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Butterflies, spices and canopy walkways

OK, so it’s been quiet around here. Reason being we went walkabout, escaping winter and charging our solar batteries. When we left there hasn’t been much winter to worry about. Except the darkness maybe, which is anyway the hardest bit. Anywayz :D

We had the awesomest family holiday on Pulau Pinang in Malaysia. As a family we follow a few very simple principles for traveling: independent (sometimes for places that are difficult to reach we book a tour with a local travel agent, but we don’t do pre-arranged holiday packages in resort-type places), light (ie no checked-in luggage), unique (avoid chain characterless hotels), tasty (try as much local food as humanly possible). And go with the flow. That’s it really.

It always puzzles me when people ask what’s the point of traveling to faraway lands with small kids. As in: “they won’t remember anything, what’s the point?”. At some level the “remembering” part is probably true. Our 10 month old won’t “remember” much in a way we think about remembering. Four year old will probably remember a blur of things and a few highlights. The giganormous butterflies. Peeling off the bark of cinnamon tree to check how it smells like. Being afraid to step onto jungle canopy walkway and going nonetheless. Meeting the orangutans. And that blur? That’s what our life is made of. It shapes who we are. Nobody remembers everything, every day, every detail. It’s far more important to live it and allow the experience to influence us. I also believe traveling as family helps us grow. As family. Sure, having the little people in tow calls for all kinds of trouble and can be frankly really (REALLY) annoying at times. Like when you have a overnight layover and need to catch a flight early in the morning, kids wake up at 2 am, ready to rock’n’roll. The jet-lag explanation prep-talk? They are not having it. But now as I type it out, it was actually a pretty hilarious night. Or when kiddo sits down on the sidewalk (um, what sidewalk? cars blazing by and us squished on tiny trail of gravel bordering a really deep ditch) and announces that this is it, end of story, not one step more. I’m not really diggin’ these moments and I usually announce it pretty loud and clear. Which in hindsight is not the best strategy, not at all. But it all makes us grow. It brings us closer together. We learn more about each other and ourselves.

Funnily, I didn’t really take a lot of pictures during the trip. I think a whooping total of maybe 200 frames in three weeks. I didn’t always feel like whipping up my huge DSLR. Maybe I should embrace my iPhone more (there, that’s my resolution for 2014).

The first thing we noticed about Penang as our Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong was approaching is GREEN. The island is covered with thick, luscious jungle. Our first stop was George Town. It’s famous for its food, architecture (it’s a UNESCO Heritage Site) and street art.

The architecture is simply amazing. Malaysia is a cultural bomb, mixing Chinese, Indian, Malay and Arabic influences. It’s amazing. There were two buildings that really impressed us. First was the Fatt Tze Mansion. What interested Ingrid the most was why people build big houses like that if they die anyway (people that is). So we talked about leaving legacy, it was a great discussion. We also loved the Khoo Kongsi, a huge and really impressively decorated Chinese clanhouse. Then we went to a Buddhist temple and talked about Buddha and his teachings. As we were wrapping up the day we heard the muezzin called for an evening prayer so we talked about Islam. Seriously, isn’t this better than any school?

We arrived on New Year’s day and most places had “Merry Christmas” signs plastered. Soon they were replaced with Chinese New Year signs and decorations. Red, red, red. I wish we were able to experience the actual celebration. Some other time.Since its inscription as a UNESCO Heritage Site George Town has embraced street art. There are dozens of murals, big and small, gracing the buildings and steel rod caricatures standing on street corners. Time Out Penang has a fantastic article about the phenomenon. Food. Peanag is often called the food capital of Malaysia. It’s just out of this world great. It’s so good that people travel from Kuala Lumpur just to grab a meal. Whole streets turn into restaurants in the evening, they are lined with hawker stalls left right and center. Most specialize in one thing- a soup or noodle dish for example. Most sell small portions (and it’s very economically priced) so you can just go from one to another until you are bursting from all the goodness. Street food and food stalls are where it’s at in George Town. Restaurants are great, but yeah. Food stalls.From George Town we went to Batu Ferrinhi, further on the coast line. The picture below will be appreciated by anyone who is making laundry daily. Our clothes. Washed, ironed, folded and packed. 1€ per kilo. That’s it.Penang Spice Gardens. Absolutely enchanting place complete with a tea station where we could grab a cup of ginger-lemongrass-stevia tea. We finished the day with a dinner on the terrace overlooking the ocean. We saw a lot of butterflies in Malaysia and they are breathtakingly beautiful. One day we went to visit the butterfly farm. There were thousands flapping their wings in perfect silence. If that’s not magic then I don’t know what is.I want this insect-eater plant in our cottage in Lapland. Good-bye mosquitoes :DThese were our favorite butterflies. Looked like dried leaves, but then one opened the wings…No holiday is complete without building a sand castle (yes, we totally had to buy the bucket and take it back home to Finland).And this… A walk in world’s smallest national park. Jungle. And a canopy walkway. I think this was my favorite day. Ingrid was a bit scared at the beginning, the walkway was really high and narrow and bouncy. But then she went. And loved it.Public transport on Penang rocks. Buses are clean, cheap and (reasonably) on time.Durian was in season. We could definitely smell it on the streets. You just cannot miss that smell, not a chance. Quote from Wikipedia: “the smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage.” Um, yes, that pretty much describes it. No wonder it was banned from public transportation and hotels. As for the taste… some people say it’s fantastic, king of fruit. To me it’s just OK. This is from our hotel in Kuala Lumpur. We spent there couple of days on our way back home. Obligatory visit to KL Tower (we skipped Petronas, it’s close to impossible to get the tickets if you are not an early-early morning person). Then some walks in park and playgrounds, more food and we hopped on a plane back home.

And now we are back, settling into the winter. Finland welcomed us with temperatures well in the -20s. Wow. Fun times. Good thing I love winter :D But we started missing Malaysia the moment we stepped on the plane. We will definitely go back.

Thanks for reading and watching. Where are you heading in 2014? Share in the comments!

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