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So, it’s been a little while…

So, it’s been a little while since my last post.

As you probably know from your own life, things can get hectic from time to time and I let things slip. Sorry! That being said, life is good.

Since my last post I’ve done a reasonable amount of travel – internationally to Taipei, London, Brussels and Kuala Lumpur and I think that is it… But mostly I’ve just been working, saving my pennies and thinking about when we might next get away. At this stage we’re planning on September – somewhere in the Pacific which will no doubt be amazing.

So, a quick round up of my travels of late:

I was anything but the healthy globetrotter in Taipei. Great city, though Karthi and I ended up extremely unwell with the worst food poisoning I’ve ever experienced in my life. Hello four days in our hotel room. Once I get over that experience I promise to share some more positive stories about the city, including seeing a panda for the first time. Words can’t describe how excited I got, even if it was in a zoo.

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London was amazing. Freezing, but amazing. I was lucky enough to visit two of my close friends and just spend time hanging out. I worked a bit, helped them with some of their wedding plans and generally just relaxed. Oh and I shopped. Tourist highlight? Seeing Big Ben covered in snow. Very different from my last few trips to London which have all been in Summer. I also really enjoyed living the London lifestyle for a week – seeing how my friends live over there was definitely a tick for the expat lifestyle.

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Brussels is still a blur. I visited for a conference but packed in as much as I could. It was great to experience that city for a second time (though my first time in winter). There was more snow here too, which always makes me happy and I really enjoyed getting to know some of my colleagues better as well ūüôā Yes, I promise I indulged in Belgian chocolate – in moderation, of course. I’ll have to share some photos from that trip in another post.

Finally, Kuala Lumpur – a quick trip to visit Karthi’s mum which was really lovely. I felt so welcomed and I really enjoyed visiting a warm destination for the first time in a while. A lot has changed since my last visit to KL in 2006, and it was very different seeing it from a local’s perspective! The food was just phenomenal as well, which was mainly thanks to the amazing hospitality of Karthi’s mum and aunts.

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I will try and draft a fuller update on each of these trips in the coming weeks! In the meantime, I’ll be planning my next trip! Any recommendations for pacific destinations?

Cheers,
The Healthy Globetrotter

There’s no place like home…

As much as I love to travel, there are times when it is good to be home. Right now is one of them. Having travelled across three Australian states over the last three days (at the time of writing) and with two packed trips coming up in the next month, it is nice to be home. Even if only for a couple of nights.

The immediate relaxation I felt when I walked through my door got me thinking, what are my favourite things to do in Sydney? There’s no doubt about it, I love to travel. But I really do appreciate this beautiful city I live in, so thought I might dedicate a couple of posts to the place I call home.

Sydney Sydney2

This is the view from my apartment, which may give you a small hint as to why it is so nice to be home.

One of my favourite things about Sydney is its proximity to the beach, especially with the number of coastal walks available. The Bondi to Bronte walk (or even further through to Coogee if you prefer) is one of the most popular.

I don’t do the walk as often as I would like, but make a point to do it whenever I can. I’d highly recommend it to Sydney locals and visitors alike. Here’s why:

Bondi1

Bondi6 Bondi5

Bondi2That’s right, the view is pretty spectacular. The walk from Bondi to Bronte is 4 km one way, or 8 km return. On a hot day pack plenty of water and always wear sunscreen – you’ll need it.¬†

So next time you’re in Sydney, pack some exercise gear and make the trip out to the beach to enjoy the walk. More information about the walk, including how to get there, can be found here.

The Healthy Globetrotter

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Happy New Year!

Just a quick post to wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR from Taipei, Taiwan!

With thanks to a very generous bride and groom, we spent New Year’s Eve here:
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Now, you may sensibly ask, a roof top bar in 8 degree weather? But it was perfect and allowed us to have this spectacular view of the fireworks!

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It was a wonderful night and I hope that, wherever you are, you had a special night as well.

Here’s to a fantastic 2013. What do you have planned? My next stop is Sydney, followed shortly by London! I can’t wait!

The Healthy Globetrotter

Inside the Aya Sofia (Hagia Sofia/Aya Sofya)

The Aya Sofia (Hagia Sofia/Aya Sofya) is, in effect, a fascinating museum. Having served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, a Catholic Cathedral and a Mosque (all before 1935) you could be forgiven for becoming a little confused upon entry.

This is part of its charm – it’s not often you get to see competing religons in the same space.

Aya Sofia

Aya Sofia

I visited the Aya Sofia on my Dad’s insistence (and given how long the queue was when we decided to visit, we probably would have left if not for it).

Upon seeing the queue, we were approached by a guide offering to help us skip the queue and provide a guided tour – despite initial doubts, we readily accepted. The tour was great value. From memory it was around $20 each, though the cost to enter is $13 in any event and we literally avoided about 2 hours of queue time. Further, our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out things we would have otherwise missed. If you can afford the extra spend, I’d definitely recommend finding a reputable guide.

Aya Sofia

Our guide began by taking us around the outside of the building, which (by comparison to the inside) is modest. It’s only upon entry that you realise what you’re witnessing. It is pretty spectacular.

But how spectacular? You see, there’s a bit of competition in Istanbul between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque about which one is well, more beautiful. Both are gorgeous buildings in their own right, however history tells us that when Sultan Ahmed commissioned the Blue Mosque to be built (around 1000 years after the Aya Sofia), he intended to design it in a manner which would outshine the Aya Sofia. So, did he succeed?

To be honest, I don’t know. What I will say is that the Aya Sofia blew me away. From the detailed mosaics (many of which have backgrounds of gold), the marble, the size, the competing religious graphics… All were just ‘wow’. By comparison, the Blue Mosque is (relatively) moderate in its decoration. However, the two buildings are so completely different, it is almost unfair to compare them. Coupled with the fact that the Blue Mosque is still used for its intended purpose, they have a completely different ‘feel’ to each other. We spent most of our time walking aruond Aya Sofia with our mouths open in awe.

I loved both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. I can’t recommend visiting them highly enough. Though I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about whether Sultan Ahmed succeeded in his quest. You can compare by seeing my photos of the Blue Mosque here and my attempt to capture the Aya Sofia in this post.

Aya Sofia

So tell me, what are your thoughts on the two buildings? As you can see, we were pretty pleased with our visit!

The Healthy Globetrotter

Running the World: Singapore Style

Staying fit and healthy while travelling isn’t always the easiest task. You’re away from regular routine, around delicious food and if you’re anything like me, switch to a holiday mindset as well. It’s pretty much a recipe for some weight gain (and an amazing time) unless you’re determined to avoid it. While I’m all for the amazing time, I am preferable to avoiding any excess “baggage” on the way home!

As I’ve previously posted, I love to run in new destinations to get the lay of the land and stay healthy while travelling. As an added bonus, with the help of a pocket camera or phone (I normally use an iPhone) you can capture the sights too. Often you’ll be able to see things you’d never have had the opportunity to if not for your run. Just another reason to pack your exercise gear and get moving.

So, without further ado, here’s the latest edition of Running the World. This time, it’s Singapore Style:

Merlion – Iconic Singapore. Taken while running across the esplanade

Singapore Skyline – the big white building is the Fullerton Hotel where I stayed

A word to those keen to join my Running the World fun – Singapore can get pretty warm, I’d definitely recommend taking some water with you for the journey.

Further, make sure you know your destination and assess whether it is safe to head out for a run at the time you plan (and if you’re new to exercise, take advice from a doctor before starting!)

Marina Bay Sands

I followed a path provided to me by my hotel, ending around Marina Bay Sands. As an aside, the shopping here is pretty great. It also has a “canal” at the bottom of the centre and little Venice-style gondolas you can ride on if you feeling up to an ultra-touristy experience.

Coming across the other side of the esplanade, this was taken just near my hotel towards the end of my run

Now you might be thinking what sort of run can I be having if I keep stopping to take photos?! Excellent point. However, a good way to still get a great workout in is by doing interval training. Running as hard as you can for a burst and then slowing down to a jog, taking a picture and then repeating the process!

Having a little fun outside the Asian Civilisations Museum, pretty much where I finished up my run!

Here I am at the end of my run, having a little fun at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

My advice? Exercise doesn’t have to be a boring part of your travels. It can totally add to your experience and is one of my favourite things to do upon arriving at a new destination.

So, where are your travels taking you next? Are you game to join Running the World?

The Healthy Globetrotter

Roar and Snore

Combine lions and the thought of sleeping in a tent and you’d probably imagine you’re on safari. While that remains a travel dream, this was a little more achievable.

Roar and snore at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo came as a surprise to me. Not just because I didn’t know where I was headed when told to pack my bags for the night, but also because of the quality of the next 15 or so hours.

Arriving at the zoo around 6:45pm, you’re met by three guides who act as your hosts for the evening. We were immediately told how lucky we were with only 15 others joining us for the night (there can be up to 40) and indeed we were. I think everyone had a tent in the front row facing this view:

Phenomenal, yes? Talk about special.

The evening was a surprise as I was celebrating my birthday, and what a surprise it was. Taken to our “camp” site, we immediately declared it glamping over camping, given our tent had a double bed and electric blankets. Oh, and did I mention the view?!

Waking up to this view – pretty special! (I only had my Iphone so apologies for the photos!)

Shortly after arrival we were called to the main common area for drinks and nibbles. This was wonderful. Not only was there a wide array of food and beverages (everything from carrot sticks – thank you – to cheese and biscuits, fruit, nuts and chips), as we were eating our hosts brought around some of the animals for us to meet.

I faced a fear and got up close and personal with a snake (and this friendly lizard!) after a glass of wine, and of course, after properly washing my hands!

My new friend!

We were served dinner (roast with vegetables) and then set out on a night tour of the zoo. I didn’t take photos here as the flash would hurt many of the animals eyes and having been surprised by the night I only had my iPhone for a camera.

However, what was so special about this tour (and our behind-the-scenes tours the next day) was just how knowledgable our hosts were. They answered every question asked and we learnt a lot. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn just how well cared for these animals are. All are given enrichment in order to fulfill their lives, use muscles that would be utilized it the wild and, ultimately, be happy in what is their home.

A little fuzzy (iphone photo!) but I still think this one is beautiful!

After a few hours exploring the zoo, we were exhausted and were led back to our camp. Dessert followed, though I skipped this having more than filled up on the wonderful and healthy food earlier in the evening.

Sent to bed with full bellies, we were warned of an early start. Around 6:50 am the next morning, we set off on three behind-the-scenes tours, meeting several keepers and getting very involved. Inside the bear enclosure type involved. This is where we met Mr Hobbs.

Mr Hobbs, a gorgeous sun bear, was rescued from the restaurant trade in Cambodia. Make up your own mind about zoos, but trust me, this is a step up.

Ok, so obviously we couldn’t be in Mr Hobbs’ enclosure when he was there, but our job was pretty important. Each day, Mr Hobbs is provided with enrichment to his life. So, how do you enrich a bear’s life?¬†By making him forage.

We spent part of the morning hiding eggs in trees, spreading honey under logs and, quite interestingly, spraying different scents around the enclosure.

Our friend the bear finding our treats!

We were then led outside the enclosure while Mr Hobbs was let back in. It was pretty special watching him discover our treats!

Our experience ended here, but we went on to enjoy several hours at the zoo in the daylight. Roar and Snore was a wonderful experience, and with the entire ticket price being donated to animal conservation, well worth the price tag.

The Healthy Globetrotter

The kindness of strangers: Istanbul

Not long ago, I was in Turkey and I loved it. However, having just seen Taken 2, I feel like a few of the Istanbul locals may have gotten a bit of a bad rap.* But here’s the thing: two of the kindest strangers I’ve ever met call Istanbul home.

Beautiful Istanbul… despite the start to my adventure I loved it here.

I’ve previously alluded to the fact that my arrival in¬†Istanbul didn’t quite go as planned. It was only with the help of two strangers that I arrived at my eventual destination and able to commence what was an absolutely amazing trip.

Upon arrival, I caught a taxi from the airport to meet my friends at our well located apartment near the (Sultanahmet) Blue Mosque. My driver only spoke Turkish, but nodded when I showed him my destination and drove off in the direction of the city. After around 10 or 20 minutes, my driver made a call, spoke briefly to his friend and then handed his phone to me. Confused, I accepted it and raised it to my ear.

The friend explained in English what my driver couldn’t: There had been a major accident on the bridge into Istanbul from the airport, meaning that if we took a taxi the whole way to my apartment, I may be in the taxi for several hours (which would also cost me several hundred dollars). Instead, my driver wanted to recommend I take the ferry, saving me considerable money and time. It might not seem like much, but as an English speaking tourist in a foreign country travelling alone, I was a prime target to be taken advantage of. The driver could have just kept going and left me with the fare and hours wasted. He chose not to and I thank him for that.

Upon arrival at the ferry terminal, my driver didn’t just dump me at the curb. He took me all the way to the terminal carrying my backpack, showing me where to go and how to buy a ticket. As an added bonus, there were some fairly fabulous views on the ferry.

A nice surprise on my way into Istanbul

Views from my unexpected ferry ride!

The ferry ride went well and upon reaching the other side there were numerous taxis lined up to take me to my apartment. So the problem? No one would take me.

I asked almost 20 drivers to take me to my apartment. The responses I received ranged from “too close” to “I don’t know it”. I even offered to pay extra money on top of the fare to those that stated my destination was too close, but to no avail. All of them pointed me in the right direction – up a¬†steep hill. I wasn’t keen but as I had no choice, off I set:

  • Without a map;
  • In 35 degree celsius weather;
  • With 15 kilograms on my back; and
  • Wearing clothes suitable for a Copenhagen summer and an overnight flight (read: jeans and a jumper).

I asked for help along the way, but it was fruitless. However, after approximately 45 minutes of walking around looking for my street, I saw a man standing outside a hotel. He was young and smiled at me as I approached. He probably thought I was a guest at his new hotel; I wasn’t. But it didn’t matter, he treated me like one.¬†

Where I found my saviour!… Image via:¬†http://www.ayasultanhotel.com/en/galeri.html#

By this stage, it is fair to say that I was in a bit of state. Upon explaining my predicament, the man told me that while he didn’t know where my apartment was, we could use the hotel’s computer (and google maps) to find it. Inside the hotel, he sat me down (in air-conditioning: Best. Ever.) and asked someone to bring me some tea. He then looked up my apartment and gave me instructions to give my friend who he insisted come and collect me (thank you, Anurag). Beyond nice and this kind stranger¬†wouldn’t even accept a tip.¬†

Picture me, sitting exactly where this photo is taken from. Looking like a complete exhausted mess. Image via: http://www.ayasultanhotel.com/en/galeri.html#

The cynic in you might think that my cab driver just had somewhere better to be and that my friend from the hotel just wanted a good review on trip advisor, but I choose to believe in the good in people. Yes, I could have been better organised, prepared for the weather and the walk, but the kindness of strangers saved me on this trip (and that ridiculous walk totally counted as my exercise for the day). I am so grateful for that!

We all need to be cautious when travelling, but sometimes you’ve got to have a little faith too. ¬†Who are the nicest strangers you’ve met when travelling?

The Healthy Globetrotter

P.s. In case you’re wondering: Time taken from my flight landing until my arrival at the apartment? Over five hours.¬† Without water. On zero sleep. Yup, it was an ordeal. The take away? It didn’t ruin my trip. Remains up there with the best of them.

*Ok, so obviously the Albanians got a worse rap than the few Istanbul locals who were helping the Albanians, but i’m yet to travel to Albania. When I do visit, i’m sure i’ll meet some kind strangers there too and i’ll be sure to tell you all about it.¬†

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