my Orange just turn 1 month old

Time flies so fast, now my baby is one month old. I took some photos of him and I am disappointed that I only like these two. I need a trigger I guess so that I can place my slave flash in more positions.

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Time for Maternity shoots

Spending money to buy photography equipment (flash and remote) to take self portraits rather than availing a maternity photo shoot package is more practical for us.

We did a test shoot to try out our new purchases. The Shanny flash was giving us enough light but my trigger is not compatible with it so we needed the cable to use it. This limited us in using the light in our desired position. The 300-peso generic remote did not do its job well so we have ended up using the camera timer. We only got these few good photos from the test shoot.

When I was 30 weeks preggy and my cousin was on her 32nd week of pregnancy, I was able to take outdoor maternity photos of her and her husband. Natural light really rocks.

Taking self portraits are more tiresome though most of the setup was done by Lalab. Too bad we were not able to master the equipment we have for another shoot before I gave birth.

Sydney Part II

Day 5 – Jenolan Caves

Another spectacular attraction in Blue Mountains is the Jenolan Caves, which was our itinerary for the next day. Instead of visiting a zoo, Cath promised us that we would go see kangaroos and wallabies in the wild so she booked us a cabin at Jenolan Caves Cottages.

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It was already dark on our way there. The Kangaroo Crossing signs in the road made us excited and Cath drove extra careful. We even saw actual kangaroos crossing the road. The passageway to the Jenolan Caves Cottages was in a forest full of woods. Imagining the place as a setting for thriller movie like ‘Into the woods’ gave us the creeps. However, the cabins looked homey. The wooden interior and fireplace gave it a cozy feel. What’s more homey was our home-cooked dinner of Pan Grilled Salmon, Broccoli and fresh mushroom soup.

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Ging was the first to wake up the next day. Though I was still sleepy, I was more excited to see kangaroos so I woke up and prepared my camera phone the moment I saw Ging getting hers. We went out to the veranda. First, we saw one then there came another. We hurried to the other room to wake up Liza by pulling her legs. There were too many kangaroos already when we went out again. I think they’re used to people feeding them that’s why they go near cabins when they saw us. They look harmless but it was our first time to see them near so it was only when Mex found a playmate at the playground that we went down from the cabin to get closer to them.

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It was something special, but we found out later that they were wallabies and not kangaroos, haha. It was almost afternoon when we reached Jenolan Caves – a tourist site with restaurants and lodgings built around 11 show caves and underground rivers. It has the world’s oldest caves so visiting is a must.

There are different timings for cave tours and these tours are categorized by what you can see inside the cave, the size of the group that can be accommodated, and the level of difficulty exploring it. Prices for cave tours range from 35 AUD to 220 AUD; however there are self-guided audio tours that come free when you buy a cave tour ticket.

While waiting for The Orient Cave tour to commence, we explored the Grand Arch – a cave ruin big enough to host an event like a concert, located at the entrance of Jenolan Caves. Bush walking is also for free and Jenolan is offering 6 scenic tracks. We walked around the surreal Blue Lake. Blue Lake track was an easy walk; it lasted for 20-30 mins. We passed by a very nice De Burgh’s bridge before seeing the flora and trees. The lake was a very blue color. There are also a lot of animals, I even heard a couple of kids telling their dad that they saw a snake near a rock but too bad I was not able to see the platypus living in the area.

After a nice introduction to the tourist site, we headed to the meeting place for the Orient cave tour where some tourists were already waiting. The tour is kids-friendly; the tour guide made the kids count the steps from the meeting point to the Cave entrance ‘Binoomea Cut’. The LED lights that are installed in the caves gave us a different way to view its grandest limestone formations. It took us 90 minutes to tour this 470 meters long, average difficulty cave. I never knew that there could be too much caves in just one place until my trip to Jenolan.

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Somewhere down the Hartley road, the Talisman, wood fired pizza café, came to our view and the words ‘wood fired pizza’ made us curious so we stopped by for some coffee and pizza. The coffee was nicely brewed and the ingredients of pizza were fresh. The dough tasted nice and for me, as long as the ingredients are fresh, the taste will never go wrong. The place is rustic and quirky at the same time. A portion of the place had a display of merchandise that was both bohemian and modern.

It was still early in the evening when we reached the CBD area of Sydney so we just decided to watch a movie in an outdoor movie house. How cool is that for someone who hasn’t tried it? The movie house was like a big open parking lot with an establishment where people can buy snacks to go with their movie-watching. Some people even brought chairs to watch the movie outside their cars. It was our longest day in Sydney.

Day 6 – Circular Quay and Darling Harbour 

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Our 4th day in Sydney was a day without a tour guide. Cath drop us off at DFO and went to work while Mex came with us to explore the city. DFO is said to be the best shopping place in the country but when we saw the prices of the items, we all thought that the sale items in Singapore are much cheaper. We ended up not buying anything. Outside the mall, there was a Korean event that is open to public. We had some Korean food while Mex played in one of the play booths. It was a bit hard for us to go to Circular Quay from that place as the Koreans in the bus stop didn’t speak English, while the others didn’t know what bus we could take until a Filipino family suggested that we take a bus to the subway and go to Circular Quay by train.

The first place we went to at Circular Quay is the Museum of Contemporary Arts – a building that looks like boxes arranged asymmetrically in The Rocks. This museum is dedicated to exhibiting and collecting contemporary art, both from across the country and around the world. The exhibition that time was Primavera 2014. I won’t forget the single video work of Madison Brycoft “Entitled” wherein a lady shaved her head and place an octopus on the top of it. There was also the installation called Audio Helmet. Mex tried the helmet and wore it while exploring the room when a guide told us that he had to put the helmet back in its place.

We then stopped by at Paddys Market. Tourists go there for all the souvenirs they need. The market is clean and spacey and souvenir prices are less expensive compared outside. There are small koala bear stuffed toys for 5 AUD, refrigerator magnets worth 4 for 10 AUD, shot glasses priced at 10 AUD for 4 pieces and a lot more.

paddys

The last place we went to is Darling Harbour, where there were small events like film viewing and etc. The place glowed from the colorful night lights. I remember talking with a hotel guest at work saying that Singapore is like Darling Harbour and indeed they are similar in a lot of ways.

We had a harder time going home since we couldn’t find our way to the subway but we found some interesting scenes like some places in the city we passed by and a guy in Mario costume playing an electric guitar in the street. Those made us enjoy roaming around the CBD by just commuting

Day 7 – Hunter Valley

The last but definitely not the least place that we visited was the place I’ve been excited to visit. It’s for people who are interested to see where some of the known wines came from – The Hunter Valley. It seemed far but it was actually just two hours from Sydney and it gave us the feel of unobtrusive country charm. Too bad there was no event at the time.

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On our way to Hunter Valley, we passed by a coffee shop with the most interesting interior and a wonderful patio named The Crossings. They specialize in coffee and they also sell authentic bits and pieces. I bought a kangaroo-shaped bottle opener that is made from metal and made by the hand of a blacksmith. It cost 40AUD, which is quite expensive but I really fell in love with the craftsmanship involved.

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We stopped by another premier attraction in the area, which is the Hunter Valley Chocolate company. Here, they make fine chocolates with Australian dried fruits. They also sell gelato and some drinks. We bought some chocolates and nougats to bring to Singapore.

And then, finally, we made it to Hunter Valley vineyards and it seemed like they just harvested grapes. There are over 80 wineries in the area and they also offer tours covering from how to grow grapes, the process to produce wine and wine appreciation. Too bad we didn’t book for any tour; nevertheless we enjoyed strolling in the vineyards.

Bye Sydney

The next day, we spent the morning organizing our baggage and things. We didn’t feel like leaving but we had no choice, haha. We were able to maximize our time in Sydney because of Cath. Everything was amazing and unforgettable and I am hoping to come back.

 

(Sydney) Australia – I knew I loved you before I met you

It’s been a year now since the best travel I’ve ever had. I’ve been away from blogging for a while, because I’ve been reviewing for MCP and studying PMP, but here I am now, unemployed and I have ample time to write about it.

This place is known for making good tasting wines. The famous Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and a lot of their places are featured in different magazines all over the world. Because of those, I knew I loved Australia before I met it.

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The Harbour Bridge

 Preparation

It is very easy and convenient to apply for an Australia Tourist Visa in Singapore. You can either do it via the AVEC Center, which provides visa application processing services, or online at this link. Visa application fees range from 135 AUD to 340 AUD. We applied via AVEC Center and we were advised that the processing would take 10 days. However, after 5 days, the VISA was ready. We paid a service fee of 42 SGD. My cousin residing in Dubai tried to apply for a VISA online and it took them almost a month. We flew via Scoot, a Singapore based low-cost airline with routes predominantly from Singapore to Australia or China.

Day 1 – Brighton Beach and King Cross

Sydney street
Sydney Street

We were welcomed with a big hug from Liza’s friend Cath. After some rest and a snack at her house in Kogarah, she brought us to Hurricane Grill, a modern steakhouse in Grande Parade, Brighton Le-Sands. The restaurant just closed for lunch so we hung out at Brighton Le-Sands Beach first where we met some new friends. We went back to Hurricane Grill again, and this time it was open for dinner and we were their first customers for dinner that day. We tried the Pork Ribs, Prawns, Pumpkin Soup and Octopus Salad. The meat is very tender and tasteful; I also love the soup and salad a lot. It is actually the best soup and salad I’ve ever tasted. This is food to come back for.

After the nicest welcome dinner, we headed to King Cross. We booked a room for sharing at Jackaroo Hostel for that night; we shared a room with a nice Argentinian girl looking for a job in Sydney. We were able to roam around King Cross, take some photos and enjoy ice cream on a chilly night. Some people welcomed us by photobombing.

Day 2 – Wattamolla and South Coast Wollongong

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Wattamolla Beach

We had our first Australian breakfast of oats, milk, wheat breads, Vegemite, and some gluten-free wafer-like cereal, which I forgot the name of. Everything is plain and healthy and some were new to our taste.

Cath with her smarty pants son Mexie fetched us for a day in Wattamolla beach. Wattamolla is the first National Park in Australia with cliffs broken by beaches and deep river valleys. It is located in the south of Sydney. We went there for a picnic and sunbathing and there are more activities you can enjoy there, like kayaking, swimming, cycling, birds and whale-watching (just bring a binocular). But if you are looking for a more adventurous activity, you can jump in the water from 10-meter-high coastal cliffs.

We were already hungry by mid-afternoon. Cath drove us to the Wollogong area for a nice early dinner at Bombora Restaurant. This restaurant, set high in Wollongong Harbour has an indoor and outdoor dining space that gives access to an impressive view of the area. We ordered their specialty, which is the Bombora Basket. We also tried their mussels, Fish of the Day and Chicken Parmigiana. The food was good and we were so full that we didn’t finish the Hot Chocolate Prune Cake and Poached Pear.

While waiting for the food, I tried to explore the area formerly known as Baltimore Basin. It is home to a large fishing fleet — the reason why Pelicans love to stay in the area. It is an ideal place to hang out with friends or to just have a walk, as it is near a historic lighthouse named Wollongong Breakwater Lighthouse.

Day 3 – Bondi Beach, Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and Manly Beach 

surfer at Bondi Beach
surfer at Bondi Beach

It was a bit chilly for me that day, but Cath said that it’s good weather for the beach again so we went to Bondi Beach. Bondi Beach is a popular beach near the central district of Sydney. Aussies are beach lovers, and I was amazed how they enjoy the beach in a chilly weather. The beach wasn’t that crowded that day — I’ve seen how packed Bondi Beach is in the summer in photos.

After chilling in the beach, we walked 3 kilometers to have lunch at JG café. Cath was craving for Filipino food and she found this Filipino restaurant on the Internet. We tried to walk fast so that we didn’t feel cold, so I was like a bit sweaty and cold at the same time. JG Café is a Filipino-owned restaurant serving Filipino and Western food. They also serve baked goods like cupcakes readily available in a display shelf. The food is ok but not that great, but the service of the owner is great. He chatted with us for us not be bored while waiting for our food.

We headed to the suburbs with our heavy tummy. We were so excited to finally see the central business district, particularly Ging. Circular Quay is a picturesque place. I especially like how it looked like with the before-sunset glow. We visited the Sydney Opera House, which is famous for being one of the most distinctive buildings of 20th century. It received attention during Sydney 2000 Olympics for being included in the Olympic Torch route to the Olympic stadium. From then, it became the backdrop of some Olympic events. Near the Opera House is the Sydney Harbour Bridge — the world’s largest steel arch bridge standing at its highest point 440 ft. above Sydney Harbour. I was in awe – I was so happy to see these places.

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The Sydney Opera House – view from ferry

We caught a ferry to Manly Beach to enjoy the view of the area from water. It was getting cold so we did not walk around Manly Beach, or maybe the real reason was because we were enticed by the nicest smell of coffee and chocolate from Max Brenner. I know! There’s Max Brenner in Singapore and even in Philippines, but we are just humans with sweet tooths and a love for coffee.

Day 4 – Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains

Our target place for this day was a world heritage-listed site named Blue Mountains. Before going there, we had a late lunch at Yellow Deli in Katoomba. The place made me feel like I was in a movie setting. The deli looks interestingly organic, like the food they serve. The interior is composed of wooden bucket inspired warm lights; the tables and the chairs are made from different sizes of recycled timbers that gave us an eccentric feel. The toilet is just as cozy with walls of old photos and newspaper articles that are readable. The menu is mostly sandwiches and salads but the quality of the breads and greens are so good. We tried the soup of the week, which is pumpkin soup, plus the smoked chicken sandwich, the best Reuben sandwich I’ve ever tasted, and a Chef Salad. The choices of drinks are very fascinating; I loved both the Hot Apple Cider and the Hot Not Chocolate.

We enjoyed the stimulating lunch and the ambiance of the Deli, and it was already mid-afternoon when we arrived at Blue Mountains. The place is said to be called Blue Mountains because of the blue haze that hovers over the area. It is a famous tourist spot for nature lovers and a popular place for rock climbers, mountain bikers and hikers. We don’t have much time; we focus on a particular place which is the Scenic World. This tourist attraction provides a scenic experience for tourists. The Scenic Walkway gave us a feel of touring a Jurassic rainforest. The Scenic Cableway gave us a panoramic view of the Blue Mountains and the Scenic Railway which thrilled us with its 52 degree incline riding experience with the steepest passenger railway in the world. Too bad they are open until 5pm only we were not able to try the Scenic Skyway. It’s nature adventure overload!

 

To be continued…

The sunny side of life – Maldives day II

Natz and I woke up early to have a glimpse of the sunrise in Hulhumale from the Inn’s roof deck. We had to be ready for scuba diving before 8am so we got ready before going to breakfast. Breakfast in Newtown Inn is a simple meal of the semi-spicy sausage, fried egg, a loaf of bread with jam and butter on the side and coffee. We wanted to load up for a long day in the ocean but there was no menu other than what they served so we just brought water and a snack.

Sunrise view from Newtown Inn

view from the room veranda

We reached ProScuba before 8am. The Taiwanese owner brought us to a bigger dive centre where all other scuba diving centres rent equipment for their clients. We waited for our turn to get the equipment we needed then headed to the bay to wait for our ferry. It was scorching hot already when we left for the ocean.

ferry finally came

On the ferry, it seemed like we were the only newbies in that trip. A girl dive instructor came to us and introduced herself but we ended up being handled by a Sri Lankan guy dive instructor named Sarath. He is a man of few words, he smiled when he introduced himself but I could feel that he was somewhat strict. I spend the travel time telling Natz of the fantastic experiences I had in Scuba Diving to make her feel good about trying it.

We got ready as soon as we approached the first Dive spot which is called the ‘Coral Reef.’ I was starting to get nervous and excited at the same time and I knew Natz felt the same though she was more nervous than excited. It was time to jump, Sarath went first and showed us how to do the Giant Stride. I followed, struggling a bit with the weight of the gear I was wearing. When it was Natz’s turn, she panicked and almost quit.

Bannerfish at Coral Reef

I was surprised, because I thought that the person who could swim well would be more confident in Scuba Diving but it really depends the person. I know Natz was thinking way forward like what if we die. Anyway, jumping into the ocean is the hardest part of Scuba Diving. Sarath tried to calm her when she floated on the water and I think she was just not used to breathing in and out of the regulator. Sarath instructed us to swim towards the shallow part of the sea to do the basic test.

Scuba Diving in Maldives

In Scuba Diving, a diver who is not PADI or SSI certified is restricted to do the Discover Scuba diving course, which is the entry level one. This meant that I always have to do the basic test which includes ‘Regulator Retrieval’ and ‘Mask Clearing’ underwater. Sarath had a hard time – others were already exploring the reef when he decided to stop the test because Natz and I had a hard time sinking. He said it might be because we were not breathing properly. We finally started moving and I tried to take a lot of photos to divert Natz’s attention from being scared.

Coral Reef Maldives

Eel in Coral Reef

What I love about scuba diving is that I find peace under the sea while being amazed with God’s wonderful creations. I saw some lobster, barracudas, sea cucumbers, anemones, parrot fish, etc. We girls got a few scratches from corals as the diving suits we were wearing were the short type. I didn’t find the dive site very interesting though, maybe because we didn’t go deeper than 10 meters. Sarath said the turtles are 15 meters ocean deep. Anyway, I was so proud of Natz for finishing the course alive, hehe.

Lion Fish in Coral Reef

Lobster in Coral Reef

Moving to the next destination, we sunbathed on the deck of the ferry while chatting with Sarath. I still wanted to dive but sadly they only brought enough tanks for what we registered. Sarath told me that he could accompany me in snorkeling on the next dive site instead. I can’t swim and I thought snorkelling with a life vest is boring, so good for me. We stopped at Kurumba Island and I was so amazed with the power of fins to make me float plus Sarath’s help. That site was way better than the first one.

Sarath and I

Sarath and Natz

Heading to Kurumba Island

There was a tank-like thing standing in the sea and below that was a school of fish. How I wish I dived in Kurumba instead. Aside from a lot of fishes, ever cute clown fishes, I saw a manta ray and a baby shark in Kurumba. It really made my day. Natz at the same time enjoyed snorkelling with just her goggles. She is a good swimmer and we were able to maximize our time underwater.

Fishes at Kurumba

Fishes at Kurumba Island

Kurumba Island

Kurumba Reef

The day was really tiring. Diving was like effortless workout and we didn’t even feel hungry after. The girls were not yet back from Island hopping when we came back to the inn so we went for an early dinner first. They arrived when we are about to go out to cycle. The bicycle seats were too high for us and they were really uncomfortable, so we ended up returning them in the Inn and took a stroll instead.

with a Sea Star

Before bedtime, we spent half an hour with the girls discussing what to do the next day. It was really hard to book for a sea plane and submarine ride so we all agreed to visit and stay in a resort for a day. It was a long day as expected, but it was another good diving experience to cherish.

The sunny side of life – Maldives day I

Summer feel all year round, majestic villas on coral islands, alluring beaches with ocean water that go from light blue to royal blue, heaven underwater, and food that range from all over Asia to western cuisine. Oh yes, it’s Maldives.

Newtown Inn
Newtown Inn – a newly built inn where we stayed.

North of the equator of Indian Ocean lies Maldives; a country composed of 1900 coral islands formed around 26 atolls. It is the lowest country in the world, as it is just 5 meters above sea level. It was in the 1970s when tourism started in Maldives. It began with just two resorts that transformed their economy. Now the country has more than a hundred and tourism became the country’s main industry. And now, Maldives is one of the must-visit countries on most travellers’ bucket lists, including me.

fine trees everywhere
fine trees everywhere

Tiger Airways now offers the Singapore to Male route as their newest flight destination, making them the only budget airline to cater this flight. We happened to have the coolest pilot who woke us up in the middle of the five-hour trip with an announcement that we are passing Sumatra and that we can see an active volcano outside our right window.

an active volcano in Sumatra
An active volcano in Sumatra, captured using Nokia Lumia 920.

During landing, we saw the aerial view of Hulhule and some islands near the island, and they looked as appealing as the ones I saw over the Internet. We went for a late lunch right after checking in. Food won’t be a problem for any traveller in Maldives as most of the restaurants serve both western and Asian cuisines. You name it and they got it. You can have a decent meal for $15.

in the ferry going to Male
even motor bikes ride the ferry going to Male
the ferry port in Male
the ferry port in Male

We didn’t waste time. Afterwards, we headed for a Male tour that cost us $10. Our tour guide, Rauf, took us around the city capital of Madives named Male. We went to The National Museum, Sultan Park, and The Friday Mosque, but we didn’t go inside because of our summer attire. There are no shopping malls or food chains in the city. I didn’t even see a movie house, but Rauf said there is one. Instead, there are souvenir shops and a wet and dry market.

the group, roaming around the city
the group, roaming around the city
we passed by this place
we passed by this place
a cementery
a cementery in Male
the old president's house
the old president’s house

Most establishments accept USD and some even accept SGD. Things are pricey – they import commodities from other countries except for seafood. I had a hard time looking for local products for pasalubong. I ended up buying a box of Pineapple Tea from Sri Lanka for $4 and some refrigerator magnets for $2.50 each.

the girls are busy taking photos
the girls are busy taking photos
me posing in Male
me posing in Male
the local market
the local market in Male

At night time, Rauf brought us to the beach side for a BBQ dinner. BBQ dinner seaside in Maldives means tables and chairs right on the beach, sand art with candlelight, fish and hotdog cooked over charcoal, friend chicken and rice, fruits for dessert, and no lights on the table. We really thought the BBQ will be cooked on the spot, hehe. Their dishes were a bit spicy and it was my first time to eat a semi-spicy hotdog and it’s yummy. The beach ambiance was nice even though the wind felt cold on the skin. The requested BBQ dinner cost us $26 each for a party of 6.

So, we hung out in the beach after eating and played with the rather playful Phyto planktons. These creatures are one of the things I was dying to see in Maldives. They’re so small and fine like the sand, and they glow on the beach like they are sea stars. I didn’t have any luck taking photos of them however. How I wish I brought my tripod with me that night. Everything went well and it was just the start of our three-day stay in the country.

a portrait of little Sabi

My photographic skills are getting rusty, and I’m still waiting to do another of “Nationalities” Project, so before I totally forget that I do photography, I took some portrait photos of this cute Little bakasyonista in our House. Kids are hard to shoot but fun at the same time.

Sabi's first photo
Sabi’s first photo
Sabi on seesaw
Sabi on seesaw
She loves doing this
She loves doing this
Sabi climbing the slide
Sabi climbing the slide
No not tired yet
No not tired yet