Summer of ‘19

I am a few posts overdue due to an excellent summer spent in Berlin and Spain. After our Berlin visitors, Christoph and I had a few days together to enjoy outings on our bikes under the sun. Christoph then went back to work whereas I went to Bilbao to start my trip through Spain. My very first trip to Europe was in 2005 and I was able to spend a week in Madrid and Barcelona, both of which I loved. This time round I had three weeks in total and split my trip into three legs. First leg was Bilbao and San Sebastian, second leg was a road trip from Malaga to Valencia and the third leg was Mallorca. I originally planned it as a solo trip but told my various friends of my summer plan and gave everyone an open invitation to join me. In the end, I count myself truly lucky to have such wonderful travel keen friends as I serendipitously had a travel buddy for each leg of my trip! Thank you MP, SS and RR for keeping me company, allowing me to use my bad Spanish and for simply being lovely human beings.

I drove 1,478 kms with SS from Malaga to Valencia with my random route.

I drove 1,478 kms with SS from Malaga to Valencia with my random route.

My two wishes for Bilbao was to visit the Guggenheim Museum and to see what all the fuss was about San Sebastian. I now understand why people visit these two places. The Guggenheim blew me away and San Sebastian was so picturesque. Malaga to Valencia was a road trip so I could discover why so many people retire to southern Spain and to visit the Alhambra Palace. I now also understand why and appreciate the reasons and many ways in which people live in southern Spain. The Alhambra also blew me away, it was magnificent in every way. I felt overwhelmed by the architecture, craftsmanship and history; it’s truly amazing. Finally Mallorca was a rest stop with a couple of visits with contacts RR and I had there. We rented a car for a day and drove the western coastline which was spectacular, had dinner on a little terrace in a little village. Beautiful.

I am now back in Berlin with Christoph who arrived yesterday. China is celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival which gives Christoph a few days off. Summer is over but being together again after four weeks apart makes the time here just as sweet. So while we hang out in Berlin, here are some images from my Spanish trip.

Update: This comes after I uploaded my blog post and I am shocked by the news of the floods in Spain. The areas affected were areas that SS and I drove through and got to meet and talk to people who live there. I hope that they are keeping safe.

Home Sweet Home

Greetings from a sunny blue-sky November day in Shanghai. It’s been a travel busy few months, which of course I loved but I am also happy to be back home. I hope you all had a wonderfully sun-blissed summer as well.

While I was in Greece with Linh, Christoph was kept busy with work. The factory project, new government policies and visiting colleagues fill his days which turn into weeks. So as the October National Holidays approached, Christoph was definitely ready for a break from the grind. We met in Berlin, re-packed and went on a driving holiday with friends, UM and TM, through Scotland. We flew into Glasgow, picked up a car and headed straight for the Highlands. What a magnificent area!

The pass at Glen Coe

The pass at Glen Coe

Our itinerary was Glasgow-Glen Coe-Dornie-Inverness-Perth-Edinburgh-Glasgow. The country’s landscape is just spectacular and we hope to go back again for a longer visit in the future. The main challenge with a Scotland trip is the unpredictable weather. We had a few days of light drizzle, one day of horizontal rainfall with high winds, a few overcast days but of the 9 full days, we had 3 beautiful clear blue sky days and felt very lucky for it :o)

Some highlights from our trip were the Pass at Glen Coe (see above picture), the Eileen Donan and Urquart Castles, the Porridge Making World Championships at Carrbridge, a cool gin bar in Perth, the Royal Mile and Whisky Experience in Edinburgh and meeting many warm and friendly Scots along the way.

After Scotland, we headed to Switzerland for a very short visit as we promised Christoph’s dad last year that we would attend his Autumn Party on October 13. We were both quite travel weary by then; arriving into Zurich on October 12 and after going up and down a mountain, flew out on October 14. However fatigued we both were, it was worth the effort as we were rewarded with the most fabulous weather, views and company.

The view over the Lake of Lucerne from Stoos. 

The view over the Lake of Lucerne from Stoos. 

I miss all the beautiful landscapes and scenery we saw but it all reminds me of how extraordinary our world is and how lucky we are to be able to see and enjoy it. I’ll post photo galleries of the various trips soon :o)

The Travelling Sisters Are At It Again!

Linh joined me couple of weeks ago and we began our tour through the Baltic States. Christoph and I had been there before and I really wanted to share it with my sister. We had an added bonus that a Shanghai friend of mine, VB, also happened to be in Europe this summer and joined us for the second half of the trip.

Linh and I met in Berlin and made our way to Warsaw-Vilnius-Riga-Tallinn-Helsinki. VB joined us in Riga and once we three reached Helsinki, Linh went on to London while VB and I flew back to Berlin.

Top left and clockwise: Warsaw National Opera Theatre, University of Warsaw Library rooftop garden, open-air concert in Vilnius, re-enacting the start of the Baltic Way, Vilnius.

Top left and clockwise: Warsaw National Opera Theatre, University of Warsaw Library rooftop garden, open-air concert in Vilnius, re-enacting the start of the Baltic Way, Vilnius.

Linh and I had a very pleasant train ride from Berlin to Warsaw. That evening, we went to the National Opera Theatre, a fabulous building, and saw the European Union Youth Orchestra play. We then spent the following days exploring the Old Town, the gardens at the Warsaw University Library, the Riverside and a local neighbourhood with Vietnamese markets where we ate quite good Vietnamese food.

Warsaw was followed by Vilnius, a city I loved from my last visit. We were there during the Assumption and so we visited many of the churches while services were underway. We joined a walking tour and found out that Vilnius was in its hey-day considered ‘the Jeruselam of Europe.’ They once had a population comprising of roughly 58,000 Jews and by the end of WWII, only about 2,000 Jews were left. It’s such a violent and regrettable history.

Top left and clockwise: Art Nouveau District, Riga, the interiors of the beautiful buildings, Linh at the Tallinn Old Town, the end of the Baltic Way, Tallinn. 

Top left and clockwise: Art Nouveau District, Riga, the interiors of the beautiful buildings, Linh at the Tallinn Old Town, the end of the Baltic Way, Tallinn. 

We continued our trip with a luxurious bus ride to Riga where we met VB. If you have an interest in Art Nouveau, Riga would be the place for you. It has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. Also, more and more buildings are gradually being restored each year and walking around the already beautiful district is just stunning. From Riga we again took a bus to Tallinn and soaked in the Old Town and its sights. Keep Tallinn in mind as I won’t be surprised when Tallinn, Estonia pops up to become a leading force in the culinary scene in 5 or so years. The food and beverage were sensational.

Top left and clockwise: at the Sibelius Monument, Helsinki, the amazing Temppeliaukio Church and finally back to Berlin’s East-Side Gallery.

Top left and clockwise: at the Sibelius Monument, Helsinki, the amazing Temppeliaukio Church and finally back to Berlin’s East-Side Gallery.

From Tallinn, a short ferry ride delivered us to Helsinki. The city unfortunately looks quite drab, which is most probably due to the long cold winters. But being faced with those long cold spells, the Fins became fantastic at creating cosy indoor environments. We explored the Design District, popped into many boutique stores, visited the Design Museum and Arabia Design Centre. The city blew me away with its love of all things aesthetically pleasing. An absolute highlight was the Temppeliaukio Church, or also known as the Rock Church. Designed in 1961 with construction completed in 1969, it is a church of which I have never before seen nor imagined. I am determined to re-visit Helsinki with Christoph in tow... along with an empty suitcase!

Eurovision Song Contest 2018

Brace yourself people.... Australia has made it to the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final... again! Woop woop!

Image source: Eurovision Fan Club of Australia, Jessica Mauboy singing for Australia 

Image source: Eurovision Fan Club of Australia, Jessica Mauboy singing for Australia 

Australia was invited to enter in 2015 as a one-off entry and would be allowed to participate again the next year if they won. But I think Europeans have a soft spot for us Aussies as Australia even though we didn’t win, we were invited to participate again the following year! Then this year’s contest is now the fourth time Australia has entered the contest and we are in the Grand Final on Saturday May 12 thanks to Jessica Mauboy’s energetic performance! Keep watching folks and fingers crossed!! Hang on.... what happens if Australia wins? Does that mean we host it in 2019??!

Update: Australia didn't win... but what a great Aussie effort!!!

A Chinese European Holiday

Almost every country in the world has seen an influx of Chinese tourists in some form or other. The projection for Europe will be 5.5 million inbound Chinese tourists for 2017, a 10% increase from 2016 (I'm double-checking these numbers as they appear to be too low, will update when I find out for sure). The latest catch phrase for them is that 'They are out of the buses and into the rental cars.'

Chinese drivers have been causing a lot of chaos on European roads, well, many of them anyway. The German Autobahn has always been a popular experience for visitors but now with many driving from Italy, through France, Switzerland and Germany, it's been a learning experience for all. If you've been to Switzerland, you'll remember the many winding mountain passes. What's been happening this summer on Swiss mountain passes is that the Chinese drivers are, instead of staying in their lanes, driving on the dividing line. They then stop in the middle of the road, get out and take scenic photos all the while with a bevy of cars behind them.

Image source: newlyswissed.ch, The Grimsel Pass

Image source: newlyswissed.ch, The Grimsel Pass

The Swiss are great mountain drivers, they even roll their eyes at Dutch tourist drivers, who live in a very flat country, so you can just imagine how annoyed they would be at Chinese drivers. I do sympathize with all tourist drivers driving through Switzerland though. When we lived there, it freaked me out driving on those narrow winding roads. Christoph urged me to do it regularly for practice. My first time driving up and down a mountain was NOT fun. I did not dare look out my side window in case I steered us down the side of the mountain! Mind you, it was also raining that day... great.

Another faux pas that happened recently was in Berlin where two Chinese tourists were arrested for taking photos of themselves doing Nazi salutes in front of the Parliament building (they were each fined 500 EUR and have continued their vacation outside of Germany). The Chinese government has been doing its part to try and circumvent such cultural misunderstandings. Our Chinese friends tell us that the moment they switch their mobile phones on in Europe, they instantly receive numerous messages reminding them to keep up China's image by respecting the cultural dos and don'ts while vacationing. The messages will most probably add tips on driving and photo-taking as well now.

Happy summer everyone!