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 guess it right) the Opera House.  Besides, I also live away from my family and putting together a trip to Sydney (or Australia) will be a challenge for me both logistically and financially.  But you know what?  We all have this secret desire (or not so secret anymore) 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 (the Middle East or Western Asia); 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!!! 🙂

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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)

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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 🙂 )

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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)

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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!!!

Dubai Retrospective

A Light Between Oceans. Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach at Sunset.

I got this idea from one spontaneous traveler.  He would spin a globe and stop it with his index finger.  He will look at the place where his finger had landed and then pack his bags or suitcase quickly to go to that place.  I did the same thing.  My finger landed somewhere in the Gulf (or purposely made it land there) and decided that it’s Dubai.  At least it had to be because it’s the only place I know that is within that neighborhood.  So I literally ran to the airport and fly to Dubai right after that.  Of course I am just kidding. 🙂  I believe I planned this all along and I am not a spontaneous traveler.  My passport is not really one of the strongest in the world, so traveling to Dubai is a challenge.  Besides, the Middle East (or Western Asia) is a dream (up until now) and way over my travel budget.  Looking back now, it was not also the best time to visit the place.  Summer has started and it was 40 degrees during the day; with the heat a different kind of painful on the skin and the air a bit stifling and suffocating for first timers.  But it was also the time to take advantage of lower hotel rates and speedy Visa processing.  I lodged in my Visa application on a Saturday afternoon and got the Visa the following day (a Sunday).  So if you don’t mind staying inside malls during the day (which I am sure you don’t), early summer is a good time to visit this wonderful country.

I am doing quite well at the moment, happy and busy with work; having found a job in a new company with a more positive atmosphere.  I am inspired again and I can draw again; doing now what I believe, the things I was always meant and supposed to be doing (with the added bonus of deciding for myself which direction my projects should go, which maximizes my time) and still manage to squeeze in a bit of time-off from work.  A big project was coming up over the horizon and I needed to prepare for that one.  So despite my busy schedule, I decided to go to find fresh inspiration and do something else other than my architectural work (in this case, to practice photography). 🙂  And what is a better place to find inspiration in architecture and to do travel photography than in Dubai?

The Fountainhead.  Burj Khalifa and Souk Al Bahar at the blue hour.

I’ve read somewhere that Dubai can be viewed in two ways: either as a stopover destination for people traveling to Europe (if you’re coming from Asia), or a place where you can do something different or impossible.  I have to agree.  I really love spending time in stopover and day trip destinations because it’s in these destinations where you will find the most interesting places often overlooked by travelers and day trip packages.  Impossible is also a word that you will not find in the Emirati’s dictionary.  Dubai is preparing to host the 2020 World Expo, so a lot of architectural projects are pretty much well on their way; most of which are without precedent.

Obviously, tourists come here to experience the Desert Safari, as well as Skydiving.  Tourists (and even the locals) take the time to escape from the big city and into the desert landscape of Dubai and come back later refreshed.  A desert experience can be amazingly mind-clearing.  But I didn’t do all that (for fear of getting sand or dust into my camera 🙂 ).  I didn’t do skydiving either.  Sorry about that.  I’m a certified bore; and extreme sports and adrenaline rush can really make me sleep to death.  Besides, I honestly really don’t like guided tours and traveling with a group (except with my wife and daughter).  I could very well read my travel guide beforehand so I could maximize my time in my destination.  But I love and enjoyed the architecture of this beautiful city.  If you’re an architect, it would be a sin not to see Dubai in your lifetime.  Suddenly, 40 degrees for me was not so hot anymore. 🙂

Arabian Nights. The beautiful Madinat Jumeirah at night.

So you see?  That’s the good thing about travel and photography.  It helps you (and others) change perceptions about certain places.  It’s a counter to the never-ending stream of images provided by news media which oftentimes focuses only on the negative.  This recent trip certainly changed my perception of the Middle East.  I stayed here for five days.  If you plan to do the same (or have plans of coming back), you should be able to cover the following places:

1) Deira and Bur Dubai: Deira is one of Dubai’s oldest districts oftentimes overshadowed by the glitz of the modern city.  Built around Dubai Creek, its most prominent feature is the cluster of souqs (or markets) connected by narrow lanes and alleys which can be very busy in the late afternoon (particularly the Gold Souq).  The Abras (traditional wooden ferries) are still in use here today; not so much for transporting merchandise but for sightseeing along Dubai Creek.  Bur Dubai provides you with a glimpse of Dubai’s past.  Take a tour around the beautifully restored Al Fahidi Historic District and understand Dubai’s beginnings at the Dubai Museum housed inside Al Fahidi Fort.

2) Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah: Burj Al Arab (perhaps Dubai’s most recognizable and iconic building; and the only 7-star hotel in the world) sits along the beautiful coast of Jumeirah Beach.  Madinat Jumeirah (another recent development) is a modern rendition of a traditional Arab village built around an artificial river flanked by palm trees and signature restaurants.  Don’t miss Burj Al Arab at sunset and see Madinat Jumeirah at night when the buildings are beautifully lit with Burj Al Arab in the background.

3) Downtown Dubai: Burj Khalifa towers over Downtown Dubai, the city’s main urban hub and a major destination for sightseeing tourists.  Climb your way to At The Top (Burj Khalifa’s observation deck at the 124th and 125th floor) and experience the exhilaration of standing on top of the world’s tallest building.  Dubai Mall (the mother of all malls as they call it) is nearby with its overwhelming 1,000 or more shops.  Adjacent to Dubai Mall is the equally handsome Souk Al Bahar, with its grand colonnaded atrium and signature restaurants, most of which have enviable views of Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain at night.

4) Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah: Dubai Marina is a posh private residential development and provides you with a glimpse of the Dubai high life.  The best way to experience the Marina is by walking along Marina Promenade in the evening where you pass by fancy restaurants and berthed yachts set against glimmering high rise buildings.  Opposite Dubai Marina Beach is Palm Jumeirah, a palm-shaped artificial island jutting into the Gulf; with several residential and commercial developments along the Palm’s fronds.  At the tip of the Palm along the outer crescent is Atlantis The Palm (another hotel development) and the adjacent Aquaventure Waterpark, a family theme park.

A visit to Dubai usually includes a day trip to Abu Dhabi, which you can reach in 2 hours by bus from Deira.  Sadly as always, I really don’t like day trips.  Abu Dhabi I’ve read is equally beautiful and deserves a proper visit and write-up of its own, which I look forward to doing so soon. 🙂

So here you go: my personal postcards from this beautiful and peaceful Emirati outpost.  I hope I kept you inspired and as always, grateful.  Enjoy the images as much as I do.  See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

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Macau Musings

St. Paul's Church Ruins (Macau)

The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church in Macau, China (January 2017).

This wanderlust has been an effective family therapy for us.  I’ve been writing here for a while but I forgot to mention that I work abroad (currently based in Singapore) and away from my family.  Like most overseas worker, I made it a point to go back to my hometown every 6 months and spend a week or so with my family.  But before that one week is over however, we were already crying; knowing it will take another 6 months or more for us to see each other again.  My father also used to work overseas when I was a kid; so I know how it feels like now for my own family.  Nowadays however, distance (and long distance communication) is dead and modest travel is available for everyone.  So instead of just me traveling alone, my family and I decided that (if I have the resources) we will meet regularly in some nearby foreign lands and explore those places together.  Parting ways at the end of those journeys however is stll difficult; but now, the sadness is eclipsed by the memories of those travel experiences .  Whatever. 🙂

Anyway, I am being cheesy and talking gibberish back there.  Sorry about that.  It’s been a month since I took the photos in this write-up and I really don’t know what to say about this recent trip.  Except maybe that I was glad my new employer announced the Chinese New Year break a bit early last year; which gave me enough time to plan on spending the week-long break in a place that’s Chinese.  I could have chosen Hong Kong (which would be the easiest), but decided to see Macau instead; a small Chinese outpost known mostly as a day trip destination for most people touring Hong Kong.  You can’t blame them; as Macau is generally a walkable city and most of the major sights are within walking distances from each other.

But that wouldn’t do justice to the beauty of this place.  I love Asian cities especially if it has a history of colonization.  Because the end product would always be a blending of cultures of sorts; confusing but exciting.  Which is very much like Macau.  Known as “The Vegas of China”, the city obviously comes alive at night with its megacasinos, luxury resort hotels, and shopping districts.  So the word “day trip” wouldn’t be correct. 🙂  But Macau is more than that.  A Portuguese colony for more than 300 years, it only became part of China in 1999; two years after the British withdrawal from Hong Kong.  Remnants of colonial architecture, churches, and grand public squares give the place a tangible Mediterranean flavor; oddly picturesque and peculiar in a city that is strongly and culturally Chinese.  You can walk through cobblestone lanes and hear people chatter in Cantonese; asking for directions to find streets with Portuguese names.  To add to this, megacasinos and modern high-rise hotels in ambitious themes and scale appear almost every minute in districts with well-preserved Macanese architecture.  I fell in love with the confusion almost immediately. 🙂  If you’re a fan of postcards, night photography, and architecture, your day trip to Macau will not be enough for you.

City of Dreams. One of the recently completed attractions along Cotai Strip in Macau.

Needless to say, food is a part of the general travel experience.  But you won’t find it here.  I’m a mindless eater and a really lousy food photographer (sadly) so you just have to believe me (or anybody else who has been here) when I say that the local food here is one that you should try and experience. 🙂  Obviously, my bias has always been towards the major sights and architecture of a place; which is my way of understanding a new city.  So a typical photowalk in Macau covers its 2 main islands; within any of the two you can do some exploring on foot as the major attractions are close to each other.  A bus ride however is needed to get from one island to another.

The Macau Peninsula holds the Old City Center, with its 2 most popular day trip attractions: The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church and Senado Square, a grand public plaza. It is also the site of some of the earliest hotels and casinos including the Grand Lisboa, Lisboa Hotel, Wynn Macau, and MGM Hotel.  Along the fringes of the peninsula are Macau Fisherman’s Wharf (a themed park) and Macau Tower with its open-air observation deck.  Towards the south are the integrated islands of Taipa, Coloane, and Cotai.  Taipa has well-preserved colonial houses. Coloane has Macau’s beaches, and Cotai is home to the high-rolling Cotai Strip (Macau’s version of the famous Strip in Vegas), an avenue of megacasinos, luxury hotel and shopping centers including The Venetian Macau and Galaxy Macau, as well as the recently completed City of Dreams, Studio City, and The Parisian with its Eiffel Tower replica.  As much as I would like to give a description of each of these (and for fear of boring you to death), I will just allow my personal postcards below to hopefully speak of the glitz and beauty of this city. 🙂 I tried to cover as much places as I can during my 5-day stay here but missed out on the important Chinese temples and colonial churches (which speaks so much about the place’s history) because of a rain shower on the day I planned to visit them.  Sorry about that.

Not surprisingly, I was able to take home more photos from this trip as compared to previous ones.  Only because my family and in-laws decided on our fourth day to take a day trip to Hong Kong to do some shopping (only to find out later that most of the stores there were closed for the holidays) while I decided to stay behind and catch up with my personal photowalk.  So what happened to that family bonding we were looking forward to that I was talking about earlier?  And I thought Macau is supposed to be the day trip destination (and not Hong Kong). 🙂  I hate to say it, but I have to admit that the brief moment alone helped me maximize my time.  Don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I guess the travel therapy really worked. 🙂

So there you go.  My two cents worth on this beautiful and quaint city (which I think deserves more than just being called a day trip destination) and my first of many other adventures I am looking forward to in days to come.  Enjoy the postcards below.  Stay grateful and inspired.

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!! 🙂

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