Saturday, October 31, 2009

2D2N Dadizele - Ieper

We travelled by train from Paris to Kortjik in the morning. We had lunch at the train station, the food was very expensive. I did a fast calculation to realize that if we were to continue the spending like this, we were going to be short of money before the end of our 2-month trip. Soon, I decided to have bread, ham, cheese and butter from the supermarket and to make sandwiches ourselves. We buttered up the whole loaf of bread, slipped in all the ham and cheese, and placed them back to the original bread bag, this could probably last us for at least 3 breakfasts. They were cheap, tasted so delicious, and yet convenient. Due to the cold environment, they were well preserved.

Jean Pierre or JP, a hospitality club member came to pick us up at the Kortjik station. We only had his house phone number when we arrived and he was out at work then. Due to communication gap with Rossa, JP’s wife, it took us quite long just to get a simple message to JP – we had reached the train station. JP is a nature-lover, so is Rossa. They like to hike, and have been to many mountains in the Alps, some of which actually required more than 8 hours of hiking. We recommended them to have a go at our Mount Kinabalu, unfortunately, they are not fond of flying long distance. Rossa welcomed us with an open heart, prepared us some bread and drinks and set up the inflatable bed to couch us for 2 nights.

After a light dinner, JP took us around Dadizele, showed us the most popular sculpture there – the Pumpshiter which tells a story of a man who was forced to let loose in a well due to too much alcohol and plum tarts intake and not being able to find any toilet nearby.

JP spent us beer at one of the neighborhood beer house, I tried a type of cherry beer named Kriek – it tasted sweet. Then we headed home to get a well sleep on the air bed.

Our day started with a walk around the fort along the river in Ieper (in Dutch or Ypres in French) which was used as a front line for the great World War I. Then we passed by the Menin Gate, the gate which was engraved with the names of the British and Commonwealth soldiers who sacrificed themselves in that war. Its hall contains a total of more than 58,000 names whose graves are unknown.

Then we proceeded to the Cloth Hall which was one of the largest commercial buildings at its time. The one that can be seen today is a reconstructed building as the hall was ruined during the World War I.

There were 3 museums for us to visit to occupy our day.

Flanders Field Museum (in the Cloth Hall) – a permanent exhibition that explains the run-up to the First World War, the devastation of the war years and the post war periods.
Belle Almshouse Museum – a chapel which was turned into a museum, mostly showing paintings of Jesus Christ.
Stedelijk Museum – a display of the most beautiful items from the Ypres Public Social Welfare Centre, comprises of remarkable items such as plates, sculptures, paintings, and movies about the Ieper city.

As reminded by JP yesterday, we were home early as Rossa would prepare a proper dinner for us. Before we stepped into the house, we could already smell and imagine what we were going to have later. The food that was served on the table did not turn us down – it was such a wholesome meal. I believed that they had treated us more than just normal surfers.

1. Broccoli soup
2. Pork patty with mushrooms and tomatoes gravy
3. Potatoes
4. Banana pudding

Charlotte, JP’s daughter reached home just in time for dinner and we were introduced to her. She was only 16 years old when we met her but she did not look as her age at all with her matured look and her height.

After dinner, we handed them gifts (that were brought from Malaysia) individually as a token of appreciation. They liked them very much especially Charlotte and Rossa on the silky-like scarves. In return, Charlotte gave me a handmade woolen ring which coincidentally fitted my finger well. We chatted happily over the fresh strawberry ice-cream afterwards. The ice-cream was really tasty.

Soon, it was midnight and we went to sleep. We bid farewell with JP and his family.

Friday, October 30, 2009

4D3N Paris

We arrived at the Paris De Gaulle Airport in the morning, 7am. After roughly 11 hours in the 747, I felt rather free when I was landed. In my eyes, I saw a man started busy collecting fliers, maps, and train routes at the tourist information counter in the airport. (Key learning: those are free, collect as many as you can, you would use them anyway) Yes, that was HIM, my 2-month Europe trip partner.

The first place we headed was the Paris most famous cathedral, Notre Dame. She was so beautiful and stunning, quiet and peace, we had a quick round walk inside the cathedral with our big backpacks and daypacks, accidentally knocked some of the tourists, several times but luckily did not banged on the sacred displays, candles and statues. Before we left the doorsteps, a message ‘Peace on Earth’ and two signatures were created by us on the big book there; we have been there, huh? Then, we sat on a bench under a big tree, outside the huge cathedral for a rest, had some photos taken, and also cereal bars eaten, the feelings were so relax and blissful, HE looked at me and said, ‘xiao qing, we are in Paris!’. I could see nothing but just a word ‘happy’ written all over HIS face. My happiness was doubled at that time.

After that, it was time for us to search for a place to settle down our stuffs and accommodate us the night. There we came to a hostel but yet named it as hotel by the owner at the signboard (the room was just okay, a real ar ar okay and the stairway to the room was older than my grandmom, I guessed). However, we decided to take it without any second thoughts as the backpacks were killing our backs after walking for so long.

Next, we visited the second must-see cathedral which was built at the top hill, the highest point in Paris, the Sacre- Coeur. On the way up, we walked pass many road side restaurants and souvenir stalls. There were many tourists sitting at the steps right outside the cathedral, enjoying the sun. We sat there as well just to have fun following the whites, to enjoy the scenery and to take photos. But for just merely 10mins, we had moved ourselves to a shaded place; it was too hot for us, Malaysians!

With the 3-day train tickets (8.60€/ticket) purchased, we were allowed to travel up north and down south in Paris as many times as we liked. By looking at it was still early after coming down from Sacre-Coeur cathedral, we made up our mind to have the icon of Paris, the Eiffel Tower as our next destination for the evening. The real Eiffel Tower was far taller than the one I saw in Shenzhen’s Windows of the World.

In order to save money, we chose to climb up (taking lift is another alternative) to the second floor (668 steps), the highest stage where we were allowed to climb up to, and to take lift (no other options) from there to the top. The nearly-700-step was so tiring, luckily I had my muscles exercised (jogging and gym) before the trip, I thought to myself. The view of Paris city from the second floor (not fully fenced) and the top (fully fenced) was breathtaking and great, the city structure was well aligned and symmetry, like it was planned ahead before it was actually built. We did not stay long there at the top as it was so windy and the wind was chilling.

We had an early sleep that night due to jet lack I guessed. The ‘hotel’ bed was so soft and lumpy. When I was on the bed alone, HE nearly could not see me. The lousy bed needed 2 people to sleep on it at the same time to balance up the uneven parts. I was in my sleeping bag that night due to the yellowish on bed sheet.

Our day started with brunches (I had a Panini of salmon and cheese and HE had a pitabread stuffed with chicken and veggie) at the roadside stalls on our way to the Jardin Du Luxembourg. Jardin means garden in French; Du Luxembourg is a big and beautiful garden in the city. The trees all lined up neatly at the sides of the boulevard and bowed to us (as wind blew) as we walked in to the big pool with a small fountain in the centre. There were some chairs nearby the pool where we could sit down to take a good look at the garden, to enjoy the wind and fresh air, and also to feed the birds that were around us. It was amazing to notice that the birds were so friendly to come so near to us for food, human seemed harmless to them.

We spend the rest of our afternoon by walking around Paris, along the river.

We met our first couch surfer friend, Fabien Lajoye, in the evening. He brought us to try the French snack, Crepes. Crepes is like what we have in Malaysia, Apom, a think layer of pancake (flour) that folded up with anything you like, from fruits (banana, strawberries), poultry (ham) to dairy products (cheese and chocolate). It was yummy. Next, he took us to meet up some of his friends (French, Mexican, but mostly American) for dinner. We had Mexican food at a small restaurant named La Luna, we enjoyed it very much, not only the food but also the times spent with them. After dinner, we all went party at the American-Latin pub nearby; the place was so crowded and noisy. I watched how the girls danced and also followed them with some stupid moves. Overall it was okay! We went back at about 3am by walking (no more trains), and wondered if we could wake up early for tomorrow’s plan.

Clock stroked 8am, we woke up reluctantly. It was the first Sunday of the month where the entries to the famous museum in Paris, Musee Du Louvre, were free. We managed to get to the place at 10.30am; it was already a very long (500m) queue (opened at 9am). The largest (there were three of them) see-through pyramid outside the museum was so elegant; the place was used to film the movie, the Da Vincci Code, starring by Tom Hanks before. We were in the museum after about 30minutes wait (faster than we could imagine high efficiency, we claimed!). The museum was huge, 3 storey and consisted of many zones. Although I am not an artistic person but some of the large paintings and sculptures did wow me. I was a bit sleepy along the visit, due to late sleep last night and also the art piece did not really impress me. However, the chance to have a glance at the original Mona Lisa Portrait was satisfying enough.

Afterward, we headed to Arc De Triomphe the arc honours those general that fought for France during Napoleonic wars, their names were carved inside and top of the arc. We continued with a walk at the Champs Elysees, which is connected to the arc, the avenue where all the branded shop lots located, including the 5-storey LV (Louis Vuitton) boutique. Besides shops, there were many restaurants too, all looked full, guessed it was Sunday!

We bought Kebab (served with fries) as our dinner, and had it while walking around the city and back to our host's couch. After showers, we packed our bags, had some chats with Fabien and also passed him a small token we brought from our hometown, then zzzz ...

On the very next morning, we bid goodbye to Paris and our lovely host, Fabien (we were gonna miss him, we thought, well, we do really miss him and think of him from time to time now) and headed to our next planned destination.

5D4N Hong Kong - Shenzhen

Yeah… this blog is written upon request. Actually I’ve been thinking of writing this right after I came back from the trip, just that my assignments in school (Design & FYP) and my part-time-jobs which had occupied all my time, did not allow me to do so. Anyway, good times are hard to forget and I do still remember every little thing about Hong Kong and Shenzhen, especially, the Disneyland!
The 5D4N trip started off with an early flight. Lucky for me, my house is not far from the airport, getting up at 6.00am in the morning was still bearable. However, this was not the case for my boyfriend and his family, who live more than 30km away from the airport… I suggested him to stay up whole night since he usually sleeps at 3am. I mean what’s a big deal to wait for another one hour to bathe or get everything ready! I slept about 5hours but it did not take any toll on me – I was in a happy mood I guess. After checking in our bags and ourselves, finally, we were on board one of the best airline in the world, Cathay Pacific. Everything about it was awesome except the seat (economical class what), so it was kind of small. They served good breakfast; a variety of fruits cut into piece, pastries, sausages, omelets, buns and refillable fruit juices. My breakfast was accompanied with the shows playing in the small TV right in front of my seat! I made a choice of Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst, a great but a bit slow show, thus I watched till sleepy (not because of the lack-of-sleep in the night before, it was the show!). After four hours, we touched down at the Hong Kong International Airport. The airport was so big (not if you compare with Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok) that we actually traveled in the airport, from one point to another, by train! (It’s up to your imagination) Our group comprised of 34 people, including our young and responsible tour leader, Ah Leong. We had our first lunch in the airport; it was not cheap (Hong Kong’s foods are known expensive). Fortunately, most of our meals were included in the package.
The first destination was the most popular temple in Hong Kong, the Wong Dai Xin temple. The temple was filled with many people, both tourists and locals. But one thing in common, they were holding one-size joss sticks. The rules and regulations:

These were restricted, what a confused message!
The place was very smoky till my eyes went teary. Anyway, I still managed to make smiles and take a few shots there. Then, we were headed to ‘lui yan kai’, Hong Kong’s ‘chi cheong kai’, shopping heaven for imitations. The street was noisy as the tourists were busy bargaining for bags, watches and clothes to get the best price. As I walked, I could scent the smell of drains – really stinky. I thought to myself, how such a developed region could have such an unkempt drainage system. I was complaining about it until I realized the odor was not from the drain afterall – it was the smell of Hongkies’ favorite snack, ‘Chao Tao Fu’. After some advices from people at home, and the fact that I was already there, I did not hesitate to try one piece.

errr… the taste, I would say not as nice as my friends recommended me, wrong stalls maybe. Next, it was dinner time, the foods served were crabs, prawns, geese, pork, scallops, fish and some veggies, for me, they were none other than high-cholesterol and oily chows. And we were actually eating the same stuffs everyday, couldn’t imagine how the weighing machine will react with me on top after this trip. After dinner, we went up to one of the richest residential area, Victoria Peak to view the night scene of Hong Kong, the sky scrappers such as IFC and 40-storey Four Season Hotel from the top of the peak. It was fabulous and romantic. After the cool breezing view from Victoria Peak, we were brought to the famous Hong Kong wax museum, Madame Tussauds. It features more than 100 wax figures of local and international celebrities and important historical people. My camera was very busy shooting me during that time. I took photos with famous artist, Andy Lau, skilled football player, David Beckham, well-known actor, Brat Pitt, elegant Princess Diana and so on. Although they are not real, I did enjoy taking pictures with them.

On the early morning of the second day, we had our breakfast or so called ‘Dim Sum’ in a Chinese restaurant. Hongkies’ ‘Dim Sum’ is the must-try for tourists. Sadly, the foods were ordered prior to our arrival, meaning I did not get to choose from the menu (a disadvantage of group tour). Anyway, I gave my good appraisal to the porridge, it tasted really good, and it was the best porridge I ever ate in my life, no joke. After breakfast, we were taken to some fishing villages to see how their indigenous people live in the sea. They are mainly senior citizens, including the boatmen, as most of the young generations had moved to the land. However, I considered myself lucky, managed to have a look at these villages before they actually diminish.

Soon, we continued our trip to Shenzhen, China, waved goodbye to Hong Kong for two days (as we would be back on the fourth and fifth day). After some jokes and traveling stories shared by Ah Leong, the boring journey in bus and train, immigration procedures and a short distance of ‘stewardess-style walking’ – walking and pulling luggage at the back with one hand – finally we reached the fastest growth city of China. This city is very developed, as I first arrived in the city, I was amazed by the buildings and traffics, ‘oh gosh… this is not what I thought China is supposed to be’, I said to myself. It looked sort of like second Hong Kong but the living expenses here are so much lower. I got myself a pair of high-heel covered shoe at only 39 Renminbi (Rm20) during shopping at the night market. The price for this type of footwear would be tripled if I were to buy in Malaysia. Everyone in our group enjoyed shopping very much, spent without sparing for second thought as the stuffs were extremely cheap.
In the next morning, we were supposed to have a western style buffet breakfast in the hotel cafĂ© but there were no omelets in sight. Instead, some ‘Dim Sum’ was provided. Weird! Then, commenced our drive to ‘Windows of the World’, one of the top local attractions. A visit to here was like a tour around the world. It comprises of countless interesting sites ranging from ancient architectural buildings like the Colosseum and the pyramid of Giza, to hi-tech sky scrappers such as the Eiffel Tower. All of these were built with smaller dimensions, or ratios, as compared to the original ones. The Eiffel Tower in Shenzhen is 1/3 of the one in Paris. We climbed up to the first floor, it killed my leg muscle (no jogging for a long time) – can’t imagine how it’s like when I visit the real one in May. I took a picture with Taj Mahal (1:15) since India is a place that I might not be able to rest my foot on in future. I, as a Penangite, was so proud to see the mini Kek Lok Si temple (1:15) was there too. Besides the above mentioned, there were also Niagara Falls, Stonehenge, the Leaning Tower, Notre Dame and Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, we did not get to ski at Fuji-san as we were rushing to the ‘Miniature of China’ – another similar kind of tourist destination where little replicas of renowned buildings were exhibited. This time, I was clueless on the names of all the replicas except for the Great Wall; thus, there was no interest for me to take photos with any of the buildings.

Well, the fourth day was the day I have been waiting for in my whole tour. As I said earlier, Hong Kong foods are extremely expensive compared to those in Malaysia, what more the second Disneyland in Asia. While we were having the partial-western style breakfast in the morning, some immoral thoughts came to our minds – to steal some pastries so that we could eat in the Disneyland when we are hungry. After all the planning (how to put them in bags) and observing (the waiting staffs and other hotel guests), Ryan, my boyfriend’s brother, managed to take an adequate amount of bread and ‘Pao’ to supply our lunches. We felt so happy and gratified. Satisfactions and excitements ended real soon once we got up the bus. Ah Leong came out with one sentence that really shocked us – we were not allowed to bring foods into Disneyland, except a bottle of drinking water. It was only 500ml per person, mind you. Oops, poor us, after all the trouble.

Soon, we reached the children’s dreamland. As we were walking towards the main gate, there were Disney songs playing along the boulevard, ‘I can show you the world, shinning, simmering, splendid, tell me princess…’ It felt like I was in a fairyland that time. There were castles, fountains, a clock tower, and other interesting sites such as Tarzan’s tree house and Lion King’s den. We rode on an adventurous boat and space roller coater, sat in a honey pot to experience Winnie’s story, had interaction show with Stitch, saw Lion King’s show on stage, and not to mention the 3D Mickey show – the activity I liked the most. This theater has the world’s largest 3D screen, a show that brought us into the world of Disney which combined our senses, i.e. vision, hearing and smell, with the movie as one, to give a better 3D effect. All the Disney characters were shown during the daily parade. They were Mickey and Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, The Toy Story family, Snow White with seven dwarfs, Cinderella and so on, standing on their respective mobile display homes. Enjoyable moments do not last long – the clock stroked 7pm just after some games and it was only 30 minutes left till closing. Before everything ended, the lights along the lanes went dim and the songs turned louder out of a sudden. Everybody’s focus was directed towards the main castle which was lit up abruptly. Then I realized it was the time for the scheduled fireworks display. The countless sparks and explosions appeared in the sky made me feel romantic and speechless. It was the most beautiful fireworks display I ever seen in my life, far better than what I experienced in the many New Year celebrations. I left the Disneyland reluctantly and went back to hotel. Although tired, I was still very eager to shop around the streets of Hong Kong before leaving, but unfortunately, my boyfriend, fully exhausted, was already glued onto the comfortable hotel bed when I came out from the toilet. Not wanting to wake him up, I decided to settle for the only three items I bought previously.
We were allowed to have enough sleep on the last day because there was nothing else to do according to the tour agenda. Since the Chinese restaurant was just around the corner, Ah Leong suggested that we walk there for breakfast. That was our very last walk along the streets of Hong Kong. Not long after, we were on our way back in the A320 of Cathay Pacific.
Overall, I find the trip a little packed, schedule wise, but due to that also, we managed to cover most of the interesting places in Hong Kongand Shenzhen. I felt really satisfied following this tour, good food, comfortable accommodations and a friendly tour leader. I bet I will be missing Minnie Mouse. Sigh… a long blog I have written.

4D3N Genting Highlands - Bukit Tinggi - Melacca

Wooh...finally we (supposedly Q6 but due to some circumstances, only md, ps, pw & I) got to go to Malacca! It's been 3 years since we were talking about this. Luckily we still manage to do it as we’re in our fourth year now (No more hanging out as we will be on different track then – Vitamin C – Graduation). Anyway, it was fun throughout the trip. Although there were many obstacles on the way, our trip lasted for four days as planned.

The journey began at 3pm on 8th Nov 2006 from Parit Buntar to Genting Highlands. And why Genting Highlands first? It was an impromptu idea given by two inexpert girls who have never even driven a car for more than 10km. Roughly 6 hours of cramping on the backseats, playing some silly games (namely Beng Di Shui Guo), laughing and joking, including dinner and ‘perhentian’, not to mention an engine ignition problem (1), at last we reached our destination. Due to a late booking, we were offered a standard room in First World (which is only a 0-star hotel) at RM 90 per night (kinda expensive as it’s a weekday mind you). After showers and fighting for mattresses and pillows (because those who lost would get the divan and since 6 persons = 3 pillows, thus, 2 persons = 1 pillow, simple mathematics rite?), we headed straight for, where else if not the Casino, the only entertainment available at night. After a few minutes of strolling around, looking and trying to understand some complicated card games, we decided to settle down at the so called ‘boring’ slot machines. One of us, the gambling queen, could not hold her horses, took out a ten ringgit note and slipped it in without our awareness. Before long, her fortunate touch transformed her RM10 into RM30. Her win motivated some of us and if you were here, you could see more ten ringgits coming out from our pockets. That’s the trick of Uncle Lim! A few bets gone and the clock stroke 2am. Since we needed to get up early the next morning, it was time for bed.

There were six of us sharing the small room – all have at least some gambling urge, for instance:

I – managed to control myself on the first nite (or rather kept my pretentious self), but got addicted badly the second morning causing our scheduled departure to be delayed.
[Gross win RM22.80, Uncle Lim 0: Sc 1]
Md (the gambling queen I was talking about) – so into the ‘kiss-blowing-lady’ slot machine, got upset when the whole lot of these machines got closed down for cleaning purposes.
[Gross win RM22.50, Uncle Lim 0: Md 1]
Ps – resisted the urge yet after seeing others on their winning streak, started to bet but lost. However, her unsatisfied self made her seek revenge on the second day, alas, victory.
[Gross win RM35, Uncle Lim 0: Ps 1]
Pw – supposedly the biggest gambler, once she starts playing, she will never stop. Therefore, she tried not to touch the machine on the first night. Nevertheless, she did play after all.
[Gross loss RM18, Uncle Lim 1: Pw 0]
St – went to play while we were all sleeping [his theory: cannot play when we are around]. He won RM60 but his ‘wanna win more’ attitude turned the number down to just RM18. Well, he still won.
[Gross win RM18, Uncle Lim 0: St 1]
Dk – just stood there to give support and to accompany the others. Sounds like a good guy right? Nope, it’s because of his ‘kiam siap’ attitude oh! He doesn’t want to contribute to Uncle Lim’s RM5.6 billions.
[Gross win/loss RM0, Uncle Lim 0: Dk 0]

On the second day, we bid farewell to the slot machines, unwillingly, and headed for another famous highland – Bukit Tinggi. Going up the sloppy hill was quite a nightmare, especially for an eight-year-old problematic Honda City with four self-claimed overweight girls on the backseats. The engine died (2) as soon as we reached the entrance. We stopped and let the automobile rest for five minutes (as warned by the owner), just 50 meters in front of the toll gate. Along the way to Japanese Garden, the engine refused to work again (3). With a high 30 degree slope, I guess this is where the Newton’s Law applies. As future engineers, we sure know the way to overcome the gravity problem – get out of the car. Since we always declare our weight problems, it’s understood who should go for bus number 11 (walking) – the girls. After all the struggles, we found out that there was nothing much happening up there in Bukit Tinggi except for the beautiful scenery. And we paid RM16 per person for that! Thanks for the recommendation.
[Gross loss RM96, Bukit Tinggi 1: Everybody 0]
* Sorry, still in the ‘Genting’ mood

We continued our journey to Malacca after the five-hour stop at lousy Bukit Tinggi. It took us a little more than two hours to reach St’s house. We unloaded our bags at his room, a room that could accommodate all of us comfortably. Guess what? This time no more fighting for mattresses as there were sufficient soft ones and 6 persons = >6 pillows, for your information. After refreshing ourselves, we headed for the famous Malaccan food – satay celup. Satay celup is nothing but the same as ‘Lok Lok’ in Penang, except for the boiling stock which is substituted by the peanut satay gravy. It was tempting and delicious, but we did not know that the spicy peanuty gravy was a bit too hard on the throat considering that 50% of us got terrible sore throat the next day. Lucky for me, my antibody is just strong enough, thanks to Redoxon.

Day three of our trip, commenced with our drive to A Famosa Resorts. On the way, we noticed something was not quite right; one of our members had an emotional crash, feeling so depressed out of no reason. However, it did not affect our excursion as we managed to turn her downs up. After taking a few pictures and while we were on our way out, the car ‘mati enjin’ again (4). This was the fourth time, contrary to my ancestors’ belief which states that everything will end after third time (Bo 3 Pu Seng Le). Next was lunch at a chicken rice shop in the city. It was no ordinary chicken rice as the rice served was in ping-pong ball shapes. Actually, this is another trademark cuisine of Malacca. The place was fine, the chicken was smooth and tender, and the price was reasonable. We had an after-meal walk at Jonker Street to get some souvenirs. Our decision to visit Cowboy Town that evening was cancelled due to the ‘unpretty’ weather. We settled for the next best thing, Dataran Pahlawan, the biggest shopping mall in south Malaysia. Some locally produced foods were bought from there and we went back to ‘oink oink’.

Koo, koo, koo… good times slip away so fast, it was time to say ‘bye bye’ to Malacca. St treated us some heavy breakfast – Dim Sum before we departed. It was a long, boring and tiring journey back. I slept and woke up several times throughout the drive. Lastly, I reached Penang at 9pm.

Overall I enjoyed the trip very much. I hope there will be more in the future.
Well, It’s time for me to rest my fingers now. Good night, Acer-ene!