[ROME] A NIGHT AT THE VATICAN

Probably the only time you can catch the night scene outside St Peter’s Square is if you spend the night at Vatican City, or if you’re reading this as I’m about to show you a couple of my night scene captures. Outside St Peter’s Basilica on the day we arrived, there was a huge preparation for an important religious mass that would take place the day after, hence in the evening and well into the night, throngs of people gathered outside St Peter’s Square, setting up temporary food stalls and flea-market style cabins showcasing collections of costume jewellery, fine jewellery, art, tourist mementos, souvenirs, little collectibles of Vatican’s finest architecture, and flowers – from fine skinny stalks to big fluffy bouquets. As midnight approached, the crowd thinned, and melancholic street-lamps were just about the only ones creating shadows on the sidewalks. This is Vatican City at night, for you.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] 10 SNAPSHOTS OF VATICAN CITY

Bringing to you a quick showcase of the world’s smallest independent state – all 109 acres (44 hectares) around St. Peter’s Basilica and the palace of the Vatican. In and around are beautifully preserved cultural sites, lush green gardens, and museums which feature some of the world’s most famous sculptures and paintings. Home to architectural inputs of Bramante, Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta, Maderno and Bernini, its chapels and homes distinctly echoes of Baroque and of the Renaissance.
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St. Peter’s Basilica:

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] VATICAN CITY – A VIEW FROM THE TOP

The view from the top of Vatican City’s St Peter’s Basilica was exhilarating, breathtaking, and worth the claustrophobia-inducing flight of stairs we had to take to the top. Once in your life, or perhaps through somebody else’s eyes, you should see Vatican City from its proudest heights. Here are some pictures I snapped, enjoy! P1040925 P1050009 P1050005 P1050003 P1050001 P1040990 P1040984 P1040983 P1040971 P1040966 P1040964 P1040961 P1040956 P1040950 P1040949 P1040947 P1040946 P1040944 P1040942 P1040941 P1040940 P1040939 P1040937 P1040935 P1040933 P1040932 P1040930 P1040927

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] ST PETER’S BASILICA

We were both blessed and unlucky to have arrived in Vatican City the day before a huge and important event for the Catholic Church. Many parts of the basilica were closed due to preparations for mass. On the upside, we got to witness the procession which arrived to prep the church up. There were massive tables, grand velvet chairs and draped upholstery.

Due to a 3GB flurry of photographs I’d taken of Vatican City, there was a need to split my posts on St Peter’s Basilica into 4 separate pieces (and more to come!).

In chronological order (previous postings):
[ROME] THE VATICAN CITY
[ROME] INNER TRIMMINGS OF THE VATICAN CITY
[ROME] LIVING, BREATHING ART

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Body of a great matyr
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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] LIVING, BREATHING ART

Ancient art, very much still alive today. The pure gold in reflecting sun’s rays ignites a sense of silent power that only a calm basilica would bring. Mass in this majestic interior must have been a truly empowering and significant event. Am amazed at how this Panasonic Lumix GF6 of mine was able to capture this beauty in all its stunning glory.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] THE COLOSSEUM

Rome was not built in a day. Pardon the cliche but it’s all I could think about right here and right now. The Colosseum is the icon of Roman masculinity being the site of many heroic battles fought within its colossal proportions. I’ve had the nagging suspicion that the Colosseum’s root word comes from Colossus, the legendary bronze statues of Helios at Rhodes, to complement it’s majestic size. I can’t help but imagine the sheer amount of bravery it must have took for gladiators to step onto that battle arena, knowing that this could jolly well be their last fight. I’ve also in my mind’s eye likened the battlefield to the modern day World Cup stadium. It’s just as grand, and it takes every amount of courage and pride a soccer player could possibly muster just to step onto a soccer field – all in the name of glory.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

SEOUL DIARIES 019: A DAY OF ARTS AND CULTURE

March 24, 2014: DAY FIVE

Itinerary
[09:00AM] Arrive at Anguk Station

[09:00AM] Explore Insadong streets: from Anguk Station, walk towards Jongno-3-ga via Gwanhun-dong, and back towards Anguk Station via Gyeonji-Dong

[11:00AM] Lunch @ Miss Lee Cafe 별다방 미스리, Insadong

[12:00PM] Bukchon Hanok Village 북촌한옥마을

[01:30PM] Coffee Break @ Cafe 5Ci Jung 까페오시정

[02:15PM] Explore Samcheongdong, walk back towards Insadong (Anguk Station)

[02:45PM] Ssamziegil – arts and cultural district 쌈지길

[03:30PM] Lemon and Mint-ade break @ Cafe True Us, Insadong 카페트루어스

[04:00PM] Walk towards Cheongyecheon Stream 청계천 and took a walk along the underground waterway.

[05:00PM] Explore Euljiro-1-Ga

[06:00PM] Travelled back to Hapjeong Station

[06:15PM] Iced Yuja-cha at Paul and Lina’s Living Cafe 폴엔리나 리빙까페

[06:45PM] Ethiopian Black Coffee at Cafe Miz Moren 카페 미즈모렌

[07:20PM] Tiramisu at Cafe Comma 카페꼼마

[08:30PM] Commence night-shopping at Hongdae!

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Streets of Samcheongdong in Spring

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Giant graffiti-ed Rose at Ssamziegil

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Artwork – photography at Ssamziegil

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Imperial entertainer masks – Insadong

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Cheongye Stream

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Overhead bridge at Cheongye Stream

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Traditional yangpan houses at Bukchon Hanok Village

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Hanok clusters – Bukchon Hanok Village

This is how I spent a day immersed in Korean heritage and the more ancient artsy fartsy side of Seoul! I can’t say that I’m passionate about their traditional arts, but I did learn to appreciate these a whole lot more.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

SEOUL DIARIES 018: SAMCHEONGDONG 삼청동

At the peak of Bukchon Hanok Village overlooking Samcheongdong, I couldn’t wait to get to its bustling streets!20140409-154037.jpg

Samcheongdong is geographically the lane right next to Bukchon Hanok Village. It is the trendy mash-up neighbourhood with hipster cafes, luxury goods, private art galleries alongside traditional Korean diners.

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Not a showroom for cars but an art gallery. In Seoul, many motor vehicular companies are major art dealers and sponsors for private showcase like these. Makes for a good form of investment for the companies.

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Found: HANK’S Book Cafe, with a really enlightening signpost!20140409-154156.jpg

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From Samcheongdong, I headed back towards Anguk Station and walked down Insadong. The Jongno-Gu district is a combination of all the places I love for its aesthetically pleasing architecture, awesome themed cafes and vibrant arts and culture. It’s really a welcome change from crowded shopping malls and the tourist traps.

Love it here, so much.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

SEOUL DIARIES 013: BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE 북촌한옥마을

For history buffs who wish to experience a well-preserved slice of Korean history, Bukchon Hanok Village is where you need to be! The residential district of Bukchon (literally meaning north village) housed high-ranking government officials / nobility during the Joseon Dynasty. Here, traditional Korean houses known as Hanok (or Joseonhouses) were re-built or re-furnished from the olden days.

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Tourist information centers are tactfully located in all the right places so there’s no chance of anyone ever getting lost. Bukchon village has been urbanized, no matter what’s being said about its cultural antiquity. Along the way, stone-paved alleys between hanoks are dangerously steep (uphill and downhill), I was tired when I reached the highest peak of the alleys! Here’s a compilation of snapshots I’d taken on the uphill climb ~ Enjoy!!!

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Neighbourhoods within the Bukchon area consists of Wonseo-dongJae-dongGye-dongGahoe-dong and Insa-dong, with many clusters of privately owned traditional hanoks. Each cluster generally look pretty much alike architecturally – it’s as if they have their own ‘themes’.

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Funfact: Hanoks are classified according to social class. The upperclass (yangban) houses has tiled roofs (giwa). House of commoners typically has rice-straw roofs (choga). No matter how hard I tried to differentiate, all of the houses looked upperclass to me. Can you spot any rice-straw roofs??

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Other preserved Hanok locales:
彡☆ Namsangol Hanok Village – Pil-dong neighborhood of Jung-gu, Seoul
彡☆ Hahoe Folk Village – Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do
彡☆ Yangdong Folk Village – Gyeongju
彡☆ Gyeongsangbuk-do – along the Hyeongsan River.
彡☆ Korean Folk Village – Yongin, Gyeonggi

Really enjoyed this refreshing tour of hanoks! The village houses look a lot more sturdy and concrete than I’d imagined, though this could have been a result of refurnishing and preservation efforts. Best thing of all, people actually still live in them. From a certain time onwards, visitors to Bukchon Hanok Village are told to keep their volumes low so as not to cause disturbances to the residents. Next time round, I would love to stay at a Hanok guesthouse ^^

BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE 북촌한옥마을
Exit 3 of Anguk Station (subway line 3)
종로구 계동길 37, 서울특별시, 110-250

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

 

P.S. This is cheating but since I took zilch selfies at Insadong and Bukchon Hanok… so here’s one from Jeju ^^

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I’m spending most of April in Europe. It’s so hard to find Asian food here! Right now I’m craving Jjajangmyeon and sushi!! ): Been surviving on fruits, nuts, chocolates and bretzels.
Anyway, have a good week ahead guys! \(^o^)/

 

Biking the Golden Gate Bridge | Part (I)

In life sometimes it pays to be a little wild and adventurous. On check-out day, we took an early tram to Fishermen’s Wharf @ Pier 39, rented a pair of bikes and helmets, then peddled for a good half-day from San Francisco to Sausalito via the Golden Gate!

This is where Part 1 begins, from the pier to the foot of the famed San Francisco bridge.

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Step 1: Begin with the end in mind. So we took photos with our final destination!

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This is also where the negative self-doubts kick in…can we reach Sausalito and still make it back by evening to catch the flight to Hong Kong?

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Okay who am I kidding. I was too excited for any of those worries. Golden Gate here we come!

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The terrain from Pier 39 was straightforward and easy for bikers, even for amateurs who haven’t touched a bike for more than a year (me). Right after the photo above was taken, we met with our first terrible uphill climb (there are only two along this bike trail). I can still feel the strain of the burn in my calves and thighs!

We took a couple of scenic detours (including a long stop at the Palace of Fine Arts) and a hell lot of photographs along the way, which I will eventually come around writing about, and progressively we also took shots with the looming Golden Gate as we inched closer and closer…

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Viktoria Jean victory jump at Golden gate Bridge

… and before you know it, you reach this jetty! Beautiful place to put your feet up and watch the seagulls circle overhead whilst waves hit the shores and you get to sip a latte from the cafe by the bay in full view of the San Francisco bridge. We took a short break and grabbed a hot drink. Although sunny, the biting wind sometimes numbed our faces; as I recall it was 3-5 degrees Celcius.

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A semi-victory shot: we’re getting close! If only we could pull the bridge to us.

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Still on the jetty, and guess whose familiar face we saw!?…

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Yep… none other than the urp-urp-urping sealions! This one’s way more active than the lazybums tanning their asses at Pier 39’s Sealion Center. I swear he has a slimmer butt.

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Interesting find: there are so many of these ship anchors along the shores leading to the Golden Gate. In the early days, warships, cargo fleets and passenger boats were tied and docked at these parking area.20140307-133418.jpg

And according to these people, fishing is lucrative along the bay. Perhaps they sell their catch to the restaurants at the wharf? I doubt any of them fish for personal consumption.20140307-133424.jpg

I SEE YOU NOW.
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One last detour: we wanted to enter Fort Point at the foot of the bridge, but all visitors are banned from its premises. Built to protect the San Francisco Bay, the United States Army completed the fort just before the American Civil War, as defence against hostile warships.
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Oh well. At this point, we met the second uphill climb. I gave up and pushed my bike instead. What a loser, I know. Everything was good again when we reached the top, and look what we saw!

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Before you hit the actual bridge path, an exhibit shows you the entire history of who, how and why the iconic structure came about. This fascinating board shows you the timeline of San Francisco bay: you just need to walk from left to right, and TA-DA – watch the Bridge appear!!

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If you’re wondering whose smart idea it was to build this bridge, in 1872, a self-proclaimed Emperor Norton (highly eccentric citizen of San Francisco) decreed that a suspension bridge was to be constructed connecting Oakland to San Francisco. On July 9, 1933 – construction began on the longest bridge in the world at that time. It took three years and five months to complete the Bay Bridge. The final bridge cost was approximately $77 million, $6 million under the estimated cost.

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Time for a little fun hands-on! You get to experiment why the bridge is of this length and height – everything was engineered and calculated to maximise efficiency of construction, stability and the ease of raising the columns to its desired positions.

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The Bay Bridge opened to traffic on November 12, 1936 at 12:30 p.m. A chain cutting ceremony took place where former San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi, former President Herbert Hoover and Chief Engineer C. H. Purcell looked on while former California Governor Frank Merriam opened the Bay Bridge. When the ceremonies were completed, President Roosevelt telephoned workers on two sides of the bridge to flash a green light to signal the bridge was officially open. Everything you wish to know can be found on the information boards.

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WE MADE IT!! I’ve always pictured the Golden Gate enshrouded in fog , and as it was a clear day, nothing was hiddenViktoria Jean in San Francisco travels.jpg

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Two hours and we made it from Pier 39 to the beginning of the bridge! Honestly, it wasn’t tiring because I had great company and an awesome view of the sea. It was a good 2 hours and a few hundred calories well-burnt.

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I’ll let Part (II) show you the next part of our biking journey…across the Golden Gate!!!

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

P.S. A full day rental of the bike costs around USD30, inclusive of helmets, without a safety insurance which you have to pay an extra 4 dollars for. There’re many bike rental places along Pier 39: Blazing Saddles, Bay City Bike Trails etc.

Travel-diary: Asians in Munich

Touched down on the third largest city in Germany, the host city of the 1972 Summer Olympics, with the cutest city motto: München mag dich, which literally means Munich loves you.

On the first day, we had lunch at Dachau Station, KZ-Gedenkstätte,
in which our Döner (kebab) came in colossal proportions!

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Our stop where we touched down at Dachau, Germany’s longest running Jewish concentration camp.  photo DSCN2622_zps29146051.jpg

Heading back into the town center of Marienplatz is easy when you’ve got a Captain who’s very familiar with the topography.

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This fountain reminds me too much of Singapore’s USS!
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Having my mandatory gelato…after a long walk at Dachau. An immensely refreshing treat for the summer. Am definitely coming back for my winter gelato brainfreeze.
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Have I ever mentioned that Nuts and Baileys is my new favourite gelato flavour?

Also bought myself fresh raspberries and strawberries for supper!
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As with all European cities, I find their architecture very fascinating.
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This is the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in the heart of Marienplatz.
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Every day without fail at 11 a.m. (12 p.m. and 5 p.m. in summer) it chimes and re-enacts stories from the 16th century to crowds of tourists and locals.
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Each story lasts 12-15 minutes, and at least 500 people were gathered in the square to watch the spectacle with us.
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Munichers are famous for PORK KNUCKLES and really, it’s truly a mouthwatering treat 🙂
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The more famous pork-knuckle makers in town
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Was accumulating photographs along the way, and I’m really surprised I managed to snap so many…
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Have no idea why the Caucasian men in this one became the main focus. Naughty camera.
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This pretty much sums up our afternoon, lazy walks in the Munich summer heat, mindlessly appreciating the amazing architecture in the city.

Travel-diary: Dachau Concentration Camp, Munich

Exceedingly bright and cloudless summer day spent at Dachau,
Germany’s longest running Jewish concentration camp
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Here we are at the gate, where 60,000 Jews entered but never left.
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(admittedly, we look a tad too happy for the solemnity, but it’s a tourist thing)

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To be honest it could be a lovely walk in the park if not for the bloody/bloodless (depending on how you look at it) massacre behind its historical existence.
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Learning about World War II and Nazi’s brutal killing of the Jews from history textbooks never actually hit home, until stepping personally into the place where actual events unfolded. Certain images on the info-boards were truly shocking.

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If you’d care to read it, I’ve taken down most of the facts and images.
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Dachau is HUGE, but for 64,000 prisoners? How could this be enough?
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We walked in a loop, first into the administrative buildings of the Nazis’, then the prisoner bunks and fields where they slogged and toiled their lives away, then to the furnace where they disappeared from this earth.

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Administrative windows where the prison guards looked upon their slaves
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Walls of the administrative buildings, now decorated with historical timelines
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Looking out through the same bars everyday
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Jewish Prisoners
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Heartbreaking things
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Artifacts
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The actual uniforms
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A whole new level of spanking
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Nazi conquered…
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The death toll against the war progression
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The Layout of Dachau camp
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An erected memorial in commemoration of the suffering
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(again, the tourist pose is in no disrespect)

Back outdoors after the insightful indoors tour and a short clip of the horror involving bodies, a shocking documentary, footage of Hitler’s declarations, and more bodies in differing stages of death.

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Never again, but do people actually learn?
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Again, am amazed by the vast spaces.
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Interestingly, their bunk beds are amazingly clean. Perhaps these people never slept. Or they were sleeping wide awake.
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Spaces where more buildings used to be but were torn down to hide gruesome facts of the massacre photo DSCN2782_zpscd37b7bb.jpg
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Latrines
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Newly erected Church in the ’70s by the courtyard
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Quiet sanctuary to remember the dead
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We walked deeper into the camp site, and were met with the sign that said Crematorium
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Place where bodies were disposed of and incinerated by the thousands
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In this room, they were first isolated and kept, awaiting death by poison gases.
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The actual incineration of the dead
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Cold chamber where the un-incinerated bodies were piled up and kept
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Way out into the disinfection chambers
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There was another crematorium in the building right next to
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This one is extremely dusty. Some of the air you breathe in might even contain traces of the dead (okay I sound too creepy now)
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We then took the long arduous walk back from the crematorium to the open gates – a long long walk that made us lament how we felt almost like the prisoners themselves, except that they probably never made it home like we did.

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T’was a long post, and such was the long afternoon we spent learning about mistakes that should never be repeated.
Seriously, if only people would lose the idea that any group of people could ever dominate another – physically and/or ideologically.
I’m not displaying the class act of Miss Universes by wishing for world peace, but I do hope catastrophically stupid people could drop their psychotic ideologies and just let the rest of us live in peace.
Cliche as this sounds, the world would be a better place.

Travel-diary: Naviglio grande Milano

Traveling is indeed a discovery of the self –
I’ve learnt that shopping is no fun when there’s so much sightseeing and exploration to do!
While everyone else was at Serravalle (designer outlet), I took to exploring on my own.
Armed with a fedora, and a city map and my batman suit, I was determined to find the famous Navigli in Milan!

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But alas, I got lost a couple of times, during which I slipped into the nearest cafe, ordered up a shot and asked for directions. I just love Italian coffee.

This is Robert, who introduced himself as Robin and called me Batgirl.
He seemed amazed I was on foot, and proceeded to point me in the right walking direction.
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And thus I ordered the drink that I came to fall in love with: Caffe Shakerato!
This beau is a combination of fresh espresso with sugar and loads of ice, made to froth by vigorous bartender skills.
Was it just me or there was a tinge of Moscato in it?
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After more than an hour’s walk across 3 train stations, Porta Ticinese was right in front of me!
The tremendous satisfaction of getting exactly where you wanted to go is amazing.
This, is Naviglio grande Milano!
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The Naviglio Grande was a canal dug to quicken city development projects via transportation of engineering essentials for the architecture that were to be built over the 12th/13th Century. In 1386, construction of the Duomo di Milano began, riding on the networks of water transportation.
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Breathtaking, isn’t it?
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Entered the Chiesa di San Cristoforo sul Naviglio,
as well as every other Basilica encountered at Navigli.
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The view from the other side of the Basilica
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And then I was hungry! Most shops along the route were evening pubs. Managed to find a bakery/pizzeria selling piping hot foccacia
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Mine came with olives, turkey ham, lettuce, parmesan and Emmental cheese~
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That revved me up for more walking.
There were actually passers-by who tried chatting me up, asking me where I was from yada yada, and these seemed to happen a lot in those narrow alleys that I had to cross.
One has got to man-up when exploring alone, to pretend that you know the place like the back of your hand.
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These European two-seaters! Do people purchase these cars for the sole purpose of man-and-dog?
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Before I knew it, I was done with my lunch and had walked the entire north and south Navigli.
It was a lot like Venice, definitely less tourist-infested, and less of the pomp and grandeur that the canals in Venice came with. And also, summer meant that mosquitoes were breeding to their hearts’ content.

At the end of the Navigli trail, I thought hey, I’m definitely getting better at memorizing streets and navigating with maps 🙂