Month: December 2017

2017 – A Year in Review

2017 – A Year in Review

2017, it’s been a crazy year.

January

Our China adventure started in January with a look and see trip to Shanghai. We spent 5 days and half the time I thought Thorben was crazy for wanting to move here. I got used to the idea when we visited Jing’An, the Bund and Xintiandi and our relocation agent showed me where to get Nutella and cheese πŸ˜‰

February

In February we started our preparation with an intercultural seminar followed by a 2 week intensive language class, which made my brain hurt and showed me how difficult learning Chinese is. While Thorben got over this traumatic experience and started studying again towards the end of the year I still haven’t recovered quite yet πŸ˜‰ I also got my job offer and started the visa process.

March

My host sister got married in California and I was happy to be part of the wedding as a bridesmaid. We also used the time to visit San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park and spent time with my American family in Ventura.

April

Thorben turned 30 in April and we took the chance to celebrate both his birthday and a farewell party. We also packed all our stuff into 25 boxes, handed over the key to our apartment and I dropped him off at the airport at the end of the month.

May

While Thorben was busy starting this blog, a new job, exploring China and finding us an apartment, I spent the month saying good bye to family and friends. I also took a trip to Budapest and celebrated my birthday winning at mini golf before hopping on a plane to Shanghai.

June

During my first week in Shanghai I met Pearl and we visited Zhujiajiao together.Β  We also received our air freight, which helped us settle into our new apartment. Thorben went to Japan with his coworkers while I discovered the avocado lady and spent a day exploring the city with Shane.

July

In July it was a bit rainy at times so we had fun playing board games and making travel plans. I also visited some touristy places as a friend from university was in town. Thorben went on his first business trip to Germany and we saw “Sleep no More” which he loved and I hated. We also faced some crazy temperatures – above 40! – but that didn’t keep us from trying lots of different restaurants and seeing the Lion King in Chinese.

August

During the summer we went to quite a few brunches and also cooked for the first time, not at our home but someone else at a home-style cooking class. In August we also met Ellie (at a brunch) and had some adventures with her and Pearl at a murder mystery dinner and trying to eat lung. At the end of the month Thorben and I took our first trip out of the country together and spent a long weekend in Seoul.

September

September was a mix between food and culture: I tried hot pot for the first time, we went to see the musical Sister Act. I hoarded cheese after hearing of a coming ban while Thorben took some pretty pictures at night. During our trip to Beijing we visited famous sights such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and had some delicious Peking duck.

October

The month started out with a week long break – Golden Week – which we used to travel to Hong Kong and visit Jana in Taipei. I also had an epic scone bake-off with Ellie. Most of our weekends we spent at brunch, shopping for tailored clothes and getting Christmas presents at the Pearl Market.

November

Thorben tried some hairy crabs while they were in season and I indulged in yummy breakfast street food. I also got some more Christmas shopping done during Single’s Day. After months of eating out and Sherpa deliveries I finally cooked for the first time. We got to check off a big item on the travel bucket list and explored the magnificent temples of Angkor. After 4 beautiful days in Cambodia we also visited Singapore.

December

In December we had to say our final good bye to Ellie at the airport. The rest of the month was much more festive: We ate Raclette, baked some Christmas cookies and went to a Christmas market. After a crazy half a year we got on a plane to Germany to celebrate Christmas with our families and catch up with friends.

Thanks to everyone who made 2017 so fun. Let’s see what 2018 has to offer!

Christmas season in Shanghai

Christmas season in Shanghai

After coming back from Singapore I was a little sad about our lack of anything Christmas. We do live in Shanghai so that was easy to fix πŸ™‚

You can have a Christmas tree delivered, but spending 100 Euros and then not even being there for Christmas seemed a bit excessive. So to cheer me up after my little “Oh my god, we have no decoration, no advent calendars, no chocolates and are missing out on all the fun at home” freak-out, Thorben ordered an advent wreath. It makes our apartment look much more festive, especially with the big chocolate Santa next to it that the Nikolaus brought me on December 6 :). We now also have an advent calendars with Luebecker Marzipan which a trainer from Germany brought. All the malls are decorated and are playing Christmas music, which makes the holiday shopping feel almost like at home.

In addition to the decoration and Christmas shopping we also engaged in other holiday appropriate activities.

Raclette

Raclette is our typical Christmas dinner – I may have to fight my sisters on that every year who strangely believe Fondue is also a good option – and in my opinion you can never have enough of it, so I was very excited to find out that a French restaurant close to us offers it every Sunday in the winter. It was amazing and a perfect finish for the first of advent.

Christmas cookies

The most important thing to have for the Christmas season are of course homemade cookies. Thorben brought a box of my mom’s cookies with him from his last business trip to Germany and I decided to also bake some. IΒ  wasn’t really prepared but luckily there is Epermarket, an expat online grocery store, where I got cookie cutters and the ingredients. We finished the first and second batch – Husarenkrapfen and Orangenplaetzchen – just in time for the first of advent. Thorben even helped me bake, maybe not quite voluntarily but because I insisted that he needed to help me with the holiday spirit πŸ™‚ Pearl came over last weekend to bake the third kind and my favorite ones: Doppelt gefuellte Muerbchen. They all turned out tasty but pretty massive, especially compared to my mom’s pretty, tiny ones :).

Christmas market

There are several Christmas markets in Shanghai and we went to one with some friends on Friday. It was organized by a German restaurant, so it was a traditional Christkindlmarkt πŸ™‚ It was pretty small but had the most important things: Sausages, fries and Gluehwein πŸ™‚ (And even some booths that sold nice decorations and scarfs) Last Friday was a very cold day, around 0 degrees, so the “Kinderpunsch” tasted very good πŸ™‚

Overall, the holiday season has been pretty fun and wasn’t super sad and depressing like I originally thought. However, I can’t wait to get on a plane tonight, see everyone and experience the real thing πŸ™‚

See you in 2018, Shanghai!

The downside of expat life

The downside of expat life

Being an expat in Shanghai is great. I love the city, the food, the travel opportunities … My least favorite thing, besides being far away from friends and family back home, is definitely that people are constantly leaving. Last week I had to say goodbye to my Shanghai BFF Ellie. We only met 4 months ago but something about being in the same situation far from home makes you get closer much faster.

Before I get too sappy … Thanks for all the brunches, lunches, dinners, fabric market trips, game days, trips to Gracie’s, metro rides home, British English lessons and the very random WeChat conversations, sometimes only consisting of stickers πŸ™‚ I’ll really miss you and hope you don’t annoy people in England too much with your “Well, in China …” stories πŸ˜‰

54.000 steps around Singapore

54.000 steps around Singapore

Third time is the charm! After studying in Singapore in 2011 and visiting in 2014, this was my third time in Singapore. Thorben had never been, it’s a short flight from Siem Reap and I love the city/country, so plenty of reasons to include it in this trip.

Because of a flight schedule change we only had 2 full days in Singapore but managed to do a lot.

Day one: Marina Bay, Gardens by the Bay and Cable car rides

With our hotel close to Clarke Quay, we started out there and walked along the river, past the Fullerton Hotel and to Marina Bay to see the Merlion. Everything was pretty much the same as I remembered and because it’s what my college BFF and I always did we had a drink at Starbucks overlooking my Bay πŸ™‚

Our next stop was Gardens by the Bay. We went into the Flower Dome which was nice except for the Christmas exhibit. It just seemed a bit strange among the palm trees and the 30 degree weather outside πŸ™‚ The Cloud Forest was cool (both temperature wise and visually) and we entered just as misting time started which meant it actually looked like there were a lot of clouds in there. We didn’t have time to return at night but the supertrees were still nice to see.

We walked back to the Bay and had a late lunch at the food court in the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. After a stroll over the Helix Bridge we made our way back to Clarke Quay but got forced to wait out a tropical downpour inside a mall.

In the evening we bought a round trip cable car ticket. Thanks to the rain we got there after 6, which means you only pay the kids price, score! πŸ™‚ We first zipped over to Mount Farber and walked over the Henderson Waves Bridge, something I saw online but hadn’t done before. It’s lit up at night and was pretty cool. Because it was included in the ticket we also went over to Sentosa and walked around the island and along the beach a bit. After a record breaking 33.000 steps we had some dinner at a tapas bar at Clarke Quay.

Day Two: Orchid Garden and Food Tour

The next day we decided to hit the Botanic Gardens, which I found out had become a UNESCO World Heritage Site since I last visited. Our main focus was the National Orchid Garden. They have thousands of orchids and a special VIP section with breeds that are named after e.g. Lady Diana, Michelle and Barack Obama and Angela Merkel. From there we walked to Orchard Road and promptly got a little lost in ION Orchard, a huge shopping center, on the way to the metro.

For the evening I booked a food tour, my new favorite thing to do when traveling. We did the Katong Evening Tour through SingaBites which was great. We tried Curry Puffs, Hainanese Chicken Rice (the national dish), Indian Paratha with different curries, Laksa, sticky rice cakes filled with meat and coconut palm sugar balls. Besides lots of food we also visited a Hindu Temple and learned a lot about the different cultures in Singapore.

After the tour we had some drinks with the other two participants and walked back to our hotel along the lit up Marina Bay and Singapore River.

Let’s see when I’ll go to Singapore for the forth time. I will definitely swim in the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool then πŸ™‚

Our Cambodia trip: Exploring the Angkor temples

Our Cambodia trip: Exploring the Angkor temples

As promised, here is the full run down of our time in Cambodia.

I’ll start by saying it again: We finally did it! We saw the beautiful temples of Angkor. It was amazing. It’s been on my bucket list for a long time but somehow it never worked out during my Asia travels. Warning: Long post with lots of pictures ahead.

According to the internet the best travel time aka dry season is from November to March. I booked our flights, hotel and a 2 days of temple touring with a driver and guide back in July. There are lots of tour operators so I went with one out of TripAdvisor’s Top 10: Happy Angkor Tour. I opted for their tour “to avoid crowds”, which meant that we visited some smaller, less busy temples and tried to go to the really famous and popular ones at not so busy times. It worked out pretty well for the most part πŸ™‚ Our guide was also a fan of panoramas and cheesy tourist photos, so there are some good ones in there.

Day One

The itinerary: Angkor Wat, Ta Promh, Ta Nei, Angkor Thom incl. Bayon, Sunset at Phnom Bakhen

Angkor Wat is the most famous one and really big, with lots of detailed carvings and different layers but unfortunately also lots of people. We had to queue for almost half an hour to be able to climb to the top. The Tomb Raider temple Ta Promh was also great, I love how the trees grew over the temple, almost like someone forgot about them for several hundred years πŸ˜‰ At Angkor Thom we mostly focused on Bayon, the temple with the big faces.

However, my favorite temple of the first day was Ta Nei. It’s reachable only by a dirt road which goes through the jungle and when we arrived we were the only tourists. During the whole time there we only saw a couple of people. It kind of felt like we were the first people discovering it and the atmosphere was really cool.

Day Two

The itinerary: Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, Neak Poan, Ta Som, East Mebon, Banteay Srei (Lady Temple), Banteay Samre, Pre Rup, Banteay Kdei, Krovan

The second day was really great because we saw such a variety of temples. All of them were beautiful in different ways but I think my favorite that day was Preah Khan. Maybe that’s because we got there before 8 and had it almost to ourselves and walking there through the jungle gave me that explorer feeling again πŸ™‚

Overall, I’m really happy with the way we saw the temples. We hit the big, famous ones but also saw some hidden gems. Having a guide and an air conditioned car, cold water and washcloths was very worth it. Especially because of the cold wet washcloths πŸ™‚

Other Cambodian activities: Pool and cooking class

We stayed at the Hillocks Hotel & Spa in Siem Reap for 5 nights, which gave us 4 full days. The two days when we didn’t tour the temples, we spent hanging out by the pool and relaxing. After all the busy city trips we took this year and the everyday craziness of Shanghai it was nice to do nothing for a bit.

To not get too lazy we signed up for a cooking class which our hotel offered. Contrary to the description there wasn’t much activity involved. First we went to the market which was more of a sightseeing trip, because they had already bought all the ingredients. It was similar to the wet markets we’ve seen in China. Then they sent us back to our room to relax and when we showed up again at the announced cooking time, all the prep work had already been done. No peeling, cutting, curry paste or dressing making for us, we just got to mix, heat and stir a bit. While we didn’t really learn much, the 4 course lunch was delicious: We had green mango salad, sour soup with shredded chicken, Fish Amok (Cambodian fish curry) and banana tapioca sago.