Off season boons

Would you travel outside peak season? I’m here to give you some really good reasons why you might like to consider doing it. Unless of course, you are one of choir. Travelling during peak season has its perks for sure – the snow is dumping 3 feet overnight, the surf breaks are clean, fat, barrelling waves, the cities and towns are alive with shops/restaurants/museums all open. All that fun and lively-ness also hits the hip pocket, sometimes brutally. All of that is justifiable and I’m by no means suggesting that anyone should travel only in the off-shoulder season. But often, the same places can be just as beautiful, just as festive, just as fun, off-peak and for a fraction of the price.

I’ve done a lot of travel in the off season. As a student and when I was working on minimal salary, it was the most affordable way to travel. Wanderlust is a terrible thing! Europe in winter is so beautiful. If you can’t afford to ski, grab a sled or toboggan. Sipping on hot chocolate or mulled wine while perusing markets is a cheap way to soak in the local culture and atmosphere. Get up close to Monet’s water lilies without having to stand on tip toe in a crowd 15, 20 people deep. Airfares are probably the biggest cost in travel and again, it’s much cheaper going during the off-season, plus you increase your chances of getting two seats to yourself!

Recently we came back from Costa Rica. It is a place that is so beautiful in its lushness and simplicity that I am embarrassed by my inefficiency in trying to describe it. We went in the ‘green season’. It’s called the ‘green season’ because the landscape is so dense, vibrant and green from all the rain. The rivers and waterfalls are flowing over-abundantly. We went in June and we had perfect weather every day (except for one day where it rained until 11am and the rest of the day was perfect). There were no crowds, service at restaurants was not quick (admittedly) but imagine what it must be like when there are crowds! We had whole beaches to ourselves which was fantastic for errant and erratic frisbee-throwing. The surf was fantastic and even more so without having to battle for a wave and worry about some numpty dropping in.IMG_0083

Accommodation was also so much cheaper. The hillside apartment with sea breezes and views over the ocean was actually affordable (no second mortgage needed). We stayed in a 2-bedroom villa right across the road from one of the best beaches, with a kitchen and pool for US$60 a night. We hired an ATV for the week for a 45% discount from peak rates.

Sure you may have to plan a little bit more and take into account that some things will be closed. But I’m sure that unless that museum/art gallery/restaurant is the sole reason for your travel, you’ll be able to find something else wonderful and magical and fantastic to do. Go on and do it! You won’t regret it.

 

Amsterdam with kids

Amsterdam. I’m pretty sure that when we told our parents our intended itinerary, there were a few raised eyebrows at “Amsterdam.” Instant images of the Red Light District. Marijuana leaves. Hash. Joints. Beers. Frites. Bicycles. Not really what you immediately think of as a playground for kids. YET, it is listed as my son’s favourite city in the world.

I wrote an earlier post about IMG_1212 Amsterdam (45)cycling in Amsterdam which was definitely a highlight! Here he is riding through a paddock in the Amsterdam-Nord. A truly uniquely fun experience. Riding without a helmet is exhilirating.

Food. Ahh the food. One of the biggest challenges travelling with kids to different parts of the world is the food. Can we find something they will eat? Is there a supermarket we can get supplies from?

The answer to both questions is yes. There are local supermarkets which are well stocked with a huge variety of staples. I mean, the Dutch need to feed their kids too right? If your kids are cheese-fiends, look no further than your local Albert Heijn. It’s perfect when you’re staying for a while to cut down on costs on eating out all the time. Sometimes a piece of toast or croissant with jam is the perfect way to start the day at home.

Amsterdam has some of the tastiest treats on the northern side of the equator. Asian influences abound, Turkish, Greek, of course continental European. Many eateries will happily cater for kids. There is a cafe called Winkel Cafe in the Jordaan area which makes a type of apple pie-cake, about 3 inches high, sweet, chock full of tart apples, cinnamony and lavished with cream or icecream. Take your pick from one of the many ice creameries. Monte Pelmo (Tweede Anjeliersdwarsstraat 17) is THE best. You can’t go past IJscuypje (Prisengracht 292) without getting a bolletje. 

Street food in Amsterdam is literally everywhere which makes it very handy when travelling with kids. A stroopwaffel in De Pijp, kibbeling (a deep fried, crumbed, scrumptious morsel of white fish usually served with a mayonnaise chosen at the discretion of the truck vendor – just go with it – it’s delicious!), and if you’re game, raw herring which Callum liked, but not as much as the kibbeling.

Museums. There are plenty of museums around but if you’re there for a short while and if your kids are like mine, a long wandering foray into a museum is ok but not up there with the things to do. This is where the RIJKSMUSEUM is brilliantly ingenious. What do kIMG_3289 Amsterdam (37)ids hate? Queueing. Purchase your tickets online for the Rijksmuseum and skip the queues. Once you get past the awesomeness of the entrance and foyer, head up to the front desk where you can get set up with a multimedia family quest for a small fee. See link here for more details.

Go and get lost in the maze of alleyways and streets, check out the boat house museum, go for a canal tour.

Babysitting. And if you need a babysitter, we found the lovely Rosie (who spoke fantastic English) through oudermatch.nl. (For those from the US, it’s similar to care.com). I paid about 25 euro to join as a member.

We have the opportunity to go to Europe again next year and of all the places you could go to, Callum wants to go back to Amsterdam.

#Amsterdam #applepie #streetfood #Rijksmuseum #Jordaan #canaltour 

 

America does good

Image result for US flag

There is a lot of bad press about the US and its policy-makers at the moment. The populus and the media wait eagerly for any Trumphap (you know, like a mishap) so that it can be shared on the digital global stage.

What would I know though? I’ve only lived in the US for the past two weeks. What I DO know, hand on heart, is that America does GREAT at these:

  • Drive through Starbucks. OK, it’s Starbucks, but the pure concept of a drive through coffee shop is just awesome. (Incidentally, I actually don’t mind Starbucks. They do a great almond latte at Brookfield Square.)
  • Online shopping! Anything.You.Want. 24/7. Delivered the next day or sometimes even within 2 hours! Amazon, you already had me. And then you introduced me to Amazon Prime. You’re a keeper.
  • The choice and variety of products are mindblowing. Grocery shopping is nuts. Not just nuts, it’s 50 brands of cereal, 30 types of bread, 10 different types of almond milk (as a lactose-intolerant person this is pretty much like striking the lottery, gallons of water for $1.67/gallon, sugar-free Belgian chocolate that tastes like the real deal (striking the lottery for my diabetic son), 20 types of coffee that you can grind yourself to whatever size grounds you want.
  • Affordable organic food. Yay for Whole Foods and Trader Joes!
  • Right turns on a red light (the most common-sensical road rule ever)
  • School buses that pick your kids up and drop them off at the end of the driveway
  • Organised sport for kids and summer camps to get them (and parents through 3 months of summer break!)
  • Did I mention online shopping?
  • Barnes & Noble. I am a book lover. To be able to get my hands on books without wiping out my annual salary in the process – wow – I am a book glutton.
  • Double glazing and heating in every house
  • Friday night Fish Fry!

#goamerica #Trumphap #WholeFoodsMarket @wholefoods #Barnes&Noble @BNBuzz

Irony defined

Liberté, égalité, fraternitéImage result for the bastille today

The catchcry of the French Revolution. My European history is rusty at best, what I have learned is largely due to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Les Misérables; social upheaval as the French upper class was overthrown.

Yet in the 21st century, I found myself standing at the bottom of the former Bastille, face to face with a young, homeless family. The irony! What shocked and distressed me the most was the fact that it could have been me and my family. They weren’t the itinerant gypsies that you frequently see begging in the streets of Paris. They weren’t dirty. They weren’t immigrants or refugees. It was a family who looked like they could have been my nextdoor neighbours and our kids might have gone to the same school.

Marcus, Callum and I were on our way to get icecream and at the other end of the scale, here was this young family – they had a mattress, a stroller with their belongings, and each other. I stopped Marcus and asked him for some money to give them. I found myself looking into the dark eyes of a mother with a young child. That look will stay with me forever: gratefulness, shame, sadness. Maybe as a mother I could sympathise with that guilt, the fear of not knowing what was going to happen to your baby, of not being able to provide for your child. Maybe as a human being I was moved by the unfairness of a system that could allow a young family to become homeless.

Was I conned? Perhaps. But if I was, it was the greatest piece of street theatre I have ever seen.

It’s not only Paris that you see this. It’s everywhere. Sure most of the world has come a long way in formulating a social welfare system that theoretically is there to support its citizens. As a global-whole, we are still arguing about the best way to help the thousands of displaced families. There are obviously many gaps in the system and it is alarming and despairing that there are so many families like the one in Paris. I don’t have any answers. But I wish there was a way for all kids to have icecream.

Can I encourage you to think about one thing you can be grateful for, then can I encourage you to donate one piece of something that you don’t need or use anymore. Find your local Salvation Army/Goodwill/St Vincent’s.

#begrateful  #theworldneedsicecream

 

Amsterdam(age) Part 1 – bicycles

img_3289-amsterdam-11.jpgPossibly one of the funnest cities in the world. Geez the Dutch sure know how to live. Good food, home of the Apple Cake (at Winkel 43 in the Jordaan), lax/progressive (depending on which side of the fence you live on) marijuana laws. Everyone is just so super chilled out. And it’s not just the adults. It’s the kids too.

Leave your car at home and forget about public transport! Grab yourself a bicycle. Sometimes it was just fun while we sat looking out our apartment window, with a steaming morning coffee from the cafe (not the coffee shop), and watch workers, parents dropping kids off to school and daycare, university students and the world generally pass by on 2 wheels. It’s a unique sight. No fancy road bikes here. Just your standard, fixed-gear, black bicycle, rain or shine.

I’ve seen bicycle road rage in Sydney, and you’d think you’d find it in Amsterdam where there are thousands(!) more cyclists. But it’s not there! Not even when you’re a nitwit tourist not used to riding on the right hand side of the road, unfamiliar with routes, who has right of way and Dutch road rules. Everyone just tolerates tourists. Personally I think all tourist bikes should be a different colour – like a bright orange or bright red – so that locals know to watch out; sort of like an L-Plate on a car when learning to drive.

Bikes

Bike lanes

Amsterdam has great bike lanes. They are clearly marked. And they are clearly used by 100’s of other cyclists. Safety in numbers! As Amsterdam is so flat, it is easy to get around by bike without even needing to be that fit. You do need some nerves though as others whoosh past confidently in singles or doubles, or squeezing between parked cars and moving cars. The biggest challenge is keeping your wheel from buckling and possibly tipping you over when you ride over the cobbled roads through areas like the Jordaan along those beautiful 17th century canals. Still, it is one unique experience!

Vondelpark

What a beautiful park. So well laid out and such an easy ride. Perfect for the kids to careen around without fear of being hit by a car. Most people seem to go around in one direction so it’s even less likely of there being an accident. Channelling my inner Julie Andrews, pedalling confidently along the wide avenues beneath the cool shade of the trees, it felt very #drinkwithjamandbread.

Out of the city

If you’re looking for unique – where else can you ride on top of a dyke? We took the free ferry north out of the city and rode through some very pretty lands, starting from Noord up to Holysloot, across to Broek in Waterland, then back down to the ferry. There are various routes depending on how far you want to ride. We managed about 25kms with our 9yo. At times the winds coming off the sea make for a tough(er) ride, but there are plenty of places to stop for a break, cup of tea, snack, herring.

Undoubtedly, one of the most memorable European things you can do, heart in mouth and all.

**Highly recommended bike hire – MacBike, various locations | http://www.macbike.nl

IMG_1212 Amsterdam (34)

Seriously (!) good food in Melbourne

We are officially unable to travel overseas for the next week having succumbed our passports to the US Consulate. While we wait for the US Government to bless us by stamping our passports with our visas, I’m reminiscing about some of the best places we’ve eaten at in Melbourne.

Eat here Melbourne!

Below is a list of our fave eateries while we’ve been in Melbourne. These places aren’t necessarily the cheapest, nor the fanciest, but they have created some darn good memories. And it’s not just us, but also judging from the reactions of interstate and overseas guests when we’ve brought them here, I think these places are on many Top-10 lists for a reason.

We are big fans of Andrew McConnell – think, Cumulus Inc, Supernormal, Builders Arms Hotel, Cutler & Co. Anything he touches turns to gold.

In the North, or north-ish of the city

Smith Street vicinity

  • Saint Crispin – all round great, contemporary, original food
  • (the original) Jimmy Grants – unreal kebabs

Fitzroy

Miss Katie’s Crab Shack – grab your claw crackers (try saying that 10 times quickly) and get your bib on!

Just a bit further north of the city but not so far you need a packed lunch

  • Cutler & Co – awesome steak
  • Pope Joan – the humble sanger is elevated to pole position

City

  • Take your pick from a huge multitude of extremely palatable eating venues! Chin Chin (swoon), Pei Modern, Il Solito Posto, Ezard, anything on Flinders Lane!
  • Movida – just go
  • Bomba – rooftop cocktails and cheap tapas = winner
  • Madame Brussels – while technically not an eatery, it has to feature here for its cheeky jugs, multi-zone layout, and the view
  • The dual genius (genii??) of Tonka and Coda – impress the visitors and go with a group so that you can order a gluttonous amount of food. Throw in a cocktail or two and it makes for a very fun night. BOOK AHEAD!!
  • Hutong Dumpling Bar vs Din Tai Fung – I call it a draw

Inner city

Richmond

  • Kong – can’t be beaten for Jap/Korean fusion and those damn good baos
  • Union Dining – take the inlaws and you’ll be in the good books for aaaaagggees
  • Bouzy Rouge – where eclectic meets yum
  • Jinda Thai – who can resist cheap, authentic Thai for the price of a newspaper (ok maybe not that cheap…)

Prahran

  • Franco Choo’s – this teeny little place has been around for yonks and for good reason

East

Hawthorn

  • Hawthorn Common is the place for breakfast. Sure Axil Roasters downstairs is pretty good too, but who really can wait …. that…lonngggg for brekky on the weekend? If you are hungover as all get and could eat a horse, head upstairs to Hawthorn Common. Plus ease your conscience as you mow down your food that has virtually no carbon footprint.
  • Hakata Gensuke ramen – this is the real deal. Lipsmackingly good.
  • Porgie & Mr Jones – a little further out, but worth it
  • Penang House – don’t expect tablecloths at this standout, local Malaysian joint
  • Romulus & Remus – the antipasti, the pasta, the laidback-ness, all sooooo good

West

  • Roti Road – won’t break the bank and has the most amazing, flaky, scrumptious rotis and curries

South

St Kilda 

  • Cafe di Stasio – theatrics and food flair come alive
  • Machi – fresh tasty Japanese food washed down with a cold Asahi

Attica

Attica deserves its own sub-heading. As Australia’s best performer on the global stage it wouldn’t be fair to leave it off this list. BUT, do yourselves a favour, and give the test degustation menu a miss. If you’re going to spend this much on a meal, do it properly, book well ahead via their online booking system, start saving your pennies, and go with someone who you love/who loves food/you really really really want to impress/all of the above.

Heading out of town?

If you choose to head out of town, go to Brae. Nearly self-sustaining, immaculate, so pretty you could cry for demolishing the presentation. Also has stunning accommodation on site now.

Oh Melbourne we will miss you! #melbournetakeabow 

I found Cinderella (and not at Disney)

IMG_1841Hong Kong

I am blogging on my iPhone while I wait for the final adjustments to be made to my dress. I am sitting in Irene Fashion. Two fittings, lots of discussion about what I want and I’m almost ready to wear the most perfectly fitting dress ever.

Irene and Denise are magicians.  They can make whatever you want – literally! Bring in a photo or your own design. Their small foyer is crammed with neat swatches of material, remnants of deluxe fabrics and laces, jars of sequins and beads, feathers, everything you’d want or need for that perfect creation.

With a talented eye and years of experience, Irene can tell you whether the fabric you’ve picked out will wash you out or whether you will glow, and this is before you’ve even done hair, makeup or spray tan! Her very diplomatic, “I think that is too mature for you” saved me from walking around looking like the Queen Mother (God rest her soul).

So I now own a beautiful strapless gown in peacock blue shantung that holds in everything and won’t fall down when I need to run down the stairs to get home before midnight.

Here’s a tip ladies: when you’ve put your frock on, bend from the waist and push everything forward. This saves you from getting those pouches of flesh that hang over your dress around from your arm pits. Don’t be shy about it! Give everything a good push forward.

Next trip to Hong Kong – bespoke shoes. Bliss!

Irene Fashion
Room B, 2/F Welley Building
97 Wellington Street
Hong Kong
Ph: +852 2850 5635 | e: irene@irenefashion.com.hk | irenefashion.com.hk

Closest MTR is Central and it’s about a 10 minute walk from there.