Monthly Archives: December 2010

Lounging Through A Layover in Kuala Lumpur

Starbucks is my friend — at least in Kuala Lumpur! I haven’t really paid much attention to this particular chain of coffeehouses since I moved away from Washington State over a decade and a half ago. But here I am, paying two visits in one day because they have free wifi and we are spending almost a full day in layover mode. We leave for Amsterdam in several hours and I’m trying to catch up on some work without paying $7.50 an hour at our hotel. Those are NOT budget friendly ‘extras’ when you are trying to travel in a frugal manner — and those extras add up.

Starbucks Kuala Lumpur International Airport

I have a perfectly serviceable area to use as an office on the road in our hotel room, but I was astonished at how fast I burned through that one hour purchase. So back I trekked to Starbucks. And we are sitting here sipping tea in the lounge behind the facade that you can see in this shot above and both of us are happily working online.

Office On The Road

Big blue plane outside the hotel window in Kuala Lumpur

We took a nap this afternoon and when I opened the curtains afterward, the first words out of my mouth were, “Whoa! Big blue plane!” And that’s exactly what was right beneath my window. Our hotel is actually inside the terminal and we never had to exit through customs or passport control, so we are right next to all of the airline traffic outside. Interestingly, we can’t hear any of that though and the windows are at least double-glazed, possibly triple-glazed. It is completely silent inside while you eat or shop or, most importantly, sleep.

Luxury shopping in KL International Airport

There is a full sized mall area inside the Kuala Lumpur International Airport — but trust me, this isn’t budget shopping! This is definitely aimed at the upmarket traveller with lots of disposable dollars, euros, pounds, or whatever other currency. And interestingly, the shops and restaurants allow you to make your purchases in whatever foreign currency you have with you. But you do need to be aware that the change you receive back will be in Malaysian currency. We learned that lesson at breakfast and have made sure to use a credit card or debit card for everything ever since.

Need to go repack my carry-on bag. My next post will be from Amsterdam!

Wrapping Up A Temporary Life in Sydney Australia

Step away from the gelato, sir! No, not really — just kidding. Don’t look at me like that!

Gelato goodness at Coogee Beach

The friend who gave us the keys to her apartment while she was away for the holidays just happened to mention that there were three gelato shops in this tiny community. And then she issued the challenge to Mark to try them all and report back on which one had the best gelato. I can honestly report that he has thrown himself into this task with gusto and thus far the hazelnut gelato from the shop at the far end of the beach has been his all time favorite.

We have loved it here. The smell of the sea or the harbour, the positively perky people who all seem to glow with good health and fitness, the vibrant hum of daily activities, the quiet times in slower-paced neighbourhoods, and the technicolour look of the place. Is it any wonder that this city is the first choice of spots to visit for most overseas visitors to Australia!

But by actually living here for several weeks, we have enjoyed a different pace of life and have, except for one visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, stayed completely away from all of the ‘sights’ that are thronged with tourists. Instead we have ambled up and down the hills of Sydney in the radically different neighbourhoods of North Sydney and Coogee Beach, shopped in the local stores, cooked almost all of our meals in our temporary homes, and relaxed into the experience in a way that we never could have if we had been staying in a hotel.

Art Deco era apartment at Coogee Beach

We had the use of a splendid apartment in an Art Deco era building and our proximity to all of the fresh groceries, seafood, butchers, etc. made our frugal travel concept quite easily manageable.

I will be posting more travel tales and photos in the days ahead from Amsterdam. But for now (and we will be back!), we bid a fond farewell to the lovely, friendly Sydney, Australia!!!

Beachside Surf Rescue Team at Coogee Beach in Sydney Australia

Parents with Child Wearing Sunblock Swimwear at Australian Beach

Living Like A Local at Coogee Beach in Sydney Australia

Intense glare, stunning heat, sunburnt bodies sprawled on every inch of sand, men in swimming trunks wearing Santa hats, and the unmistakable fragrance of coconut-scented suntan lotion — it all conspired to give me a serious flashback moment to childhood Christmas holidays spent on Florida beaches. But then the smell of beer and sizzling sausages combined with the overlapping Aussie or British or Irish or Scottish or German or French or whatever other accents and it jolted me back to the 21st century. I looked around and knew that I was in Australia for Christmas at the beach.

I didn’t try to take an expensive professional camera with me on Christmas Day because we would have gotten jostled in the thick crowds. The picture below was taken on Boxing Day — the very next day after Christmas — and the crowds were back to a manageable size. But this gives you a glimpse of this little piece of heaven.

Boxing Day at Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia

Even the ‘Mums and Bubs Pool’ (aka Mothers and Babies Paddle Pool to you non-OZ folks) was thinned out compared to the previous day. But as you can see by the clock on the Surf Life Saving Club building, it was late in the day and rather a lot of people had already packed up and gone home.

Beachside Mums and Bubs Pool at Coogee Beach in Sydney Australia

We are currently enjoying our final week in Australia and the beachside Christmas which is quintessentially Aussie. We were able to have this final holiday in Australia because we were quite generously given the keys to a friend’s apartment which sits just up the hill from these scenes — a less than ten minute walk away. She lives in such an idyllic spot and we feel very blessed to be living in her gorgeous apartment while she is out of town.

Sometimes it’s the little things that allow you to relax into your holiday a bit more thoroughly — and having a full sized kitchen, a big deep bath tub, a spacious living room, and a view of a beautiful beachside neighbourhood has certainly contributed to our sense of well-being. I’m not a loving-the-sand kind of person but Mark certainly is. There are days when he goes down for a swim three times in one day. And watching the stress of our former lives just melt off of his face is quite joyous.

I do enjoy the beach scene as a spectator and observer. And as you can see, there is always something worth taking pictures of!

Gateway to the Baths — a natural pool set in the rocks.

Coogee Beach is around the bend from the well known surfing spot, Bondi Beach, but Coogee is definitely more laid back and family oriented.

Back down the hill from the apartment where we are “living like a local” is a very convenient street that contains well over a dozen cafes and restaurants along with pharmacies, gift shops, numerous banks, doctors and dentists, and a full-sized grocery store. Just like our previous stay in North Sydney, the proximity of all of these stores allowed us to shop for food and supplies every few days and cut our daily expense budget in half or less.

I’ll be sorry to see this end tomorrow, but we are off on an evening flight to Kuala Lumpur, a one day layover, and then it’s on to cold and wintery Amsterdam for a week before we travel to England. What a shock to the body that change of temperature is going to be!

We will be arriving in Amsterdam on the morning of New Year’s Eve. After a bit of sleep to recover from the jet lag, we will be ushering in a New Year AND a new life in the Northern hemisphere. And yes, we will be “living like a local” there, too.

Stay tuned for more travel adventures and a wrap-up of our temporary life in Sydney!

© Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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The North Sydney Neighbours

The neighbours came for a visit the other day — and how very cheeky they were. Completely uninvited, one of them walked right through the open door of the balcony and startled me since I was alone in the apartment just them.

Later that day we got a long distance call from the owner of the apartment and she filled us in how how these neighbours frequently made themselves at home and were actually a bit demanding. Then she explained how to handle the situation. I felt a bit more prepared for their return.

The next morning, I awakened and opened the balcony door to let some fresh air in — and sure enough, the neighbours walked right in and began to demand that I give them something to eat. Mark found it quite amusing and he had much more patience with the process of getting to know them than I did, so he leaned forward to speak quietly and soothingly to them. Deciding to just stand back and observe, I picked up the camera to record their behaviour.

Mark building trust with the lorikeet

Our rather bold neighbours, the ones who simply walked in the door each morning and loudly demanded some food and drink, were this pair of Rainbow Lorikeets. Our hostess had explained that they were accustomed to their morning bowl of warm water with honey dissolved in it and she said that the lorikeets would come inside each day and pester us until we complied with their demands.

Rainbow Lorikeets on the Balcony Railing

Amazingly, by the time we had been in residence in our temporary home for a mere few days, the bright and beautiful visitors were no longer waiting for Mark to carry the bowls out to the balcony. As soon as they determined that he had finished stirring the honey into the water, they would fly in and perch on his fingers as they gargle-slurped the improvised nectar down their throats. I wasn’t keen to try holding them, but I was fascinated at this interaction between previously unknown humans and wild birds and I was quite content to stand quietly and take pictures.

Rainbow Lorikeets on fingers2

Living Like A Local in North Sydney

Travel writers and savvy individuals have known for years that the best way to fully appreciate a place was to settle in for awhile. Instead of paying a ‘flying visit’ or staying in a hotel, more and more people now choose to live in a short-term apartment or house rental so that they can shop in the local stores, cook in their temporary kitchen, and get a feel for the neighbourhood in a way that they never would have if they had been cossetted behind the walls of a hotel with room service and daily housekeeping services.

When you remove the bag carrying, room cleaning, food cooking, concierge, and front desk services of a hotel, you will frequently discover that apartment or house rentals can save you a substantial amount of money over the cost of a very average hotel. And if you value your privacy the way we do or you enjoy the opportunity to sleep late occasionally, you’ll appreciate the fact that no one will knock on the door in the morning to ask if you want your room cleaned.

We had an extraordinary opportunity recently when, instead of renting them out, two dear friends lovingly offered their two apartments to us at no cost for our 16 day stay in Sydney. We had just sold our house in Australia and had a 16 day period to fill prior to flying on to Amsterdam at the end of December. We would be staying in Sydney during the weeks before and after Christmas and any available rental apartments would have already been scooped up. The offer of these two apartments was both a wonderful surprise and a huge blessing!

Sydney is a very accessible metropolis with a comprehensive train and bus system, City Rail and Sydney Buses, linking the various neighbourhoods. The Sydney CBD (Central Business District) is a short distance from the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, but we were headed for the opposite side of that same bridge and the neighbourhood of North Sydney which is served by two different train stops at Milson’s Point and the North Sydney station.

A ten minute walk from either of the railway stations took us to the apartment, but I hadn’t expected it to be eight stories up in the air with views over the rooftops in that incredibly hilly neighbourhood. If you click on the photo and then look about 3/4 of the way over on the right, you will see a flag flying. That is atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge and we had the most wonderful view of the pre-Christmas fireworks over the bridge by simply standing on the balcony.

View of North Sydney rooftops from 8th floor balcony

I have to admit, I certainly got more of a work-out than I had expected every time we went out to shop or sightsee and I was huffing and puffing quite dramatically on the first few days there! But we found everything that we needed within a fifteen to twenty-five minute walk and the variety of shops and restaurant choices made our stay in North Sydney quite enjoyable. And I began to get fitter in the process of taking those daily walks!

One afternoon whilst on a trip to the bank, our curiosity got the best of us and we followed a stream of people who were descending on an escalator that dropped down beneath the pavement that we had been walking on. It became obvious as soon as we reached the bottom that we had arrived in the middle of a mall.

Greenwood Plaza in North Sydney-full sized underground shopping centre

The initial narrow hallway led into a bright and open two-level full-sized mall that was operating beneath the office buildings, cafes, shops, and streets above. Greenwood Plaza was a pleasant surprise, especially when we found a rather nice organic butcher, a lovely fruit market around the corner from a full-sized grocery store, a health food shop, and dozens of other beautiful shops. This well-stocked shopping centre was the perfect discovery to help us stay on track with our budget travel and healthy lifestyle concept of cooking our meals from fresh ingredients.

Narrow lane in North Sydney

North Sydney was certainly a delightful place to “live like a local” for a week. Old stone cottages on narrow and hilly lanes co-exist with looming high-rise commercial buildings on busy hilly streets and then give way to glorious hilly parkland that sweeps down to the water’s edge beneath the bridge at the Sydney Harbour. You may have noted the “hilly” theme of North Sydney, but it is gloriously green and leafy and relatively quiet compared to many other parts of this hustle-bustle city.

North Sydney park at base of Harbour Bridge--taken by Mark Harmes

Unless indicated, all photography by Deborah Harmes.

Catching Up and Moving On

Whew! It has been a race to the finish-line for the last few months — but we made it!

Any of you who read my other blog, Multiversal Musing, will know that we have been in prep mode for leaving Australia. We listed the beautiful little house that we had built the year before in June and then it took at least 4-6 weeks longer to sell than we had anticipated. So we ended up with our settlement and moving day being 2 weeks before Christmas. NOT exactly a good time of year to launch off from this country and still be able to find reasonable airfare!

Finding any ticket to Europe was getting to be quite a challenge and the costs were more than double what we would normally expect to pay for flights from Melbourne or Sydney to London. So I completely gave up, kept packing and organizing, and calmed the heck down about it all. Somehow I could feel in my bones that things were going to work out beautifully, even if we had to stay in Australia until mid-January to accomplish that.

Besides, there was SO MUCH to do. We decided to sell off all of our furniture and both cars as well as the lawn tractor and lots of miscellaneous ‘stuff’ so that we could get down to a teeny-tiny storage room that was smaller than our bedroom. And did we do it? Yes!!! We were still selling things a mere few days before departure, but we accomplished our goal and the sum total of our possessions is now approximately 12-13 cubic metres of boxes and bikes. And that is less than half of a shipping container.

I was sound asleep one night, dreaming of snowdrifts while actually trying to stay cool on a hot and sticky Australian night, when I had a physical sensation like someone knocking on a door in my head. My feet hit the floor, I opened my laptop, and I went back online for an airline search on Kayak and the solution presented itself. I had been reading the European newspapers and there were rumblings of rail strikes in France, Belgium, and England. And the weather was predicted to be as harsh and snowy as the winter of 2009-2010.

I changed my search field to flights to Amsterdam and there, on the ONE less expensive day between early December and early January, was our flight to Amsterdam on the Wednesday between Christmas and New Year. BOOKED — and I didn’t hesitate. But ooops! I had no place for us to stay — and we would be arriving on New Year’s Eve!

I quickly discovered that the hotels were fully booked except for the (yowsa!) €300 and up rooms and that is definitely not a part of our frugal travel mentality and weren’t really keen on staying at a noisy hostel.

Our favourite type of accommodation is a short term apartment or house rental because we enjoy cooking for ourselves and not eating in restaurants. We also appreciate having the option of sleeping late and not being awakened by a housekeeper trying to clean the hotel room. So off I went in search of a short term apartment and even those were almost fully booked. Persistence paid off when I heard back from one host at Roomarama who had a very reasonably priced apartment available for the full week. Again — BOOKED!

For our transportation from the Netherlands to England at the end of our one week Amsterdam visit, I chose to stay away from the airlines in case there was a repeat of the massive snowfalls that Europe had last winter. If you’ve watched the blizzard-conditions weather news for the last week, you’ll understand why I was overjoyed with that decision after-the-fact. The final elements clicked into place easily when I booked an overnight sailing on a Steena Sealink ship from Hook of Holland to the English coast in a darling little cabin.

There will be a stream of articles from this point forward covering everything from living-like-a-local ideas to transportation tips, reviews of hotels, restaurants, and suggestions for must-see places around the world.

And remember — frugal travel ideas will be our primary emphasis!