Monday, April 27, 2015

South Society, Mount Waverley

Lately I just can't get enough of burgers. We recently visited South Society in Pinewood for a burger fix. We've walked past a couple of times, realised its place as a new café (it used to be a very unmemorable restaurant) and decided to give it a try one day. The layout was clean and spacious, with plenty of room for solos, couples and big groups alike.

We were seated in a little corner which would normally be the most neglected spot in an eatery, but service was pleasantly prompt. We made our order in no time and even with the constant buzzing and flow of customers, we received our orders reasonably quickly.

So the soft shell crab burger it was! I received a spicy crab encased within toasted yet fluffy buns and some slaw. The crab was good but the buns were even better. What can I say? I like big buns and I cannot lie. 

Hubby had the chicken burger and he really enjoyed it as well. The sweet potato chips were awesome! (We swapped our chips halfway so that I could have more of his.)

We also ordered the 'water flower' juice to share - a blend of watermelon, pear, lime and fennel which was quite invigorating. I'm really glad that yet another great café has popped up in this side of town, and though it is a little pricey, it definitely is a lovely place to have a meal. Looking forward to our next visit!

South Society on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Walk: Werribee Gorge State Park

Last Saturday, hubby and I decided to resume our hiking activities and therefore planned a day out at Werribee Gorge State Park. I hadn't done any real exercise since returning from my trip two weeks ago, so I was quite excited to work those muscles again.

We arrived at the park a little after 11am and decided on the Centenary Walk, a 4km track that would take approximately 2.5 hours. We must have been terrible navigators because we spent such a long time trying to find the start of the track. We parked our car further up, and thought we had to pass through the Quarry Picnic Area to access the walk. After spending 45 minutes walking around in circles (we probably encountered the same couple having a picnic about 5 times), we finally realised the track began where we parked our car!

This was our best friend for most of the walk. They were sporadic so we tried our best to be vigilant in keeping an eye out for them.

After a short walk we arrived at a cliff looking upon Junction Pool, and I thought this was the most beautiful part of the walk. We wondered if we were allowed to swim or soak in the pool because it had such an amazing backdrop! If it is permitted we will probably come back and just chill out here one day.

Unfortunately, this was where things started to get a little 'interesting'. Wanting to continue on our walk, we followed the sign to Island Lookout, which pointed to the direction of the pool and beyond. We thought we had to cross a creek at some point, so decided to continue our hike along a path that looked slightly trodden. We should have realised something was off as it was getting very, very difficult. Unfortunately, it wasn't before I walked into a tree branch that we decided to turn back. With one hand trying to soak up blood from the side of one eye, and tingling in the other presumably from ant bites when I had slipped, we were going to call it a day and return to the car.

Luckily for us, we bumped into a lovely lady who told us that the sign was pointing the wrong way, and that the way to W. James Whyte Island Reserve was in another direction. I wish we had realised that earlier! Finally, we were back on track on a well-paved path. My cuts had stopped bleeding as well. Things were looking good. 

The climb up the hill is not to be underestimated though. With the sun in our faces, the ascend proved to be quite challenging and we were stopping every few minutes to catch our breath. However, we were rewarded with expansive views. No regrets!

When we reached the top, there was an additional 1km lookout circuit and we were treated to sweeping views of Melbourne CBD, You Yangs and beyond. The return journey was relatively easy as we didn't get lost. Yay!

With all our wrong turns and accidents, the walk ended up taking about 4 hours. It was quite an adventure and I came back with some battle scars, but we are determined to take this as a valuable lesson and conquer the circuit walk on our next visit.

Friday, April 17, 2015

London & Favourite Eats

The five days we had in London was meant to be a shopping expedition. We did end up spending three full days on shopping, but on the other days we managed to squeeze in most of the main sights, three musicals and catch ups with some old friends. I'm very blessed. 

London was wet, windy, loud and crowded - everything I usually hate. But somehow, I ended up falling in love with this city just 30 minutes into our taxi ride from the airport to our hotel. Every morning, as I looked at the view of London from the 15th floor of Saint Georges Hotel, I felt so insignificant. But somehow, I also felt like I was part of something bigger. 

As I have mentioned, London weather wasn't the best. We experienced cold, lots of rain and 30mph winds on most of the days. Nevertheless, that didn't stop us from visiting the main attractions (I would never forgive myself if I didn't see these on my first visit!).

There was Big Ben. 

Tower Bridge. 

The Shard. 

Westminster Abbey.

On the same day we also caught London Eye, St Paul's Cathedral, Tate Modern and King's Cross Station, though I couldn't be bothered queueing for a photo with Platform 9¾! On our last day, we made our way to our last sightseeing stop, the Buckingham Palace, and were lucky enough to catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony. 

I also got the chance to watch a grand total of three musicals during my stay. Prior to this trip, I had only ever watched one musical which was 'Once'. In the words of my two friends who are seasoned theatregoers, I was a 'white piece of fabric in need of splashes of paint and colour'. We watched Mamma Mia, Miss Saigon and Phantom Of The Opera. Eva Noblezada's rendition of Kim in Miss Saigon was hands down one of the most impressive performances I've ever witnessed. 

And now for the food. I'm not sure if it was just because the weather was cold, but I think I ended up loving everything I ate. Here are some favourites though:

#1: Homemade lemonade @ Honest Burgers
A nice, cold mug of lemonade was one of the best power-ups I could ask for after a long day of walking around the city.

#2: Honest burger with rosemary-salted chips @ Honest Burgers
It was a great burger with a juicy patty, tasty fillings and dripping sauce. You should have seen me with those chips. I was so, so full by the end of the burger but I kept on stuffing those chips into my mouth because they were that good. 

#3: Wild boar sausages and mash @ Balans

A classic comfort dish and it definitely warmed up my tummy and my body. I've been craving it since returning and had to make it for dinner one night!

#4: Lobster roll @ Burger & Lobster
I love the simplicity of having only three items on the menu. From the bread to the lobster to the fries to the salad, no complaints. No complaints at all.

#5: Gelato ubriaco @ Assaggetti

I am so happy we randomly came past this place. Not only were the little bites amazing (I had vegetable soup and scallops and seafood), the dessert was also to die for. I chose gelato ubriaco which translates to drunk ice cream, basically a scoop of chocolate ice cream dunked in a glass of liqueur (sadly I don't know which exactly!). I don't understand how something so simple can taste so heavenly. 

And that concludes our two week trip to South East France and London. I returned with an extra 8kg worth of shopping, memories, newfound motivation and a different perspective. I wouldn't traded this experience for anything else in the world. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Favourite Eats In France

For me, eating will always be an important aspect of travelling. Before this trip I had only ever had French food once in South Yarra, so I was very excited to be able to taste some classic dishes in the country itself.

Listed here are my favourite dishes from the trip (in no particular order):

#1: Croissants @ Chez Maitre Pierre, Nice
When I'm on holiday, I try not to eat at the same place twice, but this boulangerie was an exception. The pastries were so good we had breakfast there three mornings in a row, and every time I tried something different, like pear, apple or apricot with a small cup of mocha or hot chocolate. Plus it was a great spot for people-watching!

#2: Escargots @ La Colombe d'Or, Saint-Paul-de-Vence
De-shelled Burgundy snails in rich sauce? Mmm.

It was a simple lobster salad, poached and dressed with balsamic vinaigrette but it was so delicious. The lobster was juicy and tender with no pretentious flavours. Clean and delicate, it was highly enjoyable.

#4: French onion soup @ Chez Laurette, Aix-en-Provence

To be honest, I don't know what constitutes a 'good' French onion soup, but this was so tasty and hearty. I loved everything from the pastry crust, to the cheese, to the crostini. 

#5: Seafood platter @ l'Oursin, Antibes
I guess there's just no way I could pass up a seafood platter. We walked past this restaurant while we were doing some light shopping and noticed piles of oysters and a man behind the counter happily shucking them. I knew we had to have lunch here. It was one of those times it was terribly difficult to choose what to eat, so I got greedy and chose the large seafood platter for one. My best decision ever involved oysters, mussels, wild clams, shrimps, prawns, scampi, whelks and winkles. I'm proud to say I finished almost everything! Unfortunately I missed out on the sea urchin but I don't think I could've taken anymore food. 

#6: Scallops @ l'Oursin, Antibes
This wasn't even my dish, but I got to have one of the largest, juiciest, most tender scallops ever. Even the lentil salad that accompanied it was awesome. 

#7: Ice creams and sorbets @ Fenocchio, Vieux Nice
I was overwhelmed by the 100+ flavours I could choose from. I chose orange flower ice cream and guava sorbet, which were so, so good. Other flavours that caught my eye were almond, beer, grapefruit, pina colada, and tomato and basil.

#8: Clementine mousse @ Luc Salsedo, Nice

While our entrées and mains were great, this complimentary dessert took the cake. It was light and foamy and extraordinarily zesty! 

Other French dishes that we managed to have include mussels with fries, fish soup, frog legs and crêpes. There are still so many more that I would love to try but I guess I'll save that for my next trip! ;)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

South East France

When we were discussing where to go for our holiday, we had a few ideas such as New Zealand, Canada and Hawaii. Finally though, we decided to spend most of our time on the French Riviera plus a few more days in London. It was my first time going to Europe and obviously I was beyond excited.  I read up on things like places to visit, where to eat, how to get around, how to avoid scams but nothing, absolutely nothing can ever prepare you enough for the magic of a place that is entirely new to you.

We had about 8 days in France, and we made Nice our base for most of the days with a short 3-day trip to Aix-en-Provence. Most days were spent on short trips to nearby towns and communes using either the bus or the train and we ended up visiting about 10 places in total.

#1: Nice City

We were lucky enough to stay at Holiday Inn on Boulevard Victor Hugo as its location was unbeatable. Throughout our stay, we walked pretty much everywhere, including Promenade des Anglais, restaurants, shops, stations, you name it. As it served as our base for day trips, we didn't end up spending much time in the city, thought we did eat at quite a few restaurants and cafés.

#2: Vieux Nice (Old Town Nice)

Old Town Nice was just about 20 minutes walk from our accommodation. We visited the famous Cours Saleya market twice, once on a rainy afternoon where one last flower stall was packing up, and the next on a sunny morning where we got to see the full range on offer including fresh produce and knick-knacks. It was also in Old Town Nice that I had some of the best sorbets and ice creams ever!

#3: St-Paul-de-Vence

Not even rain, wind and cold could stop us. We took a bus to this medieval town and when we arrived I immediately felt like I had stepped back in time. I had never seen such a village in real life and as you can guess I was blown away. It's quaint, it's quiet, but full of surprises. You never know what shop or gallery or restaurant you will encounter when you turn the corner. I know some people feel that the shops are a little touristy, but hey, you can always choose to ignore them and just enjoy the scenery and atmosphere. I, on the other hand, got some soaps and aperitifs and am very happy with my purchases.

#4: Aix-en-Provence

Midway, we made a short trip to Aix which was about 3 hours from Nice by train. We stayed at Les Floridianes which was comfortable but located within a street that was much more deserted than we'd hoped. We were such girls and spent the whole first day shopping, but we did manage to walk around the whole city to see main sights as highlighted on the visitor map such as Cours Mirabeau, Cour d'Appel and fountains upon fountains. I felt like Aix had a very relaxed and classy vibe.

#5: Les-Baux-de-Provence
Though we 'lost' a day to shopping, we made it up with a 'Provence In One Day' tour that started just outside the Apple Store in Aix. We had a lovely guide who fed us interesting bits of information in English and Spanish for the trip. The first stop was Les-Baux-de-Provence, a commune named after the aluminium ore, bauxite. The village had a rocky, gloomy sort of charm and indeed, the views were picturesque regardless of whether we were looking at, or from it.

#6: Vers-Pont-du-Gard

Our next stop was Pont du Gard, an ancient aqueduct built by Romans in 1st century AD. Can you imagine that? The thought of standing on so much history was quite overwhelming, really. I've studied and read about them but I never thought I'd be able to see one. We saw groups of children presumably on a field trip and wondered what it would be like to have so many cultural sites so close to home!

#7: Avignon
The next city we headed to was Avignon. The weather wasn't too kind to us but we still managed to cover a bit. My favourites were the Palais des Papes (largest Gothic palace in the world!) and the Pont d'Avignon. Most memorably though, Avignon was where I took my chances and ordered foie gras for lunch, and loved it! 

#8: Châteauneuf-du-Pape
For me, this scenery looks like it could be a painting. This, plus castle ruins made me wonder how a place could be so beautiful. I also experienced the most enjoyable and informative wine tasting session I have ever had in one of the old pope cellars. Moments like swirling my glass just because other people did and sniffing the wine although I had no idea what I should be smelling are now things of the past. We were taught the basics of evaluating wine by sight, taste and smell from a very helpful sommelier called Cecilia. 

#9: Monaco

I know that Monaco isn't part of France, but I had to include it here. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I was going to like Monaco because most people associate it with high rollers and luxurious lifestyles. But there is so much more to this place than that. One of the most unforgettable experiences of this trip was having a lazy lunch at Crystal Bar atop Hôtel Hermitage. A glass of champagne in one hand, wind blowing in my face, gazing out to the great blue sea. No, I wasn't thinking of how nice it would be living the high life, I was thinking of all the people, the things, the dreams that were important to me. I might have left a piece of my heart in Monaco. And oh, the bus ride? One of the best views you'll ever get. Try your very best to get a seat though, especially when you're on your way home. 

#10: Antibes

And finally, on our last full day, we visited Antibes, the town that has it all. Beaches, mountain views, shops, restaurants, chapels, museums, I didn't know what else we could ask for. It was the only town where the thought, 'Hey, I could live here.' came to me. I don't know what else to say. You just have to see this place for yourself.

When I told whoever asked that I was going to spend 8 days in French Riviera and its surroundings, most people said 'That's too long.' Maybe I'm a super slow and relaxed traveller who needs to see everything in detail, and not just have fleeting experiences of places, but 8 days is definitely not enough. Heck, even 2 weeks is probably not enough. Cannes, Grasse and Èze are just some of the towns that we would have loved to visit but simply did not have enough time. What about Menton, Saint-Tropez and Fréjus? 

The world is too large to discover everything, but when you travel, you might just discover at least part of yourself.