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An afternoon in Belém

A short Tram 15 ride away to the southwest from Lisbon, Belém beckons. Two main sights draw the visitors in – the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém. Some may say there’s a third attraction – the Pastéis de Belém where queue stretches beyond its front door with a length that rivals the monastery and the tower. Arriving late in the afternoon from Tomar, we skipped the pastry and visited the heritage sites. (There are quite a few museums around too but they don’t have quite the pull like these three.)

Belém

Belém

We visited on the first Sunday of the month, so both Tower of Belém and Jerónimos Monastery were free to enter. That being on the weekend, there were quite a lot of people visiting too, but without the delays caused by ticket purchase, we did get in reasonably quickly. A 10-minutes walk separate the two if you go along the seafront, passing the Monument to the Discoveries en route, with a view of the reduced-size Golden Gate Bridge (actually Ponte 25 de Abril) and Christ the Redeemer (known as Cristo Rei) in the horizon.

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Postcards: Tomar (PT)

The legend of Knights Templar, rebaptised Order of Christ in Portugal, is well and alive in Tomar. Founded in the 12th century by the 4th Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Gualdim Pais, it is today a town of pilgrimage – it lies on the St James’ way from Portugal – which honours their tradition by hosting the annual Festa Templária, the Knights Templar Festival, where hundreds of local participate and dressed as Knights Templar to parade through the streets.

Tomar

Tomar

The heart of it all is the Convento de Cristo (more on this in an upcoming post), perched above the town, a symbol of the glorious past when the Knights Templar enjoyed great privileges and revered by many. The distinctive cross that came to represent them can be found all over Tomar, and there’s even rumour of hidden treasures of the Order but like any good ol’ legend, who knows its veracity? After Sintra, Tomar may on the surface seems less spectacular but there are enough mysteries to keep a healthy imagination going. ;)

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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?

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Postcards: Morlaix (FR)

I had not thought, when we left for our weekend in Brittany, that we would ended up in Morlaix, even if just for a couple of hours. It is one of those small French town that I’ve heard of but never really curious enough to Google, never mind planning a visit. Still, since we have to go through the area on our way back to Brest from Saint Samson anyway, why not take a look, right?

Morlaix

Morlaix

This medieval town certainly looks the part. Cobblestone streets, winding alleys, steep stairs, brightly-painted half-timbered houses, old churches and a viaduct all come together to form a picturesque historic centre amidst the often grey Breton skies. I also learned that its port was once of great importance, given the pirates were busy raiding from here, not to mention there were bustling linen and tobacco trades going. There are some rather distinguished buildings lining the port area.

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Postcards: Panthéon Paris (FR)

As a mausoleum goes, the Panthéon is a gorgeous one. Recently, four heroes and heroines of the Resistance were newly interred by the President of the Republic – although two of them were symbolic interments – and as part of the celebration, the Panthéon was free to visit over a few days. We took advantage of it to visit the building itself, rather than jostling through the long queues at the crypt.

Panthéon

Panthéon

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Postcards: Louvre (FR)

While going through my stash of photos taken last year – way too many of them! – so I can select a few for printing, I noticed I’ve a good few photos taken while I was at the Louvre or in the vicinity. There are probably more lost in some of the folders that I don’t have time to give much scrutiny to…

Louvre

Louvre

I must admit that I don’t go there as often as I’d like to because I’m not a fan of the massive crowd that jostles to get in and see only the “highlights” when there are so many other gems to look out for. I make special efforts to go there, however, when I get to go on THATLou hunt with Daisy. Now, she’s the woman who knows it inside out! ;)

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Postcards: The (Victoria) Peak (HK)

Victoria Peak is the highest peak on Hong Kong island. Locally known as The Peak, it gave a superb view of the Victoria Harbour as well as other neighbouring islands. I trekked up there twice during my six-day stay, blocked sinus notwithstanding. I was glad to have repeated the experience since the second go was on a clearer day and right before sunset; it was beautiful.

The Peak

The Peak

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Postcards: Hello from Shenzhen (CN)

Work took me away to Shenzhen for a few days recently, and for my maiden trip to China, I was pretty much ensconced inside a fancy hotel throughout the period. I wish I had seen more of the city but each day, I was up and on the go pretty much between 7am and 11pm with little down time in between. Nonetheless, I made some effort to escape the glittering chandeliers for the very modern city filled with skyscrapers.

Shenzhen

Shenzhen

A couple of hours walk barely took me anywhere beyond the couple of blocks around the hotel. The distance that seemed doable from the map I’ve secured from the hotel was dauntingly further, and it did not help that I got lost at some point in an urban park and none of the exits (except the one I came in through) were accessible. A lot of walking hopelessly in circle until I found the way out…

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Postcards: In search of Padua (IT)

I imagine this could qualify as what the French would say, “jamais deux sans trois“? We spent a couple of hours in Florence in transit, then a couple of hours in Parma also in transit, so why not spare two hours in Padua in transit too? We managed to locate a left luggage at the train station, so we could pretty much move freely in that time.

Padova

Padova

The only time I was in Padua previously, I was hosted by a friend and was driven and guided everywhere. We got around easily and I didn’t need to figure out where I was or the distance between places. Everything seemed so doable. I was optimistic that F and I could see a good bit of the city, like we did when we were in Florence, before hopping on the train to Bassano del Grappa.

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Postcards: 2-hours in Florence (IT)

A second day of whirlwind Italian sightseeing continued, this time to the heart of Tuscany. F and I were en route to Lucca, which requires at least a train change in Florence, and since we would be at the train station already anyway, why not take advantage of the time gap between trains to take a quick glimpse of the birthplace of Renaissance?

Florence

Florence

We were there sufficiently early in the morning that we could enjoy an external admiration of the prominent Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore among relatively thin crowd. Its green, pink, and white marble façade was breathtakingly elegant, and we also marvelled over the large brick dome – quite a feat of engineering when you consider the timeline of its construction. One of these days, I’ve got to visit it properly. This was my third trip to Florence and I’ve yet to step foot into the cathedral!

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Postcards: Centro storico di Roma (IT)

It has been a good decade since I last visited Rome. I have forgotten just how enormous the buildings are, how many churches and cathedrals you can find within a stone’s throw, how chaotic everything could and would be, and how much I enjoyed hearing melodic Italian around me. However, I recall vividly the sheer number of people who flock to the main sights (even during the “shoulder” season)…

Rome

Rome

F and I started our two weeks trip to Italy with a quick stopover in Rome. How quickly? Just a little over a day. Frankly, I did not have the courage to brave the August crowd in the August heat, but when our schedule necessitated flying into Rome (but also out of Rome), it also seemed silly not to give F his first quick tour of the Eternal City.

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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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Postcards: Perast (ME)

In search for clearer water than those surrounded the town of Kotor, F and I hopped onto a local bus that took us to Perast, a small town (or is it village?) northwest of Kotor. The bus deposited us by the side of an undistinguished motorway and had us wondering if we were told to get off at the wrong spot, when we realised we were at a level above the town. Off, downhill we went.

Perast

Perast

Perast is as quaint as it can get, surrounded by grey, rocky mountains and deep blue sea. Unlike Kotor, we were not jostled about by scores of day-trippers and it felt relaxing to be here. The water was a bit choppier but it was clearer too. The only downside I guess would be the lack of proper beaches. We did find one at the north-western end of the marina which was completely packed, and further south, well, we’d have to launch ourselves into the water from small piers-slash-parks by the waterfront.

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Postcards: Herceg Novi (ME)

Our summer vacation this year is broken into two parts; the first, a shorter trip to Montenegro, and the second, a slightly longer one to Italy later next month so I can also attend one of my best friends’ wedding. We flew in and out of Dubrovnik, given reasonably-priced flights in comparison to those into Montenegro, and we were not that far away from the border. We arrived in Herceg Novi within the hour after our plane landed, which included crossing border controls that sit strategically with a view of the Adriatic sea. Not too shabby a workplace.

Herceg Novi

Herceg Novi

We had not intended to be in Herceg Novi initially, but due to transportation scheduling etc (long story and I won’t bore you with the details), we found ourselves with a few hours to quickly explore this coastal town that sits near the entrance of the Bay of Kotor. We deposited our luggage at the main bus station for a small price of €2, took the street past the adjacent cafés that leads downhill, and reached the Nikola Ðurković’s Square after a few minutes walk. Standing before us, the city gate with a clock tower that is the threshold to cross to get into the old town.

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Postcards: Piriac-sur-Mer (FR)

We may soon be running out of interesting and new places to visit in the vicinity of F’s hometown. Each time we travel east to my in-laws’, we’ve always borrow one of their cars on one of the afternoons and explore places within an hour or less of driving time. The distance that we’re stretching, however, is getting longer and longer. We may have to start doing day trips rather than an afternoon away…

Piriac-sur-Mer

Piriac-sur-Mer

Our most recent trip to the hometown saw us driving out along the coastline and sought out Piriac-sur-Mer, a quaint village on the peninsular of Guérande. The centre of the village is pedestrianised, making it very pleasant to visit on foot, down along the main streets and continue along the sea wall, past the parked boats and yachts, and a well-loved merry-go-round which (sadly) danced to the tunes of the 80s.

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Postcards: Chambéry (FR)

We had two hours to kill after returning our Vélonecy bikes following a day of bike-about Lake Annecy and retrieving our bags from Marc’s cellar. With tickets back to Paris via Chambéry, when we spotted a regional train due to leave for Chambéry pretty much right away, we did not hesitate jumping on it. That should give us time to quickly explore the historical capital of Savoy, buy something for dinner, and grab the capital-bound TGV.

Chambéry

Chambéry

Located in a valley surrounded by mountains, the medieval section of the town is within a short walk away from the train station. It is compact and can be easily visited on foot within an hour or two. The many heraldry-based flags hung conferred an atmosphere of the past, and I was half-expecting some knights to ride down the streets in armours and all set to joust each other! It was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday evening when we were there, with few people and even less traffic around.

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Postcards: Galeries of rue Vivienne (FR)

A couples more passages couverts can be found on rue Vivienne: one aptly named Galerie Vivienne, and the other called Galerie Colbert. Traditionally rivals but today each with its own activities, the former is a bustling passage with cafés, bookshops, print-sellers and hidden apartments while the latter housing university departments and administrative offices which inevitably also means security presence at the entrances that dissuade most that it’s a passage no longer open to public.

Galeries of rue Vivienne

Galeries of rue Vivienne

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Postcards: Passages of Grands Boulevards (FR)

Steps away from the métro station of Grands Boulevards are various covered passages of Paris, some more interesting and better kept than the others. Passage Jouffroy is my favourite among these; I could spend time window shopping at leisure here, and there are always something new to distract and wow the visitors strolling through. They are colourful, they are stylish, they are vintage, they are fun.

Les passages at Grands Boulevards

Les passages at Grands Boulevards

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Postcards: Île de la Jatte (FR)

River Seine snakes around Paris and Île de France, and with it, a number of small islands grace the region. We know all about the Île St Louis and Île de la Cité within central Paris, where the city’s history began with the settlement of the Parisii, but other islands are very much “invisible” to many. I should definitely explore more of them!

Île de la Jatte

Île de la Jatte

To the west of Paris, straddled between the communes of Levallois and Neuilly-sur-Seine, lies a small, picturesque island called Île de la Jatte, aka “Island of the Bowl”. We stumbled across it quite by chance, when Chloé and I went to Levallois for lunch at the weekend. I struggled to pinpoint why the name sounded familiar, but Chloé knows it well – it used to be a favourite hangout among Impressionist artists. Seurat’s Un dimanche après-midi à l’île de la Grande Jatte (now housed in Art Institut of Chicago) is indeed a very well-known painting to many!

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Postcards: late Irish autumn (IE)

A few weeks ago, I was back in Ireland to meet my god-daughter for the very first time and to see those who are near and dear to me. In between, I had a little time to visit one of my alma maters (Trinity College Dublin), the centrally located St Stephen’s Green, and the luscious Wicklow mountains. Everywhere I went, the autumnal golden hues were unmissable. Everywhere I went, I saw unrivalled beauty.

Late Irish autumn

Late Irish autumn

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Postcards: Versailles and Trianon (FR)

Just about every non-French visitors chez nous had requested a visit to Versailles in their Paris to-do list. Some got the required information on how to get there for a day-trip, some were personally accompanied by yours truly.

On average, I’ve gone out there at least once a year. Each time I came back swearing I’d never subject myself to the cattle-herding system of visiting the palace again, until sufficient time had lapsed and I found myself agreeing to another visit request. I am not learning my lesson very well, am I?

Versailles

Versailles

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Postcards: The legacy of Georgetown (MY)

A single blog post is hardly going to be sufficient to tell the rich history and the many tangible heritage sides of Georgetown, and I would not even dare to try to write a succinct summary in fear of getting it wrong or short-changed it in any way.

Instead, I’ll let the photos take you through a simplied journey, of appreciating the kind of childhood that is familiar to my generation (and those that came before, for we played barefoot outside and wouldn’t think of sliding an icon on a touchscreen gadget), on looking at freeze frames harking back to the colonial time, or seeing how much we stand to lose if we do not preserve part of our roots.

Georgetown

Georgetown

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Postcards: Kek Lok Si (MY)

The Temple of Supreme Bliss, or Kek Lok Si as it is known based on Fujian dialect (the most prominent dialect in Penang) pronounciation, is the most celebrated and largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Sitting atop the hill and overlooking Ayer Itam, it is said to be auspiciously located and feng shui-approved to protect the well-being of the temple and its devotees.

Constructed in 1893 under the direction of a well-supported head monk of the Kuan Yin Temple i.e. Temple of the Goddess of Mercy, from local consuls to the Chinese Emperor Guangxu, Kek Lok Si incorporates motifs of Buddhism from Burma, Thailand and China – a nod to both major branches of Buddhism: Mahayana and Theravada. (Note: ask most Chinese Buddhist and they’ll have a hard time telling you which branch of Buddhism they are followers of, in part due to the integration of Taoism to muddle up the mix further.)

Kek Lok Si

Kek Lok Si

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Postcards: Inlands of Bali (ID)

A considerable amount of time of our final 24 hours in Bali was spent on the road. The north-south parallel roads system in the region we were at meant it would never be quick to get from one place to another, even if they are geographically nearby. From the car, we scanned the horizons so to remember what it was like to be there, and when the vista got really interesting, we asked Komang to park to the side briefly so I could at least grab a few photos.

Given Komang was really there to be our driver and not as a driver-guide, I don’t have much stories to tell you in return either. Nonetheless, I hope you too enjoy the views which we had oohed-aahed over ;)

Gunung Agung

Gunung Agung

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Postcards: Amed and Tulamben (ID)

There wasn’t a day in Bali that we did not go into the sea. In fact, whenever possible, we squeezed in two sessions in the water – once in the morning, and another in the evening. I usually paddled by the beach, although I did once go out snorkelling with F, the veritable water baby.

Amed was therefore the perfect base for us while exploring East Bali, and we also nipped over Tulamben, which is popular among divers, for a couple of hours to snorkel. These sleepy towns were exactly what we were looking for – calm and peace from large tourist groups and urban traffic. Don’t get me wrong, there are other visitors around, but unlike Kuta or Ubud, we did not feel like there were more foreigners than locals in Amed.

Amed

Amed

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Postcards: Masceti and Candidasa (ID)

Our ultimate destination in East Bali was Amed, the name of a village but synonymously used to refer to a number of other villages within the same coastal stretch. Normally a solid three hours drive away from Kuta, we broke the journey down a little by making a few short stops along the way. We made it to Masceti Beach and Candidasa in the morning, before tracking down Bali Asli for lunch and the subsequent visit to Tirta Gangga.

Bali

Bali

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