travel

Top 20: Best things to pack for a holiday …

Top 20: Best things to pack for a holiday …

DSC_00641. Noise cancelling head phones – Boarding a plane is like Russian roulette – you never know who you are going to sit next to. If you are next to a screaming baby or a heavy snorer, these will become your best friends.

2. Notepad & pen - Technology is great, but nothing beats pen and paper to write down tips you hear along the way, exchanging details or drawing diagrams for those large language barriers.

3. A printed itinerary – Customs is becoming more and more strict and many places require you to have printed itineraries and hotel bookings. I have learnt that lesson the hard way and trying to find an internet cafe with a printer after a long haul flight is not a great way to start or end a trip. Don’t think showing them your iphone will work!

4. A camera – this one might be obvious but with smartphones becoming more popular, people are becoming less inclined to pack a quality camera. Good luck trying to make that ‘totz amazeballs’ instragram photo look good blown up in the pool room.

5. Extra memory cards – don’t be left with no memory on your camera, better too many photos than not enough

6. Paw paw ointment – this little red tube is full of goodness – a lip balm as well a an insect bite, burn and rash cure all in one. It even cures nappy rash… hey, you never know.

7. Multi vitamins – there is one thing worse than being sick, and that is being sick while travelling. Berroca is a good way to start the day as it is packed with vitamins so you can get on the front foot to avoid getting sick and it even helps with self-inflict illnesses (hangovers).

8. A book – ipads and kindles might be convenient, but when your battery is flat or your stuck on the tarmac, you’ll regret not packing a good old fashioned paper back.

9. A rain coat – Good weather is never a sure thing, so be prepared and don’t use rain as an excuse sit around complaining that it rain ruined your holiday.

10. Warm socks – Even if it is the Middle East in summer you’re travelling to, you don’t want to be caught on a plane unable to sleep because you’re so cold. They can also double up as a good camera bag or to put delicate new purchases in.

11. Travel money cards – Credit card fees suck as do currency conversion fees and they can add up quickly. Save yourself the money and hassle and get some prepaid travel cards that act like credit cards without the ATM withdrawal fees, try and buy them then the exchange rate is in your favour.

12. iPad – long lay overs or planes without entertainment can become bearable with an iPad loaded up with TV series and movies.

13. Snacks – plane food sucks and I have a theory that is clogs your digestive system. Do you think airlines want 200+ people all needing to go to the bathroom on a 14 hour flight? I think not…

14. Small bag – a long day of exploring a city can be a drag with a huge handbag, pack a small one so you can travel as light as a feather. For the mean reading ñ all normal rules about the man bag go out the window when travelling, embrace it.

15. A Turkish towel or sarong - These are the perfect travel companion as they are light, take up minimal room and can become everything from a scarf, pillow, towel, sheet, or something to wrap yourself in when you’re going to temples or mosques.

16. Hand sanitizer – to sanitize your hands, obviously..

17. Face wipes or wet ones – hand cleaners, face cleaners, toilet seat cleaners, everything cleaners.

18. Tissues – Sad goodbyes to emergency toilet stops, tissues always come in handy.

19. A watch – Travel is one time that punctuality is completely necessary, don’t miss a flight because your phone died.

20. A large lightweight bag – make sure it can be folded into a tiny ball. It is always unrealistic to think you won’t go shopping at least once on a holiday. Save yourself the hassle of the last day rush around trying to buy an extra bag to carry all your new purchases home.

Oink oink,
Truffle Pig.

P.S. I am assuming you are all smart enough to remember a passport and tooth brush!

A Guide to Vietnamese Street Food ….

A Guide to Vietnamese Street Food ….

Before visiting Vietnam I already loved the cuisine thanks to the exploding popularity of Vietnamese food in Australia. Although there are many good places to try here at home, nothing beats the real thing and I spent my 10 days in Vietnam eating my way through the country the best way possible – on the street. My suggestion is to ditch any restaurant reservations you have and eat like the locals do, you will have some of the best food you will ever taste.

How to find good street food:

  • If you see small plastic table and chairs – gravitate towards them. No, this isn’t a set up for a kids party, this is just how to eat in Vietnam. If you see local people gathering around them, join in. If they look at you funny, this is a good sign, it means they don’t accommodate for tourists and their food is authentic.
  • If you see people standing around or visiting a glass box with a lady standing behind it, line up. This usually means she is preparing delicious food, like banh mi, made to order.
  • If you see a congregation of scooters on the street, it usually means there is a congregation of locals enjoying lunch. Where ever the locals are eating, you should be eating.
  • If you want a coffee, listen for the loud pop or techno music and look out for lots of people sitting around – this is usually a good sign of a great coffee shop.

The best Vietnamese street foods to try:

Phở bò (beef noodle soup) – This is the bacon and eggs of Vietnam and the breakfast of champions. Pho (pronounced ‘fur’) is made from thinly sliced rare beef thrown into a steaming soup with rice noodles. Add chilli, bean shouts, lime and fresh herbs to suit your taste and enjoy.

Bánh mì (sandwich) –Thanks to the French influence, the Vietnamese have become masters at making the perfect baguette. You can fill our banh me with any combo you like – my favourite being the traditional roast pork with pate, chilli and fresh salad.

Cà phê (Iced Coffee) – Coffee in Vietnam is made with condensed milk and the results are phenomenal – icy, sweet and strong coffee make for the perfect combination.

Cao lầu (pork noodles) is a regional Vietnamese dish made with noodles, pork, and local greens, that is only found in the town of Hội An, in the Quang Nam Province of central Vietnam.

Cháo vịt-(duck noodles)- This dish is light, refreshing and made from shredded roasted duck with noodles, fresh vegetables and fried noodles for an extra crunch all swimming in a sweet sauce.

Cơm tấm (broken rice) – perhaps one of the most famous street foods is made from small rice, pork chops, fried eggs, sliced cucumber and tomatoes all brought together with a chilli flavoured fish sauce.

Gỏi cuốn (rice paper rolls) – another very popular dish in Australia which originated in Vietnam – fresh sheets of rice paper filled with vermicelli noodles, prawns and vegetables dipped in a sweet peanutty soy sauce.

There are just a few, there a millions more and I would love you to let me know which are your favourites so I can try them next time if I haven’t already.

Oink oink,

Truffle Pig.

A Guide to Downtown LA …

A Guide to Downtown LA …

As a travel lover I usually leave places because I have to, not because I want to. Obviously there are some exceptions, and up until recently LA was one of these. The sprawling city, smog and pretentious Hollywood crowds spoiled any allure the city had. But, on a recent holiday I was forced to stay overnight on my way home from Mexico and to my surprise, I enjoyed myself. After a lot of research I discovered a little gem perfect for a laid back traveller who loves art and food – Downtown LA. So if you’re like me and looking for an LA experience outside of Hollywood, here is a quick guide on how to enjoy your day downtown.

Morning:
Most people in LA drive which means that you are bound to get stuck in traffic so put on your comfy shoes and get ready to walk. Make your first port of call to Louie Bottega for breakfast which is a huge bakery and café open morning to night with an endless amount of delectable pastries that can be enjoyed on the go. If you want something more substantial you can take a seat and enjoy a la carte menu items like a New York egg sandwich, lemon ricotta hotcakes or the highlight dish of prosciutto and burrata on a plump potato rosti.

Once you have fuelled up on breakfast you can spend the morning exploring the museum trail. Walk past and admire the Los Angeles Music Centre and The Walt Disney Concert Hall which is an incredibly beautiful building designed by Frank Gehry which is conveniently located across the road from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). The collection at MOCA dates back to 1940 and includes installations, sculpture and paintings. From there hot foot it to Little Tokyo. As the name suggests, this part of town has many bakeries, stores and restaurants with Japanese influence, as well as the Japanese-American National Museum.

Noon:
All the culture consuming and walking will make you pretty hungry. Once you’re ready for lunch head to the Grand Central Market where you will probably spend the good part of an hour walking around trying to decide what to eat. This huge warehouse space is almost 100 years old and has been the go-to place for locals looking for fresh produce. As DTLA has evolved, so has the market and it now serves as a cheap and easy place to grab groceries, coffee and lunch. You can choose from hawaiian BBQ, oysters, Mexican, pizza, fresh juices and many, many more. My top pick is Sticky Rice which serves delicious authentic Thai cuisine to go, or you can pull up a seat at the bar to enjoy fresh coconuts and tasty dishes made to order. After lunch, stop by G&B to grab coffee. This is one of the only decent coffees in the entire the United States I have ever had (you can thank the Barista from Melbourne for that).

Afternoon:
Downtown LA is home to the world’s second largest jewellery district and an impressive fashion district, so if you’re in the mood for shopping they are definitely worth a look. Or if you’re like me and want to kick your feet up for a relaxing afternoon, head to pool on the rooftop of the The Standard Hotel which has been voted as one of the world’s best. The Standard is the ideal place to work on your Californian tan and enjoy panoramic views of Downtown LA and the mountains in the distance. If you settle in for long enough you can enjoy happy hour and the nightly DJ.

Night:
California has a huge Latin community and as a result is home to some of the country’s best Mexican cuisine. For dinner, head to Yxta Cocina for fantastic food and margaritas. Once dinner is over you can bar hop and dance the night way in the many haunts around the neighbourhood including: La Cita for a fun unpretentious crowd, The Varnish for the incredible cocktails, The Perch for the views or Far Bar for something more relaxed.

Dawn:
After a big day of walking, art-ing, shopping, tanning, eating, drinking, dancing and LA-ing – head back to the The Standard and enjoy a meal in their famous yellow, 50s inspired 24 hours restaurant for some good old fashion diner food with a modern twist.

Oink oink,
Truffle Pig.

 

Pine Trees – Lord Howe Island …..

Pine Trees – Lord Howe Island …..

The sand is between my toes, the ocean is  singing softly into the white sandy beach only metres away, the water I am looking at is clearer than a crystal, the wine is white and crisp and the salty breeze brings new meaning to the words ‘fresh air’. When I look around, there is no one as far as the eye can see, only a mountain that looks like it was formed purely to adorn the front of a post card….. am I in paradise? Yes. And it is closer to you than you might think….  It is at Pine Trees resort on Lord Howe Island, only 1.5 hours away from my home in Sydney.

This quaint resort is the heart and historic centre of Lord Howe Island (the most beautiful island I have ever visited) and was built on land that was acquired through an exchange for 2 tonnes of potatoes back in the 1800’s. Pine Trees is one of the oldest businesses in  Australia and is now run by the sixth generation of the same family that gave away those potatoes many years ago. And just by visiting this little island, you can feel part of the family too. The warmth and hospitality you’re welcomed with, you feel like you have your own home among the pine trees.

The resort itself is set away from the beach and is surrounded by prehistoric pine trees and lush gardens. The rooms are small, quaint and comfortable, but most importantly, they propel you into relaxation and holiday mode with a distinct lack of any modern day technology. Bliss. The only noise that can be heard is the ocean slapping against the sand and laughter from the main house and restaurant. Here, the food is served at breakfast and dinner, and guests are treated to world-class meals made from the freshest ingredients – think coconut asian broth with freshly caught king fish from the lagoon out the front and sticky date pudding with vanilla bean sauce. You’re encouraged to get out during the day and lunch can be provided in the morning for you to take on your day trips, or the hosts at Pine Trees will deliver all your BBQ ingredients and equipment at your destination of choice. If you’re social or a sole traveller, you won’t find it hard to make friends here at Pine Trees – it is almost a ritual for everyone to exchange stories and experiences with other quests, many of whom are loyal, repeat customers. I don’t blame them, I was ready to book my next trip before dinner had started.

Despite the hotel grounds, staff and food being exceptional, it is what you find across the road that will really turn you from a one time visitor to a repeat customer – The Boathouse. Perched on top of the foot hill june hugging the coral lagoon, the boathouse arguably has the best real estate on the whole island. The fridge is permanently stocked with cold beers and wine, supported only by the ‘honesty system’ box. Sitting at the Boat Shed, I guarantee you won’t wish you were anywhere else.

Pine Trees is one of the more affordable resorts on the island, and all meals are included. To book your next trip, contact them through their website here.

QUICK FACTS:

  • Location: Smack bam in the middle of the island on Lagoon Drive
  • How to get there: Qantas fly direct from Brisbane and Sydney daily
  • Highlight: Unbeatable location & friendly staff
  • Lowlight: Small rooms, not great in bad weather
  • Value for money: Decent
  • In a nutshell: Beach side, old school rustic charm
  • Perfect for: A friendly family getaway
  • Overall: 4 oinks out of 5

Oink oink,

Truffle Pig.

Interesting facts about Iceland …..

Interesting facts about Iceland …..

I have had a fascination with Iceland for a while now, it all started when I was booking a trip last minute to visit two friends living in London and NYC. When trying to cut corners on flight costs I discovered that flying from one city to the other via Iceland was significantly cheaper than flying direct (a tourism ploy I shall delve into later). A night in Reykjavik (Rake-a-vick) by myself?… At first the prospect scared me a little but the more I researched, the more and more I got excited by this amazing country on the opposite side of the world from home.

As a kid I was always fascinated by the atlas and would enjoy travelling around the world with my imagination whilst watching the reruns of the Brady Bunch. I remember reading “Iceland” and thinking that place sounds completely inhospitable and not much fun…. Boy was I wrong.

My second encounter of learning more about Iceland was when I watched an episode of Oprah when I was home from school sick one day. The whole show was dedicated to women across the globe talking about their culture and bringing their national dish for Oprah to taste. Most of them were run of the mill – the French lady brought snails, the Belgium lady brought chocolate, The Japanese lady brought sushi blah blah blah. As my blocked sinuses and Oprah’s annoyingness started to send me into a cough syrup sedated sleep, my ears pricked up when I heard this striking super model looking lady talk about rotten shark meat… Whaaaat?

As disgusting as it sounded, I was intrigued. She went on to explain the culture which made the others pale in comparison because where else in the world do you know of mothers of new borns leaving their children in their pram outside on the street while they enjoy coffee with their friends? ….Before you pass judgement, this isn’t because these beauty queens are irresponsible, it is because there is almost NO CRIME in this crazy little country.

As my excitement reached fever pitch leading up to my visit, a hurricane came along and ruined everything. Flights into JFK were suspended and I had to try direct a couple of days later. That was about 3.5 years ago and ever since my fasciation, or what some might call obsession, has grown day by day. After a lot of reading and research I discovered this could possible be the best place on earth – gender equality, a creative epicentre, beautiful people, organic food and free wifi everywhere? Sounds like heaven on earth… and it was! I got back from Iceland recently, so before giving you the run down on where to go and what to do, here are some interesting facts:

  • Iceland’s population is small, there are approximately 320,000 in the country, 60% of which live in the capital, Reykjavik
  • Icelanders have one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world
  • Iceland has more artists per capita than anywhere in the world – hence the amazing musical talent!
  • Iceland is has more Miss Worlds titles per capita than anywhere in the world, both the women and men are gorgeous
  • It is said that the Vikings raped pillaged Ireland and Scandinavian countries, stealing the most attractive of the races and taking them to Iceland, which explains the good genes
  • Iceland is one of the happiest nations in the world and has the 2nd highest quality of living
  • 33 years ago in 1980, Iceland elected the world’s first female head of state and their current head of state is a lesbian (Iceland is a good place for women!)
  • Many people in Iceland believe in elves, or what they call ‘The Hidden People’ … surprised they didn’t mistake me for one!
  • The first people to inhabit the island nation were Irish Monks, but it has a long and proud Viking history
  • Iceland is sustainable and self-sufficient – over 70% all energy used in Iceland is produced from own resources – either geothermal energy from hot springs or  hydro-electric from the big waterfalls.
  • Iceland has barely any trees although it used to be covered in them to to deforestation in the 12th century, harsh climate and volcanic ash, trees have difficulty rooting to the ground. To combat this, 4million trees are planted per year
  • The Whale in the Free Willy movie was captured in Icelandic Waters
  • Icelandic last names are derived from fathers names, so instead of being Hannah Lewis, my name would actually be Hannah Petersdaughter, because of this, people usually only are referred to by their first names
  • Iceland is the youngest country in the world, with new mountains and islands forming as we speak, the land is still so ruggered astronauts train their due to its similarity to the moon
  • One of the country’s most unusual attraction is the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which houses the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts but selling any undergarments with the Icelandic flag is forbidden
  • Beer was banned nationwide until 1989.
  • Icelanders love to drive, often people can own up the 3 cars, and there is no railway system
  • The Icelandic government has banned prostitution in 2009, strip clubs in 2010, and is planning to ban online pornography as well
  • The word ‘slut’ isn’t in the Icelandic vernacular because gender quality is prevalent. Sleeping around is standard practise it is not uncommon (or frowned upon) to have several children to different partners
  • Icelandic state has a monopoly on the sale of alcohol.
  • The sale of food items containing more than 2 grams of trans fat for every 100 grams is forbidden
  • If Icelandic parents give their child a name that has not been previously used in Iceland, that name has to be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee
  • About 11% of the country is covered by glaciers
  • Iceland is the most literate country in the world and has an impressive amount of Noble Peace Prizes
  • Iceland’s national sport is handball, they also love soccer, fishing and golf
  • Fishing is their biggest industry, with tourism slowly taking over. GET THERE!

Have you ever been to Iceland or re you Icelandic yourself? I would love to know your favourite fact about my second favourite country (I am patriotic after all).

Oink Oink,
Truffle Pig.