Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Has travelling brought you any inspiration?

The main advantages of travelling are to be able to see more of the world, to bear witness to beautiful sights that one would have otherwise not believed in its existence, to learn more about the culture of another country, to take that Instagram photo that you have always wanted to and for most of us, to just chill and relax in a bid to ditch all the stress and worries back at home.

But on a more personal level, has travelling brought you any inspiration? It certainly has for me! At the start of my European trip, I often came home with a feeling of dismay as it seemed that there was nothing but my memory to reminisce about the wonderful time and beautiful places that I had visited - and I am a very forgetful person! What about photos taken during the trip? Well, yes, I did take some photos but those photos were unable to evoke the particular emotions or feelings that I felt at that very instance during my travel and certainly did not do justice to what I have seen with my very own eyes .

Hoping to dispel any further feelings of regrets, I decided to venture deeper into one of my hobbies - drawing & painting! I have always loved arts since young but have never had the opportunity to spend time and effort on it. I soon started attending drawing classes in the hope that one day I will be able to draw and paint the beautiful places that I had visited in a way that described how I felt at that instance. For someone who has not drawn or paint anything in the past three decades, the learning curve was real steep! It literally felt like I was a toddler again, holding a pencil to doodle for the very first time! The good thing was that learning to draw and paint has somehow allowed me to view travelling in another perspective. I learned to be more observant about the places I was visiting, to take note of the wide variety of color found in nature, of the extent of color contrast, of how the foreground, middle ground and back ground created the synergic effect to create the beautiful scene. I started seeing the places that I am visiting as a form of art! I finally understood why some of the most famous pieces of arts by the renowned artists were done as they were travelling to different places! Travelling can be such an inspiration for arts!

Drawing of a scene from √Čtretat

Drawing and painting was certainly a good way to capture the mood and beauty of the places I had visited during my travels. However, to draw and paint a good piece of work requires time and the need to bring along the many pieces of art materials for my trip had slowly became a hassle. I needed something else that is hassle-free and able to capture what I needed to capture in the shortest time possible. This was when I thought about my other hobby - photography! I had been taking photographs all this while but I have never stepped out of the use of the “auto” mode of the camera - in other words, I have been letting the camera decide all the camera settings all this while and has never taken control of how I want my photos to turn out!

Photo taken at pont de Bir-Hakeim

In my attempt to acquire a deeper knowledge of photography, I started to subscribe to the YouTube channels of some of the famous photographers and learnt about how to perfect the composition of the photos, how to adjust the various camera settings to capture the different types of photographs and to get more inspiration from them to better my photography skills. I also started acquiring photography self-help books and most importantly, I started to bring my camera out more often and experiment using the other modes on my camera (and to stay away from the “auto mode”). It was certainly a long process! The ability to appreciate every scene as a piece of art, acquired through my drawing and painting classes, has certainly enabled me to pick up photography much easier than I had anticipated. Although my photography skills has improved much with time, there are still more that I can learn about in order to bring my skills to the next level. The desire to capture the marvelous sights seen on my travelling journey is certainly a great motivation for me to continue perfecting my photography skills!

Finally, other than arts and photography, travelling has also inspired me to set up this blog - to combine words, arts and photography to fully capture the beauty, mood and emotions of all the wonderful moments in my travelling journey!

So, has travelling brought you any inspiration? 

Friday, 26 January 2018

#random_thoughts....... Istanbul

  • We had only allocated 4 days to explore Istanbul and we felt that a much longer duration is required to explore all that Istanbul has to offer....

  • Whenever we walk past the group of people fishing on the Galata bridge, we will wonder if the numerous fishing lines ever get entangled...

  • Istanbul is a photographer's haven, where a mix of the many charismatic historic images with the subtle signs of its evolution to a modern metropolis brings about a refreshing new outlook to this fascinating city!

  • We have never seen such majestic mosques before!

  • The Grand Bazaar is a shopper's paradise and a shopper's husband's worst nightmare ;P

  • It is interesting to observe how the locals in the sales or food&beverage businesses usually reach out to customers with the same standard question "Hello, where are you from?" - I find it a great way to show their sincerity in wanting to know more about their customers and a great method of creating opportunities for small talks :)
  • My husband and I felt very much at peace while touring Istanbul and we have always wondered if the daily five times call to prayer (ezan) has anything to do with it :D
  • The Turkish tea usually given after a meal taste so refreshing and I am slowly converting from a coffee-lover to a Turkish tea lover :D

Feel free to add on to this list in the comment section below :)

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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Dear Diary.....Istanbul II

Dear Diary,

Continuing from where I left off on my previous diary entry, I shall now move on to another aspect of Istanbul that had left a deep impression on us - the food! Istanbul is without a doubt a food haven and it was a lure that was so hard to resist for food-junkies like me and my husband! Furthermore, the lower cost of living (relative to that in Europe) meant that we could indulge in the local food to our heart’s content and also get to interact more with the locals during mealtime! That is what we call killing two birds with one stone!

Before arriving in Istanbul, my husband and I would always associate Turkish food with doner kebab. Oh boy, we soon realized how ignorant we were when we were presented with the wide variety of food in Istanbul! From the interactions with the restaurant owners/chefs to the taste of the food and even to the plating of the dishes, it was very obvious that the locals take great pride in their food. Much as we wanted to learn more about the Turkish cuisine that is central to the lives of the Turks, the short stay in Istanbul had literally made it impossible to become an expert in Turkish food all at once. We were also faced with the challenge of not knowing how to differentiate Turkish cuisine from Greek cuisine, both of which shared many similarities. What we do know for sure is that we had gained weight post-trip from all that eating in Istanbul! I shall now let the photos do all the talking...

A cart selling Simit (a circular bread with sesame seeds) - common breakfast item in Istanbul

Appetizer: Hummus with Olive oil (left) and tomato-based Acili ezme (right)

Chicken Shish Kebab with Pilaf rice

Beef stew that literally melts in the mouth...

Tavuk Kiremit (chicken casserole)

Grilled chicken with rice

Durum (Turkish wrap)

Turkish tea after meals

The complimentary Turkish delight that got us hooked!

The whole range of Turkish delights in the Spice market

Carts selling roasted chestnuts - supper anyone?

Mealtime is when most of the social bonding occurs worldwide and this is also very apparent in Istanbul. In almost all of the eatery that we went, the owner would try to make it a point to get to know their customers. Simple interactions like asking where we are from, sincere recommendations and explanations about the food and even kind gestures like offering the Turkish tea/Turkish delights post-meals make the whole dining experience a pleasant one. Some even went a step further by asking how our trip was and even provided recommendations and directions to where to visit next. Their hospitality was kind of overwhelming in a good way!

This first trip to Istanbul has truly been a wonderful one and we would definitely love to visit other parts of Turkey when the opportunity arises in the future!

Yours Truly,

Related post:
Dear Diary.....Istanbul

Friday, 19 January 2018

Dear Diary.....Istanbul

Dear Diary,

It was with great anticipation that my husband and I embarked on our journey to Istanbul. Although it is technically not within the European region, but well, we did explore the European side of Istanbul, hence the inclusion here ;P

There were so much that Istanbul has to offer but for this entry, I will be focusing on the highlight of the trip - the visit to the mosques! Having mainly only seeing cathedrals while travelling within Europe, the sight of the grand and majestic mosques were quite refreshing to both of us. I can still remember how funny we must have appeared to the locals when we both stood rooted to the ground, with mouths wide open, staring in awe at the grand Hagia Sophia when we alighted at the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. We have seen some mosque in our previous travels, however, this was the first time that we came across not one, but two awe-inspiring mosques located within walking distance of each other - the famous Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque of Istanbul!

Blue Mosque

During this trip, we visited Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque and Little Hagia Sophia Mosque. Hagia Sophia was once a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica which was later converted to an imperial mosque and is currently a museum in Istanbul, hence traces of the Christian faith could be found in this former mosque. When we were there, it was a pity that half of the buidling was under reconstruction. However, despite this, it was still a pleasure to walk through the different available zones and admire the brillant architecture and the beautiful mosaics that adorned this magnificent place!

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque and Little Hagia Sophia Mosque were all functional mosques and Little Hagia Sophia Mosque was the smallest of the three. All three mosques have very charming exterior with its noticeable dome rooftop. The interior of the mosques was also very exquisite with its carpeted prayer hall and mosaic filled walls. The interior was definitely a great piece of art and we could experience a sense of peace and calmness as we walked about in the mosques!

Entrance to Suleymaniye Mosque

All in all, the beautiful architecture has certainly left a deep impression on us during this trip to Istanbul. We certainly hope to explore more of Turkey in the future when the opportunity arises. Till then, let me reminisce about the wonderful time we spent in Istanbul!

Yours truly,

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Guided tours or free-and-easy style of travelling?

There are many ways to travel - couch surfing, work and travel, joining guided tours, family stay or just going the free-and-easy way. However, for this post, I will be concentrating on just guided tours versus free-and-easy styled tours.

My husband and I have done both types of travelling for our various travels and both of us preferred the free-and-easy style of travelling. This type of travel allowed us to have the freedom to choose the places that we would want to explore and the flexibility to alter the itinerary according to our own pace and needs. We would also have more time to interact with the locals while travelling and this is definitely one of the main perks of going free-and-easy. However, free-and-easy travel is definitely not the easiest type of travel as there is a need for the traveler to do a lot of research on the place of interest - i.e. find out about the mode of transport, the currency used, locate good restaurants, entrance fee and operating hours of tourist attraction sites, the dos and don’ts of the region and many more. Despite the hassle, the need to do some research on the places we are travelling to allows us to have a more in-depth knowledge of the culture and history of the said place - which is why this is our preferred mode of travelling!

Guided tours are not without its perks. For one, the responsibility of coordinating and following the planned itinerary would rest on an experience guide who should be very familiar with the travel destinations - and travelers would just have to relax and enjoy the trip. However, for us, very often we feel that guided tours tend to be a very rushed trip due to two main reasons - (1) the travel company would try to pack in as many places to visit as possible in order to make the trip more worthwhile and (2) there is a need to follow the strict planned itinerary so as to covered all the places within the given time frame of the trip. This often resulted in travelers having only a very short duration to explore the main tourist attractions sites in each destination before heading to the next destination. Weird as it may seem, even though on guided tours, where our guide will provide us with relevant historic information on the places that we are visiting, this touch-and-go approach of sightseeing often leaves us with a touch of uncertainty as to whether we have really experienced what all these places have to offer. Throughout the whole trip, there are also minimal interactions with the locals as most of the time, we would be hanging out with our tour mates, guide and driver. This is also why my husband and I, being firm believers that interaction with the locals is a must to truly understand the culture and lifestyle of a place, still prefer the free-and-easy style of travelling.

Of course, there were also instances during our travel that we did a combination of these two types of travels. You might be wondering why would we want to choose to incorporate guided tours in our travel plans when we have a stronger preference for the free-and-easy approach? The reason boils down to two main constraints - time constraints and transportation constraints. Many of these guided tours that we opted for were guided day trips out of the city we were in as there is a limit to where the public transport could take us to and these guided tours eliminates our transportation constraints! The best example of how a guided tour has helped us tide over both time and transportation constraints would be our trip to Iceland where my husband and I decided to go for a 3 days Golden Circle guided tour + 2 days of free-and-easy travelling at Reykjavik (capital of Iceland). As we could only afford to spend 5 days in Iceland, there was a time constraint to cover all the beautiful Icelandic sights in such a short period of time and we were not confident of being able to achieve it on our own. Furthermore, we were not familiar with the Icelandic terrains nor were we confident of driving during the winter conditions then, thus transportation to the various beautiful sights on our own was near impossible. Hence, this combination allowed us to explore the fascinating and gorgeous landscapes of Iceland safely and timely while still having the flexibility of exploring Reykjavik city at our own pace. It was definitely one of the more memorable and fun trips that we have had thus far!

Well, while free-and-easy style of travelling might be the best option for us, there are also many other travelling styles and the important thing is to choose the style that best suit your needs!

So, what is your preferred travelling style and why? Feel free to share with us in the comment section below! :)

Thursday, 11 January 2018

#random_thoughts....... Amsterdam

So I have decided to include this "#random_thoughts" section to follow at the end of the diary posts for each destination to just note down some of the random thoughts that I had while on that particular trip :)

Do add on in the comment section below if you have had any other random thoughts while touring the mentioned city... would love to hear a collection of #random_thoughts from everyone!  :)

  • We have been to Amsterdam twice and both were just a short weekend trip (i.e. Friday - Sun or Sat - Mon) and we felt that Amsterdam is an excellent place to spend the weekends! :) 

  • There is a certain charm to the canal houses in Amsterdam, but I have always wondered why do some of them looked slanted and skewed...hmmm...

  • With an abundance of yummy food (all the mouthwatering pastries, cheese, stroopwafel, dutch pancakes etc), how do the locals stay slim....I would really love to know their secret! 

  • It is really windy in Amsterdam! 
  • Amsterdam Schiphol airport is actually below sea level o_O
  • Wooden shoes may seem like a peculiar idea but I absolute admire the ingenuity of the person who came up with this idea in Holland when I heard of its many functions: (a) protection against any falling objects or the treading of animals' hoofs, (b) keeping the feet warm in winter and cool in summer and (c) providing good support to the feet and hence a healthy posture and many more...

  • There are bicycles everywhere! :)

  • I have always wondered how does a cannabis ice cream taste like.....

Related post:

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Dear Diary.....Amsterdam

Dear Diary,

My husband and I have chosen Amsterdam as the destination for our final trip of the year. It would be our second trip there and why did we choose to go back to a place where we have been to before, you would say. Well, there were many reasons for this decision. First and foremost, the lure of a fascinating and romantic light festivals spread out across the beautiful canals of Amsterdam was too great to resist. Secondly, I had always regretted not making a trip out of Amsterdam to visit their iconic windmills. And well, most importantly, the cost of visiting Amsterdam in winter is much more reasonable when compared to the other more popular destinations.

How did this trip fared as compared to the previous one that we embarked on a few years back? Well, having visited the main tourist attractions places the previous time, we could go at a very slow pace this time round and really take in the beauty of Amsterdam! I have never known that I can obtain such peace and serenity in my mind just be admiring the Amsterdam canals and its surroundings - the gentle waves of the canal water hitting the boats as they sailed through, the birds flying about and chirping the sound of freedom, the locals being one with their bicycles as they travelled down the streets alongside the canals and not forgetting the many couples taking a romantic stroll along the canals. Such is life! Reminder to self: slow down and enjoy what nature has to offer!

Amsterdam Canal

The light festival in Amsterdam was well, not as hyped up as we had thought it would be and we found it slightly too commercial for our liking. Nevertheless, it was interesting to sit on the benches on the banks of the canals and look at the trail of boats catered to bring people along the canals for the light festival. I observed that there were generally two types of people on board these boats - those who were glazing out of the window, with a glass of wine or champagne in their hand and slowly taking in the beauty of the trail, which was in strike contrast to those who were frantically trying to get a good photo of the light displays - it felt as though a still movie and an action movie were being screened at the same time!

It was also with great joy and excitement that we managed to travel out of Amsterdam to Zaanse Schans, a neighbourhood of Zaandam which was famous for its collection of windmills and houses. It certainly was an eye-opener to be able to know more about how things work in these functional windmills. The view of the windmills spread out across the river bank was certainly a scenic one and I could easily just sit and watch it for the whole day! I guess this type of tranquility and serenity can only be found outside of the major cities.

Zaanse Schans

All in all, this second trip to Amsterdam has been an enjoyable and fulfilling one. As of always, I am very glad and grateful for this chance to bear witness to the beauty of Amsterdam regardless of the seasons or the time of the year. With a recharged body, mind and spirit, it is now time to face the challenges ahead of us in the upcoming new year!

Yours truly,

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

What does travelling mean to you at different stages of your life?

I love to travel and I am sure many people out there are just as into travelling as I am. But, have you ever stop and wondered what is with this obsession with travelling?

For me, the meaning of travelling has been evolving over the years.

When I was younger, I do not really spend much time with my parents as they were both working. Travelling would mean that I would have my parents for the entire week or so, bonding and spending quality time together. It didn’t matter where we went and all I cared about was the chance to spend the entire day with my family.

During my schooling years, peer pressure fed my desire to travel more. After every school holidays, friends around me would be talking about the interesting places that they had visited during the holidays and the desire to see all these mentioned places with my very own eyes became the motivation for my travels. The need to tick off the checklist of places to visit would became the main mission and ultimately determine the places that I would travel to. It was like a treasure hunt and there would be a great sense of accomplishment as more of the checklists were ticked off.

When I started working, travelling became a way for me to escape from the mundane routine of work. I would travel at regular intervals (ie every 4-6 months) and these trips would act as a way for me to recharge and prepare myself for the next wave of stress and challenges to be faced at work. During this period of time, the places that I chose to visit would be those that offers scenic views that calms the mind, abundance of delicious food to fuel the body and variety of shops that I can shop to my hearts contents - basically places where I can let loose and enjoy the freedom.

Now that I am staying in Europe and having more time to myself, travelling to me has taken yet another new form and meaning. It was only when I slowed down my pace of life and started having time to think through my life journey that I realized that I had not learned much from the travels that I had done previously. If I am asked about the culture and history of the places that I had travel thus far, I would not have much to say. because all this while, I had been too focused on following the strict itinerary of buying the things that I wanted to buy, taking a selfie in front of the main tourist attraction places without making an effort to know more about those places, eating the food that I had wanted to and embracing the freedom of roaming about carefree in another country.

It was with this realisation that my motivation to travel started to change - I wanted to know more about the world, to learn about the different cultures and way of life as well as to experience the different cuisines all over the world. In order to do so, I had to be flexible with my itinerary, to slow down the pace of my travels, to observe and learn, to interact with the locals, to eat where the locals eat and to walk where the locals go.

After spending a good few years here in Europe and with this new style of travelling in place, I wouldn't say that I have the full understanding of the way of life in different countries in Europe, but I am now able to appreciate and embrace the different cultures and lifestyle in the various European countries that I have been to. Observing our surroundings from the eyes of the locals had certainly changed my perspective on many things and had made travelling even more interesting than ever!

So, what does travelling mean to you at different stages of your life?