Ohaiyo Tokyo Part 2

Day 2 was a magical day filled with childlike wonder because… we were at Disneysea! I’ve always been a huge fan of Disney having grown up watching all the movies and knowing most of the songs by heart. I think Disney is a special place and no matter your age, you always feel like a child there.

I particularly love Tokyo’s Disneyland and Disneysea because even though the rides aren’t as thrilling as the USA ones, I think the people there really make the effort to dress up (everyone is carrying a Duffy bear and wearing silly Disney head gear, walking around like it is the most normal thing in the world) and they go all out to immerse themselves in the Disney dream. I’ve never heard more enthusiastic screams to ‘Minnie-chan!’ or to see vigorous hand clapping and participation in shows from the audience. The atmosphere is electric! The Disney staff are also incredibly enthusiastic and you really feel their deep love and belief and they really go above and beyond what’s necessary to do their job well. I think all this contributes to a very unique and special experience.

Disneysea Getting There
Taking a train to Disneysea is kind of cumbersome. It takes about an hour from Shinjuku and you have to change trains at Tokyo, Maihama and then from Maihama, take the Disney Resort Line. But all this is worth it because the train is so cute! Mickey Mouse handles and windows, and of course once you step into the place, you feel that magical spirit fill the air!
Disneysea
Some things that you should definitely do in Disneysea? Eat Mickey-shaped churros, sit the Tower of Terror ride (not as frightening as the California version), eat the multi-flavored popcorn (I tried Strawberry, Black Pepper, Curry and Soy Sauce but there are others like Milk Tea, Apple Cinnamon etc!) and buy a silly hat! I love this Cheshire cat one cos it is a hat, scarf and mittens all in one! Clever!

And if you have money to spare (S$40), then go for a good 3-course meal and dine with your favourite Disney characters! The food is really quite good especially the desserts!

DisneySea Character Dining
And be sure to catch some of the shows! We watched three of them: The Table is Waiting, The Legend of Mythica (which in my opinion is a definite must-watch because it is so good!) and the Christmas show and fireworks at the very end of the night. You have to plan the schedule of the showtimes and coordinate it with your fast passes well. With good planning, you can actually watch all the shows and go for all the rides!
A Table is Waiting

legend of mythica

Fireworks

Of course the show that is not to be missed is the fireworks display. It is really gorgeous but in order to get a good view and good pictures, be sure to go 20minutes early. Usually, everyone stays to watch the fireworks go off at 8.30pm then they start making their way out. So if there are very popular rides that you haven’t gone for yet like Journey to the Centre of the Earth, then you could leave it till after the fireworks. Besides, the park usually closes late. When we were there, it closed at 10.30pm so it makes alot of sense to hang around till just about closing time.

And that’s what we did with the Toy Story ride. We couldn’t take it in the day time because it was too crowded but we managed to get on it after the fireworks display. And if there is only one ride to take, then I suggest that you take this one. It was so much fun!

Toy Story 3D

I love Mr Pricklepants!!! So this rounds up day 2. It was very tiring to last an entire 12 hours in Disneysea, fighting the crowds and the cold but it was really, so much fun. And of course, I did not leave empty handed. Along the way I picked up multiple tins of biscuits to give away as souvenirs and got myself my very own Duffy Bear.

I suggest that gift shopping be done midday instead of the end of the day because it is literally a zombie apocalypse in the gift stores with Duffy merchandise flying off the shelves every couple of seconds. I exaggerate not. So do your shopping early. There are lockers to store your purchases so you can shop, drop it in the lockers and go for your rides/shows and come back to pick it all up later as you head back to the train station. It is very convenient and efficient. I love how the Japanese think of everything.

London – Part 1: Food & Fashion

Inside the Eurostar

As we lugged our luggage onto the Eurostar, I reflected on how grateful I was that the bf had forcibly compelled me to throw out much of the endless piles of unnecessary “extra” clothing. Of course to a girl a few additional piles of clothing is never enough, but had it not been for him, I would have no idea how I could’ve handled the luggage on my own.

Given how conveniently the Eurostar connects various European countries, it’s quite a favoured mode of transport amongst the Europeans, many of whom have hand-carry sized luggage with them (like mine). Lucky for me, I easily squeezed my hand carry at the compartment above, but the bf had to abandon his luggage at the holding area near the end of the carriage – which didn’t leave him feeling all that secure since our seats were quite a distance from the holding area.

The seats were really comfy, with a flip out table but no entertainment system. There was however, a food / restaurant carriage for those who are hungry on board. Toilet-wise, it was pretty gross.

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The curious thing about London was the unexpected obsession with Indian food. Our hotel had an Indian restaurant, whilst other eateries had curries and the like on their menu. Upon arriving, our first meal Chicken Tikka Masala – we had been craving for something piping hot given the cold weather, and since English food seemed to be rather cold (envision cold sandwiches), we opted for the familiar asian option.

Having heard about the “must-try” high teas in London, the bf and I had taken the initiative to book ahead of time via this great website known as http://afternoontea.co.uk/. Booking is free via the website and they provide both email and sms confirmations. Plus, they have quite a few good deals for many tea places on the site. The tea platter (for 2) was more than we could handle, but I have to highlight that the carrot cake was particularly good. Really moist and delicious. The cream cheese was not as sweet as we have it in Singapore, but it went down very well with the Orange Pekoe Tea I picked.

The thing to note about the sandwiches though… I can’t recall the name of the fillings, but one was REALLY CHEESY and one was horseradish mush. That said, we enjoyed the rest of the items and spent a few hours chatting away. It’s always the great company that matters, right?

fashion london

J.Crew chunky sweater, 73 SGD / Ralph Lauren Blue Label , 530 SGD / Jil Sander pleated skirt, 1,660 SGD / LnA velvet pants, 165 SGD / Wool skirt, 335 SGD / H&M high heel boots, 59 SGD

It’s somewhat of a blogging hazard of mine, but I do like to people watch wherever I go (check out my posts on Fashion in Amsterdam and Fashion in Tokyo), and London was no different. The combination however, was something meant for a taller lady to pull off – I tried the look above in one of the departmental stores, to quite an epic failure. Knee Length skirts for me nearly reach my ankles, so that look is a no-go.

What I did like was that women were more adventurous with colours. Greens and reds and blues… it wasn’t the darker palette of their Amsterdam counterparts and a lot more cheerful!

Sensible, short boots are only logical given the pebbled pavements of London. Walking around on my 2+inch boots, I felt as if I had signed up for a very intense foot reflexology session. Not good. Given the many tourist spots in London, do be prepared to walk for a good part of the day if you want to cover all of them as quickly as possible.

Amazing Amsterdam – Part 4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn no time at all, we were bidding farewell to the beautiful canal-city of Amsterdam, with its unique architecture, complicated traffic system and yummylicious food. I really enjoyed our time there. I think it was mostly because it wasn’t infested with tourists – with the exception of the Diamond Museum and luxury stores, where a good proportion of the sales staff was Chinese!

Most of all, I appreciated how their urban landscape still retained much of its old glory and character. Coming from a country where most buildings seem to have been cloned from one another, I was pretty awed at how different each building was from its neighbour.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWithout a doubt, one of my favourites was their waffles, a delicious sweet snack that’s worlds apart from the fluffy pandan flavoured waffles we’re used to in the tropics. Waffles in Amsterdam are dense, slightly crispy and very sweet, with a touch of cinnamon added to the batter. Lightly dusted with icing sugar, I never failed to order this for my daily breakfast from our hotel (Novotel).

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It was interesting to see how icing sugar seemed to be their solution for everything. The bf and I tried this steaming hot round banana gooey bread thing with icing sugar dusted on top. It was ridiculously delicious in the cold weather.

yep. from the photo you can tell how crazy the wind was that day. What you can’t tell however, was that there were dozens of seagulls overhead, swooping and whizzing past me, attempting to steal my food! In fact, a few of them got too close for comfort and the bf and I were pretty shocked at their blatant boldness. We eventually huddled protectively around this delicious round thing and gobbled it up before the birds could bother us further. Quite a fun experience!

There were many other flavours at this food stall, mostly fruit flavours – such as apples and strawberry. However, they aren’t easy to come by and this was one of the few stalls we saw selling this mysterious gooey balls of awesomeness. Otherwise, I would’ve definitely dragged the bf to sample their other flavours! We paid 2 euros.

Having tried quite a huge variety of street food around Amsterdam, (see what else I sampled here), I think it’s pretty safe to vouch that the quality of street food is good. really good. With the exception of raw herrings, which according to the bf’s colleague – is an acquired taste. Try it if you dare!

Amsterdam is definitely a place where i’d love to return – the people are wonderfully friendly, the street food is yummy, plus there’s lots more to the city that I know I haven’t discovered yet.  On hindsight, I think we would’ve appreciated Amsterdam more had we known about the horrors that were to follow… Hopefully the next time I swing by, it’ll be spring! Then i’ll get to see the beautiful tulips that everyone is talking about (:

In anticipation, I’ve already created a little list of what I’d like to see when I’m in Amsterdam next. I hope that comes soon!

  1. Antiemarkt De Looier – an antiques and curiosa market, specialising in furniture, jewellery, silverware and collectables. Located: Elandsgracht 109, 1016 TT
  2. Art Plein Spui – a market where artists sell original prints and small oil paintings. Located: Spui Plein, 1012 WZ
  3. Rijksmuseum – paintings by Rembrandt and antique objects of Dutch culture.
  4. Dick Bruna Huis – the house with everything Miffy! Dick Bruna is the artist who created the cross-mouthed rabbit of my childhood. Truthfully, I was really disappointed that there was no Miffy mania in Amsterdam at all, with only a tiny corner in the airport selling some tourist-ified Miffy plushies, the most adorable of which had a pen stain so I left empty handed. *sigh*

Any suggestions? I’d love to hear what’s more in Amsterdam that I can discover. Next up, London!

Amazing Amsterdam Part 3

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Like many other European cities, Amsterdam has a wonderful collection of art – in particular, that of Van Gogh. Unfortunately for us, the Van Gogh Museum happened to be undergoing renovations during our visit, so many of the art pieces were housed at The Hermitage instead. We bought a combination ticket, to see Van Gogh’s artworks as well as the history of Impressionism.

It was interesting to learn about Van Gogh, his philosophy and how hardworking he was as an artist. The entire exhibit took us about 2 hours to walk through.

One thing you might not know about Amsterdam is that it’s world-famous for specialising in intricate diamond work.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith our tickets purchased, we entered the Diamant Museum, which was actually housed on a small villa on Paulus Potterstraat, accessible by Trams 2 and 5 and in walking distance from the Rijksmuseum.

Whilst the Museum had very enlightening information on the various types, cuts, shapes and history of diamonds, we were rather disappointed that almost all the diamonds on display were simply high quality replicas. It was however, interesting to note how misleading great quality fakes were. We couldn’t pick out with one was the real diamond!

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The Rijksmuseum was quite closeby, but given how neither of us were all that into art (and had been overwhelmed by the van gogh exibit), we decided to give it a miss.

Amsterdam also has a Madame Tussauds, but research online revealed that many find the main one in London was far more worth it to visit, so we skipped visiting the one in Amsterdam.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Of all the museums, I have to say that the Ann Frank House was by far, the best and most engaging experience.

Set in the very same place where Ann Frank, her family and friends hid from the Nazis, it was definitely an eye-opener. I particularly enjoyed how they included short video interviews and excerpts from the book at various parts of the house, making it a really immersive experience. Without an online booking, the queue is long but definitely worth the experience.

The Ann Frank House is located at: Prinsengracht 263-267, a 20 min walk from Centraal station.

One point to note! The stairs are really narrow, so refrain from wearing heels and be careful about kicking the person behind you in the face. hahaha.

Go Green This Christmas!

The terms “Eco-Friendly” and “Go Green” have been tossed around alot especially since these ideas are now currently in vogue. But what do these terms really mean?

Eco-friendly literally means earth-friendly or not harmful to the environment. This term most commonly refers to products that contribute to green living or practices that help conserve resources like water and energy. Eco-friendly products also prevent contributions to air, water and land pollution. You can engage in eco-friendly habits or practices by being more conscious of how you use resources.

National Geographic

I’ve been a firm believer in the Go Green movement for quite awhile now not because it is growing in its popularity in recent years but because it is a real and pressing issue. I think we all know that the Earth’s resources are scarce and we are in short supply of natural resources like oil and precious metals. And with a growing population, that only exacerbates the issue, leading to great wastage and even pollution such as accumulation of waste in landfills that take years and years to decompose.

I guess being a nature lover, it just pains me to see the Earth slowly disintegrating and becoming a wasteland. I can’t say that I am an eco-saint but I do what I can to reduce wastage by using eco-bags instead of plastic bags and turning off all electronic devices and light switches when not in use so as to conserve electricity. Also, as far as possible, I would buy/use products that are organic and biodegradable with recyclable paper packaging or no packaging at all. It is heartening to know that skincare brands like Lush and The Body Shop as well as fashion brands like Free Fish JapanMelissa and homegrown brand Zhai  are offering viable eco-friendly products.

So this Christmas, kick start your eco-friendly lifestyle through gifting! We’ve narrowed down 3 local brands that offer eco-friendly products that are perfect for stocking stuffers and presents for friends and loved ones!

1. tango Chocolat

tangoChocolat strives to improve the planet and believes in the mission “people before self”. Our multi-label store serves as a product showcase and has knick-knacks and items that range from gifts, skincare/perfume and reusable eco-friendly tote bags.

tangoChocolat carries several specialised brands of Go Green products like Australia’s SAKitToME’s eco-bags and PAKitToMe’s backpacks. These bags are lightweight, portable because they can be folded into a tiny little square and it is made of durable polyester that can carry up to 20kg worth of goods! So really, there’s no reason to go back to plastic bags anymore! And, they come in all sorts of cute designs with a very affordable price tag!

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Shop online here or visit their shop:

Parco Millenia Walk #01-60 P101/101 (next to Cortina Watch)

2. Fair and Square artisan gallery

I know this doesn’t exactly fall under the domain of going green but I think ethical, fair trade practices are equally important. After all, the point is to make the world a better place and sometimes, that starts with people and our interaction with others.

Fair trade is a global movement aimed at alleviating poverty, protecting art and craft traditions and promoting the self-sufficiency and sustainability of workers in developing communities.

397140_10150501510212453_58510554_n15768_210973367452_8099909_nPicture Credits: Fair & Square

Fair & Square’s fabulous, funky and fair trade products are designed and produced in partnership with skilled, disadvantaged artisans in developing communities throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

So, every item that you purchase helps to show support for disadvantaged artisans as well as to support the traditional arts and crafts in these developing communities. It is like killing two birds with one stone. And these gifts range from soaps to handcrafted purses which are great gifts for stocking stuffers or even as a corporate gift for official functions or even weddings!

Read more on their website here, visit their Facebook page to see their gallery or make purchases at:

Chinatown SE Shop

80 Eu Tong Sen Street

The Majestic, Singapore

3. Bud Cosmetics

And if you are looking for ethical and organic skincare then look no further because Bud Cosmetics has the answer. Bud Cosmetics is so serious about its mission to bring guilt-free beauty to this world that it offers the following promises:

  • ALL products are made from premium natural, certified organic, bio-dynamic and/or plant derived ingredients only
  • NO harsh synthetic chemicals and detergents
  • NO artificial fragrances, no thickeners, no emulsifiers
  • NO petrochemicals and mineral oils
  • NOthing to hide policy: ALL ingredients are listed on all products and communicated in-store or online so that you know what you are putting on your skin!
  • NO animal testing

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And if you actually look at the product list, the number of offered items is staggering! Anywhere from skincare to a full makeup line to hair, bath and body products. There’s even organic perfumes and if you enjoy being pampered, there’s a spa service available too!

But what I love most of all is that the products look really pretty but its packaging is entirely recyclable and reusable and like I said before, because its organic, no pesticides or herbicides are used so this reduces the amount of chemical pollutants fed into the soil, water and air which upset the ecological balance. Beauty without guilt or destruction? Yes please!

You can shop online here (there’s free shipping with $60 spent) or visit the physical stores:

333 Orchard Road
#03-32 Mandarin Gallery
(Meritus Mandarin Hotel)
Singapore 307506

10 Sinaran Drive
#01-66 Square 2 (Novena Medical Centre)
(above Novena MRT station)
Singapore 307506

So this Christmas, think about taking the first step to going green and commit to making it an integral part of your lifestyle.

Caroline will be away from the 16th to the 23rd of December. In the meantime, let Ruth enthrall you with her adventures in Amsterdam and Italy. 

Amazing Amsterdam Part 2

Albert Cuypmarkt

the Albert Cuypmarkt

There are a few things that I always like to tick off my checklist when travelling.

  1. Visit a local supermarket
  2. Visit a flea market / festival of some sorts
  3. Try lots of different food!

I think that visiting the local supermarket and an open market are really the best ways to soak into a foreign land’s atmosphere. You get to see what locals buy, what locals consume and try out their local specialities!

Albert Cuypmarkt

The Albert Cuypmarkt is, in my opinion, a must-see! It’s the largest, busiest market in Amsterdam and stores there sell everything you can think of! From apparels to their famous Gouda Cheese and local favourites like raw herring (which the bf and I refused to eat because the fishy smell alone repulsed us…); but of course when it came to more delectable, appetizing items like roasted chicken drumlets (OMG DROOOLZZ), Stroopwaffles (the large round thing with a soft gooey caramel center) and poffertjes (tiny pancakes generously dusted with icing sugar). We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves that afternoon and it was truly an eye opening experience! Plus we were entertained by some buskers too, who played pretty nice music :)

Seasonal fruits in particular, are really cheap. However, they often come in little baskets that have no means of closure. It was rather heart breaking when I saw all these adorable small little strawberries but couldn’t think of a way to lug them around because we didn’t have anything to put them in. Note to self, bring a plastic bag to the market next time. hahaha.

The Albert Cuypmarkt is
Located: Albert Cuypstraat/Ferdinand Bolstraat, 1072 LL
Tram: Albert Cuypstraat: tram 16, 20, 24 & 25
Open: Monday – Saturday 9.30 am – 5.00 pm

Amsterdam frites

The people in Amsterdam don’t eat a lot of carbohydrates. Much of their food is mostly white meat (i.e. fish or various birds), but frites (fries) are a huge part of their eating culture. Everywhere, you see stalls that have made MOUNTAINS of frites, all ready for serving. The bf and I were pretty stunned. However, given the ubiquitousness of these frites stalls, we eventually decided to give it a try. Imagine our shock when we ordered the smallest size and got such a huge serving.

I noted that the potato was more powdery and soft, compared to fries in Singapore. Perhaps it’s a different type of potato? One can pick from a variety of sauces – the most popular one is a yellow sauce known as frites sauce. It’s pretty good. Pictured above is chilli sauce because we missed it.

 

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Hot chocolate is THE BEST DRINK for winter. ’nuff said.

Besides the Albert Cuypmarket, we also visited the Floating Flower Market (bottom left). Unfortunately, as it was winter, there were no tulips in bloom. We did however, see loads and loads of tulip bulbs for sale. but oh well, we live in a tropical country and the climate would kill the bulb before it took root. So not much for us to see there. One of the main reasons why the flower market is famous is because the whole thing floats on water. I had in mind the idea that I would be hopping from boat to boat to view their wares but the market was actually very well anchored to the street next to it and each store was on top of a barge. In fact, it was so steady that I didn’t feel any difference from being on land at all. I would love to visit it in Spring though, just to see the flowers!

Bloemenmarkt – Flower Market
The only floating flower market in the world
Speciality: Flowers, seeds, bulbs and rare flowers such as black tulips Located: Singel, 1071 AZ
Tram: Muntplein: tram 4, 9, 14, 16, 24 & 25
Open: Monday – Saturday 9.30 am – 5.00 pm

We also visited a supermarket and my jaw dropped when I saw this humungous pizza. Look at the size in contrast to my hand! The bf and I were standing there wondering how people carted such a huge thing home when we realised that oh, they would cut it up and sell it in standard rectangular-sized pieces. There are quite a few supermarkets in Amsterdam, but the one we visited the most was Albert Heijn, for its reasonable prices and wide variety of goods. Water (1.5 or 2 L) was about 34cents!

Next up… the museums we visited in Amsterdam.

Amazing Amsterdam Part 1

Having a pilot for a boyfriend is great! Having a job that has immense flexibility for leave is fantastic. Add the two together & tada! I jetsetted off to Europe for the first time to accompany the bf, who would be training in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Excitement aside, as we knew we were going to take lots of public transport around to save costs, it meant travelling light. & doing that isn’t ever easy for a girl now, is it? However, I persevered and with the bf’s help, managed to whittle down my luggage to a small handcarry. & I didn’t feel that I needed more on the trip! amazing.

packing light

All in all, my luggage was a featherlight 8kg, which meant it was really easy for me to lift it up the never-ending flights of stairs at the train stations of Italy (but that, I’ll talk about another time…). I might have been slightly pouty and hesitant to leave all extra stuff behind, but I certainly appreciated it throughout the trip!

Besides its fame for the red light district and the legitimisation of marijuana, Amsterdam isn’t really a popular tourist destination, so I wasn’t expecting much. So I was pleasantly surprised to see how vibrant the colours of the city were. One could tell that they really took pride in their architecture. Even in a row of seemingly homogenous houses, each building owner took the pains to differentiate his/her building differently, be it with a splash of paint or a smattering of tulips.

On a side note – friends I’ve met up with so far never fail to ask, how was the red light district, did you go?? My answer is… It’s really not what you’d expect. I have to applaud those women though, because even in winter, they’re still in bikinis, at the windows plying their trade (windows are closed of course), but they aren’t of movie-star standard… even though they come in many varieties for men to choose from. lol.

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When I saw the majestic looking Amsterdam Centraal Station (bottom right), I was wonderstruck. It looked so beautiful! Orange and red seems to be a favourite colour for buildings around in Amsterdam – and the colour was still very striking. We saw various buildings undergoing cleaning and renovation to maintain the colour. The Amsterdam Centraal Station was a bustling hive of activity, with the train, tram, bus and boat public services all converging in one place.

One thing I was very amused by was their tiny little cars, which seem to be the only ones allowed on the smaller streets in the city, alongside motorcycles. They were mostly 1 seater, and when the average person sat inside, your head would touch the roof. so cute.

amsterdam map

Similar to Venice, Amsterdam is a canal-city, with a regular, grid-like network of canals. So it’s really easy to navigate around. One simply can count the number of canals you’ve walked past, or follow the canals to get to your desired destination – which helps, if you don’t speak Dutch and can’t remember the road names.

swans

I loved peeking at the barge like boats and got rather excited when one bridge I was standing on had to be evacuated so it could be lifted up to let a large barge go through. They do have a rather complicated traffic system of tram + boat + cycling + car network and we got rather confused at intersections because we didn’t know whether we were walking against traffic or not.

Without a doubt, the most exciting part of our time in Amsterdam was when the Dutch instructor (Andrew), invited me over for a visit to the bf’s simulators! It was getting somewhat lonely because the bf had to be away for 4-5 hours each day for his training, so I was delighted and privileged to have the honour of learning more about his work and experiencing a heart-stopping simulated flight (Andrew cut my right engine and I nearly crashed the “fake” plane).

Given that he had to be at the simulators on a daily basis, we stayed at Novotel, which was really close to the airport. The hotel was pretty great, I absolutely loved their breakfast buffet. Free flow of smoked salmon whoo!!

food amsterdam

The dutch seem to enjoy putting unique toppings on their bread – something I’d never seen or heard of before! I brought back a pack each for my family to try.

The top right shows a picture of a fried mashed potato croquette, or “krokette”. Very different from the japanese version in that the potato inside is really mashed, fluidy potato with meat.. and you buy it from a vending machine!! A person stands behind a whole wall of vending machines frying the goods. All you have to do is pop in 2 euros so that you can open a little transparent pigeonhole that has the food on a paperplate inside. It’s apparently quite popular in Amsterdam and can be found quite easily, by the company called FEBO.

amsterdam countryside

I did have a rather nice chat with a taxi driver who hadn’t heard of our tiny little Singapore before. As he drove me past the countryside, he talked about his home (similar to the cottages above) and was shocked that our houses cost so much. & that I live in a country with no winter. hahaha! With its great expanse of land, houses in amsterdam are really cheap. That said, I’d rather live in Singapore than anywhere else. Close proximity to family and friends is my ultimate joy in life (:

More about Amsterdam coming up the next post!

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

One of the few things that I look forward to in December aside from traveling (yay long school holidays!) is actually to hit the theatres to catch the latest Christmas movie. From years past, clear favourites have emerged such as Home Alone, Jingle All The Way and Love Actually. But while these movies remain as firm holiday classics, it is nice to see what new Christmas movie is in store.

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Have you been naughty or nice?

This year, that move is Rise of the Guardians. The title doesn’t sound like a typical movie that is bursting with holiday spirit but I have to say that it is a movie that has alot of heart. So the story goes like this. The Boogie Man is slowly gaining back his power and he intends to wreck havoc on the human world by instilling fear through nightmares to children. In doing so, he weakens the children’s belief in wonder, hope and innocence and in turn, this diminishes the power of the guardians: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sand Man. So the Man in the Moon (who rules them all) summons a new guardian, Jack Frost, a wayward troublemaker who has issues of his own (think: low self-esteem, fears that he is invisible and insignificant) so they can all join forces to defeat the forces of evil.

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Behold, the Guardians gather…

Not exactly revolutionary in terms of its storyline since the main plot structure is similar to all movies that pit Good against Evil, but the animation and illustration was pretty awesome. Sandy the Sand Man is simply adorable despite the fact that he doesn’t utter a single word, the Yetis who help assemble the toys are huge burly furry blobs that are too cute and the tiny little elves will crack you up because of their little quirks and mischievous antics.

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Cute furry Yetis!!!

The Boogie Man was sufficiently scary especially as he launches a huge brood of black stallions (nightmares geddit?) against Sandy’s unicorns and even the Easter Bunny has a great deal of personality (loving that Aussie accent!) with his witty banter with Jack Frost. The fight scenes between the characters were pretty riveting though I thought Santa lacked pizzazz. I mean, since when does Santa fight with a sword? That’s just wrong and most of the time, he needs the other characters to win. Frost and Sandy being the strongest.

All in all, a great feel-good movie. Okay storyline, very respectable if not impressive animation and a good message that resonates rather convincingly: hold on to that childlike wonder, do not be afraid to hope and dream because that belief and that step of faith is very powerful.

Aloha Hawaii Day 7

Final Day in Hawaii started with a hike up Diamond Head at… 4.30am all in a bid to catch the sunrise. And because we couldn’t get a bus charter so early in the morning, we had to walk 7km from our hotel all the way to the top of Diamond Head and we had to do it fast because we were racing with the sun.

Well, the huffing and puffing was all worth it because the sight was simply glorious.

Diamond Head

After all that walking, we all got hungry and tired so we went to Denny’s a local diner for an all-American breakfast. Think bacon, eggs, the works! And then it is off to Waikele Premium Outlets for more shopping. Now I’ve experienced Premium Outlet shopping in California and it was seriously awesome. Admittedly Waikele didn’t even come close in terms of size nor variety of offerings but the deals were still quite amazing.

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I managed to get USD14 Levis black skinny jeans and Ralph Lauren Polo Tees for around USD35 each. I know some girls went crazy in Coach because there was an additional discount of 40% that day so a coach wristlet can go as low as USD38 which is rather incredible and unbelievable if you ask me. Other shops that are offering great discounts are Vans (shoes can be found at USD20), Charlotte Russe (tops start from USD10) and Godiva (chocolates available from USD9.90). You can check out the store directory and find the centre map.

After shopping, we had dinner at Morton’s back at Ala Moana and it was so good. And much cheaper than Singapore too. I had a special set meal that comprised of a cut of steak and lobster and it came to about USD70 though I’m pretty sure the same would cost around 90 or more here in Singapore. I guess it’s because of the air flown beef? A cost that doesn’t need to be incurred in the States? But whatever it is, best meal I’ve had the whole trip.

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And because I am a sweet tooth, I couldn’t say no to The Cheesecake Factory’s delectable offerings. Middle photo is their original cheesecake and to the right is the Red Velvet cheesecake. I would suggest that you share because the portion is huge. There’s just no way one can finish one whole slice right after dinner. But they were both so good and so rich. I also had a bite of the Godiva chocolate cake and I think I will never have a chocolate craving again. It was potent to say the least.

After dinner, we strolled along Waikiki beach one last time. Somehow it just feels right to see the sunrise and the sunset of the same day. It’s like completing the cycle and finding some closure before going to bed. And the next day, we flew 18 hours all the way back to Singapore.

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It’s been a wonderful trip, one that I won’t soon forget. I really do believe Hawaii is a magical place. It’s so spiritual and so special. I think the word, Ohana is best to describe it. Hawaii is like family. Everyone is friendly, warm and inviting and the best part of it is that it all feels genuine and sincere. Just thinking about my experience makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

As cousin Dwight, our bus driver said so meaningfully to us when he first met us, “we are Ohana and that means no one on this bus gets forgotten or left behind.”

 

Aloha Hawaii Day 6

We have come to the second last installment of my trip recap. Day 6 started out with a boat ride out on Ko’olina Lagoon to see dolphins! And as luck would have it, we didn’t see a single dolphin. Not even a flipper of one. AT ALL.

But nonetheless, the cruise was so enjoyable that I forgot that it was supposed to be a dolphin cruise in the first place and here’s why…

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We were on a Catamaran!!!

Yet another first for me. The captain was so nice. He let me steer the boat and have absolutely power over the lives of everyone on board for like, 10 minutes. Yes, cheap thrill I know. But still, I was so excited. And just when I thought the waters cannot get any beautiful than Hanauma Bay, well, nature has a way of proving me wrong. The waters are so blue and so crystal clear that you can see fish! Everywhere!

Our skipper tried to catch us some fish but most of them were unicorn fish and we had to throw them back. This in his hand right now, is an ahi which is edible so he proceeded to ice it down so he can serve it up as sashimi! The ahi are actually really clever and they don’t take the bait as easily as the other fishes do so it was quite the feat to be able to catch this one.

Oh yes and there goes another turtle. We seem to have lots of turtle power on this trip. I know I’ve said this before but these marine life come so close to the water surface! Snorkeling here is a dream.

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After a long day out at sea, we decided to head back to civilization and do alittle bit of retail therapy at Ala Moana. Now, we’ve all up to this point been absolutely starved of any form of retail therapy which is so terrible because we are in the USA! So to suddenly be thrown into Ala Moana, the largest mall in Honolulu for three hours, well, let’s just say that the time wasn’t enough. A&F, Forever21, Hollister, American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Neiman Marcus, Nordstorm, Bath and Body Works, Tory Burch… pretty much every brand possible is available. It’s an impossible task to see everything so it is wise to pick and choose.

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In true Singaporean fashion, my colleagues have gotten a map beforehand and circled shops they wanted to visit, as well as planned a detailed route to take. Alittle hardcore and intense but it worked really well given the time constraint. And at the end of the day, everyone went away feeling very happy with their purchases.

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