La Fourchette

[St Heliers, Auckland, New Zealand ]

“Would you like a double shot instead of your usual single? Or would that be reckless?”

—Hugh, un barista de La Fourchette

Oh la la. La Fourchette!

St Heliers by the Sea

We moved to New Zealand in 2015 for my husband’s job knowing nothing about Auckland and its vast expanse of suburbs. Proximity to whichever high school (“college”) best suited our son was our priority, and led us to St Heliers Bay, a small coastal village about five miles south of Auckland. Over the years we became increasingly aware of our good fortune. St Heliers is a New Zealand gem.

St Heliers, un belle ville.

There are several coffee shops and cafes in tiny St Heliers ranging from no-frills to high-end-trendy, and each is dear to me. La Fourchette skews the curve because it is, well… French!

Quelques pâtisseries.

An authentic French café and brasserie with an in-store pâtisserie lovingly dubbed La Petit Fourchette, La Fourchette is staffed largely by authentic speakers of le français. Come for the coffee, stay for your server’s enthralling accent, feed your soul!

Le staff.

The kitchen, which is in full view as you wait for your takeaway mochachino, is the real deal. So fun to watch.

Les chefs, dans la cuisine.
Seasonal fruit crêpes for brunch? Oui!

Every coffee I’ve ever been served at La Fourchette has been amazing. Even takeaways come with a complimentary chocolate kiss, by the way. Agréable! Between le chocolat and La Fourchette’s loyalty card (and competitive prices!), ce café est mon préféré.

La Fourchette, je vous adore!

8c Turua Street, St Heliers, Auckland 1071

Remedy Coffee

The approach: So nice!

[Auckland, New Zealand]

Beautiful Aucklandia.

A bustling port city located on east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Auckland is an urbanite’s paradise. Come for the contemporary architecture, the array of interesting skyscrapers, the Sky Tower, the wharf, the water, the pristine air quality, the big white cloud, the amazing diversity, the surge of youthful energy, the sparkling cleanness, the safety, the nearby beaches… and stay for the coffee.

Coffee houses abound in Auckland’s lively Central Business District. Remedy Coffee, located right in the middle of everything, is one that I find impossible to resist.

So charming!

I am unable to walk past Remedy without popping in, even if I’m not in the mood for coffee. The aroma and lively atmosphere are intoxicating.

A fairly small city in terms of surface area, Auckland’s universities are very near the CBD, resulting in a wonderful mix of people: students, business folk, residents, tourists, etc. I always love the crowd at Remedy.

In Other News… Cold Brew!

… and light jazz!

As an added bonus, Remedy offers a cold brew option that is not an ice cream concoction.

In the US, “iced coffee” = the coffee blend of your choice, perhaps including a shot or two of espresso, chilled and served over ice, usually with milk or cream. Add sugar to taste.

In New Zealand, “iced coffee” = a coffee milkshake. It’s a special event and a spectacular calorie commitment that is not for me. Call me crazy but I’m a coffee addict, not an ice cream person. :o)

To my delight, the barista at Remedy offered me an iced coffee with or without ice cream. Obviously I opted for the latter. In my perfect world the proportions would have leaned more toward coffee, less toward milk, but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

Made with a great deal of care. Wonderful baristas!

Where do you stand on the issue of iced coffee? Do you love it, or think the entire concept is bizarre? Like many of my kiwi friends, do you insist on ice cream in your iced coffee, or are you a sane person like me? (Just kidding. I love you, Kiwis, you know that I do.)

Let me know!

Make the scene. 😊



And check out Remedy Coffee.
1 Wellesley Street West, Auckland CBD, Auckland 1010

Coffee, New Zealand Style

Cafe culture thrives in New Zealand. The plethora of choices can cause the coffee-lover’s head to spin. Where to go? Each coffee shop has its unique charms. While I’m confident that none would disappoint—you really can’t go wrong—I’ve decided to write a series of short posts featuring my personal favorites.

First up….

albertpark cafe & espresso

Located on the edge of Albert Park in central Auckland, the aptly named albertpark cafe & espresso absolutely beckons. Do give in to its siren’s song. This little boit is as charming inside as it is from the street. Amazing coffee, lovely menu and staff, and the atmosphere is inviting and comfortable.

Friendly baristas!
Amazing juice menu. So healthy!
Super yum.
Ambiance!
Me and my son, who is not at all a coffee enthusiast and, as usual, did not share my enthusiasm for snapping a selfie.

If ever you visit Auckland and are touring the city’s sites, you may find yourself near albertpark cafe & espresso. Several University of Auckland buildings are right across the park, there is tons of shopping in every direction, and the Auckland Art Gallery is only a few blocks away. Limited outdoor seating is available, and there are plenty of seats inside. Treat yourself! :o)


————-

A special note to my American compatriots: Don’t expect to find bottomless cups of drip coffee in any New Zealand coffee shop.

All coffee options in New Zealand require special preparation by a trained barista and include various measures of espresso and optional steamed milk—delicious concoctions like a cappuccino, latte, or New Zealand’s favorite: the flat white. Caffè americano, which comes close to what we’re used to in the US, is not drip coffee at all but is in fact watered-down espresso.

Of course in America we have all of the above-mentioned coffee drinks (except, perhaps, for flat white!), but self-service style flavored drip coffees are also an option. Not in New Zealand. For me, this took some real getting used to.

According to legend it’s possible to order “American” coffee with milk on the side at Starbucks in New Zealand. I have never successfully completed this transaction and use my confusion over the issue as an excuse to pay more for a latte. :o)

Waiting out the rain with a green tea latte at my favorite NZ Starbucks in Mission Bay, just south of Auckland.

If you can offer advice for American travelers about how to order drip coffee at Starbucks or anywhere else in Kiwiland, please share in the comment section!

And while we’re at it, circling back to the flat white… what the heck, New Zealand? This special coffee drink is set apart from a latte but honestly I must confess, I cannot taste a difference. Help me out! What makes a flat white special?

Word War II Museum [Tengchong, China]

Tengchong was the unfortunate site of much of the fighting that occurred in China when Japan invaded in 1937. This beautifully designed museum (officially titled The Anti-Japan War Museum) chronicles the sad history with solemnity and respect.

Helmets from the war, displayed in the entrance hall.

Inside

Admission to the museum is free. Our generous Chinese hosts paid for the English translation of the museum’s recorded audio tour for us. (Because this was a gift I’m not sure of the cost, but based on experience I doubt the rental fee would be prohibitive.) I found the recording helpful; however, all signage throughout the museum includes the same English that is spoken in the recording. If you don’t mind reading your way through the exhibits, you’ll be fine without paying for audio.

It took us around an hour and a half to work our way through the many rooms of the museum, which are organized chronologically. Out of respect (and because I wasn’t sure whether or not photography was allowed), I refrained from snapping any pictures, so you’ll have to take my word. It was a wonderful experience.

Outside

The meticulous museum grounds include an expansive and impressive monument to fallen Chinese and American troops.

Before entering the solemn memorial, visitors pass through a small Buddhist prayer room where, for a donation, one can purchase flowers or light candles for the lost.

Just beyond the prayer room, at the base of a hill, you’ll find a small garden (above) memorializing the American troops who died while fighting to liberate China from the Japanese invasion. Yes, US troops—The Flying Tigers— did indeed help rescue China from Japan.

A few more steps and you begin to ascend a grassy, tree-covered hill. Rows of memorial headstones radiate up, all the way around; one stone for every Chinese soldier who died in the conflict. There are many, many stones. (Dear World Leaders: Please study history!)

The top of the hill is marked with a memorial obelisk.


The original Hell’s Angels emblem

Spending the afternoon at Tengchong’s World War II Museum was emotional, but it was important and definitely a must-see. I learned a lot, including this fun fact: “Hell’s Angels” was the name of one of the US Flying Tiger air squadrons involved in the rescue mission. There are several enticing Hell’s Angels items for sale in the museum’s gift shops, so if you don’t go for the history, go for the merch!


PRO-TIP

If you’re not a Chinese citizen, don’t forget your passport and visitor’s visa! Without these documents, you won’t be allowed in.

“Clouds” Boutique, in Heshun Ancient Village 和顺镇 [Tengchong, China]

In Heshun Ancient Village  we saw a shop—two sister shops, in fact—with white cotton clothes dyed with bits of blue. T-shirts, of course, but also blouses, scarves, hats, bags, and flowy dresses… the kind that float around you on a breezy day. Nothing in the boutique was pressed and prim, but everything was tidy and careful. Billowy and fluffy, tastefully tie-dyed. Small swirls of dye organized on a soft white robe, t-shirts once white with hems dipped in indigo that bled up into an inviting fade. An artist owned the shop, I felt sure, someone whose work I would admire.

I took this photo of the second, smaller shop, but the photo could not capture quality of air that you felt while walking past. The larger shop was especially lovely. We couldn’t read the sign so I will call it Clouds.

Heshun Ancient Village 和顺镇 [Tengchong, China]

Heshun street

Situated in western China, abounding in picturesque scenery and activities for tourists, Tengchong is poised to become a vacation hot-spot. While the city is growing rapidly, commercialization and modernization are serving to ease accessibility without diminishing old-world charm.

Heshun city gate
My son and I, about to enter one of Heshun’s city gates.

Traveling with two Chinese families, my husband, son and I visited several tourist destinations in and around Tengchong, including the historic village of Heshun.

Beautiful Heshun

Heshun was a 25-minute ride from our Tengchong hotel, and required tickets for admission. It was definitely worth the effort and cost, but note: English-speakers are few and far between. If you have little to no Mandarin skills (like us!), you’ll be relying on your translation apps. And pantomime, of course. :o)

A hilly village whose narrow winding streets are lined with a plethora of shops…

…Heshun Ancient Village is equally appealing to history buffs, shoppers, and people-watchers.

Not to worry, bookworms. Near the main entrance to the old city you’ll find an ancient library (which is quite small and contains scrolls, no books, because this is ancient China!). And steps from the library, a small vintage book shop.

A table full of vintage Chinese paperbacks.
And off to the side, requisite red books (also vintage).

Beautiful structures abound…

…but traditional Chinese architecture is not the only eye candy. The old city is surrounded by beautiful parks and waterways.

Right Next Door

Separated from working rice fields by a narrow canal (easily crossed, with care, by concrete stepping stones), rice paddies, flower fields, and distant hills serve as ancient Heshun’s backdrop.

If you’ve got great balance and a moderate sense of adventure, after crossing the the canal, poke around until you find find the narrow sod footpaths through the rice fields.

I missed a sensational photo op, thanks to Fear of Falling Into the Muck. The extremely narrow path, which was made of bumpy chunks of grassy earth and lined by nothing more than flimsy rice stalks, could offer no guarantee of safe passage. For me, at 53 years of age with osteoporosis, a bad knee, and an extreme dislike of being wet and/or muddy, traversing this path was a definite no. (Did I mention, extremely narrow? And uneven/unsure footing, with nothing solid to hold onto to prevent a fall?) But plenty of others—including my family—braved the trails and filled their cameras with rice field photo bounty.

My brave family.

Not wanting to leave empty-handed, I opted to explore the adjacent flower field. Steady going, and not a bad view.

Old Meets New

Everywhere you look in Heshun, old and new worlds collide. There are scooters everywhere, even zipping over ancient bridges.

Along the ancient city’s left edge, which borders the rice fields, vendors carry goods on their shoulders; shoppers, in chic wheeled bags.

Women do their laundry at on ancient boat dock, an historic landmark…

…steps away from a super-modern coffee house.

Speaking of Coffee…

Heshun is awash in tea, but if you’re a coffee drinker and require a mid-afternoon hit, don’t give up—just keep looking! In total we spotted three contemporary coffee houses, each with wifi and requisite hipsters/laptops.


Near the end of our visit, as we were resting in some shade, my husband snagged the photo of the day.


Heshun Ancient Village is in Tengchong, China, Near Myanmar. Tengchong has an efficient airport, plenty of hotels and resorts, and all the amenities of a modern city. Note that when we visited in October 2019, construction was abundant. Slow traffic could be expected due to road work, including the installation of beautiful lotus street lamps. :0)

Moon Cakes

Greetings from Ningbo, China!

Today’s topic:

Breakfast.

I am a creature of habit. Especially when it comes to breakfast.

Violet’s Breakfast Backstory

In the mid-90’s I lived in Manhattan directly across the street from an Italian bakery.
The aroma of that baker’s goods was my siren’s song, not only luring me to the counter every morning but often waking me before dawn to do so.

Super health-minded, I would never eat pastry for breakfast. But add carrot, bran, or dried fruit to your muffin batter and you’ve performed alchemy, magically transforming the empty calories of cake into something I can justify as a nutritious breakfast. Don’t forget the garnish! That innocent sprinkle of pumpkin seeds signals the muffin’s health benefits to would-be healthy breakfasters like me. Behold, the culinary unicorn: “healthy” cake.

“Healthy” muffins from that Italian bakery in NYC were the beginning of a life-long addiction. My family finds my muffin habit irritating, especially when traveling, but the heart wants what it wants. My heart wants a muffin for breakfast, no matter where in the world I happen to be.

In the weeks before my first visit to China, remembering past trips to Malaysia and Singapore, I started mentally prepping myself for Asian breakfast. Sure there would be western options, but any offering resembling a muffin would probably be sweet. All style, no substance. I took comfort in the certain availability of fruit.

Also, Starbucks. Huzza! My global friend Starbucks was certain to offer something resembling my familiar comfort food. I was not afraid.

Welcome to China!

I arrived in Ningbo in late September, shortly after China’s Mid-Autumn Festival. My husband Fred had arrived months earlier had settled in the progressive city of Ningbo, a two-hour drive from Shanghai.

A note of thanks to the Universe: A lovely Starbucks was situated within easy walking distance of Fred’s apartment. Safety net, ensured.

Even though my little eye did spy “healthy” muffins in Starbucks’s display case (a chia seed garnish? Super-healthy!), I decided to turn over a new leaf.

Move over, muffins.

Hello, Moon Cakes!

In celebration of China’s Mid-Autumn Festival (which correlates with the harvest moon), a friend had given Fred a big beautiful box full of sub-boxes, each containing an individually wrapped moon cake. The cakes are a Mid-Autumn Festival tradition. Fred had saved the little boxed cakes for us in his fridge.

Each filled pastry was blanketed in a light, sweet, cake-y exterior, with Chinese calligraphy pressed into the top. Perhaps the characters were a blessing, or a proverb. Maybe they revealed clues as to the contents of the cake. Lazy me, I ate them all without ever attempting to crack the code. Can any of you read the message on the cake? Post a comment!

As long as they lasted, I nibbled at a moon cake every morning for breakfast, testing out the dense hidden filling before diving in. According to extensive research (I asked my Chinese friend Lina), the list of possible fillings for traditional Chinese moon cakes is endless. Three flavors were included in Fred’s moon cake stash:

  • Bean! A mildly sweet paste made of… kidney beans? I am guessing. This was the first cake that I tried, and it was a proper muffin substitute. Beans are healthy, right?
  • Chocolate! Mild, sweet, slightly grainy, tasty enough. Not healthy but I definitely couldn’t let chocolate go to waste. Eaten alongside a bunch of grapes, sure. A healthy-ish way to start the day.
  • Seaweed! (Or… Some Unidentified Extremely Bitter Vegetable!?!) Oooooh. Pass. Sorry, China. I am healthy, but I’m not an animal. 🙂
Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival moon cake with bean filling

Use the comment section to let me know about your go-to travel breakfast, or to share your favorite international breakfast anecdote.

Bon voyage et bon appétit!

Hola! Nĭ hăo! Bonjour!

Je m’apelle Violet. And that about sums up my foreign language skills. 🙂

Despite linguistic limitations (Americans! God help us!), my family and I have lived in some pretty cool places. My husband’s work as a PGA teaching pro has been, for us, a portal to world-wide travel. Luckily, my job as a free-lance writer and illustrator has never held us back. I can work from virtually anywhere, so when opportunity beckons, we go!

Our first international move in 2015 from the US to New Zealand was exciting, terrifying, and freeing. The experience rinsed away all our fears about expatriating, so of course this year we are moving to China. Next stop… Canada? Could be. We’ll see.

For the benefit of other world travelers and wannabe expats, I have been longing to write about every little thing that has happened to us on our journey: the ups and downs of securing a work visa, the emotions of enrolling our teenage son in a kiwi school, the domestic day-to-day struggles of settling into a “foreign” lifestyle, etc. After nearly five years of back-to-back book deadlines, I finally have a little space in my daily schedule.

Time to breathe. And to blog.

My plan is to follow inspiration rather than chronology. I will write about various aspects of moving to and living in New Zealand and China, as well as other trips we’ve taken in the US and abroad. I’ll include travel tips whenever I can, and will of course write about food and coffee and art and books because without food and coffee and art and books, why leave the house? Occasionally I’ll post some of my own illustrations, and perhaps little bits of news from my publishing life, but mostly, vagabondviolet will chronicle my family’s travels abroad.

Interacting with readers and writers is the blood of any blog so please do leave comments and questions. I will always do my best to answer.

And so, away we go.

On y va!