Tuesday 10 May 2016

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

I've been slack at blogging over the past year (and more honestly). While we've been kept busy by Harriet over the past year, blogging about mine or O'Hara's baby leave would have been dull. Unless you find Netflix and napping interesting.

Something fun did happen in April however. We went on a holiday to the UAE and Jordan. I'm feeling motivated to write about the Jordan trip, partially because it was really cool, and partially because I feel bad for the country's tourism being decimated by the current situations in the Middle East. Also I wanted to share more photos without just doing the humble brag on Facebook. This is the humble humble brag.

In answer to the question that we were asked before we left, Jordan is safe. While they have land borders with Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, they've managed to keep themselves fairly removed from the conflicts. Our tour guide gave two reasons for this, a) they have no oil (well apparently it's there but they choose not to use it) and b) they like their King.

We chose to do a 5 night guided tour, as no one was interested in braving the roads. We went through Jordan Tours - Travel & Tourism and the total cost ended up being just over $1,000 CAD each (in a 6 person group). This included all travel once we arrived in Jordan including airport pickup and drop off, visas, hotels, a full time guide, one dinner and breakfast at Wadi Rum and entrance fees to all the sites we visited. Our guide, Ahmad Atwah, was super knowledgeable and available to us 24h should we need him. We all thought the tour was amazing and felt like it was good value. While smoking is still allowed in hotel rooms so that made it a little gross, all the rooms were very clean and we were able to get a cot for Harriet to sleep in. We would recommend the the tour company if you were visiting Jordan 100%.

Why wouldn't you visit here?
Just sharing the space with a donkey
We flew into Amman on the first night, and were whisked through customs with a guide who got our visas all sorted for us. The next morning we were picked up from the hotel and taken straight to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea shore is the lowest land point on earth, and because it's lower than sea level (over 400m below sea level) there's no drainage into the sea meaning salts accumulate. The salinity is over 34%, so the buoyancy is incredible. It was way more buoyant than you would expect, it's almost impossible to get your legs under as they just keep floating up. It also tastes worse than you would think. There are signs everywhere telling you to keep the water out of your mouth, but with 3 engineers in the group we weren't satisfied until we'd tasted it. It burns, and takes a good 15min for the bitterness to go away! It was not like eating a mouthful of salt. The Dead Sea was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It's hard to explain just how much you float, but I promise you'll be impressed. Harriet wasn't overly impressed with the Dead Sea, when she first went in she thought it was a giant bath and proceeded to splash herself in the face. She clearly didn't listen to Ahmad when he told us to keep it out of our eyes.
Swimming and reading
Dead Sea spa at the source
We then travelled up to Mt Nebo, which is a proposed location of where Moses died and was buried. It provides great views of the Holy Land and looks over many historically significant areas. We also visited Madaba, the City of Mosaics and saw what is thought to be one of the oldest maps in the world.
Mt Nebo
Black Iris - Jordan's National Flower
Our second day was spent entirely in Petra, a city which is build directly into the rock. A historically significant moment was when Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed there!! *jokes*. It is here that you can really see how the conflicts have ruined the tourism industry in Jordan. You can visit one of the 7 Wonders of the World and be free of crowds. We were getting annoyed that single tourists wouldn't move out of our photos. Harriet met her first ever anti-fan, while we were waiting in the shade for everyone to come back from the monastery, some guy sitting behind us said "who brings a baby to Petra?". He was Australian, so obviously a dick. In response to his rude comments, anyone who wants to. Surprisingly people live there any have managed to raise children to adulthood.

Spirit Fingers at the Treasury
Princess H

It was cool when we left, as it was late in the afternoon and so the sun had changed positions on the Treasury. This meant that rather than a bright gold, it was rose coloured. Second highlight for me was the moment you walk through a ravine and see the Treasury for the first time. It truly takes your breath away. I had a similar feeling when I first saw the Colosseum, which really makes me want to check more of the 7 Wonders off my list.
We found Indy
The third day we visited Little Petra, which is another site about 20 minutes from Petra. We were literally the only other people there, aside from a Redbull Formula One car which was obviously filming some sort of ad or promo material. It was amazing to us to be in such a location, with literally no other tourists around.
Harriet has her people
A local at Little Petra making yarn with camel hair
From there we travelled further south to Wadi Rum, where we spent the night in a Bedouin Camp. This was technically "glamping" as our tents had double beds and bathrooms, and it was a beautiful night in the desert. We were cooked a traditional meal, which is similar to the hāngi in NZ. The meats and vegetable are cooked in the ground surrounded by hot coals. It was obviously delicious! The next morning we were up at 5am to see the sun rise after a short camel ride. I'm still unsure about camel riding, and how kind it is, but these guys weren't whipped or beaten and they were generally left to roam free when they weren't being used. This was the only time on the trip where H didn't have her own cot, but we managed to get her to sleep boxed in with suitcases. I think by this point she could pretty much sleep anywhere.
Desert tea is the best tea
Our tent on the inside
Watching the moon rise with Lex in the desert
After the sunset in Wadi Rum
Sunrise camel ride
After Wadi Rum we travelled to Aqaba, and had a quick snorkel in the Red Sea. We were told it's some of the best in the world and weren't disappointed. Another nice part of the lack of tourists, is the water was quite clean. You didn't come out with a layer of oil on your skin which was pleasant. While we were there, a group of school girls were also visiting. According to our guide they were from a small town in Jordan and had clearly not met tourists before. We were considered extremely interesting, likely partly because of our skin and partly our choice of swimwear. I told O'Hara to take some tips from the girls who stood in the change room staring at me get changed saying "I love you" over an over. They were all really sweet, and even with the significant language barrier, we kept them entertained. Harriet and I got to have a sing-a-long with around 8 girls while the rest were snorkeling, which was another highlights for us. After visiting some markets at Aqaba and stocking up on dates (obviously) we made the long drive back to Amman watching the sunset over Jerusalem where we spent the night before flying out the following morning.

This was after I said I was Australian. They went mental splashing me
We had a fabulous time, and would honestly recommend the country and the tour company. Travelling with Harriet was also ok. She was exhausted by the time we got back as she was forced to have her naps in the car (not her favourite) and we were often in bed late, but she managed with no ill effects. She also struggled a little with the food, as there isn't a lot of vegetables. One day I think she only ate Hobnobs... but since being back she's been eating normally, so we didn't ruin her temperamental toddler pallet! 

Update from Alexis: "I would like to make a slight amendment to your blog..."Travelling with Harriet was also ok"...ummm H is a legend!!! She rolled with the punches, she received an obscene about of attention from the locals (it was like she had her own paparazzi), we were all deprived of vegetables and I think she complained the least about it, and given the broken nap times she cried less than I have while in the midst of studying for my exams. Also you and O'Hara are incredibly calm parents, so I would like to give you, O'Hara and H more credit than "it was ok"... it was AWESOME!"

So Alexis is obviously amazing, and this is why H loves her so.

Sunday 1 May 2016

F is for Franchises and Floating

Now I'm not really sure if this is mostly just in Kamloops, but there seems to be an unnaturally large amount of franchise restaurants in Canada. Franchise restaurants are in no way limited to fast food outlets such as Maccas or KFC, there are some nice restaurants included as well.

In Kamloops (a town of 100,000) we have, the Keg, Rick's Grill, Earl's, Milestones, Whitespot, Original Joe's, Boston Pizza, Shark Club, Moxie's, Brown's Social House, Cora's, Mike's Steakhouse Casual, and Kelly O'Bryan's. There are also many associated with hotels and I'm sure I'm not covering them all.

While I find it frustrating because it means there is less room for variety, there are some benefits to having common restaurants. It means you're able to go anywhere in Canada and eat out at a restaurant that you know is going to be the same. For families it's handy.

Floating is now one of my absolute favourite things to do. I've never done the Australian pilgrimage to Laos for the float there, and unfortunately I think I'm a little old for that one now. I've settled with doing it in a first world country, where the chances of being poisoned by whiskey are low, but being hit by a boat is slightly higher.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

A Different Kind of Seattle

O'Hara turned 30 this year. Yep. The dirty thirties are upon us. It's terrifying. We decided we wanted to travel to Seattle to celebrate his birthday, but we entered visa limbo for a few months and weren't sure if we would make it back into the country if we left. You know how something like 96% of illegal aliens in Australia are Brits who over stay their visas? That was us for a while! We had applied for our visas though, so sort of had a bridging visa, but not. It was a weird few months. The best part was I was still being paid by the government for maternity leave.

Luckily, a week before his birthday we received our new visas, so our trip to Seattle was on. Alexis, Hal, Greg and Lil all decided to join us for our first adventure with baby. Harriet was 13 weeks old, had her Canadian passport, and was leaving her country for the first time. It took me 21 years to achieve the same feat. Clearly Canada to the US is different from leaving Australia, but can someone remind her of this when she's 16 and complaining I don't let her do anything?
First timers keeping it cool
Harriet has never been a good car baby, but luckily for this trip she slept almost the whole way. Me sitting in the back entertaining her probably helped. Monte (the dog who always gets car sick) also joined us, so it was a real family holiday.

Our first night we revisited one of our favourite stops from our fist visit in 2012. The Seattle Crab Shack. Armed with a hammer, some bibs, and a delicious cocktail, we filled our self with crab. By the time we were done, Lex and Hal had arrived so we met them for a nightcap at the hotel bar. We were staying at the W, and it turns out their bar turns into a bit of a club at night... so Harriet also had her first clubbing experience. Pity she slept through it. Some guys in the lift told us the baby really bought the vibe down though.
Harriet is clearly enjoying her crab
The next morning we did what many visitors in Seattle do, and took the dogs for a walk to find good coffee. We didn't do this on our first trip there, and it was a nice experience. Seattle coffee is a winner. Australian approved. For O'Hara's birthday lunch we went to an amazing French restaurant that kept us full until a night at Safeco field watching the Mariners beat the Athletics and eating garlic fries. It was a good game and Harriet maintained her legendary sleeping status by staying down pretty much the whole game. She gave me a few scowls every now and again when the crowd had a big cheer.
Coffee and baseball
"Why are you keeping me awake dada??"
Seattle is a really fun city, and it's nice that it isn't too far from Kamloops. We really should take advantage of the trip more often. Kudos to my legendary friends who hung out in the hotel room with me multiple times while the pump party was going on. Harriet appreciated the food, and I appreciated that I could drink... You know you have great friends when they don't mind keeping you company while you transfer your hotel room into a dairy. You also know I'm not a good friend, when someone steps in spew because you're yelling "WATCH OUT" and they're too busy trying to avoid cars to watch their feet.
Family at Pike Place markets (too busy for a dog and pram...) and the Seattle Great Wheel

Monday 20 July 2015

Fourth of July in Portland, Oregon

Things I would not recommend: travelling to one of the coolest cities for 4th of July, when 8 weeks pregnant. You will not be a good time. I have limited photos of the trip, as I was spending more time in bed that experiencing the city. A disappointment!

Prior to conception we planned a trip to Portland, Oregon which was going to be amazing. 4 days of drinking beer, brew-cycle tours, eating seafood and tax free shopping. There was nothing that could go wrong, until little mini got involved. Now that I'm 33 (oooohhh written a while ago!) weeks pregnant, I feel great about the situation, but anyone who's been 8 weeks pregnant and suffered the wrath of "morning" sickness knows it turns you into a walking downer.

So my recollection of the holiday includes mostly lying in bed watching Pretty Little Liars on Netflix, and trying to communicate to O'Hara that he needed to bring me home more food. Disaster.

Exciting things did happen though, I was just semi present for all of them. We did a Brew Cycle Tour for 4th of July, which basically consists of a 13 person bike that rides around the city trying out different pubs and breweries. We thought it would be appropriate to get dressed up in our finest 4th of July attire... but it turns out Portland is a little too cool for that. I think we looked great, but everyone else thought we were morons. There is a small chance they thought we were taking the piss. Which we weren't... 100%.
Trying super hard to be fun here
We ate at this food truck party place (a block that was dedicated to all food trucks) multiple times. Cheap and delicious food, where you can chill out and eat in the sun was a lot of fun. I know I at least ate a southern pulled pork roll and bratwurst at some stage.

We went to a cool brewery, Cascade Brewing Barrel House, that did sour beer. Yep. I have a stash of that waiting for me in February (now drunk and delicious)! We also ate Vietnamese multiple times as this is something that is seriously lacking in Kamloops.

There were adventures that I'm aware of but didn't partake in including, buying bulk fireworks and setting them off, the blow up balloon adventure, piano bar and plenty more pubs. In the end it was a good thing I wasn't involved in the fireworks purchases or burning, as I'm a total wet blanket about them. All I see is missing fingers. which makes me a bit of a buzz kill.

We're hoping to go back to Portland in 2015, so I can experience it for all the good times glory.
Brewcycle Portland and Shotguns

Sunday 21 December 2014

A Very Monster Christmas

Having some snuggles on my Gilly blanket
This year has been a big one. I was born, so obviously the world got a little better. Not sure how it was managing before I came along, but that's now in the past. My first three months were awesome. I had my brothers and sisters to play with whenever I wanted and the couch was free for the taking. Then something horrible happened, I got taken to this place called "The O'Hara's".

After the first shock of being taken away from my family, life slowly got better. I made a new friend called Gilly, who I think is my new big sister. She was cautious like me while I was still nervous going to a new place. I got so nervous in the car I got sick twice. They seemed to stop the car whenever I got sick, so this is probably how I'll get out from now on.
Sharing my bed with Gilly

I've made lots of new friends this year, London is my Goldie friend who keeps telling me she wants me to be on the "A-Team". I don't know what this means, but she plays rough and loves tug. I just lick her butt when I want her to calm down. Freya is my puppy friend who's only 2 months younger than me. She was small when I first met her, but something has changed. She seems to be growing faster than me. Luckily I'm the fastest. I also have my little friend Finny. I loves him. He's small. I find other Yorkies at that park and harass them like I would Finny. They like it.

This one is my favourite
As As I'm a fancy pedigree, my breeder wants to put me in dog shows. I've done 2 shows now, and keep winning ribbons (by default - but shush), but I'd rather just play with all the funny dogs. Alexis also keeps calling me "Boo Boo" which is totally mean, but maybe it means I'll be famous one day. The best part? I get to keep my balls, which is great because licking them is my favourite activity.

Sometimes when my housemates are at work, they drop me at a giant play pen called daycare. At first I was nervous, as I don't like it when they leave me. After 2 days though I made some new puppy friends, and I started to love going. Then something weird happened, they made me swim. I've tried to tell them I don't have the body design of a swimmer, and I'll never be the "Thorpedo" (whoever that is) but they are persisting. I've also been going to daycare with Gilly and Freya on the weekend, except my owners are there and we do tricks for treats. There are tunnels and jumps and all sorts of strange things that I do, but O'Hara doesn't. Fat arse. Gilly is a massive showoff, she wants my treats I think. I like when O'Hara tells me I'm a good boy, but I also like smelling things and trying to get Gilly and Freya to play with me.

My favourite things in 2014 have been:
Merry Christmas!
  • Playing with my boxer friend at daycare
  • Chasing small dogs that I confuse for rabbits
  • Going to Kenna Cartright park with my friends
  • Playing at the beach
  • Snuggling on my Gilly blanket
  • Annoying Gilly
  • Jumping on the couch
  • Stealing food that my slob housemates leave lying around
There was the dark time during the pink eye incident of 2014, which occurred after my housemates deserted me at a kennel over Thanksgiving. I made the most of the situation by sniffing a lot of new butts, but I might have gotten a little close as I ended up with a persistent eye infection. Huge mistake.

My housemates keep talking about how I'm going to be a big brother in 2015. Not sure what this means, but I think it's a good thing. I'm hoping it means they are getting me a Yorkie!

Merry Christmas!!

Love Monte
a.k.a The Monster, Monte Boo Boo or "what sort of dog is that?"
Gilly, Finny and Me being restrained by a stranger

Tuesday 21 October 2014

An Italian Adventure for a Special Birthday

My Aunty Ann had a very special birthday this year. She had originally planned to travel to Italy for her 50th birthday, but stupid cancer put a spanner in than plan. While I'm in no way glad she had to deal with that, I was glad we were in a position to join her when she decided to do the trip for a second time.
Sestri Levante
O'Hara was offered the opportunity to do his Project Management Professional course, so unfortunately had to make some changes to his itinerary last minute. This meant I was travelling by myself to meet my mum and Aunty in Sestri Levante, Italy. This trip was a family catch up by epic proportions. My mum and Aunty were obviously both there. My brother Callum came across, who I hadn't seen since leaving Australia the first time. My cousin Peta came for a few days, who we hadn't seen since visiting her in Europe in 2008. Clauds, who is a friend from college also was  there, so this was a fantastic week that I got to spend with family and friends.
Friends and family enjoying some beautiful days
Sestri Levante is a little village half way between Genoa and La Spezia on the Mediterranean Sea. This town is a tourist hot spot for Italians, and is slowly becoming more popular with the internationals. The day I arrived, it was the end of a long weekend and the place was buzzing. I failed a little at life when I first arrived, as I didn't have a working sim card and everything in Sestri closes between 12 and 3. I had to do some loitering outside a newsagent until they reopened so I could get a sim and text my mother. Obviously I have become completely useless without a phone, as I had no concept of pre-planning when and where to meet her. Once I was settled, I got down to important activities. Ordering cocktails and eating the free appetizers. This was easily the theme of my Italian adventure. Eating and drinking.
Our favourite things
We spent some days wandering the streets of Sestri, checking the shops, finding the best spritz cocktails, and generally relaxing. We spent a morning in La Spezia, being toured around a local farmers market. An afternoon getting soaking wet in the Cinque Terre. An evening learning how to prepare delicious Italian food. We travelled to Santa Margherita Ligure, for more shopping and eating and then travelling to Portofino for the afternoon to see how the other half (0.1%) live and more of the above. Drink. Eat. Repeat.
Cinque Terra
Farmers Markets at La Spezia
Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure 
The fabulous trip was finished with a birthday lunch for Aunty Ann where we were able to celebrate with some lovely people in a beautiful part of the world. It would be impossible to plan a more perfect trip. Then I left my Fitbit on a table at a coffee shop on the last morning. Life fails for arrival and departure!
The wonderful company we had after Aunty Ann's Birthday lunch
I miss you all already.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

A True Northern Adventure. Whitehorse, Yukon.

So, I've been incredibly slack in the blog updates. I'm going to play the "busy" card which I HATE with a passion... but a lot has been going on since Easter. Trip to Europe, holiday in Portland, new puppy, new fun stuff going on at work, and I've been growing a fetus. Yep. Come February 2014, O'Hara and I will be joining the world of parenting. Terrifying! Anyway, let me take you back to April 2014. A whole 6 months ago.

Anyone who has spent any time with us over the past two years have almost certainly heard us *me*, utter the phrase "I have got to see the Northern Lights while I'm here!". One afternoon I was casually complaining to my boss, that it was so expensive to travel north. He looked at me like I was a bit of a moron, and said "Not really. Air North flies out of Kelowna and it's pretty cheap". 5 minutes later, he'd sent me a link to the winter packages and a plan was born. A week later while chatting to our Aussie travelling contingent (Wilson's and Greg and Lil), dates were set and a week after that the flights were booked.
Hello Yukon!
It turns out there is plenty to do in the Yukon, and we didn't really get close to the other things we considered. Depending on the time of year, your activities can vary. I read reviews that Spring was a shitty time to visit the Yukon as winter activities are done and summer activities haven't started. I'm calling bullshit, though there is a chance we got super lucky. The weather was incredible, we saw the Northern Lights, the snow was gone from the road, it was light until 10:30 at night, and my body was loving the extra sun.
Checking out the sunset over Whitehorse
O'Hara and I arrived on Thursday night before Good Friday, and spent the next day wandering the streets of Whitehorse and visiting the museum. We found a fantastic breakfast place, the Burnt Toast Cafe, so good in fact that we ate there 3 days in a row.  We visited the Whitehorse museum which had a bunch of information on how the town started up, and all the wildlife that exists in the area. As a gold town, there was a lot of interesting information for two gold miners.
MOUNTAIN GOAT! It's a real animal!!
We drove out on our second night in an attempt to view the Aurora Borealis. We'd been told to drive towards the hot springs, as you need to be away from city lights in order to have good viewing. While driving out there we spotted it in the sky. We were pumped. With added determination we drove on and found a park a few minutes outside the Takhini Hot Springs. We set up shop, made a hot milo, and waited. Nothing. All reports were saying the aurora should be raging, but we couldn't see a whole lot. After about 20 min of shivering and trying to spot what we thought was the aurora we packed up and drove towards home. Not 5min down the road, we saw it... apparently we'd been parked just out of view.
My camera isn't designed for this... but awesome none the less
The next day we went to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve to check off a few animals of our bucket list. Unfortunately the moose was MILES aways, so really could be anything. We did see a mountain goat though, which was pretty damn exciting. After viewing some nifty creatures, we went out to the Takhini Hot Springs. They have an amazing crepe restaurant which was ridiculously good after a morning of walking around the wildlife preserve. The hot springs were HOT. It was really relaxing, but I can imagine it would be an incredible experience to be there at night, in the snow, drinking beers. It would also be awesome to sit back and watch the aurora overhead.
Hot spring times
That night we had grand scheme plans to view an aurora "storm" that was coming through. We found a beautiful lake that was still frozen and we set up shop complete with fire, beer and sausages for dinner. As it was spring we had to wait until about 11pm before it was dark, which meant plenty of time for fun photos. Lil was in charge of this because a) she's the best photographer, and b) I forgot to charge my camera battery. Genius. I think we were at Lake Laberge, but I can't guarantee that. Unfortunately the storm didn't come through until about 5am, way after we had gone to bed and the sun had started to come up. Now I'm an expert and aurora watching though, I'll try it out in Kamloops if a big storm comes through again.
Lil Difilippo took these stunners!
From what we managed to see of the Yukon in the 3 days we were there, it's a pretty special place. I hope we get up there again!
Our Yukon crew. Aussies taking over Canada!