An affair to remember……..

Hong Kong Part I

It seems I always form attachments to big cities and Hong Kong is no different.  This beautifully chaotic city really gets under my skin and my relationship with it can be as intense and as passionate as any love affair.

Hong Kong is a sophisticated city with its perfect mix of modern and traditional and it is also one of the most densely packed cities in the world with a population of over 7.3 million people.  There is massive wealth right alongside those who are poverty stricken and believe it or not, this city is still growing with construction and sympathetic renovation.

Hong Kong does not sleep.  It sets a cracking pace 24 hours a day but do embrace this wonderful chaos as it is all part of the adventure.  If you do need a break, there are many places and much green space where you can seek moments of respite from the mayhem and heat……….and there is always ice-cream.126

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Hong Kong has the highest concentration of skyscrapers anywhere in the world.  It has an absolutely stunning skyline but I could not help but wonder if Hong Kong suffered the worst feng shui because of it.   My fears were allayed  as the planning and design of these magnificently enormous structures are not only decided by the architects and engineers, but also by feng shui masters.   These towering structures are always positioned and shaped with respect to nature which in turn brings good fortune.   How this sky-scape must continually grow and change.

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Perfectly positioned geographically, Hong Kong has mountain ranges to the back and water to the front.  There is a lovely belief that dragons, those mythical bearers of good luck and positive energy, live in the mountains and their energy blows over and through Hong Kong.  The dragons also need to make their way from the mountains to the water to drink and bath and this is why some buildings, especially those directly along the water front, have ‘holes’ in them.  These gaps allow the dragons an unobstructed path to water.  How wonderful is that.

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Eat Hong Kong……. 

Hong Kong is an absolute food lovers paradise.  This really is one of the great food cities of the world from its humble street food to its top-end restaurants.  It is also where you will find the best dim sum.

Translated, dim sum means ‘to touch the heart’.   The sticky glutinous joy of chickens and duck feet, bossy trolley dollies, billowing steam from stacked bamboo baskets, dusty pink shrimp, pungent tea, cramped quarters full of locals perched upon stools and the most perfectly fluffy steamed buns EVER (big call I know).  It all makes for the ultimate dim sum experience which really will touch your heart…….. although I did skip the thousand year old eggs!

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The perfect steamed pork bun on the streets of Hong Kong…….

In Hong Kong, your food experience is as fast paced as the city itself.  Blink and your meal is ready.  There is also never a bad time to eat so if you have a craving for dim sum or roast goose or beef brisket in broth or char siu or congee at 3am you’ll get it.  And do try ‘pantyhose milk tea’.  This is black tea and milk strained through pantyhose which gives the tea its silken texture.   Don’t expect it to be served in fine bone china though as this tea is best appreciated while sitting in a busy local filled establishment.  And if its not made from an old fashion stocking, then its not the real deal.

I can never pass up one (or five) of these……….

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Velvety egg tartsSmooth, cheerfully yellow egg custard nestled in the most perfect butter pasty shell.  And I can state with confidence that you really haven’t had pastry until you have had it in Hong Kong!  For almost eight years we lived in the heart of Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne, and this is where my true romance with these delicate little morsels really began.  The brilliant Brunswick Street and Johnston and Smith along with all the narrow back streets and alleys of this suburb and its surrounds became our backyard.  We knew every inch of Fitzroy.  The places to eat and drink, the wait and bar staff and some of the most interesting and eclectic inhabitants of that beautifully bohemian suburb.   Walking home from work, I would occasionally take a short cut through Chinatown (located along Little Bourke Street in the central business district of Melbourne).  Now truth be told, it really wasn’t much of a short cut at all but it did take me directly to the epicenter of egg tarts.  Our time in Melbourne was unforgettable and standing on a busy street in Hong Kong with one of these little tarts in my hand, I could but for a moment have been back in wonderful Fitzroy.

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You will find beautiful tea houses with art deco décor, alleys lined with hanging roast goose and pork (and these aren’t window dressings!), small areas with a folding table and plastic stools and noisy jam-packed markets to sample some of the best cuisine on offer.  Be open-minded and curious and go where the locals go.  This is how we love to eat, mixing and mingling with the locals so if you see a small and unassuming place filled with locals, go in.  These unpretentious little spaces are the soul of eating in Hong Kong.  You can even finish off with an egg tart………what the heck, you can even start your meal with one too. 1218

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Drink Hong Kong…….

This breathtaking city also has a very impressive craft beer industry with some top notch brews on offer from light summer ales to big bold darks.  We found a couple of great little spots, Roundhouse in particular, where we sampled many a beer because life really is far too short to drink bad beer.

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You can go high end or low brow for a cocktail in Hong Kong, which for very good reason, are ranked as some of the best in the world.  Negroni’s are king with their fruity bitterness and the gin and vermouths are gently infused with lavender, elderflower, marigold and thyme.  Just beautiful so Yum La

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I can never go past the perfect G & T…….

And what better way to bar hop in Hong Kong than on the worlds most intricate network of covered escalators, skyways, tunnels and walkways most of which, are air-conditioned.  Once up here, you don’t have to set foot on the ground all day.  Not only does it offer a birds eye view of life on the streets below, but it is also the perfect place to people-watch…….especially those on awkward Tinder hook-ups.

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Honestly, if you can’t find something to love about Hong Kong then there really is no hope for you.   Part II coming soon…….x

Footnote:  Yum La translated means drink up….

 

 

Chicago Part III with Lady O and a little Goodwill………

I really am a city girl and Chicago had me from the moment I set foot upon its sidewalks.  Dependent on where I am, I can tend to fall in love with places…….just a little.  It is a  love of the casual kind.  An unpretentious and easy-going bond which can develop for a place one has visited, lived or a place one just longs to be.

Chicago for me was all about those frequent busy streets, those soaring skyscrapers, the cherished anonymity one feels in the presence of many strangers and the wind gusting down the lanes.  It was the colors of the antiqued copper, the dark glass and the greys and silvers of the steel.  It was the sound of the traffic, the grilled shop fronts, the symbols of great imagination and the mathematics of the city blocks made into such perfect squares and rectangles.  Around every corner there seemed something interesting, curious and uniquely Chicagoesque and even under a grim sky it was always a stunningly beautiful city.

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Wherever I find myself in the world, I also like to take a little time out.  In these quiet moments I will literally walk for miles and miles and miles.  My walking brings a blur of happiness and a deeper appreciation of all things as I see parts of a city and its neighborhoods so often lost to the eyes of others.  Solitude is something I easily slip into and when alone, I seem to garner a little more appreciation of all things.  When you have gratitude, as we all should, your appreciation can become boundless.

I was also on a bit of a mission in my alone time too as I was on the look out for a Goodwill store.  And this was no ordinary Goodwill store either.  This was the largest store in Chicago.  In the back pocket of my jeans and neatly folded I had my trusted little paper map of the city, some money for my impending purchases (always optimistically hopeful) about my person and no doubt there was a little spring in my step.   I walked up Washington Boulevard lost in my thoughts when I stumbled upon this………….

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Ms Lady O’s Harpo studio.  The home of The Oprah Winfrey Show.  The studio was huge and took up almost an entire city block.  On the day I saw the studio production had ceased so there were no lines of audience members and there was little traffic on the boulevard.  Now Oprah may not be everyone’s cup of tea and truth be told, I would rather be someone’s good shot of rye whiskey than cup of tea, but you really do have to admire this woman and what she has achieved.  Born into poverty in Mississippi she rose to become a world renowned philanthropist, billionaire, talk show host and multimedia personality.  An impressive achievement in anyone’s book.

And the Goodwill store?  Well that was everything I ever hoped and dreamed it would be and although I was travelling light on this journey back to Australia, I still managed to fit in a couple of little pre-loved purchases into my port.  Happy days x

Although I ended up walking much further than I anticipated, I did eventually make it back to the hotel room and the next day we headed out together to the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Park District which is located near the shores of Lake Michigan.  The Conservatory is a beautiful Victorian Glasshouse built between 1890 and 1895.   Within its walls is an exotic, lush-green oasis of orchids, ponds, paths and rare and beautiful plants.  It really is a lovely and peaceful way to while away a few hours in Chicago.

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Next stop was The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.  A charming museum founded in 1857 and now one of Americas oldest scientific institutions.

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Walk through the 2,700 foot greenhouse which is home to over 1,000 butterflies.  Wander the nature trails and seek out the sculptures hidden amongst the tussocky grasslands and in particular look for the ‘Lost Bird Project’.  This is a bronze image depicting 5 birds of North America now lost forever to the tragedy of modern extinction.  Inside the museum brows through their impressive scientific collections and exhibits of eggs, birds, manuscripts, motion picture film, fossils, artifacts, reptiles, amphibians and photographs.

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A snap shot of our final days in Chicago……

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The odd thing about time is that it marches forth even if you are not ready to do so.  The memories of the trip back to Australia are still vivid and at times achingly raw yet one day I know they will begin to fade.  How much I will preserve of this time I do not know for no matter how much we try to contain some things, we really have no control over how it can contain us.

So goodbye Chicago and next stop, lovely Seattle where it was anything but sleepless……. xx

First stop, Chicago Illinois…….

“I just flew in from the windy city.  The windy city is mighty pretty…….”

I had always thought the name ‘Windy City’, a tag used to describe Chicago, was due to the bleak and frigid gusts which must come off Lake Michigan during Winter.  According to the Chicago Historical Society however, that now famous moniker came about from an observation made in the late 19th century of windbag politicians blustering hot air!  Hmmmm, I guess not a lot has changed since those days but one thing I will say is this!  Chicago is one hell of town!

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I love cities. I love being in them and I love living in them.  For me, cities hold extraordinary beauty and a thrum of inexplicable energy which almost feels like a heart beat.  I am however, very mindful of the fact that cities, for all their allure can be as fickle and as harsh as a foe and for some, and this is particularly true of the homeless, they can be a cold, unforgiving and often brutal place.  No doubt some big cities are difficult locations for one to find their feet or their rightful place in life and everyone, no matter their circumstance, are deserving of that one small mercy………

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The city of Chicago is world class and well set out.  And the best way to appreciate it!  Well that would be on foot.  Chicago really is the perfect city for walkers.  There are a couple of very good designated walks to take including the ‘Magnificent Mile’ and ‘The Loop’.  The ‘Magnificent Mile’ is an easy walk beginning at the Michigan Avenue Bridge then encompassing the Chicago River, towers and buildings, retailers, landmarks, restaurants, the famous Billy Goat Tavern (more on that little gem later), the John Hancock Center and it ends at the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

‘The Loop’ runs through the heart of Chicago’s downtown financial hub.  This walk begins on Jackson Boulevard and takes you through the labyrinth of densely packed commercial buildings, skyscrapers and architectural history and ends in the theatre district near Washington Street.

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The people of Chicago are easy to like.   They are friendly, generous and very proud of their city and rightly so.  They have a nice blend of non-arrogant swagger, a grounding of blue-collar edginess and a little uber cool white-collar hustle.  The real draw-card however, are those towering skyscrapers.

These massive structures punctuate the skyline with their steel, glass and granite.  There is a mix of stunning Art Deco exteriors, modern and post modern facades, Gothic splendor and iconic and elegant structures.  Some buildings, including their stair-cases, elevators and fire-escapes are graced with the most beautifully ornamental ironwork.  It is timeless, elegant and very intricate and these buildings alone are well worth seeking out.

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These massive silhouettes cast an impressive shadowy gloom and this is especially true on very cold days but almost all of the buildings are floodlit in a perfect golden glow from dusk until dawn.  One building in particular, the Art Deco inspired Merchandise Mart, with its 372,000 squares of interior space was so large when first built in the 1930’s it even had its own postcode (zip code).

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This city is architectural splendor at its very best and although you can appreciate it all from the relative safety of the pavement you really do need to go up.  And when I say up, I mean nothing under 90 floors.  Up in the clouds you not only get a birds eye view but you will also get up close and very personal with Chicago.  Most skyscrapers have offered to open their top floors to the public and from these vantage points there is no better way to see this city.

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Frank Sinatra said it best when he sang ‘My kind of town.  Chicago is, my kind of town…….’ so grab an Old Fashion (or seven), sit back and enjoy the view.  The sky really is the limit in this stunning city……. xx