10.12.2014

CHALLENGE COMPLETE

You may or may not remember than I very tentatively set myself a challenge to visit a different country each month for a year. I wasn't too sure how I'd finish it if/when I started at University, but sure enough after a trip this weekend that can only be described as 'short but sweet' I did it! I must say I'm so very proud of all that I've managed to squeeze in ...and of course feeling blessed that I have the opportunity to see so much of our world. So come with me as I recap, in photographs, the countries I've visited in the last twelve months:

Barbados,    France,    Tenerife,     Germany,    Netherlands,    Japan,    Hong Kong,     Fiji,    Vietnam,    Laos,    Cambodia,    Indonesia, Thailand,    Malaysia,    Singapore,    Italy    and    Ireland.

So that's a total of 17 countries. Smashed it!!!

November

December

January

February

March

April

May


June

July

August



September

October

Ps. I'd love to answer any questions you have. Feel free to comment below.

10.06.2014

Two Months On // Turkey Pepper Bake

Let's catch up over dinner...
It's two months since I was travelling home after my big adventures in Asia (+ Fiji if you're one to get technical) and life has been not dissimilar to the inside lane of a motorway - very fast paced, constantly looking back in your wing mirror to see someone pressurising you to drive quicker than you want. I have been reflecting on my big adventure; you may realise there is so much I have not shared with you yet. Due to technical difficulties and just having a complete ball, I didn't blog as I went along and so I have hundreds of word and thousands of photos, ready to be refined and published. They will come.
Post-travelling I've had odd jobs, found the love of my life (see below), been on a weekend break and finally made it Bath to get my degree. After two years living a charmed life in the 'real world' I am back at the starting blocks - a poor student, ready to forge new friendships, lead a new lifestyle and conquer the BSc. You may notice my posts become 'Bath-centric'; that can't possibly be a bad thing as Bath is drenched in character and markedly more attractive than my old stomping ground.
Recipes will probably be of the savoury, store cupboard, cheap and [mostly] healthy variety in order to banish signs of the dreaded freshman 15 and ensure my overdraft is free for important things like travel... Talking of travel, I will complete the final trip of my year-long challenge to visit a different country each month. More about that soon, but first lets talk dinner.

Now... What's new?

Turkey and Pepper Bake

(adapted from BBC Good Food)

See the link above for full methodology, but you shouldn't get stuck - this is a simple one. Great reviews all round from the girls - cheap, easy and minimal effort.

Serves 3/4
3 large potatoes/250g grams per person
300g frozen peppers
1 onion
500g turkey mince
1 heaped dsp parika
1 flat dsp cayenne pepper/chilli powder (adjust to desired spice level)
200g 
Optional: Cheese for topping
  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.
  2. Cut potatoes in to chunks (no need to peel - just clean) and cook in boiling water until done. A sharp knife should go through the potato with no resistance. At this point drain and leave to the side.
  3. Simultaneously fry the onion and peppers in a large pan or wok for 3-4 minutes until onions look transparent. No need for oil as the frozen peppers provide sufficient water.
  4. Add the turkey mince to the pepper pan and fry together until mince is cooked and browning.
  5. Add the herbs and stock to the turkey pan and mix well.
  6. Mash the potato to your preference - either with a little excess stock, a splash of milk or a knob of butter, or a combination. Season your mash.
  7. In an overproof dish* pour the meat in the bottom, followed by the mash, which is to be spread in an even layer. If you're adding cheese then grate some directly on top of the mash - I've left quantity ambiguous, because let us be honest here... no-one measures the cheese on top of pies.
  8. Cook uncovered in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the mixture is nicely bubbling and the cheese is browning.
*You make want to use a pyrex dish, a rectangular ceramic dish or an over safe dish of some description - please don't melt plastic handles!



9.04.2014

Halong Bay - "When a UNESCO site fails to impress."

If I had one criticism of my STA tour, it is how they 'do' Halong Bay. After a long overnight train that arrived to Hanoi in the small hours we then got a coach to Halong, arriving in the morning. The journey itself wasn't a problem; long journeys come as part and parcel with travelling in Asia. This is especially true if you're going to see a country in 12 days. You just have to stomach long distance travel, so it wasn't that.






Inclusive of the STA tour is a boat trip out to Halong Bay...but it is only an afternoon trip. I say ONLY because there is a limit to how far you can sail in one day and still make it back in time for supper. Halong Bay is huge with approximately 1,600 islands and islets. Needless to say, we only reached a select few parts - the parts hoarded with tourists. 

If you're planning a trip, try choosing one that is at least one night. Castaway trips are three days and come recommended for the party type, though friends said they are basic and somewhat expensive. There are plenty of trips to Halong Bay which can be booked from Hanoi. I'd imagine there are also Halong Bay trips on offer at most hostels in the other big towns.

...So. Our trip.


Kayaking

We made it to the only inhabited area of Halong Bay, where we got out to rent Kayaks and explore the massive caves, bays and limestone structures.  Anyone who knows me well will know a certain incident with a kayak 5 years ago left me a bit traumatised by water, but luckily I've built my confidence back up since then. I'm glad I made the effort to Kayak as it would have been a missed opportunity not to get out and actually explore the structures up close. 
The kayaking was pretty cool... until more boats arrived and more tourists swarmed the waters in larger boats paddled by the Vietnamese. Not known for their manners and gentle nature, the boats pretty much pretended we were driftwood and pushing us out of their way. It somewhat hampered our efficient kayaking, especially through tunnels, but it was good that we had some [limited] time to explore before the others descended. Back to the boat to sunbathe.

Water

The water of Halong is very dirty, so much so that you can't swim. This was certainly not something I had surmised from the pictures I'd seen. It's the big factor that really 'put me off'.


Dau Go Cave

I realised by the time we got to Dau Go Cave that despite being out at sea, the crowds still existed. Due to the complete absence of research before my trip (as I confessed before) I didn't know about the caves that exist in Halong Bay, or that we were going to make a trip to one of them.

Apart from being used as a timber store to make awesome boat traps (read more here), the cave has no title to boast of. It's 'one of' the biggest caves in Halong Bay. This said, it is very convenient for day trippers as it's only 30 minutes from the coast. Quite charmingly it is on Driftwood Island and often referred to as Driftwood Grotto (after the aforementioned use as a timber store), which sounds like something out of Peter Pan.

A lot of my group hated the way they had made the caves look like a Disney queue line. I have to say I quite enjoyed it, especially given that if you ever take an extended trip across
Asia, then you will see a fair few caves. It takes something new to make the last cave/temple/waterfall stand out from the first.


Halong Bay Town

If the town had a good atmosphere OR the beach was nice and not covered in litter OR even if the town had been small, calm and authentic then I really wouldn't have minded only an afternoon trip to Halong Bay. As it was, the town had a really tacky market, tacky Vietnamese karaoke and distinctly average restaurants. It was just not a place worth knowing.

Running

The only benefit of staying on dry land was the fact that the beachfront promenade encouraged me to take my first run since the marathon and my first run in Asia. Following the waterfront made for an easy route and you can follow the road for quite some distance. I stopped at the end of my run to do some core work etc. and it caused a bit of a stir. I clutched on to my phone and promptly ran back, staying clear from the edge of the road and not making eye contact. It was a quick lesson as to what exercise is and isn't acceptable in public, in SE Asia.*


*More coming soon about running in SE Asia.