Tag Archives: travel

5. Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson (100 book challenge)

I was thrilled to see Bill Bryson on the 100 book challenge list as he’s one of my favourite authors.

Notes from a small island

In saying that, I was surprised to see that they’d chosen ‘Notes from a Small Island’ as the book on the list. I started reading it a few years ago and lost interest, preferring to read his European adventures book (Neither Here Nor There) or the American counterpart (Notes from a Big Country).

I mean, really, what does the UK itself have to offer?

Sure, London’s pretty neat and Stonehenge can be impressive (for the first three minutes at least) but I always saw England as a travel destination from which to take other trips to more exotic places like Prague or Barcelona or Amsterdam.

Could someone really write a whole 265 pages on the England, Scotland and Wales alone?

Because it was on the list, I had to give it ago.

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Is travelling with a baby difficult? Not necessarily…

We’d planned our trip to Singapore while I was pregnant with Prince G. It was to coincide with my last month of maternity leave and give us the chance to visit Bill’s uncle and aunt.

Some thought we were crazy for even considering it.

‘An overseas holiday with a 6 month old baby? Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘Don’t go booking anything yet. You don’t know what type of baby you’re going to have!’

‘He’ll probably be teething and ruin every minute you have…’

But we did it anyway. And you know what? It was better than expected. In fact, it was almost easier than traveling without a baby. Let me list a few of the privileges we experienced when we had baby Prince G in tow.

Queue-jumping at the airport

Passport control at Sydney International Airport is a zoo. There are usually always massive queues that snake ten rows deep at passport control.

Bill and I weren’t in a rush. We’d left plenty of time and although I had Prince G strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, he was happy enough staring at all the strange faces passing by.

A couple behind us were hopping from foot to foot impatiently. The woman, between bites of her nails, was telling her husband repeatedly that their plane was due to leave in half an hour. At a turn in the queue, I waved them ahead of us and they thanked us gratefully.

A few minutes later, a security guard pulled us out of the queue and sent us directly to an empty passport check desk. ‘Can’t have the baby waiting,’ he said.

Once through the checkpoint and amongst the perfumes and spirits of Duty Free, I turned and saw the frantic couple, still in the queue not far from where I’d let them in.

Oops! They should’ve brought a baby.

Travelling with a baby is like a walk in the park (image by Jessie Ansons)

Travelling with a baby is a walk in the park (image by Jessie Ansons)

VIP check-in at the hotel

We stayed three nights with Bill’s uncle and three nights at the Marina Bay Sands. The hotel is monstrous; the hotel foyer is a cavernous space full of people scurrying about.

So many people stay at the hotel each day that they have crowd-control ropes at the check-in desk to manage queues. However, with Prince G in the stroller we had barely joined the queue before we were whisked away to the VIP check-in room hidden behind the main desk.

I didn’t know that rooms like this existed! This magical world was like a top-notch airport club lounge. There were snacks and drinks, soft lounges and magazines. You sat down to check-in. The room had no one else in it expect for a businessman who looked like he was rich enough to belong there. We on the other hand, in our jeans and boardshorts with an $80 stroller from Mustafa’s certainly didn’t belong.

Marina Bay Sands gets brilliant online reviews. It’s the one with the Infinity Pool 50 storeys above the city. There’s only one main thing people complain about: the time it takes to check in.

Oops! They should’ve brought a baby.

A special exit ramp at the Tea Shoppe

We had afternoon tea at this fancy tea house that served over 1000 different types of tea. The café seating area was raised, so Bill and I quickly lifted the stroller up and climbed the stairs.

When it was time to go, we bent down to lift the stroller once more. The head waiter immediately appeared and said ‘Oh you mustn’t!’ before ushering us around a corner to a ramp that was cordoned off by a velvet rope. He unclipped the rope and, feeling like no less than the royal family themselves, we walked down the ramp.

Everyone else had to use the stairs. Even the man with a limp and the elderly couple who shuffled their feet along the ground.

Oops! Well, they should’ve brought a baby.


In Singapore, we felt like royalty at every turn. With Prince G on board, in the baby carrier or the stroller, it was as if the sea parted around us. People would hold lift doors, let us go first and stop to say hello to Prince G, even when every other part of the bustling city seemed to moving at great speed. A couple of times strangers took photos of him just because ‘he’s so cute!’

Well, who am I to argue?

When we were first off the plane back in Sydney and first in line at passport control I turned to Bill and said, ‘We should have had a baby sooner!’

He nodded, in one of those rare moments where we actually agree, ‘Or at least borrowed one for travelling…’


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It’s a moray: My love for Japanese eel


Una-don: Teriyaki eel on rice – photo by WordRidden at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wordridden/3012485810

Long before baby Prince G was born and long before the Royal Wedding I used to work as a waitress in a Japanese restaurant. It was traditional Japanese: tatami-mat rooms, a teppan-yaki bar and two eccentric Japanese owners who used to get red-faced on sake most nights of the week. The restaurant was booked out, with double or triple seatings on a Saturday night (would you like the 6pm, 7:30pm or 9pm?)

Might I add, this was all before Japanese cuisine became trendy. Especially in my part of the world in regional Australia. In fact, it was the only Japanese restaurant I knew.

In my blue kimono uniform and slip on shoes I tried (unsuccessfully) to channel my inner Japanese. You see, I’m 6 foot tall and blonde: not quite the classic Japanese look. But I worked hard, respected the owners, and only ever once dropped a tray of miso soup over a group’s removed shoes.

And it was where I first tried the eel. It was on the menu – unagi – and was served in a teriyaki sauce on a bed of rice. I only got to try it because it was returned to the kitchen one night via a waitress complaining that ‘table 7 says they ordered the veal, not the eel’ and I couldn’t see it go to waste. Especially on my limited income where meals were sometimes optional (and always second-place to vodka and garage sale bargains).

Anyway, it was delicious. The texture of fine fish, with a subtle taste and crisp edge. I was hooked (like what I just did there with the fishing pun?)

A few years later, I met Bill. And a few years after that we went to Japan for a holiday. During this holiday I had both the worst eel and the best eel I have ever tasted.

When reading the Lonely Planet guidebook, I came across a restaurant that specialised in eel. That’s right! Specialised in the stuff. I highlighted the restaurant in the book and we pretty much planned our trip around getting me to that eel.

Hindsight is a marvelous thing. In an earlier blog post More money, more problems: why I don’t want to win the lottery, I discuss happiness and how it relates to expectations. Well, in Japan as we traveled closer and closer to this restaurant, my expectations lifted through the roof of the shinkansen and into outer space. It was unlikely that reality was ever going to meet those expectations.

Unsurprisingly, it was a major let down. The restaurant was old, empty and, due to the fish-tanks of eels glaring at me while I ate, it was also a little creepy. The restaurant owners glared just as much as the eels and the food itself was terrible.

And expensive! I don’t know how much it costs to buy wholesale eel, but I suspect there was quite a bit of mark-up added to these beedy-eyed creatures. Back home, eels are nothing more than creek-dwelling water snakes that lurk under rocks. In fact, one time while camping with some friends and driven by my taste for eel we tried to catch some in a pillowcase full of rancid meat… but that’s a story for another time.

So I was disappointed with the eel restaurant. Such is life.

Then, on the same Japan trip, but in a completely different city – Kanazawa this time – we stumbled across a food cart selling eel on rice. Bill and I, hungover and struggling to walk following a random night drinking with two English guys and their Japanese girlfriends, had collapsed on a park bench outside the not-to-be-missed city gardens. And there was the food cart. My savior.

It was as if it had been sent from above. Eel. Just as I remembered it from my waitressing days. Light in texture, subtle in flavour. Melt in your mouth and groan with pleasure eel. Zero expectations and outstanding reality. Perfection.

What’s the moral to this story, you ask? Maybe something about stumbling across a food cart beats any review a guidebook could give you…? I’m clutching at straws here.

And because of that, I’ll leave you with this meme I saw on Facebook today that seemed rather appropriate…


Image thanks to WordPress blogger Le Café Witteveen at http://cafewitteveen.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/science-jokes-are-funny-2/


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