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Lake Toya, Japan

Spot of Tranquility.

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Little India, Singapore

Spices, gold and splashes of colour!

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Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay

Garden City, City in a Garden.

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Bryce Canyon, USA

Thor's Hammer

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Chocolate Test, Singapore

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." -Charles M Schulz

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Penang Hill (Penang)

So the board on Penang Hill proclaims: 

Located Air Itam, Penang Hill had nothing much to offer except... crowds. Once you get away from the crowd, that's where the fun begins. Go there early or you will have to end up jostling with the crowd to get into the funicular. Prices for foreigners are at RM 30 which is fairly pricey.

The funicular went quickly up the steep slope. Lush greenery surrounds you.

Upon reaching the top, which is cooler than at the foot of the hill, it's about taking a few pictures of the city from above and then boredom kicks in. There are a few enclosed areas which I presume contained animals but we weren't interested in those. Buggies were waiting to bring people around the hill- you will get to see some bungalows along the way. But being the cheapo people we were, we decided to walk- and we enjoyed the views on the walk! There were very few people who ventured past the crowded area near the animal enclosures. 

Our sole purpose was to look at the English bungalows. The signs by the roadside were misleading- unless you jog up the hill, there's no way you can get there in 15 minutes, as stated on the board. Complaints were aplenty until we saw a sign at the Monkey Cup place that said free ride down if we paid for the entrance fee (RM 10). We decided to pay for the entrance fee since the thought of having a ride down the hill was just too enticing.

The tour at the Monkey Cup Garden far exceeded our expectations. I understand that the owner is a pitcher plant enthusiast. A tour guide brought us around the garden, introducing us to the different varieties of pitcher plants. Now, why monkey cup? Because monkeys have been observed to drink water from these plants!

Besides pitcher plants, we were also shown scorpions, millipedes and centipedes- totally irrelevant but doesn't make the tour any less interesting. The guide was also trying to convince us to put the scorpion on our hands and none of us agreed because we didn't want to get a scorpion sting. To demonstrate how harmless the scorpion was, the guide put it into his shirt... and couldn't get it out after that because it went to his back.

A very educational experience at the Monkey Cup Garden, and then getting down the hill to the funicular on a pick-up truck. A family-friendly experience. 

Gellert Hill (Budapest)

I'm not sure when this habit started- but we have been walking up hills to get a panoramic view of the city. Often, the trek is a tiring one, but the rewards at the end of it often justify the trek upwards- pretty much like life, isn't it? 

One of my favourite places that I visited this year (July 2013) is the Gellert Hill

Gellert Hill is named after Saint Gerard who was allegedly was thrown down from this hill. 

While buses go up the hill, I would suggest walking up the hill if you can. The best time to go up is probably in the evening at around 5- 6 p.m., so that you can catch a few scenes- the afternoon sun, the sunset and how beautiful this city looks at night when it is lit up. 

Maybe bring some picnic food and water up- it's worth the wait to see the sun set and the city light up.

Although there may not be much on the top of the hill, if you have time to kill, it's always nice to enjoy the breeze up there and to watch the world go by! 

For those with kids, there is a playground on the hill. Other things worth looking out for are the citadel, the Liberty Monument and the cave church.

China House (Penang)

If you are in Georgetown, you may want to drop by China House for some cakes although honestly, their cakes aren't that fantastic- the cafe has a very cosy ambience though. 

ChinaHouse consists of 3 heritage buildings linked by an open air courtyard. It contains 14 spaces with shops, cafes, galleries etc.

Who can resist a table lined with different cakes? A feast for the eyes!

The Tiramisu (RM 15) was a giganormous piece. It was interesting that there was a layer of nuts, unlike a typical tiramisu. The coffee liquor taste was quite strong and while the cake was tasty, it bordered on being gelat after a while.

I was next to another customer who was asking one of the waitresses which cakes are the more popular ones. The waitress said the Chocolate Pistachio (RM 10) was very popular. Now, if being popular means that it's good, I beg to differ. This cake was too dry and the richness of the chocolate was muted.

A place where youngsters hang out. Service was a mixture of goods and bads. Child-friendly with crayons and white paper to draw on.

China House
153 and 155, Lebuh Pantai
George Town

Ferringhi Coffee Garden (Penang)

Having brunch in the midst of greenery is always an enjoyable experience. 

We read reviews online saying that it's often crowded. However, when we were there, there was plenty of space- go there early before the lunch crowd streams in!

We headed straight for the comfort of air-con because the heat outside was unbearable.

I ordered the "FCG Breakkie" (RM 25.80) which got served on a really big plate. This kept me full for quite a while. Standard brunch food, although what was more special was the sweet glaze on the ham. The chicken sausage was also something new- as opposed to the normal sausages where the texture is uniform within, this sausage tasted more like minced meat put together.

A nice place to spend your morning/afternoon.

Ferringhi Coffee Garden
43-D Batu Ferringhi

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Living Room Cafe Bar & Gallery (Penang)

Sad to say, our best meal in Penang wasn't spent in some roadside stall slurping down a piping hot bowl of Penang laksa or enjoying a bowl of chendol in the sweltering heat. Rather, it was a delicious meal at Living Room Cafe Bar & Gallery. 

Lots of greenery at the outdoor space of the restaurant.

We ordered a Veg Curry Capitan (36 RM) which is a typical Malaysian dish. Robust curry flavour served piping hot was perfect with the rice.

Everybody loved the Thai Style Fish (22 RM). You won't go wrong ordering this- a sweet and sour, thoroughly appetising sauce is laid below the crispy fish without the fish going soggy.

The Salt and Pepper Squid (20 RM) was so chewy and not difficult to tear apart unlike some served at other restaurants. Lightly seasoned to bring out the natural freshness of the squid.

The Sizzling Prawn in Oyster Sauce (29.50 RM) was the only dish that I felt may be a slight disappointment to our otherwise great dinner. The smell that surrounded us when the sizzling plate of prawns came was insane, but the taste that followed was pretty ordinary.

Reasonably priced and delicious food. Friendly service as well. If you are getting here from Golden Sands Resort, keep walking down till you pass Holiday Inn and Park Royal. It will take approximately 20-25 minutes to walk here.

Living Room Cafe Bar & Gallery 
43C Batu Ferringhi

Monday, December 23, 2013

Golden Sands Resort (Penang)

It is always nice to wind down at the end of the year, so we decided to go to Penang for a short trip. We booked Golden Sands Resort which proved to be a rather good choice. 

1) Location 
Golden Sands Resort is located in Batu Ferringhi which is famous for its beaches. Just venturing a few steps out from the resort will bring you to the beach. 

2) Hotel room
The room was not carpeted and this was actually a plus point for me. Imagine if all the guests came back with sand and the sand got trapped in the carpet, that would be pretty gross. Good thing about housekeeping is that they stock up four bottles at one go, twice a day. This means you will not need to buy your own bottled water.

3) Food
The breakfast and/or food in general here is very average. There is a wide selection of food items, such as waffles, pancakes, nasi lemak, roti canai, cereal, dough fritters, muffins etc. We also tried the lunch selection which was ordinary.

4) Amenities
Golden Sands is very families friendly. Even if you didn't venture out of the place, there would be sufficient entertainment within the resort- swimming pools of varying depths, a lounge where there is a selection of books to choose from (although I've to say the selection was quite bad), games such as scrabble, gym, table tennis facilities etc.

5) Service
Service was a mixture of hits and misses, although leaning towards a series of misses. While we did get a few friendly "good mornings" from the housekeeping service team, the service standards from the rest of the staff didn't meet expectations- slow check in times, rude behaviour from the service staff are something that we do not expect from the Shangri-la brand.

6) What to do
There is a free shuttle from Golden Sands to the Traders Hotel in Georgetown at various timings throughout the day. Book in advance because some slots can be popular and you may not have a seat. The location is far away (around 40-50 minutes) from major attractions (Georgetown and Penang Hill).

In this area, you can visit the beach where there are many activities such as parasailing, banana boat etc. Be careful of the jellyfish if you intend to go into the water though. Also, a note on parasailing. I read that parasailing may not be necessarily safe in this area because many are unregulated- maybe observe how it's done for a while if you are new to it.

At night, visit the night markets where you can haggle for a good price. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Group Therapy (Katong V)

Another place on my Want-to-eat list is finally struck out. Group Therapy's new branch at Katong V is of course welcome, given that their branch at Duxton is always crowded. On a Saturday afternoon, this place was comfortably filled up, with no queues. 

We had a large group and it was a good thing that we could fit in, because no reservations are allowed.

I got Poached Eggs ($15) with an additional side of Mushrooms ($3). It was only this year that I had a new-found liking for salmon. I didn't eat salmon in the past because of its taste but this taste has grown on me and I am now found of salmon, whether grilled or smoked.

Combine the smoked salmon with eggs and thick, fluffy toast, there is what comfort food tastes like. Ordered an extra side of mushrooms which gave an extra juicy kick to this already complete meal. I felt that there was too much hollandaise sauce though.

For those who don't want to jostle with the crowds at the Duxton branch, this is an alternative you can consider.

Group Therapy
Katong V
30 East Coast Road

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pension Ohno (Hokkaido)

As with life, a lot of decisions are made based on calculated risks. So, when Tripadvisor shows very few (albeit good) reviews of a place, you sometime have to make the call whether those are genuine reviews. And with a stroke of luck, you may just find something good- Pension Ohno is one of them. (Note: Trip was in July 2013). 

1) Location 
Pension Ohno is located right opposite Lake Toya. It's a 15-20 minute walk from the popular Toya Sunpalace, a hotel where everyone stays when they go to Lake Toya. There is a convenience store within a 5 minute walk away. 

For one night's stay and meals for two people, we paid a total of 16,660 JPY (around S$202). This place does not have a website of its own so we booked it on Japanican. 

2) Accommodation and amenities 
While the room may be slightly dated, it is very clean. Toilets are small. There is a free coffee/tea machine. An onsen is also available although it looked pretty dark and small.

3) Food 
This is one of the highlights of staying at this place. By paying an extra fee, you get to enjoy dinner/breakfast here. The food is lip-smacking good!

For dinner, we had a fresh and healthy combination of seafood, vegetables, meat and soup! A very wholesome meal awaits.

This is what we had for breakfast. No wonder Japanese have the highest life expectancies. This is testimony that healthy food does not need to be boring or bland. We enjoyed every morsel of food at Pension Ohno cooked by the owner. All the fresh local produce really makes a difference to the eating experience.

4) How to get there
This is the slightly tricky part if you are not going by car. It's possible to reach there by public transport just that you would have to make sure that you get down at the correct stop. Take the DonanBus from JR Toya Station to the bus stop. Continue walking in the direction of the traffic flow for around 10 minutes, ask around and you will see Pension Ohno on the opposite side of the road. I can't give any more precise directions than that because google maps have limited use when they come to addresses in Japan. When you return to the JR Station, walk back to the bus stop right in front of Toya Sun Palace.

5) Service 
The owner was friendly but not intrusive. Let her know if you have any dietary requirements in advance so that she can take note before preparing your meals.

6) What to do 
Besides walking around Lake Toya, we also walked a short distance to watch the fireworks held daily for about twenty minutes (except from November to late April). One day is more than sufficient to spend at Lake Toya.

Pension Ohno
56-2 Sobetsu Onsen
Sobetsucho, Asugun

Bakerzin (Vivo City)

One rainy Saturday evening, my friend declared that she needed chocolate lava cake and tea. When this sort of craving hits, there's no way you can fend it off. 

I opted for Chocolate Amer ($8.50) which is a flourless sponge cake, with chocolate mousse made with valrhona chocolate. I was pleasantly surprised that I could switch vanilla ice-cream for chocolate ice cream. Now this is a marvellous combination of all things chocolatey. Rich and suitably bitter- unless you have a heart made of stone or you absolutely hate chocolate (how's that even possible?), you will fall in love with this cake.

Bakerzin's cakes have always been on the pricier side. But this cake felt so comforting, it is like sitting by the fireside on a cold winter night,

Bakerzin (Vivo City)
1 Harbour Front Walk
Tel No: 6 438 8700 

I Wan Noodles

On a Friday night, this eatery was still pretty crowded although this part of Tanjong Pagar isn't where young people would be seen on a Friday night- think Duxton Hill, Ann Siang Hill etc.

I tried the Signature Chilli Crab Wanton Noodles ($8.80). This consisted of a very huge piece of deep fried soft shell crab and many shredded deep fried pieces of beancurd skin. While they are pretty generous with their ingredients, the crab sauce fails to impress- it was pretty dilute and was a little too salty.

While the food is innovative and affordable, the crab sauce was disappointing. Servers were friendly though. 

Maxwell Chambers
32 Maxwell Road
Tel No: 6 222 8968 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Eighteen Chefs (Tiong Bahru Plaza)

The first time I stepped foot in Eighteen Chefs at Simei was four to five years ago. In that span of time, they have opened a couple more outlets. 

Why 18? Apparently the number 18 has reference to a secret society in Singapore. The owner of Eighteen Chefs, Benny Se Teo, is behind this venture to help troubled youths and ex-convicts. 

This place is well known for its baked rice. But I decided to go for the Tom Yam Seafood Aglio Olio ($13.80). It was appetising but the prawns weren't exactly the freshest of the lot. If only there was more sauce to go with this dish because the pasta bordered on being a little too dry. Nonetheless, I liked how fragrant this dish was.

Pretty much self-service here- place your own orders, get your own water, get your own cutlery. Food was average for the price.

Eighteen Chefs (Tiong Bahru Plaza)
302 Tiong Bahru Road