Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

After returning from any trip, I would often reflect and browse through my photos.  Goodness gracious me, or rather, shame on me … I have loads !!!  If a photo has a  tangible weight, seriously, I would not be able to carry my iPhone around with me anymore.  It would be mucho grande heavy. Every time I browse through my photos, I usually feel an outburst of guilt.  Why did I  have to take so many photos and then, having to keep them to myself? To moulder and to fade into oblivionNo way, Jose! It just doesn’t make any sense.  A photo is taken to be shared.  In my own vocabulary, every photo I take tells a story.  And so it goes, sharing is caring 😉

Timestamp: July 2018

Phew! How time flies! 

Has it been a year ago since my trip to the Far East? Gosh! I needed another far-away getaway so badly…

I wish I could take a year long sabbatical leave and backpack to places I have not been to, but I’m not that bold and agile 25-year old anymore. Instead, I feel more secure with my travel sidekicks in the persons of my younger sister and younger son. We did Saigon last year. Saigon is not just about the touristBen Tanh markets and the noisy streets inundated with motorcycles. I’m amazed there’s so much to see and experience off the beaten tracks. We had an awesome experience exploring the Tunnels of Cu Chi, cruising down the Saigon river on the Bonsai River Cruise, taking the Sampan and cruising the many canal ways of the Mekong Delta, cycling in the rain and taking the tuk-tuk on narrow backroads around the Mekong villages and feasting on one of the most memorable home style lunches ever with Vietnam’s famous Elephant ear fish as centrepiece! Unlike Ben Tanh Market, the Ben Tre Floating Markets on the Mekong Delta are magically special. And then there’s Saigon’s yummy Banh Mi and the moreish Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê sua dá).

Memories are made of these …

Sigh!

Getaway 

Vietnam came and went and remained a sweet memory in my mind’s eye. Could our next holiday destination beat Saigon?

Okay … Bali, here we come!

Timestamp: July 2019

Millionaire  

I felt like a millionaire all over again in Bali after Saigon

Oh man, it’s the unending zeroes on the Bank Notes.  LOL!

A million Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) is only ca EUR 65 or MYR 300!  There’s no wonder why there are more tourists than the local Balinese on the island of Bali! 

Ngurah Rai International Airport

My son and I met my sister in Kuala Lumpur and we flew together with Air Asia to Bali. I was quite impressed when we touched down I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport Bali, aka Denpasar International Airport. What more could I say if it’s the second busiest airport in Indonesia after Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta?  The first thing we did upon arrival at the airport was buying SIM cards for our mobile phones during the period of our stay in Bali. Seriously, it’s so convenient, as we were out and about most of the time on the island!  Who would want to coop up in the hotel room 24/7 on a not very cheap long-haul trip all the way from Europe, right? Thanks to my sister with her in-depth knowledge of the telecommunication world and lingo, we were not easily deceived by seller(s) at the booths. Uh-uh!

Next (and a must), I bought some IDR. The rates were quite OK at the airport, and of course, better but varying rates could be found in every nook and cranny of Bali.  Be warned, though, of dodgy money changers!

By the way, my holiday to Bali was the maiden trip for my son and I, and the third for my sister.  She made it even easier for us with arranged pick-up from the airport to our hotel in Ubud.  The drive though the busy roads of Denpasar to the narrow roads of Ubud took almost 2 hours in the heavy traffic. Jun, our guide and his cousin (driver) made our journey flawless with on point pick up from location to destination.

Ubud

Originally, I had planned a 10-day stay in Ubud only, however, my Indonesian colleagues said “there’s nothing to see in Ubud” (really??), hence, Kuta was included at the last moment in our itinerary, hence we shortened our stay in Ubud to 7 days while including 3 days in Kuta. We shall see …

Luckily for us, I told my sister to pre-book some arranged tours with Jun.

Jun, by the way, is a freelanced guide for private tours around the island of Bali. As we all know, Bali thrives on tourism and Bali tour planners are mega BIG over there. If tours are not pre-booked, there are booths almost everywhere and one could make day trip arrangements on the spur of the moment. Initially, we were being audacious with our choices of tours and wanted to do and see almost everything, so from a selection of so many different tour packages offered, we decided on 2 full-day packages and 2 activity packages as following –

  • FULLDAY BTO 01. Kintamani – Waterfall tour
  • FULLDAY BTO 03. Marine sport – Uluwatu – Spa – Dinner tour
  • ACTIVITY BTO 02. White water rafting.
  • ACTIVITY BTO 07. Mount Batur sunrise trekking.

However, as time drew near for our ETD from BRU, I told my sister that the activity packages were too physical for our seemingly short stay in Bali.  Furthermore, I needed a relaxing break away from my already hectic day job …

So from 4, it was down to the final 2. We confirmed with Jun the full-day tours of Kintamani – Waterfall and the Marine Sport – Uluwatu – Spa and Dinner. As much as I wanted to experience the beautiful Mount Batur sunrise, the idea of trekking as early as 2 or 3 am in the morning puts me off, actually it puts all 3 of us off 😏.  Why is it so hard to get up in the wee hours of the morning when one is on holiday?  Hmmm… me think we’re not the only ones 😅

Dirty Ducks

Not that Ubud is plagued with dirty ducks; infact I have not seen a single duck while we were there!

It was our first day in Ubud and the much talked-about Bebek Bengil (Dirty Duck Diner) became our first dining stop in Ubud.

Be warned!  Yours truly is a foodie, hence be prepared to read some honest verdicts after a slap-up meal 😜

 

According to the site’s write up, Bebek Bengil was opened in 1990 in Ubud. It soon became an iconic restaurant branching out to other locations in Bali. The Original Crispy Duck Diner is so popular that local politicians like Ibu Megawati and Presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jokowi have waddled their way to Bebek Bengil 😉

Why ducks?  Why dirty ducks and not dirty monkeys (there are LOTS of monkeys in Ubud, by the way !). Well, it’s even explained on their menu book! 

So the story goes, in the words of the owners (husband and wife team) … “Many people have asked us how we got the name Bebek Bengil … When we were building the restaurant, we thought long and hard of a name. Many suggestions came from our friends, but none seemed right; we knew we wanted a Balinese name that translated well into English. However, for a long time, the metaphor eluded us. One tropical monsoon morning, when the restaurant was very close to being finished, a flock of ducks from the rice fields across the road ran quacking and squawking into the restaurant and across the floor and tables.  They left their muddy, webbed footprints all over the place. They were our first guest .. these Dirty Ducks !

OK, got it!

Oh by the way the rice fields across the road are no longer in sight. There are shops burgeoning everywhere now. The restaurant itself has become a sight to behold!

To live up to the ducky name, there were several duck dishes on the menu. We had Bebek Bakar Sambal Hijau served with sweet potato rice and vegetable and Grilled Duck served with Balinese sauces and steamed rice, and of course fresh Coconut water

We were told by Jun that a proper and fancy restaurant in Bali with a certain pricetag is where a small portion of  nicely presented rice is served. Yup, we noticed the neatly presented small rice portion on our plates 😀

My verdict? Great location with a gorgeous and comfortable ambience. Friendly staff with surprisingly very fast service. Now the taste? To be very honest, our dinner was so-so. Nothing special. The duck meat portions were rather small too. The grilled duck was rather dry and bland if not for the sambal or Balinese sauces. And the price is somewhat steep, even for non-Balinese standard. For me, a one-time experience in this iconic restaurant was enough.

Healing, Royal, Holy and Sacred

Ubud is the cultural hub of Bali and home to one of Bali’s royal families. My first visual glimpse of Ubud is the innumerable sight of royal palaces and ancient temples. Pharmacies are easily available in Ubud as well.

And that’s how I would define Ubud : Healing, Royal, Holy and Sacred

Healing

Jun told us how Ubud got its name. I thought it was interesting. The confluence of the 2 rivers, West Wos River meeting East Wos River is called Campuhan by Balinese (or Bahasa Indonesia). The meeting point of the 2 rivers serves as a source of holy water with peculiar property to heal sickness. This healing water is called ubad (medicine), hence the word ubad has been transformed and coined into ubud

Royal

The hotel where we stayed was a walking distance to the Royal Palace of Ubud.

Puri Saren Agung is the palace of the Ubud royal family. It hallmarks well-kept Balinese architecture with charming garden setting. The palace is best known among Balinese art lovers as one of the main sites to view traditional Balinese dance performances. We were there a wee bit late and had missed the performances. Anyway walking on our own within the palace compound was already a blessing.

 

Holy

Stop!! Do not step on them! That’s what we’ve been told.

 

For many years, Balinese families have passed down the ritual of daily offerings. Each day, Balinese women create little hand-pleated baskets or trays made from coconut leaves. The little tray is adorned with colourful flowers, fruits, rice and edibles as daily devotional gifts meant to appease and please the various Dieties and Demons of Balinese Hinduism.  These little baskets of offerings are perched all over the city, temples, sidewalks, shops and private house’s doorway and shrines.  That’s right, the Canang Sari (as it is called in Balinese) can be found in every nook and cranny of Bali.

 

I asked Jun what would happen if we accidentally stepped on one of the Canang Saris.  He said, if it is not done intentionally or if we stepped on one accidentally, that’s OK.  A word of caution: out of respect, it is not allowed to step on the Canang Sari when the incense stick is still burning.  The locals believe that the Dieties are feasting while the Canang Sari is freshly offered and by stepping on one, would mean that the spirits might enter your body and possess you as it is simply translated to mean that you have abruptly disturbed their meal.

Sacred

The monkey and its folklore are key elements in Balinese art tradition. This is appearing in some of the traditional Balinese dances, such as Kecak and Ramayana, where the monkey is a notable figure in the story.

 

The type of monkeys that dwell in the Monkey Forest is known as the Balinese long-tailed monkey aka macaques. I understood there are about 900 monkeys in the forest and they are divided into 6 groups, ie, the group that dwells in front of the main temple, the Michelin group (not sure what or where this is), the Central point group, Cemeteries group, Eastern group and Southern or the forest conservation group of monkeys. Each group consists of 100-150 primates ranging from infants to adults. Because of the considerable population, conflicts between groups of monkeys are unavoidable. The common thing about macaques is that they are active by day and will rest as nightfall.  In other words, pretty much like Homo sapiens 😉

 

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a leisurely 15-minute walk from our hotel.

Why a Monkey Forest in the heart of the city? The mission of the Monkey Forest is built as a sacred sanctuary based on the concept of Tri Hita Karana which is one of the philosophies in Hinduism. Tri Hita Karana means “Three ways to reach spiritual and physical wellbeing”

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is not just a tourist attraction or an important component in the spiritual and economic well being of the local community, but it is also a paramount location for research and conservation programs

 

What not to do (in case you didn’t know …)

In general, the monkeys will not come to you if you do not bring bananas or any other foods 😉

By the way, I noticed the monkeys’ daily diet include sweet potatoes, corns, bananas and coconuts

Babi Guling

While Fish & Chips are synonymous to England, Nasi Lemak to Malaysia and Waffles to Belgium, Babi Guling (suckling roasted pig) is a must-have dish in Bali. We vowed not to leave Ubud without having a taste of the infamous babi guling at Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka 1.

The restaurant we went to is the first and main restaurant, located just opposite the Royal Palace of Ubud while Warung Ibu Oka is one of the branches where the late Anthony Bourdain’s loving coverage of the babi guling made the restaurant virally famous.

 

My verdict? Simple and honest homestyle dishes. We ordered a portion of the complete babi guling dish with soup and an extra portion of meat with crispy pork skin.  The complete meal comprised a portion of steamed white rice, vegetables, deep fried crispy pork nuggets, black sausage, meat from the suckling roasted pig and a piece of the prized crispy pork skin.  The price quoted on the menu list is pre 10% tax, so be warned. Either you like it or not, the star item on the platter, ie the crispy pork skin was not my son’s favourite at all, so my sis and I had a piece from each plate. To be honest, the suckling roasted pork and skin were just okay, however, the star dish that stole our heart was the deep fried crispy pork nuggets.  We really enjoyed the crispy, tasty and a bit chewy nuggets. I noticed we were not the only table ordering the extra crispy pork nuggets.  Several tables around us did the same. Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka should be renamed to Warung Babi Gorengan Ibu Oka 😉 . Total spend (after tax) was 253k IDR (ca Eur 17) for 3 pax including fresh juices.  Not bad at all.

Would I go back?  Without a doubt …

 

The Day Unfolds …

With a good pair of shoes or slippers, walking around Ubud on our own was not difficult at all.  While there was a bout of heatwave in Europe in July with a record high of > 40 deg C for a few consecutive days, the weather in Ubud or Bali for that matter, was surprisingly, crisp and cool at a max of 28 deg C! I did not remember sweating profusely at all even with the long walks down Jalan Raya Ubud, Jalan Monkey Forest and Jalan Hanoman … all done on foot!

After the long and winding walks through the narrow streets of Ubud, we returned to our bungalow and spa, feeling knackered and dead beat from the day’s galivanting. We hit the sack but only to get up early the next morning as a new day unfolded.  As we finished our brekkie in a jiffy,  Jun, our tour guide for the entire day was waiting for us.

A new day unfolded with unexpected tsunami of adventures in store ~ mythical, breathtaking, nerve-racking, impressive, disappointing, addictive

Wanna read more?

Stay tuned to Part 2 😉

 

Cheers

xxx

 

<< Flashback 15th Dec 2017 …

Mum was waiting in the hotel room at MTREE Hotel in Kuala Lumpur (KL). She looked radiant with her beautiful smile. We joked. We laughed. We prayed. We cried (of joy). We reminisced. We chuckled. We laughed out loud. Mum looked so happy surrounded by her 6 broods.

It was not Christmas, but we were in a Christmas mood albeit being barefaced with our pyjamas on et al. THAT was perfectly imperfect!

The following day, 16th Dec, was a BIG day for one of my 6 nephews. My oldest nephew got married. The first of Mum’s grandchildren to tie the knot and the reason why all 6 siblings made it to the wedding in KL. The few days spent with Mum were beyond words.

Mum was the proudest mum that day seeing her child #1 embracing a new addition to the family.

Mum shed a tear seeing her children pulling through the wedding service completely unrehearsed. All done extempore with virtuosity – the A Capella choir (children #s 2, 3, 5 and 6), the church organist (child #5), the church reader (child #6) and the church lector (child #4).

Was a child being left out? Never!

That’s how Mum raised us, as One!

The last I saw Mum …

27th Dec 2017 was the day I left KL and the last I saw Mum smiling at me. I gave her a blouse and a pashmina which she wore the same day to the airport. She looked glowingly radiant. That was the last and absolutely special moment I will cherish my beautiful, most gorgeous Mum in my heart.

>> Fastfoward …

The days, weeks, months after ..

We all knew Mum had not been well, with her joint pains here and there. Well, isn’t that the package one gets when one gets older? We did not think anything out of the ordinary with those silent pains that Mum endured, because Mum never complained the pains she went though. Life went on.

My older son felt blessed to have met his Ah Ma in January after completing his 5th semester at Southwestern University Of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China. While his University mates travelled to Vietnam to chillax, my son chose to visit his grandma for 3 blissful weeks. Good on you, son!

Soon after my son left Kuching for Belgium, I received news from my sisters and a brother who are based in Kuching that Mum’s health went downhill all of a sudden. Foods she liked before were rejected. She had not been out of the house since…

My Mother’s Eulogy

(By: Child #4 shared on Wednesday 27th June, 2018 @ 9 am at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Kuching, Sarawak )

“When my sisters in Kuching private messaged me to put a eulogy together for Mum, I’m not going to lie. This is not at all an easy task. I was trying to figure out how possibly I could put into words everything in a few minutes when I’ve known her all my life?

Hi, Good morning all. My name is IH, the 4th child in the family. I and my siblings, RH, GH, SH, JH and IH want to thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. It is very important for us to be here and we are very touched by your presence. Mum would be so ecstatic and so thankful to everyone coming today.

Dear friends, family and Rev Fr Patrick today, we say goodbye to my Mum but we also have to celebrate her life because that is what she would want. Most of you here knew her as a friend, but she was also a grandmother (Ah Ma). She was a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, an in-law, and most of all, she was a MOTHER to us 6 siblings.

Elizabeth Anna Sim Bee Kiaw was born on 25th August 1939. She died on Sunday, 24th June 2018. If you are wondering why she’s 80 and not 79, then only those closest to her, her children know ‘80’ is the right number.

3 years ago in August 2015, we, all her 6 children, her children in-law, and her grandchildren celebrated her 76th birthday, here, in Kuching. By the way, it took us 2 years to plan that FULL quorum reunion as not all her children are based in Kuching. My brother, JH, his wife JL, and their 4 sons, IH, IH, IH and IH flew all the way from Edmonton, Canada to Kuching through different time zones. Likewise, myself, my husband, MV and 2 sons, NV and KV travelled from Belgium, disregarding the time differences and jet lags. My sister, RH and het husband AY, their son TY and his then fiancé flew in from KL. My older brother, GH, his wife AL and their daughters, CH and MH made that special trip to Kuching from Sibu. My sister, SH and her kids, AO and UO and my youngest sister, IH and BL, my Mum’s foster grandson. All of us took time off work and a niece and nephew had to forego a few College and University classes to converge in Kuching for ONE purpose – to be with the matriarch of the family, Mum/ Ah Ma!

Soon after the 2015 successful reunion, my sibilings and I planned and talked about a subsequent family reunion, a BIG do when Mum would have turned 80 in August, 2019. We planned a cruise with Mum. Mum was excited because she loved travelling and she loved being surrounded by her loved ones.

When Mum’s health deteriorated in February this year and a fall in May that left her bed-ridden, she told my sisters who are based in Kuching ~ SH and IH ~ that she was 80 this year, according to Chinese age. In her poignant expression in the Hokkien language, “Wa pek chap liao. Kio e lang lau liau lai chia”.

The Almighty God took away my Mother’s pain and brought her home to be with the Lord. So, Mum, here’s our promise to you on your 80th year, the BIGGEST cruise you ever dreamt of, joined by all your 6 children, children in-law, grandchildren, foster grandson, sisters, brother, in-laws and friends. We sail with you today to celebrate your eternal peace.

Elizabeth Sim was my best friend and the number ONE person in my life. She was my first teacher. She was a caring soul, a guardian, a friend and a protector and her testament of that is her children – all 6 of us! She taught me all through her life, all through my life and she taught me what humility, dignity, simplicity and honesty look like. The legacy Mum gave us is patience and strength. Mum grew up with hardship, having lost her dad (my grandfather) at a very young age. She and her 6 siblings were immediately placed in a convent in Mukah while her Mum (my grandmother) had to fend for herself and her 7 young children doing odd jobs as an ahma (a servant). Hardship and hard work were what my Mother was familiar with. Mum was the essence of purity, kindness and beauty. Her true truth lies deep in our hearts. She was our Queen of Hearts but without the tiara and glittering cloak. She was a Queen in rags and tatters. Eyes are blind, but Mum looked with the heart. What’s most important is invisible. Mum saw everything with her heart, because of the hardship she experienced.

To the people who are lucky enough to know her personally, she was caring and funny in her own silly way, honest and spoke only where necessary. She cared deeply for those around and her devotion for her family was truly unparalleled.

As many of you knew her, she loved to laugh. She had the genuine, unique and innocent laugh. She didn’t mind we did foolish things or said silly things about her, because that’s how we were brought up as, not expecting praises all the time, but we can also accept negative comments light-heartedly. In her own famous words in Melanau “Mana le nou (Que sera sera, It doesn’t matter. Whatever will be, will be. Up to you). That’s Mum’s legacy to us.

Mum also taught us the values of a good get-together and having friends and family around. I know she’s looking down at us now, very happy and very excited especially with all of us here gathered together. I can feel Mum’s warmth. I can sense her sweet smile. I can hear her sing in her melodious and angelic voice. I can see her playing on her favourite blue harmonica with the most appropriate label, “HERO”. Mummy, Ah Ma will forever be our version of Hero.

Memories of you bring tears to my eyes, to all eyes who knew her. Mum’s legacy will always live on with us. I love you Mum. We ALL love you. Thank you so much for being a part of me and my siblings’ and being a friend to all.

Remembering you is easy. I do it EVERYDAY, but missing you is heartache that never goes away.

A million times I’ve needed you

A million times I’ve cried

If love alone could have saved you

You never would have died

In life I loved you dearly

In death I love you still

In my heart you hold a place

No one else can ever fill

It broke my heart to lose you

But you didn’t go alone

Part of me, part of us, went with you

The day God took you home

Eternal Rest grant unto the soul of a dearest being, Elizabeth, O Lord

And let Perpetual Light shine upon her.

Rest in Peace Mummy, Ah Ma, Ah Chey, Ee Ee, Ji Kor, Aunty Gelad, Gelad, Ah Soh, Aunty, Ah Ee, Elizabeth, Mrs Harry, Mrs William Harry.

Rest in Eternal and Heavenly Peace!

I would like to call my siblings up here, the way Mum would call you…. Jai Jueng, Yet, Tanu, Yan, Diek and myself, Ureu. Lai chia. Lai nang chio O Maria Tina Kou.

O Maria Tina Kou

Slingeh nou akou a aniek nou

Sibet nou akou la ji tan gak nou

Lubieng tulen bersi nou

Puji Maria, Puji Maria, Puji Maria ….!

Why Did Mum Cry?

Mum cried because she misses her children dearly. She misses her grandchildren profoundly.

She misses holding and touching us.

She misses the hugs and kisses and the sweet loving words.

She misses talking with us and engaging in deep thoughtful conversations. Mum spoke only where necessary.

Even though it’s just baby talk, because engaging with people, regardless of age, creed and colour, was transcendent beauty in her eyes.

Mum’s Quiet Moments

Mum had many quiet moments. When she’s alone, she sang hymns, she played her favourite games on the iPad, she read, she played on the harmonica and most of all, she prayed. She prayed every single day for our safety, our health and our family.

Until Death Do Them Part

She was 18. He was 12 years older. They promised “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”

Mum was buried next to her lover, her partner, her friend and her confidante. They are together forever and never to part.

God bless you both in Heaven, Mummy and Papa.

Farewell Mummy. You are in good hands now.

A Blessed 100th day in Heaven 💖

God Bless you 💕

With lots of love and until we meet again😍

Jai Jueng, Yet, Tanu, Ureu, Yan and Diek

Radda in Chianti is one of the 5 Chianti towns in Tuscany. It is one that perched the highest on the Tuscan hill. The highest point I noted on the GPS was at least 700m asl! It’s ca 15km away from San Sano, our Summer hols based location in August this year.

My memory of Radda was not as positive as the rest of the Chianti towns, at least on the gastronomical aspect at the material time and day. Well, unforgettable memories can be either good or bad, right?

We had originally wanted to dine out at Osteria Le Panzanelle in Radda but could not find the restaurant. Instead we ended up at Ristorante Vignale. It had a lovely patio overlooking the most beautiful view of acres and acres of vineyard!

After having one of the most memorable dinners in San Sano the other evening, we assumed every Tuscan restos offered similar quality of amazing foods. Unfortunately, not at Ristorante Vignale. The menu card looked ambitious and sadly, we were sold by the artistic descriptions of the items on the list.

The plates that were brought out to us were stylishly presented, but the execution was very poor.

On paper, the starter I ordered sounded too good to be true: summery and almost music to my ear. In reality, the actual presentation was quite disappointing. There were way too many goat’s cheese on my starter plate that I hardly tasted or saw any truffle-flavoured bread crumbs! The summer salad was just simple iceberg salad. My verdict? A boring ensemble of the so called, The Vignale Summer Salad with pine nuts, walnuts, goats’ cheese and truffle-flavoured bread crumbs

You bet I was looking forward to my main course that sounded pretty alluring; Medieval style spiced young pork stuffed with prunes and apricots. Too bad, the glamorous sounding Medieval porky were merely thinly sliced, hard pieces of rather salty and dry meat smothered with some sauce with a bit of green salad and 4 wedges of very small potatoes.

And finally, I left the verdict of the pannacotta to my older son. He had the pannacotta at Trattoria Grotta della Rana in San Sano the other evening. By comparing with the one at Vignale, his first bite and comment in one word was “Bubblegum!”

Yup, that’s his honest verdict of the oodles of gelatine used in the pannacotta at Ristorante Vignale! What a shame, it looked nice but the taste was something else. What can I say, looks can be deceiving…

Oh by the way, to add salt to injury, my younger son’s dessert of Cheese Cake with fruit coulis and handmade ice-cream missed out the most crucial item. The handmade ice-cream was missing!!

By not crucifying too much of Radda, I’d like to mention that the best part of Radda that remains mesmeric in my mind’s eye was the view.

Night fell and we left Radda without turning back.

We walked the lighted pathway looking forward to a new tomorrow …

Have a great week!

Ciao!

There are actually 5 Chianti towns perched on the hillside of Tuscany, in Italy. We have explored 4 of the 5 Chianti towns. The one we did not go to was Lecchi in Chianti. It was less than 3 km from the holiday home we stayed in San Sano. It’s the smallest of the 5 Chianti towns, quite similar to San Sano, hence we gave it a miss.

To give you an idea where Chianti is on the map, here’s a scratchy but ‘magnetic’ image of the map of Tuscany 😉

Gaiole in Chianti

Gaiole in Chianti is one of the five main Chianti towns in Tuscany. We stayed in San Sano in the summer of Aug 2018. Gaiole was about 9 km away. By the way, San Sano lies in the commune of Gaiole.

All Chianti towns are best remembered by the iconic rooster standing resplendently before entering the centre.

That’s the very reason why we see the distinctive insignia on all Chianti Classico bottles, the silhouette of a black rooster on a white background, surrounded by a burgundy ring. Chianti Classico is considered the most traditional wine made within the original production zone of the 5 Chianti towns. Chianti wine produced outside the geographical area is simply called, “Chianti”.

With only one tiny and crammed grocery shop in San Sano, we did most of our groceries at our favourite Coop supermarket in Gaiole.

And here were what I have prepared in the most challenging kitchen with no chopping board, blunt knives, broken pair of kitchen scissors, insufficient pots, pans and serving plates with ingredients bought at the Coop supermarket in Gaiole in Chianti.

But, hey! I got by, hopefully? 😉

Market Day in Gaiole

If you have read my posts of our summer hols in the Provence, I mentioned my love of the outdoor markets. It’s all part of the fun, the sun and the local ambience, the colours and smells and strolling and exploring the unending quaint streets.

Market day in Gaiole is the second Monday of every month. I was excited at the thought of going to one up on the Tuscan hills. But alas! Poor Gaiole only boasts of one stretch of road with only a few stalls.

However, it wasn’t the market that enchanted us that day, it was a shop, called L’Eroica. Gaiole in Chianti is perhaps the best known town as the starting point and birthplace of the cycling route of L’Eroica.

No wonder we saw serious bikers taking the route every time we drove past Gaiole in Chianti. The L’Eroica shop tells all with curious passers-by popping in 😀

We had wanted to spend the entire day at Gaiole but it was not meant to be. We headed for the unplanned trip to Siena, instead. Ha ha …

Next up: Radda in Chianti

See you there!

Ciao!

The mercury level was at its highest on Tuesday, 21st August. The glaring sun with a temperature of 39C did not deter us from a 2-hour drive 175km to North West Tuscany.

The Night Before

Mama: Boys, it’ll be a long drive tomorrow, so make sure to sleep earlier tonight. Brekkie’s at 8 sharp.

Son K: Where are we going?

Mama: Pisa!

Son N: Are you going to make that classic pose of pushing Pisa like those tourists?

Mama: Why, of course!! That’s cool, no?

Sons: That’s totally cringey, Ma. You better don’t make a fool of yourself!

Mama: We shall see …

WYSIWYG

Our 2-hour drive to Pisa saw us parking at a spot very near to the iconic Leaning Tower.

Infact it was the first thing we saw when we arrived at the city centre.

By the way, it IS what you see. A tilting tower, which was originally the Bell Tower of the city’s cathedral on Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles)

Gratis Models of Pisa 😀

Busloads of tourists from all over the world come to Pisa just for the Tower and bringing back with them momentos of the tilted tower saved on their mobile phones and cameras.

Now, were the poses cringey as predicted by my sons? Maybe. Maybe not.

Silly and funny perhaps, but innovative as well. The classic and predictable pretending-to-support pushing action we see on postcards and innumerable photos on the net was one, and then there’s the kissing and lifting of the tower and God knows what other poses …

While the tower was the crowd-pleaser, the Medieval Roman Catholic Cathedral next to the Tower was almost deserted, but it’s as stunning.

A Tourist Trap?

The city of Pisa is the least charming of all the Tuscan cities we have been to. It’s way too touristy. There was not much to see or do aside from admiring the tilted tower and pricey souvenirs.

A Mediocre Lunch

We were being greeted by the friendly owners of a Pizzeria Trattoria.

Canned corn, canned tuna, canned peaches. And do not expect the executed dishes to look similar to the photos of the dishes printed on the menu cards. They’re miles apart! What would you expect? It’s a simple family brasserie in a touristic area. We just fell into a tourist trap, that’s all, and we knew it.

Welcome to Pisa!

The Not-So-Cringey Pose…?

At least this tourist did not push, kiss, hug or lift the tower. For her, it’s a memory of a long drive just to stand near the tilted tower she once read in History books as one of the 7 wonders of the Medieval world.

And how’s that, boys? 😉

And by the way, how would you pose when you encounter the Leaning Tower of Pisa for the first time ?

Til my next post, arrivederci!

Ciao!

It was a lovely morning on the second Monday in August, 2018. It was Market day in Gaiole in Chianti, one of the 5 Chianti towns in Tuscany.

Our holiday villa at San Sano lies in the commune of Gaiole which was about 9 km away.

I LOVE outdoor markets. The colours, the smell, the fresh local produce, the haggling and just about everything, including the scorching sun!

We planned our trip after I was done with a full batch of dirty laundry. I hung them out in the sun to dry.

We left the house at 10am so we would have sufficient time to stroll around the market square until middday when we could have our lunch there.

But alas, there was not a stall in sight. Where was the market? The town was as quiet and almost deserted that morning.

We left Gaiole and were thinking where to go next, and then we saw the signpost direction Siena!

Yup, that’s where we headed to. Siena! An impromptu trip.

Siena is about 30 km from San Sano. It’s a historic city listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. It’s a hill city, very, very hilly and one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Italy.

Crowded Siena

We were so used to the quiet surroundings of the Chianti region the past days, that Siena was chock-a-block with people, more specifically, tourists, innumerable cars and busloads of more tourists!!

And by the way, there was simply no place to park our car in the centre or anywhere near the centre, hence, we made do with a parking area away from the hustle and bustle of the centre.

So what does that mean? Well, of course LOTS of walking and ascending stairs, roads and pavements!!

When we finally reached the centre, we saw a huge crowd making their way to a particular location. We followed suit, out of curiosity.

Guess what? We ended up at the spectacular shell-shaped medieval square, Piazza del Campo.

But look at the sea of people! I bet 99% of the crowd were tourists, just like us, pinning our own little imaginary flags and claiming, “yes, I’ve been there!” 😀

It was at Piazza del Campo that the Palio Horse race takes place twice a year, on 2nd July and 16th August. We missed the live show but it was aired on the local TV channel.

Il Palio as we know it today first took place in 1633. Many of the traditions established in its earliest years still remain today. The Palio di Siena is held on 16th August, coinciding with Assumption Day or Ferragosto as it is known in Italy.

With the scorching sun of 31C above our heads, we took shelter in a shaded alfresco terrace of a restaurant nearby. Our lunch at Gaiole that was not meant to be, was compensated with colourful platters at a touristic resto in Siena. The foods were passable, made in a hurry and lacking passion.

We were famished, so whatever were presented to us were devoured in no time at all.

When in Italy, having the gelato is a must especially on blistering hot days, so that was our desert.

Yum!

It’s lovely to walk in Siena strolling past souvenir shops and the likes.

When we finally ended up at Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral), it started to drizzle, and that’s when my mind became disconcerted. I immediately checked the weather forecast of San Sano. Lo and behold, there’s a thunderstorm back at our holiday home. “Oh no!!! There goes my washed laundry!!

All’s well that did not end so well …

We left Siena but almost lost our way out of the city. It seemed like we have been walking for hours on end …

Back in San Sano, we were caught by another hindrance. There was a short circuit after the thunderstorm that caused a power outage in the mountain area of Chianti.

And then there’s my washed laundry that was completely drenched! Ouch!

Going back to Gaiole

Oh by the way, I forgot to mention that we drove past Gaiole and guess what? The market started from 2pm to 10pm. Luckily, we did not stay on in Gaiole for the market all morning because there was absolutely nothing we have missed. The tiny outdoor market covered just a stretch of one road.

With all the foul-ups, bleeps and blunders, we had a hefty day ascending 51 stairs, walking 17.5k steps of almost 12 km …. and then there was the laundry, the entire laundry!

Phew … What a day!

Fingers crossed for our next trip up … to the city of love and marriage, sensuality and fertility.

See you there 😉

Ciao!

San Sano is a quaint little village of stone structures that lies on the Tuscan hill in the province of Siena. The villa where we stayed lies 400m above sea level. The bigger town or commune 15km away, Radda in Chianti, was higher at 650m asl.

San Sano is a hamlet, really. There’s really not much to see, but surprisingly, a LOT to tell!!

You’ll ‘see’ why as you read on …

Mysterious San Sano

The village of San Sano has no supermarket, no post office, no park, no church (at least I had not seen one). Forget about going out for late night movies because there’s just no cinema, neither bars nor cafés in sight! In other words, there’s no night life, or was there …??

There’s just the main road with a handful of rustic stone houses, small square, one or two alleys with medieval landscape, one hotel, one restaurant with an adjoining super crammed sundry shop manned by an elderly man and a statue of a “drunken frog” that appeared to guard the village, ie, positioned in a seemingly perfect spot … for fung shui reason?

So why in heaven’s name did we end up in that sleepy village in the Chianti region?

Beats me, but one thing’s for sure the picturesque backdrops and landscapes were picture perfect and what more could we ask for with the neat and rolling vineyards just behind our holiday villa!

It’s quietly stunning. It was heaven on earth!

Night Out in San Sano

Are you kidding me?

Nope!

Against all odds, we went to San Sano. We wanted to have our dinner. It was a lovely evening and the stroll to the centre did us good. The only nuisance to combat were from the bites of the bloodsucking, slender and long-legged flies aka mosquitoes! Humph!

We ambled our way leisurely on the main road. There was not a car in sight.

We did not walk very far until we reached a junction with crossroads. There, in the centre of the junction was the ‘drunken frog’!!

Why was the frog drunk? Ah ha … storytime at the end of this post. Be patient, ‘kay? 😉

Trattoria “Grotta della Rana

I mentioned earlier that San Sano has only one restaurant and Trattoria Grotta della Rana was THAT restaurant!

By the way, “Grotta della Rana” means literally, “The Cave Of the Frog”.

What a coincidence, eh? We just met our friend the “drunken frog” and now the restaurant with a froggy name? San Sano could be Tuscany’s very own Sesame Street! Ha ha …

It was 6:20pm when we arrived at the resto. It’s a lovely restaurant with a decent size alfresco terrace. We were seated at a table for four. There were no other customers then, except for the bloodsucking mosquitoes!! Arghhh!!!

A friendly looking guy came to our table with a big smile on his face. He welcomed us with open arms. He spoke very limited English, but we seemed to comprehend one another pretty well. He brought us the resto’s menu card, and lo and behold! The menu card was entirely handwritten in Italian!

I guess that’s the beauty of being authentic, original and traditional without the touristy fluff.

What I noticed about Italian restaurants in general, is that, menus are usually composed of the following courses: antipasti (appetiser), primi piatti (first course, usually consisting of a pasta dish), secondi piatti (second or main course of meat or fish served alone) and contorni (vegetables and potatoes side dishes)

Surprisingly, with the owner’s limited English and our limited Italian, we ordered the most amazing plates, one after another …

The dishes were ridiculously scrumptious from antipasti to deserts!

Oh by the way, I could never finish a glass of red wine, but not the one served at Trattoria Grotta della Rana! It was one of the best local Chianti wines.

The waiter who brought us the bottle of water and breads was an elderly man, who’s also the old chap manning the tiny grocery shop adjoining the Trattoria.

We found out that the Trattoria’s a one big family affair of 3 generations. The elderly man’s the father (grandfather), while the guy who greeted us was his son, the current proprietor of the restaurant. The owner’s son also waited and served at the table. The owner’s wife and the ladies in the kitchen were the unsung chefs who made sure the palates and tummies of the customers were fully satisfied.

If you’re looking for a Michelin star presentation or trendy fine dining plates, I’m afraid this is not the place for you. In all honesty, the kitchen serves simple and rustic but wholesome and genuine ingredients of ancient Chiantigiana or Tuscan traditions. That’s what we were looking for, a surprised hidden gem in a secluded and off-the-beaten-path location.

It was 9pm. Before we called it the night, we ordered deserts and coffee.

We left our table at 9.30 pm. 3 hours earlier, we arrived when there were no one else there, but we left a packed restaurant that evening! That summed up EVERYTHING about the Cave Of the Frog Tavern!

Now, are you ready to hear the story of the ‘boozy frog’? According to the website of La Grotta della Rana, it’s based on a true story.

It went like this …

The Story of the Drunken Frog

Once upon a time an elementary teacher from San Sano, Ferdinando Anichini, enrolled himself to a game show program called “Il Tappabuchi” on the Italian television. It was April 1967. The host of the show, Corrado, offered prizes to contestants who could sing, dance, recite a poem or to imitate the sound of an animal. Anichini chose to imitate the sound of the croaking of a frog, because in Gaiole (San Sano lies in the commune of Gaiole in Chianti), the inhabitants were called “ranocchia” (frog people) in ancient times due to the large number of frogs on the banks of the Masellane. According to Corrado, the frog imitation from Anichini was rather shoddy, however, the contestant went on to justify himself with a cheeky statement, “Our frogs sing like that, because they drink Chianti wine!” Having said that, the elementary teacher won the show with one condition that he devolved his winning prize of 200k Italian Lira (equivalent to Euro 103.29 today) in favour of the tiny village of San Sano. The most interesting thing was the contestant mentioned “Chianti” four times on national television – in an era where such outspoken promotion were unimaginable. With his prize money, the winner of the TV show commissioned Siena-born sculpture, Plinio Tammaro to build a frog statue (fountain), gulping down wine and spewing water.

That was the day, the drunken frog of San Sano was born… 😀

Sorry, if you’re thinking the frog was once-upon-a-time a Prince. There’s no Prince on a white stallion, but, San Sano has, without a doubt, radiated a princely charm to those who appreciate Tuscany’s simplicity at its best.

Arrivederci!