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Spring travelling

Spring is my favourite season to travel. More concisely, late spring spilling into early summer, although given an opportunity to travel, it doesn’t really matter when, does it? ;)

New bloom in spring

Here are but some of the reasons why it’s great to travel in spring:

  • Cost: traditionally a shoulder travelling period, prices from flights to accommodation to certain activities are cheaper than the summer (peak season) and winter (to escape either to seek the sun or to hit the slope) months.
  • Attractions: in a lot of places, come winter, certain attractions are difficult to access and/or may be closed. Spring is the time they reopen and luckily, the throng of visitors doesn’t usually flock in high numbers during this period.
  • Transportations: winter travel sees potential cancellation due to adverse weather conditions, summer travel within close quarters can be too stuffy and uncomfortable. Additionally, for winter travel, public transportations to get around may also be limited.
  • Weather: not too warm, not too cold. The possible downside is the arrival of spring shower, but more often than not, it is sunny and cheerful with temperature in high tens.
  • Colours: after the grey winter spring brings forth a burst of colour as flower blooms and trees begin to spot fresh foliages. The “awakenings” may seem like a poet’s cliché but it is all very true.
  • Day and night: the times for sunrise and for sunset are within reasonable time frame, and I take this to heart because I love going out in the morning when it’s quiet outside with little people around, not to mention the colour of the sky at this time of the day is simply wonderful.
  • Packing: oh how nice it is not have to bring thick jumpers and coats, and with less to carry, the lighter I can travel. Perfect for this day and age of travelling where best flight prices are with low cost carriers, and when negating the need to check in luggages, additional charges can be avoided.

Of course, most of the above are mainly applicable where seasons of the year transform the way we live.

What is your favourite season to travel, and any particular reason why it is so?

Travel, by the numbers

The Bean, Chicago

International passports owned (to date): 3

Number of years pretending to be an European: 12

Countries visited: 17

US states visited: 7

Number of years left of my US visa: 5

Longest period of time away on a single trip (weeks): 10

Bagpipers encountered: 3

Concerts attended abroad: 3

Operas at Arena di Verona seen: 5

Face-painting in the spirit of festival/carnival: 1

Abandoned fully paid non-refundable flights/train tickets: 2

Macarons eaten: > 50

Languages spoken: 4

Chinese dialects spoken: 4

Most expensive airfare for a single itinerary (€): 951

Most expensive garden admittance ticket price (CAD$): 25

Number of times London was visited: 2

Number of times Paris was visited: 22? 23?

Glacier hiked: 1

Ziplined: 1

Eaten in a 3 Michelin-star restaurant: 0

Eaten in a 2 Michelin-star restaurant: 1

Eaten in a 1 Michelin-star restaurant: 4

Argued that the highest number of stars Michelin awards is 3: 1

Chinese New Year dinners organised: 5

Chocolate fairs visited: 4

Art masterpieces seen: > 10,000

Salsa classes attended: 16

Lightest weight of the luggage for a single trip (kg): 6

Naturist offering to sell me clothes: 1

Passenger capacity of smallest plane taken: 40+

Passenger capacity of helicopter ride taken: 8

Hop on, hop off bus experienced: 3 4

Hop on, hop off boat experienced: 1

Most postcards sent in a single trip: 32

Colourful macarons

There’s macaron, and there’s macaroon. One looks like a mini sweet burger with creamy ganache as the filling, sandwiched between two smooth-shell almond-flour meringue biscuits. The other is spiky and brown from the baking of shredded coconut.

Macarons from Pierre Hermé

A great macaron bursts with flavour and melts in your mouth. It is also delicate, requires gentle handling and probably put a major dent in your wallet.

Yeah, the last part is quite the trade-off for a good quality macaron. Some of the best come from the Parisian pastry houses of Pierre Hermé and Ladurée. The macarons they sell come between €1.50 to €2.00 a piece, which is steep for ganache-sandwiched meringues of the size of a small cookie. However, as a treat goes, it’s worth every single cent paid for these babies.

I’m no macaron expert, but my friends and I have previously conducted a rather unscientific tasting after purchasing macarons from several pâtissier in Paris. Between Pierre Hermé, Gérard Mulot, Arnaud Larher, Christophe Roussel and Art Macaron of Mathieu Mandard, we had quite a macaron overload but we also came to a conclusion that the majority prefer Pierre Hermé. I do wonder though, how will it fare had we bought some from Ladurée as well that day for the taste-off?

My favourite flavour from PH’s collection is undoubtedly that of Infiniment Caramel (caramel au beurre salé), followed by Rose and Infiniment Vanille (vanilla). The most unusual flavour that I have tasted from them was that of white truffles (the fungus variety, not chocolate). I see that they have new flavour of Fragola (strawberry and balsamic vinegar), which I’m aching to try.

There are cheaper generic macarons available, but in my experience, they don’t measure up to the works of the masters. They may be equally colourful, but the flavour tends to be weak and one piece tastes the same as the next. It’s such a shame.

Ps: on a creative note, here’s a recipe that makes a combination of macaron and macaroon.

What’s your most travelled to city?

If there is one city that you would go time and again, which would it be? London? New York? Tokyo? Melbourne? Mine is easy. Ask any of my friends and they can tell you without hesitation.


Paris at sunrise

What gives it away? Maybe it’s because I visit the city every year, often multiple trips in the same year. It’s hard to keep me away from the French capital. ;)

Mind, Paris and I had a tumultous start. The first time I was there, she was like an ice queen, beautiful yet aloof. I was very young then, an unseasoned traveller with a lack of finesse in how I dealt with people. I admit to feeling privileged and I did not understand the cultural undercurrent beneath the foreign language that I haven’t a clue beyond bonjour and merci at that stage.

Over the year, things got better. Waaay better. I learnt French (still learning – I need lots more practice time) and tried to understand their ways (there are so much embedded in culture and lifestyle that I barely scrap the surface), and more importantly, I made friends living in the city. They welcome me with open arms, had me entangled in their lives (in a very good way, as I met their friends and families too), and so much of my happy memories are undeniably linked to them. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I like to think that I know the city pretty well by now. At least enough for the owner of Mouff’tarte (they do fantastic savoury and sweet tarts) to recognise me by sight! Next time, I’ll get him to remember me by name? Lol.

TAR in Penang

The Amazing Race took off to Penang, Malaysia in its latest instalment, challenging the racers a) in the Detours to either carry a dozen of giant joss sticks (“Buddhist Tradition”) to the top of a temple or balancing chingay flags across a certain distance (“Chinese Custom”), and b) in the Roadblock to prepare a Hindu offering.

Here’s a video if you’ve missed the airing on Sunday night.

The pitstop of the race is the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a beautiful heritage mansion that houses antiques and collectibles associated with the culture and custom of the Peranakans.

In a couple of months time, I’ll be heading to Penang where one of my brothers lives. I must make this one of the places to see. Afterall, our greatgrandmother was originally from Penang and she was a Peranakan too. It’s high time for me to take a deeper look into part of my heritage, which I should have learned while she was alive. However, being young and naive then, I didn’t appreciate just how much I would have missed out by failing to take an interest in it.

It is definitely time to catch up.

Hello world!

Never have “Hello world!” been so appropriate. ;)

Still, I have travel envy.

I am envious of carefree travellers who are seemingly unbound by anything but their wish to see the world. Oh I am sure they have their share of worries but at least they are not paralysed by these responsibilities of life.

Travel guides and photo album

On the other hand, I fret over too much, from my being a female (indeed, many places are safe for single female traveller but there are also places where to venture all by myself would be foolish to say the least) to the burden of education loan (unless someone’s offering to help me repay them?) to the lack of travelling time (at times of recession, jobs are hard to come by and losing one would hardly be conducive to saving up for travels).

It all comes down to balancing act. I try to sneak away for a trip here and there whenever I can spare the time and the dough (loan repayment obviously takes priority), and I try to do sufficient research to ensure my safety and well-being. Luckily I usually do have travel companion(s), or friends to spend time with at my destinations, thus it’s not often that I’m left to my own device in a foreign location.

I used to dream of having a job with extensive travelling opportunity. Even better would be a job that allows me to stay in a place for 2-3 months before moving on to another place, so that I can get a deeper feel for the place, the culture, the language and the cuisine. But of course, this is untenable. It doesn’t take much for me to realise that I’m not quite as nomadic at heart, as I need to have a stable social circle to really thrive and to appreciate what I have in my life when I’m away.

I may not travel as much as some, but I count myself very lucky to be able to travel more than most people.

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