Tag Archive: Travel



In Russia, it’s called Okhotsk Sea. In Japan, it is called the Ohōtsuku- Kai. Among the many adventures in Shiretoko Peninsula is “drift-ice walking” where you’re suited into this swimming gear that feels like a mini-sauna but absolutely keeps you dry while you are flailing about off this marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. Best time is from January to March but peak season for drift ice is February. The week before we arrive, temps were hovering around double-digit negatives but this group of adventurous foodies from the Tropics brought sunshine with them. Temp was at zero Celsius which the locals compare to “spring weather” and “too warm” for winter. Luckily too, it wasn’t windy at all! How’s that for an auspicious morning for water adventure?

Ready to Rumble!!!

Those ice floes! No, we didn’t do the ice walk here. 😜

Before we set out to do “the walk”, we struggled putting on these suits. Oh, how we struggled! I had to go on my back, lift my legs to get our guide pull the suit up my legs and thighs. It doesn’t stop there. Getting my head through the “hole” and finally zipping me up was another struggle. And just when I was getting the hang of walking in this suit out in the open, frozen sea, I slipped! But slipping in and out of water in between drift-ice walking was really this morning’s activity. The guides made us walk towards a certain area off the frozen Sea, by the breakwater I think, then challenged us to jump while saying “I love Japan”. Jumping together on what our hindsight tells us must be thin ice was all it took to break the ice. We floated for a while, then some of us climbed over the floating ice slab. Then there were those who quickly gained the confidence, jumping here and there, breaking more ice! At some point, one of the boys jumped in and went down body limbs, head and all!

Getting into it is an adventure by itself!

We’ve met others who went ice diving. I cannot imagine how they put on their more complicated gear and what nerves of steel they must have. What we did was nothing compared with their adventure. But I’m sure we drew more laughs as we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves lying down on the icy sea and floating among the ice floes. Some of the pictures and videos are simply too funny to be posted. For sure, we’d talk about this adventure for many years to come. 🥶😜🙄😊

Check this out:

https://youtu.be/ooAfed1M7ZY


Late last year, this same group trooped to Vienna and Bologna and braved winter for the love of food. You bet we’re at it again. This time to Hokkaido for a taste of its “cruel winter”. Call us insane but we have very specific reasons for being here. Beyond the freezing temps and snow flakes, we’re here to spot some very rare species of birds like the red-crowned cranes, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, some whooper swans, the rare Steller’s sea eagles and white-tailed eagles. Many of these birds have chosen Hokkaido as their home and hopefully, we can spot them as we walk on the drift ice. Yes, that’s what we plan to do. Walk on drift ice! Yup, that’s the plan. So go ahead. Call us insane 🙄.

Packing for this trip was a real struggle. I pack my stuff on a day by day basis. This way, I need not have to decide which shirt to pair with which pants or skirt. With previous trips, one packing cube is typically good for 3-4 days of clothing. Not this time. One day’s wardrobe fills an entire packing cube! An inner/thermal shirt, a wool shirt, a fleece vest, a winter jacket. Four layers. Paired with winter pants and fleece leggings. Warm enough? Throw in those mufflers, beanie and gloves. And an extra pair of socks for good measure. Phew! And don’t start asking me for my nighttime wardrobe. You bet I feel like a grandma in wools and a bonnet.

All packed and ready for snow adventures? Temps have risen but are still in the negatives. Early this morning of our arrival, I can almost feel those ice crystals landing on my cheeks and forehead as the wind blows. Yay, can we actually walk on drift ice tomorrow? It’s our first activity on this trip and my nerves are going haywire. Hmmm…. go ahead. Call us insane. 🥶

Food Coma in Bologna


We came for the food here in Emilia Romagnia. Its capital is Bologna, home to the oldest university in Europe. Rich in art, culture, history and gastronomy! We weren’t disappointed. Most dinners in Bologna while lunch is wherever the train took us. We enjoyed our Mortadella, Pizzas, Lambrusco, Tortellini, Tagliatelle, Strette, Bistecca, Osso Buco, Frito Misto, Beef Cheeks, Balsamico, Parmigiano Reggiano, mercato lunches and snacks, and a variety of desserts!

Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria

Where: Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria

Via Augustine Ringhi 9

Bologna

What: Tortellini al Panna

Tagliatelle alla Ragu

Mussels (tomato & white sauce)

Pizzas (3 kinds)

Aperetivo: Bruschetta

Our first meal in Bologna was in Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria. And the last in Ristorante Donatello. Both recommended by the hotel concierge. Both good.

Ristorante Donatello

Ristorante Donatello is just right across the street from Ristorante Pizzeria Victoria. Highlight of our dinner here is the Strette, a kind of pasta that’s between fettuccine and tagliatelle. They cook it either with ham and cheese in white sauce or with balsamic vinegar. We regret we only ordered (3 orders!) of the first kind. Also, I could have more of that insalata.

On our first day trip out of Bologna, one batch went to Florence while another went to Modena and Parma. In Modena, we had our very strong espresso and cappuccino in an outside cafe off Mercato Albinelli. Waited out here while Trattoria Aldina has yet to open at 12 noon. This trattoria is so non-descript that you’d likely miss it. There’s only a door and a buzzer to let you in, way up to the 2nd floor. We observed many locals patronize the place. Had our tortellini en brodo (broth/soup) here, along with rigatoni al ragu, egg with tartufo, lasagna, roast beef and meatballs with peas.

Where: Trattoria Aldina

Via Albinelli 40, Modena

What: Tortellini en brodo (soup/broth)

Lasagna

Meatballs with Peas

Rigatoni al ragu

Roast Beef

Egg with Tartufo

Zuppa Inglese

Tortino Di Zucca

Another Dolce I can’t recall

Modena was also the place for Balsamico shopping. And Parma? Well, Prosciutto Di Parma really translates to ham from Parma. But back in Bologna, we visited 2 mercatos: Mercato delle Erbe in Via Ugo Bassi and Mercato Di Mezzo in Via Clavature. Both centrally located, and I must say, a haven for pickpockets. So do be careful, especially while buying your mortadella, prosciuttos and cheese. We had antipasto in the first and a hefty lunch in the 2nd. We simply pointed to dishes we liked in the mercato and claimed our tables and stools. Three kinds of pasta (1 creamy, another in tomato sauce, another sweetish), a huge platter of cold cuts, frito misto, and some veggie sidings that looked like seaweeds. It was fun, and delish.

Trattoria Di Pietro

But our best dinner was in Trattoria Di Pietro in Via de Falegnami, 18A. What did we order from this traditional Bolognese restaurant? We had:

Pumpkin Pie with Cheese Fondue and Chicory (The bomb!)

Tagliata Di Angus

Beef Tartare With Mustard and Mayo

Beef Cheeks braised in onions

Gelato with Balsamico 👌👌👌

Won’t forget this dinner for a long time. (I already forgot the name of one of the dishes we ordered. Sssshhhhh) The bonus was we were given complimentary Limoncellos which we drank liberally! The waitress eyed us with pseudo-disgust. 😂

We trooped back to this same Via Falegnami the following night. This time to check out Ristorante Il Muro just right across Trattoria Di Pietro. Bigger, more crowded. The Osso Buco here was really, really good. We were happy to be complete again for dinner as day trippers all came back, hungry. We overordered but that’s fine, just too happy to eat and drink together. (We should have ordered more Osso Buco rather than more seafood pasta and grilled meats)

Food coma in Bologna. But never enough, so food shopping was the order of the day. Surely, it ain’t called La Grassa for nothin’. Ciao!

Food Stash

Ristorante Donatello


Italy. What better way to go on a food trip than visiting Italy’s gastronomic capital? Turned out Bologna also happens to be a good homebase for day trips to neighbouring cities and towns, each of which boasts of its own delicacy, art, history and culture. There were only 5 nights to spend in Italy but it was enough to do the day trips and meet up with the rest for scrumptious dinners. Here’s how we enjoyed our Bologna getaway – just click on the highlighted links.

Homebased in Bologna

Balsamico Di Modena

Prosciutto Di Parma

Ravenna of My Dreams

San Marino, World’s Oldest Republic

Ferrara, Not Ferrari

It was a wonderful time with these foodies and travel buddies. Some others headed for Florence and Rome, then back for the night in Bologna where dinners were planned out. So much laughter across the table too. And we sure had some very memorable meals.

And for food trips in and around Bologna, check this out:

Food Coma in Bologna

Ciao!


If you think San Marino is part of Italy, you’re very wrong. This tiny republic within Italy called San Marino is the world’s oldest sovereign state, founded as early as the 4th century. Quite surprising, it standing tall and being completely surrounded by Italy. As we drove into this state, we hardly noticed any difference except for the drop in temperature. It’s the end of November and winter has set in. The wind upped the chill as we walked up on the single street leading towards the Piazza Della Liberta. The walkway is like the backbone running along the entire ridge of the mountain. I wrapped up good for this cold weather — dipping at 0 Celsius — and threw all fashion sense out the window. Throwing my thick wrap over myself — with my back pack strapped on my back — I felt like the hunchback of Notre Dame. This republic is small but hilly, so count on those calf muscles being put to the test. Phew!

Pallazzo Pubblico

Chiesa Dei Capuccini

The problem is the sun sets before 5pm so we couldn’t linger around to enjoy the vista from the top. The cold seeps through your bones and the wind renders your face stone cold. To take photos, I needed to peel off the hand gloves every so often till I gave up. It wasn’t the best time to visit San Marino. Not even if you just intended to do tax-free shopping as most shops were closed. It would have been interesting to watch the Changing of the Guards but we missed it. We passed but didn’t enter the very lovely Chiesa Di San Quirino with its equally lovely tower on our way up. (The Church and the Convent, also called Church of Capuccini looked even lovelier on our way down, captured as the light faded with the sunset) Nonetheless, the views from the fortress walls especially as the sun sets take your breath away.

There was a fork in the road and we took the uphill climb along the same Contrada della Pleve towards the Basilica del Santo. The streets were adorned with Christmas trees and a giant wreath with red candles. So pretty viewed against the fading blue sky. At the other end of this Contrada is one of the fortress towers called Guaita. The views offer unlimited boundary. A 360 degree panorama awaits you as you climb up, passing shops and some cannons. It must be a pretty sight at night when you see the towns below all illuminated with the moon shining above the turrets. The sentry posts now comprise part of the Museum which we skipped, opting instead to simply walk around. We spotted the other turrets marking the mountain outline in the limited time we had before dark set in following a 5pm sunset. While we didn’t have much time enjoying San Marino in daylight, the visit was enough to appreciate its regal beauty. The closed duty free shops were a disappointment but that didn’t dampen our moods. The dark and the cold compel us to rush back to our hired coach for the trip back to our homebase in Bologna. Arrivederci, San Marino!

Oh, Ravenna Of My Dreams!


If …. No, WHEN I head back to Ravenna, I’d stay at least 2 nights to explore ALL its museos,chiesa, piazzales and basilicas. It ain’t designated a World Heritage Site for nothin’. This City of Mosaics is one for the books and I’ve got to say the admission price to hit many historical sites is a steal! For far less than the admission price to ONE museo elsewhere, we were able to stand in awe inside the Basilica Di San Vitale till our craned necks grew stiff. The photos don’t do justice. The light streaming from the windows lends a certain mystique and the trees outside add charm in all its autumn foliage. I delighted in walking from the Basilica towards the nearby Mausoleo Di Galla Placidia, stepping on and feeling the fallen leaves crunch under my boots. Sat in one of the stone benches to admire the simple, tiny courtyard between the two structures. Perfect activity that morning we visited.

Basilica Di San Vitale isn’t easy to wipe off your memory. So lovely. It’s the perfect example of early Christian Byzantine architecture. Inscribed among 8 Ravenna structures in the UNESCO World Heritage List, its beautiful and richly ornamented cross-ribbed vaults and mosaics speak for itself. I wish I can retell the Biblical stories manifested in this mosaic series but I can only figure out some of the “sacrifices” and tragedies from the Old Testament like Abraham sacrificing Isaac and the story of Abel and Cain. There were many many more that one is tempted to lie down on the lovely floor to view the vaults, the ceilings and arches without craning one’s neck.

Most shops were closed though as we passed them on way to Battistero Neoniano, a lovely octagonal building near the Piazza Duomo. Temps hardly rose from 0 to 5 C during our visit. We took refuge in the Museo Arcivescovile e Capella Di San Andrea. Sorry, but no photography allowed inside. Not too far from here but still a good walk is Basilica Di Sant Apollinaire Nuovo. Midway between these 2 iconic landmarks is the Tomb of Dante Alighieri of INFERNO fame. A day tour of Ravenna is simply NOT enough to cover all the sites in this city so rich in culture, history and art. The best deal of course is that it isn’t as touristy as Rome, Verona, Florence, Siena, Venice or even Bologna!

Oh. Ravenna! I wish to walk your streets again with more deliberate steps, inching my way slowly from one heritage site to the next.


We’re a band of baby boomers, Generation X and millennials who just can’t stay put. But we all share the same penchant for food and serendipitous adventures. Having just recently returned from Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava, our beer-drinking group of 6 grew to a band of 15 pax. Quite an assortment, if you ask me. We’ve had a few trips tucked under our belt and I must say, we had so much fun. And this happy bunch is going again! I ditched earlier plans to go to Slovenia and Croatia to join the Happy Bunch for a holiday in Bologna and Vienna. Switching from the city of dragons (Ljubljana) and towns along the Adriatic, it’d be a week instead of food porn in this part of Italy where trufa, prosciutto, tortellini, mortadella, balsamico, tagliatelle, parmeggiano, Lambrusco reign supreme!

And this was only last July!

Touchdown, Bologna!

While some of us are visiting first-timers, Bologna as homebase offers many possibilities. Florence, Lucca and Pisa are just a half hour away by train and so is Modena, and a bit farther down, Parma. Then there’s Venice, Verona and Padua or Padova. The boys would likely not miss the chance to check out the museums — NOT of artworks, but those lovely machines going by the names of Lamborghini,Ducati and Ferrari. Different folks, different strokes. That’s what I love about this group. We’d split up to chase our own dreams, and reunite in a heartbeat. Like when we all agreed to visit one day the little republic of San Marino together and hopefully do a side trip to Ravenna. But most importantly, we agree on the food and vino. That’s important — and that’s how we ended up in Ristorante Victoria for our first meal and in Mercato delle Erbe for cocktails cum dinner after our walking tour.

Prosciutto, Mortadella, Burrata

Tagliatelle al Ragu

We had mussels cooked in wine and also with tomato sauce. Both really good!

Almost devoured before we remembered to snap a photo of Tortellini al Panna

It’s only Day 1. And we plan to do a more leisurely tour of Bologna after a good rest. For sure, we’d be back in Piazza Maggiore and visit the basilica and cathedral. There’s enough time as we’d be holed up in the same hotel for the next 5 nights. Bologna is not as cold as Vienna but single digit temps outdoors walking around the piazzas need some serious consideration. After all, it’s truly beginning to look like Christmas everywhere. The Christmas trees are up, so with the Christmas lights that make the place look so festive and magical. Much time to enjoy the illuminations since sunsets are early. Like 5pm!

On our way back home, we’d catch our homeward flight out of Vienna. Staying a few nights in this capital makes me giddy with anticipation. Why? There’s the many Christmas Markets of Vienna! Too many to count. It’s the Christmas Market of my dreams! A genuine Christmas Winter with temps hovering at low single digits or negatives. Gluhwein or mulled wine, raclette, bratwurst, apple strudels, Sacher torte and all those flaky baked delights. All savoured in negative temps. I’m excited, if you haven’t caught the drift. White Christmas feels? Let’s do this!

The Christmas Market of my dreams!

Up In Mount Victoria, NSW


Only 120 kilometres west of Sydney is the small township of Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Population about a thousand. Here is a more quiet, if not more elegant section of the Blue Mountains. Beautiful manors, historic buildings reused as elegant hotels and summer retreat houses dot the landscape. There are many heritage sites in the area but they compete with the wondrous panorama at an elevation of over 1,000 meters. The mountain was named after Queen Victoria but the settlement area was originally called One Tree Hill until the arrival of the railway station and establishment of the first Post Office in the 19th century.

These days, many locals go to Mount Victoria for serious bushwalking, rock climbing, bird watching or simply to visit this charming village without the tourist crowd. There was some festivity the day we visited as we passed what looked like flea markets and food fairs. But we drove past them and began our short hike. Cox’s Road and Cox’s Descent don’t seem to sound right but that’s what the markers say. 🙄

The photos speak for themselves. I may have ventured farther than I should have — “for my age” — but the views of the valley below can be mesmerizing. I dare not even dwell on the possibilities. A strong gust of wind, an accidental slip. Oh well.


We’re done feeding the wild rainbow lorikeets , and decided we’d have more animal adventures. Bendalong Bay is not far from our homebase in Lake Conjola, and we spent the morning there watching people let loose their dogs on the beach, viewing stingrays swim near the shore, young paddlers on boards, swatting fruit flies trying to land on our cereal bars. Sun’s up and the weather’s ideal for a lazy morn.

Only one thing went wrong. Stingray feeding happens late afternoon. But no worries, we found many swim up to shore while seagulls fly above the paddlers, ducks and the pelicans. Bendalong is only a half hour north of Ulladulla and actually borders Lake Conjola National Park. The beach is good for paddle boating, surfing, swimming, fishing, and errr…. stingray feeding. I am just not sure how I’d feel swimming with these stingrays. 😜 Have a look at this video on stingray feeding in Bendalong Beach.

http://youtu.be/53O3OuAh9d0

This is Australia. The wildlife is awesome, birdwatching, bush walking and water activities the norm. Where else do you meet kangaroos in parks while you’re out intending to go kayaking or fishing? Where else can you paddle on boards while weaving through pelicans and stingrays swimming near the shore? How else can you enjoy a weekend without going outdoors? Life here is more meaningful for the outdoorsy types. Camping is always an option and bush walking is a regular activity. That is, after one does the laundry 🙄 My nephews are serious bikers and rock climbing is always a favourite sport. The girls love to shop but won’t mind weekend trips to the lake and parks. Fishing will have to wait though.

We made trips to Bendalong Bay for the stingrays and another day to Newcastle for the pelicans. Of course you’d find the seagulls almost everywhere like when we visited Kiama and Wollongong. I am amazed that all these animal and bird encounters are so freely enjoyed here in Australia. What a blessing for these Aussies!

The Pelican Feeding in Newcastle was quite a show. The feeders/carers are professionals and loved an audience and they got a pretty good sized crowd the time we visited. Weekends are never a bore. Or for that matter, neither are weekdays. The feeding show is timed daily at 4pm at the most popular tourist attraction in the Central Coast — The Entrance Waterfront. This feeding event sponsored by the Central Coast Council is quite a spectacle. I noted though that one of the volunteers clearly has a favourite among the pelicans. She calls her “One Wing” for obvious reasons. She narrated how this particular pelican lost her wing in a boat accident some years back. The upside though is this pelican will never have to go hungry as the volunteer looks for her and feeds her first. After that, the rest of the pelicans compete for the fish and other seafood scraps.


It happens daily at 3-4pm here in the park fronting Burrill Lake In Ulladulla. Open to the general public, you can come help feed these wild colourful birds who gather from all over the natural bushland for a tasty afternoon snack. The man in charge hands you a plate and the birds swoop down on your arms, hands, head and shoulders. At one point, I think I had 3 on my head and another 3 or 4 on my arm.

Call us Bird Ladies, but this was quite an experience. I had scratches all over my arms though and truth be told, I was so tense worrying the wild birds would poo on my head. I suggest you come wearing a jacket and a hat when you visit. You’d never know. But really, these wild birds look so pretty and my, were they sooooo noisy. In a nearby cage, you can have a chat with the cheeky cockatoos who never grew tired saying HELLO. There were also ducks and parrots.

Never done this before, and I was surprised they have this daily activity open to the public. It would be a truly great animal adventure for the little ones and it won’t even cost you a cent! Now this is Australia for you. Love it!