A Whirlwind Trip: Getting into Milan

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I went for a work trip in July last year and was lucky enough that it involved a whirlwind trip of the shopping capitals of Europe, with the first stop being Milan. We took the red-eye flight which meant that we got off the plane early enough to have breakfast at a bar just before our first meeting. We were thankful for the Italian custom of drinking espresso like water and helped ourselves to copious amounts of the brew to keep us awake in the business discussions.

One of the companies we met was very hospitable and brought us to Trattoria Del Drago for a very welcome lunch. The trattoria was set in a little garden and there was a lovely relaxed vibe to it. We had a lovely white wine to go with our lunch, the Picol 2008 (14%). It was a light and crisp sauvignon blanc with a lime flower nose and plenty of slate in the finish. It was a lovely accompaniment to our appetiser.

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And what an appetiser it was! A typically Milanese starter of seafood carpaccio, this is Italy’s answer to sashimi. There was impossibly fresh salmon, tuna and white fish with two types of prawns. It was all dressed lightly in olive oil and was wonderfully tasty, each bite bursting with the sweetness of the sea. I would definitely go back there just for this dish, far away as it may be from the touristy areas of Milan.

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My main was an orecchiette in a tomato cream sauce and a meat I cannot recall, probably chicken. Sadly, it wasn’t mindblowing and it was forgettable in my seafood-dazed, jetlagged stomach.

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Trattoria Del Drago
Via Pusiano, 63, 20132 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 2720 9849 ‎

Our last meeting was, curiously, in an old Roman building that housed the Milanese headquarters of a high tech company . We got through that aided with plenty of hot espresso from thermos flasks, drunk by the shot in tiny plastic cups. We thankfully sank into Hotel Spadari al Duomo, probably the most reasonably priced 4-star hotel of that standard in the area. It was a lovely and very modern hotel, with large enough and very comfortable rooms. 

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In contrast to the Duomo just around the corner, even the artwork on the walls was modern. I liked how the minibar was included in the price of the room (non-alcoholic drinks only), so I didn’t have to worry about finding a convenience store for water. It was a lovely touch especially coming in on a hot day.

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But the feature I liked best was the shower. There were three showerheads in there: a regular handheld shower head (not shown), a rain shower and a waterfall shower! It was fantastic standing under a wall of warm water after a long, long day simply enjoying the pressure of water against skin.

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It was a great hotel with very prompt and excellent service, from emailing for reservations to getting our excellent breakfast every morning to making reservations to depart for the airport. Well worth it!

Hotel Spadari al Duomo
Via Spadari 11 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.02.72002371
Email: reservation@spadarihotel.com

But no rest for the greedy. Before long, we had to regroup for dinner. We went for an early dinner nearby so that we could head back to crash out. An institution and therefore tourist hangout in the area was Trattoria Milanese, a pretty down home type place with unfortunately less down home prices. Still, it was considered reasonable for the area.

We started off with a mix of appetisers. On my plate are parma with melon; tomato with mozzarella and basil; and half a perfectly ripe, luscious summer fig. While not super fantastically good, I think the ingredients travelled far less than it would have if we had the meal back home in Singapore, making it fresher and tastier somehow.

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I made the classic glutton’s mistake of ordering osso bucco with risotto. Mind you, it was yummy and very well made, especially the osso bucco with its unctuous marrow just begging to be sucked dry. The risotto was no slacker either, al dente and richly aromatic. I managed to finish about a third of the plate and tried to parcel as much away to my dining companions as possible. It was such a pity that I couldn’t take away any for later.

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Full to bursting as I was, my greed yet again overreached and I found myself not simply ordering apple sorbet for dessert, but also nodding amicably when the waiter asked if I wanted it doused in Calvados. Unfortunately, the sorbet wasn’t at all tart and was a bit flat on taste, and the apple liqueur was more bitter than aromatic. Still, it sozzled me nicely and at the end of the meal I had to walk carefully so that I wouldn’t stumble on the cobblestones and fall flat on my face in front of the highest ranking person in my organisation.

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Trattoria Milanese
Via Santa Marta, 11, 20123 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8645 1991 ‎

Thankfully, I made it back to the hotel in one jetlagged, sleep-deprived, espresso-ed out, stuffed-to-the-gills and pretty much sozzled piece. Another lovely waterfall shower later, and I was fast asleep, dreaming of my weekend to follow.

Lombok: The Approach to Mount Rinjani

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Lombok is famous for Mount Rinjani and a lot of people spend their entire trip climbing this mountain. I hear it’s not an easy ascent because the mountain is pretty high, a lot of people who ascend too fast end up with mountain sickness. We were wusses and did nothing more strenuous than drive the car up to the highest point we could. But let me start from the beginning.

The road taking us to the mountain was winding and first sloped up one of the foothills, lending us a glimpse of the sea. It was partially hidden under the clouds and we were glad we hadn’t gone to the beach that day.

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As I said, the road was incredibly windy (in the winding sort of way, not the high winds sort of way). I’m glad DC drove and all I needed to do was navigate. It was quite easy for most, because there wasn’t a huge choice of roads here!

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We stopped occasionally, most times to admire the view, this time apparently to admire the amount of dirt that started to cake the car already!

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The sky was all sorts of strange menacing, so we had to get off and snap a pic of me grinning maniacally with a backdrop of steel-grey sea and rolling clouds.

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Then the approach to Rinjani. Here was where navigation was a bit tough as there were actually forks in the road. Sadly, I lost some of my navigation-fu and took us past our destination. Thankfully, there were plenty of friendly locals. A rather dodgy pit stop at a local house later, we finally found our way on the road to Rinjani. We were a bit annoyed that the clouds almost completely obscured the peak.

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At least these bright pink flowers creeping on a tree added some vibrancy to our day.

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We really did nothing but drive till the road stopped, get out of the car to take pictures, and then stop at the most cheerful cafe  we could find for lunch. We didn’t even go to see some waterfalls because we were afraid that we’d be rained on. (Clever me also had in mind that it was going to be a beach holiday and I only had slippers and leather flats. No good for traipsing about waterfalls or mountains! I was obviously not showing my seasoned traveller-dom here.)

Still, it was lovely to soak in the cool weather and marvel that we were still on tropical Lombok. There were still plenty of banana trees downhill from the little cafe to remind us that we weren’t anywhere temperate.

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And then the mist rolled in and I was cold! Here I am all huddled in my trusty shawl…

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… and here you can see the mist roll right in.

And then we drove back the way we came and spent the rest of the lazy day by the pool at Villa Sayang. I told you it was a relaxed holiday!

September in Bali: Out of the Water

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I returned to Bali and took a short break from the diving. From my base of Permuteran up in the northwest of the island, I spent a day relaxing Bali’s Lake District, enjoying the cool air at Tamblingan Lake.

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It was lovely to admire a body of water and not feel the urge to dive in. I enjoyed the feeling of the cool air and being warmed by the sun instead of hiding from its much fiercer rays when down by the sea.

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We then headed to Jatiluwih to view the rice terraces. The intense green terraces were a marvel of human ingenuity and tenacity, and the coconut trees up on higher and cooler ground was a surprise to me.

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I was particularly tickled by how entire herds of ducks would take over harvested fields. They were probably scavenging for the scavengers that scavenged on the spent grain and leftover sheaves.

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Going closer, it seemed as if the entire field was quacking in symphony.

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We stopped by at the Botanic Gardens to admire the fountains…

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…  and the various, sometimes rather impressive greenhouses. This one was a desert hothouse, aridly beautiful in the stark light.

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And there were lily ponds galore, with the noon sun reflecting itself in the water.

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Our last stop was the Gitgit waterfall, a picturesque stream of water cascading down into a shallow pool, covering everyone below in a fine mist.

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Again, there was plenty of that wonderful green that made a good break from the diving.

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July in Vietnam: The Madcap Motorbiking Adventure

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Maybe my hide had been toughened by the experiences of the last week, maybe my sense of reckless adventure got the better of me, but still I don’t know what got into me. After being harangued for my previous experience, the travel agent suggested I take a motorbike ride down to my next stop, the Cuc Phuong National Park, where I was up to more monkey business. He assured me that the motorbike driver, Hu, was absolutely proper and wouldn’t even try to touch me. Excellent that we got that sorted out and we were off.

Our route took us past the spectacular Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall) where I spent ages gawking and trying to figure out whether the water droplets falling on me were from the drizzle or the splash of the waterfall.

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It was a steep but very scenic walk up to the top…

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… and the views were nothing short of spectacular.

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We went past Tram Ton Pass which, according to Lonely Planet, divided the warmest and coldest places in Vietnam, Lai Chau and Sapa. As expected, when hot and cold met, you really could see air. It was mistily beautiful and mysterious, one of those places that has to be seen while you’re there. I couldn’t get any pictures because my camera was hopelessly fogged up. As we headed downslope, the mist cleared up slightly and I managed to catch some of the amazing scenery in pixels.

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Some parts of the hills gave way to little pockets of land flat enough for padi. It was the first harvest season and villagers were working hard to dry their harvest along the road, …

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… and subsequently thresh it by hand.

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It was tough work in the fields and it was also tough work staying on the bike. It was my first time for long at the back of the bike. Astride behind Hu, I had to hold myself straight and not grab onto him for propriety’s sake. It meant a mean day-long workout for my abs and thighs. When my abs were tired, I stood up slightly on my knees and when my knees were going to give way, I held my abs in to straighten up. The only alternative to this tough workout was to slump with my face against Hu’s back and I wasn’t about to let that happen. Boy was it tough going. I was so glad to get off the motorbike when we came up to a river crossing.

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Here, there were geese on the banks waiting for us. They must have thrived on the grass growing along the muddy banks.

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After waiting for enough customers at a little shop/tea-shack and chatting with the proprietor to pass the time, we got on board the little boat to get across.

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And after a short two-hour ride more, we were at a village homestay where the pigs very enthusiastically greeted us in the dusk.

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It was also where I very enthusiastically tackled my food (yes, the portion in the picture is only for two!) after a long day’s workout and passed out in the roomy common room of the stilt house.

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More next post.

June in Thailand: Erawan Falls

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Another stop on my day tour was the Erawan Falls,  a lovely series of seven waterfalls in a nature reserve.

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The first waterfall had a wide plunge area and was so beautiful that there was a photo shoot there. If you look carefully, you’ll see some reflectors and an unnaturally bright area above the waterfall.

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This was where Jess and David, two friends I met on the tour, had a great idea of taking pictures with the number of each waterfall. So here’s me and number one.

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Number two I felt was far prettier because we could get much closer to the waterfall and also because the cascades were far wider and more “trickly”.

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There were also fish that we were warned nibble at people, so not to swim there. We weren’t that hot yet anyway.

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Nonetheless, we appreciated the signs to be careful while swimming lest we got cramps. That was super kind of them.

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We also liked the friendly Fun With English reminder to beware of a monkey stealing a belonging.

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Next up, number three was a slimmer version of number two and no less pretty.

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We slogged up further to number four, which was then deserted. It was a small waterfall flowing over a smooth rock into a deep plunge pool. We didn’t think much of it and pressed on…

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… past shamanistic sites where locals appeased the spirits of nature by wrapping them with cloth and offering up clothes to them.

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Then waterfall number five, consisting of many shallow pools. We had to clamber over them, getting our shoes wet, to get to the next level of the falls.

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Number six was a bit of a dud as it was hidden behind some fairly thick undergrowth. It was quite hard to get a good shot, but Jess and David were excellent company and that kept the spirits up despite the growing heat of the day.

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Even duds have their own beauty. Number six showed how pristine it could be up here, it was almost as if too many people gave up and headed back after the first five falls. I like how there was this feeling of stumbling across number six for the first time, it was so hidden behind the trees.

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Finally we made it to number seven together, as evidenced by Jess and David below.

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This topmost waterfall had lovely pools to swim in…

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… so after discovering the end of the trail and not being adventurous enough to go off-trail hiking…

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… we contented ourselves in a lovely dip in one of these pools. It was a great way to cool off after the hot and sweaty hike up.

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On our way down, there were lots of people at number four.

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As it turned out, the smooth rock and deep plunge pool were perfect for sliding down. I did it three ways: solo sitting up, solo face down and with a group.

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It was loads of fun splashing about!

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We just had to be careful of wardrobe malfunctions, which thankfully I didn’t have.

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And down we went, back to revisit number one again.

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What a lovely trek!