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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.

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The villages of Cinque Terre

This is one place, or more accurately, national park which needs very little introduction. The famous five Ligurian villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore (from north to south) – interspersed along the rocky coastline of the Riviera di Levante have been written up and photographed by many, and here I am, with my meager personal contribution about these overly-revered villages.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

F and I had rented quite possibly the smallest AirBnB room in Vernazza (cosier than Parisian budget hotel rooms, if it is at all possible), at the street level, so we could not open the wooden shutter without everyone looking in while we enjoyed the privilege of hearing every conversation in passing. It was conveniently located for us to explore the area but you can also see why it was tough for us to air the enchanting “eau de pied” when our hiking boots were off!

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Postcards: Stari Grad Dubrovnik (HR)

To spend only approximately 36 hours in Dubrovnik is too short, especially when this time frame translates sub-optimally to 1.5 days of activity time. We saw the old town in a rather cursory manner, without additional time to understand the culture, to visit any museum, to admire churches and their hidden compounds, and to explore the coastline by kayak.

Stari Grad Dubrovnik

Stari Grad Dubrovnik

But hey, we had not intended to visit Dubrovnik initially either. It was through a stroke of luck (and flight arrangement) that we ended up here. It gave us a taster of what it could be like and teased us to return, sooner rather than later. We do not yet know when that may be, but we will relish it when the next opportunity jumps at us.

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Kayaking the Boka Kotorska

We had initially planned to hike in Lovćen National Park but soon learned that “daily departure” and “minimum 2 persons” indicators on a tour website could not always be counted on. A change of plan was needed, so we opted to rent a kayak for two for the day and head out for a paddle in the Bay of Kotor. This would be my very first kayaking experience, and the fact that the ria is deep enough for cruise boats to get in and out made me a little nervous. I’m still a fledgling swimmer afterall!

Kayaking in the Bay of Kotor

Kayaking in the Bay of Kotor

We started out from Mua, the small town that’s right across from Kotor. After being instructed to try to stay by the coastal front, and advised on the safest strategy should we ever wish to cross the width of any part of the ria, we were sent on our merry way, our bag tucked into a waterproof drum behind us and a small waterproof daypack inside the kayak itself. I had swapped our regular dSLR for my trusty old compact to take photos on this excursion to avoid potential problem, like, I don’t know, drowning the dSLR in salty water?

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Lunch at La Ciboulette

The rain just wouldn’t let up. We were supposed to roam the famous market that lined the streets of the old town and canals of Annecy, but we ended up staying in for a grasse mat’ and read in bed. Eventually, we had to brave the weather and headed out, since we had a lunch reservation at La Ciboulette. We took the long way round so we could at least catch a glimpse of the market.

La Ciboulette, Annecy

La Ciboulette, Annecy

Slightly drenched after our walk, we stepped into a visibly posh restaurant with opulent interior, charming paintings, antique decorative pieces, and actual silver salt-and-pepper shakers and butter dish awaited us at the table which we were assigned. The couple at our neighbouring table were clearly in celebratory mood: a bottle of champagne with two long-stem flutes had just been brought over by the sommelier.

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Guinness is better in a cake

Blasphemous as it sounds, I do not like the taste of Guinness. All the years living in Ireland didn’t help me personally in terms of taste acquirement. I admit to a twinge of jealousy when observing Erasmus students and other visitors – F included! – taking to it quickly and could declare the pint in Ireland as the best they’ve had.

Guinness cake

A clever idea came not so long ago. Like mothers who slyly hide peas and brussel sprouts so the kids would eat them, I thought using Guinness as a cake ingredient could be a neat trick in improving how I perceive the taste of Guinness. With St Patrick’s round the corner, I even have the perfect excuse to whip the cake up without the guilt (or the worry) of eating it all by myself.

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10 first bites

It is no secret that I love to eat and I always prioritise things that seem unusual when picking from the menu. Sometimes, when there are more options than I can manage on my own, I throw the puppy eyes at my dining companion in hope he/she picks up on my inner plea to order one of them… ;)

Last year, in writing the list of 101 goals, I added “10 things I’ve never tried before” and hope it’ll make food discovery more interesting. However, actually having dishes in front of me often translates to “busy eating, no time to think or take photos” and therefore writing this post had taken a little longer than expected.

10 new food

1. Courgette flower: semi-hidden here between a slice of chorizo and a cherry tomato, the courgette flower is bright to look at and delicate to taste. They don’t transport well nor last beyond a few hours after picking, so it’s not something that can be easily found in Paris (much easier in south of France though). It tasted like, well, courgette, but a “lighter” version. The flower also has a soft velvelty texture, like most edible flowers really.

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A Perhentian stopover

My trip home last year was short – a mere ten days – and for a number of practical reasons, F stayed put in Paris. It therefore makes this trip his first to Malaysia, and with a couple of big family events to attend, he was in for the tough task of meeting absolutely everyone. If there’s anything you ought to know about Chinese family events, it’s that just about anyone related in anyway gets an invitation and the extended branches could get a little too crazy.

In order not to overwhelm him with the amount of time we spent with too many people at the same time, and to also introduce him to parts of Malaysia, I planned a couple of stops in Penang and Perhentian Besar during the weekdays flanked by family event weekends, and just before flying back, we had a quick visit of Kuala Lumpur and its environs.

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

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Always a learner

One question that used to pop up a lot when people see me, especially among older (and extended) relatives, was if I was done yet with studying. Granted, back in the days, every time they saw me, I was still a student and showed no sign of graduating, even if the reality pointed to multiple graduation ceremonies and the upward move in the academic ladder.

Even a few of my friends have teased that I never seem to tire of being a student, and if given my way, I’d be voted as “most likely to be the oldest student in the class/course”, not because I’ve failed or anything but I would happily register myself to one after another.

Street art

You know what – I didn’t (and still don’t) mind this remark at all. I love learning. In fact, I’d say “thank you” for recognising my effort to learn continuously, regardless of my age or my attained level in education.

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Postcards: Athens and the Acropolis (GR)

I felt a little guilty for treating Athens as a stop-and-go point. This immense and sprawling city was the gateaway to our island escapades, and oh escaping Athens we did. We hopped on a ferry out to Naxos a mere few hours after arrival at the airport, and we’ve set aside only our last day to sightsee the city because, well, we had an early flight the next morning. What I had not predicted was the delay in our overnight ferry back to Athens.

Athens

Athens

As our allocated 24 hours dwindled to about 20 hours, and our very weary bodies refusing to cooperate fully after sitting and waiting cluelessly at the port in Santorini in the middle of the night, we managed to tough it out for 7 hours under the stifling Athenian afternoon sun. We then crashed out. As I didn’t pay enough attention to the information board that I was supposed to be reading, I don’t have much to tell, just pictures to share.

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Postcards: Sunsets in Oia (GR)

Santorini is one of the most beautiful islands that I’ve been. After wistfully going through photo albums of several friends who visited this very Cyclades island last year, I decided to push it up high on my priority list as well as into my 101 goals list, which is met by F’s approval. It is a very popular holiday destination, and there are good reasons for it – picturesque villages, friendly locals, ease of communications, delicious food (and wine), fascinating (geological) history, sunny weather, intense sunset – take your pick.

The village of Oia (pronounced “ee-yah”, not “oy-yah”; also written as Ia) is the one spot everyone seem to converge come every evening. There are other view points on the island for beautiful sunset, but between various recommendations (and a good dose of clever tourism marketing I guess), Oia becomes *the* prime sunset-watching spot. We tried to photograph the sunset – something not particularly easy as we attempted to master our new camera – from various points of Oia and not just where everyone goes. It does get uncomfortably crowded with everyone clamouring for the perfect view of the sunset!

Sunset in Oia

Sunset in Oia

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Postcards: Amiens Cathedral (FR)

The largest cathedral in France (you could put two Notre Dame de Paris in it!) also possesses the tallest nave for a complete cathedral in the country. It stood proud before me on a glorious Wednesday morning when I was in Amiens and yet I was at lost on photographing it with Frédéric’s few-days-old camera. The small manual that I’ve grabbed on my way out of our apartment sat in my bag; I didn’t have the time to consult it page by page, nor the patience to. I would just have to make do somehow.

Amiens Cathedral is a Gothic cathedral which construction began in the 1220 under the instruction of Bishop Evrard de Fouilly, while three architects – Robert de Luzarches, Thomas de Cormont, and Renaud de Cormont – oversaw the works. These men are commemorated through an octogonal plate embedded within the floor of the cathedral, enclosed within a labyrinth. Standing at 112.7m in height, its nave stretched an impressive 42.3m, giving it the real meaning (esp back in the 13th century) of reaching for God and the heaven. With multicoloured stained glass and imposing sculptures that recount religious stories to the populace, the cathedral in its entirety was deemed worthy to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

(Hover over photos as usual for captions)

Amiens Cathedral

Amiens Cathedral

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Daytrip from Paris: Monet’s Giverny

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the main road of the village of Giverny is named after its most famous (former) resident, the Impressionist painter Claude Monet. Afterall, without his fame, it is unlikely that thousands of visitors would flock daily between April and October to the village. He lived here for over 40 years, drawing inspiration from the kaleidoscopic garden just outside his house and the adjacent water lily pond/garden.

Giverny

Giverny

The star attractions of the village are undoubtedly Monet’s House and Gardens, and the Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny. Apart from these, the Ancien Hôtel Baudy and the Église Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny are getting considerable attention as well from the visitors, particularly the latter, for the burial site of Monet and his family can be found in the grounds of the church.

In addition, the tourism board has done an excellent job in setting out a trail of cultural walking tour of the Giverny Village. Along this route of approximately 4km (give or take an hour walk), 20 points of interest are identified with information panel planted in front of them. We did try to complete the trail but was unable to do so, as the path parallel to the Aqueduc des Moines had been closed off, most likely for safety reason given the high water level of River Seine in recent months.

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Weekender: Gilded city of Nancy

When an opportunity presented itself for travel, I’m hardly one to refuse the chance to do so. I guess some of my go-go-go-travel attitude must have rubbed off Frédéric as he ambitiously planned for our trip to his cousin’s wedding to be flanked with day-trips to Nancy and Metz. I have friends who agreed that both cities are small enough to be visited as day-trips, and after visiting them, I am more of the opinion that they make good spots for weekend trips.

Place Stanislas

Arc Héré

A TGV ride between Paris and Nancy takes approximately 1.5 hours and our early start means we arrived in Nancy just shy of 10am, affording us a day of exploration given we were also staying overnight in the city before heading off to Grosbliederstroff the next morning. We were lucky to have arrived on a sunny morning for what was to be a forecasted-to-be-cloudy-and-wet weekend. The day did progressively get glummier, but not before we saw the splendour of Place Stanislas in the full sunshine.

I am no historian so I won’t go into the birth and the development of the city, even if we did see the free exhibition of La Ville Révélée at the Palais du Gouvernement (daily except Monday, until 31 August) which looks at these aspects in details. The exhibition is part of the programme of Renaissance Nancy 2013, which has an interesting agenda that makes me want to stay longer so I can check them out.

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101 Goals: UNESCO World Heritage Sites

I thought I’d start easy on my 101 goals challenge – item number 75. I’m not doing it for the purpose of being able to boast how many of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited, but rather, I’m curious at which I have visited. Truth be told, as I don’t search for sites under this listing to visit in the first place, I have not even realise some of them are on it, until now! (The photo below is the only one I can find among thousands of my photos that marks the recognition of such site.)

UNESCO's recognition of Þingvellir

As of today, there are 962 sites listed altogether, and my travels have brought me to 35 of them. Some of them have just been visited recently, i.e. during my blogging lifetime, and therefore have been written up (when I wasn’t being lazy about it), others were visited when I was (much) younger that I really had to think hard if I’ve been there or if I confused it with something else, e.g. I visited a palace in Vienna but was it on-the-list Schönbrunn or off-the-list Hofburg?

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101 goals in 1001 days

Today marks another milestone in my life. The next steps are up to me to make them work, and a friend sagely advised that I should have some sort of anchor that I can focus on during this period of time. She is not wrong. It could be easy for me to drift if I don’t have goals to aim for, discipline to keep.

Clocks

This is where Day Zero Project comes in. I can’t remember how I came across this a while ago (maybe after I drew up my previous list of 50 goals in 5 years?), and it has always been at the back of my mind to revisit the idea. I finally did, and this new list of medium-term goals was born. I will not be tracking them on DZP website though; just here, on this website itself.

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