Header Image


Navigation images

Palace-hopping in Sintra

I debated if I should write a single (long) post of the palaces we visited in Sintra, or break them down individually. Laziness won. ;)

Palaces of Sintra

Palaces of Sintra

The one really tricky thing task is whittling down the number of photos on this entry, so scroll down for the links to the Flickr photosets if you really want to see them all. Be glad I selected only some 30 photos on average per palace, from the few hundreds I took for each! :p

Continue reading »

Exquisite Sintra

We took one look at Sintra and F turned to me, “Are you sure we won’t add another night here and reduce one in Tomar?”. In hindsight, yes, we should have done that. Don’t get me wrong – Tomar is a lovely historical town (more on this when I get round to writing about it) but there are just so much more to do and to visit in Sintra – in addition to being drop dead gorgeous – by comparison that we could benefit from a longer visit here. The 48-hours we allocated flew by far too quickly so we were also rather baffled to see so many day-trippers from Lisbon shuttling in and out quickly in a few hours.

Sintra

Sintra

Travellers from Lisbon, us included, can easily get to Sintra in about 45 minutes from Lisboa-Rossio train station, if one managed to find the train station in the first place… It is not the best sign-posted train station we’ve ever came across and from the exterior, it could easily passed for a city hall or something to that effect. Gorgeous building, terrible signage. In any case, armed with our topped-up Viva Viagem card, we beeped our way across the barrier and hopped on the next train out. There are trains every 10-30 minutes, depending on the time of the day, and one-way travel costs €2.15 per person.

Continue reading »

Postcards: Caldeira do Faial (PT)

At the heart of Faial lies the Caldeira, seated atop Cabeço Gordo (“fat mountain”), which opened to a spectacular view not only within the crater but the coasts of the island too. Standing at 1,043m above sea level, this is the highest peak of Faial that on a clear day, opened panoramically towards neighbouring Pico, São Jorge and Graciosa.

Caldeira

Caldeira

The caldera is 2km wide with a depth of 400m, and a 8km path exists for a short 2-2.5 hours hike for the keen. Clouds hovered over us as we made our way around the caldera, at time walking on narrow path with immediate drop on both side of the path (eeek!), at time on wide-enough-for-a-car path, and at time on muddy ground especially after some rain. The strong wind was my bigger concern – what if it tried to blow me away?

Continue reading »

Not too blue in Faial

“If you drive non-stop along the primary road, you can complete the loop in about an hour.”

Faial is not a very big island, home to about 15,000 inhabitants, a large caldera at Cabeço Gordo (more on that in a separate post), a relatively new land mass called the Capelinhos, and if the name of one of the hiking trails is anything to go by, a series of 10 volcanoes on a route of 20km (it’ll take 7 hours to hike). To us, Faial is more green from the vegetation than blue, for we didn’t see quite that much blooming hydrangeas that help earn the island its nickname of the Blue Island…

Faial

Faial

Like Pico, micro-climate is everywhere but we largely got lucky and managed to stay ahead of the rain cloud most location we went, unless it happened to be raining heavily islandwide… I managed to get a bunch of postcards written up while waiting for the sky to clear, even as we lamented the loss of time to be out exploring. Or go on a marine excursion.

Continue reading »

Postcards: Capelinhos (PT)

Just under 60 year ago, over at the Azores, the sea was rumbling. Throughout the course of the following 13 months, regular tremors were felt and active volcanic eruptions sent the residents of Faial, especially those on the western half of the island, packing and sailing for Boston after they lost their homes and agricultural lands, abandoned and buried under thick layers of ashes. To this day, the surrounding area remained largely uninhabited.

Capelinhos

Capelinhos

Those who stayed, or came to study the event, saw the birth of a new land mass that attached itself to the Costado da Nau Volcano, extending Faial with an area of about 2.4km² off the coast of Capelo. It was baptised Capelinhos; it is also the most western land point of the Eurasian plate. Today, what we see is a unique landscape of barren layers of submarine ashes and hardened lavas. Mother Nature sure knows how to make an entrance.

Continue reading »

Up, up, up Mount Pico

How do you spot the unprepared pair of hikers at Mount Pico, the highest point on Pico Island with an altitude of 2,351m? Well, they arrived at 1pm to commence what is normally a 7-hour trek (3 hours up, 4 hours down) with 1.5L of drinking water between them, a puny sandwich each for lunch, plus a couple of cereal bars for snack. And oh, no trekking poles either. There you go, it seemed F and I were off on a great start, no? :p

Mount Pico

Mount Pico

After a scenic drive from São Roque to the Casa da Montanha (i.e. House of the Mountain) that took longer than expected, but we suspect much prettier and off the beaten path compared to the route that most visitors have normally been sent along, we duly reported ourselves to the staff in charge so we can be registered, provided with a GPS tracking phone in case of emergency and rescue, and briefed on safety and relevant information. We were lucky that the day was clear and the conditions to trek, according to the staff, was the best for the dates that we were in Pico. We also had just about enough time to do a day hike and return before the day turned night. Up we go then!

Continue reading »

The young, volcanic Pico

We flew a couple of hours across the Atlantic from Lisbon, where all that I could see from my 5E seat (read: not much) was a large expanse of water for the bulk of the journey, when billowy clouds start to make their appearance. I joked to F that it’d just be our luck to get cloudy weather in the Azores when it had been clear up until now, and boy I should have kept my mouth shut. Indeed, we would soon be landing, and the clouds were there to stay and kept us company for the day.

Pico

Pico

The masterplan: fly in to Horta, Faial, on the first flight and catch a ferry to Madalena, Pico, the same morning at 10.45am. However, our flight departure was delayed so we missed the sailing by 15 minutes and had to wait till 1.15pm. Maybe just as well. We were at the ferry terminal when I noticed that “our” checked luggage was not ours. Darn! A frantic call later – thank goodness for luggage tag – we managed to locate its owner who, in turn, had our luggage. He was also travelling to Pico, so at least we could luggage-swap without having to return to the airport.

Continue reading »

A taste of Singapore, in Paris

Something caught my eye when I clicked through this week’s Paris event listing. Did it say there’s a small Singaporean street food market at the Berges de Seine for a few days? I immediately forwarded the article to Wee Ling and managed to persuade F that we should check it out. He agreed. *Happy dance*

Saveurs de Singapour

Saveurs de Singapour

I arrived just ahead of my meeting time with F, so I scoped around to see what’s there. A tent from which you get your food vouchers from – purchase strictly by cash so find an ATM beforehand! – followed by a few tents where food were served from, and a large tent as “main kitchen” I guess. And I spotted signs reading “satay”, “chicken rice”, “bak kut teh”, “Indian mee goreng” and “bandung/chendol”. Starting to get hungry!

Continue reading »

Weekender: Mont St Michel

F and I were up at an ungodly hour – or what felt like it, since I got home near 1am after a week of work trip away – yesterday morning to kick start our long weekend trip in Brittany. The train from Gare Montparnasse took us to Dol-de-Bretagne in just under 3 hours, and a time-coordinated bus was waiting outside the train station (slightly to the right) to take us to Mont St Michel in 30 minutes.

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel

On arrival, we headed to the visitors’ information centre, where free lockers are available for safe-guarding our main luggage for the trip and relieved us from having to drag it everywhere with us. A 1-euro coin will do the trick in locking up the door, which you can retrieve when you return the key later on. Time to make our way to the famous abbey-and-fortress-on-a-large-rock, and we opted for a walk instead of queuing up for the free shuttle; anyone feeling fancy could take a horse-powered carriage!

Continue reading »

Central Glasgow

I did not know what to expect of Glasgow but I understood that it is rather different from Edinburgh, which I visited a good few years ago over a chilly December weekend and spotted JK Rowling in a park as well as observing hundreds of Santas who participated in a charity run. I also wished I did not underestimate its wind chill and had brought a coat with me instead of the slim cardigan – pretty but not practical enough this far north in Scotland!

Glasgow

Glasgow

With several meetings and a conference to attend, it was not all leisure for me in the largest city of Scotland. Luckily, as the days are long in the summer, I get an hour or so each evening to wander about with S, one of my colleagues, before getting our dinner, and even a good few hours on the final day. If only there was more time to visit areas other than central Glasgow…

Continue reading »

Postcards: Rosenberg Castle Gardens (DK)

The oldest park in central Copenhagen, Rosenberg Castle Gardens – also known as the King’s Garden (Kongens Have) is a beautiful spot to leisurely stroll in, even on a day when the sun decided to stay hidden behind the layer of cloud. Tourists by the bus load were busy queueing up for the castle and trying to catch a glimpse of the royal crowns and whats not, but we just wanted to walk around the gardens.

The King's Garden

The King's Garden

Continue reading »

Copenhagen City Hall

The Copenhagen City Hall started its life as a palace of the people, built by the skilful hands of the guilds who also funded its construction. It remains a palace of the people, today the seat of the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen and the municipal council, with its door open to all, even tourists who just wish to roam its halls randomly. Getting in is a very informal affair – just walk through the main entrance. (Nonetheless, understandably, not all areas are accessible at all time to everyone, since it is a workplace afterall and not an amusement park – that, is right across the street.)

Copenhagen City Hall

Copenhagen City Hall

Curious culture buff that we are, on finding out there are guided tours of the Rådhus and its tower – costing DKK 50 and DKK 30 respectively – J, F and I made a (small) beeline for them, and soaked up some interesting info shared by a staff who has worked for 15 years in the building and absolutely loves discovering, and uncovering, its secrets. Afterall, the architect responsible for its form and decor, Martin Nyrop, did not leave behind written legacy to describe his toil of 12 years, despite all the intricate details he incorporated to the structure.

Continue reading »

Postcards: Christianshavn (DK)

A short walk from Slotsholmen via Knippelsbro took us across to Christianshavn, a neighbourhood laced with canals and cobblestoned streets. For an area considered part of the city centre of a capital city, it has all the charm of the countryside by the sea. It oozes an unique vibe of cosyness, perhaps reflecting the philosphy of hygge that the Danes subscribe to. Or maybe it’s the waft of herbal joints from the freetown Christiania?

Christianshavn

Christianshavn

Continue reading »

Delicious Danish eats

You know we’ve got to talk about Danish food at some point, no?

Much as I wish I could report back on an experience chez Noma, that did not happen because it’s so freaking difficult to get a table, not to mention the risk of going into an overdraft given how puny my salary is by comparison to the living standard in Denmark. But, there were plenty of delicious things to eat at more wallet-friendly prices *phew*

Danish cuisine

Danish cuisine

Continue reading »

Cemetery parks

I know this is going to sound morbid, but if it is at all possible, I wouldn’t mind calling the Assistens Kirkegård or Bispebjerg Kirkegård my afterlife home. If only you’ve seen how beautiful, well-tended, serene and calming these cemeteries are, you’d wish for such a fine final resting spot too. The famous – and over-crowded – Père Lachaise in Paris would be envious of its Danish cousins.

Cemetery park

Cemetery park

Continue reading »

Postcards: Nørrebro (DK)

On our way from central Copenhagen to J’s place, we travelled past and overhead the S-Tog Ringline. On one side of the road, I noticed colourful structures and street art installation. Unfairly known as the ghetto, according to J, the neighbourhood had seen some riots in the past but the transformation that took place in recent years has brought it new prestige. J happily showed us around this multicultural and bright – and increasingly hipster-friendly – quarter.

Nørrebro

Nørrebro

Continue reading »

Goddag from Christiansborg Tower

Goddag! F and I have been fortunate enough to spend a long weekend in Copenhagen, and to see our friend J who was also a fantastic host, proudly showing off what the Danish capital has to offer. In no time, he got us oriented well and one of the first places that we visited was the Christiansborg Tower – free to visit, by the way – that stands high over a former royal palace but is today the seat of the Danish Parliament as well as the Office of the Primer Minister and the Supreme Court. Parts of the palace remains in use by the monarchy.

Christiansborg Tower

Christiansborg Tower

Continue reading »

Postcards: Saint Étienne du Mont (FR)

Despite my propensity to peek into churches, big or small, as I come across them, for some reason, I have never stepped into the Saint Étienne du Mont. Semi-hidden in the shadow of the Panthéon, the church, or rather its steps, is becoming pretty well-known after Gil set off in vintage car for his adventures in Midnight in Paris. Shall we pop over for a quick visit?

Saint Étienne du Mont

Saint Étienne du Mont

Continue reading »

Siseng

It appears I’ve been flitting in and out several “hip” eating places lately, and Siseng Asian Food Bar is one of them. Each time, I feel just as awkward as ever besides the stylish folks (although I do question the decision of a man stepping in with a bathrobe from a hotel as his coat – F was there too so he can attest to this!) until the food was set in front of me. Then, all else was forgotten and my taste-buds got to monopolise my thoughts.

Siseng

Siseng

After New York, London and Hong Kong, bao burger has landed in Paris, thanks to Siseng. White, pillowy steamed buns replace the traditional sesame burger buns, and two different versions are available: bao burger kaï – marinated chicken burger with coleslaw, red pepper confit and a sauce of basil and coconut milk, or bao burger 5 épices – 5 spiced-marinated beef steak with rocket, spinach, onion confit, onion rings and a sauce of caramelised tamarind. They were juicy and the Asian-fusion flavour combination hit the right spots for me personally. The mid-week lunch menu comes with a serving of sweet potato fries, which makes a nice change from the usual french fries, and housedrink of the day for €15.

Continue reading »

Berges de Seine

It was a sunny midweek afternoon, my friends and I had had a good lunch at Ellsworth and we were in no hurry to get anywhere. As we strolled and chatted, we found ourselves heading for the Berges de Seine, which serves as riverbank walk, public space, exhibition hall, outdoor gym, patio-ed restaurants and games room, all rolled into one.

Berges de Seine

Berges de Seine

Continue reading »

Ellsworth

It seems la rentrée is not the only time of the year when we ponder which among the many new restaurants to eat in; there has been a spate of openings of late and by the Palais Royal, Ellsworth popped up on the ground floor of a building that’s currently under works (I thought I’ve got the address wrong when I first noticed the scaffolds) just steps away from its sister restaurant, Verjus, and helmed by Hannah Kowalenko, formerly a sous-chef at the latter.

Ellsworth

It was A’s birthday and as a treat, together with a couple of friends, we headed over for a celebratory lunch. The menu was small (just what I like in places I eat) with three options per course, and priced at an affordable €18 for 2-course and €24 for 3-course meal. FYI, in the evening, Ellsworth transforms into a tapas place with small plates to share, and come Sunday, there’s even brunch to be had. Could this be some kind of square peg for the city?

Continue reading »

Postcards: Schloss Heidelberg (DE)

The ruins of the Heidelberg Castle perched romantically to overlook the Altstadt, surrounded by forest and park. First built in the 1200s and successively expanded by Palatine prince electors, it was through French hands that it fell rather thoroughly in the late 1600s, burned and blown up during the course of the Nine Years War. Subsequent attempts to reconstruct the castle was hampered by financial difficulties and fires caused by lightning strikes, the latter taken as an omen from heaven that the Palatine court should not return to Heidelberg Castle. And thus, a well-loved ruin is born, no doubt helped by beautiful descriptions written by Victor Hugo and Mark Twain, among others.

Schloss Heidelberg

Schloss Heidelberg

Continue reading »

Postcards: Heidelberg Altstadt (DE)

Work travel recently took me to Heidelberg, a town which up to then was known to me largely because multiple research institutes are based here, including EMBO, EMBL and Max Planck Institutes. Somehow it escaped my radar as a place to visit, given the famed Heidelberg Castle and the picturesque, baroque Altstadt have made it a popular tourist destination. Whenever I did not have a meeting session to attend, I went out exploring ;)

Heidelberg

Heidelberg

Continue reading »

Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration

What is the common denominator between an immigrant, an expatriate, a foreigner, an alien and a non-citizen? Me. And countless others like me. We who fit the aforementioned, albeit with situations that vary in thousand shades of paperwork grade. Time and time again, the debate, in particular the pitting of an immigrant against an expatriate, can be painfully divisive. Just search for “immigrant vs expat” and you’ll see all kind of perception attached to these words, of social standing, origin, wealth, skin colour, intention. The fight is ugly.

Museum of Immigration History

Museum of Immigration History

The topic of immigration is a sensitive one and the question of integration has been contentiously thrashed out, in public and in private alike. At times of economic hardship, the subject is paraded – not only in France, mind – like an evil which must be stopped (UKIP’s Nigel Farage would like everyone to go back to where they came from, thank you very much) and the rhetorics filled with “selected truths”. My visit over the weekend to the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration (i.e. Museum of Immigration History) was therefore an interesting one, one where I get to explore briefly the stories of the people who make France the nation it is today.

Continue reading »

La Chambre aux Oiseaux

A cosy canteen with a touch of vintage chic, that’s how I’d describe La Chambre aux Oiseaux. Upon S’s suggestion and initiative on making the reservation a couple of weeks in advance, we met on a slightly overcast Saturday afternoon for brunch in this café just off the Canal St Martin. They run two seatings for brunch, at 11.30am and at 1.30pm, and they were busy during both services. Clearly a favourite among many of the crowd of very fashionably dressed Parisians – yours truly not included given how carelessly my wardrobe is put together… – and for good reasons: the service is friendly, the food is delicious, and the ambiance is homey.

La chambre aux oiseaux

Continue reading »

Randomly: rue Bichat

Brunch reservation was 10 minutes away and S hasn’t arrived yet either. Not one to stand outside a café idly, I took a short stroll along rue Bichat and see what may be hidden on this street, in a neighbourhood that I don’t know very well. Not that I got very far though; I didn’t even get to peek into the windows of Helmut Newcake, the only other address I know a bit further along this street.

rue Bichat

rue Bichat

Continue reading »

Gwon’s Dining

For anyone looking for a good and classy Korean restaurant in Paris, with a menu that has more than bibimbap or garlicky fried chicken – don’t get me wrong, those are good Korean staple dishes, but don’t you want to try something new? – search no more. You should book a table at Gwon’s. It’s perfect for a date night. ;)

Gwong's

Gwong's

Truth be told, we’d meant to eat here for a while now. Located mere minutes walk from home, there was no good excuse not to, especially since each time we peered through their windows, the place was busy and filled with Korean diners. However, its upmarket setting means it carries a price tag that says “for a splurge”, so we’ve been saving it for an occasion which finally arrived: the completion of the Paris Semi Marathon.

Continue reading »

Planting herbs

When we moved last year, I had a wee shopping spree chez Ikea and apart from the bookshelf and dining table and chairs, I dropped a couple of herb kits into the basket too. I discovered the kits sitting sadly in one corner of my kitchen, forgotten, so I guess now is as good a time as ever to rescue them and fulfill their destiny.

Herb garden

Herb garden

Continue reading »

Early spring, abloom

Spring finally arrived in Paris. It has been a touch unfortunate that it came adist sustained peaks of pollution in the past week; such a shame that we could not be out and about to enjoy the sunshine and the blossoms without worrying about scratchy throat and allergic reactions. But, ah yes, but, as soon as the count dropped slightly, off we went for a stroll to visit the Iron Lady.

Spring in Paris

Spring in Paris

Continue reading »

La Cuillière en Bois

We used to go to a particular crêperie at least once a month, and we brought just about every one of our visitors there, who loved it too. We were therefore fairly sad when the brother-and-sister team decided to sell their business. While we had been back there under the new ownership, things were just not the same anymore.

La Cuillière en Bois

La Cuillière en Bois

We started to test a few other crêperies near us but failed to find one that we really like. Incredulous, in a manner of speaking, since we lived near Montparnasse – the veritable neighbourhood filled with crêperies! We found some of the more famous ones served something very average, and horror, even pre-cooked galette. A crime, if you ask me.

Continue reading »


Notify me!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Most read today