JUST SNAPPED @littleswallowchinadoll

Dikker & Thijs, Amsterdam

I've been in Amsterdam a lot for work lately, so it's lucky it's a city I love. Every time I exit the central station and head down the Dam towards the office, it makes me smile to walk past the mix of canals, their typical houses, tourist trap stores, grand squares and impressive historical buildings.

The team and I were treated to a very nice Christmas dinner at Dikker & Thijs, a multi level restaurant and wine bar which oozes cosiness and yet classiness. The prosecco to start, and matching wines with every course, didn't hurt with adding a little extra jolliness to the meal either.

The carpaccio was stunning, and the trifle amazing - huge, but amazing. And the sweet muscatel they served with it was oh, so good. 

Definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in Amsterdam - they work with fresh, seasonal produce, and the staff are attentive and welcoming. Even better if you can get someone else to foot the bill!

The ghost of Christmas past

I'll admit I'm a bit of a Grinch. I'm so not about Christmas. I'm not sure if I was ever into it previously, but since I left the sunny shores of Sydney, I've moaned about the lack of seafood, summer, and my family for the last 6 years. Sure, I could have gone home, but every year a combination of significant birthdays and weddings have managed to bump Oz as a December destination. 

This year I was reminded why Christmas is so special. The CG's family take it very seriously. Which means a LOT of chocolate, booze, roast dinners, breakfast fry ups, games, and time together with the kids. It was magic. 

Santa brought us stockings.

My Brit-Mum made us a mega brekkie.

Then we got down to present opening round one.

We were all pretty spoilt.

After the carnage we headed over to Big-Bro and Sis in laws beautiful new place for present opening round two.

And to stuff ourselves silly with an awesome Christmas dinner.

Before chartreuse shots, more food, and a little armed nap.

Then it was time to do it all again. 

After another delicious fry up on boxing day morning, we headed to Brit-Pop's place for present opening round three.

And a final delicious roast dinner.

Thanks to the magic of FaceTime, we got to share some of Christmas with my extended family back in Oz. Maybe next year I'll manage to convince the folks to come experience a cold Christmas with us. Here's hoping.

Furanafushi Island, The Maldives

We’re whizzing along in a speedboat from Male airport towards our honeymoon resort, across the most impossibly blue water I’ve ever seen, and I can’t help but thinking about the first time the CG and I were on a boat together.

As they pass out refreshing cold towels and bottles of water, it makes me laugh to think how different the circumstances are.

Back in 2009, we’d just quit our jobs and decided to go backpacking for six months at the height of the recession in the UK. After a decidedly harrowing bus journey across Bali to one of the worst, cockroach and mosquito infested port towns of all time, we boarded a boat for a 5 day trip to Komodo. On board, we slept communally with the rest of the guests and crew on the boat floor, drank cheap homemade grog that only backpackers on a budget would dream of touching, and spent our days flinging ourselves off the top deck into the ocean whenever the boat dropped anchor.

Cut to this past week, and picture this: a water bungalow just for the two of us...

...sunset cocktails...

...diving and snorkeling in crystal clear waters with sharks galore...

...all on a pretty as a picture island without a cockroach in sight.

We still haven’t managed to grow up yet, though.

(and we still have no idea who that random kid is watching the action unfold).

So here’s the scoop: Sheraton Full Moon Resort has amazing service, wonderful accommodation, the biggest, fluffiest beach towels ever, and is really conveniently located for divers with a lot of sites only 15 minutes or less away by boat ride. The only let down is the food, which is just average.

Diving is pretty exxy, but expected. Their 5 dive package is USD $465 + equipment hire + boat trip charges – but it is definitely not to be missed. Some dives the visibility was 40 – 50 meters, and we would see up to 10 sharks, rays, and so much aquatic life it was like swimming in an aquarium. The dive team at the Sheraton is also brilliant, headed up by Chris and Andrea. They give the best dive briefs of any outfit I’ve been with, and make sure you’re looked after the whole time. After 6 days with them it was hard to say goodbye!

And just like that, it’s all over *sob*. We managed to catch up on some serious sleep, and I haven’t felt so relaxed for a long time. Time to start planning our next getaway… 

Oodles more noodles: Shoryu & Ittenbari

I've had ramen four weeks in a row. It's safe to say, I'm ramen-ed out. And the problem is - I hit pay dirt with the first two places I went, so the last fortnight's noodle adventures have been...kind of dissatisfying. 

Shoryu certainly had the prettiest ramen, with lots of colourful veg and a smooth and milky looking broth. There were some novel additions to the menu as well, such as the padron peppers which I've not seen in Japanese places before.

Classy as always.

We went to Ittenbari on the advice of a true ramen lover, specifically for the miso ramen. Usually I just won't post if I don't have anything nice to say. In this case, I'm going to put down my lack of appreciation to the fact that I LOVE pork. So I just didn't think the miso alternative compared. But two things really did bother me: the naff, cheap chopsticks (because if Itsu has better quality chopsticks than your restaurant, you should really take a good, hard look at yourself) and cold eggs.

So here's the wash up:
  1. Tonkotsu and Bone Daddies on equal ground
  2. Shoryu
  3. Ittenbari
Possibly contentious amongst true ramen fanatics, who expect broth to be "more porky" or have greater "depth". And obviously only based on one visit to each. But for my money, I know where I'll be going back to, and where I definitely won't.

Now shove over and pass me the 20 hour pork broth.

Christmas season and The Dean Swift, Butlers Wharf

What does Christmas season mean? Drinking, drinking, and more drinking.

Thursday's work party meant photo booth pics and a flutter at some black jack.

Friday night was a trip up to Essex, and some time with the family, making myself sick on chocolates and bailey's. 

Saturday was lunch with the Colchester crew.

Followed by 80's disco dress up for my baby sister-in-law's 21st birthday.

(I'm somewhat concerned that my 7 year old nice was chanting "down it, down it, down it!" as we did shots.)

And Sunday was our annual Christmas lunch with the London family at The Dean Swift where we got to meet the newest member of our gang.

Their upstairs dining room was buzzing by 1pm, and the pork belly was all gone by 1:30pm...so get there early to make sure you get what you want. 

Roasts were unanimously voted as delicious, the chorizo burger wasn't as crash hot. Everyone enjoyed their starters, and, of course, the wine. 

Dirty Santa was a definite winner rather than our usual Secret Santa. The CG ended up with earrings. Twice. 

Only one more party before we're off on our pre-Christmas, delayed honeymoon. Life is hard, dudes, really hard.