Weekend with the Kisses

We spent a long weekend in Balassagyarmat, Hungary, visiting our friends Peter, Krisztina, Bogi and Balasz.  Peter and Bogi picked us up from the Budapest airport in our favourite Kiss-mobile.

We helped Peter finalize the website for his new kitesurfing school in Sri Lanka (http://www.surfpoint-srilanka.com) and when the kids returned home from school, we went on a really cool semi-private tour at the local zoo.

The next day, we drove to Slovakia for a day of skiing.  It’s been well over 6 years since we’d been out to the mountains for skiing/boarding, but we took it easy and had lots of fun (despite a little rain and fog). 

On our way home, we stopped at a cozy restaurant near the Hungarian border for a really delicious meal, for less than 5 Euros.

On our last day, Peter’s dad invited us over to try some traditional Hungarian cuisine for lunch - bean soup and goulash made from stomach lining.  We really enjoyed it, especially the bean soup!

Krisztina and Bogi drove us back to Budapest where we visited a few sites in Buda and Pest before saying good bye.  We were sad, but hopefully we will see them in Sri Lanka this summer.  

Before heading to our hotel for a short nap (before our early morning flight), we stopped to check out an eclectic and funky bar called Simple Kert, for a pint of cider.

During our visit, Dom went on a sausage shopping spree after discovering all kinds of delicious Hungarian sausage.  We must have brought around 10 huge sausages back to London with us :)

Cycling the York Solar System

In February, we returned to London for another 6 months of work.  On one weekend, we decided to try something a little different - we took our folding bikes for a ride through the solar system! 

A few kilometres from York, they've repurposed an old rail line into a cycle path with a scale model of the solar system (https://www.york.ac.uk/solar/index.html).  What a neat idea! 

Every 100m of the trail corresponds to 57 million kilometres in space, so we started at the Sun and arrived at Mercury 101m later.  Doesn't sound like much of a bike ride, but at this scale, the distance between the Sun and Pluto is nearly 10.3km :).  Apparently if you were to walk the trail, your scaled speed would be equivalent to around 3 times the speed of light.. since we biked, we flew through the solar system at around 10 times the speed to light!

After our little jaunt through space, we returned to York to check into a really lovely B&B called the Dovecote House.  The rooms were super cozy and we were served really delicious, freshly baked (still warm!), croissants for breakfast!  

We spent the rest of the day wandering the walls and many pedestrian streets of York's fortified old town.  

And, of course, when in Yorkshire.. eat Yorkshire Pudding!  They were plentiful and super-sized!

When it started to rain, we found ourselves at Stonegate Yard Bar & Brasserie, a local pub with a really charming atmosphere.  We discovered our new favorite pub drink (for those of us who don't drink beer) - Rekorderlig Wild Berries Cider (and on tap to boot)!  Yum!  

Speaking of yummy things, we discovered that Rowntree, the company that brought us Kit Kat, Aero, Jelly Tots, and Smarties, originated in York.  They were bought out by Nestle in the 80's, but Kit-Kat factories continue to operate in York... evidenced by the rich, mouth-watering aroma of warm chocolate that blankets the entire town when the factories are running.

On Sunday afternoon we met up with Mark and Trish, our coworker and his girlfriend, for a couple of hours since they also happened to plan a trip in the area on the same weekend!  We explored the Rambles, walked along the river to Millennium bridge, and checked out the museum gardens. 

By Sunday evening it was pouring rain, so we checked out the Railway Museum and then watched Logan at the local theatre.  

Despite so much rain, it was a perfect weekend getaway.  We both really enjoyed and recommend York!

Biking the Mekong Delta

Thanks to a recommendation from our friends, Eddie and Jen, we finally decided to visit another part of Vietnam that we hadn't yet been to!  We always wanted to see the Can Tho floating market, so when they told us how much they loved the 3-day bike tour with Sinh Balo Tours, we decided to give it a try. 

Our 3 day journey in the Mekong area had us riding about 130km along quiet village roads and bike/motorbike trails that run amid various farms and fields.

Day 1 (Saigon–LongAn–MyTho–VinhLong ~43 km)

Our first day was pretty busy. Our guide, Loc, picked us up at our Ho Chi Minh hostel at 8am and we drove about an hour out of the city to begin our biking adventure with another couple from Denmark. 

The first 25 km were though rice fields. 

Along the way, we stopped at a factory to see how rice noodles are made.

Then the van then drove us 30 minutes to a local vegetarian restaurant where we ate an assortment of delicious local dishes. 

After lunch, we did another 18 km before taking a couple of boat rides to enjoy the beautiful sunset.  We crossed over to a smaller fruit-farm island where we tasted several types of local fruits and home-made "happy water".

At our homestay we ate some fresh seafood that our guide purchased from local fishermen during our boat ride along the river. 

Day 2 (VinhLong to CanTho ~50 km)

Another busy day packed with interesting sights and fun/unique experiences, starting with breakfast at 8am and then back onto the bikes!  

We stopped at:
a market where you can buy skinned frogs... that are still alive :(

several fruit plantations: Banana, Rambutan, LongAn, Pomelo, Papaya, Durian, etc.

a Khmer temple

another delicious lunch at a local restaurant in the middle of nowhere :)

Since it was nearing the end of the Chinese New Year (Tet) holiday, we saw (and heard) several small house parties blasting loud, distorted Karaoke through the normally serene farm fields.  

Our guide took an unexpected turn into one of the local homes along the way.  Apparently he decided to stop in to "say hi" to some locals he had met here while scouting routes for the bike tour.  The locals welcomed us all in as though we were good old friends, and offered us typical Tet celebration foods such as candy, biscuits, fruits with chili-salt, "happy water", and some dog-stew. 

One of the locals grabbed his guitar and they all started singing for us. The best part was that it felt so local, authentic, and unscripted - a very rare experience when you're on a tour! 

After our last ride, our butts hurting.  When we finally arrived at our guest house, we thought the days was over, but no… we had a 1 hour shower break and then it was time for a little cooking lesson!  The owner of the guest house taught us to make yummy Spring Rolls and Vietnamese pancakes. After dinner, we all crashed… exhausted, but happy.

Day 3 (Can Tho to Saigon ~35 km)

We woke up early and hopped onto a boat to visit the Can Tho floating market. We originally thought the market was where locals go to buy food, but it turns out that it's actually a wholesale market where farmers sell their fruits and vegetables to middle-men who then transport the food to other areas of Vietnam.  Our guide told us the minimum orders are somewhere between 50 and 100 KG. 
There were a handful of smaller boats selling food for the hard-working traders.
We returned to shore and biked 16km through the suburb of Can Tho.  This section was well paved, so our butts were happy :). 

Our last ride 20km ride was to a Pomelo farm where we stopped to pick our own Pomelo. 

After a quick drive back to Ho Chi Minh, our trip concluded.  

Overall we had an amazing time and we were extremely impressed with the organization of our tour.  Tthe bikes were in great condition, the group was small and felt very personalized and most of the activities didn't feel overly-touristy.  In particular, we felt especially lucky to get Loc as our guide, as it really felt like he put a lot of effort into showing us as many local and authentic experiences as possible.  

Thanks Eddie and Jen, for recommended the trip to us!  We also highly recommend it to anyone else thinking of visiting the area!!

Hoi An Side Trip

Jen jumped at the opportunity to return to her favourite Vietnamese city to play tour guide with her parents and the girls for a culture, foodie, markets, shopping, and tailor-made clothing extravaganza!  Dom and Guy had already been to Hoi An before, so they decided to remain in Mui Ne to continue teaching/learning kitesurfing.  

Of course they couldn't pass up the chance to try out all of the best Vietnamese dishes in the region, with Neville's Great Taste of Hoi An Foodie tour (for Jen's 3rd time)! :)

Friends and Family in Mui Ne

This season we were really fortunate to be joined by several friends and family from Calgary, at our favourite kitesurfing retreat in Mui Ne, Vietnam.  

Despite this year's very unusual season of windless days and down pouring rain, we still had a blast introducing them to all of our favourite restaurants, activities, massage/spa treatments, and, of course, all of our Mui Ne friends.

Kiting Lessons
Paddle Boarding
Cooking School
Jenga for buckets ;)
Checking out a movie to escape the rain...

Bath At Last

A few people had recommended visiting Bath when we were previously here, but we never seemed to find the time.. until now!!  

We finally booked our train tickets and did a day trip out to city of the Roman Baths.  Since it was quite chilly, we were a bit disappointed that you can’t actually swim in the Roman Hot Spring Baths.  Fortunately, they did a really good job with the audio tour so that made it a very interesting place to visit!.  Near the end of the tour you have the opportunity to taste the bath water, which many people apparently describe as a repulsive taste.. to us, it just had a slight sulphur smell and the taste was quite similar to the well water you get in some places in Canada! :) 
All in all, it was worth the trip :)


After Chernobyl, we returned to Kiev for a big feast of Ukrainian specialties at Taras Bulba (http://www.en.tarasbulba.kiev.ua/) including borsch, pirozhok pastries, and a variety of vareniki dumplings (filled with anything from vegetables, to cheeses, to fruits!).  We even tried some “expensive” vodka (the most expensive bottle at the restaurant, but not expensive by N. American standards).. and it actually tasted really good (far better than the nail-polish-remover stuff that we’d been accustomed to)!

Our friends left the next morning but we we opted to stay an extra day to visit Kiev. Despite it being quite cold outside (it was snowing!!), we spent several hours walking the city to see various shops, parks, monuments, squares, and churches. 

Street Art in Chernobyl

The main reason we went to Chernobyl was to meet up with our friends Fabian (Bane) and Yannis (Pest) who had organized the filming of a documentary about their Street Art project in Chernobyl.  

Here is the link to their documentary:   

When they arrived in Chernobyl, they were touched by the aura of the place,  They had to rethink what they wanted to paint and decided to compliment the surroundings instead of clashing with it. This is why they painted animals in their habitats. 

We were only there for the last 2 days of their week-long adventures, but we are very grateful to them for inviting us to be a part of it!


At 1:23am on April 26, 1986, during some safety tests, reactor #4 of the nuclear power plant near Chernobyl went into meltdown.  The surrounding area was covered in a cloud of nuclear dust, and high concentrations of dust downwind from the reactor caused all of the nearby forest vegetation to turn bright red (http://luz.it/features/red-forest).  

Residents living in the surrounding area were not immediately told about the accident.  Around 36 hours later, everyone living within the 10km exclusion zone (later expanded to 30km) were evacuated.  They were told the evacuation would be for 3 days, but it ended up being permanent.  Within days, Pripyat, the nearby bustling town of nearly 50,000 residents, became a ghost town.  

25 years later, the radiation had settled and the exclusion zone was opened to the public as a tourist attraction.  Despite residual radiation hotspots that still remain today, hundreds of elderly have returned to (and refuse to leave) their homes inside the exclusion zone.  Thousands of workers continue to work in the area, decommissioning reactors 1 to 3 to a conserved state - a project that is estimated to take until 2028.  

We were invited to meet up with our friends Yannis and Fabian who were planning a graffiti project in the area (a story for another post).  We spent 2 days and 1 night in and around Pripyat, the nearest modern city that supported most of the personnel and families operating the Chernobyl power plant.  

This website shows some great images of what the city looked like before the disaster: http://io9.gizmodo.com/photos-of-everyday-life-in-pripyat-before-the-chernobyl-1618107860 .  
Once our guide brought us to the various sites, we were free to wander and explore the abandoned facilities.  The silence of the empty streets and stepping into the tattered remains of the buildings leave you feeling bewildered and eerie as your imagination runs wild.  The modern concrete world has been incredibly swallowed up by the ravaging forces of time and nature.  

Amusement park


In the hospital, Alex pointed out the headband of one of the disaster firefighters.  When you put the geiger counter near it, the alarm starts beeping like crazy!

Schools and Sports Facilities

Jupiter Factory

The views of the city really show how much nature has overtaken the city!

We had sorta guessed/assumed that the Chernobyl disaster would have resulted in a total wasteland where nothing could survive.  We were very surprised to see so much vegetation thriving and overtaking the area.  We were even more surprised to hear that our friends saw a fox hanging around the Pripyat Amusement Park.  Our guide told us that there are actually quite a variety of wild animals that continue to live inside the exclusion zone.
During our visit, we saw several wild dogs and also found this adorable tiny kitten meowing non-stop.  Alex ran back to the van to grab some sausage to feed to the kitten and it finally stopped crying.. poor thing must have been absolutely starving!!

A few other things that our guide Alex told us: 
 - Around 106,000 people were evacuated from approx. 20 villages.
 - Chernobyl was supposed to become the biggest power plant in Europe with something like 12(?) reactors.
 - A huge new containment dome/sarcophagus has been built to encase reactor #4.  It takes several days to move the dome over the reactor and it was scheduled to begin just a couple weeks after our visit, so we were lucky to be able to see reactor 4 before it becomes covered forever:

This still-operational market inside the exclusion zone is where we bought all of our food for the day (bread, sausage, cheese, cookies, and drinks).  The best part is that the cashier still uses an abacus to calculate your total!

Everyone who exits the exclusion zone must pass through the radiation detectors to ensure you’re not contaminated. No one actually monitored the area to verify that we were clean, so we guess that the machines are mainly there for our own peace of mind.  Fortunately, Yannis told us that the first time he went through, the machine actually beeped and the light turned red until he cleaned the rocks/moss from the bottom of his shoe.. it was a relief to know that the machines actually work!  

What a cool trip!  Many many huge thanks to Fabian and Yannis for inviting to be part of this incredible and unique opportunity!  It was a such a fascinating experience!!


One of the cool perks of living in London: we found some cheap flights to Copenhagen, so we decided to check it out for a weekend!  It was the first time either of us had been to a Scandinavian country and we really enjoyed its mix of old and new architecture, large green spaces, cute canals, and dedicated bike lanes meandering throughout the city.  We could easily walk everywhere and the city felt so clean and peaceful everywhere we wandered.

Here are some interesting facts that we learned about Copenhagen while in the metro: 
 - 1.2 million people live in Copenhagen. 
 - The Danish royal family is the oldest in the world.  Oh! We didn't even know they had a royal family!
 - 55% of people cycle to work.  This was easily believable after witnessing the crazy number of bikes and cyclist in the streets. Even more amazing was noticing that they rarely bother locking the bikes to a rack/pole/fence - they simply lock the back wheel.. in fact, many of the bikes weren't locked in any way at all!
  - It has the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.  Interesting fact, but Strøget street turned out to be our least favourite area to wander.

Views from the Rundetaarn

Naps in parks.. is this becoming a habit..? We must be getting old!! :)

We also went to a part of the city called Freetown Christiania, which is apparently a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood. It’s a totally different hippy-like world where the buildings are graffitied, several areas smells like the Paris metro (ie. pee), and marihuana is apparently tolerated... or if it’s not, the guy with the big bag of weed next to us, didn't get the memo. 

Can't forget to mention a few memorable food experiences!
Kanelstaenger from Holms Bager, a bakery near the Christiania metro station.

Smørrebrød and Tapas from the Torvehallerne market.

A delicious Moroccon Flatbread sandwich from the Marrakech stall at http://copenhagenstreetfood.dk/en/.