Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Day of Happy Coincidences

We woke up to a lovely day in Interlaken. It was only in daylight that we realised how beautiful Interlaken really is.

The original plan was to engage in some some outdoor activities that Interlaken's beautiful landscape is famously suited for - water rafting, para gliding, hiking, cycling, swimming, and so on. However, something cropped up for Ms Rehau which took up a large part of the morning, and so we decided to spend the day leisurely instead. We walked to Coopers, a huge supermarket beside the train station where we purchased food to last the stay here - lots of bread, nutella, yummy Swiss chocolates and slices of ham.

Venturing out of the hostel, we were enthralled by the loveliness of Interlaken's natural surroundings. Don't just take my word for it, look at the pictorial evidence below!

A boat terminal just across the river of our hostel

One of the residents of the river by the hostel

This is the bicycle barricade that misled us the night before
Doesn't seem so foreboding in daylight

The most intricate and beautiful spiderweb I've ever seen

The railway track that passes the dirt path to our hostel

Breakfast-ing alfresco style

The front lawn of our hostel

After a simple but satisfying breakfast, we took a bus to the nearby Interlaken West. Interlaken West is a bustling town centre with a good number of shops to satiate our shopping urge. In the horizon, we spied the Alps, and in an open field just beside the stretch of shops, some adventurous souls were para-gliding in the skies above. I'm actually raring to try it out, but when we found out the price, well...... let's just say that at the time it seemed really expensive, but in retrospective, I am regretting not trying it out. =(

Anyway, the weather was sunny and breezy at the same time, hence it was the most opportune time to spend the day outdoors (although it was merely strolling and shopping on our part).

As we were intending to visit Jungfrau, the highest peak in Europe, we made inquiries at the tourist centre for more information. According to the weather forecast, it seems there's a chance that it would rain the following day. Boo! Not that it's going to deter us in any way! We would still take our chances, since we didn't have much time in Interlaken.

Since it would be cold up the Alps (close to zero degree celsius), we were worried that we weren't adequetely garbed to face the cold up there. And so, excuse to shop for warm clothes (and boots for me)! Finding boots was particularly important for me, as I was the only one who did not bring appropriately covered shoes to protect the feet. I packed only a pair of sandals and mary janes, never once occuring to me that I would be traipsing the alps. Fortunately, I found a cute checked pair of fabric boots from an accessory shop called Claire's. It was reasonably priced at CHF 36, how could I resist?

Bicycles are common along the streets of Interlaken

Para-gliders above the open field in the town centre

Close up of a para-glider with Ms Rehau's 10x zoom camera - how cool is that?

Yes, I'm quite mesmerized by Mr Lee Dong Gun

Resting for a short tea break, Mr Irish gave lessons in scarf tying 101

There were numerous watch shops along the streets, and we couldn't help but be drawn by them. After all, this is Switzerland, home of the watchmakers. We spent the bulk of our time at a particular watch shop, dazzled by the watches there. I very nearly dropped CHF 1.3k for an exquisite Rado watch. It was exceptionally elegant and well-crafted, who can blame me, right? So did Ms Rehau, who wanted to buy a watch for her brother. In the end, we reined ourselves in, and left the shop empty handed, but not before promising to consider carefully. It helps that the service at this shop was impeccable. Even though we did not buy anything in the end, the staff were still unfailingly polite. One is a Japanese lady, and the other is Taiwanese girl. How delightful to meet such diverse nationalities in Europe!

Mr Irish, who had no interest in watches, got himself a Swiss army knife. I kind of regretted not getting one for myself. After all, Switzerland is not only the land of watches, but also the land of Swiss army knifes, chocolates and cheese fondue (ok, I'm getting out of point here)!

Along the road outside the casion, we spotted a bus load of Asian students. It turns out that they were students from Anglo Chinese Junior College students from back home. What are the chances that after globe trotting halfway round the world, you would find your countrymen in the very same town that you are? Small, small world it is, indeed. It seems the students were in Interlaken to perform in a concert held at the casino.

With the mountains serving as the backdrop of the casino, it was nothing short of resplendent. I haven't been to many casinos in my lifetime (only Crown Casino in Melborne and Genting Highland's casinos), but this has got to be the most charming I've ever seen. It doesn't even look like a casino, it looks like a botanical garden.

Casino Interlaken's charming sun dial

The mountains were a wonderful backdrop

As you can see, the casino's grounds are extremely well-manicured

Mr Irish attempts to raise the fountain to phenomenal heights from sheer mental strength

This is my favourite shot of the para glider, taken by Ms Rehau's fantastic camera.
Of course, her skill and steady hands deserves most credit
. It's so worthy of National Geographic, right?

For the next few days, when making our way back to our hostel, we would never fail to capture pictures along the way. The picturesque scenery is that alluring.

The dirt path back to the hostel

Closer look at the railway track running across the dirt path. When the train passes by, it's quite deafening.

The sun's setting

The peak shines golden as the sun sets

The hostel facade (River Lodge)

That night, when I stepped out of the girl's shower, I saw this clueless guy walk in nochalantly and was about to step into one of the stalls, when I stopped him. Hello?? Is he trying to pull a fast one?

"Ahem..... this is the girl's shower", I told him. Taken aback and non-plussed, he retreated and left, while I am left wondering - doesn't he know how to read, and did he really think this is a unisex bathroom? Anyway, the point is, after I told him off, guess who should step into the bathroom next?

It was one half (the elder sister) of the Korean sisters that we met and shared a room with while in Rome! I must say, we have some kind of an affinity with each other. We met them again while on the streets of Florence and now here, in the same hostel in Interlaken!?! It seems that there were many other Koreans staying at this hostel. Since we were largely moving around the same circles (i.e., touring the same countries), it is apt that we should meet each other again, even though the timing was unplanned. Such a happy coincidence! We chatted for a bit before retiring for the night.

After 2 coincidences in a day, I hypothesize that the world is small. hah!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ms Grinch

How not to become Ms Grinch during this feel-good season of love, joy and peace?

1. Ogle at plethora of christmas decors in shopping malls.

Guess where are these taken?

2. Take pictures of these decors for wallpapering your mobile phone. So that you can't help but get into that X'massy mood every time you look at your phone.

3. Indulge in retail therapy to cheer yourself up and get rid of Grinch tendencies.

Unwilling to part with $99 for this dress that I hanker after. :-(

4. Donate all your soft toys to charity for children to regain feel-good factor and get rid of Grinch tendencies.

5. When all else fails, pretend that X'mas isn't here by staying home for the season (and try to ignore that X'mas count down going on at your neighbour's house next door).

NOT in the mood for X'mas, but trying not to become Ms Grinch

Monday, December 8, 2008

Getting lost at night in a foreign land is no fun at all

You may be wondering about the title of this post. Well, as you can easily guess, we had some difficulties finding our close-to-nature hostel in Interlaken.

Interlaken is a district in the Bernese Oberland, the highland area of the state of Berne, Switzerland. Being the oldest tourist resort in Switzerland, coupled with its close proximity to the Swiss Alps, Interlaken is the perfect place to catch the first glimpse of the splendours of Switzerland. Here in Switzerland, the people are mostly German speaking, which presented a n excellent opportunity for Ms Rehau to practice her German. Fortunately for non-German speaking Mr Irish and myself, the Swiss speak good English too.

To get to Interlaken from Venice, we had to take a train to Spiez station and switch trains to get to Interlaken. Our hostel is situated at Interlaken Ost (which means east in German), whereas the Interlaken city centre is at Interlaken West (approx 20 mins' walk) from Ost.

Marvelous scenery along the way - trains are truly a wonderful way to travel in Europe

Spiez station, awaiting for train to Interlaken

Splendid mountains just behind the station-where else can you ever find such a view?

At Spiez station, we weren't sure which side of the train platform to wait for the next connecting train. I guess our confusion was quite apparent, because this elderly and genteel man approached us and directed us to the correct platform, without us asking him. So helpful! I must say, my first impression of the Swiss was a very pleasant one indeed.

When we reached Interlaken Ost, it was already quite late, and getting dark. Following the directions given by the hostel, we walked past a small park, across a bridge that got us across a large river and came to a dirt path, which seemed to lead to the hostel as indicated by the hostel's directions. When we followed the path, obstructing us, were barricades for bicycles, which we could have gotten past rather easily. Perhaps, psychologically, the barricades seemed to impede our sense of direction, and we turned back, thinking that we got the wrong path and walked further up and along an up sloping road. There were no buildings in sight that remotely resembles a hostel, except perhaps a very creepy looking wooden lodge up on a hill.

By this time, we were rather tired, especially after trudging up and down slope with our luggages, and Ms Rehau tried to call the hostel. Fortunately, despite being so late (I think it was close to 10pm), the hostel picked up the call and told us to go straight ahead along the dirt path we abandoned earlier! *faint*

Following the dirt path, which runs parallel along the creek, we finally found the hostel! Late at night, it was hard to discern the hostel's appearance. or its surroundings We did come accross some friendly hostelites, some American guys who chose to pitch their tents on the compounds of the hostel instead of sleeping in the hostel's rooms.

Though it wasn't exactly the most pleasant first night in Switzerland, I expect the next days to be much, much better! And I was right, by the way. More photos in the next post to prove! =)

Even the air smells fresher in Switzerland. haha.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sneak preview to Picturesque Switzerland

I've procrastinated quite awhile for my post for Switzerland, because I wanted to devote lots of time to writing and perfecting it, but unfortunately, not having the time to write it.

It's my absolute favourite part of the journey, and the pictures taken there were by far, one of the most beautiful (whether you're a seasoned or amateur photographer).

To whet your appetite just a bit, here're some National Geographic worthy snapshots taken of Switzerland. It's from a cool Swiss themed notebook that my friend Emi gave me. Thanks! =)

Now I think these pictures may just usurp the grandeur of our pictures....hmmm.... Well, nevermind, now you know how lovely Switzerland is.

Eager to start posting on Switzerland, but not having the time to. =(

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Singapore Biennale 2008 Part II - Inspiring

City Hall is a stately building, and is also the site of the former Supreme Court. Imagine what greeted us when we strode towards the stairs leading to the first exhibit?

Fibre glass maggots given the red carpet treatment

Surprisingly, when these creepy crawlies are blown up 100 times their natural size, they don't seem so creepy to me. In fact, they look kinda cute. haha. The volunteer guide mentioned that someone bought the fibre glass maggots for a few thousand SGD a-piece. Perhaps that someone found them cute too. =)

We saw a good many more interesting and/or aesthetically appealing exhibits.

Painstakingly moulded by the artist daily to achieve these humanoid faces on the gourds

Other than being cheap practical furniture, we now know there's another use for Ikea furniture

A pelican and a scooter, supposedly unravelling into a ball of yarn
, which it did not really become, after the Biennale ended

Solitary figures in salt mines look strangely mesmerising

Oops I know I took like, tons of snapshots of these salt mine pictures. The piece is titled "The Wreck of Men", by artist, Charly Nijensohm, who took these pictures without manipulating them digitally. In such wondrously beautiful natural landscapes, the figures look like they're floating. Yes, I'm enamoured by them.

Photos that resemble Renaissance oil paintings. They have an ethereal quality to them.

Another favourite exhibit in City Hall is this Blackfield piece by Ben-David Zadok, born in Yemen, based in UK.

Black on one side....

Vibrantly coloured on the other side

Floating book about Philosophy in perspex, entitled "Bachelor - The Dual Body"

Aptly titled, "Teratoma II: War of the Worlds" by Leroy New

A series of video stills of Northern Europe landscape with text from a book characterises "Beyond Recognition" by Malaysian artist, Nadiah Bamadhaj

Intriguing optical illusion, which is probably better seen in person. Even on video, the illusion isn't that obvious. The car looks like its wheels are turning, as you move sideways while looking at it. It's pretty cool.

All in all, I was impressed by the Biennale and resolve to give other art museums on our lil' island a try.

Inspired and impressed, I'd go for the next Biennale, I promise!


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