April 6, 2008

Going to Philippines

Just booked my air ticket to Philippines. I will mostly be staying with Andie, the PhD student from my department at her place in Quezon city. But I might be staying one night in Los Banos for R&R so I am looking for a nice place now.

My tentative itinerary for now:

29 May
10am Arrive at Manila Airport
- Either take taxi directly to UP Diliman to meet with the workshop people and go with them to Los Banos (the bus is leaving from UP around 2pm)
- Or if Andie can get somebody to drive, pick me up from Airport to UP Diliman?

30 May to 1 June

Los Banos workshop

1 June - 2 June
Will go and hike Mount Makiling and check out the hotsprings
Wish I have the money or time to go to Hidden Valley but I doubt it

3 June - 6 June
SEAGA, UP Diliman. I think I will sign up with the tour to Mount Pinatubo

7 June (Saturday)
Extra day in Philippines - maybe go somewhere

8 June (Sunday)
Fly back to Singapore in the morning 10am.

Possible Places in Los Banos

Doña Jovita Garden Resort
Km. 57 National Highway, Bagong Kalsada, Calamba City, Laguna, Philippines 4027

Makiling Highlands Resort
Mt. Makiling in Capt. Mamon Road, Pansol, Calamba, Laguna, Philippines

Monte Vista Hotsprings and Conference Resort
Mt. Makiling in Capt. Mamon Road, Pansol, Calamba, Laguna, Philippines

City Of Springs Hotel Resort
KM 58 Brgy. Lalakay, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
- Lakeside Room

Pook ni Maria Makiling
an eco-tourism site adjacent to the Jamboree Site, National Arts Center and U.P. Los Baños

Hidden Valley Spring Resort

Alaminos, Laguna, Philippines


Resorts in Laguna


May 19, 2007

Day One in China

Before I can even finish uploading the photos from Europe, my laptop crashed. Rest assured there is a backup with my sis in Germany but I don't think I'll be having my hands on them anytime soon.

At the same time, I was quickly absconded on another family trip, this time to Northeast China.

It seems that 2007 is the year of visiting communist countries, past and present. Indeed, characteristics of the cities are so similar!

The above photo is one of my favourite from the whole day but more are available on my flickr. I just spent 2 our processing them for a change and I finally feel like I've justified my DSLR. I really understand why my photographer friends spend their days and nights editing photos. It's day and night! As such, I am planning on taking RAW from now on because I have iphoto again. But sadly I only have 2GB card space and it's so taxing on my resources to store them. *sigh*

Enjoy the sights and my brilliant photography *Cough* on flickr! :)


May 11, 2007

Upcoming Travels: China

Originally thought to be a trip to North Korea and the North-eastern parts of China, this has become almost wholly a 9 days tour to China. Disappointed or not, we will be touring the river that divides China and North Korea, and probably taking a peek of North Korea from the boat. Yes, disappointed is now my middle name.

Nevertheless, here is the itinerary for my upcoming travels.

18 May 2007
Depart Singapore for Shen Yang (沈阳) via Guangzhou (广州)

19 May 2007

Shen Yang (沈阳) and Da Lian (大连)
Sights and Sites: Largest Palace in NE China, the Qing Dynasty Shen Yang Palace (沈阳故宫), Tiger Park (老虎滩公园), North Bridge (北大桥), Esplanade Road (滨海路), "Ocean of Stars" Square (星海广场) and lots of shopping. *Snort*

20 May 2007
Da Lian (大连), Lue Shun (旅顺), Zhuang He (庄河), Dan Dong (丹东)
Sights and Sites: Naval Base at Lue Shun (旅顺), North Korea Border Town Dan Dong (丹东), Sightseeing by the banks of North Korea

21 May 2007
Dan Dong (丹东) and Ji An (集安)
Sights and Sites: More border town sights and boat trip down Ya Lue River (鸭绿江)

22 May 2007
Ji An (集安) and the western slope of Chang Bai Mountain (长白山西坡)
Sights and Sites: Visits to the Song Jiang River (松江河), Chang Bai Mountain (长白山), Bai Hua Forest (白桦林) and Mei Ren Pine Forest (美人松)

23 May 2007
Chang Bai Mountain (长白山) and Chang Chun (长春)
Sights and Sites: West slope of Chang Bai Mountain, "Forest City" Chang Chun (长春)

24 May 2007
Chang Chun (长春) and Ji Lin (吉林)
Sights and Sites: Palace where the 3rd coronation of the last Emperor of China, Pu Yi was held. Chang Chun Movie Studio and Ji Lin, producer of the 3 treasures of the northeast - ginseng, mink fur and freshly grown deer horn. Honestly this is quite distasteful but what the heck, go and see see also good experience. Apparently the deers are not killed for their horn but breed for it and shaved off constantly and it regrows?! We'll see but I doubt we'll get to visit the farms

25 May 2007
Ji Lin (吉林) and Shen Yang (沈阳)
Sights and Sites: Song Hua Lake (松花湖), Century Square (世纪广场), Manchurian Cultural Village

26 May 2007
Fly back to Singapore


May 4, 2007

Encountering East Germany

Date: Monday 30 April 2007
Destination: Prague, CZ - Dresden, DE

As we were supposed to be checked out and off on a train to Dresden in the afternoon, we decided to visit the island in the middle of the Elbe river. Of course this was not before we attempted to see the astronomical clock at the Old Town square sing but was disappointed sorely. Still we managed to see the different places in the square, check out the sculptures on the Charles Bridge and have breakfast before we proceeded on to explore the Kampa which is the island mentioned. The Kampa is really a nice little quaint place connected by bridges to the mainland. There were watermills and beautiful flowers. It would have been nice to explore the Elbe on boat but time and money prevented us from doing so.

So many famous names like Kafka and Mucha followed us around in Prague. They also appear to have a liking for cats and putting them together with dogs. Bleh. Despite wanting to buy some sexy erotic 3D postcards for duck and hairen, I decided against it and pinched my pocket instead. Sorry folks but I decided to put away the euro and maybe get the animals some souvenirs from China instead. Haha it’s cheaper and I’m poor.

We got the hotel to drive us to the express train station for our ride to Dresden, Germany. The view was just magnificent on the way to Dresden, through Schona along the Elbe. The view was lined with cliffs and rock outcrops jutting out from pine forests along the river.

We soon arrived at Dresden and had a short walk from the main Dresden Hautbahnhof (HBF) towards the villa street. Ours is the roof apartment in a 2 storeys old villa. It was according to my brotherinlaw, a true art nouveau archiecture with lots of organic designs and flower motifs. However it leaves us spoilt Singaporeans wondering why the Europeans never built lifts in their buildings. If only we knew there were more stairs in stored for us in Berlin!

That night, we took the tram and visited Kunstofpassage which is an eclectic little place with different themes decorating each courtyard and the buildings around it.

There is an American Indian wall painting theme, a rain pipe-musical theme and an animal theme where monkeys swing from walls and a buffalo sleeps in a pond. We had great Vietnamese food that night and left contented. Myself with a bowl of Vietnamese Bun while the rest had familiar pho tai.

We caught a tram to catch a view of the Bruehl Terrace which overlooks yet again the Elbe and also the palaces, museums and churches that line the river. It was a beautiful sight. Fatigue soon caught up with us and I crashed in my little bed below a slanted roof that reminded me very much of Harry Potter’s room except perhaps several times bigger.

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Primordial Prune in Prague

Date: Sunday 29 April 2007
Destination: Prague, Czech Republic

While we were trying to keep our eyes open in the dry air of the opera house last night, the parents were exploring the city and unfortunately they jumped the gun and visited the Prague Castle which we were planning to visit this very day!

Alas we had to go ahead on our own while they further explore the other side of the bridge. Prague is a very interesting and very navigable town. The Elbe divides the city into two. On one side of the bridge is the Old town, New town and the Jewish Quarter. On the other side of the many bridges spanning the Elbe River, there was the Mala Strana which means little quarter or lesser town just below the majesty of the Prague Castle high on the hill overlooking the little town.

Prague Castle is this amazing compound that includes the St Vittus Church, the St George Bascilica and many other more palaces and buildings. There are also many churches, monastery and other estates on the hill. All and all I must say we visited one too many churches and the only impression I was left with is that the roman catholics, or perhaps just the Czechs, are really gory people. Christ on the stake vividly depicted with wounds and skulls and skeletons everywhere. There is even a church of bones which luckily we never went. Erkie said she went hunting for it but it was closed when she visited. What a pity! Prague is also a significant pilgrimage venue for many roman catholics and this is probably due to many religious relics found in this city.

We ended the day with a delicious Czech dinner and back to the hotel for complimentary wine tasting and a soak in the pool and sauna. After which monkey promptly proceeded back to her room for more soaking in bathsalts which did nothing but turn me into a primordial prune.


Recounting Bohemia

Date: Saturday 28 April 2007
Destination: Prague, Czech Republic

Arrived in Prague in the morning, first time to be on time with any train experience thus far. It arrived promptly past 7 in the morning and we trekked all the way with our luggage from the train station past the namesti, through the old town, across the charles bridge and up the little hill to where our hotel stands beside the American embassy. It is a pain in the ass as every single vehicle passing the street must be checked by the 2 guards stationed at the street. Luckily we were just people walking with gigantic backpacks that they never blinked an eye at. What kind of security is that?

The hotel is wonderfully luxurious. It used to be an orphanage and today instead of serving the needy, they serve the rich. Owned by an Italian, the hotel boast of a spa, swimming pool, sauna, steambath in its cellar. It’s all quite quaint. The rooms are wonderful and chocolates lay waiting on your bed every night when you return. I was lucky to have a room all to myself for a change. Hurray.

After a quick swim, we went for lunch at a hungary restaurant that left us wanting. Of course I also had an outburst with the sibling and ended up running back to my room wanting to fly out of the country immediately. Still, I put down my pride and decided to go resolve the problem before I throw away the highlight of my trip – a session of opera at the Prague State Opera House.

I must say that I was disappointed because I was dressed in a nice little black dress while there were people in the audience dressed in jeans! This is so unlike later opera houses we passed by in Dresden (Semper Opera House) and Berlin! People were dressed to the nines in tuxedos and gowns. Very disappointing indeed. Perhaps Madame Butterfly was not exactly the best opera piece for an asian person to enjoy since I spent much of the night cringing at the singer/actress doing the Thai “wai” when she is supposed to be doing the Japanese bow! *cringe* Still, first experience of the opera I really enjoyed the arrangement and watching the orchestra in the pit. We took tons of photos and walked home amidst the midnight revelers of Prague.

Apparently, Bohemia is the land of Party Drink and Clubbing just as much as it is revered for being the center of arts culture and literature at the turn of the century. Alas, back to the hotel it is for us and off to bed staring at the wooden ceiling despite a luxurious bath waiting for me. To hell with baths. Bed is more important.


April 30, 2007

My last 3 hours in Prague

Prague - the capital of Czech Republic.

The ignorant monkey never knew that this is the land of the bohemians. People always like to associate bohemians and hippies in the same sentence but how come nobody ever told me Bohemia is really Czech? Finally I have unknowingly stumbled upon a pilgrimage to this land of arts music and culture.

Loreta of Prague - home of anal retentive upholders of no-photography rules, ostentatious religious relics and the famous legend of Casa de Santa Maria where angels supposedly moved the house of Virgin Mary to Loreta. Photo by Monkey

Apparently it's very catholicy as well. Only too many churches and one too many religious sites. But the good thing about this is that monks with nothing better to do than to study the world around us resulted in a fantastic monastary with a superb library collection dating back 400-500 years ago! It was so spectacular. I bought myself a copy of a map of europe as a "virgin" lol.

There is so much I can say but I think I shall leave it to another time since it's my last 3 hours in Prague and I have hardly packed. Enjoying the last minutes of this luxurious 5-star spa hotel that used to be an orphanage which we stayed at for the last 2 nights. Speaking of which, this just reminded me that i have yet to take any photo of my luxurious room! Oh well too late. It looks like a big mess now. Hardly a fair representation of this great room. Still, some things can't be documented, like the superb chocolate they give complimentary every day or the free wine tasting of czech reds and whites every evening.

Prague is indeed an out of this world experience. The prague state opera house and the night time revellers going about their drunken partying. The hordes of tourists during labour day weekend that I've never ever seen so many tourists in person at one destination ever in my life!

Still, another tale for another day. For now, I will go feast on my chocolates and grapes and relish this last moments before we head back to Dresden, Germany - the previous capital of the communist German Democratic Republic, otherwise generically known to us as "East Germany".


April 29, 2007

Thursday 26 April 2007

The overnight sleeper train to Warsaw, Poland was delayed at Hanover, the “trade city of Germany” due to engine failure and was stranded there for 5 hours while we wonder foolishly if it was not moving in order for us to sleep.

Finally, the train moved out of Hanover at 4.30am and arrived at Warsaw at 1.30pm. I never got a chance to bath on the train as expected but I begin to wonder if train rides induce bowel movements in the monkey. Scenes along the way were filled with yellow fields of rapeseed flowers, brick cottages or tidy rows of pine plantations. The funniest moment was when we reached the border town of Frankfurt/oder between Germany and Poland. At first I was confused why we were pulling up at “Frankfurt” since it was nowhere near East Germany. Then I found out that there are many Frankfurts in Germany and one of them is the border own of Frankfurt near the Oder River where the boundary between Poland and Germany lies. At the Frankfurt Station, suddenly two uniformed officer came up the train. Thinking they were trying to check my tickets when I had none on me and was sitting in a carriage I don’t belong in, I quickly evacuated back to my room. However, it turned out they were immigrations officers from Germany trying to check our passport. After they stamped our passports with a choochoo symbol, polish officers came to gave us their stamp of entry. All in all, it was an interesting experience.

The central Warsaw train station was almost abandoned when we arrived but we begin to realize this was only applicable on our particular platform. The whole station was bustling and it reminded me of Malaysia’s KL bus terminal. It was filled with little shops selling everything we might find in little mama shops in Singapore. It especially reminds me of the shops on the bridge linking Clifford Pier with Change Alley!

We waited for a while at the train station to sort out logistic issues but encountered the cutest little girl doing the most repulsive thing ever – begging. Sigh. I guess this is remnant from the communist regime and now the capitalist system is making the poor poorer and the rich richer. Apparently, Warsaw is pricier than even Munich and is on par with Paris while the poor people are digging their own coal and making their own gasoline.

I think the people here speaks English more than in Germany and quite well too. It’s probably from the large amount of tourists they get. Everywhere in Old Town Warsaw, a UNESCO world heritage site, where we are staying for the night, tourists littered the streets and squares. It’s an old fort filled with immaculately post-war reconstructed buildings that are so charming that monkey has fallen in love at first sight. My sister compared it to Venice. There were so many musicians busking in the streets and we couldn’t help but admire how Poland and the Polish people excel tremendously in the arts and culture. We had dinner at an “authentic” polish restaurant in a cellar with painted walls and ceilings right out of the baroque period. It was so beautiful I could live in Old Town Warsaw forever. There were also locals but at the restaurants, every single customer had donned suits and ties while we were in tshirts jeans and sandals. Still, the waiters were wonderful and the food delectable. Our serving waiter even took a photo with us on his own accord! Brilliant!

Reality sets in when you walk out of the old fort walls of Old Town and into modern Warsaw. The contrast was stark and almost ugly. We walked along the half-canalized river that runs through the city and we couldn’t appreciate Old Town more.

For now, it’s rest for the monkey at our service apartment at the edge of Old Town, 3km away from the main downtown city area of Warsaw. Tomorrow, more exploring of Warsaw followed by a night train to Prague in Czech Republic. Hopefully there will be no more delays!


April 24, 2007

Alster Pictorial

Feenteich - millionaires properties, most sought after in Hamburg

For a selection of photos from Alster and of Hamburg, see my Hamburg flickr set.

Where and What is the Alster?

Green Arrow marks our home and the Alster lake right there. Above photo taken at Feenteich.
The Alster is a 53 km long right tributary of the river Elbe in Northern Germany. It has its source near Henstedt-Ulzburg in the village of Kisdorferwohld in Schleswig-Holstein, approximately 25km north of Hamburg. The Alster flows roughly southwards and reaches the Elbe in Hamburg, which was founded on its shore. In the centre of Hamburg the Alster has been dammed since 1190, originally to power a watermill. In 1235 a further dam was built for a second mill, which changed the form of the river to be like a lake. The Alster forms two artificial lakes within the city limits of Hamburg, the larger called Außenalster (outer Alster) and the smaller Binnenalster (inner Alster). Today these lakes and the surrounding parks serve as an important recreational area in the heart of the city.
Source: Wikipedia
On our last day in Germany we will be doing a dusk boat tour of the Alster.


Around the Alster

Jetlagged and exhausted from no rest on the overnight flight yesterday, it was almost as if we were running away from the rising sun.

We stay on hamburger street

We arrived at 9am after catching a KLM cityhopper at Amsterdam to Hamburg but it felt as if it were 4pm already. Straightaway after putting down our bags, we went for a long walk around the Alster Lake of Hamburg. Cherry blosooms lined the road. It was so beautiful but we were all so exhausted that after 2 hours, it was almost agony.

Cherry Blosooms everywhere

Still, we couldn't resist taking photos at every tree and it took us forever and finally decided to take a ferry across the lake instead. There were dogs everywhere and even dogs on the ferry. Dogs running free behind their owners. Dog meadows that stink like poo and poo everywhere on the street.

Buying ticket on the ferry across the Alster

After that we headed down to the old city and had lunch at an italian fish place that's been in business since 1895! The menu changes daily and yesterday lunch was salmon with a red sauce on fetuccini(?) with zuchini sauce. It was infinitely salty and we didn't enjoy it much so forgot all about taking photos. It was sad that we didn't get a good menu because on other days, it's heaven on earth. Hopefully I'll get to eat there again in my lifetime on a good menu day. And all that, for 5.50euro which we cannot even finish.

Tip for the future: Germans eat salt like water and food portions are so big that it's wise to order 2 plates for 4 persons.

Est since 1895

Romantic Dining amongst history, al fresco style

A single scoop ice cream!

One other thing, there are icecream or eis shops everywhere that we probably felt full from eating so much icecream! we had a waffle cone with 1-2 scoops before lunch and right after lunch! Normal germans have at least 2 scoops and we were an oddity asking for just one giant one.

Tulips at the botanical gardens

We walked over to the botanical gardens for more flower photos with our ice cream, resting at the bench, looking at the Alster(?) bird and catching up. I miss my sister, even though we do argue but hey we miss that too!

From there we were so tired and in need of a toilet that we began a toilet hunt. Toilets are not free here and it cost around .50euro for entry. So instead, we took a s-bahn, a train, to downtown and went to a shopping mall in search of toilets. It was very nice and we didn't pay because we pretended to be customers. lol Tricks to finding free toilets in Germany.

Electronic Bus Timing board

Taking the bus was an interesting experienced. They have electronic signboards with the time of arrival for buses but it's not very accurate. Bus and Trains operate on an honor system which means that nobody check if you have a ticket or not. But they do have surprise checks by plainclothes conductors that spring on you for a show of ticket. Luckily we have a 5 people group pass for 3 days.

Inside the Rathaus, or City Hall

We visited the city hall or Rathaus and it's sad that there are no tours till after April 29 so we have to come back on our own when my sis is in Kassel at the end of the trip. Took some photos and then dragged our exhausted selves to the U-bahn which is the MRT back home.

The S-Bahn

Rested, we took the U-bahn again to Ohlstedt where the in-laws live and had dinner with them in their new house. My brother-in-law's nephew is 4.5years old but looks 10 and I keep talking to him like he's 10 but he responds like he's 4 which confuses me. He's younger than my nephew but is 2 times taller. ARGH! So freaky. His sister is 9 and so sweet and pretty :)

Luckily my BIL drove us home and I knocked out the minute I got back.

Now I got to go bath and off for another day of adventure before night train to warsaw tomorrow. Too bad it' raining today but hopefully tomorrow's fine and we're take the harbour tour tomorrow!