madagascar in 3…2…1…

Well it’s getting closer and closer… in two and a half months we’ll be heading off on our honeymoon. We’re heading to Mauritius and Madagascar; rather than raving on about things I thought I’d just post the itinerary here (excuse the bad grammar, I didn’t write it) with some pretty pictures. Enjoy!
Fly from Australia to Mauritius (Air Mauritius Business Class)
image courtesy of La Palmeraie
Fly from Mauritius to Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Arrival at the international  airport of Antananarivo , Madagascar’s capital . Meet by our representative and transfer to hotel. Overnight at Tana plaza hotel
En route to the East of  Madagascar to  Périnet or Andasibe . Stop at Marozevo to visit the  Madagascar exotic reptile farm. Afternoon visit of  Vakona private reserve and its lemurs island, where one can have a closer encounter too with  crocodile and the predator “fosa”.Overnight at Vakona lodge
Day3 : Dec 26: ANDASIBE Analamazaotra reserve
Early start to visit Analamazaotra National park , a part of Andasibe national park . 2-4 hours walk in the forest and  meet the famous Indri lemur , the largest lemurs and hearing their territorial calls  and explore the rainforest with its endemic fauna and flora, various birds, colourful chameleons and plants. Afternoon relax . Overnight at Vakona lodge
Day 4 : Dec 27: ANDASIBE Mantadia reserve
Early start to visit Mantadia reserve, another part of andasibe National park ,  2-4 hours walk in the primary rainforest . Afternoon free. Overnight at Vakona lodge
Drive back to Antananarivo. Overnight at Tana Plaza hotel
Transfer to the airport and board the flight to Nosy be. Dinner and overnight at Nosy be hotel in VIP bungalow
Day 7 : Dec 30: NOSY BE
Excursion to Lokobe reserve by local pirogue with picnic lunch .Dinner and overnight at Nosy be hotel.
Day 8 : Dec 31: NOSY BE
Excursion by speed boat to the amazing island of Nosy Iranja with seafood picnic lunch. New years eve dinner and overnight at Nosy be hotel
Flight back to Antananarivo. Overnight at Tana plaza hotel
Day 10 : Jan 02: ANTANANARIVO-
Flight back home

my quest for the perfect gnocchi

I have a bit of an obsession with gnocchi. It’s the perfect meeting of my two loves: potato and pasta. My waistline wishes my fondness was for protein shakes or celery or whatever but no, its gnocchi, and I’ve been in love with these delightful little dumplings since I was tiny.I always preach about trying new things but when I see these little parcels of heaven on a menu, I can’t resist. I would love to try them everywhere, Sam I Am. I’ve been lucky enough to have gnocchi in Italy (not everywhere but in a few places, such as Venice) and each region of Italy has it’s own interpretation so I’d love to go on a Grand Gnocchi Tour of Italy one day.

The best I’ve ever had though was in Croatia. I actually thought this was bizarre but it’s not; it’s an extremely popular dish in coastal Croatia (such as Split, where I had the best one); they call it “njoki” (sounds the same, I guess). It was in a tiny little port-side cafe where I sampled this best-gnocchi-dish-of-my-life-so-far. So simple, perfect little morsels tossed in a Gorgonzola sauce. I didn’t even like blue cheese at the time, but after this dish I became a convert, which tells you a little something about it’s power.

Anyway, unfortunately I am not currently overseas on gnocchi-consuming adventures. I did however have a lovely weekend in South Australia’s very own McLaren Vale, sampling the local produce (particularly the wine!). I absolutely love living in Adelaide because McLaren Vale, the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley and the Adelaide Hills region are all so close, and the Coonawarra is a few hours’ drive away. These amazing regions are home to some of the world’s best vineyards and microbreweries and the freshest produce.

We went to a restaurant called Au Pear (so cute, check it out here) and I had, of course, the gnocchi. The menu reads: “house made with confit artichoke hearts, caprino fresco and olive cream”. Now, strictly as a gnocchi traditionalist, it wasn’t what I expected. I have to day though, it was delicious. So delicate, so balanced, so fresh – and just enough on the plate to start feeling full without feeling heavy. Maybe that was the idea – we ordered the lemon souffle for dessert!

So, if you want a relaxing afternoon in the sunshine, head down to the Vale for some beautiful food; if you’re somewhere else in the world right now, keep me up to date with the gnocchi on your plate!

Gnocchi, Au Pear restaurant, McLaren Vale – sorry, I dug in before I remembered to take a photo!

ten things I learned as a first-timer in Vietnam

The first time I ever left Australia was when I was 18. I had been itching to head to Vietnam after studying it’s history in School. My travelling companion said “can’t we just go to New Zealand?” but I was determined to try something a bit riskier. Well…

1.       Never watch Bangkok Hilton before backpacking through Asia
Thanks Mum for the terror it instilled, which led me to using five different kinds of padlocks PLUS those zip tags with the codes on them… then going through my stuff at the carousel to make sure there was nothing in my bags I needed to flush.
2.       Forget your personal boundaries
I walked into Bến Thành markets in Ho Chi Minh City, backpack still on, fresh off the plane, just killing time waiting to be able to check into my hotel. At the first t-shirt stall I looked at, a lady came up to me and grabbed my boobs while crying “WHY SO BIG?!” I thought it was a one-off, but no. It happened pretty much every day. By the end, I have to say I was flattered.
3.   Vietnam has weather, too
Just because the picture in the brochure shows Halong Bay as a sunny place with girls in bikinis jumping off the top of the junk boat into beautiful emerald-green water doesn’t mean that when you get there it won’t be 8 degrees with pea-soup fog. It’s called winter. It’s a thing that hapens sometimes. 
4.       Just close your eyes and GO!
If you wait for a break in the traffic, you’ll never get across the road. If you change pace as you walk, or try to dodge someone on a scooter, you will hit someone. Guaranteed. So just close your eyes, say your ‘hail mary’s, and walk.
5.       If you’re a clean freak, don’t travel during Tet
All the rooms were dirty, because you don’t want to sweep out all the good luck when you sweep out the dirt. So cleaning takes a back seat in the lead up to the Vietnamese New Year. BYO thongs/jandals/flip-flops.
6.       Look up and live
We have this saying in Australia, which basically means watch out for power lines, but never has this been more appropriate than on the streets of Hanoi. I have a nasty habit of watching my feet as I walk (probably because I trip so often!) and nearly walked in to several live power lines which were dangling at neck height. I’m 5’1 so… yeah, they were hanging pretty low.
7.       Just because a red sign says KFC, doesn’t mean it’s anything like back home.
Walks like a chicken, looks like a chicken… or not. Probably goes “woof”. And on that note…
8.       For the un-initiated, eating dog can make you sick.
And not just because the idea of it turns my stomach. Even when you think you’ve eaten beef (like me) you’ll still probably get sick.

9. Rice wine isn’t for everyone…
But it is for me! Party up, Vietnam style… Just don’t eat the scorpion at the bottom.
10.   There’s no place like home
After two weeks, I was ready to come home. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. Back in my own bed, I slept better than I ever had before. But after a few days, I regretted feeling that way and was dying to go back. I put my rose-coloured-glasses on, declared it the best place ever, and booked for the next journey.
Streets of Saigon, Vietnam 2008

one visa fits all

The idea of having one visa for all ASEAN member states has been bandied about for a while, but now it looks as though plans are being finalised to turn this into a reality. The deadline is 2015.
The benefits for foreign travellers are many but the most obvious one is increasing ease of travel; the flow-on effect of this being increased tourism in the region.
Currently, citizens of ASEAN member states can travel seamlessly between other states and the idea now is that foreign travellers (ie from outside member states) will be able to apply for an ASEAN visa and travel to any or all member states as a result. So, you travel through Indochina on the one visa instead of having one for Viet Nam, one for Cambodia, one for Lao etc. The monetary saving is quite significant, and the processing time would be drastically reduced as a result.
Suffice to say, a quick survey of my colleagues garnered some pretty excited responses – in tourism, change doesn’t always make life easier but this is one your friendly local travel agent is going to be very excited about, as well as your backpacker friends!
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries:
Brunei Darussalam

Viet Nam