Continuing my 2008 year in review, the summer was a bit more subdued after returning from Australia.
1. Goodbye Sydney!
2. Care to join the mile high dining club?
3. Once the weather cooled, it was time to make my way to Europe for my annual trip. This time, my itinerary was even more packed vs. 2007 as I had to shrink my budget. In the end, I regretted the rush. Come to think of it, it was quite insane. I left London the day after I landed ... first stop was Lisbon.
4. Lisbon is a place of beautiful sceneries, and never-ending sunshine.
5. There's history.
6. There's urbanity.
7. There's B. Spear.
8. There's healthy living
9. There's sadness.
10. I was quite amazed at how small and compact these trams are, and how they rumble loudly and vibrate violently down the street and up the steep hills.
11. There were a lot of wonderful memories from this trip. I met up with a friend who was vacationing in Portugal at the same time as my visit, and we made a voyage to the beautiful town of Sintra .
12. See the Great Wall?
14. Care to cook for 10,000?
15. My interest in Portugal dates from high school, when I was an avid researcher of maritime history and Portugal's sea voyages to the New World / Asia.
16. Hence, the Maritime Museum in Belem was a huge treasure trove.
17. And I had to climb this monument.
18. Admiring the architectural details.
20. Admiring the simplicities of life.
21. Life got very healthy on this leg of my trip. I was so tired from exploring, I was dead asleep well before midnight. I'd wake up early in the morning and out in action just as people started arriving for work. I had no trouble getting up for the bus to Obidos.
Portugal ... I'd be back ...
22. Madrid was my next stop. Thanks to an affordable flight by easyJet, I got there in only an hour ... although I did look for a comfortable overnight train option as well. The sun followed me to Spain. Unfortunately, I spent too much time in Portugal, and only had 3 days in Madrid. The itinerary now got even more rushed.
23. I only had a full day and a few more hours to complete my whirlwind tour of Madrid. Thankfully, the weather helped and I was able to squeeze 2 day trips out as well. Madrid is quite a grand city, with beautifully-decorated buildings, monumental avenues, and lots of stuff to photograph!
26. The feel is a bit different looking at this view compared to Lisbon. Maybe it's the cranes, but it seems Madrid has embraced co-existence with modern architecture moreso than Lisbon.
27. I was quite amazed how underdeveloped it gets just west of the old town, and how they kept it so for all this time.
28. Of course, I had to visit the tourist traps, such as the Plaza Mayor. This was the start, stop, and finish line of several of my walking tours.
33. Navigating Spanish rails is quite a taxing experience, right from the beginning when I tried to buy tickets from an automatic machine, only to find my way to the customer service centre in frustration with a lot of other confused tourists. I vividly remember buying the Segovia train ticket in French.
34. But the pain was well worth it. As we approached, the sight of the aqueduct blew me away.
35. With map in hand, I had a day to explore everything. Being so ambitious is sometimes a bad thing, but I made my way through the streets, alleys, and buildings comfortably. It wasn't so rushed after all.
41. My good friend also suggested that I visit Toledo. Again, it was a quick train ride from Madrid. High-speed rail in Spain is great.
45. Spain seems very arid, like Australia.
46. After some random walking, I came across a marvelous vantage point. It was well worth the climb. Quite lucky of me to have found such a spot in both Segovia and Toledo.
48. Time to say goodbye! A very productive 3 days, finishing off with a delayed Cubana jet at the airport!
I had to recharge and reload a fresh set of clothes back in London. It was quite insane ... and made worse by a 16 pound journey on the Gatwick Express and a shut down District line westbound. The next day, I was off to southern France for some Roman ruins.
49. Not many places have a nice accent in its name. N?mes was one of them, and was proud of it. The arena was quite stunning and well maintained. I had a lot of fun climbing around trying to fall between the cracks and getting myself killed.
There are a couple of famous Roman ruins, and Tour Magne is another one of them.
52. I thought Pont du Gard was a bit overrated. It wasn't a long bus ride out there, but with low freqencies, we were stuck there for many hours and this was basically it.
53. Back in the days when I had to learn French in school, I had vivid memories of the song "Sur le pont d'Avignon". Now I had a chance to see it for myself. Avignon in some ways, is an example of the papacy's excessiveness. Nevertheless, the architectural legacies are well worth a visit.
55. This is a fairly old bridge, and in some ways, reminds me of walking the Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing ... although that one has a lot more elaborate decorations.
56. The papal skyline.
My final side trip on my Euro 2008 tour was a very exotic place. I wanted to visit Russia, but it seems safety is an issue these days, especially for do-it-yourself tourists like me. The closest I was brave enough to venture was the Baltics. Riga, Latvia was chosen for a quick 2 day weekend getaway. It was only a 2 hour flight from London though - much closer than I thought.
57. Nice compact old town ... very walkable, and manageable for 2 days. No, I wasn't there for a stag.
58. If only the weather cleared. Ironically, as I flew back to Hong Kong a couple days after this trip, we passed above Riga, and I could clearly make out the city even though it was dark, and it was a cloudless night.
60. Even though the weather wasn't the greatest, we came at the right time to see the fall colours.
Christmas and New Year are the best times for a trip. I wanted a more subdued holiday away from the hustle and bustle of city life, so a few friends and I went to Hunan province in southern China for some eco-tourism.
62. Zhangjiajie is one of China's most popular nature tourism destinations. The mountain formations are very unique, and many of its peaks are weirdly forested.
Fenghuang is an ancient city that is being rediscovered by the tourism industry. If you like traditional Chinese-style buildings making a skyline, this is the place to be.