Sakura crazy

Japan spring is the perfect opportunity to follow the path of the pretty petals. Walked under the Sakura trees. Read a book and admire the delicate beauty they have. Hanafubuki (blizzard of falling petals) was magical. If given a chance, … Continue reading

I Walk Tokyo

Since we had the luxury of time, we took to the streets with our camera and maps.  We saw a lot of pretty and interesting places and things.  I would just like to share what we found on our two weeks in Tokyo.




The first place we stayed at in Tokyo was in the Arakawa area and we normally had to take the Nippori-Toneri Liner to get around.  We decided to walk around the Nishi Nippori all the way to Nippori.  Nishi Nippori has a small pretty park which is uphill.  Behind the park is actually a cemetery.  We tried to avoid it and tried to the temple town of Nippori.  One of our turns to find a temple called Tenno-ji led us to a cemetery.  I wanted to avoid it but decided against it.  If you are in Tokyo during cherry blossom season, please visit the Yanaka Cemetery.  It is really pretty despite the fact that it is a cemetery.  It is like a whole city on it’s own.  There is a ruin of a Five Story Pagoda which was burned down in an act of arson-suicide.  I wanted to check out the whole section for the Tokugawa clan but it was getting dark so we gave it a miss.



Since this time around we didn’t get a JR pass because we were staying around almost a month and would not be moving as much as the first few visits to Japan, we saw some posters inside the Tokyo Metro station showing some Tokyo Top trends and on the cover was a very pretty establishment that sells flowers.  We searched online for the location and found it to be near Hiroo station (広尾駅 Hiroo-eki).  It is called Fleur Universelle.  It was really picture perfect and the meals were reasonably priced.  The food looked really pretty and tasted really good.  





If you like Ueno and Akihabara, try walking from Ueno to Okachimachi then further down to Akihabara.  Ueno has all the small shops and Ueno park.  Okachimachi is also a shopping district. Try to walk following the rail tracks.  Under the railway there are a couple of interesting group of shops.  One is called the 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan and the other is called Chabara Aki-Oka Marche.  The first one is a group of stores offering artisanal goods.  We had fun looking at all of their handmade crafts.  Chabara on the other hand, offers artisanal edible goods.  We really loved the honey, tea and the cup ramen that we bought from there.


The Yuraku Concourse is also interesting if you are planning to walk from Ginza to Hibiya to avoid having to transfer a few trains to get to Harajuku.  It is underneath the tracks and the walls are old and covered with old movie posters which looked really pretty and nostalgic.


The walk from Omote-sando to Harajuku and then onwards to Shibuya is quite lively.  You get to see the luxury of finer things from Omote-sando, the cool-weird fashion of Harajuku and the lights of Shibuya.



We checked our map and found out that the Imperial Palace should be within walking distance.  The pretty Tokyo Station, Takashimaya Nihonbashi and the roads leading to it are very picturesque that we almost never found the famous Nijubashi because we keep on getting distracted by the pretty trees and buildings.  It is quite a really grand and humongous place in the crowded Tokyo where everything is small and built for small buildings.







There might be other great walks out there in Tokyo.  Hope I can share more the next time we take a walk in Tokyo.


The photos were taken using Sony A7 and Nokia Lumia 1020.




Tulipmania 2013 @ The Coolest Garden in Singapore

It’s been a while since we’ve updated our blog. May is the first month this year we didn’t travel. We have a lot of catching up to do!
This month, tulips travelled to Singapore. They stayed at the Flower Dome, Gardens By The Bay.  What’s so nice about this garden is that you can appreciate the flowers and plants without sweating. There were other interesting flowers and plants too.  They charge a fee for seeing the flowers in the Flower Dome as well as the Cloud Forest but it is well worth the money.  They carry a lot of plants and flowers which don’t normally grow here.  Here are the photos I’ve taken after admiring the flowers.



my arm candy for the day. Pandora Queen Bee and gift bracelet from Prague























Panda Plant










In Search of Real Mermaids

Do you sometimes feel that you are in your own movie (The Truman Show comes to mind) sometimes?  Like life somehow knows of your plan and all the travel shows you watch somehow relate to where you were planning to go next.  This happened a lot but I specifically remember it for Jeju.  We were just having our usual crash on the couch and watch a bit of TV before bed with our mates when suddenly on TV are the Haenyos of Jeju (Diving Ladies).  It gave me a bit more reason to visit the island.

So on our usual escape out of the Island last September of 2011, we decided to give South Korea a try.  We’ve included Jeju in our itinerary with a specific goal other than the awesome view: to see and talk to a Haenyo.

So from Seoul Gimpo Airport, we boarded our Jeju Air flight to Jeju Island.  Since I never looked at the map properly, I was shocked when we were trying to land.  The island is HUGE!  I really thought we took the wrong way and were landing on the wrong island.  It was no wonder that it takes one hour from the airport to get to our hostel.  We were actually very lucky that the owner herself was in Jeju at that time.  She was the one who picked us up and accompanied us to have dinner.

We stayed at Ssari’s Flower Hill, a hostel  owned by the same people who run Seoul Guest House.  It is a concrete bungalow on the outside, and all Hinoki (Japanese Cypress) interiors.  It is the perfect place to relax after a whole day of travelling.  The room smelled so nice and the interiors are just perfect.  They also have 2 huge dogs who are just the sweetest.

There’s a lot of things you can do in Jeju so don’t be like us and just allot at least 3 days there.  There’s Seongsun Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) — a UNESCO heritage site meaning castle hill.  A must see site.  It takes a while to reach the top but the view and the place is amazing on it’s own.  People actually climb up there to see the sunrise — hence the name.

We were fortunate that our landlady was such a sweetheart and dropped us off the next day near the base of Seongsun Ilchulbong.  So off we went to climb up to the peak where the view is spectacular but make sure you have enough water as it was quite a long hike.  I wouldn’t even think of climbing the higher one which was Hallasan until maybe I’ve trained for it.

After climbing down, we opted to walk to the pier to head towards Udo Island (Cow Island).  Udo Island is where they shot some part of the movie Il Mare of which the movie The Lakehouse was based on.  Once there, Jore saw simple modes of transportation that she decided to rent and force me to drive.  Good thing she rented a golf buggy and not some ATV.

We chugged along with me panicking every once in a while.  I had a scary thought running through my mind: If they didn’t check if I had a driver’s license, then what about the rest of the drivers zooming around the island…

Without much incident, we parked and had a little stroll along the beach where Il Mare was shot with Jore waiting for her Lee Jung-jae.

By the way, remember the goal of meeting a Haenyo?  We got to see a lot in action.  We ran into one but she was quite busy and only was able to say “Hello” to her.  The rest were all out at sea diving.  It was amazing how we just stared at them while they were out there doing their thing in the cold sea.

After chasing Haenyos, we explored the rest of the beautiful Udo and returned our rental vehicle.  Once arriving at the port, we took a cab to the Teddy Bear Museum at Jungmun.  Since, we are talking about taking cab, I suggest you take a cab service if you want to explore the island as it could easily cost you an arm and a leg just to keep on hailing cabs from the streets.  Our cab fare from Seongsan Pier to Jung Mun was a whopping 58,000 KRW which is more than I pay for a night stay in Jeju!  If you rented a cab for the whole day, they would only charge you around 100,000 KRW.

There’s a lot of other places in Jeju that we wished we could have seen.  We wanted to follow the Olle Trails but didn’t have the time nor cycling skills.  We’ll learn how to ride a bike, then we will be back, Jeju.

Soul of Asia – Seoul

If you are a fan of K-Pop or Korean drama, we might not be able to perk your curiosity as we didn’t go to sites in the film or series. But Seoul has a lot more to offer to non K-Pop or K-drama fans as well. I don’t think any trip to the country is ever complete without  Seoul.  I have to say that I’ve barely even seen Seoul even if I stayed there for 3 days.  One thing you must do is prioritize. You can get tired just focusing on UNESCO alone.  I have to say though that sturdy comfy shoes are a must.  You can use the guide books for outline as they barely give you a feel for what you will be experiencing.  The Korean Tourism Organization is a good place to start.

Some lessons we’ve learned while in Seoul:  1.  There are a couple of ways to get from the airport to the city: the train or the Airport Bus.  The Airport Bus has enough bus stops in the city for it to be really the top choice.  The driver/concierge helps you with your luggages unlike the train stations.  If you are choosing train, transferring from one line to the subway is a series of walkways, escalators and confusion.  One advantage of the train though is that it gives you a nice view from Incheon to Seoul.  2.  Korea runs only on 3G.  Please remember to enable the 3G on your phone but disable data roaming to avoid paying a bomb.  3. The major restaurant/coffee place garbage bins are recycle friendly. I had a hard time figuring out how to segregate in lesser time. 4.  It is still quite warm even when it is almost autumn. 5. People dress according to season in coats and closed shoes even if it feels warm.

We stayed at two hostels in Seoul.  One was Korea Central Backpackers when we just arrived.  We just stayed overnight.  The place is quite centrally located near Hyewha station which is the University District.  The place was quite new and very very clean.  Only thing is, the bathroom door.  The water has already warped it due to how Korean shower heads are connected.  When we arrived back from Gyeong Ju, we stayed at Fully Guesthouse until we flew back.  This hostel is in the same University District but nearer to the Airport Bus stop.  I would have to say that this is one of the best places to stay in the country.  The room floors are heated, the bathroom is very clean and has basic toiletries and there is a fridge. The internet and TV is only at the common area probably to encourage a hostel environment.  Mr Cho’s breakfast is quite nice and Kimmy is the best guide.  If ever the fares allow me to go back to Seoul, this will be my official temporary residence.

Seoul has a lot of nice places to visit:  They have a lot of Palaces, some of them connected by paths.  I think it would be best to choose which one you really want to visit.  We visited 2 but not on purpose.  I just wanted to see the one which was nearer to our side.  Changgyeonggung is connected to Changdeokgung.  Apparently, we missed all the excitement of being tourist as the ones which are interesting were Deoksugung with the changing of the guards and Gyeongbokgung which has a mountain behind it as a backdrop and there is opportunity for you to dress up in Korean finery. Jongmyo Shrine – might be better to visit the park outside with all the uncles playing chinese chess rather than the shrine itself. The place itself is lovely but it might be best to visit during the festival in May where they perform ceremonies and really bring out the spirit tablets.

Although it is a place full of history, it is also a shopping paradise. They have Dongdaemon and Namdaemon markets (east and south gates respectively) where you can buy anything from raw materials to finished products. Myeongdong is Seoul’s Orchard road, full of malls and stores. It is really really crowded and there are a lot of stalls on the side that sells street food.

Because I still need to satisfy my culture vulture side, we went to Insadong where we saw nice art shops and ate tasty dumplings. Samseungil was also a nice place giving a bit of the european vibe. The best is Bukcheongdong where most of the houses are still built in the traditional way with wood but beware the cctv is in operation so I didn’t dare touch the cute postbox. We wished we had more time in Seoul as there is still so much more to see. We’ll be on the lookout for discounted fares. See u soon, Seoul.

Of Islands and Dramatic Coastlines

I have always felt this innate need to be near a body of water.  It calms me down to hear the sound of water lapping against the shore.  Where I stay, I would normally have coffee facing the marina.  It gives me the best feeling.  And the fact that every time I go there, I have to compete for the best seat makes me realize that a lot others share the same sentiments.  Island paradises have become the preferred holiday destinations.  I’ve been to a few and would like to share how beautiful they are and how blessed I felt to have seen it with my own eyes.  The pictures normally don’t do it justice but here goes.

First up was our 2007 visit to Sumilon Island in Cebu, Philippines. Sumilon means refuge which was what we needed at that point in time. To get here, we took a 3 1/2 hour flight from Singapore to Cebu, a 2 hour drive to the coast and a 15 minutes boat ride. Believe me, the place is worth it. We stayed at the Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort. It is an island paradise which only has 12 cottages all with balconies facing the sea.  We enjoyed taking a dip in the infinity pool before dinner and lazing around on the powdery fine sand bar.  I’m not sure if they had new cottages constructed after our visit or if they let it be as perfect as it was.
Santorini – officially known as Thira always been said to be the lost island of Atlantis. I don’t think this island really needs any introduction. This island forms the remains of a volcanic explosion. It is made up mostly of dramatic cliffs and a jaw dropping view. The drama of the white domed houses against the clear blue sky and the wonderful Aegean sea is something of out of a postcard. To get to this paradise we had to endure a roundabout ferry ride due to the Cyclades literally closing shop for winter. Instead of taking a ferry from Mykonos to Santorini (around 3 hours of ferry), we had to take a couple of ferries: one from Mykonos to Piraeus (near Athens for around 6 hours) and another one from Piraeus to Santorini (another 9 hours) just to be able to see the wonder of Santorini. It was well worth the amount of pills we took to avoid being seasick. The sunset is the highlight of Fira.  People actually try to be early to get the best seat to see the explosion of colors once the sun hits the water.
Positano – this village forms part of the Amalfi Coast. This is where the Port of Mongibello for The Talented Mr Ripley has been based on. Anyway, two words: Amalfi Coast = Paradise/Postcard. To get there from Napoli (where we were based for this trip), we took the Circumvisuviana line (make sure to get your tickets at the local tabacchi and make sure to validate it) all the way to Sorrento. Then from there we boarded a bus (remember to get your tickets and validate in the bus) going to Amalfi that goes to Positano as well.  The speed of the bus as well as the hairpin turns makes it hard to keep your lunch in.  But the view getting there is so breathtaking it keeps you from remembering how fast the driver is taking the turns.  Remember not to get off on the first stop in Positano.  It would be harder on your knees but well worth the nice restaurant we found.  Make sure to get a bottle of Limoncello just for experience.  It reminds me of raki or ouzo but a lot nicer.
Cinque Terre – located on the Ligurian Coast in Italy.  Literally means the five lands.  It is made up of five charming coastal villages: Riomaggiore, Maranola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.  All the villages are interconnected by paths and railways but not all are open due to the flooding that happened last October 2011.  Nat Geo Traveler featured this beautiful place on one of its covers and I felt compelled to pick it up and bring it to the counter.

These five villages are not as accessible as the rest of Italy.  They are better reached by rail or sea (we took the train from Milan to La Spezia Centrale).  Getting the Cinque Terre Card helps as they have per day passes as well as ones which include unlimited use of the regional trains from La Spezia Centrale all the way to Sestri Levante.  The card also gives you access to paths, museums and allows you to take the park buses.  One of the better known paths, Via dell’ Amore, connects Riomaggiore and Maranola is a must.  We started from the Riomaggiore side.  Make sure to enjoy their cuisine and wine as the freshest seafood and the nicest wine.  The friendliness and helpfulness of the people of Cinque Terre is a plus.  We really enjoyed our stay in Riomaggiore and loved having dinner at La Lanterna da Massimo in front of the marina.
The beauty of these places cannot be captured by our cameras or even by videos.  They have to be experienced.  I have to hear the waves crashing on the shore, see the beautiful cliffs or beach, feel the gentle breeze and smell the sea.  It never fails to put a smile on my face.  I always feel so blessed and humbled every time and it never gets old.
P. S.  Cinque Terre was hit by a disaster on 25th October 2011.  The flooding caused mud to wash away the villages of Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.  The White Cross of Riomaggiore has set up a site for donations for Vernazza as they would need up to 5 million euros to rebuild it.  Let’s help bring back beauty to Vernazza.

Bailamos Flamenco

With thoughts of Tapas and Flamenco, we boarded our Vueling flight to the city of Sevilla.  The date was 25th September 2010.  We were supposed to stay there for a couple of nights but due to the visa delay, we had to be content with just one night.  Sevilla is actually a huge city.  Most of the attractions are in the old part of town where we stayed.  During this stay, we tried to use this booking site that I found called Airbnb.  The concept is renting a room with the owner of the house.  It’s like staying with a friend who lives overseas but here you are strangers.  Some rent the whole place out.  Some just rent off one of the rooms.  Even couches are offered in places like Paris.  Anyway, getting back to Sevilla.  We stayed at Calle Aposentadores.  It is very near the center but since we couldn’t find the place in the map we had, we found out after we took a cab.

They weren’t kidding when they said that the tapas here are good.  We went to a very small tapas bar where the lady can only speak Spanish or Russian and got some tapas which were so delicious.  It didn’t look like gourmet stuff but it tasted really good.  That evening, we tried a place called Bodega Gongora where we found out that roasted red peppers are fantastic especially with anchovies and that adobo in the menu means marinated fried fish cubes.  We also ordered some Calamares.

Once we got food in our system, we tried to get out of our little neighborhood.  We kept on going around in circles so we decided to take a cab.  The pretty lady cab driver told us that it is really quite near.  But due to the small one way streets, it would be harder to drive around.  At the city center, we saw THE Cathedral.  Believe me when I say it is HUGE!  The camera can barely capture the immensity of the whole structure.  They started construction in 1402 and continued well until 1506.  Their idea at that time was:  “Let a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad.” Before Seville Cathedral, Hagia Sophia held the honor of being the biggest cathedral in the world.  It is currently the largest Gothic Cathedral and the third largest cathedral in the world.  We wanted to go in to see the interior and to see Christopher Columbus’ tomb but there was an ongoing funeral service.

While Jore was getting bored and asking where we should go to see a live Flamenco show, we heard the sound of music and shoes tapping against the cobblestones.  We followed our ears and found a big group of Sevillanos doing the Flamenco.  It was loud, fun and wonderful.  You just start clapping to the tune and smiling as they twirl in their lovely costumes.

All in all, I have to say that Sevilla is as charming and warm as people claim.  It is one of those places you immediately fall in love with.  The food, the people and the place itself were so nice and quaint that you feel like staying a bit longer to know it better.  We really wished we could have stayed longer but we couldn’t extend as the room we stayed in has been booked and with the Huelga General just around the corner, it would be wiser to chug along to Madrid via the AVE.