2003: France/Germany


Sunday 6 July

Just arrived in Berlin, so no input yet.

Monday 7 July

Went to the Tango milonga at Soda Club, Kulturbrauerei, which is located at a former brewery. Usually outdoors, it was shifted indoors because the organisers feared that it would get too cold that night. This was my first taste of a real milonga! Could not work up the courage to ask anyone to dance, but in the end was invited by a nice girl instead, hehe… Will try to do better next time.

Photos of Berlin Cathedral (opens a new window)

Tuesday 8 July

Was outside of Berlin for most of today.

Went to the milonga at Bebob tonight. This is probably my favourite as far as the dancing was concerned.

Wednesday 9 July

Accompanied my friend Christine to the studio where she is taking some Tango lessons.

Photos of Berlin (opens a new window)

Thursday 10 July

Went to Podewil for Tango tonight, which is an outdoor venue, and there was meant to be a live band. Was a little disappointed initially because the Tango band did not have a bandoneon(!), but consisted of just a pianist, violinist and a guy on bass. However, it was quite a good setting.

Dancing wise, it was a bit of a disaster. Firstly the floor was rectangular in shape – very narrow on one side, and the dancing in generally poor. Furthermore, the tiled floor was slanted and very slippery to dance on. After one dance, it was enough for me!

However, in Berlin, one there is never lack of places for Tango. We then proceeded to the next venue, the Gruener (green) Salon. Very cosy, although at times I found it extremely difficult to navigate around the very crowded dance floor. I would say full marks for the atmosphere and the level of dancing here!

Photos of Sansouci Park, Potsdam (opens a new window)

Friday 11 July

Spent a nice afternoon at the Pergamon Museum today. This museum has a fantastic replica of the front steps of the Pergamon Temple, complete with many archaeological pieces from the excavations! It also contains the Ishtar Gate from Babylon and many more treasures collected by the German explorers in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Some of the photos here will give you some ideas of what it is like on the inside, before I upload my own. Oh, and don’t worry, they have audio guides in English which is included in the entrance fee. No extra hidden costs like other places! :-)

Went to 2 milongas on the last night in Berlin. Felt really out of sorts at the first one, the Haus der Sinne (house of senses). Although the place was full of character, a cosy little place, with old sofas, dim lighting, and certain amount of cigarette smoke, the music was simply to “alternative” for my taste.

The second place, Walzerlinksgestrickt, has nice floor, plenty of space to move in. The trouble is, it felt exactly like any other dance hall – mirrors on the side and all – and very little character. Nevertheless, we stayed till about 2.30am and then walked home from there. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by then.

Photos of Pergamon Museum (opens a new window)

Saturday 12 July

Remember to come back to check for updates!

2003: France/Germany


Saturday 28 June

Upon leaving the airport, had some trouble initially finding my hotel after leaving the nearest train station, Gare de Lyon. In fact, later on the same day, got “lost” quite often… However, Paris is still a relatively safe place to be lost in, unlike some other big cities, like New York, for example. By later part of the day, I was able to change to different lines on the metro left, right and centre like nobody’s business.

At about noon, I visited Notre Dame and happened to witness a church service. In fact, I was up on the tower when the bells rang later. Boy, were those bells loud!

In the afternoon, went to the Marmottan Museum (located near the La Muette metro stop) which contains many works by Monet. I was actually hoping that this was the same museum I went to over 6 years ago because I had actually forgotten the name of the place, and I was proven correct!

Almost gave up after spending half an hour looking for the place, but in the end well worth the effort! However, it seems the really large paintings of water lilies which can cover an entire wall had been relocated to the Orangerie museum. By the way the Orangerie museum is under renovation and will not open for another year anyway. Well, at least I managed to see them the last time I was in Paris. :-) Another curious thing was that I was able to bring in my camera the last time, but not this time around.

Photos of Notre Dame (opens a new window)

Sunday 29 June

Decided to go to Monet museum (his house) out in Giverny today. This involves a train ride of about 40 mins or so to Vernon, followed by a short bus trip of about 20 mins. A quick note: better arrive early to avoid the crowd because I had to wait for another 20 mins for a second bus to come when there were simply too many people for the single (doh!) bus to handle.

Made this change of plan last night since weather forecast on BBC News was predicting heavy rain for western Europe, so I postponed my plan of going to Mont Saint Michel till the next weekend. Sincerely hope that nothing would come in the way of that plan, because I really want to see Mont Saint Michel on this trip. Well, turned out it was false alarm anyway as it was a gloriously warm day.

Details of Monet’s House to follow when I have more time – back in the comfort of Singapore, instead of fighting against time in an internet cafe…

Also moved over to the next hotel today. While the staff was friendly and very helpful, the difference in price meant a similar reduction in creature comforts. Well, the saving is about 20 euros per day (or 10 euros per day when I change into a room with its own shower on Tuesday) so can’t really complain I guess.

The room is simple as simple goes: double bed, a sink, a desk and a place for hanging clothes. In fact, my first impression was that it was so much like Van Gogh’s bedroom as painted by himself. It was colourful and spartan. However, somehow I don’t think the similar slant in the floor is due to the same artistic spirit exhibited in Van Gogh’s painting… This will be my place of rest for the next two nights.

Had dinner at this Tibetan restaurant just across from my hotel. Strange that there are actually 2 Tibetan, 2 Vietnamese, some Spanish restaurants very near the hotel.

Afterwards, had a nice stroll along Seine, beginning from the Notre Dame (about 5 mins walk from my hotel, and I am on the southern side) and finishing at the Musee D’Orsay. Quite pleasant, not too warm or cool. There were still some tourist milling about, some on roller blades.

Photos of Giverny (opens a new window)

Monday 30 June

Wasted the whole morning trying to get some cash using my American Express card. It turned out the budget place I was staying at only accepts cash – kind of misleading given that I booked the first nights using my credit card and all. Very frustrating. Not yet desperate but definitely wishing that my troubles would come to an end. :cry:

However, eventually resolved that no troubles are unsurmountable so went on with my sight-seeing anyway. But I must acknowledge here the generous offer made my friends in Australia, for their willingness to extend a helping hand to a friend in need!

Later on, spent some time in the Opera, then headed down to St Madelene. Then sat at the adjoining area near Concorde and read a book I brought along; incidentally, this was also the place where I took a rest during my 1997 trip, after walking from the Louvre.

Had dinner that night with some colleagues at one of the caf�s along Champs Elys�e.

Photos of the Opera House and misc shots in Paris (opens a new window)

Tuesday 1 July

Changed into a supposedly more superior room today, one with its own shower. Ended up with an attic room, and very old, but at least generally clean.

Eventually managed to find “Tango along the Seine”! It is kind of an interesting arrangement. There is a number of open-air amphitheatres along the Seine (near Austerlitz station side), with steps for the audience to sit on. So there you have, a group of people Tangoing away, “squashed” between a group of people doing some acrobatics with flame torches on one side, and some Bongo drums on the other. More details in this thread.

Official information: Quai Saint Bernard, just East of Notre Dame (Left Bank) near The Jardin des Plantes, Metro Gare d’Austerlitz; June through October, starting around 8 p.m. (weather permitting) and ending at dawn.

Conference tomorrow, so early night tonight!

Tango along Seine (opens a new window)

Wednesday 2 July

Conference days so not much to report, officially at any rate…

Had dinner at an Egyptian restaurant. Food so-so but good company: Haley and Thushara, both from ANU. Chatted till late into the night.

Thursday 3 July

The conference banquet dinner was combined with a cruise along the Seine. That was quite pleasant. Afterwards, walked along the river to find the Tango group again. Enjoyed a bit more Tango music before heading back to the hotel – a 10-15 mins or so walk along Boulevard St Germain.

Friday 4 July

Spent the last night with my Australian friends. Had dinner up at Monmarte, and then later decided to walk over to Moulin Rouge. Call me naive, but I had no idea this was the red light district! Kind of an eye-opener, although not as interesting as the similar area in Amsterdam.

Saturday 5 July

Joined a day tour today to Mont Saint Michel. My original intention was to go there on my own and then hopefully spend a night on the “rock”. It was not to be because the costs were simply too much: return TGV train fare to Rennes was already 100 euros! On top of this, I needed to include bus fare to Mont Saint Michel, hotel cost and food of course. The day tour was 135 euros, and included two meals.

Well, ended up spending a good part of the day in the coach – about 3 1/2 hours each way – and about 4 hours at Mont Saint Michel itself. We drove through Normandy, and it was a little hard to imagine this was the scene of fierce fighting during World War II.

The Mont was most impressive, even from a distance. Its majestic half Gothic, half Romanesque abbey, built right into the rock face, sits atop the rocky structure. Really blows your mind to think how they could have built such a thing in the first place.

Another little ‘discovery’: found out from a lovely old Japanese couple on the same tour that there is an interesting walled city of Aigues Morte in southern France which is definitely worth a visit in future.

On my final night in Paris, went to the Tango again. Seems that Saturday nights draw a larger crowd, with between 25-30 couples dancing at the same time! A nice way to finish off the night with Tango still ringing in my ear.

Photos of Mont St Michel (opens a new window)

Sunday 6 July

On this last morning in Paris, decided to visit the Louvre museum after all.

Frankly, I think the Louvre is quite overrated as a tourist spot, simply because it is too big and its exhibits too diverse. There are too many things too see, and as anyone who has been inside any art gallery or museum for more than 2 hours can attest to, you can easily become overloaded with information. In fact, I would highly recommend going to other smaller galleries which are more focused and you can benefit a lot more. If there was no Da Vinci exhibition while I was in Paris, I would definitely have given this supposedly world-class art treasury a miss altogether.

Afterwards, headed over to the Luxembourg Gardens (not far from the Pantheon). Really wonderful park and a good place for a family day out, and definitely worth a second visit the next time I come back to Paris.

Subsequently had no eventful incidents on the way to the airport on public transport, fortunately.

Photos of Luxembourg Gardens (opens a new window)

Postscript for Paris

My observations of the French way of doing things:

  • Don’t get too worked up with the French not being too helpful with those who cannot non-French-speaking. That’s the way things are here. Just ignore these idiosyncrasies and get on with your holidays.
  • The usual impressions of the French society being one full of art, literature, and romance, they are also very bureaucratic in how they handle things. That is, although every i’s and t’s are crossed, it is rare that anyone will go “beyond the call of duties”.
  • It seems on this trip I have mostly seen the worst side of the French. The term ‘French hospitality’ is mostly non-existent. Given the caf� owners, the people who operate newspaper stands, etc., are in the service industry, you would have thought that they would try to be more accommodating or sympathetic. But no! “No stamps”, “No smaller change???” were commonplace.

    People in France should step back and consider this: 1) French is not the most commonly spoken language outside of France, 2) tourists do help to support the local economy, 3) learn the meaning of the word “courtesy”! OK, guess that is enough bitching for now.

2003: France/Germany

Intro: Europe 03

My second trip to Europe was to consist of a one-week conference in Paris followed by a short stint in Berlin for some sight-seeing, and visiting my Tango friend Christine. However, as a result of some ill-preparation, unfortunate bad luck, and some un-professionalism on the part of Air France, this trip did not exactly get off to a fantastic start.

Friday 27 June

It all started when, while checking in at the Singapore airport, I was offered to transfer to a slightly later Singapore Airline flight because apparently the Air France flight I was booked for was overbooked (don’t know how such things can occur, but trouble??). This would have meant a later departure time by 1 hour and a later arrival time, by about 3 hours. In return, I would be compensated by Air France upon arrival, or so I was told. However, after waiting for close to 40 minutes, the “processing” was still not ready! Basically I was just kept waiting and naturally no explanations was offered, and the lady at the desk was not particularly busy.

In the meantime, two things had happened. I tried to make a withdrawal so that I can have some euros in my pocket before arriving in Paris. Inexplicably, my card was swallowed by the ATM machine! I must say, in all the years since I had my ATM card, I had probably only keyed in the incorrect PIN number once, let alone three times in a row! So, there I was, about to depart and without any cash! Fortunately, still managed to get some cash from my friend Janet at the last minute.

Secondly, it seemed that all of a sudden, there was a seat available on my original Air France flight. Of all of the people still waiting, I was “asked” to board the original flight, no choices given, and with only twenty minutes to spare on top of my cash(-less) issue. As a result I was rushed to the terminal, no apologies offered for the time wasted, nor anything about how I can claim the compensation, which naturally would come in handy given my predicament.

More trouble was to follow. I almost lost my pen-knife because I had no time to check in my luggage given all the hassles, although in the end my luggage was checked in. Once on board, I found that the seat given to me had already been taken. Again, no explanations, but after another wait of close to 10 minutes, another seat was found. No apologies whatsoever.

Once I landed in Paris, I tried to claim the compensation promised. However, I was then told that I lacked the necessary documentation for it – the documentation, I might add, no one had bothered to mention in all the rushing about. A letter of complaint to Air France can be expected from me for sure! Well, the lady at the Air France office did kindly offer me a complaint form to fill in, in French of course! I really don’t know how much worse Air France can get in terms of service, given that it was plainly obvious I did not speak French??

After such an eventful first night, guess that nothing much can go wrong, no? :huh:

Note: After reading this story, which is somewhat similar to my situation but escalated ten-fold, I am beginning to realise the hazards of flying with Air France. Let others be warned!

ps. An email of complaint was sent by me on 16/7. Air France replied on 17/7, stating “we will contact you in due course thereafter once we have more information” – the “thereafter” means after obtaining a report from the airport on this matter. No further news so far.

pps. A further continuation to this seemingly endless saga. The formal snail-mail letter arrived the same weekend 19/7. In the letter, the Customer Relations promised the due compensation. However, another few weeks have gone by since I duly replied…


A couple of weeks after my last comment was posted (mid August), Air France did finally send me a cheque and put the whole matter to rest. Well, at least the Customer Relations handled the matter rather professionally, instead of having to go through a lot of haggling which I was kind of expecting. :wink:

1998: Nepal/Tibet


Tibet was an after-thought after I arrived in Nepal and completed my trek in the Annapurnas. Well, maybe not quite… Actually, there was a funny incident when I tried to apply for visa for Tibet. As preparation for the trip to Nepal, I had originally tried to apply for a visa into Tibet by going directly to the Chinese embassy right there in Canberra. It was rejected. Instead, I was asked to obtain a ‘letter of invitation’ from the Tibetan Cultural Society (or some such name) first, which as I found out later was located at Lhasa, the capital of Tibet! I can’t really understand the logic but maybe you can?? After all, it’s quite difficult to request for an invitation if I was not already there?

Getting back to the story, I went back to the embassy on the same morning and easily got a visa to go into China anyway – this time citing that I wanted to go to Hong Kong. By the way, it was the same person at the reception. :-) As a result, I had more or less given up on going to Tibet. However, as it turned out, I did not need a visa for Tibet anyway.

To be continued…

1998: Nepal/Tibet


Map of Nepal

View Larger Map

While in the air above Nepal, I could not help but have a tingling sensation of a mixture of anticipation and also apprehension. It was a total unknown. Perhaps partly due to my own imagination, but the horizon seemed more curvy than usual, i.e. the curvature of the earth was probably more pronounced at such height.

The Katmandu airport was quite run down, and about the same size as Canberra airport. Everything was done manually, of course. However, my biggest worry was that the X-ray machine for the luggage explicitly said “NOT film safe”!?!? One can only hope that that referred to a previous incarnation of the same machine!?!? However, I had no choice by allow my MacPac to pass through the scan. Fortunately, the films seemed fine afterwards, although there were other problems when I had them processed in Katmandu, but that is anther story…

Stepping out from the airport, the scene that greeted me was not totally unexpected but nevertheless a big culture shock!

To photos (opens a new windows)