Challenge completed.

So my blog is finally finished. Yea I did it! All those people who doubted me can eat their words … or eat mine … all 28 x 4 x 100 of them! (For the record that is 11, 200 words.)

Ok so if I am really honest I cheated a little bit here and there … I merged 2 days (in my defence I crossed a date line), some days had more than 4 photos and some had less, some days had more than 400 words and some had (a lot!) less.

I don’t think I had one entry that was strictly 4 photos with exactly 100 words about each photo, but that’s not the point. I wanted to keep a holiday blog and knew my tendency to waffle on and on and on would mean a fantastically detailed first few days and then … nothing. By setting myself the 28:4:100 scope I made that challenge easier to attain. The proof is in the pudding, it’s done. Although, the proof is also in the eating so feel free to read (or re-read) and make your own judgement about just how successful I was!

Day 28: Sunday 11th October 2015 – Back home with our gorgeous puppies

dog toys 1 dog toys 2 dog toys 3Rather than four photos, one video. We arrive home very early Sunday morning and had a mercifully brief and uneventful trip through immigration and customs (the automatic machine even let Tom past despite his passport photo being nearly 10 years old and most of his hair having migrated from the top of his head to his chin region!). We could not wait to get home and see Nala and Murphy, don’t think I will ever be able to leave them for that long again. We had got them a toy each from NYC (mentally pat self on back for restricting self to one), which they straight away destroyed with love.

*** Ok so after much frustration found cannot upload video to blog, so here are some freeze frames 🙂

Day 27: Saturday 10 October 2015 – Homeward bound

When we first booked our flights we thought flying out at 730pm was great because it gave us a whole extra day in Hong Kong.  In actual fact though by the time you allow for check in time, taxi ride to airport, having another shower before a late checkout (because Hong Kong was so sticky we had to!) you are not left with much. So we spent a few hours in the morning wandering around the nearby streets, it was a Saturday so there were lots of markets and street stalls open.

We saw some interesting scaffolding! I know bamboo is meant to be really strong, but not sure how I’d feel about climbing on this!

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We came across a really long line of people waiting for something (left photo), so we followed it to the front and found they were waiting for a bakery to open. A quick internet search (thank you free smart phone supplied by hotel) told us they made famous cookies and cakes and it was not uncommon for people to line up for hours. There was even a warning on the shutter to not be taken in by imitations – fake cookies what is the world coming to?

We cut through an alleyway to emerge on a similar street parallel to the one the bakery was on. There was another long line (right photo) and for a moment I thought maybe the bakery took up the whole space between streets and you could line up on either side.  In fact it was another Hong Kong delicacy (thanks again smart phone!) that people line up for hours for – a preserved lemon and liquorice snack.

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We had one last stop off at “our” park, it was situated right next to the hotel and we looked down into it from our room. It was a peaceful place, very quiet and relaxing considering how close to bustling city streets it was.  The ponds had lots of turtle in them (most ponds in Hong Kong seemed to have turtles in them!)

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We had lunch and a final coffee with Cat before heading off to the airport to start the last past of our journey home.

Day 26: Friday 9th October 2015 – More walking!

We woke up in the morning and for some bizarre reason decided we hadn’t done enough walking the day before, so we decided to take on another hike.

We caught a ferry across to Lamma Island, getting off at a town called Yung Shue Wan.  After wandering through the little town that had a lovely seaside holiday vibe we started on a walking trail that took us to Sok Kwu Wan, where we got on the return ferry.

The walk was an easy, mostly flat one and  much of it was paved.  However it was still over two hours walking in heat and humidity so I really did feel we were justifying all the food we had consumed on the holiday to that point.  There were lots of points to stop and take in gorgeous views, especially of the coastline. There is a huge power station that can be seen from most points on the island, but you can frame your shot so that it is not in the photo 🙂

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Back in the city we headed to Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum which is in the train station … and has a Michelin star! To be honest this was probably top on my “to-do” list in Hong Kong and it is my top recommendation for anyone heading there, it simply cannot be missed.  You put down for a table and are given a menu (in English but with some potential inaccuracies in translation and other bits not translated at all!) on which you have to tick everything you want to order. About 45 minutes later (which according to the internet is classified as a short wait!) we were ushered to our table and within minutes our food was out.

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This is no place for dilly-dallying, you are expected to eat, pay (by taking your docket to a lady sitting at the entrance – cash only of course), and get out in timely fashion.  Quite a world away from our previous Michelin experience in NYC only days before!

The food is cheap.  I can’t remember exactly how cheap but I remember doing the conversion to AUD in my head as we walked away and thinking we had somehow been grossly undercharged by accident. It was something like $30 for the two of us and we were stuffed full (couldn’t finish it all!). The food was delicious, amazing, awesome, I-still-dream-about-the-pork-buns, crazy good.  The pork buns deserve a blog of their own, they were perfect – light and fluffy outside slightly crisp from being baked and sweet sticky bbq inside, so glad we erred on the side of caution and ordered two servings!

We had seen people receiving a dish that was a parcel of some sort of big leaf and weren’t sure what it was, luckily one our guesses (“not sure what that is but let’s tick it anyway!”) on the menu came through and we received it. Inside was rice that had these amazing flavours infused through it.

We spent the evening at a beer festival with Cat on the waterfront, was an interesting way to try lots of different beers and see the city all lit up.

Day 25: Thursday 8th October 2015 – The Peak and lovely gardens

IMG_7085If we had thought NYC was a little warm, then Hong Kong was a step up altogether! Thirty degrees and humid, I don’t mind heat but I hate humidity – you just feel so sticky and gross. So of course we decided to walk up a mountain, well a peak. Rather than doing what sensible tourists to to get to “The Peak”, Hong’s Kong’s most famous attraction, and catching the tram, we walked up. It started with lots of steps and sloping footpaths winding up through suburbia until we reached the start of the Morning Trail, a 2.8 km walk to the top. I’m pretty sure doing this justifies any and all junk food I may have eaten on my travels.

IMG_7093This is me half way (looking half dead), exercising in humidity zaps your energy so much quicker. The Morning Trail itself was lovely, there were lots of signs giving information about the different trees and plants that were growing and these reassuring signs telling you how far to go. We passed lots of people running (crazy) or walking their dogs, as well as locals who probably walked it every day given how they were taking it in their stride (ha ha get it?). It was all very civilized with rest points, small parks and public toilets frequently dotted along the way. The climb itself was not overly steep so, unlike Mount Lofty, I could talk the whole way (lucky Tom!)

IMG_7116We reached the top! Google “Hong Kong Peak views” if you want good photography of the harbour and skyline because mine is woeful, so instead here is one to prove we got there. The top is quite touristy with shops, restaurants and amusements such as a Madame Tussaud’s. There was even a life-sized Pac-Man game, friends could dress up as Pac-Man and ghosts and chase each other round a maze. We skipped all of this and punished ourselves further by walking even more uphill to reach the Victoria Gardens, which had more great views of the other side of the island and were very peaceful and quiet compared to the Peak.

IMG_7148 We caught the tram (a funicular) back down the hill, it was quite steep and felt weird going backwards on such an angle (I wondered why they didn’t just flip the seats so we were facing forward and Tom pointed out that at that angle we would all fall on the floor. Touche.) At the bottom we went to Hong Kong Park which is a lovely space of green right behind all the skyscrapers that form the harbour skyline. There were lots of areas with different purposes, including this pool filled with fish and terrapins that was lovely to sit and relax next to for a while. They had a walk through aviary with some cool birds, including some white ones with blue around their eyes who were fearless and show offs, coming right up to people. There were also impressive giant hornbills, they were in their own cage because if they were in the aviary they would prey on the smaller birds.

I liked that the park contained a memorial to the health workers who died after volunteering to care for infected patients at the outbreak of SARS in 2003. You don’t often see a memorial that isn’t for a war, terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large scale tragedy, so it was nice to see this small group of people (I think there were 8 – doctors, nurses and civil servants) remembered for their sacrifice. There was also a Museum of Tea Ware which was a small exhibit about how tea drinking has developed in China over the centuries, particularly in regards to the vessels used to prepare and drink it. There were some teapots from the 7th century which was pretty amazing.

We then headed just down the road to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, we were mainly there to check out the monkeys (thanks for the suggestion Cat!). There were gibbons, varieties of tamarins and orangutans, as well as lemurs and tortoises – oh and few stray kittens running around (admittedly we may have watched them play longer than we watched some of the monkeys).

Finally a big thumbs up to Hong Kong for the fact that of all of the things we did, the only thing that cost us any money was the tram, everything else was free!

Days 23&24: Tuesday 6th October & Wednesday 7th October 2015 – Travelling to Hong Kong

New York is exactly 12 hours behind Hong Kong, so we jumped forward half a day – hence the combined post as pretty much all we did complete a long plane trip.

The great thing about getting to Hong Kong was getting to catch up with my friend Cat, who I went to university with, she has recently started teaching at a school in Hong Kong. By pure coincidence the hotel we booked is really close to Cat’s apartment (she can see the building from her living room!). So Cat met us and we headed over to Kowloon on a ferry, a short and cheap trip with stunning views of the Hong Kong skyline as the sky got darker and all the lights came on. We had a dinner of various dumplings and won tons at a restaurant with one Michelin star, they were awesome. I am looking forward to lots of good food from various Asian cuisines in the next couple of days.

We spent a little more time appreciating the gorgeous views across the harbour and then headed back across the water and back to the hotel via the escalators that connect different streets and work like the Southern Expressway used to (going one way in the morning, swap over time, then going the opposite way in the afternoon).

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Day 22: Monday 5th October 2015 – Last day in the Big Apple

On our last day in NYC we finally made it over to Brooklyn. We didn’t actually do much, just spent an enjoyable morning wandering around the leafy streets filled with lovely old buildings (and looking in real estate agents windows to see just how much those places cost! Hint: too much). We walked along the riverside which has been developed nicely with park areas and sculptures and I spotted an awesome old water tank that had been jazzed up a little. There isn’t really much else to say apart from that, we headed home early because we had to pack up. We had planned to head over to Williamsburg but the two main things we wanted to check out weren’t open on Mondays (not the best forward planning by us) so we stuck to the Brooklyn Heights area near the bridge. Will have to go back some day!

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Day 21: Sunday 4th October 2015 – a whole lotta nuthin

This morning I was still recovering from my migraine and then we had some boring housekeeping type stuff to take care off so we didn’t head out until the afternoon. We had a very lovely walk in the sunshine through Central Park to Times Square, where we did a bit of souvenir shopping. Then we headed back home, so not very enthralling at all sorry. Here is a picture of me in a lovely part of Central Park where you walk through a tiled underpass and one of an empty Fifth Avenue (a parade had just finished up) something you don’t often see.

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Ok so maybe this day wasn’t as ho-hum as I made out. As most people would have heard by the time they read this, Tom and I got engaged. So here is the obligatory “Oh my God, a ring!” photo, taken on the proposal spot in Central Park. (Some of our “souvenir” shopping included a bit of window shopping in Tiffany’s then the purchase of a slightly more affordable Kate Spade placeholder ring at Macy’s.)20151005_154010

Day 20: Saturday 3rd October 2015 – An awesome dinner

Most of the day was nothing special. We caught the train from DC to NYC, getting in around lunchtime. We spend the afternoon doing laundry and chilling out, then got ready for dinner. This was to be no ordinary dinner, we headed to Jean-Georges in the Trump Tower at Columbus Circle. We had booked a table a month in advance as this place has three Michelin stars (and a price point to match).

No pictures because we felt a little uncouth taking pictures with a phone in such a fancy setting, although here is one of us ready to head out and one of me outside the restaurant at the end of the night (obviously stuffed full of good food):

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We did the Autumn-themed degustation menu which used seasonal produce, although they let two of us switch the stone fruits dessert plate for the chocolate one from the normal menu so we could try both.

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The restaurant itself was very fancy – waiters flattened themselves against the wall when you walked past (I felt like I was a 19th century English Lord and the servant girls had to stop scrubbing the floor and face the wall whenever I walked past). There were comfy padded chairs, most tables had a few chairs and then a two-seater lounge, men had to wear jackets the whole time (poor Tom, it was quite warm in there). There was fresh cutlery for every course, laid out like it was an important ceremony. Instead of a bread basket on the table there was a selection of about 6 different breads and they came around periodically to see if you wanted any. The plates were white and cool,  curved shapes, (Tom said they looked like melted Pizza Hut Works ice cream bowls, an accurate description that did not detract from their classiness.) There were so many waiters (all at different levels: bread waiter, wine waiter, your personal table waiter, food serving waiter, water topping up waiter) – I think probably enough for one per guest. The table next to us had 6 guests and for some of the dishes there were sauces that got added at the last minute so one waiter would stand behind each guest and they would all pour in unison, which looked pretty cool. All in all, it was very much an “experience” and at a cost for 4 people akin to my fortnightly take home wage when I started teaching, not something I am likely to do again anytime soon.

Anyways, to the star of the night – the food. It was amazing! There was enough fancy, never tried before stuff, without it going overboard modern and deconstructing everything. Before the menu started we got some little hors d’oeuvres, I can’t remember what they were but one was lots of herbs in a ball which I didn’t like much (too sweet), the other thing was awesome but I have no idea what it was. The rest of the menu followed what is above, except instead of the ravioli we had a mushroom salad (which was great). My favourite was the mushroom salad, followed by the red snapper, then the chop, then the sashimi,  turnip, lobster. By the time we reached dessert, not only was I stuffed full but I had unfortunately developed a migraine so I forced myself the try the tiniest bit of everything, but I could not eat it. Such a good night though even a migraine could not spoil it entirely!

I highly recommend everyone do something like this at least once in their life!

Bonus Post: DC at night

On our final night in Washington we booked a night bus tour to see the monuments all lit up. Unfortunately it was very cold and drizzling the whole time, which made it had to see out the windows as we drove and even harder to get out of the bus at the stops. Luckily we had a great bus driver who kept us entertained with facts and funny stories, although in that particular American way of assuming everyone has (or should have!) all the key points of US history covered which sometimes leads to confusion!

Even in the rain and cold, the monuments were spectacular – I would love to go back one day in nicer weather so I can appreciate them more. I particularly liked the Lincoln Memorial, even after seeing it so many times in pictures and movies it was a different thing altogether in real life, very majestic and calming.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Iwo Jima Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

Alison, Tom and I in front of the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument

The Reflecting Pool deserted, Dad this is to rival your Taj Mahal photo!