Friday, 24 August 2018

The Art of Travels - Part II (Chartres Light Festival)

It will be September soon and whenever this month approaches, I will be reminded of how much fun I had at the Chartres Light Festival 2017, a night where the creative use of lights decorated the city of Chartres and turned it into one giant art masterpiece! Chartres Light Festival is into its 15th year this year, with the first light show being showcased in 2003. Since then, every year, the city will provide more than 200 consecutive evenings of light shows from April to October, with the main light festival event being held on a particular Saturday in September.

A lovely and scenic view in Chartres!

Of all the light festivals that I had attended, I was particularly impressed by the grand scale of the light festival in Chartres! With more than 20 monuments and major attractions in the city being illuminated with artistic lights and music, it literally felt like the whole city had come alive and partying alongside the tons of visitors from all over the world who had specially made a trip down for the event!

My husband and I had planned a weekend trip to catch the light festival at Chartres and we even managed to coax some friends to join us for the event. We arrived at Chartres train station in the late morning and proceeded to head out to do some exploration of the city after dumping our bags in the hotel. It felt like a normal small city in France, with little or no hints of the exciting events to come once night falls. Our first stop was to Chartres Cathedral, the famous landmark in Chartres. The cathedral, built in the Gothic and Romanesque styles, has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and I could see the reason for it as we got closer to it. With its towering height, well preserved exterior, and impressive stained glass window, its majestic facade has undoubtedly drawn many visitors towards it!

Chartres Cathedral

The interior of Chartres Cathedral
Beautiful stained glass window

The other side of Chartres Cathedral

After exploring Chartres cathedral, we continued on our relaxing stroll through the city. Chartres is really a beautiful place to be in, with a good mix of the old and new building facades, the small alleys lined with cute cafes, the lively market place and the numerous well preserved monuments for visitors to explore! While walking, we chanced upon Saint Pierre church, whose massive and impressive outlook caught my attention immediately! The church was huge and we had a great time admiring the stained glass windows and the fine details carved out all over this beautiful architecture!

Cute cafe lining the small alley

Lively market place

Saint Pierre church

We decided to head back to the hotel for a short rest after lunch so as to conserve our energy for the light festival later at night! While walking back to the hotel, we noticed that the locals were starting to set up the props for the night event later on and it just make us all the more excited about it!!

After what seems like a particularly short rest (we could hardly rest as we were too hyped up for the event!), it was time for the city to come to live and the light festival started off with a bang! The first show of the night was held right smack in the city center where two men stood on a platform and showcased a duel dance routine involving electric currents, catching everyone’s attention with its catchy music and mesmerizing illumination produced by the currents! The dance was both horrifying and exciting at the same time due to the danger and excitement of incorporating electric currents into the show! Although there was a huge crowd gathered all around the platform, I was totally caught up in the captivating show, with no recollection of what was going on around me! It was a brilliant start to the night’s event!

The electric current dance routine...

Once the show ended, it was free for all to wander around the city and explore the many monuments that had been illuminated with laser lights. I have never been this excited as I keep switching from staring at the light displays in awe to frantically clicking away on my camera! To me, I could hardly fathom how it was possible to inject so much details onto the seemingly ordinary architectures with just the use of laser lights alone. The buildings all looked absolutely different from how it was during the day and I was certainly very impressed with this effect! It was also definitely a night to remember for a photo enthusiast like me! It is time to let the photos do the talking...

Hope that you have enjoyed the photos and be dazzled by the impressive light displays that I had captured of Chartres Light Festival 2017. If you are interested to head down to Chartres for the light festival, it will be on 15 September 2018. Have fun, take lots of photos and do share with us! Cheers!

Friday, 17 August 2018

The Art of Travels - Part I (Bardalo II)

My own attempt at being creative ;P

I have always been fascinated by all kinds of artworks and this fascination continues on even while I am travelling! To me, art and travelling goes hand in hand and art is another aspect from which I can obtain a better understanding of the culture of the place that I am visiting! Art, is in itself, a creative form and in order to appreciate it, one would have to think out of the box and in a rather creative manner. I found this approach relevant and helpful when trying to understand a new place when travelling. It helped me to see that new place from all corners and opened up new perspectives which makes travelling all the more interesting!

Street art in Singapore

Amazing art on the buildings in Paris!

I have recently came to appreciate street art and some of these street arts that I came across while travelling had left me dumbstruck and just in awe by what was captured by my eyes. Since then, it had become a game of treasure hunt whereby I find contentment in being able to see the beauty hidden in our surroundings! Art is everywhere and if you keep a lookout, you would be able to find it in the least expected places.

Art found in the least expected place, Singapore

Of all the various street artists, there is this particular street artist whose works I had started to follow and he is none other than Bardalo II, a Portuguese artist. It was his latest project “Big Trash Animals” that had caught my attention. In this project, he basically collects large waste materials (such as damaged bumpers, burnt garbage cans, tires, and other appliances) and assembles them to form a huge realistic animal form. Bardalo II started this project to draw attention to the current problem of waste production, where there is a generation of a huge amount of materials that are not reused resulting in pollution that ultimately has a negative impact on planet Earth!

Bardalo II's "Red Squirrel" in Dublin

Bardalo II’s artworks are hard to miss due to the sheer size of the mural and his artworks are displayed in many countries (which resulted in a personal goal of trying to locate as many of his artworks as possible while travelling). I find his artworks mesmerising mainly because it really takes a lot of creativity to create an animal mural out of things that had been deemed as trash and doing it in a way that makes people forget about everything else but just to focus on the beauty of the artwork.

Bardalo II's "Big Racoon" in Lisbon

Bardalo II's "Plastic Fox" in Lisbon

Bardalo II's "The Beaver" in Paris (Note: the man in the photo as reference to the size of the artwork)

Hope that you have enjoyed the artworks presented in this post. Do look forward to the upcoming coverage of street art found in the various different countries! Cheers! :)

Friday, 10 August 2018

To travel or not to travel, that is the question to ask thy wallet...or not?

To many, travelling means having to fork out large amount of money which resulted in them not travelling as often as they would like to. But is that true? Is there really a need to spend a large portion of your savings on your travels? Are there ways to get the most bang for your buck so that you do not have to compromise on your travelling experiences? Well, my husband and I do have some tricks up our sleeves that has enabled us to keep our travel spending in check and we would like to share them with you!

Prior to the trip
In a typical scenario, one would usually follow the sequence of first deciding on the travel destination, followed by online booking of the relevant flights and accommodation and ta da, the trip is set! Or is that so? Well, you could actually save quite a bit if you tweak that routine slightly.

For us, we will “F.A.R.T.” prior to the trip to make sure that we are getting the best travel deal possible! Wait, what? No, I know what you are thinking of but that is not the case, it is just an acronym for “flexibility”, “apps”, “research” and “time”.

It is a common practise to fix a travel destination so that the planning that follows can be done seamlessly. However, by being fixated on a particular destination, one would be subjected to a limited range of flights and accommodation available and no matter how costly they may be, one would have no choice but to make do with this high cost.

It is a common knowledge that every country has its own high and low tourist season, and generally the flight and accommodation will be cheaper during the low season. But why do we still want to travel to places during their peak tourist season? Wouldn’t it seem like a better deal to be able to enjoy all the perks of travelling to a foreign land without the need to fight for space with tons of tourists and better still, at a lower cost?

Although it may be true that there are many alluring reasons for the influx of tourists to particular travel destinations at specific timing of the year, there are still many wonders to be uncovered during the low tourist season of the same said destination. Furthermore, there might be other even more interesting activities awaiting you during the low season! With the world so big, saturated with many different places to travel to and explore, by exercising flexibility in your travel expectations as well as travel destination choices, you will find that you have actually opened up a lot more cost-saving options!

Travel goal: To be as flexible as the Tower of Pisa ;P

With a change in mindset, my husband and I will usually select “anywhere” as our destination on the flight booking apps when planning for a trip. This will generate a list of destinations for us to have a rough gauge of the travelling cost to these different destinations. If a particular flight booking app does not have the “anywhere” option, we would manually key in several different destinations and compare the travelling cost.

To step up the game, we would also be flexible in our travelling dates by playing around with the travel to and fro dates within a two week time frame. You would be surprised by how great a difference in the transport cost travelling a day or two earlier or later could make! With just these two methods alone, we could then make an informed decision on the most cost-effective destination to travel to for that particular time of the year.

However, things does not end here as we will usually shortlist two to three destinations from the list of destinations generated. Thereafter, we will use the hotel booking apps to have a general feel of the accommodation cost at the selected destinations. The destination that we finally decided on will be the one that is most cost-effective in terms of both flight and accommodation cost! In short, rather than allowing our travel destination limit the flight and accommodation choices, we have allowed our flight and accommodation choices to pinpoint to our travel destination!

Bonus tip #1: Be careful when selecting flights with the lowest cost, especially for flights at very weird timing of the day. The main reason being if the flight is scheduled for very early in the morning or very late at night, there might not be any public transportation to the airport and thus would require travelling by taxi, which can be quite costly in some countries! Hence, when selecting your flights, do factor in the transportation cost of travelling to and fro the airport as well - the cheapest flight might not be as cheap as it seems in the end!

Flight/accommodation booking apps can make trip planning a much easier task. We have found these apps extremely useful in providing the data that we need to be flexible about our travel destination as mentioned earlier on. Our usual go-to app for flights is “skyscanner”, which will scan through all the available flights and list them out in order of their cost. Although there is the option to book the flights directly through skyscanner, we would usually not book through them but through apps or website which offered loyalty programme. Some of these apps or websites include “Expedia” or “”, which basically rewards customers who always do their travel bookings through them, either in terms of points (to be redeemed later on) or flight/accommodation cost at discounted rates. If you are already a user of such apps/websites, I would recommend to stick to them as sometimes their members’ price or rewards scheme can be quite attractive which is useful in cutting down on the travel expenses. These apps/websites, apart from being good sources to check out the accommodation prices of the selected destinations, may also offer greater discount if both flights and accommodation are booked through them. Of course, with so many different travel apps and website available, there is a need to be prudent and only go for the reputable ones so as not to fall victim to online scams.

Bonus tip #2: Using a credit card that offers rebates or websites that offers cashback for purchases done through them would be like adding a cherry on top of a great travel deal!

Bonus tip #3: If the trip is more or less confirmed with no reason for a change in plans. you may consider booking the non-cancellable rooms as they are usually cheaper than the cancellable ones. A good thing to look out for when looking through the accommodation option would be to opt for one with free WIFI in the room and free breakfast. This may seem trivial but being able to have access to the Internet might be essential to prepare for the next day’s itinerary in the comfort of the room and a good breakfast also enables you to have the energy for the day’s exploration. Furthermore, hotel breakfast also ensures that you can start your day at your scheduled timing and not be left at the mercy of the opening hours of the outside bakeries or restaurants.

If time permits, it would do some good to research on the travel destination. As bulk of travel expenses are spent on transportation, food and admission tickets to attraction sites, doing some brief research on these might help to save some money. The public transport system is different in different countries and it would be good to have a clear idea of how it works prior to arrival. Having some knowledge of the public transportation system would allow for travelers to make informed decision about the most economical transportation to and fro the airport, the most value-for-money public transport to utilize out of all the various options and whether to pay cash for each individual ride or to get a day transportation pass.

Be aware of the public transport system of your travel destination!

Bonus tip #4: While researching on the public transport system, making a mental note of the hotels that are located in close proximity to the tourist attraction sites to visit would help in prioritizing the choice of hotel accommodation. Choosing a hotel that are within walking distance to the attraction sites can minimize the use of the public transport and hence help to save some money!

As for food, we usually read through travel forums or google review sites to identify the most value-for-money eateries. It would be a bonus if we managed to find information on the eateries that the locals usually frequent. One such example would be the hawker center in Singapore, where it is usually packed with locals and offering delicious food that are around 3-4 times cheaper than those in restaurants! If there are no information that we can find online, we will usually ask the hotel staff or even locals that we meet during the trip on the eateries that they usually go to - nothing beats getting information directly from the horse’s mouth!

Having the best churros at this cafe frequented by the locals :)

Bonus tip #5: Try to keep an open mind about which eateries to visit while travelling because in some places, the best eateries are often not mentioned online and which are only known to the locals! Although equipped with a list of eateries to head to during our travels, my husband and I will still be on the lookout for these “hidden” eateries! Once we have identified one of such eateries, we will step in to explore the place slightly (looking out for signs like reasonable food prices and whether the customers seemed satisfied with the food) before making a bold move to dine in there. More often than not, we have had the most delicious and value-for-money meals in such eateries!

Apart from transportation and food, payment for admission tickets to the various attraction sites is another major money-draining area of a trip. As most tourist attraction sites worldwide have made their site information available online, it would be good to do some online research and check out for promotional bundled admission ticket deals to the various attraction sites as well as checking out if there are discounts for tickets purchased online instead of at the attraction site counter. It might also be good to try and use credit cards that offers rebates when purchasing admission tickets online. Although all these savings does seem trivial, when these little savings add up, it an help save a lot of money!

Bonus tip #6: Try to look out for special dates whereby there are free entrances to the attraction sites (for example, most museums and major tourist attraction sites in Paris offer free admission on the first Sunday of the month) or discounted tickets at certain time of the day (some museums might offer discounted admission tickets at night on certain days of the week) and plan your visits accordingly!

Look out for free admission to the Louvre in Paris to catch a glimpse of Mona Lisa!

As mentioned earlier on, we would usually allocate a time frame of two weeks to schedule in our travels so that we can afford to find the cheapest flight and accommodation option of the week. In addition, we usually do not wait till the very last minute to book my flights and accommodations as the price will usually go up nearer to the actual date. Planning earlier in advance would also enable us to have more time to find the best deal, hence time is the essence in more savings when planning a trip!

Tick tock....tick tock...

Bonus tip #7: Sign up for frequent flyer programs so that you can get the first hand alerts on promotional flight deals which can be quite attractive at times!

During the trip
So then, are these cost saving tips only applicable to the planning stages of the trip? What if you are already on the trip and would like to save some money along the way as well? Well, fret now, as we do have another set of cost saving tips to use during the trip and that is “S.T.O.P.”, which stands for “sim card” “tours”, “offbeaten paths” and “packing”.

Learn more about the local lifestyle while travelling :)

Even before we “S.T.O.P.”, we would evaluate the living standards of our travel destination upon arrival. Why do we even do that? Well, having a rough idea of the standards of living would enable us to know roughly if the cost of transport, food, souvenirs and other items are going to be more or less costly from where we came from and in turn, we would know how much local currency we would need to exchange for at the money exchange counters. It would also prep us to make mental evaluation of whether the cost that we are paying for in any instances are reasonable. There are many ways to evaluate but the one that we use most often is to compare the price of a MacDonald’s set meal. The set meal at MacDonald’s are more or less similar in different countries and since MacDonald’s can be found in almost anywhere in the world, we find it to be a rather useful gauge of the standard of living in different places!

Sim card
Staying connected, whether is it with our travelling partners or to the world wide web, is a necessity during our travels. Even though many telecos have the international roaming option which offers users the convenience of using their own telephone sim card, it can be quite costly to use them. Hence, whenever we touch down on our travel destination, my husband and I would usually start looking around for an appropriate local sim card to be used during our travel period. More often than not, this local sim card will come in handy when we are lost and require the use of google maps to find back our bearings or to book admission tickets online or even to call and make reservations at restaurants. It is definitely a less costly way to stay connected as compared to the use of international roaming!

Bonus tip #8: When travelling to different places within the same continent, try to find a sim card that can be used in the various different country of the same continent as that sim card would usually be more budget friendly as compared to buying individual sim cards for use in each country. In the event that the local sim card is too costly or difficult to get, fret not as you can still use the free WIFI back in the hotel or public areas to do all the necessary googling as well as screen-shot a series of maps of the places to visit for the day as references.

Sometimes, while travelling, we might identify certain places that are located quite near to where we are but which can be a hassle to travel to. Hence, for cases like this, we would usually look out for local tour agencies that offers day trips to the places that we are interested to visit. Of course, there is a need to evaluate if the cost of these day trips are reasonable but so far, we had enjoyed all our day tours which enabled us to visit places out of the city and saved us the trouble of figuring out how to get their on our own. I guess paying slightly more for the intangible convenience is certainly justifiable!

Bonus tip #9: Many countries (especially in Europe) offer “free” walking tours around the city, usually led by one of the local volunteers to share the historical stories of the city as well as to bring tourists through the major landmarks. At the end of the tour, tourists are free to tip these volunteers as they deem reasonable. We had joined many of these walking tours and have found these tours useful in getting to know more about the place that we are visiting! It also saved us the hassle of having the look up the history and significance of the various important landmarks located in the tourist attraction sites! Furthermore, meeting like-minded people who are interested to find out more about the place of visit is indeed an added bonus!

Offbeaten paths
Although there are often a list of “must-see” attraction sites in every country, my husband and I are not the type to follow the conventional ways. We prefer to explore the offbeaten paths and will try every possible means to explore places that not many people are aware of. Often, when we return with stories of discovering a unique place which even the locals are unsure of, there is a sense of accomplishment knowing that we manage to do things differently. Furthermore, as these offbeaten paths are not as well known, we usually have the whole place to our own, without the need to fight for space with tons of other tourists. Having the luxury of exploring a place at our own pace in our own little space certainly make such exploration all the more wonderful!

Not sure which path to take....

Bonus tip #10: Do make sure to do sufficient research on the offbeaten paths before embarking on it to so as to minimize risk of running into any danger!

Most budget airlines impose a fee on checked baggage and hence for all of our travels, my husband and I would usually try to pack all our stuff into our own cabin bag so as to save on the checked baggage fees. However, regardless of whether we are taking an international flight or a budget airline, we will still stick to one cabin bag each because (a) we can avoid having to wait at the baggage carousel and can leave for the city straight after exiting the immigration checkpoint and (b) it is easier to travel with less baggage!

We will also usually pack an additional item when travelling on a budget airline and that is food! Most budget airlines charge extra to cater food on board and we often find the food selection to be quite limited as well, hence most of the time, we would pack our own food to have on board. This not only helped to save some money but also ensures that we are fuelled up on food that we actually like and which indirectly translates to a great beginning of the trip when we touch down!

Bonus tip #11: My husband and I will usually pack some instant food or snacks to bring along for our travels in case the food at our travel destination is not to our liking or the cost of living is too high to be always eating out. This little habit of ours not only helped us to save on our travel expenses, but it has also armed us with enough food stores to fuel our energy needs especially when travelling on the offbeaten paths where it might be difficult to get access to eateries.

Try something different when never know what exciting surprise awaits you!

So, there you go - our “F.A.R.T.” “S.T.O.P.” strategies for getting the best bang out of our buck for our travels! What are some of YOUR strategies to save money while travelling? Feel free to share with us in the comment section below! Looking forward to hearing from you! :)

Friday, 3 August 2018

#random_thoughts........Avignon and the lavender adventures

Lavenders in Roussillon...

  • Why was Avignon chosen to be the home of the Popes?
Avignon city...

  • Why are there so many art displays placed inside Palais des Papes?

Sculptures in Palais des Papes

  • I wondered who was the genius who came up with the idea of lavender ice-cream, would love to thank him/her for creating this favorite snack of mine! *yums*
Lavender flowers!!

  • Considering the fact that our visit was during the peak of the lavender season, a mere day away from the Avignon Festival, coupled with the fact that many parts of Avignon were listed as UNESCO world heritage sites, we were pleasantly surprised that Avignon was not as crowded as we had expected it to be!
A pleasant view of the walled Avignon city on a bright and cheery day!

  • Do people really make it a point to dance on the Saint-Bénézet bridge?
Let us dance on Saint-Bénézet bridge!!

  • I have always find it fascinating that Nature has its own store of natural color pigments (as what we had seen in Roussillon)!
The ochre cliffs in Roussillon

  • What exactly is it about the Provence region that makes it so suitable to grow lavender flowers?
One of the many lavender fields that we visited!

  • There is just so much to see in the Provence region, a weekend trip is certainly not enough!! We will be back!!
There were abundance of sunflower as well!

Just let me chill and stay here in Avignon!!