The Fairytale Village Of Colmar, France

Sunday, 8 September 2019

It was the day before my birthday when I decided to visit the nearby village of Colmar in Alsace, France. It's just over half an hour train ride from Strasbourg and it was a hassle-free journey. Because it was my birthday week, I decided to treat myself to a first class train ticket, which believe me, is neither that expensive nor special (of course, for a half an hour train ride). The only perk I suppose was the fact that I was on my own in the carriage on both journeys. Nevertheless, it was all worth it as Colmar is a village of my dreams.

I arrived mid-morning and the village was already flocked by holiday makers. I went straight to La Petite Venise (Little Venice) and was immediately transported to a fairytale setting. The village is very picturesque with its cobblestone streets lined with candy-coloured half-timbered houses along the canals of river Lauch. Walking around the village felt surreal. I have not been to a place where I felt dizzy just looking at those uniquely decorated colourful buildings. My eyes wandered aimlessly from one direction to another. Everywhere I looked seemed so overwhelmingly beautiful that I did not even think of taking photographs until I came out of my dreams and realised that this place truly existed. I was drowned in the beauty of the flower-filled canals and lovingly decorated buildings. 

I lingered in La Petite Venise until after lunch. The presence of far too many tourists didn't bother me, or should I say I didn't let it bother me because I was living in my own little world, building my own little colourful village in my head. I was oblivious of the fact that I was only there for a short time. It was difficult to gain focus because everything was picture-worthy. When I finally gained momentum, I started clicking my camera (alternating my mobile phone and my digital camera) to my heart's content.

I then made my way towards Rue des Tanneurs, passing by the covered market and some really cute shops and cafes.

Grand Rue, being the main street of Colmar was buzzing. Bright and beautiful colours are consistent everywhere in Colmar. Most of the buildings are tastefully decorated and you could see the pride of the owners, and perhaps a bit of their personalities as well by how their buildings are adorned.

On my way back to the train station, I took a different route and I was rewarded with more exhilarating sights. I must have taken hundreds of photos of Colmar that day. Every house I passed by had its own unique characteristic. Some decors were over the top yet fascinating to look at. Some were simple yet elegant. Some showed signs of wear and tear. But equally, they were all pretty and graceful.

It was only a few hours spent in Colmar, but it's enough to say that I absolutely enjoyed this very charming place. I consider this trip as my first official solo trip, although J was only a few miles away.:)

Somehow whilst writing about this trip to Colmar, the question of why I love to travel kept popping in my head. Perhaps because as I grow older and travel more, I find a better purpose in traveling. I am just grateful that I have the ability to write- that way I am able to share my experiences with those who take time to read my blog and dream of one day seeing amazing places like Colmar

TIN x

Five Days in the Magical City Of Strasbourg, France

Monday, 26 August 2019

The last year has been a good travel year for me. I visited a few wonderful places that I thought I would never see. The trip to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia was the highlight of my travels last year. This year, it is so far our trip to Strasbourg in France.

Our trip to the Alsace Region was unplanned. It was in fact an almost last minute trip. It was only confirmed that J was attending a conference on a Thursday and we were to leave on a Sunday. Luckily, I already had most of the week off as I planned to go to a sunflower field on my birthday (which fell on that week). All I needed to do was ask for an extra two days off which was granted instantly. 

So on a Sunday morning, we headed to St Pancras International to take the Eurostar to Paris. It was busier than I expected because we left later that morning and it was the school holidays- so plenty of children and children-at-heart with their Minnie Mouse ears headbands, excited to head to Disneyland Paris.

We arrived in Paris before 2pm (after 2 hours and 20 mins) and took another train from Paris Est (about 8 minutes walk from Paris Gare Du Nord) to Strasbourg ( just over 2 hours). We didn't get assigned seats to Strasbourg which was a bit inconvenient as we were asked to give up our seats a few times. There was no reserved or unreserved sign on the seats so we just sat wherever- only to be asked to move. We didn't realise that we had to verify our tickets from the ticket office for Strasbourg to get our seats. Anyway, the small inconvenience was truly worth it because Strasbourg is a magical place, and I was just happy to be there.

Everyday for five days, I left our hotel room early in the morning just as the sun was starting to rise (and whilst J was still fast asleep) to explore and enjoy the serenity of the otherwise touristy city. Yes, as soon as the clock hits 0930, all tourists in groups emerge in Grande Ile, the historic centre of Strasbourg. 

Speaking of Grande Ile, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is where most of the tourist attractions in Strasbourg are found. I really enjoyed going back to this large island, just to wander around in my own pace. Strasbourg is a place that is easy to fall in love with, and I have a few reasons why I fell in love at first sight with this medieval city.

Strasbourg Cathedral

This was the first thing that I did on my own in Strasbourg,  and you should too if you are visiting Strasbourg. This towering, intricately designed gothic cathedral is over one thousand years old. It is so tall that I had to really tilt my head up to see the end of the spire. With its spire at 142 metres, you can see it anywhere in Strasbourg.

I went inside the church twice and I made sure that I went there before it opened at 0800, because otherwise I would be queueing up. The interior of the church is equally majestic as its exterior. The rose window is one of the most beautiful stained-glass windows I have ever seen. The organ, which is suspended on the wall, is a sight to behold. Then there is the impressive astronomical clock which dates back from 1842. Everyday at 1230, the clock displays a parade of the apostles. The church is closed around this time and only ticket holders are allowed inside. Entrance is very cheap at €1 or free with a Strasbourg pass. Unfortunately, the church platform which apparently offers magnificent views of Strasbourg was closed.

La Petit-France

La Petit France is about 15 minutes walk from Hotel Beaucour where we were staying. It was a pleasant walk along the Ill river one cloudy morning. There are ways to enjoy the beauty of Petit France- get on a tram or a boat or just simply walk. I preferred to explore the area on foot to fully appreciate the beauty of the area, which was once home to butchers. Petit France is very picturesque with its colourful half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and charming little cafes. To get a panoramic view of Petit France and the Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges), I went on the rooftop of Barrage Vauban.

Krutenau

We stayed in an area just across Grande Ile called Krutenau. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and decided to have a drink in Au Quai De L'Ill and chose a table under the tree. The ambience was relaxing and people were seem to be genuinely happy just hanging out in the little square, singing and dancing to jazz music played by street performers.

Krutenau is quieter than Grande Ile but it has its own unique beauty. Most days, I walked J to the University of Strasbourg where his conference was. I would explore the area afterwards and find little treasures, like a pink house in the middle of the street with balcony adorned with lovely flowers. Rue Des Orphelins was my favourite street in Krutenau because of its typical French houses with wooden shutters.

Romantic Alleys

I explored alleys alone in the mornings and with J in the early evenings. There was something special about the calmness of those narrow streets, during those times when not many tourists were out and about. I don't think narrow streets are included in anyone's itinerary. I guess it's a personal preference as to whether you would like to go the other way and take the road that is less travelled (as they say). Historically, we have always taken the quieter routes, whether on foot or by car.

The Beauty Everywhere

I mean, I had five days of nothing but magnificent views of Strasbourg whichever way I looked at it. I didn't have to use any public transport to see wonderful things. Most of the attractions are walking distance (if you are staying in the old town), and anything beyond that is simply a treat. 

Strasbourg is a magnificent city and I was in awe of everything that I saw. From the intricate Strasbourg Cathedral, to beautiful bridges adorned with hanging flower baskets, to charming cobblestone streets, to quaint and romantic alleys, to colourful half-timbered houses, to cheap but delicious food (which I will be writing about separately). It is indeed one of those places that one must see at least once in their lifetime.

TIN x

How I Remembered Keith On What Would Have Been His 19th Birthday

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Keith would have been 19 today. And whilst things have changed since his birthday last year, nothing has changed in the way I honour him on his special day. This is the least thing I can do for the boy who changed my life forever. As heartbroken as I am to this day, I know that he is now in a much better place; and he deserves to be celebrated for being the wonderful child that he was.

This morning when I woke up, I went to his corner in the house and lit a candle. I gave his favourite toy Meow a kiss and then played his favourite song "Lighters". I have been doing this morning routine twice a year for 7 years now, and I will not get tired of doing it for my very special boy. 

Then I went out for a run, listening to a whole playlist of his favourite songs. It was indeed a K Lighter Day.

Wearing my white and blue top (Keith's favourite colours), I went to give blood for the 8th time in Keith's memory. As I mentioned before, Keith had haemorrhage and there was no blood readily available during that time. This is my way of giving back so that other people, especially children have easy access to blood should they need it.

After giving blood, I went to the church to lit a candle, and said a little prayer.

Hayyy, how time flies and how things change.

And although some things have been broken since he left us, our mutual love for this amazing angel remains whole.

I miss him everyday.

TIN x

The Road To 43

Saturday, 27 July 2019

The road to 43 was not particularly paved, rather it was rocky, long and winding. Whilst I had some really good times between 42 and 43, I want to be honest and say that this period in my life has been one of the toughest. There was a point where I questioned myself a lot because I felt like I was a failure despite investing too much time and effort in trying to make things work, and making people feel that they were valued. The constant challenge from people at work almost got the better of me. I didn't need to hear that people (potentially)hated my guts because I could clearly see and feel from how they looked at me. Everything that I said was taken out of context. I was reprimanded for addressing something I believed was right. People suddenly stopped coming to me. The negativity in my normally positive self started to brew. Fortunately, I was mindful enough to notice the little changes in myself and therefore, was able to turn things around quickly. I decided to be the bigger person and made peace with those whom I apparently have done wrong. Things are better now that I am more aware of myself and the people around me.

Family, on the other hand, has always been challenging for the last how ever many years. At this point, I believe it is fair to say that I have accepted the fact that things will never become easier and that peace of mind in this aspect of my life will never be achieved. This is not in any way being negative. It is a matter of accepting that life is unfair and that I cannot have everything in life. I guess I was born to fight, hence the constant battles that I have to go through. 

Then a few months before my 43rd birthday, I went through something that I thought I will never have to go through. I would rather not discuss this any further as this is very personal to me and rather quite sensitive. Quite traumatising in fact, that I even chose to disclose the situation to only one of my trusted friends and no one else. What matters most now is that I have fought the battle and (hopefully have) won it like a true warrior. Suffice it to say that this difficult situation brought out the best in me, and gave me the affirmation that I am very capable of loving unconditionally. 

And so on my birthday month, I did a few things to celebrate me and all the challenging times behind me.

London Pride

July is always a good time to be Prideful as it's when we celebrate Pride in London. As I have not been able to volunteer in the last year and a half, I am glad that I am still able to give back a little by supporting the LGBT community. This is now my second year in joining the parade and just like last year, I had so much fun. It is  always good to see people come together to celebrate love and equality. And as someone who had her first gay friend at a young age of 6, I am very proud to be a part of this movement. Thank you to my little sis Kristy for always bringing me as her plus one. Not only that I was able to join such a good cause for the second time around, but also kicked off my birthday month with a brunch and a much needed catch up with her.

Strasbourg, France

I had a different plan on my birthday in that I was going to see a sunflower field outside London with one of my friends. However, J was asked to attend a conference in Strasbourg and so I cancelled my sunflower trip and went to Strasbourg with J instead.:) The last time I celebrated my birthday abroad was in Sydney in 2016, so I was excited to celebrate my birthday outside the UK this year . 

And thanks to J, I had one of the best birthdays ever! Strasbourg is a very magical place and I am so blessed to have spent my 43rd birthday there. 

As a tradition, I normally go on a birthday date with myself either the day before or after my birthday. However, I was alone on my birthday this time as J was at the conference all day, so I went on the day instead, then J and I went to dinner afterwards. 

To be honest, there are a a lot of good restaurants in Strasbourg and I could have just gone to any of the restaurants in town and I would have been equally contented and happy, but I was curious about one particular restaurant, 1741. When I passed by the restaurant the first time, I thought 1741 was the year the restaurant was opened or the building was built at least. But apparently not. It was actually the year the building opposite was completed- that is the Palais Rohan. Anyway, so I booked a table for 1 and requested for a quiet table and an unforgettable dining experience as it was indeed my birthday- and it was exactly what I got.

I felt a bit awkward walking into the restaurant alone especially when I saw two couples already in the room. The room was intimate, with only 3 tables and 6 chairs. I was given the middle table which was the best table for me. I didn't interact with the other diners for a while, until I realised that I was in a strange place and really should make an effort to reach out to locals. Besides, the lunch was going to be 3 hours long and I really didn't want to spend my time not eating, on my mobile phone. So, I initiated a conversation with the younger lady on my left and asked her if she was from Strasbourg, and if they have been to the restaurant before. She answered "oui" to my first question, but I didn't get the rest of the words she said afterwards. It was quite difficult to make conversation with them because they only spoke French and my French is limited to only a few words. We eventually asked help from google translate so we could understand each other. :)

The older couple in the room were celebrating their anniversary on the day. I didn't have much conversation with them during lunch, but we exchanged lots of smiles. When my dessert came and they saw a candle, the old lady asked the sommelier to ask me if I wanted to try a glass of Marc d'Alsace Gewurztraminer. I reluctantly said yes as to not spoil the celebration. After lunch, I approached the couple to say thank you and asked if I could have a photo with them to which they both happily obliged. The lady gave me their address afterwards and told me to learn French from then on. They invited me to their house, but unfortunately they were only free on Saturday - the day we were going back to London. So, the day after my birthday, I sent them a thank you card instead. A few days later, I received an email from them thanking me for my kindness. 

This dining experience at Restaurant 1741 is one of the most unforgettable dining experiences I ever had, not only because of the food and the service, but more so with the strangers I spent my birthday lunch with. Marlene and Emile- the older couple in the restaurant, definitely made my birthday extra special. 

Lea Salonga

Now, there are only two Filipino performers that I would love to watch in a concert - Lea Salonga and Sarah Geronimo. I didn't get to see Lea in Miss Saigon as she was finishing when I came to the UK, so I was hoping I could watch at least one of her concerts. This dream came true 10 days after my birthday.

Lea sang at least five of my life's soundtrack  with so much clarity and emotion that I felt empowered all over again. One of my favourite songs, "Go the Distance" (from Hercules) almost brought me to tears. The song reminded me of how far I have become from being "just" a farmer's daughter to a woman  with the ability to inspire and motivate others.

Thank you, Lea for an unforgettable night.

And thank you to my Ate Elvie for coming with me. I couldn't think of any better way to cap off my birthday month.

Despite all the hard times I had to endure in the last year, I remain blessed and grateful- for there is always a good reason to look forward to another year. For me, it's another chance to enjoy life and wait for the time when the universe finally decides to make up for all the challenges he has been throwing at me for years. Peace.

TIN x

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