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Exploring London

Our day started with a hunt for winter boots as the first signs of snow herald our arrival. Being on budget travel does not permit us to splurge – so…

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Our day started with a hunt for winter boots as the first signs of snow herald our arrival. Being on budget travel does not permit us to splurge – so our hunt excluded shopping on the West End of London. Instead Chern recommended a place called Primark where she got her boots for only 7 pounds. Much to my delight shopping, everything was a steal and hard to resists. I finally found a pair for 5 pounds! Ah joys of great bargains.

Next, we hoped to catch the Queen at the Buckingham Palace for a cuppa tea but was quite unfortunate. Even the guards didn’t come out to play today – it was apparently too harsh a weather for them. Ah well – so we thought we could feed some pigeons at Trafalgar Square, again much to our dismay not a pigeon was found fluttering in sight. Wonder what they did to get rid of them! Sights were pretty nonetheless. European architecture is something I’m trying to appreciate and understand – especially since I’d be roaming in more than a couple of castles in the next few weeks!

The Big Ben and Westminster Abbey pretty to behold. It still startles me how old London buildings are and how well they are taken care of. Each building had a story to tell and each echoes a different line of history. This we found true as we were walking down the street on the West London and stumbled on a town house that Benjamin Franklin used to live in – how surreal indeed.

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Around London

Did I tell you that Chern is a great host?! Well she is! She gave up her room for us, made sure we had hearty breakfast before heading out and…

Did I tell you that Chern is a great host?! Well she is! She gave up her room for us, made sure we had hearty breakfast before heading out and made us packed lunch so that we didn’t grow hungry walking the streets of London! If you don’t already know, London is an expensive city to holiday in – so we try to save where we can. And packed lunch is awesome! Today we had tuna and corn sandwich overlooking the river Thames & the London Eye. Whilst feasting on the sandwiches, the cold had a bite at our fingers too… we quickly scurried for something warm at the Christmas Markets.

Little make shift shops lined the walkway along the Thames, each with its own design and flavor. Family come in throngs all bundled in warm coats, scarves and beanies as they hopped from one shop to another. The market was laden with Christmas goodies like German sausages, mulled wine, hot chocolate, Christmas candies, pretty trinkets and even Spanish churros. The buzz of Christmas cheer filled the air…

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We spent the late afternoon watching the sun set over the Thames and stopping off to watch buskers do some silly stunts. We were purely entertained by the showmanship of these street entertainers and our ability to brace the cold – laugh and cheer with glove fitted hands (clearly our claps didn’t make much noise!)

Our great host had another surprise for us – she had earlier bought Lion King tickets as Christmas presents for us. I was ecstatic as I remembered watching ‘The making of Lion King the Musical’ on TV when I was much younger and was in total wonderment at the stage play and props. It was my chance to watch it live now! As surreal as the thought of actually being in London, Lion King was a major dream-come-true for me.

Staged in Lyceum Theatre in West End, London, the 2 ½ hours show left us awe-struck and enthralled. The props were incredibly amazing and intricate Set against the majestic plains of the Serengeti and to the evocative rhythms of Africa (especially by Rafiki the baboon), this Disney’s multi-award winning musical raised my expectations of theatre. The show was a spectacular visual feast of dazzling animal characters, bursting colours, stunning effects and enchanting music. Everything in the theatre was electrified; the audience stuck to their seats throughout the show and burst in applauds as the actors came out for a bow. Bravo without a doubt!

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London With Friends

London is famous for its museums, fortunately the Natural History Museum is free for entry. We spent a good 3 hours exploring the different halls from mammals to dinosaurs to…

London is famous for its museums, fortunately the Natural History Museum is free for entry. We spent a good 3 hours exploring the different halls from mammals to dinosaurs to planets and the earth beyond. Massive re-constructed bone structures and life-size replicas filled the museum, knowledge oozed from every corner and inquisitive minds got their feed of chunky info.

Next stop – Hyde Park. Winter wonderland at Hyde Park exudes the very flavor of how Christmas is portrayed on telly. Carnival games, trails of food stalls, Christmas goodies and yummy hot drinks. Everyone is out to celebrate. There was even an ice rink with graceful skaters and those just fooling around. We walked the entire carnival hunting for cheap hot choc to warm our bodies. Cold pasta for lunch merely filled our tummies. Finally we found a shop at the end of the carnival selling a cuppa for 2.50 pounds.

We took a leisurely stroll to the other end of Hyde Park passing by a half frozen lake with ducks wadding at the ridge. The other side of the park looked pretty deserted especially when the entire extravaganza was happening on the other end.

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Dinner was treat at Michelle’s place. I just realized we didn’t take much pictures with her – but dinner was a bliss. She cooked up a storm of Asian delights in her quaint lil home just after Ealing Braodway station. It was a cozy get together with her in-laws and a couple of other friends to join us. Clement has grown since the last time I saw him as a baby – now he’s running, chuckling and speaking a lot of French. Edgar the new member to the family is a bundle of joy. He coos and bobs his head when you talk to him and fits perfectly into my arms – making it really easy to carry him. Michelle and Vincent are doing well and it’s a joy to see her come this far with a very nice place she calls home.

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KL To London – 2 Month Adventure Begins!

So we have left on our 2 month adventure and I haven’t had the slightest free time to blog before I left our home country – good ol’ Malaysia. Lots…

So we have left on our 2 month adventure and I haven’t had the slightest free time to blog before I left our home country – good ol’ Malaysia. Lots of spring cleaning, washing, packing and meeting up with family and friends – by golly it seems as if we are migrating but we will be only gone for 2 months!

A snapshot of our journey – “Our Europe trail starts from London where we will celebrate our first white Christmas and experience the irresistible Boxing Day madness to Edinburgh for the countdown into 2010, then moving west to Germany, Austria, Hungary and finally to gorgeous Greece. The next half of our adventure takes us to South Africa traveling from Johannesburg to Cape Town in hope to steal a peek and be in the company of the magnificent Big 5’s and (possibly) camp in the open plains – (that’ll be our ultimate camping adventure!)”

Saying goodbye was the hardest, but an irresistible itinerary awaits us. With lots of hugs and (uncontrollable) tears, Terence and I bid farewell to my family and headed to the boarding room at LCCT. We had looming thoughts of how we would survive the 14 hour flight on Air Asia X. Picked up a few nasty comments about seats being too small and not able to recline fully – we braced ourselves for the worst. Our backpacks were filled with books, Scrabble and a journal to scribble on in case we ran out of things to do.

Much to our surprise – 14 hours flew by quickly with 2 serves of meals, 1 hour of Scrabble, 4 hours of reading and the rest of the time snoozing. The seats were very comfortable and nothing dreadful to complain about. As walked out of the plane and into Stansted Airport, our eyes sparkled at the first sights of snow on the walkway. I bet the workers were cursing and grumbling having to work in nasty weather conditions but there were these 2 Malaysians leaping with joy and tugging at each other for mere excitement at white fluff!

Chern picked us up at the airport and hurried us to catch our bus into London. It wasn’t another hour before we arrived at her home in East London. We retired the night not long after…

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Perfect(ing) Heston

What do you get when you mix science and food? A revolutionary dish that is bound to invigorate your senses. Heston Blumenthal is the creative genius and his playground is…

What do you get when you mix science and food? A revolutionary dish that is bound to invigorate your senses. Heston Blumenthal is the creative genius and his playground is his kitchen. I was privileged to meet this culinary genius and learned what it takes to be a Michelin Star chef. 

Heston Blumenthal_by deborah chan

Described as a culinary alchemist, food scientist and perfectionist, Heston Blumenthal has definitely piqued the interest of chefs, gourmets and home cooks all over. His award winning TV series “In Search of Perfection” is mind blowing yet simple, which makes for an interesting watch. He makes poaching eggs and roasting potatoes somewhat of an experiment with meticulous instructions that entail specific temperature and precise technique. All of which results in a perfect dish – tried, tested and approved by the perfectionist himself.

Ironically, he looks less of a geek than I thought. Clad in a casual dark blue tank top, jeans and his famous thick framed glasses, Blumenthal, 47, exudes a childlike enthusiasm and perpetual chattiness when it comes to conversations about food. His excitement is contagious and his inquisitiveness is infectious. When describing how to make spaghetti bolognese, he chimes, “Did you know that whenever you’re making a meat-sauce using onions, you should add a hint of star anise? It reacts with the sulphur compounds and increases the flavour of meatiness?”

One would think a guy like him would have aced science in school, but that was the contrary. “I’d been intrigued with food from a young age but had failed science at school, though I got an A in Art so there was some creativity there.”

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Heston Blumenthal is often referred to as a culinary alchemist, food scientist and perfectionist. Credits: www.telegraph.co.uk

This enthusiasm coupled with creative genius and lots of hard work is what propelled him to culinary stardom. Blumenthal made his name when he bought over a 450 year old dilapidated pub in the small unsuspecting town of Bray, Berkshire. He transformed this teeny weeny, one door kitchen pub into a restaurant initially serving French bistro type dishes into a three star Michelin restaurant in just five years. This award winning restaurant is known as The Fat Duck and takes reservations up to two months in advance with a string of eager foodies on the waiting list.
Blumenthal is arguably Britain’s most innovative chef of all time. “We eat with our eyes and our ears and our noses. Eating is the only thing you do that involves all senses.” He recalls some unusual foods he has eaten and cringed adding “reindeer kneecap in Siberia, leeches fed on goose blood sautéed with parsley and garlic and freshly milked camel milk where you have to pick the hairs out of my mouth” to the list of nastiest food experiences.

Convinced that dining is a multi-sensory experience, Blumenthal toiled with the idea of creating food that stick in your memory. “Diners listen to an iPod placed in a shell that plays the sound of the waves lapping up against the shore, along with the occasional call of gulls, while eating edible sand, foam, and various food from the sea.” That’s ‘Sound of the Sea’, a sought after experiential treat on the tasting menu at The Fat Duck.

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The very famous “Sound of the Sea” served at The Fat Duck. Credits: www.cnn.com

As news caught on, Blumenthal’s list of credentials grew and so did his cache of restaurants including Dinner, The Hinds Head and The Crown. He has a number of very successful TV series that has fascinated viewers all over and gain growing followers. He has written seven cookbooks to date and even had the honour of cooking for the Queen of England, not once but numerous times.

“Naivety is one of the best friends of creativity. The first time you see something you get incredibly excited. When I first opened the Duck, I had no idea how hard it was going to be. There was good and bad. The naivety meant that I could question everything. The downside was that my organizational knowledge was rubbish.” He now looks back at the years spent establishing The Fat Duck as foundational years of his success.

“I was working 120 hours a week probably for the first 8 years. You get to levels of delirium that you never thought possible.” His creative gastronomical innovations are not plucked from the sky or fished out of a magician’s hat. Blumenthal is firmly rooted in tradition.

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Heston Blumenthal’s (soil) garden salad with sauce gribiche recipe. Credits: www.theguardian.com

“You’ve seen all the crazy stuff that I’ve done, it is really heavily bedded in a technical foundation which starts off with classical French cooking and then from there you need a very deep understanding of classical French cooking in order to question it. And when you start questioning, that forms the building block for something new.”

“I’m basically a big kid and I ask lots of questions. I’m not a scientist, but I am endlessly curious. The best advice I can give to anyone is question everything. You have to respect tradition but prepared to question everything,” that was his advice to young emerging chefs and enthusiastic home cooks. His tenacious probing for the next new thing has kept him going.

His success did not come without sacrifice. In 2011, Blumenthal went through a rough patch having separated from his wife of 20 years, with whom he has three grown up children. It was also around the same time that Blumenthal lost his father. Adding to the upheaval, he had to juggle the opening of Dinner, his newest restaurant at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London.

“Things like that, you have to deal with deep. Really deep. It’s much easier now, but of course, anything like that is going to affect focus,” he said in an interview with Good Food. Blumenthal’s persistence ploughed through.

When he was awarded the ‘Chef of a Decade’ Observer Food Monthly 2013 Award by The Guardian UK, Blumenthal humbly reflected on the last 10 years of his career and said, “With all the knowledge I have now, I still feel I’m just scratching the surface.”

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Visually intriguing “Oak Moss” served at The Fat Duck Credits: www.londonfoodfreak.com

When asked what’s next in his culinary journey, the sought after VIP guest at the recent Margaret River Gourmet Escape, a gastronomical extravaganza in Western Australia’s food mecca cordially replied, “I have no fixed plans but hopefully, the next restaurant I open outside of the UK will be in Australia.” To which he received thunderous applauses from his passionate fans. There is no stopping a perfectionist who is (still) in search of perfection.

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Let’s Chat With: The Red Bohemia

A lot of us love to travel, but only a few take it to the next level of being a part time traveler. I had an interesting conversation with the gorgeous…

A lot of us love to travel, but only a few take it to the next level of being a part time traveler. I had an interesting conversation with the gorgeous lady behind Red Bohemia, a down-to-earth, heartwarming travel blog and got a low down on what it means to be a part time traveler (with a full time job) and why Kavitha started the Red Bohemia alongside her pursuit to see the world.

Ardent Traveler (AT): “Red Bohemia”. That’s a rather interesting name you’ve chosen for your site. Is there a story behind it?
Red Bohemia (RB): Believe it or not, I actually came up with it in the middle of a football match. I was watching my team Liverpool ( YNWA!) play erm, some other club when half-time came about and I thought I should incorporate “red” into my blog name – fire, passion, strength and all that good stuff. Bohemia or the bohemian-lifestyle has always been something I’ve loved for its freedom, creativity and wanderlust qualities. I already had the “bohemia” bit in mind for some time, but nothing seemed to gel with it, until “red” came along. That’s how Redbohemia was born and I’ve stuck with it ever since.

AT: So you have a regular job and you live to travel. That makes you a part-time traveler… why not go full swing?
RB: Yes, I am a part-time traveller – for now. I intend to make travelling a more permanent fixture in my life sometime this year. I have been working for the last 15 years or so and I think it’s about time I took some time out to do different things and for some much-needed slow travelling. Wish me luck!

AT: When you plan your travel journeys, are there specific things that you’re particularly interested to discover? Tell me a story of such a discovery.
RB: The architecture and design aspects of a city are usually something I fall in love with very easily. So many cities have impressed me in the past, but I have to go with the first one that blew my expectations out of the water – Amsterdam.

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Love the charming ways of Amsterdam

It was the first European city I visited and I was duly impressed by how all the buildings by the canals were so full of character and charm – the quirky doors, the pretty windows, the colourful window displays, the cosy cafes.
Add in how organised the streets were (with trams, bicycle lanes and walkways co-existing), it sure was a wonderful feast for the design-lover in me.

AT: Why travel and write?
RB: I grew up reading Reader’s Digest and magazines such as LIFE, Time and National Geographic. Thanks to such stellar reading materials, I was constantly enthralled by tales of adventure and photographs of faraway lands.

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Still getting inspired by National Geographic to this day

It seemed like a different world, almost unreal. Coming from a small town in Malaysia, I constantly dreamt of visiting those seemingly magical lands. I want to do for others what those words and photographs did for me – inspire them to see the world, learn from different cultures, to love and respect one another.

AT: In the flurry of travel blogs in the online space, have you found a few travel bloggers / travelers that you can connect to? Why and who are they?
RB: Flurry is indeed the right word! It was hard in the beginning, but I was a little more confident of myself once I met some amazing travel bloggers at AWE Asia 2013 in Kuala Lumpur (hey, that’s where I met you too).
That is where I met the awesome Jeannie Mark from NomadicChick.com. She may be one of the top travel bloggers around, but she was so down-to-earth and kind. I was scared to even talk about my teenie tiny blog, but she encouraged me to continue and keep reaching for my dreams.

Aggy from DEW Traveller is another blogger I met at the conference. We keep in touch often and I just love her positive outlook on life. And, thanks to her, I got connected to Vlad from Eff It, I’m On Holiday. He’s been such a great supporter of my blog and we plan to travel together someday *fingers crossed*

More recently, I connected with a lovely blogger, G. Maria from Travel With G. Her love for food, photography and travel inspire me. Not only is she a wonderful writer, she is kind beyond words.

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Kindness is a quality I find important in travelling

All these bloggers constantly inspire me to do better and most importantly, to be kind to one another. It can be very competitive out there in blog-land, but these bloggers prove that it doesn’t have to be like that.

AT: Do you have a travel buddy? Or do you usually travel alone?
RB: My travel buddies tend to change from trip to trip. But I usually stick to a pool of close friends, so I know what to expect when we eventually travel together. I tend to travel alone for shorter trips, but I’m sure that will change sometime this year.

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My close friend (and travel buddy) in action on the Tower Bridge

It’s nice sometimes to have that one other person – for company, to help carry your bag when you’re tired, get directions when you’re lazy or just around for some much-needed laughter and fun.

AT: What are your travel plans for 2015?
RB: 2015 is going to be the year I finally venture out solo. I have a shiny, new Lonely Planet guidebook to Great Britain, so I might as well put it to good use 😉

Actually, I’ve wanted to explore this part of the world for the longest time – get to know the people, how the cultures differ from one country to another, try Haggis (I hope I don’t chicken out at the last minute), immerse myself in the moors of Wuthering Heights (pretending to be Kate Bush), educate myself on organic farming and drink tea all day long. Seems like a tall order, but I intend to go for it. If not now, then when, right?

AT: All the best, Kavitha! Stoke that you’re following your dreams and taking a route that’s often seen as against the grain. Happy travels babe! 

*Follow the Red Bohemia as she takes the leap to make travel a constant in her life on her website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter space. 

Let’s Chat With is a new series of light hearted, down-to-earth, personal interviews with people I’ve met or connected with along my journey as a traveler. These are people who have piqued my interest and have an amazing tale to tell. I hope that my conversations with them will inspire you, challenge your perspective on life and feed that wanderlust within you.
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Let’s Chat With: Shawn Chan, Guest Ambassador

A string of independent boutique hotels have surfaced in the light of Singapore’s booming tourism. The Unlisted Collection is made up of three unique boutique hotels, 1929, New Majestic and…

A string of independent boutique hotels have surfaced in the light of Singapore’s booming tourism. The Unlisted Collection is made up of three unique boutique hotels, 1929, New Majestic and Wanderlust including a handful of boutique hotels in Shanghai and London. The owner Loh Lik Peng pushes conventional hotel norms when it comes to giving guests an unforgettable experience. I asked Mae Noor, Head of Branding & Communications about their distinct edge and she immediately told me, “It’s got to be our people!” Recently Shawn Chan joined their vibrant team as Guest Ambassador, a position I’ve never heard about. I was curious to find out what he does and if he’s really got the magic touch to make holidays unforgettable. Here’s my conversation with him.

Shawn Chan_Wanderlust Hotel

Ardent Traveler (AT): You have a very unique job, one that many would flock to have! So tell me what’s a typical day at work for you?
Shaun Chan (SC): A typical day would involve checking out new hidden attractions in Singapore, be it new restaurants, retail spaces, nightspots, trawling the internet for any new or upcoming events happening around the island. After clearing some paperwork, I’d ensure all guest’s amenities are distributed to the respective hotels for the day before going out for Inside Access appointments. I’d round off the day after working out the itineraries for the guests I met earlier.

AT: What do you love most about job?
SC: I love that I get to meet and interact with people from all different parts of the world, to exchange historical and cultural knowledge with my guests, and when I assist guests with special requests to put on decorations in the room during special occasions!

AT: Any unforgettable moments you’ve encountered / people you’ve met?
SC: Having witness a successful wedding proposal, the guest and his family members were very appreciative towards the effort I spent on decorating.

AT: So I heard you are a decorator too… that’s quite unheard of in the hospitality line. Tell me a bit about it.
SC: Decorating the rooms is one of the best ways to enhance the guests’ experience during their stay. They’d tell me their preference, room theme, and I will help by adding simple items like, LED candle lights, paper hearts, etc.

The handy work of Shaun for one of the guests. A dazzling night of stars in space. Credit: Shawn Chan

The handy work of Shaun for one of the guests. A dazzling night of stars in space. Credit: Shawn Chan

AT: In your option, name the best in Singapore for the following:

Best hawker place
SC: Lau Pat Sat! To be able to enjoy local food that has been passed down from generation to generation, along with the company of a live band – totally awesome experience!

Coolest pub
SC: I would like to say Emerald Hill’s No.5 Cocktail Bar. Surrounded by the authentic set up of Emerald Hill shophouses, along with free flow of peanuts and best chicken wings ever, it’s one of the places which I strongly recommend my guests for a drink or two.

Best place for shopping bargains
SC: Bugis Street! There are no other places in Singapore that sells nice and cheap stuff, plus you can bargain too.

Must see in Singapore if you have only 12 hours in the city
SC: That will be the Marina Bay Sands Skypark for the best view of Singapore, Arab Street to shop for clothes and wares by local designers and Ann Siang Hill for snippets of the bar culture in Singapore amidst the many old shophouses surrounding the area. You can end the night at Maxwell Food Centre, best chicken rice in town!

Only found in Singapore – try this if you dare (activity/thing to do/stuff to eat)
SC: Level 30 Buffalo wings from Sunset Grill and Pub! This is one of Singapore’s best kept secret when it was at the Old Seletar Air Base. A little out of reach but such a gem. It’s now moved to Jalan Kayu and STILL hard to find! Complete level 30 and go up on their wall of fame. Not many can.

AT: Thanks Shawn for the very insightful chat on the nooks and cranny’s of Singapore’s best.

Let’s Chat With is a new series of light hearted, down-to-earth, personal interviews with people I’ve met or connected with along my journey as a traveler. These are people who have piqued my interest and have an amazing tale to tell. I hope that my conversations with them will inspire you, challenge your perspective on life and feed that wanderlust within you.
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