The Great Gach Getaway: Austria and Germany

It’s been quite some time since I have posted on here, but it doesn’t mean that the Gaches have been busy with travel and life in Singapore. Over the next couple of posts, I will be updating you all on what has been going on in our lives and where we have been since the summer. Since it’s easiest to start with the most recent events, this post will be about our trip to Austria and Germany over fall break. This time we were joined by my in-laws, Ken and Lynda, which made the trip even better than we could have imagined.

Our first stop was Austria, where we visited Vienna and Salzburg. Here is a fun video I put together about our time in Austria:


Next, we made our way on train to Germany where we visited Munich and the Rhine Valley. Germany really was a fantastic country to visit and I am happy to say that we will be back in the summer to begin my 30th birthday cruise around the Baltic Sea.


I hope that our videos give you an idea of the fun we had on our trip; every time we travel, we always wish we could take all of us with you!

Night train to Nha Trang

One of the many cultural adventures I’ve had the interesting pleasure of taking part in while on my Southeast Asia tour is the Vietnamese night train. Seen as an easy and inexpensive way to cover more of the country without taking time out of your trip. The train from Saigon to Nha Trang is the first out of three that we will take on this tour of Vietnam and lasts about 8 hours.

Not having any prior experience with a night train, my expectations were all over the place. I am happy to report that the night train to Nha Trang is quite nice and very comfortable. We were in a soft sleeper, which fit 4 people to a room and included a tv, outlets and a small table to put your things overnight. Each bed had a pillow, sheets and a duvet and the cabin was nice and cool. We planned ahead of time to be with our travel buddies, Russell and Marion, so it felt like a fun sleepover. Below are some photos of us and our group waiting in the train station.20140724-180323-65003903.jpg

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Once we were inside the train, it took us about an hour to get situated. There was only one bathroom at the end of each cabin with a western toilet and a sink, which is all you need for an overnight trip. We did find some interesting items like a tissue and sock at the end of Marion’s bed and some random shoes left behind, but it just added to the hilarious experience of riding this train. While they did not serve food, you could bring your own or buy from a little cart that came down the cabin. Sadly, there were no chocolate frogs or Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans.

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We arrived balls early in Nha Trang (around 4:30 am) and couldn’t check into our hotel room, so we headed down to the beach to see the sun rise. It was a spectacular view, but the even crazier part was the hundreds of locals who were there at 5 am to watch the sun rise while they swam and exercised with their families. I had never seen anything like it, but between the beauty of the sunrise, the serene lapping of the waves on the shore, and the comforting laughter of the locals enjoying their swim, it easily was one of my favorite experiences on this trip.

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Singapore Snapshots - The Sleeper and the Artist

Everyday I take the 6:07 a.m. MRT from Dhoby Ghaut to Marsiling and after spending the past 10 months following the same schedule, you start to become familiar with your surroundings. The Sleeper has this magical power where once he sits down in his seat at Toa Payoh, he will proceed to have the soundless and stillest sleep I have seen someone have on the MRT. The even more magical part is that once he gets to his stop at Khatib, he wakes up just as easily as he fell asleep and walks right out.

The Artist is one of my favorite people I have encountered on my morning commute. Everyday she inconspicuously draws people she sees on the MRT in these tiny notebooks. She has probably filled 6 of these over the past year. I love watching her capture people, so it only made sense to capture her today.

Singapore Snapshots – The Sleeper and the Artist

Singapore Livin’: Tips for Newbies

It is truly incredible that Daniel and I have been in Singapore already for 9 months; it seems like July 21st was last week, yet here we are slowing starting to wrap up our school year and getting excited for our trip back to the States. In teaching, the school year always tends to fly by, but this year is one for the record books. Our first year in Singapore and at SAS has gone by in a blink of an eye, but I can honestly say Dan and I are happier and healthier that we ever have been.

Being in Singapore has been an extremely easy transition, except for some road bumps at the beginning. Still, there were some lessons and tricks were learned during our 9 months here, and I know that I would have appreciated them before moving here. These tips can apply to anyone, but some of these pertain to new teachers coming to live in Singapore in the future:

  • Consider city living: When we first started our home search, Daniel and I weren’t quite sure about the island and how public transportation worked. Originally, we were looking to live on the western side of Singapore and around the north for an easier comment to school. Luckily, we had the most incredible realtor who knew us better than we knew ourselves and said we would not be very happy anywhere north of Novena, and after 1 day of looking at our original neighborhoods, we knew she was right. Ultimately, Daniel and I chose to live in the Mt. Sophia neighborhood which is located between Dhoby Ghaut and Little India and couldn’t be happier with our choice. I do understand and completely respect that some people aren’t exactly into urban living, but if you are any of the following, living downtown is something you should definitely consider:
    • DINKs – Double Income No Kids
    • Single men or women, especially those who would like a social life (getting cabs to Woodlands/Dairy Farm is pretty impossible on a Saturday night)
    • Families with children who are used to urban living
    • Couples that have a trailing spouse
  • Visit your local wet market: While it’s not as cool and familiar as several of the supermarket chains here in Singapore, getting to know and using our local wet market has made a world of a difference on our checkbook in regards to food. The wet markets in Singapore are a fantastic microcosm of local life, and you also can get all of the produce, meats, and seafood you could find at a Cold Storage or Fairprice for half the cost and twice the freshness. Plus, there aren’t very many expats using the wet markets, so the vendors actually go out of their way to get to know you over time. I still visit our local Cold Storage for dairy products and alcohol, but shudder when I see the price of produce and meat there.
  • Know the favorite expat websites: One of the many perks of working at SAS is that the teachers are a fountain of expat knowledge when it comes to making your life easier in Singapore. Below are some of my favorite websites that have made my life infinitely easier and more comfortable here and I pass along to any new expat I meet:
    • RedMart: Online grocery shopping in Singapore. You can get nonperishables, toiletries, household products and even alcohol from this website delivered to your door when you feel is best. This is especially helpful for those without the luxury of having a car here; no one want to lug around a giant package of toilet paper down their street.
    • iHerb: Where you can get all your organic and natural products that you love from abroad. I like to think of it as a Whole Foods at my fingertips. Tip: Send your packages to your job, it’s easier to make sure they get delivered to you there instead of missing them if you aren’t at home.
    • Lady Iron Chef: Lady Iron Chef is a food and travel website based in Singapore that features articles on things to see, do and eat from around the world. Contrary to the websites name, the blogger is named Brad Lau and is a local online personality and food critic who gives great restaurant and travel recommendations for not just Singapore, but all of Southeast Asia.
    • The Honeycombers: While I don’t visit this website as often as I wish I did, The Honeycombers is a website that offers a handpicked selection of what’s on and worth knowing about in Singapore. 
  • Public Transportation is AMAZING: Besides some douchebags who think otherwise, the public transportation in Singapore is among the best in the world. Dan and I swear by it, and actually prefer it most of the time to cabs because of how efficient and cheap it is. We take the MRT to and from work, which is an hour door to door, but in that hour we sleep, chat, read or catch up with other friends on the train with us. For us to get from Dhoby Ghaut to Marsiling (where SAS is), it is $1.88 SGD. Compare that with the $20 SGD cab ride that it costs to get to SAS from our house, and you can get an idea of how much money we have saved just in taking public transport to and from school.
  • Get MyRepublic as your ISP: If you move into a home with a OpenNet portal, I highly recommend looking into MyRepublic as your internet service provider. While we did have some trouble with them at the beginning with getting set up, once we actually had our internet, Dan and I were the happiest people ever. MyRepublic has a built in VPN, so you can watch Netflix, Hulu, PBS, BBC, iTV and tons of other normally blocked websites right from your AppleTV/RoKu or laptop. The internet connection is also extremely fast, which is always a bonus.
  • Ikea isn’t the only place you can get household items: After getting over the devastating and tragic news that there was no Target in Singapore, Dan and I thought that the only place to get any household items like utensils, tools, and containers would be Ikea. After having a couple of minor freak outs in that Swedish mecca, Daniel and I learned that each neighborhood has their own market that sells all the stuff you need for your home at an even cheaper cost than Ikea. Also, it’s always close your home. Because we are so close to Little India, Dan and I have Mustafa, but there is a Chinese market in every area in Singapore.

That is all for now! I hope some of you can find this post useful, more next time on our upcoming travels to Vietnam and Cambodia!

 

The Great Gach Getaway: The Maldives

Most of the time when I travel, I am constantly comparing my trips with my friends and coworkers to see who had the most envious holiday. After visiting the Maldives this past Spring Break, I can confidently say that my holiday was one of the more envied ones on Facebook and it was awesome. Visiting the Maldives was at the top of my travel bucket list, so after conquering Japan for Christmas, Dan figured it only made sense to take care of it all in our first year abroad.  Getting to the Maldives from Singapore is only a 4 1/2 hour flight, and once you land in Male, you usually need to take a ferry or sea plane to your resort since most of them inhabit their own island. We ended up taking a sea plane to our resort, which was a short 20 minute flight over some beautiful sights.

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Enjoying a refreshing drink while waiting for our sea plane in our personal waiting lounge

On our sea plane to the Lux* Resort!

On our sea plane to the Lux* Resort!

View of our villas from our sea plane

View of our villas from our sea plane

It's like we were landing in Fantasy Island! #theplanetheplane

It’s like we were landing in Fantasy Island! #theplanetheplane

We stayed at the Lux* Resort on South Ari Atoll, and it was the most indulgent place I have ever stayed. From the moment we stepped off our sea plane, everywhere we turned seemed like it was straight out of a Pinterest travel board.

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Once we were finally checked into the resort (by our own personal check-in man), we were whisked away to our decadent beach villa that we would be staying in for the week. We had our own entrance into the ocean, a gorgeous bathroom and views to die for.

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While we did do some relaxing, most of our trip was spent getting our 4 open waters dives complete in order to get our PADI Open Water Diver Certification. While Dan did wonderful from the start, I suffered from terrible anxiety every night because I have a terrible fear of drowning. Probably not a good idea to take on diving as a hobby with that as a fear, but I overcame it and got to see some incredible things on those dives. I wish we would have taken some video, but I don’t think it would have done it justice. Diving in the Maldives was like being in Finding Nemo; it was full of colorful fish, sea turtles, reef sharks and even 2 whale sharks! I have a feeling diving will not always be like that, so I feel very fortunate to have had that incredible experience. I leave you with some of my favorite photos from our week in the Maldives and hope everyone gets the opportunity to visit this stunning paradise once in their lives. More soon on our lives in Singapore!

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Singapore Livin’: 6 Month Recap

I can hardly believe that it has been over 6 months since we made our big move to Singapore. To say that it has flown by is an understatement; landing in Singapore for the first time and seeing all of our SAS welcome crew waiting for us at the airport feels like it was last month. Still, between work, travel, and play, Daniel and I have easily made Singapore our home now. I didn’t think I could ever feel this comfortable in another city/home after living in Austin, but the saying really is true-home is wherever the heart is. In my case, it’s wherever I have Daniel….and high-speed Internet. Still, here are the highs and lows from our 6 month adventure so far:

The Highs:

  • Travel: Yes, it is THAT amazing. Between the 2 of us, the Gaches have made it to Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines in these past 6 months and have the Maldives waiting for us in March.
  • Paying off my students loans: Awesome feeling and an accomplishment that could only have been done here; I never thought I would I say I am debt free at 28, but it really happened. I will say that Dan and I have been conscious to not get bit by the “We are rich expat teachers let’s make it rain” bug, which is crucial when it comes to saving money in Singapore.
  • Making new friends and connections: Expats are a wonderful breed of people that are open, interesting and always willing to make a connection no matter how short their time is in Singapore. To me, urban families are such an important part of making a place your home and we are little by little starting to piece ours together.

The Lows:

  • Keeping in contact with family/friends: I’m not going to lie, the job of staying in touch with our family and friends blows. Not the act of speak to everyone in the US when we get a hold of them, it’s the mere task of working with the time difference and busy schedules of everyone back home to try to find time to Skype/Facetime. Texting has been a good way to feel connected, but there is nothing like getting to speak while seeing people’s faces. I know and accept that everyone has their lives to live even if we aren’t around, but it doesn’t make it any easier when you try Facetiming 6 of your family/friends and no one answers.
  • Celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving without family: Not much to explain here. The week of Thanksgiving was hands-down the most depressed I had been in Singapore, and I spent it crying and listening to the saddest Christmas songs ever. I don’t know if missing holidays with family will get any easier, but I will make sure to prepare myself more next year for the blues just in case.

I am curious to see what the next 4 months bring us before we return to the States in June for a month-long visit. We say it all the time, but we miss everyone back in America tremendously and think about them everyday. I am going to try to be better about posing more everyday thoughts and experiences more often to give all of you a more vivid idea of what it’s like to live in Singapore and experience Southeast Asia. Until the next post!

Great Gach Getaway: Hiroshima

During our stay in Osaka, Daniel and I decided to take a day trip to Hiroshima to visit a family that he used to coach in swimming when we lived in Austin. The Sekklers were so fantastic when it came to playing tour guide and honestly made our visit to Hiroshima as special as it once.

It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get to Hiroshima, and once we arrived, we were greeted by the Sekklers and hopped on a train/ferry to Miyajima, the iconic “Shrine Island” that is off the coast of Hiroshima. It was fantastic getting to walk around Miyajima and enjoy the picturesque shrine and forest. We also made a stop at the ryokan on the island to warm up in the hot springs before venturing out to the Peace Memorial and Museum in Hiroshima.

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Visiting the Peace Memorial and Museum was an incredibly powerful experience; the only thing I could compare it to was visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. when I was 17. The Japanese are a very introspective and thoughtful culture; while the museum was full of facts and haunting photos/videos, there also were exhibits that talked about what lead to the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan and the faults on both sides. The Japanese are so passionate about banning nuclear weapons in the world (as everyone else should be), and really took the time to educate the visitors to the museum about the why and because. Hands down, I think visiting the Peace Memorial and Museum should be mandatory for anyone coming to the Osaka/Hiroshima area. It is truly that moving and important.

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Only building left standing when the A-Bomb was dropped.

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Children’s Peace Monument: Click the photo to learn more about it and then I dare you not to cry over/love humanity after.

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After our visit to the Peace Memorial, we finished our day in Hiroshima with more okonomiyaki, but Hiroshima style. We actually visited a building were an entire floor was dedicated to different okonomiyaki stalls and it was a fantastic food experience. Our chefs were young, funny and charismatic, and were hell-bent on convincing us that Hiroshima was the one true king of okonomiyaki. No matter what my final choice was, it was a delicious one to make.

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Our final post over Tokyo is next!