YOU GOTTA LOVE BERGEN!

(warning : overload of awesome pics)

can't help being beautiful

Apparently it rains here quite frequently. So when we arrived in Bergen in bright scorching sunshine, we knew we lucked out. Making full use of the sunlight in the land of the midnight sun (when the sun does not go down until 11p.m.) we try to see as much as we can!

top of mt ulriken!

food, glorious seafood

what can i say...

So, what about Bergen? The renowned harbour, the freshest seafood and the unbelievable views and beyond from Mt Ulriken. We had grilled seafood at the fish market (blooming cold) outdoors (not in a restaurant) and went up Mt Ulriken via cable car. Of course some people hiked up (“since it’s only 640m”!)

Memorable moments? The kindness of strangers. Norwegians are the nicest people. Maybe it’s the salmon, perhaps it’s the sea, whatever it is, stay cool Norwegians – you’ve made my trip!

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ALL QUIET AND DIGNIFIED ON THE CAPITAL FRONT

land of the midnight sun indeed… where it is still bright at 10 p.m. in the night and you can walk quayside, albeit wrapped up in your jacket and scarf is a privilege and a joy.

so, what about oslo? where we spent a couple of days – before and after our snowy sojourn up north. i have always thought that any capital city is noisy and vibrant. but oslo is vibrant in a quiet and dignified way. which is fitting because it has so much going for it. it is a cultural, historical and gastronomic (think seafood) haven.

oslo’s lovely harbour is the setting for Β its numerous museums, historical monuments and lovely restaurants. being a seaport town, we made it a point to sample its local seafood on our last night in oslo by the waterfront. it did not disappoint – it was one of the best meal of the trip!!

no instructions needed - just add mouth

no instructions needed – just add mouth

sitting by the waterfront, savouring waffles and ice-cream is a an indulgence, only when you are on holiday.

however, the highlight of my trip to oslo must be the nobel peace centre in the centre of town. it was an eye-opener and very inspiring… and at some point, emotional… you are in the midst of people who had done good work for humanity, sometimes at a great price. and yet. many of the winners got the nobel peace prize for their work for and with children. kudos! you are my heroes and inspiration πŸ™‚

the last winners were of course malala and kailash sayarthi. previous winners included the dalai lama, gandhi, obama, etc…

(note : only the nobel peace prize is given out in oslo, the rest, in stockholm)

Nobel Peace Center - a collection of memories and great contributions to humankind

Nobel Peace Center – a collection of memories and great contributions to humankind

NORWAY : A REVELATION

Beautiful Oslo Harbour

Beautiful Oslo Harbour

This will be the first of a series on Norway πŸ˜‰

A brief visit to Norway has left a deep impression in me. As I have not been to any Scandinavian countries before, I did not know what to expect, except that it would be cold. Yes, even in summer.

Some thoughts :

– First, everyone speaks English there. Good English. The education system succeeds where it failed elsewhere. Or at least they make the effort!

– Norweigans are genuinely nice and helpful. With a sense of humour. Really! The last thing you’d expect from Viking descendents :-p This is not meant to be “racist”.

– In general, the men treat women with respect. They looked at you when you are talking or making an enquiry. And they answer your questions and more. With a sense of humour. So important πŸ™‚

– There are a lot of foreigners in the service industry. The lure of Norway and its the stunning landscape keep them coming. However, many of them are transient workers. Maybe that’s why they are welcome in the country.

– Racial discrimination is rare, unlike in some countries in Europe. They are open to foreigners because they feel they could learn from them. I have had plenty of interesting conversations with them and they are always curious about where I come from. Some of them are well-travelled, some of them have visited Singapore and countries in Asia.

– Absolutely breath-taking landscapes and beautiful vistas where I’ve been and I am sure I have only seen the tip of the ice-berg.

– Can I say something about their seafood? Out of this world. The freshest, whether you eat them at the market or in a restaurant. Do make an effort to try both their farmed and wild salmon.

– Norway is EXPENSIVE, no doubt about it. The standard of living hits the roof. But hey, you’ve got to visit it at least once right?

Next, Oslo. The quiet and dignified capital. Venue for the Nobel Peace Prize awards!!

Aker Brygge

Aker Brygge

LOVING BANGKOK

was in bangkok a couple of weeks ago and have vowed to go back again next year. in addition to having thai friends, i also enjoyed the food, the massages and the shopping (for snacks) πŸ˜‰ things are affordable and you can have a good holiday without busting the bank.

SOME FAVOURITES :

place to stay : novotel siam square. if you book early, you can get a nice room for less than USD100. we stayed in a junior suite for two nights and it only costs us USD150 a night, buffet breakfast included. you get to check in at their premier lounge, have tea and snacks (for free).

junior suite@novotel siam square, our hotel of choice

junior suite@novotel siam square, our hotel of choice

dessert place : if you like mangoes, that is πŸ˜‰ this is a perennial favourite. it is just down the road from our hotel and serves the best mango desserts this side of bangkok. i don’t how they do it, but the mangoes are super, super SWEET. we usually have their mangoes with sticky rice, with a side of mangoes (but of course). this year, due to overwhelming queues (everyday), they’ve decided to move to a bigger place. opposite their usual spot. apparently, lots of japanese and korean tourists visit the place and you can see them queueing, with guidebooks in tow.

yummy mangoes with sticky rice - awesome dessert!

yummy mangoes with sticky rice – awesome dessert!

restaurants : som tam near novotel siam square, which serves pork in all ways. but only if you are a pork fan. good food at very reasonable prices and there is usually a queue during peak hours. however, my very favourite place that serves excellent thai food with a nice ambience and reasonable comfort is definitely taling pling. that place never disappoints, whether you order pad thai or their more elaborate dishes.

20130907_214433

there are many branches of taling pling in bangkok but my favourite one is in siam paragon, which is also one of my favourite bangkok malls. located at the basement, you can sit in, alfresco or near the fake river inside. wherever you sit, there is delicious thai food to be savoured!!

of course, we go to MBK for thai snacks to buy home. we always get lost in MBK but will eventually find our shop. as for massages, you can go anywhere, as long as it’s not sleazy or has questionable hygiene standards. i love foot massages best, especially after a long day of walking (and shopping). montra spa in central world is a particular favourite. ask for nai, she speaks mandarin (!!) and english. very meticulous and not chatty at all. i hate chatty masseurs because i just want to relax and be still, you know? another one i go to is called ‘thai massage’ (i know, how apt!) and it is just further down from som tam. it’s in a narrow lane which you go pass when you wanna walk from the hotel to go up the bridge to siam paragon πŸ˜‰

next, i will blog about doing WITHOUT all the necessary essentials we take for granted everyday… and surviving it!! and met plenty of nice people at the same time – watch out for the next post!! πŸ˜‰

Leipzig : Of Bach, Stasi and Depeche Mode!

geothe once said : “he who travels to the trade markets of leipzig without vistiing auerbachs yard must hold his peace. it proves: he has not seen leipzig.” since i was there, so i guess i had seen leipzig. and i like it!

the reason we were in leipzig - DM concert!!

the reason we were in leipzig – DM concert!!

left for leipzig once we reached berlin (from frankfurt – bear with me), so that we would be in time to catch depeche mode in concert! why do we do this to ourselves – coz we want to, that’s why! LOL.

anyway, it was worth the 2 hr journey. we reached leipzig, checked into novotel, opposite the train station. didn’t even have time to eat but we took the tram straight to the redbull arena. lots of people were already there, ‘choping’ for the best spot to see the band! we were hungry, so we stood next to the wiener stand. the wieners were priced differently, inside from outside. it was cheaper! you add your own condiments (ketchup, mustard, no chilli sauce).

stood for 2.5 hours and at the end, i couldn’t stand anymore and my legs were wobbly. but it was worth it! we went sightseeing the next day but not before a well-deserved soak in the tub!! πŸ˜‰ at that point in time, i had been awake for more than 28 hours – the plane ride, the taxi ride (to frankfurt station), the train rides (frankfurt to berlin, berlin to leipzig)!! love you novotel for having a tub in your hotel rooms!!

leipzig is in the former east germany. before reunification it was the stasi (secret police) HQ. the building is still there, as sinister as ever, but it is now a museum. it is also the site of the peaceful revolution that put communism into the history books in eastern europe.

scary stasi - all in the past!

scary stasi – all in the past!

apart from being known for politics, leipzig is also the city of musicians. wagner was born here, bach grew up here (cantor boy in st nicholas church where he was buried), strauss and numerous musicians have played here. in fact, they were hosting bachfest when i was there…

bachfest in leipzig

bachfest in leipzig : bach is leipzig’s favourite son. his tomb is inside st nicholas church. see above

and a visit to leipzig would not be complete without a visit to auerbachs keller, the renowned geothe haunt! the food did not disappoint! nor the venue. an old cellar which is converted to a charming atmospheric restaurant πŸ˜‰

the theatrical auerbachs keller restaurant - we ate well!

the theatrical auerbachs keller restaurant – we ate well!

battle of nations monument - it was a relatively long tram ride from the city but well worth it!

battle of nations monument – it was a relatively long tram ride from the city but well worth it!

it was a short but sweet (memories) visit to leipzig!! glad we went!! i will most probably come back…;-)

Czech Mate

prague central station at 3 different times of the day.  view from our lovely hotel

prague central station at 3 different times of the day. view from our lovely hotel

i have always wanted to go to prague. even after someone told me he was underwhelmed – it’s the hype, he said. still, i have to see for myself right? and while making plans for my german trip (in june), i included prague in my itinerary. and as luck would have it, prague was flooded a couple of weeks before i was due to arrive.

we took the train from berlin but due to the floods earlier, some of the train routes were diverted and a 4-hour journey became more than 6. it was horrible – no one spoke english on the train PA system, we did not know what was going on or if we were going to arrive in prague at all… someone must have gone to complain because after that, announcements were made in dual languages, albeit in very halting english… oh well.

we were exhausted when we arrived but our hotel was nice and we had a comforting dinner and was all ready for the next day’s sightseeing. we did the usual – prague castle, astronomical clock, charles bridge, town square etc… the next day, we went on the bus and revisited those places we liked… here are some of the highlights πŸ˜‰

lovely prague castle and chapel!

lovely prague castle and chapel!

john lennon wall

john lennon wall

river vltava - swollen but not flooded

river vltava – swollen but not flooded

prague is pretty easy to navigate but you need sturdy legs and a good pair of walking shoes because of those cobbled stones paths. it was scorching hot when we were there and our pictures turned out great! we also had this wonderful bread (with cinnamon) from the old town. we saw it made before our eyes and it tasted great!

we like the one with cinnamon!

we like the one with cinnamon!

Praha ha ha

view of prague station from my cruise ship-like window ;-)

view of prague station from my cruise ship-like window πŸ˜‰

prague was not overwhelming but for a first-time visitor (me), it was just right. european friends who have been here warned me against having too much expectations of this place. and so i came with none and was richly rewarded.

it was scorching hot when we arrived, after a more than 6-hour journey (which should only have taken 4) due to the diversions caused by the recent floods, we were just about to give up on the place. luckily our hotel was just across the train station and after checking-in and freshening up, we were ready to go out. we need to eat you know?

we had totally local food at a restaurant (unfortunately most of the areas are for smokers) in one non-smoking corner. but the food was fantastic – we had dumplings, schnitzels and of course the local beer πŸ˜‰

cheers! czech beer!

cheers! czech beer!

will upload pics later but just want to mention our hotel (http://chopin-hotel-prague.h-rez.com/index.htm) – offers nice views of the train station, awesome location and an excellent receptionist (cum concierge). he saw to our every need and anticipate those unspoken. plus, and that’s a BIG plus – excellent wireless connections!! thumbs up! πŸ˜‰

and no, they did not pay me to say all the above. LOL

Favourite Spots in Berlin

i will not profess to be an expert on berlin, but i know what i like. and although i had only been to berlin twice (in 2 years), i have my favourite spots. you know, those places you will go to again and again whenever you are in town πŸ˜‰

hauptbahnhof
ah, my favourite station in berlin! both times, i stayed near the main station and it was my gateway to… ANYWHERE. bloody marvelous. plus you get the s-bahn, u-bahn, inter-city trains, international trains, all in one damn near perfect place. you can eat and shop without leaving the place. heck, you can even sleep there (up to a certain time of the day of course). after a day of sightseeing, coming to the hauptbahnhof was such a relief! i could get something exotic (chinese? japanese? thai?) to eat or go to the supermarket(s) to grab a bite or two. highly recommended is the currywurst and roast chicken from the food court. good coffees and croissants too. shops close late here and knowing that my room is just steps away gave me a sense of security πŸ˜‰

the architecturally brilliant central station in berlin

the architecturally brilliant central station in berlin

river spree
i could sit there for hours and watch the cruise boats and cyclists go by, admire the sunset or walk the ’round’… just lovely! πŸ˜‰ i have yet to walk up the museum island but will do so when i come back the next time πŸ˜‰ one peeve – could someone get rid of the bars that opened next to the bridge (from hauptbahnhof going to the reichstag). it was an eyesore and violated the tranquility of the river scene.

this spot on the river spree is near the hauptbahnhof. i spent a lot of time here, chilling and watching the cruise boats go by...

this spot on the river spree is near the hauptbahnhof. i spent a lot of time here, chilling and watching the cruise boats go by…

brandenburg tor
not below the gate, but the chairs near the fountains close to starbucks. best view of the historical tor and you could sit there till the sun goes down (literally)… but when the wind blows, you will get wet (from the fountains! haha). walk further up and you will be able to get your fill of currywurst and big fat fries πŸ˜‰ and even further up, the ritter sport (chocolate) museum! when i was there in june, there was a lot of construction going on and a lot obstruction going up to the babelplatz. hopefully they would have gone when i return next time!

sunset at the gate

sunset at the gate

reichstag
went up there the last time – will go up again. i guess everyone knows that you have to pre-register before or risk long queues. it was an experience not to be forgotten – i kept wondering while staring at the metal structures before me. “who cleans them?” and “how do they get them to be so shiny?” from the top of the reichstag, you have wonderful views of the city πŸ˜‰ you have to go there at least once. or twice. it’s definitely worth your time.

centre of power in germany - reichstag

centre of power in germany – reichstag

i love, love berlin. it has surpassed paris as my favourite european city. and i will be back!