Category Archives: Travelogy

Traveling opens the mind, allowing one to explore unimaginable possibilities and tempting risks. Dare you take the leap?

The One With The Village Radicals Tour At West Village & Greenwich Village

Christopher Street at West Village

The West Village made a natural starting point for the first of my many walking tours, since I was staying at Chelsea. This was also where the fictional Becky Bloomwood (of the Shopaholic series) lived with her then boyfriend Luke Brandon, and I was eager to experience the bohemian district in all its glory.

Read More →

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!

Read More →

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.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

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!

The One With The Ten Years Visa

Do you believe in dreams?

Ever since my mom moved to the States, and after watching endless reruns of FRIENDS, I had always wanted to go to the New York City. But the fear of the visa application process, of being rejected, of being blacklisted, had always put me off.

Until this year.

An opportunity came along at work to visit our US rep office, also located at the Big Apple. So I took a deep breath and plunge myself into the deep (but effective) bureaucracy of the United States General Consulate.

It wasn’t smooth flowing unlike the majority of people. After rounds of preparing the necessary documents for the application, I waited for some time at the embassy for the biometric printing and interview… only to be told that they needed more time to review my application. The yellow letter they gave me was ominous looking enough… it listed a multitude of (implied) reasons on why my visa might not be approved.

That, plus a warning that travel arrangement should not be confirmed at that time. By then it was too late; I had already bought my plane tickets.

So I prayed. And waited. For that faithful phone call. And that package delivery.

The whole process made me anxious beyond belief. So much so that I even dreamed of the entire process. In my dream, my visa was approved with a ten years validity. I awoke from that dream with sweat on my forehead and my heart racing.

Don’t be silly, I told myself. You will be lucky to be granted a visa for that ten-days visit, never mind a ten year period.

It came today. My passport. With the much-prized visa.

The One With The Ten Years Visa

Yes, you saw that right. It was a visa valid for the next ten years. For the next 120 months, I am free to go to the States anytime I want, be it for leisure or business.

I was elated beyond measure. New York City, my mom, my fantasy… here I come.

If You Have Ten Million Dollars… And A Dream Job

One day.

The clock rings at 7 a.m. You open one eye, hit the snooze button, and sleep on. You repeat the process a couple of times more until you realise you will be late for work. So you scramble your way around the house and got into office in the nick of time… to find yourself totally exhausted and longing for the day to end, when you have not even open your emails yet.

Yet another day.

You open your eyes, looked at the daylight in wonder, and it is not even 7 a.m. yet. Whistling your way getting ready to work, you mentally build a checklist of things to do when you get to work. By the time your Outlook loads your emails, you are all fired up to get your to-do list crossed and checked, and to end the day feeling all contented and productive.

Sounds familiar?

Of course it does. We all have our good and bad days at work. Sometimes we couldn’t wait to get into office, yet on other days we literally have to drag our sorry asses to work.

The question begged to be answered would be – are you doing what you enjoy? If not, why are you doing it? If yes, why were there bad days at work?

An interesting way to look at this is… if you have ten million dollars today, and taking rest & relaxation out of the equation, what would you be doing?

We work because of money. And if money is no longer a factor, it would be deeply insightful to know what you would be doing, apart from resting and relaxing.

For me? I will travel the world in no hurry, and blog about my tales in leisure. I will share what I found on my journeys, so my friends can benefit from my experience. I will make new friends all over the world, and will be proud to call myself a seasoned traveler.

The Dancing House in Prague

I can work for Lonely Planet. Not because of the money, but because I could.

What would you do if you have ten million dollars? What would your dream job be?

Budapest Day 3 – At Széchenyi GyógyfürdÅ‘ (Széchenyi Bath), City Park, Millenary Monument (Ezeréves emlékmű), The Great Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga) & Enroute to Vienna

Breakfast at Lipótváros on a rainy morning in Budapest

The third, and final day in Budapest dawned all wet and gloomy as the first rainy day of my Europe trip hit me head on. I needed to get my train ticket to Vienna, so I was in Lipótváros area having a nice cuppa while waiting for the MAV Passenger Centre to open. It was quite nice actually, to watch the (Hungarian) world go by while I nurse for ravishing stomach (it is the weather).

At Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő (Széchenyi Medicinal Bath)

My first stop for the day was the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, which was located at the City Park, the green lung of Budapest. The Széchenyi complex is immense, with a dozen thermal baths and a couple of swimming pools, located both indoor and outdoor. The place was outfitted to be a spa or some sort, and it didn’t disappoint.

At Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő (Széchenyi Medicinal Bath)

I thought heaven is where you go topless in the biting chill of winter, soak into a thermal pool of warm spring water, surrounded by historical monuments and laughing people. I know I should have taken photo while I was in the pool, but it was just too damn cold! Luckily I did that a video showing the place in motion; it’s really like heaven.

I even managed to book an hour of Hungarian massage, which was done by a lady and was surprisingly relaxing. Trust me, after soaking in the warm water, a massage is the icing of the cake. I almost didn’t want to leave if not for the 400 forints in encouragement if you leave within two hours. Click here for more photos taken at the Széchenyi Bath.

At Hungarian Agricultural Museum (Magyar Mezogazdasagi Muzeum)

After the thermal bath session and a heavy lunch, I was all ready to explore the City Park. First stop was the Hungarian Agricultural Museum. This rather esoteric museum is housed in the stunning baroque wing of Vajdahunyad Castle. This was purportedly the largest agricultural museum in whole of Europe, but was closed during the time of my visit… not that I will really visit anyway, heh.

JÃ¥k Chapel

Right opposite the Vajdahunyad Castle was the absolutely beautiful yet tiny JÃ¥k Chapel. Its intricate portal was copied from the 13th century Abbey Church in Western Transdanubia. Just look at the entryway, and the carving, the statues, the hidden message… I was definitely having another Dan Brown moment!

Vajdahunyad Castle (Vajdahunyad-vár)

Of course, there was the Vajdahunyad Castle itself. Also known as the Vajdahunyad-vár in Hungarian, it is actually a copy in part of a castle in Transylvania, Romania, that is also called Vajdahunyad, though it is also a display of different architectural styles: Romanic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Originally it was made from cardboard and wood for the millennial exhibition in 1896 but it became so popular that it was rebuilt from stone and brick.

The Anonymous Statue at City Park

The statue of the hooded figure across the castle is that of Anonymous, the unknown chronicler at the court of King Bella III who wrote a history of the early Magyars. It was said that writers, both real and aspirants, touches the shiny pen tip for inspiration.

The Statue of George Washington at City Park

A walk around the castle revealed a familiar face. The statue of George Washington was erected here in City Park in 1906 by Hungarian-American. Look at the symbolic eagle taking flight. The combination of the man and his foul (bird?) made a strangely compelling photography target.

Timewheel at Procession Square

The Timewheel in Procession Square on the park’s western edge is the world’s largest hourglass, standing 8m high and weighing in at 60 tonnes. The “sands” flows from the upper to lower chamber for one year, finishing exactly at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Millenary Monument (Ezeréves emlékmű)

The Millenary Monument stood in the centre of Hosok tere, with a 36m-high pillar backed by colonnades to the right and left. Topping the pillar is Angel Gabriel, holding the Hungarian crown and cross. At the base are Arpad and the six other Magyar chieftains.

Millenary Monument (Ezeréves emlékmű)

The 14 statues in the colonnades are of rulers and statesmen: from King Stephen on the lefy to Lahos Kossuth on the right. The four allegorical figures atop: Work & Prosperity, War, Peace, Knowledge & Glory.

The Great Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga)

My last stop for the day was the Great Synagogue. Built in 1859, according to the designs of Frigyes Feszi, the synagogue contains both Romantic-style and Moorish architecture elements. It was renovated largely with private donations.

The Great Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga)

The synagogue is the largest Jewish house of worship in the world outside New York City and can seat 3000. That is indeed true, coz I actually counted the number of seats. It was hard not to be humbled by the sheer grandeur of the place packed into such small a place.

The Jewish Museum

In the annexe of the synagogue is the Jewish Museum, which contains objects related to the religious and everyday life of the Jewish community. I spent almost an hour here, immersed in the life cycle of the Jews, from birth to death, outlined in painstaking details with handwritten notes, artifacts and photos.

The Holocaust Memorial

On the synagogue’s north side, the Holocaust Memorial stands over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944-45. On the leaves of the metal “tree of life” are the family names of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims.

Enroute to Vienna

Right after this, I rushed back to the hostel to collect my (fortunately) packed backpack, and made my way to the train station. The journey from Budapest to Vienna took only five hours, a breathe of relief from my horrifying experience of Prague – Budapest. To top of the experience, I had the entire cabin to myself the whole journey! Watching the landscape of Hungary flew by while listening to Norah Jones was an experience to beyond.

Wombat's The City Hostel - The Place

Too soon I arrived at Wien Westbahnhof, the Vienna West Station. My chapter in Vienna was about to begin!

Click here for the full set of photos taken during my third, and final day in Budapest.

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.