Leaving the island to explore

13 January 2019

There must be something that wakes Cornelia at 05:00-ish, as she once again called out for a cuddle. This time, I went into her bed and cuddled her until she fell asleep, before returning to my own bed for the rest of the night.

We were all up a bit earlier than yesterday, and made it to breakfast by about 08:45. I discovered that the restaurant did have chocolate sauce, so once Cornelia had had her fruit (pineapple and watermelon again), she had a chocolate croissant and a piece of toast to mop up the remaining sauce, which feels like a step up from using her finger!

Ian tried smoked seabass for breakfast today, but didn’t like it. At last, we’ve found a food he didn’t want to eat! He said it was rubbery and tasted muddy. Honestly, so fussy! 😂

While I finished my enormous pot of tea, Ian took Bugsy out to the playground for a bit. A manager approached me to ask how long we were staying (and looked very surprised that we were staying a week, as does everyone who asks!), and which room we were staying in. Again, she looked surprised when I told her we were in 115. We have already determined that we are probably in the cheapy rooms (although it is very nice!) and when she asked if there was anything they could do to make our stay better, I almost asked if we could have an upgrade, but quickly realised that the hassle of packing up to move to another room, possibly of the same size, probably wasn’t worth it.

I joined Ian and Cornelia in the playground, where another little girl was playing.  Despite the language barrier, Cornelia was determined to get her to play with her, and eventually, they followed each other around the slides and little merry go round.  It’s quite a nice little play area, with plenty of different bits of equipment to keep a child busy for a while! We managed to drag her away, to brush her teeth, and she asked if she could go back to kids’ club.  We didn’t really have any plans for the day, other than an intention to take the boat across to the mainland of Halong Bay, so we were more than happy to take some extra child-free time.

We sat in the lobby again, and I finally managed to write up all the expenses so I could throw away the enormous collection of receipts I have acquired over the last couple of months. One of the bar staff saw me working diligently and brought over a glass of water. When Ian returned from his chat to the tour agent at reception, she brought over another glass of water, and I ordered a mint tea, to make a nice change from normal tea!

I nipped to the loo (SO much tea!) then peaked in to check on Cornelia who was busy making a Lego tower, and seemed quite happy, so I crept away quietly before she spied me spying on her!

There is a tour guide manager up at reception, and she was brilliant at helping us make a good reservation for a day cruise for tomorrow.  All the reviews that we’ve read say that you get what you pay for, and most of them seem to be trips from Hanoi to Halong Bay, and we had struggled to find anywhere that did day trips starting in Halong Bay.  Anyway, we are booked onto a shared cruise with a pick up time of 11:40, which is absolutely perfect for us.  Once that had been booked and paid for, we collected Bugsy who was driving herself around the playroom whilst watching TV…

The flip side to not having any firm plans means that time tends to pass quickly without you really noticing, and this morning had been no different. In fact, by the time we had collected Bugsy and made it to lunch (in the main restaurant), it was nearly 14:00. Cornelia and I had shared a pizza and chips, and Ian had a Club sandwich with chips. Our pizza was strangely delicious but Cornelia didn’t like it, so I had most of it and she just had a plate of chips. 🤦‍♀️ It was too much for me to finish (although I probably could’ve eaten it if I wasn’t planning on going for a run again this afternoon!).

We took the speedboat over to the mainland, and with no map or particular plan in mind, we walked around the local area.  It’s an interesting place, to say the least.  There is a huge amount of construction taking place, mostly on reclaimed land. We wonder what it will be like in five or ten years – massively different and developed, I suspect. The foundations are already in place for this to happen, with modern buildings housing shops and apartments which are springing up everywhere. In between the smart houses and developments are the little shacks, a stark reminder of the pervasive poverty. We were stalked by a couple of wild dogs for a bit that made me clutch Cornelia close to me, whilst going my best to reassure her that they were just curious! We stopped to speak in halting English to a couple of women working at the side of the road, who had a little pet dog with them, who was more excited to see Cornelia than she was to see it!

As I mentioned, we had no particular direction in mind, so we walked a big circular route which took about an hour, taking risks when crossing the road (the zebra crossing led to a bushy verge in the centre of the road that was then impassable!), and when walking on the uneven pavements. Loads of small shops filled the streets, selling buckets of seafood which was being kept in water with air being pumped into it. It was all fascinating.

Continuing our walk, we followed a mural depicting various landmarks from across the world, which ran alongside the main road, before turning off and completing our round trip.

We didn’t have to wait long for our boat to arrive and when we made it back to the hotel, Cornelia asked if she could go back to kids’ club again. While she disappeared there, Ian and I went back to the gym. We did the same as yesterday: once we’d finished our workouts, I collected Bugsy and helped her change for swimming, then we met Ian outside the pool, and he took her in while I updated the blog.  I’m nearly there!!

Once swimming was over, I booked a Thai massage for Tuesday morning.  The girl taking the booking warned me that it is a very tough and painful massage.  Sounds absolutely perfect for me!  If not a little scary…!

We called Grannie Annie for a chat once we’d showered, and were hoping to speak to Izzie at the same time (she was having lunch with Grannie Annie today, but they hadn’t yet arrived by the time we’d called. So we went for supper in the restaurant again – thai green curry for me, and beef & cashew stir fry for Ian (both very tasty but not as incredible as last night’s fish), before trying her again later.  We were in luck this time, and Bugsy had a good chat with Izzie before it was time to get her into bed. She asked for one story, which Ian read while I updated the blogs once more, and she was fast asleep within minutes.  I’m nearly up to date now, so won’t be up until midnight tonight typing.  I may even read a book before bedtime. Yep, it’s all gone wild here!

Island isolation

12 January 2019

Bugsy asked for a cuddle at about 05:00, and I suggested she come into bed with me, which she did. I then woke up again at 07:00, and dozed fitfully until about 08:30. Bugsy slept on until 09:30, by which time Ian and I were up, showered and dressed.

Breakfast was in the main building and was a bit of a challenge to find on our first day.  There is no map provided in the room, so we walked around the outside of the hotel until we found the main entrance, then came in that way.  We discovered later that there is a quicker way, but for now, we did at least make it in time!  The hotel is extraordinary: situated on its own island, and it is currently very quiet indeed.  It is winter here, as you can tell from the cloudy skies, so things like the massive outdoor pool are completely empty.

We had a nice breakfast – I love the culture difference where you might have miso soup and duck egg rice for breakfast! Ian had smoked eel. 🙄 Cornelia had her fruit (which I insisted on first, before she eats anything else, so I know she’s had at least two healthy portions during the day!) then a chocolate croissant. I’m determined to lose a couple of kilos by the time we return, so am currently managing to avoid all the pastries and other calorie-laden temptations!

After breakfast, we ambled back to the room, having a quick explore of the hotel itself first. It is immaculate, and there were plenty of staff around working hard to keep it looking pristine, even with the low number of guests.

Cornelia was keen to try out the kids’ club, and in keeping with the obvious quiet season at the hotel, was the only child there. But she didn’t mind at all, and when we collected her for lunch, she asked if she could come back again this afternoon!  While she was at the club, Ian and I finally managed to book the rest of our travels before we come home in just a couple of weeks. We sat in the lobby with my laptop, and called Expedia to cancel our return flight from Hanoi to Singapore, as we are now going to fly from Hanoi to Siem Reap in Cambodia.  It feels great to have finally booked something, but it does now mean that our trip really feels it is coming to an end!

We collected Cornelia from kids’ club to have lunch by pool . It was still completely empty outside!  And there is a really wonderful pool which looks to be about 50 metres in length. It isn’t heated but I suspect I may brave it and have a good session in there at some point this week!  We are slightly disappointed with the weather.  It is cloudy, dull and slightly chillier than we had anticipated, so our aim of having the last couple of weeks sitting on a beach relaxing seems slightly unachievable!  Nonetheless, as we thought we might find just doing nothing for two weeks slightly unnerving, the weather hasn’t put a dampener on things, so to speak.

I wasn’t particularly hungry, so while Ian had the Club sandwich, and Cornelia had the chicken burger lunch, I got to eat her leftovers. Which was quite a lot, as it happened!  But the lunch took a long time to arrive, and by the time we’d finished it was about 15:15.

We dropped Cornelia back to kids’ club, and Ian and I went back to the room and changed for the gym. It felt very strange not having Bugsy with us, but as she asked to go again, we were happy to let her, and have some grown up time together.  And yes, we spent that time at the gym, not guzzling cocktails and slobbing on the lovely sofas!  I went on the treadmill in the gym – the downside to having an isolated hotel on a small island is that I can’t really go for a run anywhere other than on the treadmill.  The gym had no air con, so we were both really sweaty by the time we’d finished.  I realised that it was 17:00, so dashed off to collect Bugsy who’d had her hair French-plaited beautifully by the girl hosting the club this afternoon.  When I asked if she’d liked having her hair plaited, she revealed that she’d asked the girl to hurry up, please! She really has no patience when it comes to having her hair done.  (As it turns out, kids’ club is open until 21:00, so yahooooo, perhaps we will have an evening of cocktails yet!)

I took her back to our room to get her swimming stuff, and we met Ian back up by gym and pool. The men’s changing rooms were a bit too weird for Ian to feel comfortable taking Cornelia in, and I’d hung around just in case that were so.  I changed her in the ladies’ locker room and tried to do a bit of my blog while I waited for them to finish their swim.

They had a fab time! She told me, as we were walking back to our room, that she’d been a princess on a boat (inflatable ring) and there had been a terrible storm and she’d fallen off her boat. She almost drowned but then the handsome prince arrived to save her. Love it!

Ian and I had showers, while Bugsy soaked in the bath, then we managed to get hold of Charlotte for a good chat, before we went for supper.  We asked at reception about the dining options, but there were none… Only the main restaurant was open, serving the a la carte menu and a buffet. We opted for the a la carte but in hindsight, we should’ve done the buffet as it took so long to arrive, and it was already quite late in the evening.  Ian ordered a Tiger draught and I decided to treat myself to a Cosmopolitan, but both were unavailable.  Argh, that was annoying!  But never mind, we both settled for a can of Tiger instead.

The food was worth the wait. I had sea bass with lime butter, pesto linguine and vegetables. Ian had Asian sea bass with soy and ginger. Bugsy was happy to have pasta bolognese.  It was all absolutely terrific and we scoffed the lot quite happily.  The sea bass was unlike any other I’ve had before – really thick and meaty, and the size of large salmon fillet.  Yum, yum, yum.

By the end of the meal, Cornelia was getting very tired. As we were leaving, Ian made the mistake of showing her the chocolate fountain. When will he learn not to show her stuff she isn’t going to get??!!! As we passed by, the waitress could see Cornelia’s interest and offered her a try of it. She had a piece of pineapple on a stick and smothered it in the melted chocolate, before licking the sauce off the fruit and declaring she didn’t want the pineapple! I shoved it in Ian’s mouth, thanked the waitress and off we went to our room.

By now, Cornelia’s fatigue was beginning to take control! She was whining and being generally disagreeable, and wasting a lot of time. So although we managed to avoid a scene, she only had one story (that she insisted was read by me) before falling asleep.

As I updated the blog again, Ian fell asleep on his bed at about 21:45 and just now (22:10) Cornelia actually climbed out of her bed and onto mine – all whilst seemingly fast asleep! The cheek of it!!

How long to Ha Long?

11 January 2019

I couldn’t resist curling up in bed with Bugsy this morning as she slept on, while Daddy showered. She woke up and asked me if I’d stayed in her bed all night? She thought it was still nighttime because it was dark, and was very surprised when I revealed that it was daylight behind the curtains! Well, sort of – it was a very dull sky that greeted us and we realised how lucky we’d been yesterday to have no rain at all. Cuddles over, I hopped in the shower – it worked properly today by some miracle – and once I was dressed we headed down for breakfast, mini jar of Nutella in hand.

Cornelia had a good breakfast of pineapple and watermelon, a small bowl of honey stars and two little pancakes, with Nutella, of course, and she ate it all very quickly so we could get back up to our room and pack, in readiness for the shuttle bus that would take us to the airport. She had twenty minutes of TV while we waited for our luggage to be collected, then we checked out and hopped on our transfer bus. Someone on the bus hadn’t booked their seat but wasn’t owning up, as one British guy was left without a seat. I said that he could have mine, and Cornelia would sit on my lap, and then we had a very interesting chat. He had missed his connecting flight in Singapore while travelling from Melbourne to Cambodia yesterday, so his insurance had covered him for a night at the hotel and food, so despite the inconvenience, he was happy enough with how things had turned out.

When we arrived at the airport, we were dropped off at Terminal 2, then had to load our luggage onto a trolley and cart it down a floor and around the building to catch the shuttle bus between T2 and T4. T4 looks brand new and displayed a big shiny poster gloating that THIS airport had more than just escalators and travelators for children, together with a photo of a fantastic playground. Cornelia was very excited, so you can only imagine her face when we read the small print… the play areas are available in Terminals 1, 2 and 3. Not 4. 🙄 Luckily, the range of unusual seating kept her occupied as she flew herself around the world on different dragons…!

I wandered off to have a look at the shops and came back to present three ideas to Ian: the first was a gold bar that was for sale, Swiss gold 24 karat, with a commemorative year of the pig design on it (it is Chinese New Year and 2019 is the year of the pig). I was given a gold Krugerand by my grandparents when I was born and it is one of my most precious possessions. I wanted to get one for Cornelia as something special and unique, to give to her for her 18th birthday. I also found a Moomin pencil case that I thought would be better than the ziplock bag we’ve been using for eight months! Finally, we needed a Singapore fridge magnet to add to the kilo of magenta we have collected from around the world. I explained all of this to Ian and sent him off to have a look. He returned confused by the price of the gold bar – he loved the idea but couldn’t understand why it was so cheap – but then did a U turn and decided we shouldn’t get it. I was quite annoyed / upset, and although we left with none of the three things I’d suggested (bearing in mind we’d had to withdraw $200 cash the other day and can’t use it in any other countries, so we HAVE to spend the money), I have resolved to get the gold bar when we return to Singapore to fly home.

We were delayed a bit boarding, but Cornelia was having plenty of fun running around and it gave me an opportunity to call to confirm our transfer from Hanoi airport to Halong Bay, which all seemed fine.

On board, once we were seated, a guy approached the family in the row in front of us, saying the dad was in the wrong seat, and showing his boarding pass which confirmed that they both had seat 22G. He summoned over a stewardess who looked equally puzzled until she pointed out that he was looking at an old boarding pass. Somewhat surprised at his own error, he pulled the correct one out of his jacket pocket and hey presto, took his seat two rows back..!

The flight was otherwise uneventful. I’d bought lunch for us at the airport as I didn’t think we would be served a meal on the plane. So I had scoffed my salad, and Ian his sandwich when they tried delivering a hot meal to us! We declined, and I read another book while Ian made a start on The President is Missing. Cornelia was happy watching Paw Patrol and that entertained her until the battery on her Kindle ran out.  After that, she had some time to colour and just play games with me, which was lovely. The flight was just under three hours long, and we managed to get through passport control and collect our baggage quite easily.

We had booked a transfer and sure enough, our driver was waiting for us with a name card. His name was Gunz and he is 27. We enjoyed on and off chatter with him throughout the journey, although the traffic was so awful getting out of Hanoi that we let him concentrate for much of it! But he was a good driver and we learned a lot about his country and his life. He had been in the army for two years, as it is compulsory for all men before the age of 27. We passed a large coal factory, which is still a main source of fuel in North Vietnam (being geographically close to China).  Hanoi also houses the largest Samsung factory in the world, which seemed to be single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary volume of traffic. It employs over one million people in Vietnam and most of them seemed to be on mopeds three deep on the hard shoulder, or in cars forming three lanes on a two lane road, having left work for the day!  He said that they worked in shifts at the factory, but had an hour and a half rest halfway through.  I found his use of the word “rest” interesting, and asked if they had three meals a day.  He laughed and sounded very surprised… No, he said, just breakfast and an evening meal.  They are generally too poor and/or too busy to eat three times a day.  Gulp.

We stopped off at a large indoor shopping area, that sold works created entirely by disabled people, so that they can earn a living.  It is quite an extraordinary place and some of the art and sculptures on display were absolutely brilliant, disabled or not.  I would happily have bought a lot of stuff there (they even had the shipping rates to send your purchases direct to the UK) but we were on a food mission, as the driver had to have a compulsory stop for thirty minutes, before we could leave again.  The restaurant was tucked away at the back of the building, and I ordered the chicken chilli and lemongrass, dish, Ian had chicken & rice, and Cornelia tried the chicken burger.  Mine was quite tasty, but Ian wasn’t too impressed with his.

Back in the car again, Gunz put “Baby Shark” on his DVD screen for Cornelia to keep her entertained as we drove on.  It is funny to see how something like this has travelled all the way across the world, and is adored by kids everywhere! She proceeded to watch a selection of joyfully irritating songs and videos as we drove the last hour to Vin Pearl resort, finally arriving around 21:15. The lobby to the hotel is separate from the main hotel complex, which is actually a short speedboat ride across the water to a small island. We checked in, paid a seven million Vietnamese dong deposit (£236) and had our photos taken for security. Our luggage was added to a growing pile of new guests’ luggage, and I was given a baggage tag recording our five bags which would be delivered to our room.

We then took the boat over to the island and were driven in a little electric buggy to our room – 115. It is a decent-sized room with two beds for me and Ian, and a third smaller bed for Bugsy. She was exhausted and desperate to go to sleep, but we had to wait for our luggage to arrive before we could put her down. It took over half an hour for it to arrive, and once she’d brushed her teeth, we managed to get her into bed, and she was asleep almost immediately (and by about 22:20). Vietnam is an hour behind Singapore.

Once she was asleep, we brushed our teeth and crawled into bed. We are excited to see what everything looks like in daylight!


10 January 2019

Ah, what a great night’s sleep I had! I woke up at 07:15, then again an hour later. The bed is so comfortable and the blinds kept the morning sun out perfectly. We weren’t even disturbed by the numerous construction works taking place opposite. Ian showered first and warned me that the pressure was really bad and he’d had barely a drizzle coming out at one point. Mine wasn’t too bad, although the shower nozzle kept popping back into “bath” mode. Anyway, we were both clean and dressed by the time Bugsy woke up.

We were ready for breakfast and decided to head down to the 3rd floor for the buffet there, as opposed to the breakfast that was served on the 17th floor, which the reception staff had said wasn’t as big as the main one!

The only thing breakfast was missing was chocolate spread for the child who’s been hoping for a chocolate croissant… I offered to fetch her mini jar of Nutella that Father Christmas had brought for her – after all, that’s what it was for – and she munched her way through her croissant, a bowl of “honey stars”, and some watermelon.

After we’d brushed our teeth, we were in our taxi by about 10:30, and he whizzed us over to Sentosa, which is basically an island holiday resort, filled with shops, theme parks, casinos etc. It’s a bizarre and wonderful place!  On the way over, Cornelia told me all about the rules of fairies:  “Fairies must keep their wands secret;  They have extra special glittery tears;  Make sure no one makes them look ridiculous to make them laugh; Fairies must always fly over traffic lights and try to keep their wands safe in their fairy magic pockets; Fairies must always be in a happy mood and they have to have dragons to help them stay in a happy mood. In case anything happens to their wings they still have a dragon who can fly them. And they have a water breathing dragon in case anything is set on fire.”  So, that’s clear then…!

On arrival, it turned out we needed cash for the taxi ride (we had been able to pay by card previously), so Ian hopped out to the ATM while Cornelia and I waited in the car. The machine would only allow a minimum withdrawal of $200, so we have some cash to spend now.. 😉 Unfortunately, once we’d left the cab, it was quickly apparent that the driver hadn’t dropped us off at KidZania, and it took us a while to figure out how to get there. We eventually found the (free) Sentosa Express train which took us a few stops from where we were able to walk the rest of the way, through the craziness that is Sentosa!

KidZania is amazing!! As you approach, you can see a whole plane that has been embedded in the wall of the building.  To explain KidZania, it’s a mini city for children, where they go to work to earn money which they can then spend. She was given her own bank card that she had to activate on arrival in the bank (adults are not allowed to go into the individual places with the kids – it’s all about independence and autonomy), then first we visited the hospital where she was a paramedic, then the police station where she became a police officer. After this, we went upstairs to collect a “queue card” for the very popular pilot experience, but they only hand out the cards at specific times, so Cornelia went into the Milk Innovation Lab first, where she learned about milk formula, how to weigh out the powder and mix it all up etc.  It is all fascinating, and I couldn’t help wish there had been something like this available for teenagers when I was younger!  Not only do you have the opportunity to be paid for work, you can also pay to go to university and get a degree in either maths, science or English.  Once you’ve earned your degree, you get paid an extra 2 Kidzos (which is their currency) for the jobs aligned with those respective degrees  (eg, you earn 10 Kidzos instead of 8 for being a paramedic).

One of the most popular activities was in the aviation zone where you could choose to either be the pilot or cabin crew.  I was very surprised when Bugsy asked to be cabin crew, but it meant that she didn’t have to queue so long.  Her queue card was for the 14:00 session, so we went off and had a piece of pizza while we waited.  This was one activity that parents couldn’t view from the outside (all the others were visible through windows), and by all accounts she had a fab time, serving food to the crew!

Each session generally lasts between 20 and 30 minutes, so there is a lot of waiting around, but this teaches patience and the art of queuing…  Speaking of queuing, while we were waiting for the Ice Cream Factory to open up, having asked Ian to keep an eye on the queue to make sure it didn’t fill up (only six kids per class), when I came back from the loo, I could see a line of children had formed. I whizzed Bugsy up there (having given Ian a death stare for epic failure to make sure she didn’t miss the next slot) but she was the seventh child in line. She asked if she could wait and I said that was fine and actually, she should wait anyway, as sometimes things happen and people change their mind, so she may yet get in.

This prediction came true, as the little boy at the front of the queue did not have his bankcard on him. He was told by the woman running the session that he needed to have it, and his father made him leave the queue. However, a couple of minutes later his mother appeared carrying his card. The woman taking the session had nipped off to the lo, and if she hadn’t said anything before she went to the bathroom is, that little boy would still be at the front of the queue. I explained this to Cornelia and after a few tears and foot stamps, she reluctantly offered her place back to the little boy. However his father told him he couldn’t not have it as it was his fault he had lost his card and therefore his place. We were all trying to teach our children good things, but this poor little boy ended up losing out. I explained to the parents that he should have Cornelia’s place as she would be in no worse a position as she had been five minutes previously, but the dad was insistent that his child should bear responsibility, as the bigger boy. This is contrary to what I was trying to teach Cornelia which was about fairness and kindness, whether he was a big boy or not. I certainly do not want her to grow up thinking that being a girl you can cry will mean she gets her own way. Not in my world!

The PaddlePop contained ingredients that I rather wished I hadn’t seen: corn syrup, palm oil, tartrazine… bleurgh. Thankfully, Cornelia only had about a third of it before deciding she didn’t want anymore, and handed it over to Daddy to polish off.  We were then off to the dentist, but once we arrived, she changed her mind about being a dentist, and after thinking and resting for a few minutes, decided she wanted to try working in the bed shop, as Assistant Sleep Master, following which she became a Window Cleaner.  For this, she took her bucket, spray, cloth and squeegee along to the 7-11, cleaned their windows, then had to have some paperwork signed off to say it had been done properly.  Honestly, this place is brilliant!

While Cornelia was busy at worked, we had plenty of time to kill, so looked online at the various KidZania outfits around the world, and the idea of one in Russia made us chuckle as we mused over the various shops and activities that may be on offer: weapons training, travel agencies where you can buy a trip to Salisbury, vodka making, skin your own bear, understanding state-sponsored doping, make your own bling clothes… haha, we could’ve gone on for a long time!

Finally, she had had enough, and we made our way back to the Sentosa Express and took the little shuttle back over to the mainland, from where we took a taxi back to our hotel.  Our driver was baffled when we tried to give him a tip… we looked up the tipping expectation in Singapore, only to find that it is very unusual and that no-one really expects a tip – especially taxi drivers. No wonder he looked so awkward as I shoved the notes into his hand! D’oh!

We had a very brief pit stop back at the hotel, so that we could wash our hands and change for an evening meal.  Ian had been looking hoping for a street food experience, and “Building 84” opposite our hotel came highly recommended as having plenty of variety.  We walked over there, and spent some considerable time looking for it – all of the buildings helpfully have giant numbers displayed on their walls to assist – but eventually realised that the building wrapped up in fencing and curtains must be Building 84.  It was closed for redevelopment.

The East Coast Parade Food Court had been recommended to us by a local mum I’d been chatting to in KidZania earlier, so we walked back to our hotel and took a taxi there.  It was certainly the street food experience!  There were, maybe, 50 different stalls all selling similar food.  We managed to find a table, which I wiped clean while Ian went off to order our supper.  To my great irritation, a man came over with a tray of drinks and said that he had reserved this table, by putting two packets of tissues on the table.  He added that he was with three people.  I was not going to give up the table, and said that one of them should have stayed to keep their place, and that simply putting a packet of tissues on the table didn’t mean a thing.  Then Ian returned to find me arguing and found another table around the corner.  I quietly hoped he had a crappy evening, and left with Cornelia for our new table.

Ian had ordered a nasi goreng, a seafood rice dish, and ten skewers each of lamb and chicken satay, along with two enormous Tiger beers.  It was all delicious, and the meat unexpectedly tender and sweet.  Even Cornelia ate loads of chicken and all of the prawns from the rice dish – if only she liked rice too!

We watched the sun set, in our lovely seats right near the water.  It was all just as we had hoped.  Then, as we left, Cornelia smelled roasted chestnuts and could see the men with their fire and cauldron cooking them.  She couldn’t remember if she’d had them before, and was keen to try them, so she bought a bag, and we eventually found a taxi to take us back to our hotel.  (There was no taxi rank around – you just had to wait in the car park for another taxi to arrive, then get in it before anyone else steals it!)

On the way back, Cornelia made up a joke: “What do shrimps do when their bandages fall off? They roll over and snap.”  It made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it made her laugh!


When we were back at the hotel, she had a very quick bath and then went straight to bed, and straight to sleep. I stayed up blogging, then rolled into bed just before midnight!

After five weeks in Australia, it’s off to Asia!

9 January 2019

We were up and about at our usual time today, and after a quick breakfast were packed up and ready to go. We are now using the spare bag we bought as hand luggage as hold luggage, as we somehow seem to be running out of space again!  We will need to do some sensible rearranging at some point, and perhaps get rid of some of the random bits of junk we have acquired.  Anyway, for now, we have four pieces of hold luggage and four bits of hand luggage.  Not tooooo bad for four months of travelling without going home!

Once we’d left our apartment, I drove us down to the car park by the Whale Playground, and we watched Cornelia join a group of children, with whom she happily played chase, and hide & seek for a bit.  When her friends left, she did some more playing in the sand by herself, before spotting another couple of children and going off to play with them.  She remembered to come and ask me if she could go outside the playground.  I asked her where she was going and she explained that she just wanted to get up on the wooden bridge (part of the main playground) and had to go up the steps and out underneath the “Whale Playground” sign to get to it.  She was being very literal about my request that she checks with me before leaving and I am very grateful for that!

Soon, however, it was time to head off.  We weren’t taking her bucket and spade with us again, but this time, she happily chose a family to receive her toys.  Typically, the first little girl said she didn’t really need it, but undeterred, Cornelia found another couple of girls with whom she’d been playing, and they took them off her hands.

As I rinsed her feet off, Ian went to look at the waves one last time, and then we piled back into our car and drove to Anaconda, a sports/outdoor store, which was on our way to the airport.  We needed a replacement valve for Cornelia’s water bottle which has split causing the bottle to leak, but could only find valves for adult-sized bottles.  They had other kids’ Camelbak bottles for sale though, so I picked one out with Cornelia.  Then just as we were joining the queue to pay, I saw the replacement valves for kids’ bottles. In hindsight, I should have just kept quiet, as I knew that taking away a new bottle in exchange for an unexciting valve would not go down well.  How right I was…!  She had a complete tantrum about having a new bottle and not wanting a new valve, although she was also refusing to throw away her old bottle.  I said that she could either have the new bottle and throw away her old one, or keep her old bottle and have a new valve.  I wasn’t going to cart around a useless empty bottle (I refer to earlier paragraph re now having four bags… it’s starting to become clear!!!).  The other customers were largely sympathetic – they’ve mostly all been there, I suspect – but the young chap behind the counter was really firm with her!  “If I hit my parents, they’d hit me right back!” he said. “Consider yourself lucky your mum hasn’t belted you!”  But he then he also said “Can you just show me that thing you’re holding, please?” and she handed over the valve she’d so far refused to give to me.  And quick as a flash, he’d processed it and I paid for it, and just like that, the tantrum was over, the valve bought, and she was back to normal again.

She needed a bit of a reassuring cuddle from me, before we went into the next door restaurant for lunch, but was then fine and we enjoyed a nice meal together.  Mine was especially tasty – a roasted pumpkin, halloumi, quinoa and beetroot salad.  Yum.  Then we were on the road again, to return the hire car and make our way to the airport for our flight to Singapore.  We have really loved Perth and it definitely makes it onto our list of places to visit again.  I’m already planning my return visit with Bugsy in the next year or so!

Our afternoon flight went smoothly, and as we were served dinner (albeit early) this worked perfectly as it meant we didn’t have to worry about finding somewhere to eat when we arrived in Singapore.  Cornelia practiced her brace position, concerned that she couldn’t reach the seat in front, so would have to bend forward over her knees.  It is very sweet that every time we are in a plane, she reaches for the safety card and pays proper attention to what the cabin crew are saying.

Cornelia was brilliant throughout the whole flight and stayed awake for the duration, watching TV and listening to audiobooks.  This meant that I managed to watch two movies (Crazy Rich Asians and Juliet, Naked – both enjoyable) and started a drama series called Sharp Edges, which wasn’t brilliant, but had me just about hooked before we landed, so now I’m going to have to try and find that online to watch it!

We made it through passport control and collected our baggage really quickly, and everything was running very smoothly, until we realised that we couldn’t find the bloody hotel shuttle bus!  We asked at information, and were told to go down one floor, where we were told we needed to be up one floor.  Then we saw a sign, which told us to go up for the hotel shuttle buses.  Following the instruction, we went up the escalator and wandered around for a bit without finding an further directions.  I rang the hotel twice, but they weren’t answering, to our great frustration, and there was no information either on the hotel website or the airport website which could help. We saw another information desk, and asked her for some help.  Down to B1, she said.  No, but we’ve been there already, and they told us to come upstairs!  And then we followed a sign which led us here! We have been looking for over half an hour now! Sensing our impatience and frustration, good old Kimmy, took us herself (Cornelia held her hand the whole way, and Kimmy said she’d made her day).  As we were going down the elevator, she said that because of the huge renovation works going on, even members of staff were getting lost coming to work!  Anyway, she took us all the way to the hotel shuttle bus.  Which we had missed by literally one minute.  The next one wasn’t for an hour.  Argh!!!

Hilariously, we ended up going back to the taxi rank (which was the first place we’d tried for the shuttle bus) and the fare was only about $18, which seemed very good value for a thirty minute ride.

Weary from our long travel, we arrived safely at the Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy, and were offered a cheap upgrade to the top floor with a bigger room, which Ian was happy to accept.  I must say, having someone to take our bags up to our room was a welcome change to us having to lug them ourselves!

A roll up bed was brought in and both Cornelia and I were very happy that our beds were “holding hands” distance apart.  Our sandy girl needed a bath, so I washed her and brushed her teeth, then she went for her story while I had a quick shower. When I came back to the bedroom, she was having an argument with Daddy about having cuddles from me, and was lying in our bed, refusing to get into her bed. So I just lay in her bed waiting for her and, to be honest, I didn’t really care where she fell asleep, as long as she slept. She was still in my bed when I went to brush my teeth with Ian, and she briefly popped her head into the bathroom before skipping back to her own bed without any prompting. Sure enough, she was asleep within ten minutes.

Having done some research on things to do with children in Singapore, given that we are only here for one day, we tried booking tickets for KidZania in Sentosa, which is a part of Singapore that Ian has not visited before.  The website was a bloody pain, and it took nearly an hour to finally receive our tickets.  Cornelia is going to LOVE it there, I’m sure!

If Carlsberg did super furry animals…

8 January 2019

Ian and I woke up around 07:00 this morning, before rolling over and going back to sleep for an hour.  We then got up and showered, before Cornelia called out for me at 08:45.  She needed a wee, then wanted to go back to bed!  Thankfully, at 09:00, she decided she was ready to get up and start our day.  I’d put on a load of laundry that I needed to finish and be hung out before we left, so we were finally on the road at 10:00.  Just as we left, a car arrived.  I think it may have been Gabi, our host, who was meeting the plumber to look at the pipes (although, typically, this morning there had been no such leak!).

We drove to Fremantle and had hoped to have a quick look around before catching our ferry over to Rottnest Island, a nature reserve,  and home to the Quokka – allegedly one of the world’s cutest creatures, but we didn’t have time.  We had parked about a kilometre away and had speed walked to B Shed, from where we would catch our ferry “Quokka 1”, which would whiz us over to Rottnest.  If we thought we were rushing to be on time, we saw one guy charging down the gangway at top speed in hope of boarding.  He was in luck – they pulled back the ropes and allowed him on.  I couldn’t help thinking how different it would be if he’d been trying to catch a train in England!

I hadn’t brought Cornelia’s Kindle today, as I wanted her to look around her instead of down on the ferry, and she was hilarious trying to occupy her time, by pretending to be a cushion and making us sit on her.  No wonder she always looks like a scarecrow by 11:00 every day!  This amused her far longer than it did!

Outside, the colours of the water were incredible – dark blue patches, then ponds of bright blues, complemented by spectacular cloud formations in the sky. The swell was about 1 metre, so it was a bit choppy, but nothing too concerning. We docked at Rottnest just after 11:30 and raced straight up to the bike hire place.  Ian had read online that the queues get really long really quickly, and we were most fortunate to have no-one in front of us!  We bagged the last tag-along bike which was attached to Ian’s bike, and I had my own bike (and the rucksack, to even things out – a bit!).  By the time we left the shed, the queue was out of the door and we were very happy that we’d managed to get there so quickly!

That was where we left our happiness for the next hour.  Cornelia had a complete breakdown about going on the tag-along, something she’s done loads of times before, including a 30 mile ride around the Grand Canyon.  She cried and cried, said she was scared that she’d fall off, and all sorts of things.  My patience gradually wore off (my toothache had not yet improved and was unexpectedly appearing from time to time), so I said that I would go off for a bike ride by myself and meet her and Daddy back at the jetty in an hour or so, when Daddy could go off for his ride.  I’m not sure what it was that exactly changed her mind, but she said she’d give it a go.  I had to hold on to her to start with and we had a few false starts, with her having an itch or a fly in her face, that she wouldn’t scratch because it meant taking one hand off the bars, but we all stuck with it and amazingly, we were eventually on our way.  We had wasted a whole hour of our bike hire time, which meant we had to rule out taking the long route we’d been hoping to do, but we were able take the middle distance route still – a very respectable 12 miles. And, would you believe it, she loved it.  Of course she did!

We stopped at a beach called Little Salmon Bay to eat our sandwiches, and although we’d been hoping to have a swim, it was really cold, due to the strong offshore wind blowing over us.  I had to wrap Bugsy up in my beach kaftan, and once the sandwiches had been consumed, we set off to make it around to the other side of the island, where we would be protected from the wind.  Rottnest is stunning.  Every time we went around a bend, there was another jaw dropping view of rocks, flora, beach and sea, all with exaggerated colours. Even the sky was in on the drama, and at one point, the clouds looked like those you see when looking at a satellite image of a hurricane, complete with its eye in the middle.

Quokkas, as I mentioned earlier, have the reputation of being the world’s cutest animal. And whilst they are not quite koalas, I am able to confirm that they are pretty darn gorgeous!  Unlike koalas, they are incredibly friendly and curious, and although the tourists are asked not to touch them, they bound over and come and sit right by you, or on you!  All three of us were thrilled to have found a couple of friendly animals who were very happy to join us for photos, although it was soon clear that they were also after Cornelia’s water bottle.  I cannot lie.  They were ridiculously cute.

Further on, Ian stopped to use the loo, and Cornelia took a tumble whilst holding her hand, so I had to collect her and help her back up the hill, to recover.  She was fine – a small graze – and by the time Ian returned, she was fully recovered and on top form. Given her earlier meltdown, I wasn’t sure how she’d react, but she had put all of that behind her, and was completely fine now.  We cycled past the ominously-named “Geordie Shore” and found a quieter little bay, where we locked up the bikes and finally ventured into the sea.

While Ian and Cornelia explored rocks that hugged the coastline, I walked over the reef and dived into the beautiful blue waters.  Ah, heaven!  I swam around for a bit, looking at all the fish (nothing exciting to report) before rejoining Bugsy and Daddy on shore, where we wrapped up in towels and watched as the clouds above us darkened.  It looked as if we were going to be hit by a storm, and we decide to pedal back quickly to return our bikes, but fortunately, the rains never quite hit us, although the temperature had really dropped quite a bit.

Not enough to prevent a shivering Cornelia from asking for an ice cream, while Ian and I had a cider and a tea (respectively) and waited to board our return ferry.  This journey felt rougher, and the swell was more like 2 metres this time.  Great waves slapped the windows at the side of the boat and all of the passengers ooh-ed and aah-ed as the waves threw us up and down.  Two members of the family next to us were very worried that they would be sick, but the well-timed delivery of ice pops to those suffering avoided any such event.  The crew were evidently very well-prepared! Cornelia does not suffer with any kind of motion sickness, and put on a delightful puppet show, starring Cowbat. Our companions around us were at least distracted for a while!

Having arrived back in Fremantle at 18:40, we decided to drive back home and get fish ‘n’ chips as our final meal in Australia.  Not quite what I’d imagined, but at Bugsy’s request, this was what we had.  But first, the magnificent sunset… just wow, wow, wow, wow.  It was setting as we were driving back to Scarborough, and we ended up diverting to the seafront, so that we could catch our last Australia sunset.  It was one of those magical moments, forever etched in my picture memory, where the photos can’t do justice to the accompanying feeling, as I held Cornelia in my arms and watched the sun disappear. Just perfect.

Heart filled with happiness, I offered to collect supper and walk back home, while Ian unpacked the rucksack which was filled with soggy towels and sandy swimwear.  I wasn’t too impressed with my fish, so added some cheese to my chips and enjoyed an unhealthy meal of cheesy chips and mayo.  That took me back a few years…!

Cornelia was so tired, but she needed to have a shower to wash off the sunscreen, salt water and sand from the day, so we had a very quick rinse together, before Ian read Little Miss Explorer to her.  I gave her a quick cuddle and as soon as I left the room, she was fast asleep again.  Before she’d showered, I’d told her that she should be very proud of herself for overcoming her fear earlier, and turning a potentially miserable day into a real joy for all of us,  She was slightly uncomfortable at first, but I asked her to tell herself, out loud, that she was proud of herself, which she did, adding (after her shower) “And I shall stand up tall and say “I am amazing!”” And indeed she is.

Perth for kids: the zoo and SummerFest

7 January 2019

The day began with a round of “We’re going on a Cornelia hunt” under the bed covers, where I had to find a Cornelia hiding in a cave and bring her home with me.  😳 After the adventure, we showered, had breakfast, and were out of the door by 09:30.  I had bought tickets for Perth Zoo last night, and we drove there, parking just a short distance away.  I assumed that the zoo would have a car park, and hadn’t even bothered to Google to confirm that this was the case.  Perth Zoo does NOT have a car park… But we were very lucky and parked down one of the nearby side streets, and were able to walk the rest of the way.

There was no queue at all, although a large load of school kids were in three big groups, and clearly about to enter.  We quick-marched through the entrance, congratulating ourselves for not getting caught in the throng, and I was just applying sunscreen to Bugsy when the fifty-strong crowd of kids came charging in, full of excitement for their day ahead!  We needn’t have worried.  The zoo was quite empty, despite the herd of children, and at no time did we feel under siege!

An exhibit of dinosaurs was the top attraction for the school holidays, and they were marvellous mechanical rubber creations that sensed movement, then roared and swiveled their heads in response.  Naturally, this terrified Cornelia to start with, until she was 100% certain that they were just pretend models and couldn’t move anywhere.  Or eat her.

We spent about two and a half hours in the zoo, and her most beloved animal today was the veiled chameleon (she was convinced he was waving at her), and we spent a disproportionate amount of time waving at him, until she finally agreed to move on.  The rest of the zoo was filled with the usual suspects, and we made our way about half way around, when a time check revealed it was time for us to make our way to Kids SummerFest, to which I had also booked tickets.  Our time slot was 12:30 – 15:30, and the festival was taking place at Elizabeth Quay, near the ferry and Bell Tower of yesterday.

SummerFest is basically a fairground with a variety of different rides, activities and a stage show which, to Cornelia’s delight, was a Paw Patrol show.  Those shows were on the hour, so our first half hour was filled tea cups rides and a carousel swing that went very fast and very high!  I’m glad I volunteered Daddy for those rides (using the quite legitimate argument that I have done all of these and more by myself with her at Crealy and the like!).

At first, although Cornelia was enthusiastic to watch the Paw Patrol show, she quickly changed her mind and said she didn’t want to, and escaped to the bouncy castle for a while.  But as the … er…. plot developed, I could see her watching the show out of the corner of the bouncy castle, and when I asked her if all was well, she confided that she felt ready to watch the show now, and dragged me over to sit on the grass with her to watch it.  I do so love watching her become totally absorbed in these things.  She was singing along and trying to do the dance moves, whilst keeping her distance from the stage, so she didn’t have to volunteer for anything.

Once the show had finished, we tried to get Cornelia to have some lunch, but she kept saying she wasn’t hungry.  Ian and I had a soft, fluffy bao bun each filled with chicken (Ian) and maple roasted cauliflower (me).  They were small, but delicious! (A bao bun is a soft bread that is steamed instead of baked.) After a couple more rides, we managed to convince Cornelia to have a hot dog, but she didn’t like the bread with ketchup, so ate about three-quarters of the vile-looking pink fake sausage, before putting in a request for a chocolate ice-cream.  It was probably healthier than the hot dog, so we agreed that she could have one!

After her “lunch”, she tested out the rest of the rides, most of which she could go on by herself.  We discovered she’s like the Liam Neeson of four year olds, tracking a girl she’d befriended and stalking her around the fairground and on the bouncy castle.  It was very funny to watch!  Our last bit of entertainment was some time at the silent disco, which was empty bar one very enthusiastic girl, me and Cornelia.  I’ve never danced at a silent disco, but I have to say, it is genius!  All that dancing and no noise to trouble people around you.  Actually, one of the nicest things about SummerFest was that there was no ear-burstingly loud music blaring out – it was all very civilised!

We had enough time to go back to the zoo, as it wasn’t shutting until 17:00, so we drove back to tick elephants, tigers, orangutans and a white rhino off the list before we were in danger of being locked in. One majestic elephant that we watched for some time was bashing what turned out to be a “bran block” on the floor, to break it up a bit so she could eat it.  Cornelia and I were hypnotised by the twisting and turning of her trunk to try and toss it into her mouth and shouted a loud “hurrah!” when she finally managed to get it in!

Just as we were leaving the zoo, Cornelia decided she needed the loo, and with only a couple of minutes until 17:00, we legged it to the bathrooms.  When she had finished, Ian said that we were being booted out, and that the zoo staff had been by on bicycles to ensure everyone was leaving.  To our (Ian’s) great relief, this meant that the zoo shop was also closed, and so we couldn’t buy any souvenirs at all!

Back at the apartment, I went out for my run while Ian served pasta up to Cornelia.  It was another beautiful run – what’s not to love about a run along the seafront, with the sun setting over the sea?  I had said to Ian that I would stop off at Cole’s on the way back to pick up some milk and some toothpaste for the nagging toothache that wasn’t going away, so had taken $30 in cash with me.  When I took my phone out of my running belt to take some photos, the two notes flew out and away down the road in the strong breeze!  ARGH!!!  I had to do nearly a minute of sprinting to catch up with them, and thank goodness that I managed to retrieve them both.  I must have looked a sight frantically chasing these two bits of paper, but probably not quite as silly as I looked chasing those monkeys away in Africa a couple of months ago….!

Cornelia went straight to sleep again tonight.  20:00 is definitely the optimum time for her to go to bed.  I made a rainbow-coloured stir fry for me and Ian tonight – it looked so delicious in the pan, I even took a photo of it!  And once again, we were both ready for bed early.  I had turned on the air conditioning, but it didn’t really seem to be having any effect, and as the instructions said in BOLD CAPS to OPEN all windows and doors, we switched it off when we went to bed.  Thankfully, it didn’t seem to be as hot as it was last night, and with no book to keep me awake, we were straight to sleep.