Archive | January 2014

2014: 12 months, 12 challenges

One month down. Another 11 to go.

This year, I thought I’d set myself 12 challenges or goals/achievements/stuff I want to do, one for each month.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far (subject to change):

January – Polar Bear dip. DONE
February – Get a haircut. DONE
March – Try as many new recipes as possible in the month (submitted by Jess), do the Color Run
April – Photo Project – complete as many photo projects as possible from the 52 Photo Project Book (submitted by Em)
May – Visit a new country (ticket is booked!)
June – 8km island crossing Guam open water swim (airfare is booked)
July – 10km ows race, Paddle mix ows race, sit JLPT exam – level N1
August – Tsugaru Channel Relay swim crossing (August or September)???
September – Murakami triathlon???
October – 15km ows race????
November – Full marathon run???
December – Sit the JLPT exam – Level N1 (aim to pass)

I need a challenge for February!!!
Send me your challenge proposals!

Dumpling central

One can’t go to Taiwan and not go to Din Tai Fung – the dumpling mecca of Taiwan.
I’ve actually been to Din Tai Fung in China and Japan, but Taiwan is home to the original Din Tai Fung : award-winning dumplings.

The lines at all the Din Tai Fung outlets are crazy. I went to the Taipei 101 Tower outlet.

From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung

Be prepared to wait:

From Din Tai Fung

Take a number, they said:

From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung

The dumplings are prepared with surgical precision in the operating theatre:

From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung

I ordered the shorompo (soup dumplings):

From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung

And a wonton soup:

From Din Tai Fung

I was thinking that the dumplings would be overrated, but they REALLY were that good.
Even the broth for the soup was just so clean. So pure. So tasty.

The perfect meal:

From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung
From Din Tai Fung

But dem shorompo need to be eaten with safety warning. You’ve gotta watch out for when the soup inside the dumpling squirts on your face. I’m sure it’s happened to us all. I have since learnt to pierce the dumpling and let the soup run into the spoon first.

Ate at Din Tai Fung. Taiwan done. Next stop airport. Just kidding. Plenty more stuff was seen and eaten in Taiwan.

Return to Nozawa

For the third year running, I went back to Nozawa for a weekend of snowboarding and onsen. It’s become a yearly winter tradition.

Nozawa is probably one of my favourite ski resorts. I really like all the runs there (I like ’em wide) and I love the village atmosphere and all the onsens. There’s even a craft beer place there and they stock my favourite craft beer (I only know of one place in Tokyo that has it). Snowboarding, followed by an onsen and a drop of craft beer – the perfect winter’s day out.

Saturday was perfect conditions out on the slopes. A bluebird day. Had probably one of the best days ever snowboarding.

From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014

Made it up to the peak:

From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014

An awesome day on the slopes. Full day of snowboarding and then a soak in the onsen.
Did a pub crawl in the evening and went to all four bars in the village.

I’ve died and gone to….

From Nozawa 2014

My favourite craft beer: Dead Guy Ale by Rogue Breweries:

From Nozawa 2014

Saturday night and all day Sunday it dumped snow. It made for a great powder day on the slopes on Sunday but visibility was negative. We got to the top of the mountain, and I had a little meltdown. I was basically blind and could not see a thing up there. Had a bit of a panic attack snowboarding blind. And it was extremely cold. I thought I was gonna get freezeburn.

From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014

Somehow made it down to the bottom in one piece, a little bit traumatised. Stuck to the lower runs instead. The powder was awesome. But visibility not so good.

From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014
From Nozawa 2014

Another weekend of snowboarding to look forward to this weekend. Will be checking out a new/different ski resort.

Brunch at Peninsula Hotel: Dom and Pavlova

Been a while since I’ve done a brunch review.
This was a celebratory brunch back in December of last year. It was a much needed celebration after a month of crappiness (think police, compensation and exams to boot). I got myself into a bit of pickle last year, but that’s another stay for a time when I have left the country. Best to retell that story once I’m out of Japan.

It was time to indulge and nothing says indulgence more than all-you-can-eat brunch AND all-you-can drink Dom Perignon!

The Peninsula Hotel’s Peter restaurant offers this brunch menu on Sundays only (so book in advance).

The brunch experience is unncessarily complicated, but the free flow champagne is definitely a bonus.
One of many glasses:

From Peninsula brunch

Let the brunch begin:

From Peninsula brunch

Salads and appetizers are buffet style. Easy. Knock yourself out.

From Peninsula brunch

In addition to that you can order a whole bunch of other dishes. All these dishes are all you can eat as well, but you need to order a la carte and each dish is literally a mouthful portion. So the waiting time is a little longer every time you want to order food. However, it also means that the table is full of tiny plates of bite-sized dishes:

From Peninsula brunch
From Peninsula brunch
From Peninsula brunch

The variety and quality is pretty good though, but it was rather slow service. This is definitely a slow leisurely brunch, so you better not make plans afterwards. This is a 2-3 hour eating ordeal.

The highlight here is the dessert buffet. They sell honest to goodness real Pavlova. Wow. Gobsmacked. It was damn delicious. It tasted like home. If you don’t know what pavlova is, in a word, it’s “divine”. A giant meringue nest topped with fresh fruit and cream.

From Peninsula brunch
From Peninsula brunch
From Peninsula brunch

Would totally go back there just for the pavlova.

Brunch here was very good, if not a little convoluted. Considering it’s the same deal as the Ritz Carlton, you’re better off going to the Ritz Carlton. (Just realised that I haven’t blogged about that…so I must get around to doing that. I have a huge backlog of blog posts to do! This thing called “work” is really cramping muh style.

1300 steps: Climbing Tokyo Tower

During a limited time each year, you can apparently climb the stairs up Tokyo Tower. I thought you could take the stairs all year round, but it seems you can only do this during a 2-week window each year (I have my suspicions that you can take the stairs all year round though). I managed to sneak in a trip to Tokyo Tower just for the sole purpose of climbing about 1300 steps. I needed the distraction. I’ve been to Tokyo Tower before but took the elevator up.
Decided this time to go up to the observatory by taking the 600 or so steps up and then back down again. And still had to pay the regular entry price for the privelege.

Tokyo Tower:

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/gFKiO6biqmF_IQQXO5L1rEyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-tCK-98LAadM/UtVNTf9OWMI/AAAAAAACeWE/sPyiroJHJZE/s640/IMG_6434.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/k3QvKQ4Tut0ziWlv_8ZBoEyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-5FGmEg6Weg0/UtVNTbwVhDI/AAAAAAACeWQ/q02kR4mc5TE/s640/IMG_6436.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

Here we go:

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/3FbDZd_1BuwwE7oxmdHpUEyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-jgisW1fseE4/UtVNTeKuRsI/AAAAAAACeWI/mNq9G6X7wfE/s640/IMG_6437.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/Xxfp6P5UWwg9HkwJzfKsXUyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-lU44y-ke7CQ/UtVNYy5SBiI/AAAAAAACeXo/W0FjfnUsc8Y/s640/IMG_6448.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/cyGGCADKFs3qKKoHJdV0lkyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-4_8rP2Tlx-I/UtVNaWfsuFI/AAAAAAACeX8/Py83zij1Ke4/s640/IMG_6450.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

At the 333rd step:

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/RJvU8Pm8nwKGyEK6LjFg1kyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-LV-JiPeCFrY/UtVNUSkai7I/AAAAAAACeWc/uVEP6IeepYM/s640/IMG_6438.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;authkey=Gv1sRgCIv73p-fzLnWZQ&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/AqzlTE0Eg4qpFUosaD-2zkyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-IQJYr8lt4dE/UtVNa88itOI/AAAAAAACeYI/RDvMFwgdyr8/s640/IMG_6452.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;authkey=Gv1sRgCIv73p-fzLnWZQ&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/pQ0BzaVaNOVQu4tuputbyUyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-votKzGa8SXk/UtVNdI_1LrI/AAAAAAACeYs/mD5ilVn1yDM/s640/IMG_6455.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;authkey=Gv1sRgCIv73p-fzLnWZQ&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

At the 500th step:

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/9VwNYDeDzOj8QRN4sK2-VkyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-FBYqtk4ZefY/UtVNVFkJqKI/AAAAAAACeWk/JUPS7zlB-8Y/s640/IMG_6440.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;authkey=Gv1sRgCIv73p-fzLnWZQ&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/hSdtSn5t8kQynV-eKsX3ukyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-UKQKwDiDheM/UtVNiCKl-lI/AAAAAAACeZ0/tiyZsAgCJOA/s640/IMG_6468.JPG&#8221; height=”640″ width=”640″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

The view on a cold winter’s day:

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/dPoDNh9g5eh9Cl8bPshmckyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-bkTGOSgBXGc/UtVNWrfVv2I/AAAAAAACeW4/qs-W1BMm1Vg/s640/IMG_6443.JPG&#8221; height=”480″ width=”640″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;authkey=Gv1sRgCIv73p-fzLnWZQ&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/2npBjBqE-tUOG5C8jiWm9kyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-k95ROIwS_wo/UtVNXYlUhbI/AAAAAAACeXI/ANjJfh1SDMM/s640/IMG_6444.JPG&#8221; height=”480″ width=”640″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;authkey=Gv1sRgCIv73p-fzLnWZQ&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/RENZqDFGrh-43gQUcsMePEyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-qi7zEigGWcM/UtVNXbolMJI/AAAAAAACeXQ/2pnPgltiNtg/s640/IMG_6445.JPG&#8221; height=”480″ width=”640″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;authkey=Gv1sRgCIv73p-fzLnWZQ&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/yx-iuSfWhKNSCnMMnl6RO0yfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-y-s0jSUqcgQ/UtVNX_TeeQI/AAAAAAACeXc/Fd6QT73_zfU/s640/IMG_6446.JPG&#8221; height=”480″ width=”640″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;authkey=Gv1sRgCIv73p-fzLnWZQ&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

And now to walk the 600-plus steps back down again. I do believe you can ride the elevator down if you so wish.

View from the ground, looking up:

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/xIpZixZxBMoNi0qy8yRBr0yfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-xZuWNmPuMFc/UtVNdB8JdCI/AAAAAAACeYk/vGPA_ypaf60/s640/IMG_6456.jpg&#8221; height=”640″ width=”480″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/7psYr8yB9ScFWI_ACzFR0UyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-GHemtoaLRlE/UtVNdS98cRI/AAAAAAACeYw/EPwFE4TJhKk/s640/IMG_6457.jpg&#8221; height=”480″ width=”640″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/xyIm-CqhaLWryO4iHHDfJ0yfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-_mD-G0LpDIM/UtVNeD8iiBI/AAAAAAACelE/uyZgrVN4cw8/s640/IMG_6459.jpg&#8221; height=”480″ width=”640″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

<table style=”width:auto”><tr><td><a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/E_nsPRDD8XdNLSwE_aafpkyfHhUe1gNt21gz4-UIDf4?feat=embedwebsite”><img src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-ez9ip9c-oWo/UtVNfG6p11I/AAAAAAACeZQ/GkhKB5_KvnI/s640/IMG_6462.JPG&#8221; height=”640″ width=”640″ /></a></td></tr><tr><td style=”font-family:arial,sans-serif;font-size:11px;text-align:right”>From <a href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/116032719585350311356/TokyoTower?authuser=0&amp;feat=embedwebsite”>Tokyo Tower</a></td></tr></table>

For less than 10buks you can get in a good stair workout, and entry to Tokyo Tower and views over Tokyo.

Bucketlist swim: Coogee Wedding Cake Island Swim Challenge 2013

One needs to work off all these high teas, so I timed one of my trips back home last year with an open water swim race back in Sydney – a mecca for open water swimming, or as we call it “ocean swimming”. It’s pretty big in Ostraya.

Sydney is where I did my first open water swim race back when I was a wee uni student. I went along to a beach race on my own having decided to enter it without ever having done an open water swim ever. I’m not really sure what possessed to try open water swimming given that I didn’t really grow up near the beach.

My first ows race was the Cole Classic – a then-2km swim from North Bondi beach to South Bondi beach (and back?). They have since moved the Cole Classic to a different beach. I’m glad I got to swim the original Cole Classic swim at the iconic Bondi Beach before they changed venues.

One of the things I’m really looking forward to when I come home (on a permanent basis), is all the open water swim races available in Australia. We have quite the ocean swimming scene, and a lot of beaches and races I’d love to swim. So I’ve got that to look forward to.

One of my bucketlist swims has been the Coogee Island Swim Challenge aka the Wedding Cake Island Swim, and I got to tick this off last November. This particular swim is pretty popular. They actually hold it twice – once in November (beginning of Oz summer – the cold water challenge) and again in April (end of Oz summer – the cool water challenge). The difference is degrees.

The last Sunday in November last year was a beautiful sunny clear day. Water temps about 19 degrees, but air temp was in the low 30 degrees.

The race was at Coogee Beach and it’s a 2.4km swim from the beach out and around Wedding Cake Island and back inland. Wedding Cake Island is a rocky reef. The crashing white waves over the top of it makes it look as though it’s icing…hence Wedding Cake Island….I think. It is a challenging swim. Conditions can be tough. And in some previous years, they’ve had to change the course bypassing the Island loop….which kinda defeats the challenge of this swim.

Picturesque Coogee Beach:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

This is a typical Sunday in Sydney:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

From the beach out to Wedding Cake Island, around the island and then back in.

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

A big turn out for this race. About 800 people or so, with wave starts – mixed gender by age group.
Ocean swims in Oz are very different to those in Japan. In Oz, you have to deal with waves and the surf. Most swims in Japan are very flat and tame.

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

2.4km course map (there was also a 1km option as well):

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

Aerial view:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

Here are some pics from the previous wave starts:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

And now for some action:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

It’s a battlefield out there:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

It’s nearly my turn to swim.
Swim essential: Check.

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

I was a little disappointed that the race-issued cap didn’t come with a race-feature logo. They often make a nice memory-sake. I keep all my swim caps from races.

Preparing to swim:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

And my purple wave starts. I’m somewhere in the pack:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

Now, I thought sharks would be my biggest worry because the swim involves going out further past the shark nets. And I have actually done a training swim here and seen a wobbegong shark here at the beach before. I saw this “thing” at the bottom of the water, and it wasn’t until afterwards I was told that “thing” was a shark. Argh freak out. Ignorance is bliss. Kinda glad I didn’t know it was a shark whilst swimming over the top of it.

Turns out on race day, my biggest problem was the gazillions of jellyfish I would be swimming through. Never have I seen so many jellyfish. Gah, my worst nightmare. I was nearly going to pull out of the race because I was not coping. They weren’t the stinging kind, but every hand stroke through the water, you felt them. They gave me the heebie jeebies. They were kinda going in my cosies. And made very sure to keep my mouth closed in the water. There were so many jellyfish that it got to a point where I refused to put my face in the water and basically was swimming freestyle with my head above water.
The majority of the course was jellyfish infested. Just making it to the finish line was going to be an achievement. I was so close to pulling myself out the race. Just mentally was not coping with the smacks upon smacks of jellyfish. (Did you know the collective noun for jellyfish is “smacks”?)

You don’t really ever see the island at any point even though you swim around it. I had been told that one should take a look at the reef island as you swim around, but even then it’s hard to catch a glimpse of. I was too preoccupied with jellyfish.

I felt only a sense of relief, not a sense of accomplishment when I finished this race.

That finish line could not come soon enough. Was so glad to be out of the water:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

About to cross the finish line…hooray:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

Swam terribly slow.
A time of a flat 51 minutes for the 2.4 km swim. So so slow. But glad to have just finished considering this is a race that I was prepared to pull out of. I should add, that my dad also entered this swim. His longest open swim distance race and was only a few minutes behind me time-wise. I need to lift my game! (I came 523rd out of 822 people. Was 134 out of 248 females. And 33rd in age group. Not great stats). Although I am glad to have finished, I can’t even say it was an enjoyable swim really. The jellyfish really bothered, even though no one else there seemed bothered by it all. It was a beautiful day though. The sun was shining, and I survived the swim. So win-win.

It was nice to enjoy the scenery. Bucketlist swim complete. Got a few more up my sleeve though.

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

The best part about finishing is eating.

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

And I have to say, a good ol’ Aussie meat pie beats a Japanese onigiri as a post-race snack anyday!

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

This pie sums up how I felt:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

And a mini sausage roll as well:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

Ahh, beautiful Coogee Beach:

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

Look how clean and clear the water is. You can see Wedding Cake Island to the right of the photo. And to think I swam out there and back!

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

Coogee Island Challenge – complete! Got a heap of merchandise – the hoodie and the towel to commemorate.

From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim
From Coogee Wedding Cake island swim

Madhatters Tea at the Westin, Sydney

Afternoon tea number 2 of 5 during my week in Sydney last year.
The venue: The Westin Hotel located in the GPO building of Martin Place. It’s an architectural historical icon in Sydney, or at least I think it is. It also oozes suits. The interior is fancy!
The lucky dining companion was my older brother. No one in my family escapes being dragged around to high teas with me.

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

I really liked the concept of the traditional (heritage-style) contrasted with the new and modern. This is reflected in their menu. There are two high tea menu offerings – the Heritage Afternoon Tea and the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea. Why choose one, when you can have both. We opted for one of each so we could each then share and sample both. Yes, all in the name of comparative research.

From Westin afternoon tea

The Heritage Tea option:

From Westin afternoon tea

The Mad Hatter’s option:

From Westin afternoon tea

Champagne:

From Westin afternoon tea

Here they are side by side:

From Westin afternoon tea

Portions are somewhat on the smaller side.

From Westin afternoon tea

This was the modern traditional one:

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

It looked pretty and fancy, but it was lacking in flavour.

The desserts were different and not your typical fare:

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

On the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea tier:

From Westin afternoon tea

Bonus points for colour and creativity. But the flavour profiles weren’t so great. They were not the most palatable dishes. But they did make for great photos. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of icing, so all this coloured icing was a bit of a turn off for me. But how cool does it look!

From Westin afternoon tea

Alice in Wonderland represented: The watch, the hat and the Queen of Hearts.

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

There was only one of each so we had to cut each item in half so we could sample everything. This got very messy.

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

Now you can see why I am an advocate of new/fresh plates for each tier at afternoon tea. It should be standard.

From Westin afternoon tea

Splitting the salad was a lot more difficult:

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

I thought the scones here were good:

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

What I also enjoyed about this venue, is that you can have as many different teas as you like. I am pretty sure this is the only venue in Sydney I’ve been to so far that allows this. Most venues restrict you to one blend of tea. You can have as many as you can muster here. I think I only through 2 or 3 different teas here.

From Westin afternoon tea

And the tea selection from memory was quite extensive. I got a black tea of sorts, probably some breakfast blend and also got a jasmine tea:

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

The GPO Building interior is also worth checking out. It’s home to some fancy stores and dining establishments.

From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea
From Westin afternoon tea

I have mixed thoughts about this one. I think on the whole, it would be a positive high tea review. Unlimited tea is a definite bonus. Nice building location. And the food was pretty good. Menu definitely looks good on paper. I liked the modern touch to this place and the creativity of the menu.

Sydney, Intercontinental Afternoon Tea

Another day in Sydney, another afternoon tea.
I was back home in Sydney last year for a week, from a Saturday to a Friday. During that week, I did 5 afternoon teas. Wow. 5 afternoon teas in a space of 7 days. That’s a lot now that I write that out. What can I say, this hobby is a health hazard. If only I could find someone to pay me to eat all these scones and drink tea!

Here is the third afternoon tea I did in Sydney with my younger brother. Actually, he came along and just watched me eat afternoon tea whilst he drank apple cider. My brother watches what he eats. I should do the same. I see it and I eat.

Too lazy for words, so it will be mostly pics.

Went the champagne option, of course:

From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea

I just realised it would probably be a good idea to mention the venue: The Intercontinental Hotel, Sydney, on a Wednesday afternoon. It was in their lobby lounge, which had a very businessy-suit vibe to the place.

The afternoon tea offering is minimalist (not so hearty) and modern, and served on a circular tier.

From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea

Food was good. Not spectacular. The single scone was disappointing.

Panacotta:

From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea
From Intercontinental afternoon tea

The savoury treats were the best thing about this place. Desserts were ok. And scone was very disappointing. Service not so great. Not the best afternoon tea venue in terms of ambience either. A shame really. I had high hopes for this place. Definitely has potential.

Hills Lodge afternoon tea: the best in the west

I have a slew of afternoon tea blog posts to write up about. It’s not that I haven’t partaken in afternoon/high teas of recent, rather I just haven’t had time to sort through photos and do write-ups etc. This blogging business is time-consuming stuff, and this thing called “full-time work” really interferes with the blogging.

I have at least 8 afternoon tea reviews to write up about, so lots to look forward to, dear reader.
Last year, I actually didn’t do many afternoon teas in Japan at all, so most of the high tea blog posts will be international ones, so that’s pretty exciting.

Let me start off, with one of the best afternoon teas, or at least my personal favourite, I did in 2013.
This was back in Sydney in November last year. A nice father-daughter afternoon tea. Every visit home, I drag my dad along to a high tea. Secretly, he loves it. He’s done a handful of afternoon teas now. We had to do a Westie high tea though. But can I say, Westie high teas are the best. So, don’t mock the West. West is Best.

The Hills Lodge offer afternoon tea on Fridays and Saturdays only. Alas, my visit to Sydney was short and I was due to fly out on Friday morning. I would miss out on their Fridays and Saturdays only high tea offerings. However, they made special arrangements for me, and offered to do a private high tea for us on the Tuesday, for which I was extremely grateful.

Technically, the restaurant for afternoon tea was closed, but they had the chef prepare afternoon tea for us especially. This place excels in service. Firstly, they were most accommodating. I emailed the Lodge asking for afternoon tea service on Tuesday, which they did, just for us. I figured, it didn’t hurt to email them and ask. They happily agreed to serve us. We were the only guests in the whole restaurant. Had the whole venue to ourselves. And secondly, the service was outstanding. Granted, we were the only patrons there. The manager, Joel, was amazing. Super nice, friendly and attentive. It was a real treat coming here. People, service and the food was outstanding.

I was very impressed by the food here and it was a super pleasant afternoon.
The venue itself is in the Hills district of Western Sydney. The Hills Lodge is an English Tudor style lodge.

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

The whole venue to ourselves! VIP treatment.

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

The indulgence high tea is 3-tier stand of the usual treats and a piccolo of Moet champagne. Yes, please. I will never say no to bubbles:

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

Looking like the lady of leisure that I am:

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

Now, bring on the goodies:

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

Afternoon tea for two:

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

Westie food is such comfort food. Some good ol’ sanger’s and mini quiche. And you know I’m a sucker for quiche:

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

Warm, tasty, mini quiche:

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

A plateful of sweets:

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

An assortment of 8 different sweets including some ol’ classic favourites such as lemon meringue, and a lamington (an Aussie thing).

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

Alas, there was only one of each, so we cut each in half so we could sample all 8.

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

Everything was sooo good here.

And some proper Aussies scones and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Aussie scones are hands down the best. No where else quite does scones like they do Down Under. And believe me, I’ve done afternoon in about 10 different countries.

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

All washed down with a generous pot of tea:

From Hills Lodge afternoon tea
From Hills Lodge afternoon tea

I thoroughly enjoyed this special high tea by request. Big thanks to Cheryl, Joel and chef that helped make it happen. Definitely worth the trek out to the burbs for this afternoon tea. Over course of 2013, I visited about another 4-5 afternoon tea venues in the Sydney CBD, and I would have to say, afternoon tea at the Hills Lodge was the best of my Sydney tastings.

Website here.