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!!! 🙂

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!!!  🙂