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Exploring Lake District Without a Car

Unlike many parts of Europe, where the best spots are often only accessed by car, Lake District is surprisingly well-connected by public transport. From the moment I got off my 8-hour coach ride from London (£48.40) at Windermere, a friendly Stagecoach staff handed me a booklet that contains a map of the area with all the bus routes, and the respective bus timetables. Day passes start at £8, which is real bargain considering most day tours range between £40-£50.

First view of Windermere lake, and I'm already in love.
First view of Windermere lake. I’m in love despite its gloominess.

I had to put up at a rather inconvenient hostel for the first night though, as the better option only had vacancies from the day after. I’m glad the sun still sets rather late because YHA Windermere is a 15 minute walk through some quiet, winding roads up from the nearest bus stop. The 6-bed female dorm (£20.83/bed) I took up is clean and spacious, and had the largest ensuite bathroom I’ve ever seen in a hostel. Would’ve been happy to stay on if not for the lousy location.

DAY 1

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Got myself the Central Lakes day pass the following morning, which cost £8 and allows me to hop on any of the buses that go around Windermere lake and the smaller villages and lakes nearby. One of the public buses even has an open top. How tourist-friendly!

First stop, the pretty and quaint town of Ambleside. It was littered with bakeries, stores selling outdoor wear, and many cottage-like bed & breakfast stays that looked really cosy. I’m definitely booking myself into one of those if I ever return to Lake District.

The famous bridge house of Ambleside, which dates back to the 17th century.
The famous bridge house of Ambleside, which dates back to the 17th century.

So I was just wandering around the town when I stumbled upon a sign that pointed into the woods and indicated that it was the way to the Stock Ghyll Force waterfalls. Unsure about how difficult or far the walk would be, I simply had to ask the handful of cheery walkers emerging from the forest, who were more than happy to tell me that it’s a really easy route.

The waterfall was basic but the woodlands that lead up to it was welcoming, gentle and pretty.

Then I stumbled upon this grotesque stump.
Then I stumbled upon this grotesque stump. I got goosebumps looking at it. Apparently it’s a tradition in this area for walkers to knock coins into tree trunks for luck.

After that, I hopped onto the same bus route and headed towards Grasmere, a small lake north of Windermere with its own little town.

The town was quiet and gloomy, all thanks to the drizzle. I took shelter in the cafe that’s attached to Heidi’s Grasmere Lodge, and had myself a traditional pastie “from Crantock”, the menu said, that had beef and potatoes in it, and a smoothie to wash it down. The meal cost £8.9.

Then hopped onto another bus to get me closer to the Grasmere lake. I was so grateful for the handy day pass at this point. Without the trusty buses I would’ve been so much more restricted to certain spots. The driver even gave me directions when I got off.

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Into the woods again! This time it’s White Moss Woods. I just love the near silence and the sound of running water. There were moments where I found myself all alone in the forest, but never for long as walkers populate most of the trails around the area, and I often chance upon families with dogs along the way.

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Windermere lake
I sat at this tranquil spot for some time, just watching happy dogs splashing about in the water.
I sat at this tranquil spot for some time, just watching happy dogs splashing about in the water.

I headed down to another town south of the same lake called Bowness for diner. There, I took away fish and chips from Vinegar Jones (picked it simply because I saw a queue) and ate by the lake. There was only 1 size that cost £6, and it was massive! It was pretty good though. And made much more enjoyable with the beautiful view, of course.

Stayed at the Lake District Backpackers Lodge (£16.50/bed for a 6-bed dorm) for the rest of my time here. It’s the first hostel I’ve been to that doesn’t have anyone physically running it! Once I’ve made my booking, the owner sent me an email stating the door code numbers. And once I got there, there were instructions to put the exact cash payment in an envelope, and drop it into the safe. So amazed at this system. Clever businessman!

DAY 2

It’s tour day with Mountain Goat. They are costly, but crucial for taking tourists without a car to places where buses can’t traverse. Just like the goat, the mini bus climbs frighteningly steep and windy roads up into the highlands, where the best views of Lake District are found. And for that reason, I thought I’d get the most out of their services by picking the High Adventure tour (£40), which follows mountain passes.

And I got so lucky with the weather!
And I got so lucky with the weather!

Malcolm is our driver and tour guide rolled into 1, and I was amazed at how he could tell engaging stories, drive, and tell jokes simultaneously. His decade-long experience as a guide clearly shows. He had so much knowledge about the area, and his narrative is always packed with facts and details.

Throughout the day, he told us how the Romans and Vikings made their marks on the landscape, and that the white, grey, and brown sheep that pepper the farms are in fact all the same Herdwick species whose wool colour changes as it ages. One of Malcolm’s many bite-sized history lessons was on how the landscapes became dominated by grasslands: back in the middle ages, monks started rearing sheep as wool was lucrative then, and they had to chop down trees to make way for pastures for them to graze on.

Langdale, first of the many breathtaking views to come.
Langdale, first of the many stunning views to come. I love how the lack of trees allows you to see so very far ahead.

Malcolm and his trusty mountain goat bus.

Vast landscapes, little people.

Stopped at Boot for lunch. Time surely stands still here, as there are only a small cluster of houses and pubs. Even the waitress at the pub said, “Nothing happens around here… there was a car that crashed yesterday, and everyone was like, have you heard about it???” But I still managed to lose track of time here wandering around, and had little time to enjoy my cumberland sausage and onion gravy baguette. It was delicious, and I wish I had more than just 40 mins at this lunch stop to savour rather than shove it down my throat.

The tour included a short ride on the cute little steam train on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Just look at how short it is compared to me!

Wastwater lake
Wastwater lake

Definitely the highlight of this trip, the Wasterwater lake drew loud WOWs from everyone in the bus when it came into view. Pictures never do places like these justice, but to get a sense of scale, check out the 2 people who appear as white specks on the right side of the photo. Wish we had time to lay out a picnic and spend the afternoon here… but as with all tours, all you get is enough time to snap photos.

This causes some to make the most of their time here.
This causes some to make the most of their time here.

The next stop was Muncaster castle, which looked rather unremarkable from the outside, so I only ended up with photos of animals.

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Ended the beautiful day at Coniston Water.

DAY 3

As I wanted to venture further north into the town of Keswick, I had to get the £10.8 day pass for the public buses. It took me just over an hour to get there from Windermere. At least the bus ride was amazingly scenic.

Just like the other towns I visited on my first day, Keswick is made up of the usual souvenir and outdoor gear shops, and restaurants. There’s nothing charming about this place, so I just looked up TripAdvisor for the best scones around, and it pointed me to Laura in the Lakes, which is just a short walk away from the main bus stop. The scone (£3.25) was fresh, hot, and fluffy, and with jam and clotted cream slathered all over it, I soon reached nirvana.

I didn’t have any solid plans for the day, so I just looked at the map with the bus route, and picked 77 as it goes around a few lakes. It was also the route that’ll pass Catbells, one of the scenic places which I remember reading about.

And I simply couldn’t believe the places that this public bus took us. It was a standard bus, but it went through lanes so tight that the cars coming in the opposite direction sometimes have to back up to let the bus pass through. Some lanes were so narrow the bus had to scrape against hedges to avoid cars that were parked on the side. It was at times too much excitement for the pensioners on board to take. I could feel them stressing out and hear the occasional tsk tsk-ing.

Bus 77 passed the gorgeous Buttermere lake and wide valleys of Gatesgarth, which looked almost like Mars. I was stressing out a little on the bus as I had to make split-second decisions about whether to get off at each stop. It’s not as easy as this route only comes once every 2 hours. I’m glad I held out till it got to Catbells though, as I wouldn’t have had time to reach its summit if I had made another stop. I thought Catbells would be so popular that hoards of people would get off at the stop and I’d just follow. But I nearly missed the stop because there was no visible sign indicating that it’s Catbells, and only 1 other couple got off.

There weren’t many people around, so with no one to ask, I just headed up not knowing how long I’d take or how difficult it’ll be. But the path looked pretty all right at first.

Then as the views got better, the path got rockier and steeper.

Such a rewarding view, and I'm not even at the summit!
Such a rewarding view, and I’m not even at the summit!

There were a few false summits, but they serve as a good pit stop. The views from midway up already made the hike so far worth it.

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Mountains have a funny way of making things look scarier than they are. I sat at the false summit for some time, debating whether I should attempt the summit, which from where I was standing looked really steep and dangerous. Then I did some market survey, and this mother with 3 young boys said that it was absolutely safe and easy, with some minor scrambling on the way down.

So I decided to scale it.

My favourite view from the summit.
My favourite view from the summit.

Reached my first ever summit! Funny how I’ve always wanted to hike up a mountain, and I managed to do this without even planning. But on my way up, I kept thinking that it’s going to be way more challenging to descend. It was indeed tougher, and made trickier as it started to drizzle. Fell on my bum just once, so it wasn’t too bad at all for a first experience.

I really hope to return to Lake District someday to scale more peaks!

London Munching

London has always been about the company rather than the attractions for me. It’s a big, busy city with loads to do, and there’s no better way to enjoy it than with friends. The moment we arrived, Keith and I were immediately  welcomed to Pat and Afsar’s home with a fabulous party with our Sonar buddies, and we ate and chat and danced till the sun rose (we’re not that wild — the sun rises at 4am).

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The following afternoon, Keith and I started our day really well with a chance encounter with Comptoir Libanais in South Kensington. We did the Asian thing of queuing because there was already a queue. And we were right! It was crowded because they served great food.

Get the hearty Lamb Kofta (£9.45). It doesn’t look like a big portion, but you’d be surprisingly filled towards the end. I also preferred Keith’s option with the Basmati rice compared to my couscous one.

Then we headed for Hyde Park in hopes of basking in the sun.

Bintang reunites in London!
Bintang reunites in London!

But the joy was fleeting because it started to drizzle… then rain properly… then drizzle again.

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Thankfully, the weather cleared up promptly before dinner, and we decided to Boris bike to the restaurant.

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These rented bicycles do not have good brakes at all… So those of you who are planning to hop on one of these, do buffer a larger distance between you and whatever you’re hoping not to crash into.

Arrived in 1 piece at Big Easy at Covent Garden after cycling down Oxford Circus during weekend peak hour! It was a fun ride though.

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The heart attack-inducing Grand Appetizer Platter (£49.5). The Voodoo chicken wings on the left was the winner. Order this only if you’re a group of hungry hippos like us. If you’re not near starvation, I’d say skip this and just indulge in the Lobster Bake (£24.5) below.

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This was exceptional. You’re looking at a mouth watering pan of half lobster, giant shrimp, mussels, crab claws and potatoes, all drowned in garlic white wine cream. It was fresh, tasty, and everything seafood should be. Looking at this photo just makes me want to go back again.


The next morning, while Keith went about his work, I met up with Bacchus PR at one of the establishments they represent, Sketch.

It houses 5 different dining concepts under one roof, and each room is wonderfully designed. The most whimsical corner has got to be the sci-fi washroom above the East Bar, which has individual cubicles shaped like giant alien eggs.

For dinner, we were lucky enough to be invited to Afsar's triple combo curry party. Felt so spoilt!
For dinner, we were lucky enough to be invited to Afsar’s healthy (not sarcastic here) triple combo curry party. We were so spoilt!
I love cider. It's cheap and sweet -- just like me. Had it for dessert.
I love cider. It’s cheap and sweet — just like me. Had it for dessert.
We also started to plan how Keith and I would exit London. Both of us were leaving on the days the bloody tube strike. Such luck we have.
As we drank, we also started to brainstorm how Keith and I would leave London. Both of us were departing when there would be no tube service at all. Such luck we have.(Albeit the heavy traffic, buses saved my day in the end and I managed to catch my coach back to Antwerp.)

Next up, Carsten Holler’s interactive exhibition in Hayward Gallery at Southbank!

Call me superficial, but I didn't really care about what the statement was. I just wanted to get on those slides!!!
Call me superficial, but I didn’t really care about what the artist statement was. I just wanted to get on those amazing slides!!!

The slides are the exits of the exhibition, so you have to go through the rest of his other equally whimsical works before you can get on the slides.

The exhibition starts with a choice between the A or B tunnel entrance — hence the exhibition title “Decision”. We picked randomly, and suddenly found ourselves in total darkness. We were walking through a tunnel, with no indication of where it turned or dipped (it’s a slight descend but it’s scary!) except for LED lights that were few and far between. Navigating it got us shouting and laughing like little kids. Not sure what the difference between the 2 choices was, but I’m sure they both led into the dark tunnels.

Glad to emerge from this tunnel of sightless torture.
Glad to emerge from this tunnel of sightless torture.

An enormous shroom mobile which you can help rotate by pushing it sexily like Keith did.

I really liked these roving beds too. The idea that you can wake up to a strange place without knowing your journey is fascinating!
I really liked these roving beds too. The idea that you can wake up to a strange place without knowing your journey is fascinating!

Keith and I decided to stay in the long queue for this flying machine even though it didn’t look that exciting, partly because we paid £15 for this exhibition. We waited for around 45 minutes, got strapped into silly suits and then hooked up to a structure that was revolving really, really slowly. It was exciting to take the leap from the platform into midair, but that’s about it. The view was nice from up there, but after 4 rounds, it started to get quite boring. Worth the queue time? No. But we’ve got to do what tourists do.

These goggles have mirrors which flip everything. It’s a funny experience trying to re-orientate. And even more hilarious when you try and take a selfie with it on.

Our failed attempt.
Our failed attempt.
Corrected that fail-fie with a proper one.
Corrected that fail-fie with a proper one.

The slide was amazing! Would love to go on it over and over again but too bad you can only exit the exhibition once. I will also never forget how loudly Keith screamed while sliding down.

Keith highly recommended Alounak for lunch, and we were not disappointed! The waitress got our orders wrong, so instead of more lamb, we got more chicken instead. Out of all the different types of meat, the minced lamb was the best. It was juicy, tender, and was cooked with the right amount of herbs. The basmati rice — on which you have to add on a chunk of butter while it’s hot — was so damn sinful and delicious. I’m not a rice person, but I can easily wipe out an entire plate of this. The hummus is great as an appetiser too. Total damage with soft drinks: £19. Not too bad considering the size of that main course!

Outside Burner's Tavern.
Outside Burners Tavern.

For our last dinner together, we indulged at a hotel restaurant called Berners Tavern. It’s the kind of place that makes your jaw drop once you step in. I couldn’t believe I was going to eat at such a posh restaurant. I’m never one to indulge on expensive meals, but I’m glad I agreed to this one. It’s beautiful, and the crowd is not as stiff and pretentious as I expected of a place as grand as this.

The good thing is, we’ve been eating the entire day. And after that massive Mediterranean lunch, we couldn’t stuff much more down our throats. So we shared 1 starter and 2 mains, and saved ourselves from busting our budget. I like that the wait staff didn’t give us dirty looks when we said we wanted to share the dishes. The beef tartare (£18) is fantastic, and so was the seafood risotto (£26), but the whole dover sole fish (£35, not pictured) was forgettable.


On my last night in London, Ade made bak kut teh (with chicken), and I finally met Boogie!

That wraps up our very indulgent, very delicious London trip! It was lovely to spend time with Keith and Ade here — everywhere’s amazing with those 2.

 

Rivierenhof park in Antwerp

I’ve been in and out of Antwerp for almost 2 months, and I don’t have a single post on it! Shame on me. But it’s also mainly because we just do normal family stuff here — birthday parties, simple meals out, shopping, and running errands. But today, mum and I went on a mini excursion to one of the largest parks in Antwerp.

We wanted to do a day trip to Bruges, but the return train tickets are a whopping €29 each. So we stayed in Antwerp, and took a straight De Lijn public bus (€1.40 per trip) from Sis’ home to Rivierenhof park.

Belgian weather is pretty erratic. It started drizzling heavily when we arrived even though the weather app indicated otherwise when we checked it a couple of hours ago. So we took shelter in the lovely Rivierenhof castle.

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The interiors were beautiful, but the restaurant’s cappuccino and chocolate ice cream weren’t great though.

After that, we took our time and spent the entire afternoon exploring the enormous park on foot.

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Creepy little house.
Creepy little house.
There are few things in this world my mum loves more than flowers.
There are few things in this world my mum loves more than flowers.

Rock Werchter & Leuven

The great thing about Singapore is that you meet people from all over the world there. Pietr is a friend whom I met back home who grew up in Leuven, a town that’s 30km from Brussels. And as soon as we learned that we’d both be in Belgium this summer, we started to make plans. As I’m a sucker for music festivals, Rock Werchter became the obvious choice as the festival site is only a “short” (says Pietr) bicycle ride from his parents’ place in Leuven.

Shame on us for procrastinating on buying the tickets though, as only the Friday day pass (€97) was left for the 4-day event when we finally decided to put our money where our mouths were.

The journey starts from Antwerp Central Station, where I had to catch an hour-long train ride to Leuven. It was a really nice gesture on Rock Werchter’s part to give free return train rides to festival goers, for us to get from any Belgian city to Leuven.

Antwerp Central Station
Antwerp Central Station

Arrived early to explore the city, and ended up at the Grote Markt and joined many others for a pre-dinner drink at the square. Leuven is a university town, so I expected the prices to be a little bit lower. But it wasn’t that much different from eating out in Antwerp. But for drinks, I guess it’s still not too bad when compared to Singapore. A Somersby cider at one of the many bars at Grote Markt cost €3.80, and tacos with guacamole from another casual joint was €8.45.

When we got to Pietr’s place, I quickly got acquainted with his parents’ beautiful and superbly-maintained garden, which had cherry, raspberry, and cranberry trees, as well as chickens and a vegetable patch.

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We headed out again to a nearby bar, and passed by some lovely fields of crop.

[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]B[/stag_dropcap]reakfast the next morning was so wholesome it could’ve made it into the pages of Cereal magazine. Pietr brought out apple juice that’s extracted from apples harvested from their own backyard and juiced by a farmer in the neighbourhood. No preservatives were added, and it tasted so sweet!

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And that’s not all. The slice of bread you see right there? It’s homemade too. Pietr’s parents are the ultimate hipsters — so cool without even realising.

Before we headed to Rock Werchter, we decided to swing by the city centre to see the famed KU Leuven university’s grand library.

Leuven University's grand old library
Leuven University’s central library

It was glorious on the inside too!

De Werf
And then we had lunch at De Werf, which is a short walk away. The tomato soup I had was pretty good!

The cycle from Leuven’s centre to the Rock Werchter site took about an hour, and I’m glad it was flat all the way. When we got there, we were pleased to find a very systematic parking system for bicycles, and it was free of charge! They also attach matching numbered tags to your wrist and bicycle to ensure that everyone leaves with their own bikes.

Parking our bikes.

Unlike Tomorrowland, the largest EDM festival in the world that’s held in Belgium, Rock Werchter is more unassuming and matured. The Belgians mostly kept to themselves, and there was no idiotic shouting from drunk imbeciles that infested Tomorrowland. Friday was the only day that wasn’t sold out; so I was surprised at how crowded it got!

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The first act we caught is Ibeyi, a pair of twins with amazing voices and soulful songs that gave me the chills.

John Newman
John Newman “working it”.

Somehow, I had the impression that John Newman’s songs were sappy and that the live performance was going to be emo and mellow. So when he finally stormed out on stage in a pimp get up (white suit and a gold chain, really?) and a high-energy song, I was caught off guard. And then he started busting some serious douchey dance moves, and Pietr and I just lost it and couldn’t stop laughing. I couldn’t believe how idiotic he looked on stage, acting like he’s the hottest shit on earth with a protruding tummy. It was like watching an annoying drunk white expat on Club Street. His on-stage ego was so inflated that it got less funny and more unappetising to witness after 2 songs.

 

So we headed out to try and forget what we just saw, and people watch.

We also saw Damian Marley (Bob Marley’s son) at the main stage, who was basically a bunch of cliches with his Jamaican flag, dreadlocks, and raggae riffs.

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Kwabs, unlike unfortunate Mr Newman, had the right amount of swag. He sauntered to his mike, owned the stage without trying too hard, grooved along to his songs, and delivered a pitch perfect performance. Amazing for a young artist.

Of Monsters & Men
Of Monsters and Men at the main stage

The Icelandic band’s newer songs fell rather flat, so their set didn’t have the same magic it had at Laneway 2 years ago. But Little Talks still got the crowd moving on their feet and shouting “Hey!”

A common sight as dusk approaches.
A common sight as dusk approaches.

 

Tried to take a selfie but a good looking and nice lady offered to snap this for us!
Me with Ray Charles at Balthazar’s set. Apparently they’re a cocaine-fueled Belgian band.

The half pint beers and other small bottled drinks cost €2.50. That plate of noodles with spring rolls from a stall called “Wok & Roll” cost me a hefty €10, and it was the shittiest noodles I’ve ever had. The spring rolls were all right though. My sis said I should’ve “wok-ed away”. But I didn’t. Maybe because I was lured in by the cute cook.

So were my noodles.
So were my noodles.

We also managed to catch the last bit of Death Cab for Cutie‘s set, where they played the songs that mattered: Soul Meets Body and Transatlanticism. So, so good. And I involuntarily saw FKA Twigs for the third fucking time even though I don’t like her music at all. Pietr didn’t know who she was, but said he had to see her after I said she was hot and had sexy moves. Alt-J‘s gig was scarily crowded. It was practically a mosh pit before they even came on stage. I don’t like their music at all, and was done with being chest-to-back with their hipster teenage fans after 1 song.

Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons completely won me over 5 years ago at T in the Park, and although I was disappointed at their newest releases, it was still amazing to hear them live again. Their songs are pretty intimate, which was a waste at such a big setting. We were standing towards the back of the field, where everyone was talking, so I couldn’t really connect with their heartfelt songs.

Roisin Murphy
Roisin Murphy

I didn’t have much expectations for Roisin Murphy (Moloko’s lead vocalist) as I heard a couple of her songs and weren’t impressed. But I thoroughly enjoyed her set! I love it when artists transcend their studio recordings during their live performances. She even had different bizarre outfits for each song. The music was all very subtle and sexy. Definitely the second most danceable set of the day. The one that got me dancing the entire set was Pharrell Williams!

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Pharrell Williams

He was the closing act, so we decided to get up close to the stage. His performance was like a greatest hits album, with newer songs interspersed with mashups of old RnB songs that he produced such as Drop it like it’s hot and Hot in here. It really got the party going, and reminded me of my clubbing days a decade ago. The best part of the set  for me wasn’t when he did the wayyyyyy overplayed minion anthem, but when he slayed N.E.R.D’s She wants to move. I fucking love that song. He got a line of ladies from the audience to join him on stage for that song, and somehow he managed to single out the most awkward one of the bunch to dirty dance with. It was painful yet hilarious to watch the girl try to move sexily while he sang “she wants to move…”. It was truly THE moment of Rock Werchter for me… Aside from John Newman.

After the entire day out, I thought that cycling back would be painful. But the air was cool, the ground was flat, and there was no traffic, so it was the perfect way to end the day.


[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]S[/stag_dropcap]lept in the next morning, and felt very appreciative and lucky to be in Europe to experience all its amazing summer music festivals. I was in a good mood when I went down to the kitchen to get some breakfast, but someone wasn’t sharing my morning chirpiness.

Tommy is the family’s cat who’s actually very affectionate, despite its permanent bitch face.

Popped by Leuven’s picturesque Groot Begijnhof, a well-preserved old town built in the 13th century as a safe haven for religious women. It’s now owned by the university, and some of its apartments now house students. Pietr said that it’s also one of the most popular spots in Leuven for cheesy wedding photographs.

From there, I took a stroll down Munstraat, where all the shopping was, and headed towards the train station.

Pretty decent hazelnut gelato for €2.
Pretty decent hazelnut gelato for €2.
Love that this doggie was celebrating gay pride too!
It was the start of gay pride parades, and I love that this doggie was celebrating too!

 

A Lousy Tourist in Barcelona

Most of the gang left Barcelona in the morning, but I stayed on for another day because I haven’t been here before. I decided to take the touristy hop on and off Barcelona city tour for €27 because I was pretty damn tired from the lack of sleep. I would’ve walked around to explore the city if I were in a better state.

View from somewhere near the Jardins de Miramar.
View from somewhere near the Jardins de Miramar.

There are 2 routes, and I started on the less popular and absolutely boring West route. Even after taking the other route, I vow never to take these buses again. About 80% of their stops are insignificant attractions. Each route takes about 2 hours to complete, and it only goes in 1 direction. So most tourists just sit through the entire thing for a drive-by type of sight seeing. I recommend that you just save the money, buy a T10 card (€9.95 for 10 metro journeys), and make your way to the 5 or 6 important ones. (Don’t worry about asking for directions too. The Spanish here speak decent English and are polite towards tourists!) Sorely regret not doing that, and I vow to return and do Barcelona justice.

The never-ending construction of Sagrada Família.
The never-ending construction of Sagrada Família.

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It’s a staggering sight simply because it’s bizarre. A mad man’s dream, an over-pious follower’s insane homage to his belief. I don’t think it’s beautiful on the outside because there’s too much going on. Gaudi, girrrrl, you’ve got to edit. The whole thing looks like termite hills to me.

But it’s so different on the inside! I actually teared a little when I stepped in. It was absolutely serene, and so immensely different in style compared to the churches I’ve seen around Europe. There was a lot going on with the interiors as well, but the symmetry and attention to detail just blew me away.

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Almost every surface area was decorated.

Europe loves its high ceilings, and the Sagrada Família emphasised that with structural columns that reached up and then branched out like trees to hold the roof up.

My favourite part of all is this corner where the stained glass windows cause jewel-toned rays to be cast into the church. It’s so bloody gorgeous in afternoon.

Falling asleep through the rest of the route.
After that climax, I spent the rest of the route falling asleep at the back of the bus.

Because the bus tour was so unsatisfying, I forced myself to venture out again after dinner and a short nap. I was actually astounded at my ability to wake up after 45 minutes despite not having a wink of sleep the entire day and night before.

There was just an hour of sunlight left, so I made my way to Park Guell, another Gaudi attraction. I didn’t pay to go in as there wasn’t much time left, so I just walked around it.

View on the way up.
View on the way up.

It’s nice and quiet at this hour. The winding paths were devoid of tourists and filled with runners and locals taking an evening stroll with their dogs.

I looked out at this view and felt so, so sad that I had to leave the next morning.
I looked out at this view and felt so, so sad that I had to leave the next morning.

Just look at the size of Barcelona! You’ve got to spend at least 2 to 3 days exploring the city. And there are also day trips to take if you fancy being up in the surrounding mountains.

Ended the trip off with a €2 pistachio gelato at the slightly bohemian neighbourhood of Garcia, where locals still sit around with drinks in hand at 11pm on a Sunday.

I’ll be back.

Sonar music festival 2015

I just got back from Barcelona on Monday and I’m already missing it badly. I only had a taster, and I’m feeling pretty regretful about leaving Spain so early. I thought that 1 extra day apart from the 3 days and 2 nights of Sonar music festival would be sufficient for me to adequately experience the Spanish city, but boy was I wrong.

I arrived on Thursday afternoon after a painful flight from Brussels airport. 2 of the 3 runways were closed off, resulting in a long queue of planes waiting to take off. Fortunately, they managed to cut back some flight time and I didn’t have to make Priya and Ade wait too long at the apartment before heading down to Sonar by day!

Airbnb Barcelona Spain
Domingo in our Airbnb apartment that’s filled with restored vintage furniture.
Barcelona Spain Sonar music festivala
The dramatic walk towards Sonar by day with the staggering Museu Nacional D’Art De Catalunya Mnac in the background.

Sonar (€185 for the 3-day, 2-night pass) is my first non-camping summer festival in Europe, and I love how you can live in the comfort of a home and just head down to the venue via the metro! The weather remained at the low 20s throughout, which means it’s still cool in the shade.

Barcelona Spain Sonar music festival
Reunited! (But that patch of lower back hair totally stole the limelight from our beauty.)
Barcelona Spain Sonar music festival
Kindness properly kicking off the festival.

Kindness properly kicking off the festival.

The entire thing was extremely well organised; we hardly had to queue for drinks or toilets. It’s held at a spacious exhibition venue, so it has a main stage in the middle, and a few other smaller stages and booths that spread out from main stage and “village” (above). It’s all very practical and easy to find your way around, but the entire place isn’t very photogenic.

I hardly recognised anyone in the entire line up, and it was wonderfully liberating. No stressing out over time and running from one stage to the other. We were happy drifters most of the time. The only band I wanted to catch on the first day was Kindness, and damn, they really got the party started! It’s just so enjoyable to see a band with amazing chemistry on stage, singing and dancing and having a ball with each other. The whole gig was very informal. Adam Bainbridge came down into the crowd to sing, and invited people up on stage to dance like it was a big karaoke party. Jets was also another DJ set that got the entire crowd dancing.

After that we followed Ade’s British friends — who have been coming to Sonar for years — to a recommended dinner spot. We passed the amazing Arc de Triomf on the way there.

Barcelona Spain Arc de Triomf
In awe of the Arc de Triomf, built in a neo-Moorish in style.
Barcelona Spain La Paradeta
The Spanish love to queue too!

The Spanish love to queue too!

We got to La Paradeta at 10:30pm and there was this massive queue outside. But our friends were all like “It’s going to be so worth it, don’t worry.” So we waited. And waited. And got in at about 11pm. And there was still a pretty long queue.

Very impressed with their efficiency. Before you go to your table, you pick from an array of fresh seafood. They price it by weight, so it depends how big your group is. I’d say it’s best to go in large groups so you can try as wide a variety as possible. We ordered prawns, razor clams, mussels, rape (lol) fish, and cuttlefish.

Everything was fresh and cooked to perfection. Our table was made up of seven people, and we only paid €15 each! Such a good meal to end day 1.

Barcelona Spain Airbnb
Domingo demanded a belly rub before we went to bed. He goes absolutely insane when he gets a rub.

[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]S[/stag_dropcap]tarted the day off rather fancily at Suculent, an upmarket restaurant that’s also much raved about by Ade’s friends. As our group was huge, we couldn’t order individual dishes as the tiny kitchen would not be able to cope with bringing them out all at once. So we picked out 3 types of starters and 3 main courses, and allowed them to gauge the right amount to feed all of us. The indoor seating is extremely limited, so be prepared to sit outside if you’re in a group that’s bigger than 5. It’s shaded but some of our friends sitting at the edge of the canopy still got scorched by the afternoon sun.

All of the dishes were incredibly refined, with tastes that surprised and satisfied. The portions look small and delicate, but it was all very rich. So I was surprised at how satisfied I was after a spoonful or two. After all, it’s a place for one to appreciate how tastes are put together rather than chowing down huge portions of average dishes.

Didn’t take much pictures because I really wanted to relax and enjoy myself. The beef tartar on bone marrow was heavenly, and the strawberry dessert with chocolate and cream topping was sooooooo good! The damage? €40 each. We ordered a magnum bottle of white wine too.

Barcelona Spain summer
Our entire group at Rambla del Raval, arranged to form a skin colour gradient.

Within walking distance from Suculent is the La Boqueria market located near the very, very crowded and touristy La Rambla street. It’s a beautiful place to see all the neon candies, fresh meat, vibrantly-coloured fruits, and… skinned rabbits. Eek.

Then it’s Sonar by Day again, where we caught Kiasmos’ super sexy set. We arrived late and didn’t stay too long, as everyone dispersed to get dinner and rest up for Sonar by Night.

Barcelona Spain Las Arenas

Ade recommended lobster rice at Abrassame for dinner. It’s within the Las Arenas, the coliseum-looking building, near the Sonar by Day venue. The restaurant is located on the top floor of the building, which has an open air viewing deck overlooking the Museu Nacional D’Art De Catalunya Mnac. You don’t have to pay to go up, and it’s a great spot to see the sun set!

Barcelona Spain

Barcelona Las Arenas Abrassame lobster rice

The lobster rice cost €26 each, and they cook it in a huge pot before dividing it up into individual servings.

I always miss soupy dishes when I’m in Europe because most of their style consists of either dry or creamy dishes. And this lobster dish — with its flavourful broth — was the perfect meal to satisfy that craving and soothe my inflamed throat.

Barcelona Las Arenas
We were seated on the inside as the al fresco seats, which offer beautiful views of the city, were all taken.
Barcelona Las Arenas
Las Arenas’ viewing deck on the right.
Barcelona Las Arenas view
The view got better after dinner!
Barcelona Spain Sonar music festival
Now for the REAL party to start.

I hear that the locals usually only just go for the night party, held at an even larger fair, exhibition-type venue, the Fira Gran Via L’Hospitalet. It’s not as accessible as the day venue from where we’re staying, but thankfully the cabs in Spain are affordable. It cost us about €14 for a 20 minute cab ride there.

And again, because it’s not a temporary event space, there were non-portable toilets and good facilities to cater to the crowd. There was adequate space, and everything was in order.

Friday night was a lot less crowded than Saturday night. It didn’t get any rowdier, but the crowd was slightly more dodgy on Saturday, and the regular Sonar goers among us mentioned that they’ve never seen Sonar this crowded. I guess we went right before its tipping point. Perhaps it’s becoming too mainstream for its own good?

Anyway, my highlights of Sonar by Night include Maya Jane Coles, and Siriusmodeselektor. Chemical Brothers was rubbish as expected, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs should just stick to playing music live sets instead of DJing, and Flying Lotus was so schizophrenic it killed our buzz.

Barcelona Spain Sonar music festival
We partied till the sun came up on both nights.

The walk of shame towards the metro station in the morning as there weren’t enough cabs to go around.


[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]T[/stag_dropcap]he overnight partying wrecked our body clocks, so we skipped Sonar Day and headed out to Barceloneta beach for lunch. There were so many good looking people out and about! Definitely one of the main attractions of this hot blooded city.

Barcelona Spain Barceloneta beach

It was way too hot out in the sun, and we were content with just walking along the line of restaurants facing the beach.

Many of the restaurants at the heart of Barceloneta beach was packed, but you just have to walk in the direction away from the W Hotel and you’d arrive at a slightly more high-end but still affordable stretch that’s slightly quieter. We picked Shoko, which had Japanese dishes and looks really tacky in a Los Angeles kind of way too. But the staff were so warm and friendly it made it all up. They were the right type of friendly — not over enthusiastic. We even got party tips from a waiter and veteran party boy who lived in Ibiza some time back.

The girls had paella (the sharing portions are ridiculously huge, so always order for 1 less person). The salmon avocado starter (above) was a winner too!

Then we headed back to our Airbnb, napped, and headed out for Sonar by Night round 2.

That wraps up the festival! Totally did not have time to properly experience the city, so I’m glad I have another full day tomorrow to do that.

 

Friends, Food, and Performances in London

London. It was the first and last stop of our 2.5-week long Europe trip, and I had mixed feelings about spending time in London. I hate that I love it so much, and I knew very well that visiting this city again will remind me of how much I’m missing out in Singapore.

I did my exchange semester a few years back in Hertfordshire (1 hour bus ride away from central London), and would often spend my weekends frolicking around London. I still have wonderful memories of its museums, gigs, nonsensical locals, clubs, and Primark outlets. Even imagining myself strolling down Oxford Street gave me an enormous sense of well-being.

Because I’ve done most of the touristy stuff in London, the first and only item on my must-revisit list is the National History Museum, which I absolutely adore — mainly because of the dinosaur bones and taxidermy. So as Priya set out on her bus tour, I lazed around in Ade’s apartment (yes, that bitch has been staying in London since early this year) until noon, before heading out.

I got off at South Kensington station, walked over to the museum, and was greeted with this wonderful sight.

National History Museum London travel
The queue to enter the National History Museum was more mind blowing than anything I’ve seen inside the museum.
National History Museum London travel
National History Museum’s exterior looking gorgeous in the bright sunshine.

Plan B? Hyde Park, since it’s only a short walk away.

Hyde Park London travel
A sculpture by architect Sou Fujimoto at the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion.

I love these interactive public art things. This even housed a cafe within!

After strolling around a bit, I took shelter from the sun under a tree, where I laid down to read and even took a nap. And I enjoyed every single second of being alone in a foreign country.

I still had a lot of time to kill, so I decided to take a long walk to Piccadilly Circus, where I’ll rendezvous with Priya. Being in the thick of the crowd there reminded me of Singapore, and I felt sick immediately. So I cursed Priya in my head for being late.

London travel
Feeling too indie for these mainstream tourists.

Next on our itinerary was  Ten Bells, a restaurant/bar (upstairs/downstairs) near Spitalfields. It’s here that Priya and I reunited with Ade (who had to work that day) as well as old friends Mei, Oleta, and Lana. I still find it surreal how easy it is to keep in touch with friends thousands of miles away through Facebook and arrange for a meet up with just a couple of phone messages.

Ten Bells London food travel
Us

While the food came in small portions, it all tasted wonderful. It’s on the pricey side, but I think it added up because we ordered quite a few appetisers, like buttermilk chicken as well as ravioli to share.

Ten Bells London food travel
Took the lamb main course as recommended by the cute waiter.

My portion of the bill came up to £33, including the shared appetisers, a main dish, and a spritz cocktail. Fairly decent actually, if I don’t convert it to SGD. Do give it a try if you’re in town! Nice decor, good service, and great food.

Ten Bells London food travel

Next, we met up with Ade’s housemates, a lovely couple by the name of Patrick and Afsar, for a night of Icy Gays at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). We got our drinks and entered a very warm auditorium where a group of very non-mainstream (by my standards) crowd have gathered to watch some sort of B-grade performance/presentation. A drag queen read off poetic lines while 2 performers (one gay boy and another topless transgender or girl, I’m not sure) dived off the stage and crowdsurfed. but I loved it. I had no idea what was going on, but I loved its freakiness and how everyone was so into it. It was quite trippy.

Aérea Negrot London travel music
The main show: a performance by Aérea Negrot.

Aérea Negrot is a Berlin-based Venezuelan musician, who got the crowd moving with dark yet danceable Berlin-esque beats, proved her talents with some crazy vocals, and tickled all of us with lyrics like “listen to the people who cum inside you“. If you have clicked on the links or listened to her stuff online, you’re probably judging me for singing praises for such a nonsense artist. But trust me, you gotta see her live to understand. She has a great voice (the way she yelled, groaned, and moaned reminded me of the way Karen O sings live), her DJ set is minimal and groovy, and her performance is such a joy to watch! Very envious of Londoners and their access to such varied artists.

Aérea Negrot London travel music
Patrick’s fangirl moment.

Day 2

Hung out with Patrick and Afsar at home until noon, then Priya and I took a bus down to Borough Market.

London travel
The view from the lift lobby of Ade’s apartment.
Shard London travel
Caught a glimpse of the terribly named Shard on the way to the market.

We made a bee line for the duck sandwich as it was highly recommended by Patrick and Afsar. It was a little bit of a wait, but it turned out to be a generous serving of really tasty shredded duck!

The market wasn’t bustling, but it still had a nice, quaint feel of a farmer’s market.

Borough Market London travel
Had the nastiest home-brewed cider for £1.90. It smelled like nail polish remover and tasted as pungent,
Borough Market London food travel
Some amazing scallops.

We also bought a really good brownie (light and fluffy yet rich in flavour) to go, and I bagged some truffle oil (£7 for a Tabasco bottle-sized portion) and foie gras pate to bring home.

After our feast, we dropped by Primark. I’ve been dreaming about re-visiting it ever since I left the UK at the end of my exchange, and I was thrilled to be in the new store along Oxford Circus. But after an hour or so of browsing all four levels, only 2 tops (same design in different colours) caught my eye. Guess it’s just a natural progression to be a lot more discerning when it comes to shopping as you age.

After the disappointing shopping stop, it’s back on the tube again to get to Leicester Square to meet Ade for drinks at Opium, a speakeasy in Chinatown.

We had some fancy-looking drinks, and I really liked my choice: Xin Sheng Ming (£11) with Absolut, a ginseng spirit, rocket and watercress syrup, cucumber juice, and a hint of lime. (It’s the green drink that came along with a bottle labelled “chinese medicine” as pictured above.)

The day’s main event came after our pre-drinks. Weeks before we even embarked on this Europe trip, we made a booking with the Black Cat Cabaret because I’ve always wanted to watch a burlesque. So glad that we’re able to catch them during our short time in London as they only do 1 or 2 shows a month.

Black Cat Cabaret London travel
It was held at the Cafe De Paris and the venue completely blew me away.

The cabaret-style seating on the ballroom floor cost a bomb as it included dinner, so we took the £13 general admission ticket that entitled us free-seating on the mezzanine level. The area was almost filled when we arrived just before the show, but we managed to find decent seats wedged between 2 British couples. And I was so in love with the venue. It was small yet grand, busy yet intimate, and so damn sensual.

Black Cat Cabaret London travel
The host commanded the entire show with her effortless wit, sexual innuendos, and amazing stage presence.

The stage was tiny, but I loved that none of the acts were played up with the usual theatrics common in bigger venues. We were treated to a medley of short performances featuring acrobats, a juggler, a contortionist, a fire-eater, can can dancers, as well as a sexy piano player who sang and drawled his way into our wet dreams. The pace of the show was very casual, keeping the bohemian vibe pretty authentic.

London clubbing travel
Clubbing in Area

Our Saturday night in London was spent at Area, a gay club in Vauxhall. Nothing exciting, but the music was pretty all right. Being the anti-social people that we are, we enjoyed our own company the most, and were very glad that the club was only half-full.

Day 4

Our epic trip has finally come to an end. We spent our last day at Ade’s place, in the company of new and old friends and some really good home-cooked Indian food by Afsar. It was too soon that the conversations had to end, and we had to pick up our bags and put on our boots. It was such a heartbreaking goodbye to London and Ade. I love Europe so much and I’m never, ever prepared to go when it’s time to head home. Let’s hope it’s just a temporary separation. Can’t wait to be back.

Let’s end this series of posts on our Girls Gone Fat Europe trip 2013 on a happier note…

London travel friends

Being Wholesome in Munich

The DB train took us swiftly from Berlin to Munich (€59 each) on a Sunday, and we descended on an (almost) dead town. Our airbnb apartment this time around was a small studio apartment located in Karlstraße, with a queen-sized bed, sofa bed, and kitchenette packed into the only room. It was hot, hot, hot in Munich, and it got quite stuffy inside the fan-less home. I still don’t understand how Europeans can survive their summers without a fan.

We escaped our oven-apartment by walking over to the Augustiner Keller beer garden. On our way there, we saw that everything, including the supermarkets around our neighbourhood was shut. And it seems that the beer garden is where the locals and tourists congregate to while away lazy Sundays. We explored a bit, settled ourselves out in the open despite the threatening skies, and ordered ourselves a massive jug of beer, pork knuckle (average on the whole, but the deep fried skin was memorably good), bratwurst (damn good), and fries.

After over-eating yet again, we made our languid way towards the city centre. It was pretty crowded considering that only half of the shops were open. Perhaps everyone was content to be in the company of the sun and the absolutely gorgeous historical architecture. The ornate churches, town halls, and clock towers reminded me a little of Florence. Coming from Singapore, where everything is constantly being razed and rebuilt, walking amongst these structural masterpieces made me envious of Europe, to have these beauties still standing. It’s a truly magical feeling, to walk the same streets that were paved hundreds of years ago. Let me take you for a walk…

Munich Germany travel
First, we will pass through the Karlstor, one of the four gates surrounding the medieval city.
St Michael's Church Munich architecture travel
The baroque St Michael’s Church.
St Michael's Church Munich architecture
Was amazed at the grandeur and enormity of its interiors.
Church of St Peter Munich view travel
We climbed 300 steps up the Church of St Peter to get a bird’s eye view of Munich.
Munich panorama Germany travel
Worth the exercise!
Munich Germany architecture travel
The new town hall is built between in the late 19th century in a Gothic Revival architecture style.
Munich Germany architecture travel
Thanks to local building height limits, the Frauenkirche still towers over the city despite being completed in 1524.
Munich Germany travel
The Hofgarten, the city’s oldest park which dates back to the 16th century.

Day 2

I’ve waited for years to paraglide. And today we’re finally going to take flight. We booked it with Craig of Paraworth over email, and the flight cost a hefty €149. It’s a big sum, but I believe it’s a bucket list kind of thing. The original intention was to fly over the famous Neuschwanstein castle, but Craig broke it to us that take off spots were hard to find around that area. So he recommended Brauneck mountain instead. He also kindly agreed to pick us up near our apartment before driving over to the location.

Munich Germany adventure travel
Chaz our driver and

I’m so, so happy to be back in nature. Really enjoyed passing through glorious greens during the hot, drowsy 1.5h ride.

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany adventure travel
Craig with his 20kg backpack containing the gliding gear.
Brauneck mountain Munich Germany adventure travel
Happy to be on our way up to the peak.

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany adventure travel

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany adventure travel
Brauneck mountain offered jaw-dropping views of the Bavarian alps.

Brauneck mountain has an elevation of 1,555m. Guess it’s not tall enough for us to feel a significant difference in the air. I expected cool breeze and crisp mountain air, but the air up here was as still and the heat as intense as it was on ground level.

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany adventure travel
Last group photo before we attempt to defy evolution and gravity.
Brauneck mountain Munich Germany adventure travel
Craig trotting towards our take off spot on a steep slope.

We weren’t the only ones flying on that hot afternoon, so we got some previews of what’s to come.

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany travel paragliding
The view from the take off spot.
Brauneck mountain Munich Germany travel paragliding
Here we go! Craig instructed me to run down the slope with him, and not to stop running even after we’ve taken off.

Craig instructed me to run down the slope with him, and not to stop running even after we’ve taken off. If I were to stop and lean back the moment my feet leave soil, I might weigh us down before the wing fully caught the wind, and we’ll then fall back to earth.

So I’m glad that didn’t happen, and we had a beautiful take off. It’s strange, but I didn’t expect paragliding to feel so natural. It feels as if man was meant to fly. I didn’t register how unnaturally high I was, and was more occupied with lapping up the views from vantage point.

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany travel paragliding
According to Craig, it couldn’t have been a better day in Munich to fly.

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany travel paragliding

I felt at ease (probably due to the fact that Craig has 20 years of flying experience) and couldn’t stop smiling like an idiot. When the initial thrill of floating mid-air passed, I was able to really enjoy the views all around me. It was like watching National Geographic. You know how they love doing aerial pans of landscapes? The view while paragliding was just like that. It was absolute silence. Just me and Craig, and him telling me stories like how he did a flight once in the Himalayas.

I’m glad that he took extra effort to keep us in the air as long as possible, by reading invisible (at least to the average person) signs such as the slight movements of the trees and birds in order for us to catch the right winds. I was constantly baffled because every time he pointed out how he reads the air movements, I saw nothing. It’s amazing how he only relies on these minuscule signs to keep us in the air. He says a lot of it is simply instinctive too. That should scare me right? But he’s so calm and composed that my instincts told me to trust him.

“Make sure your feet are in the pictures. If not it’ll seem like just any scenery shot!” Charles advised.

We cruised about 15 – 20 minutes, which felt like a really long ride as time stands still when you’re adrift.

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany travel paragliding
Prepare for landing!

After watching many skydivers land unglamorously, I expected to fall on my face and be dragged for a few metres before coming to a stop. So when we landed in an upright position with both our feet on the ground (with a slight tug from the wing a few seconds later), it was amusingly anti-climatic. The elegant landing made the flight seem even more magical — we were definitely made for flying. And here’s a clip of my flight, complimentary from Paraworth.

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany travel paragliding

Brauneck mountain Munich Germany travel paragliding
Thanks so much guys!

They offered to drive us back into Munich’s city centre, but we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the natural landscape.

We had our usual decadent picnic buffet on the banks of the Isar river, then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring, tanning, and then braving the icy river waters. Felt pretty good to dunk myself in after tolerating the heat for so long.

Isar river Munich Germany travel
A parting glimpse of the Isar river. Wish I had a place like this to run to every now and then.

And for dinner, we bought groceries from Netto the discounted supermarket, and it only added up to €7 for the 3 of us! We managed to get a huge portion of salad, pre-marinated pork, and chocolate mousse. All of which were yummy! Screw Singapore and its pricey, imported groceries.

Day 3

Started our last day in Munich with a trip down to Netto again, to stock up on picnic supplies. This is about the time where I got sick of cheese and ham.

Munich Germany food travel
The amazing Netto.
Munich Germany travel
Bavarian fashion.

The plan was to cycle to the Englischer Garten (English Garden), Munich’s largest park and apparently one of the largest public urban parks around, even bigger than Central Park in New York. We arrived, and was greeted with the most peculiar sight of crowds bobbing down and frolicking around the park’s man-made river. I was very amused because I’ve never seen so many people enjoying a swim in an in-land area that’s not a pool, let alone a park!

It was 34°C that day — just like Bangkok’s merciless sun and heat but without the humidity. It was also the perfect weather for a cold dip. And it’s great to be out and about with 1,000 other locals to enjoy the summer. You could almost smell the hormones wafting through the park as the half-naked summer bodies mingled.

We had a tough time choosing a picnic spot along the river banks as the waters were too murky at some areas, and the currents too strong at some. After settling at a shady area, I decided to take a plunge first. The river bed felt icky as it’s soft and muddy, but I managed to find the concrete floor a few metres downstream. I was envious of those who were riding the rather strong currents on rubber floats — looked like a whole lot of fun. There were others who were just bobbing down the river, letting it sweep them away. I was tempted, but I wasn’t too sure where I’d end up.

So we spent the afternoon napping, snacking, swimming, and checking out everyone within our radar. Besides the occasional eye candies, we were also entertained by teenagers trying to outdo each other on a tight rope, a mother and her baby who was super eager to swim, and a couple of kids who swam passed us about 20 times doing laps after laps. It was good, clean fun, and I really, really loved it. After dark and mysterious Berlin, bright and wholesome Munich was a fantastic contrast. I want a life of both lifestyles. It’s all about balance, man. And it’s here that I finally understood why ang mohs love their summers so much.

English Garden Munich Germany travel
Was feeling wet and sexy so we cycled around in our bikinis.
English Garden Munich Germany travel
Chanced upon 1000 more half-naked bodies.

Day 4

Cycled through a quaint area called Schwabing that’s dotted with cute shops, unpretentious cafes, and alternative dwellers before arriving at our lunch destination, Alter Simpl. We shared a really good pork schnitzel that wasn’t too oily but retained its taste. The cutlet was also thin, making it not too heavy — great for my stomach as it’s been on an overdrive. The fries was heavenly too, but for the wrong reasons. It was hot, oily, salty, and crispy. Recommended for a casual and affordable lunch!

Alter Simpl Munich Germany food travel
Dinosaur Priya diving into our lucnh.

Before our evening flight to London, we had some time to explore the Viktualienmarkt food market. Loads of families and retirees milling about, shopping for kitschy decorations, spices, exotic fruits (durians going for €18/kg), and having a beer at the open-air beer garden.

Next up, good old London!

Ten Bells London travel

Berlin Destroyed our Body Clocks

We got the early train out of Amsterdam on the DB Bahn to Berlin (it cost €49 each), which turned out to be quite an unpleasant ride. Our seats were not indicated on the ticket, so we just plonked ourselves down anywhere we pleased. In the subsequent stops, we had to move because new passengers got on, and we happened to be sitting at their reserved seats. It’s a silly system because the carriage was a mess as new passengers had to jostle on the narrow aisle with those who have already settled down in their seats.

Then we had to change trains at Hannover, and the next one we hopped on was overcrowded. We learnt that an earlier train was faulty, and our train had to take on passengers from that train. So Ade and I ended up sitting on the floor, in between carriages, for more than two hours before we managed to grab an empty seat. After 5 hours, a few rounds of musical chairs, and passing through beautiful countryside, we finally got off at Berlin Hauptbahnhof station.

To get to our Airbnb stay in Kruezberg area, we had to take the public train — which I didn’t realise had no gantries until Ade pointed it out. A purely nationalised public transport! The walk up to their apartment was a little dark and dodgy, so we were quite pleased to see that the apartment was sun-drenched, clean, and cosy. The couple was there to greet us, and we figured the lady was a textile or fashion designer as there were art supplies everywhere. I love the array of nice and pleasant colours that she bathed her home in too. This small studio apartment cost us £60 each for 3 nights.

Gorgeous view outside! Can you also tell that it’s mother fucking hot?

So here we are at Berlin, the city that I’ve heard great things about. But I was still apprehensive. I consider myself a visual traveller, and things like beautiful sceneries are at the top of my to-do list. So when people tell me that the “vibe” in Berlin is great, I felt like this place has a lot to prove because while I was researching for things to do in Berlin, I found that this city looked pretty unspectacular in pictures.

After settling down and snacking some more, we headed out and explored the city on our £10/day rental bicycles. Rode passed cafe-dotted Neukölln, and through a Middle Eastern-influenced part of town. So far, Berlin is already looking a lot livelier than Amsterdam. There were more people were out and about, and most of them were either having coffee or ice cream at the cafes. I also found cycling in Berlin a lot less confusing than Amsterdam. There were less bicycle lanes and heavier traffic, but the roads were more organised, and it was easy to follow the flow of traffic.

Some views of Berlin’s gritty streets and a lake we passed.

Dinner was booked at Sauvage, apparently the first paleo restaurant in the world. I had no idea what a paleo diet (caveman diet) was until this meal, and I was very surprised that our dishes turned out to have a very distinct Asian flavour.

We had a mediocre salad to start, and for my main course, I had dory fish wrapped otak-otak style in banana leaf with a side of Yuca root purée with nutmeg, which tasted very much like orh nee. It wasn’t bad, but nothing to rave about. It was an underwhelming £70 meal.

Cycled back home, showered, and skanked up for a night out at Watergate. We passed some more graffiti on the way there — almost every public surface in Berlin is covered in graffiti. Many would associate graffiti with undesirable neighbourhoods, but aside from its pervasive vandalism (I believe I saw more lowbrow graffiti than artistic ones), Berlin was clean, safe, and friendly. It was a strange but interesting contrast.

There was a £10 cover charge for Watergate, but it was the most cost-effective ticket into a club I’ve ever paid because we left at 8am. Oh yes, it was one of the best club nights I’ve had. They had minimal techno on, which was deep, dark, and lulled your soul into a beautiful bliss inside your head. The crowd was partly made up of tourists, as it was still a Thursday night. But we were so glad that there were no pub crawler-type of tourists. After Tomorrowland, the last thing we needed was to party with a rowdy bunch of idiotic people who cared more about getting drunk or laid than enjoying the music. At Watergate, everyone was clearly there to savour the music, and we had such a great time with this bunch of awesomely polite and cool partygoers.

Watergate sat on the bank of the river Spree, and offered a lovely view of the waters through its full-height windows. When day broke, I found it a wonderful experience to carry on clubbing like it’s still 3am, but with sunlight creeping into the club.

xx
Taking a break outside to enjoy the crisp morning air. (Photo: Ade)
Then Ade had a beer… (Photo: Ade)
and I took a nap. (Photo: Ade)

We left at 8am together with a Berliner, who told us of another party that was still going strong. So we had a light breakfast and took a cab over. The entrance to the club looked dodgily awesome, much like a run down kampung house. But too bad it was by guest list only. Quite a bummer because I was so enticed by this glimpse of the local underground party scene.

That night, I finally understood the draw of Berlin — it is an absolutely cool and unpretentious city. The Berliners really know how to party, and they didn’t feel the need to shout about it. It’s a scene I really appreciate, and I’m glad I can finally say that I’ve partied in Berlin and absolutely loved it.

Day 2

Of course, we were wrecked by the all-nighter. We woke up only in the late afternoon, and we were all dreading the unbearable heat outside. Then again, this is better than being rained on like in Amsterdam. We braved the sun, and proceeded to tick off sights on our tourist checklist.

The Jewish Museum is a must for fans of architecture…

Checkpoint Charlie, where you need to pay to get a photo with the “soldiers”.
The Holocaust memorial.

Are we even supposed to smile while taking pictures here?

Took shelter from the sun at the amazing Tiergarten. It’s a massive garden that’s a joy to see on two wheels.
At Brandenburg Gate, which Ade the knowledegable tour guide said was built in memory of Brandon Flowers.
So much more dramatic at sunset.

After this we went to a cheap and hearty Italian restaurant called Pizza Bella near our apartment. I had the best lagsane — it came in a big bowl filled with generous amounts of cheese and fresh tomatoes, and it only cost £4. Cheap eats are definitely one of Berlin’s big plus points.

We were so beat when we got back after dinner, that our “nap” stretched out passed midnight, and we only got ready for our big Friday night in Berlin at 3am. It’s going to be club Berghain tonight, a spot that’s been quoted as the best club in Berlin by both locals and tourist. It had a “strict” door policy, where bouncers randomly decide who’s allowed inside. The club is a massive warehouse located in a convenient yet isolated-looking area, and it appeared to be exactly the kind of place where you’d expect to have a secret underground party.

Berghain’s building used to be a power plant. (Photo: Wikipedia)

It was pretty nerve wrecking, queueing up and watching groups of decent looking people get rejected, and people wearing sandals allowed inside. It was also the strangest and most amusing experience, to be queueing up to get into a club at 5am in broad daylight. Thankfully, we got the bouncers’ approval. It was only when we were inside that we realised that the main room was not opened on Fridays. But the small Panorama Bar (it’s a clubbing space) was still impressive — albeit very stuffy.

As a design and interiors journalist, I’ve seen countless interpretation of the industrial look. So I was absolutely blown away to see a place that was truly industrial. Panorama Bar was grimey, rusty, and sleazy in a mysterious and seductive way. It was stripped down and unpretentious as well, as if 300 people just decided to turn up at an abandoned factory to party. Again, the crowd — very local this time around — was very cool. There was no shouting or silly dance moves, just polite murmurings in between the minimal beats. Berlin is really a place where you must experience to understand its appeal, but I hope I managed to do a decent job trying to describe my growing love for Berlin’s party scene without pictures.

Anyway, we decided not to stay late into the morning to avoid sleeping away our last day in Berlin sleeping, and left at around 7am.

The stairway down from Panorama Bar.
Snapped this picture on the way home from clubbing at dawn, and I clearly remember thinking, “Damn I fucking love Berlin,” after I shot it.

I really think that all clubs should stay open overnight. Berlin is really made to party — the trains run 24 hours on weekends. Tickets cost around £2.80 for an hour’s worth of rides, but we cheated a bit because there are no barriers at all the train stations.

Day 3

Our city exploration began in the late afternoon again, and the first stop was the East Side Gallery.

And since it was so damn hot, we decided to take a dip at Badeschiff, which was just a short cycle from the East Side Gallery. It was £5 to enter, and it was a curious sight, to see so many people sunbathing on a man-made beach right by some old cargo containers. But damn, there were beautiful people with fit bodies all around, and you could smell the hormones in the air. And taking a dip in the cold sunken pool felt heavenly. Weather like that is made only for lounging around the pool and people watching. I also remember thinking how relaxed and happy I was to be in Berlin at that moment in time, enjoying the summer with everyone, and loving my life.

For dinner, we had Mustafa’s famous kebab.

We had the currywurst from a neighbouring store too, but I wasn’t a fan of it as the sausage tasted very fake. But here’s some Girls Gone Fat moments to remember the meal…

We then met our friend Scarlet, who’s a dancer and was rehearsing in Berlin.

Kisses from Scarlet.
Bar & Beck

That night, we decided to head back to Berghain because I really wanted to see the main room it in its full galore. Bad choice. We queued up immediately after the doors were open, and because of the long line, they rejected half of the people — including us! It was so shit because we queued for about 40 minutes.

Then we took a cab to Tresor, a well-reviewed club that had a more conventional way of letting people in. The cab diver took us to the wrong club, and we ended up walking 800m to Tresor, only to find an epic queue in front of it. We admitted defeat then, and took the train home. HAHAHA! What a wild Saturday night in Berlin!

Thankfully, we have already had such a wonderful time in Berlin in the past couple of days. I was only upset that I can’t return sooner. Berlin was wonderful both in the night and day. It showed me how clubs should be, and I’ve been spoilt by its standards. It also showed me how enjoyable summer in Europe can be, and I’ll always look back at my time here as one of the best parts of this trip.

The next morning, we had to drag ourselves out of bed for our 6:30am train to Munich.

All of us knocked out on the long and peaceful ride.
Munich!

Slowing down in Amsterdam

Back in 2005 when I first visited Amsterdam, I concluded that the city was just like Anne Frank’s diary — dull. All I remember from it is the incredibly boring river cruise and the awkward walk down the red light district with my family. But now that I’m in the company of my friends instead, I was cautiously optimistic that Amsterdam would show me a different side, and prove to me that it’s more than the watered down version I saw back then.

Amsterdam is only an hour’s train ride from Antwerpen-Centraal station, but it cost us a hefty €71 each. At least the ride was on time, swift, and clean. We got off at Amsterdam Centraal in the late afternoon, and were quite happy that there were cool winds to relief us from the almost too tropical weather we experienced throughout Tomorrowland.

We found our way easily enough, with a direct bus from the station, to our Airbnb apartment along Spaarndammerdijk. Kudos to Ade for sorting out the apartments for our entire trip. We stuck to Airbnb accommodations throughout as it turned out to be cheaper than hostels. We only had to fork out £75 each for our 3D3N stay at this apartment!

When we got to the door, Micha the cute tattooed home-owner welcomed us in. We were greeted with this sight, and our reactions went like…

OMG!!! SO NICE!!!

It was a really, really gorgeous 2-bedroom apartment with 1 common bathroom, an ergonomic kitchen, and a little balcony. On top of that, it was clean, spacious, bright, and well furnished — certainly Home & Decor approved! Micha showed us around his home, and shared with us that it was temporarily vacant because he and his girlfriend are home-sitting at her parents’ place for a while. Lucky us! He also recommended a list of non-touristy places for us to visit, and told us where the nearest supermarket and coffee shop is before leaving us to enjoy the apartment.

What he and his friends came up with “during a really crazy night”.

It was lovely to move into such a comfy space after spending 4 nights crawling in and out of a tent at Tomorrowland. We also kept saying how this apartment would be a perfect place to rent together. And I could only fantasise about having a life and a place like this in Amsterdam…

We walked to a nice little area called Jordan, and passed by many locals enjoying their al fresco dinners. Walked on some more, and arrived at the Dam Square and the very touristy areas that spread out from it. It was like a theme park, with coffee shops (sells weed), smart shops (sells magic mushrooms), and scantily dressed comfort ladies in fish tanks all crammed into one area for the childish amusement of tourists. It’s no wonder the locals aren’t too proud of it.

Despite all that, Amsterdam is still largely a pretty and quiet town (read: nothing exciting) with stylish Dutch bicycles everywhere. But my judgement might still be skewed because this was Monday after all.

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Day 2

Glowing from a night of proper sleep — much appreciated after roughing it out at Tomorrowland.
Ade’s wonderful egg muffins for breakfast.

The initial plan was to cycle out of Amsterdam towards the Dutch countryside, but the bad weather forecast held us captive in town. We still went ahead to rent bicycles from Yellow Bike to explore the city — or tried to. It rained most of the day, and we ended up either riding miserably or seeking refuge in cafes.

Our Yellow Bikes.

The only type of bikes available for rent (€12 for every 24 hours) are these single speed bikes with back-pedal brakes. Coming from Singapore where all our bikes have gears and hand brakes, it took us a while to get adjusted. Plus, these bikes ride much better when they’re taller — so you got to learn how to deal with tip toeing to get your balance when the bike’s stationary.

The roads are also kind of messy, with trams, bike lanes, and pedestrian crossings overlapping each other this way and that. It’s especially nerve-wrecking (especially for Priya and I as we haven’t got our driver’s licence) at big junctions, where motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians seem to come from 8 different directions. Ade therefore became, by default, our unofficial tour guide for Amsterdam and the rest of the trip. She led the way like a boss and read maps like she had a biological GPS system.

We rode through the extremely ghetto and uninteresting Albert Cuyp market (half of the stores weren’t fully open because of the rain), saw the exterior of Rijksmuseum, and then went through Vondelpark. It was interesting to see how the drab weather made the park look moody and mysterious. Parks are always associated with balmy weather and bright sunlight. So it was quite beautiful in fact, to see Vondelpark in a different perspective. Not ideal, but at least it was interesting.

Here’s what else we saw along the way…

Passed by many shop windows with lazy cats.

Visited the Droog store too. Ade suggested that since I work for Home & Decor, I should see their lifestyle products. It was an interesting walk-through, with beautiful gardens and a gorgeous cafe on the top level.

I amsterdam(p)

After the half-arsed cycle tour around the gloomy city streets, we headed back for an indulgent home-cooked meal. It was quite a feast, and it kicked off the re-branding of our trip. It evolved from Girls Gone Wild to Girls Gone Fat because we’ve done nothing wild so far, other than wildly stuffing our faces!

Then we went out again into the drizzly evening in search of a bar. Popped by a cosy-looking one nearby, and got ourselves 2 beers and a glass of wine for €9. Amazing!

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Day 3

Here comes the fun part!

While researching on what to do in Amsterdam, I came across Richard Tulloch’s post on his day trip from Amsterdam to Waterland, which is an idyllic area up north. I’m a sucker for wide open spaces, and I’m glad my girlfriends were game enough to explore the countryside with me.

We had our big breakfast at home, packed a huge amount of food for our picnic lunch, and cycled to the central train station. From there, we hopped on a free ferry (with our bicycles) which took us across the North Sea Canal to Buiksloterweg in 2 minutes.

Got off, rode some way, then realised that they don’t sell maps of Waterland there. So Ade and I left our bikes with Priya and took the ferry back to Centraal station to find a map. Along the way, we bumped into the largest dog I’ve ever seen.

It was the size of a miniature horse.

And now the real journey towards Broek in Waterland commences…

Met some four-legged friends hanging out in the pretty Dutch countryside.

The journey took longer than we expected, and we found out pretty quickly that our single speed bikes were not suited for long distances at all. I’m not sure how to explain this in technical terms, but basically our bikes couldn’t go very fast, and we had to work damn hard to cover the miles. But it was really wonderful to be out of the city, to ride along empty stretches of roads surrounded with nothing but cottages, gardens, and green fields.

Love this trippy shot of Ade!

Then we realised that there’s a river between us and Broek in Waterland, and we had to take this silly boat because there were no bridges across it.

We arrived at Broek in Waterland soon after, only to find out that it was very quiet and pretty underwhelming. We’ve already cycled for 2 hours, including the rest stops. But we decided to soldier on further north, to a neighbouring town called Monnickendam. It took us another 20 minutes, but we managed to find the perfect spot to rest our thighs and wolf down our picnic.

Can’t say the same for this.
We were also joined by some greedy ducks.

The weather was superb… Sunny and cool. So we lazed around some more, and took the time to properly relax. After the madness at Tomorrowland, this techno-less, jock-less environment felt magnificently tranquil. It is crucial to have moments like these to enjoy the peace and quiet while I’m travelling. For me, it’s the epitome of “getting away”. But I still find it silly that I have to fly half way around the globe to enjoy free, simple pleasures like this.

Here’s more of us in quaint little Monnickendam.

The weather forecast predicted showers in the evening, so we had to leave this idyllic town and make the long, hard cycle back to Amsterdam city. It was made even more challenging with the impending storm, which brought strong winds that made riding even harder. It was really a test, trying to cycle fast, against the winds, on a damn single speed bike.

But we made it home! Dry and unscathed. And now, Girls Gone Fat rolls along into another indulgent homecooked dinner at the apartment. I’d like to add that our groceries, which included enough food for 2 breakfasts, 3 dinners, and 1 big picnic, only totalled up to €65. That, compared to our €35 restaurant dinner on the first night here, is damn cheap! So when in Europe, just cook your own meals. Thankfully, I travelled with 2 wonderful housewives who actually enjoyed cooking. Sick. But thanks, guys! I offered to do the dishes, but this apartment had a dishwasher. So I humbly put the plates in and pushed a couple of buttons. A great way to work off my meal!

Throughout our stay here, we repeatedly mentioned how perfect this place is. Well, it truly is! It was such an excellent idea to get Airbnb stays. The idea of returning to a private and homely space after a tiring day of exploring was just so comforting. We’re really too old and anti-social for the “young, fun, and outgoing” crowds at hostels.

After dinner, we took a stroll down to Westergasfabriek, a former gas factory that has been converted into a cultural hub filled with bars and restaurants. We didn’t expect much as it was Tuesday, and it was very quiet indeed. Only a couple of empty bars were open for business, and we only had a quick drink in one. Devoid of crowds, this place had the eerie vibe of an abandoned area. So it was still quite a fascinating space to explore.

Our visit to Amsterdam was like a very nice, long walk in the park. It gave us time to slow down and rest well before the next party town: Berlin, baby!

You bet.

Recalling Tomorrow

I wish I could say that Tomorrowland in Belgium was the biggest and best music festival I’ve ever been to. I also wish that statement didn’t cost €272.02. Of course I had heaps of fun. But the heap was not as high as I expected.

It was the festival’s 2012 after movie that sold me the fantasy of attending it one day. I got chills watching it. The scale was mind-blowing, and so were the stages, props, and lasers. The video portrayed the euphoria of being at a music festival perfectly with a list of uplifting, catchy electro tracks, and I was determined to get my ass there soon enough.

The plan for a Europe trip with my best friends came up casually over dinner at Ghim Moh market, but it didn’t become concrete until we actually managed to get our hands on 4 Full Madness Tomorrowland Passes and Dreamville camping in February (after several heart-stopping moments and waves of cold sweat in front of our laptops).

We were shitting in our pants with excitement, and the plan, come July, was to congregate at my sister’s home in Antwerp, which is pretty near (only if you’re driving, we realised later) to Boom, where the festival grounds were. Team Singapore consisted of Priya and I, and team England was made up of the scissor sister pair, also known as Ade and Steph.

Us at Changi airport. We lugged our bagpacks to work so that we could leave on the 9:15pm flight.
After about 14 hours, we arrived at London’s St Pancras. From here we took a train to Brussels, and my brother-in-law picked us up.
After more than 24 hours of travelling, we were SO HAPPY to have homecooked mussels for dinner. We had 5 kg of it between the 4 of us.
Priya and my sis’ fat cat Coquin.

Had a good long sleep that night, and planned to hit town for some lunch and shopping while waiting for team England to arrive. They were setting out on a morning bus, and would arrive in the late afternoon. But, alas, we got a shocking text from Ade saying that her bus doesn’t exist (she figured it was a scam ticket that she bought online), and all the other subsequent buses were full. We panicked on Whatsapp, but Priya managed to secure them seats on the Eurostar from London to Brussels in the end.

So we went about our shopping in town, and team England managed to make their way straight to the festival smoother and quicker than expected. They got a connecting train from Brussels to Boom, then a shuttle bus to the camp site. They arrived while we were only halfway back home from town.

My niece Lily-Ann disapproving of the heat and strong sunlight.
Priya and I outside my sister’s place, setting out for Boom.

I’ve only been to 1 other music festival before, and that was the amazing T in the Park in Scotland. It was fantastic and I had such high hopes to re-live the magic of festivals at Tomorrowland. TITP also taught me to pack as much food for breakfast as possible (to fill up your tummy in your tent before heading to the main arena where you’d have no choice but to spend on over-priced meals), and be equipped with lots of wet wipes (you always need them somehow).

All this while, I thought Boom was “30 minutes from home”, according to Sis. Half an hour by car, that is. But we took the public transport (tram then bus), and it took us almost 3 fucking hours to finally set foot at the campsite. Well at least we didn’t have to help team England pitch the tent. Muah hahaha.

And so… WE ARE FINALLY AT TOMORROWLAND GUYS. Sorry for the lengthy prologue.

Entrance to Dreamville, our home for the next 3 days and 4 nights.
Was impressed at the scale and detail put into the The Gathering stage at the campsite.
The first meal on site was impressive! Very yummy for festival-type food.
Night came and people started to let their hair down. But I still don’t feel a connection with the crowd.

So here’s what we gathered even before the festival really began. 1) The median age is 18. 2) The look for Tomorrowland is “half naked buff prepubescent white boy not blessed with a nice face”. 3) The pre-party’s awesome music and props were great teasers for the main event, and it got us all extremely excited for tomorrow(land) to commence.

We were extremely let down, however, when we discovered that showers close at 10pm, even when the last act ends around 1am. We had to resort to wet wipes and crawl into our sleeping bags feeling sticky and dirty. It was seriously the worst part of this festival.

Day 1

Crawled out of our tents at 6:30am to catch the happy hour showers. It cost 1 token instead of 2 if you shower between 6am to 8am (it cost €10 for 7 tokens). The shower cubicles were nice and clean, and the mirrors had power points beside it — a big plus for style-conscious beauties like us. We went back to sleep after that, and it started to rain quite heavily during our nap. My side of the tent leaked, but it was no biggie.

Ade and I are Dr Martens fans, and we convinced Priya that it’s THE only footwear for this festival. (Dr Martens Singapore please sponsor me.)
The boardwalk dining/shopping/groceries area at the start of Dreamville.
Waiting to make our way into the main arena. (Had to give Ade sunglasses because she had her eyes shut for this shot.)

When we got onto the festival grounds, we did a quick walk-through of it to orientate ourselves. It was spread across a huge area, and I was constantly in awe of the effort needed to create this completely self-contained pop-up town.

The way the main stage unveiled itself to us was pretty dramatic. A short walk from the entrance, you go past some lockers, food stalls, and toilets, and you can start to see the tip of the main stage. We first commented that it doesn’t look big at all. But as we approached it, we realised that we were standing on an elevated plateau, and the main stage sat at the foot of it.

The main stage from the top of the hill.
View of the main stage from the top of a stadium-like arena.
The main stage.
The main stage from ground level.

Tomorrowland’s main stage is its highlight, and this year’s was pretty impressive up close. It was filled with entwining magical foilage, windows framed with vines, and Victorian balconies. The volcano spouted steam (and fire towards the night) and there was also built-in waterfalls lit with tacking coloured lights. Too bad the whole stage was done in shades of mossy green, making it unphotogenic.

And the rest of the festival grounds looked like this…

IMG_3856

Hanging plants that reminded me of wedding decorations.
Hanging plants that reminded me of wedding decorations.
The chillest tent in the whole of Tomorrowland, which we termed the "old folks corner" (in a positive way) because there were no young punks here.
The chillest tent in the whole of Tomorrowland, which we termed the “old folks corner” (in a positive way) because there were no young punks here.

IMG_3871

The prettiest stage in my opinion.
The prettiest stage in my opinion.
Scrap metal scorpion for the hardest, dumbest, craziest stage.
Scrap metal scorpion for the hardest, dumbest, craziest stage.
I was intrigued by this hole-in-wall gathering until I heard aggressive electro rap emanating from within.
I was intrigued by this hole-in-wall gathering until I heard aggressive electro rap emanating from within.

IMG_3894

After the walk-about, we settled down for lunch. The heat was enervating, and we were extremely put off that water cost 2 tokens for a small bottle (around 330ml). And they took the caps off before handing it to us so that we couldn’t refill it with tap water after. It’s a lousy way to handle the water situation at a rave — especially when temperatures in the day hovered around 30°C. Complaints aside, I had a really good giant ham and leek meatball with stew-like insides (4 tokens).

Now, on to the music. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of dance music because even though I enjoy a good hard rave, I don’t keep tabs on the newest songs or DJs in this genre, and Tiesto, Laidback Luke, or Swedish House Mafia are not part of my daily playlist. So why did I come? I just couldn’t miss the “biggest dance festival in Europe”. So unlike other music festivals where I’d be stressing out over which bands to see, I just went with the flow at this one. My friends are better dance music fans than me, so they made the decisions.

First up was Nervo. Their full Tomorrowland set can be found here, and I highly recommend it as the background music while you scroll through the rest of this post. We went out into the blistering 3pm sun, took a spot on the slope, gathered all our tolerance for the heat, and started to party. The view of the massive crowd moving to the same beat remains one my best memories of Tomorrowland.

The feeling of partying with this many people is quite indescribable.
The feeling of partying with this many people is quite indescribable.

It took a lot out of me to dance in the insane heat (umbrellas make a huge difference), but there were moments of euphoria that made the Nervo set really special. It was during this set that made me think, DAMN I FUCKING MADE IT TO TOMORROWLAND AND NOW THE EPICNESS BEGINS!!! It was bliss. A huge part of that was due to Nervo’s happy tunes, which made it impossible not to smile while you moved to their music.

The rest of the day’s acts were a blur. We saw Digitalism, Steve Aoki, Sebastian Ingrosso.

The crowd grew over the day, this is everyone at Hardwell.
The crowd grew over the day, and this is Hardwell with every one else. I was disappointed that there were no performers on the main stage this year.

There was a massive downpour in the evening, and it really felt like we brought Singapore’s weather here. We were praying very hard for our tent to survive the rain. Then God realised that Tiesto was about to play, and cleared the skies. I’m a big fan because he knows how to work the crowd and never fails to make us dance so brutally hard. His sets are always brilliant.

The king has landed!!! Ah!!!
The king has landed!!! Ah!!!

They went all out on the theatrics, and I loved every second of it. I’ve never raved to so much lasers and lights and smoke and fireworks. It was truly a wonderful celebration of the love that music brings to all of us.

It was such a pity that Tiesto’s set came with a bloody idiotic crowd that spoilt the entire experience. We were surrounded by douchebags who didn’t understand how to rave, and kept trying to chat us up. It’s fucking irritating when you want to lose yourself in the music, and a creep comes up to you and says, “Where are you from?”, or tries to dance with you. Priya said after the set that she should have worn a “Fuck off, I’m raving.” sign.

My thoughts about Tomorrowland after day 1 revolved around the lack of a connection with the crowd. It was made up mainly of loud dumb jocks, who were obviously not very fun to be around. The festival was also a little too big to have an identity — it felt nothing like the lovey-dovey euphoria as portrayed in the previous years’ after movies. Everyone kept mostly to themselves.

Day 2

Good morning Tomorrowland!
Good morning Tomorrowland!

It started off with a mighty thunderstorm in the morning, so we slept in and munched on the snacks we brought. These included Belgian waffles, Nutella, strawberries, sausages, and grapes. We only headed out at around 4pm in order to escape the afternoon sun.

The gross walk to the festival grounds.
The gross, muddy walk to the festival grounds.

Took the ferris wheel ride to see the view from above.

The best act of the day went to Laidback Luke, whose 1.5h set got us so pumped up. It was so, so hard and good. The crowd, thankfully, was also a lot older today, and every one around us was politely raving.

Hey... Ho... Hey... Ho...
Hey… Ho… Hey… Ho…

We returned after dinner for more Laidback Luke, joined this time by his Superhero friends. And the butterfly stage looks even more gorgeous at night!

Butterfly confetti at Ferry Corsten.
Butterfly confetti at Ferry Corsten.

The festival took on a very different mood after sunset.

Gotta love the guys and their coordinated outfits.

We soon positioned ourselves once again at the main stage, and got ready for Armin van Buuren. Apparently the skies were getting ready too, and decided to pour mercilessly on the defenceless crowd a few minutes into the set. It drizzled, then rained, then poured. At first I huddled under the umbrella Steph and I shared. But I decided to put my faith in the cheap H&M poncho and braved the rain to rave properly (the poncho worked well!). You simply can’t not jump around during Armin! It was extremely liberating to splash about the wet floor even though I could feel my drenched socks going squish squish squish in my Dr Martens.

Can you imagine how gross it was to not shower after getting drenched in the rain? Well it wasn’t so bad actually. Since we were already showered on.

Review after Day 2? Very thankful for the older crowd that permeated the festival. It made the energy so much more relaxed and better looking. One very odd thing that we experienced throughout the festival so far was how ignorant the white people here were. They looked at us as if they’ve never seen Asians, and one guy even told Priya she had a nice tan. She’s Indian, you stupid boy. One idiot even insisted on taking a picture with us together with his Japanese flag. And when we told him that we’re Singaporeans and that it was the wrong flag, he pulled the slitty eye look on us and said, “All the same.” Way to go, Tomorrowland. I’ll never talk about my Tomorrowland experience without bringing up the ignorant fools in it.

Day 3

And just like that, we’re on to our last day.

Because our shoes got soaked last night and didn’t dry by morning, we resorted to lining it with plastic bags.
Slutty nuns at the Church of Love.
Slutty nuns at the Church of Love.

It started with Joachim Garraud, the only DJ we caught that played an instrument live. Plus points for bringing out that keyboard guitar! But more minus points for Tomorrowland because during this set someone ran past me and pulled my bikini string loose. It’s OK because I always have it double knotted. But I wanted to bring this up to show what kind of fucktards there were at this festival. Before you think I’m a stuck up high-strung conservative Singaporean, let me explain that I love crazy people. I love people who do silly things at festivals for a laugh. But this is just not funny.

Steve Angello's set doubled up as a tanning session.
Tanning session.

Steve Angello’s set was fun, but by this point we were extremely sick of hearing songs by Swedish House Mafia because every other big DJ we saw remixed their tunes. They have great songs, but it was way overplayed, making them the Black Eyed Peas of the electro music genre.

When will I party with this many people again?
When will I party with this many people again?

The best show today was by Showtek, no competition. Firstly, it was in the shade. Second, it was fierce! Unapologetically loud and fun, it was damn shiok to dance to. Then we moved on to the hippie tent for Richie Hawtin. I always think it’s not easy to do a minimal set without boring the crowd, and he nailed it. It was deep, dark, calm, and sexy. The sound system was great too, and I loved the vibrations in my stomach. I want to see him again!

We left his set halfway to catch the closing shows at the main stage. I don’t know what’s the big deal about David Guetta, honestly. His slot, including special guests, stretched from 8:30pm to 10:45pm. I guess this is evident of how radio-friendly Tomorrowland is. The set was boring as expected, but as we were standing very high up the slope, we could properly appreciate the spectacular light show. We also stayed on for Steve Aoki‘s set, which was so much better than Guetta’s. And we were so damn appreciative that it wasn’t a rainy night.

Basically, all 3 days went down like the song Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat. Just add the word “sweat” in that chant. All the memories mashed up into one very very long party in my head. That’s the thing with me and raves. It’s all in the moment, and once it’s over I can’t recall most of the songs that was played. Haha. Sounds like I wasted a ton of money right? Well, I had a blast but I’m definitely not travelling across the globe for another dance music festival. My heart and soul belongs to “proper” live bands, and the next festival I’m buying tickets to has to have a good mix of dance, rock, pop, and indie music. Bigger really doesn’t mean better, and I believe that there are many other better festivals out there.

Day 4

Woke up damn early to pack up the tent, and headed out of the camp site without showering. My brother-in-law was so kind enough to pick us up at Boom station, and it only took us half an hour to get back to my sis’ place. OMG the feeling of a long shower in a nice bathroom was such bliss.

It felt as beautiful as this picture of Coquin sitting pretty out in the backyard.

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Next stop, idyllic Amsterdam!

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