magic cake

magiccake01

The ingredients for magic cake are straightforward: butter, sugar, eggs, flour, milk. The magic is created with the proportion of the ingredients and when baked at a low temperature, it separates into 3 layers: the lowest layer is a dense cake, the middle layer creamy custard and the top layer is a crunchy, light genoise sponge. This recipe was from the telegraph.

500ml milk
2 vanilla pods
4 eggs, separated
150g sugar
1tbsp vanilla extract
125g butter
110g flour

scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods, heat seeds and pods with milk until boiling
remove and leave to cool and infuse for 1hr
beat egg yolks with sugar and vanilla extract until thick
melt butter and add to mixture
fold in flour
add milk little by little
whisk egg whites till soft peaks and fold into mixture, no need to mix thoroughly, there should be lumps of egg white floating in a liquid mixture
bake at 150ºC in a lined tin for around 50mins
leave to cool in tin before turning out, chill in fridge to set

Very tasty and rich. A little less sugar next time, I find with most baking recipes I need to reduce the amount of sugar. My magic cake didn’t separate as well as the ones people post; the bottle dense layer probably needed a little more cooking. I was also impatient and ate a slice before it had a chance to chill in the fridge.

Definitely must make again. Most people credit jocooks as the originator of magic cake recipes and she has many different flavours like lemon, chocolate, butterscotch (ouch, too sweet probably), coconut.

hotel hunting in japan

I’m helping out a friend who will be travelling to Japan for 2-3 weeks. Tokyo–>Hakone–>Kyoto–>Osaka. Her first time in Japan so I’m sharing my notes of places to visit, things to do, food, markets, transportation. I hope it’s useful.

The current focus is hotels. Budget is €80. What we found out, and are advised by frequent travellers to Japan, is to consider business hotels, or bizunesu hoteru. Seriously, read that out loud and marvel at the Japanese language. These business hotels, quite a number are part of a chain, are not only for business people. They’re no frills, reasonably priced and well located (next to a train station for instance). No frills means no gym, no room service, and some only change bedding every 3-4 days. The rooms will be functional and, since it’s Japan, quite small. But also since it’s Japan, they will be clean and the service polite and efficient.

tok093hotel

We stayed at a Tokyu Stay hotel last time and there was a small kitchenette and a washing machine in our room. A small seating area in the lobby served simple breakfast in the morning and a coffee machine served free coffee the rest of the day; there were also the ubiquitious vending machines for drinks and snacks. A helpful notice board showed nearby restaurants. The front desk helped us book a taxi for 5am check-out. The trip several years ago we stayed at a Superhotel and they had a daiyokujo hot spring bath on site. Next time I’ll also include Daiwa Roynet and Dormy Inn when searching for hotels.

That’s in cities. What we are finding is that Hakone hotels are much more expensive, €100 rooms are really basic. Not a big surprise because hotels there are mostly hot spring resorts that also include dinner.

hak077lake

Sigh. Hakone. Now I want to go there again. Go to Moto-Hakone, stare at Mount Fuji, go back to the hotel and have a full course kaiseki dinner, soak in the onsen and sleep on tatami mats. Heaven or not.

soju and beer

I was watching this video about why korean bbq is better in the US than in korea. I disagree, korean bbq in korea certainly has fewer choices–i’ve been to small restaurants where there is literally one thing on the menu, but it was one thing done well–it’s a matter of taste. Americans like lots of choice and lots of everything. That’s not necessarily the way it’s done traditionally.

Anyway, the host was drinking a mixture of soju and beer. I slapped my head, duh!!! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I’ve drunk soju on its own and obviously beer on its own.

It’s apparently a big thing. They even have specially marked glasses to get the ratio just right. 30:70 soju:beer is popular. There are also other methods to fix the drink, including swirling or mixing with a chopstick to create a foam on top.

And there’s the famous soju bomb, which involves dropping a bunch of shotglasses of soju in glasses of beer, like a domino effect. Very cool.

sojubeer

All I did was mix a splash of soju with beer; I got cass so it’s all korean. The ratio was around 1:4 soju:beer. I can taste the sweet soju in with the mild beer. The alcohol % of the drink is more than beer; soju is 17%. It’s probably something I’ll try in a korean restaurant if there are enough people to finish one soju, otherwise it’s more of a novelty drink for me.

lego tape

legotape

I’m keeping an eye on this campaign for lego tapes, officially called nimuno or toy block tapes. It looks superduper fun, a tape that can stick on anything and then add lego bricks. I particularly like the tape around the bottom of sneakers, because why not. It’s one of those things that have absolutely no use whatsoever except for entertainment value.

They’ve reached almost $1.5mm funding. Right now for US$13 we get 2 rolls and for US$36 one roll each of different 6 colours: green, blue, purple, black, red, grey. The campaign has 20 days to go. I’ll wait till almost to the end because they seem to be constantly adding colours.

looking at backpacks

I’m looking at backpacks. I usually use fairly standard ones as long as they have what I want: padded laptop pocket, more than one compartment, space for pens, keys and small items, preferably mesh outside pocket for water bottle. My current one is from samsonite I bought at a discount.

The easiest place to get one is a department store, sports shop or the markets. Or wait for one of those sports and discount events that happen once in a while. I was idly looking on kickstarter and indiegogo and there are a few that caught my eye.

nomatic

nomatic $179 — a large weekender that opens up all the way round

what i like: large capacity, zip that goes all the way round, useful laundry bag, hidden pockets, top pocket, laptop compartment inside back flap

what i like less: looks bulky and heavy, probably okay as a weekend bag but too big for day-to-day use, water bottle holder is buried somewhere inside


tgo

tgo tom $159 — another weekender

like: large capacity, opens all the way round, expands, dividers like a camera bag, comes with accessories that go on the straps and around the waist, lots of small hidden pockets

dislike: bulky, doesn’t look elegant, too many additional pockets adds to the weight and shape, shoebag that hangs outside the main bag is unsightly


lifepack

lifepack $269 — backpack that includes solar powered powerbank battery/speaker

like: looks cosmopolitan, small enough for day-to-day use, external battery charges phones etc, clever idea to have it solar powered, hidden pockets, small accessories included (bottle opener, lock and cable)

dislike: expensive, what happens if battery stops working or backpack breaks, i have no use for speakers, only one main compartment


I like the first one, the nomatic, because it’s functional but it doesn’t scream out to me to get it. There seems to be an endless stream of travel bags offered on kickstarter and indiegogo so I’m not in any hurry. LIke a lot of crowdfunding projects they are priced a little too high for my liking. I get it, they’re not mass production prices. The problem is that I can get a not as fancy backpack for 1/3, 1/4 the price.

refugeebag

The one project I’ll do more research on and likely to back is operation refugee child. They distribute backpacks to refugee children and families in Greece. Basic necessities like first aid kit, soap, toothpaste. Underwear, socks, blanket. Toys, crayons and stationery. Protein bar. From their website:

it’s not just a backpack, it’s everything they have

$10 gets a backpack and $45 gets a filled backpack delivered to a child or mother in need.

randomly curated links

I don’t maintain a sideblog, partly because I don’t have material all the time. That said, I have been saving a bunch of articles that would perfectly fit a sideblog. Random topics I’m interesting in like tech, travel, photography, entertainment.


icecaves

In the far, far north of Canada, which spends the most of the year under snow and ice, tides are extreme. When it’s low-tide, caves form as the topmost layer of ice remains while the water underneath recede. The native Inuits take the window of opportunity to climb underneath the ice to hunt for mussels. The caves underneath look magical, but only for a short time.

Before long, the sound of ticks and pops signaled the returning tide as it lifted the ice on the bay. Soon, the water would fill the caverns.

Beautifully photographed. I’m a big fan of alaska, life in the cold stories and this article confirmed the region’s harsh climate and even harsher way of life.


amazon’s continued online shopping dominance

A couple of months old, but still interesting is jason kottke’s account of online christmas shopping. The drone that his son wanted was out of stock at amazon, so he shopped with the manufacturer direct. Multiple emails and phone calls to verify the order and suddenly the order was refunded even though he never requested the cancellation. He couldn’t complete his purchase at Walmart’s online shop. Target’s website was slow and the item arrived late. The point is, everyone hates amazon, but it’s the only one that consistently works.

The site is always fast, I have never seen a 404’d product page, the URLs for their products haven’t changed in almost 20 years.

Come to think of it, that’s true. Product urls at amazon never 404. My only complaint is that there are now way too many products and it’s becoming more difficult to search. I need replacement lightning cables and I remember reading about some sturdy kevlar ones. Search for “kevlar lighting cable” returned 130 results, some of which are variations of the same product.


Talking about search, here’s 10 ways of searching for information on google, some I know, like searching through a specific website or url; some didn’t know about.

For instance if I were looking for an onsen in either kyoto or osaka I can search: onsen kyoto or osaka. If I want to exclude certain results, like if I want to search for interesting books but I don’t want to buy any I can search: interesting books -buy.


Musical interlude. Here’s the latest from The xx called Say Something Loving. I don’t know The xx very well, this song has grown on me. Plus the video is all.about.London albeit a London from a young person’s point of view. Video arcades (Trocadero may be), the skate park under the National Theatre, the Coronet.

We wanted to celebrate our home town and revisit some of the places that reminds us of our friendship when we were growing up.


Via the always reliably interesting boing boing a video breakdown of the Battle of Helm’s Deep. They talk about use of colour, silence in the cinematography. I didn’t realise it was 40mins long, my attention never faltered from the first anticipatory shots of silent waiting to the arrival of Gandalf. Classic.


Even darker, a LA Times long read about revenge that I spotted, fittingly enough, on r/prorevenge. Very long read, very riveting and surreal.

tl;dr: Entitled rich lawyer mom somehow perceived her precious snowflake son was slighted by the PTA President. Hatched an elaborate scheme with her (also lawyer) husband to place drugs in the hapless lady’s car. Police officer didn’t take the allegations at face value and turned the investigation to the husband and wife instead. They were arrested and jailed. Both lawyers were disbarred. The civil suit for damages was in favour of the president for $5.7million.

Apparently, a film is in the works, with Julia Roberts attached as producer and star.


Here’s a cruise I’d never go on, travelling on container ships. It’s okay for a young, single guy. It’s not only the time needed–2 weeks to cross the Pacific, for instance, it’s just that they’re not geared towards passengers:

You are a liability to the ship, and there is no reason why they should bring you onboard. Most ports are secured to a level where you cannot access them. Life onboard the ships come down to a few things: work, eat, sleep, recreation. A passenger is an interference to the ships routine.

So why do it? Because it’s there. And because someone thought about it as an idea and did it. There are apparently good things too. The passenger can share in the facilities and one ship had a sauna. There’s a lot of downtime. The view is different. And once past the bureaucracy of getting onboard, it’s cheap.


nyc549citibike

A form of cheap transport that I do like is bike sharing schemes. I was surprised and quite proud of myself at how I took advantage of NYC citibikes last year. Manhattan was surprisingly easy and safe to navigate on a bike, unlike London where I tried cycling to Harrow Road post office once and gave up. I think it’s the attitude of London drivers towards cyclists as well as the hunking buses that make it dangerous. When it works, there’s very little to dislike about these schemes. They are eco-friendly, cheap, convenient and healthy.

bikesharegrowth

Even in car-centric America, bike sharing schemes are growing. Granted, most of the growth is in cities–85% of all rides are in 5 cities: NYC, Washington DC, Chicago, Miami, Boston. It doesn’t fit everywhere. Seattle cancelled its scheme due to low usage (weather, hills and lack of commitment from local government). Schemes probably won’t work very well in rural areas.

One statistic that is impressive is how safe bike sharing is. The possible reasons make sense: the bikes are sturdy, making them heavier and also slower; they have working lights and brakes, users tend to only use them for short distances and are less experienced so they are more careful.

The world seriously can’t rely on petro-driven cars forever. Electric cars and self-driving cars may be the future but there’s also room for low tech transportation like bikes.

writers tears

writerstears2017

Finished the bottle of Dalwhinnie. It’s okay, middle of the road.

While thinking about the next bottle to open, I’ve been buying scads of Writers Tears, which is back at m&s at a lower price. I haven’t tried WT extensively, so it was an easy decision to open a bottle for the next rotation.

There’s something about Irish blends, that make them different from Scottish or Japanese blends. The Famous Grouse series is the only ones I like in the Scottish blends stable, and I’ve tried so very hard to like Hibiki but nope. Irish blends are usually a mix of malt, pot still and grain, I think the pot still tempers the harshness. WT is a blend of pure pot still and malt, no grain. Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin:

A deliciously soft, sweet, easy drinking dram.

Mr Murray gives it 93 points:

the arrival is an alternating delivery of soft and hard waves, the former showing a more bitter, almost myopic determination to hammer home its traditional pot still stand point; the sweeter more yielding notes dissolve with little ot no resistance, leaving an acaia honeyed trail

The fruity but not overly fruity notes on the nose is oh so pleasant. The palate is smooth and sweet with just enough kick. The finish is lingering and I have to say pleasant again. I love cask strengths and this one at a normal 40% tastes almost of cask strength. It’s cheaper than HP12, around the price of 2 bottles of good wine and can easily become my day-to-day dram.

p.s. posted on st patrick’s day

london bridge has fallen

London Bridge Roundel
photo credit: flickr user diorama_sky, under CC

I can even fathom, but one of these days the Queen will pass away. Spent a few minutes (more like 20, it’s a long read) reading the Guardian’s article about Operation London Bridge, or the top secret plans for the few days after the Queen’s death. The extension plans cover both the Queen’s death and Charles’ ascension and have been in place since the 1960s. The group of people involved (government departments, the police, the army, Palace staff, the media) meets regularly to update the plans and there are rehearsals for all manner of eventualities.

The middle of the article talks about Britain’s decling power compared with when Queen Victoria died. Then, we had the Empire. Now, there’s Brexit. But the Empire is gone, it’s nothing to be ashamed about; the world changes and evolves. Britain will still mourn the death of our monarch with dignity and it will be done with full-on British precision and ceremony. Extensive procedures will be followed, every detail, from the thickness of the cloth covering the bell of Big Ben that will ring the start to the Queen’s funeral to stockpiling of condolence books in all corners of the country, are in the playbook. The Prime Minister will be informed, Parliament will be recalled. TV and radio programs will stop and networks will merge with the announcement. The BBC, other channels as well as newspapers and magazines will have material already prepared.

The royal standard will appear on the screen. The national anthem will play. You will remember where you were.

And it being a completely modern world, the news will spread very, very quickly. It took hours before George VI’s death was announced; the press who were in Paris with Robin Cook who was travelling with Princess Diana knew within 15mins. Now, it’s as fast as data is carried over the internet.

There will be a profound outpouring of grief. Some observers predict an increase in patriotic feelings.

People who are not expecting to cry will cry.

I don’t cry a lot and I was close to tears just reading this.

illustrated marathon maps

marathondrawinglondon

Went running the other day, did 5k around the reservoir park. Extremely slow and there is no doubt I’ve lost 100% of my fitness, probably more since I need to lose weight too. It’s been a year since my last serious run. I still follow Paris Marathon on social media but I don’t dare think about any of it. I wonder when I’ll be ready to go back to running.

Saw the reddit thread by an artist who produced illustrated marathon maps. He’s done maps for Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, MCM, New York, Pittsburg, San Francisco, and Tokyo. All the drawings are fantastic, my favourites are London and Tokyo mainly because these are two cities I know and love. Definitely worth checking out the full gallery.

marathondrawingtokyo

The prints are available for sale. $28 isn’t too bad though I wish they sold postcard sized too so I can get the whole set. If they did a Paris map I’ll consider getting the print; it’s the one that got away, innit.

iphone case is an android phone

iphoneandroidcase

I have 2 phone numbers: a personal number and a public number. Two sim cards, two physical phones. It’s becoming more and more unnecessary as telephone call usage has decreased to almost zero. I never answer an unknown number on my personal phone and only if I’m expecting a call (electrician or delivery) on the public phone. That said, sometimes it’s useful to have 2 phones.

This is being reported everywhere recently: guardian, indy, engadget, mashable: an iphone case that is an android phone. The project is fully funded and the makers claim an impressive list of features:

a 5 inch display, battery power, up to 256GB storage, SIM slots, an IR blaster & wireless charging!

The case is bulky, and I’m guessing vulnerable to cracking as both sides have a glass screen. Most of the reporters are puzzled at why anyone would want to pay $95 (wifi only) or $129 (mobile) when it’s essentially, as the verge pointed out:

duct-taping an Android phone to the back of your iPhone

The only use I can think of is for people who have multiple phones and want to consolidate. Or people who want to run apps that are only available in either the google playstore or itunes store. It’ll be less bulky for me to have to carry 2 phones, but for everyday use it seems overkill. If the price were lower or if I spotted it during the super early bird period when it was offered for $69 I might have considered it. To be fully useful for me, I’d have to go for the $129 (which will go up to $189) version and I don’t think I want it that much.

numbers are fun

traincups

I found an absolutely fantastic youtube channel numberphile, which posts videos about science and maths in an interesting and fun way.

This one with Professor Tadashi Tokieda, Director of Studies in Mathematics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge where he explains why train wheels are shaped the way they are so they can go around bends safely. It’s all to do with large circles travelling longer distance per rotation than small circles. He illustrates it using disposable plastic cups taped together. What an engaging professor, he made it so easy to understand.

buffy 20-year anniversary

It’s 20 years since Welcome to the Hellmouth. I didn’t watch Buffy when it was on the air but caught up later and followed on twop before watching it all on dvd. Took me a while to get to s7. It’s one of those tv shows that has a special place in pop culture. Here are some top moments, not a bad list. The ultimate recent list is vox’s ranking of every single episode, from #144 Beer Bad to #1:

spoiler
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Once More with Feeling

Makes me want to rewatch the dvds again.

bbmm wine at home

Just a few hours a week isn’t much, but we tried to make the best use of them. We wanted to go to the travel agent but mm wanted to meet for drinks beforehand. I checked that the german bierhalle had happy hour and we had a glass of house red each. Not very inspiring house red, it suited our purposes.

For the travel agent visit, we got one of the really knowledgeable agents there. He asked a few questions about where, when and what sort of things we liked doing and proceeded to plan our itinerary. Even looked up options for airports in/out and how we can add our friend lily to the trip. Whilst mm was asking him other questions, I asked my original agent about the NCL refund and she said still waiting. Not her fault, local NCL is being slow and useless. More about our possible trip later.

margaux201703

Instead of going to a restaurant, we went to the market, bought hainanese chicken and veg, and had dinner at her place. So much nicer, and watched Bones too. Finished about 2/3rd of the whole chicken, plus giblets. The wine was great! It’s so rarely that I get to try someone more expensive than the regular cheap zin or pinots I drink at home. What we both liked about this margaux was how fragrant it was, so fruity, so full of berry notes. We both swirled the wine (not overfilling the glass) and inhaled the rich blackcurrant aroma, it was enough sometimes, no need to drink it. When we did taste, it was sweet and smooth without being overly caramel-y and hardly any tannic aftertaste.

We polished off the entire bottle.

Good food, good wine, good company. Definitely have to do it again.

lunch with great-aunt

auck061star

My great-aunt from canada called out of the blue this morning. She’s visiting for a week. Turned out she went on a last minute cruise with some friends. Now the coincidence is, they were on the Star and boarded in Auckland on the 18th!!! That’s exactly the leg after ours and we actually got to Auckland just in time to see it sail off that day. I showed her this pic I took as the bus was turning into britomart and she was there on the ship. If only we’d known. Their itineray was changed too, but at least the azipods kept on working. Theirs was a 19-day cruise that took them back to Sydney then to cairns, darwin, bali and singapore.

springdeer201703

We treated her and her friend to lunch at the traditional restaurant spring deer. Shark’s fin soup, peking duck, minced pork and pastry parcels. Way too much to eat, we took the duck carcass and leftovers home. Lovely to see her and we enjoyed the food. Not too expensive, local$ 1600, around UD200, for 4 people. I remember going to this restaurant with my grandparents, it looks the same and the food is the same high quality. Okay, it’s controversial to have shark’s fin soup nowadays, we don’t really make it a habit. The soup was mainly a chicken soup with depth of flavour; shark’s fin itself is bland.

food at home

butternutsquash

Mum bought a small pre-cooked chicken from the frozen food shop last time she went to the market. The cooking instructions were to remove outer packaging and put chicken in inner wrapping in boiling water for 17mins. I had it boiling in the bag for around 30mins just to make sure it’s heated all the way through. Quite nice, can buy again.

I put the bones in a ziploc bag and realised I already have 3 large bags of chicken and turkey bones. Time to make stock.

Went to the market and bought a ginormous butternut squash to make soup. Some carrots, an onion and a couple of tomatoes too. I have celery at home. Then because I couldn’t resist, broccoli and cauliflower. Also a loaf of bread and a bottle of korean rice wine that was on sale. Pretty heavy load to take home.

fearless girl

fearlessgirl
photo credit: Federica Valabrega

Advertising firm McCann New York placed a statue of a girl opposite the Wall Street charging bull on behalf of their client State Street Global Advisors. The statue, called Fearless Girl, was by sculptor Kristen Visbal and will be there for a week. The purpose is to bring attention, on International Women’s Day, to diversity and gender equality issues. She starts down the bull and plaque at her feet says

Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.

State Street is refreshingly unusual in having 3 women on its 11-member board. Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Tisdalle:

She’s not angry at the bull — she’s confident, she knows what she’s capable of, and she’s wanting the bull to take note.

If only the rest of Wall Street is as enlightened as State Street. More than 80% of FAs are men and 25% of Russell 3000 index firms have no women on their board. I mean, has anyone been to the pit that is a trading desk? Sigh.

Come to think of it, I think my friend Larry went to State Street. I think he’s still there, global head of mobility.

nyc295bull

And another thing, they must have roped off the statues for photographers or the photographers got there early. When I was there last year, there were so many people taking selfies with the bull I could not get a proper pic at all.

sis lunch and bank

Met up with sis to deal with the last of the probate stuff, but it turned out we had to go to another office to get another piece of paper first. So much bureaucracy. Since I didn’t bring the necessary documents we’ll have to go another day.

globelunch201703

Long lunch at the globe. She had beef & mushroom pie and I had the set lunch. Lamb chops and cheesecake. The lamb was salty, just like most food outside is salty. I don’t remember the taste of the cheesecake it was that memorable. Between us we polished off the equivalent of a bottle of wine, should have ordered by the bottle vs glass.

Went to the bank to put some of the joint account money to work. Too much cash, so we invested some: switched some to a better performing global income and growth fund, switched some to high yield bonds, and bought a new multi-income fund. One thing I’ve noticed about sis, she is quite impatient with investments, not experience enough to take the long view and gets panicky when there’s a loss or the return isn’t high enough.

website hacked

hacked201703

The website is down. Got an email from ISP support saying it was hacked via FTP so they changed the FTP password, locked the website and restored from backup. I can’t remember when was the last time I used the FTP function, so I’m going to leave it disabled. Changed CP password and scanned the mba too. Very annoyed it’s been one issue after another since I had to switch to WP.

stopped going to church

00chapel02

I stopped going to mass. Mum still goes but I told her I’m taking a break. For the longest time we never went, and then when Papa was in hospital we started going again and continued after he was gone. I thought it might help me, get some peace and support for my spiritual and faithful side. I prayed the rosary for weeks.

May be it’s because I never learned how to pray or go to church or open myself to receiving God’s blessing. I don’t feel like it’s helped. I search and I try to feel and all I get is blank.

It’s not like when people declare that they’ve turned their backs on their church because of scandal or politics. It’s nothing like that. I think I still believe in God. There has to be a purpose to our miserable lives. But I decided when I started feeling like going to mass every sunday felt like a chore, I should stop. Again, no earth-shattering reason. It’s like someone suddenly decided to stop eating onions or going to a particular restaurant. There’s no concrete reason.

bbmm wine hotpot

Met up with mm in the afternoon. We had a couple of hours to kill so went to a hotel bar and ordered a bottle of wine. A whole bottle! It was nice to just sit there and chat. Now that she’s working full-time in the university research department we hardly get time to text, let alone meet up. We decided that she needs more play time. Dinner was simple hotpot, we were early so were done by 7.30pm. A little walking then home early.

iphone connection

tok380phonewifi

I’m not getting any internet when connected to the phone network (wifi is okay). Tried swapping for my other sim card and the Three UK card and they both work so it’s likely my primary carrier. Have to get it fixed, I just renewed and there’s no point using them if it doesn’t work.

Edit: so, quite embarrassingly, it turns out I’d used up my data allocation. Probably when I was tethering to upload pics. It’s easy (too easy) to buy an additional 1GB for local$ 50.

blessed silence

Ah, blessed silence. The air smells toxic and the atmosphere is tense, but my ears and sanity are recharging. It’s always going to be a problem, a person who loves talking for the sake of talking vs a person whose greatest wish is to have hearing that can be switched off.

hidden not hidden

Car was telling me about hidden figures, an inspirational film about african-american women who worked on the space program in the 1960s. It’s so important, especially now, to show the achievements of women and minorities. As jason kottke said

You watch this movie and think, how much higher could the human race have flown if women and people of color had always had the same opportunities as white men?

Not only in the past, it’s a current problem too.

nasawomen

And right on time, lego announced that they will release a set of 5 female NASA scientists including: scientist Katherine Jenkins; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; astronaut, physicist and educator Sally Ride; astronomer Nancy Grace Roman; and astronaut and physician Mae Jemison. Lego solicits ideas all the time and some of the ideas are put into production. About the women of NASA idea:

As a science editor and writer, with a strong personal interest for space exploration as well as the history of women in science and engineering, Maia Weinstock’s Women of NASA project was a way for her to celebrate accomplished women in the STEM professions.

ten meter tower

This was during my trip and I was watching it in the hotel room. A short film called ten meter tower about people participating in an experiment by jumping off a 10m diving platform for the first time. Even with the camera only on the people on the platform, we can feel the trepidation. The makers, Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson

sought to capture people facing a difficult situation, to make a portrait of humans in doubt

Around 70% did jump. No one can be sure of what they will do until they are up there on the platform. I know I’d be petrified even though I know logically there is no harm.

subscribe to newspapers

nytsub

How is the NYT really doing, asked om malik. Newspapers are painfully transitioning from print versions to digital versions, some with more success than others. I can understand the constant calls to subscribe, or to put articles behind a paywall–they have to make money after all. I left the NYT when they started their paywall, but have enjoyed a free trial subscription thanks to my friend R for the past 3 months. The question is, do I continue subscribing once the free period is over? Their income from ad revenues has gone down significantly although their digital subscription rate has gone up, possibly due to the US election. A basic subscription is only USD2.75 a week, and I really should support that.

The alternative is to subscribe to the guardian, which is marginally more expensive at USD3.85 per week. There obviously is room for both, it doesn’t work out to be that much.

Thinking.

cruise trip posts and pics

the cruise trip is written up and posted.

  • day 01: singapore gardens by the bay, east coast food village
  • day 02: singapore to sydney
  • day 03: sydney farmers market, harbour, barangaroo, watsons bay
  • day 04: sydney fish market, darling harbour, harry’s
  • day 05: sydney fish market, embarkation
  • day 06: at sea, eating
  • day 07: melbourne cbd, qvm
  • day 08: melbourne: fitzroy gardens, mcg, docklands
  • day 09: adrift at sea with no propulsion
  • day 10: on tow
  • day 11: st kilda festival, beach, melbourne riverside
  • day 12: melbourne city circle tram
  • day 13: yarra valley fruit farm, winery
  • day 14: melbourne to auckland
  • day 15: rotorua lake, kuirau park
  • day 16: wai-o-tapu geothermal area, waimangu volcanic valley
  • day 17: hobbiton
  • day 18: waiheke island
  • day 19: auckland mission bay
  • day 20: long flights home

flickr sets:

some of the more unusual pics. The markings on this tree at gardens by the bay in singapore looks like a human face:
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door 5, sydney carriageworks market:
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sculpture on waiheke island:
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penguins taking a selfie, waiheke island:
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more food shopping

Second round of grocery shopping. Garlic, ginger, celery, onion, potatoes that I should have gotten yesterday but couldn’t carry. A whole oxtail. Milk, beer for braising, frozen roti. 5kg bag of rice.

I cooked the oxtail today for tomorrow lunchtime. Weather has turned cold and it’ll be nice to have some comfort food.

food shopping

Whatever great planning in terms of food in the freezer is only as good as the amount of food stored, so I went off to the market today.

fruit: apples, tangerines
veg: cooking greens, salad greens, cherry tomatoes, carrot, corn, sweet potatoes
meat: chicken wings, pork ribs

There’s only so much I can carry. I didn’t even make it to the supermarket.

cruise trip day 21: home

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Got home tuesday, or rather, wednesday 1am. By the time I showered and put the perishables in the fridge it was 2am. Woke up around 6am for a bit, finally woke up 11am.

I usually unpack the minute I get home, but last night was an exception because I was simply too tired. I made up for it this morning as I was having my tea and my suitcase is already back in the wardrobe. Mum’s stuff is naturally everywhere, all over the dining table and sitting room. Lunch and dinner were food I’d cooked and put in the freezer before we left, I thought it’s a good bit of planning on my part. Two loads of laundry, Mum did some cleaning, I sorted letters that had accumulated in the postbox, paid bills.

There are a total of 1923 pics to sort and upload. Trip posts beyond Sydney have to be typed up. I’ve kept track of spending, so may be I’ll put it all in a spreadsheet if I get past the fear of finding out the final actual cost. The travel agent says the cruise refund may take 6-8 weeks, but in the meantime there’s the flight, hotels, car rental and additional spending to pay for.

The NYT had one of those short meaningless interviews with Chris Hemsworth about Australia. When asked which one souvenir travellers to Australia should get, he answered

Tim Tams

as it should be. I bought 16 packets of TimTams in total, including 2 of the larger value packs. They are selling special Gelato Messina flavours–salted caramel, coconut & lychee, choc mint and black forest–and I bought at least one packet of each. I also got dark, mango and of course original. Most will be gifted as souvenirs. I also got vegemite and NZ marmite for my niece.

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The one thing I bought for myself was an unexpected surprise. I knew before we flew out that the ship will miss Burnie, which was a disappointment because Tasmania is a huge bucket list destination and also because there would have been a visit to Hellyers Road distillery. I was over the moon to see the whisky on sale at Melbourne duty free. The choice was between full-sized bottles of 10 or 12 year or a box of three 250ml bottles: 10, peated, pinot noir cask. I decided on the 3-bottle pack.

cruise trip day 20: flight

Checked out at 9.30am, drove to airport, returned car. Total 701km driven this trip.

Finished the remaining fruit we had and did some shopping. Mum bought eye serum and I made friends with the people at the whisky counter. Tried aberfeldy 12 and 18, craigellachie 13 and 19. Bought a 1l bottle of craigellachie 13 for NZD99. Bought some more chocolate.

The only lamb we ended up eating in NZ was the turkish sandwich at the airport. Ah well, we have plenty of NZ lamb at home.

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This was at the airport. The sign says, “On loan from Middle-Earth, Do Not Touch.” Heh.

First flight was almost full. We asked for 2 aisle seats and luckily had empty seats next to both of us. I watched thor 2, edge of tomorrow and a bunch of rizzoli & isles. Food was okay. Chicken thingh and lemon shortcake ice cream for lunch and chicken curry and panna cotta for dinner.

We landed at singapore at 6.40pm. Our next flight is 7.55pm so it’s tight. But of course the gate is at the other end of the terminal! And of course mum’s foot is hurting. We got there during final call, but luckily weren’t the last ones to board. The entertainment system isn’t as extensive as the previous flight, they didn’t have the entire season of rizzoli & isles so I watched veep and part of suicide squad. Dinner was seafood pasta and magnum ice cream. Kept falling asleep.

Arrived 11.45pm, thank god our luggage came out quickly. Taxi home, fruit in fridge, will unpack tomorrow.

cruise trip day 19: auckland

Drove out to the fish market in the morning but only one or two shops are open. Someone told us the market’s closed for earthquake strengthening. That’s a disappointment, we thought we’d have brunch there. The good thing was I got a refund of the NZD4 I paid for parking by buying something — a $4 bottle of apple juice.

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For want of somewhere to go, we drove east towards mission bay. Beautiful views back to the city skyline at okahu bay. Mission bay itself is pretty nice too, a beach with long stretch of sand and plenty of restaurants. Quite hectic even for a monday, can’t imagine how busy it can be at weekends.

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Lunch was mussels. Took longer than expected because they forgot mum’s order of steak. By then we were full from my pot of mussels so we just ordered a smaller pot of mussels. The one with cream sauce was better, and the sauce was perfect for dunking chips. Dessert was ice cream from the movenpick next doors.

Back to the city and we found newcastle, a local shopping area. Walked around, again trying to find somewhere to eat. Not finding anything good, and still full, we went back to our room to finish up all the food we have in the fridge.

cruise trip: day 18: waiheke island

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Since trains aren’t running and there is a lot of parking in the city, contrary to what the motel receptionist told me, we drove out in the morning and parked near the harbour. Long queue to get on the ferry to waiheke island, one of the most popular outlying islands in auckland. The ferry ride was 45mins and apart from a brief heavy shower that got everyone on the ferry soaked, the rest of the day was bright and sunny.

After some faffing around, we got on the #1 bus towards onetangi. I have no idea what to expect or do on the island. There’s a hop-on-hop-off bus, bikes, scooters and car rental. Public transport seems to work better for us.

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Onetangi is a long beach with one café restaurant. I’m glad I bought pies at the ferry terminal and mum brought nectarines. We walked along the beachfront admiring the beautiful houses, then took the bus to the nearby winery district.

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Found a nice secluded table in the tasting area of one of the wineries. Nice views of the vines and olive trees in the garden. Mum ordered sorbets and I had a taste of the rosé and pinot noir. Not earth-shattering. Ordered a full glass of the luna negra malbec. May be the sorbet affected my palette, found the wine too tannic.

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Stopped at oneroa village near the ferry terminal. A few shops, a small grocery and good views.

Ferry ride back to auckland and quickly walked around the cbd. Souvenir shops and saw the sky tower. Not a lot of places to eat though. Either fast food or asian food, neither of which interest us. Went to countdown and bought roast chicken, cooked prawns and ingredients to make dinner back in our room.

cruise trip day 17: hobbiton

tl;dr: I originally planned on missing hobbiton. Big mistake; it was so fantastic.

Originally I wasn’t planning on going to hobbiton movie set because we didn’t have a car and there were only a couple of days in auckland. But with the revised schedule, it was the perfect opportunity to go. One hour from rotorua and 2 hrs from auckland, on the way back to auckland. When I was booking online last night, I was only able to get a slot on the 12.40pm tour. Just as well, it gave us leeway. We had time to stop by a blueberry farm outside of rotorua for frozen yogurt and to sample their stuff. I bought blueberry wine, mum bought chocolate and a punnet of fresh blueberries.

Once we got to hobbiton we asked if they had an earlier slot and found ourselves on the 12pm tour, yay! We joined our guide on the bus for the short journey from the visitor centre area they call the shire’s rest. We quickly learn that the site is part of the alexander farm, still a working farm, and was rebuilt after the film crew left. When filming, the props were made of disposable materials like polystyrene. When they rebuilt, they used permanent materials. Peter Jackson asked the NZ government for financial assistance, but the government wasn’t able to provide $$$ however they sent in the army to help construction. The site attracts an average of 2000 visitors a day and everyone had to join a tour.

Our guide was Nathaniel from the US who is a superfan and extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the entire middle-earth universe. Our group was around 20 people and we discovered 2 fellow Star survivors.

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From the first step into the shire, it was magical. There were plenty of other tour groups so lots of people but it never felt contrived, for want of a better word. So realistic, so obviously a labour of love.

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There were so many hobbit holes they seemed like real homes. Any minute now a hobbit would come out and go about his business. They were built to 75% or 100% scale depending on the needs of the films, to fit the actors in order to emphasise the small stature of hobbits. Most are just façades or with a small empty space behind the door so no, the hobbit holes aren’t real homes. There was still a lot of attention to detail placed on windows, doors, chimneys and gardens. The fishmonger has fish drying outside the door, the baker has loaves of bread, we could see blocks of cheese through the window of the cheesemaker. Real fruit and veg grow in the garden and there are even hobbit-sized clothes lines.

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At the top of the hill is bag end, the baggins residence. Property taxes in the shire are calculated based on number of windows and bag end has the most windows. This is the most complete home because they filmed around its exterior a lot. A little further down is Sam’s house with its yellow door.

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We stopped at most homes, took pictures and imagined living there. The end of the tour went past the mill and onto open views back to the shire.

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There was enough time to stop at the green dragon inn for a complimentary (as in, included in the NZD79 admission) mug of beer or ginger beer. I had the stout, which was very nice. The tour was 2hrs and time totally flew.

Late lunch in the café of sandwiches and we got on the road again towards auckland. We got to the motel around 5.30pm and I was pretty tired by then. If I had to drive another half an hour I would have needed to rest. The receptionist told us not to drive out to the city but to take the train. When we got to the train station we found out trains were being replaced by buses this weekend. The bus got to britomart just in time for us to see the Star depart for the next cruise to singapore. So they had made it from melbourne.

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Dinner was at the crab shack next to the pier. Chaotic waiting process which involved putting our names down then being shunted to the bar. Eventually someone came up to lead us to our table. Long wait to get served too. On the other hand, the food is good. The daily special crab is mud crab, and we also had a small pot of clams and mussels to start. There’s enough crab there for 3 people, they gave us 3 sets of claws and legs. Total silence as we each worked on our portion. Just steamed, nothing fancy, nothing needed.

It was quite late when we finished. We took the bus back and I recognised the location enough to know where to get off. Don’t have a map on me aside from google maps.

cruise trip day 16: wai-o-tapu, waimangu

Torrential rain meant the 20min drive to wai-o-tapu geothermal area was more like 30mins. We timed our arrival to coincide with the 10.15am eruption of the lady knox geyser. Organisation can be better. Everyone got back in their cars to drive over to the geyser carpark at 9.30am, splashed through the mud, watched the geyser and drove back to the main carpark. A mini-traffic jam in the making.

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I would describe the geyser show as underwhelming. A park ranger poured some surfactant into the hole and some steam splurged up. May be 20m high and 10 seconds duration.

The rest of the park made up for it. Wai-o-tapu has the largest area of surface thermal activity in the taupo volcanic zone and we followed the guidemap that showed us 3 walks. Craters, sulphur caves, mud pools and boiling springs could be seen everywhere.

waio023palette

Artist’s palette is a flat pool with mineral deposits showing different colours at different spots. Green, yellow, orange, grey, white. We could walk on a wooden boardwalk through the area which gave a different perspective. There is sulphur in the air, not overpowering.

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Probably the highlight of wai-o-tapu is champagne pool. 65m in diameter and 62m deep with surface temperature at 73-76ºC. The name comes from bubbles of CO2 that break out on the surface. There are gold, silver, mercury, arsenic, antimony, thallium, sulphur in the water and the distinctive orange deposit at the side is from arsenic and antimony sulphide. And since it’s been a while since I wrote out compound formulae: orpiment As2S3 and stibnite Sb2S3.

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We followed walk 2 down the sacred track to the frying pan flat and oyster pool. Another boardwalk let us close to the natural features. We didn’t stray from the marked paths; signs for 100ºC water warned us of the danger. There were parts where the path met water and when I stuck my hand in the stream the water was cold. Left a sulphide deposit on my fingers though. Told mum not to touch it. I can pour conc H2SO4 from one bottle to another without gloves and without spilling, but it doesn’t mean lay people should do it.

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We completed part of walk 3 and headed back to the visitor centre. The last interesting sight was devil’s bath, a crater filled by excess water from the champagne pool. It changes colour from yellow to green depending on light and cloud cover. Today it was green and quite sickly.

We walked for almost 3hrs and every single minute was worth it. The rain had abated somewhat although we were glad we wore our waterproof coat and I borrowed a large umbrella from the motel that acted as walking stick for mum. They charge NZD32.50 for entrance, we had a 10% voucher from the motel and it was well worth it. I was skeptical when I was trip planning, all the geothermal areas charged hefty admission and I realise it’s for maintenance, to keep the area pristine. I also realise that had our cruise went ahead per the original itinerary, we would be stopping at tauranga today and I had booked our own excursion to wai-o-tapu, so we made it.

Lunch was at the café. Pies and I had L&P lemonade.

We had the rest of the afternoon. The option was to go back to rotorua or go to another geothermal area. We found ourselves at waimangu volcanic valley. They offered senior discount, so NZD30 for mum and NZD37 for me.

wmgu016fryingpan

The straight route from the visitor centre to lake rotomahana is supposed to be around 2hrs. We made it to echo crater and frying pan lake faster than recommended. May be the same people explored the region, the craters and lakes are all named the same.

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Cathedral rock was originally named Gibraltar rock because of its resemblance to the latter. There was an eruption in 1917 that changed its shape so they renamed it. Steam coming out all around it makes it look like it’s magic.

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Mum didn’t take the steep 60+ step climb to infernal crater lake. It claims to be the largest geyser-like feature in the world even though the geyser itself is hidden beneath the depths. The lake empties and refills every 35 days or so. There’s a hiking trail from inferno lake to other craters but the trail is closed due to mud.

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To save time and energy, we took the bus part of the way to warbrick terrace, formed from silica flowing from the stream. The green colour is due to algae formation.

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The walk to the lake was unremarkable and would have been more pleasant if we hadn’t walked for hours already. Mum rested while I explored around the lake. We waited for the last bus of the day to take us back to the visitor centre.

Overall, if we had only visited waimangu we would have been disappointed in the area. I didn’t think the entrance fee is worth it and much preferred wai-o-tapu.

Back in rotorua we stopped at a petrol station, hit a souvenir shop (12 kiwi keychains for NZD9.90, and we have a 5% off voucher), and dinner back in our room finishing off the food in the fridge.

cruise trip day 15: rotorua

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Homemade fry-up for breakfast. I didn’t want to leave the b&b, it’s highly recommended.

But onward we go.

It’s three hours to rotorua and it rained the entire time. I’m driving without a map, hahaha. Only have handwritten instructions I copied off google maps. It was pretty straightforward, just follow roadsigns. Thing about A roads in NZ, they don’t have a lot of places to stop. Not talking about service stations, there weren’t even villages on the way with shops or petrol stations. We did stop at around the 2hr mark and arrived in rotorua at around 1.30pm. Stopped at the tourist information centre to get a town map and various leaflets.

Checked into our motel, definitely several grades below the b&b. The whole strip is full of motels, I guess it’s the luck of the draw whether we get a good one. It’s not bad, I’ve stayed in worse but mum clearly wasn’t impressed.

It hadn’t stopped raining but we decided to go out, find something to eat and sightsee a little. Nando’s is following us so we had chicken again; the other options were pub food or asian. NZ nando’s don’t have sweet potato fries, the portugese roll was good.

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Rotorua is situated on lake rotorua, there’s a viewpoint 5mins’ drive from the town centre. It was still raining and hard to distinguish between the sky and the water. Can imagine how pretty it looks when it’s sunny.

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The museum is closed; the building itself an impressive tudor building. It overlooks government gardens, which will be worth visiting in better weather.

On the other side of town is kuirau park. We drove past it on the way in and spotted pockets of steam coming out from behind the trees. There are several hot springs and mud pools in the park. These look the same no matter the weather and we happily walked around looking at each one. To have hot springs and mud pools in your local park, that’s something.

Dining options are limited, or may be we weren’t looking closely enough. We decided to go to countdown and get food to eat in our room. Bought rocket salad, avocado, peach, two flavours of wraps, hummous, pâté, brie, pear paste and wine.

cruise trip day 14: melbourne to auckland

The hotel is separated from the airport terminal by a multi-story car park, but it’s a weaving 10mins walk so we took the hotel shuttle. For some reason I thought the flight didn’t provide food so we bought sandwiches before boarding. I think it’s because I booked via virgin australia which is a sort of budget airline and the flight was operated by air new zealand. Air NZ has the best safety videos, including one set in middle-earth; the newest is called summer of safety.

Arrived at auckland 5.15pm. We breezed through e-passport but it was pandamonium at the luggage belts, there was a long queue and bottleneck to get through customs and we had to fight to even get to our belt. The long lines was for biosecurity, which is even stricter than australia. The agent grinned when I said we bought timtams, and waved us through.

It was great to drive the SUV yesterday, but it cost almost the same as one day’s rental to fill it up when I returned it so I’m glad I opted for a more economical yaris this week. Our b&b hosts had emailed me detailed driving instructions which I wrote out for mum. The drive from the airport through the city to the northern suburb of hillcrest was around 45mins, took us longer because we turned the wrong way and had to go back on the motorway, take the next exit and google map to the destination.

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The b&b is called birdwood house and it’s run by Barbie and David Scott. Absolutely wonderful. Our room is on the 1st floor and comes with its own lounge. Such a romantic setting. The living and dining room downstairs is also beautifully decorated. Very English, down to the bottles of port which we were encouraged to partake.

The hosts gave us a list of places to eat so we headed to the nearby village of birkenhead, found a pub and had the special small plates for dinner: chicken wings, pork belly, arancini, cheesy garlic bread. Many of the shops were already closed and most other eating places were asian or italian food.

To get some peace and quiet, I escaped to our lounge to read. If I could find spare blankets I would have slept on the sofa. Sigh, I really need my own space.

cruise trip day 13: yarra valley

We aimed at getting the 10am shuttle to the airport (5am and 7am were simply too early). A bunch of other people had the same idea so it was a group of anxious people queuing up. The bus was late but it didn’t matter. We all managed to fit on it and we were cheering and clapping as we left the port. Someone said, “we’re free!” It’s been stressful, but it could have been a lot worse if the weather was poor or if they had problems towing the ship. The frustraion is the slowness and lack of communication from NCL. I still don’t know how we’ll get the 100% refund, how the future cruise credit will work and how to get reimbursed for the flight. Plus the Star is now known as the unluckiest cruiseship at sea.

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We got to the airport at 11am, picked up our rental car and headed to yarra valley. The drive itself is around 1hr, but the area is large so it took us a while to find a destination and drive to it. I found a leaflet for rayners orchard and that’s where we headed. Luckily we just missed a coachful of visitors so the place was empty. Peach trees could be seen from the car park, and peaches too, very tempting to just pick them.

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It was that in-between time between lunch and tea. Their café is quite basic, mum had ham sandwich and I had scones. The ham sandwich was really delicious, must be the butter. The scones were great too, normal cream rather than clotted cream. The best part of the meal for me was the tea that was strong and came in a proper teapot. We bought peaches and nectarines from the shop.

Seems to be off-season, several of the other fruit farms we visited were closed. We bought strawberries from a stand and made a few scenic stops. I didn’t have a detailed map so we muddled along. It’s okay, I was driving a big SUV and the valley is very pretty.

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We wanted to go to a dairy farm and ended up at a winery. There was time for some tasting while mum shopped. Tried the sparkling wine, pinot noir and riesling. Tiny portions, and I spit most of it out. Quite nice, but not nice enough to buy.

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The last scenic stop was near kangaroo grounds cemetery. Pretty farmland and rolling hills. I was looking in one direction and when I looked in the other, I spotted a group of wallabies. I think they’re wallabies as they are smaller. Mum was in the car so I dragged her out to see them. There’s a fence between us so I wasn’t worried. They were quite a bit away anyway. Such a nice bonus to end the visit.

Drove back to melbourne airport, checked into the hotel and returned the car. Not too many choices for dinner so we had nando’s again. This time I remembered to order sweet potato fries instead of regular fries.

cruise trip day 12: melbourne

The golden princess in in port, embarking passengers, so we can’t go into the terminal until after 10.30am. Pity the people who were planning on leaving the ship today. We took it easy, I spent the morning reading. It was nice to see the golden princess again, our alaskan cruise was on her.

Finally ventured out at noon. Got the tram and visited the tourist information centre to ask about airport bus. Have to figure out how to get from the port to the airport hotel tomorrow. Taxi of course, but the lady at the counter suggested we taxi to the city and catch the bus, which will be cheaper. In the end, it wasn’t needed. When we got back to the ship they told us there will be several free shuttles to the airport.

Not much to do; we’d seen all of melbourne that we wanted to see. Did some shopping at daiso, of all places. Got the hob scouring pad that worked so well, and some other ¥100 type stuff. Lunch was at nando’s. Shared half a chicken with fries. I got a beer and a ginger beer for mum.

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After several attempts over the past few days we finally got ourselves on a #35 city circle tram. Melbourne has a free tram zone and this one that goes around the central area is completely free. One circuit takes 1hr, we’d already travelled on more than half the route so it was kinda boring.

Tram back to port. I packed quickly and went upstairs to read while mum did her packing. I have a whole bottle of wine to finish today so I sipped while reading. The deck was almost empty, people had either left or still out in the city.

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Dnner at Le Bistro. Escargot, rack of lamb. Huge portion of lamb, 6 chops in total. The most I usually have is 3 chops. No dessert in the restaurant, tried the trifle at the buffet. No good so switched to watermelon instead.

Last task of the day is to settle the bill. Nothing to pay, I get US$89 OBC refund.

cruise trip day 11: st kilda

We woke up to a ship safely docked at melbourne. Seems like déjà vu to walk into the terminal and get a map. A volunteer greeter gave us lamingtons and told us about the st kilda festival. St kilda is the beach alongside port; the town centre is about 2-3km away. Except to get there on public transport means going on the tram to the city and changing to another tram.

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The festival takes place everywhere in the town. Various stages where bands played music, lots of food stalls, craft stalls, kid’s playground and amusement rides. All spread out along the entire beachfront so there was plenty of walking. The best part of the walking was I caught a porygon. I had the app open for some odd reason and it popped up suddenly, wasn’t on the nearby list. The beach is beautiful, a long stretch of white sand. There was a group of people playing beach netball and another group playing beach volleyball. And on the stretch of sand in between the two groups, a woman doing yoga.

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Lunch was free sweet potato fries from the nando’s truck and gozleme with lamb, spinach and cheese filling. I’ve been wanting to try gozleme, saw it at various places in sydney and melbourne but never have the appetite or time to try. It’s very nice. The flatbread crispy and the filling tasty and hot.

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I wanted to slowly walk back to port, so we started off doing that. It was very windy and lots of people were kiteboarding. Looks like it’s a lot of fun, probably takes considerable upper body and leg strength.

Took a couple of videos. Can hear the roar of the wind. Keep watching till around 28s, he gets lifted up above the water by the kite.

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In the end, the wind was too much and when sand started drifting everywhere including all over our faces we called it a day and took the tram back to the city. It was still early so we walked along the yarra for a bit. Riversides are always pretty.

Tram back to port. Late lunch / high tea at the buffet. It’s bavarian night so they had roast pork, cabbage salad and I was dying for a beer. Proper dinner was at Le Bistro, I cancelled the other restaurant reservations and we’ll focus on Le Bistro for the rest of our dining package. Mussels with cream sauce, crevette and crème brûlée. The mussels were so-so, although the sauce was great. The crevettes were meh, I still hanker after L’Ecluse crevettes after all these years. the crème brûlée was okay. Finished the 3rd bottle of wine.

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Full moon tonight.

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Played around with the camera. Hit the shutter as it was trying to autofocus, to get some nice bokeh-like effect.

Got a notice that the ship will leave melbourne on the 14th. We had planned to stay onboard till the 15th so now we have to find somewhere to stay on the 14th. The best option is airport hotel, so I quickly went on hotels.com. Not many choices, got holiday inn at the end. I also booked a hotel at rotorua for a couple of nights so we go somewhere other than auckland.

cruise trip day 10: on tow

It’s just like another at sea day, although we’re moving a lot slower. At least we’re moving.

Breakfast at the buffet, we’d given up on going to the restaurant. Egg white omelette with vegetables, bacon, black pudding, mushroom. Mostly spent the day reading at a table by the pool. I recognise a few regulars there already. A woman in her twenties with large headphones at a window seat, a couple quietly doing sudoku puzzles and a blind lady with her seeing-eye friend.

Queued up for phone and internet again. Since we have a car, I cancelled the original auckland hotel in city centre and booked a motel in the suburbs. Cheaper room rate and free parking. I spent the day worrying about getting my three simcard topped up and finally gave up trying. I need a credit card with UK address to purchase a top-up, argh. Either I change my credit card back to the UK or I’ll have to find someone to help me if I want to continue to use this number. It’s been working fine so far, no problems roaming in sydney or melbourne. I may even keep it as my primary phone because i can still use whatsapp and this way I don’t get junk calls.

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Lunch was from the grill: a burger (no bun), braised cabbage salad and paella that was the result of the poolside competition. Dinner at the restaurant: beef gnocchi, mahi mahi and bread pudding that looks like chocolate mousse. I’ve never seen bread pudding presented in a glass before, it’s like in masterchef or mkr when something doesn’t work they switch to a deconstructed version served in a glass. I’m on the 3rd bottle of wine. Left around 2/3 at Cagney’s last night and when I sent for it tonight they said the bottle broke so they’re giving me a fresh bottle.

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By this time there are 3 tugboats rescuing us. The Hastings is still doing all the heavy work towing us. There’s another one behind with a loose cable, to ensure we don’t roll and to steer, I’m guessing. A third is stuck to our staboard side, also for stability and steering? The captain says we’ll be docking at melbourne sometime after midnight and there’s a shallow dangerous part of the bay to negotiate beforehand. All credit to the tugboats, they’re doing a great job.

We made the news and there are even videos of us being towed; helicoptors were seen hovering above us.

edit: after I got home, I found this video of the ship arriving at Melbourne and the two tugboats docking us. What an amazing feat. The tugboats look so tiny compared with the ship, which at that point was an immovable monolithic object. The pilots are unsung heroes.

cruise trip day 09: adrift

Had to wake up early for NZ passport control, we were the first group.

Finished and there’s an announcement from the captain. The remaining working azipod suffered a breakdown during the night and we have no propulsion system. No wonder the ship isn’t moving. Apart from propulsion, everything is working. We spent the entire day adrift, dead in the water. We hadn’t gone far, around 75 miles from Melbourne, which is a blessing. The weather is also good, and the sea calm. The plan is to get towed back to Melbourne for repairs which may take 4-5 days. The rest of the cruise is cancelled, ie all NZ stops.

Everyone is in a state of shock. We all know about the azipod problems, which has caused missed ports since mid-December. Unlike the previous trip, there was no riot and people seemed relatively calm. The captain announced that we’d get 100% refund and 50% future cruise credit. I guess the full refund defused the situation somewhat but most of the passengers are from north america or europe and it’s a long way to come. Plus the refund doesn’t cover airfares, hotels and other spending.

Another announcement later gave us options:

  • stay on board, explore melbourne and continue with the ship to auckland
  • disembark, fly to auckland — they’ll reimburse up to US$350 airfare
  • disembark, go home — they’ll reimburse up to US$300 for flight changes

We discussed the options and decided we should make the most of our time and disembark. We can either stay in australia so it means changing our flight home; or fly to auckland and take in as much of NZ as possible. Mum has never been to NZ so it’d be nice for her to see more than just auckland.

They turned a couple of conference rooms into internet rooms and let us use their laptops to get on the internet. Long queue though; I put my name down and managed to get a workstation 2hrs later. They want us to limit our session to 20mins but the connection is so slow and there’s so much to do that it’s impossible to adhere to the limit. A quick search and we decided to stay in melbourne for a couple of days then fly to auckland. Auckland hotels are really full (I already know this weeks ago when I was planning the trip) so I’m relieved to find a reasonably priced one outside the city. Got rental car, got the flight from melbourne and we’ll go home on our original flight.

Pretty stressful day, although I wasn’t panicked. Worst case scenario, we stay with the ship. I’m also used to, and quite adept at, travel planning. I could see some other people not doing so well in rearranging their trips. I went back to the internet room later to email sis and mm, belatedly realising we should let them know we’re safe in case we make the news.

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Lunch was at the restaurant. We realise the lunch menu doesn’t change so our choices are limited. I had shrimp & rocket salad, salmon burger and berry sorbet. For dinner we went to our second speciality restaurant, Cagney’s steakhouse. Mum had the rib-eye and I opted for the huge 29oz tomahawk steak, which is enough for 2 people. That said, between the bone, sinew and fat there was a lot of waste. Too full for dessert.

With that steak, I went and did 5k on the treadmill. Long time since I ran, and I was very slow. Only managed to make up the time by doing intervals.

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Something like 16hrs after we suffered the breakdown, our rescuer finally made it out to us at 8.30pm. The tugboat Hastings looks tiny compared with the huge ship, and yet it’s capable of towing us back to port. We started moving ever so slowly around 9pm; I was at the bow watching and we all gave a cheer when someone noticed we’d started moving.

cruise trip day 08: melbourne

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Tram out to the city, got off at the parliament area. Picture opportunities at St Patrick’s cathedral, parliament building, hotel, theatre and the former treasury building turned into a museum. We headed towards Fitzroy Gardens, since it looked pleasant and interesting on the map. It’s quite compact, with a pretty conservatory, Cooks’ cottage and nice walks. Cooks’ cottage is the exact building that belonged to Captain Cook’s parents in North Yorkshire that was dismantled and shipped to Australia.

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I saw on the map that the MCG is only 10mins’ walk from Fitzroy Gardens so we headed there. Mum took a rest on a bench while I explored. The national sports museum needed entrance fee and I didn’t want mum to wait too long so I didn’t go inside. The shop was a gigantic disappointment. Boring t-shirt and expensive football shirts for sale.

Outside on the grounds were statues of sporting greats. A sculpture commemorating the first game of australian rules football played in 1858, Olympic champion Betty Cuthbert (I’d never heard of her before) and quite a few cricketers. I saw Neil Harvey, Dennis Lillee and Shane Warne. Should have walked to the other side of the stadium to see Don Bradman.

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Met up with mum again and planned on getting the #35 circular route tram but it didn’t arrive for ages and ages. Took a regular tram to docklands. In terms of feel, pretty similar to canary wharf. Lunch at black cod, a nice semi-casual fish restaurant. I had grilled barramundi and mum had the seafood platter of fried fish, prawn, scallop.

Tram back to CBD and discovered the tram to port isn’t working so walked across the river to find the bus to get back to the ship before 4pm.

Blueberry ice cream from the deck, read a bit. I found my favourite place, outside by the pool. Usually not that crowded.

The ship was supposed to leave at 5pm but there was a delay until 6.30pm because two passengers didn’t come back. I wonder what happens to their stuff. On a plane, missing passengers’ luggage is offloaded, do they do the same for cruise passengers? What if they manage to make their way to the next port and their stuff was offloaded at the last port? Do their cabin get sealed?

Dinner was at the Asian restaurant, no charge. Steamed dumplings, fried rice, pepper shrimp, tapioca pudding. Honestly, not very good. Needed 2 glasses of wine to finish the meal.

Walked 2.5 laps of deck 7, more reading.

cruise trip day 07: melbourne

Breakfast at the buffet, they have omelettes, eggs benedict and I discovered different sections. The American section has crispy bacon, sausage links, waffles, biscuits & gravy. The British/Aussie section has proper bacon, bangers, black pudding and kippers. Well impressed. There’s also congee.

Walked 4 laps on deck 7.

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Began seeing land late morning and people crowded at the bow to see the Melbourne skyline get bigger and bigger.

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Lunch was bbq by the pool of chicken and seafood. Have to say, food so far has been good. Not excellent, it’s hard to serve excellent food for thousands of passengers.

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We got clearance to go onshore at 2pm. There was a long queue at the terminal for the myki card and an express shuttlebus took us to the national gallery just south of the river. I remember the gallery and the eureka tower next to it although it’s been too long since I’ve been in Melbourne to remember directions clearly. What I do remember is the city isn’t very big so I found Flinders Street station, Federation Square and the CBD easily. Walked around the busy shopping areas and ended up in a Woolworths. Really hot day with the sun beating down.

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Took a tram to queen victoria market. By then it was almost 5pm and I was half afraid the market will be closed. And indeed the day market was closed, but we were lucky to find the wednesday night market just starting. Lots of food stalls and some souvenir and craft stores. There were lamb, bbq, porchetta, paella, pasta, turkey legs, sausages, pavlovas and lots more. We planned on having dinner back on the ship so we just bought lemonade and ate the strawberries we bought at the supermarket. The lemonade was expensive, AUD8 for one.

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Took the tram back to port. Dinner was really good: lamb shank and hazelnut soufflé. A part of me wanted to eat at the market, because I love street food. But the restaurant meal made up for it, and it’s included.

cruise trip day 06: at sea

tl;dr: spent the day eating

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Breakfast at the restaurant. i had pancake, sausages, bacon and mum had eggs benedict. Tea was a dreadful as expected: I asked for hot tea and got a pot of hot-ish water and some sort of green tea teabag. Good thing I have PG and the buffet has hot water.

Made more restaurant reservations and did some shopping.

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Then it was time for lunch, which was at the restaurant. Crab salad, chicken leg, lime parfait. Not too adventurous, tasted okay.

Read a bit, napped a bit, walked laps on deck 7. Bought a 4-meal speciality dining package for US$94, so average per meal around $25 per person. Also got a wine package that suited me: 4 bottles for US$110. I picked the chateauneuf for all 4, the rest were new world wines. $27.50 per bottle is around the same price at m&s at home. I can drink it at any bar or restaurant, and they will give me a tag and store it if I can’t finish the bottle.

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Dinner was at one of the speciality restaurants, Le Bistro. Escargot to start, lots of garlic and butter, yummy. Mum had duck two ways and I had filet of beef. The beef was too salty, the duck was good. Tart tartin for dessert was too sweet, again mum’s chocolate napoleon was better. The bill came to $62 but was included in the dining package. We’re ahead already.

cruise trip day 05: sydney embarkation

First things first, drop by the post office to send a couple of packages. The lady at the counter said I’m a good friend for sending timtams to my friends, especially considering the postage is three times the cost of the contents.

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Packed up, stored our suitcases at the hotel and took the train to the fish market for brunch. I ordered marron, dreadfully expensive and it’s only by obsessively watching masterchef and MKR did I know about them. Live, they look like dark lobsters. Cooked, they turn orange like all crustaceans and have a delicate lobster-like flavour. I also ordered steamed pippies and raw scampi. The scampi was really great, sweet with the taste of the sea.

Too much to expect mum to roll her suitcase to the cruise terminal so we took a taxi. Dropped our bags but decided not to board just yet. Time for one final gelato. I found the best flavour so far, salted coconut with mango salsa. Had another blood orange sorbet too.

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The Star looked nice with the opera house in the background. How wonderful to have a cruise terminal in the heart of the city. We have an inside cabin, #5585, mid-ship port side. It’s pretty much like other inside cabins on other ships. We’re impressed with the amount of space between the twin beds, the large shower and lots of space to hang stuff in the bathroom. As suspected, the itineray has changed because only one azipod is working. Burnie, Milford Sound and Napier will be missed. We get US$500 OBC and 25% future cruise credit.

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As per my usual routine, I went exploring around the ship. Nicely decorated, pretty without being gaudy. There’s a coffee bar in the atrium underneath the stage which people will like. The photo gallery is full of computers vs shelves for hardcopy photos. The gift shop is closed, but is the biggest I’ve come across so far. I pondered drinks packages but dismissed them because everyone in the same cabin must buy the same package and I can’t drink enough for two people. To use up some of the OBC, I made reservations at the speciality restaurants.

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One of my favourite places on cruise ships is deck 7 and on the Star it’s one of the best. Lots of space, very wide with lounge chairs.

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Dinner was at one of the MDRs, the Versailles at the stern. We’re already liking the freestyle dining, none of the first seating / second seating crap. I had steak frites and mum had prawns. For dessert the chocolate lava cake had unfortunately turned into plain chocolate cake although the milk chocolate mousse was good. I had a glass of malbec. Overall, first impressions of the food are good.

Watched the ship leave port at 7pm. Sailed past the opera house, inner bays, Manly. The bridgeclimbers on the harbour bridge gave us a cheer as we went past.

cruise trip day 04: sydney

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More leisurely wake up, left hotel at 10am. Destination was train and light rail to fish market. Forecast is 37-38ºC today and the sun was relentless. Good news is beautiful blue skies and a beautiful harbour.

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We had looked into going to a restaurant and getting a seafood platter yesterday but timing / location wasn’t right. This was way way way better. Around A$100 (vs around A$170-200 for restaurants) and we could pick what we want. We had lobster: one half tail grilled, the other half tail lightly battered, plus grilled prawns and grilled octopus; seafood salad, a dozen pacific oyster, cooked balmain bug and fresh sea urchin. I especially wanted the bug since it’s regional specific and I hadn’t had it for a long time. It tasted a little tough, but I could taste the sea and the brown meat was great. The lobster were both overcooked, tasted nice. The grilled prawn and grilled baby octopus were really nice. I bought the oyster and bugs from the second store on the right which was was less crowded, must remember to go back there next time. Hopefully next time is not almost 10 years later, I was last in sydney in 2007. Mum bought white peaches for dessert, we just stood in the shade eating them, it was sweet and fresh.

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Took the light rail to darling harbour, mainly shopping and walking around. More beautiful scenery around pyrmont bridge.

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I walked around while mum rested. All the way to the end of the pier near the maritime museum. There was a navy cutter, HMAS Vampire and a submarine HMAS Onslow. A lighthouse and several other ships too. Entrance was per ship, I think, no one challenged me as I walked around and other people were exploring too.

Bus to circular quay because we wanted gelato again. Very crowded at Gelato Messina. I was greedy and got 2 scoops: salted caramel and blood orange. Mum was even greedier and got 3 scoops: chocolate fondant, passionfruit, raspberry. She gave more than half of the raspberry to me, hahaha.

Walked back to the hotel, around 10mins. I saw kangaskan again so spent around 20mins walking around the hotel adding to my pokedex. I’ve been trying to play pokemongo all day. Sydney has a good selection and most importantly kangaskhan which spawns at around the same rate as starters at home; definitely better than farfetch’d. I have 5 at the end of 2 days of sporadic hunting.

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After dumping our stuff and taking a rest, we headed out again for dinner. Bus to Haymarket, stop at Coles for more shopping and then dinner was at the legendary Harry’s Café de Wheels. I had planned for the branch at Wooloomooloo but was happy I found a more convenient branch at Haymarket. Harry’s is a stationary food truck that serves pies. More specifically the tiger which is beef pie with mash, mushy peas and gravy. Very Aussie, very British. Not fine dining but very iconic streetfood and a must-eat whilst in Sydney. As tasty as I remembered, and I’m glad mum liked it too.

Back at the hotel before 8pm. Shower, packing and watching cricket (Aus vs NZ ODI). I bought a bottle of wine at Coles for A$7, I was going for beer but even VB was around A$6 so a nice bottle of Jacob’s Creek classic pinot is a better choice.

Cruise starts tomorrow. We’re being ambitious and planning a return to the fish market for lunch then boarding. Let’s see.

cruise trip day 03: sydney

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Took the train to the suburbs to carriageworks farmers’ market. The first sign was we got off at redfern station and saw people carrying bags of produce and flowers. Mostly locals at the market, families with kids. Our brunch was egg & bacon roll for me and apple croissant for mum. Juice to wash it down. It’s really casual, sitting at picnic tables or upturned crates. Bought a loaf of bread for breakfast the next couple of days, but couldn’t buy much else even though the fruit and veg were tempting.

Train back to the city, got off at tourist central aka circular quay. First stop was gelato messina. I had pear & rhubarb gelato and mum had chocolate sorbet. I tried other flavours but they were too sweet; this one was fruity yet the richness of the gelato came through.

Walked a lot in the area. From circular quay to the rocks, there was a market there today. A little rest then towards the newly developed area of Barangaroo. It started to get really sunny and hot, forecast was 27ºC and it felt like over 30ºC under the direct sunlight. We only stopped at a little pub in the new district for a much needed drink. The nature reserve is more like a small park, it led back to underneath the harbour bridge via another route. So we did a whole loop around that area.

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Since it was such a sunny day, we decided to take a commuter boat to watsons bay. The catamaran was fast and I stood at the bow which got really windy. Great view of the opera house as we made our way from the wharfs.

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Watsons Bay pier was very crowded, as befit a sunny saturday. What I remember is a walk uphill to a viewpoint back towards the city but we didn’t do that this time. Walked around the immediate area around the wharf and stopped for fish, seafood and chips. The fish, hake I think, was good. The calamari a bit soft the the fried prawns unmemorable. Had half a dozen oysters too, very fresh.

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Stayed on the same side of the catamaran on the way back, to catch views of the north shore. The harbour bridge against the sun too. I don’t know how but we found legs to walk around to the opera house and the botanical gardens. Took a rest at a bench at the gardens and watched a cruise ship leave harbour; this will be us in two days.

Dinner was at westfield underneath the sydney tower. Mum remembered lots of eateries there but at 7.30pm on a saturday almost all had closed. Yes, closed. We found a mexican place that was still open and had prawn ceviche and lamb taco. I guess the lamb taco is a local adaptation; it was tasty.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at coles for shopping. Tim tams for me and cereal bars for mum. Tired, lots of walking today.

cruise trip day 02: singapore to sydney

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The alarm was at 5.15am but I was so tired I didn’t wake up till almost 6am. I went downstairs to check out the breakfast and ate a sausage and some eggs very quickly. We checked out and grabbed a taxi to the airport. Everything was quick. There was a display of pokemons near the departure gate so I stopped to get pics. Haven’t had data in Singapore aside from wifi at the hotel so I’ve only managed to hunt in the room. When the gps drifts I can catch a stop and there were a few commons around. I don’t mind that it’s pidgeys and rattatas, as long as it shows the Singapore location tag.

The plane was almost full, with many familys (with small babies). Watched Ghostbusters and Looper, napped a bit, ate everything they gave me including half of Mum’s pasta. Ghostbusters was funny and there were a couple of places where I must have laughed out loud, something not to do on a quiet plane. Looper was interesting and the sort of film I like too.

The plane landed at 8pm. We could use the e-passport lane so we were out really quickly. Took a long time for the luggage to come out though. It was around 9.15pm already. Had a little something to eat at the airport then took the train to our hotel. A closed gate and construction meant a longer walk than intended, it was around 10mins instead of 5mins. Our room is quite nice and we got settled. MKR is on, yay!!! I’m also set up electronically and tested the Three simcard I bought.

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And I’m already seeing kangaskhan on my nearby list. It’s almost midnight so too late to run out, from what I’ve read it’s everywhere so I’m not worried. Hopefully I’ll get it tomorrow.

cruise trip day 01: singapore

Woke up before the alarm before 4am, argh. Left at around 6.20am after lots of faffing around. To keep it simple, I decided we’d take a taxi directly to the airport. The nose rest on my glasses fell off in the taxi and although I was able to find it I can’t put it back because it was broken. As soon as we got to the airport I took out my spare glasses. Check-in, security and the rest was straightforward. We had breakast and boarded at 8.30am.

Plane was full. Noodles for brunch. I watched Doctor Strange in between napping. The process at Changi was extremely quick and luggage was out before us. Other airports need to learn from them. Taxi to hotel and we unpacked a little. Then there was a bathroom malfunction when the handheld shower head exploded with a leak and flooded the bathroom. Took 2 calls to reception to get their maintenance people to come around. Everything in the bathroom was wet.

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We didn’t wait around for housekeeping to clean up. Went to the mall next door to try to get my glasses fixed. The opticans there said it’ll take 15mins and she’d do it free of charge. The best news all day. We walked around the shops, and saw these really cute handmade baskets. Large size can be used as laundry basket and smaller ones for knick-knacks. There was even a Nando’s at the mall! So tempted.

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Instead we took a taxi to gardens by the bay which sits next to the iconic marina bay sands hotel. We weren’t interested in paying SGD28 to visit the greenhouse domes. I’m sure they are really interesting but a bit pricey for us. The prettiest part of the gardens is the supertree grove. Supertrees are 25-50m vertical gardens that serve a variety of functions. There is also a skyway walk at tree level that gives an elevated view of the surroundings. We didn’t go up, it was enough to see the gardens on the ground.

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After some more faffing around including being misled by the taxi driver about Lau Pa Sat opening time, we ended up at East Coast Lagoon food village. Lots of choices at the hawker centre. We decided on satay, popiah, steamed crab and razor clam. I got a tiger beer for me and a freshly squeezed sugarcane juice for mum. Everything was delicious and we were full when we finished. Wanted to walk around East Coast Park but it’d started raining heavily so we hopped on a taxi back to the hotel.

The bathroom saga continued. Housekeeping hadn’t come up so I called. They discovered the water issue isn’t fixed so we ended up changing rooms. No big deal. Another early morning wakeup tomorrow, bed soon.