Saturday, July 31, 2010

saigon day 1

saigon is always a shock to the system. the heat, the crowds, the mass of motorcycles. was very lucky to be with friends if not day one would have driven me crazy. it always takes a bit of adjusting to get used to the overwhelming weight that hits me whenever i go to saigon. something in me snaps and i want to hop on the next plane back. why i keep subjecting myself to saigon is beyond reason - before this, it was my absolute least favourite city. it's not that i don't like vietnam, don't get me wrong. phu quoc and hoi ann i absolutely adore but saigon! gag. but the company more than made up for my lack of enthusiasm, and guess what? by day 5, i was sold. vietnamese food is an acquired taste and i can safely say that thanks for J's persistence and having us fed and watered right at every opportunity, i developed a taste for vietnamese food and can now gobble mi like the best of them. still abhor pho though! every time i go to vietnam i've pho in hope that i'll change my mind. like maybe this time it'd be different! but nope, still not a fan.

oh, and we stayed at a really sweet hotel. i loved my single and the a la carte breakfast on the top floor overlooking the sprawl that is saigon.

Friday, July 30, 2010


while in aix, J (not to be confused with my host, J) made an interesting long-distance proposition.

"come to saigon."

"who what when where how"

"me, Y and our girlfriends."

"you're crazy."

"haiyah. you talk talk talk about your great SEA adventure. come la..."

"with not one but two couples???"

"friend friend. won't be weird, i promise."

"of course it won't be weird for you. you'll be too loved up to care even if it was."

"ok ok up to you.. don't say i bo jio."

*mumble grumble*

so there i was, sitting cross-legged on the futon in J's room, frantically trying to get access to a visa card to book my air tickets online. i very much liked how my eurotrip was dovetailing into a week in saigon :) the best way to get over prospective holiday hangover is to go on another right after! i must admit, continuing to suspend reality is one of my specialities. never mind that i'd been to saigon twice already (and wasn't particularly enamoured by the city), and to hoi ann earlier this year. was going purely for the company, and with the vague desire of acquiring a taste for vietnamese cuisine. anyhoos, i got around the double couple / 5th wheel problem by booking myself into a single in the same hotel. everybody had their space, everybody happy. also, J and Y are my oldest and dearest friends from school so if there was anyone i wouldn't be ostracised by, it'd be them.

was scheduled to arrive in singapore on the 17th, hang around for the weekend then on the 21st it was all systems go to ho chi minh!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

day 38

tuesday 15 june aix-en-provence to paris

took the afternoon flight to paris and ended where i began 38 days before. it was good to be back with the Bs. at this point, i was incredibly grateful to have had 38 delightful days in europe without any mishap that well-meaning friends had cautioned me. i'd travelled alone for the most part and made it through spain without being pickpocketed, just flashed. haha. i hadn't misplaced anything along the way, i hadn't missed any connections, i'd made friends, and i'd eaten way better than anticipated. did i tell you that i was defensive eating before my solo leg? just in case i wasted away. absolutely unnecessary in retrospect, seeing as to how well-fed i was, but a girl can't be too careful, can she?

a recurring theme this holiday was impeccable, european hospitality. from the Bs in paris, to my friends in stockholm who let me invade their space, to C, grandfatherly lawyer supreme who introduced me to too many contacts to list, to J in valencia - who'd have thought our chance meeting at the nam hai in hoi ann in april would amount to a wonderful visit, and of course, J and her family were top class hosts in aix. 

i was ready to come home, and just in time for my grandfather's 88th.

thanks for reading, and for reliving my graduation trip with me. it's been fun!

p/s stay tuned for the saigon series. while in aix, i'd already planned my next getaway. had gramp's birthday on the 17th of june, and my grandmother's on the 27th. which gave me a 10 day window to play with and i skipped to saigon for a week. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

day 37

monday 14 june 2010 salon-de-provence

mama M took a sick day to bring us to the next town :) it was semi-ironic because she's a senior nurse in the school health department and she went to see a doctor with a headache to be excused from work. then J drove like the wind and got us to st remy in record time for our lunch reservation at la place (the square). mama M is a bona fide foodie who takes food very seriously and a professional chef friend of hers had recommended this little gem tucked away in the countryside, near the road the revolutionaries marched. the food did not disappoint! constantly amazed how the french can take something as simple as fresh fish and safron and whip it into a magical creation.

and the desserts were so good i wish i'd three servings, one of each! i'd chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream,

J had mango sorbet with rice in cream

and mama M had raspeberry macarons that looked too pretty to eat!

after lunch we ambled over to "the box", a disused stone quarry that has been converted into an indoor theatre. this year's exhibition was on australia and with projectors and clever lighting, the light show transported us to the aboriginal dream time.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

day 36

sunday 13 june 2010

nothing made me feel more welcomed than being included in the family fold. mama M had all her children back that weekend (J's brother and his family were visiting from munich) and she went to great lengths to ensure that everyone was well fed. she spent hours preparing the feast and by early afternoon, we were nicely settled in the pool house sipping chilled rose and tucking into the armenian skewers she served. mhmmm! just thinking about the (not) shish kebabs makes my mouth water...

happy campers in the pool house - mama M commented that she had an international family, and she really did! i try not to play the nationality card but i must admit i find people from unusual backgrounds extremely exotic so bear with me in my ignorance. papa M's armenian, mama M's was born in algeria and her parents were from a country that no longer exists. J and her brothers are french. big brother's married to a beautiful spanish lady and they live in munich with their son. middle brother's going out with a lebanese lady. also at lunch, were J's aunt and cousin and his +1. so J's aunt (mama M's sister-in-law) was the only one who was 100% french at lunch. her son's +1, incidentally, is sardinian and a (james) bond girl. teehee. 

isn't their home beautiful?

i could see the cezanne mountain from my room!

oh and after the very satisfying lunch, J and i went to watch sex and the city 2! had a brief flashback to summer 08 when i'd wanted so desperately to watch SATC the movie in lyon but it was dubbed in french. that was actually what sparked my desire to learn the language. fast forward 2 years, i was very blessed to be back in france, staying with a french family, immersed in french (although they very graciously spoke anglais to include me) and watching SATC 2. life has a funny way of turning out :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

day 35

saturday 12 june 2010 aix-en-provence

left madrid bright and early and was in southern france in no time. my inner francophile almost imploded with glee. france is beautiful, and i personally am a huge fan of the south, having spent two glorious weeks along the riveria in summer 2008. we began in nice, day tripped to monte carlo for F1, cannes for the film festival then took an overnight ferry to corsica. in corsica, we drove all around (and across!) the island and fell in love with bonifacio. after our island getaway, it was back to the mainland and we made our way from toulon to avignon, marseilles and lyon. but i digress!

aix-en-provence welcomed me in all her summer glory and i was thrilled to finally be in the 'heartbreakingly beautiful' city that i'd heard so much about. J often mentioned her home town while we were in stockholm, and to finally put faces to the names i'd begun to recognise was nothing short of sentimental. provence is so charming it hurts, and aix was no exception. P had once described aix to me as, "a small town trying to be a big city" and he's right, in the kindest sense of the phrase. aix had every modern amenity imaginable (hello? hermes, anyone?) and yet maintained an old world air of majestic nostalgia about it.

spent the afternoon touring the city with J and we visited her friend for pre-dinner drinks that lasted past midnight. the elasticity of time in summer is one of my favourite things about the season. we sat on C's terrace, somehow made our way through 4 bottles of rose, ate a little too much tapenade (so cliche but so good!) and  played silly drinking games as evening turned to night and finally to dusk. long daylight hours. woot!

aix was a dream, and staying with J and being the beneficiary of incredibly warm armenian-french hospitality was a bonus. i was spoilt rotten, and i'm so so grateful :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

day 34

friday 11 june 2010 madrid

finally hit zara after admirable restraint the past week. had recced while in barca but it didn't make sense to lug all my shopping with me as i bus-ed across spain. my patience was rewarded and i shopped till i dropped. thank goodness i was able to detax! and, even without sales (they're at the end of the year), the EUR40 blazers i bought retail for S$130 back home. teeeheehee :)

met friends for lunch at el tigre tapas bar. amazing atmosphere, everyone crammed into this tiny hole in the wall and with orders of sangria, we were plied with plates of complimentary tapas. tapas is great by itself, but free tapas with an order of EUR4 sangria is even better. so for EUR4 (yes, i can't get over it) i'd an entire meal.

after lunch and slightly inebriated, i went in search of iberico to bring as gifts for when i visited J in aix and the Bs whom i was staying with in Paris on my last night.

when i was done, i bought a stack of postcards, sat in the park and wrote to my heart's content. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

day 33

thursday 10 june 2010 madrid

the world is so small.

bumped into a high school friend and his buddies in the same hostel, and into some college friends on the free walking tour later on. unexpected catch ups are always fun :) and english weather aside, the walking tour was a good call.

in the afternoon, the hostel dude sent me on a wild goose chase to non-existent outlet malls on the outskirts of madrid (1h train ride one-way away). 1 x unhappy camper after that, but nothing churros con chocolate can't solve.

Friday, July 23, 2010

day 32

wednesday 9 june valencia to madrid

took the bus and almost missed it because some silly american (taking the same bus) was waiting at the wrong bay and insisted that was where we should be waiting. and i was silly enough to believe him.

thank god for divine interventions, and quick reflexes.

also, quite amazingly, i got a single at my hostel for the price of an 8-bedder (!) for the 3 nights i stayed there (!!!) i'd booked myself into a 8-bedder female dorm but was somehow "upgraded" to a female quad. and, rather miraculously, the bed i was assigned to in the quad was in a separate section from the other 3! so while i'd to go to the 'main' room to access the en suite bathroom, i enjoyed complete privacy thanks to a wall and door in between my section of the room and theirs!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

day 31

tuesday 8 june 2010 valencia

Y and i wore the customised shirts that J gave us (they said "we love bofis" and had his handsome face on them!) and attracted more stares than desirable around the city. incidentally, J, a finalist in the pilot season of the spanish version of peking express, is a reality tv star in his own right. we found EUR3 paella outside the market and aimlessly moseyed around, walking to the edge of the city in search of meringues :) when Y left in the evening, i made my way to J's and he horrified me with gaga's alejandro video. one of the catchiest tunes this summer, by far, but the video was repulsive on so many levels. interestingly, despite my personal apprehension, i think it's a great video nonetheless. visionary, even. hah. so take that! 

J had a surprise up his sleeve and he booked us for dinner at valencia's best restaurant for paella. i say it's a surprise because i knew we'd be doing a paella dinner, and real paella, but i didn't expect it to be at the granny-sanctioned best restaurant in valencia! entrusted the ordering to J and was so so pleased with dinner. by far one of my best meals on the trip and truly 'the best or nothing'. we began with iberico ham (i'm drooling at the memory) and calamari, and then came the paella.


yep - that was for 2 people! and J eats less than i do!
(but we still licked the platter clean)

after dinner and quite a few digestifs, we visited C at the bar he works at and he gave me a G&T with the best gin i've ever had. hendricks ftw. C was busy working so we hung with his beautiful girlfriend and a former colleague before heading back to J's to watch the french version of the peking express. 

crossing the bridge on the way home

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

hong kong baby!

(photo credits to j - i ripped it off his hk album of our +1s' double birthday getaway exactly 2 years ago)

all systems gooooo :)




day 30

monday 7 june 2010 valencia

because we were so wiped out the day before, J and his incredible hospitality had to wait till valencia day 2. we arranged to meet for lunch near the hostel and J brought us to this cute curbside cafe where we'd all the local delicacies we'd space for. one of the drawbacks of being well fed is that i've not enjoyed the sensation of a brand new taste in awhile. you know that feeling, like when you try something for the very first time and it's like nothing you've ever had before. the best thing i can think of is my first taste of uni (sea urchin).  it's become a bit of a personal quest for me to experience a new taste at every opportunity, which has been harder than anticipated. at lunch with J, however, i tried tomato jam for the first time. the consistency was familiar, after all, who hasn't had preserve of some sort or other before. but tomato, sweet as it may be off the vine, gave the dish a whole new element. combined with some local goat cheese and i was in gastronomical heaven. good stuff! and a great sensory memory.

after lunch, J invited us back to his terrace for coffee and, um, we accidentally stayed for 12hours, only leaving at 3am. such was his legendary hospitality, and the lure of his housemate, C's fanstastic cooking. 

meet lao! J has the cutest sharpei :)

coffee turned into dinner as C insisted that we stayed for a home-cooked meal. we whiled the afternoon away soaking up the summer sun on the terrace and i was very proud of Y, my crabby patty friend, for being at her amiable best ;) C is an excellent chef and we made believe it was restaurant night, all fancy schmancy on their terrace. this was by far one of my best days this summer - just sitting on the terrace, hanging loose with Y and our new friends. nobody had anything more pressing to do, which was very much part of the pleasure. Y and i were done with exams, C was on holiday and anticipating going to lisboa on erasmus, and J was enjoying his last few weeks in valencia before moving to mumbai alone and indefinitely. pretty awesome, huh.

and after dinner, the gents had some friends over and we got to meet even more friendly locals. really interesting characters and such fun to get to know. when we reluctantly left at 3, their dentist friend offered to walk us back but we were too macho to accept his chivalrous offer. bad idea.

and ladies and gents, i present the only lowlight my entire holiday. 

as Y and i were walking back at 3am, a burly man passed us and called out, "japan japan?". we ignored him. he tried again, "korea korea?" and we looked away. "china china?" this time we picked up speed and hurried towards the hostel. the man then took a left and was soon out of sight. whew, we sighed in relief.

suddenly, out of one of the side streets, we saw an oddly shaped shadow. as we got closer, we saw that said man had dropped his pants and was PLAYING WITH HIMSELF. this time, no amount of flasher 101 so deliberately indoctrinated in us over years of being in an all girls' school* could prepare us for an actual flasher. too scared to run (you know how you're not supposed to run away from a mad dog because he'll chase...) we walked as fast as we could and none too soon, arrived unscathed but shaken at our hostel.

thankfully he was a harmless perv with an asian fetish (or so we inferred) but that was definitely too close for comfort. 

and i still say today was one of the best the whole trip, flashing incident notwithstanding. that's just how much we enjoyed J and C's company and hospitality, they even made up for the loco local.

*whack it with a brolly / laugh and exclaim, 'so small!' / take photo and lodge police report

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


a range of cheese from hard to soft, iberico sausage from madrid, grapes, crackers and moscato!

had the girls over for the first time last week*. he's entertained a few times in my absence (grrr...) and i'm making up for lost time with my ladies. so i picked a day where he'll be at his action mama best i.e. out of my hair and while he plays tennis / soccer / gyms, my girls are taking over :) so they came last week bearing beard papa and popiah (my two loves) and this time we've decided to go all pretentious and do a simple wine and cheese tea party. yes, sacrilegious as ritz may be (cheese goes with bread, and bread alone, according to my friends) i happen to like salty crackers and abhor white bread. so there. also, i've stocked the wine fridge with moscato and am making a special trip to my parents' later to pick up the plonk my father refuses to serve his guests. haha. more for us uncultured wine swilling philistines! yay!

ohmyword i sound like such an underaged alkie.

*nothing like having your girlfriends over and the first thing they did was mark out all the spots they'd get busy on. oh the horror! and somehow there was a gathering in my bathroom and it felt like we were schoolgirls on a toilet trip all over again :) good times!

day 29

sunday 6 june 2010 valencia

left barca bright and early and took the bus to valencia. 5h and EUR25 later (it's still half the price of the 3h long train ride), i made stumbled out of the bus station and somehow managed to make my way across the old river bed and into the historic centre of the city.ok, take 'stumbled' back. i'm actually a huge far of bus rides. love overland travel and my innate ability to space out comes in very handy for long bus rides. the kiasu singaporean in me usually tries to get a seat near the front so i've a good view, and as the country rumbles by, my mind wanders and it's a very pleasant experience. poor person's high, perhaps.

met Y at maccas (i know, very historic) and she'd already plotted our route to the hostel. woot! yay to my all-time favourite travel buddy. we'd done brunei together 8 years ago, and i'd gone with her family to bangkok the year after but this was our first time travelling together sans parentals. she'd just finished her exams and was sweet enough to join me for an all too short 2 nights in valencia. plus, she'd done her research and knew everything about valencia, right down to us arriving on the day of the rockers.

unfortunately, i'm as culturally obtuse as Y is savvy, and we'd a field day with our minor miscommunication. she'd really sold the idea of the 'rocker parade' to me and i was all excited about watching rock stars tour and perform around the city. it was after much confusion, however, that i found out that rockers were not ageing rockstars like i'd imagined but what the locals called their floats. nonetheless, a parade is a parade and no one was going to rain on ours! 

so Y and i headed to another historical institution (101 flavours of tapas, J, my born-and-bred valencian friend rolled his eyes when i told him i'd liked it) and ordered enough food for 4. the waitress tried to warn us that it was too much food for 2 people but we remained unmoved. the 2 of us proceeded to demolish this baby (below) and eagerly went to get curb-side seats of the parade.

before the parade, here's a photo of my bed in our double room. it was pretty insane. when we first opened the door and i saw this huge bed, i sighed inwardly, thinking they'd gotten our twin booking wrong. split second later, that sigh turned into elation as i spied from the corner of my eye that we actually had a king sized bed EACH and our room, psychedelic colour scheme aside, was HUGE. by far the most spacious hostel i've ever stayed in :) we couldn't believe our luck. 

a rocker getting ready to roll

the people dangle what looked like table runners from their window to add to the festive feel. it's a competition, according to J, and the best window display wins a prize! fascinating how the community is involved.

after the rocker parade, we were so wiped out (Y'd been on the go since 3am) that we surrendered to the fatigue and had an early night. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

domestic bliss

(credits to W, whom we visited yesterday in her beautiful black and white that we can see from our window)

wish i didn't feel this way right now - but having single-handedly destroyed the washing machine on my first attempt (albeit two months in) at doing the laundry does little for one's already bruised ego.

p/s for the sadists out there, here's my cache of laundry diatribes.

day 28

saturday 5 june 2010 barcelona

i climbed a mountain!

Day 3
Montjuic (1 metro ticket gets you to the metro and the adjacent funicular to montjuic) not to be confused with the cable car up to the castle €9. if you save € and walk up instead, it's only 15min and gradual incline.

Nice views from castle. Worth a visit.

well, not quite. but you get the drift. and when i reached the top, this is what i saw! i couldn't believe my eyes. it's no secret that i'm a big crystal cruise fan, and have been blessed to have gone on a baltic cruise in summer '06 (just before starting freshman year) and a mediterranean cruise in summer '08 (half-way through college). so technically, the timing would've been perfect for a summer 2010 graduation cruise but noooo, the parentals chose to go on a riverboat up the seine instead :( ok, really shouldn't complain. the seine cruise was awesome in its own right. but being the big fat softie i am, i sat on my little perch and watched the ship the entire afternoon, thinking about happy memories spent on board her perfectly polished decks. have countless memories of time with my family, and subsequently time with my family and with him on the crystal serenity that it was nice walking down memory lane at this particular juncture of being done with school. plus my friends were on board (also most coincidentally) and i was waiting for them to wave at me. haha. the things we do!

after some much-needed decompressing and me-time down-time on montjuic, i met up with some high school friends who happened to be passing through barca. like i said, so much for solo trippin'. being the text fanatic that i am, i'd sent out a mass text updating my nearest and dearest of my whereabouts and little did i know that Y would overlap with me in barca! along with S and 2 of their friends. again, the big softie in me was mega nostalgic because the first ever trip i did without 'adults' was with Y, S and some of our high school friends when we were fresh out of high school and applying to college. we took the overnight train to KL and it was such an adventure. we later met up in bangkok the night of the new years eve bomb blasts (new year '07) and saw the new year in together, after making sure we'd all our limbs with us. 7 months later, we went to phuket with more high school friends. so to meet up with Y and S in barca on my grad trip, unplanned as it was, felt as if we'd gone full circle. from clueless 18year olds, to slightly savvier 23year olds. i'm done with college, they'll be doctors next year. gee :)

oh yes so we crossed the bridge for some tapas then had the best sangria back at their hostel bar :)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

day 27

friday 4 june 2010 barcelona

day 2
spent the morning at la sagrada familia. go early (before 11am) to avoid queuing for over an hour. i went at 10am and the queue was as long as my iberico sandwich (about 15min, but that's because i'm a slow eater).

After lunch, walk up Carrer de verdi towards parc guell. before that Lunch at plaza de grace (shadiest) plaza del sel and pl de la revolucio de Septembre

Walk up Verdi all the way until you see escalators on the right. Ride them to parc guell! Spend the afternoon wandering around parc guell.

i'd never have made it up without the magical escalators that just appeared out of nowhere and whisked me away. it was surreal! there i was huffing and puffing up the hill, cursing and swearing at the sun and my own poor choice of footwear (havis, way to go.) when suddenly, i saw 6 flights of escalators on my right. i thought it was a mirage! but i rode them, and at the very top i was gently placed on level with the parc entrance. who'd have guessed!

spent the afternoon wandering around parc guell and am very proud that i walked all the way there and back to the hostel. no public transport for me!

view from the rooftop bar of the majestic hotel

following up on the previous day's chance meeting, the very lovely L family invited me to join them in satiating their local food craving. they've gotta be mind-readers or something because by this time i was pushing 4 weeks without home food and about to implode in self-deprivation. had the best nasi goreng ever at the mandarin oriental along passeig de gracia. was initially debating between ordering pad thai (upon learning the chef was thai) and nasi goreng but went with the later and was well-rewarded for that leap of faith.

the rice came in a keropok boat so big it must've been on crack!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

day 26

thursday 3 june 2010 barcelona

first full day in barca and it was full of surprises!

this is excerpted from my barca list.

Day 1
Walk south along passeig de gracia (sort of like champs élysées) and you'll reach la rambla (flower stalls, wet market called la boquaria, people in costume for you to take photo with). Nice to stop for al fresco lunch along the sidewalk. Most restaurants have a semi-decent set menu at lunch time, watch out for pricey sangria. Only order if you don't mind paying €9/mug. After lunch, continue southward along la rambla until you reach the old port. Face the sea and turn left, it's a nice walk. If you want to hit the beach, it's across the bridge at the old port.

When you run out of coast, turn left and head north inland through the barri gothic, historical part of Barcelona. Old roman buildings and quaint feel overall.

la bocateria off la rambla (random tourists)

life imitating art along the promenade

and this was the best part of barca! of all the zara outlets in the city, i bumped into some dear family friends at the zara off my street. didn't know they'd be in town, neither did they know i'd be around. but thanks to divine providence and their generosity, they invited me to join them for dinner at roig robi and i had one of my best meals on the trip :) enjoyed the balance of alone time and great dinner company.

i'm not a fan of processed food, or nitrate, but here's something i can't say no to.
iberico ham - the best or nothing!