kotor, montenegro

half a day tour in Kotor

One of the great things about my job is the traveling. And in the past few years I got to travel a bit, and to some places that didn’t originally belong to my “go-to-list” and should’ve!

The last of them was Montenegro. 

I had to travel there for a two day meeting, so just added an extra day to the trip so I could take a quick look at Kotor. 

Montenegro is an off-the-beaten-track country for most Europeans, but it’s becoming more and more well known, and the Bay of Kotor is becoming specially interesting for summer holidays, not only because of the “beaches”, and Mediterranean feel along the lake, but also due to the gorgeous sites specially of the old town of Kotor.

We took a gorgeous route all the way to our meeting, passing by lots of mountains, coast, the beautiful Sveti Stefan, and all around the amazing Bay of Kotor, that feels like some sort of fjord rather than ‘just’ a bay.

Even though I only stopped for a quick photo, Sveti Stefan is a fisherman’s village turned into luxurious apartments in the 50s by a group of architects and artists. In the 70s was popular to celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and Kirk Douglas.

In 2007 Aman Resorts leased Sveti Stefan for the next 30 years, and now operates the island as a private resort. Proud to say that the renovation project and design, was designed by the office I work for now! 

In the Bay of Kotor there are several picturesque towns, one of the most amazing is Kotor itself, as well as two very small islands in the middle of the Bay – Our Lady of the Rocks. This whole area has been part of UNESCO World Heritage, for its unique history and richness of architecture. 

As for Kotor, I was first drawn to it because of the fortifications along the mountains, our driver told us that we can climbed steps of several old fortresses all the way to the top, researching a bit in the hotel, I decided this is what I was going to visit in my last 8 hours in Montenegro!

I was a bit jet lagged, which was actually perfect, because I woke up at 6AM, and by 9AM I was already in Kotor to start my tour! I dropped my luggage in the train station, they have a small room in the station, and for 2euros they kept my bags the whole day.

I walked through Kotor’s Old Town, a beautiful medieval town, with stone wall buildings and pathways, with surprises in every corner, including the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, built in 1166.

To start the 1350 steps steep climb you have to pay a small sum, and then you can go all the way up till San Giovanni’s Fortress. Kotor’s fortifications are since 1979 an UNESCO World Heritage site, where you can see beautiful architecture with styles varying from Illyricum, Byzantium, Venice and Austria. Which include ramparts, towers, citadels, gates, bastions, forts, cisterns and a castle.

Needless to say it was freezing, this was October 2016, and I have been living in Malaysia for more than 4 years, so any temperature under 24°C is enough for me to start complaining. I had 4 layers of shirts, cardigans and a trench coat, which were progressively striped out, because with all the climbing and the bright sunlight, it was enough to keep me warm!

I won’t explain much more, or show too much, because no photo will make justice to the fabulous views throughout the climb, just two words: WORTH IT!!

Once I reached back to Old Town, I was starving and had an amazing lunch at Luna Rossa, that has the cutest terrace ever.

After lunch, I didn’t have much more time, so it was a matter of grabbing my luggage, hailing a cab, and driving to the strange Tvrđava Goražde, or Fort Gorazda, an Austro-Hungarian fortification near Kotor. A newer structure was built between 1884–86, replacing an older building.

The fort was used not only in the First World War by the Austrians, but also by the Yugoslav army until early 90’s. Now its abandoned, although I did see some kind of very minor renovation works going on inside.

In the roof you can also see an odd looking feature, a 100-ton Gruson rotating turret, that was used for the last remaining example of its type – for a war ignorant like me, this is basically a big rotating gun (image below!).

Rotating Turrent section from: https://www.911metallurgist.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Cross-Section-of-Turret.png

So if you can, wonder around, and climb up to the roof to see this weird looking piece, and for an amazing view of the whole Bay of Kotor and the Adriatic Sea.

After this, it was time to drive back to the Airport for another long flight back to Southeast Asia. 

Not bad for 8hours in Montenegro!


colombo, sri lanka

I must admit that Sri Lanka wasn’t on my ‘must see list’, but it should’ve been, and I only visited Colombo and an estate in Bentota, and only for a weekend!

You can either get your visa online, or on arrival, depending on your nationality of course!
I always make sure I download the Triposo guide of the country I am visiting, the app is amazing, and you will have all possible information there, including maps, gps, sightseeing, restaurants, hotels,.. and all totally offline.

If you get a local SIM card, there’s an app like Uber in Sri Lanka, called PickMe, you have different types/sizes of cars, and it will tell you the rate etc, it’s super convenient if you prefer to use a car rather than public transportation.

There was an amazing architect in Sri Lanka, called Geoffrey Bawa, he designed some of the most amazing buildings, and is a reference for Architects and Interior Designers when we visit Sri Lanka.

We actually stayed at Bawa’s old house, Residence no 11, in Colombo. They only allow 1 group to stay there at a time, in the upper floor there are two rooms, one bathroom, and a big living study area, where everything is exactly where it was before.
In the ground floor, there are several small spaces, rooms, areas, all linked and all with its own identity. The whole house as an amazing link between the interior and exterior, which is a key to Bawa’s architecture.

The staff is super friendly, and prepared our breakfast in the dining area, and was super helpful to organize our trip to visit Bawa’s Summer Estate in Bentota.

The Lunuganga Estate, in Bentota is about 2 hours drive from Colombo, you need to book to be able to visit, and you can also stay there in one of the few Rooms they have available. The estate is gorgeous, near a big lake, it was Bawa’s attempt to recreate a bit of Italy’s Lake Como for himself, as he never managed to buy a house there as he wanted.
Every single building, water feature and tree, was meticulously planned and designed, nothing was by chance, and everything has its own meaning.

In Colombo, there is also Bawa’s old office, that is now a great café/restaurant called Gallery House, the space is again amazing, and has the most FANTASTIC shop, with the best things for your home, or as gifts, not the touristic type, but the actual good things from Sri Lanka. As an Interior Designer I have to say that this place is both my death and paradise!

Last but not least, from Bawa, if you have time, spend one night at the Heritance Kandalama it’s 4hours drive from Colombo, but is supposed to be absolutely amazing.

A few other must see places in Colombo, are the Seema Malakaya Temple and the Parliament both also by Bawa. The Red Mosque, and the National Museum are other two must see.

We had lunch at the Tintagel Hotel, with a very cool colonial design and quite good food.
And of course — sunset at the Galle Face, in the outdoor bar, which has a beautiful view over the sea. We ended up eating from the Hotel’s buffet — I know, I know, buffet (!!?) I am not a fan of it myself, but this was surprisingly very good, and we tried all sorts of local food.

The people of Sri Lanka were absolutely amazing, and welcoming, I was stopped by the police when I was leaving the airport – because I was going the wrong way, and instead of telling me that I was going to a dead end, these officers started asking me a few questions, about where I was from (we talked about Cristiano Ronaldo of course), what I was planning to visit – very happy I knew Bawa (!), if I had ever been to Sri Lanka,.. and then with a huge smile, told me that the entrance to their country was on the opposite direction!

siem reap, cambodia

In 9 months i visited Siem Reap 3 times, so that should be enough to say: MUST VISIT!
Although Angkor is no longer the off the beaten track paradise it used to be, its still absolutely amazing and mesmerizing.

Cambodia’s history is nothing but simple. The country was influenced by several different cultures, such as India and other Southeast Asian civilizations that we now know as Thailand and Laos.
Its history is so complex that i don’t dare to try to explain, as i might mess up big time.

Instead i will just state a few historic facts about Angkor:

* The Khmer Empire was Southeast Asia’s largest empire during the 12th century.
* The center of power was in Angkor, which was the largest pre-industrial city in the world.
* The Ayutthaya Kingdom (also known as Siam) conquered several kingdoms and city-states, as well as Angkor, this affected the country’s economy, culture and older religions/faiths were eventually supplanted by Theravada Buddhism.
* France ‘adopted’ Cambodia as a protectorate in 1863
* A treaty between the French and Cambodia, helped starting the restoration of Angkor Wat in 1908.
* Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953 and has controlled Angkor Wat ever since.
* The works were interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s ad 1980s.

(This info was gathered from some books and Wikipedia, unfortunately most writings are bias, so if got anything wrong, please do let me know.)

You can either get an eVisa at http://www.evisa.gov.kh, or a Visa on arrival, but make sure you take USD and a passport size photo.
You can also use USD for almost everything, as the locals accept them willingly.

It really helps to have a good tuk-tuk driver, I found mine through a friend that visited Siem Reap before me. His name is ‘Ra’, and i really couldn’t have asked for a better guide in Siem Reap. He’s a young man, very hard working, very gentle spoken, and super friendly.
Otherwise, you can always get a motorbike, or a bicycle, just check the size of Angkor and how many days you have in Siem Reap before deciding.

Most of the times i went to Siem Reap, i would land in the early morning, stop somewhere for a quick breakfast, and then head straight to Angkor. Right at the entrance of the compound your driver will stop at the ticket counter, so you buy your pass, there are different passes – 1 day, 3 day, .., make sure you get the best for what you are planning on doing, and don’t forget that if in your last day you only do the sunrise, it still counts as 1 day.
Make sure you don’t loose your pass, as it’s quite ‘expensive’.

There’s no perfect order of visiting the temples, but there are some that have a special moment of the day when it’s most amazing. There will always be tourists around, so don’t expect to ever be alone in the major temples.

For sunrises, Angkor Wat is an absolutely amazing experience, i usually advise people to watch it from one of the Libraries, it has a great view, and when the sunlight starts coming through the Library its stunning. After the sunrise it’s still definitely the best time to visit the whole temple, it won’t be too hot, and it is quite a huge temple to walk around. If you go during lunch, there is a great restaurant before the entering the temple, where you can have the best chicken curry with potatoes and carrots inside a coconut, just THE best I have ever had.

For sunsets your guides will tell you to go to Bakheng, unfortunately the trees out grew the view to the temples, so now you can hardly see them, still beautiful and worth it, but not as stunning as it must have been. Nevertheless, you can still go to Angkor Wat for the sunset!

Ta Phrom, the temple featured in Tomb Rider, is still my absolute favorite, and every time I go there I feel like I still find new corners, and new spaces. Most of the temples where designed in a design that basically mirrors itself, which means there is a repetition of spaces, and you have 4 corners that are the same. Although Ta Phrom is no exception to that, the trees grew so much into the temple (or the temple over the trees), that nothing looks repeated, and you have completely different spaces. Make sure you take your time here!

A few other favorites of mine, are Bayon, Preah Kahn and Banteay Kdei. In the complex of Angkor Thom, Bayon’s smiley carved faces will make you take dozens of photos of every possible angle, with one, two, three, four faces, and repeat! Preah Kahn is for me one of the most amazing “”off the beaten track”” temples, Ra took us there the second time I was in Siem Reap, and it has a lot of the same characteristics of some of the main temples – some of Angkor Wat’s architecture details and Ta Phrom’s trees for example. It is much quieter than the other temples, and has a gorgeous ‘terrace’ where you have a great view of the whole temple.

Banteay Kdei was the first temple i visited in my first trip to Cambodia, I was solo traveling that day and it just blew me away, much smaller than all of the other temples I just mentioned, but it has a lot of charm.

And of course, depending on how much time you have in Siem Reap, there are so many other temples worth visiting.
In Siem Reap itself, you have the night market that is worth a visit, great street food, you can try the slimy delicacies – I tried snake for the first time in Siem Reap (!), and there are some amazing restaurants worth spending a few bucks. Such as Le Malraux and Amok Restaurant, just amazing local food, and the places are beautiful.
For drinks and clubbing you have Club Street, with lots of bars and cafes that you can pick from according to what you want.

I think after Bagan (Burma/Myanmar), Angkor is my favorite place ever, even though i had seen so many photos of the temples, every time I am there it’s still breathtaking.

postcards from the world

 This collection started in a very-accidental-non-collection-way, when i travelled to Greece circa ’93, for an amazing Athens-Cyclades-Islands-Kusadasi (Turkey) trip.

Years gone by, i found myself always buying postards in every one of my trips.. 

But it was only in 2009, when i was living in Milan, Italy, and started using Postcrossing, that I finally realized i was actually collecting postcards.

In no time i became more and more addicted to getting special postcards, particularly old written ones, that you can buy in antique shops.. I started a list, and apparently its a quite ‘ok’ list.

Living in Malaysia makes it easier to get postcards around the region, so the collection has been growing.. Hopefully i’ll be able to reach my goal/bucket list wish:

“collect a postcard from each country in the world”

(on-going list)

AFRICA (14/54)

Burkina Faso
Cabo Verde
Central African Republic
Congo, Democratic Republic of
Equatorial Guinea
Ivory Coast
Sao Tome and Principe
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan

AMERICA (15/35)

Antigua and Barbuda
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
United States of America



ASIA (29/45)

East Timor
Korea, North
Korea, South
Russian Federation
Saudi Arabia
Sri Lanka
United Arab Emirates

EUROPE (37/50)

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Czech Republic
San Marino
Vatican City

OCEANIA (3/14)

Marshall Islands
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands

* if you are interested in helping me out to complete this list, leave a message in the bottom of the page

paris, france

Back in the days when planes wouldn’t reach their final destination without stopping either in London or Paris, i lost count of how many times i made a pit-spot in these two cities without ever walking out the “arrivals gate”.
Well, 2014 was finally the year that i passed through the arrivals gate and ventured through the streets of the City of Love.

On a surprise visit to Portugal, that only my father and one of my best friends knew about, i decided to make two long stops on the way and back from Lisbon: Paris and Amsterdam (–post coming soon).
I missed the old cities of Europe, and nothing better than having KLM and Air France working together to manage to visit two more cities of the old continent, and get my feet for the first time in The Netherlands.

I went through a lot of blogs, guidebooks and maps before i landed in Paris, as i only had 10 hours between flights.

I did what i thought best, so i commuted between the city and the airport by train, and to contradict the quotation of “Parisians are rude” a french man “escorted” me all the way to the train, before going to his office somewhere in the airport.

It was a cool sunny early morning, with a clear blue sky, the perfect setting to start the day.
As a freak control i am, i wanted to make sure i wouldn’t waste any time, and that i would be able to see as much as i could, so I got off the train right in the Les Champs Elysees, where i had decided to start my tour.

At the top of Les Champs Elysees lies the most famous arch in the world, L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Arch of Triumph of the Star. It was commissioned in 1806 after Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, and completed between 1833 and 1836.
Engraved in the Arch are the names of major French Victories in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, a list of 660 names (mostly of Generals that served the First French Empire between 1804-1814, and additional names from the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799.
Another important feature is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, over it is an eternal flame, that burns in memory of the dead that were never identified from both world wars.

I strolled through Avenue D’Iena on my way to La Tour Eiffel. The buildings are stunning in this avenue, and just beautifully maintained streets and gardens, a perfect work by the great Baron Haussman!

In the end of the avenue you can see the Palais de Chaillot, where the old Trocadero Palace lies, built for the 1878 World Fair, our modern age EXPO. And right in front of it, the one of the most recognizable buildings in the world:
The Eiffel Tower.
It was also built for a World Fair, but this time in 1889, and to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. It was the tallest man-made structure for 41 years, with 324 meters heigh.
It was named Eiffel tower, because it was Eiffel’s company – Companhie des Etablissements Eiffel, that designed and built the tower. You would think the tower was designed by Gustave Eiffel himself, as you are led to believe, but it was designed by the Structural Engineers Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, and the Architect Stephen Sauvestre.

To see this building for the first time was a truly unique moment. I believe i thought about it so many times before that i could hardly believe i was there. And the feeling of being inside a postcard went on for the whole day…

Unfortunately the Park du Champs de Mars was very busy as the Bastille Day parade was the day before, so i didn’t manage to see the view atop the park to the tower… But well… we should always leave something to see the next time!

It was still super early, so the Tower ticket booths were still closed, therefore i decided not to wait for it. Instead i walked next to the Seine, all the way till the bridge between the Hotel des Invalides, and the Petit Palais & Grand Palais – the Pont Alexandre II.

The Hotel des Invalides – The National Residence of the Invalids, is a complex that contains not only a hospital/retirement home for the war veterans, but also museums and monuments, that relate to the military history of France. It is also the burial site of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Le Petit Palais and Grand Palais were (again) built for an exhibition – the 1900 Exposition Universal.
The Petit Palais now houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts, whereas the Grand Palai, that was dedicated to the glory of french art, still holds museums and exhibitions that relate to the fine arts, and the annual Chanel events! The Palais de la Decouverte (Palace of Discovery), right next to the Grand Palais, focuses on science and natural history.

All these Palaces are stunning! I wish i could’ve opened the front door and wonder around….

A little bit more walking, now through Les Champs Elysees until i reached the busy Place de la Concorde.This square changed names 5 times, within 78 years. From Place Louis XV, to Place de la Revolution, to Place de la Concorde, again to Place Louis XV, then finally back to Place de la Concorde… a whole lot of history behind this “little Place”!

Just has its name, it was not easy to cross the square…
Traffic lights, bicycles, vespas, cars, buses,.. and very little time to cross till the traffic lights were green for chaos again! Either way, i made my way to the entrance of the Jardin des Tuileries (the Tuileries Garden).

This is one of the most well know gardens in central Paris, it was created by a Lady – Queen Catherine de Medicis, from the House of Medici of Florence. Her family – the Medici, was one of the biggest sponsors of art and architecture in the Renaissance era. The garden belonged to the Tuileries Palace, that was set on fire in 1871, the fire lasted 48hours, and the ruins of the palace remained untouched for 11 years. These ruins were eventually demolished and sold, bits of the marble and stone where used to build a Castle in Corsica. There is a plan to rebuild the Tuileries Palace, but there are still no private funds for it.
The Tuileries is also the gateway to —- THE LOUVRE!

Once you cross the garden, you are overwhelmed with the stunning architecture that surrounds it. The rich facades, the perfectly balanced windows, you can just feel the history around you, its like your “back in the past” when Louis XIV was still ruling the country.

In the inexistent limit between the Tuileries and the Louvre you pass through another Arc de Triomphe – du Carrousel, that will lead you to the entrance of the Louvre Museum, where the Louvre Pyramid is. The Pyramid that was commissioned in 1984 by President Francois Mitterrand, to handle the enormous number of visitors. The structure was constructed mostly in rhombus-shaped glass segments, and although it was very criticized in its early years, its yet another iconic building in Paris.

The Louvre on the other hand, was a royal residence for the French monarchy. Few know that the whole complex of the Louvre actually as a fortress, to protect the city agains potential invaders in 1202, throughout the centuries it extended, until the Tuileries Garden.

I personally love to see old historic buildings in stone mixed with super modern steel and glass structures, the contrast just makes it better. Its like your publicly assuming that you are in a new century, and without reaping the importance of the historical building next to it.

I had to register the moment with a nice full body photo, and as i really wanted it t be a good photo, i decided to ask ‘Paul’ to take the shot. ‘Paul” is my monopod, as all monopods – mine was bought in Asia, and made its debut in style in Paris!
So being watched by very curious and entertained european tourists, i set up ‘Paul’ against an outdoor light, and stabilized by my backpack. Prepared the angle, programmed the 10 seconds timer and 5 shots, and ran to the center of the shot!


Tcharam! There you go, a perfect shot!

After the Louvre it was time to go South. I made sure i crossed the Pont des Arts on the way to the islands of Paris.
This bridge is one of the three ‘Love Locks’ Bridges in Paris. Since 2008, tourists have been filling the railings and gates with padlocks – love locks, with their first names engraved or written on them, then trowing the key to the Seine. Which of course is creating a big controversy, as the padlocks are ruining the railings, and the keys are polluting the river, not to mention that the Pont des Arts is an historical bridge in Paris, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are 2 islands in the Siene, the Ile Saint-Louis and the Ile de la Cite, the latter holds two of the most amazing religious buildings in Paris: Sainte-Chapelle and the Notre Dame.

I started of in the Sainte-Chapelle chapel, it was built in my favorite architecture styles – gothic, the construction began in some time after 1239, it holds one of the most extensive in-situ collections of the XIII century stained glass in the world.
There is a strong sense of weightlessness and vertical emphasis, the way the arches were designed, allow the structure to be super elegant and slim, and the 15 windows to be tall and delicate.
The Lower Chapel is another stunning space in the Sainte-Chapelle, the walls are covered by paintings, and its most peculiar feature is the breathtaking dark blue ceiling with golden Fleur de Lys, and the red walls with golden Castilian castles, symbolizing Saint Louis and his Castilian mother – Blanche de Castile.

The walk to the Notre Dame is full of gorgeous buildings and beautiful alleys that take you to a different time. You keep remembering all those amazing movies that were filmed in Paris, as i had watched a few months ago Midnight in Paris from the peculiar Woody Allen, i kept going back to that movie and thinking about how enchanting life must have been in Paris in the 1920’s..

The Notre Dame Cathedral is also located in the Ile de la Cite, it is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic Architecture, and again — is one of the most famous buildings in the world.
After deciding that Saint-Etienne Cathedral was not worthy of the rote of “Parisian church of the kings of Europe”, Bishop de Sully had it demolished, and according to the Legend followed a vision and sketched the future Notre Dame on the ground outside the original church. The construction began in 1163 and it is believed to have been completed around the mid-1240’s.
Few know that the cathedral was originally painted with vivid colors, as well as the gargoyles and chimeras, the well known crafted statues, made even more famous with the Disney Classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The cathedral has 10 bells, the largest weights over 13 tons and was named Emmanuel.
Fun fact about this bell, on the night of 24 August 1944, an advance column of French and Allied troops took the Ile de la Cite, and by tolling Emmanuel, announced to the city that the liberation of Paris was under way.

To finalize the tour, i marched trough l’Avenue de L’Opera towards the Palais Garnier, or Opera Garnier. As an avid fan of The Phantom of the Opera, i’ve always been fascinated by this building, so i had to take a closer look before i left.
The construction of the new Opera de Paris took more than 40 years to start, between revolutions, new prefects, an architectural design competition, and various people involved in the process, finally the construction started in 1862, with the project by Charles Garnier.
One more war installing one more republic, got the Opera’s construction on hold, but eventually restarted as the “acting” opera de paris – Salle Le Peletier, was destroyed by a fire (coincidence?.. humm…). So finally in 1874 the Opera was completed, and inaugurated on 5 January 1875.
One of the reasons the Opera is so well know, is due to Gaston Leroux’s book – Le Fantome de ‘Opera. According to Leroux he was inspired to write the story after visiting the Opera Garnier, when he learned about the mysterious subterranean lake and the chandelier accident in 1896, when one of the chandelier’s counterweights fell over the audience.

I ended up skipping Montmartre, cos i only had 1 more hour before i had to head back to the airport, so i decided end the 6hours express tour by going back to the Tuileries Garden.
The garden is just beautiful, and an amazing place to chill in the weekend, specially on a sunny summer day as i was lucky enough to enjoy! And i’m not sure if its normal, but when i was there this July, there were green metal chairs all over the garden, people would just move them around, sit, talk, do picnics, play cards,… or like me: grab a “to-go-cappuccino” and sit overlooking the Louvre!