Johor – We really mean Legoland – Days 189-190

Each of us picked a destination that the family could not object to.  Isabella’s pick was Legoland.  When we looked at the map, we noticed there was one across the border from Singapore in Johor, Malaysia.  There was a hotel, theme park and water park all under the Lego brand.  What better way to start the New Year than two days hunkered down with all things Lego.  We also realized that going to Denmark (to the original Legoland) would blow our budget in a couple of days. So off to Johor we went!

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Singapore – Bring on the Food – Days 183-188

With the exception of Melbourne, we’ve been on a good streak of cities we LOVED.  Fortunately, Singapore kept that trend alive.  We were booked into a nice hotel for six days and would welcome the New Year in style. We would use our time here to get acclimated to travelling in Asia. And finally, Paige and I were going to undo all the health gains from the previous weeks by eating non-stop for six days. As Nan and Cathy (a family friend) were joining us, this would also be our last stretch with family.  After Singapore, we are on our own until the end of March.

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Bali – Christmas and Family – Days 168 – 182

On Day 15 in Bali, my mom (Nan) arrived, and the girls were ecstatic to show her around Ubud and visit the Monkey Forest, which we were saving for her arrival. We were sad to leave Villa Ole but looked forward to Villa Gajah, which was on the opposite side of town and promised four bedrooms with spectacular rice field views. We would be there for Christmas, and my mom had booked the place six months ago, so we were all waiting to see it in person.

Villa Gajah was magical but would not be suitable for everyone. It is right in the middle of a rice field (200 metres by foot from the road). Although the bedrooms are properly enclosed with walls, doors and A/Cs, the common areas have no such borders. In the middle of jungle-like Ubud, no walls can make for an interesting menagerie of guests. My fear of rodents was tested when one ran through the living room on Christmas Eve, and frogs all over the floor became commonplace. The girls loved feeding the fish in the fish pond (which, of course, was in the dining room).

The best part of Villa Gajah was the rice field hike outside our door. It was a good 30-minute walk into town on a path through the rice fields, with motorbikes passing every few minutes. On the walk, you’d meet artists selling paintings, farmers selling vanilla beans, cafe owners serving drinks and everything else in between. Michael did the walk every day and made friends along the way. He and I even bought ourselves “travel wedding rings” from the Silversmith on the route. For those who did not want to do the 30-minute hike, the villa also came with a staff who could drive us into town. Wayan and Suri were the caretakers who managed the villa and made us breakfast each morning – we’ll definitely remember the tropical fruit and pancakes. Being us, we supplemented the breakfast with treats like Nutella and imported cheese and I think those delicious breakfasts may be something I look fondly upon as we move into deeper parts of Asia (without the gourmet ex-pat grocery stores).

Our time with Nan started with the obligatory Monkey Forest Visit. We were careful not to bring any food or anything the monkeys could steal and we did not encounter any aggressive or scary ones – phew! To be completely transparent, one did jump on me, but she was using me for a bridge between two trees, so I stayed calm and she promptly jumped off (glad she chose to jump on me and not a kid).

We also had a visit from Sayo (the daughter of family friends from Canada) and her daughter Mia. They live in Bali full-time and came to Ubud for a visit. This utterly thrilled the girls who finally had someone else to play with. We visited a waterfall together and Sayo taught us a little more about life in Bali. It was great to see them and we were thankful for their visit.

We (mom, Nan and the girls) did a cooking class (letting dad have the morning to himself). Initially, they had only set us up with one stove (thinking that the girls were more spectators). The cooking teacher soon learned that Julie and Isabella did not intend to be spectators and they were given their own gas stoves to cook. Julie remains convinced she will be a “chef teacher” when she grows up and this experience only solidified her plan.

On week two at Villa Gajah, we welcomed my brother Leif and his partner Kate who came for Christmas too. We only had three days of monsoon-like torrential rain during a month in Bali. Unfortunately, all three days happened in the week that Leif and Kate were there. Nonetheless, they were busy on the days without rain visiting rice terraces, temples and the centre of town. Leif also treated us to a great meal at Nusantara, where Mike broke his Vegetarianism to try Bali’s version of escargot and mom discovered a love for Ginger Flower salad. It was so nice to get to see them and we were so grateful that they visited from so far away.

Initially, we had planned to downplay the Christmas thing since 30 degrees in a tropical jungle was so different from the regular traditions. But two sad little girls a few days before Christmas made us realize that we had to do a little more than planned. The tissue paper tree and makeshift decorations were created and Christmas youtube playlists were streamed. We also organized a special floating breakfast (which did not happen as it rained that morning). Nonetheless, the girls were spoiled with gifts as Mike and I puzzled as to how they would fit into our luggage (we ended up sending a suitcase back with my brother – thanks Leif). On Christmas Day, Isabella built her Harry Potter Lego and Julie played with the Templetina LOL (yes Aunt Kate, the name has stuck).

We said goodbye to Leif and Kate a few days later as they headed to Taiwan. Luckily Nan was coming with us to Singapore so we avoided that goodbye for a few more days. A month in Bali is what you imagine – beautiful, restful, healthful and quirky. So long Bali, we will definitely miss you.

Where we stayed:

By the numbers:

  • Number of Suri’s Breakfast Crepes we ate: At least 40
  • Number of Sound Therapy Sessions we did at the Pyramids of Chi next door: 0, Paige has a regret
  • Number of times Mike ate the local Warung (restaurant): 4
  • Number of nights it took before we finally went to the Balinese dance for Nan: 13

Wildlife Spotted inside our House (yep inside!):

  • Croak the Toad: he visited us every night
  • Whiskers the Christmas Rat: unfortunately he visited us on Christmas eve
  • Hiss the Boxing Day snake: a rice field snake who met an unfortunate end
  • Boris the Bat: he crashed into the fishpond and hung out on a reed to recover
  • Countless frogs jumping through the kitchen
  • Twenty four tadpoles: Julie counted them with me one night
  • Geckos galore: One went into my toiletry bag for a visit
  • The loudest frog ever: he gave us at least 2 terrible night sleeps (just click on the link, crank the volume and try to fall asleep to that)
  • All the fish in the fishpond
  • An unidentified animal Kate and Leif heard on the roof each night: they said it had to be quite large
  • 44 trillion ants: they were absolutely everywhere and meant that everything had to stay in the fridge

Bali – The first two weeks – Days 154 – 168

Two girls looking at rice field

Finally, the weather we had been chasing! It was allegedly the rainy season but we saw little rain and were blessed with hot, sunny days for our first two weeks in Bali. We based ourselves in the south of Ubud at an accommodation called Villa Ole. We planned to spend two weeks there and then relocate to the north of the city. Paige’s family was expected to arrive for Christmas and we would need a larger place. We relished our time in Ubud and got off on the right foot. The children got beautiful tans, we explored the surrounding areas and, most importantly, we slowed things down.

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Melbourne Days 150 – 153

I’m not sure why … but it seems like the last stop in a country is always a bit less exciting than the first stops. This was true of Bogota in Colombia, Vancouver in BC, and we felt the same about Melbourne in Australia. I have been to Melbourne twice before (albeit 20 years ago) and loved the city, but this time it was not our favourite spot. Maybe it was because we had loved Tasmania and Sydney so much or maybe it was because we did not have a great Airbnb (understatement). Or maybe we were just excited to be going to Bali in three days and our minds were elsewhere.

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Spirit of Tasmania – Day 149

Spirit Tasmania Boat Docked with Cars

The journey between the two major tourist centres of Devonport and Geelong merits an entire post! Instead of flying back to mainland Australia, the family opted for a passenger ferry called the Spirit of Tasmania (we love the name). The children had been looking forward to this leg for over six months. This would be their first overnight ferry and they could not wrap their heads around sleeping on a boat. Paige made us reserve an outside cabin, meaning bunk beds AND a window. We were tired of answering the kids’ questions, so we showed them some YouTube clips about the journey.

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St. Helens – Days 147& 148

Landscape on sunny day at Bay of Fires

Our next destination in Tasmania was St. Helens which would be our base for exploring the surrounding Bay of Fires. We checked out of our Airbnb, took an uber to the local library and did some schoolwork until our rental car was available next door. We got some stares from the librarian as we dumped all our gear in the kids’ section. At noon we picked up the vehicle and drove across the bridge exiting Hobart but got mixed up with a roundabout on the other side and ended up back in Hobart! Apparently, we didn’t want to leave. We sorted out our directions, crossed the bridge again and were actually on our way.

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Birthday adventures in Hobart – Days 139-146

Children chasing each other on secluded beach

At Cradle Mountain, the weather cleared the morning of our departure! Paigey and I wanted to return and hike the trails we avoided because of the rain. Isabella and Julie begged to go see some more wombats. Katie just wanted to take more blurry pictures. Instead, we opted to start early on our long drive to the Tasmanian capital. Hobart would be our home base for the next 8 days, allowing us: to get schooling back on track, do some laundry and bake a dinosaur cake! The adults were ecstatic at having an actual HOUSE for a week while the kids were thrilled with their own room. The house also had a mammoth BBQ and a full kitchen which was needed for baking.

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Rain, Joeys & Wombats Cradle Mountain – Day 138 : Guest Post by Katie Policicchio

Wombat eating grass at picnic site

This is a guest post from my sister Katie who is joining us in Tasmania!

G’day from the Land Down Under! 

Not wanting to eat leftover taco meat for breakfast, Paige and I headed out early Sunday morning to the Penguin Country Bakehouse. To our delight, the small town bakery had a large selection of goodies and coffees, and was a nice break from the cold rain. To our dismay, when we returned to our apartment, we realized that we had locked ourselves out. We attempted to adopt the Aussie “no worries” attitude but after 40 minutes (that turned our hot coffees into iced versions) we became frazzled. While Mike was homeschooling, Paige and I would take turns running to the front of the apartment, jumping on the street, waving our arms and yelling. I’m pretty sure everyone except Mike and the kids saw us.  

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No Penguins in Penguin – Day 137

Man looking for penguins on beach with signpost

Next on the agenda was a ten-day stint on the island of Tasmania. The team was now five as my sister joined us for a few days on the island (she had flown in from Canada to visit us). I had no preconceptions about Tasmania as Paigey had planned this entire leg on her own. I knew there would be some driving (which I didn’t miss in the least) but I also anticipated good food, scenery and wildlife. And boy, were there some wildlife memories to be had.

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