When we were in New York last May, one of our to-dos was the circumnavigation by kayak around Manhattan. Alas, I tested positive for covid when I landed, so we had to shelf that.
We were back in NYC for a couple of weeks again this year, and although the tides didn’t line up properly for the circumnavigation, Manhattan Kayak Company did have a separate 18 miles (29k) trip up the Hudson to the Palisades planned. Ecstatic, we booked it immediately for Sunday May 21.
Happily I was much healthier this time, and the weather was simply gorgeous (vs. the day before where it just poured buckets, or a year ago, when it was pushing 100 degrees in high humidity on expedition day).
We arrived at the boathouse right on time. The instructor hadn’t arrived yet and it seemed that everyone else were regulars who knew where everything was and got into their prep. Happily though, once the instructor, Ronald, arrived, he was most gracious, and quickly helped us pick out two carbon fiber sea kayaks we could borrow for the trip. We kitted up in neoprene long johns and splash jackets, and launched from the floating platform.
As I said earlier, the weather was beautiful. A super comfortable high 60s (mid teens in C) kinda day. But it was windy. Almost immediately, we crossed over to the Jersey side to get a bit of shelter from the strong gusts. I was in much admiration of the three intrepid souls on their stand up paddle boards.
Lovely paddle overall. We made it up to Palisades by 1230pm, and had a leisurely half hour picnic by the waters edge while waiting for the tide to turn. Then it was back towards downtown. Though the winds picked up, the weather had warmed up enough so we stowed away our splash jackets. The changed tides really aided us on the way back and we were nearly a full hour faster on the return.
Somewhat spontaneously, we decided to do a long weekend in Taipei at the end of March. Every other person we knew seemed to be going, and with the reopening post Covid and loosened restrictions, it seemed like a good time as any.
We didn’t want to take any vacation days, seeing that we had an upcoming trip up the Western Australia coast to Ningaloo in April, and so decided to take the red eye into Taipei, arriving at dawn Thursday, whereupon we’d head straight to the hotel, and work a full day from there. Sometimes, we think we’re still in our 20s…
Somewhat surprisingly, we held up. We had time to stroll to a scallion pancake place for breakfast, before diving head down into work. I’d blocked off time for lunch, and so headed out to a beef noodle place for lunch and to buy back for Jeff. Benefits of working remotely – we get to enjoy the local cuisine!
In the evening, we grabbed a cheeky cocktail and some snacks at a quiet joint, Fuzzy April Bar, then took a cab over to the Raohe Night Market. Compared to when I last visited three years ago, the crowds were a lot thinner. This being Jeff’s first time in Taiwan though, he partook in some stinky tofu, which he declared tastier than durian. The travesty.
Friday, another full day of meetings, but with time enough blocked off to go in search of another beef noodle store at lunch. Ate a little too much, but man, the Taiwanese make some of the tastiest beef noodles. Beautifully al dente noodles with melt in your mouth brisket and tendons. Just drooling a little recollecting.
In the evening, we walked to a speakeasy recommended by Notion AI. Haha, I’d actually used it to help plan my Taipei itinerary, right down to the neighborhood to stay in that would have fast internet for remote work. It did a pretty great job actually – we double checked the recommendations against Google and everything stood up. This might be our way forward from now for trip planning! Anyway, enjoyed a drink at Key Company, where to get in, we had to guess who the 2023 Oscar best actress winner was off a rack of keys, then use that key to enter.
Dinner at Mume was the highlight. Every course was delicious and for the price, we thought a really good deal. The portions were just right too – I didn’t roll out feeling overstuffed, as I usually do.
Saturday, I was too lazy to plan an itinerary and figure out the public transportation, and so just hired a private driver to bring us to the attractions in the outskirts of Taipei. Do those touristy things.
It turned out a good idea since it was misty with rain all day. And we could doze in the backseat to catch up on much needed rest.
Honestly though, not sights I’d visit again or highly recommend. Yeh Liu was this super commercialized boardwalk around the coastal geographic formations that reminded us of the Bondi to Coogee walk, which we enjoyed for free. Shi Fen was an old mining town we stopped at so we could light up sky lantern along the rail road tracks. I felt marginally guilty we were littering the countryside with these lanterns – though the guide assured us that the locals were paid to help retrieve them. We also stopped by other mining towns like this little place that was full of cats – good for the cat lovers to take their gram, and Jing Gui Shi for a bit of a stroll through the verdant forests.
The highlight of the day was the squeeze through the narrow and crowded alleyways of Jiu Fen, also the inspiration for the popular animation Spirited Away. Haven’t watched it myself since I’m not a fan of anime, but it did remind me.of an Asian Diagon Alley. Pity though, that most of the little stores hawking mouthwatering snacks only took cash, and we hadn’t withdrawn enough, and so had to really prioritize on what we wanted to get in the end.
In the evening, we met up with Jeff’s old college buddy for dinner at a swank Chinese restaurant on the 46th floor of a tower right by Taipei 101. The storm earlier had caused a fog to set in, completely obscuring our view, but happily cleared up by the end of our meal.
Jeff had initial grand plans for a hike Sunday morning, but given the forecast was more rain, we opted instead for a tour of the Grand Palace Museum. I didn’t mind to be honest, since we were flying home that evening and I’d rather not sit in sweaty clothes all day. Plus, the museum was fascinating, and we zoomed through most of the exhibits in 2.5 hours before decamping to Tarroir for another delicious and value for money omakase meal.
All in all, it was chill way to explore a new city, sample the local cuisine, and we’re very grateful we have the ability to work remotely!
It’s hard to pick a highlight from our two week trip to Greece. But the day we had the most fun was undoubtedly when our last full day in Santorini, where, after a week of strong winds, the wind finally died down and the clouds dissipated such that we were able to get out onto the water for a leisurely kayak exploration of the black and white beaches of Santorini.
Our guide for the the kayak trip, Kalliopi, runs the tour on her own as a small family operation, similar to Laura at Sydney by Kayak when she started. Like Laura, she places a lot of emphasis on the lux customer experience. We were served freshly made cups of espresso when we arrived, and kitted with cute backpacks loaded with a gourmet picnic set, including cute bottles of olive oil and oregano so we could season to taste our chilled cucumber, tomato and feta cheese salad. Post paddle, as we waited for our rides back to our accommodations, we relaxed with a glass of her family’s delicious Rose.
But more than the service, the kayaking was incredible. I’d asked, on the off chance that we had the option to when I booked, if we could use single kayaks instead of the standard doubles. Kalliopi acquiesced easily after ascertaining that we were regular paddlers, but it was only we arrived that she confessed that this was the first time she’d given guests the use of her single kayaks. Indeed, she only had two single kayaks, reserved for herself and an assistant guide, but I guess we’d also lucked out because there happened to be two young kids on the trip, so she made the executive decision to let Jeff and I paddle her singles while she and Nicolas, an assistant guide, each took a child. In a single, Jeff and I enjoyed the flexibility of exploring the little nooks and crannies while snapping lots of pictures of the other haha.
The scenery was gorgeous. As at Milos, where we spent another beautiful (if occasionally rainy) day paddling, the soaring cliffs we paddled past was ever changing, with striations of lava rock, pumice, sandstone, red rock lined with iron, and rock tinged green with copper. There were dozens of little sea caves that we paddled by and sometimes popped into as well, including a super fun L-shaped tunnel that we squeezed through. The water was a startling aquamarine and clear, where the bottom didn’t drop off, we could see the huge boulders and schools of tiny fish darting around.
When we stopped for lunch, Jeff and I pulled on our snorkels and plunged into the brisk waters for an invigorating swim. It was glorious how calm and clear the waters were, and I daydreamed about staying by the Agean seas for an extended period of time, so I could enjoy daily swims like these.
But otherwise, the rest of our time in Greece was just as eventful.
Although the forecasted gale-force winds led us to cut our planned 3 days kayaking in Milos short, we were still able to enjoy a fun day on the water with Sea Kayak Milos. It was a little too cold for a cheeky little swim, but it was great exploring the sea caves in our cosy group of consisting of one other guest A (who lives in Switzerland and kayaks on her own in an Oru too) and our guide Dario, an Italian who has spent the past three summers guiding Milos.
Since we’d shortened our stay on Milos, we rebooked to go to Santorini earlier by ferry, and this turned out to be an excellent decision firstly because we added a stay at Pyrgos, a quiet hilltop town set away from the more crowded (yes, even in October, which is supposedly the shoulder season) coastal towns from Fira to Oia. Secondly, it also gave us time to visit the ancient cities of Akrotiri and Thera. As a fun bonus, instead of a car, we rented an ATV to get around, and it was a blast revving up the many switchbacks that led up to Thera.
On Santorini, we also did the stunning Fira to Oia walk, which we likened to the Bondi to Coogee walk in Sydney on steroids.
We also spent a day cruising and walking up to summit of the volcano, and lunched on the nearby island of Thirassia, where we had a cold but beautiful little swim by the beach.
And I’m glad we tacked on a few days at the start of our trip, driving inland to Delphi and Meteora. In Delphi, we visited the seat of the temple of Apollo, set on a steep hillside overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, which we spent a morning hiking down to, past an ancient aqueduct and sprawling olive groves.
In Meteora, it was as if we’d stepped into the set of Game of Thrones, where incredible monasteries perched on top of soaring boulders – but of course it’s art getting inspiration from real life. These Eastern Orthodox monasteries date back to the 14th century, and of the 24 that were originally built, only 6 remain today, overseen by an ever diminishing group of aging monks and nuns – only 50 left. It’s also a climbing mecca, and we gawped with envy at the tiny speck of climbers inching their way up the steep rock faces.
Of course, we kept a couple days to explore Athens, or more accurately, the area surrounding the Parthenon. Everyone else had told us not to spend too much time in the city as it is a dump, but honestly we had fun wandering around – visiting the Acropolis Museum which houses the statues and friezes from the Acropolis, to climbing the hill to visit the famous site just after sunrise, to the various ruins that lie in the shadow of the Acropolis. We had fantastic and cheap meals in Athens too, and pre-dinner drinks in cute little bars.
It was a great two weeks. We reckon, just the right amount of adventure and relaxation. And now that we’ve a taste of kayaking in the stunning Agean waters, we’re already plotting a return, eyeing this time the Northern Sporades island of Skopelos!
We’re not massive fitness people, truth be told. We exercise more to explore, than to work out. Which is why I give massive kudos to folks who can, week after week, put in miles on their kayaks and bicycles. We lose motivation after a while if we don’t get a change in scenery. 😂
This past Sunday though, we decided to try a new cycle route: from Pasir Ris to Marina Barrage, through the Ponggol-Hougang-Kallang park connector.
We set off at 5am, in the hopes of making it to town to see the sunrise. It was lovely pedaling in the dark, through quiet streets. It was cool out too – as cool as it can get in Singapore anyway – and drizzly half the section. We rode past neighborhoods we’d never visited before, and bumped into my coworker who was also out getting his cycling fix in. We hit the northern end of the Singapore river – more canal, really – and followed its curves until the lit Singapore Flyer came into view.
The sky was getting light by then. But with the low clouds, we weren’t going to get any color. No matter. It was still a lovely ride past the Indoor Stadium and across the Marina Barrage to where the glass structures of the cloud forest and flower domes were. We rode past dozens of collegian dragon boaters warming up by the riverside before they hit the water, past joggers and other cyclists who were also getting early morning starts.
When we hit the front of Marina Bay Sands, it was decision time. Back the same route, or up through East Coast Park and through the Bedok Reservoir, or should we just hug the coast and take the long way home?
Our legs felt strong, and we didn’t particularly fancy riding back along busy sidewalks that doubled up as bike paths, so we opted for the scenic route, stopping first by the MacDonalds along the park to escape the rain and sate our rumbling stomachs.
Fun route back. Brought back memories of a couple decades ago, when as teenagers with tons more energy, we’d take the same coastal ride from Pasir Ris, starting at midnight, then returning only at sunrise, stopping at different 24-hour coffee shops to refuel and shoot the breeze. Haha.
Still stuck on this tiny island of Singapore, and striving to enjoy the little things. We took last Monday afternoon off, to take a spin through Gardens by the Bay and the Chihully glass exhibit in the gardens.
When we decided to go to the Dolomites to ski, we also decided to spend a few days in Venice. After all, the last time either of us had visited was more than a decade ago! My enduring memory of my trip there almost two decades ago was the floods – half a foot of water blanketed San Marco’s, shutting down the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica. I remember waiters alternately bailing water out of the ground level restaurants and serving meals to patrons.
Happily, we enjoyed beautiful weather the 3 days we were there. Our first afternoon, we did the touristy thing and braved the crowds in San Marco’s to visit the Campinale for the breathtaking views of the city. We also spent a fun 2 hours wandering the halls of the Doge’s Palace.
The Carnivale parade along the boulevard and San Marco’s had just ended when we finally exited the Doge’s Palace, and, as the crowds dispersed, we got to join in the throngs of photographers to take pictures of the dozens dressed up in elaborate costumes and masks. It was quite surreal – but festive and entertaining! The Carnivale runs for 2 weeks, and we went smack in the middle, which meant there were masqueraders wandering all over town in their getups the entire weekend – when we tried to catch the sunrise one foggy morning along the water’s edge, they were milling around and posing for photographers too!
We also spent an afternoon at the historic Teatro La Fenice, the famed Opera house that hosted the premieres of Rigoletto etc. Caught the Elisir d’amore, a 2.5 hour Donizetti comedy in a gallery box, which was fun!
Mostly, we tried to stay away from the main touristy areas, and instead explored the different neighborhoods – the Jewish ghetto one night, and the Castello district another morning, where, upon the advice of our host at the hotel, we stopped by the Scuola Grande di San Marco, an old church that is now part of the city’s hospital. It boasts a quiet little garden where many fat cats lounged in the winter sun.
Venice is a charming city to explore, for its many waterways and winding tight alleys. It’s impossible to know, when you turn a corner, if you’d wind up in an open piazza with many alfresco bars, or run smack into a waterway. At dusk though, the city becomes truly magical. The warm orange street lamps light up the blue waterways, and with the absence of motor vehicles of any kind, we felt like we could have really stepped back into another era.
We ate really well this trip. After the heavy meat dishes in the alps, we sought out – and found – lots of fresh seafood in Venice. At least we made sure to walk upwards of 25,000 steps a day to account for our feasts and scoops of gelato daily!
We also managed to spend a day in the outer islands of Venice, first visiting Burano for its colorful rows of houses, then Murano where we gawked at the beautiful glass works on sale.
Coming down from the mountains, we spent a day in Verona, a quiet (relative to Venice) town just an hour and a half from the coast.
We arrived on Valentine’s Day, and we were initially dismayed at the realisation, because we hadn’t thought to make restaurant reservations in advance. But the upside, we found out, was that all attractions were going for the price of 2-for-1! Which meant discounted entries to Castelvecchio and the Arena that we visited.
Otherwise, we were happy to roam about the city, losing ourselves in the warren maze of medieval streets.
We flew to and from Greenland via Copenhagen, and so took advantage of the journey by spending a few days there to explore the city, and let’s be honest, check another new country off our list. Haha.
Crazy high standards of living aside, we love this city, and how green and ecological the Danes are. They rely extensively on wind and solar energy, and burn their trash to generate heat. The city has a goal to become carbon neutral by 2025.
It’s also compact, and easy enough for us to explore over our 4.5 days there. We kept our schedules light, and luxuriated in long sleeps in cosy beds after camping for a week. Still, we managed to cover most of the city, on foot, on a bike tour with Mike, a gregarious old man with his personal bike tour and who came highly recommended by our Greenland mate Ally. We also wandered around it from the water, with Kirstin, with whom we spent many happy and boisterous hours playing kayak netball with back in Sydney a couple of years ago when she guided for Laura’s Sydney by Kayak.
Physical activities aside, our focus was to hit up the the famed food scene of Copenhagen. We didn’t manage to get reservations to Noma – not that we tried really hard, seeing that the cost for the degustation menu started at $700 a person! But we did eat at Palægade, Iluka, 108 (the sister restaurant to Noma) and Høst, the latter being our favorite and highlight. The food at these restaurants all featured fresh vegetables, and seafood, quite a change from our usual meat heavy fare. Really delicious, though hard on the wallet.
Our last day in the city, we wondered around the Christianhavn neighborhood before making our way to the Copenhagen Royal Opera House, where we were absolutely delighted to see the chorus master leading the public in a masterclass singalong of the Opera Carmen. We went in to take a look, and were thrust the scores so we could follow along and join in if we wanted. Well I can’t read scores, but we spent the next hour and a half listening in. So much fun, and it was a most lovely way to end our trip (that, and a delicious lunch of pork snitchzel washed down with homemade snaps at Restaurant Barr!
We’d the opportunity to spend a week in Sydney. Work during the day, catch ups with friends over meals in the evening. And on the weekends, we did what we loved best in Sydney – exploring the outdoors.
Our original plan to kayak the first Sunday we were back was scuttled due to gusty winds of up to 45km/h. And our attempt to go again the following Saturday was stymied by the strong winds again, as was the SUP ball game our friend had planned for us in Manly.
Oh well. But Lisa had another idea up her sleeve happily for Saturday – hiking in Lane Cove National Park. It’s a beautiful little area of land, so serene and quiet amongst the trees, and so close to downtown! We spent an enjoyable 4 hours just meandering around, stopping for a warm cuppa tea (ginseng gin tea anyone!?).
The winds finally did die down Sunday morning though, before our 3pm flight. Garry, Jeff, and I managed to squeeze in a two hour paddle from Spit Bridge to Bantry Bay and back, one of my favorite training routes back when I was training for the Massive Murray Paddle. Good times.
Over Easter, we visited Hoian. This was my first trip to Vietnam, and I’d only heard good things about Hoian. Everyone gushed about how beautiful it was, and I couldn’t wait.
It was indeed charming. Hoian used to be a trading port in the 15th – 19th centuries, and the buildings in the UNESCO-designated Ancient Town reflects the infusion of Chinese, Japanese and European designs.
The temperatures were already in the mid-thirties when we arrived early morning from Danang, and the humidity only climbed till we had to hide back in air conditioned hotel room after lunch until late afternoon for the soft golden light.
And if the narrow streets were crowded with pedestrians, bicycles, trishaws, and scooters during the day, they were positively packed at night. Everyone came out at dusk to enjoy the colorful lanterns strung overhead, and the atmosphere was festive.
We tacked on a sunrise visit to My Son, a cluster of Hindu temples built by the Champa dynasties from the 7th – 13th century, about an hour’s drive from Hoian. Pro tip – sunrise is the best time to visit, because of the (1) beautiful golden light; (2) cool temperatures; and (3) light crowds. We were the first to reach the temples, and enjoyed serene minutes just quietly taking in the brick architecture harking back to the 7th century.
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