Paris sardines

There’s something magical about Paris no matter how many times you’ve been here. Coming from Lisbon where locals are still surprised to see asians and kids waved to us as if we were superstars, Paris is a cosmopolitan city where everyone seems to be on the go and people of all races walk the streets. Taking the train into town from the airport we got a little taste of french human cargo. The train was simple enough to take and tickets can be bought from the tourist info. Unbeknowned to us, the trains had not been running for two hours due to suicide. The result? We found new meaning for packed sardines and human cargo. People needed to get into town and could not wait anymore. At the following stops, when you think not a single person more could board, we were mistaken. Three more people pushed and shoved their way on. Doors bounced back and forth before it could close and ladies insisted there was still space. Until she realized there was no space for her neighbour’s feet. A land of tolerance, everyone took all this in style. A squished lady next to me joked about climbing onto my luggage and a man welcomed us to Paris. The same kind man could not exit once he reached his stop. No one dared lose their space on this precious train. The ladies who had squeezed their way started chatting through shoulders and laughed. I love their sense of humour. They even recommended we take the direct train next time. Noted madame. Merci beaucoup. When we got to our stop at St. Lazare, I didn’t have to walk. I literally rolled out with a smile and a thought. On the way back we are taking the airport shuttle. It was an experience like no other and adds flavor to the trip, but is one I need not repeat. Tout meme, j’aime Paris.

Lisbon day trip: Sintra

It’s my last day in Lisboa and I have to say I am starting to miss it a little already. Though the buildings are reminders of former glories and current harsh times are reflected in the state of the buildings, there is a certain charm that grows on you and finds a place of its own in your heart.   Traditional shops making handmade shoes and gloves can still be found, old trams still run up and down the hills, neighbourhood baths still in use, people here are still living the traditional life. Outside of Lisbon, you see another side of Portugal.  A more romantic side where rolling hills, deep valleys and moorish castles stand atop mountains.

We went to Sintra via train which is a mere 40minutes from Rossio station. A train leaves every ten minutes so its fairly convenient.  If you buy the Lisboa card that gives you discounts to sites and public transport ( 24, 48, 72 hours) the fare is included.  Just seeing the beauty of Rossio station is a lovely start to the trip.  On the train if you sit on the left you will see views of roman aqueducts.

At Sintra, upon arriving I recommend turning right and taking the bus 434 or 435 to major sites. 434 takes you to the moorish castle and the highly recommended Pena palace, the former summer residence of Portugese kings. 435 takes you to other famous palaces of millionaires and convents. All unesco world heritage sites.

We went to Pena palace and at first sight I wondered if this was a fairy tale castle built for tourists yet it was indeed built for kings and queens. Its colourful and a mixture of moorish and european architecture. There are small castle towers and courtyards with beautiful views of the ocean. Surrounded by forests you could spend an entire summer day roaming around yet in autumn it gets a bit chilly.

I could go on and on yet I must go now..

The Alfama Life

In Lisboa,  Alex and I are for the first time renting an apartment for this leg of the trip. We wanted to see what it would be like living amongst the locals. I have to say it is pretty awesome. Upon arriving at the apartment we get a little taste of local as we are greeted by our neighbour popping her head out the window and s an elderly lady and her grand daughter ( I think].

Here, in the oldest neighbourhood of Lisboa dating from the times of the moors, you walk past men gathering in squares playing cards and making a huge racquet, and families out with their kids to get a bit of sun.  Clothes hang from lines outside the window.  Some decorations of yellow, red, green  crisscross across the narrow streets. A world heritage courtyard with an orange tree in the middle is just picturesque. Up narrow winding becos and cobblestoned alleys, there are still the traditional fishmongers, fruit stalls  and the pasteileires where you can stop for a quick cup of ‘bica’.

At these coffee shops you don’t have to sit and most just stand over the counter.  Some places are so small you don’t even have the option. Take away in a paper cup is unthinkable. Coffee is drank black and in a ceramic cup.  Request lattes, americanos or other versions and you might just get something else. Hot chocolate comes ready mixed in a bottle.  Not rich and dark. Portugese like sweets. Mars and snickers are sold everywhere next to sweet egg tarts that raise your sugar level.

The becos are so narrow it is pedestrians only and anything said may be heard by the neigbours if you have the window open.  Nevertheless, there are still plenty of dogs and cats here. People grow up and die here says my host though it is now not as common.

I wonder how different life is here in Lisboa.  I think of cinema paradiso and the village life. I think of the narrow alleys of venice yet here it is hilly.  I wonder how elderly people manage to walk here.  Yet this is the life here.  This is the alfama life. 

Lisboa Lisboa

Lisboa is a city full of hidden treasures and one that shines of its former glory. Coming here you feel as if you are transported back in time to when Portugal was once a naval empire spanning from Brazil to Africa and Asia. One of the oldest capitals in europe it predates London and Paris by hundreds of years. It was part of the roman empire, conquered by germanic tribes and then by the moors before the crusaders came. Their influences remain to this day.There are castles, canons, alleys, monastries and so many world heritage sites you are at a lost as to which one to visit. Lisbon lies at the mouth of the Tagus river and the Atlantic ocean. Life here revolves around the ocean and its no wonder why so many great explorers have set sail from here. Vasco da gama discovered India and was later named Governor. What is there to see in Lisboa? There’s a large castle ( Castelo Sao Jorge) where you get stunning views of Lisbon and the river. The castle walls are still intact and as you walk along the walls, climb towers and peer through holes, you wonder if soon knights would appear. The Praca Commercio is breathtakingly beautiful looking out towards the ocean and the arc exudes Lisbon’s former glory. My favorite though is the Monasterio Jeronimos and the Belem tower which are also both World Heritage. Its magically beautiful and at first sight I literally gave out a sign of amazement. I had not expected this much beauty in Lisbon. Foodwise on almost every corner are pastelieras where you can stop for a quick cup of ‘bica’ or black coffee. Snack? Egg tarts or pasteis de nata are everywhere. Amazing how they traveled all the way to asia… I’ll post pictures and more later.. For now, good night from Lisboa! !

Holiday Countdown

It’s been almost two months since I’ve last written.  So much has happened.  I’ve had encounters which have made me reflect upon the existence of spirits, seen James the Labrador grown exponentially, witnessed the beauty of nature,  saw Gaemi arrive and leave, pondered about the probability of flooding, and learnt a few more things about life and myself.  First and foremost,  in a few hours, Alex and I will be going on a trip to Europe.  The destination:  Lisbon, Paris and Madrid.

Thinking about it just makes me smile.    Writing about this is equally just as pleasurable. There’s something about the anticipation of travel and exploring new places that is like food for your soul and sends sparks of electricity through your brain.  It reignites a childish delight that otherwise would be in hibernation.   It makes one happy and the whole world seems to glow like an ethereal flame. If only one could devote more time to travel, what a wonderful life that would be.

This trip is not like other trips I’ve been to. This trip we aim to keep it simple and relaxing. Not too much on the itinerary, no heavy luggage, no heavy bags that need to be dragged around. No need for work clothes or multiple pairs of shoes.  It’s to enjoy the whole experience.

We’ve booked hotels online and in Lisbon, we have a nice little apartment in the historic Alfama district with a bakery down the street.  I can’t wait to explore the narrow winding streets and have the original egg tarts that were brought to asia and Thailand centuries ago.

Today is packing day. A debate continues in my head. Do I bring the Nikon SLR or the Canon S95?  It gives awesome pictures, yet it is heavy to drag around.  Should I bring just the Canon or do I bring both? Hmm… let’s wait and see.  I’ll keep posting during my travels as often as I can so keep posted!  To Lisbon!

The Netherlands: Floriade 2012

When you think of Holland what is the first thing you think of?  For me it is tulips and dykes.  I know it doesn’t really go together but I am fascinated by their dykes and how they have utilized modern technology in its construction it to preserve this flat land country where some parts are below sea level.  BBC had an awesome documentary about this a few years back.  I have been to see the dykes before but not during this trip.  This trip to Amsterdam I was fortunate enough to see the tulips in full bloom.  It’s almost the end of the season, but still it was beautiful.  It was refreshing.  It was nature at its best.  Who would have thought that a flower originating in Turkey would later change Holland’s landscapes to encompass acres of flowering fields?  Being the flower capital what better country than the Netherlands to host this year’s World Horticultural Expo, Floriade 2012. It’s held in Venlo this time and the even only comes to the Netherlands once every ten years.

I had to go see it.  Who would know when I would get to see it again?

Surprisingly, I didn’t see much advertisement for this event at all in Amsterdam and relied on my trusting companion called Google. I’m sure you’ve heard of her. 🙂 

The expo lasts a few months from 5 April until 7 October 2012 and does not only have flowers on show but is in itself an experience.  The organizers call it a “theatre of nature,”  I think so too.  Here on view are displays from all over the world and what I love about it is that you are not only going to see the flowers, but here all your senses get a workout.

Your eyes see the beautiful flowers, you smell the freshness of the air, walking through the forests that divide the five different zones you hear sounds that make you wonder if you are a player in a movie, you can touch the flowers or the wooden log homes that decorate the gardens, and if you are hungry you can taste the amazing waffle with the most amazing strawberry jam I’ve ever had.

Throughout the day there are also performances and shows.  There was an African dance while I was there. If you prefer something more high tech, there are also The Dome and Earthwalk which gives you a modern view of horticulture.  Beautifully done.  

I could go on and on but of course pictures a worth a thousand words.

How to get there?  I went to the Tourist office and asked for options.  The easiest option would be to take an excursion there for 75EUR but then you do not have the flexibility of coming back whenever you wish to.  I think the excursion gets back at around 9pm at night and I had a meeting I had to get to and so that was not an option.

Going by yourself is not significantly cheaper but it gives you the flexibility of going at your own time.  We bought entrance tickets to the Floriade at the Tourist Centre by Central Station to save time there and also got details on which trains to take.  Train tickets cost me 42.70 roundtrip from Central Station to Venlo.  It requires connecting to a different train but it’s all quite simple. Just walk across the station at Eindhoven.  Once at Venlo train station there is a little bookstore that sells tickets for the shuttle bus to the Floriade for around 3.50 EUR.  Oh, the trains we took also had free Wifi so the two hour journey went by in a jiffy. 

I wish I could have spent more time there, but then of course I could not. Of course, you can also get more information and buy entrance tickets online at

Amsterdam Walking Tour

Whenever I visit a new city or new place I like to orient myself about the place and what better way than to take a walk around town?  By walking you get to see the city, observe the people, see the life that makes up a city.  It’s really a lovely way to just learn about a new place.  As a tourist without a car, you become free of the burden of having to find parking and driving.  It’s wonderful.

Before you start walking I suggest you ask your hotel for a map. It’s free and the staff are always more than willing to give you directions.   (Elsewhere in Amsterdam they charge you for a map even the tourist office)

I started my walking tour from my hotel on Vondelstraat which I think is a great neighbourhood for anyone visiting Amsterdam.  I haven’t stayed at hotels in other areas but from my experience at Vondelstraat I have fallen in love with it.  It is a safe neighbourhood without any dodgy characters hanging around and it is only a few minutes walk to the Leidseplein which is a lively square that fills up with activity late at night.  It is also near to the Vondel Park (which is like Amsterdam’s Central Park) and most importantly to the museum quarter and posh shopping road called Hoofstraat.(There are several hotels on that street)

I start my walk and head towards Leidseplein.  I cross my first canal and stop to take it all in.  The beautiful canal where several boats are parked and alongside which are trees whose leaves have just emerged from their winter rest.  Light green leaves glow in the canal. Bicycles are also everywhere so becareful when crossing the street as they come from all directions.

At Leidesplein I stop by the tourist office were I ask for information regarding the public transport pass and about Keukenhof (tulip garden)  You can buy tickets and excursions here, but some passes like the 7 day public transport card have to be bought at the office by Central Station.

I continue on my walk on Leidestraat which is a pedestrain street.  Cars are not allowed, but several tram lines run along it.  Along the street you’ll find shops, bakeries and drugstores.  There’s a cute bakery that sells XXL muffins that just look absolutely delicious and Starbucks is also on this street where you can stop, buy a drink and use some free wifi.

I cross several canals walking along the street and find myself at Koningsplein where I turn right and walk along the canal.  This is Amsterdam’s flower market.  There you can find bulbs as well as fresh flowers for sale.  Tulips, Amarylis , Daffodils and many others. Pricewise I thought they were quite reasonable though I am sure you can find them cheaper elsewhere.  There are also a lot of souvenir stores along the flower market which I discovered later to be selling postcards and other knicknacks cheaper than those in other areas.

At the end of the flowermarket is a beautiful tower where Amsterdam Museum is located next to the canal.  It’s beautiful here and a great photo opportunity.

I turn along and walk on Kalverstraat where there are more shops and boutiques taking me straight to Dam Square.  This is the main historical square in Amsterdam which dates back to 1270 when the dam on the Amstel river was first built and around which they city of Amsterdam eventually developed. The palace where the Royal family reside is also located on this square.

It’s a huge square and it is indeed the centre of activity.  Several people are in a corner playing music, in the middle I spot a man giving a speech (in Dutch) and around him is a large crowd. Another crowd surrounds a group of youngsters performing a hip hop dance.

Madame Tussaud’s, Peek and Cloppenburg, a huge souvenir shop and several shops occupy the buildings around the square.  To escape the cold I spot a few people entering what seems to be a mall and enter De Bijenkorf which turns out to be a luxury shopping mall with brands like Louis vuitton and Gucci.  I walk through and exit on the back.

I walk on Warmoestraat which is part of the Red Light district and get a sense of what it is like.  It’s daytime and quiet and it doesn’t look so safe.  I walk over to Nieuwendijk and stop by Beurs van Berlage which is an art nouveau building now a concerthall.   I go inside but can only peak through the doors to see the architecture.

A few minutes later I find myself at Central Station.  It’s a huge building that reminds you of times past.  Amsterdam in its hey day.  People stream in and out of the station and make their way to the tram stops which all see to start or end here.

I go to the pubic transport ticket office across the station, buy my pass and make my way to the trams.  After two hours of walking, I take Tram 2 back to the hotel.

I’ve seen most of Amsterdam. Not all, but I think the major sites that make the city what it is.  It’s beautiful, lively and  a city definitely worth exploring. 🙂  Wear comfortable shoes though! It’s all cobblestone!




Amsterdam: Tickets, Discounts and Wifi

I am in Amsterdam and have a day today before the meeting starts and so we are headed to see the Floriade 2012 which is a world Horticulture Show organized once every ten years. Later today I will tell you about it first some tips on the tickets you can use to get around Amsterdam during your trip.

After my walking tour of the city ( which I shall post about later from my netbook) I realize that I need some transport to save energy. In Amsterdam, the tram is the best option.

Single tickets are 2.5 euros which is expensive coming from Thailand. If you are there for a day you can have the day ticket for 7.5 euro, 24 hours for 12 euro, 72 hours for 16 euros, 96 hours for 20.50 euros. You can get these tickets from the info and ticket office opposite Central station or at Leidseplein. 168 hours (7day) tickets for 31 euros can only be bought at Central station. Single and day passes can be bought on board the trams.

Most important though is to remember to check in and out when using the card which you do by just holding it to the scanner on the trams.

Tickets for excursions to Zaabschan (windmills 36 euros) and to the tulip gardens of Keukenhof can be bought at the info offices which save you valuable time. Unfortunately we couldn’t use the excursion to Floriade since we wouldn’t get back on time for a meeting but you can buy the entrance tickets and ask them to print out the train schedule for you. 🙂 Pricewise going on your own and via excursion is about the same but you have to connect trains and bus which is a little hassle.

Wifi? Wifi at the hotel is expensive so I rely on the free ones at local cafes and Starbucks :). The airport shuttle which takes you straight to your hotel for 16 euros also has free wifi as well as this local train I am now. Wonderful, I am addicted to the Internet.

if you take the airport shuttle both ways the ticket is 26 euros but you have to buy the ticket from the counter.

Thats all for now 🙂


7.30am @ Frankfurt Airport

A rushed week getting ready for the trip, I am finally started on my journey and it feels good.  There’s something about travel that stimulates the mind and awakens the senses.  I’m coming back to Europe after having been absent for awhile.

After eleven hours on the plane I have arrived at Frankfurt where I am waiting  to take my connecting flight to Amsterdam.  It’s a two hour wait and it’s really not that bad at all.   Passing through immigration and getting to your gate already consumes a fair bit about of time.  And if you forgot to take out your laptop when passing through the x-ray machines, you get  a little added excitement.  My netbook and I were taken along to a little operation room to the side of the x-rays by a large and impressionless man.

Everything works like clockwork here in Germany.    There are few sounds, not many announcements on the speakers, all you hear are the sounds of people’s clothes as they brush along as their owners rush towards their destination.    Frankfurt is a business hub and the airport is full of business people.  This particular  Monday morning it’s all black suits accompanied by black carry-ons.  I start to be conscious of my height.    Germans are tall.  Everyone seems to be at least 1.80m high.

Walking pass pretzel stalls and sandwich shops that just really tempt your tastebuds, I find a little spot with which to cosy up and await my flight.  I’m sitting at the gate for the flight to Krakow waiting for my flight to Amsterdam.  Here, I’ve got a view of airplanes and supply trucks going along their business.   I’ve got a little coffee machine (compliments of Luthansa) with which I enjoy watching because I don’t drink coffee, and a  supply of fresh English newspapers.   Hollande has won the French election against Sarkozy.

It’s really quite pleasant here.  I people watch from afar.  After 7.30am the crowds change.  The tall silhouettes of black change for slightly more colourful clothes.  Shades of grey, khakis and some splashes of colours.  A red bag here and there.   The scene becomes a bit more international.   I suddenly start hearing Chinese.   A group of Chinese people have formed the seats into a little circle besides me as they await their flight to Krakow.  The old capital of Poland.  It reminds me of my time there.  The Chinese remind me that this is the new age.   Business knows no boundaries.   20 years ago, seeing a black haired person in Poland was an oddity.  Now it must be commonplace.

It’s almost boarding time for me now.  In just an hour or so I shall be in Amsterdam!

Old Bangkok Dining: Vegetarian at Thamna on Samsen

The vegetarian festival is coming up soon in Bangkok and so if you are looking for somewhere that serves delicious vegetarian food, I recommend this little restaurant called “Thamna”.  This literally translates to “farming” in Thai.   It’s a lovely little eatery that opened up roughly two years ago and is very close to my office, so close that I had not written about it.  It is, however, one of my all time favorites and somewhere where you can go have a healthy meal.

It’s a tiny little shop with a cosy ambiance and soft music playing in the background.  Paintings line the walls and it has a somewhat artistic feel to it.  It has roughly 6 tables so I recommend making a reservation if you plan to go there during the peak hours of noon.  Office workers from nearby go to this shop during the lunch break.

What kind of food do they serve?  It’s a vegetarian restaurant so no meat is served here, only vegetables and lots and lots of mushrooms.  I love mushrooms so this is a wonderful restaurant for me.  They cook up mushrooms in different ways.  I always order the mushroom puff balls which is mushroom mixed into a little ball and fried.  It’s not greasy and is served with salad and dressing.. Somewhat like a takoyaki but with mushrooms.

Then there’s the somtum (papaya salad) which is another favorite.  They serve the papaya salad with mushrooms that have been shredded and cooked in such a way that it resembles dried pork.  It also comes with sushi which is made of brown rice wrapped in seaweed.  I love it’s originality.

If you want something a little tastier, I liked the spring rolls with three types of mushrooms stir fried in curry.  For something more filling, they also have sphaghetti stir fried with three types of mushrooms.   They also have tofu dishes and curries which are also equally delicious.

What about the price?  Together with two glasses of herbal drinks, and a whole coconut, four dishes (papaya salad, sphaghetti, mushroom puff balls, and mushroom spring roll) the receipt came out to 590 thb.   It’s slightly pricey for the area, but then you have the lovely ambiance, the soft music and the quality organic food.  For a good healthy meal, I think it’s well worth it!

Location? It’s located on Samsen Road between Soi 3 and Soi 5, and within walking distance from Banglumpoo.   If you are visiting the Grand Palace and walking around the Old Bangkok area, its not too far, so a nice place to go rest those tired legs. It’s also just around ten minutes walk from KhaoSan Road.  There is no parking, but you could find a spot somewhere in the sois nearby.  I recommend taking the taxi if you don’t want to risk having to go round and round looking for parking.  it. For reservations, call tel. +662- 282-4979 or mobile 086-662-6060.

Have a healthy meal everyone! 🙂