Dayyymn Amsterdam

I am just going to get it out of the way: I went to Amsterdam and didn’t get high. I must admit I had my hesitations before coming to this city due to the expectation that often accompanies it, but once again I was reminded of how the best thing that travel teaches you is to throw all preconceptions out the window.

I did get high on Amsterdam, though. How can you not? The energy is contagious. It’s uber-stylish sprinkled with a touch of grunge that just gives it character. And when you’re staying in the boutique district on Haarlemmerdijk, in a studio that looks like it’s from a page in a magazine I’d normally have to wipe my dribble off, how could I not fall in love.

He’d been to Amsterdam before with the boys, so instantly I knew I had to shake things up to make sure it was completely different to his last trip. I think the mere fact that it took us until the third night to visit the infamous Red Light District cleared that up though. And that we got up early each morning and went for brunch at places like TOKI and The Breakfast Club. Surprisingly though, the best coffee we found was from the cafe inside Urban Outfitters, served by a guy from Manchester that was up for a chat. Shame we couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Apparently it’s still considered English?

Apart from the free walking tour we did on the first day to get the gist of the city, Amsterdam was the city we just lived in the most. We walked the boutiques for hours, got snacks from Stach to keep us going through the day, wandered from one side of town to the other to get lunch at the Foodhallen, dodged through the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum and their teems of tourists, and scoured vintage markets we found dotted around the city. All things I do in Sydney, but it just felt so much cooler over there.

With absolutely no itinerary, we just did exactly what we wanted to each day, even if that wasn’t a lot. Subsequently days rolled into one another and before long I felt like I lived there, or at least that I really wanted to. I’m pretty sure one afternoon was spent looking into both of our ancestry to see whether or not he’d have to pop a particular question for a visa. All I can say is: damn you, Brexit.

With this being my last blog of the trip, I’m going to cut to the chase and just give you the good stuff you actually want to read about. Without further ado, I present to you: Amsterdam.

Where to eat //
We had dinner on the first night at Pizzabakkers which was awesome, recommended by our host and just down the road from where we were staying. I had a margherita with burrata (because I promised myself a while back that if burrata is on the menu I have to order it) and because it was delicious. We sat near the kitchen and enjoyed the staff playfully switching their conversations between Dutch, English and Italian and felt very…inadequate. As the man at one of the markets told me “come on, even a three year old can speak Dutch!”

Another one down the road was Le Sud, a cheeseboards heaven, with the best falafel wraps I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. And trust me, it was pleasurable.

If you’re into burgers, you must try Cannibale Royale. Stacked burgers in a stacked restaurant, I’d recommend booking if you can. Oh, and the elderflower gin and tonic. Served in a glass a goldfish wouldn’t mind swimming around in. Yes, please.

To finish off we treated ourselves to a fancy night out at Bak. We got lost at first, but found it at the top floor of a massive and empty warehouse in a very quiet area of Amsterdam. The food was unreal – think hare-blood sauce and a dessert made from carrot. Worthy every and all the pennies it cost.

Where to look //
I’d honestly couldn’t recommend the area we stayed in more – Haarlemmerdijk, located in the Jordaan district. The street was lined with boutiques like Restored, Six and Sons, Store Without A Home, Sukha, and so many more I would have to rent six apartments to be able to fit all the things I could have bought. Plus the street was lined with vintage shops that sent me spiraling back to when I had time to thrift.

What else //
Yes, I feel like Amsterdam is the sort of place that will always have little hidden secrets waiting to be discovered. One of them for us was The Movies, also located on the same street (yes I know, it’s starting to sound like a plug now), which was the oldest cinema in Amsterdam, and where we escaped the drizzle on our last afternoon to see Bohemian Rhapsody.

To be completely honest, I couldn’t have planned our Amsterdam trip more perfectly than it happened. It’s just the beauty of travel. And I can’t wait to do it again.

Where would you recommend?

E x


Listing off London

You will never believe the following occurred in just over twenty-four hours. But it did. Because if you’re going to do it, do it right. And do it all.

Day one / we rose and walked all of three meters to The Watch House, a cafe-come-bar that I’d been ogling through the windows the night before, as it was closed on the weekends. Not amazing, but warmed our fingers while it lasted. With a bit of pep in our step, we headed for the Tate Modern. We may have been up and at it early that morning, but a little research would have warned us that London doesn’t actually wake up til 10am. So save yourselves our wait and stay in bed until things open.

A visit to the Crying Room installation let out some of the tears that I’m sure wanted to at the reunion a few nights prior, and the new viewing deck at the top dropped jaws all round. Some eyebrow-raising art and some powerful pieces. Whether you’re a lover or not, the building is impressive enough to warrant a visit. And don’t get me started on the gift shop. Sorry for the wait, boys.

A wander through the Borough Markets on the way back to the tube, we ended up showing Henry something he’d never heard of (when the guide becomes the guided), and he outdid all of our lunches with a loaded pie that I can still taste on the tip of my tongue. Plus I recognised chips with beef dripping from dad’s stories.

Next stop the National History Museum, which he’d hyped up quite a lot. While the dinosaur bones that originally hung in the main hall appeared to have wandered off, they had replaced them with a whopping blue whale that swam through the monumental pillars of the museum. Not sure which part to take a photo of first, I could see how you could get lost in this place for days. And considering entry was free, why not? But if museums aren’t your thing, they also had an ice rink out the front where we watched two girls nail the perfect ‘gram, so there is that too.

It was Harrod’s for a juice (that’s all we could afford), and then off to find  the fairy lights I’d been dreaming of since I was a little girl. Yes, we walked it, and I’ll leave you and Google Maps to work out the distance. Coincidentally, or not, at both Regent and Carnaby Street there were also football shops. I know right! Ehh, everyone’s happy.

A beer at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese where it took longer to find a seat in one of the nooks and crannies of the pub than it did to drink it, and a lot of talk about ordering the three-week old scotch egg sitting at the back of the fridge, but luckily no action taken there. And like the ending to a fairytale, we feasted like kings on beers and burgers at the joint across the road from our apartment until I was hot enough that I was sitting at the bar in my thermals.

Day two – yes, that was all one day / we headed to Angel as I’d been told it would transport me to the ‘101 Dalmatians’ world that my seven year old self would have probably cried over. Row upon row of neat white terraces, I looked in eat window for a puppies face to pop out as we walked to Brother Marcus for breakfast. While we didn’t spot a puppy in the window, he did spot a fancy coffee machine so we stopped for another one, and with a neat thumbs up to the barista we were on our way again.

Covent Garden ticked another off Henry’s London List, and with another hundred photos taken of Christmas decorations, we were on the move again as we had somewhere to be at 3pm. Sketch. Yes, I’m still excited about it. The weirdest and most fabulous afternoon tea I’ve ever had, we were wined and dined by a waiter in a boilersuit, a caviar man in a panama hat, and waitresses that look like the stewardess of a flight to Mars. Pink walls, velvet chairs and toilets that looked like the eggs of the dinosaur who has gone walkabout from the National History Museum, it was an experience that will be relived through stories for a long time. And with a cake wishing ‘Sydney’ a happy birthday at the end, it’s endless thanks to Jane and Peter.

Grabbing Henry again, we headed to Ye Olde Mitre for one last beer in a place where Queen Elizabeth is rumored to have danced around a cherry tree. With sore feet and heads full of fresh memories, we hugged and separated once again, this time knowing only for a month. Not giving ourselves time to think, we raced off to a late night showing of The Book of Mormon and laughed until we collapsed back in bed.

So to London, the city where there always seems to be masses of people walking somewhere on the street, where there are no bins anywhere, and the subway conductors sing Christmas carols to the commuters on the platform as they remind you to watch the gap, thanks for helping me get my steps up this week. I’ll be seeing you again soon. No doubt. Definitely.

E x

Melbourne Musts

“Do you know anywhere good to eat in Melbourne?”

This message has been popping up in my inbox more and more frequently over the last few years. Maybe it has something to do with millions of pictures of meals that consume my mobile memory, or the somewhat mad ramblings of my love-affair with the not so distant city, but I thought it about time that I officially share my list of musts for Melbourne.

Up until this point, with everyone I have shared the list I have done so with one condition attached: if you go anywhere new, add it to the list.

The same remains for you, whoever you may be. If you have a favourite place to dine or sip, shop or see, please share it with me.

To caffeinate //

Everyone knows Melbourne is no place for mochas, hazelnut lattes or things adorned with cream. It’s about coffee.

So you’ve got Dukes Coffee Roasters, Axil Flinders Lane, Brother Buba Budan, Market Lane and Patricia’s to start with. You get the idea? There are heaps.

Industry Beans is an institution, and also serves food that looks as good as it tastes. Kettle Black, Higher Ground, Top Paddock are all owned by the same people and trust me, those people know what they are doing. I’ve ordered the coconut-set chia from Kettle Black the last four times I’ve been, which is unusual for someone with the level of #FOMO I have, but it’s the only chia I’ve ever liked. It’s that good.

St Ali is an awesome space that makes you want to go home and expose the beams in your ceiling and strip the paint off your walls. It also has perfected the ‘green bowl’. And Proud Mary’s will always be special to me because of that time I was craving hot cakes and they happened to have a hot cake special on that day.

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To eat //

You can’t talk about dinner in Melbourne without dropping Chin Chin. I’ve never actually been though. It was too obvious for me. Instead I found Rice Paper Scissors, an Asian-tapas restaurant with no reservations and no regrets.

Still not sure what I did in a past-life to deserve it, but I was treated to a meal at Lûmé on one trip to Melbourne. A multi-sensory dining experience where the food looks more like artworks. Google ‘Pearl on the Ocean Floor’. Oh my god, I know right. How amazing is it.

If you’re looking for something quick and easy, you can’t go past Pellegrini’s. We did a quick google search before we went last time, which prepared us for the service, or lack there of. Unsure of whether we were meant to sit down or be seated, an understanding regular informed us it’s different every time, depending on the mood of the waiters. Lots of yelling, lots of attitude, no menus, and goddamn delicious pasta. Ask for the watermelon frappé when you go.

Oh and then there is Belleville, Gingerboy, Seamstress, and Easey’s – the most Melbourne of all meals; loaded burgers served in a graffiti-covered tram on top of a warehouse in Collingwood. It just tastes better that way.

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To drink //

Espresso by day, espresso martini by night. A lovely waiter once told me that the best bars in Melbourne are found either underground or on rooftops. These are my favourite stairways to find.

Berlin Bar is located, you guessed it, upstairs. Knock on the door and be met with the eyes of your waiter through a peep-hole, requesting the password to enter. Once you’re in, you have the choice between East and West, and with it the choice of capitalist opulence or communist austerity.

I walked past Eau de Vie three times on my first visit. Down a nondescript laneway furnished with overflowing bins and coats of graffiti. Not until a couple emerged from an unmarked door and jazz momentarily filled the air, did I believe I was in the right place. A prohibition-themed bar with a twelve page cocktail menu, and whiskeys in the hundreds, it’s a must. Simple as that.

If the best bars are found up high, then Rooftop Bar must be a good one. A local haunt for the hipsters, it’s got amazing views, cheap drinks and an open air cinema in summer. Plus, if you don’t make it up the seven stories it takes to get there, each one on the way is home to an equally cool venue – like Cookie, with it’s 600+ heavy wine list. Yeah. Not a typo.

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This is just a tasting plate of what Melbourne has to offer the senses. A tasting plate that over the years will undoubtedly turn into a banquet. So now back to the rules, because everyone knows I’m a stickler for rules; if you have a ‘Melbourne Must’ that isn’t on my list, drop it in the comments below.

E x

I’m a Traveller

To be able to write for the Traveller…yeah, that’s pretty up there on my list. So when a competition was released with the chance of winning a Gecko Tour Adventure around either Central America, Africa or South East Asia, as well as the opportunity to write for Traveller, I got writing.

Here goes nothing:

On the first day we didn’t make it. Some friendly, (and much more experienced) climbers found us lost halfway up a mountain, covered in sweat and scars. We didn’t know we were lost though. “Lagoon? No, there is no lagoon here” they told us. 

The best part of this holiday was that the water was never more than 50metres away, and when we made it down the mountain, we were quite literally dropped straight into the waves. Floating inches above the soft sand in crystal clear water, it was evident that any disappointment from not finding our lagoon that day had simply washed away. How could you be upset in Paradise?

Railay Beach, an island accessible only by long-tail boat, is located not far from the infamous Phi Phi Islands of Southern Thailand. The pristine beaches that line each side of the island are wrapped with overhanging limestone cliffs, that are often dotted with experienced climbers. You can kayak through caves, hike through forests, and borrow long-tail boats to go island hopping for the day. There is also, as we were informed by a local, a beautiful lagoon known as The Princess Lagoon, hidden somewhere on the island. 

With ten days there we were determined to find it, and it wasn’t until our second last day that we happened to stumble upon a track. At least I think it was a track. Around a bend, down a path, take a left and then a right, we arrived at the side of a mountain. There was a small clearing in the trees and the ground was slightly worn. After pausing to look at it for a few seconds we started to realise that the exposed roots lined up the bank resembled somewhat of a staircase. Not quite structurally sound, the fraying ropes that dangled down from the occasional root, however, made us slightly more convinced that this was indeed the way to our lagoon. 

Slow and steady we made it up the bank, and if the humidity wasn’t enough, the concentration it took made it impossible not to break a sweat from every inch of your body. Did you know it was possible to sweat from your elbows? This was the furthest we’d been from the water this entire holiday, and we could feel it. 

Reaching the top we were faced with a choice – left or right. We took left and were taken to a lookout. Not the sort of lookout you’d find at home, though. This lookout had no railing, no fence, no ‘Unstable Cliff Edge” or “Risk of Falling” warning signs. This lookout was as if someone had simply taken a machete to a tree, revealing a coast-to-coast 180° view out across Railay Beach. I reiterate, Paradise. 

Pulling ourselves away, the sweat dripping down our bodies reminded us of our lagoon. Walking back passed our previous climb, the thought flicked through my head of how we would get down, but any concern was completely stifled by what we found next. Getting to the lagoon required climbing down three almost vertical cliff faces, using nothing but a fraying rope to lower ourselves down against the slippery clay. From Paradise I’d found myself in the middle of an assault course through the jungle. 

By the time we reached the bottom we were covered in streaks of mud that not even our sweat could budge. The tread of my shoes was so caked in clay that I all but slid to the edge of the lagoon. What we found, however, was stunning. A large body of water, completely enclosed by overarching limestone cliffs, entangled with shrubs and vines that trickled down into the lagoon. The subdued light that flowed through them danced on the top of the sparkling water. The mud underfoot was no deterrent and rather only acted as an incentive to remain there floating for hours. 

If you go to Railay Beach, find the lagoon.

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A Night in Nagano

And we’ve found snow! And not just the pretty snowflake stuff that melts before it touches the ground, but the proper stuff. The kind of snow that piles up on the side of the road, that forms icicles as it falls, that dusts the trees with icing sugar, and that normally results in me falling over. The others weren’t quite as excited, having spent a week in Niseko and all, but I was so excited I couldn’t stop shaking. Maybe that had something to do with the -3 degree temperature, but who knows.

We spent one night in Nagano, in an awesome place called Worldtrek Guesthouse. It looked like a tree-house, with little hidden nooks and crannies hidden everywhere, and a wood fire burning inside. Our room was made up of little bunk-beds hidden behind walls and curtains, which was fun, and the fleeting privacy was well-welcomed after sharing what felt like one mattress between five of us for the previous four nights.

The reason we went to Nagano was to get to the snow monkeys, something that I’d really wanted to do on the last trip but not had time. And as is almost never the case, unbeknownst to us, we happened to stay there the one night of the year that Nagano celebrates a Light Festival at it’s Zenkō-ji Temple. Hundreds of handmade light boxes lined the street leading up to the temple that was lit up in an array of colours. What are the odds?

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But the real show happened the next morning when we rushed to the station to catch a bus to the Snow Monkey Park. Next was a half an hour walk through the snow-covered forest. I was busy focusing on not falling over, but couldn’t help but be taken away by the winter wonderland around me. Every surface was dusted in a thick blanket of fluffy white snow. I didn’t think it could get any prettier, until we reached the monkeys. Not quite pretty, more pretty ugly, but so darn cute. There were babies running around everywhere and we couldn’t believe how close to them you could actually get. Some were munching on snow, some were floating in their 42 degree hot pool, picking fleas from each others fur, or posing for pictures. It was almost alarming how human-like they were. I fell in love with one monkey I named George. He was sitting in the snow with his leg stretched out, and when he caught me smiling at him, he quickly tucked it in and had a look across his face like he’d been caught red-handed. Absolutely gorgeous. Or should I say Georgeous? *sigh*

I was worried it would be an overrated experience, and that we would trek all that way and just see a bunch of monkeys sitting in water from a distance, but I was absolutely wrong. It was worth every cent we spent on it and I could have stayed there for hours. It was one of the things I was so excited about doing this trip and I’m so glad I got the chance to come back and do it after my last holiday.

Soba for lunch and a snooze on the bus back.

Kyoto we’re coming for you.

E x

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Traveling through Tokyo

They say there is no rest for the wicked, so then wicked we must be. It was day three already and with a morning up our sleeves we headed out and stumbled upon the Tokyo Skytree. Actually I’m not sure if stumbled is the right word, the thing is 350m high. But with the day (and the queue) being relatively clear, we thought the likelihood of seeing Mount Fuji were pretty good, and finally odds I’d be happy to pay.

Once we reached the top, we opened up to an incredible 360 degree view of Tokyo, a beautiful blue sky, and a view of Mount Fuji as crystal clear as the water that runs off her. We smiled, we selfied, and we were satisfied.

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Next up was meeting the crew at Asakusa, which was actually my hood last time I was in Tokyo. As another blast from the past, it was fun showing everyone where I got my ninja license, where I used to eat, and exploring all the incredible Temples and Shrines that were flowing with people. We got food and fortunes at the market, and then hurried off in search of a knife for him. As a keen cook and after seeing the knife that I brought back from the last trip to Japan, he’d looked up where to go and led us directly to the most stunning damascus steel knife shop. It really is more of an art than an appliance when you see it in this form. Worth every cent. Ed wants one now too.

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Before he tried to shave his arm with his new blade to prove how sharp it was, we headed to Akihabara to be reunited with the gang again. Affectionately known as Electric City, this is the center of the bright lights and the more unconventional novelties. We found Roman and John outside the technology department store having a vape, Brandon on Level 3 professing his love for a $9000 camera lens, and Romy and Michelle on Level 6 checking out BeyBlades and every other gadget and gizmo you didn’t realise you needed.

Once presents were purchased we headed out into the cold to somewhere Akihabara is famous for – the seven story sex shop, where things really started to heat up. Most things I had no idea what they were, most things I never want to know what they were, but an enlightening experience by the city of lights nonetheless.

With a rumbling in our tummies, Roman nailed the dinner choice for the third night in a row. Or was it Brandon? I forget. We went to a Tempura Tsunahachi, and we went hard. Each of us armed with about ten different bowls, some for touching, some for putting, and some for dipping all of the salts and powders and sauces on our tempura. To wash it all down, we headed to Golden Gai – a shanty-town-esque maze of bars big enough to fit up to four people. Some of them were members only, some of them only had the tiniest window to poke your nose through from the alley, and most of them were full. We managed to find one that we all fit in and made it rain cocktails. John trusted Dan’s advice and ordered a Mint Choc-flavoured cocktail, Brandon looked modish with his Margarita, him and I both had Rosemary-infused Gin & Tonics, and Romy was salty with her Salty Bull that didn’t quite hit the spot.

Well watered and surviving the steep staircase out of the place, we headed for Karaoke. Bumping into some fellow Aussie travelers (one of which he remembered from Uni, and the third person he knows that he has bumped into this trip so far), we were recommended the best Karaoke joint, which also happened to provide incredible costumes free of charge. Dressed as a carrot, I saw everyone’s favourite Drunk Dan turn into a Nek Level Drunk Dan who we ended up losing until 7.30am the next morning, I saw Brandon and John serenade each other with screamo, I saw him in a dress, I saw Romy bust a rhyme or two dressed as a microphone, and Michelle shaking it off to Taylor Swift.

The next morning, after being woken up by Dan at 7.30am on his way home from a spontaneous trip with John to the Tsukiji Fish Markets that morning (it was 5am and they were still out, so why not?), there was no surprise that we all woke a little late that morning. Determined to not let a day go to waste, him, Ed and I got up and headed off on an adventure suggested by the Aussie we’d met the night before – to Shim-Kitazawa. Described as the ‘hipster’ part of Tokyo, it lived up to all expectation. Much quieter than Shibuya, every street corner was dotted with Op Shops and second-hand clothing stores. There were murals all over the walls, and the street lamps were playing smooth jazz. We’d been recommended a few cafes, one of which advertised ‘Melbourne-style Coffee’ and spent most of our time wandering around trying to find it. After introducing the boys to the magic that is Muji, and a quick stop off at one of the many games arcades and a game of Luigi’s Haunted House, which involved a lot of me pointing my gun at the screen and screaming, we headed back to Shibuya for an early night.

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An early rise to make the Tsukiji Fish Markets, which we were disappointed to find wouldn’t let us in until 10am, we instead roamed the outer markets and bought jumbo shrimp and freshly grilled scallops, as well as sashimi bowls for breakfast. Disappointing that we didn’t make it far into the actual market before we were stopped by security and escorted out, but understandable with all the trolleys and workers rushing around at full pace.

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This afternoon we are off to Nagano to see the Snow Monkeys and maybe a few onsen before we head off on the rest of the trip. Can’t wait to see the snow.

How’s your heatwave going, Sydney?

E x

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