Chocolates in Colmar

Colmar, timber, timbered houses

Colmar’s Half Timbered Houses

If you think that the above picture is from the set of Hansel and Gretel, well… you’re not alone. Cobblestoned roads, half-timbered houses, meandering streets that wind in between houses that looked that they might fall on you at any moment… Colmar was a page of a fairytale novel come to life.

St Martin's Church, in Colmar is entirely made out of pink stone (or shades of pink).

St Martin’s Church, in Colmar is entirely made out of pink stone (or shades of pink).

Wandering around its windy streets, we came across St. Martin’s Church, which was built in pink stone. I know it doesn’t look really pink here, but it’s most likely a product of the lightning (or lack thereof, in winter).

La petite Venice

La petite Venice

Enchanting Colmar is known as La Petite Venice (or Little Venice), as it bears a resemblance to the city of canals. Maybe with much imagination 😛 Colmar is beautiful on its own, but to liken it to Venice is to compare a domestic house cat to a majestic Tiger. Parallels exist of course, but nothing will ever touch the beauty and promise of Venice. Instead, Colmar should be appreciated for what it is and as it is rather than be dubbed a second Venice!

Route des vins d'Alsace (The Alsace Wine Route)

Route des vins d’Alsace (The Alsace Wine Route)

Before visiting Colmar, we drove along the winding roads that form the Alsace Wine Route. This is one of the oldest wine routes in France. The Alsace region produces a variety of wines, primarily white wine (that I determine from my very brief encounter!). The white wines are typically dry, but with a slight sweetness to them that I don’t encounter very often. Anyway, moving on.

My handsome chauffeur!

My handsome chauffeur! 😉

Wine Tasting!

Wine Tasting!

We stopped by on the way for a wine tasting; I tried Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling and a Muscat which are typically produced in the Alsace region. I also found out (as educated by JJ, who laughed at me when I compared a Muscat to a Moscato) that Moscato is an Italian wine. Pffft. They all come from the same family of grapes anyway, surely!

chocolatier, france, alsace

At a chocolatier

And of course, our first stop was at a chocolate factory to satisfy JJ’s sweet tooth.

It’s strange, I suddenly recall how Andrew always steered away from chocolates and desserts. I always found that sad – although I guess doing so would be quite good for me 😛 Still, give me a man who loves his sweets in life.

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Southwestern Serendipity – a Singaporean female in Exeter

I awake slowly, my eyes opening incrementally in millimetres every minute. My forehead and nose is telling me that outside is cold and no sane person would consider leaving my (third level) bed at 6.45 a.m. But then again, not everyone finds out a day before their trip to the UK that their ex-colleague and dear friend from Singapore is now studying in Exeter, a 3 hour train journey from London. So yes, amidst much whining from my snug-in-a-blanket warm body, I pull myself out to have a cold shower (my hostel didn’t believe in hot showers in Winter…. tragedy). 30 minutes later, I am at Waterloo Station all excited to travel down to Exeter to meet Netti!

As said, UK really put on its best dress for me. Here was a picture of the sunrise that I was treated to on the journey down to Exeter.

The beautiful sunrise that greeted me enroute to Exeter

The beautiful sunrise that greeted me enroute to Exeter

Exeter Cemetary?

Exeter Cemetary?

Some berries spotted on our country walk

Some berries spotted on our country walk

Not sure what berries these were, but I HAD to stop and snap a shot of them. Pretty, aren’t they? Originally, Netti and I had planned to visit a Donkey Sanctuary near Sidmouth, Devon. However, we had overestimated the capabilities of Sunday public transportation. In the end, we were (somewhat) stranded in the country at 2 p.m. and took a leisurely stroll down the countryside.

Netti & I

Netti & I

Came across this small stream and had to stop to take a wefie. I’ve missed this girl. She was a bedrock for me when I started my contract teaching in CHIJ Katong. We started together and although our paths have diverged, it felt so good to get the opportunity to meet up with her again and see the many blessings that life has brought her after a tumultuous period in her working life.

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral

High Street, Exeter - reminds me of Perth's city centre!

High Street, Exeter – reminds me of Perth’s city centre!

Netti & I at High Street, Exeter

Netti & I at High Street, Exeter

We ended up having a hot coffee at Costa and taking some pictures along High Street. In many ways, Devon reminds me of Western Australia and Exeter, Perth. The public transport, the buses, the weather, the long leisurely walks, beautiful scenery and the city centre structures. I’ve barely been here a day and I see the many ways I could fall in love with Exeter. Oh, to leave parts of your heart everywhere you travel. It is both a blessing, and a curse.

Trains from London to Exeter depart from both Waterloo and Victoria stations. More details may be found on Southwest Train’s website at http://www.southwesttrains.co.uk/exeter-guide.aspx.

Accommodation Review: Smart Russell Square

Overall Rating: 2/10

– Stay Away unless desperate and the only option is to sleep out on the streets.

Alright, alright. So I booked into the hostel of hell. To be fair, I’ve visited my share of hostels and I expected to be slumming it (the one in Naples was scary enough – I thought I was going to wake up raped or sliced up in bed). But still, this one was one for the infamous lists.

Let’s start with the Positives.

1. Staff were friendly. The doorman always greeted me with a smile, and the baggage check person (Ryan) had a nice conversation with me.

2. Location was very convenient. It was within walkable distance of the tube station (Russell Square) and a supermarket.

3. Beds had a curtain to draw which hid your bed from the room and allowed me to change in privacy.

Moving on to the Negatives.

1. Toilets were only located at Level 1 (separate from bathrooms) and Level 3 (with some shower stalls). If you wake up with a near bursting bladder and had the misfortune to be located all the way up top of the bunk beds, let’s hope you have practiced your kegel exercises.

2. Charging points – only 2 charging points were provided in my room of 9. The math doesn’t compute.

3. Common Room was crowded and there was nowhere to sit (except for the tables). This was caused mostly by the lack of charging points in the rooms – people started bringing their electronics to the common room to charge.

4. The kitchen was dirty and had unwashed dishes in the sink. In these type of 9-bed and 18-bed hostels, it only takes one to set off a chain reaction and I suppose I was there during those bad days.

5. Organization of Room – the beds weren’t bunk beds, they were set into the walls. Which were both good and bad. There was sufficient space (in my 9 bed room) for luggage. However, they had 3 beds on top of each other – which kinda sucked if you have vertigo and are stuck on the top bunk (moi!). I was convinced I would fall off every time I climbed down the hell long ladder.

6. No free lockers (I even brought a lock). Either way, a group of 7 checked out the second day I was there and hostel staff also removed my linens and towel by accident (which I had paid 5 pounds and a deposit of 10 pounds for). This was in spite of me putting in my check in and check out dates in the little dongle provided. No effort was made to replace my towel. My slippers also went missing, I assume it was thongnapped by one of my hostel mates.

7. I had two showers here. The first time, I tried the shower stalls in the basement. The basement showers were worse than communal gym showers. Curtains that stuck onto you. To turn on the water, you had to press down a knob otherwise the water stopped running after a few minutes. This would be alright if the water wasn’t so BLOODY COLD. IN WINTER.

The second shower I had was up in the 3rd level showers, which at least had nicer shower cubicles. However, the water was still cold. My first few showers in Europe in winter were yes, cold showers. I nearly froze to death.

If you would like to sleep in discomfort, there are probably better places to do it in London.

Website Link: http://www.smartrussellsquare-london.com/

Tripadvisor Reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Hotel_Review-g186338-d1233082-Reviews-Smart_Russell_Square_Hostel-London_England.html

Hostelworld Reviews: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Smart-Russell-Square/London/29412/reviews

London; Here comes the Sun.

As I step off the plane, a shiver of anticipation rushes through me. The air of London at 5 a.m. is refreshing and crisp, a stark contrast to when I left Singapore at 11 p.m. the night before. In fact, the wind is bitingly cold as it freezes its way down my lungs.

First order of business was a cup of heartwarming orange chocolate from Costa at Heathrow with Stuart. What followed the next few days were several deja vu type moments. Names I’d heard of from reading way too many historical romance novels and playing Monopoly now have an image to go with them, etched in my brain.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the Tower of London. I also didn’t take a touristy picture in the red telephone booth (sheesh). Last but not least – I kinda wished that I had the time (and energy) to visit Fabric Nightclub or Ministry of Sound. Unfortunately, I booked into the Hostel of Hell (review posted here) which kind of annoyed me everytime I returned back and sapped my motivation to head out.

Highlights of London: A really nice cozy pub lunch (Bangers & Mash) with Stuart, Sightseeing with Stuart, meeting up with Longzhao and having a stroll around South Kensington & catching Wicked at London’s West End (one item off my bucket list!).

The Tube - uniquely London

The Tube – uniquely London

The London Underground (or Tube) – people here seemed to always be in a rush or walking really quickly. Definitely none of that face stuck in their mobile phones stuff here.

Big Ben and the Red Bus.

Big Ben and the Red Bus.

Big Ben / Clock Tower – apparently this tower holds the largest four facing clock in the world. Also saw the Parliament close by and the Palace of Westminster. Of course I had to take it with the red double-decker bus in the foreground. Gahhhhh I’m such a tourist 😉

The London Eye

The London Eye

Life Guards of the Household Cavalry

Life Guards of the Household Cavalry

We were lucky enough to come by at exactly the right time to catch the changing of the Life Guards. The Life Guards are a regiment of the Household Calvary of the British Army and since their first action in the Battle of Maastricht in 1672 the Life Guards have won numerous battle honours, including Waterloo, Marne, Brussels and El Alamein. The changing of the Queen’s Life Guards take place daily at 11 a.m. on weekdays & 10 a.m. on Sundays at the Horse Guards Parade.

On the tube with Stuart to Croydon

On the tube with Stuart to Croydon

Christmas Lights a la London

Christmas Lights a la London

At the Natural History Museum of London, no dinosaurs came to life.

At the Natural History Museum of London, no dinosaurs came to life.

Yep – this is where they filmed Night of the Museum. No dinosaurs were harmed in this process.

A Major Highlight, Watching Wicked at London's West End!

A Major Highlight, Watching Wicked at London’s West End!

Definitely a major, major highlight. I would have loved to catch Book of Mormon – however the agent who was meant to book it mucked up the dates I was in London and this was the replacement he provided me with (nice discount too!)

For sure, London put up its best shot. The weather was magnifique – sunny wintry days, no rain at all (am I in London, really?). Au Revoir London. Maybe I’ll be back one day.

Accommodation Review: Cheapsleep Helsinki Hostel

Overall Rating: 8/10

I wandered into this hostel at around 1 a.m. and asked if they had a bed available. Thankfully, they had a bed available in an 18-bed female dorm.

The room has 9 double bunk beds in it. Next to my head there is a small reading light and a charging point, very convenient. Other pros include: Free lockers, Clean toilets, spacious common room, free walking tour provided on Saturdays and Sundays. Wifi connectivity was also pretty strong inside the room. The tram stops right opposite the hostel and it is a nice walk (~20 minutes) to the city centre (or you may catch a tram there too).

It was about US$25 a night though, which wasn’t that cheap. But hey, this is Finland – not exactly unexpected. Still, I would definitely return here if I come to Finland again.

Website Link: http://www.cheapsleep.fi/

Tripadvisor Reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g189934-d2614574-Reviews-CheapSleep_Helsinki-Helsinki_Southern_Finland.html

Hostelworld Reviews: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/CheapSleep-Helsinki/Helsinki/59673/reviews

Verona: It’s a (Fictitious) Love Story, Baby Just Say… Yes?

Love, ah Love!

Some people live by it, while others die for it. And amongst the latter, the most infamous couple in history are none other than Romeo and Juliet. Even though (yes, it’s true) they might not even have existed. Who knows? And yet to the town of Verona tourists flock, in a bid to see the city in which Romeo and Giuletta was based in (and may have lived). Yes folks, that’s Giuletta and not Juliet to y’all. Them Italians don’t use the letter J!

There’s the whole love locks done to the n–th degree here, as well as the notes to Giuletta (why, I ask you?). And of course, the statue of Giuletta – touching her breast is meant to make one lucky in love. This I DEFINITELY do not understand. Didn’t her love interest ingest poison and well, die?

People will find whatever means to make others do stupid things (or pay money) it seems.

Love locks in Verona

Love locks in Verona

Graffiti on Juliet's House

Graffiti on Juliet’s House (Casa di Giuletta)

Verona Market Square

Verona Market Square

Verona Market Square

Verona Market Square

Verona Arena

Verona Arena

Statue of Juliet

Statue of Juliet – touching her breast is meant to make one lucky in love.

Juliet's Balcony

Juliet’s Balcony

Helsinki: 10 Degrees in Summer

 

After 3 weeks of trekking through Italy, Helsinki made for a change. I was really looking forward to this part of my trip since I would finally get to meet Jon (after some 8 years of online acquaintance!) and I would get to catch up with Kat.

First blip came when I landed at the airport – at midnight – and was told that the airport lounge is under renovation. So much for my plan to spend my night at the airport!

I hurriedly found a hostel – Cheepsleep Helsinki – and made my way to it via public transport (with the help of some friendly locals). Unfortunately, while my attire was de rigueur for Italy, shorts and a sleeveless top was a no-go for Helsinki at 1 a.m. By the time I reached the hostel, let’s just say I was a human popsicle!

Only in Helsinki would summer have a temperature of 10 Degrees Celsius.

Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral

 

Jonatan & I

Jonatan & I

Indoor Markets

Indoor Markets

Salmon Soup

Salmon Soup

Kat & I

Kat & I