More discoveries @ Down Under

We said it too early that we would not return to Perth any time soon. We were wrong!  About 4 months after our visit in May, we were back again. The last trip was rather a let-down as we fell ill soon after we arrived [check out “Unwinding in Down Under” in this blog!] So we were back this time with a “vengeance”; and we had another family on the same road trip that promised fun for a 6D5N relaxing and fruitful journey 🙂

We decided to self drive and got an X-Trail. Hertz did not have the RAV 4 that we wanted. Never mind. Equipped with the GPS and 150MB-a-day WIFI, we headed to Margaret River immediately after I touched down from a midnight flight.

1st pit stop: Mandurah.  We decided to stop for a break at the peaceful town, watching the seagulls as we sipped our soup and coffee. Not bad at all – the clear blue sky, the sea and the cooling weather under 20deg.

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A friend told me Margaret River (MR) is the gem of Perth, and I agree with him. Though we were not particularly knowledgeable in the art of wine tasting, we appreciated the tranquillity of the wineries.  I also loved the lush greeneries that laid all over South Perth.

Thanks to L who did research and booked our stay for this trip, we got a cosy room at Yelverton Brooks Eco Spa for 2 nights. My very 1st time being so up close and personal with lively kangaroos, parrots, woollies and possums. The animals must have felt so loved by L’s family cos they kept going to her cottage for carrots, bananas and apples. Yeah, L bought 5kg worth of carrots just to feed them! They were obviously happy with their food, so did we! We had BBQ chix wings, beef fillets, broccoli and sausages for dinner 🙂

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Day 2 was another fulfilling day. The owner recommended that we visit the Farmers’ Market for fresh produce, and so we did. But after checking it out, we only bought oranges, hee. We then proceeded to the Berry Farm, Chocolate factory, Betteney’s wine and nougat for more shopping before heading to the Voyager Estate for high tea. The sales at Berry Farm was amused we bought 18 jars of jam, lol. The Voyager Estate is ranked 3rd in MR and we were indeed impressed by its vast vineyard, classy settings and certainly, the food. Yummy!  Dinner was L’s specialty – spaghetti. We also had the oranges from Farmers’ Market and sparkling strawberry wine from Berry Farm to wrap our 2nd night in MR.

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Farmers’ Market

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(from left) Berry Farm; Chocolate Factory

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High Tea @ Voyager Estate

On our 3rd morning, we were pleasantly greeted by the Roos family who waited patiently for us to cut the carrots and apples before feeding them. After a breakfast of toasts, we bided goodbye to MR.  En route to Pemberton, we dropped by beautiful Knotting Hill winery for photo op and bought a bottle of white wine.  We loved the ambience at Voyager so much that we decided to return for lunch 🙂 Thereafter, our long road trip began…into and through the woods.

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By evening after 2+hrs of continuous driving, we finally checked into Forest Lodge. Yeah, Pemberton is full of National Parks and forests. L & Y made dinner for us again…spaghetti, veg, pan fried chicken fillets, corn and minestrone soup. As usual, we capped the night with the award-winning Semillon Sauvignon Blanc – cheers!

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Pemberton has more colourful birds and Roos. A decent spread of flakes, fruits and hot breakfast, coupled with birds chirping really made a wonderful morning. We had a leisure walk after brekkie to check out the property and yes, more photo ops with the tranquil surroundings. We missed the timing for the tram ride and decided to visit the Gloucester National Park. For A$11 per car, we could visit ALL the parks in the area! Too bad, we only had time for one. Unanimously, we thought it wd be better if we could spend another night’s stay here. After attempting to climb up the tallest Gloucester Tree in the park, we took a leisure 800m trail around the park and got closer to Mother Nature.

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Leisure walk around Forest Lodge

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800m trail around Gloucester National Park

Busselton Jetty was our next pit stop for photo op, feeding seagulls and lunch before we parted ways with L n family. It was the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. I really loved the chilly breeze, clear blue sky, tall trees and the seagulls! We fed them one big loaf of bread (made by the Yelverton Eco Spa owner, hee). The seagulls enjoyed their food, so did we with the joy of feeding them.

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For our last 2 nights, we bunked in with J & N who are staying at Langford. It was nice seeing them, esp. Bb Al again 🙂 Gosh, she’s grown so much during the last 4 months! J had made popiah (akin to Vietnamese spring rolls) for dinner.  City was really different from the suburbs. So we did what most people would do in city – shopping at the huge Harbour Town Factory Outlet. Didn’t expect we stayed there for about 5hrs, with quite a few shopping bags 🙂  We treated J & N to the Chinese Restaurant at Chinatown. The snow crab was really fantastic, no wonder K & Y came here a few times for dinner and dim sum the week before L & I arrived. At Y’s suggestion, we met up for dim sum there on our last morning before departing to the airport.

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We loved the relaxing pace (including the vehicles on the road) in Perth. K was even contemplating returning next time, contrary to what he remarked during our last trip (his first) here in May, that there’s nothing much to do in Perth. I think we have grown to love to appreciate nature more and it’s always good to do that, seeking serenity away from the bustling and bursting Singapore.

Agree? :p

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[Travel] Unwinding in Down Under

This must have been the most ‘bochup’ and ‘zobo’ trip! <‘bochup’ refers to indifference; ‘zobo’ refers to idle’, loosely in Hokkien>. Yet, ironically, it is also a very eventful one. Why? Things that could/may/should not have happened, happened. Let me jogged my memory here:

  1. We didnt really have time to source for accommodation. Finally decided and they’re not available by then. We had to ‘hop’ between 3 diff places (& 1 more! see s/n 6);
  2. We didnt realise/remember to apply visas. Had to pay 5x more for visas on-the-spot;
  3. By the time I realised my boots were ‘peeling’, it was too late cos I was already mid-air.  1st thing that happened when I touched down was to buy slippers at the airport cos the boots totally gave way;
  4. Bell Tower and Swan River were under some development;
  5. We both fell sick soon after and the Chemist was our fave haunt and best friend; and
  6. The last B&B ‘upgraded’ us to another place cos there was a burst pipe.

Alrighty! Sounds eventful enough?  That’s all I want to remember anyways 🙂

Well, we should count our blessings too, right? At least the weather was perfect! Cooling and breezy throughout our stay, albeit some light drizzles on Day 1 and 2.  Most impt of all, we got to visit our friends and their adorable bb!  And how often do we get to stroll and sit by the park on a weekday morning, watching children at the playground and catching up on my movie on ipad? 🙂  It’s a luxury, aint it?!

U bet! Slippers & Boots were my Day 1 shopping

U bet! Slippers & Boots were my Day 1 shopping

Okies, let’s talk about FOOD! Apart from the popular Fish & Chips, we tried Vietnamese, Jap, Korean, Chinese, Italian 🙂

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Another interesting thing that happened to us is our ACCOMMODATION.  This is one trip where we really hopped from one place to another…

Day 1 – Miss Maud Swedish Hotel at Perth City Centre

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Day 2-4 – Olympia, Fremantle

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Day 5-6 – Fremantle B&B…then upgraded to Heritage Cottage, Fremantle

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Though we were down with flu, sore throat and cough, we still enjoyed the slow pace of life and nice weather 🙂

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A pity that we didnt really plan to do much. After all, we were only seeking to take a well-deserved break and get away from all the work stress.  Hope we can do better next time, probably 🙂

ps:  Apologies for the random-ness of this blog. Yours truly is still a lil under the weather :S

Seoul – Yongsan (Day 2)

The planned day 2 in Seoul was set for Noryanjin Fish Market, Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (UNESCO World Heritage) and Everland.

However, as arrival to Seoul and visits to the Grand Palaces have been super tiring for my back and feet, the plan changed…

Noryangjin Fish Market : Address 13-8 Noryangjin-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Noryangjin Station

Noryangjin Station

Fish market view from second floor

Fish market view from second floor

Fish market view from side

Fish market view from side

I took the train to Noryangjin station. The fish market is beside the station. Going alone to the fish market is no fun because you are unable to try the different types of seafood alone so I merely walked passed the stalls if the stall owners keep “pestering” me to buy their seafood. I had actually wanted to try out the “live” octopus legs but I didn’t in the end in the fear of being “cheated” haha. I left shortly…

National Museum of Korea (Nearest Station is Ichon Station)

I took a train to Yongsan Station (just 1 stop instead of Ichon Station). The name Yongsan means “Dragon Hill”, derived from the hanja characters for dragon (龍 yong) and hill/mountain (山 san). I decided to walk to the National Museum of Korea so that I could explore the area more.

As I walked, I came across residential housing, Condominiums and offices. This is probably the first time I had actually seen residential area so up close and personal. It reminded by of the HDB flats in Singapore.

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Residential Homes

Oh… as I walked… I also noticed something very interesting. There was a unification building and outside the building stood 4 statues holding hands and being such good friends!!

Guess who are the 4 statues? hee hee

Guess who are the 4 statues? hee hee

I reckon the first statue being Confuscius, then Buddha, then Jesus and finally Allah (Islam). Did  you guess them correctly? hahaha

I was also surprised to see a US Army base. It was huge and security was tight.

Finally I managed to reach the national museum after 30-40mins of walking. I suggest any visitors to take to Ichon station instead… too much walking!! The place is huge!!! My feet definitely hurt more so I decided to go to the Dragon Hill Spa later 🙂

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Map of the Museum

 

 

 

Seoul – Sightseeing the Grand palaces

The first thing I did after landing at Incheon International Airport, was to take the subway to Gyeongbokgung station. The journey from the airport to the station took about 67mins. The train journey was not bad considering it was during office peak hours (7.30am to 8.50am).

Train was broad and spacious

Train was broad and spacious

If you are a cultural person, you can head to visit the grand palaces. There are a total of about 5 grand palaces and each visit you make is 3,000won. They do sell a package worth 10,000won which for all the 5 palaces and a shrine. The grand palaces are Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Gyeonghuigung Palace.

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The palaces are huge and my feet actually got too tired and sore. haha…  Typically they look the same…. haha so if you are a non-cultural person.. you can just take nice pictures from the outside or just visit Gyeongbokgung palace. It is the biggest and has Change of Guard processions.

Taipei 2013 – Day 4

It’s the last day of the trip and we didn’t really plan anything as we need to check out by 12. We decided to skip hotel breakfast and look for 永和豆漿大王. J and I did try to look up the location beforehand but didn’t manage get a confirmed address. It didn’t help that the hotel receptionist told us there isn’t one nearby. Nonetheless, in the spirit of adventure, we still went out to search for a breakfast place – hopefully there are other 豆漿 around.

It’s a Sunday and most shops were not opened that early. Walked a distance past XMD but still no luck. Hmmm. I was about to give up. Then we saw it.

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The queue sure was long and there weren’t many tables for eating there. But we were lucky to get a table just as we were queuing. 🙂

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Yeah!

By the time we walked back to hotel it was already 1.15pm and our designated cabbie Mr Guo was already waiting outside. Mr Guo is the taxi “uncle” who sent us back to the hotel last night. We asked for his contact to arrange to go airport today. Along the way Mr Guo told us he also does day trips and introduces us to various places of attractions in Taiwan. He even took the trouble to take the coastal highway – which is longer and hence more bo hua for him – to let us enjoy the more scenic view on our way to airport! Super nice!

Thus our very short and spontaneous trip came to an end. I totally enjoyed myself. Will I be back? You bet!

Taipei 2013 – Day 3

It’s Day 3! We had breakfast at hotel as usual before heading out to our destination – Maokong gondola (貓空纜車)!

The boarding point of Maokong gondola is a short walk from the Taipei zoo station. Again we do not need to purchase tickets ‘cos we were able to use the Easy Card – imagine taking the cable car is as easy as taking the subway! I was surprised at how well-integrated the payment system is, in Taipei at least. Singapore has a lot to catch up in this aspect – yes I’m looking at you Singapore Flyer and Sentosa cable car.

The gondola comes in 2 types – normal and crystal – the difference being the base of the carriage. Obviously we went for the crystal gondola, despite the longer queue.

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The entire ride is about 4km with 2 stops in between the Taipei zoo station and Maokong station and it costs only 50NTD (~SGD 2.50)!!! This must be the cheapest gondola ride I’ve ever taken and it’s totally worth going even if the ticket price was tripled or five times more.

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Didn’t have too many pictures to show ‘cos I was busy admiring the scenery and enjoying the ride. In between, we were greeted by a really exuberant CSO “auntie” during one of the intermediate stop. Her cheerfulness and enthusiasm was really infectious. This is just one of the many exemplary examples of good customer service we encountered during our trip in Taipei.

This is the Maokong station where we alighted.

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We wasted no time to explore the vicinity after getting off – didn’t even bother looking at the map. The first thing we did was: eat!

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The 炸彈蔥油餅 was freshly made and taste quite nice – a bit like the normal 蔥油餅 but fluffier and comes with egg. By the way it’s also available at those night market. Must try.

The walking trail was dotted with teahouses mainly. Apparently they grow their tea leaves here and there’s even a tea research institute here. I wonder what they do – drink tea all day? Ha

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There were also some cafes and shops selling tea related stuff. We bought some nice souvenirs for our friends back home.

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After a long walk we stopped for lunch at a restaurant along the road. And of course we ordered tea.

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The view and weather were fantastic. Too bad the food was only so-so.

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After Maokong we proceeded back to the city to the famous 誠品書店 (Eslite book store). It’s apparent that the reading culture is well and alive in Taiwan. I guess it helps when the book store has proper reading facilities like tables and reading corners. Quite a contrast to our local book stores. Could lack of hardware be part of the reason for the demise of stores like MPH and Page One? One could only speculate.

There are cafes at almost every level, each with a different theme. We went to one that was cozy and had a homely decor.

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We ordered the tea set, which comes with an assortment of pastries and bread. It comes beautifully arranged and everyone gets a slightly different set. Like!

S: You should try this cafe next time!

After Eslite we made a small detour to 新光三越 but left for Taipei 101 not long after. Skipped the observation deck and went directly to 鼎泰豐 for dinner. Crowd was quite crazy, luckily it was just 2 of us so we got a seat quickly. Incidentally the couple besides us were Singaporean as well and they knew we were too. Haha. Too obvious.

Verdict: ok but not fantastic. The previous outlet I had was better.

After dinner we went back to hotel to put down our stuff before coming out again to 西門町. J went for haircut – yes you can get a haircut at 10pm – while I explored around. This time round I went across the road to the Red House area. There were a mini bazaar of sorts taking place. It seems like a temporary weekend stall setup where all kinds of stuff were being sold, most of them quite creative and one off. Recommended for those who visit 西門町 on a weekend.

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Taipei 2013 – Day 2

The main itinerary for Day 2 was 九份, which is quite a distance from the main Taipei City. Given that Good Friday is not a public holiday for Taiwan, we got to experience a bit of the morning crowd. But it was manageable. I like the fact that queue for metro is on one side. IMO, it’s definitely better for crowd movement compared to Singapore’s queue-at-both-side system.

Anyway, the journey to 九份 involves taking the metro line to Taipei Main Station and transferring via the normal railway to 瑞芳站. As we were using the Easy Card (like our EZ-link), we could just tap and didn’t have to buy a train ticket. However, we later found that those who bought tickets are allocated seats. The rest could take a seat if there was one available, or stand like we did, throughout the journey.

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Upon reaching 瑞芳站 we took a public bus to 九份老街. As it was raining, visibility was poor. But we were not worried about missing our stop ‘cos most of the people on-board were traveling there. We overheard one – presumably – Singaporean couple asking the locals for directions. The local middle-age “auntie” was patient enough to explain quite a few times, and even offer a home-grown banana to the couple. Nice.

It was my second time in 九份 so I was quite familiar with the place. There are many write-ups about 九份 so I won’t repeat the story. What I want to say is that I love the place for its unique character and charm. Red lanterns were clearly visible on the way up the mountain, and it wouldn’t look out of place in a WuXia movie. Too bad it was raining the whole time we were there, just like the previous time I was there, and the previous times our friend were there. Bummer. We ended up at a nice-looking teahouse near the popular viewing/waiting area.

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Now that’s a view you don’t see everyday.
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We had originally intended to buy most of the things on our todo list here. It turns out that we didn’t bring enough cash! Double bummer. I still can’t believe we didn’t buy a single thing from 九份! After 九份 we headed back to the hotel, as our shoes had been soaking wet since morning.

We headed off to 士林夜市 for dinner. The food area had been moved to the basement since the last time I visited. Spent some time looking for it though ‘cos we didn’t come from the main road. Someone was starting to complain when we just managed to find the basement entrance. Phew.

The basement is like a food court, but not as organized as the ones back in SG. Which is a good thing. The messiness and bustling makes for an interesting dining experience. We eventually decided on one of the Teppanyaki stalls.

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The shops above the food court were a mix of stalls that you typically find in a bazaar – darts throwing, game machines, apparels, etc. Good thing they also have stalls selling local products like pineapple tarts and mochis. We bought a lot of stuff from here to make up for missing out earlier at 九份.

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