From High Above to Down Under

Melbourne CBD and Princes Bridge at Sunset

I am not sure why I came about with the title of this post except maybe because it sounded so Australian which is connected to this recent Winter holiday in Melbourne.  Or more accurately, I realised that I have focused on East Asian and Southeast Asian countries (those countries on top or above Australia) since I started travelling.  This is due to their nearness to Singapore (where I am currently based) and visiting these countries first is the easiest way for me to gain travel experience. 🙂

I have been looking at my world map recently (every aspiring travel photographer and blogger should have one) and saw that I have visited most of the Asian cities I have longed to see since I was still young.  For a change, I also travelled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for its wonderful architecture, unique climate and landscape.  And just last year because of an Australian client, I challenged myself financially by visiting Sydney.  I never had enough of Australia since then and with my Australian Visa still valid, I decided to go to Melbourne this time. 🙂

Melbourne felt strangely familiar.  For one reason, there was no language barrier (well, at least for me).  I just realised that this is the only generally English-speaking country I have visited since I started to travel.  And everyone knows that travelling to these countries will painfully cost you a bomb.  Much like Singapore where I am based, Melbourne feels like a city where immigrants thrive and become successful.  Locals and tourists alike are very accommodating, engaging and even funny.  While Sydney has more of the famous landmarks that is Instagram-worthy, Melbourne has a unique character and vibe centred on arts, food, history and culture.  During this trip, winter was already at its peak which gave the city its dreamy and melancholic mood; a stark contrast to all my previous tropical ramblings.  This made travel and night photography for me a very pleasant experience.  Not surprisingly, I have managed to bring home a more decent set of photos as compared to my previous trips. 🙂

Street Life: Beautiful Street Art along Hosier Lane.

A thousand words paints a beautiful picture and a beautiful picture speaks a thousand words.  Words however are not enough to describe this beautiful city.  So a set of pictures and a list of places and things you can see and do here might give justice to the beauty and wonder of this place.  Indeed, Melbourne is lovely and I will surely miss this place.  I seldom visit a certain place twice.  But in this case, I might make another exception.  While I love food and art (which best describes Melbourne for me), my natural bias has always been towards photographing the city and its architecture.  So I share them here:  my personal postcards and an unofficial guide to places to see and enjoy in this new-found love and beautiful city.

Federation Square and Flinders Street Station:  It’s hard to imagine Melbourne without Federation Square and Flinders Street Station.  Federation Square is the city’s heartbeat and iconic centre that holds major cultural attractions, world-class events and tourism experiences.  Flinders Street Station is the city’s most iconic historical building and the gateway to other explorations and experiences outside of Melbourne.  The spot underneath “the clocks” at the entrance to this beautiful railway station is a famous meeting place for locals and tourists alike.

( click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel )

Yarra River, Southbank Promenade and Melbourne Docklands:  A walk along the banks of the Yarra River in winter is always a pleasant experience especially with a camera in hand.  The promenade is the vantage point of all the classic postcard shots of Melbourne.  Beautiful bridges ranging from Victorian-Heritage to modern styles dot the stretch of the river.  Princes Bridge is the most iconic and connects the Southbank to Swanston Street on the north.  Evan Walker Bridge is a pedestrian footbridge that provides a link between Southbank and Flinders Street Station.  Seafarer’s Bridge is a beautiful cable-stayed bridge that serves as a gateway to Melbourne Docklands and Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.  Melbourne Docklands opens up panoramic waterfront views of the city and Melbourne Marina.  The best way to experience these parts of the city is to take a walk along the promenade in the evening on a weekday when most of the building lights romantically illuminate the city and the waters of the Yarra.

( click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel )

Lanes and Alleyways:  City Lanes and Alleyways are so quintessentially Melbourne.  There is always something new to see here; especially the ever-changing gallery of street art, graffiti, paste-ups, stencils, and murals.  There are a number of graffiti lanes in Melbourne but the most popular and most accessible is Hosier Lane which is just across Federation Square.  Food and restaurant-hopping is always an unforgettable Melbourne experience.  Degraves Street has a number of restaurants and cafes that also provide atmospheric outdoor seating.  Dropping by Walker’s Doughnuts (corner of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets) for a hot cup of chocolate is a perfect way to end a busy winter day. 🙂

( click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel )

Eureka Tower and Eureka Skydeck 88:  I always bring home photos of every new city taken from the city’s highest vantage point.  Eureka Tower is Australia’s second tallest skyscraper located in Southbank, Melbourne.  Eureka Skydeck 88 is the Southern Hemisphere’s highest observation platform located at the 88th Floor of Eureka Tower.  Change the way you look at the city with panoramic and awe-inspiring views of Southbank, the Central Business District, Melbourne Cricket Grounds, The Royal Botanical Gardens, and Arts Precinct.  (Admission Price:  AUD 25.00)

( click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel )

Shrines, Memorials, and Historical Landmarks:  Beautiful architecture commemorates and echoes Melbourne’s soul which is centred on art and history.  The Shrine of Remembrance is one of Melbourne’s most iconic landmarks.  The Shrine is the Victorian state’s memorial to Australians who served in global conflicts throughout Australia’s history.  It was inspired by classical architecture and built by veterans of the First World War.  Underneath the Inner Sanctum, there is a gallery of over 800 artworks, historical artefacts, and personal paraphernalia of Australian soldiers.  (Admission:  Free)  St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic Revival Church located on Eastern Hill in Melbourne.  While the building is not so popular for some tourists, it has however the distinction of being the tallest and largest church building in Australia.  Like most churches of its type and design, it has a magnificent interior and sanctuary that should not be missed.  (Admission:  Free)

( click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel )

Melbourne’s Streets and Shopping Malls:  Even if you don’t plan to shop in Melbourne’s high-end streets and shopping malls, an exploration of the city will provide opportunities for people-watching, tram rides, and discovery of unique shops and places where you could eat, dine or simply feel the city’s vibe.  Collins Street and Elizabeth Street in winter are moody, melancholic, and atmospheric and provides opportunities for unique and beautiful street photography.  Melbourne Central and Royal Arcade Mall are best known for their beautifully restored and grand interiors.

( click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel )

As always, long holidays are short and will never be enough.  There were still neighbourhoods in Melbourne that I have missed and that can be best explored only outside the winter season.  Like what I always say, I seldom visit a certain place twice unless it’s to find something I missed or lost.  In this case, I did miss out a few places so I have a reason for coming back. 🙂

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the images as much as I do.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!! 🙂

South Korea: Season 2

New Snow. Winter in the beautiful city of Seoul viewed from Novotel Dongdaemun Hotel.

I am about to experience my second winter this year.  This time (that’s next week) in Melbourne, Australia and probably a third one this December in Taipei, Taiwan.  I was just thinking of how the world is so amazing that you can experience the same beautiful season more than once in a year and in different places (or all the four seasons in a year and in different places).  Anyway, I am just being melancholic and trying my best to write; so I have to start somewhere.  Besides, I have quite a number of photos I had finished editing and that should have been posted a long time ago.  It’s been a long while also since I last wrote and posted on this blog; and I missed writing (blame it on our toxic workload these past few weeks).  So this is obviously a very late post written simply to share a few thoughts and to cure tunnel vision.  🙂

So earlier this year, I had the chance to see Seoul, South Korea a second time (the first time was way back in the early summer of 2015) but now with a side trip to wonderful Jeju Island.  And what’s a better time to revisit this beautiful country than in winter.  Thanks to our employer who made this trip possible for all of us.  We call events like these as incentive trips which help motivate everyone to perform and allow us to bond as a team.  As my employer puts it:  the more we make, the farther we can go.  I believe we did well the previous year so we were rewarded accordingly.  🙂

I honestly enjoyed the trip despite the fact that we were on a travel package.  Yes that’s right.  We were on a guided tour; something that I really don’t like which I made quite clear in most of my earlier posts.  For the most part, we were constantly moving from one hotel to another; focusing only on the highlights of the places we go to.  In a group tour, the 6:00AM wake up call is really cruel.  It’s also always a guarantee that the tour guide (as part of the itinerary) will take you to some healthcare product or cosmetic store where the experts get to point out the maladies plaguing our human bodies and how their products would help provide the cure.  At this point, everyone starts to cringe or feel guilty about their respective lifestyles and give all sorts of rationalisations as to why they are not yet ready to (or not supposed to) buy the product.  It really felt like a trap.  And yeah I did fall into it and had my own rationalisations too as to why I decided to buy the product.  🙂  As a photographer on the other hand, I have these ideal times of the day when I plan to shoot certain scenes.  A guided tour (with a set itinerary) will not support this; and you will most likely end up sharing the famous spots with other tourists who come by the busload every minute.  So now you know why I don’t like travelling with a big group.  🙂

Setting aside all these funny things, nothing has changed much about the South Korea that I loved so much.  The people are still beautiful and hospitable; going the usual extra mile to make the tourist experience more memorable.  The food is always great and is a highlight of every Korean trip (on top of the endless shopping).  In Korea, everything tastes better when it’s free.  A different season also brings a new perspective on the same and old but familiar scenes.  Now because of my bias against guided tours, I never really maximised photographic opportunities in all my previous company trips.  But this time (thanks to a new colleague who was also into photography), I learned how to shoot spontaneously, tried not to think too much, and just simply enjoyed the moment.  So in this recent trip, I was happy I brought home a few decent photos despite the limited time and the not so ideal situations for an aspiring travel photographer.  So I share these random photos below.  You can also click here to read my earlier write-up on this beautiful country.

The Tour Jars. Stone Park in beautiful Jeju Island, South Korea.

This is supposed to be an informative travel post but I’m a terrible travel blogger and guide; and I will not write about all the things that we did (and eat) during this short company event.  But I list below the places which are the highlight destinations for this trip.  May I just request that you look them up yourself as the internet is a far more reliable source of information.  🙂

JEJU ISLAND (SOUTH KOREA)

  1. Jeju Dragon Head Rock (Yongduam Rock):  Dragon Head Rock is a beautiful rock formation created by strong winds and waves over thousands of years.  Legend has it that the rock was either a former dragon that fell from the sky and froze immediately after it landed on Yongduam; or a horse who once dreamed of being a dragon but immediately froze after being caught by a soldier.  Visitors can enjoy viewing the scenic coastlines as well as checking out several cafes, bars, and restaurants near the rock lookouts.
  2. Jeju Stone Park:  Jeju Stone Park was inspired by Jeju’s history of myth, stone, and spirit.  The park provides a historical, informative, and cultural space where the stone collections explain Jeju Island’s foundation and culture.
  3. Jeju Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ichulbong):  Jeju Sunrise Peak rose from under the sea in a volcanic eruption over 100,000 years ago.  The site is made up of cliffs, ridges, and verdant grassy hills ideal for walking and horseback riding.  The long walk to the peak was exhausting enough, but the view from the top was extremely rewarding.
  4. Jeju Rail Bike Park:  Rail Bike Park provides an unusual way of weaving through the grassy plains below Yongnuni Oreum (a volcanic core covered with grass).  The ride and panoramic view of the grassy meadows opening up before you is naturally mind-clearing and refreshing (with the added benefit of the physical exercise of pedalling).
  5. Dongmun Market:  Dongmun Market is Jeju Island’s best representative of a traditional public market.  It serves customers selling diverse and inexpensive items.  As a representative traditional market, it is best known for selling fresh seafood.

(click on any of the images below to enlarge photo or activate the photo carousel)

SEOUL CITY & AROUND (SOUTH KOREA)

  1. Gyeongbokgung Palace:  This is Seoul’s largest palace and has been the principal residence of Korean royalties.  It has been destroyed several times and in different periods by Japanese invaders and colonisers.  What you can see now are mostly recent accurate reconstructions.
  2. National Palace Museum:  This is one of few museums you can find within the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.  This museum houses royal artefacts that showcase the artistic skills of the Joseon era, including hanboks worn by Korean royalties.
  3. Namdaemun Market & Myeongdong Cathedral:  Namdaemun is South Korea’s largest market with hundreds of stalls ranging from clothing, handicrafts, accessories and of course, food.  You can spend the whole day here and still not see it all.  Myeongdong Cathedral is a beautiful Gothic style structure that served as sanctuary for students and protesters during the military rule.  It has become a symbol for national democracy and human rights.
  4. Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP):  DDP is perhaps Seoul’s most impressive contemporary architectural masterpiece.  It’s a cultural hub and houses event halls, galleries, and several design studios.  The curves of the structure make it the most futuristic (or sexiest) building in the city.
  5. Hongdae:  Hongdae is Seoul’s hipster district and home to Korea’s leading design and art institutions.  It has less of the traditional sights but more on modern day entertainment and distractions.  Come here to enjoy bars, galleries, and street art; as well as clubs and live music.
  6. Alpensia Resort:  Alpensia Resort is a ski resort located outside Seoul in the county of Pyeongchang.  We stayed at the adjacent hotel for one night so we could do the skiing the following morning.  The resort has several slopes for both beginners and experienced skiers to enjoy.

(click on any of the images below to enlarge photo or activate the photo carousel)

One can never get enough of Korea.  Aside from its colourful seasons, the food and attractions (as well as its hospitable people) are always reasons for one to return.  In the next trip, I hope to see this beautiful country in either spring or autumn.  🙂

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I do.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

Finding Sydney

Postcard Sydney. Sydney Harbour at Twilight viewed from Mrs. Macquarie’s Point.

“So I say a little prayer and hope my dreams will take me there
Where the skies are blue to see you once again, my love
Over seas from coast to coast to find the place I love the most
Where the fields are green to see you once again, my love”

A client once told me that if I happen to step into the right neighbourhood in Sydney, I would fall in love with the city immediately.  He also told me that the sky is always beautiful and blue (if not everyday different) in Sydney.  My client is from this place obviously but works here in Singapore.  He manages to go back to this hometown every weekend and returns to Singapore on Monday mornings.  I understand that his family is based there but isn’t this pretty expensive for short weekends spent away from work?  Sydney must be really that beautiful.  So I was inspired (or intrigued).

I have pushed back plans of visiting Sydney for quite some time, not really sure what to expect or see there except the city (and the Opera House of course).  A lot of people I know have been here before to visit only friends or family and to see (yes, you guessed it right) the Opera House.  Besides, I also live away from my family and putting together a trip to Sydney will be a challenge for me both logistically and financially.  But you know what?  We all have this secret desire to see or travel the world.  Like most bloggers or travellers, I also have this map of the world where I mark every city I have visited.  But I will not show it here for fear of embarrassment, as these cities (or countries) are quite few you can count them on your fingers. 🙂  I have already visited major Asian cities I’ve always wanted to see when I was still young (those that I can only afford to visit now with my family).  Last year, I challenged myself physically by visiting the UAE; a journey that I really enjoyed but cost me a bomb.  Looking at my world map and seeing I have seen Asia and the Middle East, I was thinking where to go next.  An American or Euro tour is a dream and will not happen anytime soon.  So I revisited my aborted Sydney plans and (inspired by my Australian client) decided again to put the Australian continent on my world map. 🙂

Below are a few practicalities.

Lights are On. Sydney Skyline at Night viewed from Kirribilli Point.

  1. Travelling to Sydney (or Australia) is never cheap for me. A little bit more expensive than Singapore where I am currently based.  A Tourist Visa costs SGD 200.  Kindly convert this to AUD please. 🙂
  2. Luckily nowadays, several budget airlines travel to Sydney and will save you a lot of money.  You just need to book early.  I travelled with Scoot this time (the budget airline of Singapore Airlines).
  3. Accommodation costs are high especially near the City Centre.  A backpacker hostel (with shared or common bathroom facilities) is not an option, as I will be travelling with my family.  So I opted for a budget, standard, and no frills accommodation.  We stayed at Ibis Hotel St. Peters. It’s quite a distance by train travel to the City Centre but it’s a safe and decent place for any first-time traveller here (like most Ibis Hotels I know).  Again, I am not getting a fee by recommending this place by the way. 🙂
  4. Transportation cost is a bit high even with trains.  The good thing is that Sydney is very clean, safe, and walkable.  A lot of the main attractions are near each other and clustered near the City Centre so you only need to travel from your hotel to one of the major city stations.  Then you explore on foot.  Sydney’s Opal Card (a rechargeable fare card) can be used at both trains and buses (and I think even in the ferries).
  5. Food is something we enjoyed but didn’t need to spend so much on.  As the servings are quite big (even those ones in a mall food court), we only needed to order a few and share.  The only time I remember spending much was during Christmas dinner in one Korean Restaurant in Chinatown. 🙂
  6. There are free attractions like Museums.  This is a surprise and a relief especially for an expensive city and must be taken advantaged of.  Sydney is the birthplace of Australia so it is rich in history as well as Museums that showcase this.  You only need to pay for those exhibits that are temporary or those exhibits that are on tour.  The rest of the permanent displays are free.

Circular Quay and The Rocks in a Cold Summer Night.

Sydney is quite a big place but most people are right when they said they wanted to see only the Opera House (and Harbour Bridge) to experience the city.  Well, at least that is how I felt too.  I think what they meant was that all the major sights are clustered near or around the Opera House; and moving around town, you will often pass by Opera House (if not just catching it at the corner of your eye).  There is something about doing or seeing things often and repeatedly that makes you fall in love with it.  Well, that is how I fell in love here (with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge).  Honestly, I was not really sure if I even stepped into the right neighbourhood.  I never even bothered to ask my client about those places.  But I really fell in love with the city anyway.  And the last time I checked, December is supposed to be summer in Sydney.  But some major cities around Sydney were experiencing thunderstorms at the time, so Sydney had its share of a few rain showers while we were there.  So this made summer evenings cooler; which made night photography a pleasant experience for me (despite the lack of warm clothing).

And the sky was indeed beautiful.  On one day, moving clouds met with the late afternoon sun; creating a fiery and spectacular city sunset.  Some days, angry and heavy clouds will form in a twilight sky of purple and orange.  And on most days, the sky is either mantled with diffused and dappled puffs; or just simply a clear and perfect blue.  When it’s blue, there was no need for me to saturate sky colours in the post processing of photos.  Other than the sky above, Harbour Bridge below is endearing.  Harbour Bridge is the world’s largest and heaviest steel arch bridge (last time I checked) but standing underneath never felt overwhelming.  In fact, I even felt happy and at peace.  There is bliss and serenity standing underneath or submitting to something that is quiet and powerful.  Honestly, I even loved it more than the Opera House.  I understand now why so many people here set up neighbourhoods around the bridge they love so much.  Nighttime is the right time to fall in love and is my favourite time of day.  So you will notice that most of my photos here (mostly of Harbour Bridge) were taken either at twilight or late in the evening. 🙂

Sydney Harbour Bridge with Luna Park and North Sydney Beyond.

For first-timers here, Circular Quay should be the first stop.  This is the main and most popular tourist destination where you find the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.  Walk the promenade beside the Opera House bordering Farm Cove and you will come to the breakwater and Mrs. Macquarie’s Point; where you get a classic postcard view of Sydney Harbour with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge beyond. Take a detour to The Royal Botanical Gardens on your way back to the Opera House.  Understand Sydney’s history by walking the atmospheric lanes of The Rocks where you find remnants of convict-era architecture.  There are wonderful cafes and restaurants with outdoor dining areas; as well as free museums dotting the neighbourhood.  The Rocks Cafe is a good choice for dining anytime of the day. 🙂

If you get tired of the city streets, cross beyond The Rocks and enjoy the view at Observatory Hill; a grassy knoll overlooking Millers Point, Harbour Bridge, Luna Park and North Sydney beyond.

City Centre has Sydney’s upscale malls and beautiful colonial architecture.  Visit Hyde Park and take a photo at Archibald Fountain with St. Mary’s Cathedral in the background.  During December, St. Mary’s Cathedral puts on a show called Lights of Christmas; a video and image projection mapping done on the facade of the building.  At the opposite end of Hyde Park is Anzac War Memorial facing The Pool of Remembrance, which looks really lovely at night.  Not to forget of course are Sydney’s malls.  The grand Queen Victoria Building and the ornate Strand Arcade are some of the earlier public buildings that were converted to upscale retail centres.

Darling Harbour is basically what it sounds like; a place where you can bring your loved one (or loved ones). 🙂   The best way to experience the harbour is by walking along the promenade of Harbourside Shopping Centre in the evening when the gleaming towers of Cockle Bay Wharf at the opposite side illuminate the waters of the Harbour.  Pyrmont Bridge (a pedestrian bridge) links Harbourside Shopping Centre to Cockle Bay Wharf and provides a perfect vantage point for photographing the Harbour.

There were still neighbourhoods in Sydney that we haven’t explored due to time constraints (a holiday will always be short no matter how long it is).  But honestly, the sights around the Opera House and Harbour Bridge were enough to make you fall in love with the city.  I could not imagine what I would have felt if we had seen more.  Anyway, I was granted a multiple-entry tourist visa.  I believe that would mean I have reason to come back this year; and another reason to fall in love all over again. 🙂  Meanwhile, I share the rest of my photos below.  Enjoy the images and as always, stay grateful and inspired.

See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Anything Under The Sun

Grand Mosque Mystique. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at Night

Anything under the sun.  Well at least that is how I remember or describe Abu Dhabi.  It seems like anything is possible here.  Dubai may be the most popular of all the Emirates in the UAE but Abu Dhabi is still the capital; and it has several reasons for being so.  As one travel guide puts it, Abu Dhabi is not afraid to challenge World Records.  To start, Abu Dhabi has the world’s largest hand-loomed carpet (which is found inside perhaps the grandest mosque in the Arabian peninsula).  You can enjoy the highest high tea in one of the city’s latest observatories.  You can ride the world’s fastest roller coaster here.  With its geographical location under the sun, it is one city championing sustainable energy.  Abu Dhabi also has the world’s most leaning building (Capital Gate Tower which is tilted at 18 degrees; four times more wayward than the leaning tower of Pisa).  And to highlight its cultural ambitions, it is a city with the branch of the famous Louvre outside of Paris.  Among upcoming others (whew).  🙂

Abu Dhabi is a popular day trip destination for people traveling to Dubai (a 2-hour bus ride from Dubai’s bus station in Deira).  A day trip to Abu Dhabi however wouldn’t do it justice.  I was in Dubai last year and stayed there for a week.  I basically resisted the day trip temptation.  I’ve read somewhere that Abu Dhabi is equally beautiful and deserves a proper visit and write-up of its own.  So I made it a point to visit the place while the temperature and the heat is still at its moderate.  This is a late post by the way.  🙂  Below are a few practicalities.

A Mid-summer Night’s Dream. Yas Marina & Yas Viceroy Hotel at the Blue Hour.

  1. Traveling to the UAE is never cheap (for me).  Without a sponsor in the UAE, I have to fly with Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi’s official airline) and get them to sponsor my online Visa application.
  2. But food and transportation cost in Abu Dhabi felt less expensive for me (compared to Singapore where I am currently based).  🙂
  3. Hotel accommodation costs are high, but plummets during the summer months.  So if you don’t mind staying inside malls, early summer is the best time to book a hotel in this wonderful city.  That’s what I did here.  🙂
  4. There are no trains in Abu Dhabi (as far as I can remember).  While taxis are the most convenient way to get around, you will appreciate the lay of the land better and feel like a local (or save more money) by riding the bus.  Abu Dhabi has reliable and comfortable bus services with air-conditioned bus shelters and stations.  Get a rechargeable green card from the airport.  Cards can be recharged at most bus shelters.  I got my card free from a very kind, tourist-friendly Starbucks barista.  🙂
  5. It is best to book a hotel near the city center or around Abu Dhabi’s central bus terminal (Al Wahda Bus Terminal).  I stayed at Centro Al Manhal by Rotana (along Airport Road) which is conveniently located behind Al Wahda Mall and Al Wahda Bus Terminal.  The hotel facilities and services give you the best value for your money (I am not getting a fee for this recommendation by the way).  Most bus services to major attractions stop infront of the hotel; so you need to remember only a few bus numbers.  In this write-up, I will assume you will book your stay here.  🙂

Needless to say, travellers come here for the desert safari experience.  But I honestly don’t like extreme sports and desert safaris.  Sorry about that.  My boring bias has always been towards architecture (and food) which is the best way for me to understand a new city.  🙂  But there is more to Abu Dhabi than just the desert safari experience.  I share my photos below.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:  This is Abu Dhabi’s iconic and most recognizable attraction.  I have seen hundreds of photos of this mosque before; all taken from the same angles that it almost already felt like cliche.  But seeing the mosque with your own eyes will leave you in awe.  The architectural detailing is magnificent and the scale of the structure is overwhelmingly amazing.  I am an architect and I believe that the amount of effort and detail you put in the design of a religious facility is directly proportional to your faith in the Supreme Being that you worship.  Like most places of worship however, access is allowed only at certain areas (which explains why we end up with similar photos).  It was a bit smoggy during my visit here so the haze created a different color cast in the twilight sky which gave my photos a different mood despite the familiar shot angle.
(Tips: Admission is free | Take bus 31 from Airport Road | Visitors must wear trousers | Women must have their heads covered before entering the Mosque)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Emirates Palace & Etihad Towers:  The ambitious Emirates Palace Hotel feels more like a cultural hub and tourist spot than a luxury hotel.  The expansive hotel grounds dominates the western end of Corniche Road.  You don’t need to check in as a guest to check out this hotel as it is open to the public.  Appropriate attire is a must though (no shorts please). Don’t miss the beautiful atrium ceiling (as well as the coffee sprinkled with gold leaf) and stay a bit longer to see the hotel outside when beautifully illuminated at night.  Across the hotel courtyard is Etihad Towers, a cluster of sexy and modern buildings competing with the hotel for your attention.
(Tips: Admission is free | Smart Casual Attire | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

City Views from Jumeirah at Etihad Towers:  I always bring home a photo of a new city taken from a high vantage point.  Few things can match the exhilaration of standing on top of a city’s tall building.  And if my schedule permits, I will wait for early evening and take a photo of the city at the blue hour.  Enjoy the highest high tea at Observation Deck @ 300, a cafe at the 74th Floor (Tower 2) of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers; a cluster of beautiful and modern buildings punctuating the western end of Corniche Road.  The cafe has breathtaking views of the city and the Corniche shoreline embracing the Persian Gulf.
(Tips: Admission is Dh95 which includes the Dh55 for food | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina | Etihad Towers is just across Emirates Palace)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Abu Dhabi Louvre:  Few places can match the vision and ambitions of Abu Dhabi which accommodates a branch of the Louvre outside of Paris.  Unlike other museums, the Louvre’s exhibits focus on human commonalities rather than regional differences.  The highlight of this facility is the intricate metal ceiling under the dome which reminds me of the interior of a Bedouin tent used by desert nomads.  Like the Bedouin tent, the thick ceiling mesh brings the interior temperature down; with the mesh creating beautiful specks of light and allowing the hot air to rise and pass through.  This creates a breeze which lowers the interior temperature even more.
(Tips: Admission is Dh63 | Take bus 94 from Al Wahda bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal | Bus 94 terminates at the Louvre | There is a cafe within the museum serving one of the best burgers 🙂 )

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Abu Dhabi Heritage Village & Breakwater:  The glitz of modern Abu Dhabi will not overshadow its seafaring and nomadic roots.  Abu Dhabi Heritage Village is a microcosm of a desert and nomadic life.  The Village features a museum, a small souq (market), exhibitions of traditional crafts, examples of wooden dhows (boats), and a small desert environment.  A few steps outside the Heritage Village will lead you to the breakwater (marked by the big UAE flag) where you get a panoramic view of Corniche Beach and the city skyline beyond which looks really romantic at night.
(Tips: Admission is free | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina | Bring lots of water)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

World Trade Center Mall & Etihad Sqaure:  World Trade Center Mall is located at the base of the World Trade Center Towers (the city’s tallest building).  The mall atrium with its rich decorative timber latticework is a modern rendition of a traditional atmospheric souq.  Adjacent to the mall is Souq Central Market which shares the same design theme but focuses on local specialties and shopping for souvenirs.  The widest and best selection of dates can be found here.  🙂  Outside the World Trade Center Mall is Etihad Square, a traffic island featuring five concrete street monuments which symbolize traditions of Emirati life and Bedouin hospitality.
(Tips: Take bus 94 from Al Wahda bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Ferrari World & Yas Marina (Yas Island):  Ferrari World is a unique amusement park and a celebration of all things fast and furious.  The world’s fastest roller coaster can be found here and is as close as you can get to riding a Formula 1 race car.  I didn’t ride that one but was content in watching other people go through the experience. 🙂  In between the fun rides and thrills are exotic car exhibitions and live shows.  The Ferrari World entrance is inside Yas Mall.  Also within Yas Island is Yas Marina connected to the beautiful Yas Viceroy Hotel.  The best way to experience the Marina is to walk along the promenade in the evening when the yachts and the waters of the marina are illuminated by the beautiful mantle of Yas Viceroy Hotel.
(Tips: Admission to Ferrari World is Dh250 | Take bus 195 from Al Wahda Bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal | Travel time is 1 hour | A looping shuttle service will take you to the different attractions within Yas Island | Warner Brothers Studios is an upcoming attraction in Yas Island)

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

A holiday in a hot desert environment is something unusual, but is always an eye-opener.  It will certainly change your perceptions of the Middle East.  So in this write-up, I am also hoping that Abu Dhabi will no longer be just a day trip destination. 🙂

So there you go.  This is my photographic and written account on this beautiful and peaceful Emirati capital.  I hope I got you inspired and as always, excited.

Thank you for reading.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

My Tokyo Blues

Lost in Translation.  Tokyo at twilight viewed from Tokyo World Trade Center (circa 2017).

This is one example of those late melancholic posts.  I finally had the chance to see Tokyo a second time last Winter.  The first time was way back in the Autumn of 2013 when I was invited by a major Japanese furniture manufacturer to attend a 3-day convention.  Since then, I always remember Tokyo as a cold city (my first encounter with the outside world); the city I fell in love with and the one that inspired me to explore, to travel, and to discover more of the world around me.  I don’t know how I will do it; but after this recent trip, I promised myself (and my family) to return to this place at least once a year. 🙂

That photo of Tokyo Tower above is one of my favorites from this recent trip.  I have always wanted to capture Tokyo at twilight from that vantage point (at the top of the Tokyo World Trade Center).  It was not really the composition I had in mind though.  A new building was being built infront of the World Trade Center; blocking the iconic and signature view of the cityscape below as well as the silhouette of Mt. Fuji beyond and forcing me to shift the camera to place the tower on the left side of the frame.  This is another example of the importance of acquiring updated research before reaching your destination.  Still not bad really, as I ended with a different take of this beautiful city (at least for me). 🙂

Morning Calm.  Early morning at the Tokyo Imperial Palace Grounds (circa 2017).

Anyway, I should stop stalling.  I know I just needed to write (or blog) regularly.  I just simply miss Tokyo.  A protracted throwback is not really my thing and very seldom do I visit the same place twice.  But I honestly still have the blues for this city and still can’t get over those late night photography sessions out in the cold. 🙂  As always, I had my shot list on hand (which took me months to diligently prepare).  The thing is that long holidays are always short and chances are you will not be able to do all the things in your shot list (unless you’re traveling alone).  Besides, we took a couple of ad hoc day trips to nearby Kyoto and Osaka which required me to take a bit of time off from my rigid and regimented Tokyo photography schedule; to spend quality time with my family and in-laws.  Kyoto and Osaka however are different and wonderful cities (and the essence of a Japan trip for most travelers) which arguably deserve a separate visit as well as a proper write-up of their own.  Meanwhile, the unfinished tasks in my Tokyo shot list gives me a valid reason to come back next year. 🙂

It’s a good thing we will have our summer company trip next month; and that will give me enough time to let this melancholia of cold places to subside. 🙂  So I’ll just share them here: my incomplete and random postcards from this recent Tokyo trip and a few from my earlier 2013 trip as well.  I have to apologize for all that drama up there and for not being the supposedly informative Tokyo travel guide in this blog post.  The internet anyway is a far more reliable and accurate source of information and I do not want to bore you with my profuse writing.  I did label the photos though so you could look them up yourself. 🙂  I honestly enjoyed taking them and these I gladly share to those who enjoy travel photography and to travelers who plan to visit this beautiful and unforgettable city.

Enjoy the images as much as I do and always remain excited and inspired.

See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

From Tokyo to the Bay

Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo Bay (circa 2013)

“…a thousand miles from comfort…there’s no place I’d rather be…”–Clean Bandit
This is where it all started.  The first time I saw Japan was way back in November 2013.  I was invited by a major Japanese furniture manufacturer to attend a convention in Tokyo.  It was a 3-day event with a 2-day extension for us to do anything we want.  It was my first time to travel outside my own country (other than Singapore of course where I am currently based) and to be honest with you, I was childlike ecstatic.  Autumn was very much well on its way when we arrived; and with the cold temperature, I fell in love with Tokyo almost immediately.  I remember the last time when I passed off an opportunity in the office for a free winter travel to this country.  I really regretted that one.

I also just got started with photography during this time, so I was able to put it into practice during my stay here.  Like most newbie photographers, most of the photos I took home later were just average.  But I was happy with the thought of being able to document the travel experience in pictures.  With the days also shorter in autumn, I found myself doing more of night photography.  That sense of peace and being alone as a stranger in those cold autumn nights gave me the confirmation that I am happiest as a photographer when shooting during the late hours of the day.  That first travel experience also gave me the desire to explore more of the world around me with whatever limited time, opportunities or resources I may have.  I remember looking outside our Tokyo hotel window one early morning and promising myself to return to this place.  Four years and twelve Asian cities later, I will finally be back this winter.

30/30 Vision.  Asakusa, Tokyo viewed from Tokyo Skytree (circa 2013)

Seeing only Tokyo is barely scratching the surface of the beauty that Japan has to offer.  Chances of snow here in winter is minimal and the landscape barren and devoid of color.  But I don’t mind.  I can always come back.  I have always loved this beautiful city, with its pace and busyness.  I usually don’t write about an upcoming trip (honestly, I am just making full use of what I am paying for in this blog space) and seldom do I visit a certain place twice (unless it’s to find something I lost).  But in this beautiful case, I will make an exception.  But I did lose or missed something:  it’s those precious moments alone outside in the cold; in the same place where peace and a perfect and unforgettable experience had started.  I haven’t listed yet what I will do here, but I do hope to make more time to cover those places I have missed the last time I was here.  Looking forward to more photography sessions in the cold. 🙂

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!  🙂

Shinagawa Night Scene (Tokyo, circa 2013)

One Lovely Blog Award 2017

Marina Bay Sands with Arts Science Museum at the Blue Hour.

A month ago, I was given the ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD by my fellow blogger Audrey.  Audrey pens Living for Experiences, a blog about her wonderful insights on life and useful tips on travel.  Do check her wonderful blog.  This is my second award from her, with the first award causing me to earn a few followers.  It is encouraging to know that people are actually reading some of my thoughts and writings.

RULES OF THE AWARD
1) Thank the person that nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
2) List the Rules.
3) Display the Award in your post.
4) List seven facts about yourself.
5) Nominate 15 bloggers for this award and comment on one of their posts to let them know you have nominated them.

Bay Gardens East View in Singapore.

A FEW FACTS ABOUT MYSELF
1) I am an architect from the Philippines.
2) I am currently based in Singapore (an Overseas Filipino Worker away from my wife and daughter) and working as an Interior Designer.
3) I became an architect because of my love for drawing and the LEGO (which I wrote about here).
4) I am an obsessive compulsive, phlegmatic control freak (with a tendency to overthink and overwrite). 🙂
5) If I am not doing architecture or interior design, I practice writing, photography, and do a bit of traveling.
6) My love for travel started in 2013 after a first trip to Japan; and fell in love with Japan and anything Japanese ever since. 🙂
7) I always wanted to write a book about my professional work but started this blog in 2015 instead; and have used it since to share my travel postcards and insights brought about by my Christian faith.

MY NOMINEES FOR THE ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD
For the next ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD, I list below my nominees whose posts I read for a variety of reasons which include a zest for life, passion for travel, love for architecture, excellent photography, and an emotional or unique style of writing.  Congratulations to all my nominees.  It’s okay not to accept the award but I sure would like to know more about you my fellow bloggers. Enjoy!!!

1) Eat, Pray, and Love Kind of Adventure
2) Travel Happy
3) My Life in a Snap
4) Albert
5) Weeknightly
6) Architecture Wander
7) Joshua Dunn
8) Tiny Nectar
9) WanderingKakat
10) A World of Adventuring, Learning, and Loving
11) Jet Set Brunette
12) Ezekiel Kok Photography
13) Jandreiventures
14) Yen and Again
15) The Weary Travelers

Again, thank you very much to Audrey of Living for Experiences for this wonderful ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD.  See you all in blogosphere.  🙂

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!