Friday, August 31, 2007

Firefly (PEN)

Psst! Work stressing you out? Need a short break? Hurry over to the Firefly airline webpage and book yourself a ticket out of Penang for a few days. Firefly is a new low cost airline (a full subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines) based out of Penang International Airport. It has six destinations (check out the route map from Firefly’s website below) and currently has a fleet size of two Fokker 50s (9M-MGI and 9M-MGK). Plans to expand the fleet have been set in motion with the order of ten ATR 72-500s.

route
Firefly route map

9M-MGI
Firefly 9M-MGI awaiting passengers

Flight fares are tantalizingly low. We flew to Langkawi recently for RM9.99 each way. After taxes, the tickets were a little less than RM50 each way. Check in is painless, due to the low number of passengers on a F50. Infants under two can fly with an adult for a fee. Strollers and car seats have to be stowed in the aircraft as lugguge.


Check In at PEN
Firefly counters at PEN

As with most LCCs, you have to pay for food and drinks onboard the flight. The cabin crew may or may not get a commission from their sales (like some other LCCs), but I’m not sure how much sales they drum up on the short flights. They could do with a better uniform though. There are talks about extending the sevice to KL, Johor Baru, and Kota Kinabalu (some Air Asia competition?). We enjoyed our flight and found the cabin and ground crew friendly and efficient and hope that Penang will remain the hub.

Interior
Interior shot

Engine
Pratt & Whitney PW125B

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Washington DC

If you are in Washington DC, you have to visit the Smithsonians. The wonderful thing about these museums is that they're free! What makes the area even more interesting is that the Capitol and Washington Monument flank the buildings on either end of the Mall. These are truly world famous structures, shown in movies and pictures everywhere.

The best time to make a visit to Washington DC is Springtime, around April when the Cherry Blossoms are blooming. What a sight to behold, especially around the Tidal Basin. Our favorite museums on the Mall (the long stretch of open space where the museums are situated) are the Air and Space Museum, the newly opened American Indian Museum, the Art Museums, Museum of Natural History, Museum of American History, and the Hirschhorn Garden. There are 19 museums altogether. For younger kids, I would recommend the Air and Space Museum and Museum of American History. You can always get more information from the Smithsonian Castle.

Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian Castle

American Indian Museum
National Museum of the American Indian

Within walking distance of the Mall are the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Roosevelt Memorial (which I highly recommend), World War II Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and Jefferson Memorial. These memorials represent a lot of history and are highly worth the visit. A crowd favorite is the Albert Einstein statue outside the National Academy of Sciences building. Unlike virtually all other sculptures and statues, you are encouraged to climb onto Albert and spend some time with him. Take things easy, don't rush, after all time is relative...

Washington Monument
Washington Monument and Cherry Blossoms

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial

The most enjoyable tour we have taken around DC is with the "DC Ducks". DC Ducks uses amphibious vehicles that provides for a truly enjoyable jaunt around DC, on land, and in the water. They operate out of Union Station, tickets can be purchased at their desk there. We'll be writing about them soon.

Besides the museums and memorial, you can also make a stop at the Washington Zoo. Once again, it's free. The main attraction at the Zoo are the pandas. Currently there are three pandas, Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and their cub, Tai Shan (well, he's no longer a cub, but a hefty 153 pounds).

Panda
Yummy breakfast!

If you stay in the suburbs of Washington DC, you can easily take the train "the Metro" into the city. The city itself is well serviced by the Metro. Additionally, when you are in DC, you can walk everywhere! That's how convenient and friendly the layout of all the attractions are. Of course once you are in the city, you have to try all the many different ethnic restaurants, from Mexican to Thai food. The variety and quality of food in DC is truly astounding.

This was a quick and short tour of DC, we will be writing many more in depth stories on things to do and places to eat in DC soon.

Useful links:
DC Ducks
National Zoo
Smithsonian
DC Metro
Places to eat in DC
-Mrs PEN.DCA.MEL

Monday, August 27, 2007

Jells Park (MEL)

No more excuses! Due to circumstances, I had not touched my bike in more than six months. With temperatures predicted to rise up to 25C however, it was time to ride. The first time back on a bike after an extended break is always difficult. Your mind still remembers the speeds at which you were riding but try as you might, your legs just refuse to push those pedals around any faster. The second time back on a bike however, is just pure pain. Your ‘sitting bones’ are so sore from the previous days ride that every bump instantaneously results in mind numbing jolts of shooting pain. You even begin to wonder why you had upgraded to a light weight saddle (read: ‘no padding’) just to shave off a few more grams. All those thoughts and discomfort soon float away as your pick up speed and the breeze starts rushing by again.

Located in the Dandenong Creek Valley, Jells Park is a popular 127 hectare park that draws close to 1 million visitors a year. Its diverse vegetation includes melaleucas, gums, and stringybark. Jells Park is also a haven for birds and attracts over 150 species. Some migrate south from as far as Japan (during their colder months). My personal favorite is the wide-open spaces, perfect for our kids to run, and run, and run (and sleep soundly at night). The lovely open areas are perfect for picnics too. There are also three different playgrounds for kids. Several paved trails snake around the park, perfect for walking, rollerblading, or cycling.

wide open spaces
Wide open spaces

Gum

Tea House
Anytime is a good time for tea at Madeline's

Cycling on a multi-use paved trail can sometimes be tricky, as we tend to move a lot quicker than pedestrians. I usually end up just pedaling along slowly, making eye contact, and a friendly “Hello!” On this occasion, as I rounded a blind corner and got ready to greet to friendly older ladies, I hit a bump on the trail which then sent a blinding jolt of pain up through my head resulting in flashes of light and stars. Unfortunately, my vocal chords had begun to utter the word “Hello there!”, and instead I yelled out “Ngggarrrrrrkkkk!!!!” Add to that, my nose was running like a busted faucet (oh how nice spring pollen can be), they literally jumped 20 feet back in fright.

Magnolia
Magnolia in bloom

The park has several designated BBQ areas all set up and ready for you to throw some steaks or sausages on. Note that Jells Park doesn’t have trash facilities, you have to carry everything you brought in, back out. If you drive by car, you can get to the main parking area off Waverley Road (Melway 71 J5). There are multiple other entrances if you are walking or cycling in. For more information, check our their website. Located in Wheelers Hill, Jells Park is right smack in the middle of civilization, so getting food after your walk shouldn’t be a problem.

Clouds
Windy day

I’ve gotta go now, there’s this big group of people gathering up there, something about looking for a loony on two wheels…

Klein
Source for punishment and pleasure

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Penang Butterfly Farm

One thing that comes close to Penang’s famous hawkers food is the Butterfly Farm in Batu Feringghi, Teluk Bahang. Since its inception in 1986, it has become one of Penang favorite attraction. My husband and I took our 2 boys on the usual tropical sunny day, not expecting much of this trip. To our amazement and surprise, a dozen or more free flying butterflies greeted us along with lots of lush colorful flora and fauna in an enclosed area!

two butterflies

As we walked further on the path, more butterflies swamped past us. Imagine the boys delight to have these beautiful Papillions flapping right beside them. They were everywhere – flying high and low. You can even touch those fragile, gorgeous creatures. Even one decided to take a break on my boy’s head. All of us enjoyed observing each butterfly closely when they rested on the many nectar flowers and plants placed along the path. At this close range, I couldn’t help but admire the lovely designs and colors of each different species.

one butterfly

According to their website, the Penang Butterfly farm is the first tropical butterfly farm ever set up in the tropical world, with an average flying population of 4000 Malaysian butterflies of 120 different species, including the rare Indian Leafl (Kallima paralekta) and the endangered Yellow Bird wing (Troides helena). The farm also plays a role in research center to develop breeding methods.

butterflies

Not only butterflies inhabit this enclosed area, we also encountered deadly Scorpions and a mean looking giant lizard. What makes the Butterfly Farm even more appealing was the large pool filled with humongous Koi fishes and the peaceful sound of falling waters. The verdict: we will definitely make a trip back to the Penang Butterfly Farm again.

iguana

To get there, make a left at the Teluk Bahang roundabout (if you are driving from town) and you will find it on your left after a short distance.

-Mrs PEN.DCA.MEL

Friday, August 24, 2007

P-Plater!



Oh the humanity! Having driven since 1987, and having driven roughly 360K miles in the last ten years, I’m now a P-plater in MEL. LOL!

The process of getting a VicRoads drivers license was quick. Since I had a drivers license from one of the countries that were exempted from having to take a license test, all I had to do was to make an appointment, show up with the proper documentation (overseas license, passport, proof of address, bank card), fork over $44, and a three-year license was mine.

vicroads


I went to the VicRoads office in Tally Ho (what a great name!), and found the service to be super fast and very friendly.

Don't ask me why but I cannot stop pronouncing vicroads as vic-row-ads, ala Chris Farley and David Spade in Black Sheep! Row-ads...row-ads...

According to VicRoads, P-platers “must not drive high powered vehicles”. Darn, guess that Koenigsegg will have to wait…

You have a short period of time to obtain a VicRoads license upon entering Victoria as a permanent resident. If you have a valid drivers license from one of these countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Jersey, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA, and Guernsey, you can do what I did. If you don't, well, you will probably have to start from scratch: ie, pass the theory part first, and then pass the driving part. I'm told the current wait between the theory and practical exams are 8 weeks! During which you will suffer a fate worse than P-plating... L-plating!

Of course, best bet will be to get yourself to a VicRoads office and figure it out. You may find these links handy:

visitor info
online practice test

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

RapidPenang

Take note! 31st July 2007 was a brilliant day in Penang. It was cloudy, cool, and breezy - perfect for the launch of RapidPenang, the new public bus service in Penang. I was running around doing errands but made sure that I was sitting at the bus stop outside my in-laws house after lunch.

For decades, Penang residents and visitors have had to endure rides in dirty and very infrequent buses. Too often have I waited 90 minutes plus for the MPPP No 6 bus, only to see three No 6 buses roll down Chulia Street together!

RapidPenang is a subsidiary of RapidKL, which is a government owned company that runs the light rail and a bus network in Kuala Lumpur. I’m sure that there will be some teething problems in the beginning, but this has to be a step in the correct direction to solve Penang’s public transport and traffic woes. RapidPenang has distributed a route booklet, but it would be great to see schedule information in the future. In addition, it would be great to see some sort of multiuse tickets (daily/monthly) for tourists and regulars. Seniors can also sign up for a card that will allow for discounted tickets.



After a wait of about 30 minutes, I finally spied the cream colored bus rolling up Jelutong Road. I flagged it down and hopped into an absolutely packed bus. The a/c was working great I have to mention.



I jumped off the bus at the next stop and watched with pride as it pulled away. Good luck, RapidPenang!



They don’t have a webpage yet, but you can watch this site for more info: prasarana.

A new start

A new country, a new continent, a new start. We'd like to share our experiences settling in. With so much time spent in the other two places, we still feel attached in a big way. We'd like to create a travel guide of sorts, for the three different places, and share places to see, things to do, food to eat; maybe more so for those with young ones (we have a four year old and a two year old).

All three places have so many friendly folk, so much to see and do. If you're planning a visit or a move, we hope to provide little insights and suggestions.