A Travellerspoint blog

January 2012


Excuse me miss, did you see the sign? No eating on train.

sunny 95 °F

After our 5hr redeye from Perth to Singapore we were due for a healthy nap. Now, the Singapore airport is about the best place to spend some time in; they have everything from a swimming pool, spa, restaurants, exquisite shopping and most important to us – lounge chairs for napping! After resting, we headed into the city for some grub. There are cheap good food stalls everywhere with tons of different ethnic choices. As we explored the city we found ourselves continuously nibbling… sharing a dish from one stall (say, Peranakan Latska), and then trying another a few minutes later (say, Singaporean fried carrot cake [chai tow kway] – which turns out to be glutinous rice flour with radish and doesn’t actually contain any carrot). We loved everything we tried until we discovered durians! Apparently there is a love hate relationship with this fruit and although it can be found in many foods (including ice cream), it is currently banned from public places because of its awful smell. Here is a pic of a sign as you enter the subway (robin in the background):

We had just three days in Singapore, but we managed to cover quite a bit of territory using public transportation and our running shoes. We had two lovely runs, this first was through the MacRitchie Reservoir Park and over a swing bridge they call the “tree top walk.”

The other run was through the Singapore Botanic Gardens that contains the most amazing Orchid Garden (including an air conditioned cold room and a flower arch feature called “Golden Shower Arches”). This was our first encounter with heat + humidity and we decided that we could see more and be more comfortable running in running clothes rather than be slow and miserable in our tourist clothes.

We sometimes notice the same people in different cities or tourist sites, however in Singapore we ran into two tourists in two very odd places, both a little off the beaten path. First, we ran past Emily and Stephan in an empty reservoir park that was an hour bus ride outside of the CBD (central business district). Then we crossed paths with them again in a crowded remote locals only food court in Chinatown. We ended up spending the evening drinking beers and watching a light show from the new Marina Sands Hotel with our new friends, who we hope to meet up with again in either their home in Germany or their family olive grove in Greece.

On our final night in Singapore, we went on the Singapore Zoo Night Safari, which far exceeded our expectations. It was a well-organized event with walking paths directly through the middle of animal habitats that contained illuminated signs with multi language verbal explanations and animal sounds like you’d see in a museum. There was also a small 45min wheeled train ride that went directly through the bigger habitats getting us very close to the animals and staying true to safari name. We were able to see so many animals that we had never heard of, watch a fire breathing show and get up close and personal with fruit bats in a low flying aviary.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 02:18 Archived in Singapore Tagged night gardens orchids safari botanical humidity durians Comments (0)

Holidays in the Southern Hemisphere

A Strharsky family reunion in Perth (minus lil D)

sunny 90 °F

Christmas without a yule log just isn’t the same for those who have lived in the northern hemisphere; however a white [sand] xmas was just as well since we spent most of the holidays on the beach and we still had Christmas crackers (w/ crowns) and played “pennies up the bum!” Deciding upon xmas meals was a challenge to say the least since baking all day in +90F weather isn’t so desirable. We settled on a cold pasta salad with shrimp (aka prawns) on the BBQ to simulate a Christmas Eve Merkel tradition. The highlight on xmas of course was Kevin’s mom’s cinnamon rolls and cookies that were made without cup and teaspoon measurements.

Just in case you were wondering, Santa still wears his North Pole gear in 90F weather and christmas trees still grow in the concrete jungle shown in these pics we captured earlier on our trip:

On Boxing Day, we watched the Sydney to Hobart sailing race start and day one of the India vs. Australia first test match. We also managed a lovely bike ride around Perth before heading to Fremantle and the Little Creatures Brewery for some well-deserved brew (turns out starting a brewery in OZ is a good idea since you can charge twice as much for beer that has half as much alcohol).

We spent Harry and Loretta’s last night in Perth with some lawn bowling, which proved to be a wonderful way to be outside, drink beer, play a game, and have a lot of fun. Lawn bowling is a bit like Bocce Ball or shuffle board, but the balls have a weight bias to them so that they curve instead of travel in a straight line.

On New Year’s Day, we partook in a long standing Aussie tradition by heading to the Perth Cup for some horse racing! Despite the hot, sticky weather it is custom to get pissed (drunk) in the most fancy outfit you can find (think prom or English wedding). We met up with some locals for a champagne brunch (eggs and bacon on the Barbie of course) before dressing up and heading over to the races. In below picture you’ll get a glimpse of Robin in her first fascinator (the feather like hair piece). Although we did not win big at the races, we discovered how to place different types of bets and had a great time cheering for our horses.

After the races, we headed back to Cottlesloe Beach with Justin and Anya for some R&R, sparklers, skinny dip, and bubbly of course!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:45 Archived in Australia Tagged new years holidays bbq eve Comments (1)

[in the] Middle [of] Earth

a different perspective

80 °F

When navigating through New Zealand, all of the street maps we used contained little "movie markers" that explained which part of the Lord of the Rings movie was filmed there. Through most of Australia we talked about watching the "making of LotR" and we finally made it happen in Perth. Here is a snap shot of us at a casting for the new Hobbit film (prequel to LotR):

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:30 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Margaret River Wine Region

A wine and culinary side trip from Perth

sunny 80 °F

Kevin’s parents were waiting for us when we arrived back to Perth from our road trip. After some discussions on timing, it was decided that the four of us would head down to the Margaret River region for some wine tasting while Anya and Justin finished up their work before the holidays. We spent three days and two nights in the Margaret River region tasting local cheeses, local wine, local venison, local sodas, local fudge, local wood fired bread, local olive oils, local breweries, local coffee, and local yogurts, don’t u know I’m loco! It was a foodies paradise! The top three highlights were visiting the Yallingup Wood Fired Bakery, having a formal coffee tasting at Yahava and wine tasting at The Growers lake side cellar door. The map below shows all the places that we tasted and traveled.

The bakery is located literally in the middle of the bush between Cnr Biddles and Mclachlan roads. There is no website, it’s not on a paved road, but they supply farmers markets and local shops with their tasty breads. The ovens are built of volcanic stones and are heated with wood fires. When we arrived, they had three varieties of bread hot out of the oven and more on their way. We admired the setup as we took notes for our future bakery. :-)

Another top highlight was hanging out at Yahava’s Koffee roasting café. While chatting with the roaster and admiring the beans, she asked us if we wanted to try some coffee. ‘Why not!’ we said as she turned us over to a barista who handed us a menu (like you would find at a wine tasting) and asked us which varieties we’d like to try! We received a detailed talk on each bean as the barista made us a mini French press of each of our selections. Very friendly bunch and a must do if you visit: http://www.yahava.com.au/

Being raised near Napa and Sonoma, and then living a short drive from Washington State’s Yakima Valley, we had some wine tasting expectations that were fortunately shattered by Western Australia’s Margaret River. The wineries were plentiful along quaint roads with sweeping views of old growth forests, yet minutes from squeaky clean white sandy beaches with snorkeling and surfing. The tastings were all free, the grounds were spectacular and the people were shockingly friendly. Our favorite cellar was called The Growers (http://www.thegrowers.com/). The owner was a blast to chat with and they had bottles from just $5! Two of their cheeky brands were “Legs” and “Shag on a Rock” (Apparently a shag is also a name of a bird in this region).

We were fortunate enough to score a two-bedroom apartment last minute with a kitchen and BBQ near the beach. Kevin and Robin used their new found Aussie BBQ skills to grill Tasmanian Salmon one night, and Margaret River Venison the next. Our apartment was located in the heart of the fire that had occurred just one month prior to our visit, and the devastation was still very evident. The street signs and lamp posts were melted and you could still smell the smoke in the air. We did a drive through the neighborhood and went up close to some of the evacuated houses that had nothing but metal shelves left standing. It really put things in perspective and had us thinking about how life can turn on a dime. Thankful and lucky to be spending the holidays with family, we packed up our new found bounty of wine and headed back to Perth.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 18:51 Archived in Australia Tagged river fire wine margaret cheese Comments (2)

Coral Bay Road Trip

Into the outback we go!

sunny 104 °F

We had heard many good things about Ningaloo Reef on the west coast of Australia and decided to take a road trip north of Perth instead of making a special trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. We were excited to go here because there is no need to take a boat out to Ningaloo reef since the reef is swimming distance from the shore, and we could road trip it from Justin’s place. So we rented another mini go-kart of a car, borrowed some camping equipment from Justin and Anya, and made our way north of Perth.

When we looked at the map, it looked as though there would be lots of sites to see along the 1,200 km drive… however, we soon discovered that there was a lot of ‘bush’ between each site. The Aussie term ‘bush’ refers to the area between civilization and the outback which basically consists of very little other than sand and bushes. The road was scarce of any sign of civilization and it was easy to feel as though you weren’t going anywhere as the scenery didn’t change significantly. Along the way, we made stop-ins to several towns that had tourist magazines boasting tourist attractions like the one-mile jetty, beautiful marinas, sand dunes, museums, and lobster processing factories. However, when we stopped into these towns, we were very surprised at how little they had. Kevin’s quote when leaving Carnavon pretty much sums up our impression of the little towns “they have a whole magazine for this place!?”

Kangaroos apparently suffer from the “deer in headlight” syndrome so most cars in Australia (but not our rental) have what is known as a “roo bar” or “bull bar” (which is basically an extravagant version of police car push bumpers) that protect Aussie cars from the inevitable encounter with a kangaroo. We were careful not to drive at dusk and luckily we managed to avoid hitting two emus, wild goats, crazy looking bush cattle, two large eagles, and many kangaroos with only one very close call.

The drive took us about 2 days to reach Coral Bay, which is located at the south end of the reef. Along the way, we found places to camp alongside of the road on hard packed sand with very little facilities. We camped in very remote areas where it was just us, the open star filled sky and the bush. All along our road trip the sunsets and the sun rises were absolutely stunning due to the vast nothingness between us and the sun. Just before setting up the tent we would watch the setting sun grow larger and more oblique as it squashed into the horizon, and then just before packing up the tent we would watch it rise in a similar fashion.

At Coral Bay, we were quick to get into the water and within about 5 minutes in the water, we had seen a turtle and a ray… very cool! The coral was so alive and magnificent, it flowered high above the sea floor with a sort of greenish beige tone. There were small patches of a brilliant purple coral which broke up the monotone of the rest of the coral, although there were fish everywhere, the colors and water temp didn’t compare to what we had seen in the British Virgin Islands. It was here where we learned that it’s quite a good idea to talk to the locals before too much adventuring… after mentioning our idea of where to snorkel next, a lady kindly pointed out that if we proceeded with our plan we’d be heading straight into a tiger shark nursery. Standing corrected, we took a stroll along the beach and watched the sharks circle. We sat on a sand dune and watched (in great anticipation) a family unknowingly approach the sharks that they couldn’t see from their vantage point.

On our way back to Perth we stopped at a few more places of interest including Stromalotites, Kalibari and the Pinnacles. Sharks Bay is home of the 3.5 billion year old stromalotites. To say these single celled organisms are impressive by looks would be a lie, since they appear to be just circular rocks, or pieces of asphalt. However, the fact that these creatures were responsible life as we know it makes them a whole lot more impressive.

We also stopped in Kalibari National Park and hiked down a canyon to a river that was described as “a nice place for a swim”. The canyon was amazing; however by the time we reached the river, the stagnant brownish water had algae covered rocks and was swarming with flies. Even with dreadfully hot weather, Robin’s knowledge of water quality suggested a swim was not advisable (add another point for those clever magazine writers).

We finished our drive down the newly opened Indian Ocean Highway, which gave us easy access to the most incredible ancient rock formations they call pinnacles. The Pinnacles Desert is so outrageous it felt as though we had landed on another planet and highly recommend this as a side trip from Perth near a town called Cervantes.

The only town between Perth and Coral Bay that is large enough to have more than one tourist attraction: a museum, information site, crayfish processing factory, and HMAS Sydney Memorial was Geraldton. We took the tour of the HMS Sydney Memorial, and it absolutely changed the way we look at memorials. It wasn’t so much learning about the ship that sunk, killing 465 people, but more about how each and every structure and plant was chosen for a specific reason. It’s easy to forget how much design thinking takes place in planning things like this. But, it’s the little surprises that make a road trip so fun! Here are a few fun things we saw along the way:
A traveling Aussie bloke having a cup of tea while charging his mini cooler and radio with a portable solar panel.
Race horses being ridden waste deep and then aqua jog on a beach in Geraldton.
A handful of dolphins chasing fish up to the shore we were standing on near Launcelin.
A startling big manta ray gliding by us in a beach cove near Jurien Bay.
Trees growing sideways in strong daily winds just south of Geraldton.
A lake with pink water from overabundance of beta carotene near Esperance.
A 100k beach that was 10meters deep made entirely from small shells near Denham.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:05 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Melbourne Madness

A quick trip to an amazing city...

all seasons in one day 75 °F

Thanks to a few recommendations, we made a pit stop in Melbourne before heading out to Perth. We were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to navigate around the city via tram, bikes or running. We found an amazing network of bike paths, an excellent system of buses, trains, and trams for public transportation (including free tourist bus and tram), fun usage of space like rock climbing walls under the freeway, a rotation of local artists playing on what appeared to be a permanent downtown stage, an assortment of cheap ethnic food, beautiful parks, and the largest cricket stadium in Australia!

Rita and Carl, our gracious hosts gave us tickets for a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG) where the 2011 Boxing Day test match between India and Australia will be held. Not having a clue about the game, we walked away with confidence that we generally understood the basic rules :) we also had a go at some of the interactive game skills in the connected museum. Taking our new found knowledge we plopped ourselves down in front of the next cricket match and attempted to follow along… the nice thing about cricket taking several days to play is that we had time to argue about what we thought the rules were, ha.

On the culinary side of Melbourne, we had dumplings in China town, Turkish böreks at the Queen Victoria market, a passion fruit macaroon (macaroons are as popular in Australia as cupcakes are in the states, and just as expensive!) and some Vietnamese and Lebanese cuisine. The biggest highlight was grandma’s meatballs that we were lucky enough enjoy at an Edwards’ family dinner. We couldn’t have enjoyed our stay more in Melbourne, and owe a big thanks to Rita and Carl for being the best hosts ever by taking us wine and cider tasting in the Yarra Valley before sending us off to the airport.

P.S. The ‘it’s a small world’ chord played again when flying from Melbourne to Perth; the co-pilot walked down the aisle and sure enough it was the same guy we met on our tour of the MCG! So after the flight we enjoyed a tour of the cockpit where robin asked, “how many buttons did you actually press on this flight?” (answer: 3)

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 01:46 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne Comments (2)

Tasmania Australia

unleashing the inner animal

sunny 77 °F

Tasmania looks like a very small island (one that you can drive straight across in just a couple hours); having 5 days seemed like heaps of time for us. However, we shortly realized that because there are so many beautiful sites around the island we could take at least a week at each park exploring the many trails Tassie has to offer. We flew into Hobart and rented a Nissan Micra (aka go-kart that is street worthy). We instantly hit up two really important attractions in Hobart: the Cascade Brewery and the Cadbury chocolate factory. We have decided that Kevin’s homebrew and Seattle’s microbrew culture have turned us a bit into beer snobs and we were not particularly impressed by the brews, but Cadbury chocolates did not let us down with their imperfect confections on special!

So began the many different types of wildlife we would end up seeing throughout Tassie! In Launceston we went for a walk through the South Esk River Gorge in search of platypus and watched a ‘heard’ of wallabies feeding in the twilight. On a hike up Cradle Mountain we got up close and personal with a mother wombat and her cub. In Bicheno’s we watched and heard two humpback whales slapping their tails on the water. In Freychinet national park’s Wineglass Bay lookout, we pet a ‘wild’ grey kangaroo, and watched a seagull pick up and drop crabs on the rocks of Honeymoon Bay. This was definitely a nature lover’s paradise, although very beautiful we would recommend coming here prior to going to NZ, since NZ is on a whole different scale.

As city slickers we are used to the simple things in life, like buying gas with credit cards at any time of night and rolling up to a restaurant any time in the evening. We found out the hard way that small towns are simpler than the simple life and shut down at 5pm (it’s unbelievable how day after day we would forget this ‘simple’ fact). One of our favorite places was called the Bay of Fires, named for the colored rocks that line the coast. We had an awesome run across the most picturesque beach that we have been to so far, and came across the biggest pelican we’ve ever seen. We then headed to one of the many other beaches where we found some monster sand dunes and discovered how much fun we can have by simply jumping for the camera!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 18:48 Archived in Australia Tagged tasmania Comments (1)


The beginning of our adventure Down Under

semi-overcast 77 °F

There is nothing better than to have a place to call home while traveling; we had an awesome home away from home staying with Ian and Ros for most of our time here. Everyone loves a good ‘Q’ but Australians take BBQing to a whole new level! For example, at one dinner with the Lindsays we made progressive pizzas on the barbie, including the grand finale nutella based dessert pizza… note to self: Tasmanian James Boag’s lager and bbq pizzas = best dinner party idea ever! Also, with a bit of whinging, Ian showed us how to toss some shrimp on the barbie (although he adamantly explained how Australians don’t actually do that to ‘prawns’).

The lovely Brynn was able to sneak away from work to spend a week holiday in Sydney. We took a short trip to the Blue Mountains national park directly after her red eye (oops), for a few hikes and adventuring. The mountains really do look blue when gazing into long deep forest canyons! Here is a shot of us and the three sisters (which have stairs slotted straight down/up)

Sydney is an amazing town, and is comparable to NYC in the busy/bustling category. Imagine always finding something to do, see and explore, and then be able to end the day with a sunset on a smooth sandy beach. Our only suggestion to improve Sydney would be to invest in a better bicycle master plan. One highlight of Sydney was a street art exhibit on Cockatoo Island; Imagine Alcatraz Island with heaps of graffiti art and political art scattered on the walls and old prison cells.

One of the best parts of traveling is meeting random people in random places. We stumbled into a ping pong bar with 8 tables where we eventual all converged onto one table to play a game that Robin’s dad has always termed “around the world ping pong” because you play around the table, but this game was truly around the world as everyone was from different countries. The idea is that everyone hits the ball once, and then continues to the other side of the table to then hit that ball another time. We joined in and were instantly into our competitive nature, and shit talking with what appeared to be the only words that we seemed to all have in common.

Also as fun is to meet up with people you already know in random places! Let us know if you are planning a trip anywhere, cause we’d love to try and meet up like we did with Claire and Adam for the ultra Manly Beach bar crawl and KT for some street food and Bavarian brews :)

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:35 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney Comments (0)

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