As summer in Australia comes to an end, Steve and I ventured north for a quick overnight trip to Bannisters- Port Stephens, it’s just under 3 hours north of Sydney CBD. Steve’s kids had given us a voucher for Christmas in 2018, and the voucher has been staring at me from my planning wall in our office all that time. As Steve is off to Japan skiing next week on a boys trip and will miss my birthday, Steve thought he’d better plan a quick trip to score brownie points! Needless to say it was actually me who booked it all and he just turned up. While he is away, It’s also his birthday, so I figure those brownie points are actually mine!!!
We took my new car up the freeway which was a dream to drive, as riding the motorbike on the crappy freeway between Sydney and Newcastle is not my favourite thing. Too many aggressive drivers on this stretch of road to enjoy the scenery, not to mention road works. It’s an easy drive and we arrived around 3:00pm just in time for check in.
The Bannisters group have spent ‘squillions’ on redeveloping the old Salamander Shores building and as they say -“brought that retro feel of the 70’s into the build’. They sure have done a fabulous job. Having stayed at Bannisters in Mollymook on the south coast of NSW previously, already at check in, I can tell this is my new favourite.
An elegant Veuve Clicquot airstream caravan sits at the back of the foyer and we are offered a glass of bubbles whilst were check in. James offers to collect our luggage from the car and park it for us…… It’s such a nice touch.
Our room is lovely, an ocean facing ground floor room, with a sliding door to a deck and lounge chairs, that connects with the beach below via short walk or the terrace pool deck. It’s modern and I love it ! Beautiful French linen, gorgeous cushions that remind me of Morocco with the little metal disks that sparkle in the desert and a barn style sliding door to the bathroom with beautiful Kevin.Murphy products to enjoy.
The pool terrace is lovely. Loads of seats, pool lounges and day beds. Food and drink choices a plenty with the perfect amount of service! There is a water station, with chilled fruit flavoured cold water and a suncream and towels! None of that sign towels in and out thing, nope take 3 if you want!
The pool is crystal clear and cool, so take a breath and just get in. It was divine. The pool has a low side and a long step, handy for little kids. The far edge of the overflow pool is the deep side. The view is lovely out towards the rest of Nelson Bay, which seems so far away from where we are. There is a beautiful sandy beach below to stroll along and a jetty you can fish from.
Down below us is a newly renovated pub- The cheeky dog, which is part of the complex, so no need to bring your wallet, just charge it to your room! They have loads of beers and on-tap wine and margaritas advertising- the tap pouring is saving 1000’s of glass bottles from landfill. The pub has a great feel- very modern with amazing looking meals including wood fire pizzas, it also has a sports bar. It would be a great family venue and as dogs are welcome outside on leads, the fur babies can join you too! Apparently the mosquitos are bad here…. they love me- but a G & T and repellant fixed that!
As Rick Steins Restaurant is also here, we book in for dinner. Plenty of seafood and as there were so many yummy entrees, Steve and I shared a few of these and then shared an awesome fish and chips as a main.
The restaurant has a little more relaxed vibe than the Mollymook restaurant, with an open plan industrial feel it’s really nice, watching the sunset from the restaurant.
The buffet breakfast in the restaurant the following morning was amazing. Grab a newspaper, use their wifi and enjoy the morning sun, either indoors or outside on another terrace. The buffet had lots of choice or you can also add eggs anyway for an extra $10:00 and order coffee from the barrister who use Allpress coffee. Hell yes!
Check out is 11:00am and we were encouraged to stay for the day and enjoy the terrace which we did. Saturday papers, gorgeous travel magazines and some lovely music playing it was a wonderful way to spend Saturday before we cruised back down the freeway and home.
Will we go back ? Absolutely and next time, we’ll stay 2 nights, it’s really an awesome spot out of the Nelson Bay madness. Might take the dog next time and maybe the kids and co!
After our busy 8 days in Whistler Canada, Steve, Jess and I have headed to San Francisco for 6 days to chill out!
Kidding, an after thought was for a little bit of warmth after our snow trip in Canada and as we are routed through Vancouver, we couldn’t go too far as the flights to and from make travel days hazy.
We flew out of Vancouver after another game of awesome ice hockey that Steve got to enjoy with his son Josh and partner Lizzy. Great game and Ive decided I’m a real fan of ice hockey, and straight into Downtown SF and spent 4 nights right on Union Square.
Our accomodation is the Chancellor hotel which was built for the expo in 1915. It’s a little bit kitch and a little bit like staying at Grandmas house! It’s just lovely and within walking distance of the ice rink, festive tree, Macy’s and The Westfield shopping centre, that has circle style escalators that Steve remembers coming to see 30 years ago when he worked for Westfield shopping centres! A little bit of a time warp for him!
For Jess and I, it’s just shopping heaven and new favourite Golden Arches! ( not the McDonald’s kind) the Christmas kind!
There are all the usual suspects stores here- Anthropologie, Macy’s, Nordstrom…… mmmmm I didn’t think this through! Steve and I are sharing a suitcase to save dragging excess bags down here …. oh well a new bag it will be!
Our first night we arrive late, have dinner at a dodgey dinner, Steve loves the chocolate milkshake and Jess and I share a cheesy steak roll. Seriously the food is sooo big here in the US. Unlike New York, it’s hard to find a healthy choice.
The cable cars are crazy busy, with long lines waiting over an hour and a half for a ride, up the steep hills of the city. Then one was broken down and it all went to custard!
We shop till we drop the next morning before joining Blazing Sladdles bike tours down at pier 39 on the water front, but not before a 3 kilometre walk up very steep hills, through Chinatown and down to the pier!
Our bike ride takes us 16 kilometres along Fort Mason and the waterfront. Steve gets a flat tire so before embarking onto the Golden Gate Bridge with 4000 other tourists, he gets an electric bicycle as a replacement, as it was at the location where the flat tyre happened …….
I am one lucky lady because Steve ever the gentleman gives me the electric bike. I’m soooo excited because my knees and achilles are giving me grief after a week skiing and walking these steep hills.
Before we get to the Golden Gate bridge there is this rather large hill – the 3rd one of the ride . The electric bikes are incredible and literally take off so you need to be careful. I push number 3 on the bike and see ya later guys, I’m moving fast and I’ll see you at the top! It’s my new favourite thing! And who knew they even existed….. It’s a cool crisp and clear day in San Francisco and the bridge is a picture postcard!
Anyways we wind our way down into Sausalito- the prettiest town ever on the other side of the Bay. Our 3 hour tour ends at 4:00pm and our guide Anya then tells us, you HAVE to get the 4.30 or 5.30pm blue and gold ferry back across, because they won’t take electric bikes on the other ferries. So we have to quickly cycle back to the ferry terminal and spend the next 2 hours in a queue to try to make one of these ferries. We don’t really have anytime enjoying Sausalito. Oh and the ferries are running late ……
You have to appreciate holiday dramas as they really are a first world problems, but with the sun setting and the temperature dropping and us in lighter clothes to bike ride, seeing everyone waiting for the ferry hopping from one foot to the other to try and keep warm for 2 hours is a little bit like a gym class…… well a low impact class, but you get the idea, everyone gently moving to keep warm!
The seat on the ferry has never felt so warm and comfortable as the crew then loaded over 400 people onto a ferry and approx. 160 bikes, for the ride home. It was then stopping at Tiburon on the other side of the peninsula before heading back to pier 39 and some people were whinging and are just plain rude! Chill out, we will all get home eventually and as the crew said the night is young!
This week is the Regional College Football Bowl week! 6 college regional games over the New Years week and Steve is beyond excited to find a great beer hall with a massive TV to watch the “Orange Bowl” from Florida. All the names are funny! The orange bowl has a trophy that is a bowl style trophy filled with oranges , a couple of the other bowl names are the sunshine bowl and the potato bowl in Idaho…..I wonder what their bowls have in them?
Bartlett Hall in Downtown SF is fabulous and was recommended by our hotel which is just around the corner, has fabulous food we watch the game and we have an early night.
The following morning is New Years Eve and as all our friends and family are seeing in the New Year as the clock strikes midnight in Sydney Australia at home, we have hired a car and are headed approx. 40 minutes away to Muir Woods, an amazing National sanctuary for redwood trees that almost have their own little family circles, just incredible to see.
The 3 of us spend a few hours here climbing up and over the hill to get to the other side and back along the creek that runs through the woods, which is also a memorial to President Roosevelt. This national park spans from the California/Oregon border all the way down to Big Sur further down the coast covering acres of the old growth redwood trees, that really have to be seen to actually be believed and with what is happening at home with all the smoke from the fires that have been burning in Australia since September, it’s just lovely to smell fresh air, hear bubbling running water and see lush green under growth and tall trees that have also seen their share of fires which we can see with lots of new growth.
A must visit if you are ever over this way, so close to the city, go early like we did to avoid the bus tours and make sure you book a car space as they are also limited and have to be pre booked.
For New Year’s Eve we venture back over to Sausalito for a little wander and a fabulous New Year’s Eve dinner at Salito’s a Crab and Steak restaurant that keeps us all well fed! I’d love to say we were out till 3 in the morning but I didn’t hear the fire works or anything past 11:30pm So Happy New Year.
New Year’s Day is a cruisey easy morning a bit of a sleep in… a little more shopping at quirky Haight-Ashbury so cool, eclectic, funky, groovy and weird! And we fit right in! Except we aren’t smoking weed!
Lunch at this pub was FAB and we met some friendly Cali peeps to chat to.
Love on Haight………….. what a cool store
Our afternoon is again tackling the steep hills and we walk 4 kilometres this time all the way to Fort Mason to meet a couple of my friends that I met when I went to Morocco- Lisa and Sally and also a lady Cary, that like us had met Sally when she went to Morocco all via the social media platform Instagram! Sally’s husband Dan also joins us at this cool bar called RadHaus, which has an eclectic industrial feel about it with long wooden benches all made from the same large tree, and amazing light fittings from both Las Vegas and Chicago! Very cool.
We had such a great couple of hours chatting and drinking, before Sally, Cary and Danny head off for a pre planned dinner and Lisa drives us to Chesnut and we all have dinner at Tacolicious which was amazing Mexican! We farewell Lisa and head on back to our hotel to pack our bags as tomorrow we are heading down the coast to Monterey!
Our week here has had the most amazing weather blue skies and we are off again with in a short amount of time on their crazy spaghetti style freeways, you are out in the country!
Poor Jess has now got a head cold and feeling quite unwell, but she is sucking it up like a trooper. She has a little sleep in the car while Steve and I walk out along the Santa Cruz pier to see the sea lions. The mist hasn’t burnt off in the winter sun as yet so it looks quite foggy.
We wind our way down the coast to Pebble Beach and the 17 mile drive, fully intending to get to Big Sur, but the golf course is calling and its a magic day so we watch a little golf, enjoy the sunshine and coastal views, check out the visitors centre and then head to Carmel by the sea for late lunch ………. The drive has just been spectacular.
It’s late afternoon, so we decide to give Big Sur a miss and take Jess to the Aquarium this afternoon from 4-6pm, which turns out to be a great time. Less crowds, and a fabulous experience, including the sea otters ……. OMG we could just watch them for ever!
Our accommodation overnight is the fabulous Intercontinental on Cannery Row. The hotel and part of the pier actually sit out over the Pacific Ocean! It’s our last night as we lash out a little on great big rooms and beds with big fluffy doonas and pillows.
A nice Italian meal and its lights out for these little ducks !
Out last day today, was a wonderful drive back along the coast which reminds us of the south coast of NSW and also the 12 apostles drive in Victoria , with craggy cliffs and pounding surf. The sea mist is hanging around as it does in San Francisco due to how the ocean currents circulate.
This trip has been amazing in fact my whole travel year has. I’m truly blessed to have a wonderful family who love to travel with Steve and I and also have the opportunity for a girls trip ( or 2).
Here’s to 2020, a new year, a new decade and adventures to be had!
Our family has just spent 8 days together in Whistler -British Columbia, Canada.
A trip for 18 people from 4 different families, requires a plan to plan and of course I love a good planning project!
Christmas 2018, we shared with our kids that we were planning a trip to Canada for Christmas 2019 and would they like to join us….. most were interested straight away, and as we kept talking about some of things we may do, we had the whole McBrady bunch locked and loaded including a few partners. Ca-ching $$$$
Steve and I had previously been to Whistler with my kids and some of my family 3 years ago, so we were old pros on what we wanted to do or not do, and lucky for us we were able to do a home and away house deal with the same lady that we did last time! Whistler Cay Heights here we come.
We all met in Vancouver at a hotel where I had been staying with Jess Lana, and Jared after arriving from New York. Some of us have been in Vancouver, and Seattle, the rest fly in on the day we head to the mountains!
Slowly those that were already here added bags to the lobby until finally we were 12 cases, (well 13 if you include the fact that I had also now filled a bag with treasures from New York )!
Steve and I put all the kids on a private shuttle bus for the hour and half trip up to the mountains, whilst the 2 of us enjoyed some peace and quiet for the last time for the next 8 days…. Well actually- I enjoyed the peace and quiet as Steve had just arrived from Sydney, and thought he would drive to Whistler, only he was a little tired so I made him pullover and I drove the big “Yank tank” on the wrong side of the road along the Sea to Sky Highway, which is a really pretty drive and considering last time we came here it was snowing and foggy and I didn’t see a lot of it, it was lovely to see the water as I drove along.
The house we are in is not available until 4:00pm, so we drop our bags at the garage of the house and it’s off to the pub for lunch and an afternoon of collecting ski lift passes, ski rental hire and a big shop at the local fresh market to cover off what 12 people eat for breakfast thank goodness for the large car!
Lunch will be on the mountain or in the village and dinners have been planned for 4 meals out somewhere and 4 meals in with the help of Whistler cooks who deliver as we check in at 4.30pm.
The house is only a 10 minute walk into the village, however schlepping in to the lifts or gondolas with skis, boots & poles is not in my 10 favourite things to do!
Picture a snow covered gingerbread house- on a large scale and that’s what our accommodation is. Spa out the back to sooth weary skiers, store room and garage for drying skis boots, jackets etc.
5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and although I said to Steve’s kids (who hadn’t been before), ‘ we are all bunking in’ …… there actually aren’t any “bunk beds” ! I dish out the rooms and share the love. Everyone is happy at our home away from home including Jared, who is actually using an over flow room down stairs that becomes the Troll room.
Steve the baggage boy and passport controller has now had snow field packer added to his job description and guess what ? The 7 of us skiing let him! No complaints from us.
Although its fair to say poor Steve had a few days of wrong skis, changing back rental poles that were Tim’s personal ones ( lucky they went to lost property), the wrong ski boots and the wrong skis at the top of the round house for Lizzy early one morning ! Ahhhh we have a few stories to tell, and really as we are all adults we should not have made Steve expand his job description, but every day he got up and de-iced the car, loaded it with ski gear, drove and parked it in a prime position….. job well done I say!
Most days we head off early to park the car in the closest car park, to the gondolas and for the bargain of CAD10, we leave the car there for the day and with wifi available from most bars/restaurants and a brief discussion with the gang, we can figure out who has control of the car key, for easy access to apre boots when you have had your quota of the snow!
Night one of 8 nights it is just the 12 of us, as Steve’s sister Sue and Husband Alex plus their tribe of 4 are arriving tomorrow.
Ski lifts and gondolas open at 8:30am and have last runs up at 3:00pm.
Our first day on the slopes was clear and cold perfect for refresher lessons for a few of us and beginner lessons for Steve’s kids for snow boarding. And as for those other snow boarders and skiers, they were up and gone before the sun, which actually isn’t that hard as the sun is up late at around 7.45am and sets early at around 4.30pm.
Lana, Jess, Steve and myself all meet our new best friend Dave, an old time skier who has been skiing in Whistler since 1967.
Dave makes us all show him what we got and immediately starts working on our old habits that creep in when you don’t ski on a regular basis….
Why are you lifting that back ski Lynda? You don’t need to, come on follow me and glide down the hill, which if course I do! Steve, stop rushing your turns, look at Lynda she is in control and looks great, you are rushing. Lets try that again….. yes that’s much better, look out at where you are going not at your skis, just like you do on the motorbike.
Come on Lana and Jess lets get you from Pizza skiing to soft parallel skiing by the end of our first day! Yippee, the mountain is ours to roam.
Now years ago, there were 2 ski resorts that originally started in what is now called Creekside, when the ski town grew, they couldn’t make it any larger, as there are 2 beautiful small lakes on either side, so London Mountain was developed, and later was renamed Whistler Mountain, after the the mammal called a Marmot. A chubby little critter that is almost like a meerkat, in that they watch out for danger and whistle to their families! Hence the name.
Blackcomb Mountain ( that the old timers call Rockcomb) was a computer generated creation and unlike Whistler, which was a more natural development. For a long time these were two separate resorts, that required a separate ticket per mountain. There was lots of competion, along the lines of, we have the highest lift, or we have then most runs etc, until Blackcomb bought out Whistler to become Whistler-Blackcomb, where by sharing the best of both the mountains is an Epic ride. It is all now owned by the Vail group, but that’s another story!
Both sides of the resort are now linked by the Peak to Peak Gondola, an 11 minute journey, that gives your screaming thigh muscles a rest before embarking on more incredible runs down the mountains.
Allegedly the snow this season is the worst for 50 years….. doesn’t bother us Aussies – it’s still the best snow and although no big fresh powder arrives until late in our trip, we still have a blast.
The black runs (not that we care) are not yet open, however the green and blue runs are and we have a ball. We mostly ski on Whistler side, as the Blackcomb Gondola is not behaving itself through this busy Christmas week, so the lines to go up the mountain if you aren’t up early are very busy.
There are ski runs with names like orange peel and banana peel, papoose to name a few that run down into creekside village, and go past this cute little cafe called Chic Pea, that serves the most amazing cinnamon scrolls, covered in icing and a little caramel sauce. They also have other food, but this is a favourite for most and sometimes you even have a wait time of 15 minutes for the next batch to be ready! The little whisky jack birds, who hang around here are so tame, they will sit on your hand and take food from you. They also swoop and steal food!
The first part of our week, we have had the most glorious weather, including a few bluebird sky days, that aren’t normally seen until March, and to ski on Christmas Day with clear blue skies is a pretty special thing to do.
Sometimes the clouds are above the village and you ski through them it really has to be seen to believe. It’s such a cool village and for those that don’t ski there is loads of things to do.
As most of our group all skied/snow boarded, our other planned activities, were done after the lifts close at 3:00pm.
Zip lining with head torches on across the Fitzsimmons River which actually splits the 2 ski resorts was incredible, flying through -5 degrees temperatures, with toe and and hand warmer satchels that keep you warm, was crazy. A great night was had by all with 4 ziplines, some tree hugging of trees with names like Doug and Smithy that have been around for 1000’s of years, that now support the treehouses we are climbing in and also the zip lines.
For safety we all get put into groups of 8 with 2 guides at either end of us and a 3rd guide that has already swung through the trees to “haul us” in if required at the other end.
Snowmobiling, was another big group activity and having done this once before I wanted it to be a little different, so I organised with the incredible people @canadianwilderness01 to do an evening tour, with a beginner group and intermediate group and the speed demon group! Yep I’m a speed demon! In actual fact it was one of those times that organically the adults ended up skiing with their own kids!
To say this was a highlight is an under statement. As we all got into the mountains terrain, we realised we were actually snowmobiling on Blackcomb mountain, and crystal creek, where we had actually been skiing just that day! So instead of skiing down the mountain, we were hooning up the cat tracks and into the bowl.
I had also asked if our 3 groups could meet up for a photo opportunity and how amazing was turning up at an igloo with a fire burning and seeing the lights of the mountains! Just incredible.
Tyler then took our group further up the mountain (after we showed him we could weight bare turn the machines and manage them) and although it was only circle work, my girls and I sat out and watch Marcus Jared and Al have the safety removed and power into 15 minutes of pure adrenaline!
Just the best activity for Christmas Eve and we are all excited to ski on Christmas Day!
Christmas Day is so much fun, the whole 18 of us have all phoned home the day before to wish our families in Australia a Merry Christmas and now here in whistler Canada its our turn!
The whole crew play bad Santa and have a massive feast of food for breakfast that Alex and Steve have cooked on the BBQ whilst a big shop at they local fresh foo9s markets has us eating waffles and eggs and fruit yoghurt, granola ahhhhhhh Merry Christmas family, now lets go skiing!
It’s a blue bird day and quite warm, we all have a blast before heading home to eat ready for our next feast a fabulous Buffet at the Westin Hotel restaurant Grill and Vine. There is so much food, and a wonderful way for us to enjoy Christmas and for Steve Sue Alex and I a nice change from putting on the Christmas buffet at home. We all love to entertain, and to have the opportunity to have someone feed us……. bliss.
The last 2 activities we do are a valley walk at night, which is called Valley Lumina. I absolutely love it but 3 kids and some of Steve’s would rather be at the pub! ah well you cant win them all, however I would highly recommend it.
A few of us also venture out on a morning tour with Ryan from Whistler valley tours and buoy was it 3 hours of magical stops! Frozen lakes, Rainbow Villages and just a great way to see this town that is 18 kilometres long with lots of beautiful little secret spots to see.
Writing this blog has taken me all week to finish as we have been soooo busy and I have loved every minute of it.
Here’s to a happy new year and some rain in Australia
The city that never sleeps and neither can I … New York ~the big Apple has taken a big bite out of me!
Our flight via Vancouver is usually a step up from the crappy snatch and grab in Los Angeles, when flying to New York from Australia. You get your entry voucher after scanning your passport and your finger prints and have an ugly screen photo taken, snatch your bag, queue at customs and tell them what colour knickers you have on and where you will be staying and why you are visiting before you run for the next plane dumping your bag on the way…..
In 7 years of visits, I’ve made that 2nd flight from LA to NY twice!
This year wasn’t one of them either… our Air Canada flight to NYC via Vancouver was a fail too. Although it was much more pleasant and the ground staff were brilliant.
Our flight left Sydney late, so we were always going to struggle making the connection. New York via Vancouver and then via Montreal anyone?
As we are having a big family trip to Whistler, Canada… our travel agent routed us through Canada, plus we heard it’s normally the easiest transfer and includes customs clearance for the USA.
After our very long flight we finally arrived in New York quite late, (1:00am) McDonalds still open (it’s the city that never sleeps after all) and teaming with people.
Our hotel on the edge of Chelsea /Midtown is a few streets down from where I usually stay and 1 block over ( Avenues are uptown or downtown and the streets run east to west ).
Anyway it’s my new favourite area, even though I was totally disoriented from not being in my usual midtown area.
We are staying in the “flower district” where in years gone by there were blocks of streets filled with florist shops. Now it’s probably only 1 block…… but boy is it pretty~ Greenery and flowers everywhere.
Tis the season.. so there are also loads of pine trees both potted and those ready to be popped up for Christmas. There are stunning wreaths that are incredible and it appears stores, streets, parks and local homes all display these gorgeous wreaths.
I’m here with my girls Jess and Lana and we are having 5 days in the big apple before meeting the rest of our family and partners in Whistler for hopefully a white Christmas.
I’ve never been to New York in the winter and to see all the beautiful decorations and hear the bells ringing is just a dream come true. It’s been quite a mild week of weather, with the odd little snow flurry as they call them on our 5 day/night trip and although cold compared to Australian weather it hasn’t been too bad.
They have these things called winter boxes outside of restaurants and some stores and clubs as their entry point to allow you to come in out of the cold or rain and wind without bringing it inside with you!
It’s a clever system and we also soon figure out that you need to layer your clothes the right way to avoid being too cold outdoors or too hot indoors. I’ve never put my thermal on last, over my clothes…but it’s worked for us.
No matter the weather, you never leave the hotel without beanie, scarf and gloves and the trusty puffer jacket that squashes up to nothing in a bag or backpack is a winner, so you aren’t ‘lugging’ all these items through stores or losing an item.
Whilst we have all been to New York before, we all have new things we want to see and experience and although it would have been nice to see full on snow here we also know what brown slush and rain is like to get around in.
Our first day we eat a little breakfast as we have planned to have lunch at this kitschy German restaurant that is seriously off the richter with Christmas decorations….. floor to ceiling and it’s incredible. I booked 3 months in advance and whilst we waited for our booking time, (just incase we got lost finding the place,) the 3 of us sit across the road at a cool and groovy bar – Craft and Carry, serving boutique beers on tap with names like The big Alice- a nice Pilsner that I enjoy, Lana has a Rosè cider on tap and Jess has the biggest can of cider -750 ml we have ever seen.
From the bar we watch the line at Rolfs Restaurant move further around the block. It doesn’t appear to lessen at all. There must have been over 100 people lined up around the block for over 2 hours (in the rain might I add) just to have a drink at the bar!
It’s also a Santa convention in the city. Not the real Santa – Santcon is a glorified pub crawl, with people dressed in onesies, daggy Christmas sweaters etc. all going from pub to pub, unless like the boutique brewery we are in, that has signs saying ‘ no Santacon here’ ….. Power to all the ‘Santa’s’ out there today…… in the drizzling rain.
Our time slot arrives and we wander over to be led into our booth by our host and order incredible veal schnitzels with green beans and potato that looks and tastes just like Gnocchi and a glass of wine.
The wait staff dodge cameras and iPhones and also help take photos of those of us lucky enough to have a booking!
We all have a great couple of hours and then I push into the bar to get a photo from the inside out! Ahhhh …. we roll home on the subway with Santaconners, and locals alike. All in good spirits and a little merry.
The subway in winter is easy to find. You just see the misty steam rising out of the road and side walk. In summer you feel it and in winter you see it.
I have to say Jess is an absolute bloody legend with the subway planning and sometimes Lana and I contribute, however it’s mostly Jess being an uptown gal and getting us where we need to go….. I’d probably still be in the subway or just choose to walk this trip as I was a little lost the first 2 days, but by the end of our 5 days I feel like we have all nailed the subway. Just always check to make sure you’re heading the right way… uptown or downtown.
This trip I’ve seen a lot more dogs on leads wandering around the steets obviously ‘doing their business’ or playing at the designated dog parks. They have also been in stores shopping, well not them obviously but their owners.
Their human owners are only ‘allowed’ to take them on the subway if they fit into a bag~ like a sports bag with mesh to contain them in……. they are also allowed to hop on a short flight without being placed under the plane in the cargo hold! The flight we are on is 6 hours and I’ve seen 5 dogs all with their owners.
It has also been seen – a big labradoodle ‘almost wearing’ an Ikea bag…… with holes for its legs, that was ‘in a bag’ travelling the subway. (Jess saw this) I’m just bummed I didn’t !
The puppies as the park wear little rubber sock booties when it snows or is too cold……
I’ve just been chatting to a guy flying with us to Vancouver ( very late after a massive snow storm) about his beautiful dog that he’s bringing away with him for 2 weeks…… a 6 hour flight and I can’t imagine Addie my border collie just sitting on the floor in front of my feet, she is such a princess she would want her own seat or a baby bassinet !
Ahhh New York it never sleeps and all the big trucks delivering the plants, flowers and trees in our street wake Lana and I up a couple of nights dropping pallets off their trucks etc, their days start early before sunrise (7:00am) and the shops close up around 6:00pm
There are also cute little street stalls selling trees for Christmas both small and large ~ how tall would you like your tree? Yes! we would be happy to deliver! And seriously the smell….. if we had a little more room I would have got a tree for the 5 days in our hotel room.
A trip to NYC wouldn’t be complete without a tour with Our Kind of Town Tours and our friendly host Jerry, who this time took us out to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn…. wow it’s crazy that there is a whole neighbourhood with houses that are often professionally decorated by Christmas electrical specialists… It’s so big now that you can do a bus trip out there to see the lights. My tip is go early like 4:30pm it takes an hour in the traffic to get there in the traffic and it’s crazy…..
Our private tour in Jerry’s black Mercedes SUV then took to us to all the beautiful Christmas trees on display, all through the city. Rockerfeller Center, Bryant Park, Columbus Circle’s stars and a wonderful tree at Wall Street, outside the actual stock exchange.
They have also moved the fearless girl, she used to be near the bull, and she too is now outside the stock exchange.
Jerry also drove us passed the Hudson yards, took us to Brookfield place where we saw a palm tree light display and beautiful Christmas decorations and a new ice rink!
He then drove us along 5th Avenue past all the big guns and their window displays and light shows. Saks 5th Ave is like a fairytale castle and in fact every 15 minutes it plays a Frozen 2 themed music and light show, a little bit like what we have on customs house in Sydney during our winter for the Vivid light display. Jerry can’t believe. They chose FROZEN…… as he said, we have only just stopped singing the let it go song!
We also ventured to 5th Avenue ourselves as the window displays at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Cartier, Tiffany etc. are incredible as are all the stores.
My favourite store Anthropologie was as always spectacular and I could just curl up in a display and hang out there for a few hours … their trees were actually decorated with pom pom garlands and just dreamy, very on par with their winter alpaca woollen theme!
Maybe that will be my inspiration for 2020 tree decorating. I better start now so many pom poms
Macy’s also has the cutest interactive windows and Urban Outfitters is awesome around Herald Square.
Our next adventure on a fine Sunday morning is the Subway downtown to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and down into DUMBO area, it’s a great morning and of course we take a few photographs as the last time the 3 of us were here, I somehow lost the camera card and therefore all our photos.
New Yorkers are mostly in black jackets (as are we) so it’s all about the scarves and beanies !
A quick stop at an eatery called the Clinton Street bakery and we share a chocolate chip pancake plate with maple butter …. rub that on your thighs as that is where its going, but if you train hard all year you can enjoy all the holiday treats !
We visit an organisation called Feed, where you can help pack food parcels and also purchase bags etc. to help feed underprivileged children. It’s all ethical and I love it.
A quick shop run through the shops, and it’s time to head home and chill out .
Monday sees us eating an egg and cheese bagel from the local deli ordering our coffee which they call a half and half cortado and it’s off to Columbus Circle to see the beautiful stars and the Christmas market before we wander into Central Park.
Lana and I often share a meal as they are huge, and not that Jess eats her whole meal, just slightly different taste buds.
Central Park is quite cool compared to the rest of the city. It’s in a little valley and the temperature drops, we visit the Wollman ice rink, climb the park rocks, walk down the mall to the Bestheda fountain and get a few more photos before we head to the Plaza Hotel, not for high tea this time, just a coffee and Luke’s Lobster roll and a Sprinkles bakery cup cake from the food hall underneath the Plaza – a great little find that was recommended by my friends Deb and Adrian a few years back – with lots of specialty eateries all together!
More shopping on 5th Ave before the afternoon crowds hit the streets to see the lights which in winter are pretty spectacular all the time. As they are predicting snow flurries on Monday night and rain the next day, we decide we will push through and go to my favourite park in the whole world Bryant Park.
It’s behind the New York Public Library and in summer they host yoga and outdoor cinema on the grass, while in winter it turns into it’s own winter village. Another gorgeous Xmas tree, lots of food trucks and shops, the most beautiful ice rink and an urban space that is also a bar ! We enjoy a couple of hours here before a quick subway ride back to our hotel to drop off the shopping -then a block walk back up to Madison Square Garden to see the ice hockey. We bought our tickets on stub hub, where local ticket holders re sell their seats to us tourists if they aren’t attending the game.
Our new friend Dave who is sitting just in front of us is from Jersey, can’t quite pick our accent, we can tell he’s from Jersey but (sometimes locals think we are British) and by the end of the first quarter when he realises we really like sport and the ice hockey we have a great chat and although the Rangers had twice as many shots as the gators ( that’s what Kate, Tim and Marty on Nova radio call all American teams) in the end they lost 4-1 to the Nashville Predators….. the rain has started as we leave the stadium and guess what ? Right next door is a Kmart so off we go shopping to let the crowd disperse of course!
The weather man was correct and it’s a rainy day Tuesday so we head downtown to Chelsea market for breakfast and some cool pop up shops by local artists and flea sellers.
There is a new jean bar in town called Madewell and also another Anthropologie stop…… then it’s the train home via Macy’s and a whole floor of Christmas decorations (which were 70% off) …… 3 hours later a quick change in our room before we head to Rockerfeller plaza where we try to go to Bar 69 at the Rainbow room for a drink and bar food. We crash and burn so head outside to the City Winery Igloo bar for wine and tapas before we line up at Radio City Music Hall.
It’s a balmy 1 degree temp as we wait in line for our Rockettes Christmas spectacular show and it doesn’t disappoint. I get called out for allegedly taking a sneaky iPhone pic ( just for once I hadn’t) and although you aren’t supposed to take photos seriously we are up in the stalls and I am a rebel and frame up a few sneaky pics between the people in front of us. The show is 90 minutes and we absolutely love it.
Just around the corner is Time Square and it’s only 10:00pm, so the M&M store and the Disney store are calling our names.
Our last day today Wednesday before we fly to Vancouver tonight (we gave ourselves a 2 day buffer in case of a snow storm) more about that later.
A subway ride downtown to Soho – which actually stands for South of Houston Street and a yummy scrummy breakfast at Balthazar – another family favourite. A quick look in the Lucky denim store and Sephora and we have 1 more special activity.
2 hours of fun and games and ice cream tasting at the Museum of Ice Cream . It’s brilliant – a concept dreamed up by a girl when she was 6 years old and now 15 years later her dream is a reality. It’s all interactive and very over the top in an American kind of way – with loud, cheesy, smiling attendants all dressed in pink including the boys. You have to choose your ice cream name…….. I was Lyndaliscious ( thanks Nat Pow POW ) for the nickname, with messy Jessie and you won’t believe it Lana Banana…….
We went to a cloud party, ate smooth cream ice cream, soft serve, hard chewy honey bee and caramel, and a stretchy gum like ice cream. Oh and did I mention the sprinkle pool!!! All in the name of fun. There were so many photo opportunities with our new friends from Florida, Venezuela and Connecticut….. just a great way to spend our last morning in the big apple.
Now back to the snow storm. I think I jinxed us. Our driver drops us at the airport well ahead of our scheduled 6:00 departure.
They have this cool system that sends phone/apple watch alert warnings to anyone in the city. I guess it’s a radio frequency thing because it even goes off with our phones and watches on airplane mode. First it was when we were at Chelsea markets (about a child being abducted ) and then they went off again at the airport today, warning us of an imminent snow squall storm and to take care. We watch the storm roll over the airport which goes from having an amazing sunset to a white out, and it kept squawking and swirling and we just sat and wondered whether we would leave.
Our flight is fully loaded after the storm ready to take off and, oh no it’s another snow front so there we were sitting on the tarmac waiting to taxi off and now it’s 3 hours later than planned, I’ve dished out the Valium (thanks Lisa ) and I’m at the front on the plane the girls are down the very back.
I’m texting Steve slightly freaking out and he’s sending ‘ just breathe babe’ messages. They announce that they will hose off the plane because there is snow and ice all over us…. no shit Sherlock just a regular day out.
I don’t know what I was worried about, seriously we are now 3 hours into our 5 and a half hour flight and apart from a few bumps taking off it’s been a great flight…..
So I’ll sign off and post this when we arrive in Vancouver. We are going from the East to the West coast and gaining 3 hours. Not that that matters when it’s now 1am (it really 4am) and it’s been worth it.
Emma and Tim are in Vancouver or Seattle ( I don’t know exactly). Jared left Sydney this morning and arrives in Vancouver tomorrow as do Josh and Lizzi.
Steve, Alistair, Marcus and Chelsea are all Vancouver bound this Friday (Sydney time) and will arrive before they leave, once they cross the pacific and the international date line. Then lucky last, Steve’s sister and her family arrive on Saturday for our 8 days in Whistler village. With 12 of us in the chalet I have packed 3 bottles of VI Poo!
I’ve had the best 5 days and am truly blessed to get to spend this time with Lana and Jess.
The city of Marrakech in the mid western part of Morocco is alive and well, and we just spent 3 crazy days in the city and boy did it Iive it up to its reputation.
To get there, our little Souk & Co group boarded our bus for what appears to be a 250 kilometre trip- so therefore 2.5 hours, however the roads aren’t all freeways and in fact a lot was through the stunningly gorgeous High Atlas Mountains. Hassan our local guide was right – it’s one of the most picturesque drives of our 12 days, and for us it’s a whole day trip and really a great day to embrace our last day in the countryside before the crazy snake charm, juice bar, souks of Marrakech.
There is some interesting traffic with buses, tractors, the odd donkey and cart along with loads of road repairs, and our driver Abdul never raises a sweat through this incredible part of the country, when stuck behind slow traffic. Today is probably not the best day to venture out in your speedy sports car. The closer we get to Marrakech, we realise how much of this incredible country is untouched.
From snow capped mountains, incredible switch back roads, seeing a shepherd with his small flock of sheep or another with a herd of goats, is such a treat for us city slickers who all live in crazy built up worlds. This was just an incredible day.
The Mercedes bus was a long wheel base with a high roof and a few of us felt the motion throughout our tour and therefore sat up front as much as possible or snoozed with travel calm medication.
I choose to suck it up this day and I wasn’t disappointed the view was spectacular. “Marvellous”- in fact as a friend of mine Pete would say!
Our days on the bus were always loads of fun, listening to Hassan or all joining in on our official tour theme song thanks to Lisa L from San Fran “ Dancing in the Moonlight”, of which then Sally happened to have on her play list…… such a feel good song- thanks Lisa for bringing this to the group.
There was loads of discussion as we all thought Van the man had sung it, but after using a google credit- he never sang it…..
A quick detour to the movie town of Wazerat and Taroudannt. Which made our Emma a happy traveller and gave us all a quick photo opportunity. Games of Thrones and Gladiator were filmed here. There are 2 huge movie sets, like our Movieworld in Queensland Australia. (I’m sure they are all over the world but just a reference so you know what I’m talking about).
Our journey takes us through ancient little towns with big names like Ouarzazate, Ait BenHaddou and Ovid Ezekiel, there is snow on the mountains and if fact we missed the road being closed because of a snowstorm by a couple of days.
Back to the highway and cute coffee stops, with killer views and lunch spots with the best beef Koftas and a side of home made fries certainly keep the travel sickness at bay!
Our last bathroom stop, in the Valley of the roses found a shop filled with rose products and a few trinkets. Yes beautiful rose farms everywhere lush and green like an oasis in this valley, stunning against the desolate rocky mountain range.
Loads of little villages selling their wares or their pet chameleons ! Sim had one attached to her finger after a local lady tried to get her to take a photo for a few coins !
This amazing road was built by the French. And although it is single lane in some parts due to erosion, it is being widened and repaired and is just incredible.
I have to say arriving into Marrakech and it’s sprawling metropolis is a change to the small towns we have been in and I’m glad it is at the end of our trip, as even the big cities of Fes and Casablanca appear small in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the big M and this is just from the bus!
Our first stop is at what Sally’s team affectionately call the spice boys….. A herbalist shop with treatments for anything and everything. Including snake bite in case we get too close to the snake charmers…… not much chance of that for me…… my least favourite thing to see!
Hassan says Yalla Yalla- “Come on get moving” to the team and heads off a quick pace through the main square and as I have not really exercised this trip I’m happy to move my little legs at his quick pace as we weave through monkeys on the loose, people selling shirts and watches and sunglasses, as we head to a local bar upstairs with a cracker view to watch the sun set over the local mosque and embrace everything that is Marrakech……. for the bargain price of a drink, I grab a pole position for the rest of the team arriving behind us to capture the sunset, and as I said watch a poor little monkey escape it’s owner.
We see in the coming days, that these poor monkeys ( and snakes) arrive early in the morning in boxes and are obviously here late at night, waiting for tourists to pay to have their photos taken with these poor little creatures chained up. Needless to say we don’t pay and never would.
Sally’s camera has a great zoom, so I use her camera to get some awesome shots from our view, before we walk through the crazy eateries all clambering to get our tourist dollar to eat with them or have a juice, or get our palm read, we walk through the horse carriages offering rides along the promenade to our ever faithful bus driver Abdul, who collects us and whisks us away to our own private oasis, the instagram famous private Riad- Yasmine owned by Alice and Gabb whom Sally knows very well, and our group has the whole place to ourselves.
Well actually we had to share with the 2 cats, who Iike nothing better than to climb into your bed or your suitcase if you left the door to your room open- little cuties.
The staff here are incredible, making sure we have supplies as needed organise our laundry and cooked an amazing breakfast everyday that was always slightly different.
There is always a variety of bread, pancakes and cake…… not sweet like we have, corn bread, savoury style pancakes, that your can add jam or something to to sweeten if you like or eat with your egg and the most stunning olive oil I have ever tasted…… When in Morocco !
Coffee is called Noos Noos in Arabic and the word please is Afak. Say that out loud and see what it sounds like! Pretty funny to us ….
Ahhhh the world is a magical place when you travel and mystical Marrakech is just stunning. We get lost in Souk’s that have zones. Like the leather areas, or metal or food or clothes, carpets, blankets, slippers, ceramics in all the gorgeous green shades, walking through another archway passed wood workers shaving sticks to make shish kebab sticks with their feet, all the smells and feels of an ancient town, with some parts now turning to the western style of fixed price and no bartering and its also nice to have this mix and really first world problems some if us are arguing over $5 …… and we are on holiday!!!!
There are several oasis’s in the souks like the gorgeous group of Nomad restaurants and we get to visit them during our days in the souks.
Coffee at LeJardin a beautiful old family home, turned into a restaurant with green tiles and yummy coffee and a quaint atmosphere…… re charge and we are off again bartering and ordering before we must be at our lunch spot for 1:00pm sharp. ( we have lunch here the next day- so yummy!)
Yep another amazing roof top restaurant! We’ve eaten so much meat on this trip I just need a vego day and the gorgeous Nomad zucchini fritters followed by fennel, cauliflower and pomegranate salad does not disappoint. Lisa M has bought some of the locals metal castanets and gives us a quick click clack before we head to a shop downstairs called Chabi Chic – need I say more? We all partake in items, from glass jugs, wall hanging and coffee cups ( that’s just me) to postcards, more ceramics and cards.
Our afternoon is a real delight. A trip to the Yves Saint Laurent memorial garden, Museum and also the Berber museum, which was a big part of YSL’s inspiration after years of Black and white with Versace, when Yve arrived in Marrakech he discovered colour and culture which really influenced his styles.
There was a massive cactus garden, gazebo and lots of posers…… if you can’t beat them join them right ?
Ahhh……. back to our private residence before we are out to another treat of Moroccan fare. Sally again knows these guys very well,. Who serve us decoy non alcoholic beer and glasses of “juice” that looks and tastes just like Rose! There are lemon trees in the courtyard!!!!!! Morrocan Italian – Bón appetites !
Days 2 and 3 in Marrakech are more of the same and we love it!
The suitcases are starting to bulge and Lisa M and I take our magic carpets from Aladdin’s cave in the desert, to DHL in Marrakech and have them shipped home…… Of course we have the ever patient and awesome Hassan with us, whilst Sally stays in the Souks with the other gals. Lisa and I tap out and head back to our Riad and chill, whilst the rest of the gang hit up another garden hotel that’s apparently is amazing, but I’m happy to have had a few hours out of play to chill and cuddle up with the cat in my room…..
Our last evening is at another Riad, El-Fin and its next level. Larger than our private Riad, but so so stunning, from gorgeous art work to outstanding roof top areas. All this and a sunset before we sit down to an amazing meal.
Our ever patient hosts finish our tour with a question like we started with 12 days before. Then it was what our expectations were and now its about what our favourite memory was.
We all sit there a little stunned. How do you choose, actually I can’t even remember, none of us can it’s been so jam packed.
Hassan re lives our itinerary and we all start to remember. The wash up of it for us all is the incredible country and its people, the local experiences, like going to a market to create our own Tagine, the time we stopped on the side of the road and ate Bbq’d lamb with the locals. Actually it’s everything.
I was a little emotional and teary tonight- I also wasn’t alone chatting about our adventures and now they have come to an end with this amazing group of ladies, all from different walks of life. Some of them travelling solo leaving their families behind to experience this adventure.
I have new appreciation for tiles, Muslim beliefs and other cultures. Australia is so far removed from the rest of the world, including our American friend Lisa, who knows we are all Australian but calls us kiwis, I try to explain the kiwi New Zealander bird VS Australian wallabies and kangaroos as far as sports goes and that we are affectionately called Aussies. We teach her what slang words like dodgy and daggy mean and generally embrace each other, whether we are feeling unwell or have a handy hint for some sneaky i phone photos. When our emergency nurse Emma gets sick, all off us have a full proof remedy to make her feel better (for the nurse)!
I truly love small group bespoke tours, a fabulous way to meet like minded travellers and have had the trip of a life time with memories I’ll hold on tight to and treasure.
If anyone is thinking about a trip to Morocco either as a group with Sally or a private group that she and her team can help you plan, I can highly recommend Souk & Co. soukandco.com.au
It’s cocktail o’clock here in Singapore, and I’m sleeping during the day and partying all night………… 3 days to get home from Northern Africa to Australia sucks and I’m trying a new approach with a Singapore stop over……… more about that next time
After leaving the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, we had a big travel day on the bus, stopping a few times before reaching the town of Skoura.
We stop at a beautiful town and as women, we support other women, who run a co op in a fortified village of Khorbate that is being re built to preserve it’s heritage. Lunch – under orange groves and olive trees.
Our day is quite long and when we arrive into what appears to be farming country…… heaven! We are in a real live Ksar inside a Kasbah, technically still in the Desert and in a lush palm oasis.
In days gone by rich families owned the Kasbah (village) and let their workers live their too, they were safer together and as part of the payment for working there, the rich land owners paid for things like their children’s education……. The doors and windows were smaller to slow down enemies and these doors and windows and you sometimes need to duck you head- Even me!
Ali one of the amazing workers at El Kabbah where we are staying, gave us a stick in the dirt history lesson this morning on our way to the local growers market. I’ll try and add it to my blog, or if not my instagram story. This market is a festival at this time of the year, people come from all over the country.
We are staying in the most amazing Kasbah, where they blend the old and the new. It is cheaper to not completely demolish the old and just use the wood, and re build their new mud and straw constructions!
They all look like mini castles, and the rooms are just incredible, as is every hotel we have stayed throughout our whole trip, filled with photo worthy nicknacks (or dust collectors) as some of my friends say, and I have loved taking photos of all the special treasures we are finding!
Today is technically a rest day and as we are all so over stimulated with the pace and activities, we’ve turned our rest day into a girly slumber party kind of day! And it’s been so much fun Hassan our guide joined in a little.
The weather is cooler than we thought, so puffer jackets are required morning and night and layers for the day.
This hotel is like a movie set. The foyer joins the library, where we have mint tea with incredible cookies, before going outside past the pool and the most exquisite rose gardens.
The dining room is like a wing off the pool area, before the gardens resume where there are seats, hammocks and an olive tree that is certified to be over 150 years old…… oh and it’s olive picking season along with dates so the fruits just fall from the trees.
Our rooms are at the back of the Ksar property beside the spa and Hammam baths. It is an incredible place to wander.
The sun shines and warms up and Ali takes us to market, he only lasts about 10 minutes before he realises that 9 western women require more than 1 “local body guard” and before we know it 2 other Ksar employees are with us.
Our growers markets in Australia have nothing on the rural North African markets where live stock is being roasted or displayed for purchase. There are also little chickens, goats and sheep for sale and we all kind of breath easy as they are so young and little, we know they won’t be on the menu tonight………
Ali is taking us to the vegetable section, because a few of us have decided we can’t sit still and want to take a Tagine cooking class. Tagine is actually the vessel that is used to cook the Moroccan style food in. It’s usually cooked over hot coals and can be anything from vegetable to meat and seafood.
The market has snake charmers, local profits preaching, men gambling by shooting a packet of cigarettes off a doll head with a riffle, to ice cream cones and toys and groups of women catching up. It is surreal…….
As I said they also cook meat- in this case whole sheep. They do this by creating mud and straw domes that they stoke with wood and heat, then lower the whole prepared sheep into the mud oven and cook for hours.
Our little gaggle of western women stick out like the proverbial so we collect our veggies and fruit and wander on home for our cooking class or spa treatments, there are people everywhere. Motorbikes, cars, donkeys, trucks and others like us walking. A fun experience.
I’ve pictured a long table lunch in the olive groves of Italy in my mind for a while now and whilst this isn’t Italy nor is it a really long table, lunch for 10 of us, under the olive trees in Skoura Morocco with the fountain running through the garden is pretty much up there. Just divine.
Our food we learnt to cook, along with amazing Moroccan salad, is served with rosé and sparkling water and it is just a magical lunch.
Embracing real travel with a small bespoke travel tour is just divine. I have a hot stone massage o there’d brave the Moroccan bath called the hammam ( and have a few scrub wounds to prove it ) I am sitting in the sun on my balcony when the what’s app text goes off letting us know that if we want to have a henna traditional tattoo, to come to the library.
This particular day, we are the only people staying at the Hotel, so our group arrives in their room gowns from spas and sit in the library and enjoy not only the henna experience but afternoon tea of yummy cookies and of course Moroccan mint tea, which when poured is an art in itself. https://www.thewonkycamera.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/img_2152.mov
We all really needed this slow pace day and Sim says as a few of us lie around the library letting our henna dry it has almost be like a slumber party couple of days, just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company, sitting around in robes, PJ’s or casual clothes eating and drinking and just having a wonderful break.
We are off the Marrakech next where we know the last few days of the trip with be crazy with shopping and haggling over items to bring home and of course a little bit of culture.