So the blog has been quite for some time, and to summarise the last 7 months, it’s nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Major changes in my personal circumstances have come to pass – family composition, education, work, and location. It’s been an insane amount of changes, some more welcome than others, but here we go.
So the change first: I have moved location and am now based in Western Europe, so expect more pocket trips from this side of the world. However, there’s enough material for me to feature my beloved Asia and other continents. I may be featuring a bit more on my new location and the nearby cities in the Netherlands, but will try to keep the content fairly balanced. What will not change: the title and theme of the blog. This blog will still be called TVAY, and though you may contest, I’m now tied to a desk job, which will really allow me just that (not more!).
So let’s start in getting to know my new location. To be honest, I haven’t done much sightseeing as I am still too busy sorting my personal arrangements, but if there’s one thing that stand out in Den Haag, it’s the surprisingly clean, novel, and efficient modern Dutch architecture. I will skip the usual brick-made canal houses, and show you the working and living spaces instead.
The city hall, built in 1995 was definitely ahead of its time – now, almost two decades after, it still is a futuristic beauty thanks to the vision of Richard Meier. Looks familiar? Check out his other work, MACBA, Barcelona’s Contemporary Art Museum featured here.
There’s more to see, but I’ll leave it at that for now. And definitely it won’t be another half year until I write something.
If you’ve got several hours to spend in Beijing, I propose that you take a walk. Here’s a suggestion for a leisurely stroll of fancy, or a walk that will test your endurance but satisfy your craving for adventure.
A quick walk of amusement will welcome you to Olympic Park, home of the sensational 2008 Summer Games. As with most of Beijing, the complex hosts a grand collection of architectural marvels, all of them in the modern style, all of them with the most fanciful names. The most popular one, the swimming venue, fondly called The Water Cube, has been converted into a water amusement park, so you can dip in and use the facilities yourself.
The centrepiece of the Games is the Herzog and de Meuron-designed Olympic stadium, or more popularly known as the Bird’s Nest. It’s normally closed to the public, but take a walk around it to capture the magnitude of the celebrations in 2008.
The other option is to take a hike outside the city. Despite not being in Olympic Park, the next walk will make you feel like a true champion when you finish it. Allot 4-6 hours to take the hike from Jinshanling to Simatai and enjoy some of the most wondrous views of the desolate scenery surrounding the Great Wall. Wear appropriate hiking/trekking shoes, bring just enough water, some packed food, and dress appropriately (whether it’s cold or hot).
The fourteen-kilometre journey starts out in Jinshaling (for more details on how to put together the logisitics, visit Great Wall Forum at http://bitly.com/RpfMkv) and ends up in SImatai with a cable car ride. If you want to avoid souvenir wielding touts, and droves of tourists, I would suggest to take this walk. I went on an organised trip with Couchsurfers in 2009, and it was a life-changing achievement that we’ve kept in touch with the people we travelled with.
What’s in store – supreme isolated views of the Great Wall, and supreme sense of achievement after the hike, and a pretty good workout (so remember to stretch – the steps can be almost three-quarters of a meter high).
Simply showing my sheer ignorance of a majestically beautiful country, I was plenty surprised that Lisbon has gone through a major renaissance the last decade (well before their recent economic woes). The eastern board of the city has opened the continent’s longest bridge, and a commissioned area to host the World Exposition in 1998. Unlike most purposely-built areas, Lisbon has capitalised on developing the venue with residential, commercial and public spaces opening recently. The whole complex includes an aquarium, the Vasco do Gama mall, an international convention centre, and the Placa do Nacoes.
Its main centrepiece is its terminus train station, Gare do Oriente. Finally, an introduction to Santiago Calatrava! After much praise for his light, airy and modern designs all over, I finally got to see his work in the flesh, so to speak. At first, I thought that the platform canopies were inspired by spider webs, only to realise that they are patterned after the cloister ceilings west of the city (Belem).
Its space travel theme resonates across the station – from the shape of their waiting rooms, to the underground walkway connection the platforms, to the “beam me up, Scotty” elevators around the station. Furthermore impressive was the selection of materials for the building – simple glass, and brushed concrete. The photo below turned out much better than expected, it looks like an artist’s rendition of the interior, even if it is an actual photograph.
You may have noticed Portugal’s love for the blue-coloured tiles, called azulejos, and how they decorate their buildings with it. This affinity extends not just for the colour blue, as they decorate majority of the metro stations with tiles, though on a more playful note.
Finally, end the tour of the city’s modern side by dropping by Bairro Alto – a district known for its parties; between traditional pubs that feature melancholy singers belting their fado, you can find trendy spots to drink in. Here’s a photo of one we stumbled upon; apart from the standard drinks and requisite caipirinhas, it was delightful to discover a new mix: black vodka, crushed strawberries. Please let me know where to find this black vodka, it would be so interesting.
Providing inspiration to Calatrava for his train station, the monastic cloisters at Sao Jeronimos is definitely worth a visit. You might find the elaborately designed crypt of Vasco do Gama very interesting as well.
Just outside the garden plaza is a monument to commemorate the golden age of discovery of the 16th century as led by the Portuguese; you may remember a certain Ferdão do Magalhães (that’s Ferdinand Magellan to us) that ‘discovered’ us in 1521. At the end of the river promenade is the Torre de Belem, a watchtower that initially was at the middle of the mouth of the Rio Tejo, but has now been integrated with the rest of its northern flank. Climb the dizzying and narrow spiral staircase to have a sweeping view of the river and the 19 de Abril bridge. On Sundays and holidays, the €5 entrance fee is waived until 2pm (unfortunately, I took at a photo at the entrance of the tower, delaying me by a minute – d’oh!).
Finally, to recharge your weary bones, conclude the trip with a visit to Pasteis de Belem, a world-famous bakery selling Portuguese tarts. The custard-filled tarts are a well-kept secret (only 3 people know it, I heard), but reputation of the bakery isn’t – queues all the way around the next block are not uncommon. Whilst waiting for a table you can walk around the restaurant at marvel at the azulejo-filled walls depicting the history of the famous Portuguese sweets. Just a note of difference the tarts’ crusts are crispy, instead of the crumbly Macau versions I am used to.
Berlin, as they say, has something for everyone. There will be grand museums, quaint neighbourhoods, a sizzling nightlife, a zoo at the heart of the city, and even a raunchy yet accessible underbelly. As with most my visits, I try to take in the diversity of architecture that the city had to offer. The contrasting views of nouveau architecture sitting side by side with well-aged residences and stately apartments are a marvel on their own. Lord Norman Foster added his usual steel-and-glass touches at the top of the reconstructed Reichstag, home of the German Parliament. Admission is free, but the lines were terrible so I had to settle for the grounds around it. To make the most out of my visit, I went to see the annex buildings around it, including Marie Elisabeth Luders Haus, pictured above.
Totally missing where the Holocaust Memorial was, I made a beeline for the Daniel Libeskind creation at the northern part of the city. The Jewish Museum Berlin is a testament to the man’s signature angles and jagged silhouettes, the whole 4 storey museum is shaped like a lightning bolt itself.
The theme of the museum is an emotional one, and is reflected into physical discomfort by the sloping floors that simulate movement up a ramp and uneven surfaces. The museum itself is fairly extensive and could easily take up 3 hours, so try to be selective in what you want to experience. Don’t forget to visit the slanting courtyard outdoors.
If you’re looking for a wee bit more traditional fare, try visiting the Berlin Cathedral – it will greet you to Museum Island and spend a whole day roaming the complex alone. If you’re just here to visit iconic Berlin, walk along the Unter der Linden (translated as under the linden trees) towards Pariser Platz and see the much loved Brandenburg Gate. Have a photo taken with a bear (the city mascot as seen in its coat of arms), or with an imposing military guy. I had mine taken with Darth Vader. And the Holocaust Museum I missed? It was just around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate so don’t make the same mistake I did.
It’s possible to do all of these in a day, but you may have to rush some things. My suggestion is to take walk around Bundestag, then Brandenburg Gate is adjacent to it, and spend the rest of the day at Museum Island. The Jewish Museum closes late, so you can do that at the early evenings. Enjoy Berlin!