Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

It has been a bit more than a month ago when we had an exclusive all-girl weekend getaway. It was meant to be a fun-filled and stress-free weekend for 7 girls for a getaway with great food, quality bonding, lots of laughs and just having the best time ever. Oooops… forgot baby Z, the only XY-chromosome in our girly group! 😀

On 5th Nov, I have posted Part 1 of our weekend getaway to (O)Porto, the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. By the way, Portugal’s famous port wine is named for Porto, and Portugal, is one of the world’s most beautiful countries! 

Oh dear, it has been 3 weeks since, and Part 2 was still not out … hmmmm

I’m sure the girls were wondering, and I was right. Last week I met up with X for lunch and here’s our conversation:

X (curious): When is part 2 of our trip going to be ready, or have you decided to stop…?

D: Definitely not stopping. In the pipeline … 😉

X: Ha ha …. I thought you have decided to stop !

D (smiling): Nope, am collating the photos first and that’s one big hold-up! The App I’m using jumbled up my photos and they are not in chronological order anymore and mind you, I have more than 10k photos on my iPhone! Argghhh …

X: My condolences to you, then …

D (grinning): Humph! 

Pre-Mortem 

With the majority of us working and/or travelling, AO volunteered to do a research on Porto a week before our ETD. She had BIG plans for us 7 girls and her baby. It sounded just too good, but was it doable? The main point of discussion was whether Duoro Valley was a go or no go in our Weekend getaway. Places of interests and links were attached in an email for us to revert with our feedback.

While X and G had replied, here was my feedback –

Hi ya’ll !

Hey AO, a massive thanks for the great research, indeed. Well done, charbor! I was re-reading your message and noted that getting to the villages would take at least 2.5 hours. That means to and from the villages would take 5 hours and that’s just the travel part and not taking into account the actual time spent there. We would easily lose three-quarters of a day just to get there and back. It’s a pity because I would love to visit the breathtaking Duoro Valley, but due to time pressure (short weekend et al), with a heavy heart, I’ll give this visit a miss. I’m sure Porto city has a lot to offer especially so when it’s a first time for most of us. Oh by the way, I just checked the weather forecast and it’s not looking great, It’ll be 17 to 18 deg C with 60% to 70% chance of rain!!! Hope the forecast is wrong ! So it looks like X, G and I are saying “no” to Duoro Valley. Not sure about C, O and AM. Anyway, since you and AM will be staying a day longer, hence, am assuming you girls will be going on Sunday, if we’re not going in a group, right?. And if you’re going, don’t forget to share your experience with us after the trip, k? 

Cheers and counting down to our Porto trip!!

D

So the road trip plan to Duoro Valley was dumped, as C and O were also not keen, due to time constraints. That meant, AO and AM, the last girls to leave Porto, would be going on Sunday, right?

Erm … afraid not… 

Just a day or two before our departure, AO, the littlest, but feistiest girl in our group (Lolz!) decided a last minute change in plan, i.e. to go on with the trip to Duoro Valley, with or without the group not on Sunday but on the day of our ETA in Porto! The reason for the change in schedule was because of …

 …This !!!

Sunday, 23rd Oct was to be the bleakest of all days. Cold and wet at 14 deg C! Driving along the winding roads to Duoro Valley under a heavy downpour would appear to be too dangerous, so it would definitely be a no go on Sunday to Duoro Valley … BUT… feisty AO was determined to make that trip!

Now the question(s): Did AO go to Duoro Valley or not and if she did, who came along? 

I left the office at almost 9 pm the evening before the trip. I was absolutely knackered and dog-tired; hence I was 100% looking forward to an easy and stress-free weekend with the girls and a baby …

Bem-vindo ao porto! Welcome to Porto!

We left Brussels Airport at 10:50 and arrived at Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport at 12:20. As soon as we touched down, our group had to split into two! Yup, the trip to Duoro Valley was decided at the last minute and AO managed to ‘lure’ a victim and who izzit?

The group that left to Duoro Valley took a rented car whilst the group that headed straight for the city took the Metro. Before we said our temporary goodbyes, we wanted everyone to meet for dinner together. We suggested and agreed to meet at the hotel lobby around 7pm, all 7 girls and a baby!

Did we make it? That’s the question … 😉

By the way, it was C who volunteered to accompany AO and baby Z and she was happy to be the ‘chauffeur’ for the entire journey up the wine growing valley of Duoro

The 5 of us had initially wanted to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel. We queued on the taxi stand, but it was just hopeless because there were 5 of us. The cabbie allowed max 4 passengers per trip. A minivan-type taxi would be perfect but they didn’t appear very often, so we changed our strategy and went for the Metro instead. 

The journey to the city centre took about 35 minutes and a single fare was Eur 1.80. For the first time, we needed to buy the Andante ticket which included the 0.60 cent rechargeable Andante card

Taking the metro is by far the cheapest and quickest way to get to the city but I remembered well we had to wait for about 40 minutes for the metro train to start moving. We had lost precious time playing the waiting game .. 

Porto Trindade Hotel

Trindade station is the 15th stop from the airport. The hotel was not an obvious find as the sign was virtually non-existent. We had to cross the road from the Metro and walked uphill all the way to the hotel while at the same time, dragging our luggage. It was probably a blessing in disguise that AO and baby Z didn’t have to go through the gruelling walk that afternoon. 

Goodness gracious!  It was almost 3 pm and we had not had our lunch. Before we checked in our rooms, X asked the receptionist where we could eat the famous Porto signature dish, francesinha. Without a smile on his face, he gave us the name of the restaurant (Café Santiago) and to remember the landmark “Coliseu do Porto“. The restaurant’s just opposite the theatre which is a local landmark and a leading venue for music and cultural events in Porto. Oh-Kay… with a landmark in mind, we shouldn’t get lost, right? 

If I remembered well, I didn’t recall we being greeted by a friendly receptionist. I would describe the staff as professional rather than friendly, except for one super friendly barman, whom we got acquainted with that evening when we redeemed our welcome drink at the bar. He was very helpful and went the extra mile to give us tips on places to visit during our stay in Porto.

When we checked-in into our rooms, we had only 10 minutes to orientate ourselves in our respective room, after which we had  to gather at the lobby and left the hotel in search for that mysterious francesinha

It was not an easy peasy search for that specific Café because we still had to acquaint and orientate ourselves with the city and her surroundings. 

Avenida dos Aliados

From our hotel, we started at the monumental central avenue, Avenida dos Aliados, aka Porto’s ‘reception room’ right in the heart of the city.

It’s a lively avenue during the day, but what a pity the skies were quite grey and it was quite chilly that afternoon as well. The avenue would have been a great place for a relaxing promenade, but of course we did not miss a photo opportunity next to the statue of D. Pedro IV on a horse. He was a symbol of courage and affection for the people of Porto. Behind us in the distance was the City Hall of Porto, situated at the top of Aliados Avenue, at the heart of downtown.


We could not dilly-dally too long there as time was the essence. In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that our group was splitted into two. We came as one and we should have stayed as one. With two splitted groups, timing became a challenge. We hadn’t the clue if C, AO and baby Z had the rented car and/ or if they had started the journey direction Duoro. We could only hope and pray that the 2 girls and a baby were danger-free and fine. Therefore, the only right way to do was to respect our agreed timeline prior to our going separate ways. 

And by the way, we still have not found the landmark the hotel receptionist was directing us to, so we walked and we walked and we walked …

The Quest For Francesinha 

In order not to have too many people doing the same thing, G and X were the map readers or navigators.  Girls being girls, little arguments and banterings were the norm. One said north, the other said south. So we walked and walked and walked until we came to Porto’s lively shopping street, Rua Santa Catarina. Part of the street is closed to traffic, making it a mostly-pedestrianised shopping street. Well of course we did not stop there to shop (not yet) BUT we had a closed glimpse of the most renowned “Harry Potter‘s” Café Majestic.  

Harry Potter

Yup! Will talk about that in a bit, because the priority quest then was to monitor the landmark, Coliseu do Porto and our francesinha !!!!

And we finally found the landmark!!!

Yay!!


Café Santiago 

If this café was recommended by staff at our hotel, then it must be good. It was full house when we arrived, so it’s a good sign that it must be more than good 😉

We had to wait for a vacant table. What made it more difficult was we were with 5 people. First of all, 5 is an odd number and 5 were too many to get a table in a packed café, so we waited …

We finally got a table meant for 4, so we had to squeeze one of the girls. When the waiter brought the menu card to us, I goggled at the photos of the menu. Only 2 shades of colours: yellow/brown and orange! Where are the greens? Reds? Purples? Whites?


I suddenly felt constipated gawking at the photos. To be honest, that’s not my kind of food, but, hey we walked more than 10,000 steps just to experience a typical Porto dish, so game on!

Francesinha is one of the most typical dishes in Porto. It’s a type of sandwich (toasted bread) stuffed with different layers of meats (cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage, beef steak) and covered with cheeses and then oven-grilled until the cheeses just slightly melted. The sandwich sits on a spicy tomato-beer sauce, which secret recipe will never be revealed… well, that did not bother me, because I would not be craving for francesinha in a long while …

We ordered 3 different items on the menu and shared those amongst the 5 of us. We had to be careful not to eat too much as we promised to meet for dinner, all 7 girls and a baby that evening.

By the way, I was glad I got to try the infamous francesinha. For me, it’s once bitten, twice shy. Don’t get me wrong, it was a tasty dish, but it was way too heavy for my liking. I think the other girls shared the same sentiment as I did, right charbors? 😉

São Bento Railway Station

After the heavy late ‘lunch’ of francesinha, we were in dire need of more walks. Our next stop was worth the stop. It was a railway station but it was not just an ordinary one. São Bento is the oldest and is claimed to be the most beautiful railway station with its 20,000 dazzling blue-and-white Moorish tile panels, known as azulejos. The painted tiles on the walls illustrate the evolution of transport in the area, as well as depicting scenes of the history of Portugal. 

Oh by the way, we were lucky to be entertained by the local military orchestra that afternoon 😀



Churches and Cathedrals 

It’s amazing to see how many churches and cathedrals in quite close proximity with each other in the centre of the city. We have probably been to most of the churches, which looked amazing on the façade as well as the interior. 

It was good to have those peaceful and silent moments once in a while after the fast pacings and stresses of the day to recharge our batteries 😉


Birthday Girl

The clock ticked and we were wondering about AO, C and baby Z. Before we headed back to our hotel, we stopped at a pastry shop in the hope of buying a cake for birthday girl, AO, as a surprise, however, the cake shop ran out of cakes. Instead, we agreed unanimously to go for 7 mini cakes (mix of chocolate, passion fruits, raspberries and mangos) at a Specialty Cake Shop on the way back to our hotel. 

Two weeks before our departure to Porto, 6 girls were discussing about giving AO a birthday surprise. In a way, it was good that AO was not around when we planned the small do later in one of our rooms. 

Going back to the hotel was more civilised as we had internet connection and free wifi. X and AO were in contact with one another to get more information about their ETA at the hotel. 

When the 2 girls and the baby finally arrived, the 7 mini cakes were lighted from the candles which G brought with her, and we sang the birthday song in unison while greeting the birthday girl. 

Happy (belated) birthday, AO


2 Girls And A Baby

We were glad to see C, AO and baby Z again after 6 hours or so of separation. Surely there were lots of stories to tell. If not, then what happened in Duoro remained in Duoro 😉

And most certainly the 2 girls managed to know each other a bit more, too. What those 2 girls had gone through were completely different than what the 5 of us had experienced that afternoon. It’s like the clash of 5 ‘city’ girls vs 2 ‘country’ lasses. Lol

However, when C shared with us some of the photos, we could see why the Duoro Valley is called the enchanted valley with her magical landscapes. There’s no wonder why this cultural landscape is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

While the 5 ‘city’ girls had their tastes of francesinha, the 2 ‘country’ lasses had a go with Portugal’s most renowned pastry, pastel de nata (Portuguese egg tart pastry). C, with the golden heart, bought some grapes and a bottle of local Duoro red wine that she would later share with us. Obrigada, C!


Full Quorum Dinner @ Restaurant Antunes

Like Café Santiago, Restaurant Antunes was recommended by staff at our hotel. According to the receptionist, the restaurant served local Portuguese cuisines, hence, were not to be missed. Booking was essential, so the hotel staff made a reservation for us. 

The restaurant’s located behind the Metro Station (across from our hotel). It didn’t look much from the street, however, when we got inside, it was packed to full capacity as the locals patronise the restaurant daily. 

Oh boy, it was 8 pm and the francesinha and the mini birthday cake were not fully digested in my tummy and there we were, dining again! I ordered for a fish menu (grilled hake with baked potatoes … yes, boring …) and so did C, G, O and AM whilst X and AO eyed for the roasted pork shank. 

And guess what? THE star of the evening was actually the roasted pork shank, the iconic Pernil de Porco, which was the house specialty. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. The pork shank was HUGE, man!  It was actually very good, 100 times better than my tasteless hake 😦

Good choice, X and AO (Y)

We ordered sardines as starter, which were excellent and we also enjoyed the couvert. I’m glad we were recommended Restaurant Antunes because for me, it was a Portuguese eating experience. The service was fast and excellent even though the waiter spoke limited English. Somehow we managed to understand and communicate with no problem 😀

If I were to go to Restaurant Antunes again, I would go there with an empty stomach and order their Pernil de Porco

Good thing that there’s someone in our group who’s a meat eater, so we could see what’s on each other’s plate. The culprit will know who I am referring to here 😉

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and went straight to the bar to redeem our welcome drink. I had their red Port Wine. What else ?! 😀

I think we must have hit the sack at almost 1 am. It was going to be another long day the next day …

Mercado do Bolhão (Porto’s Colorful Market)

After a stuffed and almost dog-tired day the day before, we gathered at the hotel lobby at 9.30 am (after a scrumptious buffet brekkie with a fair choice of cold and warm dishes). AO and baby Z missed the headcount that morning as AO had to return the 24-hour rented car that brought the 2 girls and a baby to Duoro Valley. While waiting for AO, the 6 of us walked to the nearby Trindade Church to have a peaceful and quiet moment. 

When we got out of the church, G, the ‘navigator’ and timekeeper, shepherded us to Mercado do Bolhão, which is considered to be Porto’s most colourful market located in the heart of the city. The exuberant market is found in a 2-tier, rather old building. The market opens daily from 7am until 5pm except Saturday when the traders called it a day at 1pm. Sunday is a day of rest.

The Bolhão market is not a very big market, unlike the markets I have been to in the Provence (South of France). Nevertheless, it has its own charm as everything traded at the market was locally produced from fresh fruits, breads to household items. 

All of us bought some souvenirs to remind us of our stay in Porto. AM was, undoubtedly, the happiest girl on the planet as she bought oodles of fridge magnets to add on to her colossal collection of magnets. Lol


We adjourned to a Café in the marketplace spotted by G, of course 😉

In less than 30 minutes, AO and baby Z joined us. And we were full quorum again …

Now off we strode to the meeting point of the Yellow Bus!

Hurry girls ….!!!

Yellow Bus Hop-On-Hop-Off (HOHO)

A week before our ETD from Brussels to Porto, AO volunteered to order 7 HOHO Porto Vintage tickets online for us. It’s cheaper buying online at Eur 11.70 per tix as opposed to Eur 13 buying at location. 

Our tickets were valid for a day and we could HOHO in Porto as many times we wanted anywhere along the Porto bus tour routes, which were either the Purple or the Orange route/ line. The Porto Vintage included free access with wine tasting to Espaço Porto Cruz, which, unfortunately we did not use, due to a few non-drinkers in our group plus time constraints. 

By the way, we were supposed to take the Purple Line that morning with the aim to go to Matosinhos, but somehow, we boarded the wrong line, the Orange route. 

Wrong line or not, I thought that was a blessing in disguise. To be honest, I’m not a sea person so I did not mind missing the trip to Matosinhos, although one or two girls might be disappointed… Well, we knew when travelling in a group of 7 double X-chromosomes, there’re bound to be some ‘negotiable’ contretemps. Anywhow, Matosinhos was the less recommended place than the other side of the riverbank, Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia by the friendly barman at our hotel. That, I remembered 😉

For me, I know I would be back to Porto and I could visit all the places I have missed. It’s not the end of the world 😉

Ribeira and Porto River Bank

It was 12.30 pm and the stop at Ribeira was just perfect. Excellent timing for our midday lunch. 

The old town, centered at Ribeira, was built on the hills overlooking the Douro River. I absolutely adore the long promenade along the Duoro riverbank. In fact, the site is listed as World Heritage protected by UNESCO, and represents the famous postcard image of the city. 

The Cais da Ribeira (the Quay of Ribeira) is the soul of Porto, where one can climb aboard one of the many typical boats and take a mini cruise down the river. We had thought of taking a cruise but had to quit the idea because of time pressure. 

I loved the look of the charming pastel houses stacked like blocks of Lego and the narrow medieval streets and seedy alleyways, and of course the spellbinding Dom Luis Bridge. 


We found a nice restaurant on a hilly slope but with 7 and a half people, finding a table was almost near to impossible in a touristic area if pre-booking was not done. Anyway we waited like predators 😀

C double-checked with the waiter and he promised to set up a table for us as soon as a group of people left. 

When we finally got a table after waiting for some 15 to 20 minutes, everyone sighed with relief.

Phew

After the more than positive review of the sardines we had at Restaurant Antunes, we ordered them again as our starter. They were so moreish and finger lickin’ good 🙂

Before the Porto trip, I have heard a lot about Bacalhau (dried and salted cod) dishes, which are common in Portugal, but have never tried it. Out of curiosity, 5 girls went for the house specialty bacalhau dish, recommended by the waiter. AO went for the squid dish with tomato rice and X, for the pan-fried salmon. 

The verdict? 

I would rather have 20 sardines on my plate than that one piece of bloody hard, chewy and salty cod fish! I was totally disappointed, and so were some of the girls…

In hindsight, I should have ordered that salmon 😦  Drooling …! 

X, I want you as my personal food advisor. Lol!


On the other side of the riverbank, I saw the famous Sandeman Porto Wine Cellars, which wine I have used in my cooking or just drink it as apéritif. Too bad, we did not do the wine tasting tour. Well, I’m even more determined now to return to Porto 😉

Palácio da Bolsa

After the amazing time we had at Ribeira and the riverbank, we took a walk to Palácio da Bolsa, literally translated as Stock Exchange Palace.

Our visit to the Palace was probably one of the most memorable and flattering moments. 7 girls and a baby were standing at the cashier counter waiting to pay the entrance tickets and guided tour. Guess what? The friendly Portuguese girl thought we were students and charged us student rate which had a 50% discount! Wow! That’s amazing innit … we looked like students *feeling flattered*

When the 40-minute tour started, we met the girl again. She was our bi-lingual guide who spoke in both Portuguese and English.  

I’m not sure about the rest of the girls, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the guide’s stories.

I was busy taking photos, of the floors, ceilings, walls, doors, pillars and what have you. I could see there’s a great mix of architectural styles and decorative arts and the highlight of the Palace was undoubtedly, the Arab Room. I felt as if I was transported into One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The room is decorated in exotic Moorish Revival style. It was breathtakingly spectacular with all the golds and glitters! Simply Wow!


Porto Cathedral (Se Catedral)

After the Arabian Nights’ tour, the girls were debating to either climb the 240 steps of the 75.6 metres high Torre dos Clérigos (Clérigos‘ tall bell Tower) adjacent to Igreja dos Clérigos (Church of the Clergymen) or climbed a few steps up to Porto Cathedral. 

We agreed to go for the latter, as some of the girls were showing signs of exhaustion. Porto is a very hilly city, by the way. Which reminded me of Rome.

With Romanesque roots, the Porto Cathedral has undergone many changes throughout the centuries. What’s lovely from the square in front of the Cathedral was the panoramic views of the city. There you could view in a distance the Torre dos Clérigos, which we had to forego, most unfortunately…


Livraria Lello – Finding Harry Potter in Porto

We did not climb the Clérigos‘ tall bell Tower, but we definitely walked across the plaza to the most enchanting bookstore in the world, the Livraria Lello Porto. Does it remind you of a scene in a Harry Potter movie? 

Did you know that this spellbinding and unique bookstore inspired the Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts?

Did you know that J.K Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990s and that rumor has it that her inspiration to write Harry Potter began at Livraria Lello?

I did not, until I entered the bookstore. Wow!!

It’s not a big bookstore but the stunning interior and the exquisite swirling stairway with its red-carpeted steps and banisters, impressive mouldings and wooden walls did not prevent tourists from taking non-stop photos. It’s simply dreamy and eye-catching!

Oh by the way, there’s an entrance fee of Eur 3 which is fully redeemable if you buy a book. I bought 2 books, not Harry Potter. Ha ha ha …


Remember Café Majestic which I linked to Harry Potter earlier in this post? 

J. K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while spending countless hours in local cafés, one of which was Café Majestic along the lively and busy Rua de Santa Catarina.

Ponte de Dom Luís I (The Dom Luís I Bridge)

It had been a very, very long day for all of us: walking, a bit of shopping, window shopping, sightseeing, eating, more walkings, etc. Poor baby Z  was in dire need of a nappy change, hence, AO and baby Z returned to the hotel whilst the 6 of us adjourned for coffee/tea at a nearby Café in the vicinity of the magnificent bookstore. 

And then, it started to rain! 

We had planned to meet for dinner on the other side of Duoro River, all 7 of us and a baby. In order for the 6 of us to get to the other side of the riverbank, we had to crossover walking the double-decked metal arch bridge, the Dom Luis I bridge, that spans the Douro River between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. 

Due to time constraints, 6 very headstrong girls braved the heavy downpour and walked the bridge’s top deck from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. It was a 5 km walk. None of us thought of stopping or thinking of giving up and going back to the hotel. We just walked on wearing the skimpiest and most lightweight disposable ponchos. Only G and AM had umbrellas with them. I could feel my shoes ‘flooded’ with water. It was an uncomfortable feeling; wet and squidgy, and my pants from knee down were totally drenched. So was my hair. I just hoped not to get sick, that’s all.

And we walked on and on and on …

It was a blessing in disguise (again) for AO and baby Z. It would definitely not be a comfortable walk for both mama and baby, that’s for sure.

 

The night scenes of the bridge and the views of the Duoro River dividing Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia were breathtakingly magnificent. 

By the way, Porto’s iconic bridge was completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, best known for the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris.

After the seemingly long and unending walk to the other side of the bridge, we were not famished but we just wanted to sit down in a dry place and enjoy some light and fresh seafood.

We found a lively seafood restaurant, Duoro Velho


AO and baby Z uber’d their way comfortably from the hotel to meet us at the restaurant. It was good to see them again and gorgeous baby Z slept through the entire evening at the restaurant closed to his mama’s chest swaddled in his baby carrier.

We spoiled ourselves rotten, stuffed with barbecued seafood and chicken dishes; our last meal together in Porto. Oh by the way, the sardines were huge and not as nice as the tiny ones we had at Restaurant Antunes and Ribeira

We had probably spent a good deal of time at the restaurant because I could feel my pants gotten drier as well as my hair, except for my feet and shoes!  Couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel, though. 

With 7 of us, we took 2 taxis, while AO did a test check on prices of the one uber’d and the other normal. AO, baby Z, X and D uber’d their way back to the hotel in one cab paying a total of Eur 3.80 which was almost 50% cheaper than the normal taxi taken by G, C, AM and O.

Good to know (Y)

Pyjama Party @ Room 702

It was good to be back in the hotel, or to be more precise, my hotel room.  I’m sure the other girls felt the same way. It has been a while and my room was so immaculate, meaning the presence of housekeeping was there. Brilliant!

C invited us for a nightcap of one of Duoro’s local red wines which she got while spending time at the wine growing valley of Duoro on the first day with AO and baby Z

It was a good wine. Thanks heaps, C! Thanks for sharing the wine with us. Hugs xxx


No worries, no one was tipsy. There was only one bottle and 7 glasses of whom 2 had to decline the offer for obvious reasons 😉

The evening was still young and we played a ‘game’ initiated by C.

And the game went like this …


Nah …. what happened in Room 702 remained in Room 702…

Hint: We got to know each other (even) better  and thanks heaps, O, for sharing with us the ‘scary’ story 😉

And for the … Erm … sorry, my lips are sealed . Shhhh…!!!

It was our last night in Porto together, all 7 girls and a baby, and we hit the sack at 2 am in the morning !

Blue-Black: The Winning Colour!

Sunday, 23rd Oct. 5 girls were flying back to Brussels.

Strange but true, 5 girls met that morning at the buffet breakfast wearing, uncannily, the same colour tops. Blue! And – honestly – it wasn’t  pre-planned.

That colour was to become the magic moment of the day!


X‘s son, DJC is a professional footballer playing for one of Belgium’s First Division Pro League decorated clubs, Club Brugge that dons the  Blue-Black home kit. 

And even stranger and truer, the team had a match while we were flying that afternoon, against one of their major rivals, Anderlecht. 

And the result? 2 – 1 for Club Brugge. Awesome! 

The Last 2 Girls And A Baby

The girls said their goodbyes at the hotel, leaving 2 girls and a baby behind. 

It was a lovely Sunday day and Matosinhos was explored and the girls’ boxes were ticked.

And I made sure to buy a port wine at the airport. It was a 20-year old Tawny Port. One of the finests 😀

Goodbye Porto, see you next time!

The 5 girls parted ways at Brussels airport only to be reunited for quick lunches at work weeks.

And life goes on as usual …

Carpe Diem, girls! 

Cheers!

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Leapin’ Lizards! Have 4 years gone by already? It’s another year, but a special year because 2016 is a Leap Year!  Geez! Doesn’t time fly at a cracking pace?

Too swift, actually, like the Black Pearl in the Pirates of the Caribbean! Remember? She’s dubbed as the fastest ship in the Caribbean and the only ship that can outrun the Flying Dutchman?

4 years ago today, I was reminiscing about a “life coming out within me” – the birth of my younger son. He was born on 28th Feb. Yup, he turned 15 yesterday! Today, I’m sharing with you about another kind of life, cultured and nurtured for at least 3 years!

The Black Pearl

Speaking of the Black Pearl, have you seen the real one?

I have! It’s a REAL pearl ~ mind you ~ and not a ship!

Last September, I received a gift from my SIL for my wedding anniversary. Honestly speaking, it was one of the most original gifts I have received thus far.

   
 

As the box indicated, “Especially for you – A wish pearl jewelery set“, I was flabbergasted, in the  positive sense, of course. Imagine, I got the gift from my SIL and not hubs😳

The pearl came in a cool gift box with a canned oyster, a little blue tool for opening the oyster, a chain and a pendant.

  
The can had a ring opener, like most canned foods, only that, nothing was edible in the can. The liquid contained 25% alcohol.  Hmmm… the poor mollusk was drowned drunk, clutching the most beautiful natural freshwater pearl.

  
By the way, a little bit of work had to be done before the thrill of seeing the Jewel in the oyster! 

  
  

   

Cool, isn’t it?

Legend has it …

There are different legends about how the pearl was formed in the oyster, and the one I like goes like this …

(Adapted from the Love Pearl.com website, with modified texts)

A beautiful diamond was hidden in the Viya Mountains of a faraway ancient land called Nona. It was believed that anyone who found the diamond would possess immortal and enchanting love. However, the beautiful sparkling gem was cursed. Lovers who desired it, paid a heavy price. They were doomed.

One day, a youth ~ unaware of the curse ~ travelled miles and miles to find the diamond. Thinking the gem would bring him joy, the youth’s lover lay dying. The youth could not bear to live without his beloved, so he swallowed the diamond in the hope to die with his true love, however, the young man did not die. Instead, his pain grew until it became too excrutiating. He could not bear the pain any longer. Meanwhile, his lover miraculously recovered. The young girl wept from dawn until dusk, and hoping never to give up but always to be by her lover’s side.

Deeply moved by her purity and the sincerity of the good-hearted youth, the gods encouraged them in their tenacious struggle with evil. With the passing of time, the boy never awoke; the sad girl, clinging to her lover, jumped into the moonlit lake.

The love god Eros, moved by this pure love, and wishing them to be together, took a huge pearl mussel, and using it to protect the health of the lovers. Year after year, the pearl mussel nurtured them, cared for them, and loved and protected them as if they were her children; day after day, love finally conquered evil.

Years went by and a huge pearl mussel was picked up from the moonlit lake, and upon opening it was the resplendent pearl with the diamond, celebrating their togetherness in the heavens. This was the living testimony to the immortality of love, created by the alchemy of the star-crossed lovers.

On a different note, “some believed pearls to be the tears of the gods. Others thought them as dewdrops filled with moonlight that fell into the ocean and were swallowed by oysters”.

Scientifically speaking, by the way, A pearl is a natural gem created by a living organism. When a foreign object, such as a grain of sand gets stuck inside the body of a mussel or an oyster, the animal coats the irritant with a substance called nacre (calcium carbonate), the same material with which it makes it’s shell. Layers of nacre are built up, which hardened, to form a pearl.”

   
 

What Does the Pearl Color Signify?

Actually the colour of the pearl was a mystery. I was not aware what mine would be. Since it was a gift from my SIL, the gift’s message was for “someone special – a close friend”, hence the colour of the pearl would not have a definition of romance. The box I got could have any of the 5 colours 

  • Lavender (health, tranquility and protection)
  • Cream (happiness, wealth, success and inner peace)
  • Peach (love, faith, passion and romance)
  • Black (self-confidence, wisdom and strength)
  • White (positivity, purity and energy)

  
 

My wish pearl was a black pearl, because it’s not lavender, cream, peach or white. Let the magnetic nature and magic begin … 

Happy 29th February!

Have a great week!

Cheers!

Five years.  That’s how many years we have been scouting around for a ‘new’ abode. It was not an easy quest, especially so, when both my other half and I work full time during weekdays and coming home each evening parenting our two boys at the same time. Exhausting. Debilitating. The only reason why we wanted to move out from our former abode was because the 3-bedroom apartment became too teeny-weeny. We are not Lilliputians, I’m afraid. LOL!

The Quest

We pictured a house with a good sized garden, not too far from the city centre, the school, college, university, a garage for a second car, a veranda, and yet we could sit back and relax in tranquility.  Tall order, innit?

We have viewed, not a few, but a zillion houses in the past five years, but most, if not all, were missing some of our prerequisites.

We’re 5 years older now and getting way too tired with our search, hence, we trimmed down some of our criterion.

Dream House

We finally found our house. It’s not a castle, but one that we can call home sweet home.

If you have read my previous post Of Walnuts and Cups from the US of A, I mentioned we moved into our present house 3 months ago, where I introduced our walnut tree:-D

This house has most of the criterion, except for the missing extra garage and a veranda:-(

That’s it! Let’s go for the veranda project!

The Right Spot

Here’s a picture of the back façade of our house, where the family mutually agreed the veranda would look extremely stunning standing there. 

Why a veranda? Because a veranda provides that extra space where we can enjoy our garden all season round. As someone once said, “A beautiful veranda is an oasis of light and peace… a natural transition between the house and the garden”, so there!

Enough said, we flipped through the catalogue and found what we wanted. The choice was endless.

Putting our plan into action

We visited a few showrooms and finally found one that we thought stood out amongst the rest. That was in August last year. We signed the contract with the Builder in October. There were a few documents to be filled in prior to our appointment with our local Municipal Planning Department for a building permit. We received the green light. Yay!

We made our first down payment end of January this year, while work on the veranda had not even started!  The builders would only start with the groundwork end of March! Call us stupid, but, unfortunately, that’s the name of the game.

A Gruesome Discovery

Before the veranda contractor could start with the groundwork, we had to clear the surrounding area and make space in close vicinity of our would-be veranda.

Our absolute main task was to remove the flowerbed which was definitely in the way of the setting up of the underground water pipe.

This was the picture of the flowerbed that had to go!

My husband singlehandedly cleared the entire flowerbed, leaving only the two trunks jutting out from the ground. Anyway, it was more than enough work for him that day, or rather, that evening,  and he said he would continue the next day.

The following day, the digging continued. We could not believe what lay beneath, what seemed to look like a giant octopus!

Our finding became more gruesome when we discovered there was not one monster of an “octopus” but two!

By the way, our target deadline is Thursday, 5th April. Now tell me, how can we pull off from this unnerving scenario?   I’m totally and utterly gutted!

As I write this post, we haven’t got a clue!  This is serious real time sharing….

To be continued…..

Stay tuned!

And the Winner is…

Posted: May 30, 2010 in Mystery, Short Story

RRRRLLLLRRRRLLLL…. the drums rolled….

Hi! If you have just landed on this particular post, please first read my previous post (The Mystery of the Thorny Fruit).  Otherwise you will end up with what the Hokkiens usually say “Bo thau uu buoy“, or literally translated as No head with a tail , ie a story that has an end but no beginning.  That’s not cool, eh? So, all you need to do is click on my last post, read and then come back to this post.  The last piece of the jigsaw puzzle lies somewhere on this particular write-up 😉 Ready?  Now, sit back and relax…

I believe you know who you are 😉 Before I announced the winner(s), I thank you for your time spent reading my short mystery story and leaving your verdict(s) on my last write-up (posted May 21, 2010). I was blown away by some of your comments. Brilliant! Crafty! Ingenious! Who wouldn’t be if you were role-playing the sleuth him-/her-self, right?

You know, it is almost a sin not knowing what a durian (aka “the king of fruits”) is if you have lived in the part of the globe where I grew up in Sarawak on the island of Borneo! Now that I’m miles and miles away from the continent of Asia, I sometimes get FAQs about that thorny fruit.  What does it taste like? Is it really smelly like what we have read and heard? 

Help!  I need my……………….. 

Nope, I did not respond to the question(s) right off.  The best way is to get AROUND the question itself, going through all the 5 senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste).  I retorted, “Do you like bananas?” The answers were almost always positive.  Well, the texture of the durian flesh is closest to a banana or a ripe avocado, because durians are not pulpous or sappy like any of the citrus fruits we know.  No matter how much pressure you put on a durian flesh to extract the “juice”, the result is ZILCH!  No juice! Only mushy durian flesh, like you would get if you mashed your bananas! Bananas are sweet and so are durians!  Sadly, more often than not, the “king of fruits” is crucified for it’s odour. It’s that sense of smell that has ignited such mania across the globe! Durian is a durian in any language. Kudos to an English, Greek, French, Turkish, American, Dutch, Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Spanish, Hindi, etc, etc, etc for speaking a Malay word!  Bravo! LOL!

There are so many websites on and about durians. Read the wiki first before delving into the nitty gritty of the matter. Here’s one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durian

I’m far from being a connoisseur of this thorny fruit; however, I read there are more than 200 varieties of durians! Do check out some of the popular Malaysian varieties on this website: http://www.asiaexplorers.com/malaysia/penang_durian.htm

For the courageous lots, here’s a website specially designed for you: http://www.durian.com.my/

I suspect there is one variety of durian that is least known and probably only found in Borneo. Sarawakians take pride and ownership of this specie of the thorny fruit.  We called this variety, Regieng (Melanau lingo), and that was the crux of the mystery story in my previous post 😀

 

Close up of a bunch of Regieng, through the courtesy of the photograper, my youngest sister.  Taken in Kuching, Sarawak. Thanks, Da ( nicked from your blog ;-))

 

The flesh of the Regieng varies from yellow to orange to red in colour.  God, I love the bittersweet taste of this gem!  It’s awesome! Another photo nicked from my sis. LOL!

Dear readers, these were the little spiky gems that sparked the mystery! Farmer Regieng was so named for a reason.  He owned the Regieng farm on the island of Borneo!

Remember the scribbled notes?

Stench of decayed carcasses, rotten eggs, damp socks, stale vomit, vanilla essence, nutty, human faeces, dog shit, pig sty, onion, a bucketful of broiled kidneys, skunk secretion.

These were some of the descriptions we hear from any less adventurous Johnny-come-latelies when trying the durian for the first time. That’s why I introduced the “stinky” 4 characters: Putak, Manek, Kenulat and Temih to yield the most revolting concoction ever! Out of these 4 characters,  one of them was the odd one out.  He “stunk”, or rather, stung (you know?  pun?) in the sense of touch (prikly… and remember bees sting, too), while the other three “stunk” in the literal sense of smell. Hmmmm… the plot thickens.

Coming back to the one vital question Chief Tuk’ng asked the 4 diplomats: Should you be given another chance to enter any one of the 4 cells, which one would it be?

I mentioned that each cell measured 2m x 2m. The average height of a Borneon Male is 1.68m.  Imagine combining some human faeces, dog shit and a bucketful of broiled kidneys and placed that in the cell for 8 hours with minimal ventilation? What do you end up with?  Yep, the lingering odour of the sewage! 

Why 8 hours? I chose this number of hours to depict the cycle of  one work day.

What was the purpose of the sodium bicarbonate? In a cycle of an 8-hour work day, one is advised to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses or mugs of liquid. At least that’s the amount of liquid I drink each work day.  A quick calculation would give us a total of at least 3 litres of liquid.  But 5 litres of soda water?  The excess consumption of soda water will build up gas in the stomach and esophagus. This is then expelled as a belch or burp.  Hmmmm….. have you wondered at this point which suspect had the most extraordinary smelling breath?

Why the 4 diplomats?  Well, of course, they were the jury, people from all walks of life, sworn in to deliver their impartial verdict. In Malaysia, a suspect is innocent until proven guilty.

So, who was the guilty culprit in the story?

The hint I gave in my footnote was: Death upon arrival. Think cryptically 😉  Take the first letter of each word and you end up with “Dua” (duo in Latin or two in English).  So, yes, it was suspect number dua, or duo, or two!!

Cheers to you who have pinned down the right suspect. A pity, though, most of you did not elaborate your verdict.                                                                                

I want to mention that there are NO losers. EVERYONE is a winner, because participating is better than winning!

Since I have to mention a winner or winners, the Gold medal goes to Astrid (who included mentioning the vanilla essence plus nutty aroma which matched the bittersweet taste of the Regieng), the Silver goes to Gerard and the bronze to Ah Seng.  Hey, nobody goes empty handed on my blog, because ALL of you deserved a story from me, so stay tuned 😉

One for the road….. here’s a geometric puzzle.

Draw a straight line on the face of a clock, which should give you exactly the same total on both halves. Now, where would you draw your straight line?

I know you will get the answer EVENTUALLY, but time is the essence.  How long did it take you to solve the puzzle?

By the way, this was a third grade Math question on my younger son’s test paper 😀

Have a great week ahead and see ya soon!

OMG!  Time flies when you are about to make the most out of it.  I promised a story and I’m giving you a story.  I was inspired to write this story (not told or chronicled anywhere and the author prefers that this is not repeated in writing without her prior consent, and the author is  me!  :-D) after getting several bombardments and inquisitive FAQs from the work front.  Okay. Enough is enough.  Curiosity killed the cat, but did it?  You be the judge….

Once upon a time somewhere on the island of Borneo, lived a man named Tuk’ng.  He was no ordinary man.  He was a penghulu (village chief) and notable to many for his intellectual prowess and acclaimed for his enormous endowment of observation. He was highly revered by the village folks because of his rational and unbiased reasoning in solving the local disputes.  He was, I would say, a cross between Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.  The village people always felt safe with his presence.  There was peace and order until one fine day turned into a procession of frenzy and uproar. Farmer Regieng marched into the office of Chief Tuk’ng and explained his anger.  He was a victim of a series of thefts during the past weeks.  He needed the esteemed advice of Chief Tuk’ng to solve the case once and for all.  He told the Chief that he had been robbed of his golden harvest of the thorny fruits for the umpteenth time. He wanted the thief to be brought to justice.  But whodunit?  And what were those thorny fruits?  Chief Tuk’ng put on his thinking terendak (conical shaped hat worn by the locals of that area) while chewing the sireh (Betel leaf) and crunching a handful of sago pellets like you would, nuts. Hmmmm…… the thorny fruits.  What were they? The only definition that Chief Tuk’ng could think of was the “king of fruits”.  You know, the thorns?  Well, well, well, I think our friend, Farmer Regieng was talking about the most aromatic fruit of the jungle.  But wait! Smell is relative.  One man’s meat is another man’s poison.  Chief Tuk’ng had heard from reliable sources that some people from some continents miles and miles away were disputing about the smell of these thorny fruits, which were none other than, yes!!!! DURIANS (duri means thorn, hence durian means thorny).  OK, we now know what the thorny fruit was but WHODUNIT?!  Back in the village, 4 people were arrested as they were thought to fit the description of the so-called thief. These 4 suspects were the most well known night-shift critters in the village, whose ‘jobs’ incidentally, fit the modus operandi of the durian thief.  For some unknown reason, durians only fall off the trees at night, never during daylight. Legend has it that a durian has eyes and could see where it is falling and in that manner, people may not be hurt.  See, a durian is not only aromatic, but an intelligent fruit as well.  If only fruits have brains. LOL ! That’s why it is called the “king of fruits”, well known across the globe, yet untouched or unreached by so many and conquered only by the brave and adventurous souls 😀

The 4 suspects were brought to the chief’s office for an identity parade. They were Kenulat, Manek, Putak, and Temih. After a moment of silence, Chief Tuk’ng finally concluded that he would put the 4 suspects to a one-off test.  He instructed Farmer Regieng to place the 4 suspects in solitary confinement for 8 hours without human contact.  No food. Only 5 litres of sodium bicarb water ( soda water). Solitary confinement? Hmmm, that meant 4 separate cells measuring 2m x 2m each. No frills attached.  Was that all? No interrogation at all? And the soda water? It sounded all too bizarre but what the heck, that sort of stunt befitted the eccentric behaviour of the chief anyway, thought Farmer Regieng. That wasn’t the end.  Chief Tuk’ng wanted 4 diplomats representing at least 4 continents to be included in the test. The solitary cabins were only to be identified with numbers: 1, 2, 3 and 4.  No names mentioned and in no particular order. The plot thickened. Everyone was curious with the chief’s conviction and at the same time, itching profusely for a verdict. 

At the stroke of the 8th hour, Chief Tuk’ng beckoned the 4 diplomats one by one to his office.  Each diplomat had to enter the 4 cabins separately, after which, he or she had to annotate his or her experience or finding to Chief Tuk’ng.  The Chief held a stopwatch on his right palm and clocked each entry with precision. Ready, set, go! One by one each diplomat entered the cell in no particular sequence : 1-3-4-2, 2-1-3-4, 4-1-2-3, 3-4-1-2.  And the most peculiar thing happened.  Each diplomat stayed exactly 4 seconds in each of the 4 cells, rushed out and gasping for breath! Cough! Cough! Very interesting indeed, thought Chief Tuk’ng.   He had never seen anything like that before. Then he asked the 4 diplomats this vital question: Should you be given another chance to enter any one of the 4 cells, which one would it be? All four answered in unison to one particular cell.  Chief Tuk’ng became curious and reconstructed the trail of the test.  He had seen enough. He summoned the 4 suspects out of their cells.  

Chief Tuk’ng went through the scribbled notes of the 4 diplomats in a flash. 

Stench of decayed carcasses, rotten eggs, damp socks, stale vomit, vanilla essence, nutty, human faeces, dog shit, pig sty, onion, a bucketful of broiled kidneys, skunk secretion.

The Chief smiled and walked towards the 4 suspects.  He knew who the thief was.

Suspect No 1 worked as a scavenger

Suspect No 2 was a wild honey collector

Suspect No 3 worked as a grave digger

Suspect No 4 was a sewage worker

By the way, do you?

Hint: Death upon arrival.

Let’s have some fun and let me know who you think was the durian thief and why.

Have a bloodhound weekend 😉

I was thinking for quite a while about an intro-caption to start with.  Going straight to the point with a topic in mind, or….? Hmmm…  not so fast, I thought.  For heaven’s sake, I’m a novice in this world of blogging, so I guess I will start with this….”Hello World!” 🙂

By the way, I’m starting this blog as a point of (re-)connection with my family and friends from near and far, whom I have lost contact with in an “abrupt” manner.  So, please, do bookmark my blog if you want to know how the world is treating me 😉 .  See ya !