My random ramblings.

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Who eats ‘ice cream’ on a plate?!

Bubbles and I recently made a trip to Germany to visit a friend I’ve known since I was eight. The beauty of this friendship is that until four years ago, we hadn’t actually met each other!

You see, K and I were childhood penpals and started writing to each other at a time when exchanging letters and sharing stories about your lives were not fraught with risks. It was a time before the computer became a household product and the world was relatively devoid of paedophiles and impostors! Having said that, her world then was instead filled with an ideological divide; democracy on one side and totalitarian dictatorship on the other side. Not exactly without modern day evils! All my letters were addressed to West Germany, not just Germany; but as an eight year old I did not have the maturity to comprehend the severity of it all.

I still remember the day I got her first letter. I was so excited to hear from a girl from an exotic land! I was always mystified by the faraway land of Europe. My only knowledge of it consisted of what I had learnt from the tv, looking at my dad’s old photos from his travels around Europe and some souvenirs scattered around the house. Europe to me was a land where people were white and had blue and green eyes, had beautiful tulips and windmills and four beautiful seasons with snow in the winter. I used to watch enviously a song sequence in the Hindi movie Junglee where Shammi Kapoor cavorts in the snow with his leading lady and tell myself that someday, I would visit that magical land and dance in the snow and have snowball fights.

K and I kept in touch all these years, through letters the first ten years and then via email when we both had access to the internet. We lost touch intermittently, while she spent some years in China, and I spent my first few years in the UK, but we always managed to contact each other, even if a good year passed in between. We finally met a few years ago when she and her husband visited us enroute to Scotland. It was a funny experience meeting someone you’ve known all your life and yet is somewhat a stranger to you.

Then two months ago, we started emailing again and she suggested we visit her. We took her up on her offer and headed to Holzkirchen, some 35km south of Munich. The first day was somewhat wasted by bad weather so we spent most of our time catching up indoors and cooking dinner: a fusion of Malaysian, German and French dishes!

The next day, we ventured out to Tegernsee for a hike up the mountains. We walked past a farmhouse, which was quintessentially Bavarian in its architecture. The houses are part-brick part-wooden, with encircling balconies that are perfect for sitting out on a warm summer evening.

As we hiked up the mountain, we were greeted by splendid views of a lake and mountains on the other side. As this was a pretty miserable summer with temperatures constantly plummeting to near-winter levels, paradoxically we enjoyed a breath-taking view of snow-capped mountains. The snow would have normally melted by May, when we visited.

The air was fresh and the grass and leaves, truly green.

It started raining sometime after we struggled up this road, and so we decided to head for some lunch rather than hike in miserable weather.

I can’t quite remember which restaurant we went to, but it was a Bavarian restaurant serving traditional Bavarian food. We headed for a late lunch…it must have been 2pm but the place was packed with people. A sure sign of good food! As we walked past several tables to ours, I thought I saw ice-cream being served on a plate. Rather odd, I thought!

Little did I know until my friend ordered the same dish, that it wasn’t ice-cream, but ‘Obatzda’, a traditional Bavarian ‘snack’ of cheese served with onions and pretzel sticks! I hadn’t noticed the onions earlier, you see! 🙂 It really looked like two scoops of ice-cream! It tasted very nice, the fresh onions giving a nice zing to the otherwise mild cheese.

Bubbles ordered ‘schweinaxe’, another traditional Bavarian dish of pork knuckle and potatoes. It came served with a knife stuck into the pork! It kind of made me wonder whether schweinaxe had its literal origins in ‘swine with axe,’ and to honour the traditional slaughtering came served with a knife! 🙂

I thought this shot of Bubbles’ beer was quite nice. So was the beer! I’m not usually a beer drinker but I felt the beer in Germany was real good.

My food was the last to arrive: potato fritters with sauerkraut, but I was too famished by then and not in the mood to take any more photos!

Later that evening, we bade farewell to K and headed back to Munich reluctantly. I couldn’t help but contemplate nostalgically about how we’ve played a part in each other’s lives all these years. She couldn’t be more Asian with her stacks of Chinese books and Indian recipe books, and I moved halfway across the world to live in the land she exposed me to through her letters.

Has your life been enriched by penpals? Tell me about your experience or just yap away about anything else! I’d love to hear from my readers.


BMW, the Bavarian Motor ‘Wonder’…

What better way to start your Bavarian holiday than with a dollop of German precision and efficiency? Visitors to the BMW Museum are greeted with a sterile and crisp façade, its clean lines an embodiment of the engineering excellence that has become synonymous with the brand.

A little bit of history: BMW has its roots in aircraft engine manufacturing. In 1917, while the first world war was raging, the previously unknown aircraft engine manufacturer Rapp Motorenwerke GmbH presented a new and highly innovative  type of aircraft engine to the Prussian military authorities. The company was renamed ‘Bayerische Motoren Werke’ and became the BMW that it is today.

I know nuts about aircraft engine, but as far as aesthetics go, this one is stunning!

The BMW R32 motorcycle was the first BMW product intended for road use. The company’s foresight in style and sophistication almost a hundred years ago is apparent even from its market début product.

In 1928, BMW made an automotive leap, purchasing a car and military equipment manufacturing company; and thus began its foray into and its domination of the car industry. These are just some of the beauties it has produced over the years.

Before men started giving their cars affectionate names, they slung their belts around them!

In 1978, the now legendary M1 launched BMW’s exclusive high performance series. The capital M is now considered the ‘world’s most powerful letter’ and features not just in sports cars, as originally intended, but on coupés, convertibles and saloons. My name is Menaka. Don’t mess with me, I’ve got the world’s most powerful letter attached to my name! 😀

Even if you are not into cars, it would be difficult to leave the museum without being the slightest bit inspired by the achievements of this automotive behemoth.


Real interesting stuff you probably didn’t know about Florence

Some months ago, Bubbles and I and our nutcase friends, who by the way feature in my blog through periodic mention; visited Siena in Italy. (Read Siena blog here) We also paid homage to its  rival city: Florence. They say you either like one or the other, Siena for its gothic-style buildings or Florence for its renaissance-inspired architecture.

I can’t really make up my mind which city I prefer. It kind of represents the non-committal person I am…and like most psycho-analyses reveal, this one can be traced back to childhood.

Me: (I do something naughty and anger mum, then run around the dining table knowing mum can’t catch me)

Mum: (looking murderous like scary Goddess Kali and wielding a ‘rotan’ i.e. a feather duster that doubles as child-beating weapon) ARE YOU GOING TO COME HERE OR DO YOU WANT ME TO CATCH YOU? IF YOU DON’T COME HERE AND I CATCH YOU, YOU WILL GET TWICE THE BEATING!!

Me: ( I freeze on the spot and weigh the options. Little did I know that at the tender age of five I was already dealing with mathematical problems like ‘probability’ in my mind!)

But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, Florence. Here’s Ponte Vecchio…one of the most recognised sights of Florence.

Ponte Vecchio does not boast of the pointed arches or elaborate mythical creatures that epitomise Gothic buildings. Instead it almost looks like a nondescript apartment over the river, but yet there is something enchanting about this structure, with its arched bridge crossing the Arno river.

The walk across the bridge is equally bewitching. There are interesting shops that line both sides of the bridge.

Apparently, the economic concept of bankruptcy originates here. When a merchant could not pay his debts, the table on which he sold his ware (the “banco”) was broken (“rotto”) by soldiers. This practice was called “bancorotto” – broken table, or possibly “bancorotta” – broken bank. Without his table, the merchant was not able to sell anything.

Interestingly, Siena hosts the oldest surviving bank in history; Monte dei Paschi, established in 1472. I can see signs of rivalry having its roots here. Bankrupt Florentians must have asked said bank for funds and got rejected in the face. 🙂

I think Florence and Siena have another distinct difference between them. Florence must have had all the muscular, macho men. How else would you explain the fact that only Florence is dotted with anatomically perfect statues such as this? 🙂

I reckon Siena must have had fatties (or flabbies!) as there’s not a single statue celebrating a man’s hot, muscular bod! That could also be where the rivalry originates…can you imagine the wrath stemmed by bodily insecurity and envy? 🙂

Here’s the Statue of Neptune. He’s a bit too bulky for my liking and there’s something odd about the kid standing between his legs. Wait a minute…he’s not a kid. He’s got pubic hair! So, there are two odd things about the kid-statue. Look at his ding-ding. It looks frayed at the edge!

Pray tell what that’s supposed to be! I’m intrigued. So there you go: possible another difference. Maybe there was so much testosterone coursing through the veins of Florentine men that they reached puberty at seven!

Sounds to me like architecture had nothing to do with the two cities’ rivalry. They each coveted what the other had! Like a lot of unproven historical research, I present to you these hypotheses so you can make a valued judgement. (I can tell I would be a very capable historian) 🙂

Have you noticed the frayed genital before or seen any other odd statues in Europe? Do tell me about it! 


Sienna Siena

Meet Siena: the city that lent its name to the colour ‘burnt sienna’. It almost seems ironic then that the very colour makes the city look monochromatic. A rust-coloured skyline greets the traveller from afar, as one approaches the heart of the city through its walled enclave. The atmosphere is unmistakably Italian: ancient and dusty like its southern sister, Rome.

As if decreed by the city, all windows are green; a bright contrast to the reddish brick buildings. One or two buildings stand in defiance, daring to be different.

Even the vespa I spotted is red. One has to wonder if the city’s colour theme is subliminally affecting the inhabitants’ choice!

The gelati too! Would you look at that…the ice-cream tubs have Siena’s signature colours!

By now I’m pretty convinced something is going on in that city. There’s some sort of colour-brainwashing going on. The “brain-washers” are probably operating amongst the average people. Could it be here?

Or here?

We wouldn’t know. We’ve probably fallen victim to it, too. We returned with a magnet of a red vespa.

Have you visited Siena? Were you enchanted by the (predominantly) monochromatic city, like I was?


Sky’s the limit!

It’s a year of many firsts.

For the first time in the 10 years of my life in the UK, I find that it is early May and we still have the heating switched on at home. It is raining every single day in spring. The skies are dull and grey like a winter’s morning.

I am filled with melancholy looking at my holiday photos, where not far from here the land was bright and sunny a few weeks ago.

The skies were a colourful splash of blue and white during the day.

The horizon glowed in the sunset. The world felt right.

And on the days when the sun hid itself, it was only so the clouds could show off their splendour.

They danced languidly in the sky. When night fell, the sun extinguished itself with one final display of grandeur. A rich blue hue enveloped the sky, before melting into darkness.

As if spellbound, I stood with my neck craned, gazing towards the skies.

For the first time, I didn’t photograph my subject with a bit of sky. Instead, I photographed the sky with a bit of subject.

(Note: No post-processing done to these photos.)


To train or not to train…

Bubbles and I are in the midst of planning a holiday and are stumped by one dilemma after another. First, we can’t…umm…decide on the destination, but we’ve narrowed it down to two. Second, if we went with the European destination, should we fly or train it?

Anyway, I spent some precious time reading up on the train journey (in the interest of keeping my job, I better not say where I did my research. Oops!) and started reminiscing our train journey in India. We took the train from Agra to Varanasi,  involving a 13-hour overnight journey on a sleeper train.

I remember watching our train pull into the station platform. It looked like it had been battered by the ravages of time. If the carriages could talk, they would speak of better times when their cerulean shell gleamed in the sun. They might whisper some secrets of colonial times.

We had ‘first’ class tickets which meant sleeping berths in an air-conditioned carriage. This is what first class looked like:

Not exactly luxurious! I kept wondering if the pillows and sheets were clean, but dozed off almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. Bubbles would tell me the next morning that he had had the best sleep ever, rocked by the motion of the train.

I was up at 5 in the morning and watched the train pull in and out of stations. The sun was just rising, bathing the earth in a kaleidoscope of colours.

I stood at the entrance, taking shots of everything within view, not wanting to venture out in case the train left without me. An old lady with her bundle of laundry caught the corner of my eye. I snapped this shot just as she was flinging her throw around her shoulder.

The views were amazing as the train went past villages and cut through fields. It was pure, unadulterated India. I wish I had taken more shots, but at the time I set aside my camera and just took in all the sights. I can never forget the things I saw.

Speaking of the things I saw, regrettably I forgot to take photos of the toilets in the train! I’m not sure if my readers would be pleased with me if I shared such photos anyway, but suffice to say that they were not the best of toilets. Bubbles, who kept going on about his worry I might not survive the filth in India, only went once to relieve himself! I assured him I would have no such problems. And true to my words, it was no big deal to me. I gotta go when I gotta go! 🙂

Anyway, you can see our dilemma. Flying would save us time, but a train would give us a different kind of experience and breathtaking views as it chugs along past mountains and lakes in Europe. The scenery would be very different from that of India, but that’s what you want; a different journey, a journey that takes you on a discovery,  a journey full of serendipity.

Have you had a travel-related dilemma lately? What was it?


2011 with my iPhone

Hello! Happy New Year!

I thought I’d compile some photos taken with my phone throughout 2011. I hardly use my phone camera but there were moments this year when having my iPhone was a real godsend, like the time when my stupidity got the better of me and I forgot to charge my DSLR before a photo expedition, or when it was just more convenient to take photos using my phone camera.

These were taken in Southend. I still get annoyed at the thought of not having charged my camera, but at least I got some good shots using some cool apps on the iPhone. Plus it’s not too far away to go back and take some proper shots. In a way I’m glad that I learnt this lesson early on rather than it happening when on holiday!

Here’s the facade of a fish and chip restaurant in Southend. The fish and chips were nothing out of the ordinary, but the prices were quite steep. Who wouldn’t capitalise on their coastal connections?

These are some photos of the pier. We walked on it later in the day but the freezing spring temperatures spurred us towards an early return.

This is Smithfield market, meet meat packing smack in the centre of London. Who would have thought a place that breathes so much masculinity with its meat trucks and men dressed in bloody overalls would be painted in pastel colours: pink and green! I used to walk past this everyday when my work was based in central London and loved its character and pizzazz.

What is this? No, it’s not a movie still from Transformers 4. This is an ice-kacang machine…a block of ice is placed into the pit of its bowels to churn out shaved ice.

This is my favourite stretch of the north-south highway in Malaysia, called Changkat Jering. With 270 degrees curves and tunnels carved through hills, it is like your very own ‘Need for Speed’ game. In fact, it is indeed a race circuit to some mad drivers!

I finish off with some shots of Ipoh, a landlocked city in Malaysia. It’s not exactly a touristy place, but I love some of its old buildings.


A weekend in Porto, Portugal

My alarm fails to ring and my husband (let’s call him Bubbles) and I oversleep. We get up with barely enough time to grab our passports and luggage and head for the airport. Then, we arrive in Porto and I realise I forgot my DSLR. No wait, we arrive in Porto, I begin taking photos and accidentally drop my camera, breaking the glass to smithereens. The alarm rings. 

Phew, it was a dream after all! Yet again. It seems to be a recurring dream every time a planned holiday nears. My fears manifest themselves in creative variations within my dream, but always centred on a common theme: my DSLR! As if that’s not bad enough, I start wondering on the way to the airport, ‘did I put the DSLR in the luggage?’ even though I checked ten times before leaving the house!

Anyway, dreams and delirium aside, we got to Porto drama-free last weekend. Upon reaching the hotel we noticed that there was a supermarket right next to it, so we immediately stocked up on munchies. I found some little cakes which reminded me of kuih bahulu in Malaysia! It also tasted almost like it, albeit a bit more oily. Little did I know that this was going to be the only nice tasting food I was going to have in Porto!

I’ve just read that Porto has some of the finest restaurants in Portugal and that their traditional dish, the “Francesinha” is one of the 10 best sandwiches in the world! I find this hard to believe as the food looked so unappetizing! Bubbles ordered a grilled turkey dish which was served with rice and salad. And no gravy. How do you eat rice without gravy?! I ordered a cheese omelette and it came with … rice! We didn’t order the “Francesinha” but a group of people on the next table ordered it and it didn’t look the least bit appetizing. It looked like someone had stacked four pieces of bread and poured loads of gravy over it. Apparently it is toast with layers of meat inside, covered with cheese and a spicy sauce.

The next day we went to another cafe and I looked around me for inspiration on what to order (you’d have thought I would have learnt my lesson after last night’s dinner). I saw a plate of salmon being served at the table next to ours. It was a salmon steak, skin intact, served with two halves of a large boiled potato. I almost gagged. You could argue that it might have tasted better than it looked, but I eat with all my senses and the food was just not visually stimulating.

Fortunately the port wine made up for what the food lacked. I can see why Porto is famous for its port wine and actually has a wine-making industry. The wine was lovely!

There is not a great deal to see in Porto, but it is a charming little city where the new exists alongside the old and the refurbished is interspersed with the dilapidated. One interesting feature is that some building façades are partially tiled with bright, colourful tiles. I can’t recall seeing this anywhere else in Europe. The architecture is otherwise quite homogeneous with other parts of Europe – a mix of neoclassical, baroque and modern styles. The Riviera overlooking the mouth of Douro river was the highlight of Porto. It is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it has a rich 2,000 year history.

Porto is a nice place to shop! Bubbles heard about Norte shopping centre being one of the biggest shopping malls in Porto, and so we went there since it was only a Metro ride away. Well, you know how each mall that comes along in the UK or Europe claims to be the biggest in UK or Europe but is nothing compared to Mid Valley in KL? This was like 10% of Mid Valley! The shops were not bad but the same shops were along St Catarina, so I wouldn’t recommend going all the way there.

Some websites and brochures on Porto say the locals are nice and friendly. What they failed to mention is that they are also hot! 🙂 Bubbles thought the chicks were one of the best looking he had seen in Europe. Me, I still like the chicks in Paris – elegantly dressed, understated beauties. But the men in Porto…*whistle*! They were hot! Well buffed up! I wish I had taken some photos, but we were sat quite close to some of them in the cafes so I couldn’t possibly have taken shots without getting caught in action! So, you’ll have to take my word for it until you see them for yourselves, ladies. (and some men!)

So, how would I sum up Porto? Great weather, good sights (landscape and lads), but lousy food! I’d say Porto is a bit like Venice, in the sense that there aren’t many specific tourist sites to see. The best way to see it is to just wander around, explore it in your own time and you are bound to find hidden gems tucked away in a corner you least expect.

Note: I still haven’t worked out the best way to display my photos on WordPress, so please head to my flickr account (click on flickr) for more photos of Porto. Thanks for viewing them.


Pangkor Island

On my recent trip to Malaysia, my husband and I went to Pangkor Island, which is a small island in the north west coast of Malaysia. The island is about 300km to the north of Kuala Lumpur and requires a drive or bus ride to Sitiawan, followed by a ferry crossover to get to the island. Its slight remoteness makes it a less popular tourist destination compared to other islands in Malaysia, such as Penang and Langkawi. But on the plus side, this means that the island is not overpopulated with tourists, which makes your whole holiday experience a bit more exclusive.

We spent four leisurely days there, doing nothing but lazing by the pool, walking by the beach, eating and then more eating! We didn’t venture out of the resort too much as we enjoyed the idleness, however there are things you can do on the island like going hiking in the forest, visiting a Dutch fort and Chinese temple and wandering around Pangkor town.

Do visit my flickr site for photos of Pangkor. Happy viewing!


Notting Hill Carnival 2011

The Notting Hill Carnival in London is the largest festival celebration of its kind in Europe. It has been held every August bank holiday since 1966, initially set up on a small scale by the West Indian community and latterly transforming itself to a full blown Caribbean carnival.

The carnival is one of the most vibrant in London, with colourful parades, booming music and swaying hips lining the streets of West London. It is a haven for budding photographers like me, as it provides an opportunity to capture the vivid colours, the people in grand costumes and the street celebrations that are the next best thing to the Rio De Janeiro Carnival …all at my very own backyard.

Being there amidst the crowds, I was transported back to my teenage years of witnessing the processions during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival that is celebrated every year by Hindus. It is characterised by the same vibrant colours, loud music, street dancing and food; but the difference lies in the fact that Thaipusam is a religious festival whereas the carnival is a cultural celebration.

It was quite amusing to note that not much has changed in the way I experience these processions in all these years. (I reckon that’s a good thing, because it means I’m still young at heart!) 😉 My disdain still exists for loud, booming music. I had to cover my ears when the lorries went past us, playing music so loud I bet they set new thresholds in the decibel scale. Back then, my cousins and I used to be surreptitiously on the lookout for cute guys (surreptitious because our parents used to be standing right next to us!), this time round my friend and I were (openly) eyeing well-sculpted, bare-chested men taking part in the processions! I still have a thing for roadside stalls, as there is something about munching while walking and having unlimited food supply every 100 metres! Sweet desserts used to dominate my palate during Thaipusam while it was sugar cane at the recent carnival. Back then we would religiously end our Thaipusam walkabout at the temple, whereas this time I ended our carnival walkabout after religiously taking some photos!

Here are some photos I took at the carnival.