Sunday, December 27, 2015

Baby it's cold inside

Don't let a person with a cold heart fool you.
They were once warm too
Till the coldness of fear came and 
held it firmly in its steely claws.

Or perhaps,
They heard stories
Of how cruel the world is
And shut themselves in.
Slowly they begin to change

First their thoughts
Then their actions
And their words

When there is nothing left
They wished they were warm

Again.
But it was far too late,
For they felt nothing.
All there was, 
Was ice



And the long chill settles after a blizzard.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Cold Feet

‘Mama, my feet are cold.’

‘Come warm your little toes by the fire, darling.’

I’ve always had cold feet. Colder than anyone else’s. Though not corpse-cold, but enough to have to keep wearing thrice the layers of socks as anyone else during winter, and occasionally during the warmer months.


When I became a teenager, my cold feet syndrome kept me from joining the others in the pool, fearing I would catch a case of frostbite. Or rather, just about anything that required removing my shoes, basically.

‘Why are her toes purple?’

‘They look like they’re about to fall off.’

‘Maybe she’s a zombie.’

Or rather, I was just afraid. Of everyone else.


It wasn’t as though I had no friends. I made plenty. There was a girl, Marie. She was just as different as I was. She had cold hands, like dead fish. And another, whose name was Lydia, had a complexion so pale, she could’ve very well been a vampire. Together, we set our own rules and abided by no one else's. Fortunately, the world was not as cruel as we'd learned in our books. We had numerous other friends, plenty to spare – our connections ran deep into the various cliques that made up secondary school, but, it was always us three. 

When our nostalgic school days ended, we went our own separate ways. We hardly saw each other after that. Marie moved out of town, and Lydia left the country shortly after.

‘Sorry, I can’t make the video call session today. Maybe this weekend?’

‘I’ve got assignments to catch up on. I’ll talk to you later.’

We tried our best, but it was never the same. We didn’t even have time for a reunion. Eventually, our friendship dissipated. I was left to start over.

My cold feet syndrome accompanied me even into university, like Mary’s little lamb. The fear of being isolated continued to haunt me. I was fine being alone, I just feared being lonely.

Then I met a boy. His name was James. How we met, wasn’t very spectacular, but there was a spark. A certain something. It ignited a kind of flame so bright, even my darkest fears could not extinguish. He could have been my first love, but I then had plenty of first loves to boast. He was different. He was my first someone. But it wasn't easy loving a ‘someone’, as I came to learn.

You had to keep them company,

‘Babe, could you come with me to this thing?’

Feed them,

‘Hey James, I’m getting pizza. The usual toppings, with fries?’

And sometimes even discipline them.

‘What do you mean "I don’t trust you enough"?!’

It was tough but through it all, my cold feet had miraculously (and ironically) made things better. Sometimes they even made it funny when we were in bed.

‘Argh! Stop pressing them on my back!’

There had always been a fear or two or three, that came with my cold feet. One of them came true: we didn’t last through our third year. We mutually parted ways under the guise of having lost attraction towards each other. In truth, we had yearned for so much and expected so much more, but never gained anything other than empty promises and broken hearts.

                ‘Goodbye.’
                                ‘We’ll still be friends, right?’
                ‘Yeah.’

Three months later, I caught wind that he'd got himself a new girlfriend. I moved on.

Years came and went, and before I knew it, I turned 27. Who knew dating and working would be as simple as squeezing every second of free time from your busy schedule, to make plans for a date? Many failed relationships and a few staled ones later, here I am, about to marry the man of my dreams. But, that’s what I uttered all those years ago when I pressed my chilling feet into the warm, strong vertebrae of my once someone. I loved him, but I wasn't in love with him.

My buried fears made an untimely visit as I stood frozen by anxiety in my veil and gown. I could hear the expectant murmuring behind the massive, mahogany wooden doors of the church that separated me from my future. But what rang loudest were the only sounds of my heels echoing as I held up my dress and ran. What I learned in life, is that people leave, regardless of the promises they had sworn to keep, and hence, I shall leave, before I am left.

I guess I will always have cold feet, and the fears that come with it.



Friday, October 30, 2015

Life just isn't fair, so deal with it.

Life just isn't fair, is how it used to strike me. Some people can work their butts off and never get what they're aiming for, while others get it without any effort at all. [...] I think this viewpoint applies as well to the job of the novelist. Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can freely write novels no matter what they do--or don't do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Occasionally you'll find someone like that, but, unfortunately, that category wouldn't include me. I haven't spotted any springs nearby. I have to pound the rock with a chisel and dig a deep hole before I can locate the source of creativity. [...] But as I've sustained this kind of life over many years, I've become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening up a new hole in the rock and locating a new water vein. As soon as I notice one water source drying up, I can move on right away to another. If people who rely on a natural spring of talent suddenly find they've exhausted their only source, they're in trouble.

In other words, let's face it: Life is basically unfair. But even in the situation that's unfair, I think it's possible to seek out a kind of fairness. Of course, that might take time and effort. And maybe it won't seem to be worth all that. It's up to each individual to decide whether or not it is.

-- pp. 41-43, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running 「走ることについて語る時に僕の語ること」 (Murakami, H.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What I daydreamed about in poetics class.

A freshly procured book - complete with that new-book smell - is like an open puzzle, eagerly awaiting its reader to take it apart and recreate something entirely different. Would you deny it its aching aspiration?

Because, honestly, what proves your existence more than a book with traces of you in it? At that precise moment, when you write even a single letter on its pages, you are the only one in the entire world who owns a book like that. That book is yours to claim as one of a kind because you wrote in it.

So make that book yours - your own personal means of understanding the world and the people in it. Scribble in it. Write notes in its margins. Underline words that resonate. Don't fear defacing your precious literature. In the end, what is an empty canvas worth? A lived-in book serves more purpose than a brand new one that appears as though it has never been touched. 

And after all that, you'll find yourself feeling impossible to read that book the same way again, what more part with it, because it has become an integrated part of you. No more reading that particular book for kicks, because it'll be like meeting an old friend again.
Poetics.

This is, I'm sure, is what it means to read as a writer who reads.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Do you ever just think?

It's true what some people say - when you lose touch with a person, your feelings dissipate along with that lost connection, especially if the relationship between those two people was a superficial one prior to the separation. Even more so if you've harboured feelings for that person, and you can feel it fading against your will as time slowly creeps past you. Even though it felt like it's been two weeks since you last talked to them, you realise that it's only been two days, and you feel this gnawing sensation in your brain, wondering what you're doing with your time wasted over thinking about something that only has a five percent chance of actually happening in reality, instead of the fantasies you conjure up as you try to your greatest efforts to fall asleep in the dark.

In those moments of 'dead time', those moments when you're not wanting to do anything productive - being on a dull train ride, waiting in line at the cashier's, standing in the shower, taking a dump, stoning, trying to fall asleep - you spend those times just thinking about your feelings and your thoughts within your thoughts. You spend time just pondering the intention of your feelings. When we like someone, have you ever sat down to really think why you like them? Maybe they're good looking, or maybe they're nice. But have you ever pondered deeper - do you like the person because you're desperate for some sort of human connection? Maybe you like the person because they are a promise of a secure and comfortable future? Or maybe they are a fantasy made true in the flesh?

Now how about this: have you ever wondered about your attachment towards some people? Especially when you're torn between two people, for whatever the reason may be. Do you ever just weigh the pros and cons of either of these persons, hoping that either one would tip the scale to your preferred favour, and then end up not being able to choose anyway? Honestly, why are we treating these people as choice-less beings? It's not as though you are the only person left in the world for these two to fight over. Why do we do that?

Maybe it's just me. Sometimes these thoughts even move me to tears. Sometimes I even doubt myself and my own convictions. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bring me back to where the sun shines

Excuse the melancholic title, I was trying to put together my feelings and what would sound like Japan (land of the rising sun, get it?)

Anyway, just three weeks ago, my ultimate dream was realized - I finally went to Japan. It was strange (yet, not really) because when I was in the nearly empty plane heading for Narita, I didn't feel a sense of nervousness, or excitement for that matter. I just felt exhausted, having just returned from nearly two weeks of intense travelling around parts of Europe, then flying off again the next night really worn me out. That said, I tried my best to catch some sleep during the flight of seven hours (it was a night flight).

I recall waking up when the sun came up and saw one of the passengers seated in the next row take some pictures of the stunning sunrise glaring through the tiny window. Being jakun, I also did the same thing.

well what do you know, it really is land of the rising sun!
Landing in Narita at 8 am still didn't tickle my excitement. I guess I really was too tired to even feel exited, or maybe its just me being aloof. Anyway, upon exiting the plane, the first thing that hit me was the heat and humidity. My first thought was, 'ah, feels exactly like home. Shouldn't be a problem'. Heh, to think I'd be wrong a couple of days later.

I went through immigration (and got my meat jerky taken away in the process by extremely nice officers T_T) which took about an hour in total because I had to fill up some forms, search for my luggage and go through customs. By the time I came out to the arrival hall, it was already around 9am. I was supposed to be met by two members of MIS (Multilateral Interaction with Students - a student-led organization) but, I couldn't find the red placard among the people dressed in mostly white and black in the immediate vicinity. I quickly sent a text to Genta, the person I was supposed to meet, and luckily he managed to find me. Miscommunication aside, we waited for another hour for Sean, a participant from the Philippines to arrive while I charged my phone at a charging station. I've got to admit, I did feel foreign at that point, and I was a bit nervous about communicating with Japanese people, even though the group that I'll be with do speak English. To get things started, I began a conversation with Genta and Ryouichi, asking about the usual things: university course, which year and age, etc.) Later on, I found out that all the MIS organizing members are in fact, younger than I am. This made me realize how old I've become (T_T).

At around 11am, we went back to the departure hall to pick up Sean then headed our way towards Tokyo. I was given a suica card (suica actually means watermelon lol) with money already loaded in it, which surprised me as I had not expected to have those costs covered as well, which then made me extremely happy. The ride to Tokyo was long and before I knew it, I had knocked out in the bus. I guess sleeping on a moving vehicle is more comfortable than on a flying plane - at least the rocking reassures me that I won't plunge into the sea from thousands of feet in mid-air.

Search Results

When I said it was hot and humid like home when I stepped out of the plane, obviously I was underestimating the weather because once I got out of the bus, man the heat was intense! I can't really remember now how bad the heat was but it was definitely worse than Malaysian weather. So, Malaysians, quit complaining about the weather. You've got it good.

I'm not going to go on in detail about what happened during the entire 10 day program as obviously it would get too long and bore you till kingdom come (touch wood!), so I'll just talk about my experience and how I feel about the whole thing. One sentence: I want to go back.
I seriously, seriously do. Remember when I said I didn't feel any excitement upon landing in Narita? Well my feelings decided to hit me all at once when I arrived back home. Suddenly I wanted to just get back on the plane and fly back to where my new friends were. I contemplated on why I felt that way, and why there was a delay in the emotions felt. Perhaps I was living in the moment too much to fully appreciate what was going on? I did appreciate the friendships forged among all of us, no doubt, but I suppose I didn't think I'd feel this strongly upon leaving. Even though it's been 3 weeks and most of us have moved on to more important things in our lives, I still think about everything we've been through together - the laughter shared, the stories exchanged with each other on drink nights and the secrets whispered among new buddies. In short, we grew very close in a short period of time, though I'd think 10 days isn't exactly short at all.
I miss the karaoke sessions, the long walks under the scorching sun, the homemade meals eaten together, the fireworks, the deafening sounds of locusts/cicadas, the long train rides, the communal showers.. I miss everything.

Of course, I didn't attend this program and not get anything out of it. In fact, I feel like my view on the world has changed. In a way, I've voluntarily moved out of my comfort zone. If it wasn't for my friend Koichi who introduced this program to me just roughly 2 weeks before its deadline, I would still be this pampered child spending her Summer days playing computer games in her room like a hikikomori (引き籠り). This program gave me a new purpose and the people I've met gave me inspiration to be a better person. All this time, I couldn't find this zest for life, this aim for a future, this.. purpose. I've always lived life in the moment, and this resulted me in following the flow and see where it takes me, thus never really planning ahead. Now that I've had a glimpse, I am actually considering social and humanitarian work. I've never thought about doing it before. When I considered jobs in other lines such as game development (I love gaming, didn't I mention that?), or music, or something else, there was always this sort of dissatisfaction at the back of my mind. I always think, 'what then?' it doesn't seem to give me fulfillment. And now that I've visited some NPOs (Non-profit organizations) and listened to their words of experience, seen the problem first-hand and talked to the people involved, I want to contribute. It is a risk to take, especially when the economy is just as shitty as our rubbish problem here, I'd like to think that human lives matter more than money, right? Of course that's idealistic to say - organizations still need financial funding to actually do anything, but I'd like to redirect the aim for earning money for one's own pleasure, to actually making a difference with one's earnings.

I guess it's truly different when one is visiting a country or a place not as a tourist, because I believe we see things in a different light when we're not constantly thinking about shopping and enjoying every single paid experience we can spend our money on. And also, you can tell when someone is genuinely passionate in helping society, and being on this program and meeting the people involved has shown me that.

Well looks like I talked more about my feelings than my experience in Japan haha! But, thank you, everyone who had made the entire program very enjoyable and memorable for me. We will definitely meet again in the near future, and I hope we will have more stories to share!


















*pictures are taken from everyone, by everyone.

As a plus, here's a video made by Kana about our time together :) (I apparently can't upload it because it's too big)

Thank you,
Tatsuya, Genta, Shiko, Kana, Sean, Haruka, Shara, Mai, Aki, Kazuki, Hiroshi, Ken, Miori, Kaniz

and to those I didn't really have the chance to really talk with,
Chisato, Momo, Seira, Hayato

Your presence and contribution to the program has made a difference!


With much love,
Judith.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Futile attempts at recreating the past

It's interesting how we desperately try to cling on to anything that can remind us of the specific past; certain songs, secret notes that we do not want to show anyone, virtual pictures of sweet, memories made, gifts bought - everything seems to suddenly hold a greater significance than anything that we've owned, especially if that certain past event has impacted us in an extremely strong way, say, perhaps emotionally and mentally. We try to recall with as much precision as our faulty memory is able to. It's pathetic, really, how much we try to recreate the past in our head.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Europe Tour - London

This marks the last day of our tour, officially. This would also be the last time we'll ever see Howard or Peter, or all the others on tour with us. I was feeling rather reluctant to leave Europe, but we've all got to come back to reality when we're done frolicking. We changed buses at the other hotel. Peter and Howard would be taking the guests to the airport in Paris, while the other coach would take us to Calais and then back to London.
Breakfast was super early at 6.30am but we had gotten so accustomed to waking up at 5.30am for the past 11 days that we had no problem waking up for an early breakfast.
After breakfast, we went down to the lobby with a heavy heart. We were already bidding each other farewell and exchanging contacts while Howard and Peter dealt with our luggage. It would be the last time they wheeled and carried our bags around. That kinda has a depressing ring to it, don't you think? Everyone who would be leaving Europe boarded the coach one last time, but there was a complication. We were boxed in left, right, front and back. And we were running late. Time ticked by, 5 minutes 10 minutes, and we were still boxed in. Howard and Peter were talking to the hotel staff to tey to deal with the situation. It was imperative that we left on time because some guests had early flights, and then this happens. Someone had probably told Peter to do the impossible as his arms were sweeping around in wide gestures which looked impossible to do with his coach. Howard had a very irked look on his face. Guests missing their flights would be very bad for his repertoire, after all. The driver of the coach in front of us refused to move and eventually the bus behind us moved out of the way. Peter reversed out of the small parking space and onto the road with his usual amazing expertise. We applauded his efforts and skill then took off for the neighbouring hotel just a couple blocks away, where the other coach was waiting.
We got off and I swear, I'm sure I left a small part of me behind on that bus that we've traveled all through 11 days on. All the drama we've gone through- the broken window, the crazy dancing, all that snoozing, the jokes, the history lessons, the friendships forged, the serious conversations shared- all of this I'm going to miss dearly. I'm sure, when we go on another tour some time in the future, I'm going to be saying the same thing, but for now, this is a good as it gets. A year from now, 5 years or maybe even 10 years down the road, I will remember the adventure of going around Europe and experiencing the people, their rich culture and basking in the glory of its ancient history. Ah, I've fallen in love with Europe, as you can already tell. One day, we will return, but for now, home calls.
We switched buses and I bid au revoir to Peter and Howard, then turned my attention forward. I had a long chat with Andrea on the bus, who was travelling on the parallel tour and whom I've been bumping into on the various road stops. Charlotte, the travel director for her group took us under her care, and with what's left of our group and theirs, we left for Calais.
The ride was long, with a quick stop to switch buses again. Our new driver was called Mo/Moe? who drove a British bus. It felt kinda strange to be riding on a vehicle with the driver on the right and driving on the left. I guess 12 days is a decent length of a time to become accustomed to something. When we arrived at Calais, there was terrible traffic. Due to the recent crisis of flocking immigrants trying to breech British shores through the freezing Channel, security had been upped two fold. Thus, we had to get in line behind five other buses just to get through customs. In Charlotte's words, it was like watching a kettle boil.
When it was finally our turn to get off the bus, another queue greeted us, a long line of tourists. Fortunately, said line moved pretty quickly and we were soon back onto the bus. The British officer was pretty nice and even cracked a joke, despite his stoic façade. Like I said, we made it back into the bus and by a miracle, we even made it for the boat! If not, we'd have to wait another hour for the next one, which would've ruined everything scheduled for. Anyway, everything turned out well, we got onto the boat by coach and onto the deck where we had our light lunch and watched the endless sea before us. It wasn't all that amazing, really. If anything, it was cold and bustling with activity, activity meaning snoozing, eating and plenty of chatter to go around. The trip lasted 90 minutes and in no time, we were back on British soil. Ah Britain, how have I not really missed you. The only thing I was grateful for, was the ability to use internet data again, and mind you, it's unlimited (until it expires some time in August), so you could imagine me going crazy with the internet and having my phone battery almost sucked dry. The London roads were not kind, nor accomodating towards our coach. I forgot how narrow the streets can be in certain places. We were first dropped off at the Trafalgar reception, then towards some hotel in Euston and finally, we arrived at our last stop at the Olympia Hilton where we got off to catch a cab to our little b&b in Chiswick. I had no idea how drabby the place was. Our room kinda smelled like piss, but oh well I can't complain, it was cheap, and at least we've got a place to stay that was near the airport.
I could go on about the day, but our Europe tour really ended when we left Calais, so this is where I'll stop. If you really want to know, after checking in, we went out for a stroll along the street laden with shops that appeared like hidden gems. Of course at that time, most of them have closed, so yeah. So that is the end of our Europe tour! I really do hope to travel with Trafalgar again. I know I'll not be disappointed.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Europe Tour - Paris Day 2

This is it. It's the last day of tour (second last, but we're leaving for London tomorrow)
We visited a few tourist-iconic places today: Notre Dame, The Lourve, and the Eiffle tower.
We went to pick up our local specialist first - her name was Elizabeth - by the Arc de Triumph and we took a nice city tour on the coach towards Notre Dame. Only seven of us did not sign up for the optional experiences today (Notre Dame tour and going up the Eiffle tower). I didn't feel that we needed to ascend the tower as it was just to see the whole of Paris from a vantage point. Least to say, we didn't need to see Paris from a vantage point. Anyway, we were dropped off near Notre Dame, and while the others went on the walking tour with commentary, I became tour guide for us seven and also took them to Notre Dame for pictures. As I've been here before (MUSSOC Paris Tour 2015) I was kinda familiar with getting to Notre Dame from where we were. It wasn't very far anyway. We snapped some pictures of the facade of the cathedral, then went in. It wasn't very late, maybe around 9 am when we got there, so the crowd was still relatively decent. Being inside the cathedral brought proud memories of our final performance to the public. I was proud to tell the others who had followed us, of my experience here in Paris. We walked around the cathedral being tourists and at about quarter to ten, we left for the latin quarters to have a look. However, our trip to the place was cut short by a tempting souvenir store. By the time my mum and grandma bought some magnets, it was about time to leave. We quickly walked down the walkway to where we were dropped off and waited for the others and the bus. It felt great to be early, for once.
From Notre Dame, we continued on with our city tour with Elizabeth. My mum and I commented on how romantic the Parisian way of talking was. She said if she spoke that way with the teachers, she'd be a hit. HAHAHA! I liked how her hand moved when she talked, it was so elegant and refined, like a dutchess or a princess. We were supposed to park at an underground parking for the Lourve, but it was blocked out. We later found out that there had been an accident in the parking area involving a coach. In the end, we were dropped off near the Carrousel du Lourve at about 11.10am and from there, we walked to the famous Lourve pyramid on our way to L'escargot on Rue Montogueil to eat escargot, of course. However, we underestimated the time to get there (because we kept stopping for pictures at the pyramid). To my surprise, we passed by our coach with Peter inside, parked on Rue Saint Honore. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the restaurant on foot (google maps said 12! Damnit) When we got there, it was already five to twelve. We didn't have a lot of time to eat as we had to be back by 1pm. And judging by the distance we covered and the time taken to do so, we decided that we would board the coach ahead of the group so we didn't have to walk so far. I contemplated sending a facebook message to Peter, asking what time he was leaving, but remembered that the wifi only worked if the bus was running, and by law, the bus can't be left running if it was stationary. I sent the message anyway, hoping that it would go through. It did, but he hadn't seen it, which meant I was right. We then ordered 12 truffle buttered escargots for €34 and told the waiter to hurry. My mum was so anxious as Europeans typically take their time cooking and serving, and we had no time for that. My dad on the other hand, was irked that my mum was so anxious. I was ferverently praying on the inside that the chef would cook ours first. It felt like a long time, but the snails finally arrived in about 10 minutes. It was the fastest meal we've had in the past 10 days on this tour. We were stabbing those snails out of their shells like the wind, and eating the breadsticks with the excess truffle butter. My dad nearly caused his snail shell to fly as using the 'snail prongs', as I call them, for the first time can be a rather strange experience. We hurridly ate our snails, then called for the bill "l'addition s'il vous plait" and rushed out of the restaurant and back where we came. There were a group of men, probably travellers sitting behind us, and they were probably very amused at a Chinese family stuffing cooked snails as though they hadn't had a bite to eat in days. One of them turned to my mum and asked, "is it good?" To which my mum then told him how we had to rush for the bus, and how we can't be late and stuff, but not actually answering the question. Anyway, we speed walked all the way back to where we last saw our coach, just 5 minutes to half past 12 and to our relief, there it stood just as we had saw it half an hour ago. Peter was chatting with the driver from the parallel tour whose bus was parked behind ours. We approached Peter and asked him what time he was leaving this spot, he checked his watch and replied, "one o'clock, one o' five or so. The tour will be walking here." There we stood, feeling an overwhelming sense of relief and at the same time, embarrassment for having caused such a fuss. He then sent a message to Howard telling him that we were already in the bus.
So for half an hour, we chatted with Peter and got to know him a little better. For his privacy's sake, obviously I'm not going to explain what we talked about, but I am able to tell you that it was a very interesting conversation that I would probably remember years from now.
At 1pm, we boarded and sat in our seats. Howard had not replied Peter and it kinda worried us as that meant he would've thought he lost a family of four. We hoped that he'd have seen the message as five minutes ticked by and still no sight of the group. Peter went down to go check if they were coming, and they were. Everyone had been worried and looking for us. We felt incredibly bad. The relieved look on their faces told us how worried they were that we weren't there during head count. We apologised to Howard, feeling embarrassed for causing him such distress, then the bus took off again for the Eiffle tower.
We were dropped off near the base of the tower, where all the other coaches were and the few of us who weren't going up the tower hung around the park that spread out like a green (and brown) carpet before the metal structure. White canopy tents lined up alongside each other selling souvenirs and food while picnic goers lounged on the grass and benches under the Paris sun while enjoying the cold (rather strong) breeze. We had about an hour and a half to spend our time before we had to return to our coach at 3pm. We spent some leisurely time chatting and having a light lunch, I spent some time reading my French phrasebook that I bought from here nearly three months ago. Least to say I didn't get very far into the book. As we were sitting under the shade, the lack of heat from the sun sent me shivers from the strong, cold gusts of wind. I then decided to retreat to the comfort of the coach, as two of the others who were with us had. Carrying our three backpacks, we strolled along the sidewalk and into the bus, greeting Peter "bonjour" as I passed him. I tried reading my book again, but talking with an elderly lady was more interesting. It also felt rather sad how this would be our last outing together as not many were going for the Moulin Rouge at night (including ourselves).
We headed back to the hotel to have a snooze then headed out again for dinner at 7.30pm ish. There was this maze of shops located in a building behind the hotel, which reminded me of yik foong in Ipoh. We strolled along the corridors, looking at the many shops that were closed while at the same time looking for a place to eat. There was even a Careforre! Anyway, we settled on a Chinese restaurant that charged food by every 100g, which was a very interesting concept. Come to think of it, it's like chap fan but in a more honest way. The food was heaven sent. After days of having meat, rice and noodles were the most delicious things to be eaten at that point. A couple of our tourers were also dining there - Scott and David. The lady who owned the shop was from Taiwan who had settled here for 30 years. My mum talked to her in teochew - a Chinese dialect that sounded like Hokkien (our dialect) and it was very merry. It felt a little like home.
After dinner at 8.30pm, we went to Careforre to have a look around and ended up buying a bag of black cherries for €4.30. Pretty cheap for the amount that we got. We then got shooed out at 9pm closing time, and we slowly made our way back to the hotel reception. Half way, I heard my dad calling from a distance. He held up what looked like a cherry, but, I was holding the bag of cherries. It didn't make sense to me so I stared at him with confusion. Apparently, the plastic bag had a gaping hole in it, and I had been swinging it around and littering the floor with a line of cherries, like Hansel and Gretel. It was hilarious! My grandma had spotted the fallen cherries at first then wondered if they were from our bag, then she found another, and another, and another. We walked back to where the coaches were parked outside the hotel, all while breathless from laughter, then checked out the other buses parked alongside our beloved Trafalgar one with the missing tinted window on the rear left. We went back inside where it was warm and hung around as the evening was still young and very bright. I took the time to update this post while my dad used the provided computer to check up on news from home. We finally called it a night at 10.30pm, showered, packed and went to bed. We're going home.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Europe Tour - Paris day 1

The trip to Paris was 9 bloody hours. From Switzerland, we made our way out of the Swiss alps and into the flat plains of France. We made toilet breaks almost every three hours. It must've been arduous for Peter to be driving nine hours during the day. We watched 'My Life In Ruins', fitting for our group haha. I think Howard purposfully screened that film to show what being a travel guide is like.
Nothing much happened during the day, as you've expected, there was a lot of sleeping, and a film.
Fast forwarding to actually arriving in Paris, I felt like arriving back at some place familiar, even though I've only been to Paris once for 6 days, just over 3 months ago. It felt nostalgic coming back here as a tourist instead of as a performer/tourist. It was 4pm when we arrived the very swanky hotel. Like some say, you start big you end big. After checking in, we left for Champ Elysee where we were dropped off to have some dinner. After taking some pictures at the Arc de Triumph we went looking for dinner. In the end, we settled on McDonalds. Not the most Parisian meal, but eaten by Parisians nonetheless. We headed back to the meeting point to wait for the relief coach (Peter had maxed out his driving hours for the day). My mum and I took a short stroll past the shops up until Louis Vuitton while having a chat, then turned back.
From Champ Elycsee we went to the river side for a cruise. Funnily enough, I came here just 3 months ago with Mussoc. So, now I have two Bateaux-Mouches tickets to keep as souveniers. Unfortunately, this trip did not mimic the first one I went as it drizzled and rained. I didn't take many pictures as I had already done so three months ago and now, I relish the sights with my own eyes. We went around the Eiffle tower and Notre Dame and various bridges for about an hour then got back onto the bus, then went to tour the infamous 'City of Lights' by coach. To me, it wasn't anything extremely spectacular. It was a pretty sight, yes, with all the lights from the cars in standstill traffic glimmering with the romantic street lights and those illuminating the many monuments around the city. It did, however, have a mysterious taste to it. After the evening tour, we went to some place to see the Eiffle tower lights (I can't remember). The massive metal structure lit up like a christmas tree at 10pm and instantaneously all smartphones and cameras were whipped out to record the moment (which lasts 5 minutes every hour from dusk till dawn). Just as we were walking back to the coach, my mum started to feel slightly peckish. There was a crepe stall nearby and we found out that the girl working there is Malaysian (holla!) - a student doing a Summer job. We arrived back at the hotel at 11pm - the latest that we've probably ever stayed out.
Returning to our room, feeling dead tired we cleaned up and got ready for bed. We had to prepare gratuity for the director and driver, which was a foreign concept to us. Usually, we just pay tax. Anyway, that was done, and after that, I prepared a small little thank you note and a gift each, then slid it into the envelope and back into my mum's bag.
The next day, we tour the city!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Europe Tour - Lake Lucern, Switzerland Day 2

This one is gonna be rather short because I was too tired to write as we went around.
In the morning, we went to the base of Mount Pilatus to ascend the mountain by cogwheel train. It was a slow ascend, and a cold one. Of course it wasn't without reward. The view was incredible! Vast green lands, sparkling lakes, open skies, it was all so picturesque. There were even cows grazing! We called them mountain cows lol. They had cowbells tied around their necks that sounded whenever they moved. So every time we heard the sound of bells, we whipped out our cameras and searched for the cows. However, halfway to the top, the scenic view transformed into that of ghastly fog. We couldn't see anything outside our windows! Upon arriving at Mt. Pilatus, we were given free rein to roam around, take pictures and shop at the gift store. But because of the fog, there wasn't exactly much to see. We were also ill equipped for the weather in the mountain. Luckily I brought a cardigan and a hoodie with me. They weren't very thick per se, but they worked well to keep me sufficiently warm enough. Luckily Nottingham winters had prepared me for standing the cold. I can't imagine what winter on Mt. Pilatus must be like.
We went out into the fog and wind, took some photos and explored for like, 5 minutes then retreated back into the warmth of the building. We then went to this tunnel place where you could walk through and enjoy the scenery from high up, but because of the fog, it just felt like a journey through mountain pass. We didn't go very far because it was too cold (& windy) plus my grandma couldn't take it so we went back again. I waited with a few others at a bistro stand opposite the gift store and spotted a pretty good looking guy. He looked about my age or younger. Probably younger. Great features. Nice jawline and eyes. Anyway, after oogling for several minutes, it was time to descend the mountain by cable car. All 52 of us, and two Japanese ladies got into the car and we began our slow descend. We came to a station where everyone got off and we boarded smaller gondolas for the rest of the ride down the back of the mountain. By this time, the sun was beginning to shine through the clouds. Switzerland can indeed get very hot, because of the strong sunshine. Anyway, we passed the first gondola station, where we didn't alight, and continued on to the last stop at Lucern, where Peter was waiting for us. We spotted him standing by the bus with another coach driver and waved. From Mt. Pilatus, we went back to the city centre, and began our hunt for Swiss army knives! My dad has lost 4 in his life time, and I've never owned one, until now of course.
We had scouted the shops the night before to make shopping easier. All prices were the same so we could just pop into any store to get one. We grabbed an apfelstrudel, which is apple strudel (kinda like McD's apple pie but fresh and not artificially flavoured) for lunch and ate that with what we had packed from the hotel breakfast. Then as we walked towards the hotel, we window shopped along the way. We eventually settled on a shop close by the hotel and spent some time choosing our army knives. I got the tinkerer while my mum and dad got the sportsman and () respectively. We also got some souveniers to take back home but we had to rush back to the hotel for our next excursion out to the countryside, so we paid and left the knives back for them to be engraved with our names. (Much excites!)
So, we went to Engelberg located behind the mountains, in a lush valley. Engelberg meant Angel Mountain. The journey took us up the mountain through hairpin roads, which Peter manouvered through effortlessly. I keep forgetting that he's been doing this for 8 years. In Engleberg, we were greeted with three horse carriages - one with two horse power, and the others with one. We sat in the one with one horse and took a slow ride through the countryside. The air was amazingly fresh, crisp and clean. There was barely any rubbish in sight too! The skies were clear and bright, with fluffly clouds to provide us with cooling weather. The horse ride was so slow, I was on the verge of falling asleep. Not to say that I didn't enjoy the trip, but I was quite worn out from the time in Mount Pilatus. We finally arrived at a farm where the lady owner served us 5 out of their 17 types of home made cheeses, some apple & orange juice, and some white wine. I had the apple juice. She also made us apfelstrudel, cheese pie, chocolate cake, thin slices of beef and salami and a potato cake thing. Everything was delicious! Her son even played us something on his accordian. Krizelle and I guessed his age to be between 17-19 as he was rather tall and sorta looked matured? Idk. Anyway, about 5 minutes before we departed for the bus, Krizelle and I rushed to the barn to pet one the only horse there. We then walked towards where all the coaches were, I quickly went to the toilet and unfortunately found a line, yet again for the ladies. I just cut queue and went in to wash my hands and got out, found my family in line, and took their backpacks back to the bus. I met up with two of the other tourers and we went into the bus together, where were were the only few ones. We had moved all the way to the front as not many joined this excursion. There, I had a little chat with Peter while waiting for everyone else to arrive.
From Engelberg, we went back to Lucern where we were dropped off at the hotel, and we went back to collect our knives. We almost bought some watches, but my mum couldn't find the one that appealed to her fancy so we walked back towards the chapel bridge for my grandma to take a picture. We ocassionally stopped by the many watch shops and always coming out empty ended. In the end, we didn't buy any watches. When we got back to the hotel, we were just in time for dinner. We dropped off our bags in our room and and went down for a three course meal. We were stuffed. I couldn't even finish my ice cream!
My parents then went out again to finish their Swiss Francs coins (as we can't change those into other currencies), while I went back to the room to shower and drink red wine we bought from a R&R in Italy. It took me nearly 15 bloody minutes trying to pull the cork out with my mum's army knife! Usually it should come out quickly, but this one was quite a challenge. I was huffing and red from trying to pull out the damn thing. Eventually the cork broke in half. I managed to get the corkscrew into the other half still stuck in the bottle neck and got it out before it fell in. It wasn't really great wine, but what would I know, I don't really like red wine to begin with. Peter suggested I try the white wine from Rhineland as their wine was sweet, since I like sweet drinks. I then settled down in bed and drank while watching CNN. It was the only english channel available on the tv. Halfway through the bottle, I stopped so my parents could drink some and went to bed. A while later, they came back from their evening out. I was still somewhat awake, albeit a little woozy. Anyway, I went to bed quite early.
We head to Paris for our last two nights of the tour. I'm feeling very reluctant to leave Europe and the tour as I've begun to grow attached to the entire group. I'd definitely love to meet up with them again one day

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Europe Tour - Lake Lucern, Switzerland Day 1

I left my charger and adapter in the hotel :'( we noticed when my mum wanted to charge her phone on the coach and couldn't find my charger, nor the adapter. I was asleep then, and instantly was awake, feeling a creeping dread in my gut. I recalled not unplugging it because my mum's phone was still charging. And that's probably where it still is. "Did you unplug it?" I asked, hoping that she did, but, by the look on her face, I found my answer. The dread fell over me like a heavy weight. I don't like losing my things because I'd have to replace them, and many a time I'd have grown attached to them. Yes, I'm a hoarder. Also the international adapter wasn't cheap, which deepened my guilt further. I wanted to divert the blame, but obviously that isn't going to help with the situation except for making myself feel better. I swallowed my guilt and wallowed in it until I fell asleep again. When I woke up, there was a documentary showing about Enzo Ferrari's life story, into which my attention was absorbed.
We stopped for coffee and toilets at 10am - our last stop in Italy before crossing the Swiss border - and I quietly confessed to to my dad that I'd left the adapter and my charger in the hotel room. He didn't say anything, but the important thing was he wasn't angry, which was relieving. As usual, we had to queue up for the toilets for women. It was about 15 minutes in until my turn came. We bought a bottle of red wine for €6.60, my mum was almost tempted to get a box of 3 for €9.90, but I told her it would be a hassle to carry that around, and we'd probably not finish it. Our half hour break was up and we hurridly returned to the bus and back onto the autostratti freeway
The next stop had a gorgeous view of the alps, and surprisingly delicious Chinese food! However, it is with a price of 17 (ish) swiss francs per plate. Not cheap, but hey, we were kinda desperate after days of so much meat. After the lunch break, we headed off again. We passed by great lakes and beautiful mountains, and marveled at how the Swiss are able to live on the mountainsides. Unfortunately, there is traffic on the freeway towards the long tunnel (19 kilometers) through the mountains. While waiting, Howard played us some video compilations of 'Happy' and we were asked to do a little dance in our seats as Howard filmed us on his ipad for our tour video, also along to the song 'Happy'. The coach went crazy! The two ladies at the back literally started dancing and grooving and of course the cameras were all out to record the fiesta.
The ride from the 19km tunnel all the way to Lucern was 80% tunnels, 17% epic, postcard worthy scenery and 3% trees. Lake Lucern is not like a lake at all, from my own expectations. I've never seen a lake this big! (Or rather I don't go out often enough.) The scenery was breathtaking. The lake is so incredibly clean, it's apparently on par with drinking water! Though I'd advice anyone not to do that. We went on a boat cruise around the massive lake, marvelling at the natural hills, majestic mountains and the greenery. To live by the lakeside apparently costs a whole lot of swiss francs. Like, millions. Not even kidding. Room with a view? A few thousands a month. Living here is ridiculous! But it's so tempting because of the security, scenery and apparent good income.
After an hour we went back to the coach to check into a family-run hotel and I found out that it was fully booked - by us. It's a pretty small hotel, not high class or something. Howard said that hotels in Lucern are usually expensive so we had to accomodate, which is totally fine with us. I kinda like this hotel. Has a homely touch to it. We checked in, settled our luggage, and went out again at 6.40pm to go look at a carved in monument of a dying lion. It looked heartwrenchingly majestic. I mean, come on, it's a dying lion. How much more awesome can that get? After the monument, the group was supposed to go for the optional dinner experience. We didn't go and had planned to return to the hotel. So, before Peter almost drove off, I managed to stop him, told him our plan and he got really confused and surprised. Howard had mentioned that we could go back to the hotel if we wanted, we just had to tell Peter, which we did. Peter then told us that it was no problem but said that Howard had made a mistake, thinking that the bus could be parked at the hotel, which he can't because of the narrow streets. After finding that out, we immediately felt so bad, because we were the only ones going back to the hotel, and it was just a 10 minute walk back. Since Peter had already reversed out onto the road, it was a little too late to bail. So, he did deliver us back to the hotel, to which we were really grateful for. He was to park the bus at the coach parking a couple streets back, then cycle to the restaurant for some cheese fondue that he apparently can't leave switzerland without eating. So anyway, we retreated back to our room to have instant noodles for dinner, which tasted delicious. Afterwards we decided to head out to the city, even though it was raining. My grandma stayed in to sleep early. And so, the three of us took our time exploring part of the city in the light rain. We walked for about one an a half hours on cobbled streets, passing by store after store selling swiss watches and swiss penknives (which we will buy tomorrow), clothing stores, shoe shops, bookstores and quaint cafes. It really is a nice place to get lost and wander around, but perferrably not at night, and in the rain. We ever rolled up our jeans till our mid calves to walk about.
We finally came home after almost getting lost in the twisting narrow streets and took a nice warm shower before snuggling under the soft duvet, on the soft bed and soft pillow. Everything was soft. I sank into my mattress and my head flattened the feather pillow. Luckily I brought my hamtaro pillow with me.
Tomorrow we head for the mountain and a cheese farm! Much excites!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Europe Tour - Florence

My dark circles are beginning to become more prominent. I look like I've not slept in  days. Technically that's true, I've not had proper sleep since the tour started. I had great sleep in pretty nice hotels definitely, but not solid sleep. I do sleep in the bus, but everyone knows the body only considers those kinds of sleep as naps. So every morning, I wake up at 5.30-5.45 while my mum wakes up at 5. Bless her. My eyes are constantly tired in the morning and my brain feels like thick haze. I can think rather clearly but my body is sluggish. I.e I'm still asleep. On the contrary though, I think my thought process is more critical in this state, as in, more judgemental. Maybe my subconscious hates the world for making myself wake up so bloody early in the morning, but early mornings are no place for war, especially when you're on tour.
We stopped by a freeway stop at about five to ten. The place was freaking three storeys high, and of course the facilities had to be on the top floor. When we went to the toilets, there was already a double queue for the ladies. I decided that I could possibly hold my bladder for the next couple of hours so I bailed and let my grandma (who was a few people behind) take my place instead. I went back down to the hot and dusty road and waited under the shade of the trees. A couple of other tourers came back with some candy from the petrol station adjacent to it and told me that the toilets were also free (as in no euros needed). I thought I could hold it in. Besides they'd be a long line waiting for the ladies anyway. A couple minutes later, I decided to take the risk and ran to the station. I had ten minutes before we left. Luckily there wasn't a very long line, perhaps about 7 people? In no time I was in the toilet and out again, all in 5 minutes. I surprised the tourers who had also waited under the shade as I came back pretty quickly. One of them said 'that was quick!' And another, who has a very punny sense of humour added, 'no, she made it quick'. What did I tell ya. Hahahaha! We boarded the bus and continued on our merry way, with our bladders empty, to Florence. On the bus Howard showed us a video on the Siena Racing Festival (?) And a short funny clip on how Italians tell the time:
A man on a Vespa came riding down the dusty road, dressed rather smartly. He stopped and askes a farmer who was having a siesta next to his donkey what the time was. The farmer peeled open one eye, and then reached towards his donkey and cups its balls. "Almost 10 o clock", he said. Confused, the Vespa man asked again. Appearing slightly agitated at having his snooze interrupted, he lifted the donkey's balls and repeated the time. The Vespa man eyed the farmer in disbelief and reluctantly set his watch to the given time. When the Vespa man returned on the same road, he stopped in front of the farmer, who was still snoozing, and asked confidently for the time. "Again?" The farmer questioned and begrudgingly did the same action as he had before. "7.10". The Vespa man looked at his watch in shock and exclaimed, "It's exactly 7.10 on the dot! How can you tell by lifting your donkey's balls?" The farmer looked at him and turned to his donkey and lifted the balls. It showed that there was a clock tower located in the distance behind them, obscured by his donkey's balls.
My mum and I burst out laughing and continued on for the next agonizing 5 minutes of giggling. It was hilarious. It began to rain when we arrived at the coach stop. As Howard had mentioned, several people came to sell us ponchos and umbrellas but I already had mine. Anyway, Florence... well, in my opinion, isn't much, unless you go to the Academia to see David, which we didn't because we didn't think my grandma would enjoy walking around looking at butt naked marble figures. So, the rest of us who didn't go, went to Piazza S. Croche (what the map states) and we roamed around the various leather shops and vendors that sold very similar products for very similar prices. At 2.25pm, we regrouped with the rest and headed for Peruzzi, a leather chain that manufactures their own products, including the tanning process, etc. Apparently, good leather products shouldn't have such an overwhelming smell, as that would mean that the tanning process wasn't done correctly. In otherwords, cheap counterfits. Also, as it's calf skin, one shouldn't expect the product to be perfect, like a pearl. Natural pearls aren't perfectly round, like how leather isn't perfectly crease and dent free.
My mun bought some stuff for my grandparents (her parents) and a belt for herself. I saw this leather-bound book which was absolutely gorgeous. I'd love to get one, but conditions do not permit me to buy heavy stuff. So I didn't get anything. We then had free time to do whatever we liked, but since we've already walked around the square, there wasn't much left to see, so we just chilled on the stone benches until 5.50pm
From the square, we walked to our coach about 10 minutes away. I chatted with Krizelle, a Cali girl and told her about how school was in Malaysia. We've noticed that by now, nearly everyone was very comfortable with each other, being more open with jokes and banter. Compared to the first day of tour, we now seem like one big, happy family, with Howard and Peter like our parents. HAHA! Imagine having to take care of 52 children. I bet that's what it must feel like as a tour director. We aren't the most easy group to deal with. We arrive late, always asking the same questions several times, making him repeat stuff several times and we still get it wrong - I really do respect him and his incredible patience with us. Even makes me feel bad when we're late.
We had a 3 course dinner which was not bad, but the company was better. Our table was one of the rowdiest, thanks to my mum and her contagious laughter. Even Howard and Peter turned to look with curiosity and Howard came over to see what was all the noise, which made us laugh even more! It was a wonderful night. We got to share views with each other which was wonderful and heartwarming. We decided to call it a night at 9.30 and I retreated to my room for a shower and after that, spent some quiet time watching the moon and the stars on the balcony while enjoying the gentle, cool breeze. Florence can never be as beautiful as it can be right now.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Europe Tour - Rome day 2: The Vatican City & The Colosseum

Second day in Rome, I had a wonderful sleep but sadly not enough rest. Breakfast was uh.. pretty basic compared to the past few days: bread, cheese, hams and fruit. Reminded me of my trip to Paris a few months ago. Anyway, we left the hotel 7.20am on the dot so we could be the first ones into the Vatican. Trust Trafalgar to be the best in planning ahead. We met up with our local specialist again and she led us into the Vatican City. It doesn't look as ancient as I thought or romanticised it to be, but it was breathtaking nonetheless. The galleria filled with marble sculptures, incredibly preserved tapestries (cleaned in a large pool every hundred years) and intricate the fresco that adorned the ceilings and walls of the hallways. It was beautiful, and being able to see so much history was amazing. From the galleria we went to the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo spent 4 years painting the ceiling of the chapel. It was glorious! We weren't allowed to take picture because the flash would ruin the paint, and because of copyright laws. I admired the art on the ceilings (and feeling a horrid pain in my neck from looking up) and the walls and wondered in amazement and awe how such a feat could be accomplished. Only the ever perfectionist Michelangelo could've done it. The 'Final Judgement' fresco on the altar wall was brilliant. And Michelangelo was a rather cheeky artist with a sense of humor. One of the cardinals commented on the Judgement fresco and it's butt nakedness, which of course pissed Michelangelo off, so he drew the very same cardinal in the depths of hell, with donkey ears and a snake coiled around him, biting his precious jewels. Looking at the fresco in that perception was rather hilarious.
After the Sistine Chapel, we headed for the Colosseum. The bus was parked in an underground (not really) place where it was rather dimly lit. As we were making our way out the tight space, I heard a loud thunk on my side (left) of the window and the outer glass cracked into tiny pieces. I could even hear the glass crackling into small fragments! I didn't really know what happened but someone then told us that a guy had offered to help Peter navigate out of the low space and kept telling him to drive forward. That was when the glass broke. Apparently the coach hit one of the brick pillars. So now, my side of the bus is hot as the tint was on the outer glass which is now shattered and gone. Luckily the insurance covers for it. Well that sure was quite an adventure! We arrived at the Colosseum and a few other old monuments and arches. It was pretty dusty and as usual had an over abundance of tourists. It was hot, also as usual. Really hot. I think I turned another shade darker from today. We went into the colossal structure, going with and against the flow of tourists. The steps leading up to the upper floor is really steep. Luckily they made the steps wide. Did you know that there are over 80 gates around the Colosseum? And it can fit around 50,000 people and can evacuate everyone in 10 minutes. Incredible. When I laid eyes on the original structure itself, I was instantly reminded of the times I went through the structure, climbing it to the very top, of course I should point out that I did it  as Ezio Auditore from Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. Just looking at the fallen parts made me think of the best way to parkour all the way to the top. Now that I have visited the place itself, touched the marbles and drank its spring water, I want to play the game again.
We had our lunch at the Colosseum (packed sandwiches) and boarded the bus at 2.15pm. When Peter came back with the bus, the shattered glass had been cleared and tape had been applied to the edges of the outer window. We then went back to the hotel where we can rest before heading out to the city again at 5.30pm for some free time, for those not going for the entertainment night.
I managed to get a shower and a nap, which was great. We left at 5.30pm on the dot for the city. Only a few of them went for the evening entertainment while the rest did their own thing, including us and another lady from St. Louis, Donna, a theatre teacher at a college. The five of us were dropped off near the Ponte Umberto I bridge next to the river and made our way to Castel (castle) Sant' Angelo just down the road. On the Ponte (bridge?) Sant' Anglo we bumped into some Malay students! It felt great to see some familiar faces. We had a little chat, and wished them happy Raya before heading off for our dinner destination near Piazza Navona  where the Fountain of the Four Rivers. When we arrived at the piazza, the place was bursting with so much artistic talent! There were so many artists, craftsmen, musicans and performers! I was just staring at all the artwork, the handicrafts and listening to the beautiful music. I managed to point out the song they were playing which was Ave Maria, and I was instantly absorbed, and humming to the accordian (I think) I first heard the song from a fanvideo of Thane Krios from Mass Effect 2 and instantly fell in love with the way the user created the video. Anyway, yes, we then made our way to this particular restaurant Donna had eaten at the night before called S.P.Q.R. Omg the food was delicious. The portions were too much for one person, so if anyone is in Rome, and decides to eat here, please keep in mind that a plate for one can feed two people. Also keep in mind that Italians typically spend around two hours for dinner, and I can now understand why. Also to note that aqua minerale is sparkling water. Soda water. A mistake we made when we ordered last night. Anyway, tonight we ate a total of €200, which were off the menu, which explains the super huge portions.
After dinner we went back to the Piazza Navona to enjoy the sights and sounds. There's just so much culture here, a beautiful clash of modern and historical culture. I just watched an artist paint three wild stallions in striking colours. It was a marvelous experience watching a painting come to life. I've always enjoyed watching art in the process, whether if it's music, art or words, I love watching people expressing their passions through such outlets. We strolled around the piazza, enjoying the romantic music played by a street accordian player nearby. I've always had this image of the old Roman soldiers with Rome, but obviously I can't associate ancient Rome with modern Rome. Instead, what I got from tonight, especially tonight, is how romantic Rome can be on a Friday evening at the Piazza. There's so much such life everywhere! It's no wonder our church friend (who introduces Trafalgar  to us) loves Italy so much.
At 10pm, we decided to call it a night and took a taxi back to the hotel.
Tomorrow, we go to Florence!

Europe Tour - Rome day 1

Bonjorno! That's hello in Italian :D We got the back seat today! So much leg room!! And it's not bumpy! (Thanks Peter) Anyway, we're heading to Roma today. It's gonna be a long ride since we'll only be arriving at about 1pm where it'll be hottest, probably.
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Well, it wasn't so bad. It was hot, definitely, but it wasn't as bad as Venice. Venice was sweltering hot. The road to Rome was really windy and bumpy. I kinda felt woozy halfway through, but recovered after 15 minutes. We stopped by the first pitstop in the morning for a toilet break. I didn't go, and luckily I didn't as there were about 3 other coaches. A few of us chilled in the shade while the rest queued up for the loo. The next stop was 2 & 1/2 hours away so we slept. At the next stop, we had lunch. We had packed sandwiches from the hotel during breakfast and my mum bought a salad bowl (because we desperately needed greens). At least the toilet was free. So after lunch we went on our merry (albeit winding) way to Rome.
We arrived at around 3pm where we checked into our small but amazingly comfortable hotel and checked on the chocolates that were dumped into my luggage bag, hoping that it hadn't melted in the Italian heat. Anyway, at 4.30pm we assembled at the lobby and headed for the city central where we met up with the local specialist. She took us around the back streets, to the Prime Minister's Palace which was built 500 years ago, we went to the Pantheon and one of the old Roman temples. We visited a few of the obelisks scattered around the city and took pictures of the Spanish steps and the fountain of Four Rivers. Rome is a city bursting with history dating thousands of years. I expected myself to be entirely overwhelmed with the sights and sounds, but I admit that I was disappointed at my own mellow reaction to all these beautiful places. I suppose when you've seen one cathedral, you've seen them all. Indeed all cathederals are not the same, and vary in differenr sizes and architecture. I do think that one other reason for these feelings are the over abundance of tourists. You see tourists in every corner. Some times I don't even feel like a tourist anymore, except for when I'm snapping away at my camera. There's too much diversity happening, if you know what I mean. It doesn't make the place truely special anymore. You don't truely feel like an outsider. Well, at least I don't really. Maybe it's just me, I don't know.
The pantheon was a sight to behold. Truely the Romans who built this gigantuous temple 2000 years ago were absolute brilliant builders! It was the first building to be made from concrete. Even Michelangelo marveled at it for years, saying how the perfect sphere represents the sanctity of God (or something along those lines) The painter Rafael was buried in the pantheon, the marble columns that support the madona above his sarcophagus is made of a kind of marble then imported from Egypt typically only used for emperors and the like. Some interesting fact for you to read up on. The whole walk came to an end at the Fountain of Four Rivers, each 'river' representing something. One was Asia, the other was the Middle East? I'm not entirely sure. The other two I didn't really listen.
At about 6.30 the walk ended and we went to get dinner. I knew that tips was a thing in Europe, but we aren't used to such practices. So we had spaghetti and a pizza. The place where we ate, the food was so-so. There wasn't anything rather spectacular about it. I had Spaghetti ala Carbonara, it wasn't all that amazing. Oh well, I guess I had set up too high a standard. Haha! We had some gelato, which was quite sweet, as we waited at the appointed meeting place, then walked back to the bus parked near the Palace of Justice, where we hungrily snapped pictures of the sunset casting silhouettes onto the ancient buildings.
After arriving at the hotel, we took our showers and decided to hit the small bar just behind the reception (it's a really small hotel). We mingled with some of the other tourers and learned a little more about each other. All in all, I'd think today was rather fulfilling, despite spending half the day on the coach.
Tomorrow we're heading to the Vatican city and to the Sistine Chapel!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Europe Tour - Venice

I had another post but aparently it just stuck to saving mode and I can't access it. Anyway, breakfast was delicious this morning but a tad bit salty, we left as usual at 7am and headed for Italy. We stopped at our first R&R for the day in Tentro I think, or past Tentro, I can't remember. I waited for the rest of the family near the bus while they went for a toilet break. I chatted with a couple of the other tour goers, took some pictures of the mountains and of the birds. When 20 minutes passed and they hadn't returned, I was beginning to worry that they were waiting for me, so I went to sought them out. Turned out, to my horror, they bought two bags of chocolate. Couldn't really blame them though, there was a sale going on and chocolate was going cheap. And so, they bought the chocolate. Because of the massive queue of Chinese tourists, we were a little late to going back to the bus. Anyway, we continued on our journey.
We watched the scenery transform before us- from the mountainous Alps to the rolling plains of farmland and vineyards, it was pretty amazing to look at. There was just so much corn and grapes being grown here! I slept through most of the ride so I can't exactly be sure what I missed. We arrived in Venencia aka Venice and took a private boat that ferried us to the city centre. It was sweltering hot. I had not expected it to be this hot. It was ridiculous! The moment I got onto the boat, I was sweating. I had to pull the long sleeves of my outer shirt to keep myself from actually burning under the brutal sun. There was not a single white cloud in the sky. The waters were a little choppy though, with made it slightly dangerous for my grandma to step into the boat, but we managed. We left the bus behind and Peter drove it away to be parked on a man-made island specifically built for parking. Yes, that's exactly what I said.
Our first stop in bustling Venice, was a traditional glass making workshop, where a master glass blower showed us a demonstration. We then toured the place and had a look at the many high quality, handmade (breakable and expensive) glass wares. We didn't buy anything. After that, we slowly made our way back through the narrow alleys and shopping streets, looking at the mysterious venetian masks, souveniers and had some sandwiches for lunch under the shade of a shop. I got a nail clipper, which also doubles as a small swiss blade and can opener. I was desperate to have my long nails cut. We also got some other types of nailclippers as souveniers. After lunch, we decided that (or rather I) we should not go explore around too much, fear of getting lost and not being able to meet in time for the gondola ride. So, we just strolled around, took photos of St. Mark's Basillica - we didn't enter as there was a long queue under the sun, and we weren't allowed to bring rucksacks/backpacks in. We then sat on the steps of St. Mark's square, along with hundreds of other tourists and just watched the people and pigeons. A while later, my dad and I went to refill our bottles at a nearby pipe. Turned out there was a relatively short line to the free and refreshingly cold water sources, so we waited. And waited. And waited. It wasn't very long, to be honest, it was just really hot. By the time it got to our turn, it was 5 minutes to the appointed meeting time. We managed to make it in time and all was well.
The gondola ride was rather fascinating! Though kinda scary as a wrong shift of the weight in the narrow boat could capsize it. There were 6 people in our gondola. I didn't dare move from my given seat. The gondolier will try to balance out the weight in the boat by placing you into specific seats. Did I mention the waters in the lagoon were choppy? It felt like the gondola would capsize! I wasn't really worried, but my mum kinda was. No worries, nothing bad happened. We floated through the backwater canals while someone sang to us from one of the gondolas. It was simply amazing seeing the various shops, hotels and private residences having a small water entrance, or a little motor boat tied nearby. There are no cars in Venice. I didn't even see bicycles. It was either travelling by foot, or by boat. I could feel the air of the ancient times just by looking at the architecture. Many of the buildings, walls, roads, pathways and bridges are old. Really old. And just like Amsterdam, the buildings are built on many layers of submerged wood, so there is the occasional slanted building. The gondola ride only lasted for 30 minutes because we arrived right back where we started, to go take a water taxi back to where we were dropped off by the pier. We took a ride through the main canal, where Howard our travel director explained to us the various buildings and their historical significance.
We got off the water taxi and made our way back to the bus. Turned out that when Peter went to collect the bus from the parking island and hour prior, the external bus temperature read 39°C. That's really hot. Right now, I feel like I have sunburn, but I hope it isn't too bad and hope it'll very, very soon. We checked into Hotel Sirio where there was airconditioning (praise the Lord) and came down for dinner at 8pm. Apparently Italians like having a late dinner, sometimes even at 10pm.
We had risotto for starters, pork for main and some apple like pastry thing for dessert. I was pretty full by starter though lol. After dinner we sorta hung out around the lobby and chilled. Well that obviously isn't the only reason I hung arouns xD HAHA I kid, I kid. I don't snatch married men.
Anyway, off to Rome next!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Europe Tour - Munich, Innsbruck

Breakfast as usual at 6.30 am and it was delicious. In my opinion, the food here us much tastier than the classy hotel in Amsterdam. At least the scrambled eggs didn't look and taste like the ones I had in halls. We boarded the bus at 7.30am and headed for Munich. The weather was brilliant, bright cloudless skies, warm sun and just wide open farmlands, mainly wheat and corn so it's very brown and green. Compared to northern Germany, there are more rolling hills. We stopped at a freeway stop at 9.30am for some coffee and toilet breaks. The toilet system is so high tech! So you pay say, €0.70 at a toll like entrance and it produces a ticket which entitles you to a €0.50 off for food and drinks that you can buy. So toilet entry is actually just €0.20. We returned to the bus at 10am to resume our journey.
We arrived in Munich and drove past the olympic stadium and the Munich university, very fancy, then we stopped outside the opera house (?) and walked down the road for our own lunch. We had pork knuckle to share and a litre of german beer at the famous Hofbrauhaus. Sadly, we didn't manage to down our beers as we had to rush for the bus. After rushing for about 10 minutes under 33°C heat, we just about went past 5 minutes over our set meet up time. From Munich, we steadily made our way towards Innsbruck in Austria. The view was mountainous, being surrounded by the Alps and trees of various variety. It was such a beautiful sight! It was also a surprisingly familiar sight as Ipoh is also surrounded by hills, except just maybe ten times larger. There were houses, cottages, villages and churches that can be seen popping up along the foot of the mountains that looked absolutely picturesque. Strangely enough, half way through, traffic came to a halt. Police cars and an ambulance drove past us and Howard mentioned of a helicopter as well. While we crawled through the freeway, Howard came to collect payment for optional excursions. Let's just say we (four of us) applied for 6 optional experiences and it left a large, painful hole in the wallet (and heart). Anyway, I think we were stuck on the freeway for a good 20 minutes or more until we managed to get past the hold up.
We arrived in beautiful sunny Innsbruck (33°C) at about 5.20pm and went to the biggest Swarvoski shop in world - THE original shop. It's honestly not ginormous, but compared to other shops, pretty large with three storeys. Anyway, obviously we didn't buy anything because of reasons. We didn't manage to visit the cathedral, but I was wearing short shorts and a tank top anyway so it wouldn't be nice. We then made our way back to the bus and headed for to our hotel for the night, the Bon Alpina, located behind the ski centre used during the olympics. They revamped the place and added glass for ramps so training could be done even in the summer. We went up the narrow and twisting road up the mountain and was greeted by a quaint little town Igls where  some houses were still made of wood, had horse thoroughs, and flower boxes at almost every window, amongst other little things that make this place look traditional. The air was fresh, still warm but definitely better than yesterday and in the day.
We had a 3 course dinner, but we kinda arrived late and had to sit separately - my mum and I, and my dad and grandma. We started with a salad and then a soup which I liked. The turkey snitzel (?) was dry, making it was rather hard to finish, but I did anyway. Dessert was an apple something with cream. Not bad, but I liked the soup better. After dinner was free time so we went to explore the little town full of cultural hidden gems. There was even a wooden church with a cross made out of corn cobs!
So we did some sightseeing, enjoyed the cooling weather and took more pictures. Around 10pm (it looked like 8) we headed back and I beelined for the tub when we got back to the room. Soaked for about 20 minutes after first taking a shower.
Went to bed at 11pm and knocked out. Tomorrow we head for Venice!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Europe Tour - Cologne & Rhineland, Germany

We woke up at 5.30-6.00 am today and had breakfast at 6.30 am, then left the swanky hotel at 7.30 for Cologne. In the bus we watched a video on Anne Frank's short life, making my mum and I silently emotional towards the end.
We slept through most of the way and arrived in Cologne about half past 11, but due to traffic and construction. The road, initially a two lane road became a one lane road, making the bus very difficult to turn, it being a very long 54 seater bus. The good looking driver managed to squeeze us through the one lane, one way traffic. We were headed for Kölner Dom - Cologne Cathedral. It was as magnificant as the Notre Dam. When I went in, I somehow felt overwhelmed, not the super excited kind but the overpouring, close to tears kind. I have no idea why I felt that way, observing the intricate architecture and the sermon happening in German. I also felt rather irked with the amount of flowing tourists that snapped away as much as possible, then leaving when they were satisfied. After visiting some of the catherals in France, I now believe that one should respect the church as it is simple not a building if centuries old architecture, but a place of worship and prayer. With bustling tourists chattering excitedly and the flashes of light from cameras, how was one supposed to worship in church? It's not a crime to take pictures of the giant pillars and painted glass windows, but treating a church as simply a tourist attraction shows what I believe, a lack of respect
Anyhow, we took our pictures - I snapped some for my parents and grandma and obliged for mine to be taken with them, took some shots of the arches and pillars, the windows and the ceilings. After that, we exited the cathedral and snapped a couple more. We had about another half an hour for lunch. We had snagged some food from the hotel breakfast buffet and I had an apple (Imsochubbynowomg). We rested on the stone steps of the cathedral. There was man who appeared like a labour worker, another man dressed more cleanly sat next to him eating bread. His silver hair looked greasy, the shirt that covered his bulging belly was faded and had dirty stains on it. I didn't give him much thought, nor my attention. But from the corner of my eye, I noticed him reaching out for a paper cup before his booted feet, which I had not noticed, and immedietly realised that he was a begger. He jangled the cup and muttered angrily what I heard to be "fuck". Suddenly he took out the three coins in his cup and threw them away at the passing crowd of locals and tourists, then hurled spit at them in what I believed to be an angry response to his fate. I then quickly signaled my mum and told her in mandrin to move my grandma away from the fuming gentleman. He was then hurling cusses at a group that walked past. I didn't want to stand nearby. Understand that my reaction isn't because he's a stinking beggar. The way I interpreted the situation, he seemed to recognise the irony of his fate. Here he was in front of the church, a place supposedly for the poor and the outcast, but he isn't receiving any help. What's more, thousands of tourists throng the area, passing by without so much as batting an eyelash. One would think that perhaps out of the 15 tourists that pass by each time, one would drop a coin or two into the cup, but we all know this is reality. The able don't really do much about such people. We ignore it. We ignore the tragedy that appears before our eyes. Perhaps it's fear? Fear that our money given out of a good deed would be misused by the beggers, or perhaps it would simply be easier to ignore them and pretend we don't see them. Someone else would help them, right? This is the mentality of the world. Even more ironic, as my mum pointed out, there was a protest against food wastage and the protesters were giving out day-old bread to people. They didn't offer it to the begger.
Anyway, we left after using the loo at a nearby McD and waited for our bus. We then left for Rhineland. In the bus the tour director played us a video detailing the bombing on Cologne during WW2. Half way through the mountains (alps?) It started raining again. It kinda feels like Cameron Highlands with all the trees lined up alongside the highway. We arrived in Boppart where we took the Rhine cruise at 3 pm. It was surprisingly humid at 22°C when we got off the bus. But that soon changed into cool breeze when we boarded the boat. The river cruise took us through a scenic route surrounded by lush green hills and very old looking castles that dot the hilltops. The clouds looked as though they were threatening to rain, but wonderfully enough, the sun stayed there all the way through. When we moored at the pier, we were then taken to the world's largest free hanging, hand crafted coo coo clock. I also spotted one ridiculously large german shepard which I suspect could've been cross breeded with a wolf. Pretty cool stuff.
After that I pretty much knocked out as the bus took us to our next hotel - Achat. Bloody hell, for a four star, there isn't any air conditioning. If the place was cooling at night, then it'd be all good, but it's so humid and stuffy in the room I'm wondered if I'd be able to sleep at night! We took a shower before having dinner at 7.30pm, a three course meal. The dessert was my favourite. It was simple: canned peach, pineapple and orange, topped with vanilla ice cream, but it was good. My family and I, with a few others at our table decided to take a stroll outside the hotel. There wasn't much, just houses and dog walkers. We turned back at 9.30pm. It was so hot, I felt like sitting in a tub of cold water, which I did not.
Tomorrow we'll be heading to see a little more if Rhineland, then moving on to Munich and Innsbruck in Austria.
Sorry guys, no photos today. The internet's too slow and it's too bloody hot for me to want to stay up any longer. Cheerios!