Malaysia: Georgetown street art

Georgetown has a lot of well documented and popular street art, so we spent a solid hour or two per day (before the temperature became oppressive) exploring the streets and enjoying the sites.

All around town you see 2D iron art, part of a commissioned project completed by SCULPTUREATWORK displaying historical caricatures of life in Penang.

SCULPTUREATWORK street art

SCULPTUREATWORK street art

Another unique feature of the street art here are murals that use a real item (motobike, swing, chair, etc) as part of the art.

Boy on Streetbike

street art  Brother & Sister on a Swing

Reaching for Basket

The last car that parked here...  street art doorway

Boy with Pet Monster

Eric w/ graffiti  Less than five feet!

Of course there are also the standard murals, stickers and silly sayings. We love street art and found Georgetown to be a good destination for this (plus, the food is awesome). You can see all of our street art photos from around the world on Flickr.

Malaysia: trip overview and where we stayed

In early 2016 we started planning an Asian business class trip to take advantage of the points required before the forthcoming American Airlines miles devaluation. During planning we settled on Malaysia fairly early, but went back and forth over where to go in (Borneo? Penang? Langkawi?) and timing (should we go during Chinese New Years?)  We had been in other parts of Asia (Hong Kong and Singapore) near Chinese New Years, but never during the celebrations. In the end we decided to experience Chinese New Years, and choose Penang for the majority of our time.

Some interesting tidbits we picked up on this trip:

  • Every hotel room had an arrow pointing the way to Mecca.
  • Lime juice was almost always an option = happy Eric.
  • The New Year Lion Dances to clear out bad spirits were VERY loud and fun. We witnessed four of these.
  • Uber in Malaysia was very easy and very cheap. We wound up using it all over Georgetown, instead of the metro in KL, and to transfer hotels.

Where We Stayed

Sama-Sama Hotel KL International Airport

Landed in KL and took the cute buggy ride to the hotel.

waiting for our hotel shuttle

Checked in quickly and then up to our spacious room. After so many hours on planes we needed to stretch our legs so we explored around the hotel for 20 minutes before getting some much needed rest in an actual bed.

On checkout the hotel erroneously charged us for valet service; I wrote to the hotel and the charge was reversed about two weeks later. Overall, this was a convenient stay given our late evening arrival and morning flight.

Lone Pine Hotel, Batu Ferringhi

The hotel bills itself as the ‘only luxury boutique hotel’ in the area, which is strange since there are definitely more luxurious places to stay nearby. I guess the boutique part is correct. We had a deluxe room which was spacious and overlooked the grounds with a water view mostly obscured by trees. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom amenities were nice, and I liked the available fridge, but overall our room felt pretty worn. My main complaint, however, was the noise. We could hear leaf blowers, jet skis, and children yelling throughout the afternoon as there was no glass, only shutters, for windows. Thankfully we brought earplugs with us and didn’t need to awake with an alarm so we managed to sleep fine.

   
hotel entrance; the pool area; view from our room

Eastern And Oriental Hotel, Georgetown

The Lone Pine and E&O are sister properties, and there is a transfer shuttle between the two. Unfortunately, the shuttle to the E&O was only at 10:30am and 2:30pm, so with a noon checkout, it didn’t work for us.  Instead, we sat around the pool for a bit, then took an easy Uber ride at 1pm.

From the moment we arrived at the E&O you could feel something special. We were checked in promptly, then made our way to the 11th floor. Our studio suite room was amazing(!) with large closets, a comfortable bed, and a nice covered patio. On the bathroom side we had double sinks, a large tub, and a separate shower.

our room @ the Eastern & Oriental

our bathroom @ the Eastern & Oriental

the view from our balcony
view from our 11th floor balcony, looking south

Breakfasts were quite an elaborate affair, with a large collection of hot and cold buffet items, fresh juice made to order, and several custom cooking stations (street food, omelets, and others). Most everything was tasty and it was a great way to start the day.

Each evening at 5pm the E&O hosts a complimentary cocktail hour in the 6th floor lounge near the pool, which was quite a nice perk. The pool itself was also very nice, with lounges in the sun and shade. Combined with the nice breeze due to the 6th floor location, it was a very relaxing spot to read a few books during our stay.

crows hanging out by the pool  hotel happy hour = free wine and snacks!

6th floor fountain  the view from the seawall @ the Eastern & Oriental

We loved our experience at the E&O and would definitely return on a future trip.

DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur

Known as one of the better point redemptions in the Hilton brand, we stayed at the Doubletree for our first two nights in KL. Located inside the Intermark Mall, it was a little tricky to find from the (relatively) nearby metro station.

Our room on the 21st floor was a good size with a couch and comfortable bed. The bathroom was well appointed and featured a large window wall with a switch-controlled shade. Overall, reasonably comfortable.

Breakfast was a large buffet that did tend to get crowded. There were a lot of options, including the obligatory juice bar, but the quality seemed a step down from what we had just experienced at the E&O. Not bad, just not as good.

On our first night we tried the ‘Cellar Door’ wine bar, which had some decent happy hour specials on cocktails. Our drinks were served with a ginormous bowl of peanuts that we greatly enjoyed!

Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral

With an early-ish flight we wanted to be close to the KL Sentral train station for easy access to the airport in the morning. Located across the street from the station, the Aloft was an a good pick for our last evening in KL.

Our room was standard aloft style room, good size, with a large bathroom. The hotel’s pool is located on the roof and had some wonderful views of the city at night.

One knock was checkout in the morning – there was only one person manning the counter, and quite a few travelers trying to get the airport, so the queue was building.

Wellington: day trip to Martinborough

After a great night’s sleep and feeling a mild aftershock while laying in bed, Eric got up to work out and I caught up on computer stuff. For breakfast we walked over to Sweet Mother’s Kitchen where Eric opted for the scrambled eggs on toast with a side of potato hash and I got the poached egg on baguette with creamed spinach. I forgot how orange the yolks are here! Before hitting the road, we stopped into the local grocery to purchase some chocolate bars and snacks.

Highway 2 out of Wellington is a beautiful drive that takes you through the Pakuratahi Forest mountain pass.

view from Rimutaka Hill

Our first stop was C’Est Cheese in Featherston – a little cheese shop with lots of NZ options. After trying a few items we choose an aged gouda and a tasty blue. Unfortunately the local bakery is closed on Mon/Tues so we had to wait to get bread at a grocery store in Martinborough.

C’est Cheese selection

Our first wine stop was Poppies. The winemaker and namesake of the winery was pouring her wines and was very friendly. Our favorite was the rose (we bought two bottles) but the rest of the wines were very drinkable too. Given the nice outdoor surroundings we decided to book a table to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day. Glad we did as it turns out it was the only place that we could do so in the valley due to permitting laws.

Our second stop was Martinborough Winery but they were closed. However, the cleaner there recommended Te Kairanga winery. So glad she did! We really enjoyed our tasting with Paul and chatted about politics, history and other various stories while trying several nicely valued wines. Our favorites were the Estate Pinot Gris, Reserve Chardonnay and the Runholder Pinot Noir. Interestingly, the Pinot Gris in this area seems to have a pleasant banana-bread fragrance.

Te Kairanga Winery

Ata Rangi is only open from 1-3pm during the week so we made that our next stop. We thought the wines were pretty good but their Pinot Noir was overpriced at $75. We got a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc because it was a good value at NZ$24 and we wound up drinking it later in the trip. After our tasting, we sat in the shade nearby and ate some of the cheese and bread to soak up the wine. Permitting is a bit strange here: free wine tastings are allowed but many places don’t serve food and so they can’t sell wines by the glass either.

Ata Rangi tasting room

At this point we headed back to Poppies for a glass of wine each and a lemon tart with raspberry syrup. I sat right next to a wonderful-smelling citrus tree and spent the time being lazily buzzed by bumblebees.

wines @ Poppies   ricotta cake and wines @ Poppies

On our way back to Wellington we stopped at two waterfalls and both proved to be a bit tricky to locate. The Broadwalk Waterfall was located after a very scenic drive north into the hills of the Lower Hutt area. We followed an old road straight uphill on foot for about ten minutes before I realized that we should have seen the cascade by then. We doubled back and found a faint trail to the base of the small falls.

Broadwalk Waterfall

Percy Waterfall was a bit more challenging. We found a shorter trail near a small parking area with poison warning signs but when we tried to follow the trail it became impassable as it followed the stream. We decided to call it and try again from a different parking area the next day.

For dinner we headed back into Wellington, this time to Chow. We were a bit worried we wouldn’t get a table as they do 2 for 1 mains on Mondays, but we walked in and were seated right away! I ordered a Mansion House rose from Marlborough and Eric had a Kemau River Village Pinot Gris. We split four dishes: chicken satay, pork and mushroom dumplings (our least fave), tuna sashimi (all me) and pumpkin and cashew fritters. With the special pricing it came out to $58 which is an excellent deal in NZ.

On the way back to the room we grabbed a waffle from a small corner stand. The Snickers version had chocolate sauce with salted caramel and toasted peanuts. Mmmm.

Bilbao: food & drink

Pinxos (small plates) are the thing to eat in northern Spain, so that was the plan. We were staying in Old Town, right next to Plaza Nueva, but our favorite pinxto bars turned out to be in the Moyua district.

pintxos!  our bill ~ $2 for a glass of wine
Bar Charley – pintxos and wine

pintxos place

grilled lamb skewers
lamb kebobs @ Café Iruña

delicious pintxos  more tasty pintxos
El Globo – easily our favorite spot in Bilbao – we visited three times!

oysters @ El Puertito
El Puertito (oysters & cava)

Bar Basque 
glass of wine @ Bar Basque; cheese and membrillo gelato from Tostadero Nosshbe Pasteleria Bombonería

15 year anniversary trip overview!

It’s safe to say we love Spain with trips to Barcelona (1, 2), Madrid, and Granada & Malaga over the past eight years. When a good fare to Spain popped up again we decided to try Northern Spain for our 15th anniversary, eventually focusing on the Basque cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián.

bus_interiorTo get between cities we found buses to be the easiest and most direct option. For both legs we choose Alsa due to price and timing. For one leg we got Alsa Premium which was extra nice, with 2 seats on one side of the row and 1 seat on the other side, plus USB power and snacks.

The Bilbao bus station was easy to connect to from the metro, but many buses weren’t listed on boards, so it was a bit confusing. The San Sebastian station was quite easy and well-located too.

In both cities we shopped, ate pintxos, drank wine, visited museums, walked on the beach, and viewed sunsets. It was a very happy 15th anniversary for us!

Instagram photos | Bilbao flickr photos | San Sebastian flickr photos

 

Middle East 2016: Qatar Airways

To get to Oman we flew through Doha, Qatar, on Qatar Airways. Qatar flies its newest jets from Philadelphia in the morning, so we’d flown up the night before on American. After a quick snack in the British Airways lounge they announced boarding and our adventure began.

Flight

Once on the plane, we were directed to the business class cabin and found our seats. The seat walls were lower than business class on Cathay, and the ceiling felt higher as there was no overhead luggage storage in the middle.

During boarding flight attendants were very busy. First, a flight attendant came by and offered us the choice of Jacquart Brut Mosaique or Drappier Rose champagne, and a hot or cold towel. Very civilized!

   IMG_20160331_095733

As we were exploring our seats pajamas and a toiletry kit were also handed out. Unfortunately, they only had a size L/XL — big on me, enormous on Leandra.

After takeoff we leaned our seats back to relax. Overall the seat was comfortable, though the foot area was a bit tight, making it better for lounging over sleeping. Like many carriers, the cabin was also quite warm, so the blanket was not needed.

Food and drink on board was quite good, definitely a step up compared to most business class offerings. About an hour after take off they served lunch that was quite tasty. I had the roasted butternut squash soup and chicken with sage sauce, then lime panna cotta for dessert. Leandra chose the smoked salmon app (of course) and the Paneer tikka masala for her main. Dessert was the cheese plate!

IMG_20160331_112814   IMG_20160331_113711
smoked salmon salad; paneer tikka masala

Midflight I tried the pastries, which were actually flaky, and for breakfast the granola with berries was good start to the day.

In addition, the wine list was quite impressive — the Yealans Estate Sauvignon Blanc was excellent, as was the Chateau Brane-Cantenac Margaux. A 2008 Chateau Dereszla Tokai afterwards was a special treat.

The entertainment selection was fairly good, with a variety of new releases and older movies and shows.

Doha airport

IMG_20160401_062626We arrived in Doha quite early in the morning to a remote stand, where a bus exclusively for business-class passengers was waiting. After a quick pass through transit security we made our way to the Al Mourjan lounge (which was a little confusing given some of the construction). Along the way we saw the famous airport bear, which disappointingly is not actually stuffed.

The business lounge was a little confusing – an attendant at the bottom of the escalator didn’t want to let us in based on our economy passes for the upcoming flight, but after a quick discussion and the production of our business class passes from the previous flight, he let us up. At the top of the escalator our passes were taken for ~10 minutes while we watched several other groups simply walk in. Lesson learned – just walk in and no one will bother you, but if you look lost you’ll end up waiting for someone to check you in for no apparent reason.

The lounge itself is massive with an upstairs restaurant and downstairs cafe that served soup and paninis. Seating was available everywhere and each seat had access to outlets. There were also lots of workers roaming the lounge cleaning, including the bathrooms where stalls and sinks were cleaned after each use.

After two hours in the lounge we walked to our gate for the flight to Muscat. The gate agents tried to get us to check our bags, we just said we had one world status and they let us through. Seats on this regional flight were rather tight, Eric’s knees just barely fit. Fine for 1-2 hrs, but wouldn’t want to fly much more than that on these jets.

Overall, we really enjoyed our long-haul flight with Qatar, and would gladly fly their business class again.

Istanbul 2015: The Topkapi Palace Museum

The Topkapi Palace grounds are immense, so we prepared to spend several hours exploring. Photos are not allowed inside many of the buildings, though rule enforcement varied from not at all to loud nagging depending on the guard. Many of the guards were glued to their mobile phones, so we did manage to sneak a few shots here and there.

entrance to the

palace entrance

After entering through the gates we turned right and started with the kitchens. These turned out to be surprisingly interesting, as it must have taken a lot of work to feed the several thousand people that inhabited the palace grounds in its heydey. The imperial kitchen had first choice at the markets and docks, and they made everything from meals to medicines on the grounds. Serving the sultan was a big deal, and upwards of 14 servants attended him at each meal!

The imperial jewels were close by, but the line was long so we continued through the receiving room into the heart of the palace grounds, the third and forth courtyards. We explored the calligraphy museum which included the first word portraits we’ve experienced – a detailed description of Muhammad in beautiful calligraphy with gold overlay.

There was beautiful tile and woodwork everywhere and we enjoyed exploring many of the large decorated rooms.

palace
Topkapi Palace
  Topkapi Palace  Topkapi Palace

After about two hours elsewhere we ended up back near the (still) long line for the jewels, so we joined it. The crowds made it hard to really enjoy each piece without getting jostled, but they had some amazing pieces. Just next door was a second room with other imperial accessories, and since it was uncrowded with no line, we gave it a try and really enjoyed the beautiful clocks and other timepieces.

The Harem was our last stop, which was recently included in the Museum pass. Unfortunately, several sections are under restoration. However, the rooms we did get to see were opulent and beautiful with amazing tile, wood, and carpet work; even the ceilings were gorgeous. This part was our favorite section of the palace, largely due to the reduced crowds.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace Topkapi Palace tile  Topkapi Palace  Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is on the must-see list for good reason and we felt that four hours was enough time to see everything without rushing around.