#49 Reminiscing PB88: Barcelona (Port 14)

What is Peace Boat?

¡Hola! (Hello in Spanish)

  • Date: 2015/10/9
  • Port Name: Barcelona
  • Country: Spain
  • First time there?: Yes!
  • What did I do?: Free day again. We are the luckiest! So we hung out in the city for a day, visited the free part of Guell Park (I’m not sure if it was Guell Park actually, but there’s a little hill with a view of the city, and the colorful Gaudi benches where Romain Duris almost had an affair with the married woman in Spanish Apartment). Then we visited Sagrada Familia of course!

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“Unfinished, of all the words you can use to describe the Sagrada Familia — Brown, pointy, weird, the one that really seems to stick is unfinished. Why? Because on June 7th 1926, the architect, Antonio Gaudi, whose beard was also brown, pointy, weird and unfinished was run over by a bus. And so, his greatest masterpiece would remain forever, unfinished. Gaudi, to his credit, never gave up on his dream, but that’s not usually how it goes. Usually its not a speeding bus that keeps the brown, pointy, weird church from getting built. Most of the time it’s just too difficult, too expensive, too scary. It’s only once you’ve stopped that you realise how hard it is to start again. So you force yourself not to want it. But it’s always there and until finished it it’ll always be…”

Yes, I’m quoting Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother. You know, before you visit somewhere for real in person, you always have these few words that you associate with one place, or no words at all. “Sagrada Familia” was the word that stuck with me for Spain since my days living in Japan. I learnt it through Japanese TV and through Japanese friends or friends of friends who’ve visited Barcelona / Spain, who are always saying “Sagrada Familia”. In the back of my mind I’d always thought it was a normal building or a little house or something, swarmed with Japanese tourists, and I was so pleasantly surprised. Sorry #katak di bawah tempurung (Malay proverb meaning ignorant).

This was easily the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I took the audio guide, because they explained the intentions of Gaudi and his successors in how they designed the building, an organic theme to reflect the work of God and nature, and the placement of the windows according to the position of the sun during the times of the day, etc. I uploaded a pic of the interior here, but I doubt it’ll be that much of a travel spot spoiler because it’s still being constructed, and each time you go there might be a new addition. According to Wikipedia, construction started in 1882 (!) and it will be ongoing for at least another 50 years. The exterior was also extremely impressive, with the religious carvings and sculptures decorating the entrances and walls.

Here’s a shaky picture of Sagrada Familia in LEGO! At the Lego UNESCO World Heritage Site exhibition in Singapore (taken 29th July, 2017)

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After that we had coffee in front of the building and some tapas with friends. Here’s an email I wrote to le bf:

“So Barcelona was a REALLY NICE and elegant city, I think it may have been one of the best ports so far. Marseille is the best of course for obvious reasons! But I really enjoyed seeing the people, the cleanliness of the city, just the right amount of color and noise and interesting architecture in Barcelona! I had tapas and got a bit tipsy after ONE single glass of sangria and climbed on one of those lion statues below the Christopher Columbus statue lol. See pic shared on fb”

I still got the pic with me, it’s definitely not public blog sharing material 😛

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Next Port: Gibraltar!

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#48 Reminiscing PB88: Marseilles (Port 13)

What is Peace Boat?

Bonjour! (Hello in French)

  • Date: 2015/10/8
  • Port Name: Marseilles
  • Country: France
  • First time there?: Surprisingly, no! I was there with Jas back in 2012 to catch a bus to Cassis!
  • What did I do?: FINALLY GET TO SEE LE BF FOR 6 HOURS

The day I get to see someone I was really looking forward to see had to be the shortest port day out of all port days. But it was still super worth it! We just spent the day having lunch and walking around at the Old Port, followed by a visit of the boat! It was a timely and much-needed emotional battery charging session for the remaining half of the trip.

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Next port: Barcelona!

#47 Reminiscing PB88: Palermo (Port 12)

 

What is Peace Boat?

Buon giorno! (Hello in Italian)

  • Date: 2015/10/6
  • Port Name: Palermo
  • Country: Italy
  • First time there?: Yes!
  • What did I do?: One free day for the CCs hoorah!

Here we are in the mafia capital of Italy! It’s a port city on the Island of Sicily and home to many architectural landmarks like the Palermo Cathedral on my featured image. Unfortunately, when we’re not forced to work as interpreters during port days, we have less inclination to read up on the city. Therefore I have nothing super interesting to share with regards to its history and economy.

Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent, talking about my general first impressions of the city:

“Palermo is very different from Venice, it’s much noisier and a lot more cars. I really don’t like many cars… They are so noisy. The buildings here look really old too and it’s less touristy here. I havent seen a mafia yet. But my two guy friends decided to dress up in suits haha”

The buildings look really old, some even crumbling. The narrow alleys which is characteristic of Italian cities made it rather hard to fully capture the grandness of the facades in photos.

Here’s an excerpt from a postcard I sent about what I did:

“Bongiorno! I went to visit the Fountain of Shame, it’s a fountain surrounded by naked statues and it’s right outside a church!! I think they sculpted the women’s bodies based on male models because they are so muscular. Then I went to visit the catacombs and now I’m not sure if I have an appetite for lunch :(“

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I guess I did have an appetite to eat after all! Here they put a generous amount of chocolate spread in your croissants!

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Postcard for the family: Coming soon

Next port: Marseilles, France!

#46 Reminiscing PB88: Kotor (Port 11)

STILL POWERING THROUGH MY PB DOCUMENTATION AFTER ALMOST 2 YEARS!

What is Peace Boat?

Zdravo! (Hello in Montenegrin)

  • Date: 2015/10/4
  • Port Name: Kotor
  • Country: Montenegro
  • First time there?: Yes!
  • What did I do?: Had a half day tour at the and spent the remaining few hours with Akari-chan in the Old Town enjoying milk shakes and Wifi time!

If you were Malaysian like me, the first thing that comes to mind when looking at the name of this city would invariably be “KOTOR? HAHA”. Because Kotor in Malay actually means dirty. It’s always fun discovering funny names like these across cultures, e.g. like when I was discussing the name “Corps” for a legit city in France with my friends the other day. Corps may sound cool for a non-francophone, especially with the silent P and S (Why, French, Why?!) but if you take a step back, it actually literally means “BODY” in French. I mean can you imagine calling a city BADAN (Malay)? Or 体 (Japanese) or 身体 (Chinese?) Haha.

Ok returning from digression.

Anyway, I remember the tour that day brought us to a city about an hours’ drive away. It was a medieval town registered as a UNESCO site and I remember the buildings constructed using really really black rocks and really really closed shops, because unfortunately it was a frigging Sunday and everybody knows Sundays in Europe are boring. I don’t remember the name of the city but after some intense googling, I finally found it, it was BUDVA!! And a bit more random googling later, it’s apparently 2500 years old and one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic Coast.

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I’m a bit sad because all I remember is that it was a tiny medieval town with some churches and mass going on so we couldn’t go in, it had a beach at one of its exits, and that there was a little St Mary statue at the top of the entrance into the city.

Here’s a picture taken sneakily while waiting for the tour group to reassemble after free time. It’s so easy to identify older Japanese tourists, the light colored clothes, the fishermen hats, their reserved dispositions (which turn into totally diva attitudes when confronting Japanese service providers), etc. Haaa, memories

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This was an island we passed by on the way to Budva for a photostop. It’s an island called Sveti Stefan. The only thing I remember explaining about this island is that it’s super luxurious and served as the venue of a very famous tennis player whose name I don’t remember anymore… Lol soray it was 2 years ago.

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After the tour we had half a day left, so we explored the old Venetian-style town of Kotor for milkshakes and postcard writing with Akari-chan! I remember we tried to tapau cakes back to the ship but in the end we got so lost looking for the boulangerie we gave up haha, aka, medieval towns so mysterious and fun in their layouts, but stressful when two girls bad at orientation are just rushing to get some desserts to compensate for the limited choice of sweets available in the boat.

Btw I miss my outfit in this photo. I dropped the scarf at Machu Picchu (Port 22, the post WILL COME one day in the near future!!), pants & knit sweater have been thrown away because they have served their time, shoes are in the back of a shoe closet back in KL, and my sister stole my muji top. The only thing I have with me now is my bag!

Postcard for the family:

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Postcard for le bf:

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Finally, here’s a video of us CCs chilling as the boat leaves one of the most magnificently beautiful ports I’ve ever seen. Look at my hair lol.

Next port: Palermo, Italy!

#45 Meals in Germany over Easter weekend @ Europa Park

Saturday (15/4) breakfast at Weil am Rhine:  German brot and a German tasteless croissant at the train heading to Ringsheim

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Saturday (15/4) lunch in Fjord Restaurant, Scandinavia, Europa Park: Scandinavian style fish dish! Tuna and salmon sashimi, shrimp salad, bread, etc. Etienne had salmon and potatoes.

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Sunday (16/4) brunch: Bretzel and butter, cheese on a stick, and a cafe latte at Freiburg Station. It was freeeeeezing.

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Sunday (16/4) dinner at Suden, Vauban the world’s best ecoquartier: I thought I ordered sausages because the menu said “Wiener Art” but it turned out to be schnitzel, the German/Austrian dish that resembles the Japanese katsu (pork cutlet). Etienne had a vegetarian lasagne.

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Monday (17/4) breakfast in the train going back to Europa Park again: Salted and unsalted Bretzel with butter and a cuppucino from the same cafe at Freiburg station.

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Monday (17/4) lunch in See-Restaurant am Europa-Park: Spaghetti Bolognaise by the lake.

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Monday (17/4) dinner at Europa Park: Finally a hot dog with a German sausage !

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Europa Park was awesome. I miss it already 😦 It’s the perfect combination of Disney and FujiQ; there’s more to do than in Fuji-Q and maybe just a bit less romantic / magical than Disneyland. The queues weren’t that long either, maybe because the weather was rather gloomy and it was drizzling from time to time. Would recommend to anyone! Make sure to try the Silverstar!!

#39 Reminiscing PB88: Dubrovnik (Port 10)

 

What is Peace Boat?

Dobar Dan! (Hello in Croatian)

  • Date: 2015/10/3
  • Port Name: Dubrovnik
  • Country: Croatia
  • First time there?: Second time in Croatia but first time in Dubrovnik!
  • What did I do?: Interpreted for a half day tour in the morning and got to spend the afternoon with some colleagues exploring the beautiful and ancient city walls! Although the morning tour was short, I remember it was one of the most stressful tours for me to interpret because there was an intimidating lady (whom I admire a lot) in my group and she would correct me every time I used “katakana” Japanese. For example, when I said “piru” or katakana for pill, she would tell me the correct Japanese word, 錠剤 (jyouzai), in front of everyone. In hindsight it was a good lesson for me and I learned not to be so sketchy in my interpreting. I will also forever remember words like 錠剤 (pills)、遺骨 (remains) or 遺物 (relics) などなど。

Post-stress Sheng on the city fortification. I think you had to pay to go up the wall but totally worth it! You can spend around 1 to 2 hours up here circling the old city and just taking in the view of the city and the awesome, awesome, Mediterranean Sea.

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When I visited Croatia for the first time (Split and Hvar back in 2012) , to me, it was an exotic country with impressive European architecture and stone buildings plus a really breathtaking Lake Plitvice. But I learned on this trip with Peace Boat that Croatia is actually one of the seven countries of the Ex-Yugoslavia and that Croatia fought a war of independence in the early 90s. In fact, although the old town of Dubrovnik was a UNESCO world heritage site at that time, it was the target of a siege by the Yugoslavian government and more than half of the city was destroyed by bombs. A part of the city that we see today is actually careful and loyal reconstructions done using materials as close as possible to the original materials used.

Another trivia, Dubrovnik is one of the cities that inspired the fictional city of the Ghibli Studios animated movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. We were playing the soundtrack of the movie while walking along the walls when we saw JIJI!! Can you see the black spot in the picture? (For those who don’t know, Jiji is the talking black pet cat of Kiki, the lead character in the movie. And please watch it if you haven’t seen it yet! Highly recommended.)

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I enjoyed this city so much I decided to recreate it for my sketch homework for school:

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Postcard for the family:

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Postcard for le bf:

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Next port: Kotor, Montenegro!

#27 Thoughts on Climbing Mt. Fuji 3 Times

Like everyone else (maybe), I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics on TV lately and I caught a second of a Japanese supporter wearing the Fuji-san hat (see below) that I remember so well for tickling all the tourists I’ve brought around in Tokyo. If you’re wondering, you can easily find them in the ubiquitous Don Quixote shops around Japan and I don’t think it’s that pricey. Makes for a good souvenir / Halloween costume if you have space in your suitcase on your next Nippon vacation!

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Shameless tourists october 2014

Of course, if you fancy food stuffs, there are also ONIGIRI, TAIYAKI, CRAB, MAGURO. And there is also a Japanese castle one if you’re more into architecture or history.

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Shameless tourists july 2013

★★★

And yes, as per the title of this post, I HAVE CLIMBED MOUNT FUJI THREE TIMES. Contrary to my build and my seemingly lack of fitness, I have actually achieved some commendable feats in the hiking world. Ok, strictly speaking, perhaps it’s the amateur hiking world. My other accomplishments include: Climbing Mt. Kinabalu when I was 13 on a high school trip (with porters HAH), Broga and Tabur, Mt. Takao, Fort de St. Eynard, Chamchaude, Jungfraujoch, Machu Picchu, … hmm, maybe I’m not that great after all lol but hey, I can assure you that I have definitely been ON TOP of many many bukits (hills) and gunungs (mountains) around the world, regardless of HOW I got up there hehe.

AND I WAS ON TOP OF MT FUJI THREE TIMES!! Although I also have to shamelessly admit that I started all three times on the 5th station (2305m altitude). And I’ve taken the Yoshida Route, aka the easiest route, all three times.

Maybe I ought to change the post title to:

★★★

Thoughts on Climbing Mt. Fuji Three Times On the Easiest, Most Amateur Yoshida Route, Not Even Consecutively but Over a Span of Four Years + from 2011 ~ 2015

 

①The first part (about 5 minutes in ~ 30 minutes in) is the most difficult but don’t be disheartened

When you start at the 5th Station, you will first encounter some terrain that looks like this that stretches out for about 15 minutes. You’re all pumped up to start scaling the famous mountain and maybe you’ve been training for the past weeks to get in shape. But when you start climbing, you find yourself huffing and puffing and getting short of breath, and you look around to see your mates still with their excited faces on albeit with a bit of strain. You want to rest but you’re too afraid to speak out to your group, because we are just beginning, how can I be struggling already?? Holy shoots can I even make it to the top?? Gosh I’m so unfit… shit I don’t want to drag my friends down but maybe I’m just not cut out for this, maybe it’s not too late to pull out now… etc. etc.

Hold it! (Phoenix Wright voice)

The truth is, EVERYONE IS FEELING THE SAME. I can vouch for it, unless you’re some super fit, crazy mountaineering genius with the right gear and engineered climbing shoes, everyone struggles at this part. So you can come clean and laugh about it with your friends, because rest assured, I don’t remember the exact timeframe but it gets a whole lot better (but more repetitive) after about 15-20 minutes.

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Or you can be like me the first time I climbed it (summer 2011), and stop to take a picture when I just wanted badly to take a short pause. Btw, this stretch also overlooks the 樹海 (jyukai, literally the Sea of Trees or more commonly, the Suicide Forest), notoriously known for its popularity as a suicide spot for Japanese people… brr.. But I also personally know a friend who does orienteering in the forest so maybe there are more haunted areas and less haunted ones.DSCF6056.JPG

②Wear light shoes you feel comfortable in

So the first trip, I was so inexperienced and nervous about the climb that I asked my friend who was in a mountaineering club in uni at that time to lend me all her climbing gear. I love her for being so nice about it but I honestly don’t understand why she would lend me those killer shoes. Check out my look below. I am channeling Doraemon. And you can see that the weather was total shit the first time around.

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But really, THOSE SHOES. Super PROFESSIONAL, Super EXPENSIVE, but it was the cause of my stress throughout the whole trip. Perhaps because they weren’t mine, and perhaps they were slightly too big for me, I don’t know. They were heavy and clunky and whatever extra grip they gave me, I did not appreciate it one bit. All I remember was missing my comfy Nike running shoes back home 😦

Which is why for the next two trips, I wore my comfy trusty purple Nikes which have served me loyally for many many years until I had to move on to black Nikes 😦

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Yeah, great silhouette of my shoes here. july 2013

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Tada! told you they’re purple! july 2015. Stole from Yi Ming’s fb. Hello YM if you’re reading this!

③Bring lots of energy bars

Well, this is quite obvious. You are climbing a mountain, so you need ENERGY. No time to worry about calories now. Fancy hipster granola bars or generic industrially manufactured ones, I DON’T CARE. You are using energy and you NEED to replenish it. Some of my favourites: CHOCOLATE!, Disgusting and dry Caloriemate but it will really be your mate atop that mountain, Fresh bananas (but it’s a drag to carry your rotting banana peel because NO LITTERING! so make sure you bring enough plastic bags to seal that baby up).

You can also buy these along the way to the peak but of course they are all premium priced:

DSCF6067.JPGOne banana for ¥200 or RM8 or US$2

④Bring enough warm clothes 

THIS IS VERY VERY IMPORTANT. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. It gets REAL COLD up there at 3776m in altitude and you have to also take into consideration that you will be standing in the DARK because you’re waiting for the sun to rise so duh there will be no sunlight to keep you warm. I am talking thick gloves, thick winter jackets, beanies, at least two layers of pants (stockings and thick pants). Trust me on this. Just tie it around your waist or hang it around your neck on the way up when it’s still warm and you will be grateful to your past self when its 0 to 2 degrees celcius up there.

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Unprepared noob in lousy weather, July 2011

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All snug and ready to go! July 2013

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Headgear CHECK, Thick down jackets CHECK, gloves CHECK. July 2015.

⑤Enjoy a hot bowl of ramen or udon at the top, you deserve it!

At the top, at around 4 something, small restaurants will open to welcome tired and hungry climbers with free warmth and some food / hot drinks for sale. Prices of the meals vary, but are of course generally 200% more expensive than the usual prices you see in the city. HOWEVER, the warmth and umami (tastiness) of the bowl of noodles or rice that you will enjoy is beyond words can describe. So sit back, relax, and grab a bowl of very simple ramen or udon for around ¥800! Oh, but be alert for the time of the sunrise, you wouldn’t want to miss the egg yolk come up just because you’re eating an actual egg yolk in your bowl.

⑥After the sunrise, take a look around and explore the highest point of Japan

Once you’re done enjoying the magnificent sunrise (well, sometimes when it’s foggy / rainy it won’t be as magnificent but you still see some great clouds lol), don’t just surrender to the cold and go back into one of those mountain huts or start your descent right away, there are so many things to check out at the top! The first time I climbed it, I was one of those noobs who were just hating my life because it was just so frigging cold and rainy I just ducked into a hut until the group was ready to go down.

There are actually several things you can do, first: souvenirs!! If you’re not into that kinda thing, take a postcard and get it stamped with the original Fuji-san CHOP (or stamp) from the souvenir shops for free! There’s also a special Mt. Fuji post office you can send it from right there on the peak. Other than that, there are some picturesque Torii gates and the crater of the volcano itself.

⑦The descent could be HELL

After your euphoria of scaling the mountain itself comes the, in my opinion, most challenging leg of the experience. The descent generally takes around 3 hours but it is a repetitive series of turns that continues for that whole duration of 3 hours with slippery stones and sand. Any wrong move and you might slip off the cliff. JUST KIDDING, you won’t slip off, I’m almost sure, but you feel like you do. And if, like me, you have a fear of heights AND a fear of slipping and breaking your neck, then prepare to suffer. But hey, in my experience tests and makes friendships stronger (lol, true story) and hardens your mental strength.

But half of the people I know are completely fine with the slipperiness though, so maybe I’m just exaggerating. All in all, regardless of whether it’s difficult for you or not, it will lead to the next sweet part of the trip, which is –

⑧To the hot springs!

There’s a number of hot springs in the area but the truth is, without a car, it’s pretty tricky but not impossible to get to one. We went to the Fujiyama Onsen which is adjacent to the highly recommended FujiQ EXTREME THEME PARK WITH AWESOME THRILL RIDES. I think there were shuttle buses but you really gotta check the schedule and time your descent beforehand. On our trip we took a taxi, it was about 20 minutes and cost around, I want to say, 10000 yen or slightly less??? Entry to the onsen is 1250 per person and it’s just great with indoor and outdoor baths, and even one with ice water to shock your system and jack up your blood circulation.

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Alright bye!! Happy hiking ★★