Friday, October 27, 2023

Play: Campervan Experience in Romania, Autumn 2023

Autumn is considered one of my favourite season. As the leaves changes colour and gets ready for winter, the weather is considerably pleasant and the colourful mountains are pleasing to the eyes. 

This autumn, we make our way to explore Transylvania, which not only made famous of Count Dracula but also home to large community of brown bears amidst the wonderful landscape and friendly people. Our trip this time is for 7 nights in which 5 nights will be spend in our trusty campervan.

It is our first campervan experience. We have learned so much during this trip and even met a family who has been staying in campervan, touring Europe for the past 1.5 years. All of us adapted to our mobile home, cooking meals on the go, manoeuvre through the city in our bulky car, and the happy faces when get connected to the mall free wifi (most of the wifi in Romania is without password). At the end of the trip, when we checked in to a proper hotel, everyone is grateful for unlimited hot water shower, huge bathroom and proper bed, indeed a great learning experience. 

Balea Lake, Transfagaran Highway

Some tips for campervan:

  1. It's important to manage the water level in the tank, for us we use water wisely and our tank is good enough for 2 days of shower, toilet and cooking. Hence, we only go to campsite once every 2 days to fill our water.
  2. Campsite in Romania cost around RON 100-150 per night for 2 adults 2 kids including electricity. Some campsite provides self use washer and dryer at additional cost. We camped at Vampire Camping and Ananas Camping during our trip.
  3. In Romania, you can discard the grey water as long as its to the ground, they are not strict on that but do check as some country has more strict policy when it comes to discarded the grey water.
  4. For the toilet, we added a tablet and it is good enough for 2 days. We try to use toilet in mall, and petrol station whenever possible and we never use our toilet for big business. The waste water is not smelly as what we would have imagine so the toilet tablet is super effective. 
  5. Romania allows wild camping so as long as you are not blocking the way, there is usually no issue. There are couple of days we slept in the carpark of huge hypermarket and use their toilet facilities in the morning.  
  6. On the first day, we bought a selection of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so whenever needed, we can whipped up easy lunch or dinner while visiting attractions. Example, we make hotdog bun and instant noodle for lunch and pasta for dinner. 
  7. When visiting town centre, best to park campervan just outside of city (we usually park at retail park such as Auchan, Declathon, Jumbo etc) and take an Uber into the city as it is difficult to park a huge campervan in the city. 
Places we visited:

Transfagaran HairPin Drive

  1. Peles Castle- a fairylike castle build for the first king of Romania. Set amidst beautiful forest backdrop, it is a nice walk up to the castle. The interior of the castle is very well maintained, exquisite woods carvings and from the garden, you can get very nice view of the castle. Entrance fees : RON 50 adult, RON 12.5 for students (this is price for the ground floor visit). RON 50 for parking.
  2. Bran Castle- made famous by a book called Dracula by Bram Stolker. It is free to explore the castle ground, to enter the castle it cost RON 60 adult and RON 15 for students. Build as a fortress, it later become residence for Queen Marie. The parking here is exorbitant (RON 60 per hour so we just find a roadside space and park there)
  3. Brasov town- walk around the town, passed by Black Church, had lunch at Le Cauen at town square and stroll around Tampa Mountain.
  4. Clay Castle of Fairies. It is a instagrammable place, mini castle made of natural ingredients- clay, stones and straw. But to be honest, it is quite small and not worth the detour. Cost RON 20 per person- same price for children. RON 10 for parking.

  5. Sibiu town- known also as the city of eyes, check out their roof as the city watches you. 
  6. Transfagaran Highway- only open end June to early November due to the extreme weather in the mountain. We were lucky to be able to explore this highway, the view is so great, no wonder dubbed as one of the best view highway in the world. We make our way through the hairpin drive (made famous by Top Gear) and head to Lake Balea (RON 20 for parking), the highest water body in the area. We also saw many wild brown bear on the way, they are just too adorable! 
  7. Royal Court of Targoviste, where Vlad held his royal court. RON 15 for adult and RON 8 for students. 

Sharing the cost of our trip, 8 days 7 nights for 2 adults and 2 teens (Age 11 and 12):
Flight Dubai to Bucharest on Wizz Air : EUR 590
Campervan rental for 5 days: EUR 730
Campsite rental for 2 nights: EUR 50
Accommodation near airport for 2 nights (first and last night): EUR 180
Food at restaurant: EUR 510
Miscellaneous (groceries, pillow cover, towel etc): EUR 250
Entrance fees: EUR 76
TOTAL: EUR 2386 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Play: Winter Holiday in Georgia 2022 (Tbilisi, Kazbegi, Gudauri, Kutaisi)

 Winter holiday in Georgia

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Winter is usually very harsh and cold , so we hardly plan any winter holiday in Europe. First, I don't do well in cold, the only thing I love to do in winter is snuggle at home with a cup of hot chocolate. Secondly, the daytime is really short in winter and it gets dark by 3.30-4pm, with the shops closing early, it doesn't seems like there is enough time to wander around. Lastly, in where we stay Dubai, winter is really like the best weather, sunny and cooling so it is really a nice place to spend the winter.

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This year, we decided to spend our winter break in Georgia. Yes, the place where in winter, it snows really heavily in the mountain area and super cold! The one and main reason we decide to venture out of our comfort zone is to do skiing in the mountain or rather to let the kids learn skiing. Skiing in Georgia is relatively cheaper than most places in Europe so we think it will be a good start for us amateur skier to get it started here. Plus, we found out that the daytime in Georgia in winter is pretty decent. The sun rises at 8.30am and it only gets dark by 5.30pm and that gives us enough time to explore this beautiful country.

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As there is not much airline flying to Georgia, we decided to explore Wizzair for the first time. Although it is not so straightforward, as we needed to fly from Abu Dhabi and touch down in Kutaisi rather than Tblisi. Price wise, it is definitely cheaper than taking FlyDubai who has the option of touching down in Tbilisi. 

Our experience with WizzAir has been a pleasant one. Although they change the flight timing couple of weeks before the flight, the change has been for a better timing. Check in is effortless and easy and the flight is quite smooth, relatively comfortable seat. 

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Touching down in Kutaisi at 7.30pm, we checked out by 8.30pm and got in our transport that brings us to the city centre 30 mins away from the airport. Nino's cosy home which I booked over on is a really nice homestay, pretty central with everything we needed in the 82 metres square house. 

Our first dinner is nonetheless the most signature khinkali at El depot , open 24/7. Passing by the iconic White Bridge, the city lights light our way.

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The next morning, we slept in and explore the town, while getting some chores done (bought SIM card, cash from Revolut). We also visited the Colchis Fountain, Bagrati Cathedral and ah boy got his McD fix at a large Mcd decorated very Christmas-y. For dinner, we visited Lilestan, a really cosy restaurant playing Christmas music all night, decorated in fresh pine tree. Not forgetting FIFA, we watched the exciting match between Argentina and Croatia.

Contrary to many information, there is quite a huge number of establishment including restaurant, shops, that accept credit card. We are quite surprised that a lot of money exchange doesn't accept UAE so its better to change before coming. Although most restaurant take credit card, all the accommodation we booked on all requested for cash upon arrival. On top of that, we paid cash for our car rental as well (credit card payment need extra 3%)

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Our next leg of journey is visiting the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. The journey was not easy as the road connecting Kutaisi to Tbilisi is not fully highway. There are lots of truck along the way and traffic is not pleasant. After 3.5 hours we reached Tbilisi and its such a pretty capital. Its surprisingly pleasant, we try the sulphur bath which is so good especially in this weather, had hearty Chikhritma (chicken soup), kharco (meat soup) , took the cable car up to Narikala Fortress, catch a glimpse of Mother of Georgia, hike up to The Trinity Church and visited their Christmas Market. 

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We even make a day trip out to their wine region Kakheti , did some wine tasting and climb the Great Wall of Georgia. On the final night, we went for Thai massage at Good Time Thai Massage and had an amazing time.

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Next morning, we packed up and head to Mtskheta , the royal capital of Georgia. It used to be the capital of Georgia before the capital moved to Tbilisi. Now Mtskheta is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a lot of churches, monastery and history in the quaint scenic town. We first check out the Jvari Monastery followed by Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Jvari Monastery, nestled on the top of the mountain, had amazing amazing view of town of Mtskheta, with two rivers converged. Svetititskhoveli, on the other hand, is in the town centre and it's very pleasant to walk around. Both doesn't require an entrance fees, though in the Mtskheta town, one would need to pay GEL 3 for parking.

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Afterwards, we headed all the way to Kazbegi which took us another 2.5 hours on the Georgian Military Highway but please do not think one could drive smoothly up. We encountered so many trucks on the road especially nearer to Kazbegi as the trucks are heading to Georgia-Russia border. 

We passed by so so many snow capped mountain and the view is absolutely fantastic. We finally reach our cute wooden house where we will be staying here for 3 nights. 

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The next morning, we decided to hike to Gergeti Church in -2 degree Celcius. Yes, you heard me right! Hiking in the cold, it is definitely the first for us. We wrap ourselves up in 4 layers of clothing and venture out. The trail starts from Cafe Gergeti, there is a flat trail besides the stream and a steep trail heading right up. We followed the flat trail, it is not very hard but really long and we did not end up reaching the top. On our way back, we saw a group of tourist coming down from the steep path. They took the Delica Car up (you can take them from the town as private car is not allowed up the church) and then hike down , that might be a better way especially in the cold.

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For lunch, definitely go for the restaurant at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, this is definitely the best value food with amazing amazing view of the town, Caucasus mountain, and the Gergeti Church. The food is really tasty, menu is a selection of local and international. We particularly like their Green tea, steak is great too, Mac n Cheese is very yummy as well. They also have some today's special which the waiter recommended and we enjoyed them as well. We spend the evening at home and to our surprise, it started snowing! OMG, we were very pleasantly surprise and of course we went out and played with the snow. It snowed the whole night and the next morning, the whole town turned white. It was such a fantastic sight. 

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Of course, we spend the next day building snowman, having snowball fight and just chilling at home. 

Our next stop is Gudauri Ski area where we were hoping to enrol the kids in ski classes. Unfortunately this year winter came late and it did not snow enough for the ski slope to be operational. We did see the ski lifts moving but I guess it is just test drive. We ended up exploring the area and chance upon some frozen stream and frozen river. Had so much fun sliding down them. 

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Also, do not miss the Russian Georgian Monument area. Even if you are not interested in the monument, the view there is out of the world. There is also some activities to do for example: horse riding, ATV and even a car ride out to check out area nearby with frozen lake, with thick snow. 

Even though the main ski slope is not open, there is one small patch of slope which we can do our own skiing. We rented the ski essentials (GEL 50 for one day) and did our own skiing. Without the ski lift, it's much more tiring as we need to climb up and ski down. We spend around 2 hours skiing and then head for dinner at Pasanauri. The food prices in Gudauri is on the higher end (as compared to many town in Georgia), it costs GEL 42 for a burger for example. I would definitely recommend Pasaunari if you are in Gudauri. They serve very nice Georgian cuisine at a very reasonable price, definitely do their kharco (it's so so good especially in the cold weather),claypot mushroom is great as well and salad is very refreshing. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_2468-Large-768x1024.jpeg

As there is no snow, we cut short our trip and head back to a small town 30 mins away from Kutaisi airport to relax and spend our Christmas Day admiring the vineyard countryside view. The weather is also much milder in Kutaisi (around 3-7 degree as compared to Gudauri which is in the negative side of the mercury reading).

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In conclusion, we definitely enjoyed our two weeks in Georgia. We are very surprised with their 3G/LTE signal throughout the country, even in the remote mountainous area, the signal is really strong and it only cost GEL 9 for a week (unlimited data). Heating in all the accommodation that we stayed was really good and we had no complain with the hot water supply for the shower. One thing to take note is that it is really dry in the mountain area so good lotion and hydration is very important. The people in Georgia are generally very nice, although a few of them doesn't really speak much English. Credit card is widely used in restaurants and groceries store. Do bring cash for accommodation and car rental as they prefer cash.

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TIPS: If you are coming in winter, do waterproof your sneakers/shoes using this waterproof spray. Instead of getting a pair of waterproof hiking shoes, this proves to be a great saving. It really helps and one bottle can spray up to 4 pairs of shoes. 

Useful links:

Flight from Abu Dhabi to Kutaisi :

SIM card package (we used both of these provider and their coverage is great in the places we visited):

  1. Magticom:
  2. Bee Line:
Our accommodation: 

2. Tbilisi (great central location minutes of walk from Freedom Square, attractions all within walking distance, good value for money). We paid GEL 145/night (cash on arrival):;checkin=2023-01-08;checkout=2023-01-09;dest_id=900047975;dest_type=city;dist=0;group_adults=2;group_children=0;hapos=1;highlighted_blocks=366199901_131491245_4_0_0;hpos=1;matching_block_id=366199901_131491245_4_0_0;no_rooms=1;req_adults=2;req_children=0;room1=A%2CA;sb_price_type=total;sr_order=popularity;sr_pri_blocks=366199901_131491245_4_0_0__27000;srepoch=1672399877;srpvid=f3a0510116d60131;type=total;ucfs=1&#hotelTmpl

3. Kazbegi (amazing view of the town, newly build, appliances provided and comfortable stay). We paid GEL 212/ night (cash on arrival):;checkin=2023-01-08;checkout=2023-01-09;dest_id=-2327687;dest_type=city;dist=0;group_adults=2;group_children=0;hapos=1;highlighted_blocks=805973101_342043787_4_0_0;hpos=1;matching_block_id=805973101_342043787_4_0_0;no_rooms=1;req_adults=2;req_children=0;room1=A%2CA;sb_price_type=total;sr_order=popularity;sr_pri_blocks=805973101_342043787_4_0_0__24400;srepoch=1672400039;srpvid=6354515204c00059;type=total;ucfs=1&#hotelTmpl

Car rental (paid cash or credit card incurred extra 3%) :

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Cook: Ondeh-ondeh

Ondeh-ondeh is this little tiny glutinous rice ball filled with palm sugar, coated in shredded coconut. I love eating this when I am back in Malaysia. I found some shredded coconut in Waitrose, Dubai Marina Mall and I brought some palm sugar back from my last visit back home in Malaysia, so decided to give it a try since the recipe looks pretty straightforward.

I love how the palm sugar came bursting into my mouth when I pop the ondeh-ondeh in.

INGREDIENTS (Makes 24 ondeh-ondeh):

1. 250g glutinous rice flour
2. 200ml water plus few drops of pandan extract or 200ml pandan juice (blend 10 pandan leaves with 220ml of water and squeeze the juice out)
3. 150g palm sugar (Gula Melaka), chopped into small pieces
4. 100g grated coconut
5. A pinch of sea salt


1. First, mix the shredded coconut with a pinch of salt.

2. Steam them for 2 minutes, then set aside to cool down.
3. Mix the glutinous rice flour with water until it becomes pliable dough, then add the pandan extract and mix well.
4. Take 40g of the dough and place them into boiling water.
5. When the dough float to the surface of the water, remove them and place them back into the remaining dough as shown.

6. Mix well and at this point, you can see that the texture of the dough changed into a more sticky version. 
7. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

8. Divide the dough into 24 little balls. Then flatten them and add the palm sugar pieces in the centre. Then roll them.

9. Place the balls into boiling water and remove them once they are cooked and float on the surface.

TIPS: Once you make the balls, put them into the boiling water within a few minutes, otherwise the palm sugar will start to seep out as shown in the photo. 

10. Roll the cooked ondeh-ondeh in shredded coconut and serve.
11. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Cook: Potato Salad

Potato Salad
Salad is usually not my "thing". I hardly eat salad, probably because I prefer my meal to be hot but I chanced upon potato salad on my flight on Emirates recently and I was wow-ed by the potato salad. In-flight meal is usually not great (no, I am not taking Business class, just the usual economy class) but the potato salad served was deeeeelicious. I make it a point to make it once so when I got back, I did some research and decided to give it a try.
Most recipes called for a specific type of potatoes but I just use what I have, its just a common normal potato and it tasted great too. I guess the important bits is to drizzle some vinegar(I use apple cider vinegar) on the potato after cutting them.
There are many variations in the recipes I found online, ingredients really depends on what you like. I simplified mine to just a few ingredients plus one type of dressing to make things really simple. So I am gonna share the potato salad the way I like it.


1. 4 large potatoes
2. 1 cucumber, remove skin and cut into little cubes
3. 3 hard boil eggs, cut into small pieces
4. 1 stalk of green onion, cut into small pieces
5. Half a medium onion, cut into small pieces
6. Mayonnaise , to taste
7. A pinch of salt and pepper
8. Some bacon (optional)


1. Clean the potato and boil them on medium low heat.
2. It is cooked when you can put a fork through it.
3. Pour away the hot water and let the potatoes soak in cold water for a bit.
4. Remove the skin by just peeling them off using your hand. If it doesn't goes off, use the back of the spoon to scrap them.

5. Cut the potatoes into small cubes.
6. Prepare and cut all the other ingredients (hard boiled egg, cucumber, red onion and spring onion).
7. In a bowl, toss the ingredients together with some mayonnaise, salt and pepper. 

8. Give them all a good mix and put them in the fridge for at least an hour or more. It keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days.

9. Top with some bacon before serving to give them an extra wow!
10. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Cook: Pineapple Tarts

This year, besides attempting the easy cornflakes cookies (recipes can be found here if interested), I have decided to attempt pineapple tarts as well. Actually I have made it once when I was in Singapore using store bought pineapple paste but the previous recipe for the outer crust that I tried was not ideal. 

I tried another recipe this time and it turns out to be much better and this is a keeper. The pineapple tarts tasted much better the next day after you bake so do prepare it at least one day in advance.

INGREDIENTS (makes 36 tarts):

For pineapple paste:
1. 1.5kg fresh pineapples, cut into chunks (around 2-3 pineapple)
2. 6 tablespoon of sugar (amount can be adjusted to suit your taste)

For the crust:
1. 150g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2. 210g all purpose flour
3. 15g cornflour
4. 25g white sugar
5. 25g milk powder
6. 1 medium egg
7. 1/4 teaspoon of salt


For pineapple paste:
1. Cut the pineapple into chunks
2. Blend the chunks
3. Sieve the pineapple and remove as much water as you could (I kept the juice and serve as fresh pineapple juice :P)

4. This part will take time. Place the sieved pineapple into a pan and cook on medium low heat until the paste thickens and turns brownish as shown. 

5. Then let it cool down and roll them into little balls (8-9g each), I then placed them into fridge until I am ready with the crust.

For the crust:
1. Cream the butter with until it is light and fluffy.
2. Next, add in the salt and egg. Mix well.
3. Add in the flour, cornstarch and milk powder, mix well.
4. Then using hand, I roll the dough together. 

5. If the weather is hot, the dough might be a bit sticky at this point of time. If that happens, keep the dough in fridge for 30 minutes before working on them.
6. When you are ready, roll the dough into a tiny circle and place the pineapple paste inside. Roll them into ball shaped.
7. Apply egg wash using pastry brush.
8. Bake for 12-15 mins until the egg wash turns golden in oven preheated to 180 degree celcius.

9. Remove from oven and let it cool down before placing them into airtight container. 
10. Remember to enjoy them after at least 8 hours/ overnight for best enjoyment.