31 May 2014

Fish out of water experiences, aka Kiwis can fly. Travel Linkup

I step from off the flight into a wall of humidity. The walls and windows lining the airport terminals are draped in exotic tropical flowers, heavy with a scent I can't place. My nose twitches, before being overwhelmed with the realisation that locals are chattering in a language that I don't understand.
This isn't Kansas anymore Toto.

Having never flown solo anywhere before, stepping onto the Tarmac of Changi Airport Singapore, the realisation hit me that I was alone, in another country and my fate was entirely in my own hands. Head heavy from jet lag, arriving at 11pm I managed a 16 mile (or so it seemed) circuit of Changi airport, before sinking gratefully into the in-airport hotel bed.

The next morning I'd like to say my young self sprang out of bed but that's a complete lie. I awoke to the slowly dawning realisation and excitement that this was the moment I truly began travelling. Gathering all of my paperwork (in triplicate, plus copies at home), my bag and my guidebook, I walked past AK-47S armed airport security, tourist shops and overpriced restaurants to emerge blinking into the heavy tropical atmosphere of an imminent Monsoon shower. Hailing a cab (every step of the way thinking "Oh my god I'm in SINGAPORE") I threw my stuff into my hotel room, impatient to begin exploring properly.

I didn't know how to pay for the bus (Singapore adopted a contactless card option very early on), had never stepped foot on a complicated train/tube network or walked roads that needed to be traversed by taking escalators and using bridges. All very strange to my little Kiwi self. Without any proper plans for the day, I made my way to Orchard Road and marvelled at the beautifully dressed women and busy men bustling about their work. Hunger pangs struck, and though wandering into the 7Eleven shops and grabbing a sandwich appealed to the cowardly me, I decided to strike out for a local trader market, bearing in mind the warning to make my way intentionally to the busy stalls as they are ones locals favour.

I eventually made my way to little India, a quarter of markets, open-air butcheries and the most indescribably beautiful smells, to watch the sunset over the country I had conquered. I began the day a travel newbie, but ended the day beer in hand chowing on food that I didn't know the name of (opting for the travellers choice of pointing to a menu item that looked interesting) that tasted of the exotic flavours I had been dreaming of, working towards and planning for more than a year.

A fish out of water I most definitely was; female, on my own and totally under my own steam. And this was only the first leg - I hadn't yet wrestled the London Underground on a bus strike day in the rain toting a huge broken suitcase, come a-cropper with European greeting kisses or conquered the lack of an established social network. See, Kiwis CAN fly.

Ahhh, memories. This month's travel linkup with Kelly & Rebecca is themed 'Fish out of water' experiences, suggested by the ever lovely Lady loves Cake, Kat. As usual, it's a chance to stretch our typing fingers, travelling feet and wanderlust minds from the 1st to the 7th May, so get cracking, adding to the linkup & chatting!

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30 May 2014

Foodie Penpals May - A taste of Yorkshire & childhood

For almost two years, specials parcel have been landing on my doorstep each and every month. Clothed in humble brown cardboard, each brimming with the sights, smells and tastes of far away lands, each has been a delight to open. They tend to magically arrive on days that the world seems to be horrid, and make it a much nicer place. I've ripped them open in the train station, on my lap in our lounge and at my work desk aside an eager cup of tea waiting for the foodie tidbits inside.

Each box or package though limited in budget - intentionally to make fair on everyone - hearkens from far away lands, some as close as Milton Keynes, many across continental Europe and two very special boxes from across the Atlantic. One box resulted in connecting with the gorgeous +Azlin Bloor and two years of literary discussions, another found myself eating pastrami in an immortalised diner on the mean streets of New York. Life is a funny thing, isn't it?
This month's parcel came from a town a touch closer - the beautiful city of York, somewhere I've discovered has close family ties - you know the Shambles right? My distant family have a shop there and have done since medieval times. Not bad for a wee Kiwi bird thousands of miles from her land.
It may not be such a surprise then, that the psychic link that seems to pass from one Foodie Penpal to another (it's rather well documented in fact) tee-ed my May parcel to contain a morsel that caused me to close my eyes and feel lost in the chatter of childhood. Strawberry Meringues. To me, strawberry meringues are synonymous with my adopted (adopted as in we attached ourselves) Nana's sunlight porch, with tiny dogs yapping excitedly as they wove through our short legs. We then return inside the crocheted heaven to re-thumb the Gnome book. I've read that book more often than most people have read Harry Potter. I knew more about Dutch Gnome architecture, education, courtship, medicine, industry, and relationships with other mythical creatures, than I did human at that point in time.
Luckily I've learned a lot since then.

My sumptuous May parcel felt like it was neverending with a lovely card, traditionally made clotted cream toffee, ginger fudge, oat cakes and a Madras curry kit. Cat, my penpal this month is seriously similar to me. Sweet, with a feisty edge.

Then, then I lifted out the piece de resistance - a hazelnut Florentine from the infamous Betty's tea shop. Nutty richness encased in chewy caramel toffee, enrobed in dark chocolate. You seriously can't go wrong. Thank you Cat, it was simply amazing. Sadly I didn't get to photograph it all as I was too busy *ahem, eating* to get proper snaps of the everything. Bad blogger. I'm glad to say that my penpal recipient reported back having enjoyed hers, a variety of unusual snacks from my favourite shop.

28 May 2014

Grind Coffee Bar, Kiwi Brunch Recommendations

Living 11,390 miles (18,331 km) from home, there are a couple of things that keep me from losing my little Kiwi mind. One is the availability of delicious flat whites and Kiwi treats in London. (The other is Mr Kiwi, who you can't have - you'll need to find your own English lad, sorry.)
The antipodean coffee scene seems to have sprung up over the last few years, and judging by the crowd of coffee machine wielding baristas with Kiwi twangs at the London coffee festival, we are taking over. At a coffee tasting class the other week (a "cupping" class), I was even told by our Italian teacher that 'the Kiwis and Aussies are doing wonderful things and research into milk in coffee.' Awesome!
Each of our usual antipodean haunts has signature Kiwi dish that keeps drawing the expats in; Sacred - coffee & lolly cake, Caravan - sweetcorn fritters, Kopapa - Date scones & Spirulina, The Modern Pantry - insane ricotta pancakes (ok, I don't think they're Kiwi, but they are scrummy), Ozone have scrummy (though seemingly decreasing in size) Eggs Benedict served on hash cakes, and Long White Cloud with their Kiwi goodies. You don't have to be a Kiwi to enter any of these establishments, or any of the up-and-comers but it tastes better when you take one. Me, namely.
Onto the delectable Grind. Found just south of Putney Bridge, Grind is a cheeky brunch hot spot full of locals and a delicious selection of baked brunch goods. A few of the Kiwi gang and I visited a few months ago, but scheduling the write-up just seems to have been left behind for no decent reason.

See those delicious looking almond croissants and pastries using their French charm to lure themselves onto your plate? Forget them.  
Bacon and egg pie. Bacon and egg pie!

There was no question about what I ordered. 

Whilst I tucked into my bacon & egg pie, discussion raged over the use of peas and tomatoes in them (my family is pro-tomato, anti-pea) and whether to crack eggs in whole or pre-mix them (we are pro-whole eggs, else it's practically a Frittata).

As the discussion raged, my Kiwi table mates tested the rest of the menu, hungry professional brunchers that we are. The bacon pancakes with berry compote and cream fraiche stacked up well, and were demolished (admittedly with my help), and the Eggs benedict were of good standard (though my pet peeve of them arriving on toast was in force).

Their coffees were good, smooth and full in taste and texture, though our caffeinated orders were a touch slow in coming, due to staff having to deal with a full café and a broken card machine. When chased, the staff were effusive in their apologies, and chivvied the cups up - though it meant that they were a touch cold. We also ordered one of the fantastically named smoothies which sadly was lost in the card machine chaos.

We still really enjoyed the brunch though, a great varied menu, funky décor, beautiful skylight/courtyard and nice service. A word of warning though if you're thinking of popping down to Grind in Putney - such is the popularity it gets BUSY so go early. You'll thank me for it.

The people watching on the Thames is an optional morning extra whilst brunch is digesting, but a highly recommended one...
What is your favourite brunch meal? Do you Eggs benedict or go off-piste?

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27 May 2014

Jet Boating, an unusual way to see London.

Think you're seen every possible angle of London? I suspect my birthday treat (after a beautifully serene morning of cruising on a canal boat along the Grand Union Canal) might be one that needs to be added to your list...
The trip begins by signing a disclaimer, donning a life jacket securely and a serene journey past the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and the industrial buildings of the St Katharine docks.

After a touch of history on Greenwich, a few tunes and laughter of the driver once past the speed restriction areas (and incidentally the river police) you find yourself being hurled along the Thames at breakneck speed. It is euphoric.

The driver does a few twists and turns to keep himself entertained and us slightly terrified, before drawing level with the alien looking Thames Barrier.

After a touch of history and questions, we sadly turn the boat back towards the city centre and dry land.

But not before many London's iconic skyline sneaks into view, one after the other, a veritable feast of iconography.

Then, a drink in a nearby pub. Not part of the experience, but definitely a fitting end, a celebration of a fantastic, crazy trip. I have no idea how fast we went - all I know is that it was fast enough to get the adrenaline pumping.

We went on a cold, rather stormy autumn day, but it was worth ever wobble of my knees as we tip toed back on to the safe, wonderful Southbank. What a day!

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24 May 2014

A unique London top 10 staycation list

We've not been organised enough this year to organise many trips. Yet. It has meant falling in love with this sprawling city all over again though - exploring more corners of an ever-changing urban mass.
It got me thinking though, as ever - a grade-A chronic over-thinker - about the best bits of staying at home. You'll never run out of things to do over the bank holiday weekend...

Try something new in an old favourite, or something the same in a new way.

A cheeky slice of Afternoon Tea perhaps?

Watch the sunrise or sunset - the instagram love is optional.

Hang out with friends, penguin or otherwise.

Escape by train. There are a fair few options.

Explore a nearby garden & catch a couple of rays in pirate fashion.

Find a pub cat.

High-five an icon.

Find an original monopoly street, partake of a beverage if you wish.

 It's up to you really.

23 May 2014

Friday Figments and Photos

Only in England.

Major food groups? Vegetables, Meat, Bread, Baked beans.

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