Vancouver from above…

In September 2007, I was fortunate to go on a 1 week airport simulation course at Point Roberts, USA near the USA/Canadian border. Our hotel is at a small town of Tsawwassen on the Canadian side and Vancouver, Canada’s 3rd largest city, is only 35 minutes drive away. On our last day at Points Robert, my course instructor who owned a small aircraft had invited us on a scenic ride over Vancouver.  

After a quick safety briefing, we took off from the Points Robert Airpark. One thing for sure, I was very nervous since I have never ride on a small airplane before. Everything seemed compact inside the small airplane. I took a deep breath to calm myself. The ride was in late afternoon and the sun was getting lower. This was my 1st opportunity on aerial photography (well I have counted out those photos taken from the window seat of commercial aircrafts) and was hoping to get some nice photos. Unfortunately I didn’t have my DSLR with me on this trip and had to just make the most out of my compact digital camera to record this experience.

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Residential homes are seen dotting the shoreline of Points Roberts as we flew towards the Pacific Ocean. As we got higher, the Coast Mountains came into sights. From a distance it looked bluish. My instructor radioed the air traffic controller seeking permission to enter the Canadian airspace. Once the clearance was given, we flew approaching Vancouver.  We made a few rounds over the city centre. We could see different perspective of the cityscape; seeing the highrise buildings, harbor, marinas, road and bridges from above was like having a map infront of you. Then we flew over Vancouver International airport and passed over farmlands before returning to Points Roberts. The ride lasted for about 40 minutes. The experience of seeing the city of Vancouver from above was truly satisfying.  I guess this is what a scenic flying tour is all about, but such tour is expensive and is out of reach for most of us. I’m grateful my course instructor offered us this free ride.

Paris in memory…

In 2003, we spent 10 days to explore and see the best of Paris. Paris is indeed a beautiful city day and night.

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These are incidents that is still fresh in my memory….

In a city that is throng with tourists like Paris, you will need a lot of patience as the queue to some of the main attractions can be very long. When we were queuing to buy tickets for Eiffel Tower, there were not less than 100 people in front of us. Then we were saved by the rain…hahha!. Other visitors had run for cover, but we were prepared with rain jacket and had stayed on. Suddenly, there were less than 15 people in front of us, we braved the rain and got our tickets in less than 30 minutes. I guess we were lucky. But even you had to queue for 1 – 2 hours; it will be all worth it. To go up on one of the man-made wonders of the world is one thing; the view from the top was just breathtaking.

Cruising on the river Seine also gives you a different perspective of Paris. We took the day cruise. The cruise last for about 90 minutes. But be warned when the boat goes under the bridge, there were teenagers throwing flour onto the visitors in the boat. Depends on how you take it, but we were annoyed but at the same time chuckles on the incident. Another incident that had stick to my memory is when the boat make a U-turn at a tiny island called Ile des Cygne. This is how we first found out that the mini version of the Statue of Liberty existed in Paris. We were overly excited and rushed to take photos. It was a daunting task because the boat is making a U-turn and suddenly the statue was already on your wrong side, so we had to keep repositioning ourselves for the photo shoot.

Paris has many parks. When the sun shines, it’s a nice place to have a picnic and watch how the Parisian enjoys their summer. We spent for about 3 hours at Jardin du Luxemborg; met a French guy who speaks English, so finally we had a good conversation without sign language with a local, had a wonderful ice cream (though not as good as the one at Berthillon…hu2), watched a game of chess and feed the pigeons with Granola (our favourite snack that we carry along when travelling).

There is also a good chance when you are in Paris, the public transportation service is reduced due to worker’s strike. We were unfortunate that on the day we planned to go to Disneyland, there was only limited train service available. At the train station platform, there was no display on the next train. However, there was announcement in French informing passengers the destination of each train. It seems in France, each platform can service multiple destinations. We totally haven’t got a clue which train to take. We missed the first available train to Marne La Vallee and start arguing with each other. Then, Mr nice guy seeing that we were confused and frustrated came and inform us the next two train will be the train to Disneyland. The train was packed. We could not wait for another train because may be there is no Mr nice guy who speaks English to tell us which train is going to Disneyland. We squeezed into the train and I could hardly breathe. But we did arrive at Marne La Vallee in one piece to fulfill our childhood dream going to Disneyland.     

Paris will always be one of my favourite city destination.

How to beat the queue at Disneyland Paris?

This is how we have done it. So some tips…. 

  1. Plan ahead. Do research and familiarise the attractions at Disneyland Paris.
  2. Shortlist the attractions and rides that you would like to go.
  3. Find out if certain attraction is only available at certain time such as the Parade.
  4. Found out which ride offers “FastPass”.  FastPass (FP) is a reservation system available in Disneyland. When used wisely you can get ahead of other visitors and maximized your time to enjoy the rides instead of queuing for hours. We had devised a plan and only used FP when the queuing time at the attraction is more than 60 minutes.
  5. If you can, avoid going there on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. Usually there are bigger crowds during weekend and in France the school closed on Wednesday.
  6. We bought the entrance tickets two days in advance at Disney Store Champs Elysees Boulevard and avoid the queue at the park entrance on visiting day.
  7. We took the early morning train to Disneyland and be at the entrance gate 30 minutes before opening.
  8. We had stick to our plan, no compromise!

Good luck and hope the above tips can help your plan to Disneyland Paris….

So Hot So Colourful ~ Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Sometimes you can find interesting event happening near you. I had a chance to see for the 1st time a hot air balloon show at Putrajaya, an administrative capital of Malaysia. Everything about the fiesta is so colorful and it end with a BANG!!! a wonderful fireworks display. The fiesta encourages family togetherness by having fun with variety of activities for all ages.

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A Walk in Paris Part 2 – from Marais to Notre Dame

After a good night sleep I woke up to the sound of delivery van outside the hostel. It was chilly for a summer morning. I peeped through the window and it was drizzling. The hostel did not have a guest kitchen but we were prepared and brought along a traveler kettle. We had breakfast in the room and packed some sandwiches for the sightseeing.

We started walking along rue Vieille du Temple towards rue Rambuteau when the drizzle stopped around 8.00 am. Unlike the day before, there seem to be more cars and cyclists on the road. The Parisians also seem to have taken skating out of the parks and into the streets. It was quite an unusual sight to see them hanging to cars for a free ride. Later we found out that the public transport is not available due to ongoing worker’s strike and the Parisians being adaptive to the event had taken out their cars, bicycles and rollerblade as alternative transport.

At rue Rambuteau we took a right turn towards rue de Renaud until we reached Centre Pompidou. The building has radically altered the quatier of Beaubourg. It is made entirely of glass and surrounded by white steel grid. Its services and structure have been exposed externally and painted in primary colors. The centre houses the Musee National d’Art Moderne on the 3rd and 4th floor including works by Picasso, Braque and Matisse. From the top you could see Paris cityscape with Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur in the distance. There is an entrance fee charged to visit the museum. 

Outside of Centre Pompidou, there were many “wanna be” artisan who claimed that they can draw a potrait of you at a price of course. My travel buddy had her potrait drawn but it turned out a caricature that doesn’t look like her at all. The artist asked €40 for the caricature but we said we are not paying anything for that. Eventually my friend paid €10 but I think she threw it away.

 From the Centre Pompidou we head down towards the Seine. We reached Place de Greve. The square is dominated by the Hotel de Ville, the City Hall which houses the offices of the city’s mayor and is the headquarters of the municipal administration. On the river bank, a few bridges cross the Seine and the view is picture perfect. Crossing Pont Neuf (New Bridge) is Ile de la Cite a small island on the Seine and said to be the heart of Paris. We walked along the river bank until we reached Notre Dame de Paris, also widely known as the Notre Dame Cathedral. The Cathedral is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Many small statues were placed around the outside. Among these are the famous gargoyles. The cathedral’s arched exterior supports (flying buttress) really dominates if you looked at it from the river side. Inside the cathedral, the stained glass and the rose windows looks really spectacular.

This is where we took a break and had our sandwiches.

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A Walk in Paris Part 1 – Ambling around the Marais neighbourhood

Our flight touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 6.40 am. We had pre-booked a private room in a hostel at the Marais neighbourhood, a 5 minute walking distance from the St Sebastian Froissart metro station.  We arrived at the hostel around 7.50 am and the owner let us leave our bags in the storage room as the check-in time is from 2 pm onwards. We decided to explore the neigbourhood.

We walked north along rue de Turenne to Place de la Republique, a square with a monument and a small fountain. The surrounding area and roads leading to the square saw little traffic. Feeling hungry we stopped at the nearby McDonald for breakfast. The breakfast set comprising a mini croissant, a danish and a muffin with tea or coffee tasted so good that we ordered another one. From here we decided to back track and explored the narrower streets. We could see the architectural styles of Medieval and Renaissance-era Paris in the area are well preserved. We passed Musee Picasso (Hotel Sale) on rue de Thorigny before stopping at Museum of the History of Paris on rue de Sevigne. The museum is housed within the walls of two Renaissance-era mansions, the Hotel de Carnavalet and the Hotel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau which was built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The museum’s permanent collection traces the history of Paris, highlighting various periods of the Parisian heritage in over 100 rooms. My favourite was its exhibits on the French Revolution and the beautiful courtyard garden. Entrance to the museum is free.

From the museum, we continued walking west along rue des Francs Bourgeois until we reached Place des Vosges, arguably Paris most beautiful square. The square has served as royal stomping grounds. Originally it housed the royally-owned Hôtel de Tournelles where Charles VII and Louis XIII had both lived in. In the early 17th century, Henri IV’s instructed the construction of the Place des Vosges, and then called the Place Royale. The square is occupied by fine art galleries and pricey restaurants. I find the square a wonderful place to unwind, stroll, and dine.

It was 3 p.m. when we decided to head back to the hostel. But on the way we did make a short detour to rue des Rosiers, the main thoroughfare of the Marais historic Jewish quarter. Walking down on this street you will see facades scrawled in Hebrew and French. The area is also known as the Pletzl, which means square in Yiddish. There was a commemorative plaque stands at the boy’s school indicating that 165 students from this school were deported to concentration camps during WWII. I can’t help but wondered what happened to those boys and whether they had survived the ordeal. The street is dotted with bakeries selling delicious Middle Eastern and French specialties and we stopped at one of them for takeaways and again we were not disappointed.

The Marais had a much different flavor. Combined with its fascinating history, well preserved architectures, artisan boutiques, and fine art galleries, plenty of museums to choose from, dazzling quarters, lavish and beautiful squares are all worth exploring. I was glad that we had chosen the Marais as our base for our 10-day holiday in Paris. 

After a 12 hours flight and 9 hours walking tour, we checked into the hostel and called it a day for a much needed rest.

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