Monthly Archives: December 2011

Last Stop: Zermatt and Geneva

Our last day in Switzerland was spent in Zermatt and Geneva and I couldn’t think of a better way to end this leg of the holiday. Not only were the sights beautiful and the weather perfect, I think some of my most lasting memories of the entire trip was made here!

Zermatt is a small little village in the German speaking canton of Valais, Switzerland with a tiny population of 5800 (according to wiki). At 5,310 ft, it is located at the foot of the highest peaks and on a good day, you can actually see the Matterhorn! (Yes, that’s the mountain featured in the Disneyland ride as well as the logo of Toblerone chocolate.) But what really makes this place special is how it is a car-less village. Any form of vehicular transport is battery powered! Talk about being environmentally friendly and that’s great because no carbon emissions means no air pollution. So the air in probably as fresh as it can get over there!

From the architecture, you can tell that it’s pretty traditional. Alot of wooden cabins that is typical of a ski resort and the roads aren’t paved but more of the cobbled- stone variety. When I was there, it snowed really heavily so the ground was wet and slippery so be sure to wear a good pair of shoes with good grip while you are there. Also, try to avoid the ice patches and walk on gravel or snow. That way you won’t slip.

There’s not much to do there except to walk around and see the pretty sights. There’s a pretty river near the church that you should check out and there are little shops, cafes and confectionaries but that’s pretty much it. If you are an adrenaline junkie then you can always borrow ski equipment and I think they have little sleds and luges for rent cos I saw little kids sitting in them.

As you can see, the snow pretty much blanketed the whole place and it was pretty thick so we made a snowman. His name is Miao Gao. We named him after the Japanese restaurant that was located right behind his ‘birthplace’. Funny how you can find Japanese food in such a tiny little place like Zermatt, Switzerland!

Oh and it finally snowed as we were about to leave and of course we did the cliche open-mouth-to-taste-snow (knowing fully well that it tastes like water but hey, we’re from Singapore. It’s hot and humid all year round so this is very exciting for us.)

Okay, finally down to our last stop! Geneva!

Unlike Bern and Zermatt, Geneva is a French speaking area which is pretty good because it helps us to get used to the language as we transit to Dijon and ultimately Paris. As you can see, the scenery is so totally different from what we saw in Jungfrau and Zermatt because we’ve finally left those hills so temperatures were much much warmer (thankfully!).

Also, Geneva is a financial district which is also the home to the headquarters of the United Nations (now this is an interesting story. We went to see the facade of the UN HQ only to see a strike going on outside. I’ve never in my life seen a strike take place ever. But then again, I’m from Singapore. You need a permit to air your views at the Speaker’s Corner. *shrug* If people went on strike over here, they’ll probably go to jail or something.) But I digress.

Other sights worth mentioning are the Red Cross, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire and the Flower Clock which is pretty darn cool. We went in Winter and even then the flowers were gorgeous.

Here’s what the flower clock looks like (got the image off the web) but I think it changes as in they change the type of flowers used every other season or something. Pretty ain’t it? And it actually works too. Given the fact that Switzerland is well known for their excellence in watch-making, this flower clock is a real tribute to that.

Before I end off my post, some things worth buying while in Switzerland.

1) Chocolate

2) A watch (If you have money, Rolex, Tag Heuer et al, if not then Swatch or any random brand cos you can be assured that it is 100% Swiss made)

3) Cuckoo clock (If you are into souvenirs that is.)

4) H&M (Cheaper cos it is in Swiss francs instead of Euros but I only shopped from the sale section)

Okay, till next time… Last travel post! Paris je t’aime!

Frolicking around Interlaken and Bern!

Onward with my very long commentary (I’m sorry if I’m boring you guys… the travel thread is ending soon! Promise!) Technically our day in Interlaken is supposed to be a free day so we’ll get a chance to walk around but we figured that taking the train up to see Jungfraujoch would be an excellent way to spend the day so we did! I mean, this place ain’t called the top of Europe for nothing!

Given that it is approximately 11,000 ft, we had to take two trains to get us to the summit. What I loved about the train ride was how they would stop the train at some scenic spots so you could get a good photo. And honestly, the view is gorgeous. There are cute little wooden cottages, pine trees just covered in snow and the snow is a few inches thick! I’ll show you the photo when I get to talking about Zermatt.

But because we are at a high altitude, some of us felt a little dizzy and sick so for people who wish to see Jungfrau, I suggest you come prepared and take some medication before taking the train.

So when you finally get up there, there’s a viewing tower so you can actually get out there and experience the cold (somehow I felt much colder at Mt Titlis because there was much gustier winds on that day), a cafeteria and you need to try the Movenpick icecream. The magic is in the homemade waffle cone. It is the BEST waffle cone I’ve ever tasted. EVER. I don’t think I could taste anything as good ever again. Not even at other Movenpick branches.

And there’s also an ice palace where they have sculptures of polar bears, penguins and other stuff. I think we came alittle early cos some parts are still under construction. It should be all prettily done up by the time Christmas is here so be sure to check it out.

The next day we headed to a German speaking canton, Bern which is hands down my most favourite canton in Switzerland ever because it has an old medieval charm and UNESCO recognized this making it a world heritage site. So we stopped to see the Time Bell with moving puppets, the Moses fountain, the Gothic styled cathedral and need I mention the bear pit? (Okay normally I feel kind of uncomfortable with keeping animals in enclosed spaces but seriously, a bear pit in the heart of a town? It’s so unheard of, it’s cool!)  It’s such an enchanting place.

Another cool funfact? Albert Einstein worked on his theory of relativity in Bern!

Behold, my favourite shot of all. And this is without editing. I didn’t tweak the colour, shadow or anything. I’ll let the photo speak for itself.

Tomorrow, Zermatt and Geneva!

Swiss Alp-titude

After saying adieu to yummy Italy, we set off to beautiful Switzerland! First stop? Lucerne!

I would be a happy happy duck if I was born in Switzerland. This is apparently a lake but by Singapore terms, this would be counted as the sea. Yes, that’s how warped our perceptions are (I mean seriously, Singapore River is a mere rivulet and at best, seen as a stream).

Aside from admiring the beautiful scenery and the fresh air, we got to check out the Christmas markets and try local drinks like Rivella which tastes like Seasons ice lemon tea and warm wine which was incredibly potent! That photo of Duff beer was taken because it reminded me of Simpsons! I always thought Duff was a fictional beer brand. Who knew it was real? And need I talk about the chocolate from Merkur Laderach? Gosh. That hazel nut chocolate is to die for!

After much munching, we went to look at the Lion of Lucerne. A monument that commemorates the death of many Swiss Guards in the French Revolution and I mean this must be a big deal for Mark Twain to say that it is the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.

Right after, we took a cable car up to Mt Titlis, which is 10,000 ft up into the air and we later took a rotair that allows us a 360 panoramic view of the Swiss Alps! It was all very beautiful and magical but when you get out there on the cliff, its like hell froze over. It was crazily cold! Especially for a tropical girl like me. The wind was just tossing white bits of snow everywhere and I really felt like I could have been blown away like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz.

I’ve been to a couple of places that have snow like Hokkaido in Japan, Korea, Harbin in China… but the snow is so fluffy and soft here in Switzerland! I guess it must be the alps. Perhaps that is why Evian and all those other mineral water drinks come from Switzerland?

Anyhow, the day ended wonderfully with Swiss fondue! Cheese, Meat and chocolate. Yum!

Next up? Interlaken and majestic Jungfraujoch, two of my favorite places this entire trip- Bern and Zermatt and last but not least, Geneva! Stay tuned!

Ciao Venice and Milan!

My last stop in Italy was Venice and Milan and I always said that if there was one place on earth that I needed to see before I die, it would be Venice especially since it is sinking as we speak! Of course while I was holding out to see if reality would fit or better yet, exceed my imagination, I went in with alittle bit of apprehension cos aren’t all tourist attractions in some ways contrived? Like how all souvenirs are made in China and how gondolas are a kind of marketing strategy aimed at tourists cos no local takes this form of transport anymore. But thankfully, I think it’s one of the few places that did retain its old world charm and didn’t cave in to capitalism all so readily. I love for example, how the little glass pieces used as pendants or earrings are made from Murano glass, something of a highly prized art in Italy and that tradition has still been kept alive.

I think to say that Venice is a unique place is a gross understatement. Everything from its Byzantine architecture of the San Marco Basilica to its winding little streets and waterways and the melancholic Bridge of Sighs… all of it just pulls you in and I honestly could spend days here walking around and looking at all the little quaint shops that sell glass pieces, masks, jewelry, chocolates and other interesting trinkets as well as to sip tea at the Cafe Florian while watching the world go by.

I remember being awed by the church and how even as they place planks so that we can get across the water (there was some flooding because Venice is built on soft ground. I think it’s built on reclaimed land!) the building and its brilliant architecture, was built to last a long time. Just looking at the tiling of the floor can leave you feeling flabbergasted. The land is so uneven but the old Venetians were able to craft little mosaic tiles and piece them together with such precision to form a wonderful masterpiece. If anything, this is a testimony to the great achievements of man. And just looking around the Piazza, it would be hard to disagree. Even the flock of pigeons that congregate at the square adds to that scene (I really meant pigeons and not us even though we look like pigeons here).

I think I really did enjoy the Venice leg of the trip because we had a local guide for 2 hours and then after that we had some free and easy time to roam around and really explore the city. We got to see how glass is made (these people make it looks so easy!), we saw people on gondolas, we ate gelato, had squid ink pasta and seafood soup, tried some amazing home made chocolate and checked out all the shops. It fascinates me that right beside a shop that sells masks, there could be a Chanel or a Louis Vuitton. Apparently the big guns have invaded Venice too.

After a positively enchanting day in Venice, the next day we headed to Milan! The bustling city of commerce and fashion and it really did feel that way. I could walk around the street and see Zara and Lush and brands that I’m familiar with back home (which also explains my lack of photos of Milan. Too busy shopping. Oops.)

But aside from the modern aspect of Milan that we are familiar with, I also got to get in touch with alittle bit of its history. Like seeing the Basilica of Saint Ambrogio, the patron saint of the city, we visited the most famous opera house in the world, the La Scala theatre and walked past the Santa Maria delle Grazie where Leonardo’s Last Supper was kept.

But quite honestly, after seeing so many baptistries and basilicas, I was so glad to see the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele because it is possibly the grandest most posh looking shopping gallery that I’ve ever seen.

Even though most of the shops here are completely off my price range, (think LV, Gucci, Tods, Prada et al) it was kind of nice to just walk around and admire the glorious building (there was an autogrill and Macdonalds so I could still people watch). Special mention goes to the Prada store which is the FIRST Prada store ever to open in the world. Talk about historical significance!

So this pretty much ends my Italian adventure but there’s still Switzerland and France to go!

Live your Life!

Merry Christmas.

With Christmas only one day away, we hope that you’re done shopping for presents and groceries and you’re all ready to snuggle up with your loved ones and celebrate this wonderful holiday with friends and family.

My family’s long held tradition is to have a barbecue with my mum’s side of the family and then to watch Home Alone after. Whatever and however you celebrate this wonderful holiday (even if you don’t celebrate it at all), we hope you have a blissful, restful long weekend!

Have a very merry Christmas.

New Year’s Eve

I think I’ve mentioned somewhere before that I’m a huge fan of collage movies like Love Actually, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day and more recently, Crazy Stupid Love. So you can imagine my glee when I saw the star studded cast for New Year’s Eve. Hilary Swank, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Katharine Heigl, dreamy Josh Duhamel, Ashton Kutcher *takes a breath* Zac Efron, Lea Michele, BON JOVI, Jessica Biel, Halle Berry… I mean this is one solid cast! But despite that, I went in with low expectations. I know that movies like this don’t really have much substance. It’s mostly a feel good film with a relatively weak plot that seeks to link different characters together in a spider web that is only revealed to you towards the last 5mins of the show.

Hate to say this, but I was right. The plot is rather blah. Basically it’s New Year’s Eve and everyone is waiting to see the glitzy ball drop in Times Square to welcome the new year. Thus, all the characters revolve around this New Year theme. Claire Morgan (Swank) is tasked to ensure that the ball indeed drops on schedule, Ingrid (Pfeiffer) a secretary at Ahren Records quits her job and tasks Paul (Efron) to help her complete her list of resolutions in order to secure tickets to the annual Ahren Records Masquerade Ball and Paul’s roommate, Randy (Kutcher) is stuck in the lift with backup singer Elise (Michele) who is supposed to sing for Jensen (Bon Jovi) who will be performing at the Masquerade Ball and Times Square.

Then there’s a side story featuring Stan Harris (De Niro) who is dying of cancer wishing to see the ball drop for the last time, a story of a couple, Griffin (Seth Meyers) and Tess (Biel) having a competition to win a baby bonus and a story about how a 15 year old, Hailey (Abigail Breslin) wants to experience her first kiss at Times Square and how her mother, Kim (Parker) has anxieties about that.

As expected, everything works out in the end for everyone because new year’s is a time to forgive and forget, to start anew, a time for second chances. If I had to pick, my favourite story where Paul helps Ingrid fulfill the items on her wishlist. He creatively devised a way in which she could travel round the world, see Bali and to ‘be amazed’ all in a span of few hours in order to check things off the list before midnight. Zac Efron was pretty suave and I can’t believe I’m saying this but he definitely had the swagger. Clearly he has moved on from his High School Musical days.

Another person that deserves commendable praise is Jessica Biel. She’s just such a natural when it comes to comedy and I think that the banter between her and Seth Meyers’ character was probably the most witty and believable (I mean, compared to the stuck in the lift scenes of Kutcher and Michele? That’s pretty unoriginal).

All in all, an okay film. Definitely a festive feel-good film so don’t overanalyze it. Just, sit back and enjoy the festivities.

Romantic Florence and Pisa

Day 2 saw us travelling to Tuscany to the province of Florence. Now I’ve heard so many people say that Florence is beautiful and I have to say that it has a certain rustic charm. I particularly like the medieval, renaissance architecture and it’s pretty cool to see how different the styles are from that of Rome which feels more ‘hard’ and manly. I also was surprised to see that despite the many traditional religious buildings like the Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistry, just around the corner would be modern shops like H&M and rows of jewelry and goldsmith stores. It’s the perfect juxtaposition of the old and the modern.

We were there on a public holiday and as a result, it was super crowded. I mean, just look at the number of people congregating at the square where the christmas markets are. I think visiting Italy during the christmas season is perfect. You really get to soak in that festive atmosphere and look at the view of the river Arno. Isn’t it picturesque?

And if you walked to Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio, you’ll see this huge square with statues. Most are figures from famous myths or characters from the Bible. There’s a huge replica of Michaelangelo’s David statue (the real one is in the Accademia) and Cellini’s Perseus with the slain head of Medusa and of course there’s the majestic Neptune fountain designed by Ammanati.

Along the way, it’s not surprising to see artists painting the Madonna on the streets and apparently these get washed away everyday but even so, that doesn’t deter people from religiously coming everyday just to paint it over and over. Talk about dedication.

Apparently Italians are rather superstitious people (just like the Chinese) and so we had to pay a visit to the lucky hog and rub its nose so that we will get good luck. It’s kind of like how in Milan at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, you need to spin thrice in a clockwise direction over this pattern on the floor for good luck. Not sure how true this all is but yeah, many people in my tour group gave it a go (I didn’t, I was too darn embarrassed).

Okay I’m going to fast forward to Day 3 (else I will never finish!) where we went to see the leaning tower of Pisa! Now I don’t know much about Pisa at all aside from the fact that it is the birthplace of Galileo Galilei  and for the iconic leaning tower itself. More about the tower. The tower of Pisa has 294 steps and is quite stable to climb up even today. The reason for its tilt is that its first three storeys was built on unstable soil and so architects and builders stopped construction for a long period of time. So long that the soil solidified, allowing for the rest of its storeys to be built a century later. Apparently, the tilt increases by 1mm each year but thankfully, engineers have worked hard to stabilize its foundations thereby preventing the tower from toppling.

We had so little time in Pisa that it was literally a touch-and-go photo stop. I would have loved to see more of the province and to learn more about its history beyond this iconic building. Next trip perhaps!

Tomorrow? Venice and Milan!

Bongiorno Rome!

As promised, I will begin the retelling of my wonderful adventure across central Europe beginning with Italy. Now because it is a 14 day tour that brought us across 3 countries and covered various cities, I spent only a day or two at some of these places which is such a shame because I would have loved to see much more especially Florence, Venice and Zermatt. But in all fairness, I have to say that this is a comprehensive tour package for first timers to Europe that has achieved that balance for both culture vultures and nature lovers alike. It really helped me to narrow down the places I want to revisit on my next trip (maybe a couple of years from now).

Anyhow, I flew with Qatar Airways, my first time doing so and it was a very pleasant experience. Service was great, food was aplenty (they give you a warm sandwich along with actual meals) and inflight entertainment was pretty current with a wide selection of audio (Christina Perri’s Love Strong album, Adele’s 21, Gaga’s Born This Way, T Swift’s Speak Now etc), TV (Glee, Mad Men, Big Bang Theory, Friends etc) and movie choices (Cowboy vs Aliens, The Conspirator, Harry Potter 1-7, Captain America etc). I wouldn’t mind flying with them again especially since its cheaper that Singapore Airlines (though the transit at Doha airport was by bus so I can’t wait till the airport gets an upgrade).

So the minute we touched down, we began our tour of Rome with none other than the Colosseum otherwise known as the Flavium Amphitheatre. The majestic structure was located right smack in the city centre and is one of the largest structures ever built by the Roman Empire.  This incredible structure seats 50,000 spectators and was used as an entertainment platform where gladiators fought and wrestled, where public executions took place and where dramas of classical mythology were performed. Of course with excessive mining and damage done by natural disasters, it is probably a shadow of its former glory. But even so it is still one of the most iconic buildings that defines Rome as a city.

After the tour of the Colosseum, we headed to the Trevi fountain to toss a coin and make a wish and had some free time to walk around and soak in the sights and sounds. The Trevi fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most recognisable fountains around the world. I think some movies actually filmed there like When in Rome starring Kristen Bell and according to the myth, if you make a wish and the wish comes true, you have to return to the Trevi fountain to pay respects (either that or whenever you toss a coin into the fountain, it means you’ll be back). In any case, it looks like I’ll have to go back some time in my life.

So once I stole an acceptable picture of it (the sun was not cooperating), I proceeded to visit the tiny stores lining the roads. There were little cafes, specialty leather shops, gelato shops (the ice cream is to DIE for. I had two scoops EVERYDAY. By the fourth day I couldn’t even zip up my jeans and had to wear unglam track pants but it was worth it!) After that we headed off to the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel!

Later in my trip I visited the Louvre but I have to say that in my personal opinion, even that pales in comparison to the Vatican Museum. It houses such an impressive collection of tapestry, sculptures and painting that is so vivid in its detail. Every drape, every wrinkle, every wisp of hair is so clearly depicted. Seriously, my pictures don’t do it justice. It was interesting also to see the difference between the Greek and Roman interpretations. Greeks love to present the perfect human form in all its beauty while Romans showed only realistic representations of art (I saw Julius Caesar carved from marble! That was pretty darn cool.)

And everywhere I walked, I would look up at the ceiling because even that is a work of art in itself. Gold gilding, painting that makes it look 3D, it is just amazing how people from ancient times can achieve such sophistication in technique especially in sculpting. These people would carve a statue out of a single block of marble. I was mad impressed. Needless to say, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel was truly inspiring. The colours look so vivid and it tells a wonderful story especially the Last Judgment (Picture credits to Wiki).

After that we walked next door to our final stop for the day, St Peter’s Basilica. It seems that St Peter’s Basilica is deemed as the largest Christian church in the world and when I was there, it was swarming with people from all nationalities who have come to pay respects, to light a candle and/or to attend mass. But while the church itself was beautiful in its ornateness (so much gold, bronze and marble were used!), what I loved more was the square itself. It had a wide expanse of space and the panorama view is pretty awesome.

After taking it all in, we headed for dinner then back to the hotel for a well deserved rest (didn’t sleep much on the plane the night before). So that pretty much ends day 1. I guess if I had to round up my experience in Rome in a sentence, I would say that it is interesting and intriguing from a historical standpoint. I mean, this is the birthplace of ancient civilizations and to see their achievements and past glories (mostly) intact in year 2011, it is such an honour and privilege. I was definitely awestruck. (Okay, that exceeded a sentence. Oops.)

Tomorrow, Florence!

Travel Musings

Hello everyone! It feels like an awfully long time since I last wrote about something and I must say that I’ve got the itch to write quite a few times on my trip but with wonky wifi overseas, I couldn’t quite pen down all my thoughts. I can’t believe that I’ve been gone for 2 weeks and having just touched down today (the jetlag is terrible!) I got caught up with the sudden rush on news about SMRT mess ups and Kim Jong Il’s sudden passing. I guess when you are on the other side of the world, you get caught up with a whole new different set of issues. For me, it was the case of pickpockets, snatch thieves, strikes and airport delays. It’s quite funny how the world seems so interconnected and ‘globalised’ but even so, we get so overwhelmed and engrossed with our own day to day problems.

I went on a 14-day trip around Central Europe and looking back, I can’t quite express how I feel about the trip. Of course I was enthralled by the culture, history and natural beauty and who wouldn’t be when you stand beneath the Sistine Chapel or you witness the full glory of Mount Jungfrau.

I felt a sensation that’s almost spiritual. The closest word I could use to describe the experience is probably awe-inspiring but even so it seems insufficient. But I think what makes traveling so special is that you suddenly open yourself up to new experiences and taking a step out of your everyday routine and embrace a new culture and lifestyle. The key for me was to keep an open mind and to be gungho enough to try everything from attempting to see all exhibits of the Louvre (I only saw two wings, no time to see Sully) to trying ‘exotic’ foods like escargot and veal (i drew my line at horsemeat).

For me, it was all about the moment. I wanted to make every moment spent abroad mean something. So I tried to capture that rainbow over the lake in Geneva, to remember how it is like to be in the heart of Galleries Lafayette on the last weekend before Christmas and to hold on to the joyous feeling of playing with the falling snow is Zermatt… These moments become memories and when times get hard, when work gets you down, you always look forward to your next escape. Your next trip that takes you far far away…

Aside from new experiences with food and culture, I love interacting with the people. I remember my flight to Doha, there was this old-ish caucasian man sitting beside me and I asked him what book he was reading and from there we started to have a conversation that lasted the whole 6 hours. It’s these rare occurrences where you connect with a random stranger not knowing whether you’ll ever meet the person again… that feels kind of nice in a serendipity kind of way. I think our world needs a little more friendliness sometimes and what better way to do so than on a long haul flight!

And of course having joined a tour group, I made loads of new friends and they definitely were an integral part in making this trip such an enjoyable one! Everyone was so accommodating, helpful and understanding and we all had a wonderful time. It’s no good to be harping on errors and to complain about little things. It spoils the mood. I’m glad the people in my tour group had a good sense of humour and even when we missed our connecting flight back to Singapore because of delays at Paris Airport (it was a rather frustrating situation because all we could do was wait and pray that we have seats on the next flight back), we all could laugh over it and tried to make the best of things.

Europe 2011 has definitely been fruitful. Not only in terms of shopping (Longchamp was so so cheap but more on that in another post) but I felt that I’ve gained so much (weight mostly) and friends and a fresh new perspective on life.

If you wanna know more about what the various cities I visited and what I did there, stay tuned. I’ll be blogging about this over the next week or so (get ready for a photo avalanche!)

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