 pm or so. But when we arrived at the apartment building, we discovered that there was an outer building door that had been open all day and was now closed (so we didn’t realize it was there) – and we didn’t know the code or have the right key to open it! And since it was late at night, no one seemed to be coming or going, and no concierge was on duty. I tried calling the apartment owner without any luck. We waited for over an hour before the kids got too cold and tired to hang around out front. What to do??

We thought about sleeping in the car, but that was too pathetic. We couldn’t figure out if there was another hotel nearby without internet access, and it seemed so crazy to double pay for accommodation. Luckily, we got hold of our friends and they very generously let us come to their place – even if they really didn’t have enough room for us!

And that, folks, is how we found ourselves sleeping on a tiny kitchen floor, on a piece of foam, with only a tablecloth for a blanket, while all our stuff enjoyed the night in a swanky modern apartment. We did eventually get the code and made our way into the apartment the next day.

But it didn’t ruin our good time. There was still a street food festival to taste, an ancient fort to explore, a beach to enjoy, and plenty of limoncello to drink. We saw Christopher Columbus’ house, which was pretty cool, regardless of how I feel about his claim to fame, and I also found Dante Alighieri street, which made my day.

Writing this, it might be time to go back to Italy again!


Carcassonne in Carcassonne

Our summer holidays didn’t go as planned.

I only took one week off work in July, because I was leading up to a big event and couldn’t be away from the office for more than that. So it had to be a great week, the pressure was on.

We made plans to drive up to Hamburg and visit some good friends there. Google figures that’s about a 10-hour drive, and we would stop for some sightseeing along the way – Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hanover – the whole of Germany was open to us and we were going to make the best of it.

But at the same time we were making our travel plans, a parallel narrative was taking place. Let me tell you that story, the one about how we bought a used Italian sports car from a dude on Facebook.

When we moved to Switzerland, we were broke and desperate for a means of transportation. We found out about a local Facebook group where people (mostly expats) would post things for sale. And what luck when a really nice looking Alfa Romeo sport wagon came up for sale – a bit older, but in our price range, and the guy is ready to move it quickly. We met up, loved the car, paid him, brought it home. Now, we know cars can have quirks, and older cars can have even more quirks – this is not a deal breaker. In fact, there’s something I like about those annoying car tics that give it personality and make the car more ‘yours’.

Our car doesn’t like to start. It’s a bit random, and it’s mostly electrical. But, like a stereotypical high-maintenance Italian lady, it happens at the worst moments and when you’re in a rush. Like in a parking garage after you’ve already paid and your exit ticket is running out. Or when you need to get the kids from school and hurry to an appointment. Or when you parked illegally for a moment to drop off a package. Or, you know, the day before you want to drive to Germany to see your friends for the holidays.

So the car spent several days at the garage trying to fix this not-starting-and-also-random-stopping-while-driving-in-the-road problem so we could try to prevent dying or being stranded somewhere in the bowels of Germany, I don’t know which is worse. But by the time the problem was fixed, we missed the window of opportunity that was our week in Hamburg.

But I still had a few more days off and I needed to squeeze the life out of that long weekend before returning to a long summer of working. Where could we go that’s closer than Hamburg and still be an awesome summer holiday-worthy trip?

The answer came from our board game obsession. Carcassonne is a French city that has seen many waves of settlers and conquerors over several millennia and is famous for its well-preserved medieval citadel and fortified city. And in the game, you get to build up the area with your own walled cities and citadels inspired by the place. So obviously we were experts about the area and excited to visit this place we had built and conquered ourselves so many times before. Perfect!

We packed up and enjoyed the drive to southern France, only about 5 hours. We rented an apartment downtown, within walking distance to all the shops and restaurants, and only a short drive to the medieval Cité. And we did make the best of  it! Castle ramparts, ancient cathedrals, seafood dinners, mornings at the lake, bell tower views, carousels and knights. It was hot! I think our car melted a little but we still love her.  And then it was time to come home. We only got one speeding ticket on the way, so that’s a plus too.

By the way, anyone want to buy a gently used Alfa Romeo?

Tuscany towns – cookies and more

The great thing about being in Tuscany turned out not to be just the heavyweights, Florence and Pisa, but the other wonderful little Tuscan towns around the area. We made it to two others that were perfectly charming and not as overwhelming – Lucca and Volterra.

Lucca is one of the best preserved medieval towns in the whole province. It managed to survive the centuries of war and destruction that most other areas suffered under, and as the regional capital for many decades, it has a lot of lovely buildings, churches, and piazzas to enjoy. It is also now known as the place where most European toilet paper is made – this was the most exciting thing for the kids, although we didn’t make to the TP factory… But we did eat lunch in an old Roman amphitheater, wandered the winding streets and fortified walls, and ate some disappointing gelato.

Volterra was my favorite. Although we arrived on a rainy mid-morning, we spent a few hours wandering this hilltop town boasting more ancient churches and adorable twisty alleys. It’s known, among other things, for its alabaster and some unique cookies called Ossi di Morto cookies (bones of the dead). They were surprisingly similar to the texture I would imagine dried up skeleton bones would actually have… After a delicious lunch at a cafe, it was time to go.

We also managed to fit in a day at the beach. The air and sand were hot, but the sea was cold, cold, cold. So, of course, only the Cayas were in there (well, B and the kids), and a random other kid from Northern England who was so happy to swim with someone else because his parents refused to go in. Soon we headed back up over the Alps, just in time for a last snowstorm of the season.

Italy: From the Alps for a piece of Pisa pizza

Over the Easter holidays, we took a trip to Italy with my parents. We piled into our rented van and headed out, destination: the west coast of the boot, where we had rented a little villa for the week.

It’s easy to misjudge how close Switzerland and Italy really are. I think we might actually be able to see Italy from our house… Even moreso, it’s surprising how much a change in temperature and terrain you can see in just a few hours. We drove up around Lac Léman and through the Saint Bernard tunnel (we didn’t see any real Saint-Bernards, but we did see a few statues, with the brandy barrels and everything!). Traffic was good, and we made good time. And before we knew it, suddenly we had climbed over snowy alpine peaks, through dry Italian savannas and arrived at a rocky coastline peppered with tunnels. Italy really likes its tunnels. It seems like the entire coast is tunneled straight through rock.

We spent the night in Arenzano, just next to Genoa, and enjoyed an evening walking the coast and breathing the Mediterranean sea air. However, we quickly discovered that when you take 4 adults and 2 children with picky eating habits and all with a tendency to not make decisions, you run into issues of finding and acquiring dinner. We wandered around town for a while, and most places were either not open yet or unsuitable for one reason or another, until we finally settled on Lebanese take-out. In Italy. And then LittleB almost threw up in the park. So we spent the rest of the night in our hotel room, watching the live-action Scooby Doo movie (the sequel) dubbed into Italian. In other words, it was a classic TheCayas vacation evening.

The next day we made a quick stop in Genoa and ate probably the best gelato ever. Then we spent some time overlooking the city from the Spianata Castelletto, until we were almost literally mobbed by several tour groups and swarms of tiny flies. We also managed to nearly get our rental van stuck in the parking area, when the corners of the narrow Italian streets were too small for us – but with some careful spotting, my dad managed to climb the wheels over several large curbs and get us free. On to Viareggio.

The villa we rented was in Torre del Lago, which turned out to be quite a sleepy little village but we discovered it is famous for two things: 1) It was the summer home of Puccini, who would write his operas in a little tower beside the lake, and continues to be celebrated with a huge opera festival each summer. But we missed it, being there too early. And, 2) Torre del Lago is apparently a famous gay beach, with huge crowds coming in the summer to enjoy all the bars and shows along the coast. We missed this too, being too early. We only saw a couple of mostly naked Italians on the beach and what could have been a few trans ladies, but otherwise it was pretty deserted.

We had picked the area since it was a good home base for visiting the rest of Tuscany. In particular, it was only about half an hour from Pisa – which was on our must-do list, so we checked it out on our first day. As it turns out, Pisa is quite small, and there’s not a lot there except for that crazy tower. And it is seriously leaning, folks. I mean, I knew it was leaning but it really defies sense. But we had a good time wandering around, taking pictures of all the tourists trying to take one of those “holding up the tower” photos and all the pigeons that sit on statues’ heads (that makes me giggle every time). We tried to find lunch, but as usual, our family herd is not good at that sort of decision making. We ended up eating at a generic fast-food kind of pizza place, BUT it was called “Pisa Pizza”, which you can imagine, led to many jokes about “eating a piece of pisa pizza”. It continues to this day. Worth it.


Seat with a view

Seat with a view
We spent a magical weekend on an island off the coast of Jakarta, and this was the best seat in the house, on our villa patio – where, after a day of snorkeling and exploring in the clear blue ocean, we sat and watched the stars blink to life and thunderstorms roll across the horizon like fireworks.

Sulawesi last hurrah

Before we moved away from Indonesia, I had a few weeks on my own after the rest of the family left the country to get a start on summer holidays. I took full advantage of this free time by heading away for a girls’ weekend in Sulawesi to celebrate some life milestones: babies, birthdays, moving, and just general good times.

Unfortunately, I got sick the day before. Really sick. Like, sleeping-beside-the-toilet-in-the-bathroom-all-night sick.

But I was not going to let a little thing like a horrible tropical stomach flu stop me from enjoying a few days in Makassar. Indonesia was not going to win this one, damnit.

The morning of our flight, I forced out just enough dregs of energy to throw some sarongs in a backpack, drag myself to the store for vitamin water and baby probiotic cookies, and flop into a cab to the airport.

Somehow I made it through the next few hours until we landed in Makassar and drove down the coast to where we had rented some villas on the beach. Somehow I scored the villa with the best view (probably out of pity), and plunked down on the bed to watch the ocean waves for the rest of the weekend, living on rice and electrolyte packs.

But I was there for the company, and I had it droves, even though I begged out of the swimming and late-night partying. The weather was also beautiful, and I spent some time taking a ridiculous number of macro shots of crabs and coral on the beach.

It was over too soon, but luckily so was my flu, and I made it home in time to pack up the house and say goodbye to Indonesia for better or worse!

Great Canadian Tour 2015: The great outdoors

And so begins a series of posts about our summer holidays. I still have a few more Asian trips to share, but I’ll dig them out of the archives when winter hangs thick and we all need a bit of jungle and beach scenery.

Our summer was loooooong. We were basically living as transients across Ottawa, Toronto, Washington and Montreal until our Swiss visas could get sorted out. This involved a lot of moving suitcases back and forth across cities, sleeping wherever we could, and pissing off neighbors all over the country with our travel-weary kids.

We started off in Ottawa, our home base for the summer, and the first thing we couldn’t wait to do was go camping. We love camping. We love it so much that we filled our parents’ basements with all our gear when we moved rather than sell it or give it away. So it’s our duty to use it when we come back to town, right?

We booked a short trip, only 3 nights, at Silent Lake near Algonquin Park. Now, I hesitate to tell the internet about this, but it was amazing. It wasn’t too full, the sites were clean and perfect, the beaches were rugged but groomed and uncrowded, the weather gorgeous, and the night skies starry and clear. But please don’t go there, so it can stay that way.

We passed the days with swimming, outdoor games, roasting marshmallows, napping, roasting more marshmallows, watching the fire and listening to the sounds of the forest. We went on a hike one day and went a bit mushroom-crazy with our macro lens.

The kids had a good time. Mostly they just dug holes – like, they dug holes in the ground at our campsite, at the beach, in the lake bottom, in the gravel near the outhouses. What’s with kids and holes, seriously? I picked sand out of their hair for weeks afterwards. And they alternated the hole-digging with whining about eating marshmallows (when they weren’t actually eating marshmallows).

And then there were the 10 minutes when we lost LittleB in the forest while we were hiking. Oh man, other parents, you know that horrible feeling when you’ve lost your kid somewhere scary and dangerous? Yeah.

We were on our way back to the car park, and he got ahead of us, but I wasn’t worried because it is a one-way track… but then I got to the car with J and he wasn’t there. I looked around the area, checked the beach, checked the parking lot, and started to freak out. I ran back into the forest to BigB (who was still photographing mushrooms) and we split up, calling his name and looking around.

After 5 minutes of escalating frenzy, LittleB suddenly showed up at the trailhead, in tears but totally fine. It turns out he was smarter than us and actually got into the car, but I didn’t know it was unlocked so I never looked directly inside when I was in the lot, because why would he be in the locked car? Eventually he freaked out because we hadn’t come out of the forest and came looking for us. So… actually I guess we got lost rather than him.

But it really was a great trip. There’s nothing I like more than a toasty campfire, watching the flames lick the logs down into glowing coals and ashes. I like sitting up late, playing cards by torchlight, making early morning pancakes on the portable stove, snuggling into the sleeping bag when there’s a touch of dew in the night air. And I’m always heavy in the heart to pack up and go home.


Flores fun – part 3: underwater world

After we left Komodo Island, the boat stopped at a few choice snorkeling spots. The first was “Manta Point”, where we would be able to swim with manta rays. C and I hopped out and floated around for a while. But it was a bust, no mantas. The next spot was a sheltered rock-face, but surrounded on either side with brutal currents: only B got to go on this one. And he was lucky! The group saw at least two turtles, and B followed one of them around, filming it NatGeo-style.

We made it back to island in time for a lovely dinner on the beach, under some glowing lanterns and the soft light of sunset.

We also spent our last day on the island snorkeling. C and I went out in the early morning, hoping to see all the underwater creatures starting their day – but we should have checked the tide report first, because the day was on its way toward an incredibly low tide, and all of the coral beds were already beginning to peek out of water’s surface. We still managed to get into the water at a deeper point from the dock, and spent about half an hour circling the coral’s edge around the base of the island. It was a busy morning for the ocean creatures after all, and we saw all sorts of fish. Here are my taxonomically accurate descriptions: long skinny fish, big-eyed red ones, ‘Scar’ from Finding Nemo, shiny tiny blue ones, flat silver ones, plus a few lionfish!

Later that morning, we settled on the beach so the kids could play, and I took LittleB for his first-ever snorkel around a shallow lagoon. It was getting warm, but we still saw quite a few little coral feeders. Snorkeling with kids is all fun and games until someone forgets how to float (him), or doesn’t remember how to breathe in a snorkel (him), or freaks out and steps on the coral (him). Luckily there was no great damage to either kid or wildlife.

Next up, B decided to go out on his own a bit further from shore. While he was away, I spent the time playing ‘rock or coral’ with the kids, where you grab a big piece of sediment from the shallow water and try to guess if it’s – you guessed it – ‘rock’ or ‘coral’. It’s about as fun as it sounds. Then we played ‘the tiniest shell of them all’, where you try to find – you guessed it again! – the ‘tiniest shell of them all’. I won, hands down. Meanwhile, as it turned out, B’s trip was lucky again. He stumbled onto a huge reef shark basking in the water, and again, followed it around NatGeo-style (hoping it wouldn’t get aggressive and chomp him. Actually, we’re pretty sure he was safe, reef sharks just eat little fish. Maybe I should confirm that…. yep, just back from Wikipedia, where apparently what he saw was a very large bamboo shark, and “They are sluggish fish, feeding off bottom dwelling invertebrates and smaller fish.” Phew!).

We spent the rest of the lazy afternoon swinging in the hammocks by the shore.

That evening the tide came back in, so C and I ventured out again. This time, we were treated to a colorful scene of fish and coral beds as far as we could see. The late sun was angling through the surface, with a warm glow. This trip definitely felt the most like ‘Finding Nemo’ – you know, because that’s where basically all of my ocean knowledge comes from. But we did see some neat things, bright purple coral, an octopus, and even a (presumably venomous) sea snake! (Ok, ok, checking…. well, apparently we probably saw a banded sea krait, that IS venemous but not aggressive toward divers. Phew!)

That evening, we ate on the beach next to another glorious sunset, and sat up late watching our friendly house gecko eat giant cicadas. Good times. Tomorrow we would be heading back to the mainland for a few days of camping! See you there.

Koh Lanta part 2 – Elephants etc.

Whew, the last weeks have been crazy: moving house, new school and neighborhood, overnight shifts at work… So, where did we leave off?

After the first couple of days in our villa, we decided to book a tour down the south of island. What seems like the number one thing to do in Thailand? Ride an elephant! We found a local travel agent and booked an afternoon trip to an elephant park, followed by a few hours to while away in the national park beach.

When we arrived at the elephant park…. well, we shouldn’t have been surprised at this, but it was a bit underwhelming. As it turned out, our “exotic elephant ride through the jungle” was about a 30-minute wander through a rubber plantation next to the highway. And we rode on benches strapped to the elephants’ shoulders rather than having direct body contact. It also would have been a nicer time if our guides hadn’t chattered away at each other in Thai the whole way. Anyway, it was a pretty obvious tourist trap, but the kids were totally oblivious to it – they thought it was fantastic, and I suppose that was the point!

After the ride, we got to feed the elephants some pineapples – tops and all.

Then the tour guide brought us to a secluded beach on the south tip of the island, where we we had the run of the place. There were barely any other people, the water was clear and calm, the sand was soft and clean. It was a perfect afternoon!

As it turned out, it was lucky we did the tour when we did, because the rest of our trip was rained out. We spent the last three days holed up in our villa, eating weird snacks from the 7-11 and watching our way through the DVDs in the house. We ventured out a couple of times, taking a quick trip “downtown” to go shopping: that was a bust, since downtown was just a strip of closed restaurants and a handful of souvenir shops, and an overgrown driving range. One night we found an English-style pub and enjoyed a few beers and baked potatoes. B found a store selling tiny NHL mugs from 1994 and couldn’t have been happier. So our only souvenir from Thailand is a 20-year-old Ottawa Senators shot glass mug. We also managed a final afternoon on the local beach, playing with hermit crabs and finding pretty shells to bring home.

Too soon it was time to head home – We had a house to move and all sorts of crazy things to sort out. More on that next time!


Koh Lanta Part 1 – beaches, beer, bliss

We decided to take some time off the grid in Koh Lanta, Thailand. It was pure chance that we ended up there – the beaches and villas looked nice and the flights were easy, so we went for it! We rented a private villa 100 m from the beach and made plans to just lie around and swim for the week.

Our very early morning flight took us through Kuala Lumpur, with a transfer to Krabi, where we were picked up by a van and shuttled onto the island. We were all pretty wiped after waking up at 2 am that morning, so we all slept through a lot of the drive, but a few of us managed to see the two ferry rides from the mainland – through mangrove forests and around lumpy islands in the mist.

We arrived at our villa and settled in for our stay, and by that I mean we immediately went to the 7-11 and bought all the different types of beer available. Our host had also purchased us a “welcome” package of weird snacks, most of which were basically inedible, but fun to try! There was some kind of meat-flavor balls, some prawn crackers, honey graham rip offs, and some bbq chips. The best that Koh Lanta has to offer! That afternoon, the kids jumped into the pool and basically never came out for the rest of the week.

Day two started with a visit to a lovely cafe, then we spent the rest of the day on the beach. The beach was a short walk away, a 4-km stretch of deserted white sand with plenty of interesting shells and rocks to keep everyone happy.

As it turned out, we were visiting Koh Lanta in the low season, and many shops and tourist amenities were closed. We had a hard time finding groceries, so we ate a lot of strange meals concocted out of whatever we could scrounge at the 7-11: popcorn, jam, eggs and “milk croissants” featured heavily in our diets for the week. But there were also a few restaurants in walking distance, so we were able to enjoy a few good meals of the western-style food we don’t normally get at home in Indonesia – hamburgers, meat pies, pasta. It’s a bit silly that we ended up all the way in Thailand to eat north american food. At one point, I did get a fried rice dish that came in a pineapple, that’s kind of Thai, right? At least most of the restaurants had pet cats, so the kids basically spent their time teasing and chasing them around, the perfect babysitter during our meals… just scratchier.

That first day, we made plenty of plans to take some tours and visit the sights of the island for the rest of the week. Stay tuned!


Bangka retreat

March was a busy one – hard to find time to write!

I cracked open the month with a quick work retreat to Pangkal Pinang, the capital of Bangka, which is a small island just east of Sumatra. Although we were only there for two nights, we packed in the activities. Our days were filled with retreat sessions but we managed to enjoy a welcome dinner by the pool (with karaoke) and an evening dinner on the beach (…with karaoke). I even managed to get away for lunch with a few colleagues – we were looking for some seafood or perhaps some pork dishes (apparently both items that Bangka is known for), but somehow we ended up with a meal made entirely of different preparations of pork belly. I mean, I like pork belly, in moderation, but not when it is the only dish available… At least the beach views we enjoyed later on made up for it!

Meanwhile, the kids were busy at school with trips and assemblies and plays. And we capped off the month with Grandma’s arrival and a trip to Bali! Coming up next…

New Zealand Part 5 – Whitianga Coast

We spent our last few days hanging around the Coromandel peninsula. This is lovely part of New Zealand, just northeast of Auckland. It’s a beach area, and has a friendly, hippy vibe.

The drive from Matamata to Whitianga was beautiful, but admittedly a bit nerve-wracking. At first we headed up the east coast, but we were told by some old-timers at a cafe stop that the way we were going would be too busy – we should cross over and head up the west coast to avoid all the traffic. Now, putting things in perspective, I don’t think those old folks have any idea what real traffic is like… we live in Jakarta. We see traffic every day that I think would give those dudes a heart attack. Anyway, we believed them and crossed to the other side. We saw about 100 cars over the course of the day.. and that was high season traffic!

As it turns out, we followed a coastal road that was about the width of 1.5 cars, which hugged the cliffside the whole way. And apparently NZ doesn’t believe in guard rails or fencing. And we were on the outside. I was pretty sure we were going to jump the edge and plummet to our firey deaths for most of the way. I gripped our map to death. But we stopped at all the beaches and lookouts, and saw some of the prettiest landscapes I think I’ve ever seen. So the risk to our lives was worth it!

In Whitianga proper, we rented a beach house and hung around the town for a few days. There were a few little shops and cafes, but in general the options a bit lower-quality than we were hoping for. The best store they had specialized in imported items from Indonesia – ironic. Especially because B and I have been trying to buy local art. So we didn’t get anything there! Luckily on our last day in town, we found a fantastic brew house with some local beers and delicious English-style dinners. Chalk up another “best meal ever” to our trip list!

One of the highlights of the Whitianga area is the hot water beach. This is a section of the coast where a hot spring feeds into the water, so you can go at low tide and dig yourself a little hole in the sand, which will fill up with hot spring water! When we arrived, there was a bit of a frenzy, and of course none of us really knew what we were doing. We dug two or three holes but only managed to get cold water. After a while, we managed to steal away another group’s existing hole when they left and had a quick soak. It wasn’t quite as relaxing as we had hoped, but at least we can say we did it! Unfortunately, on the same visit to the beach, B decided he wanted to film himself wave jumping, but the ocean decided to steal his glasses as payment. So he spent the rest of our trip squinting.

The days passed too quickly, and soon it was time to go. We only had one day left before our return home, and we had a long drive to do, with a stop at an underground glow worm cave! Coming up next…

Aussie Adventure Part 3 – Beach tour

We started off Sydney right by visiting the famous Bondi Beach. It was beautiful. Well, I should confess that we didn’t really go onto the beach itself, we just kind of looked at it from the top of the hill nearby. We had taken the bus to get there, and we disembarked just beside the beach. Going all the way down to the sand would have been the end of our tour – once kids touch sand, there’s no moving from there. That’s it. An afternoon of them digging in sand. So we snapped some photos and shooshed them along. Our goal for the day was to do the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk.

We started up the trail, surrounded by shirtless joggers and dog walkers. We were seriously overdressed and frumpy by comparison. I know there’s the whole no-ozone thing in Australia, but that seems to just be a convenient excuse for explaining away all the skin cancer there. Really, Australia, put on some clothes. You’re as bad as smokers who smoke and then blame the cigarettes for cancer instead of the habit. I’ve never seen so many white-turned-brown people in my life. There was one old dude lying on the beach in a speedo – he was so sun-cooked, he looked tanned. I don’t mean tanned, like he has a healthy glow, but tanned like leather – like he was wearing an old man skin costume made out of used cowboy boots. Now that I think about it, he very well may have been dead and just lying there cooking the sun for a few days without anyone noticing.

The walk was beautiful, though. The ocean was a lovely dark turquoise colour that I’ve never seen before – too bright to be the Atlantic but too dark to be tropical. The waves were pretty rough, another reason not to visit the beaches themselves, but it looked like a good day for surfing. We stopped for a while to watch them. I like watching surfers – it’s like a little game, trying to guess what percentage of them will get tipped over or not get up on their boards at all. The answer is, pretty much all of them, all the time. Really, what a horrible sport, it’s like a never-ending exhausting fight against mother nature: You spend 86% of your time trying to swim to the sweet spot, 10% underneath waves, 3.5% drowning, and a fleeting but joyous 0.5% actually standing on your board.

After the surfers, we wandered through the old Waverley Cemetery. I like old cemeteries too. This one was cool, because the rows of graves were chronologically filled. It was also so huge that we only managed to make it through 1876.

Alas, we didn’t get all the way to Coogee. The kids conked out around Bronte, so we hopped on a bus to take us home!