Tag Archives: Travel

Riding the Nice ferris wheel

In Nice, we came across a beautiful ferris wheel, or Grande Roue in French. As we attempted to go up all tall things on our trip, we hopped on to see the view from the top. However, from living in over-safety conscious Australia, I was worried about the lack of safety harnesses, railings and the flimsy door to the car once we got in – especially since it went quite high!

I found a list of some nice 360 images of the Ferris Wheel here too:  http://www.360cities.net/image/ferris-wheel-nice-france#115.93,16.46,110.0

The old town in Nice, France

I loved wandering around the streets of the old town in Nice, France. The colours of the buildings are so vibrant compared to the dull gray of our high-rises in Perth and other modern big cities. This image reminds me of the narrow streets, the colours and how close the buildings were to each other.

Here’s a view of an old building up into the clear blue sky in Nice, France.  It was a clear day, but it was cold!

The sacrifices of a family holiday with 3 girls

We were fortunate enough to have a 2 week holiday in Japan recently.  It was the most amazing experience for our family, and I know I haven’t blogged much about it yet, but plan to (life has just been too busy lately!)

Looking back, when travelling with a wife and 2 daughters, there are just sacrifices that have to be made.

Take Akihabara for example.  We are up to Day 13 of our holiday.  Here I am, a computer geek, in Tokyo, in Akihabara – the “Electric City” – basically blocks of multi-storey shopping centres filled with computer, electronic and hi-fi shops.   It’s finally my turn – this is the place “I” want to go to.  Total paradise right?

Akihabara after exiting the subway

Not when you have 3 females dragging along with you.  We get out at the train station, I’m just overwhelmed.  They look at me with the “OK, where do YOU want to go now?”.

At first I think in my head, “I don’t know!  I just want to spend the next month walking through every shop here browsing!”

But then reality hits me, I unfold the large map we picked up and make a quick decision, “We’ll just walk down this main street on one side, then back up the other I guess, then head to the train station.”

But then the girls find some trinket shop where they get stuck.  Great!  I’ll quickly run down one of these side alleys, but without mobile phones to contact each other, I can’t get far.

I remember my friend in Perth saying he found a shop that sold really cheap new and second hand computer audio equipment.  I’m excited about trying to find it.  But just looking at the number of little electronic shops, I wouldn’t know where to start.  There’s ones that sell just home made speaker kits, ones that sell wires and connectors only, ones that sell GPS’s only *sigh*.

And then we pass a couple of maid cafes.  And spruikers for maid cafes.   If the kids and wifey weren’t with me, I’d be sipping coffee and having crepes in one, pretending to be a master, attempting to communicate with my slave maid in broken Japanese, maybe re-enacting some scene from Final Fantasy 12.  But my wife gives me that look, says “That’s just weird, we’re NOT going in there”, and pulls me along 🙂

Maid Cafe poster in Akihabara

The kids start complaining that they’re hungry.  We spot a McDonald’s, so I convince wifey to go with Miss 9 and Miss 10 (now Miss 11) to buy some chips while I sneak in 5 minutes of browsing the latest laptops and mobile phones at another shop.

That’s about it.

We eventually make our way to the train station and disappear off to Ginza.

I make a mental note to come back here without wifey or kids in the future.

Luckily at Ginza, I convinced wifey to split so I can visit the Sony showroom by myself.  But by the time we figure out which exit to take out of the Ginza train station, I have about 20 minutes to browse the many floors and exhibits it has before it shut.   I try out some the 3D TV sets, which we now have demos of in Perth anyway.

*sigh*

Just wait till you hear how much time we spent in toy shops!

But then again, maybe I can’t complain – Wifey didn’t get much or any time to browse clothes shops either 😉

Free wireless in Singapore!

Our our recent trip to Singapore, we ended up bringing along Miss 10’s netbook and I brought along my iPhone.  OK – two Wifi enabled devices, but how were we going to get connected?

It turns out that there is FREE wireless internet in most public areas in Singapore!  What a great initiative!  OK, it’s a little “slow” being 1Mbps only and it’s usually only available in public areas like shopping centres, but it was extremely useful for us.   We could check our email, do some research on prices and products, use Google Maps to find places, and I even found out that Miss 10 was MSN’ing friends back home!

So how do you get it?

First, you need to register to get a free account.  You can do this on the actual Wireless@SG login page, calling the number on the login screen or visiting one of the 3 companies that run the wireless network – SingTel, QMax and iCell.   Since I had a Singapore SIM card there, I was able to register online and get my password sent to me via SMS.  

Then all you need to do is connect to the Wireless@SG network when it’s available, login, and then you’re done!  I found I could access mail, Google maps, Facebook and Twitter on my iPhone with no problems.  The only hiccup I had was in Wisma Atria one day when it seems their Wireless hotspot was not working.

If you know you’re going to Singapore, you should try to get account before you arrive so that you can use the Wireless as soon as you land in the airport – http://www.infocomm123.sg/wireless_at_sg, although I’m not sure if you need a Singapore mobile number to get the password. 

For more information, refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless@SG and http://www.ida.gov.sg/Programmes/20061027174147.aspx?getPagetype=36.

Singapore Changi Airport Foodcourt

Changi Airport Foodcourt

Here’s a secret for travellers to/from Singapore – there is a large food court with really cheap food in the B1 Basement of the Airport.   It’s the “staff canteen”, but it’s actually open to the public too. 

It’s a bit hard to find (before you go through the departure gates, try to find a lift in the far corner that goes down to B1 in Terminal 1).   You can’t take luggage trolleys down there but rolling hand luggage is fine.  The good news – the prices of the dishes are really cheap, the range is massive compared to the food stalls/restaurants in the main part of the airport and it serves all the local foods!

Prawn Noodle Soup

Like any holiday to Singapore, eating is a highlight.   So what better way to end our recent trip than to go down to the food court and have our “last supper”!!  We stuffed ourselves with as many local delights as possible before boarding our cheap Jetstar flight.

Good local prawn mee, local chicken rice, burbur chacha, chendol, rojak, coconut juice and many desserts with names I could not pronounce…   until next time.

 Burbur cha cha

More Chinese desserts

Lack of bins in Singapore?

Singapore train station - clean but no bins

One thing that you may notice on a trip to Singapore is that it’s fairly clean.  On our recent trip, I was glad to not see any graffiti on walls, buses or trains and I didn’t notice much rubbish lying around on the streets.  Heavy fines and punishments are good deterrants.

But the irony is that there were a few times when I had some food wrappings that I wanted to get rid of before going on the MRT (underground train).. and each time, I just couldn’t find a bin!

There seems to be a major lack of rubbish bins in, at and near MRT stations.  Maybe it’s a security precaution, but it doesn’t seem to make much sense:

* You’re not allowed to eat or drink inside MRT stations or on the train
* You’ll get fined if you litter
* But they won’t provide bins for you to dispose of your litter/unwanted food/etc!

Tip of the day – be prepared to hold onto your rubbish…

One Blurb Book done!

No blog updates for over a week!

No late night TV for over a week!

Wifey and I have been working madly to finish our first Blurb book for our Round the World trip in the summer of 07-08.  We were nearly able to finish 1 city per night, but then we hit Paris and found we had over 1,000 photos to prioritise there alone!

And then came the borders and page backgrounds.  Wifey got really excited and nearly went crazy with them, but I tried to hold her back.  There’s something I really like about clean white crisp pages with photos on them, but Wifey wanted to pull out certain colours from the photo onto the page background. 

We weren’t quite sure what to do about the text though.  On our trip, we did keep a travel diary which started off quite detailed, but started to thin out at the end.  Should we go back and complete the diary now?  Should we include days of activities with the photos for those cities?  Should we just use bullet points?

In the end, we wanted our book to be primarily a photobook/photojournal – the emphasis on photos and some captions if required and we felt 1-2 pages of text might break up the flow.  But I did condense the activities of each day into a 3-4 line paragraph, and we put these at the end of the book for reference.  Each paragraph is a summary of the day’s events.  The full travel diary exists only in electronic form for now.

(By the way, I found it much easier to edit text in Microsoft Word and then copy and paste the whole lot in once done.)

Once the whole book was complete last night, we did a final spell check which picked up a few embarrassing typos.  And then it was upload time to Blurb.  With over 300 pages and roughly 860 photos, we had to leave this overnight.  And then this morning, I checked it and it was all done!  I hope all pages and photos are there without corruption – unfortunately I can’t seem to find a way to check.

So what now?   We have to do the final touches to the Italy trip book, then place our orders!

Melbourne holiday planning part 1

It’s been a little while in the making, but we’re planning a trip to the eastern states with the kids!  So far, we’ve organised the flights (using Frequent Flyer points) and some shows to see.   We know our itinerary of Sydney then Melbourne, but we haven’t booked any accomodation yet.

So, I started up my favourite sites Tripadvisor and Wotif.

Map of search results on Trip Advisor
Map of search results on Trip Advisor

Tripadvisor is an internet community site dedicated to travel reviews.  There are literally thousands of reviews of holidays, locations, hotels, attractions, etc on there by fellow travellers.  You still need to do a bit of research and different people have different experiences, but it’s better than nothing.  I find it a great resource to see what the general feel of the hotel is like.   A few bad reviews doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad – it could be that the traveller expected a much more classy standard when it catered for a cheaper market.   But a large number of negative reviews usually means it’s a place to be careful of.

Map of search results on Wotif
Map of search results on Wotif

Wotif is a last minute accomodation booking site.   I think more and more people are hearing about these types of sites.   I’m not exactly sure how their business model works, but it provides an avenue for hotels to sell off unoccupied rooms at a discounted price.   But I’ve also had an experience where a hotel has said that Wotif actually bought a set number of rooms from the hotel at “warehouse prices” and sells these on, often undercutting the hotel’s cheapest consumer rate itself.  I’d love someone with an insight into this to explain more!

The most frustrating thing I’ve found when looking for rooms is that many hotels and apartments only allow 2 adults and a maximum of 1 child in a single room.   Hello?   We have a family of four – and I’m sure we’re not alone – where are the hotels that allow more?   I know there are some, but how do you find them easily?

It seems that knowing how different sites let you search may help.

Check-in.com.au doesn’t even have a search by number of guests, but it does give detailed information about children/extra guests for the selected hotel.  Wotif.com at least lets you search by type of room, but still not by number of guests.

Tripadvisor.com is not really a discount hotel search engine, but it lets you search for hotels by number of adults.  It’s a start, but you then need to go into each hotel to read the fine print about children.

Lastminute.com.au is one engine that does let you search by number of adults and children and provides good clear information on the bedding configuration.  Expedia also lets you search by adults and kids’ ages too which is good.   Hotels.com unfortunately doesn’t seem to provide detailed information on the bedding configuration.

Another tip is to compare the prices on the discount sites with the actual hotel websites themselves.  For example, it seems that the cheapest rate on the Marriott site is $209 for a room for up to 4 guests (for 7 day advance bookings), but this rate doesn’t seem to show up on any of the discount sites.

Oh well, we’ve now booked the Sydney accomodation, but Melbourne is still to be decided.  Should we stay a bit further out like in St Kilda, and perhaps hire a car, or stay in the CBD?

Photos from Venice

I love Venice!  The atmosphere there is so different, each canal has its own story.  And the environment was so picturesque, I struggled to capture it in a photo.

Here are some shots I took on the Rialto bridge.  They were taken at dusk, but of course I wasn’t lugging a tripod around with me, so it had to be steady hands but I decided to go bigger aperture instead of higher ISO, which the details a little soft.   I would’ve loved to have done a long exposure to get the water to look all silky. Even though I’ve chosen a wide aspect ratio to give the sense of space, in the end, I still don’t think I captured the grandness of the canal here.

Grand Canal in Venice
Grand Canal in Venice
Grand Canal in Venice
Grand Canal in Venice

We also took an expensive gondola ride.  I guess it’s something you have to do.. once.. or maybe more if you can afford it!  The best part about it was navigating through the small back canals.  Our gondola man was young, and attempted to do a bit of singing, but it felt like he did it because he thought we thought he should have been singing. We did spot only a couple of gondola dudes who actually sang like operatic tenors – I wonder how much they charge!!

I wasn’t quite sure how steady it was going to be, but I brought my camera anyway.   I didn’t want to spend too long fiddling with the camera settings on our expensive and short ride, but popped a few shots off to try to capture the feeling. Here’s one of my favourites.

Gondola ride in the back canals
Gondola ride in the back canals

How to publish a travel blog?

The Pantheon in Rome
The Pantheon in Rome

I have a dilemna.  I did some travelling this year and last.  And I kept a travel diary of where we went, things we saw, things not to miss, things to watch out for. Along with thousands of photos 🙂

But I didn’t blog it.  And I want to blog the highlights now.

Should I just enter them as posts and backdate them to the date I experienced/wrote it?

Or should I just enter them as posts and publish them as new entries dated today or the date I upload them?