Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Steps on Planning a Trip to Kilimanjaro & Recommendation on Local Guides

In my previous post, I shared some stories during my trip to Kilimanjaro this October. Here are a full set of steps which can help you plan a successful trip to this great mountain, and also, a recommendation on local guides.

Why Kilimanjaro?

The reason for climbing Kilimanjaro may differ from one to one. Many people whom I met on the mountain told me that it was their dream. If you need a reason, the following facts may help you:
  • Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, at 5,895 metres above sea level.
  • It is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Free-standing means it stands alone and is not part of a mountain range.
  • It is one of the world's largest volcanoes.
  • It has permanent glaciers covering the summit area, while it is only three degrees of latitude south to the Equator.

Can I Make It?
The first step is to check whether your are physically suitable for the climb. Although climbing Kilimanjaro is not technical, I still advise you to take a medical checkup before you decide to climb Kilimanjaro. Consult your doctor with your medical checkup report. Your doctor should be able to advise whether you can proceed and if you can, what should be noticed before and during the climb.

Time to Climb
To avoid the two rainy seasons, the good periods to climb Kilimanjaro are mid of December to end of February in the next year, and June to October. The former is a bit warmer than the latter in terms of temperature.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Dream Tour to Kilimanjaro

During my high school time, I read a short story by Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The story centers on the last memories of a writer who lies on the safari near Mount Kilimanjaro, awaiting his slow death caused by an infected wound. His memory is full of regret that he has not been doing what he should have as a writer. In a dream before he dies, a plane takes him to the top of Kilimanjaro. The story impressed me and forced me to think about the meaning of life. It sowed a seed in my heart to keep on my own way, to be the true myself, and be dare to fulfill my dreams without any regret. Before I graduated, I wrote a to-do-list for myself to celebrate the start of my real life. One item in the list is to climb up Kilimanjaro and view its snow cap on the Equator.

I marked this item in October this year, five years after I wrote it down in the to-do-list. The Seven-day Machame Route on Kilimanjaro was like a dream, interleaved by moments of excitement, pleasure, fantasy, achievement and thankfulness. What I would like to share here are the pieces of memories that I will never forget about.

Into the Forest
After Machame Gate, I stepped into the forest and shook my hand with Kilimanjaro. The mountain welcomed me with towering old trees and sporadic wild flowers. The trees blocked the afternoon sun light, as well as the snow cap high above. For the mountain, I was a child, excited by every single plant which I saw for the first time in my life, breathing the fresh air released by the aged lives. For the mountain, I was also a pilgrim, although uncertain about what would happen in the following days, still walking every step with faith.

Kilimanjaro Impatiens *

Above the Sea of Clouds
It was a bit foggy in the morning. I left the forest behind and climbed up a ridge of heath land. The route was steep and continuously heading up. Looking up to the top of the rocks, a bunch of everlasting flowers was smiling under the sunshine.

Soon after a while, the fog dissipated. I realized that I was already above the sea of clouds. The snow cap of Kibo was clearly showing her face. Taking a deep breath, the pleasant air flowed into my heart. I felt that I was at a higher level of the world, one step closer to the heaven.

A Torch Lily growing above the sea of clouds,
with Mount Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tips & Tricks for Travelling (cheap) in French Polynesia

The biggest challenge of French Polynesia, FP (or usually called the Islands of Tahiti) for the average traveller is cost. This place is freaking expensive. The main reason as you could imagine is that it is in the middle of nowhere and there is hardly any livestock farming or consumer goods manufacturing.. this means most things are imported from their closest neighbours New Zealand, Australia or US - coupled with the cost of shipment, storage and low demand (there is less than 300,000 inhabitants!),  the most basic offerings can cost an arm and a leg.

For our own trip, here are some tips and tricks to save some cash and little stuff that will hopefully make small but meaningful difference in your trip..

It is all about the money, money..

1. Salon du Tourisme

Find friends in Tahiti.. if the concept of 6' of separation holds through.. you should know someone that knows someone in Tahiti.. or make new friends.. this is crucial as there are travel fairs that targets locals/residents of Tahiti to visit the other islands. Here is the link: http://www.salondutourisme.pf/

Unfortunately you need to be physically there to make find deals and bookings, hence the need for a local friend.. some packages might explicitly require you to be a resident of FP but lots of them don't.

The best deals are usually for expensive over-water bungalows in these luxurious resorts that goes from usually USD 1000/night upwards.. you can get something which is like a 50-70% savings which still doesn't make it cheap.. but at least it is within reach for a few nights of stay. There are of course also the regular accommodations and mixing them up will keep the cost under-control. With the special deal we had, we spent 3 glorious nights in Sofitel Moorea.

>> Watch for basic comforts
Word of caution though, if you are on a shoestring budget ask yourself what are the basic comforts that you need.. once out of the main islands, air conditioning, electric mosquito repellents and even hot water can be a luxury!! So do ask in advance and don't take it for granted that you will have it.

The sparsely populated islands are a treat.. there is more sea life, the beach is usually more pristine, life is more natural.. with less humans - there is just less disturbance to nature. However.. it is all about the money money.. the cost goes exponentially up with these island.. there would be no petrol station.. some small islands within the islands still uses a generator for electricity and everything is brought in by plane or ship weekly or even less frequently.. So you could be staying in something REAAAALLY basic for USD 200/night and something for luxurious doubles the price.. so do gauge what you think are minimum comforts that you need and if the cost doesn't correspond to that.. well, perhaps you need to skip it or do very minimum number of nights stay.. 

2. Air Tahiti multi-island tours

There is only one way to fly.. Air Tahiti is the only commercial airline doing local routes. There is a multi-island pass that will save you some money if you want to visit beyond Tahiti and Bora-Bora. See here:

This is very important.. you need to plan where you want to visit then check back to see if the connections are feasible.. many small island do not have daily flight so you need to be able to plan accordingly.. we took the Bora Bora-Tuamotu Pass and visited Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Rangiroa & Tikehau in 3 weeks. We wanted to visit Marquesas Islands, but alas, cost was a barrier..

3. Stay with the heard

So contrary to the 'normal' instinct to stay away from tourist areas - Tahiti, Bora Bora and Raiatea offers more cheap accommodations and cheap eats simply because there are more people there and enough for them to have supermarkets for example. I found Raiatea to be the cheapest in terms of what you can get for quality over money.. but I'd make another post on the islands that we visited and their 'characteristics' later. Rule of thumb.. more people, cheaper.. but with less people and no major hotels, these islands are far more rustic and fits into your image of:

In the world of FP, this:

is more expensive than this:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

yahooo... a new header

I love the internet... I am currently sick like hell and could not sleep because all my coughing is keeping me awake. I decided to tweak the blog design and found this cool logo generator:


Don't you just love the charitable people on the internet?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cooking without Recipe - Stuffed Tomatoes

Haha.. another cooking without recipe post. 'cause it is just that simple. You don't need a recipe! It is also a good dish to make when you have vegetarians friend coming over. 

Pictured here is the non-vegetarian version though. You need those big super-sized tomatoes. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture so that you could gauge the size of these babies but they are roughly as large as my palm.

Preparation is easy peasy. First, cut off the top of the tomato then spoon out the inside part of the tomato. Chop what you got out into smaller cubes. Mix them with some minced meat (I used beef) and add salt, pepper and some olive oil to taste. The stuff them back in. I sprinkled a bit of breadcrumbs and some Herbes de Provence (but this is just because I have them) and put the 'cap' back on. ((I always have some Zucchini left, I have them because I buy lots of them.. you can make lots of yummy things with Zucchini and eggplant!)) Well, so I sliced up the Zucchini (seasoned it with salt, pepper, olive oil) and pop them together with the tomatoes and then bring them in the oven. 180'C fan and 20-30 min later, ta-da.. this comes out:

A vegetarian option is to use rice instead of minced meet and that's very tasty too.. But keep in mind that the rice grows when it is cooked and the meat shrinks.. so 'stuff' wisely..

You can have this as a main meal when you have 2 of them.. it fills you up.. or as a starter.. either way, it is something that is easy to make and looks pretty attractive when served. 

Have fun!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cooking without Recipe - Salmon & Leek Quiche

I love Quiche. It is my go-to food when I have something left in the fridge that I need to get rid off or make a simple starter when I have friends over for dinner!

Basically, it is a bit like pizza - there is no limit to what you can do. Although Fred insist that there are some rules and tend to shake his head when I do a new strange-to him combination.

As we had some leek left the other day, I thought of a quiche.. mm.. and maybe a fish quiche for a change.. so I got some smoked salmon and had 2 tomatoes left uneaten - might as well add that too. 

As  this is a 'cooking without recipe' post, it is more of an idea to what you can do rather than a precise recipe of how to make something. I am going to also add some tips that I discovered a long the way to make a 'beautiful' looking quiche. I did a lot of trial and errors on this and welcome new tips for you too! hehehe.

Ok, let's start. You  need a base. We use 'pate brisee'.. We buy this from the supermarket and keep it frozen. If you don't have it.. it is easy to make, just look up a shortcrust pastry recipe (e.g http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/8894/basic+shortcrust+pastry) throw everything in the food processor and voila!

I usually use the basic fillings of a 'Quiche lorraine'. 

Crème fraîche + cheese (I use Emmental) + eggs.  Some people add milk.

I usually use around 1 cup of  Crème fraîche, half a bag of grated emmental and 3 eggs.. the quantity of course depends on the size of quiche that you want to make.. Here is a simple recipe you could try. There is just so many of them on the web that you'd be spoilt for choice. 

First, I sauté the leek in olive oil to soften it. Then I make cream + cheese + egg mix while the leek cools. Usually most recipes will ask that you mix the other ingredients into this mix. While it taste great, it leaves you usually with unattractive brownish top. The ingredients don't 'float' like how they seem to do in those glossy recipe books. I have discovered that you should instead 'deck' the quiche last with the 'main ingredients'. After preparing the mix, I pour it into the pastry then I add the leek, followed by the salmon and then the sliced tomato on top of this mix. This way I am controlling how it looks on the quiche instead of having one big lump of mixture. Then I pop it into the oven. I bake for usually 30 min under 180'C with fan in the oven.. and this comes out:

You can make it with anything you have left in your fridge. I love Tomato + Spinach, Ham + Zucchini + Goat cheese, the lorraine version of course.. and I once mixed 4 different kind of cheeses into on cheesy quiche..

Try it out with a conventional recipe and once you know your way around.. this is one great dish to experiment with. Usually it has lots of success in parties too! Have fun & enjoy!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Ahhhhhhhhhh.. I am alive..  no doubt I have not been making any updates.. but I have a good excuse.. many things have happened since the last few months.. one being- Fred and I got married.

 It was one of those simple registration at the town hall with just the immediate family members. We were busy with our new apartment, with the papers to get married, papers to stay in Germany, having my parents around and we did a fair bit of travelling that I should also soon post about.

So ta-da, and cheers to a new beginning.

Speaking of new beginnings, I am lucky enough to have a new contributor. Amy, the founder of Pikaland will be joining us. I can't heap enough praises on Amy. She is incredibly talented, just head to Pikaland to see- but most of all, she is the kind and nourishing person that gives you nudges in your life. She has given me a quick kick to get of my ass and start doing something with this blog... "What do you love most?", she asked. "Eating and travelling!!", was of course what I answered.

So more is coming... on eat, laugh and travel...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lessons about life I learnt from Candy Crush

Art mimics life and life mimics art? I find that life is a lot like a game of Candy Crush. Assuming that everything is random and not controlled by an algorithm that is trying to make you part with your money, here is what I learnt:

1. You can still succeed through sheer luck, without knowing anything. BUT it wouldn't get you too far. To survive you need to learn the way of the game!

2. While skills are definitely important, so is luck. If you are given a shitty combinations, it is like playing with a very bad hand in poker.. it just tough.. don't blame yourself and don't blame the game.

3. When you are successful, it could just be luck again - doesn't mean you got any better at the game but you got through.

4. If once you don't succeed, try and try again. You can't have good luck all the time, but you can't have bad ones all the time neither! I once played a stage for one whole week, I didn't get any better, one day I got lucky.

5. Sometimes you only realise you made an obvious mistake after you've done it. But there isn't an undo button.. there is always many what 'might have been'-s. You just need to try and try again.

5. With little skill and luck, having deep pockets help! You can buy your way through 'cheats' to get extra lives, special power items and such.. but isn't this just like real life? When you have the dough, you can access the help. You could still screw up though, but it certainly makes life easier. But then again, half the fun is trying to get there. 

6. I think the most important lesson though, is have fun. Don't let it consume you. And don't compare.. most people I know are playing at 3 digit level.. I am pretty much at the level 86 now and that is NO SHAME!!

Have fun!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Takumi - Ramen Restaurant

Immermannstr. 28
40210 Düsseldorf

I like this place. I call this a Ramen restaurant because they predominant serve Ramen - A Japanese soup noodle dish. You get some other stuff like gyoza or some teriyaki dish. You can check out their website for the menu: http://brickny.com/takumi/  

The Ramen is pretty decent and it has rather authentic feel to it, the small cramped interiors, the Japanese staff, plus load of Asian faces easting there. Unless you go off 'normal eating hours'. We were there at 3pm the other day, the restaurant can be kinna full.. and I think they don't take reservations.
Lunch has good deals (if you are hungry) to get 2 dishes for what is usually the price of one plus maybe 20%-ish.  But overall, you can eat below EUR 10 and have free flow of tea. Otherwise you can always order Japanese beer to quench your thirst.  

How do I find this place as compared to what I have tried in Japan? I find it a bit saltier.. but could be in my mind... and a more liberal use of mayonnaise.. I had it in my teriyaki chicken with rice.. taste good but I think this is kinna unusual.

Otherwise, if you are looking for a casual place to go for a nice Japanese bowl of ramen at a warm, friendly atmosphere. Do try this one.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ridiculous things you never knew you needed #2

Now.. don't you hate it when you are cooking spaghetti and it just sticks our of you pot.. You then kinna have to wait for the bottom part which is soak in water to be soft and the push the rest of it into the water. or maybe you have another technique. But most of the time, the pot is just never big enough..

Seems that it bothered someone enough and enough people agree that we needed a solution to this. Presenting the 'spaghetti pot'. 

Actually I don't know what it is called, I saw this in a Japanese 'Vogue'-like magazine while waiting for my friend at a Japanese hair dresser. 

I think I will rank this with the egg cracker... (yes, they exist, if I see it again - I will take a photo) as seriously one of those products that if you have in your home.. you most likely have more money that you can spend... which in that case, I don't mind a bit of donation coming my way.. or you are a perfectionist that is bordering on OCD. It is not that they are not helpful.. I wouldn't mine having one, but these products usually cost a fortune and you can achieve the same result free or with a small fraction of the cost... ahhh.. marketing.... they let you know about the things you never knew you needed.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ridiculous things you never knew you needed #1

Recently I accidentally picked up a roll of scented rubbish bag! Yes, rubbish bags. Those plastic bags that you line your trash can with. 

As I was in a hurry, I grabbed a roll and went. I was surprised by the lemon scent when I opened it and took a piece out. The smell was fresh and covers the smell of the food leftovers that went into the bin. So, not bad. My first roll is gone.. and I just bought another roll from another brand to try.. who knew... it turn out to be a really unnecessary 'nice to have' and becoming something I need. =D

Monday, January 13, 2014

Europe on a shoestring - How to travel on budget around Europe

Many people always tell me how expensive it is to travel Europe. There are many ways to cut cost, but it will require some advance planning.

Also, Europe is a continent, please do not try to visit 'Europe' in one or two weeks. When you do this, you are essentially spending most of your time on the plane/train and this is expensive as well as taking time away from the real sightseeing. Focus on what you want to see. If you do feel that this is a trip of a lifetime and you must visit multiple countries cramped into a short period of time- a lot more planning is required or you will need a holiday after your holiday due to sheer exhaustion...

As a rule of thumb, Eastern Europe is usually cheaper (Prague in Czech Republic is especially popular recently but countries such as Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Russia seems to be gathering momentum etc), Southern Europe is reasonable but tourist areas are suicide during peak seasons (Italy,Spain, Portugal, Greece etc), Western Europe is what most people know and do (London/UK, Paris/France, Berlin/Germany etc) and the most co$tly is Northern Europe (Iceland, Sweden, Norway etc).

Try to avoid travelling during summer holidays (end Jul- August) because everyone is travelling and it will be crowded and costly. If you can afford it, avoid winter too, Nov- Jan especially as day light hours is very short. When it starts to get dark and cold.. you can't do some sights, it is hard to take nice pictures and you might be bored etc etc.. but things especially accommodation is the cheapest in winter. when the hotels are empty, the prices go down. And the que to see famous sites are shorter too.. a good balance I find is to visit in spring and autumn. Not too cold, not too many people, not the cheapest.. but not the costliest.

While every country is different, but some important tips remain the same. So here's mine for your budget travel to Europe.

1. Getting there

Find cheap flights. The best is to book during promotions but perhaps you are never really in the know and often miss them. Use a flight comparator. I use mostly www.kayak.com and www.skyscanner.com.What these sites do is trawl other websites offering flight tickets and compare them, this way they can very quickly show you what is the current best deal. However, this only works if they partner with this site.. so use both to compare. If you have a bit of flexibility, use the options to see the flights +/- a few days ahead or after your chosen travel dates, also other alternative airports close-by. 
Generally flights that require transits are cheaper and airline from countries (I am being kinna mean here, it is not completely true) that not that many people want to visit in the first place but wants to develop a market as a regional air-hub will be the cheapest. Look out also for deals with the airline/airport of the transit point - usually they organize some short tours which they will bring you out of the airport, tour the city and return for very little money and you get to see something extra.

A bit of additional advice, if you take route that requires you to change flights - don't do it yourself unless you are saving a substantial amount of money. The reason being- if you first leg of flight is late and you miss your connecting flight, you will be in a foreign country and with lots of trouble. Even if you have insurance, the hassle of getting the next available flight, the lost time, the aggravation, trying to claim you insurance afterwards.. is not worth it. If you bought it as a package (on the same airline or their coach share partners), any delay will have the airline try to get you on the next flight out, in the event the next flight is longer than a certain hours they will give you food vouchers or one night hotel etc.. it is still a big hassle but someone else is taking care of it for you until you cab leave. Hmm, also try not to transit in French airports.. employees go on strike and tada.. you are stuck.. It is not that often, but France is a great end destination but a horrible transit point.

2. Getting Around

Now that you are there, you would have notice that local transportation is costly. But more frequently than not there are many tourist passes or transport passes that you can use. The best way to get this information is to visit the website of the train/bus service provider of the country/city that you want to visit.

There are plenty of offers. For example in Germany, you can buy a daily ticket so you pay a flat rate and hop on and off as much as you want. There are other offers for people travelling in groups, students, etc etc.. In the UK for example, you have off-peak/super off-peak/advance tickets etc which offer a lot of saving. Each city will also have their own 'scheme' for example London have their Travelcards and Oyster. There are also plenty of discounts for students/young people, you need proof age or a internationally recognised student card..

For example, do you know that there is a German Rail pass that lets you hop-on all trains (also their high speed train), buses and such for EUR 269 for 7 days. With this you can easily cover 3-5 cities. Which can be a steal if you want to do Berlin- Hamburg- Munich (some day trips in between) and then perhaps go to Austria.. But if you are just doing just one city in that particular country.. hmmpphh.. you'd be better off with other offers. So research and find what fits you best.

Actually, if you are travelling within one region/country only and there is 2 of you at least, I find that it is often cheaper to book a car. A small car is cheap and gives you the freedom to stop in places in between. But you need to plan it in such a case that you pick-up and leave the car from the same spot.. or there will be hefty charges. Also, automatic cars are more expensive than those with manual gear box. :(

City deals are best found on the tourism website of the city you want to visit. Sometimes it comes as a pass for the city that is bundle with offers for other attractions for the city like The Cologne Welcome Card or one which is for transportation only. It can also get quite complex but research online and you shall find! For example here is a break down of the various options that you can find in Paris alone. Life is more complicated in countries where different companies run different services, different trains, distance trains vs metro/subways etc and passes might not always be interchangeable - so do check. But google with key words like 'one day pass NAMEOFCITY'/ 'tourist pass NAMEOFCITY' it would usually give you something to read.

Of course, one can also always walk. 

3. Crossing Borders

If you need to fly, I suggest again checking with www.kayak.com or www.skyscanner.com. Skyscanner trawls a number of budget airlines in Europe.

Same applies to trains. Here's a summary of what's out there from one reseller. 

You will notice that the trend is early booking, cheaper prices but it usually means no change, no refunds etc.. so if your plans change you are pretty done for. Last minute deals aren't that good in Europe but you could look them up.. most of the time advance booking is what gives you the best rate.

If you need to travel last minute and don't want to pay too much, there is a new scheme these days where travellers/drivers heading a certain direction and for little money, they let you go along. Quite a few people found this to be cheap and convenient and they love the company. But personally I'd rather not take the chance to be stuck with someone in a car for hours whom which I may not like... mm... also most of these sites are in the country's native language... so if you can't speak it.. your stuck.This arrangement can also be useful for inter city travels as well as cross border travels - and I know many people that liked it.. Here's an example: