Last day in Bali

Our last day in Bali arrived soon enough. We saw a lot of Bali in the previous four days and had a great time there. A part of us would have loved to stay on in Bali a little longer but the other part felt it was time to go home. I was comforted by the fact that I managed to catch so much with my photography there. Having good photos helps to relive the adventure.

We visited the spa again on the last day. I had a foot massage while Jessi had a manicure. It was extremely relaxing and comfortable - both, we really needed. This was something we knew we were going to miss a lot once we got back to Munich. After that, we went over to the souvenir shop to do some final shopping and to finish the remaining Rupiah that we had. Time was flying by so fast and we really had to rush. As soon as we were done shopping, we went back to the hotel, picked up our stuff, checked out and made our way to the airport by car. Everything went smoothly in the airport. There were no delays nor any issue with immigration. Soon enough, we boarded the plane and 2.5 hours later, we were back in Kuala Lumpur.

Our visit to Bali was indeed a splendid one. Perhaps more so for us since it was our second honeymoon and this time, we were both healthy. We would gladly recommend having a vacation in Bali and would be happy to provide you some tips and further information if needed. Just drop me an email.

I've finished working on our photos from the trip and uploaded them to my Picasa Web Album. The slideshow is embedded below.

Let me know what you think.

Second day out in Bali

After the long day we had before, we decided that we wanted to sleep in and take it easy the next morning. Well, not quite. We still wanted to catch the sunrise at Tanjung Benoa. So, we got up at about 6 am and went over to the beach. I was fully equipped with my camera gear and all prepared to shoot some sunshine.

As we were walking to the beach, I noticed that it was already pretty bright. "Perhaps we are too late," I thought to myself. I brushed the notion away and tried to convince myself that it starts to get bright even before the sun emerges from the horizon. After all, if you were to switch on a torchlight and place it behind a wall and close to its edge, you are bound to see some luminance come through the sides. We kept walking towards the beach and it just kept getting brighter. I was starting to doubt my theory a little but I never showed it. I was hoping that my little display of faith would help alter reality.

So I walked along the beach, set up my tripod whenever I found a good spot and started snapping away. By now, the sky was pretty bright but we hadn't seen the sunrise. After another five minutes or so, we said to ourselves, "Maybe we missed the sunrise". *sigh* Ye of little faith! As a consolation, we told ourselves that we wouldn't have been able to catch the sunrise anyway because it was too cloudy. That was actually a valid, though weak consolation. It was extremely cloudy. Even if I had woken up 15 minutes earlier, we wouldn't have been able to see the sunrise. Really!

Anyway, after that, we went to have breakfast. We still wanted to do something that day. We agreed that we would spent the first half of the day lazing around in the hotel premises and take a tour of some sort in the afternoon. Once again, we went through the many brochures we had and studied every package in detail. At first, we decided to take a boat ride and do some snorkeling. However, we called the agency and found out that such tours always start pretty early in the morning. In other words, we were too late - tough luck! Jessi was adamant about being in the water and so we agreed that we would visit Dreamland resort. We also wanted to see the Uluwatu Temple, which is another important landmark in Bali. So, we hired a car with a driver for six hours and paid a mere USD 30. The driver would take us to all the places we wanted to visit within that six hours.

First stop was Dreamland resort. The resort is apparently owned by Tommy Suharto, son of a very controversial ex-President of Indonesia. But politics aside, the resort is beautiful. The beach is apparently man made and because of that, there are some areas that are pretty rocky and less than ideal for swimming. We found ourselves a couple of beach chairs and were soon greeted by "bouncer" who kindly requested USD 10 for the privilege to use them. We didn't grumble about that since they have a similar system in Phuket. He handed us a couple of surf boards to use. This was our first experience surfing. Well, surfing may be an exaggeration - we lied down on the surf boards and let the waves beat us! In any case, it was fun. I insisted that Jessi spent as much time as she wanted in the water to avoid future "I want water" attacks.

After a couple of hours, we left the beach, washed up and went over to our car. Our driver was waiting for us. Our next stop was Uluwatu Temple. As we were approaching Uluwatu, our driver began warning us about the monkeys there. He advised us to keep all our accessories (glasses, phones, jewelry, etc.) in the car or in our bags to avoid having them snatched by the monkeys. He kept emphasizing that they were not bad but just playful and naughty. I don't know what he was actually describing because the creatures that awaited us were not naughty - they were bad to the bone! We witnessed them snatch several items from the tourists there including a pair of glasses, a bracelet and a piece of decoration attached to a backpack. They would only return the snatched items in exchange for food. These monkeys were really wild and on the brink of being labeled violent. You should not bring in any food to feed the monkeys although the people outside happily sell nuts and such to tourists. The monkeys may attack people carrying food.

The unpredictable behavior of the monkeys prevented me from setting up my tripod and taking good photos. Every time I took out my camera and started shooting, a monkey would inconspicuously pop up near me hoping to snatch something away.

However, monkeys aside, the Uluwatu Temple and the scenery around it is fabulous. The sight of the temple hanging on the cliff, the clear, blue sea and the powerful white waves pounding on the rocks is indeed something to behold. However, after a while, we decided to get away from the monkeys and to go for dinner. For the record, I didn't know that there would be (lots of) wild monkeys there and if I did, I wouldn't have wanted to go there.

We decided to go to Jimbaran again. At first, we wanted to try a different restaurant but on second thought we decided to stick to familiarity. So, we went to DEWATA again. We didn't order the same things though (we're not that predictable!). We had fish and prawns like before but different preparations. As expected, the food was splendid and the atmosphere, pleasant.

We were done with dinner at about 8 pm and decided to return to the hotel. On the way back our driver showed us his place and he offered to take us to the airport the next day. We accepted his offer.

Our day out in Bali (continued)

This is a continuation of our previous post.

We crashed. The car in front of us braked hard and our driver did the same, managing to actually stop in time. However, the car behind us, which was following too closely, slammed into our rear and forced our car into the car in front of us. We were pretty shocked. Jessi had a headache before and the impact made it worse. But other than that, we were physically fine. Our guide, Nyoman, was extremely concerned about Jessi but showed little compassion for me. That pissed me off a bit! After all, I could have been hurt too. But on second thought, he was probably afraid that the "white lady" would file a lawsuit against him, the driver and their company. The Malaysian guy couldn't do much harm. *sigh*

Back to the accident. So, I got out of the car like the other passengers and took some shots both for evidence and for my faithful blog readers. Believe it or not, all the cars were chauffeuring tourists! Who else would have time to visit Kintamani on a weekday? Fortunately, none of the other passengers were hurt either and after about 15 minutes we drove our separate ways (which were all in the same direction and probably towards the same destination).

It was during this time that Nyoman decided to enlighten me about the secret of Balinese coffee. I thought to myself, "Now I have a nice, mystical story to bring back with me from Bali!" If I only knew better. This is Nyoman's story: Bali is famous for its tasty, strong coffee and there is a secret behind it. The coffee plantations here are filled with foxes. The foxes love coffee beans - they eat them. These generous beasts leave their droppings in the fields only to be happily picked up by the farmers when harvesting their crops. The farmers do not try to separate the feces from the beans but have them processed together because it apparently adds flavor. After a (hopefully very) long process, you magically get Balinese coffee powder. Think about this "mystical" story the next time you decide to order a pot of Balinese coffee in Starbucks.

Soon, we arrived in a Chinese restaurant for lunch. It was pleasantly cooling when we got out of the car. We were probably about 1000 m or so above sea level. I would guess that the temperature there was about 20 degrees. The restaurant had a spectacular view of Mount Batur, which is more than I can say for their food. It was pretty crowded but we were still able to find some good seats. After lunch, I took some photos from the restaurant, including the panorama above.

At about 3 pm, we met Nyoman outside the restaurant, got into our car and went on our way. Our next stop was the rice terraces. Before we got out of the car, Nyoman warned us not to buy anything from the people there. Apparently, they often entice tourists with extremely low prices (e.g. 1 USD) only to demand more once they have agreed to buy. I don't really understand how that "scam" would work in practice but I wasn't keen to find out. We took his advice. Rice is a staple food for Balinese and most of Asia. It was interesting to see their ingenuity at work in devising such terraces to grow paddy in the mountains. We didn't stay very long and soon hit the road again.

Our next and final destination for the day: Tanah Lot Temple (left). Tanah Lot is probably the most famous place of interest in Bali. Here are links to the Wikipedia entry and the official website for more information. We tried to catch the sunset at Tanah Lot - it's supposed to be spectacular. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see much when we were there. Nonetheless, it was a splendid experience and we took some pretty good photos, I think. An interesting thing about Tanah Lot is that you can only walk to the temple when it's low tide. The path to the temple is submerged in water during high tide. It was low tide when we were there and we got pretty close to the temple.

After a while, Nyoman took us to another cliff that had an excellent view of Tanah Lot as well as another temple (right), which was on the opposite side. I took as many shots as I could before it got too dark.

By then, we were exhausted and it was time to call it a day. The drive home took us about an hour. Overall, it was a great day out in Bali.

Our day out in Bali

In the previous post, we ended with our dinner at Jimbaran Beach. The seafood there was fabulous and although we didn't actually get to see the sunset, the weather was great and the scenery, splendid. We had dinner in a restaurant called DEWATA, which has a pretty unique way of billing its customers. You pay for the seafood and drinks, and the rest is on the house. Of course, I would like to emphasize that you shouldn't expect too much of the "rest". I won't elaborate further on that and let you experience it on your own. Prices at DEWATA are very reasonable and absolutely transparent (even by European standards). There is a proper price list and you are charged based on the weight of the seafood you order. You can choose from several different preparation styles (fried, grilled or steamed) and dressings (sweet and sour, black pepper or original Balinese). Feel free to try different combinations, but I'd strongly encourage you to give the Balinese-style grilled fish a go. It's suitable for the faint of heart as well.

We went to bed soon after we got home from dinner. After all, we had to prepare ourselves for the full-day tour ahead of us the next day. As you arrive in the Bali Airport, you'd notice lots of brochures and pamphlets advertising tours within and around Bali. We grabbed a few of those when we arrived. Most travel agencies have similar packages and prices, and I would expect that the quality of most is about the same. As we were not too sure about the quality of these agencies, we decided to go through our hotel's concierge. On the second day, we approached our hotel's front desk about joining a tour. The guy on duty was kind enough to bring out a few more brochures and explain a little bit about each place of interest. We discussed the many options we had and finally decided on a full-day tour that included the Barong dance, Ubut handicraft market, Elephant Cave Temple, Mount Batur (a volcano) in Kintamani and Tanah Lot Temple. After some bargaining on the phone, we agreed on 80 USD (800k Rp) for the both of us. We would have our own car, driver and tour guide (note that we had a separate driver and guide) for the day.

Our guide, Nyoman, picked us up from the hotel lobby at 8:30 am. We introduced ourselves, paid him and got on our way. First stop: Barong dance at Batu Bulan. The Barong dance is probably the best-known traditional Balinese dance. When we arrived at Batu Bulan, we were ushered into the hall where the dance was about to take place. There was a traditional band of musicians seated towards the left of the hall. Once everyone had taken their seats, the emcee jumped on stage, gave us an introduction about the Barong dance and kicked off the show. From more information about the Barong dance, read the Wikipedia article here.

Instead of elaborating on the dance further, here's a short video we took.

Here are links to a couple of more videos we took: video 2, video 3. This was our first experience with the Barong dance. It was pretty impressive and definitely something new if you're not from the East. I would recommend seeing it once but I personally wouldn't be keen to see it again.

After the Barong dance, we went over to the Ubut area. Ubut is famous for handicrafts and we got to see first hand how some of these were actually made. First, we visited a silver factory. We were greeted by a Balinese lady who then explained to us the process of turning silver into jewelry. Bali doesn't actually have its own silver, but imports it from the neighboring island of Jawa. The raw material is then processed in Bali and turned into silver jewelry that is sold handsomely. While silver jewelry is pretty common nowadays, the articulate workmanship of the Balinese, which is evident in their products, is exquisitely rare. Jessi got a pair of earrings and a necklace from the factory shop (Duhhh! Big surprise!). They were hand-made and very well finished. I really had to haggle to bring the price down to a reasonable level. Be prepared to do so if you plan to get something from these places (a bottle of water to wet your throat is a good start). I had no doubt that Jessi would be making some ladies green when we got back.

After the silver factory, we went over to see some paintings that were being sold in a traditional Balinese house. Nyoman first took us through the house compound and explained the intricacies of a Balinese house. The most important is probably the home temple. There is a shrine for everyone or every couple (couples have bigger shrines than singles). The shrines are treated like people and even clothed with traditional sarongs. Next, we had a look at the traditional Balinese kitchen where cooking was still being done over charcoal. It was quite impressive to see such a traditional kitchen still fully functional and utilized.

After that, a guide took us through the collection of paintings that they had there. They had a very mixed collection. There were traditional, contemporary, religious and even some "playboy-style" paintings. From my rather brute description, you can probably guess that I'm no art enthusiast. We would have loved to bring back a piece or two but after the last bargaining session we had (for the silver jewelry), I just didn't feel up to it. So, we left the place empty handed and I don't think our hosts were too happy about it. Well, it isn't our fault that they've made haggling part of the purchasing process.

Our last stop in the Ubut area was a woodcraft factory. Here, we did actually buy some things. Once again, when we arrived, we had a guide talk us through the wood crafting process. According to her, the craftsmen are typically men although women do work on some smaller, simpler pieces. After the short intro, we made our way into their showroom. Some of the pieces they had on display were phenomenal. I could imagine a big market for these things in Europe although there are probably trade restrictions in place to prevent them from swarming the international market and choking the local industries. Imagine having these guys make cuckoo clocks for a quarter the price and exporting them back to Germany to be sold there! Anyway, just like the painting factory, there were traditional, contemporary, religious and even some "playboy-style" pieces. Finally, we walked out of the shop with two pieces - a wooden owl and a wooden elephant. Both pieces are solely for decoration.

We were done with Ubut at about 1 pm or so, I believe, and Jessi started feeling hungry. We stopped in a mini market along the way to get some snacks. Our next stop was the Elephant Cave Temple. The temple, which is about a thousand years old is set in a cave and built in the shape of an elephant. Before entering the temple premises, Jessi and I had to rent and put on sarongs (I bet some of you would love to see a photo of that!). This is required in all temples and the rental fee is modest, so no concern there. In the temple yard is a pond surrounded by statues with water gushing through their bellies. The pond represents a Spring of Life. Next, we entered the cave temple itself. There are large holes built into the walls for meditation purposes. Apparently,devotees would sit or lie down in these holes to meditate. We spent about half an hour walking around and taking photos in the temple premises. After that, we went towards our car and returned our sarongs along the way.

Next stop: Mount Batur in Kintamani. Nyoman told us that the drive would take us about two hours. Jessi was starting to get a headache. She popped in a couple of pills and then we both pushed our seats back to take a nap. Suddenly, we crashed...

The taste, feel and look of Bali

We were very hungry when we were finally able to make our way to some restaurants outside our hotel at around 10pm.

We didn’t know then that the dinner was going to cost us millions! Well, it was not too bad a deal since it was Indonesia’s currency Rupiah… Inflation has been very bad. Joel’s rule of thumb that helped us calculate was: 100.000 Rupiah is equal to 10 US Dollars.

We found a very nice restaurant which had a special offer that night: fancy seafood dinner with 4 courses for 2 persons – only 195.000 Rupiah. The waiters and waitresses were very nice and polite. One of them could even speak German pretty well! He also offered to take us around the next day, but we wanted to first have a look at all the different things to do in Bali. After a nice spring roll each, we had soup followed by the main course: fish and king prawns with fried rice and vegetables. It tasted very good but Joel got upset with me for getting full too soon and not being able to eat “enough”. The dessert looked very artistic: half a young coconut filled with fruits and ice cream.

After dinner we went back to the hotel straight away and looked at all the different flyers about day tours around Bali that we had found in the airport. So many interesting places to go, so many nice things to do on this island! It was hard to decide on what to do. The next day we were going to take it easy, sleep in, use the hotel pool and have a look around. Finally, we took sleeping pills and knocked off.

We slept very well and only woke up at about 9am. Since the breakfast buffet was only available until 10am, we immediately went over and were overwhelmed by the beautiful view and our close proximity to the sea. Due to the fact that it was already dark when we arrived, we hadn’t been able to see anything beyond our hotel room. While eating, we saw many people doing water sports: jet skiing, banana boat riding, parasailing, etc. Our beach was not very clean because of this. So, we couldn’t swim there.

After swimming in the pool and showering, we decided to look for a spa. We found a reasonably-priced one nearby and had nice, full-body massages and facial treatments for a total of 1.5 hours. This was my first time at a spa. Very relaxing and refreshing!

Near our hotel we also found some souvenir shops that we explored soon after. We spent thousands buying presents for our friends and for ourselves. :-)

At 5pm we were picked up by a driver from a restaurant located at the east coast of Bali. This restaurant was recommended by Joel’s brother and his wife who had been to Bali twice before. We were welcomed by many nice locals working at the restaurant. First, they gave each of us a beautiful flower typical of the island and stuck them behind our ears. Then, we got a welcome drink and were escorted to the beach where we could sit at a table closest to the sea.

The view of the Indian Ocean was fabulous. The sun was slowly setting. Unfortunately, there were quite some clouds that hindered the full view of the sun going to sleep in the sea. We were a little disappointed and went to order our food. In order to do that, we had to go to the front of the restaurant and look at the seafood they had stored in aquariums – partly still alive. There were different kinds of fish, prawns, lobsters and crabs. We chose a fish and some prawns and decided for sweet and sour preparation – my favourite. When we came back to the beach, we saw a little bit of the sun again, spreading beautiful colours across the sky, changing every moment. We took lots of nice pictures before enjoying the food.

In this post, we have included some of our favourite shots.

Second Honeymoon in Bali

Jessika and I never really had a proper honeymoon. We got married just over two years ago in Germany and then went back to Malaysia for a few months. At that point in time I was in the midst of my job transfer to Germany. Things were a little crazy with my transfer then and we decided to hold off our honeymoon until things were really settled.

In my defense, I did arrange a short trip to Phuket for the both of us. It wasn’t really honeymoon-quality but as the saying goes, “Nothing else matters when you’re in love…” Now comes the bad part. I fell terribly ill a few days prior to our departure. I remember standing in line at the immigration checkpoint like a zombie, fuming at the officers that seemed to be on vacation in their minds while examining the passports. I was probably hallucinating but I could almost see an imaginary masseur behind each officer! Anyway, to cut it short, we couldn’t make the most of our trip to Phuket but we still had a good time.

Things in Bali were going to be a lot better – at least we hoped. This was our second shot at the whole honeymoon thing – a second honeymoon, so to speak. Bali is a world renowned holiday destination and a hot spot for honeymooners. It doesn’t matter if you got married two weeks ago, two years ago or two decades ago, Bali has something for everybody. We fall into the two-year category and our experiences (as described in our blog posts) may reflect that.

We decided a few months back that we should spend a few weeks holiday in Malaysia and in between we would visit Bali. We flew from Kuala Lumpur to Bali with Air Asia, Malaysia’s favorite airline (so they claim). Return tickets for the both of us came to about RM 780 (~EUR 150). Reservations can be made online at Air Asia offers holiday packages that include flight and accommodation as well. However, we found a better offer for accommodation at decided to go “á la carte” instead. We reserved our accommodation at Kinds Villa Bintang Resort, a 4-star hotel. At 60 USD per night, their price was very reasonable. For the two months or so since we finalized our reservations for Bali, we were the envy of everyone whom we told (and bragged!) about our upcoming vacation. Of course, we were ourselves extremely excited too.

So, the big day arrived. Our flight was at 5 pm. I called a cab to take us from my aunt’s place, which is where we were staying, to the airport. Note that Air Asia, Malaysia’s favorite airlines (no, I’m not being paid to say that) doesn’t fly from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). They fly from the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), which is about 15 minutes away from KLIA. I would love so much to bash the Malaysian government right now for making such a costly, stupid move to build another airport next to an under-utilized airport for the sole purpose of protecting (at least that’s what they thought they were doing) the national airlines (and of course, more importantly, their cronies) but that topic deserves another post or perhaps even another blog altogether.

Anyway, back to our trip. The drive to LCCT took us about 45 minutes. Believe it or not, my German wife was freezing in a Malaysian taxi. Thanks to my great advice, she didn’t bring a pullover along (who needs a pullover in Malaysia!). I have to admit that we Malaysians do get a little carried away with air conditioning but it just didn’t occur to me. Well, Jessi did survive the cold winds and we checked in immediately when we got to the airport. We had some time to kill, so we had a cup of “teh tarik” (translated as: pulled tea) each while waiting. Soon enough, we boarded the plane and took off.

Air Asia is a no-frills, budget airline. They don’t offer some of the niceties available on regular airlines and if they do, they’re usually chargeable. The flight from KL to Bali is about three hours and we arrived in Denpasar (Bali) International Airport at 8 pm. There is no time difference between KL and Bali. Our first stop: “Visa on Arrival” counter. Being a Malaysian, I do not need a Visa to visit Bali. However, Jessi does. The visa costs 10 USD and is valid for up to seven days. After obtaining the visa, we queued up to go through immigration. The line was pretty short and I was feeling pretty good. When it came to our turn, we went up to the immigration officer and handed over our documents. He told me that he was only able to handle “Visa on Arrival” cases and since I didn’t need one, I should go to a different counter. I walked over to the other counter and this time I really got pissed. There was a really long queue and just about everyone who was on the plane with us was ahead of me. And remember those imaginary masseurs I saw at the immigration counters in Phuket? I saw them in Bali too! To make things worse, three (Indonesian) Amigos jumped queue and forced their way in front on me. A fourth one tried but I held my ground. I was fuming and surprised that the fire alarm didn’t go off. In the mean time, Jessi had already picked up our luggage and was waiting for me on the other side. I harnessed every ounce of patience imbued in my body and after about 45 minutes, I was through. I was still furious, but I was through.

Next, we queued up for a taxi. Fortunately, it didn’t take more than 15 minutes before we were in the cab and on our way to Tanjung Benoa (close to Nusa Dua), which is where our hotel is. The drive took us about 30 minutes and cost 10 USD. Once we arrived at the hotel, we immediately checked-in. We got a pretty big room that even includes a small terrace outside to relax and chill. There were a couple of hiccups - the water was trickling in the bathroom and the safe was jammed. However, the hotel staff resolved them very fast. Our first impression of the hotel was positive although I would question its fourth star a little bit. The décor could have been more tastefully done.

After washing up, we went hunting for some good Balinese food for dinner.

Our first week in KL

Upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur at around 2pm on Sunday, we were picked up by Joel´s brother (as Joel mentioned in his last post) and then welcomed by his parents and aunt at whose big, nice house (almost a palace!) we were going to stay in. We got a comfortable bedroom and a bathroom on our own.

This is actually the same place we stayed in for 4 months after getting married, while we were in Malaysia together waiting for Joel´s job transfer to Malaysia.

After showering and putting on some fresh and short clothes (not the long and warm ones from Germany!), we felt much better. We rested for a while and then went out to buy dinner and eat it in Joel´s sister´s place. It was great to see everyone again. I haven’t been in Malaysia for 2 years! Here are some photos of our nephews.

Shawn (1st photo in this post) is turning 4 next week and Robin (2nd photo in this post) is 1.5 years old. They are very cute and adorable. In February, they are going to have a baby sister. :-) We played with them and had a lot of fun. They call Joel “Say Ku” (2nd Uncle, maternal; Chinese dialect) and me “Jee Kim” (2nd aunt, maternal; Chinese dialect). Shawn is always eager to take pictures with Joel´s big new camera. He is actually saving money to buy a camera like Say Ku´s. Last time Joel visited them, Shawn gave him his piggy bank and said that the wanted to buy Say Ku´s camera! :-)

The first night, we slept nearly 14 hours (!) – with some breaks in between when it was too cold with the air con and then too warm with the fan only. I could have slept on for days. :-)

The first few days, we met up with many of our friends here and did a lot of shopping. Compared to Germany, most things are so incredibly cheap here! I bought lots of accessories and clothes. :-) So fun when it is so cheap! In the pics, you´ll see some of my new clothes: a new dress, T-shirts, skirt, shoes,…

Another highlight that needs mentioning is the Malaysian food that we’ve been enjoying here. Indian bread, Chinese noodles (fried and with soup), Chinese and Indian mixed rice, Malay Nasi Lemak, freshly squeezed watermelon juice, etc.

This weekend, we´re in Malacca with Joel´s parents, siblings and nephews. But that is a topic for another post... :-)

Visiting Malaysia

We decided a few months ago that we wanted to visit Malaysia, my home country, at the end of this year. Fortunately, we’re just the two of us and pretty flexible when it comes to timing our holidays. We started looking for off-peak season tickets pretty early and stumbled upon a very good offer on eBay. Yes, you heard me right – eBay.

The tickets were fixed-price items on eBay and not on auction. I was pretty surprised to find such an offer on eBay especially when the prices of flight tickets are typically variable depending on availability and departure dates / days. In the description, the travel agency that posted the item advised interested bidders to get in touch with them prior to making the purchase on eBay. We did so.

We got in touch with them, expressed our preferred dates of travel and got an offer. The price was slightly higher than that which was advertised on eBay but still the best we found on the Internet. A return ticket from Germany to Malaysia for one adult was 550 EUR with Etihad, the national airlines of the UAE. We accepted the offer and transferred the money soon after.

About four months went by before we boarded the plane bound for Malaysia. Our flight was pleasantly uneventful. We boarded the plane in Munich, transited in Abu Dhabi and arrived in Kuala Lumpur. The transit in Adu Dhabi was pretty long though – seven hours. Nonetheless, we found a nice lounge, had some food and drinks, surfed the Internet a bit and soon enough had to make our way to the departure gate. As usual, I used the time on the plane to catch up on some movies. I watched Transformers 2 in the first leg and Wolverine in the second – both movies I wouldn’t have been "able" to watch with my lovely wife at home.

Etihad is a pretty good airline and I would gladly recommend it. We were happy with their service, punctuality, movie selection and the huge LCD screens they had in Economy. They are also the only airline I know to offer a very decent pair of headphones. Most other airlines provide passengers (in Economy) with sorry excuses for headphones - they tend to hurt your ears more than entertain you. I found the leg room to be a little tight though when compared to Lufthansa, for example.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at about 2 pm and were picked up by my brother. We then made our way to my aunt's place.

Visiting the former East Germany, part 3 & finale

Day 3

We agreed the day before that I would cook that day. We initially considered cooking in J.’s and G.'s place and having R. and troops come over for lunch. However, we figured that it would be more convenient for the kids if we had everything done in R.'s and T.' place. So, we decided to proceed with the latter plan and invited J. and G. over to R.'s and T.'s place instead. However, when we met J. and G. for breakfast, we received some bad news - one of J.'s church members had passed away the night before. They told us that it was unlikely that they would be able to join us for lunch since they would be busy helping to notify the family and making necessary preparations for the funeral and such.

We left for R.'s and T.'s place after breakfast. Just as we were about to reach, Jessi popped a question, "Did you bring along the spices?" Almost immediately, smoke started coming out of my nostrils. I harnessed every ounce of patience in me and calmly responded, "Were they not in the bag of food that you asked me to take along?" "No, but I should have had put them in there last night," she responded. I almost hit the brakes, jumped out of the car and yelled on the top of my lungs. Fortunately, over the years, I've learned to take a more civilized approach to vent my anger - I just keep quiet.

Schloss OranienbaumJessi came out with a great idea. T. was at a flea market not far away from J.'s and G.'s place and she could pick the spices up on her way back. Somehow, that idea simply sounded too good to be true. As it always happens in such dramatic times, the recipient's (T.'s) phone was not reachable. I tried so hard to smile the catastrophe away but the smoke just kept building up. It was about 15 km back to J.'s and G.'s place from where we were and I wasn't about to turn around and drive back there. So, we decided that we would drive to R.'s and T.'s place and try calling another mobile phone of hers (we didn’t have the number with us).

When we arrived, we rushed up to their apartment and tried calling her on the other number. The phone was unreachable as well. That was it for the great idea. We decided that we had to make do and make the most of the situation. Jessi and I drove to a nearby supermarket to buy some ingredients for the dishes I wanted to prepare and hoped that we would be able to find similar spices there as well. Honestly, I wasn't very hopeful about that. But lo and behold, when we got there, we did indeed find the spices and all the ingredients we needed. Now my smile was starting to look authentic and I began warming up to my wife again.

Schloss OranienbaumWe started preparing lunch as soon as we got back from the supermarket. El. helped a lot too. I cooked some plain rice, fried some noodles and made Chop Suey. At about noon, we all had lunch together. I don't mean to be blowing my trumpet, but I think they all enjoyed the meal. We packed some food for J. and G. as well.

We spent the afternoon there. El. and Al. had their naps while we lazed around the living room. At around 4 pm, T. took El. to his friend's birthday party. The rest of us decided to take a stroll in the park of a nearby castle, Schloss Oranienbaum (first picture in this post). It was a little wet and we had to take shelter every now and then when it started to drizzle but we managed. In fact, I took the second picture in this post while we were stuck in the souvenir store. Equipped with my camera, I took quite a few shots as we were walking about. The park is big and well-maintained. The castle itself is pretty run down but restoration works is currently ongoing. I expect that in a few years the castle will be restored to its former glory. I don't really know anything about the castle other than the fact that it was previously the residence of a Dutch princess. I found a German website though with more information about the castle - click here.

After our walk, we went back to R.'s and T.' place. Shortly after that, T. and El. arrived as well. They both had a good time at the party. Paraphrasing El.'s description of the party, he said that there were equal number of boys and girls, and there were a few blond chicks that were nice to him. *sigh* They start young here in Germany. We had dinner together and then Jessi and I went back to J.'s and G.'s place. We still had time to chat with them both and see some photos of theirs when we got there. After that, we all went to bed.

Day 4 / Finale

We got up pretty early that day. J. and G. needed to leave their house by 8:15 am and we said our goodbyes before they left. After that, we loaded our car with our things and drove over to R.'s and T.'s place for breakfast. We had a good time with them in the morning but soon had to be on our way. We had a 5- to 6-hour journey ahead of us and we were both working the next day. As soon as we finished bidding them farewell, we hopped into our car and drove off. The trip back took us about 6 hours in total, including a stopover for lunch at one of the rest spots along the highway.

Overall, we had a splendid weekend in the east of Germany. It was a little exhausting at times but worth every bit of it.

Thanks to J., G., R., T., El. and Al..

Visiting the former East Germany, part 2

The next day, Jessi and I got up around our usual time - 7 am. We had a very comfortable room but unfortunately couldn't sleep as long as we would have wanted to. We are both pretty light and sensitive sleepers. However, looking at the bright side, we had an early start to the day.

After washing up, we had breakfast with Jessi's godmom, G., in the garden. It was already starting to get chilly then, signaling the approaching end of summer. Nonetheless, we were well-cladded enough to withstand the cool autumn wind. After breakfast, we went over to Jessi's brother's place again. R., Jessi's brother, was still at work when we got there and we spent our time chatting with his wife, T., and playing with their adorable kids, El.and Al.. We had a great time with them and I got some really good photos again. The kids are photogenic and they enjoy being photographed, which made my job a whole lot easier.

It wasn't too long before it was nap time for the kids and we decided to go back to G.'s place for lunch and our own nap time too. G.made us some world-famous meatballs for lunch! Could I have asked for more?

They really have a beautiful house with a huge garden. While everyone was busying themselves, I decided to use the time to photograph their garden as well. They have a little fish pond. When J., G.'s husband, noticed that I was photographing his garden, he jumped in to help me get the best shot of his fishes. They were a little shy that day, but I still managed to catch them in the act - see the first picture in this post.

Lunch was so good and as expected, we had our nap after that. When we got up, G., Jessi and I went over to the zoo to meet R., T. and the kids. The picture above was taken there. El. was so excited to get into the red truck and Jessi was more than generous to pay for the ride with my money. After driving the truck, El. decided that he should try a cabriolet next. Once again, his ever so generous aunt paid for the ride with his uncle's money.

We were in the zoo with them for just over an hour when R., T. and the kids needed to leave - it was almost bed time. The three of us however, stayed on a little longer in the zoo. The zoo is pretty small but well landscaped, very informational and simply pleasant. As if the zoo wasn't enough wildlife for one day, G. took us to see some beavers in the nearby forest after that. Well, she tried to anyway. The beavers didn't show up but we had a good and refreshing walk. Then, we went home for dinner.

That was day two.

Visiting the former East Germany

I took two days off from work last weekend, on the 3rd and 4th of September. My wife, Jessi, and I decided to visit her brother and his family, and her godparents in the former East Germany. So, we rented a car and went on our way. (Ok, we were actually a lot less spontaneous than it sounds and this weekend trip took us weeks of planning, but you get the picture.) We left Munich at about 10 am. The drive itself took us less than we expected. We managed almost 500km in less than 5 hours. Let me guess, 100 km per hour doesn’t really fit the description of Germany’s Autobahns (highways). There were indeed many stretches where we could easily do 130 – 140 km/h (although we were allowed to do much more) but there were also several stretches where road works were underway and we were restricted to 60 -100 km/h. Besides, we didn’t rent a BMW M6, but a more down-to-earth Skodo Fabia.

We drove directly to my brother-in-law’s place and were warmly greeted by him and his family. They have two beautiful kids – a boy (El.) and a girl (Al.). After taking a drink, I quickly grabbed my camera and started snapping away. Some of the shots I got were truly priceless, as you can see from the two pictures in this post.

After dinner, we made our way to Jessi’s godparents’ place. Thank God, we have a GPS. Our electronic friend faithfully and successfully guided us to their place. Our GPS has indeed been such a great help to us here in Germany. We use it every time we drive and for the most part, it has successfully guided us to our intended destination. There have been a few exceptions, especially when some roads were closed due to repair works or so, but it has always been a great help in any case.

Anyway, back to our trip. We got to Jessi’s godparents’ place just past 7 pm. We arrived a little later than expected and they were already on their way out when we got there. So, we quickly said, “Hi!” and got out of their way. We then unloaded our things from the car and rested a little bit. They got back home about an hour later and we spent the evening chit-chatting, feasting and laughing. It was really good to see them after all this time and we had a great time together. At about 11, we all went to bed.

Next day, next post.

Isar of Munich

I've been wanting to write about the Isar for some time now. The Isar flows through the city of Munich. At 295 km in length, it is the fourth largest river in Bavaria, after the Danube, Inn and Main, and Germany's third most important tributary of the Danube. I bet you're wondering where I got all that. For more information on the Isar, follow this link.

I live about 3 km away from the Isar and often go there when the weather permits. If fact, many people go there when the weather permits, which is why it's often crowded. I usually get there by bicycle although if I do take the train, it's only two stops away. There is a lake located along the Isar with a steady stream running beside it. To get there, I have to cycle through a beautiful field of corn (I think it's corn), which is shown in the picture above. The stream is popular among kayakers and the lake, among joggers. While I don't explicitly fall into either of these categories, I still like this spot. It's quiet, accessible and good for photography.

There are various spots along the Isar that people hang out at but the most popular has to be area around the zoo. This is probably because it is the most accessible spot, both by public or private transportation. The Flauchersteg, which is a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, is located in the area. It is an extremely popular location for grilling. There are proper trash cans for ashes and so, making it easy to clean up at the end. If you want to get a good spot, make sure you're there early (try the night before!).

Last summer, my department had a grill party at the Flauchersteg. It was pretty cool. Expect similar activities from other departments during weekdays.

As you walk along the Isar on a nice warm day, you will notice many beer crates in the water. You can see this in the picture on the left. Why? Well, the water in the river is pretty cold and it helps to chill the beer. Talk about going green. And no, they are not free for you to take.

Now you know that grilling is a popular activity along the Isar. Other popular activites include sunbathing, boating, jogging and cycling. People don't swim much in the Isar because the current can be very strong and it may get dangerous. There have been several incidences of people drowning or getting stranded while swimming in the Isar. Be careful if you decide walk the wire anyway.

The Isar cycling path or better known as Isarradweg is an extremely popular route among cyclists. I often use it to get to the English Garden from my place. Be careful though as some cyclist fail to realize that it's a two-way path - they seem to think that the direction they are headed is always the right direction. *sigh* Nonetheless, I would still recommend cycling along the Isarradweg if you have the chance. It's fun and there's much to see along the way.

That's it for this post on the Isar of Munich.

Summer just arrived in Munich

The weather in Munich has been pretty crappy up until a few days ago. It's been wet and cold - not the combination you'd like to have in summer (actually, not the combination you'd like - period). We've had some really good summer days in May but then it started getting cold again. Now, summer is here and hopefully, here to stay. The weather has been great so far this week and the forecast for the remainder is excellent. I usually check the weather forecast here.

We're having some visitors this weekend and will probably take them to the Tegernsee for some sightseeing, sunbathing and swimming.

"" is mine !

I just bought the domain through Blogger. While Blogger does not directly sell domains, they do resell them on behalf of It costs a mere USD 10 per year for the domain and some extras, which I think is money well-spent.

This blog is hosted by Blogger, which offers free blog hosting. Blogger is owned by Google. So, if you already have a Google account, you can log into Blogger with your Google username and password, and create your own blog almost immediately. This is the route I took. It was simple, fast and risk-free.

However, the blog does not come with a custom domain. By default, it uses the domain. I believe that owning a custom domain is essential. It adds credibility to a blog and is absolutely essential for branding. Previously, the only way I thought that this could be done was to buy a domain, subscribe to a web hosting package and install the blogging engine and related software on my own. I wasn’t comfortable with this. Sure, many people claim that this isn’t as difficult as it sounds and I do believe that things will get easier once the ball starts rolling. Nonetheless, I still found the task to be too daunting and kept procrastinating.

I stumbled upon a solution as I was surfing through my dashboard on Blogger and came to the Settings Publishing section. There was the option of switching to a custom domain. When I selected that, I was led through the purchase of my own domain – The domain costs USD 10 per year and was immediately linked to various Google Apps (e.g. email, calendar, docs and sites) for free.

That was simple.

Landshuter Hochzeit – Part 3 & Finale

In the last post, I ended by mentioning that we went up a hill towards a fort. Actually, it turns that it isn’t a fort but a castle. So, we walked up a hill towards the Trausnitz Castle, which overlooks the city of Landshut. The hill isn’t too steep and there is a well-constructed plight of stairs towards the castle. Nonetheless, the walk Visitors, young and old, made their way up the hill. It was pretty crowded but well organized. We were still able to stop in between to take a few shots without holding the others back too much. For more information on the castle, click here.

My colleague did mention about the castle before but not about the events that were going on up there. We were pleasantly surprised with what we saw. Everyone was making their way into the castle and so we followed them. In the courtyard, there was a large crowd surrounding a group of performing musicians. Some of the audiences were on the 1st and 2nd floors of the castle and had excellent views of the musicians. Unfortunately, tickets were needed to get onto those floors and we didn’t have them. So, we stayed in the courtyard, on the ground floor. I wasn’t really able to get a good view or to take a nice, clean shot but I think that I improvised pretty well.

We observed the show for about 15 minutes and then decided to leave and see the other events around the castle. As we were making our way out, there was a pretty large crowd making their way in. We were fortunate to be there earlier. At the entrance to the castle, there were four young ladies who were all dressed up in their medieval costumes and gladly posed for us as Joe Walsh of the Eagles sang, “Pretty Maids all in a Row”.

There was a bunch of jugglers right outside the castle. For the most part, they were juggling simple, harmless pins. However, at one point, one of them started juggling blades! They were careful enough but it was still a daring act.We then decided to make our way down the hill towards the Old City again. On our way down, we saw a makeshift stage and several actors performing on it. Their performance was very good and they really kept the audience, especially the children, captivated.

Once we got down from the hill, we made our way towards the other end of the city. At this point in time, we were starting to get a little tired and decided to stop by one of the nice cafés along the way. We found one to be especially interesting and made our way in. Only when we were inside did we learn that this café was once the royal caterer for Landshut. We didn’t have anything lavish (only a cup of Cappuccino and a cup of tea, which we can recommend though) so we can’t comment much. Nonetheless, we liked what we saw and experienced.

Once we were out of the café, it started to drizzle a bit. We were pretty prepared for that anyway since the weather forecast had predicted the same thing the day before. We continued on our way and I used the time to take some photos of Landshut and the Landshuter Hochzeit.When we reached the other end of the street, there was a little medieval stall. The owners were offering some roasted pork and beer for free (I presume) to the visitors - I can’t confirm that the dishes and cutlery were washed before each serving though. We didn’t have any and decided to move on. By this time, we were both pretty exhausted and soon decided to make our way back to Munich. We stopped by a Turkish restaurant to get ourselves some Kebab and caught the next bus towards the Landshut main train station. At the station, we only had to wait for about 15 minutes before the next train toward Munich arrived.

Overall, our visit to the Landshuter Hochzeit was an extremely pleasant one. We saw and took in a lot and the fact that the next one is in four years makes the whole experience even more precious.

Landshuter Hochzeit - Part Two

In my last post, I ended at the point where we were "caught" by three big, medieval, German men, my wife, Jessi, was forced to put on a helm and carry a spear to entertain them and I was made to capture the scene with my camera for their future entertainment. Ok... ok... that's not exatly how it turned out. The correct version is: the guys were really friendly and they were actually helping us capture the Landshuter Hochzeit in one shot - with Jessi wearing a helmet and carrying a spear. The 2nd version just doesn't sound that dramatic.

Shortly after that, a crew of colorfully-dressed peasants from the Middle Ages along with their weapons and musical instruments showed up. There must have been about 20 of them. They also had a wagon that was being pulled by a horse. The musicians were walking in front of the band whereas the "soldiers" were behind. At least one of them looked like he was part of the cast for Lord of the Rings. If you look closely at the picture on the left, you'll probably figure out which one I'm talking about.

Next, we made our way towards the "old city". The most prominent building you are bound to notice when you get to the main street is the Church of St. Martin (Martinskirche). This church is the highest church in Bavaria and the highest brick building in the world, with a height of 130.6 meters. For more details on the Church of St. Martin, click here.

Since we were there pretty early, there was not much of a crowd yet and we could easily stroll along the main street without imposing ourselves or being imposed by others. There were many cafes and bakeries along the way and at that time of the day, they were still allowed to have their tables and chairs outside, along the walkways. As the crowd built up and the festivities really started, the store owners were required to remove their furniture from the sidewalk.

There were platforms with benches set up all along the main street for visitors to better observe the festivities. Of course, you needed a ticket to get a seat there. Many families saw the Landshuter Hochzeit as an opportunity for a family outing and picnic. They brought along their picnic baskets filled with rolls, coffee and tea for breakfast, blankets to snuggle under when it gets cold, collapsible chairs to seat on and even champagne to celebrate. They looked like they were having a good time.

There is a society specifically for the Landshuter Hochzeit and I was told that only people whose origins can be traced to Landshut in the Middle Ages are allowed to join it. A person would basically have to prove that his or her family tree is connected to the original inhabitants of Landshut in the medieval times. Only members of this society are allowed to dress up in their medieval costumes and take part in the activities during this festival. Not only that, their costumes also reflect the status of their ancestral families. Most are dressed up as peasants but there are some who dress up as nobles, indicating that they were a family of nobles during the Middle Ages. This requirements keeps a sense of authenticity in the Landshuter Hochzeit that is unlike other medieval festivals.

Next, we made our way up the hill towards a former fort. But that's for the next post.

Landshuter Hochzeit

A colleague of mine told me about the Landshut Wedding or better known as Landshuter Hochzeit a few weeks ago. The Landshuter Hochzeit is a medieval festival that is celebrated once every four years in Landshut, which is a city in the state of Bavaria. It is one of the most famous and as far as I know, the largest medieval festival in Germany. As you can guess, there are other medieval festivals in Germany as well. During the Landshuter Hochzeit, the city and its folks turn back time to the middle ages. People dress up in medieval costumes, set up huts and stalls typical of those times, parade through the city playing music, perform juggling acts and so forth. They become a medieval community. You can read up more about this festival here.

This year, the Landshut Wedding was celebrated from the 27th of June till the 19th of July. I was very keen to visit the festival when I heard about it from my colleague just as my wife was when I relayed those very same details to her. It sounded like a rare opportunity that we ought not to miss. So, we decided that we would visit it the coming weekend. Initially, we had planned to visit the festival on Saturday. However, the weather forecast didn't look good and we eventually decided to shift our visit to Sunday - which was a smart thing to do since it was raining all day on Satuday.

We got up at 6 am on Sunday. We told ourselves the night before that we would only make the trip if the weather was good. So, when I got up, I immediately looked out of the window to check the weather. It was pretty sunny - that was the green light. We quickly took our shower, packed our things and were out of our apartment by 7. The train we planned to take to Landshut was leaving at 7:44 am. We got to the main train station in time, bought some breakfast and hopped onto the train. The train ride was only about 45 mins and we reached Landshut's main train station at about 8:30 am.

We looked around for a bus that would take us to the location of the festival. The first bus only came at about 9:10 and so, we had to wait for a while, which wasn't too bad since the weather was pretty nice. As soon as the bus arrived, we jumped on board and reached our destination in less than 10 minutes. We were warmly greeted by three medieval men in one of the stalls. You can see their "we found them" look in the picture here. One of them insisted on having my wife put on a helmet and carry a spear for me to photograph. After some hesitation she agreed to it. The shots turned out well. We then continued on our way towards the "old city", which is where the parades and the crowd are.

I'll stop now and continue in the next post. Stay tuned.

More from Nymphenburg Palace

I've finally finished working on the remaining pictures from my visit to Nymphenburg Palace a few weeks ago. You can check them out on my Picasaweb album by clicking here. Feel free to drop me your comments.

The objective of my visit to Nymphenburg Palace this time was primarily to take some nice photos of this beautiful place. I'm pretty content with the results I got. In my opinion, most of the shots turned out pretty well. I have published a post on my Shutteria blog about some of the High Dynamic Range (HDR) shots I took that day. You can check out that post via this link. In the near future, I hope to publish more posts about the technicalities of the other shots I took that day at Nymphenburg Palace as well.

I hope you enjoy the photos.