Gateway to the Medieval World

A scenic landscape view of Stonehaven

Scotland is a beautiful country with breathtaking views beyond the horizons.  I lived in this country for quite some time and when I left, I brought nothing but beautiful memories and stunning photos.Throughout my stay there, I discovered scenic places that one can do for a short city break.Less than two and a half hours by train from Glasgow; Stonehaven, coastal town in Aberdeenshire is the perfect place for a day trip.

From Stonehaven’s harbour, I hiked all the way up and feasted my eyes on the postcard-perfect view of  the sleepy fishing village.  I ventured on the medieval path and imagined stepping back in time. Then I immersed  myself in a dramatic setting and thought that  Great Scots like William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scotland once trod this place. 

A bird’s eye view of the scenic harbour of Stonehaven.

As I went up the hill and down the valley, I set my eyes on the village’s real beauty. Dunnottar castle is perched on a hill overlooking the coast.  With a grandiose beauty and enigmatic effect, it holds many secrets.   Local stories and rumors about how it is  believed to be a fortress in the Dark Ages.  The truth is the castle was once  a keeper of the crown jewels of Scotland and home of  Queen Mary.

I spent the whole day lingering around the town. Whilst buying some souvenirs, I chatted with a local and listened to his stories about the castle. I also tried Stonehaven’s local version of fish and chips, sat on a bench and watched the time passed by.  As the autumn dusk set in, I  finally bid goodbye to the sleepy fishing village.

What an unforgettable visit but what moved me was the dramatic, inspiring experience.  I wondered how magical it could be to live in this place in the Medieval Age.  I thought of the old kings, queens and knights who stayed in this town. Then I wondered how a local commoner would welcome a visitor just like me.  Indeed, my visit was worth it. I left with a thought, plenty of them.

N.B. Earlier and longer version of this blog was published in John Lewis Glasgow in-house magazine, April 2011 edition.

Eat, Love and Travel More

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

It was a moment of choice. Should I go to the UK or  India?  A situation that lasted in just a few minutes. An hour later, I was busy looking up places to visit in the land of  culture, history and curry.

Pack- light and less.

My quick decision-making had ripple effects. I packed light and fast.  Two pairs of jeans, one hair bandanna, white shades, an Indian inspired kaftan ( my favourite) and two flimsy shirts  were all set in a small suitcase. I was ready in less than an hour.  I followed the rules of easy travel, bearing in mind that the weather in India would be hot and humid in May.  Though, I still made sure to pack the essentials. A set of medicines, mosquito repellant and a camera are not only a must but things that equate a life and death situation or perhaps, I overread the book Eat, Pray and Love.

A labyrinth stop: Delhi and Agra.

I arrived in Delhi in an unpleasant day- hot and humid and yet I was beaming with excitement.  As a rule of thumb in my travels, the first day should always be a less stressful day. So, the whole afternoon was  just spent for shopping and sight-seeing around the city. Easy and fun. My eyes feasted on a sight of bountiful silk pashminas, intricate woven saris, and wooden carved handicrafts. Delhi market’s is a shopper’s paradise.

Taj Mahal: love set in stone.

The trip from Delhi to Agra should be around 5 hours by bus. My experience was the opposite. I travelled for about 24 hours to and fro. Yes, literally. I passed by hordes of people on the road; vendors, hawkers and a bunch of monkeys waving at every tourist. It was life changing.  At 7 AM,  our bus got stuck in the horrendous, bumper-to-bumper traffic just at the outskirt of Delhi. I was appalled. I had never seen such congestion in my life. Finally, at 1 PM, we arrived in Red Fort. A red sandstone palace  known to be the home of  Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Our tour guide told us tales and stories about each room in the palace. But I could never forget the story about the emperor’s room. Upon the death of Sha Jahan’s beloved wife, he built a room with a large window, overlooking Taj Mahal. That had always been the first and the last image he would see.    An eternal symbol and reminder of true love. I melted.

Taj Mahal stood tall and beautiful in the dusk of May. The resting place of Mumtaz Mahal, the second wife of Emperor Shah Jahan was beyond beauty. The courtyards were filled with yellow trees and the palace alone is a stunning, historical landscape. I left satisfying my curiousity and leaving me a memory of beauty and love.

Jaipur- pink and pretty.

       A view of Hawa Mahal from one of its windows.

Looking out from the train on the way to Jaipur, I saw different images of India.  I was saddened by the poverty in some areas but amazed with how the beauty of nature peeked out, behind the tainted glass window of the train. There were vast spaces of farmlands, unique Hindu temples and ranges of hills. An irony.

Jaipur is famous for being called the pink city and as I set foot on it, different shades of pink glimmered in the sun. The city lives up to its name. The mountains and blue sky created a dazzling backdrop. It complemented the shades of pink. But what sets it apart from other places is its richness in history and culture. An old city with a modern twist.

I started my tour with a visit to the “talk of the town”, the Amber Fort. As I passed through the walled city of Jaipur, the enormous pink gate opened my sight to a new plethora of beautiful things. I sighed. I saw unique historical monuments, temples, tiny shops of pink and peach. Suddenly, an elephant caught my attention, on it was a young man lazily enjoying the ride with an umbrella protecting him from the sun. It was entertaining.

After an hour, I reached Amber Fort. Another palace that  sits on a charming hill with a cystal-clear lake. Its walls replicate a mini great wall of China. The fort is known to have a complex passage area used by the royals as an escape route during wars. Its reputation precedes its name, it is more glorious than I ever imagined.  Sadly, I missed the morning ritual of  elephants going up to the palace but was fortunate enough to see several of them marching back to the town.  I tread the hilly, cobbled stone path and the view on the top took my breath away. What a sight! I looked down and saw the courtyard, surrounded by the Moata lake. Beautiful is an understatement.

On the last leg of the tour, I stopped by a park and saw Jal Mahal from afar; halfly submerged in the lake of Man Sagar. Popularly known as the ” Water Palace”, this UNESCO world heritage continues to survive the tempest of time.

At noon, I had a hearty curry meal in one of the oldest North Indian restaurants in Jaipur. The food was scrumptious and every penny spent was worth it. I enjoyed the food and the pretty images that filled my day.

Travel: more than just an eye candy.

Five days after whilst waiting for my flight back to Dubai, I pondered on my experiences. That trip was more than just an eye candy.  It is one of those trips that one would never forget. An inspirational one. A journey that lets you learn new things, appreciates what you have and be thankful for who you are. In the end, I thought about an excerpt in the book “Eat, Love and Pray”; it says,  “Eventually, everything goes away.” I believe in that.  Everyone dies,  everything gets worn out and disappears with perhaps, very few exceptions.  So, after that trip, I make sure that my  future escapades should not end with a phrase ” finally been there, done that”; rather, it should end with ” eat, love and travel more”. 

Why? Because everything disappears and all that one can have are memories. Memories that can be shared and can live through time. So, travel more and share your stories.

Flying Under the Desert, on a Hot-Air Balloon

Have you ever watched Aladdin? The part where he asked Princess Jasmine to fly with him on a magic carpet? As a child, many of us imagine a fantasy world, of magic, castles and flying carpets. Then we turn into adults and as we face the stark reality of life; we stop believing in magic and forget about fantasies.

Travelling is actually a fantasy turned into reality. All of us fantasize about it. When we read travel blogs, we envisage our ideal get-away.  In broad daylight, we daydream about a quaint village, perched on a hill overlooking the sea, a virgin island or a  Medieval castle with a rather large courtyard. We all dream. Then there are those who would think of a thrilling,blood-rushing adventure. Skydiving in the Bahamas or dogsledding in Alaska.  Camping in the Amazon forest or bungee-jumping in Tanzania.  The list goes on and on. Then there’s the desert, one of those exotic places that was first introduced to us through a story; from watching the infamous Aladdin cartoon to listening to stories about Alibaba and the forty thieves.  Somehow and in some way,  some of us have imagined exploring this vast sandy place on a magic carpet.

There are many ways to discover the mysterious desert; its rugged and idyllic sceneries.  You can travel on a 4 x 4 car or  ride the camel. I chose to explore it on a rather dramatic way, just like in a fairytale. I flew on a hot-air balloon.

Together with some friends, we met up with the hot-air balloon crew in the border, between Hatta Oman and Dubai;  a drive that took about an hour from the city centre. At around 4 AM, the temperature in the desert was freezing. Brrrr!

As  a scientific principle, warmer air rises in cooler air. So, the crew dressed in red overalls heated and pumped warm air in the balloon.This process took less than 4o minutes and as we huddled in one corner,  the balloon slowly rose in the air. It was magical. The balloon was  already slightly suspended in the air when the crew asked us to climb over the wicker basket. With only the sturdy ropes holding it to the ground, I was a little bit jittery to climb over. I settled in one of the compartments and watched the crew untied the ropes. I heard a pop. Before I completely realised it, I was above the ground and I felt the balloon slowly rising up, up in the air. The feeling was surreal.  As I looked below me, I was amazed with the immense beauty of the desert.  My eyes were filled with a kaleidoscope of pretty images. It was like watching  Aladdin all over again, this time on 3D.  Ripple marks playfully carressed the sand dunes. A different world.

At dawn, ripple marks on the desert evoke a magical atmosphere.

There were vivid patches of hues- orange, brown and green. Rugged rocky mountains enveloped by fog,  stood side by side with hilly sand dunes.   I spotted a tiny fox running whilst our balloon passed the mountains. Wow.

A foggy morning in the desert.

As the balloon glided in the clouds, dawn slowly faded away.  The temperature started to rise and suddenly, a massive display of vivid colours painted the sky.  My heart skipped.  Watching sunrise on a hot-air balloon was heavenly.  I was speechless.

The cinematic effect of the sunrise was the icing on the cake. A few minutes later, I looked down and saw a family of camels resting under a tree. The inner child in me shrieked with joy. Giving me less than a minute escapade down memory lane; how I used to giggle when watching animals on TV. Time passed and the pilot asked us to brace and do the landing position. I was nervous and yet excited to share my first real life, cinematic flying experience. Eventhough, I did not fly on a magic carpet,      I knew I was living my childhood fantasy. Magic is somehow real.

Sailing Through my Travel Bucketlist

             ( Mambucal Falls, Negros Occidental, Philippines)

I woke up groggy and  a little bit confused. For a second, I wondered where I was.  There was something  ” fishy” in the air.  I smiled.  Right there and then, I knew I was somewhere near a body of water. I am a sea-lover. Though, I must admit I can’t really swim and yet I have seen some of the most picturesque seascapes in the world. A paraxodical part of me.

I have dreamed of travelling the world and as I grew up, I wrote a travel wish list, not on  a piece of paper but in my mind. In there, there was never a mention of continents or countries, there were only names of oceans and seas, lakes and waterfalls. I’m in love with water. I reckon it is because I was born and bred in an island.  Most of my childhood holidays were spent on beaches or  lush mountain parks with jaw-dropping waterfalls.  Wildlife and nature interest me a lot. Whilst in highschool, I had completely embraced the idea of an adventurous escape. I daydreamed of watching sunset and sunrise on a scenic coastal town, somewhere in the Mediterranean. I watched travel shows and became engrossed with them.   As I turned into adulthood, everything became a reality. A dream came true. I finally have visited the places that were once just in my wish list. More than that, I have done exotic things that I haven’t even thought of doing.  I am a true  believer and follower of Mark Twain.  I have dreamed, explored and discovered.

Here are some of the amazingly heart-stopping, beautiful views that I have seen.

  1. Niagara Falls- Ontario, Canada

2. Tossa De Mar Coastline- Catalonia, Spain

 

3.  The birthplace of Aphrodite-Paphos, Cyprus

 4. Concepcion Island- Iloilo, Philippines

5. Bohol, Philippines

7.  Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi

9. Stonehaven, Scotland

10. Khasab, Oman

11. A Mini lake in Taal Volcano’s crater- Tagaytay, Philippines

11. Mediterranean Sea- Mykonos, Greece

I now have a new travel bucketlist  that I must accomplish before I turn 40 and as I read it, I have thought of what made me  achieved my first wish list. The very foundation of my master plan. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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Life’s a Beach in Mykonos

In a sunny day of June 2007, my friends and I went to the stunning island of Mykonos. From Athens,  we took a 3-hour cruise and arrived on the island just as the sun set on the horizon.  After a long day, we decided to  go to a local taverna and had a fill of greek salad and grilled octopus. We then agreed to go straight to our hotel and have an early start the next day.

Growing up in a tropical island, I did not expect anything  grandiose about this island. I used to wake up on an island and have a picturesque view right in front of my eyes. I have also  seen hundreds of lush islands  surrounded by torquoise, crystal clear water. One of my favourites is taking leisure walks on beaches with white, powdery sand like I was walking on a field of cotton.

So, I slept with that feeling, no expectations but when I woke up in a hotel perched on a hill  and saw a landscape of stunning view, I was astounded. The island is surrounded by  white-washed stone houses with yachts sailing around it.  I gaped, wearing my most astonished “can’t believe how beautiful it is” look. The scenery is stunning and it is absolutely, not just another island.

Mykonos is one of  the Greek islands, which has a vibrant atmosphere. Its city centre is filled with little shops whilst tavernas stand side by side with bars and clubs.  It is also surrounded by  labyrinthine  cobblestone alleys,which seemingly give you that feeling of being lost, yet somehow those alleys always lead you back to the stunning Mediterranean seascape. My most favourite part of Mykonos is the small area with tavernas and coffee shops sprawled along the coastline. Borrowing its name from Venice, “little Venice” is a precious gem for tourists. In there,  you can feast your eyes on an eye-catching backdrop with a Mediterranean setting.  We spent some time there drinking the infamous  iced frappe whilst hobnobbing with other tourists. After experiencing a plethora of beautiful things, we went “beach-hopping”.

Mykonos has several beaches, with many of them open to the public and a few considered to be exclusive for VIPs and celebrities. We checked out a popular beach called Super Paradise and I was totally amazed of how alive it was.  People frolicked on the sand and basked on the summer heat.  As darkness set in, the mood changed. Everybody danced and sang their hearts out and from dusk until dawn, tourist and local alike partied like crazy.   For three days, we blended in with the hedonistic atmosphere of the island.   Finally, on our last day, we tread the hilly side of the area and enjoyed a postcard-perfect scenery;  white-washed houses with the windmills of Mykonos.  The view was mesmerizing.

Indeed, I truly enjoyed every part of my trip.  From experiencing  Greek hospitality, to savouring authentic seafood specialties and experiencing real serenity and wild excitement. It dawned on me at that time that a simple “no expectation rule”  gives me the most amazing feeling.   I also learned something new about travelling.  When you travel never expect anything, just let it be.  Let your thoughts wander and your feelings explode.  Let the sceneries suprise you. Don’t be obsessed on googling the “what to dos” before you embark on the trip. Life happens when you least expect it. As for me, I had a blast!

Back to the Basics: the Amish Life.

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Have you ever wondered what life was in the 1900’s?
I used to wonder what is like to live in a village without electricity, where carriages are used instead of cars.  A place where a morsel of bread and blueberry jams are made from scratch. Clothings are weaved with bare hands and rustic furnitures are carved and built by sturdy arms.  Sounds interesting, isn’t it?

My first trip to America was to a county called Walnut Creek, located within the state of Ohio. I thought it was just one of the East Coast counties that grow fields of corn; nothing more. Little did I know, there was more special about it.  Along with my parents and American friends we drove through green valleys, passed vast fields of corn and little houses with white fences. Ah, I felt like I was in a movie.  Upon reaching the county,  my eyes feasted on the  picturesque rolling hills and lush greeneries. Soon my interest grew and I began to wonder.  What is Walnut Creek all about?

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I found out that Walnut creek is home to the biggest population of the Amish community.   The Amish are friendly people who have not embraced cultural changes and progress due to their strict christian beliefs.  In the 17th-18th century, they settled in this lovely county and live life just like in the 1900’s.

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As we toured the place, I discovered that a typical Amish man travels on a horse buggy, breeds and milk his own cow and gathers fresh veggies from his own backyard garden. The women are the same.  They make their own dresses and bake melt-in-your-mouth bread rolls from fresh produce. Everything is from scratch. I completely love the idea!

As the tour  ended and whilst I bought fresh strawberry jams and pickles, it dawned on me that their close-knit community and their way of life is clearly amazing.  On another perspective, I thought, if we all lived like this, will we be happier and live longer? Perhaps, yes.  That is why going green and  eating organic food is becoming a trend. Indeed, we are back to the basics.