Sunday, January 24, 2016

Skiing In Cairngorm Of The Scottish Highlands

It was a nip in, ski, nip out trip to Scotland. While the ski fields are not the first choice for seasoned snow bunnies, I made the most of the two days visiting friends working at Cairngorm ski resort, (pronounced "Carin-gorm"). 

My Inverness flights were cheap, in fact they cost as much as the train transfers. My final destination was a small town called Aviemore, 45 mins south of Inverness. 

Arriving in the city of Inverness after 5pm was a drag. It was cold, rainy and I had time to kill before my train to Aviemore. I saw two fights on the street. I'm sure there's more to Inverness aside from the river. 

In Aviemore I warmed up to my friend's fireplace and that's what I fell asleep to as I was on the couch anyway. Nothing replaces the blissful ambience and crackle of a wood burning fire. I could watch the flames burn all night.

I heard winds howling the next morning and decided not to have an early start in the ski field. Plus the sun didn't rise until 8.30am. 

We took a bus to Cairngorm ski resort, half an hour away from the town. It was a winter wonderland as we passed a frozen lake, Siberian huskies (training for a sledding competition) and a quaint little snow town.

The weather was cloudy and on the mountain, winds were up to 56km an hour. They picked up the snow and caused delays with the funicular to the top station. The train leaves every 15 minutes and normally takes 5 mins to get to the top. However twice we were held up due to the tunnel being backed up with snow. 

There were a few closed runs because of low snow coverage. The winds were so strong, we had to push ourselves downhill or we got propelled like sailboats. The red runs White Lady and M1 were my favorites as they are wide open and powdery. 

It's worth mentioning that food on the mountain is fairly priced. I had a burger with chips (GBP 8) and best of all, the cheese came grilled and melted over the patty! So crusty and delicious. 

After lunch it got darker and the wind picked up speed. Visibility on one side of the mountain was terrible and it was painful taking a t-bar with snow whipping on my face. Thankfully we got a few good runs down the other side before calling it a day. 

There was good snow at Cairngorm but as conditions change quickly, a tip is to make plans last minute. As it was relatively low altitude compared to say, the Alps, Cairngorm is heavily dependant on favourable weather. Is it comparable to Austrian and French ski fields? Definitely not. There are only T bars and pommel lifts to get you around the mountains. It's a small ski field. It's possible to ski all the runs in one day if you were an expert skier. 

We missed our bus to Aviemore so my friend, familiar with hitching culture within the ski field, asked a stranger in the car park for a lift. I was dumbfounded as I've never "hitched hiked" but my friend assured me that it was a very normal thing to do and people are really friendly here. 

Our driver was a Romanian snowboard instructor who kindly dropped us off in Aviemore. We then went to a recreation club to relax in a heated pool, spa and steam room. 

We retired at home with a ready made pizza and roasted marshmallows over the fireplace. I think I might have turned into a pyromaniac as I kept the fire roaring all night.

The next morning it was raining. I was told lot of the snow had melted in Cairngorm so the lift staff were told to go home. My friends and I went for a walk through the town and hiked to see a couple of lochs. The countryside was beautiful albeit soggy and freezing.

It was time to fly back to London. I was in Highlands for less than 48 hours but that's ok. I maxed out what could be done in the poor weather. I hope to come back for a full weekend trip!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Return To London

I'd been dreading it but my Sydney hiatus came to an end. I got on the plane and stopped over in Singapore. This time is was only for 6 hours. I wasn't feeling well when I landed. The heat and queueing at passport control was debilitating. After making it to the comfort of my friend's house and meeting their new family member, I recovered in time for the next leg of my flight... cold and grey London. This is the worst time to come back but thankfully I don't have a job to rush back to. For a week I was feeling blue and lonely. Grant was still in New Zealand. My depression was due to lack of sunshine and I missed my life in Sydney. 

I went to my Saturday gym classes and realised I needed my Zumba family. I missed them so much. The workout hit me hard and I was out of form. We had a catch up lunch after and for the first time I felt glad to be back in London.

When Grant returned, I finally felt 100% at home. While London's not the best place to live, we have each other and our home. I felt out of place without him.

Thanks to jet lag I've been waking up at 5am. One time, I woke up to snow. By sunrise most of it had melted. Hope the snow keeps coming. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Singapore Airlines Premium Economy Long Haul Review

I fly between Sydney and London almost every year and concluded that long haul flights involves a recovery period similar to surgery. While that's mostly due to jetlag, it doesn't help when I never sleep on planes.

Despite all this flying, I'll never be one of those lucky people who get upgraded to business class. So I finally shelled out for premium economy. I checked a few airlines and at the time Singapore Airlines offered the best value PE seats, priced 25% more than an economy seat. 

This is way cheaper than business class but you still get to check in at the business class queue and your checked in baggage receives the same priority. This is perfect for me as I usually get to the airport around 1-1.5 hrs before the flight.

The cabin area for PE is curtained off from economy and if you're on an A380, you don't have to walk through business class to get to your seat. The PE seats are at the immediate right of the door. 

There are only 36 PE seats on an A380 and 28 on an A777. The rows are made up of two, four and two seats with two spaces for bassinettes. A tip is is that A380 planes offer more space for window seats as there is a sizeable gap between the armrest and the wall. 

The downside to a PE ticket is that if you travel in peak times and need to change your flight dates, you may have difficulty finding availability. You can pay for a upgrade to a higher class seat, but you cannot be downgraded to economy. 

The PE seat is leather with bigger width and pitch. Even I felt the difference and I'm petite. There is more leg room and storage space. The tray table is kept in the arm rest. There is a leg rest which I would prefer it go higher. The entertainment screen is bigger with HD and over the ear headphones are provided. While I don't need the extra leg space, I found it handy to keep a large handbag, a travel pillow and my own blanket under the seat in front of me. 

Was I able to sleep in PE? Sadly no. Unless I'm lying down 180 degrees, I slide because I can't rest sitting up. PE is no substitute for flat beds.

There is a fair amount space between me and the next passenger. I was even able to "walk over" my sleeping (female-also-petite) neighbour to get to the bathroom without disturbing her. 

In PE they serve real champagne (decent but not great) and better food. You can even pre-order your meals online but I was happy to go with the flow. 

Is PE worth it? In my opinion, yes for any long haul flight. A cheaper alternative is to book a preferred seat with more leg room in economy however you risk getting annoyed by the close proximity to the bassinettes (ie, screaming babies) or toilet doors.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Last Days In Sydney

I went away to Auckland and came back with a cold. It was raining hard when I landed in Sydney. My nose was completely blocked and I can't taste anything. So disappointing as I hoped to have a final binge of Sydney food before returning to the UK.

The rain went on for days and I kept warm and toasty with my baby niece. Two of the days I had to go out to the city to meet friends but was so glad to come home to her. She is my little ray of sunshine. Every time I see her I just want to scoop her up and smother her with kisses!

I spent a whole day packing and running errands. I wish I started organising sooner. I had an incredible urge to stay in Sydney. It took an hour figuring out how much longer I can be out of the UK and calling to defer my flight. It however cost £385 so I said no. 

On the last day I was still considering forking out the cash even though it was a stupid amount to pay for an three extra days in Sydney. After realising I was procrastinating, I didn't give my "dilemma" a second thought.

To make the most of my last day, I decided not to see friends. I spent it doing what I love. First it was a Zumba class then a bike ride in Olympic Park.

Blue sky and pretty clouds-how I will miss you.

The sky was spectacular. I could sit here and watch it all day. But couldn't as I was hungry. 

For lunch I had my last pho at Toan Thang in Flemington. Thankfully I recovered the use of my taste buds. This restaurant is known for it's long queues on weekends. I was seated straight away although I had to share the table. It's rare to find decent pho for $10 or less and from a place that's close to me. I happily slurped away after taking the obligatory food pic.

Then I had family dinner at Mori Japanese Cafe in Glebe. It was all-you-can-eat. It was yummy but I was yearning to eat cooked vegetables. There were hardly any except edamame on the menu. On the upside the variety of seafood was amazing and I ate my money's worth.

My sister must have told Lillee I was leaving. She asked me to pick her up when crossing the road to the car. Maybe it was because I said that's what I'd do when I walked her to preschool. But she said intently to me with huge eyes,  "I need you. You must stay here." 

You must picture her saying this with a cute toddler voice. It was the most heart warming and heart wrenching thing to hear.

I went to bed feeling overwhelmingly grateful for my time in Sydney. Home is the best place in the world. The next morning on the day I flew out, I got up early to fill up my car to have it garaged. It was sad taking off my still-fresh number plates. I love my jellybean car and in ways it's loved me back as it still runs after 10 years of loyal service. 

Every time I depart Sydney airport it gets harder and harder. I wasn't looking forward to going back to London. This time is different, I no longer felt like being an intrepid traveller and just wanted to stay in my home country.