Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kaikoura

Our first stop after picking up the camper was a town on the coast halfway to Marlborough called Kaikoura.  It had been recommended to me for it's abundantly fresh seafood sold from carts along side the road, scenic hike around the peninsula, and seal colony.  It was cloudy and overcast when we were there, but the backdrop of snow capped mountains against the water was still absolutely stunning.  


We attempted to walk from the town to the seal colony in the late afternoon, but a kilometer in when we realized it was at least another six we elected to go back to the town and enjoy some wine and mussels and save the seals for the next day.  In the morning we drove to the parking lot by the seal colony where we found a couple of these guys lounging along the rocks: 


It's a good thing we didn't walk from the town.  It's a lot farther than it looks and we wouldn't have felt like hiking around the peninsula had we walked all that way.  Since we'd driven we left the few seals hanging out by the parking lot and began climbing the hill behind us.  Upon reaching the top I couldn't help but feel that I was back in Switzerland.


The views were amazing, but when we reached the point where the path begins to turn back along the other side of the peninsula we realized we should have walked along the coastline if we wanted to see the seal colony since we were far to high to have seen them from above.  Instead of finishing the walk we decided to climb back down and walk back to the car along the coastline in hopes of finding the seal colony.



We found them half way back to the car, sleeping along the rocks.  They were neat to see, but were both less interesting and more foul smelling than I had imagined.




Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How I ended up in a camper van


I am not a planner.  I'm certainly not an advanced planner.  My motto has always been that there is no reason to do something today if it doesn't absolutely have to be done until tomorrow.  I can recall more than one occasion in college where I turned a paper in at the deadline that I had just finished and printed off moments before.  While I've gotten better than I used to be, sitting down and making plans still isn't a hobby of mine.  I've managed to skate through life relatively unscathed by this particular deficiency, but this time it came back to bite me.

A month before we left, when all I had done for the trip was book a bed and breakfast for a few nights in wine country (hey, I have my priorities), Josh came home from work incredibly excited and asked if he could plan the rest of the trip.  I was more than happy to let him.  Then he asked if I would mind renting a camper and using it to tool about the island.  It turns out he had been talking to the guys in his office and they had convinced him that this is the thing to do.  

I was obviously conflicted.  On one hand I was being offered the opportunity to push all planning duties off onto someone else, but on the other hand it required me to go about an island in a vehicle equipped with a shower and toilet doing something that seems an awful lot like camping.  After a minute of deliberation one of the two won out, which is how I ended up touring the top half of the South Island in this:


I was apprehensive about it for a couple days before we left, but my apprehension turned out to be entirely misplaced.  It was a lot of fun.  It was great to be able to take our time where we wanted without having to be in another city hours away because we had a hotel booked.  The powered sites at which we stayed were really nice, and a lot of them had amenities I wasn't expecting like jacuzzis, spas, and tvs.  I don't know that I'll ever be up to sleeping in a tent, but I've now changed my mind on camping.



Monday, March 26, 2012

F1 Malaysian Grand Prix 2012

It was a miracle that we made the start of the race.  We took the organized package transport from KL Sentral (KL Transit to KLIA and then a shuttle bus to the circuit).  Now knowing that the food at the track is bad we stopped at the airport for a bit to eat before going out to the race.  We boarded the bus from the airport to the track shortly after 2:30 and arrived just before the race began at 4:00.  It's about ten kilometers of divided highway between the two, but traffic was so backed up that we almost didn't make it and had to run to make it to our seats in time.  If you're going out to a race at the Sepang Circuit make sure you leave ridiculously early.

The race itself was quite exciting.  It began raining within minutes of the start and in true KL fashion it was soon pouring.





Shortly after the spin out above the race was suspended until the rain stopped.  Most of the seats at the track are covered so we didn't get wet at all and aside from the 50 minute break in racing the rain wasn't a big deal.   

I think the rain made for a much better race.  Had it been clear I doubt Fernando Alonso and Sergio Garcia would have finished 1st and 2nd.  It's great to see drivers in cars that weren't competitive in qualifying do so well in the race.  I'd much prefer to see someone get on the podium for the first time than see the Maclarens go one and two.  

It's looking to be a great season for F1.
  
Alonso fighting Garcia for the lead

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix

We spent the day yesterday at the Sepang Circuit watching qualifying for today's Grand Prix.  It's not the best track from a spectator's point of view.  The track is close to being in the middle of nowhere and going out there is an all day event.  The race is in the heat of the day in Malaysia and since you're there all day you're stuck outside in 35c/95f+ degree heat for hours.  The transportation to and from the city is well organized, but once you get to the track the organization falls apart.  There is absolutely nothing to do out there aside from buying souvenirs and watching people clear off the track.  They don't allow in outside food or beverages (even water) and the options of food for purchase within the track are slim at best.  Since I'm not eating meat I had a bag of french fries for lunch yesterday, as it was the only vegetarian of the four food options (the others being not completely cooked beef burgers, hot dogs, and chicken burgers).  Basically, the whole thing could be better put together and better organized like the Singapore Grand Prix that we went to last year was.

Despite all of the negatives associated with the track, there are a few reasons I'm insanely excited to go back today for the race. 

1) Our seats:  


I have no idea why the best view of the track happens to also be some least expensive seats but I'm not going to complain about it.  We are sitting right off the first turn at the end of a long straight away.  It's a perfect place for passing and because cars will be slowing down to 70k to get through the turn we'll be able to actually see them instead of just a blur and passing sound.  Our proximity to the starting line ensures that the bottleneck that happens off the start will happen right in front of us.  Lastly, because of the massive deceleration that must go on to get around the turn there will be a bit of this:


2) This guy:



My Red Bulls aren't looking that great by Michael Schumacher has qualified third.  It's the highest he's qualified since he retired.  His car is looking really good this season and hopefully the Schumacher of old will make an appearance.  That, I would love to see.


3) My camera


I may have been complaining about the race being during the day at the beginning of this post, but for me if you take the heat out of the equation it's a really good thing.  Between the daylight, the cars slowing down before they get to us, and the lens I got to take pictures of wildlife on our South Africa trip, I can properly photograph the race.

Friday, March 23, 2012

New Zealand

Months ago I was casually perusing Air Asia's website and saw that they were running a promotion on flights from KL to Christchurch for ridiculously cheap.  We're talking $200 a person round-trip cheap.  We weren't really looking to take a big trip and New Zealand wasn't at all on our travel radar, but at that price we couldn't say no and booked ourselves 10 days of exploring the South Island.

It was phenomenal and I'm in love.  Thank you Air Asia for running a serious airfare sale and pushing us in a direction we probably wouldn't have picked on our own.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Singapore

A couple weekends ago we drove down to Singapore the retirement party of the guy who hosted us for the F1 race and had a blast.  I never knew retirement parties could be so much fun.  Or fun at all for that matter.  I was oh-so-very wrong.  The only draw back of it at all is that the soon to be retiree is moving back to the US.  


The party lasted all of Friday night, and then continued Saturday afternoon and evening for those in from out of town.  To keep the non-Singapore based people occupied everyone made their rounds of some of the tourist attractions that we didn't bother with when we were in town last September.  Saturday began with some Singapore Slings at Raffles, after which we took a break before taking the boat cruise along the river.


I know I've said this before, but I can't get over how clean and orderly Singapore is.  With the exception of searing heat, it feels like it could be anywhere on earth.  I've thoroughly enjoyed myself both times we've been and am eagerly awaiting the next time we spend a weekend visiting our neighbor to the south.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Perhentian Islands

February, March, and April are bringing an endless stream of visitors through our home.  This of course means I have more than enough reasons to take off with them and explore Malaysia.  My friend Kelly came in from NYC last week.  She requested a few days at the beach.  Fresh off the water in Penang dying of my bathing suit incident, I suggested that we try an island off the east coast.  I asked around for recommendations, made sure to ask about water quality this time, and we finally settled on Perhentian Island.  It's not far from the Thai border and it can be a bit of a pain to get to from KL as you need to fly to Khota Baru and take an hour long cab ride to the ferry followed by a half hour boat ride.  Our hotel set up the transport for us and took care of the airport pick up and ferry.  It was all very easy to do and since the boat knew we were coming they waited for us after our plane arrived slightly late.


I should have known something was amiss when the boat driver insisted we put on life jackets.  Let's just say he wasn't the most talented of boat drivers I've ever had the privilege of riding with.  We went at the very end of monsoon season so the water was a bit choppy in the afternoon, which was when we headed out to the island.  The driver did not slow down to account for the chop in the slightest and I'm surprised he didn't bust the hull in two.  Once we got to the island, however, the ride was immediately forgotten.


Just look.  That's not water that is going to dye a swimsuit.  The sand on the beach had the same soft brown sugar consistency as in Penang.  As far as beaches alone go Perhentian wins hands down.  That being said, there is a lot more to do in Penang than in Perhentian, so if you're looking for a cultural, busy, or food based trip Penang is the better choice.  


There are two islands that make up the Perhentians.  The smaller one is mainly filled with backpacker's type places.  We stayed at Tuna Bay Resort on the larger and quieter of the islands.  The rooms were spartan to say the least but the resort made up for it.  They have a bar, which is a lot to ask for since not a lot of places on either island serve alcohol.  They also have one of the best restaurants on the island, actual beach chairs with umbrellas, a reef just offshore that you can easily wade to and snorkel, and will set up a variety of snorkeling and diving trips for you.


We went snorkeling while we were there.  I'm glad we did because I had almost forgotten that I don't like being in open water and was in need of a reminder.  Within five minutes of getting in to snorkel the first site I was stung by a jelly fish on the back of my arm and back into the boat I went.  I sat out the next site but ignored the stinging to swim with the leatherback turtles.  That was amazing and I wish I had an underwater camera so that I could have taken some pictures.  I still can't believe how big and how completely uninterested in us they were.  

The last site was to see black tip sharks.  I'm not my sister and swimming with sea creatures that look menacing but are safe around humans is not my idea of a good time.  I was back in the boat the second I saw a six footer.   



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chez nous

I think what amazes me the most is that the rent for this place is slightly less than what we were paying for our two bedroom in Geneva.  I'm not sure I'll ever get over that.  I also don't want to leave.


Living space




Kitchen--This is the reason we took this place.  I love it.



Master bedroom--please ignore the disheveled state of the bed.  At least I made it, right?  Ask my mother, that is a big deal for me.


My closet


Master bathroom



Guest bedroom #1


Guest bedroom #2


Guest bedroom #3 turned office


Josh's bar and A/V room


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Resort style living

I promised my mother ages ago that I'd post pictures of our home here in KL.  It only took me about seven months to get around to it, so without further ado here it is.  


I thought I'd start with the grounds around our building.  One of the reasons we preferred a condo to a house here is because of all of the amenities that come with living in a larger building.  It definitely saved us from having to join a gym or finding a pool long enough in which to swim laps.  There are also tennis courts, a sauna, and steam room (which I just found last week after living here for several months--oops).


It has a resort feel to it and sometimes makes me feel as if I'm living on vacation in Florida.




Thursday, March 8, 2012

Penang

Overall, we had a really good time in Penang.  It was a nice place to relax for a few days by the beach without being completely bored.  There were loads of good restaurants along the beach and there was an expansive night market just next to our hotel.  George Town was a quick drive from the beach where we were staying and there was plenty to see and do there to fill a day.  


We hired a boat to take us to a place called Monkey Beach and spent a day there.  It wasn't exactly what we had been picturing when it was described to us, but we had brought a cooler and had a good time.  We stayed longer than originally intended and had a bit of a mix up when it came to getting back to the hotel.  The boat driver had disappeared and the people on the beach who were supposed to be helping us suddenly forgot who we were and we were offered a ride on another boat for slightly less than we had already paid for the first boat.  Josh called the guy we booked with and after a lot of yelling the boat driver magically reappeared.  The crisis was narrowly averted and we got back to our hotel.




Penang is a really nice area, and yet I can't help but feel as if the reason we had such a good time there is because of the company we were keeping.  The sand on the beach was the consistency of soft brown sugar, which you'd think would make for a great beach vacation.  However, the water killed it.  The water looked like this:


Not terrible, right?  I made the mistake of going in wearing a white based swim suit with a green leaf pattern.  I came out in a yellow based swimsuit with a green leaf pattern.  Before we went everyone with whom we spoke talked about how nice Penang was and how great of a time we'd have.  After returning, when I tell these same people about the free dye job my suit got I get replies along the lines of, "Oh dear God, why'd you go in the water?" and, "Oh yeah, the water up there is crap".  I'm not quite sure why no one thought this was pertinent information when we were first planning our trip.  It's not like water is not a vital part of a getaway to the beach or anything.  

I've heard various reasons for the poor water quality since getting back.  Some people have said that the water is still churned up from the tsunami in 2004 and won't settle for a few more years.  I think it's probably likely that the fact a major shipping channel lies just off the west coast might have something to do with it.  Whatever the reason, since this is information that's good to have prior to planning a beach vacation I thought I'd put it here.  Penang is really nice for exploring, eating, and experiencing Malaysia, but if you want to actually get in the water while at the beach (crazy concept, I know) go to the east coast.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Driving and Chinese New Year

Some friends came down from Beijing over Chinese New Year and we took advantage of the multiple public holidays to drive up to Penang.

Big mistake.  

Conventional wisdom from random people around town was that most people leave KL on Friday night or really early on Saturday, so it's better lo leave later Saturday morning in order to miss the traffic.  Either people were lying about what time traffic is at its worst or traffic at its worst must drive people to suicide.  As it was, what should have been a four hour drive took seven and a half.  We spent a solid three hours just sitting on the highway.  For three solid hours we barely moved and the highway looked like this:


You can't see break lights because everyone has their car in park.  Park.  This would be completely normal in eco-conscious Switzerland, but this was on roadways where someone will merge into your lane if you leave two inches of space between yourself and the car in front of you.  Putting your car in park is in no way conducive to maintaining your lane position and it's just not done.  

The best part of the entire experience was discovering what caused the backup.  It wasn't because there was a massive highway interchange and people were entering and exiting the highway.  It wasn't because there had been a terrible accident or a car had broken down in the middle of the road.  Oh no, those things would have actually made sense.  

Every single driver and their brother was lining up to get off at a rest stop.  I kid you not.  A rest stop.  We sat on the highway for hours because the entire world just had to pull over and use toilets and picnic tables.  As soon as we got by the rest stop the highway opened up completely and we were able to  get up to speed.  Insanity, thy name is a rest stop on a Malaysian highway over a holiday.  Surprise of all surprises, there was another rest stop not twenty kilometers up the road and almost no one was there.  

The whole thing has left us with the resolve to never drive over a holiday weekend in Malaysia again.






Thursday, March 1, 2012

Driving along the Cape

It's with mixed emotions that I finish up with my entries on South Africa.  I really enjoyed the trip and it's been nice to go through all of the pictures and decompress, but at the same time this has been going on for more than a month now and it's past time to wrap it up. 



We rented a car for the time we were in Cape Town.  We could have seen everything we really wanted to without one.  It would have been a pain to arrange transportation everywhere, but it would have been doable.  That being said, I'm really glad we got the car because the area around Cape Town is gorgeous. There is a road right along the coast with amazing views and one of the nicest parts of the trip was just driving along the Cape and stopping wherever and whenever we liked.



One such stop was at Boulders Beach to see the penguins.  As I stated before, I didn't do any research before the trip and therefore didn't realize that there were penguin colonies along the Cape.  Had I known ahead of time I'd have planned a trip out there to see them, but it ended up not mattering.  It worked fortuitously we drove past a penguin crossing sign and decided to go find them.



That's all for this trip.  There will be plenty more adventures to come.  March is an exciting month for me travel wise and if all goes according to plan I'll be seeing several places I never dreamed I'd get to see given their distance from the US and Europe.  All I'm going to say is that one of the places is somewhere in Oceania.