Incredible India, Indeed

For our third wedding anniversary, Jun and I decided to go to India for 10 days. I had always wanted to visit India since I was a child. Having read E. M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga, and many more, India tantalized my imagination and was always a place I wished to visit.

Finally having the opportunity to journey there was wonderful. And being able to share that experience with Jun made it even more special.

Day 1 

The first day of our trip started early in the morning in Hong Kong. Because of the early flight there weren’t any issues with anything and we were soon on our way to New Delhi.

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We arrived on time and quickly made our way through immigration. We decided since our hotel was near the metro, we would try the metro system in the city to get to the hotel. It was similar in style to the Hong Kong Airport Express and we were soon at our destination.

From there it was a short walk to the Metropolitan Hotel. Check-in was easy. We even got an upgrade! Our room was quite comfortable and we were able to relax a bit before we went out to explore the city.

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From there we went and walked around Connaught Place and got a feel of the area. Then we went to the area around India Gate. The place was busy, but it was still nice to walk around in the warm afternoon with the deep blue sky above us. It was a nice walk around the area. By then we were a bit hungry.

We ended up having afternoon tea at Mister Chai inside the Shangri-La Hotel. I was able to enjoy my first masala chai in India, and it was amazing. In addition to the two cakes we ordered, it was a nice first meal in India.

After having enjoyed our afternoon tea, we walked back towards Connaught Place when we eyed some interesting structures. It turned out we were walking by Jantar Mantar, an ancient astronomical site in the city. We were fascinated with the place. The astronomical instruments are fixed physical structures that would help in the observation of space. Because of their design, they had a very Avant-garde look. It was neat to go around and explore.

By then the early morning flight was catching up with us and we went back to the hotel to rest. By the time we were ready to have dinner, Jun and I were too tired to venture out of the hotel, and we ended up having a nice dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurants: Chutney’s. It was a lovely and delicious meal.

It was also nice just to go up the elevator to our room and rest. But then a surprise happened. A few minutes after getting into our room, the power fuse in the room blew and all the lights went out. Maintenance came and partially fixed the problem, which was fine for the night. Jun and I were able to go to sleep.

Day 2

Our second morning started again with a power surge. So we got ready in the dark. Then we contacted the hotel staff to hopefully fix the situation. They said that it would be fixed by the time we were done with breakfast. So we went down to have breakfast, which was nice, and then came back. The power was back! So everything was fine.

To start the day we went to Old Delhi to walk through the narrow streets and explore. By late morning we ended up at Jama Masjid. It’s one of the largest mosques in the country. It was beautiful and a nice way to start our explorations of Old Delhi.

From there we made our way to the Red Fort, which had been the main, royal residence for the Mughal emperors until 1857. The fort is massive, and there are a lot of beautiful structures inside. It was really nice to walk around the grounds and see the intricate details in the architecture of the buildings.

Afterwards, we went back to Old Delhi to walk around a bit. In the early afternoon the streets were packed with people and vehicles. Jun and I agreed we were ready to go somewhere else. We decided to take the metro south towards the Tomb of Humayun.

The garden-tomb complex was beautiful. There were different tombs located near Emperor Humayun’s tomb, and each was quite beautiful and serene in design. When we got inside the historic park, we first visited Isa Khan’s Tomb. The structure was beautifully decorated and a peaceful place to be. From there we continued our walk towards the Tomb of Humayun. It has the distinct Indo-Persian architectural style that is more famously associated with the Taj Mahal, but the Tomb of Humayun was gorgeous. Jun and I explored the mausoleum and the surrounding gardens soaking in the beauty of the place.

Afterwards we decided to walk to Lodi Gardens, which was relatively close by. The gardens are free for the public to use, but inside the park are some additional tombs and other 15th century architectural works the Lodhis—rulers of the area around the 15th and 16th centuries—had built. People who live in the surrounding area use the open grounds recreationally, so we were treated to college students singing to each other and playing guitars. It was nice to see families and friends have fun. As we were walking, we also saw a monkey going around the park. That was neat. When we were about to leave the park, we also experienced the cacophonous call of the birds in the trees at dusk. I hadn’t heard so many birds loudly calling for a long time. Jun was surprised by it since it’s not that common to have so many birds in one place in the urban environment of Chinese cities.

Before going back to Connaught Place, we walked a bit around Lodi Colony, which is known for the variety of murals on the residential buildings. Some were quite amazing, others were funny, and some were perplexing; they all, however, created a very vibrant neighborhood.

By then it was early evening and we took the metro back to Connaught Place. We had planned on just cleaning up and going out for dinner, but as soon as we went into our room the power surged again. We contacted the front desk and they at this point changed our rooms. By the time we had switched rooms we were tired from the long day and decided to just order room service. Soon after dinner we got ready for bed and slept until morning.

Day 3

After having a nice lie in, Jun and I got ready for a more relaxing day. We decided to venture down to visit the Qutub Minar, part of the Qutub complex of monuments and buildings from the Delhi Sultanate. As we were leaving the hotel, we wished to stop by an ATM to get some cash. But as we walked towards the metro station, every ATM we encountered was out of service. When we got to Qutub Minar, there were no ATMs in service either. We guessed that we would have to get by using our credit cards until we found a working ATM.

When we got to the ticket counter for the site, we were told that there was no network signal so it was cash only. We were frustrated! We’ve been trying to get cash and hadn’t been able to find a place. Instead of giving up, we went for a hunt of a working ATM. We went along the road until we found an urban village. On the main street of the village, we found several ATMs, but not all of them worked with our cards. After trying different ones, we finally found one that did work! After getting the cash we went back to Qutub Minar and started our visit there.

The place is really neat. There are a lot of structures at the site that gives a glimpse of what Delhi once looked like. And the minaret itself is quite grand. The artistic details on it are quite intricate and beautiful. While it definitely took some time to get there, it was worth it to experience such an amazing place.

By then we were ready for lunch and found a nice restaurant near the site. It was quite busy and we had to share a table with other people. The food was great and we left feeling recharged.

From there we took the metro to visit the Lotus Temple. It’s a Bahá’í House of Worship built in the mid-1980s. It’s built in the shape of a lotus flower and is very much reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. It was nice to visit and see the building.

Afterwards, we went back to Connaught Place to take a break. We ended up at Starbucks and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon into early evening.

Because we had a late lunch and snacks, we decided to just go back to the hotel and call it a day. As we were walking we stopped at some of the stores in the area and just meandered back to the hotel.

Day 4

Our day started early with us checking out of the hotel and going to Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station so we could get the Gatimaan Express, a semi-high speed train, to go to Agra. The train ride was nice. We booked executive class and were treated to a meal, free drinks, and newspaper service. The price was really reasonable as well. Jun and I were surprised. For comparable service class in China, you wouldn’t get any of that, and the ticket price would be much higher. So we enjoyed the ride.

When we got to Agra, we quickly found our way to the hotel. It was really nice, as part of the welcome service we were given double chocolate chip cookies! That was great. Definitely would recommend the Double Tree in Agra. After we had settled in, we then went on our tour of the city.

We started at the Taj Mahal. The place was spectacular. It was simply sublime. Pictures don’t do it justice. We were mesmerized by it as we visited the site. From a distance you can definitely see the beauty, but up close you can see the added details that went into the design and construction of this work of art. We found it difficult to leave. We could have stayed there for much longer.

From there we went to Agra Fort. The fort is still partially occupied by the military so not all of it is accessible to the public. The parts that are open were really fascinating. Like the Red Fort, it had been used by the Mughal Dynasty as a residence, but in 1638 the capital was moved to the Red Fort in Delhi. In many ways Agra Fort’s architecture is much more interesting. We really enjoyed going around the place. It also has a nice view of the Taj Mahal.

By then it was mid-afternoon and we were hungry. We went for lunch and then did a little shopping in the surrounding area. By early evening we decided to go to Mehtab Bagh. It’s a garden complex directly opposite of the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River. It’s a wonderful spot to see the Taj Mahal and the river. It was a wonderful way to end our day.

When we went back to the hotel we rested for a bit and decided to eat at one of the hotel’s restaurants—Kebab-e-Que. It was a nice meal and we left quite happy. We went back to the room, relaxed, and then called it a day.

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Day 5

As we had seen the main sights in Agra, the next two days allowed us to take things at a slower pace and see some of the less traveled sights in the area.

On this day we took an Ola car to Fatehpur Sikri, which is a town near the border of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The modern town is built around the remains of a historic capital of the Mughal Empire. Emperor Akbar built the city as his capital in 1571, but later moved his capital in 1585.

Our driver was quite nice and helped us a bit to navigate and orient ourselves at the site. We enjoyed walking around the palace complex and the adjacent Jama Masjid mosque complex. The architecture at the site is quite grandiose. The grand entryway—Buland Darwaza—to the mosque complex is enormous in scale. It sets a distinct tone that you are entering into an important area.

There are a lot of beautiful architectural aspects to the different buildings in the complex. Taking a moment to imagine what it must have been like to have lived here brings forth scenes of imperial splendor and opulence. It was a nice way to spend the late morning and early afternoon here.

Afterwards, we went back to Agra. When we got back to the hotel I asked the front desk if we could get more chocolate chip cookies. The man was surprised that I asked, but he was happy to give us two cookies! I was quite happy. We then went back to our room and rested a bit before dinner. A friend of Jun’s lived near Agra and came into the city to spend some time with us. He took us out to a nice dinner at a restaurant called Pinch of Spice. The food was nice, and he even showed us the proper way to eat with our hands. Jun enjoyed catching up with an old friend, and I was happy to finally meet him and get to know him.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and agreed to meet up the next day before we left on our night train to Jodhpur.

Day 6

After having a leisurely morning, we met up with Jun’s friend who took us to the suburbs of Agra to visit the Tomb of Akbar the Great in Sikandra. Because it’s more remote than the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, there weren’t a lot of visitors when we went there. It was beautiful. There were a lot of animals on the surrounding grounds, which covers about 119 acres. Jun and I really enjoyed our time there. Jun’s friend chose a wonderful place to take us.

Afterwards we went back to central Agra to have an early dinner. We ended up in a commercial shopping area, and we got to visit an Indian mall. It was not to the scale of Chinese malls, but it was quite nice. We had dinner at a bar-restaurant called Khiskey Whiskey. The inside was much more the whiskey bar than the outside, which was more a casual restaurant. We enjoyed sitting on the balcony, which had a descent view of the surrounding area. The food and drinks were nice; it was another nice place to relax.

By then we decided to go back to the hotel to get our bags so we could then go to the Agra Fort train station to catch our train to Jodhpur. Jun’s friend went with us. As we were waiting, he taught us how to check the train status. It turned out that our train was going to be two hours late and that we had plenty of time to wait. As a result we ended up having tea and dessert at the hotel before we left. Jun’s friend soon had to go and we said goodbye. Shortly afterwards we also left for the train station.

When we got there we had to wait a bit longer than anticipated before our train arrived. When it did, it was quite late and there were two people already in our sleeping berths. The man wanted to trade with us so he could be closer with his family. We agreed and soon we were in our beds. It wasn’t too bad. I actually got a fairly decent amount of sleep.

Day 7

While the train ride was decent, it still wasn’t a nice bed in a quiet, calming bedroom. Several times throughout the night I was awoken, especially in Jaipur when many passengers disembarked and others came aboard. But I did get to sleep some, more so than I usually do on long flights.

When we did get to Jodhpur, we weren’t actually sure we were in Jodhpur. No one made any announcements, and there were people still on the train. Jun and I checked the map on our phones and found out that we were indeed in Jodhpur. So we got off and ordered an Ola car. After finding the driver we were soon on our way to the hotel.

Since we were quite early for check-in, we needed to wait a bit before we could get into our room. But as we waited we were given a garland of flowers and a welcoming drink, and the owner of the hotel came and greeted us. He gave us a history of the hotel—his family has owned it for many generations—and gave us advice on places to see in Jodhpur and the surrounding area.

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Once our room was ready, Jun and I went and took our showers and relaxed for a bit before we left to see what the city had to offer.

We decided we would first go to Mehrangarh Fort, which was built in 1458 and is the largest fort in Rajasthan. To get there we thought we would just take an Ola, but for some reason no one wanted to take our request. We ended up taking a tuk-tuk, and the driver ended up being our main driver while in Jodhpur.

The sheer size of the fort is staggering. It’s huge! The inside of the structure was spectacular. Inside the palace there were some amazing rooms. Walking around and admiring the architecture was a great way to start our stay in Jodhpur. After we left the palace we decided to get some drinks at a café inside the fort. It was a nice and relaxing with an amazing view.

Afterwards we took a walk around the area. After a bit of exploring we ended up at Jaswant Thada, which is a royal cemetery. It’s set surrounded by a lake and rock formations with the city below. It’s quite a lovely place.

From there we then went down into the city. The transition from the calm of Jaswant Thada to the chaos of the city was jarring. We ended up walking towards the Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower inside Sadar Market. The place was neat. The clock tower dominates the center of the bazaar, which had a charm to it that was nice. We continued our walk around the busy streets and passed different corners that were quite blue. Jodhpur is known as the blue city for the different buildings painted blue. In some areas the entire area was blue.

We then backtracked a bit and went to Toorji’s Step Well. Even with the utilitarian purpose of storing water, they were designed in a way that was intricate and ornate in such a simple way. It was nice sitting and enjoying the view. The neighborhood around the step well also has a lot of neat shops that were fun to browse.

By the time we were done shopping we were ready to go find a place to eat. We ended up at a roof-top restaurant with a nice view of the fort: Indigo. The food was delicious and we left happy. From there we took a tuk-tuk back to our hotel and called it a day.

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Day 8

After a wonderful breakfast in the hotel’s garden, we were ready to head out to visit Mandore Garden. After getting into our Ola car, the driver changed his mind that he didn’t want to go to Mandore and had us get out. The guard at our hotel was nice and called a tuk-tuk for us. The driver turned out to be the driver from yesterday! He quickly took us to the garden and even waited for us.

The gardens were nice. This used be the site of the capital of the Marwar kingdom before the founding of Jodhpur. As such, there were royal palaces and tombs in the park. While on a smaller scale than some of the other places we had visited, the structures here were still beautiful and impressive. After enjoying our time there, Jun and I went to find our driver and venture off towards Umaid Bhawan Palace.

The construction of Umaid Bhawan Palace was completed in 1944; it is the last great palace built in India. The palace is still lived in by the royal family of Jodhpur, who live in half of it. The other half has been converted in a hotel and museum. The palace is huge. Non-hotel staying guests or guests of the royal family are allowed to visit only a small portion of the palace. It was still nice to get to see it up close.

From there we went back to the Old City and walked around a bit and did some shopping. We then went back to the step well to rest for a bit. Afterwards, we found a café—Sam’s Art Café—nearby and idled away the afternoon with drinks and snacks.

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Close to the start of evening we decided to go up to Signal Hill to see the sunset. The views from Signal Hill were really nice and we got to see a beautiful start to the evening.

By then we were ready for dinner and ended up at a hostel restaurant called Dylan Café. It was a very low key place, but the food was quite delicious.

After enjoying our meal we found a tuk-tuk and went back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 9

The next morning we started the day by going to the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park just beneath the fort. The park serves to protect the delicate desert environment. It’s quite a beautiful place. There were only a handful of people there, so we essentially had the place all to ourselves. It was nice to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the quietude of nature. The area was really well maintained and it was a nice way to spend our morning.

Afterwards, we walked back to the city and decided to have a light meal at Café Sheesh Mahal. It was a nice and relaxing place to spend a meal.

From there we went back to the hotel to get ready for our excursion to Osian, an oasis in the Thar Desert. Our driver was early and was already at the hotel when we got back. We told him we would freshen up a bit and that we could get an early start. He was a really nice man. He even bought us some masala chai on our way to Osian.

When we got there, we first went to the Sachiya Mata Temple. It was busy and full of people there to show devotion to the goddess. The architecture of the temple is quite lovely. It was interesting to experience how Indians show their religious devotion.

From there we went on our desert safari camel ride. It was nice. We got to ride a camel around some sand dunes and we also saw the sunset. It was a nice a relaxing excursion.

Afterwards we went back to Jodhpur and had dinner at a lovely restaurant before going back to the hotel.

Day 10

Our last day in India. We had an early afternoon flight from Jodhpur to New Delhi, and then a late fight to Hong Kong. Everything went smoothly and we were soon on our way home. We even stopped and had pizza Indian-style from Domino’s.

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Our trip to India was amazing. We got lucky with the weather and we were able to experience some wonderful things. We both left wanting to come back and explore different parts of the country in the future. It was a great way to celebrate our third anniversary.

Tantalizing Tasmania

The second leg of our Australian trip took us to Tasmania. By far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. The land is gorgeous. The people friendly. The culture fascinating. And the food delicious. Tasmania was a joy.

Day 1

Our flight from Melbourne landed in Hobart without any problem and we were soon on our way in our baby blue Toyota Corolla to our hotel apartment in the Battery Point neighborhood of Hobart.

It was a quick journey to the hotel and we were soon in our lovely apartment. Once we had settled in we decided to go for a late afternoon walk around the harbor.

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We first walked around Salamanca Place, which is a neat area of restaurants, pubs, and local stores. We weaved our way through the different buildings and wandered around the different stores. From there we walked along the harbor. We saw a seal outside a floating restaurant and market waiting for one of the fishmongers to give it fish scraps. It was interesting to see the seal hold back the seagulls who also wanted some fish. After watching the seal for a bit, Jun and I went to a floating ice cream parlor and bought some delicious Tasmanian ice cream. We continued our walk around the harbor. We soon grew tired and decided to buy some food from one of the floating restaurants and bring it back to our apartment.

We had a delicious meal and a quiet evening. It was a nice way to start our stay in Tasmania.

Day 2

On our second day we went and explored the area north of the harbor in Hobart. We had brunch at the Picnic Café and was happy with our delicious savory waffles.

Once we were fully charged we continued to walk around the area. We then walked through the Queens Domain to get to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. These gardens were gorgeous. There were tulips, orchids, and a lot of native flora, such as banksia and waratah. We had a nice time walking around the gardens. Even when it rained for a bit, it was nice to sit in one of the lookouts and enjoy the gentle rain falling over us. It was a tranquil retreat.

After the rain had stopped, we walked around the gardens a bit more before we went back to central Hobart. From there we again went to Salamanca Place and went up Kelly’s Steps to Battery Point. We walked along Hampstead Road and saw some neat bakeries, stores, and restaurants. We saw an Indian restaurant that we decided we would try later that day.

We went back to the apartment and decided to take a drive up to Mount Wellington to see if we could get up to the summit. Unfortunately, we were only able to go midway to the Springs due to inclement weather. From where we were it was snowing! We walked a bit around that area before we went back down to the apartment.

Once back we rested for a bit and went to have dinner at Magic Curries. The food there was amazing and the family running it was lovely. It was a nice way to end our day.

Day 3

Today had us driving out of the city to Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula. Port Arthur Historic Site was the top place I wanted to visit in Tasmania. When I was working on my first master’s thesis, I did a lot of research on Port Arthur and it was great to actually visit the site.

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The drive to the Tasman Peninsula was simply beautiful. It was a quiet drive and we really enjoyed the journey there. Once we got to the site we spent a few hours exploring the area. It was fascinating to learn more about transporting and the convict history of Australia. The area was beautifully maintained and showed a lot of nuance in how the site has been interpreted.

After having explored the area we soon traveled to the Tasman Arch and the Devils Kitchen. The Tasman Arch was quite impressive. From there we went to see the Tessellated Pavement a little north of this area. This second area was really beautiful and interesting. The local geology had created natural groves into the rock that made it look like a brick laid road. There was also quite a variety of sea life there. Some of them were weird and creepy.

After spending an enjoyable time there, we soon were on our way back to Hobart. When we got back Jun and I had a lovely dinner at a restaurant called Blue Eye Seafood. The meal was delicious and a perfect way to end the day.

Day 4

Today was a mix of different things. Our first destination took us to Mount Field National Park. The drive through the Derwent Valley was absolutely gorgeous. The spring weather made the surrounding area seem vibrant and alive with renewed energy. It was a great way to start the day.

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When we got to the national park, we quickly got started with the hike around the lower areas. We first went to Russell Falls. The waterfall was beautiful and was surrounded by some wonderful trees. From there we went up to Horseshoe Falls, which was equally nice. We then continued our hike up to the tall Eucalyptus regnans trees. These trees are second in height only to the California redwoods. We then continued our hike towards Lady Barron Falls. From there we went back down towards the visitor center. Mount Field National Park was a nice way to start the day.

By the time we were done we were ready for lunch. We went to the nearby town of Westerway and ate at the Possum Shed Café. It was situated next to the Tyenna River and had a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside. Once we were content, we were soon on our way to our next destination.

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Being in Australia, we decided to go to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary to see indigenous animals. The first thing we got to do there was to see and feed kangaroos. We were a bit hesitant at first, but then warmed up to the idea of being so close to them. We also were able to see Tasmanian devils, a variety of local birds, and more sleeping koalas. It was a nice getting to see so many different varieties of animals.

From there we took a quick drive to the historic village of Richmond . We walked around the village and visited the old Richmond Gaol, ate some ice cream, and went to some of the shops in the village. We also saw the oldest bridge in Australia still in use. By the time we had gone around the village, Jun and I were ready to head back to Hobart.

When we got back we rested for a bit before going out to dinner and calling it a day.

Day 5

Our last full day in Tasmania. We took a drive south towards Tahune Forest Reserve where we planned on visiting Tahune Adventures. The main attraction there is a steel canopy walkway that allows people to walk amongst the tree canopy. It was really neat to get to walk around the trees and see the surrounding area. It was breathtaking. As there weren’t a lot of people there as well, it was quite serene.

After the canopy walk we continued to hike the area around the river. That was also nice and we got to see a lot of the local flora. I especially liked seeing the different ferns there.

We then decided to go back to Hobart and have afternoon tea at Jackman & McRoss. It was a nice treat.

From there we decided to go back up Mount Wellington and try to reach the pinnacle. The weather, fortunately, cooperated with us and we were able to take the scary drive up there. It was worth it. The views from the top were amazing. You could see the city below us. And we were at the same elevation as many clouds. It was really a sight to behold.

Once we were done enjoying the view. We drove back to our hotel and had a lovely dinner at Mezethes Greek Taverna. The food there was amazing. And that was a fine way to end our day.

Day 6

Our last day in Tasmania and Australia.

The first thing we did after finishing packing and checking out was to walk down to the Salamanca Saturday Market. That was really neat. There were a variety of things to see, eat, and buy. It was really fun. We ended up buying a few souvenirs as well.

From there we went to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). The museum is built next to a winery and had spectacular views. The collections at the museum were really interesting. And the interior was designed in a way that created an interactive environment. Jun and I agreed that it was a stimulating way to design a museum. It was a great way for us to end our trip.

Sadly, from the museum we had to go to the airport. We ended up having an effortless travel experience. It was just a long travel experience of going from Hobart to Melbourne to Hong Kong to Shenzhen and finally to Guangzhou.

Overall, the trip was wonderful and we were happy that we had been able to spend two memorable weeks in Australia.

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Vivacious Victoria

Two years together! To celebrate our second wedding anniversary, Jun and I decided to go to Australia. We chose to go to Victoria and Tasmania for two weeks.

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Our first week was spent in Victoria. We based ourselves in Melbourne and went around the surrounding area. It was a wonderful time there. We essentially fell in love with Melbourne!

Day 1

We arrived early in the morning and went through immigration without any problems. But when it came to getting our baggage we ended up losing one of our bags. So we had to go make a claim to see if our bag could be found. Fortunately the airline—Cathay Pacific—did find the bag and sent it to our hotel later that day. But it was strange since it was a direct flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne. Once the claim was made we went out to Hertz to get our car. We received a really nice Hyundai and were soon ready to head into Carlton to our hotel. I was a bit nervous about driving on the left side of the road, but it ended up being easy.

Once we found the hotel we were able to check-in and park the car, but had to wait for our room to be ready for later that afternoon. Jun and I decided to walk around central Melbourne and explore the area. We were both half-asleep from the overnight flight, but we enjoyed going around the city. Our favorite place was Victoria Market. It was a neat place with such a hodgepodge of things to see and buy. By mid-afternoon we were ready for a nap and went back to the hotel and went straight to our room for a shower and a nap.

When we woke up we were only up to going out for a walk to find some food to eat at our hotel. After finishing up eating we went to bed.

Day 2

On our second day in Melbourne we spent most of the day at the Royal Botanic Gardens. The gardens were gorgeous and had a spectacular variety of plants.

We decided to walk towards the gardens from our hotel. We walked around Carlton Gardens and went down towards Flinders Station towards the Royal Botanical Gardens. While on the walk we found one of the alley lanes with graffiti art in Melbourne. It was an interesting mix of styles and was a really neat sight.

From there the walk to the gardens was nice and relaxing and we were able to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon there. We also stopped by the Shrine of Remembrance as it was next to the gardens.

Then we spend the rest of the afternoon doing some shopping. The last thing we did that day was to go to the state library. The library was really nice. The main reading room was neat. After that we went to dinner and called it a day.

Day 3

We had a road trip to Grampians National Park! The drive was beautiful and the park was amazing. We took a hike towards Pinnacle Lookout. The walk was amazing. There were incredible sights of the surrounding area. The closer we got to the lookout the rockier it got. We had to cross these large slabs of rocks. And went we got up to Pinnacle Lookout the sight from there was beautiful! It was wonderful.

On the way back we went a different route and saw the lake on the other side of the trail. This second trail had only Jun and I on it and we got to spend some wonderful moments in such a serene environment. Soon we were ready to go back to Melbourne.

The drive back was equally nice. On the drive back Jun was doing research on where we should have dinner, and he found an Armenian restaurant not far from our hotel. So we ended up having Armenian food! It was quite delicious and made me nostalgic for my time in Armenia.

The Armenian food was a great way to end the day!

Day 4

This day was one of animals. We drove down to Phillips Island where we saw koalas, wallabies, and little penguins.

We first went to the Koala Conservation Centre on the island. The place was really nicely kept. And it was fun trying to find the koalas sleeping in the trees. They were of course sleeping since they sleep for about 20 hours a day! Jun and I had fun trying to find them in the different trees. They were so cute. I really enjoyed just walking around to find the koalas.

From the centre we had an amazing lunch by the sea at The Cape Kitchen. The food there was delicious, and the view from the restaurant was breathtaking. We enjoyed it so much that we took a quick walk around the grounds before we left.

After lunch we went to Churchill Island Heritage Farm where we got to see what a historic Australian farm was like. It was a really neat place. And we got to see a variety of animals there. The most amazing animals there were the wallabies. They were more active than the koalas!

When we were done with the farm we drove towards the Nobbies and explored the natural habitat of little penguins. While it was gorgeous there, it was so cold and windy. I left my jacket in the car, and hallway in our walk along the boardwalk I was regretting my decision. Besides being cold in the sea breeze it was really beautiful. We also got to see the little penguin burrows along the cliff. There were also geese and rabbits in the fields as well. After the walk we found a café where we got some hot chocolate that was a nice relief!

By the time we were done with our drinks it was time to go to Penguin Parade to end our day learning about little penguins. We chose a guided tour and it was amazing! Our guide taught us a lot about the penguins and pointed out how the little penguins lived. It was really cool to see them come out of the water and head back to their burrows. They were so cute. And it was really neat to see them go through their rituals. We had such a wonderful time there.

By then it was late and we had to drive back to Melbourne. When we got back we had an adventure trying to navigate the city to get back to the hotel. After figuring out the streets of Melbourne at night we finally found our way back to the Eminence and went to bed.

Day 5

Having driven long distances for the previous two days, we decided to stay in Melbourne. More like I insisted that I needed a break from driving and convinced Jun to spend the day in the city. It was worth it though. We slept in and then went out to have brunch at Victoria Market. After a nice meal at Victoria Café we bought some seafood at the market for dinner that night. We returned to the hotel to drop of the seafood and then went to visit the Old Melbourne Gaol.

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The goal was really interesting. There was a play about Ned Kelly that was informative. There were a lot of interesting facts about the prison system in Melbourne—both historic and contemporary. We also got to experience what it was like to be arrested in Melbourne in the 1990s in a very interactive experience.

Once we were done with the museum we went for a walk along the Yarra River. And from there we went back to the hotel to cook our mussels and shrimp. It was an amazing dinner.

The final thing we did was to go the IMAX theatre near our hotel to watch Venom on a really large scene. The movie was actually fun. When it was over we went back to the hotel for the night.

Day 6

Our last full day in Melbourne and we took a road trip along the Great Ocean Road. We actually started by going backwards. We first drove to around the Twelve Apostles. We visited Loch Ard Gorge and London Arch in addition to the Twelve Apostles. All of them were amazing. They were gorgeous natural formations and we were glad we took the time to drive out there to see them.

For the rest of the afternoon we drove along the Great Ocean Road and stopped at different places to admire the view along the road. To be honest driving along the road was exhausting as there were a lot of curves along the road. The views, however, made up for the driving.

By early evening we had returned to Melbourne and had a nice dinner at a Chinese bistro near our hotel. The rest of the evening had us packing and getting ready for the second leg of our trip.

Day 7

We woke up early and checked out of the hotel. Then we went to the airport and returned the car. We checked in with Qantas for our trip to Hobart. Everything went really smoothly and we were soon on our way to Tasmania.

The first part of our trip had been amazing. Melbourne was so wonderful! Jun and I agreed that we could easily live in this city.

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Anniversary in the Low Countries

Celebrating one year as a married couple! It’s been a wonderful year with a lot of changes in our lives. We’ve had our ups and downs, and we’ve become closer in this last year. To celebrate that year together we decided to go to the Netherlands and Belgium.

Our trip started at the Shenzhen airport. We wanted to take the ferry from here to the Hong Kong airport to avoid the crowds. The first “interesting” event of our trip happened here. As I was washing my hands in the restroom, a little four year old ran in and pushed me aside and started to wash his hands. There was no excuse me or explanation for his behavior. There was no guardian with him. I asked him why he pushed me and then he flicked water at my face. At that point my irritation at this boy was at the tipping point and I flicked water back to him—I know juvenile. I scolded him and left, which he then subsequently ran after me and flicked water at me again! Jun at that point came to see what the problem was and cooled down the situation before things descended into a water fight.

After that incident there were no other issues as we got on the ferry to Hong Kong and waited for our flight to Amsterdam. There subsequently was just a lot of lines and waiting.

Day 1

We got into Amsterdam early in the morning. After the long wait in immigration we took the train to the hotel. We did our initial check-in, but because it was so early we had to wait until the afternoon to get our room. We left our luggage and decided to explore the central part of Amsterdam. We took the train to Amsterdam Centraal station. From there we started to wonder around the city. We first went through the Red Light district in the early morning. As we walked we saw a number of different bakeries; we decided to stop and get some cheesy bread. It was great to have so much choices in relation to cheese. With good cheese being expensive and limited in China, it was exciting to try so many different kinds of cheese!

Our walk continued through the city. We didn’t really have an intended destination, but we just wanted to wander and experience the city. We ended walking through some neat neighborhoods, such as the Begijnhof. We eventually found our way at the Rijksmuseum and got to see some impressive examples of Dutch masters and decorative arts. The museum was amazing! To see some of Rembrandt’s most important paintings was exciting.

By the time we were done with the museum it was mid-afternoon. We went back to the hotel to finish check-in. When we got to the room we were both excited to go and take a shower and to take a short nap.

Afterwards we took a walk around our hotel and to find a place for dinner. We walked through a number of nice neighborhoods and ended up at a seafood restaurant. After dinner we took the train back to the hotel and ended our first day by falling into a deep sleep.

Day 2

On our second day we first went to the Anne Frank House Museum. The museum is located in Westermarkt—a really nice neighborhood. The museum itself was sobering and beautifully executed. The museum tends to tell the story as is without embellishing the facts. The reality of it is that the truth of what happened to the Frank family is sad. That such atrocities can happen is painful to know, but the museum dealt with it well. We were impressed with the museum and left with a greater appreciation for life.

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From there we had lunch at a pancake restaurant. We had Dutch pancakes with different toppings. I was so excited to have these pancakes and enjoyed them immensely. They were great!

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Jun and I decided that from the restaurant we would take the train to Zaanse Schans. There’s a historic outdoor museum there. We traveled a little north of Amsterdam to see this outdoor museum. It’s a really neat place. If you’re not interested in actually going inside some of the buildings to see the inner workings, that’s fine because the outside area is actually free. It was just nice to walk around and see the place. There are a number of windmills there. These windmills come from all over the Netherlands; it creates for a fun sight to see the different types of windmills in one place. We also got a chance to try cheese and to wear clog shoes. It was a fun place. The autumn weather was crisp and cool; walking around it was enjoyable.

Afterwards we went to Zaandam, a town between Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam. We just walked a bit and admired the architecture. We also did a little shopping. We went a little overboard with buying tea. We were pleasantly surprised to find quite a variety and cheap prices.

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By then we were ready to have dinner. We went back to Amsterdam and found an amazing Indonesian restaurant: Indonesian Kitchen. Since Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, Indonesian cuisine has found a place in Dutch culinary culture. The restaurant was located in the basement of a building and was quite small. Only maybe thirty people could be seated at one time. The staff was quite nice her. We decided to have the chef taster menu. It was four courses of different Indonesian delicacies. With each course the staff would explain what it was eating. It was quite an enjoyable experience.

After dinner we went back to our hotel to end the day.

Day 3

On this day we decided to go see Muiden Castle. To get there we took a train to Weesp, the nearest station to Muiden. We were then going to take the bus over there, but when we got there we saw that the bus wouldn’t be coming for an hour. Jun and I decided to walk there. It was longer than we had expected, but we did get to see a bit of the Dutch countryside.

When we got to Muiden it was like walking into a postcard of a European village. It was a picturesque community. Also adding to the idea that it was a postcard was the lack of people that we saw. It was interesting to basically have the place to ourselves.

The castle itself was really nice. It’s not extravagant or big as some other European castles, such as Neuschwanstein in Germany. What it did have was charm. The gardens and the chambers of the castle were nicely done and the information was presented in a way that was fun. Some of the signs are designed for children. There’s a leading question that a kid may ask. My favorite was, “Are there sharks in the moat?” The response was cheeky and kid friendly. I really liked that the people in charge of designing the exhibits presented the information in a manner that would get children interested in history.

After the museum we had lunch in Muiden. We had typical Dutch/Western fare at a nice restaurant.

Then we went back to Amsterdam to visit the Van Gough Museum. Talk about a drastic difference from the castle. The number of people at the museum dwarfed what we had seen at the castle and the town. But the museum was amazing. To see so many of Van Gough’s artwork was just wonderful. It was quite an enjoyable experience.

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After that we took the train to Haarlem to walk around that city. It’s an interesting place that has some nice examples of Dutch architecture. We got to see Windmill De Adriaan along the Spaarne Riverhe, and we walked by the old city gate of Amsterdamse Poort. The city center had an amazing church, Saint Bavo Church, which was huge as well.

After having walked around the city, Jun and I were ready for dinner. Since our hotel had a kitchenette, we decided to go to the grocery store and make dinner ourselves. We bought a number of things that we couldn’t easily get in China and made ourselves a really nice dinner. It ended up being a nice way to end the day.

Day 4

Today we decided to travel south to Delft, The Hague, and Rotterdam. The weather overnight had been bad and caused some disruptions to train service. So we had to be a bit creative in figuring out how to get to Delft. It ended up not being an issue and we got to Delft in the late morning. Delft is such a cute city. The canals that go around the central area creates for some nice neighborhoods. And the city’s center was full of nice architecture.

The main reason we wanted to go to Delft was to visit the Royal Delft Experience and see how the porcelain was made. The museum was quite nice and we got to see people actually producing the porcelain. We got to see some nice examples of Delft ware for practical and ornamental purposes. We ended up buying a nice vase as a souvenir.

After the Royal Delft Experience we had lunch in Delft before we went to The Hague. At The Hague we went around the central area of the city. We walked by the Binnenhof, a government building that’s quite impressive. We saw the Peace Palace. I really enjoyed that since it’s been in so many television shows and movies. Then we walked a bit around the shopping areas of The Hague.

From The Hague we went to Rotterdam to have dinner at the Markthal. It’s a modern example of how art and architecture can blend to create a communal space. The building curves to create an open interior. On the interior wall is a natural scene of flowers and insects. And on the ground are different stalls selling fruit, cupcakes, nuts, sushi, and so many other things. It was a neat place. We ended up having dinner at a Greek restaurant. It was a nice way for us to end our day.

Day 5

On this day we took the Thalys high-speed train from Amsterdam to Brussels. It was a nice ride. I got done with some school work, and Jun was able to get some things done for work as well. When we got into Brussels our hotel room wasn’t ready. We went around the city to explore areas such as the Palais Royal and the Grand Place. As we were walking we had lunch at a Belgium tavern restaurant. From here we learned that mussels are something to be eaten here. So we had a lot of mussels for lunch, as well as shrimp scampi and cheese croquettes.

The best thing that we had on our explorations of the city was trying the different chocolate and waffles here. We tried different types of chocolate at places like Leonidas and Neuhaus.

By the mid-afternoon we ended up at the Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur, the fifth largest cathedral in the world. It was a more modern example of ecclesial architecture; it was quite serene inside. Afterwards we went back through the central part of Brussels and had more chocolate before going back to the hotel.

Once we checked-in it was early evening and we decided to call it a day and just got some sushi for dinner.

Day 6

We went to Bruges on this day. It was a rainy day, but it created a relaxing and calm atmosphere as we walked around the city. We first went through Minnewaterpark before heading to Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk where we got to see one of the few example of a work by Michelangelo outside of Italy. “Madonna with Child” was a beautiful sculpture. The other parts of this museum were also quite nice. I even learned that people used to paint the inside of tombs.

From there we went to a small family owned restaurant and had more mussels and beef stew. It was quite good and the family was really nice and hospitable.

After lunch we went to the Belfry. We climbed the many stairs to the top and had some nice views of the city. We also got spritzed by the rain as it was quite windy up there. But it was nice to see the city. We also got to see the clock and chimes working inside the Belfry. On our way down we saw some different rooms. Apparently the Belfry was once used to house the city’s treasury and served as a type of attic for the city.

From there we went to see some different kinds of windmills at the outskirts of the old town. That was neat to see. Also from there we could see into the center. When I saw the Belfry and another church tower I was struck by how much it reminded me of the two towers in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Belfry was quite huge.

By then it was getting late and Jun and I decided to slowly walk back to the train station. On the walk we stopped to get some Belgium waffles. As we were doing this we got to witness a strange performance art piece that was focused on a car with a diver driver inside. As the car stopped it would shoot out water at the surrounding people. It was interesting and fun to see!

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Back in Brussels Jun and I went and bought some chocolate to bring back to China and had dinner at La Dolce Mia, this amazing Italian restaurant on Rue Haute. The owner was a nice guy who I kind of flummoxed with a bit too many questions in English. In the end our dinner was quite nice and we had a nice meal to end our trip in Brussels.

Day 6

This day was technically our last day in Europe, but it was mainly a travel day. We woke up early and took the first train from Brussels to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Then we had to wait through so many lines at the airport before we were able to get to our gate. Our flight was delayed. When we got to Mumbai for our connection we had to run to our gate to catch our flight. Because the flight from Amsterdam to Mumbai was delayed our checked bag didn’t end up on that plane. In Hong Kong we waited for our bag to only discover it hadn’t showed up with us. We thus had to make a claim for our bag and hope for the best.

From the airport we went back to Shenzhen. We got home and took our showers and had a late lunch/early dinner. As we were eating Jun got a call from the agency dealing with the bag. They had found it and were delivering it to our apartment at that moment. So we were able to get the bag the same day!

And that’s how our trip ended…

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