Frosty walk to work

I’ve just started a new job with a rather hefty commute – half an hour to Waterloo, an hour on the train, a half hour walk.  It’s all worth it for the job and I’m trying to use the time on the train as good down time – reading, watching films, writing – and using the walk as exercise time instead of needing to go to the gym. I love walking and get a bit fidgety if I don’t get a decent walk into my day, so all in all it’s not so bad (I have to keep repeating this as my alarm goes off at 5.30 am – gaaah !).

An unexpected but brilliant perk is getting to see the sun come up on my way in, which has been pretty gorgeous:

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And I’m learning the best walking route in to see a bit of the countryside which was particularly lovely in yesterday’s frost (Google maps is intent on making me walk in the middle of the motorway but so far I have been foiling its plans):

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I’ve yet to see how I go on a rainy day, which might test even the heftiest dose of positive thinking, but so far I’ve been lucky to find great bonuses in the commute when I’ve looked for them.

Maison D’etre

One of my favourite things to do on a weekend is sit in a cute cafe and drink amazing coffee.

Having lived in Sydney, my standards for amazing coffee are a wee bit high and I could be classified as a huge coffee snob… And quite proud of it.

We had a few attempts at going to Coffee Works in Angel, which does decent coffee, but I fell out with the lady on the till after she lost her temper when I asked for a large flat white (impossible! It’s a short drink and a short drink only etc.) but happily allowed Finn to order one (problem 956 with having a gorgeous, charming fiance). There’s also Giddy Up on Islington Green which I love, but it’s getting too cold to sit on the green now (sob).

Enter Maison D’etre – a teeny tiny cafe by a round about in Highbury. We originally dismissed it due to its teeny tinyness but it turns out it has a rather lovely glass roofed room out back:

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I know the whole chintzy, rescued furniture thing is a bit done to death by I still like it.

Anyway lots of preamble to really just say: the coffee is great and misleads you into thinking you can have another one straight after without getting shaky (you can’t. Give yourself a few minutes or you’ll start telling lots of boring stories really very quickly) and the avo on toast is yum. If I liked cakes I’m sure I’d be telling you they’re great too.

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Honest burgers

Since we arrived home for some reason my default hungry setting has been focused on burgers and we have commenced a quest to find the perfect burger.

For me, this means a toasted brioche bun, a juicy burger cooked medium rare, mild, melted cheese, lots of pickles, good options for sides (by which I mean macaroni cheese) and decent beer. We’ve found lots of places that get one or two of these aspects right but haven’t stumbled upon the holy grail of burgerness just yet.

Anyway, when Finn and I met up in King’s Cross after work and it turned out I was being a little bit grumpy we needed to find some food for me rather quickly before I threw a tantrum – and of course immediately looked for the closest possible burger.

We had a quick mosey around King’s Cross – lots of lovely bright lights and a fairly fantastic moon:

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Then we hurried into Honest Burger before Finn was subjected to the wrath of hangry Nina – a terrifying site to behold. The burgers arrived just in time: Having just been presented with Finn’s glass of wine while Finn was given my beer I was launching into a badly informed critique of the patriarchy fueled mostly by hunger and made up stats.

The burger was… fine. The bun was a bit dry but the pickles were plentiful (I asked for extra) and the burger itself was good and juicy. But it wasn’t The One.

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As quests go, this is quite a fun one and will be wonderfully life changing once we’ve succeeded in finding the burger of dreams.

In conclusion, long may the quest continue and please remind me to always carry snacks so I don’t get too upset.

Any recommendations for the best burger in the world gratefully received!

Home

Possibly a slightly belated post given we’ve been home for nearly six months now (HOW HAS THAT HAPPENED?!), but we’re really only just getting fully settled. After the initial flurry of seeing family and friends, learning how to eat normal sized portions, getting the travel dirt well and truly cleaned off (terrifyingly long process) and rapidly losing our tans, we spent a month finding jobs – which we’re both now nicely settled into – and have moved into a lovely house in Angel.

It feels like our London adventures are just starting and I’m beyond excited about our new location and all the amazing restaurants, bars and shops that are right on our doorstep.

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Mabul and Sipadan

The big finale for our trip was three days of diving in Mabul and then Sipadan – widely noted as one of the best diving sites in the world.

We had a one night stop off in Semporna – the base for getting to Mabul – which is easily one of the grottiest places we’ve been (and that’s saying a lot). The streets and the harbour are completely full of litter, piles and piles of it.

Early in the morning we set off with Big John’s Scuba to their accommodation on Mabul island. Big John himself picked us up and instantly made us feel at home – from insisting on carrying my bag to organising a dive master and separate boat just for us to make sure we had time for breakfast before diving (even though breakfast time was over and I don’t even think it was meant to be included in our package for that day).

The accommodation is all built on stilts in the water – the bad side being the constant slight sea sickness from wobbling around day and night, the good side being spotting huge turtles swimming past while we ate our dinner.

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Our first two days of diving were in Mabul and Kapalai where we saw massive turtles (the biggest getting on to two metres long), a pygmy seahorse (so frickin tiny!), ghost pipefish, lion fish, stone fish (eee! So so so very poisonous. I was especially pleased when one swam off the coral towards me), the biggest moray eel you can imagine (I swear it was as big as a dolphin), as well as the usual clown fish, angel fish and parrot fish etc.

Our dive master was amazing – patient and ridiculously observant. I had a little trouble equalizing after my first dive though and spent the following days with water filled ears and getting nose bleeds whenever we surfaced – very lovely while wearing a diving mask!

At the end of each day we sat, exhausted, and watched the sunset before stuffing ourselves silly at the amazing buffet (for some reason I get ridiculously nervous before each and every dive so struggled to eat during the day, but more than made up for it in the evenings!).

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On our third day we went out to Sipadan with another dive company (Big John’s doesn’t get any of the allotted 120 permits allowed each day) where we dived at Barracuda Point, South Point and Turtle Cave. I cannot even begin to describe how mind blowingly amazing it was!

For our first dive we dropped in over a school of more than 500 Jack fish, turned around to see a stunning coral garden and a white tipped reef shark then lowered ourselves to float along a bright and beautiful wall of coral before hovering below a barracuda tornado. By the third dive I was in a constant state of amazement, swimming around hugging myself, wide eyed and laughing (which is a bit tricky underwater). I nearly lost my mind when we swam into the opening of a cave on the third dive – surrounded by huge silver fish and standing in sand by the edge of the cave with a wall of coral as far as I could see above and below me. Had a nice little panic towards the end when I got caught in an upwards current and looked like I was going to surface very quickly,  but was saved by Finn clinging onto my flipper and pulling me down while our dive master clung onto his flipper and pulled him down.

It was an absolutely incredible experience which I hope I never forget.

We then had a recovery day in Mabul, snorkeling (unfortunately not amazing) and lying on a pristine beach.

It all got a bit emotional when we realised we were having our last moments on the beach and our last dip in the sea for the trip.

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Too soon we had to hop on a boat back to Semporna for a night before flying to KL for the last couple of days of the trip.

Sungai Kinabatangan

While in Sepilok we organised a jungle tour along a river in Sungai Kinabatangan – a three day two night package which included all our meals, unlimited coffee (YES!!), four river cruises and two treks.

Our first day consisted of travel to the resort from Sepilok, an afternoon river cruise spotting kingfishers, probiscus monkeys (big nose!), swimming monitor lizards and long tail macaques (boring!) before watching the sunset:

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Then a night trek where we stumbled through undergrowth with our fairly badly powered torches and saw another kingfisher, a fancy frog, a huge spider and hundreds of fireflies. We also found out that leeches love bellies and Finn had a couple somehow get under his shirt – he was rescued by our guide before they could latch on. Ew.

The next morning we were out on the river again by 6am, watching the mist hover over the water:

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Then off for a morning trek to spot Borneo gibbons, an owl and a something something pitti something something bird while fending off the gazillion mosquitos that swarmed around us.

We had the resort to ourselves that morning and were served the most delicious lunch – buffet for two = dream come true – then relaxed for the afternoon (recovering from all the tensions of being in a beautiful place and seeing amazing wildlife obvs).

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That afternoon a few day trippers came along for the afternoon cruise – having had the place to ourselves we acted very spoilt and unimpressed.

Back to the ranch for more food and then our last trip out on the boat – we nabbed the front seats and had a prime view of a teeny tiny baby crocodile, kingfishers and some adorable little bright red birds with turquoise and yellow beaks huddled together for a sleep.

We even got so close to a kingfisher that my photos came out blurred – too close to focus:

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Sepilok

Sepilok is a teeny tiny town, if that, which is home to both an orangutan and a sun bear rehabilitation centre. It’s also full of resorts catering to visitors to the centres.

Our resort was lovely – it had gorgeous huts for the less budget restricted visitors and then a separate building with dorm rooms and cheap doubles for backpackers who can take advantage of the gardens, swimming pool and buffet breakfast.

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Finn got a bit over excited at the buffet and came back to the table each morning with a plate piled high with cakes and crumbs falling out of his mouth.

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I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a very wonderful cat, which marched over and flung itself down on my knee. All in all, a pretty great place to stay.

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On our first day we visited the orangutan centre for both the morning and afternoon feeds. The rangers scatter fruit on a platform and the orangutans, which are being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild, swing down trees and ropes to tuck in. They’re very adorable and amazing to watch swinging around the trees. The rangers do a sterling job of keeping their distance from the animals, so they don’t become attached or dependent, but one particularly soppy orangutan kept creeping over and trying to gift them with leaves or sneakily hold their hand.

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As ever the one complaint was the number of tour groups clammering and pushing around then encircling any nearby orangutans like a pack of paparazzi.

The next day we visited the recently opened sun bear sanctuary to take a look at the really very lovely bears, all rescued from illegal pet ownership.

The centre was quiet and staffed by knowledgeable and helpful staff (in contrast to the ‘just take a picture and leave as soon as you can’ attitude at the orangutan centre). We spent a great couple of hours watching the bears climb trees, roll around and generally look adorable.

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Definitely a must visit for anyone heading to Borneo.