It is January 16th, 0400 AM. A bus picks us up from Noosa direction Brisbane Airport and from there a plane from Air New Zealand takes us directly to Queenstown, New Zealand. I step out of the plane and I have a 30 years flashback. The air, the light is something I can remember from my childhood in the Alps of Switzerland. It is so clear, so pure, so crisp and so clean. The colour of the sky, here in Queenstown is just bright blue, no trace of pollution, no veil. Just the sky. I talk to Isabel, she fully agrees, this takes us back to a time, when Europe did not have so many people, so many cars, so much industry. It takes us not only back to the past but also to a world of candour & innocence. It is love at first sight.
From Queenstown, we drive 75km with our rental car (so much about absence of CO2) to Wanaka. It is all very scenic and the arrival to Wanaka is breathtaking. In the front a peaceful little town build at the South End of an incredibly pristine clear lake. In the back lays the rugged mountains and the Aspiring National Park with its glacier. Our accommodation, just a few minutes’ walk from the lake, is an old settler style wooden house. It has a lovely garden with a pear tree and a VERY old barbeque (I nearly burned down the house when I used it for the first time).
All is peaceful and I mean as much what surrounds us as ourselves. Isabel and I agree that this first week in Wanaka has been the best as far as family is concerned since our departures. I could write pages about all we did to get to this point (but the blog remains something accessible to the public), so I will just say that Wanaka is a place where we have come to peace and enjoy our kids at their best.
Why Singapore? Simply because there is no Star Alliance flight that goes directly to Brisbane…or, more honestly, because we wanted to splurge for a few hours after 2 months of good but rather basic lifestyle in Bali. We had seriously put our feet down on shopping bonanzas and other consumerism instincts and we now had to let the dogs out! We check into a Hilton Club Suite and a Paul Smith shirt + a pair of Bose travel-loudspeakers later we go to the lounge to taste some sparkly fluids plus a ton of raw fish delicacies. Yessss!!! one would say…but no…this would have been too easy… Daughter No1 and No2 decide to have one of the most miserable day since the beginning of the trip. So what was meant to be a recovery in luxury ended in a crisis meeting to see how we could limit damage. After deliberation, we nonetheless decide to go out at night with our two little terrorists (to try) to enjoy the Christmas feeling on Orchard Road. It is not as kitsch as Hong Kong…quite tasteful actually (just the 150 Decibel Xmas-progressive house DJ in front of the Wheelock Mall is rather unsettling). We enter the Takashimaya Shopping Centre and suddenly stand in front of the biggest Xmas tree we have ever seen. Perfect opportunity to take a family pic. We ask One Professional-Looking-Nikon-Holding-Tourist to frame us in front of this monster and we are not disappointed. The gentleman takes a real pleasure to make pictures of a European family.
We spend a good night in those gorgeous beds and feel ready for another round of Xmas shopping and hair-dressing in Singapore. The result is all too foreseeable. A Madame Visa in terrible mood, but Alain’s eyes are gleaming in front of his new gadgets and Isabel is looking awesome after a 3 hour hair cut and treatment.
We leave early to the airport. It is, the only airport where I want to check in at least 4-5 hours before departure. And we did well to plan an early check-in. At the baggage check-in, we are first told that we should have applied for Visas for Australia :-(….but Singapore is up to its reputation. 20 minutes and few desks later, the entire family has got nice shiny visas. We did well to plan an early check-in, because we found a great bouncing castle and kids jumped around FOREVER (which made them sleep so deeply for the entire trip to Brisbane – thank you Shangi Airport, thank you bouncing castle!). We did well to plan an early check-in, because it gave is a last opportunity to stuff our carry-on luggage with some last-minute “great” x-mas deals for the entire family including two super flashy pair of Flip-Crocs or Crocs-Flops. In the end, Singapore remains for us the World Shopping Capital of this world and we took shamelessly advantage of it til stepping in the plane.
On of the best decisions we made in Bali for us and for our children was to put them in School. Pelangi School turned out to be the greatest educational institute we have seen so far; holistic, bilingual, non-dogmatic, fantastic! Manon & Zoé made some friends and through them we built a good network of friends. Saturday, December 12th was the grand opening of the first playground in Ubud. A great opportunity to see for a last time all children and parents before leaving for Singapore and then Brisbane, Queensland – Australia. A Playground Opening may not sound very appealing, but again, this is Bali, this is Ubud, this is Pelangi School and you know it is going to be something special and it was.
Local bands came playing, There were so many activities, kids did not know what to starts with. Face painting, school shows, Marimba ensemble and dance, pedagogic drumming class and of course all the slides a playground has to offer.
When time came to say good-bye, we realised that we were leaving something really big behind. It was difficult to realise that 2 months in Ubud was coming to an end. A big thank you to all teachers, goodbye Pelangi School…Goodbye Bali, we will miss many parts of it.
Thanks to Manon & Zoé and our Yoga classes, we started to build an interesting network of people in Bali. We were invited this week-end to participate to a trip to Lembongan. Most of the participants had kids the same age as Manon & Zoé and most of them are Westerners living in Bali. After a taxi ride down to Sanur from Ubud and from Sanur an outrigger boat ride to the Island, we arrive at Mainski, a small surfer’s place with reasonably priced accommodation. Its has an infinity pool facing the beach and the sea. The kids, of course, do not admire the infinity part of it and just jump in together. That will become the main playground for the week-end. We get to know all the people gathered for this week-end and realise that most of them have their kids studying at the famous “Green School” of Bali. It is a sustainable project that aims to prepare the new generation for a greener world in 2025. It is quite fascinating to talk to those people coming from very different background but bound by a same project. All have a very refreshing mindset. Isa and I have decidedto pay a visit now to this school to meet the people again but also to build our own idea about this school.
Anyway, the week-end was of course not only about sharing expat experience. We discover the island on motorbikes, we went swimming and snorkeling and some ride perfect waves breaking in front of the hotel. We discover a beautiful lounge at a secluded beach with mangroves as well as other restaurant the served great food (Linda’s Place), which we never expected on such an island. Overall, probably the best week-end we had on Bali so far.
I sometimes read a blog (madcitygirl.com) in which food snapshots are called “food porn”. I did not quite understand it until today. I believe I did some real good food porn at the fantastic Cantonese Star Seafood Restaurant in Shatin a district in the New Territories of Hong Kong. We were invited by local Hong Kong Wing Chun martial artists and Sifu (Master) of Isabel. They drove us there, with the only mention that it was a floating restaurant. Well, in the end, it was much more than a floating restaurant. It was probably the best Cantonese food we ever had and will ever have on this round the world trip. Even the kids, who are usually not great fans (yet) of Asian food, ate their full share of the food. And we were glad to have locals ordering food for us. There were at least 5 different menu cards and many leaflets to be filled out. I tought for the moment I was sitting at a bingo table. EVERYTHING was delicious and we finally had a true traditional DIM SUM EXPERIENCE.
Useless to mention, we would never have found this restaurant. The staff did not speak English and the menu was solely in Cantonese. Look at the gallery for what we got and enjoy the food porn!!!
I had planned to go on this day trip alone, but Manon insisted to come with me. So, on Sunday Oct. 11th we packed after breakfast and made our way from the Gold Coast Hotel to Lantau Island. Hiking with a 4-year-old changed a bit my plans so instead of going up Lantau Peak (934m) on foot we took the cable car from Tung Chung to the village Ngong Ping (where one of the largest buddha statue in the world stands). Manon loves the cable car. Its concept is still quite unclear to her (and I am not giving too much explanation). She still believes, she enters a glass cabin, it accelerates and suddenly it flies!!!
Once arrived in Ngong Ping, I want to start hiking but the “village” is in reality a shopping mecca for tourist, with loads of funny posters through which you can stick your head and take a picture. Again, Manon loves it and I feel obliged to oblige…I hence take a multitude of pictures like those below:
But now to the real thing; we pass the big buddha and enter the woods for a 2.5 km hiking till the picnic area. Along the way we stop to hunt down some butterflies and grasshoppers and take pictures of them. After 1 hour we finally get to the picnic place. It has not only a view, it also has a beautiful “path of wisdom” art installation. We first have a look at it before devouring granola bars, fresh strawberries, cherry tomatoes and bananas.
80 days have passed now since my bike crash on June 8. A lot happened in between. We have now left Vienna behind, the international furniture removal is now behind us, a large part of the administrative work related to expatriation is now done. Today is the first day, during which, Isa and I truly feel on vacation… and there are good reasons to let these feelings invade us.
It is June 27th, the 4th day we spend at the farm in the French Jura. Not a cloud in sight and we decide to discover the surroundings. We find a few kilometers away from our place a a small quiet river. We decide to picnic there but do not find immediately a convenient place to park the car and sit comfortably next to the river . We suddenly see a rather idyllic garden at the river. The only issue: a big sign marked “PRIVATE”. Fortunately the owner is mowing the grass and we ask him whether we could stay there. To our surprise he answers that he likes Swiss people and that we should sit at his table by the river. We spend a great 2 hours there, kids playing along the river while we rest on the blankets.
We decide in the afternoon to explore a bit further and discover a lovely small city called Saint-Hipployte . We stop to take an ice-cream on the terrasse of one of the restaurants of the main square and just love it. This square is for boh fo us the stereotype of a traditional French square, with a bakery, a florist, a traditional deli, a couple of terrasses with people drinking Pastis and of course people walking across the square carrying their baguette under the arm pit.
We travel back to our spartan farmhouse at the end of the day and have some second thoughts about the level of comfort there.