TRAVEL: Ski Holiday in AVORIAZ


Have you ever had one of those snow globes, perhaps given by relatives or friends as ‘pasalubong’ or souvenir from their trips abroad? Well, I never had one but I have always thought them pretty, and I often wondered what it must be like to be inside one. Two weeks ago, my snow globe fantasy just got real with our trip to Avoriaz in the French Alps.

Avoriaz is a ski resort in the heart of the Portes du Soleil, just inside the French side of the Franco-Swiss border. Built on a sunny plateau of land, the resort was the brainchild of the Olympic skier Jean Vuarnet, who wanted to link the pistes of Morzine to those over the border in Switzerland, covering a network of slopes that spans 13 resorts. Avoriaz is France’s first car-free resort which makes it a safe place for children to walk around the centre.

Avoriaz 1800, for those who want to ski hard and play hard.

Avoriaz 1800, for those who want to ski hard and play hard.

When Hubby and I were plotting our travel calendar for 2015 a few months back, I intimated that I would like to travel some place exciting during winter and preferably with snow. Being a stickler for details, my husband carefully worked out a 2-week itinerary for us which involved a rendezvous with his best friend (and his best friend’s family) in Switzerland before driving up  as a group to Avoriaz for a week-long ski holiday; a trip down to Bordeaux to visit the family; and finally, a rendezvous with more family members in Paris before flying back to Singapore. How can I possibly not adore my husband’s OC tendencies?!

Picturesque Avoriaz.

Picturesque Avoriaz.

You see, I have never seen snow in my 30-odd years of existence. I have experienced winter in Australia but never in Europe or any other four-season region, so you can imagine how excited I was. Way. too. much. The days leading up to the actual trip saw me mainly obsessing about how many layers I should put on, how much cheese and wine I can consume without combusting into a fiery ball of dairy and alcohol,  how many kilometres and landmarks we can cover in two weeks, and if I will learn how to ski in mere five hours. Schengen visa secured, vacation leave filed and approved, bags packed, Pinky the traveling pig bathed and prepped for the big trip, soon we were on our way to Changi airport to catch our flight to Zurich. 

After a quick stopover at Fribourg for aperitif and lunch with the Vimards, we were finally on the road to Avoriaz where we would spend the next six days basking in air so pure and snow so white. We were very lucky to have had the most perfect sunny weather in Avoriaz, without which, our stay would not have been as magical.

So. One week in Avoriaz and about a million snippets of only the fondest experiences gathered. But in the interest of brevity (although my intro is already far from being short and sweet), I will narrow it all to just six highlights, which are…

With our ski instructor, Sylvain.

With our ski instructor, Sylvain.

Never  too old to learn how to ski.

Never too old to learn how to ski.

Skiing

Nothing beats skiing in the Alps, they say, and I’m overjoyed that my first ski experience happened right in Avoriaz. We stayed in a fully-furnished family apartment at Pierre et Vacances which is just a few meters away from the resort centre. The men of the house, Christophe and Guillaume, enrolled the wives (FayFay and I) to a three-day exclusive ski class with Evolution 2 ski and snowboarding school, lasting 1.5 hours each day.  Frankly, I didn’t expect that I would be able to ski in mere five hours but thanks to our très gentil ski instructor Sylvain, I found myself going down a relatively steep slope and even managing some left and right turns on our final class!

Team VimTaie on a raquette adventure

Team VimTaie on a raquette adventure.

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Walking in winter wonderland.

Raquette à neige or snowshoeing

Simply means walking on thick layers of soft snow in snowshoes/rackets. We did this on our last day in Avoriaz and had a great time descending about 400 meters from Avoriaz to Les Lindarets, alternatingly walking or sliding on our bottoms. From there, we took the télésiège back to the resort. We were only a small group of six on that day, including our raquette guide Camille, who told us plenty of stories about the area. We even saw a few chamois scurrying away from us as we traversed through their territory.

Sledding with le petit Victor

Sledding with le petit Victor.

Luge

Although you see mostly kids sledding in the designated luge area, it didn’t stop us from borrowing little Victor’s sled and having a bit of fun with it.

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Lunch at Les Fontaines Blanches.

Charcuterie.

Charcuterie and cheese fondue.

Gastronomy

Although Avoriaz does not have the same gastronomic reputation as Morzine, it does have a few dual-purpose (lunch and dinner) restaurants that serve great food and some lively bars for drinks and light bites open until late at night. If you have a big appetite, you definitely must try the lunch buffet at Les Fontaines Blanches. They have a wide selection of all-you-can-eat aperitifs, mains and desserts for a reasonable price of about 25 euros per person. If you happen to ski around the Lindarets, you can check out the restaurants there with their delectable plat du jour. They seem to be very popular with locals and visitors.

Le vin chaud meets la Pinky.

Le vin chaud meets la Pinky.

Vin Chaud

Vin chaud, or hot wine, is a beverage typically enjoyed on special occasions in cold places. It is mildly spicy and warming, with just a little splash of Cognac. I first heard about it from a friend who recommended that we try it when in Avoriaz. First sip and I knew it won’t be missed but it does give you that warm-fuzzy sensation. It’s good to have tried it though.

Sunset in Avoriaz.

Sunset in Avoriaz.

Sunset

There are only a few things more evocative than watching the dazzling colours of the sunset descend over the snowy plateau and the snow-capped chalets in Avoriaz. I had tears just looking at the sunset view.

Grocery shopping at Carrefour

This may sound ridiculous to your ears but I do love being inside the supermarket. To me, walking up and down aisles lined on both sides with all sorts of goodies arranged in specific manner begging for you to come pick them up and bring them home is almost akin to a fulfilling sexual experience. Okay, maybe not to that extreme, but yes, a trip to the supermarket is always a happy endeavour for me. We purchased our week-long food supply from Carrefour and had most of our meals in the apartment. Thanks to FayFay’s dexterity in the kitchen, we enjoyed great-tasting dishes right in the warm comfort of our cabin.

Meet the VimTaies.

Meet the VimTaies.

Our Avoriaz trip is definitely one for the books and none of it would have been possible without the exceptional planning of Christophe and Guillaume, all done over a series of Skype calls between Switzerland and Singapore. Having said that, you really ought to be planning the next VimTaie holiday, guys!

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TRAVEL: Tailor-made fun in the sun in PHUKET


The party island of Phuket is officially our most-visited place, having just concluded our long weekend Christmas getaway there. It was our third time to celebrate Christmas on the island, an every-other-year holiday tradition Hubby and I started back in 2010, and our fourth trip overall. While that hardly qualifies us as experts, we have certainly seen and experienced more of this island than perhaps any average holiday-maker.

I have loved Phuket from the first moment I set foot on the island. It certainly isn’t the best island there is but there is just something about Phuket that draws us in and keeps us coming back for more – no matter how many times I keep telling Hubby that we should probably give Phuket a rest and go somewhere else next time. A little digression, if I may: We were in the same speedboat as this young French couple when we did the Phan Nga Bay tour and the guy, who himself is an intrepid traveler, said that among all the islands that he has visited in Asia he liked El Nido the most. He said not even James Bond Island or Koh Phi Phi comes close. It’s a shame that I have not been to El Nido myself, but I have seen enough photos and videos and heard first-hand account from friends to know that this cannot possibly be a fib. So yes, El Nido is definitely in our future travel plans. Now back to Phuket. You see, it’s not so easy to write-off this gem of an island given that it’s only a mere 1.5 hours air travel time from Singapore and there are flights galore! Besides, when you only have one long weekend to scratch the beach-itch, you really wouldn’t want to spend several hours cramped in the whatever-happened-to-leg-room budget airline seats when you could already be sampling pad thai or tom kha gai in one of the restaurants in Kamala, in your sexy swimsuits and with your toes buried in the soft white sand, for example. If you have been to Phuket, chances are, you probably love it for some of the reasons that we do. If you don’t like it, however, then it’s just too bad.

So here’s our definitive list of things to do in Phuket. I will be using photos from both our recent and older trips so don’t get too shocked by the weight gain and more pronounced appearances of crow’s feet, age spots and flab because sweetheart, we aren’t so young and so tight anymore.

1. Explore Patong on foot. This place certainly makes no apologies for what it is: tacky, sultry, campy, hot, crowded, boisterous, sexy, delicious, morally-bent, cheap, expensive, delightful, relaxing, capricious…all that and much more coming at you all at the same time! It can get a little too much but once you get used to the cacophony of noise, colour, taste, scent and feel of Phuket, trust me, it will grow on you.

Walking around Patong. December 2010.

…is all you need. Patong, December 2014.

2. Rent a motorbike and visit the more pleasant and less congested beaches of Surin, Karon, Kamala and Kata. Of the four, Surin is our favourite and this place just keeps changing each time we visit so it never gets old or boring.

Rent a motorbike to get around Phuket. August 2014.

3. Eat as much of your favourite Thai dishes and dare to discover a few others (deep-fried bugs, for example) because you know as well as I do that these delicious authentic Thai cooking is terribly hard to find in other countries. And even if you’re lucky enough to find a good one, you can bet it’s not going to be as cheap.

My all-time favourite, Tom Kha Kai.

4. Book a trip to see the Koh Phi Phi island. You’ve seen the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, I presume? This area here is where some scenes of the movie were supposed to have been shot. Gorgeous island but just overly crowded especially during peak season.

Koh Phi Phi Island tour. December 2012.

Just wow.

Just wow.

5. Experience the Phang Nga 7-island Tour at least once. They say if you have a choice between Phi Phi and Phang Nga, you pick the latter because there are more activities and views to enjoy. The Phang Nga Tour includes the famous James Bond Island as one of the stops. We don’t dare play favourites because we like both (Phi Phi and Phang Nga), but yes, the 30-minute canoe experience at Koh Hong and the small cave exploration before that were quite nice. Koh Hong is one of the seven islands in Phang Nga.

James Bond Island tour. December 2014.

Canoeing at Koh Hong Island. December 2014.

6. Go elephant trekking and enjoy traversing the tropical jungle paths while comfortably seated on the back of these gentle giants. Afterwards, you can pay extra Baht to buy bananas to feed the elephants with, at the observation kiosk. They even have baby elephants dancing and doing tricks that will make you go awww and turn your heart into a big puddle of mush inside your chest.

Our second time to go elephant trekking and this time, we caught the beautiful sunset on our way back and it nearly brought tears to my eyes, I remember. December 2012.

7. Visit Wat Chalong, arguably the most visited Buddhist temple in Phuket. Thais offer flowers and light candles at the central temple by way of making merit or showing gratitude for wishes granted. You will also hear firecrackers exploding loudly which generally comes from this brick oven-like dome close opposite the main temple.

The Wat Chalong. December 2014.

One of the temples at Wat Chalong.

8. Drive up north to see the Big Buddha. This is probably one of the most recognisable structures in the northern part of Phuket, In fact, you will see the Buddha from any vantage point on this side of the island. Ladies who are wearing shorts and sleeveless tops will be given sarongs to cover up bare extremities. Entrance is free and the view is spectacular from here.

Behold the Big Buddha in Phuket. December 2014.

Big Buddha Phuket_vickyras

9. Take the most awesome sunset photos at Phromthep Cape. Or just about any panoramic photo and selfie shot, in case you’re there before sunset. Been here twice before and yes, the view is just spectacular, especially on a bright and sunny day.

Fantastic view from Phromtep Cape on a sunny day. December 2010.

Elephant sculptures of different sizes at the Phromtep Cape.

Elephant sculptures of different sizes at the Phromtep Cape. August 2014.

10. Catch the fascinating nighttime Thai cultural show at Fantasea. Be mesmerised by Thailand’s rich and exotic heritage and ancient traditions with some of the coolest technology and special effects. Watch out for the elephants. They will bring you to tears with their cuteness.

The Thai cultural show at Fantasea is a must-see when you’re in Phuket. The elephants were sensational!

11. Try the famous Phuket banana-nutella pancake and other flavours available. You are bound to feel that all-too-familiar tightening on your pant’s waistband after eating copious amount of this dangerous concoction but trust me, it’s worth the calories my friend.

I must always have my banana-nutella pancake when in Phuket. Try and I bet you’ll love it!

Banana-Nutella  pancake at  Surin Beach. December 2010.

Banana-Nutella pancake at Surin Beach. December 2010.

12. Dine at MK Gold (the duck with green noodles is an absolute must-try!) and watch a movie (or two) at Jungceylon Mall. On our recent trip alone, we watched Exodus and The Hobbit, and all because we love the cinemas here. The seats are perfectly plush and comfortable and the screen is huge!

Go for the duck dish, dimsum and steamboat ala carte. YUM! December 2014.

13. Get a facial treatment in any one of the facial centres in Jungceylon and get rid of those hard-to-eliminate blackheads and other skin impurities. They usually have a treatment package that already includes facial cleansing, blackheads and whiteheads removal, facial scrub and mask and a few minutes of soothing facial massage, ranging from 500 to 900 Bht.

14. Get all your skin and beauty swag at Boots. I love going to this shop because somehow I feel like I am getting a good deal when I buy my moisturisers, creams, oils, etc from here.

I can’t believe all these cost me only 56sgd! Boots loot, December 2014.

15. Try any one of the fish spas scattered all over Patong and get those dead skin and dirt nibbled away by these hungry little suckers. A caveat: If you are too sensitive to aggressive nibbling and gets tickled easily, you may want to rethink your decision. But try anyway ‘coz YOLO, right?

Ça chatouille! December 2012.

16. Indulge in a one-hour Thai massage on the beach. And a foot scrub, too, while you’re at it. The price has gone up a bit now to around 400-500 Bht for a one-hour session but still well worth it. Tips are not mandatory but encouraged.

Foot scrub and massage on the beach is always a great idea. Surin Beach, December 2014.

17. Explore Phuket City. Though there isn’t much here based on what we have experienced when we drove out to the city in the morning (the weekend night market seems to be a crowd-drawer from what we have read on the internet), we did, however, discover this quaint little café called The Circle Coffee Boutique where they serve delicious homemade cakes and pastries. Look it up when in town.

#Foodporn. December 2014.

18. Yoga anywhere but especially on the beach.

Surin Beach, August 2014.

Heart opener. Karon Beach, December 2014.

19. Soak in the sun. But don’t forget to slap on generous layers of sunblock for protection. Your skin will thank you for it later.

#Pinkythetravelingpig likes it hot. As do I. Surin Beach, December 2014.

20. And get one last massage at Let’s Relax. There’s a plethora of massage centres to choose from (dodgy or otherwise) but personally, we like going to Let’s Relax.

Nothing quite like a fantastic Thai message to cap our holiday. Let’s Relax Phuket, December 2014.

I’m fairly certain that even with these 20-odd things I have listed down, I (probably) barely scratched the surface because Phuket is just…larger-than-life, in many ways. And that’s probably why we can’t stay away for a long period of time. We may not be going back to Phuket anytime soon but we have Krabi on our March travel calendar. That’s going to be another epic beach trip for sure. Abangan!

TRAVEL: Packing For A Winter Holiday


I am going on my first-ever ski holiday in February so I have been trawling the internet reading up on winter travel tips. Based on what I have seen so far, packing for a winter holiday is much more complex than packing for a summer holiday – in terms of logistics and pretty much everything else. After all, some bikinis come in a size much smaller than a winter glove. Those who have done a fair amount of skiing (or winter traveling) will have already known this by heart. But for the ski virgins like me, here are some tips I have curated to help us pack efficiently for our trip:

Avoriaz, France. See you in February! (Photo source: http://www.powderbeds.com/blog/france/the-best-family-ski-resorts-in-france)

Avoriaz, France. See you in February! (Photo source: http://www.powderbeds.com/blog/france/the-best-family-ski-resorts-in-france)

  1. Thermal underwear – In order to keep warm and cozy under extremely cold weather conditions, it is advisable to wear thermal underwear, before putting on your normal winter clothes. Unsure which brand to pick? Take your pick from the list of options here.
  2. Boots – When choosing a pair of winter boots, make sure that it’s sturdy enough to hike through snow in, but also, stylish enough to be worn with different types of winter outfit you are planning to take. It’s best to take dark-coloured boots so it’s easy to mix and match with your outfit. For inspiration, check out these winter boots.
  3. Gloves – When it comes to gloves, you only need to make sure that what you have is thin and light enough to stuff in your pockets or bag, breathable,and also waterproof.
  4. Hats – Put simply, your hat should be able to cover your ears and also part of your nape. Hats come in many forms and designs but you should always go with one that will give you the maximum warmth for that specific part of your body.
  5. Polarized sunglasses – Winter sunlight may not be as intense, but when reflected off snow, it can be quite painful on the eyes and very distracting especially when you’re driving. Check out the coolest winter sunglasses in 2015 and pick the one you like best.
  6. Scarf – In most cases, simply covering your ears won’t be enough. You also need to protect your neck from the biting cold and a good quality scarf will take care of that. As scarves are generally small and light, you can have several in different colours and designs to brighten up your dark winter clothing.
  7. Sunscreen, lip balm and your favourite moisturiser – Definitely a MUST! Windburn can be just as painful as the summer sunburn. In fact, it is quite possible to get sunburn from reflection off snow or ice. So keep your skin and lips protected and heavily moisturised especially when going out in the snow.

Travel Thoughts Of The Girl With The Case Of The Elsewheres


Red Dune Safari in Dubai

Red Dune Safari in Dubai

Before my husband and I got married, we were often told to enjoy life as a couple; go on adventures together and travel as much and as often as we can afford before adding a new member to the family. We never sought to question the wisdom of those words because deep down, we have always known that the results are almost always worth the costs.

Travel while you have the advantage of youth and the friskiness of your feet, we were told, because as you get older and your responsibilities get bigger – family, education, mortgage and financial obligations especially – you will find it harder to pack up your bags and go on random trips. So. very. true.

Whether it’s a random overnight trip to the beach in Bintan, a weekend getaway in Phuket, Boracay or Bali, a rendezvous in the Middle East or even a carefully planned trip to Maldives, Australia or Europe, we have certainly revelled in the joys of traveling together as a couple. Traveling strengthens our bond in ways that perhaps no other activity could. Of course there’s the S word, but you know what I mean. And soon, when we have our little people, they will be taught to embrace travel and adventure because…

  1. Traveling is an awesome way to learn about other people’s culture and be seduced by languages apart from your own. Reading about cultural practices and quirks is easy, what with the plethora of available materials, but being present is a priceless experience you must never pass on, especially when you are young and fully capable of embracing people and cultures with wild abandon.
  2. Traveling makes an adventurer out of you. Being in a strange country or city brings out that side of you you never knew existed. One day you are riding a camel or an elephant and eating deep-fried crickets, the next day you could be cuddling a koala, petting a baby tiger, taking a selfie with a napping boa constrictor or swimming with the whale sharks. Or, you could be sipping a cup of coffee at a quaint little bistro one minute and dancing samba in the middle of the plaza the next.
  3. Traveling cultivates a deeper sense of love and compassion for Mother Earth and fellow human beings. The more you travel, the more you will learn that it is not simply about being mere tourists lugging around selfie sticks, although that’s how most of us start out as, but it is about knowing that there is a bigger world out of our comfort zones, with bigger issues to get involved in and confront.

So don’t always wait for the ‘perfect time to travel’ because you may end up not being able to leave your cocoon at all. Sometimes we don’t always know what a perfect travel is until we set foot in our destination and find ourselves wowed by little things we didn’t prepare for. You know, the physics of randomness and such. And if you are not traveling solo, it is best to travel with people you love and with whom you share a common lust for wandering and learning. Otherwise, you could be wasting so much time negotiating on your itinerary instead of feeling, seeing and tasting a luscious slice of the world.

Five Things to Consider When Going On a Holiday


Wouldn't you want to just lose yourself in THIS magnificence?

Wouldn’t you want to just lose yourself in THIS magnificence?

Going away on a holiday is a necessity for most of us who are deeply entrenched in the brutal corporate and (even) domestic jungles, primarily to relax and recharge our batteries, to get lost in the moment and rediscover our fun self (remember that time when you used to be fun?), meet new romantic partners or recapture excitement with current beau, or perhaps to disengage ourselves away from the maddening demands of our daily lives. Also, going on a holiday takes us to that state of natural mindfulness, where we pay complete attention to our life experiences and evaluate them with a fresh pair of eyes as we try to look to the future.

But now that we are bombarded by travel options, it becomes increasingly important to make wise travel decisions without having to kill the thrill of spontaneity and intoxicating randomness, in order for us to fully maximize the perks of our trip. Consider these tips when planning your next travel adventure:

  1. Traveling on a budget is NOT (always) synonymous to bad travel experience, and it shouldn’t be. What it does is simply help you manage your resources efficiently and encourage you to experience some aspects of traveling without having to go expensive all the time.
  2. Be an explorer! Now is your chance to absorb all the colors, sights, sounds, tastes and emotions your body can contain, so don’t waste it by being cooped-up in your hotel room the whole day. If in a safe neighborhood, you can take a walk, rent a bike, or run at your own pace. This is also a good way for you to keep fit while on vacation. Go out there and live life like you mean it!
  3. Direct your own travel documentary. Capture moments and places as much and as often as you can. These will give you enough materials to create your own travel videos which you can revisit each time you feel the need to escape but just can’t.
  4. Make one or two friends for each day of your trip and by that I mean, make it your mission to know more than just their name and what sort of work they do. Have engaging conversations on books, movies, sports and of course, your travel adventures.
  5. Be a student – learn. Discover more about the place, its history and culture, and the people, by watching, observing, listening, and asking questions. Make each travel an enriching experience for you and you will be surprised by the great number of things you will soon learn about yourself.

TRAVEL: Amazing AUSTRALIA


Australia consistently ranks high on the list of countries offering the quality of life many countries can only dream about. And why not? With its massive land area (sixth in the world), amazing beaches and reefs, forests, fantastic four-season weather, diverse wildlife, multicultural melting pot cities populated with beautiful people, there’s very little that this country can possibly want.

So when we visited Australia for the first time last July, we came with expectations set so high and came back with the satisfaction that they were all met, surpassed even. I love Australia – SO MUCH that I sometimes still dream about our trip and how we could have stayed a while longer and visited more places. I’m pretty certain there will be more time for that in the near offing, and most likely with the little tyke in tow. However, for now, here’s a list of our Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sydney travel highlights:

  1. Took the Brisbane River Cruise – From our hotel in downtown Brissy, we walked towards Brisbane River and hopped on one of the river cruise boats. It’s a fun way of discovering the history of the river and admiring some of Brisbane’s most iconic sights (Kangaroo Point Cliffs, City Centre, Brisbane Wheel, etc) for only AUD 25 per person.

    The Brisbane Eye, one of Brisbane's iconic landmarks

    The Brisbane Eye, one of Brisbane’s iconic landmarks

  2. Visited Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – If I can only have one Aussie travel highlight – but we all know that’s impossible because, hey, it’s Australia! – this would be it. Only one of the very few places now where you can still cuddle a koala (for a fee, of course), Lone Pine Koala Sactuary is located about 13kms from Brisbane CDB. The zoo is quite company so it’s very easy to move around and they don’t only have koalas here but also other animals such as kangaroos, Tasmanian devil, few bird species, fish, and reptiles. 

    Cuddled a koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane

    Cuddled a koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane

  3. Breakfast at Coolangatta Beach – Located at the Gold Coast side of Australia, Coolangatta is a beautiful stretch of white sand beach and gorgeous blue water that retains its precious charm even during winter. We had a typical Aussie breakfast of bacon, eggs, bread and coffee by the beach, which was made more fun by the frequent sighting of hot surfers about to hit the waves. After breakfast, we took a nice, long walk along the beach and took some very nice photos as well.

    Coolangatta Beach, pretty even during winter

    Coolangatta Beach, pretty even during winter

  4. Climbed the Gold Coast Skypoint and marvelled at the precious 360-degree view of Gold Coast below. You can’t make up a sight like this. 

    Gorgeous 360-degree view of Gold Coast from the Skypoint in Broadbeach

    Gorgeous 360-degree view of Gold Coast from the Skypoint in Broadbeach

  5. Explored Surfers Paradise – Another one of Australia’s amazing beaches and a lot more crowded than Coolangatta. It was a sunny winter day so there were plenty of people milling around. Took a stroll down Soul Boardwalk and dined at Vapiano, a great Italian restaurant.  Watch out for the hot cops patrolling the area and snap photos with them if you can.

    Welcome to Surfer's Paradise!

    Welcome to Surfer’s Paradise!

  6. Ran the Gold Coast Airport (Half) Marathon…on a cold winter day and nearly paid for it with dear life. First a disclaimer: I am a tropical baby through and through, and by that I mean I cannot stand cold weather temperature. I was pretty sure I would collapse during the run but I managed to pull myself together and complete the half-marathon, though off-mark by several minutes.

    I survived, yey!

    I survived, yey!

  7. Took a stroll up and down Darling Harbour – Officially one of my favourite places in Sydney, Darling Harbour is lined with restaurants and cafés, including the famous Lindt Café. It’s gorgeous at daytime with all the boats, ferries and water taxis docked along the wharf and even prettier at night with the cacophony of lights and sounds emanating from the fancy establishments.

    Darling Harbour, Sydney

    Darling Harbour, Sydney

  8. Got lost in Manly and Bondi Beach – Thanks to lovely friends who took me around Sydney while Hubby was working, I was able to visit the iconic Bondi and Manly beaches. And because it was winter, we have enough space to walk around and get some suntan mesh going. Love, love, love Bondi and I wish to be back there on summertime. Special mention to Inez, Johanna, Zoe and Liza – thank you so much for the lovely company during my short stay in Sydney. Hope to see you all again soon!

    Beautiful Bondi Beach

    Beautiful Bondi Beach

  9. Took a photo in front of the famous Harry’s Pies – I’ve been told that Hollywood stars and Australian celebrities frequent this little roadside café on wheels, which is now considered an institution in Sydney. It’s a pity that we were still full from all the fish and chips that we’ve eaten the whole day so I didn’t get to try the famous pies. Next time!

    Hello from Harry's Pies!

    Hello from Harry’s Pies!

  10. Went up the Sydney Eye Tower  Just before we took our flight back to Singapore, we crammed a visit to the tower and Madame Tussaud’s in about 4 hours. The Sydney Eye Tower offers an unobstructed view of Sydney and its iconic landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

    Spectacular view of Sydney from the Sydney Eye Tower

    Spectacular view of Sydney from the Sydney Eye Tower

  11. Took a photo of the Sydney Opera House – Because I’m a tourist and this is what tourists do!

    THE Sydney Opera House

    THE Sydney Opera House

  12. Visited Madame Tussaud’s – Another great first-time experience for me. If you’ve ever been to one, then you would know that they make them almost real-looking, it’s beyond amazing!

    You have reached the White House...

    You have reached the White House…

What are your favourite things about Australia?

TRAVEL: BAHRAIN in 2009


Map of Bahrain

Reposted from here.

This is where I will hie off to on the 12th of August. Manama, Bahrain. I don’t know about you guys but there is just something so seductive about the way the vowels roll around my tongue whenever I’d enunciate the word Mah.Na.Mah. This will be my first time to go to any part of the Middle East region. The closest I have ever gone to the ME were the three times that we had a layover in Dubai Airport before taking our connecting flights to Turkey (2006), Kenya (2007), and Uganda (2008). And out of those three times, we only managed to get out of the airport once – just to stay for a few hours in a hotel close to the airport, in order to get some shut-eye, before we board the next flight that will take us back home to Manila.

My upcoming trip, as in most of the trips I’ve made in the last four years, is purely business. We have a three-day training event in Manama scheduled starting on the 13th. This is one of the reasons I love working for present company. My bosses and the people I work with are such fun, cool people with their hearts in the right place. I don’t think I have ever felt more at home in any company – except for that brief moment that I was working for ProSolutions (a PR company) sharing office space with a motley group of happy people such as Dinzo, Sandra, Lando, and Jay-Anne to name a few.

As customary before I go to a place I’ve never been, I looked up Bahrain on wiki to familiarize myself a lil’ bit with the country, its cultural uniqueness and the climate especially. Climate because I sometimes end up packing the wrong sorts of clothes. Like that one time we were in Jakarta. I remember Celia and I going to a press conference wearing low-cut dresses that show some generous cleavage. Obviously, it got way over our heads that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country and people, especially women, are very traditional when it comes to religious beliefs and, uhrmm, way of dressing. So the two of us were asked, but very politely, to change into something less revealing. I know, I know, that was pretty embarrassing and that’s how I have come to embrace the habit of Wikipedia. There was also this one time when I travelled to India alone. This was back in 2007. I did my usual weather/climate check and I knew it was going to be very humid when I touch down in New Delhi. So what was I wearing on the day of my departure from Manila? A very tight white tanktop, denim jeans and flip-flops – an ensemble which I thought was cool and comfortable UNTIL I reached the hotel and saw Srikanth looking all panicky, worried, and nearly throwing a fit when he saw what I was wearing. He said though Delhi is now somewhat liberated/progressive, it is still ill-advised for women to walk around in clothes that reveal too much skin especially in the dead of night. In fact, he said, teenage pregnancy and rape cases are on the rise and that’s something I should bear in mind. So yah, those two embarrassing gaffes have surely taught me to be very mindful of other people’s cultural orientation. I guess I have been too entrenched in the urban lifestyle of my native Manila where people are at liberty to wear any fabric, cut, or make of dresses outside the comforts of their homes that I often make the mistake of thinking other places are somewhat extensions of it. Or I just feel generally comfortable in my own skin – almost to a fault sometimes.

But this time, I am going to be extra cautious with my packing. Even though Bahrain is considered an open city, which means it‘s not as strict as the rest of the Middle East countries, I still think proper dressing ought to be observed. And that’s crucial because as my friends (from and outside of work) often tell me, ‘proper dressing’ is a concept unknown to me. Not that I’m a fashion roadkill or anything like that, I’M NOT. In fact, I take my fashion very seriously. And there lies the problem…because I take it oh-so-seriously, I sometimes forget that the workplace is not exactly the best place to showcase my fashion experiments. Ugh. It’s a good thing that we are required to wear our uniforms for the entire duration of the event because now I won’t have to worry about scrounging for normal-sleeved tops and dresses, which I don’t have a lot of in my closet.

So ya, barring the usual packing nightmares, I’m excited to make this trip and make the most of my opportunity to bask in the cultural distinctiveness of Bahrain…

***

Out to lunch.

14 August 2009. It is the second day of our event and though I’ve been here in Bahrain since the 12th, my body is still not properly acclimatized. I am a tropical baby and I thrive in humidity but, duuuuude, not when we’re talking 45 degree-temperature day in and out. Don’t get me wrong. I like Bahrain. And the fact that it is among the few forward-thinking Middle East countries gives me some comfort that I will no sooner get flagged for wearing sleeveless top and speaking a bit loudly, among others. It was also nice to see a lot of Filipinos around which makes us feel somewhat at home. But the momentary feeling of pride of being among fellow countrymen was completely obliterated when we chanced upon some hooker-type of Pinays clinging on to Caucasians of various shapes and sizes in a bar and you know that they are not in any way romantically involved. You know just by looking at them and observing their body language that money is exchanged at some point. And it’s a horrible feeling being in the same room with them especially when the people you’re with make remarks such as ‘hey, they’re Filipinas just like you aren’t they?’ and all you can do is either (a) shrug and make a caustic retort like ‘Yeah, so what? We’re not from the same mother’, or (b) pretend you didn’t hear the inquiry and just focus on your BHD 2.00 bottle of beer which in itself is so expensive you just have to swig it down to the very last drop. I know it’s rather unfair to look down on women who peddle their wares for a few more buck. They are, after all, just being a ‘lil bit more creative in ways of earning more money to put food on the family table back home. But sometimes you can’t help but feel a good amount of disdain for them especially when people make disparaging sweeping generalizations. So I’m sorry but seeing them in action just made my skin crawl a ‘lil bit and for once not very proud of my Pinay roots.

Anyway, on to more pleasant thoughts. Our event was a success by all standards. The participants came hungry for training and motivation and our roster of speakers gave them exactly that. It’s morally uplifting to see people come on the first day with a vague notion of the direction to which they want to steer their lives to eventually come out of the hall on the last day completely changed. Really, there is no telling what the human spirit is capable of absorbing – and pursuing.

If there’s one thing I regret not being able to do in Bahrain, it would be that I didn’t get to go around Manama that much. In fact, not at all. Except for the occasional lunch and dinner trips to Exhibition Road with Mar, Elson, Kenny and Ranjan (but usually with Mar), I didn’t get to see much of the place. But then again, maybe it’s a good thing as everything is ridiculously EXPENSIVE in Bahrain. I am thankful though that I don’t have a monstrous appetite for food, otherwise, I’d be begging my colleagues for scraps of food on their plates. Hahaha. Expensive as they were, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed my scoops of Baskin Robins. See how low maintenance I can be? A scoop of ice cream is enough to bring me endless pleasure even in the most trying circumstances.

Vicky, MTG, Mar in our official uniform.

15 August 2009.  Our event has officially ended – in our usual noteworthy fashion. After three days of intense training sessions, we are confident that our participants are going back to their homes armed with the knowledge and inspiration they paid for to gain. There were a lot of photo-taking and I must say it’s lovely to see our speakers, our Big Boss especially, being given the rockstar treatment. Indeed, when you are good at what you do, people can’t help feeling awe-struck and fiercely loyal to you.

We were given a few hours to do as we wish and I spent mine curled under the comforter, sleeping like a baby. I was majorly exhausted! Shortly before 9PM, I was woken up by a phonecall. It was Kenny telling me that the pick-up is already downstairs, waiting to take us to Seef Mall where Boss is treating the lot of us to the movies. We watched The Hangover – an absolute lark of a movie I suggest you all come and watch it!

Giddy!

16 August 2009. I was to fly back to Manila at 8:00PM Bahrain time, which is around 1:00AM in my home country. I passed through the immigration with nary an incident and I took time walking in and out of Duty Free shops, ambivalent if I should pick up something for friends back home. I decided not to, again because of the cost, and also because I won’t have time to meet them anyway as I am due to fly to KL the day after I arrive in Manila. It sounds like fun isn’t it, this whole living out of the suitcase thing? Some people I know who travel even more extensively than I do are already tired of airports and jet planes and not being able to stay long enough at home to establish proper relationships or sustain them at the very least. But such is not the case with me. I’m still at that stage where I’m hungry (if not hungrier) for a substantial taste of every little portion that the world can offer; that I am enthralled by cultural differences; that I am in a way considered a citizen of the world. Okay, perhaps that’s still a bit of a stretch considering I still have a lot of countries to land my feet on and claim as my own but still…