Tag Archives: food

Settling in/moving on

You know you’ve been away for a long time when you begin to feel nostalgic for earlier days of a trip that is not yet over. Throughout these past few weeks there have been moments when I’ve caught myself looking back over the past six months, missing and reminiscing. The cosy stone villa high up in the Umbrian hills, with its view out over endless olive groves and and villages below. Morning coffee on my brother’s London rooftop, the white terrace houses of Finsbury Park that reminded me so much of home. Staying up late through the endless twilight of Scandinavian summer; settling in to bed early with a pot of sweet Ceylon tea and a book in my cottage in the Sri Lankan hill country.

In these moments, I think a part of me wished I was back in Europe. But then I came to Chiang Mai.

I’ve been here almost two weeks – longer than I’ve spent in any single place since I left Melbourne over six months ago. And, were it not for work starting on Thursday, I think it’s the kind of place I could get stuck.

Today passed like most days. I woke up late, and had a scratch breakfast in my guesthouse room- rye bread, hunted down in a supermarket outside town, and tiny, sweet bananas, bought in a giant bunch from a roadside stall for less than 50c. I caught up on some emails and IFSA work in the bustling common area downstairs, then headed out for a morning coffee at Bird’s Nest Cafe – freshly ground and spiced with cloves, cinnamon and star anise.

I stumbled across this beautiful little cafe on one of my afternoon wanders, and it has become a favourite. On Saturday morning I treated myself to one of their epic vegetarian breakfasts, and passed the rest of the day curled up with a book, chatting to fellow travellers who passed through. Today I took my coffee upstairs to the mezzanine of low wooden tables, cushions on the ground, and a sole hammock, which I took over for the next few hours, finishing Breath by Tim Winton, which I had picked up second hand only yesterday afternoon.

Alexis, an American girl I met in my hostel in Granada, had just arrived in Chiang Mai to begin work as an English teacher. She came and met me for lunch and we swapped travel stories, marvelling at how two people can meet and make a connection while travelling, then, due to the wonders of Facebook, cross paths again months later on the other side of the world.

If it seems like my time in Chiang Mai has revolved around food, that’s not far from the truth. Of all the many countries I’ve travelled through, Thailand has the best food of any by far (particularly for vegetarians), and of everywhere I’ve been in Thailand, Chiang Mai tops the lot. From $1 plates of pad thai or fiery papaya salad, served on plastic plates and eaten while perched on plastic stools by a tiny street stall, to feasts of curries, brown rice, or tofu salads from one of the many organic vegetarian cafes.

To balance all that food, I’ve been relishing in the ability to walk here – being able to wander the relatively quiet streets without fear of being mown down by a bus or tuk tuk hurtling past. I’ve been doing yoga – hatha flow, with a wonderful French instructor called Pierre, in the peaceful Namo Studio in the north east of the Old Town. And, apart from a night or two out with fellow backpackers, I’ve been having early nights, trying to get into a regular sleep pattern in preparation for work on Thursday.

*******

I started this post yesterday – Thursday is now tomorrow, my time in Chiang Mai is quickly coming to an end. Tomorrow I drive up to Chiang Rai province with my boss, to take over the last few days of a project. So today is a rush of tying up loose ends, familiarising myself with student names and project details, hunting down a stationary shop for discussion materials, and sorting out my visa run flights. Ticking off my to do list!

Still, when I can do half of this while curled up with a coffee on a cushion in a little cafe, it’s not too bad.

Lazy days at Mirissa beach

This last week I’ve been doing a whole lot of not much.

After ten days hiking around the hill country, it was time to make my way south to the coast, to meet my friend Clare who was flying in from Copenhagen. Like me, she is slowly making her way homeward after months travelling Europe.

We’re staying in a lovely guesthouse, a short wander back from Mirissa beach. We’ve got a private room in a small building off to the side of a large garden and communal space which, after the secludedness of my hill country guest houses, has been great for meeting other travellers.

Upside to being away from the beach: no endless honking of horns and rumbling of busses along the beach road destroying our relaxed vibe.

Downside: walking the dark, quiet roads back to our guesthouse each night, keeping eyes ahead and pace brisk as we pass sleeping dogs and loiterers on the bridge (don’t worry mum, it’s perfectly safe….).

I’ve been here six days, Clare five, and time is passing in that slowly paced but disappearing way that it does when you find yourself losing track of the days. We get up late (some later than others), sit around drinking our morning coffee in the garden, go for a late breakfast/early lunch, then head to the beach.

The ocean is pretty rough here – shallow water but high, crashing waves that churn you into the sandy bottom if you’re not prepared. Jumping and diving through the waves is the extent of our exercise here. The sun sets early, maybe 6pm, and every evening all the bars along the beach set up little tables in the sand, each lit with a flickering candle, and serve fresh fish and seafood, the catches all on display for you to choose from. I *may* have switched to flexitarian here.

It’s the kind of place you can easily get stuck. We meant to leave today…but instead we will stay until tomorrow, then head west to Unawatuna. The plan was to go diving there but, based on what we’ve seen and heard, the conditions aren’t right and the diving isn’t exceptional anyway, so my suspicion is that it will be more of the same. Which suits me just fine.

I also haven’t taken my camera out once, so here are some instagram photos (from Polhena beach, and an epic Sri Lankan breakfast) for your viewing pleasure:

imageimageimage

Going solo

I’m writing this post as I sit reclined in a plastic chair outside my guest house room above the town of Ella, in the Sri Lankan hill country. I arrived this afternoon, and I barely had time for a quick wander of the town street, and a buffalo curd and honey at a local restaurant, before the rain set in. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather so far – sunshine and hot weather everyday – but the initial odd sprinkle of rain has started to become a regular afternoon or night time downpour. Perhaps the October monsoon change has finally hit.

I have spent the past hours here sitting on my covered balcony with a cup of tea, chatting to my neighbouring traveller (a fellow forester as it turned out), doing laundry, catching up on emails, and, when the rain finally ceased, walking back down the hill to the same restaurant for a dinner of kottu rotti and vegetables, with mango juice on the side.

I have been in Sri Lanka for barely ten days, and yet I already feel a change of pace, and a sense of relaxation setting in. I was supposed to be travelling with a friend Clare, but she decided to stay longer in Europe, so now we are meeting in a few days, on a beach somewhere down south.

Looking back, these ten days of solo time may have been just what I needed.

After spending my first night in the little beach town of Negombo, I jumped on a rickety local bus and headed inland to Kandy, in the hill country. Going against my normal Asia way of travelling, which is to turn up in a town and head for a recommended guest house, or just wander until I find something suitable, this time I booked in advance – albeit only that morning. I found an amazing looking room in an upmarket ‘home stay’ in the hills above Kandy, and, while blowing my (perhaps overly optimistic) budget for a few days, it turned out to be the best place to start my trip.

I ended up spending four nights there, enjoying my luxury room and my view over the Kandyan hills, and settling into the pattern that has defined my last 8 days in Sri Lanka: getting up early, eating a home cooked Sri Lankan breakfast of rotti and coconut sambal, or string hoppers, curry and fruit; going for a hike through the hills or a walk into town; wandering through the surrounding countryside or catching a local bus out to a certain site; coming ‘home’ for an afternoon nap, then another epic feast of rice, curry and fruit. Taking a book and a cup of tea up to my room each evening, and going to bed before 11pm.

So passed these first four days in Kandy. I spent a day following a ‘temple loop’, a ~10km walk between three temples around Kandy, passing through villages and rice paddy farmland.

IMG_7051

On my last morning there I got up at the ungodly hour (for a backpacker at least) of 6.30am, and went with Pathi, the father/guesthouse owner, and his friend on a ‘one hour walk’ (three hour hike) up through the hills and tea plantations, passing tea pickers and local villagers out for a walk, and dodging honking tuk tuks on our way back down.

Pathi and his family made me feel so welcome in their home, but after four days it was time to move on, to Haputale, higher up in the hill country.

One piece of advice I was given for Sri Lanka was to ‘take trains, LOTS of trains’. And so I did, buying a second class ticket for less than $5 for the 6 hour train ride from Kandy to Haputale, a window seat so I could take in the views. And what a view it was! After a few hours, the train noticeably climbed higher and higher, and the distances between stops became greater and greater until we were in the vast, wild looking landscape of the Horton Plains National Park.

IMG_7238

Passing through the isolated train station of Ohiya, and looking up at the tall, silvery gums shrouded in the oncoming mist, it was almost like driving through Victoria’s central highlands on a misty winter’s day.

I arrived in Haputale as darkness had just fallen, and was met by the son of my next guest house’s owner. After piling my luggage into the back of his tuk tuk,  we drove at high speed up out of town, to my little cottage where I would be spending the next four days.

Nothing could have prepared me for the view I awoke to the next morning – my cottage, perched on the edge of a steep hill, looked out over nothing but mountains, hills covered in tea plantations, and the jagged Eagle Rock above which eagles were seen soaring every day.

I could have stayed there for weeks. Each day I felt more and more at home in my basic little cottage. While I had enjoyed a little luxury in Kandy, I realised that this was really all I need – a bed, a shower, a roof over my head, good food, and to be surrounded by an incredible landscape such as this.

Every morning I got up early and, after breakfast, set off on a hike. I walked up the road away from town, passing tea fields dotted with the green and white bags slung over the tea pickers’ backs as they toiled all day in the heat, just so we can have our morning cup of Ceylon tea.

IMG_7469

I caught the local bus up towards Lipton’s seat, where Sir Thomas Lipton himself sat as he admired the landscape he had been instrumental in transforming into what it is today, then hiked the 16km back down, stopping for a tour of a tea factory, and, at each village, to chat and take photos with the swarms of children who came racing out after me.

IMG_7318

And, one morning, I walked down through the tea fields below my cottage then climbed up the steep hill to Eagle Rock, where I sat for an hour or more on a smooth rock beneath an old gum tree, a precipitous drop below and a breathtaking view in front, just sitting, letting my thoughts wander, relaxed in the way you can only be when you have nothing you need to do, and nowhere else you’d rather be.

IMG_7434

Of course, I was never truly alone for long. Whether it be the couple I joined heading up to Lipton’s seat, or my guest house family in Haputale who I chatted away with every evening, and who invited me to join their extended family for a feast to celebrate Hadji, there was always someone to talk to and share my days with.

However, these days travelling solo have reminded me of how much I also need my time alone. Sitting in front of my bungalow, hiking through forests and tea fields, walking kilometres each day, it has been a chance to clear my head, some much needed time to myself. And I’ve finally been able to justify carrying my hiking boots around Europe for four months.

IMG_7416

Berlin with my bro

The first time I visited Berlin was for New Years 2008. I met my friend Nat from Australia, and we couch surfed with a local guy in his cosy flat in Freiderichshain. Despite it being minus seven degrees and snowing, I fell in love with the city. Going back the next summer just cemented this feeling, that it was one of the few places I’ve travelled to that I could imagine myself living in.

Maybe because parts of it reminded me of Melbourne – the leafy green streets, the  cafe strips in gentrified Prenzlauerberg, the young (yes, increasingly hipster) vibe mixed with the multiculturalism of Kreuzberg and the expanse of Freiderichshain. Then there is the amazing and diverse food, the cheap beer, the art and parties and everything else it has to offer.

My brother has been living in London for 18 months, but hadn’t yet made it to Berlin – and I knew he would love it as much as I do. So, for his birthday and Christmas present, I bought him return tickets so we could spend four days there together.

Like me, James is a pretty laid back traveller, and was happy to follow my lead. That lead led us to stay in a beautiful backpackers in Kreuzberg, complete with huge common room and (sometimes) sunny rooftop terrace. We spent our first night enjoying the amazingly cheap food Berlin has to offer (haloumi and pesto wraps for 3 euro anyone?), exploring the seemingly endless expanse of Kreuzberg and its surrounding neighbourhoods by foot, and sitting in street side bars sipping local beer and watching all the colourful characters pass by.

During my first visit to Berlin Nat and I took a ‘free’ (ie. tip only) walking tour, which covered all the ‘must see’ tourist sites. Still, that was five years ago for me, and James was keen to do some sight seeing, so on Tuesday afternoon we headed into the centre to join a three hour Sandemans tour.

We joined a massive group at Brandenburg Tor, then split off into a smaller group with a young English/Spanish guide. As is often the case (and benefit) of having a tip only system, he was excellent – energetic, full of knowledge and (his)stories about the city, and combined more serious facts with humour and fun.

From Pariser Platz we walked onwards to one of the points that had stuck in my head from the last tour – the monument to murdered Jews. Unlike most memorials that tend to consist of plaques and names, this (apparently quite controversial) memorial is an experience, completely devoid of information. As the ground slopes downwards, the concrete pillars rise higher and higher, bit by bit blocking out the sunlight and sounds until you are completely immersed.

IMG_6536

IMG_6529

After some time exploring, we regrouped to discuss our impressions. Our guide gave his interpretation – to him, it signified the way in which Jews were incrementally stripped of their rights, to marry non Jews, to have health insurance, to be full citizens in German society.

My brother later told me that it reminded him, in a similar sense, of what he had recently been reading in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (how’s that for some light summer reading?), where the crimes against Jews were justified by the slow process of dehumanisation, deeming them as immoral, dirty, less than human. To me this is the sign of an effective commemoration, something that invokes thought and emotion rather than just bombarding you with a list of names.

The next hour took us past other war and East German sites, from the former location of Hitler’s bunker to socialist propaganda in the form of painted murals on the wall of what is now the Ministry of Finance.

IMG_6550

And amidst all of these historical markers, the modern commentary and reminders that we do not live in a world free from war.

IMG_6541

Unfortunately James began to feel unwell halfway through the tour, so we called it a day and headed back to the hostel where James crashed out for the next 16 hours and I spent a lazy evening drinking beers on the rooftop with fellow travellers.

The next day, after our mission out to the children’s hospital (see my Abandoned Berlin post), we made the most of having bikes for the day and spent a sunny afternoon exploring Prenzlauerberg, checking out the East Side Gallery, and riding along the river.

IMG_6639

These two Berlin posts seem to imply that our four day stay was largely about sight seeing, history, monuments, culture – the serious stuff. Yes, there was that, but our time in Berlin really centred around something quite different – food.

20130909-125003.jpg

In part due to my tight budget, and in part due to the fact that I’ve mostly been staying with friends, I’ve hardly eaten out at all during this trip. But in Berlin, it seems a waste not to. Everywhere you go there is an abundance of diverse and CHEAP food, from Turkish and Arabic, to Vietnamese and Thai, and everything in between. On our last night we went to Markethall 9, where James ate his way through the street food stalls and I cried in a combination of happiness and chilli induced fever over a 4 euro green papaya salad.

The fact that we also found real coffee was just the icing on our Berlin-foodie-cake.

20130909-125141.jpg

Fun facts from Vienna

Some random facts and (hi)stories I discovered during my two day stop over in the pretty Austrian capital:

  • A Wiener Schnitzel is so called because it comes from Wien (Vienna). While his may be common knowledge to readers more perceptive about food etymology and history, for me it was one of those oooooh! moments
  • The beautiful low skyline of the city is such due to the restriction that no building may be taller than St Stephen’s Church
  • Viennese are bemused as to why the Sacher torte is so popular and well known amongst foreigners
  • K u. K, seen throughout the historical centre on a number of old buildings, or as part of present day hotel/cafe/shops, stands for kaiserlich und königlich (Imperial and Royal) and prefixed/was used for central government bodies and acts under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Apparently it also signified a royal seal of quality for goods
  • Apricot schnapps is good for a tooth ache
  • The two heads of the eagle on the Austrian coat of arms represent Empire and Kingdom… or distinguish the imperial title from the royal title…or something like this
  • Pretzels (the real bread ones) taste EXACTLY like the tiny pretzels you get in a bag (just not crunchy)! But bigger! I mean, it’s like they magically combined a whole bag of pretzels into one giant piece of amazing!
  • If you’re stupid enough to get over-excited at the sight of tropical fruit in Europe and buy three mangosteens from the (already overpriced) Naschmarkt, then you have no right to be even slightly shocked by the final price
  • If you know enough about architecture, look up and take note – you will be able to read a history of where bombs were dropped by the style of the facades built in post-war reconstruction
  • Wine spritzers are not only drunk by old ladies with purple-wash hair, they are also quite an acceptable drink to order at a thronging pub packed with young people and football hooligans

For someone who knew (perhaps embarrassingly) little about this lovely capital before, I now feel quite the expert. It helps having two wonderful local tour guides to show you around. Thanks Mara and Clemens, you’re both welcome in Melbourne any day.

IMG_6813[1]

IMG_6818[1]

IMG_6779[1]

IMG_6830[1]IMG_6801[1]

Some things never change

Danka, Anicka, Saruska, Zuzicka.

IMG_6762

Four girls on exchange in Copenhagen in 2008 and 2009. Anna and Dana, two friends from Slovakia; Zuzana, from Czech; then me, the one Australian. I met Anicka and Zuzka in the Danish language course at the very start, and soon after Danka arrived. From then on, throughout the year of comings and goings of friends and other Erasmus students, the four of us were pretty inseparable. We partied together, cooked dinners together, moved in and out of each others’ houses, and sat up all night drinking wine and watching terrible movies and talking for hours on end. They were like my sisters in Copenhagen.

Four years later, we were back together again for one short weekend in Bratislava.

I arrived on Friday evening after an epic 11 hour trip on a rickety old Hungarian bus from Berlin, and was met by Anna and Danka at the central bus station.

While Anicka went to finish some work, I settled into Danka’s cosy apartment and we talked and talked as she prepared dinner and I shared photos and stories from my trip. By the time Anicka joined it was 9pm, so we finished off our wine and headed out for a night on the town, tracking down a favourite dj and dancing through the night, just like our old Vega or Jolene days in Copenhagen.

Then it was Saturday, and after nowhere near enough sleep we dragged ourselves out of bed to meet Zuzicka at the train station. And finally we were four again. While we had so much to catch up on – who was doing what job, who had finished studies, who was coupled up etc – it was like no time had passed at all.

We spent a sunny day around Bratislava, driving up to monuments and eating cake and drinking wine while overlooking the city.

IMG_6653

We posed for photos with my camera while Danka, the ever creative one, took shots with her medium format film.

IMG_6657

We visited the castle and looked out over the Danube to the other side of town, or west to Austria. The contrast between the side of the river where the girls live and the other – low old buildings, a mix between Soviet grey concrete and colourful stone, versus a sprawling expanse of pre-fab apartment blocks and shiny new shopping malls respectively – was almost as strong as the contrast between the two countries, which we jokingly observed was exemplified by a dirty old factory on the Slovak side and an expanse of forest with wind turbines in Austria.

IMG_6671

In the evening we took a short road trip to Austria, to a stony ‘beach’ by the quiet riverside, where we finished our wine, skipped stones in the water, and recreated an old ‘four flowers’ photo with ‘four feet in the water’.

IMG_6703IMG_6744

Despite not getting back to Bratislava until late, we stayed up making halusky, a typical Slovak dish of gnocchi like dumplings in brindza sheep cheese and sour milk sauce (it tastes FAR better than it sounds, or looks) that was a feature of many of our Copenhagen dinners.

IMG_6752

IMG_6754

Despite plans to head out to a Balkan beats night in town, it was suddenly 1am, Danka was already curled up with the cat on Anna’s couch, and my lack of sleep over the previous few days was catching up with me. And so we called it an early night, with plans to meet first thing the next morning and pack in a much as we could before Zuzicka’s afternoon train back to Prague.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, her 2pm train had to become a midday train as she was called back for a meeting (yes, on Sunday! Law firms seem to be the same all over the world…) so we packed some bags full of food and two disposable BBQs (I’ll get to those) and drove ten minutes out of town to a beautiful forest and park reserve.

It was full of families making the most of the sunny Sunday. We grabbed a table, set about preparing our food, then suddenly it was time to say goodbye to Zuzka. And then we were three.

Right, the disposable BBQs. I’ve never seen anything like this in Australia, and had never seen them before Copenhagen. Maybe because, in Australia, most parks have permanent gas BBQs, or people have backyards and their own…but in Europe, this is what they have to resort to:

IMG_6763

Still, they do the trick, and soon enough we were sitting down to plates of BBQd veggies and marinated tofu or chicken.

Feeling full from our two days of eating, we decided a walk and a row in the little lake nearby was needed. We took it in turns rowing the little wooden boat, spotting (real) turtles (it’s apparently a dumping ground for ex-pets) and fighting (imaginary/log) crocodiles with our oars.

IMG_6770

And then, once again, Anna had to work (she’s a top film/commercial producer), so Danka and I, and later her boyfriend Wilko, spent a lovely afternoon and evening hanging around her apartment, going for 70c (!!!) pancakes at a nearby cafe that only sells pancakes, albeit with about 50 choices of topping, wandering up through the hills into the forest, drinking coffee at a cosy wooden park cabin, and exploring the town by night.

Now it’s Monday. I’m writing this sitting on Danka’s couch while she prepares an application to show her jewellery in an upcoming exhibition. The sunshine from the weekend has been replaced by grey rainy skies, a sign of me leaving Danka said.

Soon I’ll be on a bus to Vienna, to catch up with an IFSS friend. But I’m sad to be leaving Bratislava, and hope that it won’t be another four years before we see each other again. Still, I take comfort in the feeling that with these girls, no matter how much time passes, nothing will really change.

IMG_6726

A Parisien feast

This week in Paris couldn’t have come at a better time.

After two relaxing weeks with the family in Italy, the past month has been a blur of festivals, festivities, and constant catching up with friends (old and new). Don’t get me wrong, these past weeks have been wonderful…but I was more than ready for a week of not having to do anything. Of getting up when I felt like it. Of sitting in cafes watching the world go by. Of exploring new neighbourhoods, and coming home for a nap when my feet began to ache.

And this was what Paris was to be. I’m staying in a beautiful Air BnB apartment right at the doorstep of Sacre Coeur in Montmartre with a Tegan, a good friend from Melbourne. We met five years ago in a hostel in Budapest, and, as happens on rare but wonderful occasions, our travel companionship grew into a real world friendship.

In Melbourne, our social life often revolves around food – eating out, hosting dinner parties, or simply sitting down over a cup of tea or a glass of wine with cheese. It shouldn’t be of surprise to anyone who knows me (or has been reading this blog) that these past days in Paris have consisted of much the same.

Exploring our neighbourhood of winding cobblestone streets, travelling the criss cross of metro lines, and following in the footsteps of some of our favourite bloggers (most notably http://www.messynessychic.com) we have slowly but steadily been eating and drinking our way around Paris.

We took our morning coffee in the leafy courtyard of the Hotel Particulier – hidden away behind wrought iron gates off a quiet street in Montmartre – and imagined ourselves rich enough to be staying in the 400+ euro a night suites.

The secluded garden of Hotel Particulier.

The beautiful china and setting made up for the average coffee.

We took a break from morning wanderings and gave ourselves an energy boost by sampling the endless range of pastries, found on almost every corner.

Breakfast of champions.

We wandered through the tiny Le Marche des Enfants Rouges, allegedly the oldest market in Paris, following Messy Nessy’s recommendation of a Cornet Vegetarien from Alain, the eccentric dancing crepe seller.

Alain, the dancing (and slightly cheeky) crepe maker extraordinaire.

Enjoying our ‘Cornet Vegetarien’ (wholemeal crepe, lettuce, grated carrot and fennel, goats cheese, avocado, parsley; honey and spices) in the park…they were so good I could have*almost* eaten both.

We spent hours hopping between fresh produce stalls and the adjacent flea market at Marche d’Aligre, emerging arms heavy with bags of fresh berries, greens and multicoloured tomatoes.

I could have spent all day browsing these fresh produce stalls.

They tasted as amazing as they looked.

And, every day, we have inevitably sat down to lunch or a late night scratch dinner of French cheeses, baguettes, salads and wine in our Montmartre home.

Sitting down to another late night dinner of salads, bread and cheese…and of course a glass or three of wine.

It’s probably lucky we’re only here for a week, I’m not sure if we could fit out the doors if we continued this much longer…