Vanuatu with the kids

1 Nov

This was our first overseas holiday since Beatrix was born in December 2012. I ummed and ahhed for a long time trying to decide where to go.  I think I was traumatised from our last international flight in 2011, where we flew from London via Hong Kong to Sydney with Camilla who was 21 months old at the time. It was such a long flight that I couldn’t bear doing it again, especially not with two kids. So we decided to go somewhere relatively close to Sydney. We had been to New Zealand already, so that was out. So in the end we were left with Fiji, New Caledonia or Vanuatu.

We picked Vanuatu because…
1. It is less than 3.5 hours from Sydney.
2. It has more activities to do than Fiji. We didn’t like the idea of been stuck in a resort.
3. It is a relatively safe country with very low crime.

We went in late October (20 to 26 October) and the weather was hot and humid! May to October is supposed to be the best time to visit as it is the dry season. We had four overcast days and the rest were sunny.  We had rain on two days but it was the usual tropical torrential rain that only lasted a couple of hours. It was actually good that it was overcast, it didn’t feel as humid that way.

How did we get there?
We flew with Air Vanuatu. They have  three scheduled flights everyday. Great little airline, with good  food and baggage inclusive of airfare price.

getting ready to board the plane

getting ready to board the plane


Where did we stay?
I was looking for a hotel that had a Kids Club, as Camilla is now three years old and needed something else apart from the swimming pool to keep her entertained. After speaking to a few travel agents the Holiday Inn in Port Vila was suggested. As always I checked the reviews on TripAdvisor and decided it was the hotel for us.

The staff at the hotel were very nice. Be mindful that the Vanuatu people are very laid back and you will not get the welcome or warmth you are used to in Australia. We stayed in room 221 which was a standard room with two comfortable double beds and a  cot for Beatrix. It was spacious and met our needs. It also had a nice view of the golf course and lagoon.
Camilla loved the kids club and lived there for most of our stay. She made lots of new friends!

view from our room

view from our room


How much?
I found a holiday package with Holiday Specialists. I booked two months before so I probably could have found a cheaper deal if I had booked in advance. For two adults, one toddler and an infant we paid a total of  $2659.  This included airfares, accommodation and the transfer from/to Airport.

Food at the hotel was expensive, it was in par with what we pay in Sydney. The Buffet meal was VT 3700 ($40 AUD). A la carte meals were VT 1500 to 2800 ($15 to $30AUD). We had lunch in town most days. Our favourite place to eat was Jill’s Cafe, they served American type fast food food that wasn’t too expensive and was very tasty.

Transport is very cheap. Mini Buses are available everywhere in Vanuatu, flag one down, tell them where you want to go and hopefully you will get there quickly. Sometimes they have other passengers and it can take a while to get to your destination as they are picking and dropping other passengers on the drive. Cost per person on the mini bus is VT 150 ($1.65 AUD). The other option is to catch a taxi which will take you straight to your destination and only cost VT500 ($5.50) for the ride regardless of how many passengers.

Activities outside of the Resort
With two kids under the age of three in tow it was hard to get out and about. We did however manage to go to the town centre everyday for lunch. Vanuatu is not pram friendly, so don’t bother taking it anywhere outside of the airport or resort. We took our baby bjorn carrier with us and used it absolutely everywhere we went. There is a playground which we found towards the end of our stay, it was great for Camilla to hang out with the local kids. It’s at the back of Jill’s Cafe overlooking the sea.

Playground outside  Jill's Cafe.

Playground outside Jill’s Cafe.

The local markets are worth a visit, they are open 24/7. You will find a variety of local produce that vary according to the season. There is also a small section in the markets where the locals hang out and the national dish, laplap, and other Ni-Vanuatu dishes are served. We had a look but were not brave enough to try the local food.

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The tour guide made Camilla a hat out of a giant leaf.

We only did one tour, we visited the Mele Cascades with Evergreen tours, cost was VT3200 ($37 AUD)each adullt. Kids were free.
The walk up to the waterfall was fun and our tour guide was very informative stopping along the way to show native plants.
I took Camilla almost all the way to the top of the waterfall but it got a tad scary as the rocks were getting slippery. I was holding her so tight that her wrists were a little red once we got back down to the bottom. Kimble went all the way to the top and said it was very pretty. The water was very cold and not many people were swimming. It was great to get out of the resort and see the “real” Port Vila. There are many other tours but we decided not to do them as they involved either going to other resorts, or snorkeling. We were happy at the Holiday Inn hanging out by the pool, using the catamarans and kayaks at the lagoon.

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getting ready to walk up to the waterfall


Overall Feeling

We had a good time .We were only there for six nights. It took a few days to unwind and finally relax. But one week was more than enough for us. It was too hot and humid. We also weren’t impressed with the food at the resort or the restaurants downtown. The food was really average to what we are used to back in Sydney. We are very spoiled back home. We will probably return one day when the girls are older so that we can explore more and go on adventurous tours. Vanuatu is definitely a good alternative to places like Fiji and is perfect for young families who want to get away but don’t want to travel too far.

Total Immersion Tourism

11 Dec

This weekend marked the first anniversary of our leaving on our great voyage and I thought I needed to write something. Not as a couple but as me, Kimble.

I don’t think my feelings post trip have really been expressed. I think Priscill and I share a common set of feelings we don’t need to share, they go without saying but I need to document something.

The Return

While we were away I started experiencing a disconnection towards the end. I don’t know whether what I had was depression, sick of traveling or just plain homesickness but I had had enough. Even the magical cities of Paris and London had lost their shine.

Getting back home was great, for about ten seconds, until we all collapsed into a jet lagged, virally infected stupor which we didn’t recover from for almost a month. Once we were better we visited friends, ate food we missed, visited places we loved and things were wonderful. For a couple of weeks. Then reality kicked in again and we started trying to piece our old life back together. Problem was we couldn’t. Pris went back to work for her old employer which gave her some sort of semblence of normality but apart from that we couldn’t have our old place back and I couldn’t have my old job back. Not that I wanted it but the reality of our world changing forever was sinking in.

I wasn’t ready for an office job yet so set off to make the game I was working on available on more devices. The problem was, I also had to look after a two year old. The two did not mix but I spent almost three months fighting the fact only to cause myself untold dispair.

Finally I gave up and decided to look for work. The problem was that work didn’t want to come to me and I, still in denial didn’t really want to go find it. Eventually I took the initiative and landed a job very quickly. Still there as of writing this.

Itchy Feet

I am not settling into the routine of normal life very well despite being back just over six months now. I dream of the USA and Portugal every day. Perhaps glorifying it in my head like the refugee who ran away from a violent country dreams of what his homeland should be like.

We have our second daughter coming in two weeks and I want to run away to South America. I need to remind myself of how straining uprooting your life is.

Lessons Learnt

It is hard to put your life together when you so disconnect yourself from it. We and especially I, made the mistake of trying to totally cut off all attachments and even relationships to an extent when we could have saved a few. That damage is irreversible. I still feel a little lost because of it. I think before we do it again we will buy a home. It will be our base to come back to, you can always rent it off when you leave.

You can’t travel forever. Eventually you’ll start to feel homesick. Only those with truly no family, friends or attachments will avoid this. I have yet to meet such a person.

Man must work. Well Kimble must anyway. I understand some can manage to never work but I was built for the fight, to create things, it gives you purpose. Even though I was working while away it always felt like my hobby not my occupation. Make sure you have something that generates an income and feels like a responsibility if you are the type that needs purpose. Traveling itself becomes purposeless after a while. You need to tell yourself “I am working to support my travel”.

The most important lesson of all though is that we learnt that to truly experience a holiday you need to drown yourself in it, you need …

Total Immersion

Paris is not just the Eiffel tower, the Moulin Rouge and some stinky cheese. It’s living in a cramped apartment, hauling shopping up three storeys of stairs, cooking haute cusine not paying 200 euros for it in a snooty restaurant. It’s the suburbs, the markets, the people yelling at you because your French sucks.

Lisbon is more than Fado and St George castle. It’s fish fresh from the markets. More ways to prepare bacalhau than there are days in the year and more hauling shopping bags up three storeys of stairs but after you’ve walked 5 km up a steep hill with them. It’s realising you can’t just go to the shopping centre for that battery you need, it’s going from shop to shop being told to try Da Silva the instrument maker up the road who then says Henrique who owns the camera shop round the corner might have some.

Total immersion is living in a city like the locals do, eating as the locals do and attempting to communicate with the locals. It is an amazing thing and it sure scrubs all the golden shine off a place like Paris but you learn to appreciate places like never before. You’ll also be the ultimate guide for anyone wanting to visit. However, all your friends who did the whirlwind tour so many Aussies and Yanks do will be steamingly jealous.

The only problem you may find is that instead of trying somewhere new you may just find yourself going back time and time again. A short holiday somewhere new just never seeming as exciting as going back and immersing yourself again. Even if it’s just for a week.

Back to Sydney

28 May

The 8th of May was our last day in London. Our flight back to Sydney via Hong Kong left at 10:30PM. We had a whole day to burn so we decided to rent a car and drive to Windsor for a quick visit. The day went by too fast. Kimble collected the car about 12PM, getting back to the Hilton at Canary Wharf almost 1PM. We then made our journey to Windsor getting stuck in London traffic for over an hour. We arrived in Windsor at almost 3PM. We popped into a pub near the castle and had beef and chicken pies. Afterwards we had a quick wonder around Windsor. It’s a really nice little town.

Windsor

Next time I have to stop over in London for whatever reason I will choose to stay in Windsor, it’s closer to the airport too.

At about 6PM we made the 15 minute drive to Heathrow airport to drop the car off and head to Terminal 5 where we were catching our Cathay Pacific flight from. Check in was uneventful, we managed to get a whole row of seats to our selves.

We had to wait for a couple of hours before getting on the plane, so we had an early dinner at a pub style restaurant inside the terminal.
After dinner I popped into Zara. For 3 months in Europe I managed to buy NADA from Zara, partially because every time I went I was with Kimble and Camilla. Big shopping deterrents!  On my last day of travelling I managed to find a nice pair of pants and a top! Yeah!

The flight was LONG! The first flight took 13 hours, Camilla slept for most of it but I didn’t sleep well at all. We got off at Hong Kong exhausted, the stop over was a quick 1.5 hours. We took Camilla to a kiddie play area for some running around. The airport was ridiculously hot, Camilla was stripped down to just her pants.

Camilla doing a Jackie Chan in Hong Kong

So after a quick break from flying we got back into another plane for another 10 hours of flying. Camilla slept a little but again I barely slept.

We arrived in Sydney at 6AM on Thursday 10th of May completely exhausted. My parents were kind enough to pick us up from the Airport. It was a strange feeling arriving back. It felt like we had never left, but obviously in 5 months of travelling we had changed!

Just landed

The following 2 weeks were a blur. We experienced the worst jet-lag we had in several years. I slept day and night. A couple of days after arriving we all became ill with a viral infection. It took me over a week to get over it. It probably made getting over the jet-lag that much harder because of it.

I think it will be a while before I jump on another long haul flight again!

 

Paris Week Two

24 Apr

Monday- We met with Kaori and Adrian at their place near the Eiffel tower. It was great seeing familiar faces again. The plan was to go to Montmatre and wander around, have a look at Sacre Cour and of course check the beautiful view of Paris from there.

Walking to Sacre Cour, surrounding streets

The weather was terrible, pooring heavy rain, windy and cold. We rush up to Sacre Cour and run inside the church. We wandered around admiring the inside. We sat down and waited for the rain to pass. We leave and see that it is still pouring rain. As we are all hungry we decide to run for it and find somewhere to eat near the Louvre. We hop on a metro and get off near the Opera. We stop by a Baguette shop for a quick lunch before heading to the Louvre . There was a huge security queue outside, we got pulled aside from the main queue and let straight through, Thanks Camilla. I love having a toddler in tow, we always get VIP treatment at Museums, Airports, etc.

Outside Louvre

We spent nearly 3 hours there. Kimble was our tour guide showing us all the main art works and sculptures. After the Louvre we went for a walk across Jardin des Tuileries but it started raining again. We all went back to our place for drinks and dinner. The boys cooked a very nice meal, Adrian made a beautiful veggie soup and Kimble a roast a chicken. We decided to check out the sparkling Eiffel Tower, just before 10pm we headed down to Trocadero and managed to arrive just in time to see it lit up and sparking. The show went for about 5 minutes.

Eiffel Tower at night from Trocadero

Afterwards we said good-bye to Adrian and Kaori as they were leaving Paris 2 days later.

Tuesday – The weather was again terrible, we stayed home for most of the day. Kimble’s parents came over in the late afternoon and went to Trocadeiro for a walk.

Trocadeiro Park

Wednesday-Today is Margaret and Robin’s last day in Paris before heading off to the UK to end their holiday. We met up with them at the Galleries Lafayette as they had never been to it before. We wander around for a while as it was raining outside. Around lunch time we decide to find somewhere to eat lunch, Kimble kept suggesting McDonalds, which we all said a BIG “No” to the idea. We return to a Vietnamese restaurant Kimble and I had been to on our first week but there weren’t many vegetarian options. So we settle on an Indian restaurant. This is our first proper restaurant meal since we arrived. The curries were nice but not the Indian we are used to back home in Sydney. The curry flavour were very mild and they seemed to use cream instead of coconut milk, apart from that the meal was very nice. Afterwards we visited Musée des arts et métiers, it was a bigger museum than I expected. We spent about 2 hours wandering.

We farewell Kimble’s parents and had home. Kimble cooked a chicken soup with the leftover chicken from the other night and to accompany it we have a baguette. For desert we had a yummy tartellete de fraise (strawberry tart).

Thursday – We visit to Le Defense.

Exploring Le Defense

We had been there before but it was good to go back and have another look. Now there is a huge shopping centre that we had to check out. Kimble finally bought a new hard drive for his dying computer. Camilla was not co-operating so we had to cut the shopping trip short.

On the way home Kimble tells that we should hope off the metro at the Arch the Triumph stop and walk back home. He says it will be quicker than the metro, no more than 10 minutes. After walking for 30 minutes we make it home .

Friday – We left just after 12, it’s hard to leave early when we don’t have to meet anyone. We walked to the metro and got off at Saint Paul. From here we walked about 10 minutes to Museum Carnavelt, the museum tells the story of Paris and also has art gallery exhibits. Camilla fell asleep as soon as we got off the metro so we had time to wander around the museum without been disturbed or having to chase her around. After the museum we head to Marais, there is a big Jewish community here, for lunch. We head to 34 Rue des Rosiers where the famous Falafel shop (L’As du Falafel) is located.

Falafel shops in Marais

The place is extremely busy with a huge queue for takeout and eat-in. Two men outside the store are taking orders, Kimble is at first apprehensive to hand the guy 11 Euros as he thought he was a random guy trying to rip people off.

Saturday – We woke up to a horrible cloudy and rainy day. As the day progressed the weather did not improve so we ended up staying home all day and only went out for a quick supermarket trip for dinner.

Sunday – Kimble set the alarm to 8am, the plan was to go to Marché aux Pucest early and hopefully find some bargains. Alarm went off and we hear rain, we went back to sleep and woke up about 9:30am with rain still pouring. We check the weather forecast and it looks like the weather is clearing up later in the day. We leave and make our way to Marché aux Puces. It took us about 30 minutes on the metro and 2 changes to get there. This area is insane! It’s a Paddy’s Market on steroids. There is everything from tacky cloting to beautiful antiques. We wandered around for a couple of hours, we didn’t buy anything.

The sun decided to make an appearance, after two weeks of horrible weather the sun is finally here!

It’s lunch time and Kimble wants a falafel sandwich again. Off we go back on the metro to Saint Michel to go to a little Falafel shop he read about online. This place is different from the first one we went as this one has a salad bar which you serve yourself. The falafel sandwich was really nice, but we didn’t put enough sauce or salad, rookie mistake I guess!

Afterwards we go to Jardin Luxembourg, the second largest public Park in Paris. This park is very nice! It feels like a smaller version of the park inVersailles.

Jardin du Luxembourg

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Week Two is over! We have another 3 days in Paris before we need to pack up and leave again. I have a feeling next week is going to be actioned packed.


Paris Week One

22 Apr

Leaving Lisbon

Easyjet, how we love and loathe you …

After a quick but scary drive with our friendly cab driver to Terminal 2 in Lisbon (only 10 Euros). We walk into the terminal to discover it’s lino and plasterboard with a few seats. Like a bus terminal for the sky. We got there with hours to spare but somehow after queueing forever we were in a rush to get through security to make it in time. Boarding started about two minutes later.

Next comes love.  “Please form two queues, priority boarding and parents with children in one and everyone else in the other”. Great! We get a seat in the second row and get a whole three seats to ourselves (Camilla didn’t have a ticket so we should have two seats).

Now comes hate. After everyone boards we sit on the tarmac for thirty minutes because no one at Easyjet can count. Then another ten minutes because somebody was running late. Anyway turns out to be an elderly chap in a wheelchair who they have to seat next to us. We just lost our seat. Damn.

Apart from Priscilla needing to go to the toilet and all twelve kilos of Camilla sleeping on my elbow the rest of the flight was pretty good. We touched down at Charles De Gaule and after getting off the plane I declared that as usual we could be anywhere. Signs in English even though the French are so proud of their language. If you took someone, drugged them, woke them up at a random airport in the world I can guarantee you they would have not a clue where they were.

Paris price shock

I look in my wallet as we’re about to leave the airport to catch a taxi into town. 45 Euros but I’d better get some money out just in case. Twenty minutes later and outside the apartment the metre reads 55 Euros. The taxi driver mumbles something about 5 Euros extra for baggage. By this stage I couldn’t give a damn about an extra couple of bucks the shock was too large. We’d been spending 60 Euros a day in Portugal and that covered food and accommodation.

We arrived at the apartment and some kid turns up. Priscilla asks him if he’s Marco who was meant to be meeting us. No, apparently he’s Vincenzo. Ok seems dodgy but he has the key.  Turns out of course there is a 40 Euro fee for weekend call outs. We think he’s actually just been sent by the agency and offered the 40 Euros if he can get it out of us. We pay him to avoid trouble. It is Sunday afternoon after all.

Sundays in Paris. There’s not much open. In fact we pound about 4 kilometres of pavements only seeing one small convenience store open. No worries, we just walked past the Trocadero and an amazing view of the Eiffel tower.  Eventually we give up and go back to the store which is just about to close up. PHEW! We did not want to starve on our first day. 17 Euros later and we have a bottle of milk, a six pack of beer, pasta and sauce.  OUCH.

Our first day ended up costing us over 200 Euros including accommodation. Something we certainly have not been used to.

The apartment

The apartment is in the 16 arrondisement, on Rue de Siam, located on the right bank of the river Seine.  The suburb is very residential and appears quite wealthy. There are boulangeries (bakeries), boucheries(butches), fruit shops and of course cafes and restaurants.  The apartment was a last minute find that turned out out to be exactly what we needed after the last two weeks in a dingy Lisbon apartment. Our Paris pad is a very spacious one bedroom apartment, with hight ceilings, central heating, kitchen, ensuite with washing machine/dryer. The furniture is very Parisian and after a long day of sightseeing it feels great to return home to cook and relax.

Food

I have been cooking many French inspired dishes, check our earlier post for recipes. We have also been enjoying our daily baguettes, croissants and pastries.

Paris tarts are beautiful and yummy

What we did last week

We start day two by checking that the two “supermarches” near us really do open. Fill up on as much French produce as possible including at least three types of beer and wine. Suddenly we are introduced to something called variety again. Portuguese supermarkets have very little variety and even the mega supermarkets seem to have lots of different types of the same thing. I remember an aisle of beer almost 100 metres long that was mainly different serving sizes of Super Bock.

This is embarrassing but as we didn’t keep notes of what we were doing everyday we can’t actually remember exactly what we did day by day, so here is a summary.

The first couple of days we did lots of walking near where we are staying, we went to the Trocadero area, Eiffel Tower. We also did longer walk near the Louvre, Jardin de Tuileries, Grand Palais, Pont de Bir-Hakeim where a scene for the Inception movie  was filmed and many other sites around Paris.

Paris

The weather has been generally awful, cloudy and raining on and off. Apparently this seems to be the normal for Paris during this time of the year.

My parents arrived a couple of days after we got here. Since then we have been spending time with them. Camilla was extremely happy to see grandma (nam-ma as Camilla says).  We went to Musee d’Orsay. Visited a bric-a-brac market, Le Marché aux Puces, that had some really interesting stuff.

Le Marché aux Puces

We also spent some time exploring the centre of Paris. We visited the Notre Dame, the gardens at the back of the building were stunning, with purple tulips and various flowers.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/89681088@N00/709954689/

We crossed an interesting bridge, Pont de Arts, over the Seine that was full of padlocks  “love-locks” attached to its sides. The Paris City Hall are not too keen on these and a couple of years ago they disappeared suddenly, but they seem to be back in force now.

Pont des Arts

After queuing for what seemed a long time we got into Sainte-Chapelle . It’s a 13th century church that the city has grown up around. Encased within another building. There are two chapels over two levels. The ground level one being more of a tourist shop. The one above is amazing with 15 metre stain glass windows that seem to go on forever.

Saint Chapelle

Camilla’s tantrums are getting much worse, I suppose she is getting closer to two. We have so many photos of her having tantrums in the middle of footpaths around Paris. Too funny.

Camilla having a tantrum - somewhere in Paris

Week one has gone by too quickly. Luckily we have another week and a bit to go. We are looking forward to catching up with Adrian and Kaori tomorrow.