Tag Archives: architecture

Arrival in Kuching: first impressions

The Scoot flight from Singapore to Kuching landed a little after 9 pm on a Monday night. The money exchange bureau at the airport was closed  but a taxi driver accepted Singaporean dollars. Our journey to the Waterfront Hotel started. Everything looked much more developed than we had expected, and Kuching seemed like a big town. Everything felt very different from what we had seen on our previous trips. There seemed to be a balanced mixture of traditionalism (ancient temples etc) and modernity (fast-food chains etc). There is a French word “dépaysant”, which loosely translated means “exotic, unfamiliar”, and this is indeed how we felt. IMG_0369.JPGThe check-in at the Waterfront Hotel was friendly and professional. We were very hungry but the only way to eat was to order room service (overpriced, especially the beer, but tasty). Our room was clean, modern yet a bit bland. The room could have been in any of the world’s 4-star hotels.

Like often, everything looked brighter in the morning. We really liked our view.

There was the Indian neighborhood on the left, the 19th-century Old Court House Complex in front of our hotel, the old Chinatown on the right, and more hotels on the far right.  The majestic Sarawak river calmly flew in front of us.

Unfortunately after the breakfast we realized our daughter had fever. It kept coming and going during three days but stopped -as a doctor we had consulted had suggested- as abruptly as it had started after 72 hours. This however made us lose a few days so during her sick days we only walked around in different parts of Kuching and met our guide-to-be James to plan an efficient program for the rest of our stay. The elections that took place in Malaysia during our stay added an extra element of excitement to our already adventurous journey. The streets remained calm in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak but many places were closed and everyone we met was holding his breath while waiting for the results.  IMG_0478We ended up staying one full week in Kuching. During the first days we kept wondering whether we should move to another hotel or not. We usually like smaller hotels with a bit more charm combined with local touch, and the Waterfront Hotel just felt a bit dull. In the end we decided not to change: the staff was very friendly and the breakfast was great, but more about this in another post!

Kuching grew on us. We loved the fact that there was no tourist invasion. We were literally on the other side of the planet. A lot of the times it was only us and the locals. In retrospect I can say that Kuching was so different from anything else we had seen before that it took some time to get adjusted. On the other hand this is exactly what I love about traveling and why we travel –the goal for us is to find places that are “dépaysant” (exotic, unfamiliar, new, fresh, different…) and Kuching was all of that and beyond. We loved Kuching.

More detailed posts to come about accommodation, eating, sightseeing. Stay tuned!

Previous posts about our journey (in chronological order):

May travel dilemma

Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

Fabulous and stylish Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong

Fabulous and stylish Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong

This hotel review could be very short because one sentence could sum it all up: we absolutely adored Indigo Hotel Katong Singapore! It probably is the most stylish, originally decorated hotel I have ever stayed at. We slept there for three nights in the beginning of our journey and loved it so much that we returned for one last night on our way from Borneo to Paris. I would love to return to Singapore just for Indigo Hotel and I believe we will do so very soon!

***Click the photos to see captions***

LOCATION, NEIGHBORHOOD & GETTING AROUND

Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong is located in a charming neighborhood called Katong, home to fascinating and diverse Peranakan culture. The neighborhood is both residential and touristic, but we definitely felt that we were getting a very authentic experience. There are some really great (some very cheap) restaurants withing a walking distance but those looking for a more “Western experience” will also find what they need.

We loved Singapore because of Katong and our hotel, as simple as that.

 

The drive from the airport takes 10-15 minutes and costs 10-20 SGD (6-12€). If your taxi driver doesn’t know newly-opened Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong, tell him it is next to Holiday Inn Hotel.

There are many buses that take you from the hotel to the city center, i.e. number 31 and 32. The duration of the ride depends where you want to go but to give you an idea, Marina Bay Sands can be reached in 25 minutes. There is no metro near the hotel.

RESERVATION & PRICE

For the best price go here: https://www.ihg.com/hotelindigo/hotels/gb/en/singapore/sinki/hoteldetail

If you aren’t already, become a member of IHG Rewards Club, which by the way is the world’s largest hotel loyalty program. We compared prices and got a very good deal by booking directly. Breakfast was included. If you have any questions, click “Need help?” at the bottom of the website and you can chat with an assistant. We did this to get clarifications about taxes (10% + 7%), the cost of a child and the membership. The person who helped us was very professional and fast. Both of our reservations were very last minute (less than one week before arrival) and we paid around 130€ per night (2 adults and a child, breakfast and taxes included).

ROOMS

We stayed in two different rooms. We asked for a room with a view and on a higher floor and these photos are from our first room on the 12th floor (room number 1205).  All the rooms look pretty much the same but the main difference is that some have a view on the Peranakan houses (East Coast Road) and some look at Holiday Inn Hotel. We preferred the city view but the other one is not bad either.

 

There are many little well thought-through details. The drawing on the wall behind the bed. Beautiful cement tiles. Shower that looks right outside (you should use window shades while showering). Some rooms have a round bath tub. A feet-washing bowl with nice products. Traditional candies served in glass jars. The list goes on. There is a complimentary handy, a cellular phone guests can use during their stay. I used it for maps and making free phone calls to Borneo. Fantastic!

 

BREAKFAST

The breakfast was a delight. It consists of a buffet, fixed menu of classical dishes like eggs Florentine, but in addition there were three regional dishes every day. What a great way to discover Asian delicacies! We enjoyed exotic fruits, creative fresh juices like watermelon mixed with beetroot, and tasting laksa, nasi lemak and Singaporean signature snack kaya toast. Coffee selection was excellent.

 

Breakfast is served in the premises of Baba Chews restaurant that we never tried, but every time we walked by in the evening it was crowded. Hotel guests enjoy discount while dining and wining at Baba Chews (http://babachews.com.sg).

SERVICE

Impeccable. Once again, I do not have anything to add. We had questions about buses, restaurants, sites, shopping, medical care, Ramadan –you name it, and each time we were answered with patience and smile.

When we returned to Singapore for our last night, the flight landed really early making us arrive at Hotel Indigo before 11am. “No problem, we have a room for you and we won’t charge for the early check-in” the young man at the reception told us.

SWIMMING POOL

We used the pool a lot, morning, afternoon and evening. It was very pretty to watch sun sets from the infinity pool (the pool closes at 9pm). The music was cool, not too loud. Clientele was very discreet, young’ish and chic. Locals, Asians, French, Canadians… It felt like The Place To Be In.

There is a gym next to the pool but we didn’t try it.

 

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS

Very child friendly! Our three-year old daughter slept for free with us. She didn’t pay anything for breakfast. Every morning she was given a plastic plate with a mug and cutlery. They brought her black olives even when they were not part of the breakfast buffet. The chef customized her pancakes. High chairs were naturally available. Our daughter napped approximately from 1pm to 3pm and we were allowed to keep the room until she woke up, so instead of checking out at the midday we got extra three hours for free. They gave her an origami butterfly and always addressed her with kindness. The coffee table in the room was very practical and perfect for her size. She would sit on the sofa and draw, read or play. She loved Hotel Indigo and was inspired by atmosphere. And you know what they say? Happy child, happy parents!

PROS & CONS

+Close to the airport (10-15 minutes by taxi)

+Authentic, charming neighborhood called Katong

+Opened in 2016, everything is new and works like a dream including Internet

+Creative, cool and stylish decoration

+Awesome breakfast

+Beautiful infinity pool

+Superb service (reservation, reception, room service, breakfast, pool…)

+Room comes with a handy, a cellular phone you can use while staying at the hotel. Local and some international calls are free!

-Honestly I cannot think of anything negative. Some people could argue that the location is not ideal (metro is quite far away), but being in between the city center and the airport was ideal for us. And as you now know, we love Katong and would not stay elsewhere. However, a shuttle bus (maybe in partnership with the next door Holiday Inn Hotel?) to the city center would be a nice gesture!

TIP! Ask for a room with a view on the Peranakan houses (East Coast Road side).

Previous posts (in chronological order):

May travel dilemma

Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka

Dodanduwa and Dalawella were perfect beach destinations to recover from jetlag and wind down, but after a few days we wanted to see more of Sri Lanka. As we had decided to completely skip the Cultural Triangle, it was all the more important for us to visit those few religious sites that exist along the southern coast and Kataluwa Purwarama Temple was one of them.IMG_4463.JPGWe had a bit of hard time finding the temple as our driver had never been there before. Upon arrival only silence greeted us. All the doors were closed and apart from some school children and birds, nobody was around. Eventually our driver found a monk  who he lives in a house (monastery) below, located sort of behind the pagoda. He kindly opened the door for us (pay attention to his massive golden key featured in the photo!) and we entered a very beautiful, peaceful shrine full of Kandyan-style murals dating from the 19th century. The monk spoke very good English and gave us a private tour. For a moment it was just the monk, his eighteen dogs, Buddha statues, some Hindu gods (Vishnu, Kataragama, etc) and us. A beautiful, spiritual moment, indeed a refreshing break from the beach life.

In addition to Buddhist tales, the paintings depict the 19th life and even Queen Victoria can be found in the wall paintings. Guide books (Routard, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide) and Internet do not seem to agree on the history of this temple that some say dates from the 13th century, so I am not going to go into this. All I can say is that the temple is definitely worth a visit! And while you are in the area, stop by at Ahangama to see the stilt fishermen.

PS Naturally there is no entrance fee but donations are appreciated. We left 500 Sri Lankan rupees for the monk and he seemed very pleased.

***

Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

 

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Due to some last minute cancellations, we had no taxi reserved upon landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport at 4 a.m. We prepared ourselves for some serious negotiating but that was not necessary: as soon as we walked into the arrival hall, there were several companies offering taxi services with prices written on sign boards. We used the Bandaranaike International Airport Taxi Service (when you arrive, the first company on your right) and the fixed price to Dodanduwa was 8740 Sri Lankan rupees (about 55€/58USD) for an AC van. In addition we paid 300 and 400 rupees for the use of two highways: Colombo-Katunayake Expressway and Southern Expressway. Plus some tip.

My husband and our daughter fell asleep very soon while I watched the night turn into morning. Black became pink, moist air created fog and I could see silhouettes of birds against a rising sun. It was all very pretty and I wondered if this is what the depiction of Garden of Eden looks like.

img_4056

Depiction of Garden of Eden? No, just a typical image taken on the Southern Expressway on the way to Dodanduwa.

Sea Shine Guesthouse, where we arrived three hours later, turned out to be exactly or even better than we had imagined. Our room was very clean, came with a mosquito net and direct sea view. Like often in Sri Lanka (based on what we saw during our 15-day trip), the bathroom was the weakest part of the room, but it was clean and that was the main thing. We had reserved a non-AC room and as the house was built according to traditional Sri Lankan style, there was natural ventilation (but very few mosquitoes!) making it very nice to fall asleep while listening to the ocean.

Breakfast options were either Western or Sri Lankan and we opted for the latter (but it had to be ordered the night before). Delicious! We moved very little from our hotel, just wanted to relax, so we had lunch and dinner every day at the hotel. Mr. Sunil’s (the owner of the guesthouse) son Roshan took care of the cooking together with his mother, and everything was fresh, tasty and copious. We ate everything and never had any problem… Our daughter became a big fan of pappadums and expanded her palate to devilled chicken, fried noodles, grilled lobster, octopus, stringhoppers, dal, pumpkin curry and sambar.

IMG_4256.JPG

Missing this breakfast! Chef Roshan’s dal was particularly delicious!  

In overall, we had a relaxing and lovely stay at Sea Shine Guesthouse. Of course it is a homestay, do not expect 5-star service, but we felt that the family went out of their way to make our stay comfortable. They played with our daughter, they taught her how to feed aquarium fish and always made sure she had what she needs for meals. There is no high chair but we had ours.  In terms of sightseeing, there are a turtle hatchery nearby in Kosgoda (we didn’t visit),  Galle (we visited from our next destination) and Hikkaduwa (we took a tuk tuk and returned by the beach). We appreciated the fact that there are some activities and towns nearby, but that the location of our guesthouse was very quiet (Hikkaduwa beach is very busy!). The beach was super clean, there were no beach boys and at night we only heard waves. Perfect! My husband went for a swim but I didn’t dare. I don’t estimate that the beach is safe for children to swim in, but most of the beaches in Sri Lanka aren’t. One should always ask locals what the sea condition is that specific day (sadly, a tourist drowned during our stay in Dodanduwa).

Should you be interested in Sea Shine Guesthouse, I recommend you to contact them directly. I didn’t get response to my email, so the best is to contact them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sea-shine-Hikka-1548810175394587/ (type “Sea shine Hikka” on Facebook if the link doesn’t work)  or by WhatsApp / cellular phone +94-71-9725703. Facebook and WhatsApp messages are responded by Mr. Sunil’s friendly daughter Dily (say hello from me 🙂 ). We (2 adults and a toddler) paid 5500 Sri Lankan rupees per night for a nice non-AC room (number 2), including breakfast, and in the end we were given the room for 5000 rupees. Websites like Booking.com etc have higher prices, so contact the guesthouse directly!

Sea Shine Guesthouse: http://www.seashinehikkaduwa.com

To read the first post about our Sri Lanka trip, see Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

 

Palermo with a baby?

Prior to booking tickets to Sicily we were hesitating between the western and the eastern part of the island. We would not be able to do everything Sicily has to offer, so better stick with just one side of the island we thought. After a brief (read: shallow) consideration, we bought tickets to Palermo. Delicious, distinctive street food and a bit of history, here we come! So we thought.

Palermo

Antica Focacceria San Francesco, a Palermitano institution, is a wonderful place to taste local delicacies.

In total, our trip in Sicily was going to last 12 days. We reserved two first nights at Grand Hotel et Des Palmes (a local institution, right in the center of Palermo), assuming that we will definitely want to stay longer. The plan was to eventually continue by a rental car from Palermo to one or two other destinations, preferably by the sea. After we had seen “everything” in Palermo…..

Palermo is a city full of history and art. Be prepared for a lot of walking!

Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is full of history and art. Be prepared for a lot of walking!

One week later (am writing this from San Vito Lo Capo) I am sorry to acknowledge that our two-night stay in Palermo was more than enough. We are very happy that we hadn’t reserved more nights. In fact we could not wait to leave Palermo behind us. Why? Do not get me wrong, Palermo surely offers a zillion things to do and see, but it was not the right choice for us traveling with a five month old baby. Below is a list of my/our impressions!

Only crazy tourists in Palermo with an ultra-Parisian stroller? (ok, we had a baby carrier too)

Only crazy tourists in Palermo with an ultra-Parisian stroller? (ok, we had a baby carrier too)

  1. Palermo is much bigger (and chaotic) than I expected. The greater Palermo has over one million inhabitants, making it the fifth most populated city (with its surroundings) in Italy. My fault, didn’t do my research well enough. I expected more small streets leading to cute piazzas, but streets we saw were big, noisy and very polluted. The potential of the seaside in Palermo is not used as it could be argues the urban architect in me.
Streets of Palermo are busy. Humidity combined with pollution makes walking quite unpleasant...

Streets of Palermo are busy. Humidity combined with pollution makes walking quite unpleasant…

2. In order to really understand and enjoy Palermo one needs to visit museums, churches, historical monuments etc., but how many museums do parents with a (crying) small baby usually visit…? Trying to get a feel of this fascinatingly multicultural city just by looking at the walls didn’t make us much more knowledgeable about Palermo’s rich past.

See the names? Signs like this show the rich and complex history of Palermo.

See the names? Signs like this show the rich and complex history of Palermo.

3. Our hotel choice was a big mistake. More about that later, but we should have searched outside the city, for example in Mondello, a nearby beach town, and just do day trips to Palermo.

This said, our stay in Palermo was not a great success. I am still beating myself up while asking “what did you think of bringing a small baby (with precious lungs) into a big city like Palermo?”. One week later I am still wondering how much of this feeling comes from the fact that we are very tired (accumulation of months’ fatigue…) and how much of it really is because of Palermo. Would I have liked Palermo more should I have gone there before the baby? Who knows. I think someone once called Palermo a rough diamond and I could not agree more. Just that when traveling with a baby one normally looks for smooth and not rough places (lol).

Miami, here we come!

In less than five days I will be swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and I cannot tell you how great it already feels! Even if this fall has not been that rainy in Paris, I love the idea of soaking up the sun and playing with the waves. The importance of annual winter sun therapy cannot be exaggerated!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

When we decided to go away in late November, we hesitated between different destinations. It was not easy. If you want to be able to swim in warm water, and do not want to travel all the way to Asia or Africa, the options are quite limited for us living in Europe. We contemplated between Dubai combined with Oman, and Miami, and finally decided on the latter. Tickets cost more to Miami than Dubai (and I won’t be able to fly my favorite aircraft A380…) but seaside hotels are cheaper. In addition, there are great shopping opportunities in the US. Of course one finds almost everything  in Dubai, too, but who does not love American outlets? Especially when we are about to hit the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales!

I have been to Miami and Florida before, but for some reason I am particularly excited about it this time around. I am getting into my bling bling mode and searching my wardrobe for dresses with matching shoes and bags to wear. What I know about Miami is that no dress is too extravagant! After all, I will be competing with southern American beauties so I have to look my best (lol).

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Ok, now that I have disappointed you with my superficial side, I am going to tell you that I won’t be walking around in high heels all day long. Our current plan is to stay maybe one week in Miami and then head somewhere else for the second week. If we run into Donald Trump and he is about to sail to the Bahamas (does he sail?), we wouldn’t say no to an invitation. We may also check out the Mexican Gulf (the islands near Fort Myers etc.), something we haven’t done before. We will probably return to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The last time we snorkeled there some people in our group spotted hammerheads! However, unfortunately and according to my knowledge, snorkeling is not possible at the moment in Biscayne National Park…

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world's most famous art deco district.

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world’s most famous art deco district.

So, I am a fan of Miami and Florida, yes. When I first visited Miami just over two years ago, I was prepared to stay just one full day in Miami and then head to the Keys for the rest of the week. I admit that I thought Miami would be too artificial, too flashy, and I would have never thought that someone as intellectual as I consider myself to be (second lol) could fall in love in Miami. But I did. I loved the beach life, loved southern American fusion food (Bolivar: South American Fusion Food in Miami Beach), loved the art and architecture, and the people. I have worked a lot with Americans in the past and I just love that simplicity, straight to the point attitude, and their marketing and communications skills. So, during our last trip we spent 5 wonderful days at the Park Central Hotel in Miami South Beach and 3 nights in the Keys. Such a wonderful trip  it was. That time it was for my husband’s birthday, now it will be mine. I am very confident that Miami won’t disappoint me this time either –how could it?!

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

What do you think of Miami and Florida? What would you do if the only thing you had booked was a Paris-Miami return ticket and two weeks of time?  Any tips on great restaurants, things to do, hotels (all categories), snorkeling, etc.? Share your pearls with me please and I kindly than you in return.

Golden cupolas of Kiev

After publishing photos from the eastern Ukraine I got to thinking about my one-year stay in Kiev. Today I went through my photos from the Ukrainian capital, taken between 2005 and 2006, and here are some of the best shots of the famous golden cupolas that dominate the street view.

Kiev, the birthplace of Russia, is full of old Orthodox churches. Many of them are as old as Kyivan Rus.

Kiev, the birthplace of Russia, is full of old Orthodox churches. Many of them are as old as Kievan Rus’, making them more than 1000 years old.

...usually when visiting an orthodox (or any!) church you should cover your knees and shoulders...

…usually when visiting an Orthodox (or any!) church you should cover your knees and shoulders…

Orthodox churches dominate the street view in Kiev.

Wherever you look,  Orthodox churches dominate the street view in Kiev.

Golden cupolas against blue skies.

Golden cupolas against blue skies.

More golden cupolas against the otherwise grey city of Kiev.

More golden cupolas against the otherwise grey city of Kiev.

They do love blue color! One would almost think it has some symbolic value for the Orthodox church!

They do love blue color! One would almost think it has some symbolic value for the Orthodox church!

When life gets too hectic outside, there is always a place for a candle inside.

When life gets too hectic outside, there is always a place for a candle inside.

Some previous photos from Ukraine:

Photos of eastern Ukraine: part 1
Photos of eastern Ukraine: part 2
The Privoz market in Odessa

and more to come! Meanwhile, come and say hello on Twitter (@Miia_Niskanen), Instagram (Pearlspotting) or Facebook (Pearlspotting).