Sunday, July 01, 2012

End of a chapter

This blog has served itself well as a repository of my memories for the past 6 years. From tomorrow onwards, I will be starting a new blog and will no longer write here.

Will update followers on the new blog venue once it's up and running.

Take care and hope to see you soon! :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Counting my blessings

Picked up a book "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin, ironically at one of the lowest moments of my life. One of the things that the author did in her happiness project was to "keep a gratitude notebook". An excerpt from the book reads:

"Gratitude is important to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically happy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy, because when you're grateful for what you have, you're not consumed with wanting something different or something more. That, in turn, also makes it easier to live within your means and also be generous to others."

Reading that made me want to do a stock take of all the things I have in my life to be grateful for. I'm constantly reminding myself not to take, especially the people whom I love, for granted but somehow, when one is accustomed to having that something or someone there for you all the time, one becomes complacent and forgets to show appreciation. It wasn't until a recent setback that I realised how lucky I am to have people who love me for what I am, who unhesitatingly make themselves available for me when I need them and who want me to be, above all, just happy.
  • I am grateful to have supportive parents who give and love me unconditionally.
  • I am grateful to have 2 awesome brothers who are always there to listen to me and eat the food I cook.
  • I am grateful to have a bunch of close friends who are genuinely concerned about me and don't mind listening to me rant.
  • I am grateful to have a job which pays the bills and buys me the occasional luxury item that I lust after.
  • I am grateful to have my very own pad.
  • I am grateful for good health and a sensible mind.
Setbacks, disappointments and letdowns...sure, they are part and parcel of life. But the important thing is not to allow the negative emotions dwell on for too long. Don't forget that there are people out there with bigger problems - illness, death, divorce, addiction, etc...these will make our problems seem so miniscule and insignificant. Life is short, so live happily and treasure what you have!

Monday, June 04, 2012


The last instalment of my Germany trip. I had high expectations of Berlin as it was the reason why I made my way northwards. A friend described Berlin as "eclectic and historical". My aunt said that Berlin is quite different from the rest of Germany and well worth a visit.

To be honest, Berlin fell slightly short of expectations. It had none of the medieval beauty of the Romantic Road or Munich and the standard of German food here was below par. What it does have, however, is a rich history and culture. Though steeped in history, Berlin has recently witnessed a rebirth with the collapse of the Berlin wall. Geographically, most of the historical sights are situated in East Berlin.

Once again, to get ourselves oriented, we joined a 4-hour walking tour, this time with Insider Tours at EUR 12 per pax. The meeting point was in the East at Hackesher Markt station. Saw this quirky group of buskers outside the station and was immediately attracted to their retro outfits! Pay special attention to the lady on the right - yeah, she was "typing" away on her typewriter. The music created was unusual but not unpleasant :)
The walking tour took us to the main historical sights in Berlin. Before we embarked on our journey, our guide Barry gave us a pretty detailed history of Berlin, which I remember little of. First stop: Berlin TV Tower, tallest structure in Germany.
I like the name of this garden...hehe. Didn't see any nude sunbathers though.
Altes Museum, part of the cluster of museums on Museum Island. Sadly, there wasn't enough time to visit any museum this time round.
Berliner Dom
Konzerthaus Berlin
Barry with the red face who hails from Ireland. He likes to bring us into shady areas coz he said the sun might cause his face to turn purple.
A rowdy beer bike which distracted us from the serious stuff.
Checkpoint Charlie, one of the crossing points between East Berlin and West Berlin.
Remnants of the Berlin Wall
The Holocaust Memorial
Brandenburg Gate
After the walking tour, we went to the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km-long section of the wall, to admire the murals painted by artists from all over the world.
Most famous mural - The Brotherhood Kiss, featuring 2 socialist dictators performing a normal ritual of kissing in 1979.
Some of the other murals which I liked.

We also took a day trip to Potsdam, a UNESCO World Heritage site about 45 minutes from Berlin. By the time we got there, it was lunch time and we decided to go to the No. 1 rated restaurant in Potsdam on Tripadvisor - a Cambodian-Vietnamese establishment called "My Keng". Food was awesome and innovative, so definitely worth a mention here.

Tom yum soup with white button mushrooms and succulent prawns
P's duck rice with curry that came a generous helping of duck meat.
My beef glass noodles infused with herbs and topped with rocket salad.
There were many palaces in Potsdam but due to time constraints, we narrowed our visit to the most famous one - Sanssouci palace, which basically means "palace with no worries". Wandering through the palace gardens was a delight in itself, as there were many beautiful structures to behold.

The art gallery
Sanssoci palace. The tour of the palace was a rip-off - EUR 12 for 30 min with audio guide.
The windmill
The Orangerie
The Neues Palais

The last part of our Berlin adventure involved some shopping near our hotel in West Berlin - Ku'damm and the luxury department store - KaDeWe. Sadly, the shopping scene in Berlin was a let-down and so we didn't buy as much as we thought we would. Which is not a bad thing I suppose :)

As always, I'm looking forward to my next travel destination. On my agenda are:
1. Nepal
2. Turkey
3. Eastern Europe (Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Poland)
4. Russia
5. Hokkaido

Sunday, June 03, 2012


Dresden is made up of an old town (Aldstadt) and new town (Neustadt). Both very compact and walkable; however, if one is lazy, it's a good idea to buy an all-day tram ticket which doesn't cost much. I was staying at the Westin Bellevue hotel located in Neudstat, right next to the river and bridge linking the two towns. The historic sights are mostly located in Aldstadt but by this time, I was kinda tired of looking at old buildings, cathedrals, etc. Hence, Neustadt was like a breath of fresh air for me - it was edgy, vibrant and trendy, partly because of its student community.  I put my camera to work immediately to capture the "alternative" lifestyle here.

Street art in the form of graffiti.
 Gotta love retro cars.
Cool people just hanging out. Noticed many people walking around barefooted!

We ventured further up Neustadt in search of Pfunds - the most beautiful dairy shop in the world as logged in the Guiness Book of Records. Unfortunately, it was closed! However, all was not lost from the discovery of this very impressive 3D life-like mural in a deserted parking lot nearby.
A beautiful church in Neudstadt
Possibly my favourite photo of the entire trip - outside a small nondescript restaurant.
Golden Rider, a gilded equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong, is one of Dresden's best known landmarks.

I'd be letting Dresden down if I didn't include at least 1 pic of Aldstadt, so here's one taken at night from the gardens of Westin Bellevue.


After the Romantic Road, we were ready to immerse ourselves in the big city action of Munich and Berlin. Dresden was chosen as a half-way stop between Munich and Berlin and it also came highly recommended by a friend studying in Germany.

Here are the highlights of Munich:

Walking tour
I like to join a walking tour to get myself oriented in a big city. It is informative and best of all, the important sites and buildings get pointed out to you and so it saves you the trouble of poring through maps and guidebooks trying to figure things out. We joined the Sandemann's walking tour, which I have used in London and Edinburgh before. They work on a tips-only basis so the walking tour is basically free and you tip them only if you think they've done well at the end of the walk. Some of the important sights in Munich:

The Glockenspiel at Marienplatz with a tiny performance at 11am everyday. This is also the starting point of our walking tour.
The musical "performance" lasts for about 10-15 minutes.
More of Marienplatz, the heart of Munich.
Viktualienmarkt, an open food market and square. There is no table service at the cafes here so you basically buy your food/drinks and take it to the common tables outside for consumption. The cafe we bought from took a deposit from us for our coffee cups - to "force" people to return the cups I suppose. We weren't sure if this treatment was accorded to tourists only or everyone.
The white asparagus was in season! I still prefer the crunchier green ones :)
The Hofbrauhaus, a beer hall in the centre of Munich, which is not shown in the picture below (it was actually behind me as I took this pic). Our guide shared interesting stories about this beer hall, for e.g. there is a vomitorium (a sink specially for vomitting into) in the male toilet but not the female toilet.
The Residenz Royal Palace.
Theatiner Kirche. Our guide said the people of Munich hate this building because of its colour and showed us how the yellow was inconsistent in shades on different parts of the building. I thought overall the building looked quite majestic but it did stick out like a sore thumb.
Our guide Virginia.

Champions league finals 2012
Munich was very crowded when we were visiting due to the UEFA Champions League finals which took place on 19 May 2012. The final match was between Chelsea and home team Bayern Munich. So it was no wonder that on the day of the match, Munich was alive with a buzz that excited even non-fans such as me! We hung out at a pub near our hotel to catch the match on TV. Alas, home team Bayern lost!

The sea of red at Marienplatz
They looked like they were about to kiss next!
More reds
The blues...

Awesome German cuisine
It wasn't until the end of the trip that I was able to conclude that Munich has the best food that Germany has to offer, both in terms of quality and atmosphere. Our hotel receptionist Florian recommended us to 3 restaurants / beer garden - Altes Hackerhaus, Augustiner and the 3rd I can't remember but it wasn't as good as the other two and pricier.

Altes win hands down for food and value - in fact, we went back a 2nd time just to have desserts and beer.  Augustiner is a beer hall which made for a fun and rowdy experience!

From top left, clockwise: SY and I enjoying our beer, sausage galore, obatzda (a Bavarian cheese dish), best beer Augustiner, white fat sausages + pretzel, pork knuckle, cream puff with whipped cream and strawberries, the cosy Alte Hackerhaus which we visited twice, cheese strudel with custard cream, white asparagus salad.