Saturday, 31 August 2013

Hi Japan... you're confusing...

What's supposed to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world is a little REALLY confusing! I guess that's what happens when your train routes are privately owned and there are a million of them. Also, Steven and I have been pronouncing everything in our Japanese phrase book incorrectly. Note to self: take some Japanese classes before coming to Japan.... 

 Steven and I got the 7-day JR pass only available to foreigners visiting Japan. It's basically unlimited travel on the JR lines, which can take you to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, etc. <-- These are the places Steven and I are hitting on this trip!

The JR office at the airport has English-speaking staff, and an great knowledge of which passes to use and when. We both purchased the Suica card to save us fumbling around for passes and fares while we are in Tokyo. Isn't the card pretty?!

By the time we finally got back to our hotel, we were starving! Air Asia doesn't feed you, so it had been about 6 hours or more since either of us had a real meal. 

Our first Japanese meal...

Ordering was tough... telling the waitress I'm a vegetarian was TOUGHER (they didn't have ANYTHING for vegetarians... oh well). I ordered myself a beer as a celebration for my *ahem* success. 

And continuing on the trend of this vacation... ABSOLUTELY NO EXERCISE! YAY! 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Wandering and Eating around Taipei

Hello blog world! 

In recent days, Steven and I have been busy touring the bustling metropolis of Taipei City. I've been making like a regular ol' Taiwanese and using my umbrella like a parasol. Don't judge me until you feel for yourself the stinging heat of the summertime sun in Taiwan! 

This was one of the highlights of our trip here. Surprisingly, though I've visited Taiwan a lot, I've never been to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Regardless of the politics and all that, it really is quite the sight to see. It's friggin HUGE! We had a good time roaming the gardens and exhibits in the area. Plus, they had the best souvenirs:

A chilly passion fruit popsicle with a stick that's actually a Memorial Hall bookmark! Genius! 

Unfortunately, our foreign meat has been especially enticing to the local mosquito populations. One evening, Steven got 7 bites, and I got 3. My Taiwanese family, sitting right next to us? None. 

No blog post would be complete without lots of food pics. Prepare your eyes to FEAST: 

Forker's vegetarian patty with spinach artichoke sauce baked on top (actually better than any burger I've had in Australia! A bit disappointed with the fries though): 

Classic Taiwanese breakfast of egg pancake (with cheese!) and iced black tea (best breakfast EVER and only 50NT): 

And a really expensive upscale organic restaurant called VVG Bistro nestled in the warehouses of HuaShan Arts District:

Salad in Shakable Jars (So that you get an arm workout with your greens)! 

And these delicious meals: 

My friends had steak with the most delicious fries ever, a delicious scallop risotto with truffle oil, while I had the vegetarian pasta with all sorts of mushrooms and truffle oil. 

And in all this time, I have done absolutely NO exercise. HURRAH FOR VACATION!

Friday, 23 August 2013

A Day in Taipei

Today, Steven and I decided we would be good proper tourists and take pictures of everything and anything that caught our fancy. I even broke out my poor Lomo from its long Australian hibernation to get some exercise! It's a nice refreshing break from the digital world to go back to a film camera. But this does mean we have no idea if the photos even turn out until after we finish the whole roll!! Fun!

As the weather appeared to hold out, Steven and I explored the iconic Taipei 101. Hordes of tourists flock here for the pretty pictures and well, because it is a big tall tower. I was surprised at the quality of the free audio tour and displays on the observation deck. Considering the 500NT ticket, you actually do get some good interesting information on the history of Taipei, nearby attractions and of course the construction of the tower itself.

There was also some sort of exhibit that featured monthly Taiwanese cultural activities, like swimming across Sun Moon Lake next month (done that!), or the pole-climbing festivals around New year's. It was cool because after living here for so many years, these activities were actually familiar to me! Makes me feel local even though I so SO am not!

After wandering the really cool Eslite bookstore (which is really misleading since it is not only a bookstore but also full of little nick nack shops and designer furniture and stuff), we went for dinner at a place near and dear to my heart, Jolly.

This is a microbrewery and an excellent Thai food restaurant. After having been away for 2 years, I was glad to see it still bustling and brewing! The beers were exactly to my taste: sweet and girly. However, now that I am a vegetarian, I basically have to break the rules in order to eat there at all! I had a Green curry (made with shrimp paste) with veggies only and some stir-fried greens. Oh, and beer! Lots of beer!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Our Asia adventure beings

My apologies for the week-long silence in blogging. If you've been following me, you know that Steven and I are traveling around Asia on a two-month "Let's spend all the money we made in Australia" spree.

This past week, we've been busy flying from Hong Kong to Taiwan, my "home" country. After graduating university, I moved and lived in various cities around Taiwan for (on and off) about 3 years. So, in many ways, coming back to Taiwan is like coming home.

Taiwan is where I got through some big struggles in my life so far, and learned peace and contentment... at least for a time. Coming back here is and always will be joyous for me.

Anyway, I'll be back to regular blogging soon! We've got a skim date lined up for this weekend, and lots of catching up with friends and family.

Monday, 12 August 2013

From Sydney to Hong Kong

1. (top left) Steven and I spent our last day in Sydney being the best tourists we could be: walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, shopping for souvenirs, and having our last Australian Starbucks!

2. I think Starbucks cards make pretty good souvenirs! They are printed with all those touristy things like the Sydney Bridge or kangaroos and stuff like that. They are also technically useable back home even though it would make no sense to use an Australian card to spend Canadian dollars in Canada...

3. Steven and I ordered a pizza from Crust for our last meal as we were busy packing and had no energy to go out and eat. I think I will miss this pizza: loaded with veggies and topped with a delicious pesto aioli. 

4. Skip ahead about 12 hours and BOOM we are waking up in Hong Kong! The flight was hard on my poor motion-sick stomach, but Steven seemed to have a great time watching all the movies and chowing down. I'm always so jealous of people that can so thoroughly enjoy themselves on flights. Don't they know I can barely move my eyeballs without wanting to throw up?!

5. (bottom left) This is Steven's new favourite Hong Kong thing: iced milk tea but with the ice on the outside so as not to dilute the precious tea on the inside. He had two in one sitting today, and I think he will have more later. If it were his choice, he probably would hook himself up to one of those beer helmets, but instead of beer, pipe HK milk tea straight into his mouth.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

A Day in Adelaide

1. Yesterday, I started my day with a run through the "linear parks" of Adelaide, eventually making my way to the South Park Lands. (top left picture in the collage.). This is what happens when a hill-trained runner finds herself on flat land: FASTEST 10K EVER!

2. It was a rainy Saturday in Adelaide, so Steven and I took our tourist-ing indoors to the famous St. Peter's Cathedral in North Adelaide. We did a self-guided walking tour. Isn't it amazing what people have built without modern cranes and technology? It's a beautiful, friendly spot for a wander on a rainy day. (bottom left of collage)

3. (Centre picture) We had lunch at E for Ethel, a North Adelaide locally-run gift and coffee shop. We weren't too impressed with the food--it felt very homemade and simple, stuff we could make at home! But the atmosphere was wonderful, coffee was good, and all the trinkets and giftware on the shelves around the cafe were definitely worth the visit.

4. (top right) As it was rainy, rainy, rainy (like I haven't mentioned it 2000 times before), Steven and I took the party indoors to the cinema. We saw Wolverine. Without getting into any spoilers, it was AWESOME but only because I have a huge crush on Hugh Jackman (and I think Steven has a crush on him too...Sorry to expose you, babe, but it's true). The plot was cliche, corny, and I'm sorry to say, badly scripted.

5. The "Canadian Candy Now Available" sign was spotted at a local confectionary chain. We had to see what "Canadian Candy" was, and at what price. It turns out Caramilk, Mr Big, and Big Turk are all Canada-only, and terribly overpriced. I was tempted to get a Mr Big, but I couldn't find it in this particular location. It's probably for the best, as Mr Big retails something like $1.25 back home and something like $3.00 here.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

I want to be Maggie Beer

Being Canadian, Steven and I had never heard of Maggie Beer until we landed in Perth a few weeks ago. Our host there was raving about this local Martha-Stewart-like figure (but without the prison sentence thing) who was to visit his work in the coming days. If he was nervous to meet her, imagine us!

We didn't even realize we were going to her famous farmstead until we actually got there and put two and two together. Maggie Beer's Farm Shop is a stop on nearly every wine, food, or tourism tour coming out of Adelaide and into the Barossa Valley. There are some good reviews of her shop, and some not so good, so Steven and I figured we'd just check it out.

The Farm Shop is at the end of Pheasant Farm Road, pheasants being the food that made Maggie Beer famous. She has since moved on to peacocks, which is why her front door is guarded by one. Just kidding. The lands still operate as a pheasant farm. This peacock just liked the attention he got at the front door of the famous Maggie Beer's Farm Shop.

The Farm Shop is part cafe part shop. Shelves of jam, preserves and pates cut the room in half, while tables and chairs line the windows that overlook the quiet lake.

There is another room (through the door of the above picture) which leads to the tasting and food demonstration area.

Nearly each jam, preserve or vinegar is accompanied with a sample, so you know exactly what you're getting yourself into.

Steven and I decided to have a coffee and picnic basket and enjoy the afternoon in this cool location. Maggie Beer's doesn't really serve food, per se. Their food is centered around the gourmet pates, so each meal is literally a picnic basket: cheese, pate, bread, and pre-made salad. This means they can churn out these meals quickly with little to no prep. Business GENIUS!

We had the Porcini mushroom pate (meh, I'm not a fan of pate), with a multrigrain roll, a soft cheese, and a delicious grainy salad.

In all, the Maggie Beer experience was AMAZING. The woman herself was even there giving the wine tasting behind us. She was friendly and absolutely lovely.

Like I say in the title of this post, I walked out of the Farm Shop wanting to be this amazingly successful woman. I want a farm! I want to cook and preserve things and eat things and drink wines! I want to make picnic baskets! Ok, I'd probably be pretty bad at all of these things, but a girl can dream.

Maggie Beer's Farm Shop is highly rated on Urbanspoon (which I've recently really gotten into HELLO TECHNOLOGY!), and I have to agree! If you're ever in Adelaide, make the trip out to just sit and have a coffee in the shop. It is a beautiful, positive atmosphere, so go soak it all in and get some inspiration into ya!

Maggie Beer's Farm Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 1 August 2013

A Kangaroo-filled Run

Last week, Steven and I traveled to the heart of the Australian Outback: Uluru, The Olgas and King's Canyon (If you have no idea what these places are, think big red rocks and scrubby desert...and emus).

Our start off point was Alice Springs, a small town of around 20,000 people. The town exists basically to feed and house the tourist traffic that eventually trickles down to the big attractions of Uluru and King's Canyon about 4-6 hours down the highway.

As our B'nB hosts explained, Alice Springs is an overlooked attraction in and of itself! It's flanked by the MacDonnell Ranges, valleys and wildlife, and even pockets of rainforest in the middle of the outback. There are plenty of trails and walks around Alice Springs.

Our host recommended a short loop around the Telegraph Station park lands, which is both historic and incredibly Australian. The Telegraph Station is quite significant, as before it was constructed, the only way to communicate between Darwin up to the north and the rest of Australia down in the south was by messenger. HUMAN messenger! It would take weeks! The telegraph stations made communication happen within a day. However, the telegraph signal would die out over a couple hundred kilometers, so there are these historic telegraph stations basically spanning the entire outback.

Can you imagine being posted to a telegraph station in outback Australia? Desolate, isolated, oh, and kangaroo-filled!

I saw sooo many kangaroos on this run.

However, I felt like such a blundering monster through these beautiful, quiet morning trails, sliding up and down the rocky paths with my heavy footfalls, my liter of water sloshing around in my bottle, my heavy panting, etc. etc. I know I scared away so many more kangaroos than I saw because I saw one hopping away on the rocks with her joey in her mouth.

My stats:

Oh, and those "rivers" on the map above are actually all dry. They only fill up with sufficient rainfall, which may happen in 3 months, or 3 years. The desert is an amazing place!