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lunedì 19 settembre 2011

Splurge yourself in Singapore

Usually fo Europeans Singapore is not much more than a stop over during a journey overseas and a place where to do some shopping. Well actually, this is un understatement because it's probably the best place where to go shopping but it turns out that it can be much more than that if one takes the opportunity to explore it a little bit. The first time I went there I was travelling around Malayasia, its neighbour country, and I have some memories of that trip which basically are: some shopping , excellent food and a lot of fun. I remember some of the places which are there to see but I didn't manage to go sightseeing that much.
The time I really discovered a consistent part of what Singapore has to offer, was when I went to visit Daniela one of my dearest friends of all times who moved there a few years ago.
First of all let's start by saying that the things I remembered are still the highlights but what I discovered in my second trip is that Singapore is a place that needs to be lived not like a tourist but as a local and it can really turn out to be a little slice of heaven.
There is literally everything you want there : you just have to reach out and get it. There is art, entertainment, incredible amount of parks and nature places and a lot of variety.
The first thing that strikes you is the tidiness and the perfect functioning of every little angle and place. The second is that the people living there seem to be very serene and satisfied.The third- I have to insist on the point - is the food ! There is an incredible variety of excellent restaurants but also a great quantity of so called food courts i.e. places where there are many different stalls where you can order your food from and have a very good meal for as little as 3 €!!
What a marvellous invention. They are all over the place and there are also fancy versions of them like the excellent one in Takashimaya
Speaking of fancy there are a lot of places in Singapore but the first where to go for a drink or just a stroll when you're a foreigner in town is definitely the Raffles Hotel This is the place where apparently the famous cocktail Singapore sling was invented.
Another place I would reccomend is Going Om and the Screening Room in Chinatown where you can enjoy an amazing view of the whole city

As far as restaurants are concerned I have tried a few but the ones I appreciated the most were a seafood restaurant called No Signboard and an Indian restaurant called The Banana Leaf Apolo where meals are in fact served on a banana leaf instead of a plate
As far as sightseeing is concerned there is nothing really touristic but if you stay there for a couple of days you should definitely visit the Buddha Relic Temple

and also the Thian Hock Keng temple

Then the Asian Civilization museum is a must go
The most beautiful thing though is to walk in the streets (it's very hot and humid but still... ) and discover life at every corner : walk through Chinatown<, pass by the Fullerton hotel

into the Quays where at dusk you might be lucky enough to see a spontaneous aerobic class in the streets

Singapore is formed by three main communities (excluding the expats) which have dedicated neighborhoods. Therefore there is Chinatown
with its very nice little boutiques and restaurants that I already mentioned,
Little India

and Kampong Glam, the Malay Quarter where you can find beautiful textiles and drink delicious but extremely hot Malay tea

There are also a lot of other neighborhoods in Singapore which are worth a visit like Dempsey Hill with its chic restaurants and bars or even Sentosa if you like fun parks. this last one is an island connected to the city by a bridge and offers Singaporeans fun and leisure especially on the weekends. Not my cup of tea but ...
Also zoos are definitely my cup of tea but interestingly enough the Singapore Zoo spread on a large piece of land is quite interesting .
Finally we get to the main part of a stay in Singapore: shopping. Let's say that once you get to Orchard Road you can find almost everything you need or even that you don't need but you just want. There is so much you realize that you don't have but when brought to your attention you must have and don't know how you could do without up to that momen. I am not a big shopping person but I had a fair share of it during my stay.
Mostly the shops are within giant malls which contain thousands of them . I was particularly impressed by Sim Lim Square, where you can find each and every kind of electronics , even the ones you only dreamt could exist or simply the ones you always wanted to get but never got round to .
As far as the rest is concerned in particular clothes, shoes and cosmetics apart from Takashimaya , in Orchard Road you can also check Tanglin Mall, Paragon Shopping Center, Forum Shopping Mall and Ngee Ann City.
A very good mall out of that area is Suntec City Mall where you can also take a train to Sentosa In one of these malls apart from going crazy at some point -believe me after a few hours you feel like fainting and just want to go outside, breathe and look at the sky above you (at least me)- I discovered a place for Bikram Yoga which is now well known all over the world. Basically it consists in practising a set sequence where every position is repeated three times in a room where th temperature is 37 C°. I have been practisising yoga for many years but when I tried Bikram I basically got out in the form of a puddle of water. The point is that in order to purify and detoxicate you have to sweat your brains out. Everybody there is almost naked and around each mat there is a little lake. Good experience but as much as I like to sweat I probably will not repeat it.
Singapore is all this, but through my friend I lernt that it can also mean much more : it can be an art perfomance, a gallery opening or playing pool in a seedy bar. It can be a lot of experiences in one day or one week. Actually there is always some you probably left out and make you want to go back. For me it will be probably be see a good friend again and splurge it!

domenica 18 settembre 2011

007 Octopussy Theatrical Trailer


The Karni Mata Rat Temple, Deshnok (Hindu Temple)

India for beginners

That's right : I'm not an expert on the subject nor have I been there enough to be the perfect tale teller about the country. However, I've had my taste of it and I thought I would share it. Let's start by saying I haven't gone there to look for myself nor to meditate in an ashram, although, having practized yoga for many years I was curious about the search for spirituality and not only.
It's one of those things: either you love it or you hate it at first. I was told so and I was also told that I would have seen things I had never seen before also, in terms of overwhelming experiences regarding poverty and sufferance.
Hell yes! Overwhelming is definitely an understatement. After an awful flight experience with Alitalia ( as usual at its worst) I arrived with my sister in Delhi where I was immediately dragged into this vertigo of noise, crowds, traffic and dirt.. I remember the Hare Khrisna parade outside the airport where I couldn't even hear myself thinking while I was greeting the driver who came to pick us up with a nice white Ambassador car and who would have accompanied us for two weeks from then.
I had made a very good deal with a travel agent from Jaipur reccomended by a friend of mine
Our tour included : Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Pushkar, Bikaner and Mandawa; so basically all Rajahstan (plus Agra and Delhi).
What about Delhi? A few times in my life I had the impression of being transferred in Dante's Inferno and this was one of them. I don't think that I have ever seen such stomach cringing scenes as the ones I saw on the streets of Delhi in particular in the old part. One of those involved some locals mistreating some "outcast". I respect religious beliefs but the cast system is something which remains obscure to me and I remember that in another occasion in Udaipur when the same thing happened I got into an argument with the upper cast guy. Actually I got into a lot of arguments during those two weeks because for some reason the people managed to upset me most of the time with their insistence. I actually felt all the time as a walking ATM and every time I managed to make conversation thinking that I was establishing a human contact the discussion would revert on money and commerce.
Yes I have to admit I did not find any spirituality during my journey , probably because I didn't know how to look for it, and instead I ended up clashing with a world of susperstition and materialism. I also clashed with a lot of fake spiritualism sometimes confused with pot and hippylike clothes especially in Pushkar
where I was also almost attacked by fake hindu priests who are known to be instead scums hanging by the lake who will drag you into a what seems to be an intense ritual which ends with a blessing (fake of course) and with a pressing request for money which becomes an aggression in case you refuse.
Nevertheless my experiences in India were not at all negative. The places -i have mentioned are absolutely enchanting. My favourite was Udaipur where the famous 007 movie Octopussy was shot Funny enough there is place in front of the lake where the movie is shown every day.
If you have a lot of money to spend you should definitely spend a night in Lake Palace Udaipur at the center of the lake where the movie was shot .

Also for an excellent meal in a very charming location you should try Udai Kothi."

Another very beautiful place is Jodhpur the blue city which I actually mostly remember because our driver Banghwar Singh invited us to spend half a day at his home in the village just out of the city. We were the guests of honour and we were pampered by his family and the whole village ( although some of the kids were really scared since they never saw Europeans before and ran away). We were dressed in saris, which for some reason look just as great on Indian women as they look bad on me with a monstrous outcome...Then we were invited to lunch which basically meant to be the only ones sitting down eating
while everybody else was gathering around looking at us...

Another enchanting place is Jaisalmer the golden city in the middle of the Rajahstan desert ; once you get lost in the labirinth of streets in the Fort you can discover a world of treasures.

including some very unusual Jainist temples . I did not know anything about Jainism: , which is a religion based on non violence towards all living beings before going to India. It's a very interesting approach to life and a description of it can be found other than in the wikipedia link above strangely enough in the book American Pastoral by Philip Roth.

Another very intense experience was going to the Karni Mata Temple close to Bikaner also known as the Temple of rats. Now , unfortunately I don't have pictures of my visit on my computer but there is a video which is very well made and gives you an interesting insight of the place. (WARNING : do not watch if you are afraid or don't like rats). Imagine to walk around amongst dozens of rats hanging from the bannisters and rnning around your feet. My sister was basically thrown out since she was screaming all the times she saw one ( which meant about 25 times in five minutes) whereas I courageously walked around wearing my socks and trying to overcome the discomfort of the situation . I also managed to see what is considered to be a very lucky appearance : the only white rat living in the temple that all the hindus pray to see to have good luck. Well I didn't have any that year but never mind..

I realize I haven't said anything about one of the seven wonders in the world : the Taj Mahal. Actually that was the highlight of my all journey I cannot curse myself enough for not having pictures of our visit at sunrise of the temple on my computer. Seeing that has been one of the few experiences where I have been left speechless and breathless. There is no way I can describe such beauty in words so in lack of pictures I will post a video which will give you an idea.

The rest is all colours, sounds, scents of an ancient and beautiful world of which I just managed to get a little taste.
Yes I am an absolute beginner but I am willing to master and to look for that spiritual path which I'm sure I will find next time I'll visit incredible India.

sabato 17 settembre 2011

Sri Lanka : land of wonders

The first thought on the way out of Colombo airport is: do i need a washing machine to carry around? It's the first time I saw an airport where next to the duty free shops you could find shops for electronics and home appliances with a big display of washing machines, vacuum cleaners and fridges to carry home when you get out of a plane..
The second thought when you get on a tuk tuk like I did is: why is it taking 2 hours and a half for two kilometers? And then you have the answer right there : at every meter there is an entanglement of bycicles, motorcycles, buses with peoples hanging from them, people crossing the streets in every possible direction and cows.

Third thought : can it be any more humid than this? Oh yes try going there in rainy season . Actually when I went it was January when it was supposed to be sunny and dry.. unfortunately it wasn't but it was nice nevertheless.
Colombo is not that attractive but it can be very fascinating when you take a tuk tuk at night and you go to a temple
where you find a guardian like this

Elephants should really be in the forest but there they are considered to be holy and are put in temples. I would like to ask them for their opinion on this but as usual humans assume that animals want the same things they want and take advantage of the fact that we speak a different language.. If we spoke animalese I believe elephants would surely give us a piece of their mind...

In Colombo you can have a memorable Sri lankan meal ( the best I have ever had) in one of the ten restaurants of Colombo Hilton a little pricy for Sri Lanka but definitely worthy..

One of the best parts of Sri Lanka is the Cultural triangle: Anurhadapura the ancient capital of Sri Lanka

The beautiful ancient city of Polonnaruwa

Sigiriya the sacred rock you can climb: 300 steps (although it felt like 3000) slippery and uneven. I climbed up to the top it in the rain wearing flip flops.. A real heroin right? I believe that's where my herniated disc originated..

Since I could not be satisfied with that and I also had to climb
Dambulla with its rock temples up on the hill (on the same day with the same shoes in even heavier rain) and then I complain I have back problems...

and last but not least Kandy the last capital of the ancient kings'era of Sri Lanka, where I was lucky enough to find a religious procession and enjoy it at its fullest (although it was still raining).

The best way to travel around is to get a driver so that you can sit back relax and enjoy the landscape . And you can also have various encounters like elephants crossing the streets at night or very friendly cows during the day. An all day company everywhere you go is monkeys.. when I say everywhere I mean also in your hotel room if you don't lock the balcony doors at night which brings the fourth thought: shall I feed them ? it is always advisable not to , no matter how friendly they seem they can then get used to the fact that men feed them and soon they can start demanding food from you and becoming aggressive so then they have to be put down. Conclusion : it's always better not to give them anything. Instead it is advisable to feed the hundreds stray dogs which populate Sri Lanka . Most of them are sick and underfed and sometimes it is really heartbreaking.. I have seen the majority of the people,probably because of their buddhist way of thinking, feed them. Sometimes they put a piece of cloth around some dog's neck as a collar and they adopt it. People try to take care of them at their best but they are just too many....

Another famous place as far as animal are concerned is Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. I had mixed feelings about that especially after some things I had heard .However when I went there I saw that the elephants are basically left in quite a big area where they spent most of the day and then they are taken to a nearby river twice or three times a day where they spend two thee hours bathing, playing, eating.. even mating so it wasn't bad at all. I spent two three hours there but I could have stayed days.

How about the sea in Sri Lanka ? Well the coast is very beautiful although it still carries the painful memories and scars of the tsunami. Locals and foreign volunteers have done a lot in a country which was shattered in a few seconds all over. Many places are still recovering but tourism is back at its fullest and all the coastal villages and towns have gone back to normal life.
The place I chose is called Dickwella. It's far south close to Matara. Not that touristic and very nice beaches. Too bad it was raining ALL THE TIME in dry season. It gave us the opportunity to discover a very nice place for Ayurveda at a little distance from our resort I would strongly reccomend if you have three four weeks to spare and want to detoxicate and rejuvenate your body and mind. . The owner Flavio Barattini is incredibly funny and cooks like heaven. The program is really intense but if you re just by-passers like us you can still enjoy a four hand body, foot, head and face massage and relax by the pool or on the beach.
We had two and a half days of sun out of seven and it was great anyway. Beautiful white or light yellow sand beaches, palm trees and deep blue sea. Could you ask for more ?

On the way to Dickwella there area lot of places worth stopping by even if just for a little while: Galle for example a fortified city built by th Europeans with narrow streets and little shops where you can walk on the Fort walls or Bentota where you can admire the little sea turtles which will be released into the sea or tea factories where you will be able to drink some of the best qualities of te (Ceylon tea is always been worlwide famous) or just stop on the road and most of the times you will catch a glimpse of a wonderful world.
A question remains though: there is still a big part of Sri Lanka which was left out and many more wonders to discover, which brings me to the fifth and final thought : When will I go back?