Or Tor Kor Market is known for being one of the best markets in the world selling the region’s freshest ingredients. I was there, took some photos, and so here’s a quick peek around the market (:
It was a cold day in Moscow. Overcast and cloudy, there was a distinct grey over the city which reminded me a little of London. After breakfast at кофемания (Kofemaniya), I set out to explore the city on foot, and began to head down the street. Retracing my footsteps to the St. Regis, I continued straight on and took a left round the back of the hotel down a street called Никольская ул. (Nikolskaya ul.).
The street was straight and long. Large grey tiles lay underfoot, arranged neatly in a diagonal manner, and low-rise buildings lined the path on either side. People in long coats walked up and down purposefully, veering off into specific shops, often the cafes. On the right, I saw a neon “Subway” sign and took note of that, given that we’d established that Russian food wasn’t really to our fancy. As I continued walking, the row of shops on my left were replaced by a taller upmarket-looking building with display windows set in gilded frames and brass handled doors; the GUM mall – an upmarket mall which was started as a mall in the early 1900s, but was converted to office space for Stalin’s committee in 1928, and was now a high-end mall housing international luxury brands.
The street led right into the Red square, and suddenly, I found myself standing right smack in the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, flanked on all sides by the iconic buildings I’d seen only in photographs – straight ahead, stood the high walls of the Моско́вский Кремль (Kremlin), the red bricks reaching upwards with hardly any semblance of windows, looking very much like an impregnable fortress (which, I suppose, was the point). To my right, the Государственный исторический музей (State Historical Museum) stood tall – Its façade was a mosaic of shapes – triangles, keyhole shapes, square shapes – in a complex dissonance which I now thought to be rather characteristic of Russian architecture. It looked like giant lego pieces had been joined together. I could see the different blocks and towers, each topped with a conical-shaped roof of light grey and a gilded ornament at its tip. And on my left, there it stood at the far end of the Red Square – a work of art, indeed – the Собор Василия Блаженного (St. Basil’s cathedral).
I hate to say this, but my first introduction to this building was through playing Forza Motorsport on the xbox 360. The game had a track set in Moscow which required drivers to do a circle around St. Basil’s, and I remember thinking cool building. I’d love to say that I was so mesmerized by it that I crashed the car, but really I didn’t – I was just having a lot of fun drifting and using the inner straight on the circle to overtake opponents.
Nonetheless, seeing the Cathedral in person felt rather unreal. It was the building I most closely associated with Russia, and there it was. It seemed to be a fabric of multiple inspirations – corbel arches of Byzantine architecture, while the domes reminded me strongly of the mosques I’d seen in the UAE. It was fascinating to look at, to say the least. From where I stood, I could make out 5 of the 8 smaller churches which surrounded the core. The inside was a labyrinth of narrow and winding staircases opening up into small (or on occasion, tall) rooms. One could easily get lost in the narrow corridors which joined together like interlocking loops. While I was visiting, a choir started singing in one of the chapels, their harmonies echoing throughout the halls, resonating off the bare stone walls.
I decided to navigate around the Kremlin on the side of the river so that I could get to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. On this side of the Krem, the red brick walls were uninterrupted, leading on for a good distance, embroidered with notches and punctuated with towers.
In the late afternoon, our Russian friend Galya brought us to the top floor of GUM to try some Russian sweets and drinks at a cafe. On the table, there was a little standing paper sign which read Пomorи, тoваpищ, нaм – yбepи пocyдy caм! I had no idea what it said, until I turned to the reverse which read Comrade, let us have a deal – clean your table after meal! I guess the Russians have a good sense of humour too.
We got a few traditional items to share including something called a Ptasie Mleczko (also known as Bird’s milk cake) and some colourful traditional drinks. The cake tasted like a giant less-springy marshmallow coated in a thin film of chocolate. The drinks tasted like the syrup with the jellies which we used to buy at the supermarket when I was still in elementary school, and came in the same bold colours. I thought the similarity was uncanny. Afterwards, we picked up our coats and headed back out into the streets, beginning our walk towards our dinner destination, Turandot.
Russia, a colossal country in the North, relatively undiscovered and labelled “exotic” by many, has always remained, in my mind, a place full of mystery. It is vast – so broad that it takes up almost half the width of the world map, with its borders reaching all the way to Asia and Europe. Of course, we’ve had some sort of exposure to Russia, however limited and whether accurate or otherwise, be it from reading about its history of Tsars and Tsarinas, or gazing in awe at the beauty and intricacy of Fabergé eggs.
In October, I made a rather spontaneous trip up into this somewhat mysterious region, prompted by an invitation to attend the inaugural formula one grand prix in Sochi. I’ve always wanted to see Moscow. I had a friend who did her exchange at a University in Moscow three years before, and she’d told me about how lovely it was. But even before that I’d always wanted to go because I thought of it as an exciting country full of secrecy and spies, and of course, those of you who know me personally would know that I’m fascinated to no end by that sort of stuff.
We’d all thought she was pretty brave because it was rare for anyone to choose Russia. It was also because of the ideas we’d come to have about Russia from all the things we’d seen in the movies – I mean, Quantum of Solace and Die Another Day were both set in Russia, and Jason Bourne went to Moscow in the Bourne Supremacy as well – and sometimes in the news, but of course we made no mention of any of that. And then there was the language barrier, although I did just as well by going to Barcelona on exchange without knowing any Spanish besides Hola and Adios.
We got to Moscow late on a Monday, around 4pm, were picked up by car for the St. Regis Hotel in central Moscow, and for the next two hours were stuck, bumper-to-bumper, in a massive jam all the way in. My travel companion was sound asleep within minutes of the start of the jam, but I stayed awake to observe this new city. It was about 5pm now and we were still inching along. This far out from the Moscow city centre, there wasn’t a whole lot to see besides the buildings in the distance on the left, and the tall coniferous trees to the right, but at this time of day, the setting sun swathed everything in a beautiful golden glow so I kept awake.
I guess I’m weird like that – even the tour guide in Dubai laughed at how curious I seemed to be all the time, and kept making faces at me through the rear view mirror, grinning as I remained wedged in the rear seat of the vehicle between my friends who were fast asleep to both my left and right. I suppose it’s because I like to capture every moment into a distinct memory – all the sights, the sounds, sometimes even smells, and maybe how I might be feeling there and then. Perhaps it’s also because I don’t want to miss a single moment – a moment, which, in a flash, might pass me by and be lost forever.
I knew the moment we were approaching the city centre. The greenery made fewer and yet fewer appearances, and what were previously wide open spaces transformed into buildings on both sides. It was quite a sight. I sat up. Beside me, my companion was still sound asleep, his head resting on the camera bag on the seat between the both of us.
A building shifted past, and in the next moment, I realised we were on a bridge above the река Москва (Moskva river). To my left, a magnificent white dome stood in the distance, with a gilded cross at its summit. Ah, I thought, that’s the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It was glorious, even from this distance. The sun was setting behind and to the right of it, caressing the sides of the Cathedral in such way that highlighted its design. I sat up straighter and looked on for, perhaps, a hint at the things to come.
Natural landscapes and formations never cease to amaze me. Although I grew up in a city full of high-rise buildings clustered into a small island, I feel most happy and at ease when surrounded by nature – not the deep blue though, because its sheer vastness and our lack of knowledge on what lies within scares me. Some of my fondest memories are those of exploring and being close to mother nature; until today, I can recall distinctly my first time going horse-riding in Perth when I was 5.
If I close my eyes, I can transport myself back there again – I feel myself being lifted up onto the tall brown horse by the farmer’s rough but strong hands wedged beneath my arms. I feel myself sliding around on the seat because of my smallness, always sitting to one side of the saddle and never quite successfully managing to look like the princess I convinced myself I was in my imaginary kingdom. Then there’s the coarseness of the reins in my hands, the scent of the woods but also the ache in my butt for an entire day after the ride. It’s funny how I can’t recall anything before that point, but I suppose, in a way, that life for me only really began when I had my first adventure.
Sōunkyō is a range of gorges in the Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido’s largest at a whopping 2,268 sq. kilometers. The area is known for its many cliffs, waterfalls and onsens. Our hotel was situated right next to a wide rushing river whose beauty I savored by day but found slightly terrifying by night due to its sheer ferocity.
The road into Sōunkyō was long and meandering, weaving along and around the sides of the gorges. There was still some evidence of the snowfall of the past Winter, leaving the scene sprinkled with patches of white. Turning each bend, one never really knew what to expect – the face of a cliff graced by a small waterfall, or at other times, the rocky faces parting to reveal an aerial view of the gorges, now hooded with the lush greenery of Spring.
As we rode the Sōunkyō ropeway up Kuro-dake, the peaks of the mountain ranges came into view in the distance, still wearing their hats of white. We rode the chairlift all the way to the top where there was still several inches of snow, some of which was quickly melting from the heat into small fast-flowing streams. It was a very gradual climb which only got steeper towards the top. I swung my legs around and took videos and selfies, entertaining myself (and my cousin, or so I’d like to think) until I got a little drowsy and settled into the seat, stretching out my limbs and rolling up my sleeves because I decided I might as well get myself more color from the sun in the meantime. The sunny warmth at the bottom never hinted at how cold it would get at the top of the chairlift, so after walking around a bit and taking in the view from the viewing platforms of Kuro-dake, we went into a cafe housed in a hut to get something hot to drink.
We brought our bentos and had lunch by Gin Ga No Taki, a towering waterfall tumbling into fast flowing rapids. As we sat on huge rocks in the shade, I savored my Teriyaki Hotate Don (Scallops with rice) and sat mesmerized by the sound of the rushing water and sunlight streaming through the canopy above, watching the light reflecting off the water to produce little figures leaping around on the rocks.
After a long afternoon’s journey, there it stood. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: A white magnificence rising out of the ground in the glowing trail of the setting sun. We got lost a few times trying to find our way from Dubai, but when we saw its minarets standing tall against the blue sky, our long walk was made well worth it.
The curves of the domes, intricacy of the workmanship, the grain of the marble and mother of pearl carefully inlaid into the columns, and the endless carpet in the main prayer hall – Truly, a sight to behold and a must-see even for the ones wary of all things touristy.
I made a short trip to Dubai, March 2014, with two of my closest friends. It was the first of a few things: my first visit to Dubai, my first trip into the UAE, and the first time the three of us were going travelling together.
Dubai is known for many things; from opulence (think Burj Khalifa and the massive Dubai Mall), to the beauty of the Palm Islands. Being in Dubai, you could feel the city’s pulse – skyscrapers towering on either side, a bustling CBD, and on the other hand, there is a rich culture, amazing architecture, people who have come from all over the world to both work and play, as well as delicious local cuisine.
We made a visit to the Souks which are located near the mouth of the Dubai Creek. These marketplaces are just seated right next to each other, so it’s easy to walk from one to another without actually knowing exactly where one ends and the other begins. We found ourselves walking past shopfronts laden with gold jewellery (including a gigantic gold ring possibly 20cm across, which was apparently featured in the Guinness Book of World Records), looking at handcrafted sandals in a little lane slightly off the main street the next, and then strolling along an entire street of spice shops selling sacks of spices of every variety, finding ourselves being draped over with scarves by shopkeepers trying to sell their wares every few steps or so. I stopped by a spice shop a while, and the shopkeeper was friendly enough to entertain my questions about the wide variety of spices, including Myrrh which is common to the Arabic region but a rarer sight everywhere else.
The Dubai Creek is lined with little boats that sail across for just 1 Dirham, and it was such an authentic experience riding amongst the locals, I’ll be sure to do it again when I next get the chance. The boatmen would wave people on as they readied to sail across, and everyone would just head down from the docks, hand them a Dirham when boarding and find a comfortable spot before the boat filled up. We took a quick polaroid and my friend penned in a note to capture the moment.
We also spent half a day out in the dunes – pretty touristy stuff, but we enjoyed ourselves plenty. Dune bashing was awesome fun, and we were squealing in the backseat as the driver took us up the dunes and crashing down on the other side again and again, making sharp bends as we went over the top of the golden waves which stretched out as far as the eye could see. We spent the evening dining under the stars in the dessert, watching traditional performances and checking out the different activities from henna to traditional apparel.