Tag Archives: Travelogy

The One With The First Glimpse Of Times Square & Broadway

Views of Midtown New York

Despite a fairly late night the previous date, I was up at eight in the morning. Not by my own choice, but because my dorm mates were all up early, catching a football match at a nearby pub.

Football match! Nearby pub! Eight in the morning!

I am only saying.

Since I was already up, I thought I will make my way to New York Broadway to get tickets to my favorite musical – Mamma Mia!

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The One With The First Evening In Chelsea, New York

Views of Chelsea, New York

As I ascend the steps from the dismal-looking subway station to the ground of Chelsea, I could smell the icy-fresh wind and the occasional whiff of spring. I can’t believe I am here, in New York! When finally the best of Chelsea came into view, I was stunned into a broad grin that I couldn’t wipe off my face.

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The One With The Journey To New York City

Hong Kong International Airport

You know what they say about how you start a journey of a lifetime with an experience you’ll never forget? Well, mine started the night before (details of which I would rather not go into, tee hee) and as a result I was sleepy and starving as I arrived at Hong Kong International Airport. I was told that my seat will be 40D and my departure will be at Gate 4. The silly me went to Gate 40 instead, got puzzled why I was to board a plane destined for Mumbai before I realised my mistake.

And what a mistake it was! I had to walk a big round the airport to find the right gate. Good thing was that I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, what with the warning about Easter weekend crowd and all.

The Bureaucracy of US Customs & Border Protection

The flight was uneventful as my previous other flights. Just that it was incredibly long, and I couldn’t sleep more than three hours combined over the journey of 16-hour. So I watched movies… Avatar (yay!) and Kungfu Panda made the cut. I also watched all their episodes of Friends Season 8.

I mean, how apt was that, to watch a TV series which got me dreaming about New York in the first place?

It was past one in the afternoon when I touched down at JFK Airport. The queue for immigration was incredibly long, and it was here I encountered the tedious layers of US Customs bureaucracy, which include some forms and a “special interview” at in a “special” room”.

I knew that there would be a red carpet treatment for me.

Howard Beach Subway Station

The airport itself is impressive. Consisting of seven terminals, connected by a frequent air train service, going from one terminal to another was a breeze… but not if you are looking to go to the subway (in my case, the Howard Beach station). After making some rounds on Air Train, I found the subway, at which I realised to my dismay that I was 27 stations away from my final destination!

Talk about a long train ride. On one that is not that impressive either.

The journey to Chelsea, where I would be staying for the next two days, took almost an hour. But thank god, what a different that district had made on my impression of New York!

More photos of my first day in New York here.

The One With The New York City

The One With The New York City

Twenty four hours from now, I will be high up in the air, crossing continents and seas, making my way to New York City.

New York… what is it like? It is tall skyscrappers, dizzying grid-like streets, breakfast at Tiffany’s, big yellow cabs. It is Times Square, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Central Park. It is about the lives of Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe.

Most of all, it is about my mother. The last time we spent time together was in 2006 when she came home for a month. My mom, the pillar of my family, has been living in the States for the past ten years.

Visiting New York has been a dream for me. It has now become a reality. For that, I am eternally grateful to the One above.

If you like, add me on Twitter or Facebook to follow my journey through the Big Apple.

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The One With The Lonely Planet Guide

Lonely Planet - New York City

My mind is whirling.

Apart from the tentative plans (made by my mom, not me), to visit Atlantic City and Philadephia while I am in the States, I find it totally impossible to select the must-visits in new York during the few days I get to spend there. Reading the guide is no good… everything sounds good, and if I go to one (say, Central Park) for the day, I will probably miss another (say, the Statue of Liberty).

What am I going to do? Argh!

I know… this sounds like a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless!

Budapest Day 2 РBasilica of St Stephen, The Parliament, Christmas Market, Holocaust Memorial Centre, State Opera House & V̦r̦smarty Square

The second day in Budapest was an adventure as I criss-crossed the town in my quest to visit as many tourist highlight as possible. But first thing first; I gotta get my train ticket to Vienna, and according to Lonely Planet that can be easily done at the MAV Passenger Start Centre, located at Erzsébet tér.

At Erzsébet tér, enroute to MAV Passenger Start Centre

Little did I know that the counters were closed on a Sunday! The kind man who was cleaning the office windows told me to come back the next day. I peered through the windows and saw MAV staff at work. Why can’t they work on a Sunday? I mean, they are selling train tickets, for goodness sake, and trains don’t stop running on Sundays. Luckily the view from the metro station to the centre was more than enough to make up the disappointment.

My next stop was the Basilica of St. Stephen, and I wanted to hunt for some food first before visiting arguably the top tourist spot in Budapest. But as I walked nearer to the church, which is located at Lipótváros, I heard the grand church bells toiling away, calling the church goers to go to mass. The sound was amazing; I had to quicken my pace just to catch up, and my jaw dropped when I reached the front of the church.

Basilica of St Stephen, Lipótváros

After a quick detour for food (my stomach was grumbling too much to be ignored la), I quickly went inside. Basilica of St. Stephen is Budapest’s neoclassical cathedral built, demolished and rebuilt over the course of half a century before its eventual completion in 1905.

Mass at Basilica of St Stephen, Lipótváros

Like any grand cathedrals in Europe, the interior of St. Stephen was mind-numbingly beautiful. The main draw for the crowd is the Holy Right Chapel, which contain the mummified right hand of St. Stephen and an object of great devotion. Unfortunately during my visit, the chapel was closed… and fortunately a mass was in session, and I was in for a treat.

After spending some moments in the church, I started to make my way to the parliament which is within walking distance from St. Stephen.

The Parliament of Hungary

The Parliament of Hungary has 690 sumptuously decorated rooms; however these are only available as part of a guided tour, which is free for EU residents but with-a-fee for other visitors like me. The building stretches along The Danube, and with the weak sun towards the east of the city, it was the perfect moment for some very awesome photography.

Christmas Market at the Parliament House of Hungary

Right behind the Parliament, away from The Danube, a Christmas fair was in full swing, complete with food stalls and performances. I spent some happy minutes here enjoying the famous German sausage (it was really huge and juicy… yes yes I know that sounded dirty) and the warm wine.

Holocaust Memorial Centre

Fuzzed up from my festive mood at the Christmas fair, the sobering experience that was Holocaust Memorial Centre was indeed a clash to my holiday flow. While in most circumstances, such a memorial centre would have been awe inspiring, this Hungarian version was certainly lacking… unless you speak the language, or some of the other European language. Those who speaks only English like me will find the memorial experience to be disjointed and confusing. Despite the glowing review from fellow travelers, I wouldn’t really recommend this.

Tea at the Lukács Café

After a disappointing hour at the memorial, I checked for a place for coffee break and found Lukács Café. A luxurious cafe located along the leafy Andrassy Ut, it offers (what else) excellent coffee and pastries served by an English-speaking wait staff. It was relaxing, though pricey, so if you have that extra forints I would suggest this place to unwind. It was also from here I bought the Beigli, a local Christmas cake for my Hungarian colleague… a taste from home for her!

Hungarian State Opera House

My last must-do stop for the day was the Hungarian State Opera House, which is located along the metro line at a station aptly named “Opera”. There wasn’t a show on at that time, but a banner covered a part of the building… come to think of it, most of the art-related buildings I visited during my trip were mostly covered in some sort of banners, which is kinda disappointing as the more interesting bits of architecture were not visible.

Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square

It was close to 5 p.m. by then, and during that time of winter, the sky was already getting dark. Hurriedly I made my way to the Vörösmarty metro station, only to be greeted by yet another Christmas fair. This one is definitey more crowded than the last two I have come across. Themed as “Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square”, a large part of the crowded were centered around a performance stage. I joined the Hungarians in a spot of real folk culture and traditional Christmas music – videos here and here.

Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square

The performances were far from perfect, but it was heartfelt as evidently family members of the performers were in the crowd too! They were singing along and generally having a merry time, and I was glad to be part of the festivities. Of course, being the glutton I was am, I took in some traditional Hungarian food and warm mulled wine. There was just something about winter which made me hungrier than usual!

Giero at Andrássy út

After a quick fresh-me-up at the hostel, I went to a true Hungarian eatery last night and had the most mortifying experience ever. Despite what I read about it in my guidebook, I took the trouble to go all the way visit Giero at Andrássy útca. I won’t say anything about the food, except that it came out of a kitchen, served on a plate and very filling.

However, people come to this cavern because of its authentic Gypsy music – video here – and I certainly had an earful of it, as I am the only customer around. I know would feel bad if I don’t leave behind a hefty tip, seeing that the entire staff literally danced around me, so I did.

That marks the end of an eventful second day that I had in Budapest. I settled into a deep sleep with a contented heart :)

Click here for the full set of photos shot throughout the day.

The Adventure Begins 4 December

Prague Castle

Cesky Krumlov

Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Palace

Doesn’t this reminds you of this?

(Photo Credit: Jose Luis Ogea, Alisa Volkova & Occhiovivo)

Dreaming of Santorini

I have just been there last year, but undeniably the island has a pull on me. Should I go again? This time perhaps hopping over to Mykonos too. And it’s just after summer, so things will still be glorious but less crowded.

Though, I do wish that I have someone to go with me.

(Photos by dbmahlum)

The Seoul of Korea

At Jongmyo, Gwanghwamun

A mere week after I am back from Seoul, I am done with all the blog posts! My trip was blessed with many nice photos, especially so since we arrived during the week cherry blossom (purely coincidental, something which cannot be planned for). Here are the posts!

Enroute to Seoul, 14th April
A little on pre-trip preparation, and our little get together at Changi Airport and KLIA with my two travel buddies, Shafik & Cheryl

Day 1, 15th April
Arrival at Incheon International Airport, checking into the frill-free Beewon Guesthouse at Gwanghwamum area. Our first palace experience at Jongmyo, which was shrouded with cold weather due to the incessant rain (though, truth to be told, we liked it), and our first Seoulite nightlife at the famous Itaewon clubbing district.

Day 2, 16th April
Second day dawned rather early for us, and we headed to Gyeongbokgung (Palace of Shining Happiness) which was a must-see spot in Seoul. Then we headed for a rather disappointing shopping excursion to Namdaemun Market, before scaling up (via cable car) to Namsan Summit to visit the N Seoul Tower and the attached teddy bear museum. At my insistence, we also visited Myeong-Dong Catholic Cathedral where I had a DaVinci moment. The night ended with some trawling along the streets of Hongik University District

Day 3, 17th April
First road trip out of Seoul to Haenggung and at the World Heritage Site Hwaseong (Suwon Fortress), both located within Suwon City. It was a long but very interesting trip out especially so for the food, namely beef rib soup! Concluded the night at Itaewon again right to the dawn.

Day 4, 18th April
A rather slow day for us, as we all woke up really late. Visit the magnificent Seoul Zoo at Seoul Grand Park, where we spent many happy hours making funny faces at animals and buying useless toys (that’s me). Ended the night, albeit mistakenly, at Seoul Plaza, before heading back to Beewon for an early night. We were totally beat!

Day 5, 19th April
The rest the night before was a blessing, as we made our way to visit the Seodaemun Prison, a historically important site for Korea during the Japanese occupation year. We also brought out the sporty side of us as we sillied ourselves to the max Seoul World Cup Stadium, impromptu picnic included. The night ended with a peaceful and relaxing Hangang River Ferry Cruise, easily the best part of my trip.

Enroute back to Singapore, 20th April
I made my way back to Singapore first, as Cheryl and Shafik continued on their Korean adventure to Busan for a few more days.

All in all, a very satisfying trip though, truth to be told, Seoul is not one of the cities that I will visit again unlike London, Phuket or Santorini. I think I could do another post on a list of things I learned from my Korea trip… but first thing first. Here’s the link to view the blog posts under “The Seoul of Korea” series, and here’s the link for my Flickr collection on all photos taken during this trip.

Gamsa hamiida!

The Seoul of Korea: Enroute Back to Singapore

My last morning in Seoul dawned bright and early. Despite my somewhat early slumber the night before, I was still a little groggy. Careful not to wake up the slumbering Cheryl and Shafik, whose train to Busan was not to depart till after 10 a.m., I packed my things for the final time. After hugs of goodbyes and wishes of bon voyage, I was out of the door. I knew then I will miss my two travel buddies, but I also take heart that I will see them again back in Singapore in less than a week.

Views of Gwanghwamun

The early morning walk in Gwanghwamun area towards Jongno-san Ga station was very refreshing. I was, once again, mesmerised by this cultural district where modernity and traditional lives fused together. I was glad that I have chosen this district as my lodging of choice. Surrounded by palaces and temples of ancient times, I felt like a royalty myself.

Towards Incheon International Airport

The train ride towards Incheon International Airport took much longer than expected. From where I was, I needed to ride to Ghimpo International Airport (despite the name, it only serves domestic flight), before changing to an express train towards Incheon. The entire trip took no less than 1.5 hours. I was kinda suffocated by the amount of black suit cramped into the train cars, since it was the peak hour of a working day. But, seriously, Korean men could afford to have a little more variety on their suits (afterall, it’s a privilege to be able to wear such stuff on a daily basis during winter) than various shades of black and grey.

Incheon International Airport

It was only now when I took in the sights that were Incheon Airport, which was a culmination on all things modern about Korea. The infrastructure and architectural designer were impressive, rivaling that of Changi and KLIA. The only thing I could think of lacking was the “warmth” – human traffic. The service staff attending to tourists like me were on hand and impeccable with their service – with a smile. From the guy at the train ticket counter who topped up my now-deficient T-money, to the driver who offered me a ride on his luggage buggy, to the officer who pointed me to the right terminal for Malaysian Airlines, all were rendered with the famous Korean hospitality.

Food Court Fare at Incheon International Airport

Had my final Korean meal at the airport too. The price was expectedly exorbitant for the bland quality of fare I have ordered, but oh well… what should I expect? I was not about to shell out more Wons for a upmarket meals at some of the Japanese and Western eateries I saw at the aiport.

Incheon International Airport

Soon, it was time for me to board my flight, which was to transit at KLIA (was a breeze, I started blogging at the Starbucks outlet to while away the 3-hours waiting time) before heading back to Changi. The flight was unceremonious, except that… I cried while reading my holiday book The Gift. Kinda embarassing, and thank goodness there was nobody sitting next to me.

I arrived earlier than expected at Singapore, about 20 minutes earlier. By the time I cleared the custom, shopped at DFS, collected my luggage and cabbed home, it was just slightly before 9 p.m. Grateful I was to be back on familiar ground and to be back into the normal grind of life, but I kept having the feeling that I left half my heart behind…

… in the form of two friends whom I got to know much better through the trip, both good and bad. Another step upwards in our friendships. I am sure of that.

Click here for the final set of photos I took from this Korea trip.