Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Screaming monkey

Another long break between entries (and a reminder that I should go and upload some of my skiing photos at some point), but the first chance I’ve had to send an update from someplace exciting.

After three short days in Hong Kong, where we enjoyed good dim sum but mostly rainy weather, we arrived in Langkawi, an island off the coast of Malaysia. It’s been an adventure here – we had a tsunami warning on our second night, and the island is filled with wildlife which has been keeping us well-entertained. We stopped by the roadside to snap a quick picture of one of the cheeky Macaque monkeys – the next thing we knew, he’d jumped up onto the car and scared the life out of Aude, and six or seven of his friends quickly joined us. They’re everywhere on the island, and apparently very clever. They’ve worked out where the minibar is in each of the hotel rooms. Left to their own devices, they’ll happily raid the room and stage impromptu parties, getting drunk on the beer in the fridge.

Try explaining *that* on check-out.

We’re off today to Penang, another island about 120km away. It’s just a short hop on the plane, but a totally different experience from the rainforest we have here on Langkawi.

It’s been a while since Aude and I have been on a proper vacation, so we planned two weeks in Asia to coincide with the long Easter break, starting with three days in Singapore and then just over a week in Vietnam.

Aude on SWISS flight to Bangkok

Settling into our seats on the SWISS flight to Bangkok

Tickets were courtesy of my frequent flyer miles, which unfortunately meant that we were flying SWISS rather than Singapore Airlines, since they don’t release award seats on their A380 aircraft. Neither of us particularly like flying with SWISS, at least not on the old planes with their extremely slopey seats. You spend the entire flight trying not to end up curled into a little ball on the floor every time you fall asleep.

It nearly went from bad to worse – a quick look at the menu revealed that dinner offerings were a main-course soup, a vegetarian couscous, or a steak.

The first two choices both break some of my long-held dietary beliefs, namely 1) soup is not food and 2) a meal isn’t a meal without meat. I’m not a big fan of steak on planes, but in this case, it was the best of a bad lot.

We were sitting in the very last row of the cabin. It was touch-or-go about whether they’d run out of steak before they got to our row, but in the end, we were in luck. I ended up with a steak (not great, but not terrible) and Aude chose the vegetarian couscous (just as lousy as it sounds, reports Aude).

I know that no one flies for the food, but come on, SWISS. On an 11-hour flight, you should offer a proper meal. When you’ve spent the better part of $4000 on a business-class ticket, it’s a bit cheeky to try to fob someone off with a bowl of soup.

Okay, that’s my white whine for the day.

Singha Beer and dim sum at the Thai Lounge at BKK

Almost worth the stopover in Bangkok: Singha Beer and dim sum at the Thai Lounge in BKK airport

We changed planes in Bangkok for our connecting flight to Singapore (on Thai – bigger, more comfortable-seats and better food, despite a flight-time of just under two hours) and arrived mid-afternoon. As always at Changi airport, we were through passport control in minutes, and our bags came out almost immediately.

A quick flip through my blog reveals that I haven’t been to Singapore since December 2009. That’s not entirely true – I passed through the airport on my way to Indonesia in January, but I barely had time to change planes, so that doesn’t really count. In any case, a lot has changed in 18 months, including the completion of the Singapore Flyer (a huge Ferris wheel) and the construction of an incredible new casino complex.

It was Aude’s first visit to Singapore, though, so we made sure we hit all the highlights. We started with dinner at a hawker centre, a great first taste of Singapore (see what I did there with that clever pun?) followed by a walk along the waterfront and a drink at Indochine. We spent considerable time looking for the Merlion (“I swear it was right here the last time I was in Singapore”) only to discovered that it’s been covered in cladding as part of a temporary art exhibit. At least we got views of the spectacular new casino, which was still being constructed the last time I was in Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino, Singapore, at night

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino, Singapore

Singapore Merlion and Merlion Hotel

We spent ages looking for the Merlion, which seemed to have disappeared since my last trip. ("No, I swear Aude, it was right here the last time I was in Singapore!") Turns out it was housed in the red 'Merlion Hotel' in the shot -- some art project that most of the locals dislike.

Singapore CBD skyline at night

Skyline of the Singapore Business district, as seen from the harbour

Singapore Flyer at night

The Singapore Flyer, Singapore's answer to the London Eye

Esplande Centre in Signapore

The Esplande Centre in Signapore, otherwise known as the 'Durian' CentreThe classic Fullerton Hotel in Singapore

Over the next few days, we hit all the big sights in Singapore: shopping on Orchard Road, visiting Chijmes, Arab Street and Little India. We hit the Funan centre to buy a new camera for Aude, and sampled some of the nightlife at Clarke Quay. We had white pepper crab at No Signboard Seafood (where we encountered the fiercest, rudest dragon of a hostess I’ve ever encountered).

Aude in Clarke Quay

Aude absorbs the ambiance of the nightlife in Clarke Quay

Mosque on Arab Street, Singapore

Mosque on Arab Street, Singapore

Arab Street, Singapore

Arab Street, SingaporeArab Street, Singapore

Singapore buildings

Singapore buildings

Little India, Singapore

Little India, SingaporeLittle India, Singapore

Aude in Little India, Singapore

Aude in Little India, Singapore

Finally, we hit Raffles for a Singapore Sling – horrendously overpriced, but a must-visit spot on any trip to Singapore.

Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore. Be sure to throw your shells on the floor.

Singapore Sling and Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Singapore Sling and Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore. At US$25 a drink, something of an expensive photo opportunity.

Aude poses with a Singapore Sling

Aude poses with a Singapore Sling

Matthew drinking a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel
Drinking a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel

All-in-all, a great visit and an easy way to get into the swing of Asia before starting off on our real adventure: Vietnam.

Not many updates on here recently, but then again, I’ve had an unprecedented six weeks at home.  I’ve just about gotten into the swing of things in Basel.  I’ve stopped asking Aude to arrange a ‘wake-up call’ each morning.  I don’t look for my newspaper outside the bedroom door anymore.  And I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that, no matter how hard I try, the cats simply will not give the same respect to the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the doorknob that housekeeping does.

Back on the road again for a very quick trip to Bangkok to host a two-day workshop, then onto London for a day of meetings.  It was my first trip to Bangkok since the riots, and it was reassuring to see that everything was getting back to normal.  Same friendly faces in the hotel (many of whom now recognise me) and same smiling faces in the streets.  It’s always a pleasure to return to Thailand.

Since I was stopping over in London, I decided to throw some business BA’s direction.  It was the weekend after the Basel Tattoo, and it turns out the entire Royal Air Force Fife & Drum Brigade was on my flight.  That excitement aside, arrived in London and briefly got my first taste of LHR T5 – but, disappointingly, it was only an amuse bouche as my flight was leaving from T3.  Headed to the lounge for a quick massage and a light dinner, then boarded the flight.  Managed to snag my favourite seat, 63K, on the upper deck and settled in for a great flight – it reminded me again of how much I like BA’s product and service, and I still think that their seat is wonderful for its privacy and their bed is the most comfortable in the sky.

I arrived in Bangkok mid-afternoon.  I had a great seafood dinner, and treated myself to a two-hour massage – the perfect antidote to a thirteen-hour flight.

My workshops went well, although my head nearly exploded after a four-hour discussion of the finer points of Thai Withholding tax.

Another great BA flight, this time shared with the Australian Men’s Volleyball Team, and a short-sleep later I was back in London. Aude took the opportunity to join me in London for the weekend.  We hit the sales hard and came back loaded with full suitcases, and we also had a chance to visit with old friends and Aude’s brother and sister-in-law. 

A full English breakfast

Back to London to enjoy a healthy full-English breakfast


I’d forgotten how grubby London is.  Maybe I’m spoiled because I live in Switzerland, where everything is clinically clean, but London really is gross.  Streets covered in rubbish, dust, newspapers and vomit.  Is this really the cultural capital of Europe?

We arrived back in Switzerland on Sunday evening, just in time to be treated to a wonderful fireworks display for Swiss National Day, also marking our first year in Switzerland.  It was quite a week.

No pictures from our final day of skiing as I managed to leave the camera at the apartment, but we headed back to the Flégère side of the Brévent-Flégère area, determined to ski the rest of the mountain after our disappointing day on Wednesday.  The weather in the morning was perfect, with good snow conditions on the ground, temperatures just above freezing, and light cloud that burned off as the morning went on. 

We spent a little more time looking at the piste maps and made our way over to two slopes on the far edge of the mountain.  The two slopes, a red run called Crochues and parallel black run, Floria, have to qualify as some of the best skiing I’ve ever done.  It takes three lifts to reach the top, but it’s worth it.  Stunning views, challenging pistes, and almost no one else around.  Top to bottom is about 25 minutes at a reasonable pace.  Definitely on my list of slopes that I’d like to ski again…

Such a shame I didn’t remember my camera!

By mid-afternoon, the clouds and snow had rolled in.  At about 3pm we called it a day and headed back to the apartment to get cleaned up for our last night in Chamonix.

Matthew at the top of Courmayeur

Hurray! Some sun at last!


Aude at the top of Courmayeur

Hurray! Some sun at last!


Day four of skiing took us through the Mont Blanc Tunnel and onto Courmayeur, on the Italian side of the border.  The weather conditions were much better, and for most of the morning we had sunshine and temperatures just above freezing.  We skied a few runs on the front of the mountain, then headed over to the back of the mountain to seek out some more interesting stuff.

Matthew in Courmayeur

Matthew in Courmayeur. With some big mountains in the background.


Aude in Courmayeur

Aude in Courmayeur


A number of people had recommended that we try Courmayeur, and suggested that it was the best of the mountains in Chamonix.  We came away feeling a little disappointed.  The runs are much shorter than the other areas of Chamonix, and nearly the entire mountain is groomed pistes – which means that there isn’t much variety to the slopes.  The lift system isn’t well thought out, so you always have to ski across to one set of lifts or another.  Throw in the Italian ineptitude for queuing and you end up with a frustrating skiing experience. 

Aude beckons to expert slopes

Like Eve with her apple, Aude seduces Matthew onto the expert runs...


Scared Matthew on slopes

At some point in every man's life, there comes a time when he must venture off the bunny slopes...


The Italians also seem to grade on a curve.  The red slopes on the Italian side were like the blue slopes on the French side, and even the black slopes weren’t overly-challenging.  There were lots of slopes, I guess, but the lack of variety meant that after a day skiing Courmayeur, I was done.

Matthew in Courmayeur

Tucking into some good food in the Italian Alps


Aude in Courmayeur

Tucking into some good food in the Italian Alps


One thing did live up to its promise, though: the food.  The dining options on the Italian mountain were much better than on the French side.  Aude had homemade polenta with mushrooms, I had a veal steak with ham and cheese, and we shared an incredible charcuterie.

If only we could match the Italian cooking with the French slopes, I’d be in heaven.

Vin chaud

A well-deserved glass of vin chaud at the end of the day.

Snow in Chamonix

Heavy snow outside our window didn't bode well for skiing today

Snow in Chamonix

More snow... Chamonix Mont-Blanc train station

Clouds hanging over the Chamonix train station

Clouds hanging over the Chamonix train station Aude bundled up against the cold. Even though we're not skiing, she's still smiling. C'est les vacances!

Clouds in Chamonix

Low-hanging clouds over the centre of Chamonix

Day three of skiing was not quite the success we’d hoped it would be.  Woke up this morning to grey, cloudy skies and a mix of rain and snow.  Determined to ski regardless, we headed back to Brévent-Flégère to ski some of the mountain we didn’t get a chance to ski yesterday.

After a long gondola ride up the mountain from the (now-open) Flégère lift, we arrived to find 15cm of new powder, but heavy snow and dense fog meant visibility was near zero.  We managed two runs before giving up – the pleasure of skiing in fresh powder was outweighed by the fact that we were freezing and couldn’t see anything.   We headed back down the mountain at lunchtime.

Resigned to spending the afternoon in town, we turned our attention to more important matters: lunch.

Stuffed trophy heads in restaurant

The restaurant was...rustic

Kitsch rustic french restaurant interior

The restaurant was also a little...kitsch

Menu of cheese specialities

Not a great choice for the lactose-intolerant...

Salad with local sausages and cheese

Salad with local sausages and cheese

Wild boar terrine

Wild boar terrine

Veal escalope with ham, cheese and cream

Veal escalope with ham, cheese and cream. A nice, light lunch.

Braised beef cheek

Braised beef cheek

Waffles with chocolate and caramel

Waffles with chocolate and caramel

Red fruits sorbet with berry coulis

Red fruits sorbet with berry coulis

We finished the day by buying our tickets for the Mont Blanc tunnel – we’re crossing our fingers for better weather as we ski Courmayeur in Italy tomorrow.  We’ve been told that it’s the best skiing in the area, so we’re really looking forward to it.