Join me on my travelling and nom nomming adventures!
With the year coming to a close, I decided to give you all a quick update of what I’ve been up to. This year, I’ve taken 22 flights, stayed at 28 hotels and bunked at the homes of 2 hospitable friends. In other words, it’s been a very good year! I’ve been more intentional than ever about ticking things off my bucket list. Some of those things were as awesome as I thought they would be. Others were a little overrated. Then there were those surprises that wowed me in ways I never imagined. What do I recommend and not recommend from this year’s adventures? Read on to find out!
January saw me getting flown into Townsville for work. I went with no expectations other than being told it would be very hot, that I should beware of the crocodiles, and that I should definitely got some soursop ice-cream from Frosty Mango. As it turned out, it was hot but bearable (in my opinion – I have a very high tolerance for heat), I didn’t come across any crocodiles (phew!), and the ice-cream at Frosty Mango was so good I drove all the way there a second time the following weekend.
But Frosty Mango isn’t the only awesome thing about Townsville. While there, I also loved walking along The Strand in the mornings and evenings, particularly the sections around the Water Park at one end and the Rock Pool, Jezzine Barracks and the Boardwalk at the opposite end. I spent a whole day hiking around Magnetic Island, and another day hiking to the bottom of Wallaman Falls, the tallest single drop waterfall in Australia. Everywhere I went, I basically had the entire place all to myself.
And then there’s the food. Who knew Townsville would be such a foodie heaven with restaurants like Jam Corner and A Touch of Salt serving up innovative flavours, frequently with an Asian slant?
I enjoyed every minute of my time in Townsville. It honestly felt like a bit of a holiday, and I’m still pinching myself that I actually got paid to be there. In fact, every now and then, I still mention to my boss that I wouldn’t mind going back there to work…
Gold Coast, Australia
I stayed at the Gold Coast on 4 separate occasions this visit. Without a doubt, my favourite stay was at the SeaWorld Nara Resort with my beautiful nieces. I paid $229 for a premium room that included umlimited access to MovieWorld, SeaWorld and Wet and Wild from the day we checked in until 4 days after. I thought that was a pretty good deal, but wasn’t expecting too much from the hotel as I know it’s getting on in years. To my surprise, our room was actually in pretty good nick, and we also lucked out in getting one with a balcony directly overlooking the awesome water park and beach. The thing I’ll never forget, though, is having the opportunity to take Miss E on her first ever rollercoaster ride at MovieWorld.
I also enjoyed discovering the hills around Tamborine and Beechmont. For our visit to the Gold Coast hinterland, A and I checked into a beautifully converted church. The hosts were lovely, even providing homemade pasta sauce and dry pasta for us to cook dinner, a bottle of wine, some chocolate, fruits, cereal, milk and eggs, and leaving a bunch of farewell flowers on our car windscreen on the morning of our departure. But boy, am I glad they only asked us as we were departing whether or not we had seen anything during our stay, as previous guests had apparently reported sighting a woman walking up and down the stairs (eep!). Aside from the novelty of spending a couple of nights in an old church, the other highlights of this trip were the pork belly and crispy calamari served up by Three Little Pigs in Tamborine, and standing at Fingal Head admiring the Gold Coast/northern New South Wales coastline.
The only reason I flew into Dusseldorf was because it’s the closest international airport to Aachen, the location of my first conference for the year. As it turns out, this quirky German city is exactly the kind of low key but interesting place that I adore discovering. From the Frank Gehry buildings at Medianhafen to the Clock Forest at Volksgarten and the amazing street art at Kiefernstrasse, there was plenty to keep me occupied for 2 half days. And if none of those take your fancy, just pop into the Laderach store and buy a kilo or two of chocolate – you won’t regret it, seriously the best chocolate you’ll ever eat!
This was the destination I was most looking forward to this year. Although I travel a lot, I haven’t been very intentional about ticking off countries that I haven’t yet visited, and this is something that I hope to pay more attention to over the next few years, especially after my trip to Portugal which completely exceeded all of my high expectations.
I landed in Portugal with a list of must-sees and dos as long as my arm, and most of them lived up to the hype and then some, including:
-The town of Sintra, in particular the colourful, fantastical Pena Palace, the mystical Quinta de Regaleira with its famous Well of Initiation, beautiful Monserrate Palace, and the delicious but cheap as chips Portugese tapas we had for dinner at Tascantiga.
-Our day trip to the beautiful walled town of Monsaraz, the Chapel of Bones in Evora, and the Portugese version of Stonehenge at Almedres Cromlech.
-All of the awesome viewpoints in Lisbon, in particular the views from Castelo de Sao Jorge.
-Tasting port in the beautiful Douro Valley with our new friend Julio Cortez from Oportoshare. I seriously can’t recommend Julio highly enough – he takes care of you ALL DAY and his only concern is that you have a good time and go home with awesome memories of Porto.
-Photographing the candy coloured beach huts of Costa Nova in Aveiro. Every. Single. One. Much to L’s consternation. Hah!
What about those things that weren’t quite as awesome as I’d expected. I can think only of 2: the pasteis de Belem, which I felt was too eggy and didn’t have a flaky enough pastry (I personally prefer the pasteis de nata from Mantegaria); and the bookshop in Porto that was JK Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts, Livraria Lello (too crowded and the staff were unhelpful). Don’t let me put you off though – go check them out for yourself and let me know your opinion.
Then there’s the food in Portugal. I’ve already mentioned Tascantiga and Mantegaria in Lisbon. Other notable favourites include:
–Fabrica do Pastel Feijao in the Alfama area of Lisbon serves up my favourite dessert that I tried in Portugal…and there were lots! This one is a pastry of white beans and almonds sandwiched between 2 incredibly thin, flaky, crispy and slightly sticky wafers. Absolutely divine!
-The extremely popular Cervejaria Ramiro in Lisbon. Go early and join the queue for cheap but delicious seafood. Make sure you order a serve of the garlic prawns.
-Hole-in-the-wall Frangasqueira Nacional in Lisbon, where €9.30 gets you half a peri peri chicken, 3 sausages and 6 ribs. You’ll have to walk round the corner and eat your dinner sitting on a park bench, but you’ll savour every tasty morsel and all the locals will glance at you knowingly as they walk by and hear you murmuring your appreciation with every bite.
–TapaBento next to Sao Bento Station. If there’s one thing you should do before arriving in Porto, it’s to make sure you have a reservation at this restaurant serving up innovative dishes like peanut foam with chocolate crunch. We ate like kings at a cost of €31 per person including alcohol, and the service was fantastic.
Speaking of which, what really cemented Portugal as one of my favourite countries I’ve ever been to were the people. I’ve never been to another place where the people are so universally friendly, helpful and polite. The service everywhere was top notch, and generally provided genuinely with our interests in mind, not due to a desire to earn tips. I always felt like the locals wanted me to have a good time in their city and to fall in love with their country. I would especially recommend:
-Staying at Tesouro da Baixa by Shiadu in Lisbon, which is strategically situated at Rossio Square, where the infamous tram 28 begins its journey, which means you can actually get a seat when you hop on in the morning. The staff are very helpful with recommendations of what to see, do and eat, and breakfast is served daily.
-Staying at InPatio Guest House in Porto. Olga and Fernando are the sweetest couple and their breakfasts are amazing.
-Going on a walking tour with GoWalks Coimbra. This was one of the most informative and fun walking tours I’ve ever been on. We loved hearing all the insider secrets about this university town.
-Joining Julio Cortez from Oportoshare on a tour in or around Porto. We asked Julio to take us to the Douro Valley including stops at the towns of Amarante, Lamego and Pinhao, which he kindly obliged eventhough it meant a longer than usual day. It was such a fun-filled relaxing day that this tour ended up feeling like a day out with an old friend. I encourage you to do your research of what you’d like to see and do, then contact Julio to nut out the details. He’s very helpful and accommodating, and will gladly work out your perfect itinerary with you.
And finally, what filled me with the most delight on this trip was getting to spend some time travelling with my little god-daughter. A was only 4 at the time, but what a trooper! She ate everything we ate without complaint, woke up early when we needed to and slept late on our longer days yet rarely threw a tantrum, walked almost everywhere on her own, was interested in all that we saw, asked heaps of intelligent questions, and was just a pure joy to be with.
We decided to fly from Porto to Madrid for our trip back home to Australia because the first and last time I’d been to Madrid previously, I was cooped up in my hotel room with a nasty bout of gastro! Maybe it’s because I’d already had such a fantastic time in Portugal, but it was a bit of a letdown, to be honest. The buildings while grand seemed plain and boring after the bright colours and tiles of Portugal. The people were nowhere near as friendly or helpful, and the food wasn’t as tasty. The biggest disappointments hands down were the limp churros at Chocolateria San Gines, and our equally hyped but short of the mark dinner at Los Montes de Galicia.
Auckland, New Zealand
I flew to Auckland with only one goal in mind: to visit Hobbiton. After tossing up between self driving and a range of different tour operators, I decided to splurge and booked myself a spot on Bush and Beach‘s Hobbiton Express Day Tour. This was one of the best decisions I made all year. What sets Bush and Beach apart from other tour operators is that they limit the size of the group that they take to Hobbiton. In fact, there were only 4 other people in my tour group. This means that unlike the other groups that get herded through like cattle, you actually get the time to take in the beauty and tranquility of your surroundings. Oh, and to photograph every single Hobbit hole, if that’s the sort of thing that floats your boat.
The other memorable encounter I had was meeting Giapo Grazioli and his wife Annarosa. Unless you’ve been living in a bubble, I guarantee you’ll have come across one or more of Giapo‘s daring ice-cream creations on Instagram or Pinterest. I was lucky enough to have Giapo noticing me photograph my incredibly extravagant cone, so he invited me backstage to show me what goes on in the kitchen and studio. A whole lot of creativity, hard work and love, that’s what. I got to sample the incredible Giant Squid, the strangely more-ish Hot Chips in a Cone, and my personal favourite, a simple scoop of his incredibly smooth and creamy buffalo milk ice-cream.
But that’s not all. All these delicious treats were served with a healthy dose of advice. After chatting for some time, Giapo informed me he’d checked out my blog and liked it, and at the same time, he could tell I love my day job. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” he suggested. “Enjoy your job. Keep travelling. Blog when you can. But be yourself. Let your readers know that you’re a doctor who loves to travel and eat. Make it more personal. They’ll love it.” So this is my goal for next year. To write more from my heart and sound less like a Lonely Planet guidebook. After all, if that’s what you, the readers, are after, you’d just go buy the guidebook! It’s also thanks to Giapo’s encouragement that I’ve decided to include more photos of myself instead of hiding behind my camera lens all the time. Hope you like them!
Sunshine Coast, Australia
Continuing with the theme of exploring my own backyard, I booked a long weekend trip to explore the Glasshouse Mountains and was completely blown away by the scenic beauty of this part of Queensland. The views from Mt Ngungun and Mt Coolum were completely worth the hikes up, and I especially loved refuelling at Spicers Tamarind in Maleny as well as Locale in Noosa, where you’ll find one of the most delicious squid ink seafood pasta dishes I’ve ever come across.
I never had any burning desire to return to Austria after my first visit to Vienna over 10 years ago. I know I’m in the minority when I say this, but I just find Vienna a tad monochromatic and boring. Fast forward to the Instagram and Pinterest era, and I knew I just had to give Austria another chance, if only to tick Hallstatt off the list. As I did my research in putting my trip together, more and more bucket list worthy items emerged, and soon I was left with difficult choices to make in deciding which ones were non-negotiable and which ones could be left for next time. Aside from the picture perfect fairy tale town that is Hallstatt, some of my other favourite memories include:
-Going to the Belvedere in Vienna to pay homage to Gustav Klimt, one of my favourite painters.
-Enjoying the views of the Wachau Valley from the top of the Durnstein ruins.
-Dining at Steirereck in Vienna, currently (2018) number 14 of the World’s Best Restaurants. You know you’re onto a good thing when the meal starts with them wheeling an entire trolley of housemade bread to your table with at least 20 different and very gourmet options to choose from!
-Discovering pumpkin seed oil, pumpkin seed oil ice-cream from Eis Greissler in Graz, and Zotter chocolates, mmm…
-Visiting Schloss Eggenberg in Graz at a reduced rate about an hour before closing time and having the entire place to myself!
-Exploring Hochosterwitz Castle.
-Sliding into a salt mine and then riding an old wooden mine train back out! High-ho, high-ho…
-Stepping out onto the Five Fingers of Dachstein Mountain for incredible views of the Salzkammergut region.
-Feeling sixteen again at Hellbrunn Palace in Salzburg.
-Having dinner in a hangar, Hangar 7 in Salzburg, one of the more unique places I’ve eaten in.
-Everything about Innsbruck!
Yes, I must confess I took the train one day from Vienna to Bratislava simply so I could tick off another country. Heh. That’s not to say I didn’t actually want to visit Bratislava. This was also unfinished business for me, as I’d made plans years ago to make a day trip there from Budapest with a friend, only to realise when we were halfway to the train station that I had forgotten to carry my passport with me! I’m happy to report that I’ve certainly become a lot more travel savvy since those early days. Not only did I remember my passport this time around, I’d even done some research and decided that this tunnel of books called Matej Kren was definitely worthy of adding to and ticking off my bucket list. In fact, I was so excited when I got there that I dropped my camera and cracked the hood! Not that travel savvy after all then, I guess.
From Austria, I decided to head into Switzerland for my flight back home so that I could catch up with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in several years. We decided to meet in St Gallen, where I may also have opportunistically stopped in at Laderach while I was there and stockpiled even more of my favourite Swiss chocolate for the year. And to cap it all off, I ticked yet another place off my bucket list by spending the night at the adorable painted town of Stein am Rhein, which comes complete with rolling hills, a castle, deer, and a cute little church on its very own island. Talk about a fairy tale destination!
Perth will always be home to me, and my one trip back there this year brought with it epic feasting with old friends as well as waves of bittersweet nostalgia. Having seen pictures of Gnomesville popping up on Pinterest lately, I decided this time around to go and see what all the fuss is about. As it turns out, Gnomesville has exploded from the little gathering of gnomes on an out-of-the-way roundabout when I first went to check it out between 10-15 years ago to what can only be described as an entire village of them. We were both surprised and somewhat tickled to see entire tour buses are now rocking up to Gnomesville. If that doesn’t say bona fide tourist attraction, I don’t know what does!
It’s no secret I miss a lot of the foodie spots in Perth, and I always return with a list of must-eats including old favourites and new places to try. This year, I loved the coffee at Lowdown in the CBD, the pizza at Rossonero in Maylands, the lemon meringue pancakes at Measure Bar, the Tre Amici three part walking dinner at No Mafia, Francoforte Spaghetti Bar and Chicho Gelato in Northbridge (after all, any night that ends with Chicho is a good one!), Tiisch matcha pancakes, the durian cendol at Sedap Place in Northbridge, Freddie’s durian strudel, and the incredibly aromatic pandan Honeycake. As for the best breakfast/brunch in Perth, Harvest Espresso still takes the crown, in my opinion.
I’ve been to Sydney several times over the years, and don’t know why I’ve never felt the urge before to be more of a tourist there. For the first time ever, I decided to plot a walking tour beginning at Devon Cafe in North Sydney. Bellies filled, we then walked to Wendy’s Secret Garden, past Luna Park to the North Sydney Olympic Pool and several epic viewpoints of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. We then walked across the Harbour Bridge to Barangaroo, a newish food and shopping precinct that is definitely worth a look the next time you’re in Sydney. To top it all off, I finally ticked Momofuku Seiobo at the Star off my foodie bucket list. Other places worth checking out include Wild Sage and RivaReno Gelato at Barangaroo, and the sea salt soft serve at Aqua S.
I finished the year with a bang by heading over to one of my favourite countries and simultaneously ticking multiple things off my bucket list, including being there for autumn leaves. In fact, now that I’ve travelled to Japan during two of their most popular seasons, I would go so far as to say I actually prefer the bright reds and oranges of autumn to the soft pinks of their cherry blossoms! Aside from simply experiencing a proper autumn (we don’t really have seasons in Australia), the other things that were high on my list included:
-Dining at Janice Wong’s Dessert Bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Not one to do things by halves, I even booked myself into a dessert degustation. I was worried that it would be too much, but as it turned out, the courses were all fairly light and included a few savouries, so if you’ve been having second thoughts as well, there’s absolutely no need to. Give it a go, you won’t regret it!
-Visiting Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo, also known as the Lucky Cat Temple, for obvious reasons.
-Since I was in the neighbourhood, I also finally tried Shirohige’s Totoro cream puffs. To be honest, I found the pastry a little dry. This one is overrated, in my opinion.
-Walking through the Tunnel of Lights at Nabana no Sato near Nagoya. Crazily crowded, but still magical.
-On the other hand, walking through the Arashiyama bamboo grove was another overrated experience due to the crowds despite getting there by 7am! I think the difference between the crowds here and at Nabana no Sato is that one expects peace in a bamboo grove.
-Seeing the Golden Pavillion in Kyoto with my own eyes. I’ve known of its existence since I studied Japanese in high school and have always wanted to see for myself if it is as beautiful as they say. It is!
-Making fake food in Osaka, a super fun experience for all ages.
-Quite possibly the highlight of my entire trip was getting to stay in a minion room at Hotel Universal Port not far from Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. It was a splurge but totally worth it!
Where have you travelled to this year? What were your highlights and not-so-higlights? Are there any places that I’ve been to that you would like to know more about? Let me know and I’d be more than happy to elaborate!
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