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Safety in a Wedge

December 10, 2010

Product Review: Ila Wedge

There have been times during my travels when I’ve compromised my personal safety — unknowingly and deliberately — just to get where I wanted to go. When I think back on these moments I shiver. Yes I was naive and possibly insane.

The idea of riding through backwater roads in rural China with no one but a non-English speaking driver or clambering down a muddy mosquito infested path in an unknown part of Myanmar may sound adventurous but I had to rely on the people around me and my wits.

Yet no matter where I was during the day, it was the nights that made me incredibly uncomfortable. Left alone in a unlisted hotel or  hostel with people who not only looked different but spoke differently from me, I was largely viewed as a crazy foreign woman travelling around with no friends and worse — no man to protect me. I was also seen as wealthy in their eyes because I could travel.

Little did they know that I was nervous about being alone not knowing who might force their way into my room. These nights were often spent in a restless state of sleep waking at the slightest noise, keeping a makeshift weapon within close distance for that “just in case” moment and trying whatever I could to fortify the doors and windows.

Back then — and it was only a few years ago — there was little in the way of practical personal safety gadgets that women could use.  Now thanks to advances in technology and companies like Ila, personal security has evolved. No longer do women have to compromise their personal security in their home or when travelling.

Using the doorstop concept Ila has created the Wedge with a built-in alarm that emits a piercing siren should someone try to open the door. The siren is loud enough to scare off any hearing able intruder as well as freak out your neighbours and dogs within metres of your home.

Ila has kept the Wedge design simple but stylish constructing the product out of a hard plastic and adding a feminine touch to keep the product from looking drab. It is inexpensive considering the added sense of security it offers: $19.95 for the US market and £14.50 for the UK.

Anyone who takes their travel and personal safety seriously should add this product to their travel list or their friend’s travel list.Detailed information on the Wedge and other security gadgets is available at Ila Security.

Ila Wedge

Caffeinated Traveller

It’s been a while….

November 24, 2010

The wait is over. In fact it has been over since early September but only now have I been able to sit down and smell the roses. After fifteen months, twenty-five days and numerous minutes of energy zapping waiting, the light turned green and I became an official permanent resident of the States.

It was a quiet celebration more of a huge sigh of relief than a cork popping champagne sipping party. I knew there was still a part of the hill to climb and it was going to be slow going clambering over rocks and crags. Despite having legal permission to work, I still had to find a job.

I was mentally prepared to slug it out with the mass of intelligent professionals also seeking work around me. What I wasn’t prepared for nor expected was to find myself signing an employment contract within weeks of receiving my green card.

So here I am, employed, legal, able to leave the US and come back without visa hassles, able to earn after months of not doing so and able to recognise and appreciate my good fortune. On the downside (short-term) I have found I am trying to find a routine that lets me sit down for an hour or two, respond to the countless email requests and wonderful comments left on my blog site, as well as stay consistent with posts. It’s a work in progress that needs fine tuning but I’m getting there.

I do have a few things I’d like to say:

  • My heartfelt sympathy and thoughts go out to the New Zealand miners who died this week  and their families and friends; and the people of New Zealand working their way through this national tragedy while I write this.
  • Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate this special day.
  • Thank you Homeland Security for the smooth processing of my permanent residency application.
  • Thank you Joe for being understanding and loving during the times I drove you crazy.
  • And, thanks to all the wonderful insightful, humorous bloggers and readers I have met on this journey, you have been inspirational.

The plan is to continue this blog but move it from twice weekly to once a week until my holidays when I plan on annoying you all as often as I can. The travel plans are being dusted off but the problem is how to choose only one place instead of several.

Happy holidays and stay safe.


by Cate

Caffeinated Traveller

A Call to Arms

November 8, 2010

Last Saturday morning 2500 people took up a call to arms. Passionate, proud and generally all round fun seekers these people walked — with their cameras — along Florida’s coastline from its eastern shores to its western shores and whatever parts in between. The aim was to take as many pictures of the coast and beaches as possible and upload these images before 11 am Saturday. It was a challenge particularly for me, because up to now my motto has been: Never rise before the sun unless there is a plane to catch or a mountain to snowboard down.

There I was along with my husband, bundled up in cold weather clothes (it was unseasonably cool that morning), walking along Juno Beach’s pristine shoreline, about 30 minutes north from my place.

The Walk-a-thon was a way of getting a message out to the wider audience, a message that will continually need repeating in the future — “Florida’s beaches are clean and safe.”

Thanks to the grim image portrayed by the news media the public have stayed away from Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and continue to do so.

Instead of waiting on the media to solve this tourist problem volunteer groups have taken up the call for action. Who better knows the state of the local beaches than the locals.

And to prove to those skeptics out there just how clean and oil-free these waters and beaches are around Florida, take a look at these shots.

by Cate

by Cate

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A little on the brisk side but the morning walk was worth it. In fact I may have to reconsider my early morning motto.

I recommend taking a look at some very good images taken that morning by some talented photographers: Florida’s Great Walk

How about you readers? Have you done something like this to get a message out to the public? Would love to hear your stories.

Caffeinated Traveller

Jimmie’s: tempering chocolate since 1947

November 1, 2010

It starts with an idea; a light that suddenly switches on in the middle of an ordinary day or during an ordinary person’s REM time. A light bright enough to germinate an idea and take it onto a path of growth and success, or see it shrivel and die.

In 1947, many lights were switched on around the US including a momentous one from the founders of a company called Intel who thought it would be cool to do something with the transistor.

But this post isn’t about technology as such nor computers, it’s about one man and his love for a bean called Cacao. In 1947 Jimmie Vonglis along with his beloved wife Gussie had an idea about chocolate in a place called Dania Beach.

by Cate

It began with chocolate: dark, milk and white, before moving into candy production further down the road. Jimmie’s business was a small family owned place but locals knew it as a chocolate haven; a place where tempered gems were innovative and delicious with a capital D.

Some time later — 1997 — Jimmie’s went outside the family but still kept the small business operational thing. The original premises were changed to include a café (closed when I visited) and the new owners opened a second shop further down the road in Wilton Manors.

Truffles are large in size and taste big enough for you the chocoholic to share with someone you love.  I opted to try some traditional liqueur flavours Grand Marnier and Crème de Menthe plus an espresso treat which tasted more like orange than coffee.

by Cate

The shop in Dania Beach is located just off the main road, in a old house amongst a cool garden setting. This is a place that needs to visited and often.

by Cate

All that’s needed to compliment this scene is a shot of caffeine or a wee dram of whisky.

Getting to Jimmie’s Chocolatier is easy if you happen to be around Miami perferably Fort Lauderdale:

148 N Federal Hwy (US-1), Dania Beach, Florida.

Open each weekday @ 11:30am, Saturdays @ 12p, and Sundays @ 1p.

Call (954) 922-0441 for more details

Caffeinated Traveller

Here, there, everywhere a palm tree

October 23, 2010

If you didn’t know it already then you’re about to find out something new, so brace yourself. The native tree of Florida is a palm tree.

by Cate


Sabal Palmetto or Cabbage Palmetto may mean nothing to ordinary visitor or local living here, but this name refers to the Floridian native that contended for the prize of state tree kicking out fellow competitors as the Long Leaf pine. Officials in 1953,  passed a statute giving the Palm the recognition and protection it deserved.

I never knew there was so much involved in being a tree.

Of course this tree is no ordinary tree, ask a botanist who specialises in palms and you will likely be informed that the Sabal Palmetto is in fact a weed — a grass — with a number of edible parts: leaves, roots, seeds.

by Cate

If you like palm trees then Florida is your place. Beside it being a flat, sandy, humid peninsula, there are around 27 palm varieties — native and exotic flourishing in the wild with six receiving full state protection. Hundreds upon hundreds of palms grow around the beaches, in gardens, line streets and affluent avenues and parking lots. Yet despite the near perfect growing conditions there is not one palm oil production unit in sight.

Royal, Lady, Saw and Windmill are some of the palms around the Palm Beaches, my favourite one comes under the romantic name: Travelers Palm with its fan like leaves, I think this tree warrants recognition as being more picturesque than others.

by Cate

I always thought this tree belonged to the Banana family.

Looking onto the garden complex where I live, there are countless varieties of Palms, of which I know nothing. They are striking in their evening silhouettes softening urban settings between a frame of drooping leaves.

by Cate

Palms offer up a lot to photographers: lines, angles, contrasts, spiders, sticky webs…

by Cate

Coconuts grow on some varieties around South Florida and yes, these do come crashing down on heads, cars and the roads. As for Date Palms? I haven’t seen any as yet, and when I do I’ll be the first one hanging around underneath eating the fresh juicy fruits.

Caffeinated Traveller

Kiwi Feet

October 19, 2010

On a chilly mid winter morning when the ground was finely coated with Jack Frost’s calling card, I watched my friend walk towards my house from her car which she had parked out on the street. While I waited, huddled around a gas heater, I noticed something wasn’t quite right with the picture in front of me.

My friend was in this picture along with a bag of freshly baked muffins in her left hand and her car keys and purse in her right hand. She had on a thick woollen coat, a long homespun muffler and matching pumpkin coloured beanie, but  I couldn’t put my finger in the thing that was missing. And then it clicked. On her feet she had nothing.

“What happened to your shoes?” I asked her as I opened the door. She smiled holding up a bag of muffins unfazed by the temperature and her barefeet.

“I dunno.” she replied “No worries eh.”

That was the end of the discussion. I had forgotten my friend had a dislike for shoes, excluding jandals (flipflops) opting to go around unshod and free whenever she could.

I, on the other hand, prefer my feet well shod when walking outside on the pavement, road, icy cold grass, sopping paddocks, animal defecated pastures and sunburnt sands.

Many New Zealander’s — bless them — also prefer their feet shoeless: 24/7.

Inside department stores, discount stores and supermarkets unshod feet trod over dirty grimy floors, concrete pock marked with gum, and tar stained roads. All I can say to this a part from “eeeewwwwww”, is that I don’t associated myself with this part of the kiwi psyche. In fact I cannot understand it. Never have and never will.

Like Hobbits, Kiwis who trudge around without shoes have a common ailment known in the shoeless fraternity as “Kiwi Feet.” Here the sole is likened to rhinoceros skin and the foot’s width foot has broadened due to years of being outside a constricting shoe.  Another unique fact is the amazing tolerance Kiwi Feet have in subzero temperatures or high heat after standing on a discarded cigarette stub.

It used to be that shoeless feet could be seen everywhere throughout the country’s urban and rural centres, but over the generations as more New Zealander’s travel the globe bringing back etiquette and style (kind of) with them, the shoeless foot has succumbed to ruralisation with feet seeking out fresher and cleaner grounds to wander on.

Shoeless feet can still be found kicking back in rural schools, rural pubs and medical clinics, pushing down on acceleration pedals when driving, running across paddocks and running into the surf.

I cannot guess when going barefoot first entered the New Zealand culture. New Zealand Maori and Pacific Islanders may have introduced this to early European settlers when their footware fell apart, or surfers who lost their sandals and thought “why not?”. The list is endless.

via Interrobangsanon

If you want to know more about this oddity in Kiwi Culture, simply Google it and see why tourists are as baffled about it as I am.

Caffeinated Traveller

City in Transition:Seoul

October 12, 2010

With the countless travel articles currently flaunting the Eat Pray Love thing or rehashing the old favourites in Mexico and Thailand or Paris and Morocco, it was refreshing to read a feature recently (via the New York Times autumn travel addition) on a place that up to now has never made its way on elite travel lists. I’m talking about Seoul.

I’ve known Seoul as a bustling beehive packed with commuters, pollution, and construction. A place where expats often go to hide and Asians love to visit for the brand shopping. I also know that Seoul isn’t considered as an exotic travel destination among “Western” travellers the way Tokyo is. Past comments I’ve received from bloggers, family and even friends have considered Seoul as a boring, dirty, crowded old city. I admit there is truth in these comments, but I can also take these words and apply them to any city within Asia, the Americas and dare I say it — Europe.

Despite the global recession South Korea was one of the few countries to pull itself out of the financial quagmire earlier on. With sound financial policies and strategies the country is well on track to becoming a major player in North Asia’s financial hub. Add innovative ideas and a national airline that likes to collect award upon award it’s any wonder why the NY Times has picked up on this happening country particularly Seoul, adding it to the top 31 places to visit in 2010.

So, what’s delicious about Seoul?



Buddhist enthusiasts can forget Thailand and its glitzy tourist orientated temples and pagodas. Korea’s Buddhism has remained under the radar for decades and well away from wannabe devotees. Temple stays are available in the country’s bigger temples outside Seoul city and in the country’s southern regions. Personally the idea of waking at 4am to chant has never been my thing, but if it’s what you seek in life, you won’t find the temples overcrowded with cameras except on religious holidays.

by Cate

Street food, Café food

A city in transition means food in transition. Street food and vendors are a large part of the Korean landscape selling toasted bread sandwiches, rice porridge, rock hard candy, popped rice snacks, chicken kebab, rice balls in a vibrantly red chilli sauce, noodles, tempura style vegetables, dried fish and boiled silkworm larvae (hmmm). This is what keeps Koreans ticking; stalls that open at day break and close in the early hours. Usually operated by small strong fierce-looking grandmothers, the prices are cheap and the food is fresh.

by Cate

As Koreans bring food and design ideas back with them from overseas, cafés including brunch or spaghetti specific have popped up like mushrooms and have also shut down overnight. The scene is forever changing. There are also Indian, Thai, Uzbeki. Mongolian, French, German and dozens of Chinese restaurants and other flavours of immigrants to South Korea over the recent years.

by Cate

Old style, New style

Corporate conglomerates like Samsung and LG house their staff in Seoul’s finer pieces of architect, and if they are not doing this for their staff their names gone on art galleries. Transitions can be a way passing over a tired old life for a shiny new including residing in old neighbourhoods. What once was a place where traditional homes clustered around narrow lanes and winding streets, are now high-rise apartment blocks, priced in the millions, safe and secure.

by Cate

Development has threatened Seoul’s historic district Bukchon, but thanks to UNESCO stepping in the traditional home called the hanok will be preserved. Sadly many areas have succumbed to the developers demolition ball and the opportunity to get lost among old rambling streets are rapidly decreasing.

by Cate

Personal Space

In a city with 26 million souls it is difficult to find personal space, unless you know where to go. Set among universities like Seoul National and Yonsei are gardens filled with beauty and prestige designed as backdrops for graduate shots and settings for picnics and romance. Naturally plantings change with the season from autumn hues to bridal pinks blossoms…

by Cate

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I like to think Seoul as a place where whimsy thrives. Old men have the ability to fall into deep sleeps as traffic zooms by honking horns, or hang outside a convenience store in the early hours of the morning debating life over bottles of sochu — at the top of their voices. Whimsy can be seen in the arts districts with retro style fixtures, furniture and music.

by Cate

by Cate

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But there is much more to South Korea than just Seoul. At the southern end of the peninsula lies Pusan, the second largest city with its golden beaches and very traditional fishing villages. Tea plantations like Boseong are virtually unknown by western tourists and the country’s oldest Buddhist|temple district lies southeast of Seoul in Gyeongju. Further south past Pusan is the island of Jeju known for it’s UNESCO lava domes and the ancient volcano Halla. North of Seoul is well, you know, the tiny artificial kingdom of the Democratic Republic of North Korea which opens its southern borders for day trips when diplomatic relations are good.

Caffeinated Traveller