Tag Archives: travel

How To Really Enjoy Niseko, Hokkaido

Four fabulous tips from a first-timer.

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1. Don’t Rush

There is a reason wise men say do not “tread on thin ice”. Not only will you stumble, fall and maybe drown – often uncontrollably and in the most unglamorous fashion – you may end up doing all three in front of the ultra cool ski coach you were trying to impress. Hence, stroll. Don’t rush. And never ever tell the ojisan and obasan at my favourite cafe in Niseko (IF Cafe) to hurry with your orders. Every drip of coffee, every pot of creamy pasta sauce, every dollop of mascarpone cheese topping is prepared from scratch and with love. こだわり (Kodawari): The one word you need to know when it comes to Japanese culture.

2. Don’t Stinge

Niseko is not a place (in my unhumble opinion) to travel on a budget. To fully profit from your stay in Japan’s #1 premium ski resort , stay in one of the swanky hotels at Grand Hirafu, preferably one with a view of Hokkaido’s spectacular backcountry and the breathtaking snowcapped Mount Yotei. Many hotels are merely a few hops away from the slopes – perfect for the serious skier. If you are a beginner like me, enjoy standing tall and proud in your ski gear, because you are about to fall flat on your face right in front of kids who have just completed their double-black runs. Don’t forget to pamper yourself with world-class concierge service, one that arranges everything from best cheesecake and coffee deliveries to ski/snowboard/snowshoe hikes, onsens and dinner reservations at Rakuichi.

3. Don’t Grumble

Things will go wrong. Murphy says so. My flight to New Chitose Airport was cancelled after I waited for six hours, no thanks to the heaviest snowfall in 50 years. All flights to Sapporo were fully booked for the the next three days. I had to fly to Hakodate, and take a three-and-a-half-hour taxi ride that cost JPY62000 (approximately S$770) before I finally arrived at Niseko. You might have read about how groups of Chinese tourists had clashed with Japanese policemen and caused riots due to the flight delays. If only I had the chance to share with them how we could all deal with immense frustrations by singing. I serenaded “let it go~let it go~”, followed by “let it snow let it snow let it snow~”. It worked. Even if it was annoying to my fellow travellers.

4. Just Ski

It is as easy as ABC. Really. Get a competent coach. I had two – my godsons, Ethan (13 years old) and Kiefer (10 years old). Watch how gracefully I skied.

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#LondonIsOpen

#1 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I was thrilled to be in London a week after its 30th July premiere. Alas, I was not able to get a ticket to the play as they were all sold out for the next 12 months or more. Nonetheless, I bought the book and loitered around the Palace Theatre – just in case I catch a glimpse of the famous trio. I did not. But I bonded with many doppelgangers.

#2 West End is mind-blowingly inspiring

Catch The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. West End reminded me of my lifelong ambition – a theatre usher. More importantly, it showed me how “sometimes when things do not go your way, you find something beautiful.” #CaroleKing

#3 The Breakfast Club at Soho is awesome

Order the blueberry pancakes and chicken waffles. And while you are at it, try the Sloppy Cow too – you will not regret the food coma after. Goodbye Size 34, and hello Happiness!

#4 The British Museum

I spent the whole afternoon peering over mummies, false doors and ancient stones. At the end of the day, I decided I needed to see Egypt and the Nile with my own eyes.

#5 Spuntino

Please make sure you stop there for lunch, tea or supper. The sharing concept enables greedy people like me to try everything that sounds yummy, and I mean everything. For people who wish to exercise more self-control, do not miss the pulled pork slider, truffle egg toast and key lime pot.

#6 Covent Garden

Sit in the courtyard, sip your wine and listen – or even better, dance – to live music. It’ll connect, heal, and bridge the distance between you and the musicians. In that instant, you’ll resist the trap of growing up, when you no longer have fun.

#7 Liberty

Not the statue, but the institution – my favourite shopping mall. It has class. It has space. It isn’t cluttered, nor does it over-sell its goods. Sad to say, I have not found its equal anywhere else in the world.

#8 Design studios by talented fashion graduates

I was never schooled in arts. I am a science student through and through. Yet my obsession with a word, an image, a story, a romance, makes me a tad too dramatic for my travelling companions. But I do think the world needs more people like these artistic young adults, who express their passion through art. More art, less violence.

#9 Monmouth Coffee Company

Who says you can’t find good coffee in London? ‘Nuff said.

#10 London is open

There are many doors. You just need to have the courage to open and walk through them – opportunities are waiting. Seize them.

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If You Only Have One Night In Budapest

“If all they were meant for was to teach you how to love again, then it was worth it. Some of the best adventures are meant to end” –Erin Van Vuren.

Many people told me they went to Budapest for a day trip, enroute to Vienna or Prague. So I thought to myself, I will just spend a relaxing night there. Big mistake. Not only did I extend another night in Budapest, I cried when it was time to leave. Here, I found my castle in the air. At the end of 48 hours, it had overtaken Paris and Amsterdam to become my favourite city in Europe. Some things, like love, you just cannot explain. Everything in this Hungarian capital agrees with me, but most of all, its quietude soothes even the most battered of souls, and its informality makes one feel right at home. I think this is why art exists. Suddenly you are reminded to love yourself again.

The best way to explore this city of surprises and wonder is by walking. So abandon your pretty but impractical summer sandals, and throw on your most comfortable sneakers, unless you want to have blisters as big as your toes. If you only have a day in Budapest, here are my top three recommendations.

1. Stay at Hotel Moments

Collect your beautiful moments here at this stylish boutique hotel situated on the iconic Andrassy Avenue. In all my years of travelling, I don’t think I’ve seen hotel bathrooms as spacious as theirs. And as their name suggests, the staff seems bent on making every moment of your stay Instagrammable — you will find yourself enveloped by their warmth and gracious hospitality. Take a left turn and stroll along Andrassy Avenue. It’s a pretty long stretch, and you may just find plenty of reasons to make Budapest one of your fave cities too.

2. Eat at VakVarju (Blind Crow)

You have to order the BBQ pork ribs (Hungarian-style of course). You will never eat another anywhere else again. And if you love a red wine with strong character, you must savour a bottle of Ordogarak 2011.

3. See the whole of Budapest from Castle Hill

Explore Buda Castle. And then watch the city transforms into magic, as the day turns into night. From the top of the hill, you hear the melancholic strings of the violins, you see Baroque beauty, you drink in the sunset, you exhale love. You would not want to leave. I sat there from 8pm to just a little past midnight, lost in Middle Ages dreams.

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3 (Non-Touristy) Things You Have To Do In Vienna

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Remember how Ethan Hawk and Julie Delpy taught us about chance encounters and kismet love inBefore Sunrise, the movie? When he recited Dylan Thomas’ poem, As I walked Out One Evening, Vienna was forever changed for me.

Alas, I did not jump off the train with a stranger, and I have no love stories to share. But I do have three things you can do, if you’d like to fall in love with the real Vienna – all before sunrise.

#1 Breakfast at Café Tirolerhof

Forget about the typical buffet breakfast at your hotel, no matter how sumptuous the spread. Eat at one of their local coffee houses (the equivalent of our kopitiams) where you’ll meet locals before they speed off to work, or aged retirees scrutinising the headlines on the dailies in disdain, or the occasional student-philosophers penning down their thoughts over a cup of Viennese Emperor. Order the Tirolerhof toast (toasted brown bread with ham, cheese and onions), with a side order of spicy sausages and top it all off with a cup of café Viennese Emperor. There is no better way to start off your day in Vienna than feeling like a King.

#2 Leopold Museum

Vienna isn’t just about Gustav Klimt. Maybe it was the Egon Schiele exhibition at the time I visited. But spending an afternoon at Leopold Museum immersed in Schiele’s work would inspire anyone to love the expression of art, no matter your major. He died at the tender age of 29 (three days after losing his wife to the Spanish Flu), but the pain and suffering he went through compelled him to express his forbidden thoughts onto his paintings. From him, one is able to see we are all human, and we have the same needs. Why forbid love, when love is and should be free for all?

#3 Have a drink, or five, at Banes Bar

It’s a tiny dark little black hole of a bar, much like le 10 Bar in Paris, where one walks right into the years gone by, where love happens easily and nights are long. You will be enchanted by an enigmatic boss lady, her eyes so deep you could drown in them, whose hands are as graceful as Odette in Swan Lake as she fixes your drink. When she looks at you, one could almost see the thousand hearts she has broken, including perhaps her own. She is a beauty, there is no doubt about it. She looks 50, but to me, I sense a soul that has gone through a thousand years old of solitude. I always see the same few regular customers – one with a dog so cute, I fed him a bone and shared my wine too. And as I stumbled out into the street at 4am in the morning, I felt my heart soar into the early morning wind. Life is too transient to be taken seriously.

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I Know What I Did This Summer.

 

I spent half a day wandering in the old and new towns of Zurich. I could not recall the steps I took as a young girl, but I remember the Town Cuckoo Clock vividly and its minute of fairytale chimes. It interested me more than the Rolex watches my colleagues were oohing and aahing over. I didn’t manage to find it this time, but such is life. I strolled to the lake and saw 20-year-old me flash before my eyes – cycling gleefully, and stopping halfway round the lake when my short legs gave way to fatigue. I had given up on my quest to cycle a full round. It amuses me how aware I am of the limits of my body.

And so I bade farewell to Zurich and embarked on my train ride to Bregenz – my first Austrian foray – the land of Mozart, Strauss and Sigmund Freud. Allow me to share three insights from my trip.

#1 You don’t have to be an opera virtuoso to enjoy opera

I strongly recommend including the annual summer Bregenz Festival (Bregenzer Festspiele) in your bucket list of things to do. Here, I caught the famous opera-on-the-lake performance of Turandot. In the face of awe-inspiring beauty, there were twelve times when I experienced a tear-filled, overwhelming surge of emotions. Notably, the sun setting behind the stage, those cinematic moments when the stage transformed itself, and when the water merged into play. For fear of spoiling the experience for you, I will share no more. You have to see it for yourself.

#2 You don’t have to love The Sound Of Music

I was all too prepared to annoy the hell out of my travelling companions as I “doe, a deer, a female deer” into “the hills are alive~~~” on the 12 hr 20 mins plane ride from Singapore. Surprisingly, it was the last thing on my mind during my time in Salzburg. I was completely distracted by the ubiquitous musicians – I bump into one at every turn of the corner, every platz, every street. Young students, old souls. I drowned in their concertos of love and longing, of pain and suffering, of hopes and dreams. You do not need to go on a touristy Julie Andrews’ tour. All you have to do is have an open heart and listen.

#3 You don’t have to love skiing

Snowcapped alpine terrains are splendid on postcards and even more in person. But for someone who doesn’t ski or suffer from acrophobia, summer lovin’ in Innsbruck and its laidback vibes proved to be a lot more relaxing for a workaholic like me.  I spent my afternoons downing Aperol Spritz (my new BFF), chatting with friendly locals, and laughing at how we tourists must have annoyed the locals with our boisterous chatter and clicking cameras. It was then when something stirred inside of me. We are all human, and we have the same needs. Why can’t we just get along?

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Summer LOVIN’ 

I fly therefore I am. Escapism has always been my philosophy. And no matter what you say, it has kept me sane (or insane). Whatever works.

Spread my wings and flew to Zurich. It has been 21 years since I last visited this garden city. I remember celebrating my 20th birthday there with my Singapore Airlines Team 2A colleagues. They gave me a green Swatch watch. It is still kept dearly in my box of memories. People come and go. That’s the promise of magic. It is also the reason why I embrace each new encounter.

Your face makes me smile. I feel like we have met before? Otherwise why would our paths cross again?

You have to earn it. Even memories. Don’t ever feel entitled to anything. That will one day be your first downfall my friend.

The world is big enough. Leave the bullies behind. You will be surprised how quickly you would forget the hurt. Our hearts are meant to beat for love, not anger.

This is why I travel.

 

 

 

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