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10 Reasons to shun the Notting Hill Carnival…

…or take rotten tomatoes with you.

Yes, yes…it was only last year I went to the carnival and blogged about it here. In fact, I seemed pretty fine with it. I did express my dislike for some things, like the booming music and crowds, but I thought I had a good time overall. So what changed this year? I’ll tell you.

1. Ginger sugar cane juice

There is sugar cane juice and then there is ginger tea. Who drinks sugar cane juice with ginger in it?? There was so much ginger in it that I could hardly taste the sugar cane. Last year we had lime juice with the sugar cane juice. That was odd too, but at least it was nice as lime and lemon go well with just about anything. This year it just got plain wrong. Is it too much to ask for pure, unadulterated sugar cane juice?

2. Cavorting women

The carnival on Monday is “adult day”. You would expect to see flesh on display. You’d see the odd woman on the parade practically topless, with strategically placed flowers or ornaments. You might also see a topless woman with body paint, in an albeit feeble attempt at concealing her partial nudity. What you don’t expect to see is women among the crowds, yes, “the members of public” lifting up their tops and jiggling their wonky breasts at unsuspecting people! Imagine the shock, horror, disgust at the tasteless exposure I was subjected to! I don’t consider myself prudish or old fashioned, but I believe flesh-baring and nudity should be done with a bit of class (I’d even accept it under the guise of ‘art’), not while cavorting around intoxicated!

3. Weed, the consumable kind…

The smell of weed wafts to your nose every-bloody-where you go! I know it is a street party and it is a foregone conclusion that there will be alcohol and drugs, but it is no more fun than sniffing second-hand fart, let me tell you! And for someone who’s got the sense of smell of a greyhound, it is not pleasant at all. No amount of hot food will mask the smell of weed! It is pungent and sickening and unfortunately as ubiquitous as jerk chicken at the carnival.

4. Pee

Yes, as if the smell of weed wasn’t bad enough, there is putrid urine stench at every alley! Men don’t take well to long toilet queues. Who would, if they had water pistol-like appendages that allowed them to freely relieve themselves wherever they chose? Your only consolation while covering up your nose with your hand, scarf, hanky and jacket is that you don’t live there. It’s no wonder most residents vacate their house during the carnival and only return days or weeks afterwards. But I’ve always wondered whether the  residents have protested against having the carnival in their posh neighbourhood. Imagine your neighbourhood being turned into an open space urinal overnight!

5. Overcrowded trains

It beggars belief that the London tube services can’t withstand a weekend of Notting Hill carnival but breezed through the Olympic and Paralympic games. Getting to and from the Notting Hill carnival is nothing short of a nightmare if you take the tube. Be prepared to breathe in the scent of pits akin to fermented milk, and beer breath and sweat everywhere you turn, especially on the return trip. Of course some might consider themselves lucky if they could turn around freely on the tube. The trains are so crowded in the evenings that they are the human equivalent of farm chicken coops.

6. Noise

I’m not talking about the booming music…that probably deserves an entry of its own considering the grief and ear-ache it caused me…I’m talking about the incessant shrieking and blaring of whistles and horns. Some people clearly think vuvuzela-inspired noises add to the atmosphere of the carnival. It must be the same kind of people who go weekend in weekend out to techno clubs and shout on top of their voices to their friends next to them while dancing right next to the speakers. Too bad you won’t hear me laugh when you go deaf at 40.

7. Loud music

I told you it deserved a separate entry…

Where can I even begin with the loudness of the music? We seem to be breeding a generation of music lovers who think it is not good music if it’s not loud enough to blow out your eustachian tubes and cochlea! These people lurk everywhere, not just at carnivals and clubs unfortunately…they are in the car that pulls up next to yours, booming music audible behind closed windows…they are on trains listening to their ipods, the music so loud that Bose speakers would be put to shame…

I should have known better from my experience in 2011 that this is not a place to be more than once in your lifetime. I’m the person who switches off the tv and music when I am at home alone, for God’s sake. I love the sound of silence. Even as I write this, there is no music. The tv is switched off. I went again this year, against my better judgement. I told my friend this is how it must be like for women who have their second or third (or umpteenth) baby. After each one, they vow never to experience the pain of childbirth again. Then wired as we all are to be suckers, our brain dampens the memory of pain over time and we yearn for it again and again.

8. Shoddy costumes

For a carnival that is purported to be the second-best (in the world?) after the Rio de Janeiro carnival, it sure is a let down. BBC posted photos of the 2012 Notting Hill carnival, and to be fair the photos do look good. But let me assure you that neither did I see any of those costumes nor see any that looked impressive…and I watched the parade from the main route. Also, judging from the women in the photos, BBC has undoubtedly cherry picked and showcased the best of the carnival.

The costumes looked like they had been put together overnight with little thought or budget. Maybe these costumes look better from far. Maybe they had started to fall apart by the time they got to my section of the route from all the dancing. Whatever it is, just don’t expect Rio carnival standards for the costumes and the women!

9. Disorganised crowd control

The crowds this year seemed a lot more uncontrolled than last year. Gone were the ropes used to contain crowds within the pedestrianised zones and instead, people could freely join the parades, be it to dance alongside the costumed dancers or to take photos with them. I am not sure whether the “marshalling area” within the carnival route provided a more controlled environment, but the people were just about everywhere along the main route. I can’t speak for other photographers, but it was quite frustrating for your photo composition to be constantly disturbed by members of the public distracting the performers.

10. It’s free

“Wait…isn’t it a good thing if it’s free?” I hear you ask. Did you know you’ve got to pay for tickets to watch the best of the Rio carnival parades? That’s why they’re so good.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

You pay for what you get.

Those words of wisdom apply here. You know how it is when you get something for free. Museums have free sections and paid sections. Free sections are not bad – well in this case they are not really free, but funded by the government – but the paid sections are remarkably better. The fact that something is free demonstrates that there’s only so much the organisers can do with the little funds they have.

So maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh on the Notting Hill carnival. It’s free, after all.

I’ve griped enough about the carnival. Now it’s your turn. Pleeeaaassee!! Otherwise I might start wondering if age is snuffing out my fun-loving side! 🙂

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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.


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.)


The Best Travel Souvenirs You Can Buy

A naked man. A hippie with a joint. Bottles of wine. I brought them all home with me. I swear…I have photographic evidence.

Before you conjure up images of me in a wild, drunken orgy, let me have you know I’m talking about fridge magnets, the best kind of souvenir you can bring back from your travels. Why?

1. They are cheap! You can usually get good ones for £3 each.

2. They are small and take up very little space in your luggage or handbag.

3. You can get them almost anywhere you travel.

4. They are unique. You won’t find magnets of Barcelona in London, or magnets of Australia in New York. (the fact that they’re probably all made in China is beside the point!)

5. They remind you everyday of the wonderful holidays you have had.

I learnt very early on that some things just don’t make good souvenirs when Bubbles and I returned from Rome, our first trip to Europe with a miniature Colosseum, a brass gladiator and horse-drawn chariot, an aerial view poster of the Colosseum and some fridge magnets. A week after returning, we looked at the Colosseum and brass items and wondered aloud why we had bought them! We had clearly been struck by a case of overzealous souvenir shopping.

It was then that we decided we should stick to magnets alone and the odd unique souvenir and not get carried away while on holiday. Anyway, here are some of my favourite magnets in my collection.

The naked man I meant. Michaelangelo must have been a mean man. Or maybe he just didn’t realise what a sensation his artwork and sculptures would cause in the future. I mean who would sculpt someone with the tiniest possible ding-dong even if it were really tiny?

Isn’t the hippie cute? Here’s another hippie…I love this one for the fact it’s got a springy attachment that says ‘free the weed’! I keep it high on the fridge so kids can’t reach it…

A rack of wine courtesy of Paris. This was quite expensive by magnet standards…I think £5… but the workmanship is flawless!

Cows from Switzerland. So very cute!

A few more favourites…

And now, some magnets which have been a huge disappointment considering where they come from…these are the worst magnets we own but had no choice but to buy them for lack of better ones. Their workmanship is just appalling…especially the Statue of Liberty. Shame on you, New York!

Our magnet collection has inspired our friends to start collections of their own (you’re welcome, you’re welcome). So, if you want to start having your own collection, you had better pay homage to me for my brilliant idea! 😉

What’s the worst thing you’ve bought on holiday?


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?


Colmar, cakes and copycats!

For some reason they reminded me of an icing cake.

It could have been the smooth, pastel walls that looked like marzipan on a cake. Or it could have been the timber cladding criss-crossing the walls like piped chocolate. Or maybe I was just plain hungry, my growling stomach giving me a case of pareidolia.

This is Colmar, a charming little city in the Alsace region of France. In fact, so charming and picturesque is this city that it inspired copycat Malaysia to replicate Colmar at Bukit Tinggi. Not being one partial to fakes (fake branded goods, fake boobs and the likes) let me have you know that I have not visited Bukit Tinggi nor have the desire to.

Speaking of fake branded goods, I don’t know why someone would want to buy something fake just so they can have a fake sense of belonging among society’s shallow materialists. I’d rather carry a cheap handbag from the market than a fake Prada. Actually I’d rather carry a cheap handbag instead of spending a fortune on a branded handbag. How many times have I seen someone carry a branded bag and thought ‘that looks like the fake one I saw at the market?’ But I digress. Besides, how would a nation’s economy keep itself buoyant without people spending their hard-earned money on frivolous pursuits?

Still on the subject of copycats though, we came across signs leading us towards a ‘Little Venice’, an unexpected promise of a Mediterranean interlude lingering in the continental air. Snaking through alleyways and ducking beneath lush green trees, we kept on going in search of Italy’s darling. Then we saw it. A bridge. Not quite the Grand Canal or Rialto bridge of Venice, but the archetype was unmistakable. The bridge rose and fell over a river, like the bosom of a nubile woman. Restaurants and houses formed the banks of the river. Apparently, the canal serves its purpose to this day, hence its affiliation to Venice, whose canals are the lifeblood of the city. Fresh produce and meat are delivered to the restaurants by the canal front in Colmar.

We wandered on and stumbled upon a market selling local produce like pastries and jam. Pretzels hung on pretzel-trees. Glum women slumped behind checked tables. Very French!

When I walked out of the market, I thought I had felt a drop of water on my head. I gazed at the skies for signs of rain and could have sworn I saw a cloud the shape of a roast chicken. Pareidolia had struck again!


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.


Chilling in Camden

During summer this year, Camden Town became our most-visited, chilling hotspot in London. If we didn’t know what to do over the weekend, we’d go to Camden. If we were meeting friends in London, it would be in Camden. If friends from abroad were visiting us, we’d take them to Camden. What was so alluring about Camden?

Camden Market. I’m no urban planner, but Camden Market sure scores high marks for knowing how to attract patrons by clever manipulation of its layout. You see, there are two or three ways to get into Camden Market (as far as I know) and they all require you to weave through a trail of stalls selling all kinds of food! The food list boasts an impressive ethnic variety: nutella pancakes, pulled pork wraps, spinach and cheese crispy pancakes (my favourite), Caribbean goat curry, barbequed pork ribs, seafood paella… I can go on and on. I tell you, they’ve got you hooked from the moment you step foot into the area!

If you’re like me, all that choice would surely confuse you, so what do you order? I’ve gone round and round the stalls trying to decide what to order, and I’m sure there are many others out there faced with the same predicament when in Camden Market. While you’re wandering around the market, the stall owners try to entice you with some samples. By the time you’ve gone around, the samples can actually fill you up! Ahh free food…could this place get any better?

Still, the glutton that I am, I end up ordering something. After filling our stomachs, we’re ready to explore the rest of the market. The Stables Market is tucked away in one corner. It’s built in the former Pickfords stables and horse hospital which served the horses pulling Pickford’s distribution vans and barges along the canal. Massive life-size horse statues greet you at the entrance of the market, and you’re unlikely to miss the huge horse bust at the other end of the market. Cue photo moment! Inside the market, there are shops selling everything from vintage clothes to incense and retro posters. It’s quite difficult to return empty-handed after going through all those shops!

Another one of Camden’s quirks is its buildings that front the main street. They are adorned with what I can only think of as big, bold wall art! The photo on this blog explains it all – my words will do no justice in describing it!

Hmm…what else could you do in Camden? You could people watch! If you’re into street photography, this might be the place for you as you’re bound to see some very interesting characters! The heavily tattooed man, a gothic girl, Bob Marley lookalikes, the backpacker tourist…they’re all there.

Anyway, how would I sum up Camden Market? It’s a hip, hippy place and you couldn’t possibly get bored of it! 🙂


Why unplanned holidays are fantastic!

Have you ever gone on an unplanned holiday? The question almost seems paradoxical, as most holidays involve some level of planning, but seriously, Bubbles and I, and two of our best nutcase friends, went on a completely unplanned holiday. We knew when we were going and when we were returning, and a rough idea of where we were going! We had a basic route sketched out around France, Germany, Luxembourg en route Belgium, and then back to France for the crossover at Calais.

We didn’t book hotels or read up on anything. If you’re raising an eyebrow over our nonchalance, you’d be happy to know that we had a little hair-raising experience of our own! It all started when we reached Brussels one evening. We thought we could stay somewhere on the outskirts of Brussels where hotels would not be as expensive as in Brussels itself. So, thinking we had the luxury of time, we sauntered around Grand Place, taking a myriad photos and doing a bit of crowd-watching. It’s such a lively place it’s difficult not to be caught up in the moment. Then, we went looking for the little social misfit, you know, the boy who pisses in public: Manneken Pis! Mind you, I don’t know what the fuss is about him and we weren’t really walking all the way to see the statue but he ended up being in our wander-path, so we obliged.

I can’t quite remember the sequence of events, but I think D and I got side-tracked into one of the many chocolate shops. We took turns distracting the shop owner so the other person could gorge on free ‘taster’ chocolates and biscuits dipped in chocolate fondue. Right about the time D was done, I was convinced the lady would be racking up a huge loss that day! 😀 In the meantime, J had an epiphany: we should have Belgian waffles while in Belgium! We went past many stalls and cafes, until one finally got her seal of approval. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best of waffles and Bubbles had fun taunting her for the rest of our trip about English waffles being better than Belgian waffles!

After all the dilly-dallying, we drove out of Brussels looking for a cheap hotel. We stopped at a few but they were all either full or way above our budget. This is how we stumbled upon Ghent. It was probably close to 10p.m. when we reached Ghent. Its beguilingly quaint appearance fooled us into thinking it’s a cowboy town and that accommodation would be dirt cheap. It was not only expensive, but mostly fully booked. Just as we were about to give up our search and resign to the idea of sleeping in the car, we stumbled upon a monastery-turned-hotel: Monasterium Poortackere Hotel.

Bubbles and D went to investigate. Yes, they did have rooms available. Yes, they were a pricey £90 per night. Pricey by monastery standards, methinks! Another round of contemplating sleeping in the car, then we decided we should stay at the hotel. Room keys and luggage  in hand, we gingerly made our way through the dimly lit corridors to our rooms. When we entered our room, I could feel myself both gawking and grimacing at the same time. I hadn’t been prepared to see before me a room so big. It was at least twice the size of normal hotel rooms and about ten times the size of the Pod in New York! The bathroom was bigger than the Pod, I kid you not! The room, decorated in muted colours blended rather tastefully with its antique furniture. So why the grimace, you might ask. It must have been a mix between the dull incandescent light bathing the room with shadows and the creaking of the floor beneath our feet; but the room felt very eerie. So eerie that us girls, who were initially tired and contemplating staying back in the rooms while the boys went to buy something to eat, decided there was no way we were staying alone, or even with each other as company!

So, out we went for dinner. After cups of pot noodles later (it was nearly 12 midnight and only the local ‘Spar’ was open), we decided to call it a night. I was so scared of the room that I wondered how I was going to fall asleep. Add the worry of what might find me in my dreams…or that I might need the bathroom in the middle of the night, I was sceptical of catching a few winks that night! This was without a doubt the scariest room I had slept in! Okay, I once stayed in a hotel in Melaka that was rumoured to be haunted, didn’t experience anything overnight, but in the morning I woke up to sounds of furniture being dragged across the room above ours for hours. But who’s scared of the daytime ghost? Anyway, I somehow managed to sleep and it was a real good sleep! I couldn’t even remember having any dreams!

The next morning, we found out D and J had an equally good sleep. So much for the fear of ghosts! Bubbles, emboldened by daylight (I’m sure), said “what did you think was going to happen last night? This is a monastery – there aren’t any ghosts here!” Yes, Bubbles, but what if exorcisms had been carried out here many moons ago and the released spirits had remained in those rooms?! Or what if the spirit of dead nuns roamed the rooms by night? *shivers*

Anyway, why do I think unplanned holidays are fantastic? It’s probably because anticipation is sometimes better than realisation and as much as we think we want certainty in our lives, its the unknown that fuels us. To take the words of Robert Luis Stevenson in the literal sense, “Little do ye know your own blessedness, for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive…”