Auckland and Around

My last stop on the epic New Zealand bus tour was Auckland, where my flight was to take off. I decided to skip dolphin swimming in Tauranga and mt. Maunganui due to bad weather (boo!), and left to the lovely suburb of Pukekohe, 30-1.5hrs drive south from central Auckland, to stay with a lovely family of family friends I had never met before. My activities in Pukekohe included reading Dora books to the adorable kids, baking Finnish pulla, and just relaxing.

Little bakers.
Little bakers.

I ventured to Auckland city one day, just so that I could say I have been. Saw the sky tower, walked down Queen Street, went to have some drinks with my friend and his mates, sat in traffic for over an hour. Auckland is “just another big city”, but then again it looked beautiful and had some quirky lanes and they’ve got a waterfront! Sure it is used mostly for containers, but still. Water!

Humongous container for humans to float on water.
Humongous container for humans to float on water.

I could have spent more time in Auckland, but opted for reading Princess stories to the kids instead. The next day was a bit more adventurous, heading off to Matakana farmers’ market at dawn and continuing north to Goat Island marine reserve.

Market vibes
Market vibes
This poodle doesn't mind to be minded
This poodle doesn’t mind to be minded
Find anything you could need for a decent weekend feast
Find anything you could need for a decent weekend feast
Buffalo milk. Yum-mo
Buffalo milk. Yum-mo

In Auckland vicinity, as well as everywhere in Middle Earth New Zealand, one highly benefits from having a vehicle. After checking out the Matakana market, 2nd best market in NZ!, in the wee hours of morning, we continued north to Goat Island, a marine reserve where one can go snorkel, dive, have a wee little trip on a glass bottom boat, or just soak in the sunshine. I just wanted to see the area, and since I had not swam in NZ, I had to tick that off the list, too. As I got used to the water temperature (pleasantly refreshing) and got over the bedazzlement of people wearing wetsuits, I decided to try out snorkelling too. Good times!

Clear waters again!
Clear waters again!

On the way back we stopped to have lunch at a lovely vineyard that was hosting a wedding, and had a nice beach stroll near the city. Not too bad for a last day in New Zealand!

Green pastures and blue skies
Green pastures and blue skies

3. Things I love about Melbourne

This post could in theory be applied to whole of Australia, since my experiences so far are limited to good ol’ Melbs. Not for long, though! From Vappu onwards I shall be traveling up north, to escape the cold a bit and see what Byron Bay has to offer. I don’t know how long I will be away, which is good: I can come back when I feel like it; I do have to start from scratch but it is not the same as the first time around. Melbourne, I will be back.

1.1 The people, friends.
I have managed to make pretty good friends in the past 3 months. Australians sure are a friendly bunch of people, and I have managed to spend time with some amazing individuals.

Best trips are shared ones. Says the girl traveling solo. Oops.
Best trips are shared ones. Says the girl traveling solo. Oops.

1.2. The people, random.
From the vegetable delivery guy (the dry goods delivery guy is an exception to this rule) to the guy in the sneaker store, everyone is generally friendly and in a good mood. Train creeps aside, people will smile, say ‘hey how ya goin’ and even have a small conversation without a fuss. It feels damn good!

2.1 The coffee.
Yes. The daily brew is something to be taken seriously. And this is seen everywhere with coffee shops, restaurants and cafes all selling at least decent coffee. Even the worst brew here is better than the average elsewhere.

Long black and one of the aforementioned friends. Loving it.
Long black, Scandinavian minimalist design and one of the aforementioned friends. Loving it.

2.2 The food.
You can find almost any kind of cuisine, in several price ranges. Some neighborhoods have large ethnical minorities, and therefore they host a variety of special cuisines around the world. As an example: Richmond is also known as Little Vietnam, and few streets make Chinatown in the city. This food-loving includes the option of all-popular paleo restaurants, gluten free foods and the mighty Smashed Avo, that can be found in any self respecting food joint. High respects also to ethnic Prahran Convenience store that sells 12 pack of Questbars for $36!

I could have an overdosa of this.
I could have an overdosa of this.

2.2.1 The markets.
Victoria market being the best, largest and cheapest, there is also South Melbourne market where I buy my hummus, and Prahran which I frequent most often just for the atmosphere since it’s the closest to me. Also farmers’ markets make my favorite list, but they’re more scattered and I have only managed to visit one since I don’t own a car. Anyhow, good stuff! Fresh veggies and fruit and seafood, can’t say no to that!

St. Andrew's market, I guess technically in melbourne (almost 1hr drive from the city).
St. Andrew’s market, I guess technically in Melbourne (almost 1hr drive from the city).

3.1. The culture.
From comedy festival to Food and Wine festival, there’s always something going on. After studying Urbanlist and Broadsheet, the hardest part is to actually do and see everything you want to. My cultural highlight so far was probably seeing Adam Hill at the comedy festival, or CJ Hendricks’ 50 Foods in 50 Days.

modest Comedy Festival decorations.
Modest Comedy Festival decorations.

3.2. The exercise.
I think I am pretty good at optimizing the cost of expensive workouts: living in posh South Yarra has allowed me to test different yoga and pilates studios around the hoods for affordable prices: I’ve been to Core Candy (HIIT, Pilates and Barre 1 class per day for 2 weeks $50), Rise Yoga in Richmond (2 weeks of flow yoga, hot and yin yoga $25) and most recently One Hot Yoga&Pilates just around the corner from home (unlimited reformer pilates and slow hot flow and yin yoga $50). I have been more than happy with the trials, especially One Hot. Damn their playlist is like straight from my Spotify!

Damn hot yoga studio. I'll miss you.
Damn hot yoga studio. I’ll miss you.

Also as a bonus to this 3 part list is the architecture and neighborhood vibes. Places look cool.

True dat, Einstein.
True dat, Einstein.

Touring Through Mekong Delta

After contemplating in several of Saigon’s tour offices for 2 days, I decided to go with the easier, cheaper and more convenient option to get to Cambodia: taking a 2 day 1 night tour to Mekong Delta. At first I didn’t even know which place in Cambodia I wanted to end up in, but after talking to a few fellow travellers I decided to aim first for Kampot, then move on to Sihanoukville.

River tourist boats.
River tourist boats.

 

The Mekong Delta tour package included visits to “local” this and that, often meaning watching Vietnamese people performing in a way or another while bunch of tourists take pictures of them and then buy whatever they’re selling. I knew in advance that this tour would wreck my nerves from time to time, but as I write this from the most bounciest ride of my life, sitting at the back of a local minivan from God knows which decade and being the only English-speaking person in sight, I know I am also experiencing something beyond the tourism.

2 of the almost 1000 types of bananas.
2 of the almost 1000 types of bananas.

 

Our tour group consisted of 28 people from all paths of life, different ages and countries. The tour guide’s every 3rd word (not exaggerating) was “my family”, and after staying in a “homestay” (more like a guesthouse in the middle of nowhere) with 5 other people, it actually felt a bit like “family” after all. The tour stared off well: after 15 mins from Saigon, some family realized that they’re in the wrong bus. As they left in a taxi to their Phom Penh ride, a Russian family from another bus joined ours. On the road, we had multiple stops to the “happy room” as our guide phrased it. Once in My Tho, we went on a river cruise to a few islands, including Dragon island and Unicorn island. First was coconut candy making (interesting but so obviously made just for tourists that it was disappointing). On another island, we saw and some took pictures with a snake and drank honey tea while the people were trying to sell us their products. On another island we had a horse carriage ride for 10 mins down a straight road, and ate some pieces of fruit while sad-looking women sang some traditional music…At one point we also had a cruise down the river in a small boat, which was actually rather pleasant.

Paddling in the river.
Paddling in the river.

We sat few hours on a bus until the 6 people who paid extra for a home stay were dropped in the middle of nowhere to go on a riverboat to our accommodation, where we would enjoy dinner with the locals (except that they didn’t join us or say a single word during our stay). The dinner was magnificent, but the whole “homestay” was complete bullshit. In the morning they provided us with the bill for drinks. Coffee at breakfast was good, but not included in the price. I understand the homestay workers: they have different people each night who come in after sunset and leave at dawn. It is rather hard trying to be friends with different people each night for years, so I get it. But the advertisement for this homestay was rather different from the truth.

Coffee in the floating market.
Coffee in the floating market.
Watermelons for lunar new year.
Watermelons for lunar new year.

 

Second day we left our lovely homestay around 7am, (though most of us had been awake more or less the whole night listening to the outdoors life and traffic from the river), to go see a local floating market. The floating market starts at 4am, so when we got there around 8 it was mostly just locals selling stuff to the few tourist boats around. Interesting to see for sure, but I’m not so sure about the authenticity.

And that's how you do it. Rice, tapioca and water, steam and dry.
And that’s how you do it. Rice, tapioca and water, steam and dry.
Rice papers drying out.
Rice papers drying.

 

 After the market we were taken to a rice paper and noodle making place, again one show with a gift shop. It was interesting to see how the rice papers and noodles are made, though. After that we had a walk to a fruit orchard, which was okay – I’ve never seen dragon fruit in the nature before! We could’v bought highly overpriced fruit at the garden, but no one did. That was the end of day 2 program, we took the boat back to Can Tho, the others went for lunch and I got a bike ride (with my backpack and 2 handbags) to the local bus station where I was hurried to the van, only to sit there for 1.5hrs even before we left towards the border town of Ha Tien.

Weekly activities

I definitely prefer action-filled weeks to those when I have nothing to do but to look at the falling rain (after a month, the rain gets rather boring) – and if it isn’t raining, I definitely want to be on the go. Luckily, last week was full of reasons for me to defy the weather and leave my bed (and by bed I mean my room, which is pretty much the same thing).

MONDAY
Indian “private restaurant” dinner – or how would you call a windowless room where you are the only people dining? Followed by pudding dessert (like being a kid again with the chocolate pudding!) close-by.

Spot the restaurant. Hint: it's not the one with the "cafe"
Spot the restaurant. Hint: it’s not the allay cafe

 

TUESDAY
Vintage furniture store opening, and organic cocktails (4 different kinds, tried them all and then some) and “fancy” canapés in Pure Bar&Restaurant.

Mojito, strawberry orange vodka, cucumber martini, grapefruit gin - mojito and martini were the stars
Mojito, strawberry orange vodka, cucumber martini, grapefruit gin – mojito and martini were the stars

 

WEDNESDAY
Zumba and yoga in my safe haven in Causeway Bay, mYoga.

 

THURSDAY
Karen Millen cocktail event in Central with a “healthy” theme (funny that they hire male candy to serve stuff which they have no clue -nor intrest on- what it is)

Cleanse shots - served as "spinach" or "celery" or "cinnamon". Yum!
Cleanse shots – served as “spinach” or “celery” or “cinnamon”. Yum!

 

FRIDAY
French Look My Baboush shoe launch in Common Ground, followed by dessert in Tin Hau (had 3 different kinds, I’m eating my way through China!)

Kinda like Tom's but "completely different!"
Kinda like Tom’s but “completely different!”
Shoe customization by le French "la mangue"
Shoe customization by le French “la mangue”

 

SATURDAY
Met my lovely friend Nick, who came to visit from Tokyo. We had a fantastic day in Lamma island, and it was raining only for about 15 minutes!

Without the junk boats Nick would'v gone skinny dipping
Without the junk boats Nick would’v gone skinny dipping

 

SUNDAY
Quick visit to the Hong Kong Cheese Festival (small, smelly and, well, cheesy – all in all a bit of a disappointment), followed by East Island Market and a stroll trough different neighborhoods with Nick.

First bite of street food (better response than with durian ice cream)!
First bite of street food (better response than with durian ice cream)!

Nick went back to Japan, and I started to prepare myself for yet another week of rain…maybe the junk boat summer sunny season will start soon and hopefully the rest of my weeks here would be at least almost as active as this one”

Monthiversary

It’s been a month and a day since I came to Hong Kong. Time flies, though on one hand it seems like much more than just a month that I’ve been here. Besides work, lately my life has been filled with the following.

Nice views from the tram
Nice views from the tram

I took my first tram ride as well as the ferry to Kowloon last week!

Notorious sushi buffet (yes that is ice cream, one third of our order) after paying the rent
Notorious sushi buffet (yes that is ice cream, one third of our order)

Gluttony in sushi buffet after paying the rent. You never know if you’ll order will come or not – they might bring 6 oysters even if you didn’t order anything after the 12 ice creams they brought…

Red wine chocolate macaroons and wine in East Island Markets
Divine red wine chocolate macaroons and wine in East Island Markets

I can never get enough of the New York vibe in East Island Markets and it’s small, often local producers.

Michelin-worthy dining
Michelin-worthy dining

Hanging out with friends; we went to a Michelin renowned dumpling place, where we got to sit in the back room next to bags of who-knows-what. Not bad for 2€ meal, but definitely not worth the Michelin.

Canapés at Libertine
Canapés at Libertine

Foodie club’s event as well as a gallery opening for Adidas – more of that lovely New York atmosphere for me!

People who have eaten or have diarrhea should not go swimming
People who have eaten or have diarrhoea should not go swimming

Yeah, I have done other things than just eat! I went to test the swimming hall, and it surely was an experience! if Chinese people are on your way when walking, they tend to have the same chaos in the water, too. And even at 8 am, the pool has more people than a Finnish pool has in a whole day!

And the happiness continues tomorrow, when I get to see my mom for the first time in over half a year! And I get to spend over a week on the other side in Kowloon, in a hotel! And I don’t have to cook! And I get to go to the gym! And I can finally do all the tourist stuff there is! So much exclamation points that I’ll start getting embarrassed!