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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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!!! 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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!!! 🙂

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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!!! 🙂

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

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!!! 🙂

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

Liebster Award 2017

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The Venetian, Macau (circa 2017)

Two weeks ago, I was given the Liebster Award for bloggers by Audrey, author of the blog Living for Experiences.  I thank Audrey for this nomination as I did not expect people to be reading a lot of my writings and musings.  It is an honor to receive such a nomination.  Check out Audrey’s blog here and be inspired by her amazing insights on life and her useful tips on travel.

What is the Liebster Award?
Dating back to 2011, the Liebster Award is an award that exists only in the internet, and is given by bloggers to fellow bloggers to promote each other’s blogs.  Liebster in German means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.
As a sign of my gratitude and my appreciation of other writers, I would like to nominate for the next Liebster Awards the blogs I follow below because of their authors’ amazing zest for life and passion for adventure.  Do check out their sites.

My Nominees (drumroll please):
1) Jandreiventures
2) Yen and Again
3) Wandering Kakat
4) The Weekend Sightseer
5) Architecture Wander

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Rules of the Award
1) In a blog post, thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
2) Answer the questions sent by that person who nominated you.
3) Nominate other bloggers for the award and ask them a new set of questions.
4) List the rules for the nominees and display the Liebster logo in your post and in your blog.
If my nominees do not wish to accept the award, I am fine with that.  Although it would be great to know more about you my fellow bloggers.  If you are new to this nomination (or your first time to hear about it), you can click here for more ideas about the guidelines, questions to ask your nominees, and some latest Liebster logos you can attach to your post.  Remember to notify your nominees about their nominations and link them back to your blog post.

My Questions to My Nominees
1) What or who inspired you to start your blog?
2) What do you think made your blog successful (in terms of number of followers, visibility, etc)?
3) Where are you from and what top 3 places in your country / hometown would you recommend travelers to visit?
4) What are your Top 3 Dream Travel Destinations and why?
5) What place or country left the most impact on you and what is your most important take away from that place or country?
6) Any unique experience / advice / lesson you want to share with other travelers / bloggers?

Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian (Macau)

The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, Macau (January 2017)

My Answers to Audrey’s Questions
1) What is the story behind your blog’s name?
I originally wanted to write a book about my specialized work in architecture but busyness caused that writing project to be shelved.  I picked up photography as a cure for tunnel vision and found myself writing about my photos instead.  My blog title (From Lines to Lenses) explains that shift from writing about Architecture (Lines, Drawings, etc.) to writing about Photography & Travel (Lens, Cameras, etc).  Pretty lame isn’t it? 🙂
2) Why did you start blogging?
I was already using photo-sharing sites before I started this blog, but found those free sites to have ever-changing formats and interfaces.  Having your own blog allows you to contol appearance, format and content.  Nowadays, almost everyone has a web presence, and owning your own blog (or domain) is a powerful medium to reach other people with the same interests.  If you have something to share (or if you love writing), the blog is a perfect venue to do that.
3) What according to you is the best thing about blogging?
I realized that there are many talented and creative people out there, and some of them are very inspiring writers and bloggers.  Blogging allowed me to reach out to other people with the same passions; and their experiences and stories help me improve my own skills.  I love photography and travel; and blogs are the best sources of travel advice and real-world experiences for me.
4) What is/are your goal(s) for 2017?
Other than my personal & career goals (which I think are too many to write here), I plan to see either Australia (Sydney) or the Middle East (Dubai) in the later part of this year.  As I am working in Singapore and away from my family, it will take a bit of logistic planning to travel with them to either of these places.  Meantime, I just came back from Macau and will be back in Hong Kong next week for a company trip.  Singapore also has 7 long weekends this year, so I will do a lot of road trips and photography projects around those long weekends.  I am also looking at the potential of earning revenue from my photography.
5) Where are you from and what is the common stereotype / misconception about your home town / state / country?
I am from Manila, capital city of the beautiful Philippines.  One of my former employers had a branch office in Manila but I heard the owner of the company never really visited that Manila office for fear of being kidnapped.  While crime is always present (what country doesn’t have one?), those isolated incidents of abducting aliens (and alien abductions 🙂 ) still will not take away the fact that my country has its own unique set of resources and beauty (I’m a good example by the way 🙂 ).  When traveling to the Philippines (or to any unfamiliar country), it is good common sense to have a friend or someone who knows the place well to guide and accompany you.  Each country I have visited has certain areas I was told to avoid, and I was wise enough to follow that advice.
6) What kind of traveler are you- spontaneous or planner?
The trips I take are never long enough so I do a fair amount of planning to maximize my time when I get to my destination.  With my trips planned around photography and with the speed at which I need to take pictures, a good deal of research about the places I plan to cover is always a key.
7) Share your worst travel experience ever.
All my travels so far were pleasant ones (thank God).  Most of the locals we encountered were kind to tourists; except for a few cranky ones inside crowded trains, buses and restaurants who are oblivious of the tourists around them.  Language is a challenge sometimes (my fault by the way) but adds to the beauty of the experience.
8) What is one important lesson you have learnt in your travels?
Not just one, but a lot actually.  Traveling helped me respect other cultures and to understand friends and colleagues who come from all sorts of nationalities and backgrounds.  When visiting another country, I also learn more about my own country than the country I am visiting.  Also, travel photography (being different from a family holiday) is best done alone to maximize the time (I apologize to my family who will read this 🙂 ).  To travel to take pictures is different from taking pictures while traveling.  If you have to do both travel photography and a family holiday, it is always best to plan the holiday sightseeing around the places you plan to shoot.  As always, I plan well and try to cover a place like it will be my first and last chance to see it.

So there you go.  Again, stay grateful and inspired.  My sincere thanks once more to Audrey of Living for Experiences for this wonderful Liebster Award.  Do check her wonderful blog at www.audreysimplicity.com

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!  🙂