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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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!!! 🙂

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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

www-kirstiekinsblogs-co_-uk_small

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!!!  🙂

About Anniversaries

Marina Bay (Singapore)

Heartland. Singapore CBD at twilight.

It’s been a while since my last write-up (or to be more accurate, since I last travelled).  Honestly, I have maxed out my paid leave for the first three quarters of the year and have to wait for a few more weeks to be able to make use of the available balance.  But that may not happen.  I have resigned from my current post which might cause that balance to be forfeited; and it will take another long period before I could be allowed to take a long leave under my new / future employer.  The good thing is that Singapore will have 7 long weekends next year.  Some of the public holidays in 2017 will fall either on a Monday or Friday; so I am looking forward to working my road trips and photography projects around those long weekends.  At least; until I get to my next major holiday.  Meantime, I take the time to write this post to feature this beautiful country that has been second home to me for almost a decade.

It’s my 9th year working as an FT here in Singapore (Foreign Talent, as they call it) and my first time to find new work since I came here.  This post simply could have waited for my 10th year anniversary (which sounds more appropriate) but it couldn’t; thanks to this period of inactivity and travel hiatus.  Honestly, I just felt guilty I didn’t write about Singapore’s 51st Anniversary which happened last month.  None of the fireworks photos I took during the celebrations was really successful; which was supposed to be the highlight of my aborted Singapore Anniversary write-up.  So I simply write here and make use of the photos I have; images I have created recently as well as those I have amassed during my long stay here.

Fullerton Hotel at the Blue Hour.

You know what’s good about anniversaries?  They actually help you remember.  I have been blogging for a year now and I just realized I really haven’t featured this beautiful city.  How could I forget a country that took care of me for the last 9 years and that has allowed me to do my best work and rewarded me accordingly?  Ten years ago, I never would have imagined working here; much less move outside my own country and travel to see other places.  But now I am here; and for too long.  Familiarity does breed contempt (or even complacency); and you’ll never know of the wonderful things you have until you find yourself stuck somewhere in limbo with all the time available in your hands (which happened to me just recently). 🙂

Anniversaries also remind you to be thankful.  The problem with being a foreign talent is uncertainty.  I honestly feel quite fortunate for still finding new work in a foreign country especially at a time when most companies are either downsizing, reorganizing, or folding.  Back where I come from, it will require an enormous amount of fortune, an intricate network of connections, and a miraculous economic upheaval to be able to succeed in my profession.  Working in another country has levelled the playing field for me and has allowed myself and others to reap the benefits of meritocracy.  So like any foreigner working in another country, my mantra has always been “to endure and succeed, or pack up and go home”. 🙂

Lastly, anniversaries allow you to start afresh.  It allows you to take stock, appreciate your own uniqueness or strengths, and assess what worked well and what didn’t so you could better prepare and be stronger the next time around.  We are only as good as our last projects; and this tempering process has painfully changed me from being an impractical theorist to more of a humble, open-minded learner.  This recent activity of finding new work has taught me just that (the hard way, to be honest). 🙂

Marina Square (Singapore)

These City Walls. Blue hour at Marina Square in Central Singapore.

In most of my posts, I usually write a short historical background of the place or city being featured.  But in this case, I am happy to forego that one and just allow the images to speak of the beauty and wonder of this place (hopefully).  I just wanted it to be more personal and leave all the researching to you.  Travel photography is all about shooting places in the best available light (those fleeting moments before sunrise and after sunset) which you do not have a lot of when you are traveling (how ironic isn’t it?).  The best thing about living in a photogenic country is that you have all the time to do just that.  So I share them here; my personal postcards from Singapore (my favorites) which I hope will entice you to visit this surprising and beautiful country (in case you haven’t done so).  Enjoy the images and stay grateful and inspired. 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!! 🙂

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