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Itinerary : Group Holiday to Australia – East Coast

So some of friends with families have been talking about a group vacation. So I have been tasked with building up an itinerary for these trips and while the final details will vary, I hope to build one that can used by the two varying groups. Australia, shouldnt be too hard.

Requirements : Beach, Realaxing, Lots of Beer,  Kid friendly , Travel and Stay as a group. One week. ‘Not too expensive’


1. Take a Sydney Harbour cruise : The Sydney’s Harbour is long and dramatic with great sights such as the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Cruises are available in all ranges , from basic to luxurious, with food drinks and cocktails.

Basic cruise : $30, takes about 1.5 hours and is timed during the day or afternoon.

 2. Complete one of the fascinating walking tours : From aborginal times to colonial times, to rock and roll , theres a walking tour for everyone , in Sydney. http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/explore/places-to-go/attractions-and-tours/historical-walking-tours

Self Guided Walking Tour : Free , takes a couple of hours.

3. Bondi beach, Manly beach and more…

Sun sand and surf !

Drive to Gold Coast/Brisbane

Day 1 : Sydney to Newcastle

1. Hawkesbury River : This river that feeds into Broken Bay, is surrounded by three national parks.


If time permits , visit the river, the marina, the parks around.

2. Terrigal :  45 mins ahead on the Pacific Highway from Hawesbury riverDistance 55 Kms from Sydney . Drive time 45 min.

Beach, cliffs and

3.  Drive to New Castle : This looks like a really promising route.  (See pic)

The drive should take us along the coast , with view of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the bays on the other. While I havent been there yet, it does look like it would have a few good stops along the way.

What to do at Newcastle ? Where to stay , possible options for big group . (To be updated)

Overnight at New Castle.

Day 2 : Hunter Valley Wine region to Coffs Harbour

1. Short Stop at  Port Macquarie for lunch. Port Macquarie is on estuary of the Hastings rivers and offers and lot of things to do.

2. Detour off the road to South West Rocks for a short break.


The South West Rocks tourist park and the Hat Head National park has lots of good places for camping, picnicing and just relaxing. There is the also the Trail Bay Gaol here. (I am fascinated by prisons)

3. Drive on to Coffs Harbour, where we stay for the night.  Ok the most imporatnat thing about Coff’s harbour seems to be its banana industry. 🙂

Just kidding , it has a lots of stuff to do and see.

Surfing , sailing, nature trails, sunset and beer on the marina.

Day 3 : Gold Coast

(To be contd)


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For when I am old and wrinkled…

…. I hope I remember how this song made me feel. Happy and blessed.

I believe EVERY word and line in this song was written on my behalf.

Raabta (Night in Motel) version, from the Bollywood movie Agent Vinod (2012). Especially the line in bold

Faili thi siyaah raatein, aaya tu subah leke,

Khamakhaan si zindagi main, jeene ki wajah leke,

Khoya tha samandaron main, tanah safeena mera,

Sahilon pe aaya hai tu, jaane kis tarah leke.

Kuch toh hai tujh se raabta, kuch to hai tujh se raabta

Ab kya hai kehna, hum ko hai rehna,

Jannatein bhula ke teri bhahon mein panah leke.


The endless nights stretched out before me , you came bringing in sunshine,

Came into my ordinary life, giving me a reason to live.

My ship was lost on the seas somewhere,

And somehow you have brought it to the calm shores.

Surely there is some connection (raabta) with you

What do I say now, I just want to be with you

I don’t need the heavens, just the shelter of your arms.

3 and half years ago . before I got together with K, I was happy. Like really happy, content and there was nothing missing from my life.  A completely ordinary life.

And then , K came into my ordinary life and made it extraordinary.

Even if you dont understand Hindi.. go listen to the song…

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Bucket List : Moai in Easter Islands


I am fascinated by the story of the Moai at Easter Island and this is an item pretty high up on the bucket list. Why are they there? Who put them there? And How did they do it? There are stories and tales… but we will probably never know the truth… and that is why this place is sought after..

But on to the practical things..

How to get there from Singapore? 

Easter Islands is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean , and officially a part of Chile. The easiest way is to take a flight from Santiago. There are daily. But from Singapore , getting to Santiago can be really too much. So I explore if there another way.

This looks like the way …Singapore (A)  to Auckland (B) to Tahiti (C) to Easter Islands (D).

Time to get there, and this is just flying time, via direct flights


Singapore to Auckland : 9 Hours 40 mins

Auckland to Tahiti : 5 hours

Tahiti to Easter Island : 6 Hours



Still a savings of 10 hours of flight time , than going the via Chile route. Not too shabby, I think.

What to do there?

(To be continued….)

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Trans Mongolian Journey : On to Mongolia, Gers and more..


So after 3 days around Irkutsk, we finally took the Moscow-UB express to get to Ulan Baataar. All trains in Russia run on Moscow time, no matter how far from Moscow you are. Which makes sense, I guess. But when you have to cross a border , then it gets interesting, because the stations in Russia are listed in Moscow time, but the stations in UB are listed in Local Time , which is NOT the same as Irkutsk time. So at some point on the 30 hour journey you have absolutely NO idea what the time is. Pretty liberating, huh!

Anyway back to trains, the Russian train 006 was really clean and cosy, with nice bedding . Sheets are given out when you get in.

We shared our coupe with two very fun Norwegian gals. We only had tourists in our wagon. The crossing takes 6 hours in the best case scenario. It’s a BAD idea to drink beer to kill the boredom. The toilets on the train are shut and you are NOT allowed out onto the platform. A simple border crossing becomes a test of human bladder endurance. 🙂

But we made it, and early morning we were in UB. We had booked our ger in advance and so we went off with our driver Bahubu. Bahubu was full of stories about Mongolia, and Russian colonisation of Mongolia. of how lake Baikal really belonged to Mongolia. It did make us a little sad. Once upon a time , the Chinese had to build a 3000 km long wall to save themselves from the Mongolians, and today such a beautiful country has hardly any industry, or resources.

Bahubu, also took us to our first taste of ‘airag’, fermented mare’s milk that the Mongolian drink all day long. It was OK, not as bad as I had heard but, well, I wouldn’t drink it again, unless someone put a gun to my head. Also be warned the milk does funny things to your intestines and mine were grumbling for a long time after.

Our Ger camp was within the Gun Galhut nature reserve, and very beautiful, literally seemed to be the middle of nowhere. The Mongolian steppes beat every expectation we had, and I was really sorry that we didn’t stay longer. The wide open spaces, the absolutely fresh air, the nothing-ness all round … I have no words.

We walked about, explored, picnicked, it was fantastic. The temperature was 15 C ., which in my world is ‘freezing’. At night the temperatures dropped further , the ger did NOT warm at all. We had fire built in the stove inside which lasted all of one hour, and the rest of the night we basically slept completely bundled in sweaters and scarves. In the night we stepped out of out ger… and from horizon to horizon the night sky twinkled with so many beautiful stars. I have never seen such a sight in my life, except in a planetarium.

We left the next morning , but I left my heart behind somewhere in the wide open spaces of the Mongolian Steppes.

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Trans Mongolian Journey : Irkutsk, and Lake Baikal

SAM_0169So finally we did IT … the long dreamt of trans -mongolian journey!! yay!

We started from Irkutsk, on the Tans Siberian line. How we got here is a long story but it involved flights and transiting over two days. Suffice to say we were exhausted when we got to Irkutsk.

We arrived at the airport which is by far the strangest airport I have seen. We realised that we had to fill up the  immigration forms. The form required us to fill in some information which was printed on our visa. The catch was that the stuff on the visa was in russian and we writing in english.  K suggested just copying the russian characters , but I wasnt convinced. There was no one around to ask. So we did the best we could. Luckily I had taken some time to learn the Cyrillic Alphabets and so with some reading , some guesswork we managed to get the english words to write.

Lesson 1 : If you are going to Russia, learn to read the Cyrillic alphabets ! It’s not that hard and VERY useful!

And so we had Irkutsk. We had to drop our bags of at the Trans Sib Hostel , and pick up our train tickets before heading to Listvyanka. We took a minivan number 20. The driver was really sweet, he studied the address we had in russian and then dropped us off almost next to the trans sib hostel. Except we didn’t know it was close to the hostel. But anyway , after some walking around , more guessing at the street names in russian and using our map, we found the hostel.

The lady who was a friend of the owner’s gave us detailed instructions to get to the place to pick our tickets as well as where to get the minivan to Listvyanka. It was fairly straightforward. The minivans leave just next to the yellow cathedral, and there is a BIG sign board with ‘Листвянка‘ (Listvyanka)  on it.

We were staying the night in Derevanka Resort. This place was SERIOUSLY hard to find and no one seemed to know where it was or even where the road it was on was. We walked up and down the ENTIRE length of Listvyanka before an old lady at the tourist information center could finally help us. Basically if you are going there , get out at the Krestovka bus stop and they mention, and walk BACKWARDS. Its right there … just a few meters BACK from the bus top.

Anyway Listvyanka was pretty awesome.  The next day , we had booked ourselves onto the Circum Baikal Train.  The train runs on a now defunct section of the original Trans Siberian track, and is filled with feats of engineering that the achieved when it was originally constructed in 1904. Seriously , 1904!!! what tools did they have then? Wheel Barrows and shovels?

The train  was packed . It stops at the best spots, most picturesque and scenic. And also for an hour lunch break where you can buy bread and rice and potatoes and OMUL from babushka’s on the side of the tracks. And there is a lot of time to walk along the tracks , taking the lake and fabulous views of it.

The trip takes 12 hours , if you start at Listvyanka, longer if you started from Irkutsk. As long as the lake was visible it was ok but the ride from Sludyanka to Irkutsk, was 3 hours … too long. Everyone was getting fidgety and you could see annoyance beginning to show in their manner , faces and talking.

Nonetheless the trip was awesome and highly recommended.

The next day we spent walking around Irkutsk. It was an utterly charming experience. Run down houses which looked really posh inside. Music that is played on the streets. Old and beautiful historical buildings. Roads named after Lenin and Karl Marx . Gorgeous cathedrals. The list is endless…

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Fourth of July

Its the 4th of July and almost 11 PM . K tells me something that makes me smile and wonder.

He says ” Remember 4th of July , last year?”

4th of July 2012 .

It had been a month since I had been diagnosed with cancer. A month of docs, tests, scans, biopsies, more doctors, second third fourth fifth opinions. And 4th of July 2012 , was the day I would begin the dreaded chemo.

The day begins bright and sunny as most days in Singapore , but the inside of my head is cloudy. I cant form a coherent thought. I consider praying for something, except I am not sure what. That the chemo be easy on me? But what if that made it easy on the cancer too. No, I want the chemo to hit me (and the cancer )with everything it had. Would I be able to hold up? So in the end , I look up at the heavens and say ‘Make it okay in the end.’

The day before I had had a day surgery to get the port installed in my right fore arm , which was a very traumatic experience with a quack doc.  So in addition to the nervousness of first chemo , I am wondering if the port will work as it should.

Its 8:45 AM and K is still washing up after breafast. We are late for the 9:00 AM appt.

‘”If you are going to be late , lets not go!’ I say. I am only half-joking.

As I wait for K to get ready, I look at the sheet the doc gave me with a list of side effects I could expect . I had read it several times before , but still reading it on paper is one thing, actually facing the prospect was completely another.

So we go to the GMC. After a brief meeting , with the doc , they take me to the ‘Infusion Lounge’ . Comfy chairs, blankets, cusions, and rhythmic beeping of the regulators.

The nurses get the bright red coloured Adriamycin and the colourless Cytoxan hooking it up with saline to dilute it , and the drip starts. I watch the fluid comes slowly down through the maze of tubes and into my arm.

I looked at K. He looks terrified,  like he might pass out  any minute. He has been watching the drip come down too. He sees me looking at him and manages a brave smile. He reaches out and holds my left hand.

15 mins later, we are halfway through the infusion. I dont feel any different yet. But I need to pee. So I get up and make my way to loo, dragging the IV with me. My pee is red. This is very expected, but it takes me by surprise nonetheless.

I come back to the lounge. K is looking at me expectantly. I just nod and say ‘red pee’.  In the next 5 mins, I begin to feel the effects. My energy seems to physically seep out of my body. I start feeling tired and drowsy. When JK Rowling , wrote about the Dementors giving the Kiss of Death, she didnt know how accurately she describes the feeling of the chemo effects coming on.

Soon we are done, and I am unhooked from all the drip paraphernelia. The nurses tell me to take care cheerfully, but I dont really register. I get up and walk slowly , K holding my hand.

Back home , I curl up on the sofa.  K props me up with  cushions , a quilt, and some books and my laptop in case I want to read. But reading, thinking, browing , writing emails everything seems like too much work. I just want to sleep.

“I will remember the Fourth of July, year after year, every year, for the rest of my life ,” I promise as I drift off, weakly, but sincerely.

Its today , 4th July 2013.

My prospects that seemed so bleak, sad , unbearable even, have so dramatically changed just a year on.A recent scan found no cancer in me, I feel fit and strong and healthy, my lovely and wonderful and awesome boyfriend K and I are married, K has an awesome job that he loves and despite many challenges our love and laughter has only increased, we are looking forward to a bucket list type trip in August. Until 11 PM today I didnt even think about the  Fourth of July, last year . My fervent promise to myself  didnt last even one year, K had to remind me.

I smile now. I wish I could have known this then, could have known how much happiness, excitement, and love was coming my way. It might have made the day a little easier on me.

But C’est la Vie! Its okay in the end!

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Travel Report : Le Mont Saint Michael

My trip to Mont Saint Michael was just a quick trip over a weekend , when I was in France for work. I had planned to go by myself , but a colleague tagged along.  I have a LOT of trouble thinking about this trip , because as soon as I came back , I found out I had cancer. So if I don’t sound enthusiastic , its not because Le Mont Saint Michael was not absolutely stunning.


I didnt even open the pictures from this trip until now. Getting from Fontainbleau to Le Mont Saint Michael using only public transport is a great story. Someday if you ask nicely I might tell you.  Just kidding , I am going to tell you right now.

 3 trains, two buses, and a 45 min walk , and most of a day to get there.  Most of this journey was through the beautiful landscapes of Brittany. What they eat in Brittany , will forever remain a mystery , because all they seem to grow are sunflowers 🙂

Very easy on the eyes!

The trains run upto a station called Ponterson, after which it is you take a connecting bus. There is only one bus , with certain fixed timings. Look it up before you get there.

Mont Saint Michael is ridiculously touristy , and over priced. But nonetheless, it is quite gorgeous. When the tide comes in the place is isolated from the mainland, the road connecting it is submerged. Other times , you can walk or drive to it, as you can see from my picture.

The winding steep staircases and alleys in the Mont take you back into time to the medival era. I could just imagine being a grocer’s wife here 🙂