I was meant to visit Budapest on a Saturday but much to my disappointment, my tour operator didn’t pitch. I suppose there was a plan somewhere. As in some other European countries, most shops are closed on Sundays so this afforded me an opportunity to see families leisurely enjoying the day. And what a gorgeous day it was! It was surprisingly warm for an Autumn day and I was in awe of everything I saw in the architecture, vibrant coloured trees and flowers and monuments everywhere!

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Museum of Hungarian Agriculture

I was particularly struck by the Museum of Hungarian agriculture, formerly known as the Vajdahunyad castle. Its designer, Ignác Alpár merged different architectural styles, made use of different elements and details of well-known buildings of historical Hungary. I was mesmerised by this hauntingly picturesque building which was shrouded by beautiful Autumn shades.

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As much as I love the beauty of the great architecture of a bygone era,  I love the beauty of nature from which so many of us draw our creative inspiration and food for the soul. So, I was equally enchanted by the brightness of the day, the lush green lawns, the brilliant colours of a lingering Summer and gentle transitioning of Autumn.

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Soaring above Heroes’ Square is the Millennium Column, the focal point of the the column is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel.

Behind the column is a semicircular colonnade with statues of famous men who made their mark on Hungarian history. Statues atop the colonnades symbolize War, Peace, Work and Welfare, and Knowledge and Glory.

Around the base of the monument are a number of equestrian statues honoring the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes who, led by Árpád, conquered the area now known as Hungary.

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Museum of Fine Arts

Since we had left Vienna before breakfast, the Varosligat restaurant was the perfect place to stop for a delicious light meal for brunch.

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Certainly an interesting ambience.

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I enjoyed a meal of peppers stuffed with chicken and immersed in a tasty paprika sauce. The Turks introduced the pepper plant (Paprika) to Hungary during their rule in the 16th-17th centuries. At first it was regarded and used as an ordinary plant and decorated the gardens. Shepherds and herdsmen who had more contact with the invaders started to spice their meals with the fiery powder.

Then paprika got to the kitchens of the peasants. Aristocrats found the peasant foods flavoured with the red spice very tasty and slowly they started to use it too.

By the 19th century paprika became a dominant spice in Hungarian kitchens and restaurants.

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Budapest which is referred to by some as the Paris of the East, has shops, cafes and ambassadors’ residences lining the street below which is beautifully tree-lined and resembles the Champs elysees in Paris.

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Budapest is one city with two personalities. The Buda part is situated on the hillside on the western banks of the Danube river. Property on this side of the city is more expensive and belongs to those who can afford it. It is from this vantage point of Castle’s hill that one can marvel at the striking building of the Parliament and other awesome views.

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Parliament

 

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Ahead – the dome of St Stephen’s Basilica

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Castle’s Hill 

Today, Castle Hill is recognized as a World Heritage Site, and has many must-see attractions, Gothic arches, eighteenth-century Baroque houses and cobblestone streets. Though Castle Hill has changed much since building began in the 13th century, its main streets still follow their medieval paths. Some houses date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, giving  an idea of what the Castle District may have looked like back then. Practically every house has a plaque indicating the century in which it was built, and providing details of its history. A surprising number of the buildings are still private homes, as Castle Hill is also a residential area. Cars have been banned – only people who live and work here are allowed to drive; however, public transportation is available.

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Below is the modern version of the square where the community gathered for their market in medieval times.

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Below: one of the few buildings which retains its original form from medieval times that survived bombings of  WWII`

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Mathias Church

The church was used as a coronation church by Hungarian kings for centuries, also a mosque for over 150 years by the Ottoman Turks, once owned by Franciscans, Jesuits, now a thriving Catholic church with holy masses, concerts, plenty of weddings, thousands of tourists. Mathias Church offers the historical  beauty of traditional Gothic churches with delicate turrets and colourful tile roofs.

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Mathias Church

Fisherman’s Bastion

The bastion, a neo-Gothic masquerade that looks medieval and offers some of the best views in Budapest, was built as a viewing platform in 1905 by Frigyes Schulek, the architect behind Matthias Church. Its name was taken from the medieval guild of fishermen responsible for defending this stretch of the castle wall. The seven gleaming white turrets represent the Magyar tribes that entered the Carpathian Basin in the late 9th century.

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The Chain Bridge was the first permanent stone-bridge connecting Pest and Buda, and only the second permanent crossing on the whole length of the river Danube. It is one of the symbolic buildings of Budapest, the most widely known bridge of the Hungarian capital.

Its construction was proposed by Count István Széchenyi, one of the leading figures in 18th century Hungary. Its official name is Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Works were started in 1839 to the plans of English engineer William Tierney Clark with the financial support of Baron György Sina, a Viennese financier. The construction was supervised by Scottish engineer Adam Clark, who later on went on to marry a Hungarian girl and settled down in Hungary. The place at the Buda end of the bridge has been named after him. The inauguration of the Chain Bridge took place on 20 November 1849. Below is a view of the bridge from a tunnel.

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After a very enjoyable walk through the medieval nostalgia of the Buda part of Budapest, we crossed the river and were ready for lunch at the Spoon Restaurant – a ship anchored on the Danube river. Together with friends I had made in the tour group who came from Columbia, California and Mumbai, we enjoyed a delicious light lunch, beautiful views of the Danube, delighted in learning about each other’s countries and cultures and marvelled at the wonderful weather.

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The Spoon – image source: TripAdvisor

View of the Danube river from the Spoon restaurant

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I thoroughly enjoyed the intriguing blend of tangy flavours of the grilled chicken,strips of parsnips and pureed rhubarb served with mash potatoes as seen below:

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Thank you for reading and travelling this journey with me.

I loved the Robert Ludlum spy thrillers and just as he packed thrilling action into his books with his protagonists dashing all over Europe. I thought I’d do the same with a dash into Eastern Europe which until now has been unchartered territory for me. So with two Sundays to spare, I joined a tour group to Prague as soon as I arrived in Vienna and a day trip to Budapest on the Sunday of my return back home. I was not disappointed and would love to return to these cities for an extended exploration.

It is a three hour drive on the express-way from Vienna to Prague. Although we left on a cloudy day, it was a pleasant drive through Moravia and the rolling, lush agricultural landscapes now under private ownership. As we drew closer to the cities, it was evident that industries were moving in and hopefully this bodes well for the Czech economy. There was certainly a hive of tourist activity as we entered St Wencaslas Square in Prague. It is the heart of entertainment and nightlife and the entrance to the commercial centre of Prague. This centre dates back to the 14th century.

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Unlike other European cities, Prague managed to retain much of its heritage  despite some destruction of lives and property towards the end of WW II. It has preserved its beautiful architecture and as seen below in the square, cranes are to be seen in a number of places restoring old building facades. It’s rich in its history and is a perfect place for walking tours through a maze of cobbled walkways.

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Nevertheless, it is still fascinating to admire the beautifully decorative artwork on many of the buildings which give this city its unique character.

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There are two plaques on the ground near St. Wenceslas which commemorate those killed during the communist era. One is dedicated to Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in protest at the Soviet invasion.

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In the Old Town square which dates back 600-700 years, the gothic Church of “Our Lady before Tyn” can be seen below with its 80 metre high twin towers. On the left hand side is the Astronomical clock. Prague was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Given its history, my companions and I were a bit disappointed by the number of  popular Western franchises that could be found around every corner – you know the coffee and burger variety.

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Prague’s astronomical clock dates back to the 1400s. It comprises of an astronomical dial representing the sun and the moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details, the “Walk of the Apostles”. It displays hourly pop outs of figures and other sculptures, and a calendar dial with medallions representing the different months.

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I was lucky to meet up with some wonderful fellow tourists and though we didn’t have the time, we tried to imagine what we would discover in the Museum of Torture.

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The building below marks the entrance to St Charles Bridge where tourists compete for pictures of the Vitava River, the castle and themselves of course. What did we do before selfies? 😀

Commissioned by King Charles IV in 1357, Prague’s most stunning bridge spans 16 arches and is lined with 30 Baroque statues of religious figures.

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One of the most popular statues on Charles Bridge is the Statue of St John Nepomuk (also referred to as Jan Nepomucky).  It is the 8th statue on the right hand if you are heading from Old Town Square towards the Prague Castle.

John of Nepomuk was a priest in Prague under King Wenceslas IV (son of Charles IV).  The Queen made a confession to John of Nepomuk.  Unfortunately for him, the King being a very suspicious man, pressed John of Nepomuk for the Queen’s confessions which John of Nepomuk would not reveal, not even to the King, because it would be against his commitment of confidentiality. John of Nepomuk was therefore executed by being thrown into the Vltava River from the bridge and drowned.

Tradition says that if you rub the bronze plaque beneath the statue (the one depicting St John being thrown off the bridge), you will one day return to Prague. Alas – I forgot to touch it. 😀

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The castle looms up ahead from the St Charles Bridge. I was told by a friend who once lived in Prague that this was the best place to get a view of the city. Unfortunately, our time was limited to do this leg of the walk.

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The Vitava river as seen from Charles Bridge

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These interesting cars caused quite a stir as they passed by.

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The levitation trick below is said to be quite common. Still, it had us baffled.

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Prague is famous for its Bohemian Crystal which can be shipped to your country.

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Dining in the Dungeon: Between myself and my two newly acquired friends, we couldn’t decide where to eat since there are plenty of pubs and commercial restaurants. Instinct and adventure led us down three ominous sets of stairs where we wondered if we wouldn’t be on the menu. Well, this was certainly an atmospheric eating place!

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Of course I had to try out the Czech Goulash and I was not disappointed. This was an ideal meal given the inclement weather outside. The green chilly was the burner and the fluffy dumplings were to die for! A good jug of Czech beer was a perfect accompaniment.

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For dessert, we stopped at one of the smaller street outlet and joined the long queues for this decadent dessert which is a type of doughnut cone stuffed with fillings of your choice. We chose the Strawberry and cream option which you need to keep space for since it is very filling.

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Thank you for visit and you are welcome to share your experiences of Prague. I would love to have spent more time here. Join me next week in my visit to Budapest.

 

Last week on Sunday, I said goodbye to this majestic city, taking a taxi from the beautiful Vienna state opera to the airport. As a Business tourist, my glimpse of this regal city was captured in hop on and off buses, quick walks to the subways and a few short strolls. I hope to come back and make time to celebrate one of the important things this city is renowned for – home to many great classical musicians and opera.

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Vienna State Opera theatre

Vienna presents an architectural feast within its city precincts by day and night. I found myself particularly enchanted by the romantic and mesmerising character it assumed as the buildings were lit up at night.

Among the great musicians who have lived and worked here are names such as: Ludwig van Beethoven,  Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Christoph Willibald Gluck,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Otto Nicolai, Antonio Salieri, Arnold Schoenberg, Franz Schubert, Max Steiner, Robert Stolz, Oscar Straus, Johann Strauss senior and junior, Richard Strauss, Antonio Vivaldi, Hugo Wolf, Carl Michael Ziehrer and many more.

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Below is the iconic St Stephen’s Cathedral which is more than 700 years old. If you are fit for it, you can climb 343 steps to the top to get a beautiful view of the city. Alternatively, walk through the catacombs beneath this stunning church.

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St Stephens Cathedral: Vienna

Below – the exquisite artistry of this church where I stopped for a moment to light a candle and say a little prayer.

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The added romance of this city was to see horses and carriages lining up the streets, moving alongside traffic and doing a solitary midnight trek through a maze of deserted streets.

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I walked past this baroque style church several times without having the opportunity to go inside. Completed in the 1700s and emulating the design of St. Peter’s Basilica of the Vatican in Rome, it caught my attention especially when lit up at night.

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Vienna is a hive of activity with numerous cranes hovering in constant efforts to reclaim and  preserve these architectural and historical gems.

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Unlike Vienna where we still rely heavily on private vehicles in my country, I was struck by the very efficient public transport system which ranged from reasonably priced and comfortable airport buses, trains, trams, a very efficient and regular subway system and bicycles for those who preferred this option. There is of course a lot of walking to be done too.

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The Pestsäule (Plague Column) pictured below, is a memorial of the worst Viennese Plague in history.

The Great Plague of Vienna brought the imperial city to its knees. Death toll estimates range from  12,000 to 75,000 people. The killer is thought to be the same Bubonic Plague  that raged first in the 14th century, and began a second round in the 17th century. All across Europe, outbreaks of disease crippled towns, but Vienna, as a trade cross-road was perfectly placed to experience the true wrath of the raging epidemic.

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Beyond the inner sanctum of the city, Vienna is a very modern city as can be seen from this panoramic view that includes parts of the great Danube river.

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A gift to the UN includes this sculpture from the government of Iran. It includes tributes to people such as Omar Khayyam, a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet. As a scholar, he is most notable for his work on cubic equations and his calendar reform.

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Of course, I had my share of the traditional Schnitzel served with cranberries in a cranberry sauce and a lovely potato salad. Typical of a modern city, we dined on many cosmopolitan meals. This Thai dish below which comprised of a piping hot chicken Thai curry and served with fat, flat, freshly made noodles, was definitely one of my favourite meals.

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In keeping with the glitz and glamour of this majestic city, we couldn’t help but admire this equally glamorous Tesla luxury car below. Aptly reflective picture, don’t you think?

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Join me next week in my visit to Prague and thank you for reading.

 

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On the 16th December last year, I did a post called “Tell me about Malta”. You  can find it here if you missed it: https://chevvy8.com/2016/12/19/tell-me-about-malta

I’m happy to say that while it was still a wish at the time to travel to Malta, the airline tickets are paid for, the accommodation is booked and we’ll be making that dream come true in December this year.

But the dream grew beyond Malta. I’ve never been to Italy and since we live in the Southern hemisphere, celebrating a Winter Christmas has its allure. Of course I’m well aware that we will not be caught in the bustle of tourists and with weather being as unpredictable as it is these days, we should be prepared for a very different picture to the one above and below:

The Basilica of San Marco, St. Mark's Square, Venice, Italy

It is more likely that we’ll see more pictures like these below:

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Venice in Winter 1

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So today I am interested to hear from those who have visited Venice in Winter. Tell me about Winter in Venice. What can we expect? What are the best things to do in Winter and how should we best prepare for cold and rainy weather. We’ll be staying within walking distance of the city and close to St. Mark’s Basilica.

I look forward to your comments  about the “City of Water”, The City of Masks”, The City of Bridges, “The City of Canals” in the comments section and of course, you can look forward to a post on this trip when we get back!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first encounter with London was in 2006 en route to my home following a magical week in New York. I arrived in London on a Saturday Morning with about 10 hours to spare. Passing through Heathrow on my way to New York had been a harrowing experience given the rush to catch my connecting flight, the vast sprawl of the airport and unfriendly airport staff. I was determined to enjoy my trip back and I did.New York 067_1024

Something which is probably taken for granted in developed countries is that of commuting on a tube. I was fascinated by the whole culture around trains when I first passed through London in 2006 – an experience which is still relatively new in my country where many of us still  use private vehicles or other modes of public transport and get stuck in traffic for hours. I loved the convenience and speed of the tube and the leisure to read or listen to music if you were travelling a distance. I was amazed at the sounds of a diversity of nationalities, races, languages and accents around me, convinced that most people on the train were from other countries. At the same time, it concerned me that many people were plugged into their ear/headphones and tuned out to everyone around them. As a visitor, I found this quite alienating.

Nevertheless, gazing out of the window and watching scenes go by, I caught a whiff of nostalgia. Coming from a former British colony, I was reminded of scenes from books I had read in my first grade from the Bobbies on the beat to the smoking terracotta chimney tops, I was taken back to the innocence and naivety of childhood.

It was the strangest thing to emerge from the underground and find myself here at Piccadilly – one of the streets dating back to medieval times.

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The first site to catch my eye was a big Virgin store spanning about 4 floors of music and other electronic goods. With the digitisation of music, the store is no longer there but at that time, for a music lover like me, I could have spent the whole day there.The music that was belting out on high volume in the store was that of Mercan Dede, a Turkish musician who was en vogue at the time. Of course, I bought the CD and here is one of my favorite songs, the song that was playing as I walked into the store:

After stopping nearby for a wholesome English Breakfast, my next stop was a Waterstone bookstore. It offered six floors of a book lover’s dream. I always loved the smell of new books but the kindle and audiobooks have long since changed my reading habits. Still, at the time, I walked out happily with my stash of books.

My next venture was to get a ticket for the hop on and off buses and take in a bit of sightseeing:

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I loved the beautiful  gothic architecture and artwork of West Minister Abbey. This is the place where many monarchs have been crowned and married.

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Having just left the yellow cabs in New York, it was interesting to find this contrast of the black cab:

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I guess from a very early age I knew about Big Ben and The London Bridge from our fairytales so it was good to check out the real thing:

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Alongside Big Ben is the British Parliament below:

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The River Thames has been Muse to a number of famous poets. So I loved trying to imagine what those bards imagined as I passed beneath the famous London Bridge that has survived a number misfortunes to still tell the tale.

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23993_1024 Situated on the River Thames is the Coca Cola London eye which stands 40 m high. Below, is a close-up of the individual capsule that makes up the wheel :

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Hyde Park which comprises 350 acres of lush green space looked like a worthwhile destination to visit more leisurely.

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Join me next week for my next edition based on later visits to London. Thank you for reading along and your comments are welcome.

For those who tell you that Cancun is a piece of paradise, believe them – it’s true. It is indeed awesome when you have an excuse to work amidst such scenic beauty. As usual though, I only got a glimpse of the pleasure since my colleague and I were attending a conference there. I guess there is no need to complain if you almost sit on the beach while having breakfast every morning. Who would feel like working after this though?

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Cancun is certainly paradise for beach lovers and sun worshippers. I find its fine white beach sands and its translucent blue waters very alluring and very exotic compared with our own rolling surfing waves. Cancun is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs and thrill-seekers. Add to the scene this sunrise:

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And a stroll on the beach:

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We stayed at the beautiful Moon Palace. One of the great surprises for me was to find that my room had a Spa bath in the centre of the room. I had the perfect mood music to accompany such luxury.

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Less than two hours from Cancun is the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve, a protected, unspoiled  natural wonderland. It also has one of the world’s largest coral reefs, and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System which is located in the Caribbean waters off the shores of the Yucan Peninsula.

I love historical sites and would have loved to see the old Mayan ruins but time did not allow. Here is a picture of  Chichén Itzá. It is a world-famous complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. A massive step pyramid known as El Castillo dominates the 6.5-sq.-km. ancient city, which thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200s. Graphic stone carvings survive at structures like the ball court, Temple of the Warriors and the Wall of the Skulls.

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The little time we had, we spent shopping for music (not complaining about that) and visiting the local market which sold beautiful Mexican cotton shirts.

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I’d say this is another honeymoon destination, not one I could easily afford if I had to pay for it. Still, I always believe that there is no harm in dreaming. In the meanwhile, I think Chris Rea’s “On the Beach” is an apt conclusion. Thank you for reading and dreaming with me.

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During the 1920s and 1930s Shanghai became known as “The Paris of the East, the New York of the West”.[18]Shanghai was made a special city in 1927. From 1930 the city’s industrial and financial power  mushroomed. Transitioning from the old Shanghai which is almost non existent now, initial architectural style was modeled on British and American design.

This is what the modern day  Shanghai skyline looks like :

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I visited Shanghai in 2010 shortly after the end of their 2010 Expo and the picture below is among the first that I took.

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I stayed at the beautiful Pudong Shangri-la Hotel. As a Business Tourist, it’s great to have a comfortable stay as depicted in the great room I had – well set up both for comfort, relaxation and working.083_1024

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The view from my window looked out on the Yangtze river and everyday was a reminder that I was at the centre of an economic hub and “high” density living.Here are some views from my room:

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Of course it was great that there was a shopping mall just across the road from the hotel and yes, I spent much of my available time there. Shanghai carries all the famous international brands (many being manufactured here) but I also found brands that I was unfamiliar with and to this day, some of these remain my most prized possessions.

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One of my favourite purchases was a beautiful Chinese tea set. This started a whole new practice of collecting a range of fragrant herbal teas some of which open up as flowers. I have found a that it is an almost spiritual experience to sip tea brewed in pretty cast iron tea pots and I have select friends that understand that spiritual experience of enjoying good conversation while inhaling the fragrance  and sipping from those beautiful little cups of tea.

I am in fact reminded of this quote:drink-your-tea-slowly

Shanghai has no shortage of really tall buildings each competing to be taller than the other:

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I was lucky enough to attend a special dinner on the 89th floor of the building below. We were served a 20 course meal ( small portions of delicacies though I had no idea what I was eating) There was a floor above us where a party was in full swing and of course I found my way there (by accident haha!)

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I recall as we left the building late that night ( a Thursday night) – watching disco lights flashing from the top floor of another dizzingly tall building and wondering how those people managed to party so late on a weekday.

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On a walk to the Yangtze river on a Saturday afternoon, I remember watching an old lady painstakingly sweeping up dirt off the streets and the picture above illustrates how clean the city is despite the density. One drawback of such density and economic activity is the pollution. It took a number of days for me to get clearer pictures. Still I enjoyed my stay and would happily return.

Thank you for reading and join me in Hong Kong next week.

In keeping with the theme of love and romance for this month, I thought I’d showcase  Mauritius which is a favourite destination for honeymooners. Since this was a business trip for me, I’ll have to paint the picture of romance as I see it. I appreciate that the notion of romance will mean different things for different people.Personally, my favourite romantic destination is still Paris. However,there are other reasons to punt Mauritius as one of the favourite destination for lovers.

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Mauritius which was a  once a French colony followed by British rule, gained its independence from Britain in 1968.Situated 1200 miles south east of Africa in the Indian ocean, it is considered part of Africa. It has a subtropical climate and a population of under 2 million people. While sugar cane farming has been the cornerstone of the economy, real estate and tourism have rapidly risen. The beautiful beaches and sea related sports such as snorkelling among the coral reefs would be among key attractions for visitors.

Now if you are a honeymooner, your hotel room will be an important feature of your stay so I thought I’d share some views of my room (sigh) The balconies have views of the ocean and palm trees.

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And when you’re looking to take a long soak in the bath tub, watching a bit of television or listening to a music channel or taking a shower together, the bathroom is pretty neat.

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If you would like to take midnight walks through enchanting pathways, take a dip in the pool, swim in the ocean or take long strolls on the shore, there’s romance for you.

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If you’d like to sip cocktails as you lounge around or eat your dinner on the deck while you look out at the ocean and see it majestically change hue and ambience as the sun sets, take a look for yourself.

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For some evening entertainment, watch the Sega dancers do their courting dances to the rhythm of African drums as you are served a cocktail menu on a freshly swept beach. For me that fire burning on the shore was just another feature to symbolise the passion of the night.

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And when you come up for air from the romantic rendezvous, if you are a diver or snorkeller, here is what you could see of the coral reefs.

The native language of Mauritius is Creole. English and French are the other main languages spoken. I always associate my visit to Mauritius with the beautiful music of  Viktor Lazlo – great mood-setting music.  Enjoy the trip and thank you for  viewing,reading and listening.