Category Archives: Travel

Lessons from moving away, and coming home

In January 2011 I moved to Sydney, and wrote a post about my first impressions of living in Australia. I’ve now been back in Auckland for three months and have learnt a few things from moving away, and coming home again.

Rangitoto

Rangitoto

We don’t need much stuff
Packing to move away was one thing, but packing to return to New Zealand was a whole different story. I got rid of SO. MUCH. STUFF. We really don’t need much, and for those of us who are likely to move again in the future, the idea of accumulating lots of things is a not an attractive one.

You adapt to your environment 
When I first arrived in Sydney, ordering a ‘trim cap’ in a Kiwi accent just didn’t cut it. So, I soon found myself asking for a ‘skinny cap’ to be understood. This conscious change gradually spilt over to most words that contained ‘i’ or ‘e’ sounds. Having lived in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, I also found myself starting yoga, spending my weekends in gym gear, making green smoothies and eating kale chips.

You’re not afraid of spiders anymore
After close encounters with orb and huntsman spiders, a daddy long legs has about the same scare power as an ant.

You gain a new level of independence
Time alone and distance from people who shaped your thoughts historically leads to a new level of independent thinking. You meet people whose backgrounds are significantly different to yours, and gain insights from environments you’d never been exposed to.

You are who you spend time with
As the quote goes, ‘you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with’. Thanks to my flatmates Claire, Jo and Nicole, I became a little more driven, manicured, fashionable and motivated in the kitchen. And I mean manicured in the literal sense – weekend brunching and walks to the nail salon are some of life’s simple pleasures!

You become an expert in communication
Most of your good friends and loved ones aren’t in the same time zone and you may only see them a few times a year, if that. But with a bit of juggling, keeping in touch when apart is easy with Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook and Snapchat. But you have to plan for it.

You get better at asking for things
Kiwis are generally agreeable and like to go with the flow. Australians are generally better at piping up about their expectations and things they want. Well – they’re better at piping up in general! But this forward confidence is admirable and is a useful characteristic to have.

Special friends become your family
When times are tough or there’s reason to celebrate, your flatmates, workmates and closest friends become your family. They’re there for support, for festivities and for adventures. Personal relationships are what life’s about.

Your priorities change over time
My time in Sydney was phenomenal. I wouldn’t change a thing. It contained some of the most challenging moments, but also some of the most enjoyable. It was a great time but about a year ago I realised that my priorities were changing and my environment needed to change as well. And that was a lesson in itself – to be aware of your evolving needs and changing the things that aren’t working for you anymore.

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Overheard in San Francisco

Four years ago I came to San Francisco for the first time, and the conversations in this awesome city took me by surprise in their randomness and entertainment value.

Last week I spent a few amazing days there, staying with a good friend, Erika, and basking in the brilliance of this diverse place. There were more gems to be heard, so here’s the sequel!

San Fran houses

• “Have some pizza, but only women and children! Men, you can suck on that, coz it’s women and children first!” – man giving away pizza on Haight Street

• “WOOF! Hahaha.” – a (likely) homeless man to Enzo, Erika’s dog

• “Oh shit, you really scared me, just as well I love you so much because when I jammed it in there you really gave me a fright!” – a guy on Haight St after putting a piercing in his girlfriend’s ear

• “No talking please, we’re rolling and your voices are carrying.” – production crew member outside Erika’s place

• “Yo, I got a CD, I’ve recorded the story of my life, my kids, my music, you wanna buy this, twenty dollars only!” – man on Haight St trying to sell me a CD about his life. (He really needs to go digital)

• “Oh heeeeey baaaabe.” – dude on Haight St holding a sign that read ‘CAN YOU SPARE WHAT’S IN YOUR POCKET? I LOVE YOU’

• “A demon-fucking-stration? You gotta be kidding me. I don’t see no demonstration, you full o’ sheeit!” – a man on the bus to the driver after we were told to get off because of a demonstration

• “Walk faster, honey! I wanna see that JIGGLE!” – a man to a beautiful African American woman walking past him

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Port Stephens: Two days, 8 things

In early November my friend Lana and I drove to Port Stephens to spend the weekend. It’s about two and a half hours from Sydney although on a Friday afternoon it took us almost two hours just to get OUT of Sydney. Mental note….leave at midday next time!

Port Stephens serves a range of travellers – from the family group, to the corporate group, to lovers. Lana and I don’t fit any of those categories so I’ll add another: laughing, happy girlfriends. Here’s a rundown of what we got up to:

1) Parasailing
At first glance, parasailing seems like an extreme sport. In reality, it is quite the opposite. Yes, you’re held up quite high in the sky by a giant piece of fabric and a few ropes, but the feeling up there is surprisingly serene. It’s quiet and the views are spectacular. We went with Port Stephens Watersports.

Coming in to land

Lana getting dunked!

2) Dining
Merretts Restaurant at The Anchorage is off the hook. It is here that I tasted one of the most exquisitely presented and delicious dishes in my life: Confit duck Kromeski, Jerusalem artichoke veloute, parsley gel and apple smoke. This restaurant is reason alone to make the trip. The flavours had Lana and I in shock. Lana even texted her Mum to share the moment.

Another delicious meal was at Catch Restaurant at Shoal Bay Resort & Spa where I had the seared scallops with pear, chorizo and roquette salad. Divine! Greg from the resort showed us around the housing and accommodation site beforehand and we were pretty much ready to give him an offer and move into one of the apartments. Oh, to wake up to those views every day….

3) The beer
We had lunch at Murray’s Brewery on the Sunday and the food was not only tasty, but very well presented. We also tasted a few beers, including an annual Halloween Spiced Pumpkin one.

4) The clouds
I’m a little obsessed with clouds, and Port Stephens did not disappoint my infatuation. The wilderness of a brewing storm against the water made for many beautiful pictures.

5) Dolphin watching
On Saturday we went on an afternoon dolphin cruise with Tamboi Queen Cruises to explore the bay and hope for a sighting. We were lucky and found a small pod who were playing together right in front of us.  Most humans love dolphins but Lana’s adoration is next level – she was in heaven. 

6) Sailing
We had a tour of a stunning luxury yacht, ‘Champagne on Ice’. In addition to fully customisable private events, Blue Water Sailing host luxury cruises, team building events and corporate sailing. Donna told us that some groups don’t even go sailing, they just sit on the yacht, eat lobster and drink champagne. Don’t mind if I do!

7) The friendly locals
Throughout our short visit we encountered many lovely people who made us feel at home. One of them was Angela from Aqua Blu Bistro and Bar. We had lunch and a glass of wine here on the Saturday between parasailing and dolphin watching. Aqua Blu is located right next the marina where all these activities depart from.

8) Sand-boarding
I was more nervous about sand-boarding than parasailing, but the scariest moment of the entire trip was when the 4WD we were travelling in went down a sand slope that felt almost vertical. Yes, Lana and I both screamed at this roller-coaster experience!

Yep, those are the track marks from our 4WD rollercoaster!

It’s remarkable how other-worldly this land seems

We went sand-boarding with Port Stephens 4WD who first gave us a little tour of the sand dune area, told us how some of the sand is sent to Hawaii and showed us the remains of whale bones. Then, it was time to sand-board. And yes, I’ll be doing that again!

I was a guest of Port Stephens Tourism and stayed at The Anchorage Port Stephens

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Top 10: GIF resources, obstacle racing, home-cooked food and more

I’ve been doing a bunch of ‘Top 5’ posts recently to practice more gratitude and appreciation of cool/exciting/nice things. I’ve not posted in July so I’ve now acquired TEN awesome things that I want to share.

1) GIF Search and Reaction GIFs
Are you looking for that perfect GIF to express yourself? Check out the Giphy search site and the Reaction GIFs site for ideas!
Happy Dance
GIF taken from Reaction GIFs

2) The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
Just an all-round, excellent post by Leo Babauta. He gives the example of running in a park, and comparing yourself to another, obviously better, runner. BUT, when we compare ourselves to others, we don’t have all the information, so making comparisons is useless.

3) Sunrise clouds
If you aren’t a fan of clouds and you don’t follow me on Instagram, consider yourself lucky. Coz I adore ’em.
Sunrise clouds

4) Warrior Dash & Urbanathlon
If a year ago you’d told me that in a year I’d be doing things like the Warrior Dash or running for 12kms without stopping, I would have said, “YES, DAMMIT I WILL BE!”

It’s an incredible feeling to achieve goals that once seemed unattainable or scary. I was nervous putting myself up for a 5km trawl through mud and obstacles, but it was fine. I was nervous about 12kms and 10 obstacles through the city, but with some focus, training and team support, I can tick it off the list.

Shoes after Warrior Dash
There are many others to add to the ‘to-do’ list, including:

Or check out the Obstacle Racers calendar for a list of upcoming events.

5) Quinoa porridge
Quinoa Porridge
This is a bit of a treat breakfast, but healthy enough to not be too naughty! Perfect for Winter and tastes like it should be sinful. I make mine in coconut milk and a bit of water, by bringing the quinoa to the boil then simmering gently. I add raw cacao and some honey and serve with banana and cinnamon. Variations: cooking in almond milk, serving with berries. Delicious.

6) Rarotonga
In early June I visited Rarotonga for the third time. The first time was in November 2008, the second time was November last year, and this time was for a dear friend’s 30th with a great bunch of friends.
Rarotonga is in my Top 5 favourite places in the world. Check out my November post to get a better idea of why this is.
Rarotonga

7) There are so many paradises, you just have to pick one
I really enjoyed this lovely little post by Paola Parsons. Beautiful in its simplicity, it address the fact that life is never perfect, and often things can be in a state of disarray. But amongst the chaos, there is calm.

Paradise and happiness are what we make it. I choose my current paradise, it’s quite nice.

8) Sydney home-cooked food companies
I’ve already harped on about Hungry Mondays, but they’re not the only ones providing delicious, home-cooked goodness to Sydneysiders. Check out Arthur Street Kitchen and The Soup Stone for more!

Honourable mention: Auckland’s Jess’ Underground Kitchen
The Soup Stone
Harriet from The Soup Stone

9) The Ricky Gervais Guide to a Successful Career
Ricky Gervais – funny, opinionated and now, career advisor (not that he knows it!). In this post by Louise Fletcher we’re alerted to Ricky’s career/life tips, including:

  • Be true to yourself in order to achieve great work
  • You can’t please everyone, so please the right people
  • Worrying about how you’re perceived doesn’t get you anywhere, but worrying about how much value you add does

Check out the post for the full article.

10) Mark Grist on Girls Who Read
A man who speaks admirably about girls who read. In prose. #saynomore

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Time travel to Rarotonga, Cook Islands

The Cook Islands, named after Captain James Cook, is a group of 15 islands in the south-western Pacific Ocean between Tonga and French Polynesia. The capital is Avarua in Rarotonga.  

The peaks of the mountains are reminiscent of the mountains in Jurassic Park. Their jagged, primitive edges seem misplaced in 2012. They appear imposing, prehistoric and untouched.

Mountain peaksRoad
Travelling from Sydney, Australia to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is like travelling through time in more ways than just crossing over the International Date Line. Here, the birds look and sound wilder, the elongated leaves of the plants appear primal and the sultry climate behaves like an adolescent – unrestrained, heated and tempestuous. The climate in Rarotonga is how one would imagine the climate was at the beginning of time, when nature was only concerned with feeding and watering the earth instead of rebelling against the geological fluctuations introduced by humans.

BirdScenery
The concept of time in Rarotonga is not what time is in Sydney or other busy cities. The people here are not governed by a ticking hands or clocks on mobile phones. The compendium in my room explains: ‘Rarotonga is renowned for being stress-free and relaxed. Please be aware that timing and some services may be slower and more approximate than you are probably used to in the faster pace of your daily life.’ The locals walk slower, looking at the world instead of their smartphones and the speed limit on the main road that circles the island is a leisurely 50 kilometres per hour. There are two bus routes: Clockwise and Anticlockwise.

Papa Nga, the local handyman who comes over to help me operate the safe, asks me how I slept the night before. “Not bad,” I say, “but I woke up a few times.” I full well know that it’s not because of the soothing, calm air being circulated by the fan, and it’s not because of the gentle sound of the ocean outside. It’s because I’m still connected to the concrete jungle and all its concerns. “I must have a couple of things on the mind.” Papa Nga smiles and says, “Well, no time for that now, you’re on holiday and you’re on island time.”

Coco at sunset
In fact, I don’t even know what time it is.  I’m pretty certain that I’m three hours ahead, but the day before. I look outside at the sudden, torrential rain which will give way to blue skies before long, and I know that time doesn’t matter, anyway. There’s nowhere I need to be in a hurry.

Sitting on a deck chair on the veranda, three-quarters of the way through my first book I feel something soft and warm at my feet. Squeaky, the local ginger tabby starts mouthing, eyes pleading. “I have no food for cats here, sorry little one.” Squeaky insists, and makes his way through the doors, into the kitchen and stops at the fridge. “I don’t think you’ll like limes or lettuce.” I fail to mention the chicken breast that I plan to cook that night. Squeaky accepts the situation and goes back outside with me, content for now with a neck rub instead of a feast.

Reading is easy here. Back home it can be a challenge to find the opportunity to read because there’s always so much going on. At home one can often glance at a few pages in a zombie-like state and in the morning already forgotten what was read. Not here.

Sunrise
When the rain clears and the sky explodes with blueness, I pass by reception and borrow a snorkel and fins. Coco the dog meets me at the driveway and decides to come along. The beach is pristine and the water inexplicably clear. It is easy to just float, breathing through the tube and looking down at the multitudes of colours and life that thrive in this other realm.  Approaching a large cluster of coral, a sound travels through the water and the ‘chomp, chomp’ sound of fish teeth gnawing at it can be heard. I wonder if they can hear my muffled sounds of admiration and wonder.

BeachUnderwater
In the evening, instead of switching on a television, I cook to the sound of music. There are no TVs in the rooms. The compendium says, ‘There is a TV in the Breakfast Café for guest use. There is only one TV channel in the Cook Islands. New Zealand’s TV One News screens every night at approximately 8.30pm. Cook Islands local news screens at 7pm Monday to Friday.’ I love this. I love that instead of having their consciousness interrupted by ridiculous plotlines and shouty ads encouraging them to buy things they don’t need, guests can daydream, make up their own stories and remind themselves of what matters most.

Sunset
Sunsets are not merely a reminder of the world’s beauty. They tell us much more than that. Sunsets show us that a day has passed and that the world is huge. When our sun disappears for us, it rises for many others. A Rarotongan sunset is an unhurried, spectacular blaze of colour and when the orange sphere finally falls past the horizon, one knows that it is now time to rest and prepare for another beautiful day.

When all is quiet, the pool beckons at night. It is like an ancient, welcoming family, where The Cool Water introduces its wife, Clear Night Sky and their children, Warm Air and Sound of Stillness. They all embrace me at once, my mind clears and I melt into a blanket of tranquillity.

See you again soon, Rarotonga.

Swimmers at sunrise

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Photos: The Blue Mountains

Last weekend we went with friends to the Blue Mountains. It was cold, but it was beautiful. We took a walk, we got the fire roaring, and had a delicious lamb dinner. We’ll be back for many more walks soon!

Click on the photo below to view the gallery.

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Living in Australia: First impressions

Last week I moved to Sydney, Australia. I still don’t have my tax code, my accounts aren’t functional and I’ve barely started working, but I’m already viewing the city with the eyes of an inhabitant rather than a visitor.

Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

  • Bats really do flap about at night (don’t know how I didn’t notice this earlier)
  • TV ads are really bad
  • Health insurance is pretty good
  • Cockroaches are BIG and EVERYWHERE
  • The little green man at pedestrian lights takes a long time to appear
  • If you pick the right places, eating out can be cheaper than dining in
  • Telstra staff are very friendly
  • There is a lot of sport on TV

I’ve also taken a few snaps of things that have caught my attention, like pretty sunsets:

Sunset

Boomerang shops that provide free boomerang-throwing classes:

Boomerang

Liquor shops with punny names:

Lick_her

Morning shows that address very important topics:

Pesky

Stickers on the back of road signs that ask how you are:

Sign

And of course, something that pleases me greatly – the civilised order of lining up for the bus:

Bus

Friends have asked me, “Are you moving there forever?” No, I very much doubt it. There are other places I’d like the chance to live in one day and I imagine that in the future I’ll want to return to New Zealand. When you’ve been away as much as I have you know that aside from the rain, the low dollar and the questionable New Years fireworks from the Sky Tower, NZ is a pretty choice place to live in. But for now, I’m excited about giving the Sydney thing a go and I hope you’ll join me as I blog about travel, food, wine, music and a bunch of other stuff from Australia! x

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How to minimise jet lag

You love travel. That’s why you’re reading this post. And we all like different things when it comes to travel, for instance destinations, modes of getting around, and budget. But if there’s one thing we all agree on, it’s our dislike of jet lag.

After all, there’s nothing quite like being cooped up on a plane for 12 hours or even more, crossing through multiple time zones and ending up at your destination as an insomniac by night and a lethargic sloth by day, especially when your trip is only a few weeks in total.

I used to suffer enormously from jet lag, but as I traveled more I began to change my ways and picked up a few tips that I want to share with you. I categorise these tips into two groups: Obvious and Not So Obvious.

Obvious Tips:

  • Try to fly west instead of east, when possible. Generally, flying west is easier on the body.
  • Talk to your doctor about sleeping pills. (Before I’m reprimanded for saying this, I accept no responsibility for Deep Vein Thrombosis or any other possible side effect – that’s why I suggest you talk to your doctor).
  •  Stay hydrated with water before, during and after your flight.
  • Go on a big walk or hit the gym the day before your flight.
  • If it’s night-time at your destination, try to sleep with the aid of eye-shades, neck support, a blanket, noise-cancelling headphones and relaxing music like Enya and Fleetwood Mac.
  • If it’s daytime at your destination but night-time on the flight, play some upbeat, lively music and watch an action film.
  • Take a big outdoor walk or hit the hotel gym when you arrive at your destination. Get some sunlight, drink lots of water and stay up until at least 8.30pm.

No So Obvious Tips:

  • Get some Vitamin D pills and start on a daily course about a week before you depart, and keep it up as long as you need to. Vitamin D is some of the good stuff that we get from the sun, and it also helps the immune system so prepares the body better for the stresses of travel.
  • Put your watch/clock to the destination time as soon as you board. If you have a transit stop, ignore it and set the time as the final destination.
  • As soon as you take off, close your eyes and visualise yourself at the destination, on the destination time. Is it 3am? You are asleep. Is it 7am? You are waking up and having breakfast.
  • If it’s night-time at your destination, have a glass of wine. If it helps you sleep, why not? Just ensure you drink plenty of water too. 
  • Eat as if you’re at the destination time zone. Sometimes I pretend that dinner is actually breakfast.
  • What you eat is critical. Of you want to sleep, carbs are great, but if you want to stay awake, stay off the carbs!
  • Freshen up with a moist towel. Feeling fresh and clean means feeling awake.
  • If it’s daytime when you arrive, spend a bit of time in the sun without sunglasses. Our eyes play a big part in absorbing sunlight and this can help with regulating the body clock.
  • Have a light dinner to help you sleep on your first night. Avoid dairy or meat after 6pm.
  • Have a high-protein, low GI breakfast on the first day after you arrive. It’ll help with maintaining your energy levels during the day so you’ll be back to your usual routine in no time.
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Photos from Alcatraz

On the first of this month Andre, Eunsoo and I made it to Alcatraz on a splendidly sunny day. The photo opportunities were plentiful but the highlight was the audio-tour….it wasn’t one of those monotone museum tours – it had variety and special effects so never a dull moment!

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Copyright

 

All images appearing on this blog (solange.posterous.com) may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Solange Francois© 2010

 

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And a few more travel tricks

The third installment of my travel tips and hints saga (after this one and this one).

  • An iPod Touch is the perfect travel companion if you don’t want to carry a laptop with you. You can connect to the net when there is wi-fi, take notes, use Skype, email, Facebook and Twitter, record voice memos, check the weather, plan with the calendar, download maps, check-in for flights, read books, play games, listen to your music and with a multitude of useful apps, much more!
  • Buy a drawer sachet to put into your suitcase – keeps everything smelling fresh. I love lavender or vanilla.
  • Don’t take the entire bottle of your favourite perfume/cologne. I carry The Body Shop’s Chrome Atomizer – also great for nights out back home!
  • Take an external harddrive with you to save your photos as you go.
  • Use www.carhire3000.com to hire your car around the world. They act as a middle-man between you and various agents, so you get a better deal.
  • When traveling with a group, carry a small notebook and pen at all times so you can record how much you owe each other rather than waste time trying to count up exact change in restaurants, etc.
  • If you’re somewhere slightly dodgy, use plain black headphones for your iPod/iPhone instead of the tell-tale white ones.
  • I’ve mentioned previously that flattery can go a long way. So can a simple smile 🙂
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