A Saturday well spent

cafe-fest

I’m not one to stay on top of social happenings and often have to rely on others to keep me abreast of the newest and the latest. So when my colleague told me there was going to be a cafe festival, being a huge coffee and brunch lover, I rallied my forces — my brother and my best friend — to savour the glorious event together.

Alas the festival, despite the good food and coffee, was as enjoyable as it had been only because I had amazing company. Nothing beats sitting on a waterfront overlooking the beautiful city skyline, while munching on an assortment of cafe food, with the people you love. Now that is what I would call a Saturday well spent.

The other side of Berlin

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berlin

Germany was never at the top of my list of places to visit, but when my family decided that was where they wanted to go, I thought — why not?

Before I went on the trip, I could only sum up the country in a few words: Angela Merkel, Hitler, World War 2, Swan Castle, Black Forest. My knowledge of Deutschland was pretty pathetic, but in the 12 days that I was there, on Trafalgar’s Highlights of Germany 2014 tour, I tried to take in as much as I could in just under two weeks.

Berlin Cathedral
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This was what I learnt: There is more to big German cities than just gorgeous architecture and rich history. Take Berlin, for example. Sure, landmarks such as the Reichstag Building looks impressive in broad daylight, but the capital transforms into a different city by nightfall. So instead of only seeing Berlin’s famous sights and attractions during the day, why not take some time after dinner to retrace your steps? And if there is one place that warrants a second visit in the evening, it is the Holocaust Memorial.

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The memorial was built in remembrance of the murdered Jews of Europe. When our travel director challenged us to explore it alone, I didn’t think I was going to feel anything other than boredom. But I was wrong. Walking through the vast maze as the sun slowly disappeared below the horizon left me feeling unsettled, and evoked a sense of fear and isolation as I ventured deeper into it. It became quite unnerving when the granite slabs around me grew bigger and taller, and I could not have been more relieved to finally get out of it.

If the heaviness of Berlin’s dark past is not your cup of tea and you’re up for something green and regally pretty, there is a place not far from Berlin for all that — Potsdam. This beautiful city is the capital of the German federal state of Brandenburg. We paid a visit to the Sanssouci Palace, and despite the heavy rain we thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the palace grounds. We didn’t even mind having to struggle awkwardly to take pictures while clipping an umbrella between our heads and shoulders to shelter us from the rain (or if you’re smart like my parents, you’d bring along a good raincoat for times like this).

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potsdam

We also had a wonderful dinner at Wirtshaus Moorlake, a lovely respite from the hustle and bustle of Berlin — it is hard to believe that such a place exists in the city! The food was decent German fare, the views were amazing, and the whole experience was the cherry on top of our two-day stay in Berlin.

Restaurant near Potsdam
dinnerberlin

Charmed senseless by the wonderful Lake District

Nothing pleases me more than getting on a plane and flying out of Singapore to a better place. Living in the compact city can be a bit stifling, and the heat and humidity constantly wear me down. I often yearn to escape to somewhere more quaint and quiet, and where better to experience all that than the Lake District?

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flora

We rented bikes from a shop right next to Windermere station, and armed with helmets, a bike pump and a map, we set off to explore. I was quite nervous about riding on the road because I was worried about getting hit by a car, but those feelings were soon quelled by the sight of the glorious countryside.

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Isn’t the English countryside just wonderful? I never tire of its lovely cottages, rolling hills, and hordes of sheep that stare at you with unblinking eyes if you get close to them, as if daring you to take another step closer. I am also always amazed by how friendly its people are — nearly everyone we cycled past greeted us with a kind smile that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside despite the cold weather (so cliche but true story!).

After a short lunch break at Hawkshead, we began riding back to Windermere. I was pretty worn out by then so we took a shortcut through Bowness and stopped for some homemade ice cream by the pier, which is a great place to sit and people-watch.

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windermere-pier

On the third day, we took a bus to Ambleside because we found a nice walk on this website that starts from there. It was really foggy that day but the views were stunning nonetheless. If you were to ask me which part of the walk was my favourite, I simply wouldn’t be able to choose because every second of it was incredible. The time of the walk was estimated to be two hours and 55 minutes, but I was so engrossed in taking in the views and snapping photos that we ended up taking much longer than that.

ambleside
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ambleside

Our four days at the Lake District literally ended on a wet note as it had rained non-stop on our last day there. My physiotherapist, who is English, told me that the Lake District is one of those places that makes you want to go back again and again, and I have to agree because I am already counting down to my next visit.

I realised my dream, starting with Cape Town

How does one even begin to describe South Africa? This vast country was my dream and it was realised at a time when I needed a breather from work, which made the trip even more magical.

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cape

We began our eight-day journey in Cape Town at the beginning of October, a fine season for a holiday in the gorgeous city as it transitioned from spring to summer. We rumbled along the streets of Cape Town on a big commercial bus, peered at the sights through big glass windows, and listened to our affable guide John (who looks a bit like Santa Claus) sing to us the history and stories of Cape Town.

My favourite time spent in the city was at the top of Cape Point. Flanked by the Atlantic and Indian oceans, the views up there are such a luxury — we even spotted a whale casually cruising along the surface of the Atlantic ocean! My dad and I were absolutely transfixed at the sight of the majestic mammal and watched it for a long time, even though everyone else got bored of it really quickly.

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Before dinner on our last night in Cape Town, John brought us on a little walk around Bo-Kaap, the Malay Quarter. Its explosion of colours is an interesting juxtaposition to the muted tones of the city’s humble suburbs and landscape.

The highlight of our walk was when we had to cross a road and John was making sure that we all got to the other side safely — a car was speeding along and John waved and shouted at the driver to slow down. When he didn’t, John started ranting about the dangers of irresponsible driving. He apologised later for his outburst, but he didn’t need to do that at all, for we were all so grateful to him for always looking out for us, a bunch of strangers.

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ostrich

As much as I would have liked to get to know Cape Town on a more personal level, it was nearly impossible to do that on a full tour. Keeping to schedules, having to stick to the group most of the time — these are things that I am not accustomed to. I wanted to have conversations with Capetonians and learn about their lives; I wanted to turn a corner and stumble upon places hidden out of tourists’ sights. This trip was merely the tip of the iceberg, and next time I will be back to experience it all.

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penguins

After three days in Cape Town, it was time to bid adieu to the city that has captured my heart. On the way to the airport for our flight to Johannesburg, John reminded us that for every eight new tourists to South Africa, two jobs are created — one permanent and one temporary. And with that, he thanked us for choosing to visit his beautiful country. Thank you Cape Town, for the wondrous visit.

Painting photos with reflections.

La Alhambra
Trees Copenhagen
Reflection of trees in Copenhagen
//Top to bottom: trees reflected in a puddle of water at La Alhambra, Granada, Spain; reflection of bare trees near Frederiksborg Palace in Hillerød, Denmark//

I don’t know when or how it started, but I have grown very fond of capturing reflections in water. The movement and flow of water create different effects, sometimes making a photo look like a watercolour painting, other times forming interesting distortions. Most of the time, I would flip the photo vertically so that the image is the “right-side up”, and this changes the perspective a bit.

Mostar
Pont du Gard
Itsukushima Shrine's torii gate.
//Top to bottom: Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Pont du Gard in Vers-Pont-du-Gard, southern France; the Itsukushima Shrine torii (gate) at low tide in Miyajima, Japan//

I’m still a long way from taking spectacular photos of reflections, but practice makes improvement, right? Perhaps one day I will be able to shoot reflections as brilliant as the ones that JN takes!