Photo Journal: Making tracks in Hanoi

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I’ve seen some odd things on my travels, and tend not to be too surprised anymore when I see people doing things that are really different to how we do things at home, but this one still took my breath away.

The rail tracks that run through Hanoi literally run through Hanoi. As in, they’re set in what just looks like a slender alley-way between rows of homes and shops, with very little room to move on either side. That was all well and good, until I skipped my way across the tracks to take some photos, and noticed a family finishing up their breakfast. In the middle of the tracks. I’m talking, little plastic stools and table set up with bowls and chopsticks actually on the tracks, and small children running back and forth across them, and no one batting an eyelid.

We crossed that railway several more times during our stay in Hanoi, and I got less and less worried about oncoming speeding trains each time I guess you can get used to anything…

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The #👫WorldTour…

This week, husband and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary, and 12 years together… wow. When we started dating back in 2004, it wasn’t immediately apparent that we had a heap in common. Except for travel. We used to spend hours talking late into the night about all of the places we wanted to see, all the adventures we wanted to take. He wanted to drink rum and listen to music in Havana. I wanted to  sail on the Nile and see the pyramids in Cairo. We discovered that we both desperately wanted to see New Orleans, which led me to discover a surprising appreciation for jazz music in this guy, and he to discover my odd fascination for mythology and the occult. We wanted to safari through Africa and stare out over the concrete jungle of New York City. We wanted to eat pizza in Rome and hot dogs in Chicago. We wanted to world.

But, we were young. We were university students with casual jobs and wages. We graduated together and wasted no time getting to work; we were both big dreamers, but husband had no idea just how stubborn or determined I could be once I set my sights on something, a fact that I think he’s come to respect (and fear).

Not quite a year after graduating, we were renting our first place together. We had to set aside our dreams of world travel so that we could get established in the working world and pay the rent and bills. A few years later, we felt the pressure to be “responsible” and bought land to build a house on (“because you should have been paying off our own home instead of someone else’s while renting,” said all of the grown ups). We moved into our shiny new home on a big chunk of land over Christmas 2009. A few months later, we were engaged, and in October 2010 we were married. We wanted a big, USA adventure for our honeymoon, but with a new house and a wedding within 12 months, it was impossible. So, once again, our dreams were shelved so we could be responsible adults.

Not long after, we realised we were both miserable. We loved each other very much, but we hated where we lived. It too big a house for us, with a mortgage that wouldn’t allow us to actually LIVE. We started planning our escape, allowing ourselves a glimmer of hope that our dreams of travel might actually be possible after all. I didn’t need dreams, though; I needed something concrete. I went into woman-possessed mode, and before long had a plan to get us on a 4 week trip to Egypt and Europe. In March/April 2013, I finally got to fulfil my lifelong dream of travelling to Egypt. I think  a lot of people assumed that we’d take that trip, “get the travel thing out of our systems” and be a proper married couple and start having babies. It just made us more determined to not make the same mistake again of doing what everyone expected; we already tried it that way, and we were both miserable.

Move along another few years, and were in a new house which we both adored. We got braver and planned our big trip to America (finally), for 6 weeks. Financially, it wasn’t easy (we went less than 2 years after the EuroTrip) with a mortgage and bills to pay, but hard work, a lot of sacrifices and sheer determination saw us get it done, and it was incredible. I also managed to save enough money to take a few trips on my own in that time, which was twice as tough, but also infinitely more rewarding.

Not long after returning from America, we realised that if we weren’t ready to “settle down” and have a kid because we wanted to travel, then we should stop wishing and start doing. We set ourselves a gargantuan goal; a four month trip around the world, the one we’d been talking about since 2004, to depart in September 2017 (keep in mind, we only got back from America in January 2015, just got back from Vietnam last weekend, and still have the mortgage & bills to pay). And guess what?

It’s happening.

Finally.

This time next year, we’ll already be a week or so into our 4 month adventure of a lifetime, and we are beyond excited! The planning and budgeting and sacrifices that are making this trip possible are bordering on absurd, but none of it seems hard. This is what we have both wanted for the longest time, and we’re so very ready for it!

Our itinerary will include…

  • Banff & Jasper National Parks
  • Yosemite & Sequoia National Parks
  • Ketchikan
  • Chicago
  • New York
  • New Orleans (duh)
  • London
  • Dublin
  • Iceland
  • Paris
  • Barcelona
  • Ronda
  • Bern
  • Munich
  • Berlin
  • Prague
  • Vienna
  • A whole lot of Italy
  • Osaka
  • Tokyo
  • Koh Sami

 

We have a whoooooole hell of a lot to organise between now and then; being on a budget and having a set date we need to be back home and at work, we’ve decided to book our flights and accommodation in advance rather than winging in. That may sound incredibly daunting, but it’s actually not as scary as it sounds; over the next 12 months leading up to the trip, I’ll be putting together a series of posts on how to deal with the logistics of such a big trip, so if this is something you’ve always wanted to do, too, you can’t use the “too hard” card as an excuse 😉

I’m also putting a call for help out there – if you have any recommendations on where to stay (cheaper hotels/Airbnbs), what to eat, what to see, lesser known experiences, please let us know!! We want to see and do and eat as much as we can, and if you live in any of the places we’re planning to visit, I’ll bet you can tell us a hell of a lot more than any guidebook can!

But for now, it’s head down, bum up, and off to work I go. On the train to work, it’s hard to believe that this time next year, I’ll be on my way around the world…

Eat here: the little pink Pad Thai cart on Patong Beach, Phuket

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So this is a ridiculous story. I went to Thailand for the first time a few years ago with my best friend, E (who I had lunch with on the weekend at Sookie La La, which I’ll write about a little later this week when my motivation levels are low and brunch cravings are high). Our accommodation was down the south end of Patong Beach, and on our first day there, we walked along the street parallel with the beach for a while to get our bearings. We found this little, bright pink food cart around lunch time, with a pair silently firing out the most incredible smelling dishes. Stomachs grumbling, we stopped to check out the menu, and decided to order ourselves a seafood pad thai each. It was probably the best pad thai I’ve ever eaten – fresh like you wouldn’t believe, cooked up right under our noses, under a flurry of hands and sauce bottles and woks and noodles. It was a very fond food memory from our time there…

When I went back to visit Phuket again early last year with husband, I told him all about this fantastic little food cart that we ate at numerous times during my last trip. We walked up the beach to the spot I thought I remembered it being, on a snowball’s chance in hell it might still be around. No such luck 😦 We walked a little further, until the sun started to get a bit too strong, and decided to double back and find a spot on the beach to leave our stuff so we could go for a swim. What happened next, I still don’t believe, and if husband hadn’t been there as my witness, no one else would either… Dead set, as we walked back past the spot where I remembered the food cart being parked, it drove up onto the side walk, turned around into the same spot, and officially opened for lunchtime business!!!! I actually literally stopped in my tracks and sat down on the nearest block of concrete to make sure it wasn’t just a heat and hunger induced hallucination… Husband didn’t waste any time – he ran straight over and ordered 2 serves of pad thai (good man).

While a little spicier than last time I had it, it was every bit still as delicious, and I do believe it was the same people working the wok, much to my disbelief! I was beyond stoked to have been able to find and repeat this food experience, and even happier to find it was still as delicious as I’d remembered it! That meal, to me, is perfect, and what travel is all about – cheap and delicious food ordered off a menu by pointing to pictures in lieu of English descriptions, served by real people and being eaten by locals as well as tourists, on the side of a road with my feet in the sand. That’s what travel and experiencing it all is about. That’s real. Has anyone else been to Phuket’s Patong Beach and seen these guys??!

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Victorian mini-breaks: How to spend a weekend in Beechworth part 1 (where to stay, eat & shop)

It’s a bit of a catch-22 when you finally realise that you’ve found what you want to do with your life, but it’s not something you can do so easily; I know I want to travel, but I can’t exactly drop what I’m doing and pack my bags and live on the road indefinitely. That costs money, and I need to work to earn enough of it to hit the road again! That said, just because I can’t give my passport a workout every month, doesn’t mean I can’t still explore and take adventures and appreciate what I’ve got in my own backyard; I am SO lucky to live in Melbourne, where , within a few hours, I can be at the beach, on snowy mountains, or in beautiful forests. Victoria is an incredible unique place, where we literally have it all – we just need to get in the car and actually look for it!

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So, over the next few months, I’m going to start to practice what I preach, and cultivate a little more adventure at home as well as abroad – why the hell not?! I’m going to start taking more mini-breaks, more weekends or even just days away, more road trips and local adventures, because “adventure” shouldn’t just be reserved for “vacations.” Living authentically, for me, means have adventures every day, and that’s something I can control.  And on that note, without further ado, let me take you to stop #1: Beechworth 🙂

 

Distance from Melbourne CBD:
It’ll only take around 3 hours to drive to Beechworth from the CBD – depending on which direction you’re coming from, just get yourself onto the Hume Freeway, and keep going until you hit Beechworth! It’s a really, really easy drive!

 

Stay here:
Beechworth on Bridge

38 Bridge Rd, Beechworth
http://www.beechworthonbridge.com.au/

I came across Beechworth on Bridge through a quick Trip Advisor search for accommodation in Beechworth. Being that the race was on, a lot of accommodation was booked early, and this was one that looked nice, but was still reasonably priced. We had two nights accommodation (Saturday and Sunday) for only $250, and it was a hundred times nicer that I could have possibly expected! Brenda runs a tight ship, and is one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting on my travels 🙂 She welcomed us with a big smile and open arms, and made us feel right at home from the moment we walked through the front door. She gave us menus for breakfast (complimentary and home cooked), invited us to help ourselves to the enormous DVD collection should we need a relaxing evening in instead of heading out, and was happy to help us with anything else we may have needed. She walked us over to our gorgeously appointed room, and it honestly felt just like home (only, a little bit nicer!) – it was the perfect place to spend the weekend!

Features:
* In-ground, solar heated pool
* Rooms have new HD/LCD tvs
* New super quiet Fujitsu AC Split Systems
* Kitchenette with fridge, toaster, microwave, crockery and cutlery
* Tea, coffee, fresh milk and bikkies
* Expresso Coffee Machines
* Electric Blankets and cosy doonas
* Triple sheeted beds to ensure maximum cleanliness with NO recycled bedcovers
* Hair dryers, irons, ironing boards and fresh towels and high quality toiletries
* Beautiful gardens with BBQs on site

Inclusions:
* Complimentary breakfast which you can choose from the a-la-carte menu
* Free WiFi
* Complimentary DVD hire
* Free car parking
* Guest laundry is available at no additional cost

Oh, and Brenda makes some AMAZING pancakes!!! Highly recommend these!

 

Eat here:

Bridge Road Brewers
Old Coach House 50 Ford St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://bridgeroadbrewers.com.au/

Visit for: the beer (apparently) and the pizza. They cater really well for gluten free (gluten free pizza bases, which are actually really good, as well as GF beer and cider), and be sure to check out the specials board, which is where we found the pork knuckle – absolutely phenomenally good!! Really friendly service, gorgeous set up, just be sure to make a reservation because they get super busy!

 

Moments & Memories Tea Room
34 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.moments-memories-tearoom.com.au/

Visit for: The devonshire tea with an insane amount of teas to choose from to go with it. Yes, it’s pink and frilly and girly and just SO pink. Not at all my style, but don’t be fooled; the service is as sweet and sassy as you’ll find in town, and the scones are good enough to brave the bright pink interior for! With around 60 different teas to choose from (and yes, you can take them home with you if you like them enough!), it’s a little tough to select just the one to go with your scones (again, gluten free particularly well catered for with a gluten free Devonshire Tea option also on offer, which I also sampled, and can very much vouch for!), but I ended up going with the Devonshire Cream tea – top choice, and I bought a bag to take home with me! You can also find a gorgeous selection of award winning jams and preserves, tea cups and saucers, cook books and other little tea-related trinkets that are waiting to be taken home, too. Perfect way to spend a winter afternoon 🙂

 

Beechworth Bakery
27 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthbakery.com.au/

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Visit for: A sausage roll and a pie – I like the steak pie and husband like the chicken and leek, but let’s be honest – they’re all good!! The sweets are also amazing, with the beesting being (a sweet, “melt-in-your-mouth” dough bun filled with apricot jam and creamy custard, and topped with toffeed almonds – delicious!) their most popular export, and for good reason! I’m also a huge fan of the flourless orange almond cake, and the snickerdoodles (custard filled pastry tart, topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries) – and don’t forget a bottomless cup of tea to go with these treats! This bakery is the original and the best; we used to travel to Bright most years to spend the Easter holidays when we were kids, and I have the best memories of stopping in here for lunch at the bakery on the way to Bright! While they’ve now expanded to locations in Albury, Bendigo, Healesville, Ballarat & Echuca, this one is the original, and still the best 🙂 Don’t be put off by the long lines – they move pretty fast.

 

The Beechworth Sweet Co.
7 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthsweetco.com.au/

IMG_7114Visit for: the home made fudge and other home made chocolate and lollies. They’re all delicious – it’s kind of impossible to choose, but the salted caramel fudge is a good place to start! This is another place I have very fond childhood memories of, with many holidays spent eating my weight in musks and chocolate drops from this place 🙂 Their hand made fudge is pretty popular, and they have heaps of amazing flavours to choose from, as well as some pretty delicious peanut brittle. They’ve also got fantastic individual chocolates like the ones below – a little more pricey, but worth it for a special treat!

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Shop here:

Beechworth Honey
31 Ford St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthhoney.com.au/

No doubt you’ve seen this stuff sold in your local supermarket – where better to buy it from that straight from the source?! If you like your honey, this is a must-visit shop in Beechworth, where you can stock up on all things honey; from hand creams and soaps, to honey mead and multiple ranges of honey (everything from the classic original stuff to some fancier orange blossom or creamy honey, fig and ginger), it’s all there.

 

 

Quercus Community Bookshop
Cnr Ford & Church Sts, Beechworth, Victoria

A little heaven of used books, with some very friendly and knowledgeable service to boot 🙂 This is the place to go if you want to browse and/or talk books, with a massive range with new arrivals popping in all the time. If there’s something you’re after and can’t find, just ask – help is at hand and ready to go! With prices starting at only $1.00, you’re bound to walk away with at least a few books.

 

 

Beechworth Antiques
17 Loch St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.indigoshire.vic.gov.au/Services/Business_Directory/Beechworth_Antiques

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There are a few little antique shops in town, but this one was particularly beautiful – heads up though, they are genuine antiques and as such, the prices are more for serious shoppers and collectors. There are a few cheaper treasures in there, though, and definitely well worth a look around.

 

 

So, there’s part 1 of my guide to a weekend Beechworth visit, hope you’re enjoying your virtual break so far and have maybe seen something to motivate you to email Brenda and book a room for a weekend away of your own! I’ll be back later in the week with part 2 (what to see and do while you’re there), so I hope you’ll be back for that 🙂 In the mean time, back to reality and back to work for me this morning, already looking forward to the next adventure!

Kom Ombo Temple, Egypt

A while ago I wrote a little post and put some photos up of our horse ride from Kom Ombo to Edfu Temple. But what about Kom Ombo? It was a pretty amazing space, actually.

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Built somewhere around 180 – 200 BC, this temple was constructed during the Ptolemaic dynasty and was unusually built to honour two gods, Sobek and Horus.

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What I found most incredible was the fact that there was still colour, clearly visible, on a lot of the columns and even ceiling reliefs, as you can see in my photos below. It was really hard to fathom the fact that this temple has been around for literally thousands of years, and the colour had managed to stand the earth quakes, floods, sand storms, and everything else that had been thrown at it…

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This wasn’t one of the biggest temples we saw, but it was a really beautiful one – the thing I remember most, other than the colours, were the ornate columns that you can see below. Very beautiful, very grand, and really made you feel so small… I loved it!

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Late night street food in Bangkok

 

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I’m pretty sure when “normal” people are asked about the best meals of their lives, they’re usually going to talk about Michelin-starred or three-hatted restaurants, well-known, celebrity chefs, exceptional, knowledgeable and courteous service, caviar and truffles and expensive, vintage wine, maybe even a beautiful view of some gorgeous beach landscape. If you ask me, the first I’ll probably think of will be a dodgy looking, street-side vendor, under a motor-way overpass, on the back streets of Bangkok. Yeah, if you haven’t worked it out yet, I’m not “normal.”

Husband and I were in Thailand January just passed (2014), while the city was in the midst of the “Shutdown Bangkok” political movement. It wasn’t ideal. A lot of the markets and street food vendors I’d remembered so fondly from a previous visit were either not operating, or doing much shorter hours than usual. The protestors were peaceful, and as such, really didn’t hinder our movements around the city. On our last night in Bangkok, we set out for one of the night markets I’d visited last time (honestly can’t remember which one it was now, unfortunately!), and after a few wrong turns, we finally found it. Only to discover that perhaps a scant 10% of the regular vendors were operating. And no street food to be seen.

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Given that we’re both foodies and will eat authentic street food over a fancy restaurant any day, we decided to keep walking until we found somewhere that looked good for dinner; we’d never forgive ourselves if our last meal in Thailand was a Thai-by-numbers, made-for-tourists event. Inevitably, because our Thai isn’t too crash hot and I did my best navigating a Thai map with Thai street names, wrong turns were taken and we just kept walking in the general direction of our hotel. We ended up on what seemed to be much quieter streets without really realising how we got there, but we just kept walking. Until we found this place. It was PACKED! I vividly remember an older lady sitting in the gutter, washing out dishes by hand, and pouring the dirty water from the buckets down the street before re-filling them from the hose that lay next to her.

We took a seat on the squat plastic stools, and were handed two plastic menus. We ordered a bit of everything; papaya salad (for husband who has a masochistic love for anything spicy), stir fried greens in oyster sauce, pork fried rice and BBQ beef. While we were waiting for our food, we just sat back and took stock.

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Of the place we were, in that moment, literally; on the side of a dark street in Bangkok, late at night. There were women manning enormous woks over my left shoulder, with bright orange flames licking the sides.  A few plastic menus, sticky with various sauces, being passed around and shared. Locals and other travellers all sharing the space, and enjoying their meals immensely. And this little lady, sitting in the gutter, robotically cleaning the dishes.  Then I thought about where I was in life. My childhood dreams were to see the world and have adventures. I didn’t play “mummy” with my dolls, pretending to make a home for them, and bathe and clothe and cuddle and feed them. I put my dolls on trains that had been thrown off the tracks by an earthquake and onto the precipice of a cliff, where they were hanging on for dear life. Other dolls sailed away on boats, dodging all manor of sealife, real and mythical, to their destination on the other side of the world. More yet rode horses out into the wilderness and saw incredible things. That’s what I had always wanted. And as I looked around, though tame to a lot of people I’m sure, wasn’t this some sort of an adventure? Wasn’t I finally living my life the way I wanted to? That’s why I look so glazed over and happy in this photo..

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Yes, the food was good. Amazing, actually. I’ve been to modern restaurants where I haven’t eaten beef than tender and well cooked. How they managed to impart that much flavour into green vegetables with oyster sauce is beyond me. The food was delicious! But good food clearly isn’t the only thing to consider when thinking about your best ever meals.

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Eat here: Bún Chà Dac Kim, Hanoi

Bún Chà Dac Kim
1 Hang Manh, Hanoi, Vietnam

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Hands down one of the coolest dining and travel experiences of my life! We were picked up from Hanoi’s airport by a lovely young lady and her driver, who took us to our hotel. On the drive over, we talked the whole way, asking each other question after question. Her English was fantastic, and we found out she had a good friend in Sydney, which gave her a good opportunity to practice. We asked her for her recommendations on the things she thought we should see and her favourite places to eat – she proceeded to write out a double-sided notebook page for us!

We told her our favourite Vietnamese dish was bun cha – a huge smile spread across her face and she started to furiously scribble onto the page again, telling us this was her favourite food too, and she’d give us the address of her pick for the best place to get it in the city. Once she dropped us off at the hotel and we got a few photos taken together and exchanged email addresses, we dumped our suitcases in our room and prepared to head back out and find us some bun cha.

It took a little while, but eventually we found the street name. The ridiculous amount of people massed out the front indicated we were in the right place. Once it was clear that we were interested, we were quickly ushered into the establishment without a word from the lady. It looked like a little shop front that was already full and couldn’t possibly accommodate us; we were then ushered up two flights of stairs and to the end of a communal table.

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Without a word being exchanged, we pointed to a nearby water bottle and held up two fingers (we were aiming for 2 bottles of water, and we had them within 60 seconds), then settled down to survey our surroundings. Shoulder to shoulder, sardine-tin dining with miniature street side plastic stools and a crazy, market-style atmosphere. It was perfect. We’d no sooner taken in the full 360 degree view than looked down at the pile of food that had materialised in front of us. Much like the fabulous experience we had at Bale Well in Hoi An, it appeared that AUD$5.00 got us a bottle of water each as well as all we could eat bun cha.

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Pickled vegetables, a veritable mountain of noodles, half a garden worth of fresh herbs, fresh spring rolls and god knows what kind of meat wrapped in leaves and swimming in undoubtedly the best broth either of us had ever had.

So there we sat, looking at each other over the small plastic trestle table, simultaneously bursting out into laughter. We could not believe it! From what started as a “I wish we could just go to Vietnam and eat our way around the country!” We had actually made it a reality! We were sitting in a little nondescript street side shanty, three stories above Hanoi, eating the most spectacularly delicious spread of food! If you’re in Hanoi, please take down this address and ask your hotel or hostel front desk for directions; it’s one hell of an experience!

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