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Daphne

travel

Norway with the kids (Part 2)

I’ve finally gotten around to part 2 of our Icelandic + Nordic adventure last year (read part 1 here).

Norway is a different kind of beautiful – way more chill with all the nature; it’s got more of a calming picturesque wallpaper vibe. No boiling water shooting out of the ground or scary snow storms. Even the waterfalls are gentler and you don’t feel like like a catastrophe might befall you at any moment. The sense of adventure in Iceland was fun but it was a nice change of pace in Norway.

From Reykjavík, we flew into Bergen where we spent 2 days in the prettiest little town surrounded by water and mountains and fjords.

Oh wait, remember our bus ride out to catch the northern lights in Iceland? We had the most disinterested tour guide who spent the drive out being all like “you need a lot of patience and luck to see the northern lights. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not so lucky and you have to try again for many days…” and that was that. Turns out that we didn’t get lucky and as a consolation prize on the drive back, he decided to tell us a story about Grýla, a terrible ogre who ate naughty children. We were all dozing off on the bus and we didn’t expect the story to escalate very quickly into how Grýla would round up all the badly behaved kids, put them in her sack, haul them home and cook them in her cauldron. This was the only time he came alive with excitement, and he enjoyed telling the story so much that it was almost worth the trip out. Yeahhh maybe not, but it was a hilarious story.

And guess who we saw at Reykjavík airport? Grýla!! With her cauldron and everything!

The kids had a great time hanging out in Grýla’s cauldron making like they were getting cooked for dinner. Meanwhile, the other Icelandic kids at the airport were like “these guys are nuts, we’re staying over here where it’s safe.

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Bergen is my kind of small town. I loved those 2 days walking along colourful houses by the wharf, looking at fish in an old school fish market, riding the Fløibanen funicular railway, and hanging out at Mt Fløyen, the spot where you get the best view of all of Bergen.

As far as food goes, there were more hotdogs and fish and chips to be had, but we were nearing the limit of fish and chips a person could put into one’s mouth so we had other delightful food such as burgers, nuggets and ham sandwiches. When we finally came upon a food hall with (very decent) katsudon in Oslo, the kids cried tears of joy and gave thanks for their food with more enthusiasm than they have ever done before.

In the evenings, we had crepes + mulled wine at the Christmas market, then went back to the hotel for more board games.

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Getting to Oslo from Bergen was one of the highlights of this trip. We did what was essentially the Norway in a Nutshell tour, except that instead of buying it as a package from the tour company, we purchased all the tickets separately on our own, saving about $200 in total. It is way more convenient buying it as a package but um $200 in savings for some research? I’m in.

From Bergen, we took a train ride to Voss, hopped on a bus to Gudvangen, then took a gorgeous cruise to Flam, where we spent the night before taking two more train rides to Oslo. This could have been done in one day (11 hours) but we decided to take it easy and split up the journey.

It’s actually very easy to do and I highly recommend it. I was a little nervous about missing the connections but the entire journey is customised for tourists and there’s no way of getting lost along the way. If you’re unsure, the conductors are really friendly or just follow all the other tourists and you’ll be fine.

The fjord cruise was jaw-dropping level of magnificent. It was the first time I’ve seen a fjord and it was one of those “why have I waited so long to see this?” sort of moment. It was cold and windy but the water was perfectly still and there were mountains on both sides, with small clusters of pretty houses along the edge of the water.

Norway is number 2 on the list of happiest countries in the world and as I stood on the deck of the fjord cruise with the wind in my hair, it was easy to see why. There’s a certain lightness in the air and I think if you’re looking at something so beautiful every day, the madness that life throws at you suddenly seems a little less overwhelming.

Upon arriving in Flam, we spent the rest of the day at an Airbnb overlooking the water in Aurland (about 15 minutes away). The hosts were lovely and we managed to chat a little about life in Aurland vs life in Singapore. They bike down the mountain in the summer, brew their own beer for fun, and spend most of their free time enjoying the beautiful view and fresh air. I feel like I want to be the kind of person who thrives in an environment like this but when she told me about having to drive out 2 hours to buy Christmas decorations, that was a straight up dealbreaker for me.

So that night, we had planned to head out for a quick dinner at the town centre (a very tiny town centre with 1 grocery store and a handful of diners) nearby. It was supposed to be a 20 minute walk out but by 6pm, it was already pitch dark with zero street lamps around. We brought a torch along and walked for 3 minutes before turning around and heading back because the 3G was spotty and walking for 20 minutes in complete darkness without secure internet connection seemed like a very bad idea.

There was no food delivery service or McD’s or pizza, plus we were also out of grocery supplies so the kids shared the last 2 packets of instant noodles while the husband and I shared a can of Christmas beer, a cup of Milo and half a leftover cookie. We were all too hungry to play board games so we spent the night talking about how we were dying of hunger, it was great! On hindsight…because it makes a for a memorable story. While we were actually starving, it was much less great.

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The next morning, we got back to Flam early for our train out, hoping to grab a bite at one of the cafes near the train station. Believe it or not, all the cafes were still closed so we had to continue our starving streak till we got to the next stop 2 hours later.

The Flam railway was gorgeous though, so that made up for the misery brought on by the lack of food. It’s an old school train very much like Puffing Billy in Melbourne, one of our favourite train rides. As train pulled out of the station, it started to snow, which made everyone forget about how hungry we were because snow makes everything better.

We discovered that there was a cafe on board our next train, and I will tell you that there have never been 5 people so happy to see ham croissants + hotdogs.

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We didn’t spend much time in Oslo but in the 12 hours or so that we were in Oslo, we had delicious katsudon and the second best cookies I’ve ever tasted. #1 is still Levain but while I wait for our next trip back to New York, I’ve been on the search for the next best cookie. I found it at Backstube bakery in Oslo while we were on a quick grab and go breakfast run.

The cookies were just sitting there next to the pretzels and I knew I found a winner when I saw them. It was respectably chunky, crispy around the edges and gooey in the middle with melty chocolate chips – basically perfection in a cookie. I bought one, bit into it and went back to buy 7 more.

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Instead of hanging out for a couple of days in Oslo, we drove out two hours to the mountains to do some snowboarding in Trysil.

We stayed at Radisson Blu Trysil and while the slopes aren’t as good as those in Niseko, the resort was incredible. There was a bowling alley, a playground, an arcade, several excellent restaurants, and a huge indoor pool with a wave pool, a hot tub and a rock climbing wall.

It was Finn’s first time on the snowboard and after watching Tru and Kirsten blitz down the hill, this little guy picked it up in a day.

On day 2, he was already going up on the ski lift for a black run, which might have been a little ambitious but all the other runs were closed so yolo, amirite? Look at how exhausted he was after making it down. He was like “I cannot feel my legs, I need to lie down now. You’ll have to drag me back because I’m done.

This is the face we call peng san.

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I missed the babies terribly the entire trip and I think from here on out, we’ll have to bring all 5 of them on our next adventure but it was such a treat spending time with my big kids who are growing up way too fast.

For two weeks, these big kids got my undivided attention and I got to snuggle up with them until they fell asleep every night. There isn’t much more a girl could want.

from around here

Hey 2019!

It’s 2019 and there are a lot of changes happening around here. Good ones!

Finn is off to Primary 1 and I’m so proud of him like a proud mama bear. He was so excited to start the first day of school with Kirsten in a proper big kid school with homework and everything! In preparing him for Primary school, the big kids were all “it’s a sad life – you need to do a lot of learning and homework and there’s very little time left to play” and Finn was his usual sweet, positive self like “I don’t mind learning and homework.

It’s true, he’s the only kid who says “thanks, mom!” when I buy him assessment books and then does them like it’s nbd. We picked up a fresh batch of assessment books at Popular last week and the big kids acted like I was buying them a basket of live rattlesnakes, like “PLEASE, NOOOO!!!! MY LIFE IS OVER!!

Just look at this adorable serious face on the first day of school.

He woke up at 6.30am on day one and the whole time, he had on his serious face for when he needs to focus on something really important.

When they got to school, Kirsten said, “follow me, Finn, I’ll bring you around” and he finally smiled. It must be nice to have a big sister watch out for you when you’re starting a huge new chapter in your life.

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After a year and a half on the waitlist, Tru still couldn’t get a spot in Kirsten’s school, so he decided to go for the next best option and transfer to the school further down the street. It’s a slightly longer walk but it beats having to take the school bus back to Tampines at 6.05 every morning.

He considered this for a long time, not wanting to say bye to all his friends and teachers from Gongshang Primary but it was a brutal commute, plus he had to loiter around in school for an hour while waiting for the return school bus after remedial classes several times a week.

He’s a good kid – he made a list of all the pros and cons and at the top of the pro list, he put <mom gets to save $240 in bus fare every month> right at the top, followed by <wake up at 6.45 instead of 5.45>. The cons list was much longer, but he still decided to go ahead with the transfer because “it’s the smartest thing to do“. 11 years old and already killing it at decision making skills.

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Also after a year and a half on the waitlist, Theo finally got a spot in the preschool right next to our home. The waitlist for this was in the hundreds and it was a small miracle that he got a spot. There was no pros and cons list to be made because Theo doesn’t care for such lists in the same way he doesn’t care for going to school at all.

If it was up to him, he would spend his days hanging out with me and Hayley. He tried to make a case for it too. “I’ll miss you so much, mom…and Hayley will have someone to play with…I’m only 5, I can learn all the stuff at home anyway, don’t you want to spend time with me before I go to Primary school like kor kor Finn?

I’ll admit, that last part got me and I genuinely considered it for a moment because watching Finn go off to Primary school had me all emotional but then I snapped out of it because I suddenly realised what I was considering. Homeschooling??!! Some people possess the temperament required to homeschool a child. I do not. Homeschooling would eat me for breakfast and I wouldn’t last a week.

Theo was really sad the first day and that’s all it took for him to adjust. This morning, he considered bursting into tears again but he looked at his fun new school and his new friends and his lovely teacher (who happens to be Truett’s teacher at Starlearners 7 years ago!) and decided that all that fuss wasn’t worth the effort so he said bye and went in to class.

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I really like new years. It always feels like a pause and a fresh start. We get to look back on the previous year and celebrate the things that were great about it. The not so good parts, we get to give it another go; do it differently and hopefully have it turn out a little better.

2018 had all of these parts. There were some pretty spectacular ones that will make it straight to the Epic Moments To Remember list. We did Melbourne with 5 kids. Iceland with 3 kidsNew York with no kids.

There were a lot of the average moments that turned into surprisingly great ones. All of the baby cuddles, the hilarious conversation I got to have with the kids, the long bus rides and spontaneous park outings and just being there to watch them grow up. I feel like I grew as a mom this year. Being a mom stopped being so hard now that the kids are bigger. I’ve always told myself to enjoy the journey but this year was the first time I honestly took that advice and savoured the moments. Even when I go out alone with 5 kids, it’s easy these days.

I saw a mom at the store a few days ago bouncing a fussy infant strapped in a carrier, holding a toddler in one hand and bags of groceries in the other and I immediately got severe PTSD. I think it was her eyes. She looked so exhausted, like all the life had been sucked out of her and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I remember exactly how that feels and I wanted to give her a hug and tell her that it will get better.

2018 was also the first year I’ve managed to stick to my Get Fit goals. I’ve done my workout videos 5-6 days a week for about 9 months and developed all kinds of cool new muscles. I also feel stronger, possibly even more than I did at 16 playing basketball for the school team. I still draw the line at putting kale or quinoa into my mouth but there’s progress.

There were a whole bunch of not so great moments in 2018 too. Some were really not great at all and I’d much prefer to not have them ever again. If I could, I’d totally erase these moments from the year so I’d only be left with the good ones. But I think my life is supposed to be made up of all of these moments like one of those pictures that’s made up of a thousand smaller pictures. I mean, maybe a good life isn’t one that’s made up of only good moments because there are all of these other moments that are kind of sweet and funny and mediocre and sometimes sad that make up a really rad bigger picture and when you put all of them together and do a dramatic slow zoom out, you might just like what you see.

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Have a good 2019, you guys!!

travel

Iceland with the kids

We’re back from a 2-week trip to Iceland + Norway with the big kids and I’ve got lots to update!!

As with most of our adventures, this particular one began with the discovery of an excellent airfare to Oslo. Norway has been on my travel list after watching Frozen and turns out, Qatar Airways was flying to Oslo for a sweet $660 per person. After some research (that the airfare onwards to Reykjavík was $90 each), we decided it was gonna be Iceland -> Bergen -> Oslo -> Trysil with Tru, Kirsten and Finn.

We went back and forth on whether we could bring the 2 babies along but 5 kids in unfamiliar territory did seem a little reckless, plus the minimum age for most of the activities like snowmobiling and ice cave exploration was 6 years old so the babies stayed home for this one :(

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You guys, Iceland is like a dream.

I still have difficulty wrapping my head around the fact that a place like this exists in the world. There are waterfalls and geysers and volcanic rocks and black sand and ice caves and floating ice diamonds and the sky is painted in pink and purple and orange and the prettiest shade of blue. I can’t say that I’m a fan of rocks but I spent a lot of time looking out on the horizon feeling like “wow ok, these rocks are something else.

Most places, you drive several hours to get to one magnificent spot but in Iceland, every spot is trying to outdo the last one like it’s a competition for how we can make nature more breathtaking. Like “Oh you liked the waterfall? Here are a couple more, and here’s some boiling water shooting out of the ground, and look at these giant ice diamonds in a glacial lake and how about a solid blue ice cave right here?

In 6 days, we went to the Golden Circle, drove along the south coast all the way to Jokulsarlon and then back again to Reykjavík.

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Okay I love trip planning and I have the most fun putting together all our trips but planning this one was by far the most challenging ever. This was largely caused by the decision to make the drive in an Icelandic winter. According to most of the forums, Icelandic winters are brutal, with insane snow storms, whiteouts with basically zero visibility and winds that can blow your car door right off. The dude at the car rental made it a point to repeat that many car doors have been blown off and the insurance does not cover missing car doors so if there’s a storm, sit tight and whatever you do, do not open the car door.

The consensus on the forums were mostly “unless you’re an expert at this, you must be insane to self drive in an Icelandic winter” and yes, we are just about insane enough to try because we find tour groups insufferable and there’s nothing like an exciting road trip where your life might be in a tiny bit of danger.

J/k, we are very responsible parents so I had planned for several contingencies. There were plans A to E with multiple backups in case of bad weather, which meant having to keep the itinerary fluid. I usually have everything planned and booked way in advance but for this trip, I was booking some of the hotels 12 hours prior, after we decided it was safe to make the drive for that day.

Thankfully, we had the most beautiful weather for all 6 days so it turned out to be plan A all the way, which is this:

Day 1: Reykjavík (explore the city, try to get over jet lag). We stayed at Fosshotel Baron – nice location, decent rooms, excellent breakfast.

Day 2: 1-hour drive to the Golden Circle, starting at Thingvellir, to Geysir, Gullfoss, then back to Laugarvatn for a night swim at Fontana Spa, a geothermal lagoon. We stayed at an Airbnb cabin in the middle of nowhere and it was amazing.

Day 3: 2.5-hour drive to Vik, visiting Skogafoss and the black sand beach along the way. We stayed 2 nights at Icelandair Hotel Vik – fab rooms, not so great breakfast. Go grab a croissant from the cafe across the street for breakfast instead.

Day 4: 2.5-hour drive to Jokulsarlon to look at floaty ice diamonds + ice cave expedition. Drove back to Vik for the night. We wouldn’t have done this 5-hour drive to and fro if the weather had been rough but it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day and this was probably my favourite day in Iceland.

Day 5: Back to Gullfoss for another ice cave tour + snowmobiling, nose-nuzzled some horses along the way. Spent the night at Bjork Guesthouse at Laugarvatn – superb rooms and only for $150 a night. My second favourite day.

Day 6: Back to Reykjavík. We went shopping at Kringlan, grabbed hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, hung out at the old harbour and Seltjarnarnes, then went swimming at Laugardalslaug. Spent our final night at 41 A Townhouse Hotel – gorgeous rooms, amazing location.

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These are some of the things you might want to know if you’re planning a trip to Iceland.

1. Iceland is beautiful. If you’re sort of sitting on the fence about this, I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely worth the trip.

2. It’s very kid friendly. The only thing you’d want to consider is that some of the activities have a minimum age requirement of 6-12, so if you’re bringing young kids, one adult will have to sit out on them.

3. Food is pricey. The mains at an average restaurant costs about $35-50 and a straight up black coffee from a cart is $5. Even at food trucks, it will cost $25 for a box of fish and chips. Only hot dogs are okayish, at $5.50 each. Also, they’re deliciously lamby (yeahhh meat!!) and pretty perfect topped with a mountain of crispy onions.

4. Kronan and Bonus supermarkets are your best friends. Considering the cost of food in Iceland, the supermarkets are surprisingly reasonable. Stock up on fruits, milk, beverages, snacks, sandwiches – your wallet will thank you.

5. Pack your swimsuits. Icelanders love their pools and I can totally see why. There’s nothing quite like being dressed in your swimwear in -2 degree weather and then jumping into a delightfully warm geothermal pool.

At Laugardalslaug, the kids went up on a slide multiple times and the pool with the slide was considerably colder than the hot tub I was in. Like unacceptable level of cold in the winter and I had to follow them to make sure they were ok.

It was cold, hot, cold, hot, cold, COLD, COLD COOOLDDDD I’M DYING OF HYPOTHERMIA GUYS I LOVE YOU BUT I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN PLEASE DON’T DROWN!!

6. Dress warm. As they say in Norway, there’s no bad such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. With good thermals, fleece or wool layers, a water-resistant coat, proper gloves and snow boots, you’ll be warm and toasty.

7. Go see the ice caves. If you can only make it for one activity, this is the one to go for. This phenomenon only happens in winter when the water freezes over and it is out of this world.

8. Snowmobiling is the most fun and terrifying thing I’ve ever tried. I love that in Iceland, they don’t coddle you with watered down, overly safe activities. Like you want to ride a snowmobile? We’ll take you out for an hour into the wilderness of snow and you’ll have to keep up.

We took a 30 minute ride out to the ice cave deep in the mountain and Finn was behind me so I went slower at first. But too slow is not good because the group ahead had disappeared into the mountain and some stretches, I could see nothing but empty white snow everywhere. If we got lost and had to Revenent our way out like Leonardo Di Caprio, we would 100% not make it. I do not possess those life skills.

On the way back, I decided to speed it up to keep up and that was more terrifying because we hit several patches of uneven snow and flew up from the seat. It was buttocks off the seat legit hang time kind of flew and I gripped the handles so hard my hands started cramping. On the last bump, Finn fell right off the snowmobile and was dangling off the side. He’s ok thanks to the helmet and padding but my heart stopped for a moment.

When we got back to base camp, I realised that Finn fell because he was holding on to a piece of ice from the cave the whole time, which by then had started to melt. “I fell off the snowmobile for nothing, it’s all water now,” he said sadly. This sweet little boy just wanted to bring it home for Theo and Hayley 😭

9. One of the things we wanted to see was the Aurora Borealis but after 6 days in Iceland, we didn’t get to see it once. Some of the remote locations we were in were great spots for finding the northern lights but it required one to step out of the cabin to look at the sky at various times throughout the night. I had planned to wake up every hour to check the sky but when the alarm went off, I considered suiting up and hauling my bottom out into the cold, but I took a deep breath, snuggled deeper into the warm blankets around me and thought “urgh, it’s only lights in the sky”, then went back to sleep. So that’s the story of our northern lights adventure.

Oh wait, there’s part 2. On our last night, we figured we’d join one of those northern lights tours to go hunt for the Aurora Borealis because c’mon! we’re committed to this. We made the kids suit up at 10pm and took them on a tour back out towards Laugarvartn. Except there was very little hunting and a whole lot of standing around. There were about 40 people on the bus and they dropped us all off at a remote carpark somewhere in the wilderness and told us to stand around to wait for the lights to appear for the next 90 minutes. Eventually, 6 other tour buses full of people showed up and we were all just clustered around waiting.

The guide was like “you have to be patient and if you have no luck tonight, you can join the tour for free again tomorrow” and we were like “we paid actual money for this?? I could have done this from my apartment for free and we’re spending 3 hours on a cramped bus to look at a sky of black.” I thought they would have some inside intel on where the lights were going to appear and there would be some actual hunting instead of a “here, stand around and wait” situation.

On the bright side, they kept the heat on in the bus so the kids could sleep while the husband and I shared waffles and a coffee in the cold, dark night, making jokes about our unusual predicament. I know I’ve got it good because this man makes me laugh when we’re standing among some bushes for 90 minutes in the cold, looking at nothing but black sky.

10. On our next trip back, we’d probably still drive but then again, we were extremely blessed with beautiful weather. We could just as easily have been stuck in Reykjavík the whole time or snowed in for days in the middle of nowhere or blown off a cliff by freakishly strong winds.