Speaking in tongues...

So the next little adventure in the globe-trotting mind (as opposed to life) of Emily is learning a new language. I've been thinking about it for a little while, because I'd had a few goes at learning languages (mostly German and Japanese) in school and uni with little success. This time, I narrowed it down to a few languages:
  • German
  • French
  • Spanish.
I wanted to learn German as I had tried it for a semester at university, and some of my heritage is German, so I thought it might be a good idea to try continuing with it. I don't remember much of it at all, but thought there may be some scraps of it hidden in the depths of my memory that would make learning it again a little easier.

I thought French might be a good idea as I've been considering moving to Canada, and given French is Canada's second language (I hope it is not offensive putting it that way, I'm sorry if it is!!) I thought French might be handy.

Lastly, I'm not exactly sure where Spanish came from but it popped into my head the other day. It sounds so songlike and pretty (in my head) and thought that it might be more "attractive" for me to learn. I also heard that it is quite close to French and Italian, so they might be easier to pick up after learning Spanish. I have also wanted to visit Central and South America since forever, and of course Spain, and would love to be able to speak to the locals in their native tongue.

In the end, after umming and ahhing and tossing the ideas around with some friends, I settled on Spanish, deciding to let passion win over practical application, something I rarely do in life. I can already feel it changing my life, this is so unlike me!

I started learning on the weekend, and have used two resources so far. The free part of http://www.spanishprograms.com/ gave me a great introduction. Then I downloaded the Michel Thomas Method app onto my iPhone (on recommendation of a friend) and have been using that ever since. There are so many great free and cheap resources floating around the internet, hopefully they will make my language learning a cinch. I would also love to go to some conversational classes as I begin to be able to form complete sentences on my own. I'm already getting through most of the content that's been presented to me fairly easily, so I hope to get to that stage soon. I think it would be a great way to make new friends. Funnily enough, I got to work today and chatting to a colleague, discovered he started learning Spanish on the weekend too! Hopefully he sticks with it so we can talk about everyone else in Spanish so they don't understand what we are saying.

If anyone knows Spanish or has any tips or tricks, I would love to hear from you!

¡Quiero comer paella y tomar sangria en España pronto! ¿Quiere ir? Por favor, perdón por mi terrible Español.

And here's a random photo of mine because I don't have anything related to Spain, Latin America or languages, and I like photos. Need to figure out what those weird spots are in the middle of the photo.



Visiting Afghanistan... in my mouth!

Another terrible title. I apologise!

This post is a bit of a departure from what I've posted about previously, but I think it is travel related, nonetheless.

I LOVE food. Seeking out local cuisines is one of the highlights of travel, for me. And when I am home, I enjoy cooking so I can experience the flavours of the world, without travelling anywhere. Usually the recipes aren't authentic to a culture but more inspired by it. That said, I don't use pre-packaged sauces, I prefer to use quality fresh herbs and ground spices to cook with.

DSCF1254I participate in a CSA box scheme called Foodconnect, which means I pick up a box of chemical free vegetables and fruit every fortnight (living alone means I don't go through too much food) and my cooking is guided by what I get given. I love contributing to a social enterprise, and not lining the pockets of the shareholders of the 2 big supermarket chains in Australia. The produce is farm fresh, chemical free, high quality and very well priced. It is always a challenge to get through each box and I enjoy being creative. On Sunday evening, I had a few large leaves of spinach (actually silverbeet, but I've always called it spinach for some reason) on the verge of wilting, and a few lamb forequarter chops in the freezer which I feared were about to succumb to freezer burn. Since summer has decided to depart from Sydney about 2 months too early, I wanted to eat something warm and spicy, and googled "lamb spinach curry". I ended up finding this gem, Afghani Lamb and Spinach Curry. I have loved every type of Asian cuisine I have tasted, and some of my favourites would have to be from the subcontinent area from India to Afghanistan (please correct me if I am wrong in putting Afghanistan in the subcontinent area but a brief Google puts it on the border, and and for the purposes of food they seem similar). I think this recipe is definitely closer to "inspired by" than authentic, but I don't think there is anything wrong with that.

This style of food is quite simple to cook, and I am a pretty lazy cook. I enjoy being adventurous with food though, because as I mentioned, it means I get to almost-travel while standing over the stove (and the subsequent shovelling of food into my mouth). I used to look at the ingredients lists of recipes like this and baulk a little, but once you start building up a spice collection and get used to keeping the staples of the kitchen in stock, it doesn't seem that scary at all. These days, I usually change the recipe when I cook, I can't help myself. This time was no different, I adapted the recipe to what I had on hand, so I will rehash the recipe the way that I cooked it. It tasted amazing, by the way. The recipe gives 3 generous serves but you could stretch it to 4 easily with some rice.

DSCF1243Large knob of butter
1 onion, chopped
A few cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 teaspoons of tumeric
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
400g can of crushed tomatoes
500mL chicken stock
400g lamb, diced
500g pumpkin, diced
1 chilli, sliced finely
3-4 big leaves of silverbeet, sliced finely
1 lemon worth of grated rind and juice
store-bought naan bread to serve
plain yoghurt to serve

Heat a large saucepan on the stove on medium heat, add the butter and wait a minute until it melts. Add the onion, garlic and spices to the pan and stir around to coat everything.
When the onion is translucent, add the lamb, stirring around until it is coated in the spices. After a few minutes when it is browned on each side, add the pumpkin, stir around again to coat, and then add the tomatoes and stock. Stir everything around so it is mixed together well and turn the heat down a little.
Leave simmering uncovered, as there is quite a lot of liquid that needs to reduce.
I simmered mine for about an hour, stirring a few times in between.
Turn on the griller for the naan breads.
Once the sauce has thickened, add the spinach and stir through. Taste the sauce and season well, if required. Put the naan breads under the griller. Grate the lemon rind into the curry. Turn over the naan breads if browned on one side.
The curry should be ready now! Turn off the stove and squeeze some lemon juice (I only used 1/4 of a lemon but mine was juicy) into the curry and stir through.
Once the naan is done, slice in half and lay on the plate. Ladle the curry next to it. Serve with a big dollop of yoghurt on the curry. I then added another squeeze of lemon on top.

I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. A moderate level of spice, just enough to make my nose run but not burn out my mouth, and the sauce was very flavourful. There are probably more appropriate cuts of lamb to use than the forequarter chops that I did, but I'm a fan of using what you have on hand or whatever is cheap. As I didn't have much lamb or spinach, I added pumpkin as I thought it would work well with the flavours in the curry, and I love pumpkin in curry. I was right, it was perfect. The yoghurt to serve helped to temper the heat and the fresh squeeze of lemon helped to give it that little extra bit of flavour in your mouth. So while it isn't authentic at all, it was a very yummy curry that felt very inspired by the flavours of the subcontinent/Middle East.

I hope someone else tries this recipe and enjoys it as much as I did!

Afghanistan is somewhere that I would love to visit one day. I don't know whether it is very safe there for a lone female to visit these days, but hopefully one day it is.



Wat what? What Wat?

Excuse the lame title. Let's hope my writing improves. This is a little story about my last day in Siem Reap and beautiful Cambodia.

Back in Phnom Penh, Jim, the lovely owner of California 2, the hotel I stayed at gave me a recommendation as I was leaving. He described a little temple south of Siem Reap, the opposite direction to the well known temples of Angkor and off the tourist track. Jim said it would probably be deserted and as I am not a fan of crowds, this piqued my interest. Armed with a crudely drawn map and bad pronunciation, I eventually found my way to the little-known Wat Athvea.


Jim was right, it was deserted. I was the only one there, free to wander and photograph to my heart's content. Being alone in such an old, grand complex was a weird feeling. Kind of eerie I guess. It was clearly still used for worship, as there was incense smoking away and a buddha statue draped in orange.

P1050790 P1050793 P1050794 P1050789

Like the Angkor temples, the carvings in Wat Athvea were similarly intricate, yet a little more modest. But to be honest, my favourite memory of that day isn't to do with the history or the carvings at all.

As I was walking around the grounds of the temple doing my thing, I noticed a boy walking over the grass towards me. I was initially trying to ignore him, as I tend to do often, as I can be a little shy and didn't think I was in the mood for talking, feeling a little maudlin (as I was on my way to the airport and was the second last day of a 5 week trip overseas).

We did end up getting into a conversation, the impression of which has left a very strong imprint in my memory. He was a little younger than me, and studying at the Buddhist school which is next to the temple. He told me all about how he must work very hard every day to pay for his board at the school and the monks are sometimes not very nice to him. I heard about the tragedies in his family, his father and older brother died, so he was the man of the family. His mother and sisters were struggling, money wise, and he was at school learning so he could eventually make a living to support them. It was really humbling to listen to him talk about his life, and how he focussed on all the good parts of his life and felt very lucky, despite everything that he had experienced. For him, it was unfortunately just part of life living in Cambodia, but for me, well I was pretty speechless to be honest. He was happy to just talk to me to practice his English, and it was lucky he was so talkative, as I felt like anything I said would sound awfully selfish, and entitled I guess. I can't even think of the right words to express the way I felt.

Contrast that with my life, when I feel like I'm having a bad day when I can't get a coffee from my usual coffee shop. It puts things in perspective.

Eventually the conversation wound up as I had to get to the airport. He showed me around his school, including the shrine (??) which had a very beautiful and elaborate gold buddha inside. As I left, I regret not getting his contact information, it would have been lovely to be penpals or something, and be able to visit him again one day. Oh well. So I got in my tuktuk and went to the airport. On the way to the airport I got a little teary. I must have got some dust in my eye...

I think that little trip to Wat Athvea was probably the most memorable few hours of my entire five weeks in southeast asia. I felt so touched by that conversation as I really hadn't had the opportunity (or didn't really make the opportunity, to be honest) to spend much time talking to the local people. From now on I will definitely make more of an effort, because I think experiences like this are really what make a trip really special.


Dreams of New York

Today one of my colleagues got back to work after the "holidays" (I say that in inverted commas because I didn't really get any holidays!), all bright and refreshed after an AMAZING SOUNDING trip to NYC, even despite the jetlag. I am completely green with envy of course, as New York is pretty much at the top of my list of places that I want to visit, so this is me dreaming about my trip there.

Ideally I would like to live there, probably near Manhattan, how cliched! Maybe one day?

But for now, a few weeks in the big apple would suffice. The main thing I want to do in New York is eat, I think. Everyone raves about the shopping, but to be honest I'm not much of a shopper. So instead I will eat and end up the size of a house.

Photo credit: Flickr user hollywoodsmile78
Eat Street Food

Pretzels, hotdogs, bagels, doughnuts, bad coffee... well maybe not the last one, but oh how my mouth waters for greasy/salty/sweet street food.
The sour tang of mustard cutting through the greasiness of the frank, enclosed in a fluffy white roll.

Crispy, doughy bagels filled with cream cheese.

Sweet sugary donuts, covered in glaze or filled with cream, that make your fingers all sticky.

Have I made your mouth water? Or just fill with vomit?

Visit a Diner

Somewhere that has a sign in brightly coloured fluorescent lights, dingy inside, free refills of drip coffee (does that even exist anymore?), cranky sour-faced waitresses and enormous menus on a double sided laminated A3. I would probably order a hamburger - it'll be a tough challenge because Australia has some pretty damn good hamburgers. Or maybe buffalo wings, because I've never seen a buffalo with wings before! Sorry, that was a bit of a dad joke.

Grand Central Station
Photo credit: Flickr user Konijn in pantervel
Ride the Subway

Especially in peak hour. The trains in Japan weren't very busy when I was there!

Of course I want to walk through Grand Central Terminal and experience that weird acoustic wall thingo where you can hear whispers from the other side of the walkway. And look up at the spectacular mural on the ceiling, painted the wrong way around.

So much grandeur compared with the other train stations I've been to. Sydney's city circle train stations have pretty antique architecture, but are very quaint compared to Grand Central!


I'm not usually a massive fan of touristy type things but for some reason I think I'd like to see the touristy things in NYC, such as the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, MoMA, the Met, the Natural History Museum. If I'm going to see landmarks and museums, where better than in New York hey?

And finally, for my favourite thing to do when travelling - just walk. Walk around, explore the neighbourhoods, watch people. Sit around in Central Park, take photos, read The New Yorker.

What do you suggest I do in New York?


Happy New Year!

New Years Eve, so much hype, so much expectation. You always feel compelled to have "plans", to be somewhere, doing something. The night (and next day) seem to hold so much meaning, for many people who would laugh in the face of any other superstition. Regardless of my cynicism though, I feel the same compulsion. I didn't really want to do much, but had a few options, none of which jumped out at me. Until the eleventh hour when my lovely friend procured tickets to the VIP area at Dawes Point, right on the water at Sydney Harbour, next to the bridge. Prime viewing location. My first time venturing out into the big crowds of NYE in a long time, as I had avoided them in years prior. Unfortunately we had to do battle with a huge crush of people to get through to the entrance of of the VIP area but once we were inside it was great.

Being really in the thick of it this year made me realise that it is a bit of a tourist attraction, as we jostled our way through the crowd I saw lots of tourists and heard lots of accents, and forgive me for making the assumption here that they weren't all migrants! New Years Eve in Sydney is a pretty big event. I guess it is rather large anywhere, and having been nowhere else for NYE I have nothing to compare it to, but I think it is pretty special being one of the first in the world for the new year to roll around and see the big bangs. Being summer for our NYE probably makes it comparatively attractive too, drinking in the sun into the long afternoon is such a lovely way to see out the year.

The spot we had was great, and as much as you can say that once you've seen fireworks once you've seen them all, it really is special being right underneath the huge display that the Sydney midnight fireworks provide. I'm very grateful to my friend for giving me the opportunity to experience the fireworks from close up once in my life and it is an experience that I will never forget. It was definitely one of my best NYE experiences ever and a fantastic way to usher in the new year. The only downside was the music, and listening to Hi-5's Charli who seemed to be MCing.

Unfortunately I only had my iPhone with me as I was unsure of the crowds so didn't want to take my X100 in, but the grainy photos will at least give some idea of the lovely view I had.


IMG_0552 IMG_0578 IMG_0579 
IMG_0583 IMG_0595 IMG_0599

I think Sydney is a great location to experience NYE. But unless you have tickets to some kind of private viewing location, then be prepared to deal with a lot of people, though that is probably true of anywhere. There are other alternatives however, like last year I watched the fireworks from the family-friendly location of Blackwattle Bay, and while it doesn't have the wow-factor of being so close to the bridge, you still get to see most of the display and it's a good spot and not too crowded.

My goal for 2012 is to be experiencing NYE from somewhere new. Not sure yet where though. Any suggestions? (this is almost a rhetorical question though as I don't think many people are actually reading this) I hope my few readers had a fabulous NYE though and wish them the best of everything for the new year.

A post script to this post: I just found this link to more information about the theme of the night (which puzzled me in my rather tipsy state last night I must say). And watching the video of Clover Moore, something else twigged my memory, she mentioned arrests - I was surprised last night at how well behaved everyone was. There were a LOT of people and the streets were full of people who were, for the most part, very drunk. There was a huge line up for Wynyard station and Town Hall station had lines too, but it was all quite reasonable and well behaved. I was surprised, as I am sometimes ashamed at the uncontrolled display of drunken violence we often see on our streets. That said, the whole city was crawling with cops, perhaps they locked the offenders up before I saw them! I felt quite safe for the whole evening, even when I was battling through a SEA of people. Maybe my time in Japan helped me become better accustomed to crowds or perhaps my pre-drinks gave me some courage :D


The wind in my face

Summer has finally reached us in Sydney! It's been pretty dismal since my return from Japan, with cold, drizzly rain every few days, followed by the dreaded humidity. But the sun was back today, warming my face and blinding my eyes. The sun makes me think of motorcycling - it is the season and I'm a motorcyclist. (or some would say that I was, I sold the bike just before my trip to Japan, due to lack of use and lack of funds, well the funds were better used in my travel fund!) But stay with me on this train of thought, I'm nearly there - motorcycling makes me remember my favourite part of my trip through Vietnam. That was my time spent on the back of a Minsk. What is a Minsk you ask? It is a German designed, Russian made, war era 125cc 2-stroke motorcycle (if my memory serves me correctly). It has a kick start, a gearbox that requires erm, deciciveness, and a maximum speed of about 60km/h. But let me tell you, it is a whole lot of fun to ride, especially on the roads of Vietnam, which are always full of surprises.

I had always intended to spend some time on a motorbike in Vietnam - my riding friends were always asking me if I was going to do something like the guys on Top Gear. But the trip rolled around and I hadn't really organised anything (I'm really not much of a planner, which is possibly surprising given my profession) so I just hoped something would come up.

My adventure started when I stumbled across Hoi An Motorbike Adventures, a motorbike touring outfit based in Hoi An, Vietnam. This Australian owned business run tours across Vietnam with English-speaking guides, and locals work in the office and spin the spanners. I decided to go on a half day tour around Hoi An. Our guide was a lovely Dutch girl with perfect English, and there were about 8 of us on tour, mostly from Australia coincidentally (or maybe not such a coincidence, there's a lot of Aussies in Vietnam!) and then a couple of drivers/mechanics for those who didn't wish to ride. The ride was a lovely cruise through the villages around Hoi An, with plentiful stops to soak up the scenery and talk, plus an opportunity to meet some locals at a little cafe (and drink the best Vietnamese beverage, iced coffee with condensed milk, try it, trust me). Most of all it was such fun to be riding, with the wind in my face - motorcyclists liken it to how a dog sticks its head out of the car window!

It is a stunning part of Vietnam, the photos hardly do it justice.

Hoi An rice paddies  Hoi An river crossing
Hoi An Half day tour rice paddies
Hoi An Half day tour groupHoi An river

So in love with cruising around on those glorious machines was I that I decided a longer tour was in order. After checking in with the office I discovered that they had a 2 day tour from Hoi An to Hue leaving a few days later so I booked in, hardly able to contain my excitement.

As with the half day tour, the overnight tour was fantastic. Our NZer guide was again, amazingly friendly and there were only 2 of us on tour. We stopped in at a little village and met some local children, had yummy picnic lunches (just simple ham & salad sandwiches but I was so happy that they had real cheese - a rare sight in Vietnam!), saw the spectacular Vietnamese landscape and gave kids hi-5s as we rode through towns. I was giggling in my helmet while riding along the Ho Chi Minh Highway, having a complete ball. I don't think you could wipe the grin off my face! Men would often point at me as we rolled through towns when they realised that I was a girl - in Vietnam girls ride scooters, not kick-start 2-stroke motorbikes! We stayed overnight in a little village in the mountains called Prao which is very much off the beaten tourist track, it was very quiet and great to escape the buzz of the bigger towns I'd spent the rest of my time in.

When I told people I rode a motorbike in Vietnam, the main 2 questions people as is:
1) Was it just like Top Gear, and
2) What are the roads like?
Well it was a bit like Top Gear! Except I didn't get a traditional suit tailored from Asian silk or carry any stupidly enormous souvenirs on the back of my bike. We had breakdowns and I got bogged in mud from a landslide (happens all the time on the highway). Fortunately there is a mechanic on every tour - he weaves his magic on the bikes (often I couldn't get mine started and he simply had to touch it and it would start - I swear that bike was playing tricks on me) and he rode my bike out of the mud when I was dumb enough to ride straight into it!
And as for the roads... well they definitely keep you on the ball. The obstacles I encountered, from memory, include bricks, rocks, mud, children, cows, goats, dogs, trucks, buses, chickens and I'm sure there were others that I have forgotten. Some of them are funny, some are scary, but it is really all part of the adventure. 

Vietnam war memorial Village children with attitude <3
River rapids Ho Chi Minh Highway landslide Ho Chi Minh Highway
Waterfall - Laos border over the hill View from Ho Chi Minh highway
Trusty steed post bogging
View from above the tunnel GOATS

I also spent some time riding when a a friend and I visited the mountain village of Da Lat. We hired a driver/guide for my friend (one of the famed Da Lat Easy Riders), and I rode around on a little automatic scooter. It definitely didn't have the character of a Minsk but it was still a heap of fun to zip around with the wind in my face. Da Lat is also a very pretty area, and we visited coffee plantations, a silk factory (not at all as glamourous as you would imagine), a buddhist temple, the waterfalls and some other lovely landmarks. Our guide was full of knowledge of the local area, super friendly and eager to show us what his town had to offer.

P1050469   P1050447  P1050481 

The days I spent riding were the most exciting and fun-filled days of my entire 5 weeks in Vietnam and I would love to go back and do some more time. Originally I was going to organise my own bike and stuff but realistically I don't know enough about mechanics, so it probably wouldn't have been the best idea to embark on such an adventure alone so an organised tour was the perfect alternative. Seeing Vietnam on the back of a motorcycle is a fantastic experience though and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has a bit of a sense of adventure and wants to get off the beaten track a little bit. There are quite a few motorbike tour operators throughout Vietnam now and I don't know how good they are but Hoi An Motorbike Adventures are definitely a top notch operation in an industry where it can tend to be a little hit and miss.

Disclaimer - I have no relationship with Hoi An Motorbike Adventures apart from being a happy customer. This is an honest review. 


Enjoy the festive season!

I usually don't like Christmas very much. I tend to get a bit maudlin and can be known to be a grinch. However this year I've been feeling decidedly festive, buying colleagues little gifts and cards and putting more effort than usual into buying gifts for my family. I'm not exactly sure why this is, but I'm sure that getting a holiday just before Christmas has something to do with it. Japan was very festive, carols playing in every store, big decorated trees up everywhere. It just dawned on me today that it was the first time I'd experienced winter close to Christmas, too.
I just wanted to share this photo with you as it made me think of Christmas, little kids singing carols actually. It was taken at Hase-dera Temple in Kamakura, if I remember correctly.

Cute little statues

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for the new year.