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24 July 2014

Temple Hopping Around Angkor

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to return to Cambodia, this time to Siem Reap, thanks to friends who got married there and were kind enough to invite us to join them in their celebrations.  Whilst we were there primarily for the wedding and festivities we could not go to Siem Reap and not take the opportunity to visit Angkor Wat and a few of the other temples too.

We therefore managed to set aside one day in our short trip to do this.  Whilst we could definitely go back and spend more time there, for a limited time period I think we did pretty well with what we did manage to see.  If you are planning visiting Angkor and the temples you can get various ticket options including one day (which is what we went for) and three day passes.  A helpful tip we were told is that if you buy your three day pass after 5pm it can be used for sunset viewing that day as well.  Everyone being issued with a ticket has to have their photo taken which is then included on the ticket.  So don't assume one of your party can go and buy for everybody.  Everybody planning to view the temples will need to be present at the time of purchasing so their photo can be taken.

After getting tickets our day began at the fortified city of Angkor Thom.  This is one of the largest of all the Khmer cities covering some ten square km in size.  It was founded by Jayavarman VII and it's believed it remained the capital until the 17th century.  At its height, the city is said to have boasted a population of perhaps one million!  This was at a time when the population of London was a mere 50,000.  At its height the city had houses, public buildings and palaces all constructed of wood.  This was because dwelling in bricks or stone was reserved for the Gods.  Naturally these buildings all decayed a long time ago leaving behind just a skeleton of a city largely made up of religious structures.


The Bayon

We entered into Angkor Thom through one of the huge gates that still surround it.  We approached the gate by crossing a road over a huge moat (far far bigger than any moat round castles in the UK) which is lined with statues on both sides.  The gate is crowned by four huge faces carved into the stone on each side of the tower.  The faces are said to closely resemble the known statues of Jayavarman VII.  Just seeing this first little bit blew me away, I knew then that it was going to be a very special day!

The Bayon

From this exciting beginning we went on to see our first proper temple of the day, The Bayon.  We actually got a sighting of Angkor Wat on our way to Angkor Thom but this was the first one up close so to speak.  The Bayon continues with the theme of Jayavarman VII's presence being everywhere as the towers here are also decorated with many likenesses of him.  The faces are visible from every angle and exude power but also seemed to me to have an expression of kindness about them as well.  

The Baphuon

After exploring the Bayon we then meandered across the open expanse of grass to the nearby Baphuon.  The Baphuon is a pyramidal representation of the mythical Mt Meru which is the home of the devas in Hindu mythology.  It was the state temple of the Yasodharapura (the name of the city) of King Udayadityavarman II and marked the centre of the city that existed before the construction of Angkor Thom.  As we stood on the viewing platform and looked at the outer buildings (in my photos below) I was really struck by how magnificent this and the other temples must have looked when they were a part of the active bustling cities of Angkor and of just how vast and grand these cities were.


View from The Baphuon

View towards The Baphuon

Before heading off to our next stop we walked alongside the Terrace of the Elephants towards the Terrace of the Leper King.  The Terrace of the Elephants is 300 metres long (running from The Bayon to the Terrace of the Leper King) and decorated with parading elephants.  This was used as a giant viewing stand for public ceremonies and also served as a base for the king's grand audience hall.  The Terrace of the Leper King is a massive terrace with a statue of  a possibly leprous king on top from which it takes its name.

Ta Prohm

After leaving here we made our way to Ta Prohm which I think was my favourite temple but also the busiest of all we visited.  That said though it is quite small in comparison and its ruined state meant everybody was more compacted within a confined space.  What I liked about Ta Prohm though was exactly this ruinous state, the jungle and nature have reclaimed back parts of the temple and the tree roots etc. that have spread into the walls have simply been left.  Its natural look for me conjured up images of explorers and ancient mysteries still to be solved. 

Ta Prohm was built from 1186 by Jayavarman VII and was one of his major temples.  Ta Prohm's original name was Rajavihara or 'the royal monastery'.  This temple was deliberately chosen to be left in its 'natural state' as an example of how most of Angkor looked on its discovery in the 19th century.   


Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Our last stop of the day was at Angkor Wat and just what can I say about this famous temple?  It was just as stunning as I imagined it would be and I was not disappointed.  It was built by Suryavarman II who reigned from 1113 - 1140 and who during his reign unified Cambodia and extended the Khmer influence across much of mainland South East Asia.  Angkor Wat was built at a similar time to many European Gothic cathedrals such as Notre-Dame and Chartres.  The temple was consecrated to the Hindu deity Vishnu and as well as being a temple it was also a city in its own right and originally included a royal palace and numerous other buildings.  

In case you did not know Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world and unlike the other Angkor temples etc. this one was never abandoned to the elements.  Again just like The Baphuon the central tower represents Mt. Meru with its surrounding smaller peaks.  This is in turn is surrounded by the continents (the lower courtyards) and the oceans (the moat).  

Despite being pretty tired (and very hot and sweaty) by this point we climbed and explored Angkor Wat thoroughly, taking in all that it had to offer.  It was incredible to be there, somewhere I never could have imagined seeing for myself.  We had originally planned to visit another temple after this but by this point we were tired, but incredibly happy, after our day of exploring and instead decided to retire for the day back to our hotel.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Looking back at my day I still can't quite believe I actually got the chance to see what I did.  As I mentioned these were places I never imagined I'd ever be seeing in real life and I'm not sure I can ever really do them justice here.  There is always that little bit of worry when visiting somewhere that you've heard so much about and are seemingly so familiar with that it might be a little underwhelming in reality but this was definitely not the case with Angkor.  I'm still only now appreciating just how lucky I am and what I did see!  I hope that perhaps someday I'll get the chance to return to see the temples I've seen in greater detail and some of the many others too.  Even if I don't though I know I'll always look back on this trip with a just a little bit of awe and amazement.

11 July 2014

Love and Friendship Chamber Concerts

Coming up at the Esplanade Recital Studio this September are a pair of chamber concerts which I'm sure will be of interest to you and your family, one concert being aimed at adults and one at children. 


Love and Friendship ~ Mendelssohn, the Schumanns and Brahms

8pm - Wednesday 24 September 2014 Esplanade Recital Studio

Be enthralled by the aching beauty and romantic melodies of Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann, and Brahms, delivered live by world-class musicians. Immerse yourself as we lead you on a carefully curated musical journey revealing the intertwining love and friendship between these German romantic greats.  Blink and you’'ll miss this one-day only performance!

The intimate Esplanade recital studio is the perfect venue for experiencing the chamber music presented by eminent Singaporean violinist Tee Khoon Tang, critically acclaimed pianist Sam Haywood who performs all over the world as soloist and duo partner to Joshua Bell, and one of Europe's finest young solo cellists Matthew Huber.



Love and Friendship ~ Mendelssohn, the Schumanns and Brahms - A Concert for Children

6pm - Sunday 28 September 2014 Esplanade Recital Studio

If you are 12 and under, and want to experience music up-close, ask questions, listen to accomplished musicians share about the music of great German Romantic composers and be entertained with fun musical games, then you are in for a wonderful treat.

Join eminent Singaporean violinist Tee Khoon Tang, UK cellist Matthew Huber and critically acclaimed British pianist Sam Haywood on a journey through love and friendship in this concert especially for children. We will explore some of the most beautiful and touching chamber music written by Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Brahms, which came forth out of their intense love for life, friendships, humanity and heavenly ideals.

Award-winning virtuoso Tee Khoon Tang is Singapore’s second recipient of the National Arts Council’s Violin Loan Scheme, playing a J.B. Guadagnini made in 1750. Sam Haywood is an acclaimed British pianist who performs all over the world as soloist and duo partner to Joshua Bell. Matthew Huber is one of Europe’s finest young solo cellists and chamber musicians. Having received elite music education and performed to audiences around the world, these musicians are now sharing their knowledge and expertise with the budding musician in you.

Admission is open only to children 12 and under. Parents, please grab a cup of tea or go for a round of shopping while your children soak up fifty minutes of great music and get themselves a fun world-class learning experience!



More details about the concerts, performers and where you can purchase tickets can be found here.

Check out violinist Tee Khoon Tang's Facebook page too.

06 July 2014

#worldcolors #worldcolours - June - Blue - What does blue mean to me?




I'm late again but June's colour was blue which reminds me of beautiful skies.  I adore seeing huge expanses of sky either dotted with clouds or completely cloudless.  I appreciate blue skies (though I also love the rainy days here too) even more now after the choking haze of June last year in Singapore.  I couldn't wait to see blue sky again after that.  Likewise the beautiful deep blue of skies at dusk and in the early evening always mesmerises me too. 

Here's a selection of some of my favourite blue skies.


Dusk over Bangkok
Blue sky and clouds reflected in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Blue sky over Lichfield cathedral, UK
Blue sky poking through the trees, Pinewoods, near Liverpool, UK

Blue sky through the Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore 
Spring time blue skies, summer is just around the corner! Hever Castle, Kent, UK
Casares, Spain

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands, Singapore 

If you missed any of my previous #worldcolours posts check them out here

18 June 2014

Red Dot Roaming - Damai LRT - Punggol Waterway

My latest Red Dot Roaming took me to Damai LRT station, OK it's not the MRT but it's close enough and very reminiscent of the Docklands Light Railway in London.  I went to the Damai LRT stop to visit the Punggol Waterway.  This was my first time to this area but I've been reading lots since that Punggol is fast becoming a popular spot on the island so maybe I'll be returning at some point to explore more.

The park though has four themes each catering to different users of the park.  These are the Nature Cove, Recreation Zone, Heritage Zone and Green Gallery.  I visited during the week and as, is often the case, when I do that there was barely a soul around.  The Punggol Waterway Park and My Waterway @ Punggol are joint agency projects between HDB and the National Parks.  Its aim being to turn Punggol town into a 'Waterfront Town' of the 21st Century.  Punggol was once a fishing village with pig and poultry farms and vegetable plantations.  The park therefore aims to make the most of what is left of this setting, combining some of what was already there with the new.  An interesting fact I've since learnt is that Punggol in Malay means, 'hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring them down to the ground'!  Quite impressive for one relatively short word.



My exploring began in what is the Heritage Zone of the Waterway.  As I walked around it was clear this was once a road and there is even a disused bus stop with the old sign still there.  The wall has some information about some of the nature that inhabits the area as well.  I've learnt since that this was indeed a stretch of the old Punggol Road, so this is one part where the old and new can be seen to have been combined.  Being a bit of a history fan I think this is a nice touch to the park, but although there was some information about the history of the area I would have liked a little bit more.  



The old bus stop and shelter


From the Heritage Zone I carried on walking along the river enjoying my peaceful afternoon stroll.  There are various bridges across the water allowing you to cross to either side at regular intervals.  I decided to walk on until I came to a convenient bridge at some stage, cross over and then walk back to the LRT station on the opposite bank.  

There aren't loads of different things to see along the way but nonetheless it's a pleasant place to go for a walk.  My walk did take me underneath railway lines which from subsequent investigation appear to be part of the Punggol LRT line not yet open due to insufficient development in the area.  When they are eventually opened I imagine the lines will provide some great views across the waterway and surrounding area.


The unopened Punggol Line LRT track above the Punggol Waterway

As my walk took me back towards the road and the LRT station I passed the Watersports Promenade with a boardwalk extending right out into the water.  You can see this in one of the photos further down in the post.  As I said there was hardly a soul around when I was there, I guess it is much busier on weekends!  One other thing that caught my attention on my walk were some fabulously decorated rubbish bins, making a pleasant change from just the regular bins you see in most places.





























Two of the many bins I spotted with interesting designs on them

I enjoyed my afternoon walking around the Punggol Waterway.  From what I've read since it certainly seems like a lot more is being done to make this whole area a 'go to' spot.  The old of the old Punggol Road mixed in with the new is a nice aspect to the park in my opinion.  A pleasant spot to visit if you happen to be in the area.




Damai LRT (PE7) is on the Punggol LRT line.  It can be accessed via Punggol MRT on the North South line (NS17).

16 June 2014

Barcelona

After, what is far too long, my husband has written another guest post for my blog.  Here's his account of his recent visit to Barcelona. 


I recently returned to the UK to visit my children (who live with their mother in Birmingham) and decided to spend a few days with them in the city of Barcelona.  I’d never been (nor had they) and given other circumstances I thought a trip would be worthwhile.  So flights were booked (EasyJet from Gatwick to Barcelona’s main airport) and a request for desired activities issued.  My sons are 10 and 13, the younger one wanted to eat ice cream and go to the beach, the older one wanted to do the stadium tour at the Nou Camp, FC Barcelona’s home, I wanted to see a church.



Arriving on Monday morning at about 10am we made our way to our hotel in a taxi from the airport (approximately 35 Euros).  The hotel was called Hotel Oriente, situated on Las Ramblas.  It's a very central place to stay that throngs with tourists and locals alike, with many restaurants, cafes and ice cream joints.  The hotel was charming in an old world way (very unlike the purely functional  business hotels I use in Asia) with friendly and helpful staff.


Las Ramblas
Our hotel


As we were early we could not check in immediately, so we deposited our bags at left luggage (having made the youngest change his t-shirt which had an obvious hot chocolate stain from brekkie in Jamie Oliver’s Café in Gatwick) and headed out for a wander and a look-see of our environs.  We walked down Las Ramblas towards the port area of town, passing a statue of Christopher Columbus stood atop a tall column looking eastwards out to sea, the base of the column is guarded by a series of cast iron lions.  We passed old colonial type buildings, into a marina area with expensive looking boats and yachts, where we decided to have an early lunch and the week’s first Spanish ice cream (one or two had been consumed over the previous weekend in the UK), finding a bar / café overlooking the water.  Lunch was, of course, tapas of bread covered in tomato sauce (not popular with the youngest), calamari and spicy potatoes with paprika mayo and fries, washed down with water, sprite and a San Miguel.


Christopher Columbus








After lunch, and still being early for our hotel check-in, we checked out one of the street cafes on Las Ramblas and started to plan the rest of our time in Barca.  This included plans for a trip on the cable car that straddles the harbour from the beach at Platja de Saint Sebastia to Montjuic (or Miramar), a visit to the beach (and a wander around the Olympic Harbour), a trip to FC Barcelona to view their (mere) four European Cups and a look see of Segrada Familia (the huge Gaudi-design Gothic / modern cathedral).  In the café, there was a waiter that looked like Adolf Hitler, so the place became a week long favourite with the expression, ‘let’s have a drink in Adolf’s’, serving big lemonades and litre-sized beers.



Once we checked in we discovered that we were unable to charge our communication devices, so a quest for an appropriate adapter plug was necessary. Additionally the sunny weather necessitated a purchase of some high factor sun cream, to protect the fairer skinned amongst us.  On this quest we discovered Placa Reial, a beautiful square just off Las Ramblas with wonderful old buildings and covered walkways.  On the ground floor of all the buildings were a series of restaurants and bars with residential apartments on the higher floors.  In the square ice cream number two was consumed and a decision made to have pizza that evening in one of the other restaurants in the corner of the square, called Roma.  The pizza turned out to be enormous and very tasty.


Placa Reial


Our hotel room rate did not include breakfast, so Tuesday started with a search for something to eat.  We ended up in a place called Café Gaudi (he’s everywhere in the city, literally everywhere there is reference to this famed architect, from his buildings to museums to, like in this case, cafes), where we munched upon Catalan baguettes filled with ham and cheese, chorizo and cheese or bacon, washed down with orange and apple juices and a very strong coffee.  After breakfast, we walked towards the cable car base, around the harbour viewing obscenely large boats, the Museum of Catalonia and the beach. 

The cable car station sits on the edge of the dock, next to a super yacht building yard with the passengers (or victims) having to ascend the metal framed structure towards the windowless cars.  The attraction opens at 11am, however we arrived around 10:30am and were therefore close to the front of the ticket line, for the three of us it was approximately 35 Euros (the place does not accept cards, so take cash).  At the top of the tower the cars await the intrepid explorers.  I’d recommend that you aim to get in the car first and therefore secure a window slot for the obligatory photo opportunities.  We missed this chance and observed that certain nationalities don’t move once their prime position has been secured (relatives of the aforementioned waiter, perhaps).  As the car starts off, it drops on the cables, causing a few mild gasps but then continues to the halfway point, a relay tower (arriving with a bump and a sway) before continuing towards Miramar.  The views from the cable car across the harbour and the city are spectacular allowing the passenger to view the sights of the city, with Segrada Familia in the distance, Gaudi’s other cathedral in the Gothic quarter and the harbour itself.  Upon arrival at the terminus we went to the café for an ice cream to sooth the shattered nerves of a small boy. The café also has excellent views of the city and is on the edge of a tranquil park dotted with Gaudi statues, beneath the Miramar Hotel (that looked far to swanky for us reprobates). 

After a pleasant wander we walked down the hill towards Las Ramblas for some lunch (cheese pizza baguettes), before we decided to walk to a big church (it did not look far on the map).  We walked down a series of medieval streets and stumbled across Gaudi’s first church attempt but continued for the space-ship shaped place of worship.  It was hot (ish), we got lost so we got a cab to Segrada Familia.  I am sure we did three laps of the city and it really was not that far away from our initial point of confusion.  On arrival we discovered that the inside was closed for a private concert that day but would re-open the next day, so we had a look around the outside.  This was a little of a disappointment, the older aspect of the unfinished building looks fantastic, whereas the under-construction part looks like a pure after-thought where no effort had be made to make the new bits look old.  The building is also a lot more unfinished than I expected.  We vowed to return to look inside (another story).  We grabbed a taxi and headed back to Las Ramblas, and more ice cream (and a beer).

Gaudi Cathedral

Segrada Familia
Miramar

View from the cable car
View from the cable car


Views from the cable car



In the evening we were back in Placa Reial for paella.  One  of the great things about Barcelona is that the restaurants serve paella for one, as opposed to a minimum of two as in other parts of Spain.

paella

It was determined that the next morning would be beach morning, so we wandered back around the harbour after breakfast near the hotel.  The beach itself is sandy with a few pebbles with the Med being quite cold at this time of the year (therefore we only paddled).  There were deck-chairs and sun-loungers for rental (6 Euros each per day) with a series of chaps selling beers and cocktails wandering the sands.  However, as it was before eleven I politely declined the mojitos, (although the young-ish girls next to us did not) as well as the Asian ladies offering foot and back massages, turned down on the basis that it would be cheaper and more painful in Bangkok and I don’t go there either.  After a couple of hours paddling, skimming stones across the waves and watching a fruit loop practicing his flamenco on the beach we decided to wander towards a giant fish like sculpture at the Olympic Marina, where we observed old men playing domino's on beach-side tables (one looked like Fabio Capello, but was not, clearly) and got a drink in that area.  Unfortunately, due to an unfortunate seagull incident we had to return to the hotel for an impromptu shower for the smallest member of our party (as you can probably guess a seagull pooped on him).

After lunch we decided to head back to Segrada Familia to look at the interior of the church, however the line was long and as we reached the front we were informed that tickets were sold out until at least 7pm.  Additionally, we had seen the entrance fees and restrictions on photography inside the church, so decided to bin the idea as bad value.  The next adventure was to attempt to use Barcelona’s underground railway to get back to Las Ramblas, having to change at least once during the process.  Much to the amazement of my eldest son we achieved our objective and celebrated with a drink and eventually yet another ice cream.

Upon our return to the hotel we bought tickets for our trip to the Nou Camp and Barcelona the next day.  It is quite expensive, approximately 25 Euros each and is not open on match days which is why we did not go the day before as we thought the team was playing in the Copa Del Rey (the Spanish Cup) but the game was in Valencia, not Barcelona.

Dinner was tapas in one of the Las Ramblas cafes, with fried croquettes of meat and potato, calamari rings, feta salad, chorizo, spicy potatoes and a Spanish omelette.

Tapas



On the Thursday we headed to FC Barcelona and the Nou Camp, asking the hotel manager how to get there.  He was upset as Barca had been beaten by Real Madrid in the cup final the night before and banned from buying players for two transfer windows following a breaking of transfer rules in Brazil, this ban is suspended at present on appeal.  The taxi to the Nou Camp took approximately 20 minutes in the morning traffic and cost approximately 20 Euros (quite steep, as it cost 11 Euros to get back a couple of hours later).  

Upon arrival in the museum you are ushered into the trophy room that shows the cups that have been won over the years since the club was founded by an Englishman who wanted a team to play the newly popular game of football around the turn of the century.  This heritage is still shown on the club crest with one segment of the heart represented by the flag of St George.  Within the room there are examples of the Copa Del Rey (not this years, as the game was conceded), La Liga Trophy (this is so enormous one player surely cannot lift it up),  4 UEFA European Cups (or Champions League) trophies (we joked that there is one missing, Liverpool have won 5, AC Milan 6 and Real Madrid 9 – numbers are correct as of today) and finally an exhibit on the number of Ballon D’Or (or golden boots) won by Barca players.  Lionel Messi appears extensively in this section.  The tour then takes you around the stadium through the changing rooms (where there is a revolving display of opponents, none of which are in Real Madrid colours if it can be avoided), on to the edge of the pitch and up into the stands.  The final stop on the tour is the commentators box, high up in the Gods (not for the faint of heart or those suffering from vertigo) before directing people through to the gift shop.









On the Friday morning before flying back we wandered around the Gothic quarter, and had a look inside the original cathedral.






All in all, Barca is a great place.
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