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travel

A day in the snow

It was a 3 and a half hour drive up to Lake Tahoe but the 7-hour detour was so worth it because this.

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And this.

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And this.

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And this.

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I don’t do a lot of quotes but here’s one from Mark Twain, who apparently said that “To breathe the same air as the angels, you must go to Tahoe.” He’s probably right on that one.

We took a whole bunch of photos and then we stopped because all the photos just felt like they weren’t even close to capturing what we were seeing with our eyes. Also, it’s really hard to hold anything with your frozen stumps in that sort of temperature, much less think about framing and shot angles.

Next time, I’m just going to make the husband wear a gopro on his head – problem solved.

***

We had 2 nights in Tahoe, which factoring in the drive, left us a full day in the snow. 1 day is far too little time to spend up in the mountains if you intend to do any proper skiing, but it was good enough for this trip because I couldn’t snowboard in my pregnant state anyway and Finn is a little young to start ski school. Ideally, 4-5 days would be just about right. We’ll put the kids in ski school and go hit the slopes all day.

For non-skiers, there’s still lots to do in Lake Tahoe, starting with a healthy breakfast. Incidentally, *we had the healthiest breakfast of our entire trip in Tahoe. Like woah, look at this huge pile of green things I cannot even identify.

*Full disclosure: I’m using the term “we” loosely because the husband ate this. I had a delicious bagel with cream cheese. 

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//Oh oh, and snow gear! I did a quick check prior to the trip and it costs $20 per day to rent ski suits for the kids, which is daylight robbery.  I managed to snag these snow bibs + jackets on Amazon during black friday for under $30 each, and it kept them nice and warm in the snow. Plus it’s super cute and I ordered a size up so hopefully it lasts them for another 18 months at least.

I suppose this means more ski trips on the horizon. Or I’ll just make them wear it at home for fun. Kids, every other Thursday is ski suit day. I don’t care that it’s 32 degrees out, just put this on!

***

Whether you ski or not, a trip up the gondola to the snow capped peaks has to be done. I mean, where else are you going to get away with looking like a deranged person in a photo? Okay, tons of places, but here you get a magnificent view too.

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There’s also tubing (super fun according to the kids!), making snow angels (also super fun!), pretend-eating snow cones (NO DON’T ACTUALLY LICK IT, that’s disgusting!), snowball fights (girls team always wins, no hitting girls with snowballs!), and um…do you want to build a snowman? YES, the answer is always yes.

Except that it’s really hard to build a snowman without Elsa’s ice powers. We made a sad-looking lump and then gave up to go lie down in the snow instead.

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In the evening, after a long day in the snow, the husband managed to find the energy to go ice-skating with Tru and Kirsten while Finn and I went back to the room for a nap. We all had fun.

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travel

The best of San Francisco

After our near death experience that was biking across the golden gate bridge, the rest of San Francisco turned out to be very lovely.

In total, we spent 20 days touring California – 5 days in San Francisco, 2 days in Lake Tahoe, a day in Monterey/Carmel, 5 days in Disneyland Anaheim, 3 days in San Diego, and 4 days in Los Angeles. This itinerary broke up the driving into 3-5 hour stretches, which was manageable with 3 kids in the back seat.

I don’t think there’s ever enough time to spend in SF, but 5 days gave us plenty of time to explore the bay area. Here are some of the highlights.

Golden gate bridge + Sausalito (Round 2)

Yeah, we went back across the golden gate bridge to Sausalito again, this time via a cushy uber ride because we know better. It was like visiting a completely different place, with golden light, clear skies and the soft caress of a gentle breeze. The kids were like, “woah, this is so relaxing, but…I think it’s more fun to cycle.”

I don’t know if we should be thrilled or concerned about their decision-making priorities. What have we done to these kids??

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Time passes differently in Sausalito, there’s no rush to be anywhere or do anything. When one is in Sausalito, one takes the time to share an ice cream and really appreciate one’s company.

To be fair, it was a little hard to enjoy Sausalito while suffering from mild PTSD the last round, but being back again reminded me of why this is still one of my favourite places in the world.

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Alcatraz

We were really keen on visiting Alcatraz but by most accounts, it isn’t considered an entirely kid-friendly destination. It’s the kind of place you bring the kids if you want really drive home the message about bad behaviour = go to jail = terrifying nightmares. Which, um, OF COURSE!

I’m kidding. Sort of.

Let’s just say that I’m not above a casual mention of jail time the next time they act up.

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If you’re planning a visit to Alcatraz, I highly recommend the audio tour, which is excellent. It’s the right amount of chilling and captivating, with fantastic background music and interviews with former wardens + inmates. Both Tru and Kirsten were completely into it and they followed the tour intently from start to finish.

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It was all so very Shawshank Redemption in an immersive, experiential sort of way and we all enjoyed it, including Finn who ditched his audio tour and decided it was more fun to dance his way around the block to Jailhouse Rock.  

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Fisherman’s Wharf

Touristy as it is, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 is always a good time, especially with kids.

There’s so much to do – explore the pier, hang out with sunbathing seals, grab a freshly-steamed dungeness crab from street stalls, round it off with a clam chowder in a sourdough bowl at Boudin, watch a magic show, ride the carousel.

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Golden Gate Park

We eventually made it to Golden Gate Park and I’m glad we did because if you asked me right now what my favourite thing to do in San Francisco was, it’d be riding a pedal boat around Stow Lake. And I’m not even the nautical sort – I get horribly seasick on most modes of sea travel, including cruises, ferries, kayaks, boats, canoes, rafts, and windsurfing boards…all except a pedal boat. Such is the nature of my peculiar nautical nausea triggers.

I’m now a pedal boat convert. Give me a pretty lake with some ducks and I’d be riding pedal boats all day.

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After all that relaxing pedalling, we thought it’d be a good idea to end the day with more pedalling on a surrey bike. This turned out to be far less relaxing. It’s like as if we haven’t learnt anything from our previous bike riding experience.

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Why? The idea of a surrey bike looks like so much fun. But don’t fall for it! And throw in 3 small humans worth of weight and it’s like trying to pedal a military three-tonner up a mountain. There’s no gear shift to speak of, just raw human thigh power and I pretty much used up all my reserves during the first 5 metres.

We had barely made it onto the street and I already could not even breathe. I then pretended to do my share of pedalling for the rest of the ride while the husband singlehandedly pedalled all 5 of us around the park very very slowly. We were moving so slowly that an old lady on her walking aid blitzed past us and lapped us twice.

On the plus side, the kids thought it was super fun, even more fun than the paddle boats but then they don’t know anything and they also do not do any of the hard work.

travel

The craziest adventure

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It’s our third day here in San Francisco and it’s already turning out to be an unforgettable trip. SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT, you guys! I’ll try to get as much of it as I can down and we’ll see how far we get.

We started the first day nice and easy, with a late brunch at the Ferry Terminal Farmer’s Market and a stroll along the pier. We were last here 8 years ago on our honeymoon and it felt a little surreal to be back with 3 kids. So much has changed while so much has stayed exactly the same.

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After enough strolling had been done, we hopped on over to Union Square for a little more strolling. Union Square is where it’s at during christmastime. There’s a massive tree, an ice skating rink, street performers, carollers, and a little something known as Winter Walk SF.

Also, there happened to be a Santacon on that very day so we saw hundreds of santas descending upon Union Square all dressed in red + white.

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+++

Day 2 is when things got rapidly out of control. The original plan was to spend the day at Golden Gate Park riding pedal boats but the forecast was all rain and sadness for the entire day so we made new plans to hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf instead. Except that when we got there at about noon, the sky was blue and beautiful, without a single cloud to be seen.

I was all “Hey, the weather looks perfect now, how about let’s rent some bikes to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge? We’ll make our way to Sausalito and ride the ferry back.”

So we did. And I’ll say right now that we’ve done some pretty crazy things over the years but this was by far the craziest of them all.

We picked up 2 bikes – one with a ride-along (for Truett) and another with a baby seat (for Finn) + a trailer (for Kirsten). First of all, on retrospect, this set up is ridiculous. And it’s over 6 miles to haul 3 tiny humans, with 4 daunting slopes uphill. But at that moment, we were like “Yeahhh, this looks like fun and it’s totally doable with our thighs of steel.” I sometimes forget that I’m pregnant and this was clearly one of those times.

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The first five minutes, it was all good. We were cruising along with the wind in our hair and big smiles on our faces. The kids were like “wheee, this is the best day ever!”

Even at the first uphill incline where we all had to get off and push the bikes up (very unglam), everyone was still full of optimism, singing and being all encouraging. “Come on, we can do this!!” they yelled.

The next mile and a half started to get gruelling. The husband was doing all the hard work carrying the 2 small ones along but I was already feeling the exhaustion even with Truett pedalling furiously behind to give me a boost. The singing got gradually softer and nobody was whooping for joy. At some points, I started getting woozy from a lack of blood or oxygen in the brain; not unbearably so, but enough to remind me that I was still very much pregnant.

At the second uphill climb, I could no longer feel my thighs, but I had some adrenaline and sheer determination to keep going.

By the time we got to the third slope, we could see the Golden Gate Bridge just up ahead and it was a magnificent sight. What’s less magnificent is that without much warning, the sky got ominously dark and within minutes, it started pouring. We were stuck with nowhere to take shelter and no raincoats. I considered turning back but we were past the halfway mark and to return would be like that dumb blonde joke where they swam out halfway, got tired and swam back to the starting point.

Thankfully, both Finn and Kirsten could fit in the trailer where it was sheltered and warm. One problem solved. Truett, my rockstar, soldiered on bravely through the rain.

I’ll have you know that this is where I started to question all my choices in life.

Finally, we made it up to the bridge and things got categorically worse. Much, much worse. It was freezing and the wind was so strong that it was like pushing the bike against a very fat sumo wrestler who was just standing there laughing and blocking the way with his enormous ass. I yelled at Tru to hold on to the handlebars with all his might so he wouldn’t get blown off the bridge. He yelled back that he couldn’t because he had lost mobility in his fingers.

The wind was howling, the rain was pelting down hard and fast and I’ve never felt so cold and helpless and miserable and afraid. How about that determination from earlier? There was none left and I just wanted to give up on life.

I felt like Frodo on his trek to Mordor, except Frodo had it easy because he didn’t have 3 cold babies to worry about.

But then, there was the view.

I have no words to adequately describe the view from up there on the bridge. On the left, dark ominous clouds and a layer of thick, terrifying fog that covered the ocean. And on the right, like a light shining out of the foggy darkness was the bay area skyline that takes your breath away.

I don’t know how we got to the end of the bridge but right as we did, the rain stopped, the sky cleared up and it was back to blue everywhere. It was like a special sunshiney Sausalito welcome after a very harrowing ordeal.

We made the final 2 miles to Sausalito in silence, partly because that last stretch was incredibly beautiful and partly because no one could muster the energy for words.

Meanwhile, Finn had fallen asleep snuggled up next to Kirsten in the little trailer. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere for how God takes us through the storms in life, plus it was the most adorable sight to see Kirsten patting her baby’s sleepy head.

This is us having survived the craziest adventure yet.

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travel

Paris with Finn + Theo

Yeah, so turns out that it’s true, Paris really is ridiculously beautiful. Very much so.

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From London’s St Pancras train station, we boarded the Eurostar on a 2.5 hour ride to Gare Du Nord in Paris. If you’re planning to travel on the Eurostar, I discovered that the earlier you book this, the cheaper it is. I priced the trip at about £40 several months back but I dawdled on it and when I finally made the booking a week prior to leaving, it was more than double. Urgh. So book fast once your dates are set.

Other than the fact that Theo spent most of the ride either yelling for food, eating the food or looking displeased that there was no more food, it all went rather well.

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We spent most of our time in Paris exploring the cobbled streets of the city, walking from Notre Dame Cathedral to Pont Des Arts, to the Pantheon, circling around for lunch at Latin Quarters, down to the Louvre, to Champs Elysees and then back to the Eiffel Tower, where our apartment was.

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It was a lot of ground to cover but I liked how being in Paris felt like a walk in the park. None of the madness of Oxford Circus, no shoving or jostling or getting tsked for slowing down and taking a knee because Finn wanted to look at squirrels.

We’d take the time to explore gorgeous Parisian bookstores like this one.

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We’d take time to run after birds or sit by the pavement on a bridge to listen to this guy singing a most soulful french number.

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Oh oh here’s a story of the bridge – I was snapping some photos of Finn, who was dutifully flashing his blue steel face for the camera. There was a Japanese girl next to us who squealed something about kawaii when she saw him, and then not-so-discreetly snapped a photo as well. I typically don’t mind strangers taking photos of the kids when they’re squealy kawaii Japanese girls but Finn immediately flashed her a deadly side stare, upon which she decided to make a quick getaway.

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Blue steel does not mess around.

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We managed to spend some time at the Louvre, which was a fabulous way to spend an afternoon. Even baby Theo had a great time pretending like he was a work of art.

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How much for the interactive masterpiece hanging by the railing? Priceless. I’d take this one any day.

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And the Eiffel tower? Quite breathtaking, especially at night.

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I feel like I need to spend some more time with this city at some point, but for a first visit, it was everything I hoped it would be. Plus a little bit more. :)

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London with Finn + Theo: Days 2-3

On Days 2 and 3 in London, the kids were still getting up at 4 in the morning, which meant that we got an early start to our days in the city. Thanks to the time zones, we seem to get up much earlier on holidays than we do back home and it’s nice, waking up before dawn in a new city, spending a few moments listening to the still of the morning and taking it all in.

There was a starbucks around the corner so I threw on a coat over my sweats (one of the benefits of being somewhere cold is that I get to wear my jammies out onto the street and not have anyone notice) and hopped over for a bacon butty + a latte. I love discovering hip brunch places with fancy sandwiches but sometimes, on cold, quiet mornings, I like how a starbucks breakfast anywhere in the world makes me feel like home.

Slow mornings watching the sunrise with my babies next to me, that’s one of my favourite parts of the trip.

First stop for the day was the British Museum. Ranked the top attraction on tripadvisor, we had to stop by for a visit. Also, it’s free, as are all the other museums in London.

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There’s lots to explore at the museum and it would have been nice to spend more time wandering the halls but with the 2 babies getting precariously close to very rare and priceless sculptures, we were out in 2 hours. I think Truett + Kirsten would have enjoyed it a little more. I’m penciling it in for the next trip.

Meanwhile, Finn and Theo were very thrilled to discover a playground at Bloomsbury Square, right next to the museum.

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Theo: The best thing about having a big brother? Shoulder massages.

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Theo: For that delightful massage, I shall offer to eat your nose.

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Finn: Ok baby, listen up, here’s the plan…

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Theo: What in the world kind of ridiculous plan is that? No.

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We had afternoon tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury (excellent scones, cakes were ok), did a spot of shopping at Oxford Street, and rounded off the day with dinner at Chinatown.

***

The third day was our designated theatre day. The husband and I had a matinee show for Book of Mormon booked and my mom would go for Lion King in the evening with a friend. This turn taking system was necessary because babies.

But first, a trip to Borough Market in the morning.

I have a little secret affair with food markets. All the pretty stalls with so much food just casually saying hi and sometimes giving me a playful wink. Salt beef sandwiches! Crackling roast pork! Pan seared scallops topped with bacon bits! Paella! Authentic malaysian curry! Fresh juices! I was feeling a little ill so I couldn’t eat as much as I wanted to but my brain was all like “GIVE ME ALL OF THE FOOD!!”

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This place was baby Theo’s idea of heaven. He just toddled around pointing at everything, yelling “EAT EAT EAT!!!” This boy knows what’s what – he’s a true blue foodie.

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We had some very good coffee from Monmouth, a little coffee place just across the street. Not quite Melbourne coffee but one of the best we had in London.

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From the market, we took a stroll over to London Bridge (the inferior kind of meh regular bridge) and made our way along the river to the much nicer Tower Bridge. It was a lovely walk on a lovely morning.

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I suppose I’ll wrap up with a final word on the Book of Mormon, which was fantastic, by the way. I think this is now my favourite musical of all time, beating out both Wicked and Lion King. It is extremely politically incorrect, borderline offensive and not suitable for everyone but I found the script to be superb, the pacing was tight, the songs were masterclass and the wit was absolutely spot on.

travel

London with Finn + Theo

We’re back from London after a 10-day trip with the 2 babies.

So here’s the story to this London trip. Tickets to U2’s innocence + experience tour opened up for sale sometime in December last year. Why is this important? One thing you need to know about the husband is that he is the biggest U2 fan this side of the world and right at the very top of his bucket list is to go for a U2 concert. U2 has never toured in Singapore and if this mountain wasn’t going to come to us, we were going to have to go to the mountain. Sort of. We had to make this happen and there wasn’t very much time to plan because tickets to U2 concerts sell out within minutes. After some skillful computer clicking, we scored 2 tickets, which meant that of course, a trip to the UK was in order.

The timing of this was unfortunate in that Truett had to stay behind for school. Kirsten decided that if her precious big brother wasn’t going to go, she wouldn’t go either.

“Are you sure??” I asked her several times as I was booking the flight tickets. “This is London and Paris and Disneyland.”

“If kor kor can’t go, I will stay with him so he won’t be sad.” So she did. 1000 points for solidarity.

***

It’s our first visit to Europe and London was the perfect spot to kick things off because underneath this city girl exterior is exactly the inside of a city girl. I like being in a big city where there’s lots to do – getting lost in the crowd, discovering lovely little spots that make the place my own.

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The first 2 days in a new city, I like to make like a tourist and visit all the highlights before going off the beaten track.

Day one, both babies were jetlagging and very awake at 4 in the morning so we got in an early start to Buckingham Palace. Before we left, I had told Kirsten that we were going to visit the Queen’s home and she made me practice curtseying to the Queen just in case I saw her. I said this was very unlikely, “practically zero chance of this happening” were my exact words, but she made me practice anyway. And she’s right. One must always be prepared in case once meets the Queen.

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We got to Buckingham Palace but we didn’t get to meet the Queen. Or the Princess. Or even one of her chambermaids. Being the lowly peasants that we are, we just stood outside the gate waiting for the change of guard to happen.

No disrespect to Her Royal Majesty, but it’s horribly boring, by the way. We stood for an hour and a half getting squeezed by a million tourists, thinking that there would be some fanfare or dancing horses or something that would make this worthwhile. After like an eternity, we finally saw the top of some furry hats as a bunch of guards marched past. Okay, the hats were pretty cool, and it’s what I really wanted to see anyway, but the marching seemed very ordinary. All in all, I’d consider this a very mild success. If I could have touched the furry hat, it would have been a much bigger success.

After the new guards marched in, we tried to exit the crowd, but we were told to wait till the old guards marched out, so we had to stand there for another 20 minutes to see the tops of more furry hats.

Baby Theo was not pleased, I can tell you that. He spent the entire time yelling/demanding hi fives from strangers. Baby does not understand the importance of royalty.

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We left Buckingham Palace and crossed over to St James’ Park, which was lovely in the fall with all the crunchy autumn leaves and cute little ducks. And squirrels! There were lots of squirrels just running around having a good time.

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With so much space to explore, these 2 little squirrels had a good time too.

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From there, we walked to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the River Thames for a view of the London Eye. We could probably have hopped onto the tube to cut down on the walking but we had beautiful weather and also, we stopped to peer down the long flight of steps to the tube station before deciding that one of us would very likely injure something if we had to lug the double stroller all the way down and back up again. For most of the trip, we either hiked our way around the city or called for an uber when we were too exhausted. Most of the uber rides ranged from £5-10, which wasn’t much more than paying 3 adult fares on the tube.

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We also found a promo code for Gett, a London-based uber alternative, which gave us another £30 of free rides around the city. Sweet.

In the evening, my mom babysat the babies while we went off for a truly epic U2 concert at the O2 arena. The husband was in U2 heaven and even for a moderate U2 fan like me, it was an incredible performance.

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Quite a way to start off our first day in London, if I might say so myself. I think I rather like this city.

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Hooray for itty bitty dinosaur hands

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At the end of the trip, I asked Finn what his favourite thing to do in Melbourne was and he put his finger on his chin, thought real hard and said, “dinosaur stomping!”

For those unfamiliar with this particular activity, all it requires are a pair of itty bitty T-rex hands, stompy feet, and a loud, dinosaur roar. Check, check and check. Is this the cutest dinosaur you’ve ever seen or what? This just about sums up Finn’s entire adventure in Melbourne.

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In between stomping, he brought his piggy out for adventures. It’s an unlikely friendship, these 2: dinosaur and piggy.

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Sometimes, these adventures involve piggy being unceremoniously eaten. It’s unfortunate, but such is the circle of life.

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Meanwhile, the Truett and Kirsten were off engaging in a different kind of adventure: tree surfing. It’s pretty much similar to what we have here at Bedok Reservoir’s forest adventure, except with way more trees and obstacles.

(This was done at the Enchanted Adventure Garden in Mornington Peninsula, about an hour’s drive out from Melbourne city.)

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Kirsten decided at the last minute that she didn’t want to try it so Finn went up to her and gave her a big hug and said “it’s ok jie jie, you are a brave girl.”

Heart all melty and stuff.

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According to Tru (and the husband who went for the grown up version), it’s “very very very fun.”

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Besides tree surfing, the other really fun activity is tube sliding. It looks rather mild but it’s really not and Finn came off the ride looking shell-shocked and a little green, poor baby. Which is to say that Truett and Kirsten had a blast riding it twenty gazillion times.

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The rest of our time in Melbourne was spent revisiting old favourites like…

Puffing Billy. Good old Puffing Billy, what a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

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Collingwood Children’s Farm, because guinea pigs. And sheep and chickens and cows.

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//Hey Melbourne, thanks for a grand time. :)

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