We left Bodrum early in the morning and headed for Istanbul, planning to do the six-hour drive to Bandirma, and then crossing over to Istanbul by the one and only evening car-ferry.
When we reached the Bandirma ferry point at 6pm, an Ido Ferries staff told us, "Sorry, 6.30pm ferry to Istanbul is canceled. Ship not working. We refund your money now."
And just like that, a two-hour ferry ride turned into a four-hour drive around the Sea of Marmara.
Ah well. I shall think about the lovely sea we enjoyed in Bodrum as we drive the extra 300 plus kilometres.
Once again, it is time for the annual IFA Global Press Conference, where offline and online media gather to find out about the European consumer electronics show held in September every year, in Berlin.
We had speakers from companies like Philips, Vestel (Turkish company) and BSH Group, who came to talk about trends and numbers and of course, their own new products. I particularly enjoyed the bits by research people from GfK. Curved TVs, for example. What is up with THAT trend? Is it going to change the world? Or is it going the way of the 3D TV flop?
There were a few booths to see, not many, since most of the brands will be showing off their wares at the IFA in Berlin itself. I was quite fascinated with Philips' new A5-PRO headphones made in collaboration with DJ Armin Van Buuren.
Also cool was their new Android Smart TV and the surround speaker system with detachable rear satellites that are wireless. I own the first gen Fidelio HTL9100 myself and was keen to see the next gen.
I also got to touch the Panasonic GH4. I say touch because inside no battery. They lost it in transit. Pffft.
We got to see a bit of Antalya, after a coach ride that took a little too long in the rush hour traffic. We wandered around Kaleici, or Old Town Antalya. It's actually quite pretty, as long as you don't get dragged into tourist trap stores.
I got to drink a red drink from a barrel off this guy's back.
I got to try some Turkish delights.
I got to eat Turkish ice-cream with an elaborate show.
And in Old Town Antalya, I found this shop with a very odd room of life-sized figures.
The final night's dinner was quite enjoyable. There was a Turkish singer who sang covers and some Turkish songs. I called her the Celine Dion of Turkey.
Then, just when you thought the night was over, boom, the belly dancers showed up. The (male) photographers in the audience went wild.
But the highlight for me was Marit Larsen, from Norway. Yes, if that name sounds familiar, she was formerly from teen duo m2m. I am such a fanboy. Marit has had a fairly successful solo career too, with that 2008 hit song, If A Song Could Get Me You.
Watching her sing live was awesome.
After a red-eye flight on Turkish Airlines, I am finally in Turkey. Belek to be exact, in Antalya.
The view from this golf resort is lovely, and everything smells new. Because the Carya hotel is new. Hey, the room is ginormous, I can't complain.
I am going to be here for a few days for the IFA Global Press Conference. More photos will follow in the days to come. Especially when I get to Istanbul.
For now, I am resting and enjoying a little TV from my iPad Air hooked up to the hotel room tv. The hotel thoughtfully provided an HDMI cable for guests to hook up their devices to the big screen TV. Good thing too, because the TV shows are all in Turkish, Russian or German, and only CNN is in English. Aargh.
We're back from a great time in Bali. The kids spent most of their time swimming in the villa pool or playing at the black sand beach. And when they were not, they were watching lots of TV and playing iPad games (holiday period, so we parents closed one eye).
The adults got to play some cards, drink some nice wine, and generally talk about the past, the present and the future. Shopping and sightseeing was kept to a minimum. It was a fine way to have a holiday.
I was apprehensive at first, about taking along just the iPad mini Retina (no laptop) but I wanted to see if I could lighten my travel gear load and keep my tech choices simple. It worked.
The iPad mini Retina did all the photo editing and uploading I needed with the Lightning-to-SD-Card reader (Pro Tip: it doesn't work with SD cards above 32GB), allowed me to blog/tweet/Facebook fairly well, and provided video/gaming entertainment on the plane as well as in the room via a simple Lightning-to-HDMI adapter to the big LCD TV.
I only used a Fuji x100s camera (no zoom, no changing of lens, just fixed lens simplicity) because I didn't want to carry and fiddle about with lenses and other stuff, and also because I knew I'd be busy with the kids. As you can see from the photos, I think it worked out pretty well.
Who says traveling with three families has to be hard? All you need is some planning and friends who are good travel mates. We are so doing this again. Where shall we go next, I wonder?
Today's loud and thundery storm reminded me of the children's church that the wife and I saw on vacation last year. The awesome building belongs to His Place Community Church in Burlington, Washington.
If I had an ark in Singapore, there wouldn't be space for pairs of animals, because it would be an HDB ark.
My Facebook feed is filled with photos of friends off to some faraway land. It is that time of the year again, when families go on their June vacations and the head of the household has to figure out where to take the brood.
After a few clicks, checking airline and hotel websites (and complaints from the kids that they always ended up in Malaysia), I decided to take the the kids, the wife and my mom to Semarang in Indonesia.
I had NO idea what was in Semarang, but hey, the kids wanted to be on an aeroplane so it seemed like a good place as any. It was cheaper than Isaac's suggestion ("New York!") and Joy's ("Paris, Papa!").
My biggest apprehension was Faith. This was a longer flight that the previous one to Bandung so I was worried that the experience may overwhelm her autistic senses. But we made it! Faith was mostly calm throughout the flight and didn't fuss even when we had to clear the long immigration and customs queue at the tiny Semarang airport that probably was not used to large crowds.
After a quick lunch at the KFC at the airport (the kids were famished because we were training them not to order overpriced food on budget flights), we grabbed a cab to our hotel in town (which had a pool, a very important travel criteria for kid-friendly vacations, and free wifi, very important to Papa).
Here, the kids learned a few new lessons, like:
1. Sometimes, the Cartoon Network is in broadcast in the local language;
2. The hotel minibar snacks are off-limits, and;
3. How air-conditioning works.
Wife: "Why is the hotel room so cold? The windows are all fogged up already! Wait, who set the aircon to 19°C?"
Joy (age 7, wearing two sweaters, one of which is my mother's): "Sorry Mommy! I thought the lower the number, the weaker the aircon."
Ryan and I are in Nanjing, courtesy of Scoot, who flew us on their inaugural flight there. Thanks Scoot! It was nice to fly direct to Nanjing, unlike the last time, when I had to change planes in Hong Kong.
We are staying at the Sheraton. It is located on Hanzhong Road which is very central and it is a pretty decent hotel. My only complaint is that the China woman in the hotel room next door to mine talking so loudly on the phone, I can hear her whole sad love story through the walls. Nanjing Love Story sial.
Cherry season is apparently in, because every mother-son is selling cherries, some vendors even venturing into the subway station to hawk their wares.
Nanjing is a really nice city to (re)visit. It is as cosmopolitan as the biggest cities in China but the people here are more polite, more laid back, and more cultured.
The city is clean and you hardly see graffiti. Ok, sometimes.
I have remember not to do the Singaporean thing of using my iPhone while walking. There are only two kinds of pedestrians in China: the ones who use their smartphones while crossing the street, and the ones who are still alive.
We visited the Chaotian Palace (Nanjing City Museum) because I am a museum geek. It wasn't too bad. Very importantly, the aircon was strong.
I am appreciating the MRT lines here in Nanjing, except they play Kenny G music in the Nanjing subway station. The Chinese are truly knowledgable in the ancient ways of torture. At least it's not Richard Clayderman.
Every street corner, we see food stalls selling red lobsters, with the same poster. It's like the Universal Lobster Photo From Flickr they are all using.
And we see 兰州拉面 a lot too. It makes us giggle because the Cantonese pronunciation of it is Lan Zhao Lai Meen.
I also think it sucks to be a duck in Nanjing. They eat every part of you. Your legs, your tongue, even your blood. I am surprised the ducks haven't rioted yet.
We have also gotten used to seeing shrink-wrapped bowls and plates in some of the restaurants we visit. It is a symbol of hygiene in a Chinese restaurant. You open it by ramming your chopsticks through it.
Finally, I'd like to say that Nanjing has many 美女 (chiobu). This is purely an anthropological observation.
We made our way to Bondi for our lunch at the Icebergs Dining Room and Bar. I have to say this is dining with quite a great view.
Here we ordered seafood like scallops and grilled king prawns because hey, we are in Sydney, mate.
Below, we could see people swimming in the pool by the beach. It is quite a famous pool, this Bondi Baths. You need to pay to swim here but I am sure it is quite a unique experience. It was windy and the waves were big that day so we decided not to show the world our chiseled bodies in swimming trunks.
After the rather filling and long lunch, we decided to walk it off along the beach. Bondi is smaller than I expected. Maybe the photos and shows always make a place bigger than it seems.
People were jogging at the beach and some skateboarding at the skate park. A few hardier ones were surfing. We didn't surf because, er, those waves looked like they could eat us alive.
We went back to look at some more of the lighting installations at Vivid. I quite liked the James Nachtwey photo exhibition even though it didn't have fancy lights.
Then it was off to Uccello's for dinner. We felt a little underdressed here but what the hexk, the Italian food was great.
As you can see, I had a very healthy fish. Which I washed down with some very healthy wine.
This hand at my Sydney hotel room door freaks me out whenever I walk by.
Sometimes I stare at it expecting it to reach out and grab me. This feeling happens when I've had one too many coffees or glasses of fine Australian wine.
I like the avant garde nature of the QT Sydney but some of the art takes some getting used to.
Ryan and I arrived in Sydney at 8am in the morning, feeling a little zombie-fied because we took the redeye flight from Singapore. It was made worse by the fact that Singapore is two hours behind so really, we were stumbling out of the plane at 5am.
Still, we were both excited to come here for Vivid and this time we are staying at the QT Sydney, a hip hotel at Market Street, courtesy of Destination NSW.
The rooms are nice and fancy, and we even went for a massage at spaQ, the five-star health spa in the hotel. I think I fell asleep a bit at the massage table. (That's my purple cabin bag at the corner, part of my experiment to start traveling with less stuff. I will share more about my One-bag travel goal another time.)
Our next activity was to take a My Sydney Detour, a private tour conducted by Richard Graham in his beautifully restored 1964 EH Holden Premier. There are only five of these iconic cars left in this condition in Australia, Richard proudly tells me.
We were driven to see the sights that a regular tourist doesn't see, and had lunch at Ella's, a lovely cafe in Redfern.
Redfern was home to many Aboriginals and it has since become increasingly gentrified. It is now a very diverse neighbourhood and is rich in culture and (sometimes troubled) history.
Our tour took us to Bronte Beach, Dover Heights (where the rich live) and Bondi too.
This is the most awesome view of Sydney, in my opinion. There is even a private beach in front of palatial homes in this spot.
Then night fell and we took a walk to see a preview of Vivid. As you can see, it is quite a sight. This is
The Customs House was transformed into a canvas of light that you can influence by dancing at the control stage. It was fun to see the young and old dance to make the building "move".
Intel bladers dressed like Tron bladed their way through the installations and drew quite a crowd of photographers.
Children also played at this installation, making the sticks move. I made sure I was standing far away so as not to hurt my tender bits when the light sticks swung back.
We ended our evening at this installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The music, together with the light show, was mesmerizing.
Then we had dinner at The Woods at the Four Seasons and crashed in our beds soon after. I think we are not young anymore.
We sat in our Turin hotel in Italy and wondered, just before bedtime, where next? We had our Hertz rental car, our Bike Friday Tikit and Moulton foldies in the car, and no plans for the next few days. Looking at the map of north Italy, I spied a mountain range… in France.
Just above the seaside city of Nice, was the Mercantour National Park, one of the nine National Parks of France. About 45km from Nice, was little mountain town of Roure, in south-east France.
"Let's go there! We can hike in France!"
So off we drove, making a stop at the Italian factory outlet stores near Turin to look for presents for our families, before reaching Roure. Crossing the French border was painless but we did encounter some challenging driving up the mountain roads, especially when it got higher and the road narrowed to one lane. Yes, you do have to be careful going up a winding mountain single-lane road. Also it was raining.
But the drive was worth it. We reached there before the sky got dark and settled into our lodge, a place called Auberge le Robur, run by Pauline and Christoph Billau. And oh my goodness, the VIEW.
Even in the rain and the fog, the view was stupendous. And we were in time for dinner (it is also a well-regarded restaurant).
So, with a three-course set menu of home-made French cuisine, and a killer view of the foggy mountains, Ryan and I tucked in. This is the asparagus starter, and below is the main course of veal confit.
We went for a walk after that and it felt like we were walking in an old French movie.
In the morning, the view was even better.
We hiked around a bit, then when the rain got a little heavier, we drove for an hour to the next town, St Martin Vésubie, to have some late lunch.
I think this was the coldest part of the trip, with temperatures reaching single digit degrees Celsius. We came prepared with warm clothing so it was totally manageable.
We must have been the only Chinese fellas for miles around. Plus it was off-peak season so there were not many tourists. Pauline told us over breakfast (French toast and awesome cheeses anyone?) last year, she had a Singapore couple who got lost in the mountain roads trying to drive to her place and it was almost midnight. So she got them a place nearer where they were by calling another innkeeper because she didn't want them driving in unlit mountain roads late at night.
I guess we have to thank our capable GPS for getting us there safely. We also made sure we gave ourselves sufficient time to drive there from Italy, so we would reach Roure before nightfall. Always a wise thing to do when you are driving on unfamiliar roads in a foreign country.
One of the nice things about self-drive trips is the sheer random possibilities. Ryan and I were still deciding on our last night in Milan, where we should go next. As he poured over Google maps on his iPad, he exclaimed, "Hey, there is a little Italy inside Switzerland!"
I looked at where he pointed and it was a place called Campione d'Italia. Turns out that Campione d'Italia is a small Italian municipality under the Province of Como in the Lombardy region, within the Swiss canton of Ticino. By some twist of historical fate, Campione d'Italia chose to remain a part of Italy and the residents are Italian citizens even though it is separated from the rest of Italy by Lake Lugano and the mountains.
We thought Lake Lugano may not be a bad place to visit, so we drove our Hertz rental car towards the Swiss border, to Campione d'Italia to have a look-see. It is indeed a beautiful place but it looks like the main economic centre of the town is the casino.
Our drive across the Swiss border was fairly painless but it did cost €35 because you have to pay for a Swiss toll fee. We got a little taken by surprise by this fee and at first we were thinking, "Wah, Switzerland so expensive ah? Even their toll is €35 for one time ah?"
Then we found out that it is valid for a whole year. You stick the expensive sticker on your windscreen and it lets you drive around Switzerland's tolled highways for "free" after that. ORRRRRRH.
Switzerland IS expensive though. Our next stop after Campione d'Italia was Lugano (see the lovely flowers in the photo below). The city is by the lake by the same name and it is really pretty, except things there are twice the price of things in Italy. And you pay in Swiss francs (it's about 120 Francs to 100 Euros).
We cycled through the park by the lake and around the town area and really enjoyed it but we still had other places to go. So we loaded our bicycles into the spacious back of our Hertz car and drove towards Turin (or Torino, as the Italians call it).
We decided to spend the night at Turin. It is the home of the Torino and Juventus football clubs and it is a city rich with history and culture. The baroque, neo-classical, and Art Nouveau architecture here is awesome, and when you cycle through its generous city squares, you feel like you are riding through another time period.
We also visited the stadium where Torino was to face off with Juventus in a match, thinking we would be able to buy tickets on the spot. You watch Italian Serie A matches on tv and the stadiums are usually not full, so we thought it would be fine. We kind of picked a wrong time to go because the whole city of Turin seemed to be there for the match. I guess we should have known it would happen because a match like this means all the supporters of both Turin-based football clubs would show up to watch the match. All we could do was hear the cheers and atmosphere from outside the stadium as we walked back to our car, stepping on broken beer bottles and past large groups of riot police out in force.
I think this is going to one of those trips where the driving is epic. Our next stop is Milan, city of fashion and finance. Turns out that Milan is more bicycle friendly than Rome, and we were inspired by the number of riders there. Also the drivers seemed more civilized.
They have a bicycle sharing scheme here, like Paris, but since we had our own wheels, we didn't need to use it. If you ever come to Milan, you should certainly grab a bicycle and ride.
We rode all around town, and of course, went to see Duomo, the largest cathedral I have seen so far. The square is filled with tourists and touts (this time Africans selling pieces of colored string and pigeon food).
Nearby, is a place Singaporeans are familiar with, Giant Shopping Centre. Except this one is way fancier than anything we have. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the oldest mall in Milan. It looked like a nice place to sit and sip coffee and people watch too, but we didn't want to sell a kidney to buy a cappuccino there.
Cycling around Milan, we stumbled across some pretty nice stops, like canals and parks.
Of course, you cannot visit Milan without visiting the San Siro Stadium, if you are a football fan. Especially if you are a fan of AC Milan or Inter Milan. We made our pilgrimage there by bike too.
Our final stop for the day was Parco Sempione ("Simplon Park") a large city park that was established in 1888. It is huge, lovely to chill at, and has a castle next to it. We spent a quiet time watching some blokes play football on the grass and wished we had brought some wine on our bikes too. Next time, we might pack a nice Chardonnay, maybe.
I always enjoy road trips. Sure, it takes more time than hopping on a plane between cities, but I love the journey itself. We left Rome for Milan and hit the Autostrada, racking up €38 in tolls and €70 in diesel costs, but our five hour drive was very satisfying.
People are always in such a hurry when they are on vacation. I find the long drives therapeutic. There is time to think, time to talk, time to listen to music or podcasts you enjoy, and time to just look out the window and see the countryside.
And we stop when we feel like stopping. Go when we feel like it. In fact, the truth is, we don't know where we are going next. We didn't plan very much before we embarked on this cycling/driving road trip. It's really a daily discussion as to which city we want to visit next. This is our Nissan EV200 Hertz rental. It is pretty big and can seat up to seven but it swallows our two unfolded folding bicycles AND our luggage. It isn't very sexy but it's pretty awesome in the functionality department.
By the way, I have concluded that Milan drivers are way more civilized than Rome drivers. It's like San Francisco vs New York. Perhaps it is true what they say about the northerners being more conservative than the uninhibited carefree southerners. Nevertheless, I feel safer here in my car and on my bicycle.