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What’s the deal with the Delhi Games? September 23, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in India, Social/Political Commentary, Sport, Travel.
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The collapsed footbridge (source: cnn.com)

I haven’t used my blog to rant for a little while, so I thought I’d give the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games a go.

With a little over a week before the opening ceremony, all we’ve been hearing in the news lately is how awful everything is.  First there was the footbridge that collapsed, injuring around 30 people.  Then there was the ceiling that collapsed.  Today, pictures of a shocking looking athlete’s village were unveiled, with disgusting toilets, animal stains on beds and filth just about everywhere.  And of course, there’s the constant reminders of the potential terrorist activities, which has caused athletes to pull out and whole countries to delay or reconsider (today there was a report about heightened dangers because terrorits have abandoned mobile phones).

Seriously, are things really that bad?  Every single time there is a major sports event, there will always be media reports of things going wrong, things being rushed to completion and security scares (especially since 9/11) — from memory there were definitely such concerns at Beijing, Athens and even Sydney back in 2000.  I recall similar things for the Olympics at Atlanta, Barcelona and the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

So is this just another case of the media blowing things out of proportion?  And let’s not ignore that these concerns may stem from the fact that a lot of people have a preconceived image of India that is not very flattering.

But let’s put things in perspective here.  For starters, we’re still 9 days away from the start of the Games.  As many of us know, the majority of the touching up and cleaning of the venues are done right at the last minute — there’s no way they would allow athletes to live in rooms like the ones we’ve seen in the pictures.  You can’t expect a place still in the thick of the construction to look spotless (though the animal prints are undoubtedly a cause for concern).

Source: smh.com.au

Source: smh.com.au

Secondly, papers were quick to point out that the ceiling of a venue had collapsed, but the reality is, it was a ‘false’ ceiling, a temporary thing while they connected the cables.  On the other hand, the bridge collapse has no excuse, even if it was still being worked on.

And thirdly, you’re always going to have terrorist threats at major sporting events.  The problem with India, however, is that the threat is not only very real, the potential terrorists have also been very vocal in disseminating their warnings.

So yes, Delhi is encountering common problems with an event of this kind, but they do appear to be having more difficulties than expected (or was all of this expected?).

Will everything be ready in time for the opening ceremony in 9 days?  I’m pretty confident it will be.  There’s just too much at stake here for Delhi to stuff this up.

I remember when I was there in mid-June and the city was a chaotic, dusty mess with workers working around the clock and sleeping on the sides of the streets in tents.  Looking at how far everything was from completion, I asked our driver whether it was going to be problematic getting things finished in time.

He nodded confidently and said, “Of course.  It’s a 24 hour, 7 days a week project.  Failure is not an option.”

I believed him then and I still believe him now.  The whole world (well, at least the Commonwealth countries) is watching and much like it was for Beijing, they’ll make sure whatever needs to get done is done and done in time.  It’ll go down to the wire but it’ll happen.  Besides, with what seems like an infinite number of people over there, surely they have the requisite manpower to put things in order.

Let’s hope so, anyway.

Finest HK Cuisine: Lung King Heen July 22, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Food, Hong Kong, Travel.
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The view from Lung King Heen

As of 2010, there are only two restaurants in Hong Kong that have been awarded 3 Michelin Stars.  One of them is Lung King Heen, a superb Chinese restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel (the other one is also there, and I’ll get to that in a later post).

Initially, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about going there.  I’ve been to plenty of Chinese restaurants.  How good can they possibly get?

(to find out (including pics), click on ‘more…’)


Indian Journey Finale: India in Pictures July 19, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in India, Travel.
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The spectacular Taj Mahal

Well, my Indian journey finally came to a close after my last meal at Bukhara.  It was a relatively short trip with the wedding in Hyderabad and a brief stay in Delhi with a day-trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

I wouldn’t say India is for everyone, that’s for sure, but it was certainly an eye-opening experience that I’ll remember for a very long time.  Here is the finale of my Indian journey — in pictures.

(to see the pictures click on ‘more…’)


Santorini in One Day! July 3, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
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The amazing Santorini caldera
The amazing Santorini caldera

As a result of the nightmarish ferry ride from Athens that took 23 hours instead of the scheduled 5, we only had a solitary day (plus a couple of spare hours) to explore the wonderful island(s) of Santorini (also known as Thira).  Not ideal, but we actually ended up seeing everything we wanted.  So if you too are strapped for time, rest assured, it can be done!

Santorini is widely regarded as the most beautiful of the Greek Islands, and even though I only saw 4 other islands apart from it (Melos, Hydra, Poros, Aegina), I would find it difficult to believe otherwise.  Santorini is actually a family of islands which used to be one single island before a major volcanic event around 1500 BC.  Some believe it is the legendary lost city of Atlantis!

Part I: Taxi tour

Anyway, we arrived at the port of Athinios at around 7am or so, and we got straight to it.  No spare time for messing around.  There were surprisingly few taxis awaiting us and they were very selective in their passengers, only willing to take multiple groups of people to maximise their fares.  With 4 people in our group, it just wasn’t possible to get a cab, so we caught the bus to Fira (the main town on Santorini), and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it only took around 10-15 minutes and was a fraction of the price.

After checking in at the superb Hotel Atlantis (really magnificent, probably the best location in Fira) with rooms that overlook the spectacular sea and white houses along the majestic caldera (and the volcanic island of Nea Kameni) and enjoying a delicious, freshly made breakfast on demand (including fresh OJ!), we got down to business and hired a cab from the hotel.  If we were going to see Santorini in a day we couldn’t afford to go cheap.

Santorini 1

The view from our room at Hotel Atlantis

Our plan was to hire the cab for a couple of hours to go see a few of the main sites around the main island.  It was not cheap, costing at 1 Euro a minute (so for 2 hours that meant 120 Euros, or 30 Euros per person).  If you have more time or less money you can hire a car, or if you are more adventurous a bike, scooter or one of those 4 wheelers (quads) which looked like a lot of fun, if you don’t mind the scorching sun and heat.

The driver spoke a bit of English and was ultra-friendly.  On our way to the first stop, the Red Beach, the driver took us to a lovely little look-out point where we took some mandatory snaps of the stunning caldera and the ocean.  Words really don’t do it justice.

We then had to climb some rocky terrain to get to the viewing point of the Red Beach (we didn’t make the long trek down to the beach itself), which was, not surprisingly, red!  Volcanoes can do some freaky things, because the cliff walls and sand were both dark red, unlike any place I had ever seen before.

Santorini Red Beach

The Red Beach near Akrotiri

Unfortunately, the nearby archaeological site of Akrotiri was closed (and will remain closed until at least the summer of 2010 due to some roof collapse accident several years back).  Unfortunate because the site is apparently a ‘must-see’, so if I ever go back it’s going to be at the top of my list.

Nevertheless, we ventured on to the next stop, east towards the other archaeological site of Ancient Thera near the black Kamari Beach.  It was a long climb up, and we were running short on time, so we didn’t get to see it all, but a lovely couple who were on their way down were nice enough to show us their photos.  I’m glad we didn’t go all the way up because it was super hot and there wasn’t all that much to see to be honest (especially after visiting Delphi).  On the way down we got to see the black pebbles of Kamari Beach, and the driver even stopped by when we reached the bottom.  He also got us some local fruits and vegies to try which was cool.

Santorini Kamari

The Black Kamari Beach from afar

Santorini Kamari 2

Kamari Beach up close

Part II: Volcano cruise

One of the best things you can do in Santorini is to take a cruise out to Nea Kameni, the old volcani island in the centre that made Santorini the way it is today.  The one we took cost 18 Euros per person and lasted for 3 hours.

Santorini Cable

Views of Fira from the Cable Car down to the Old Port

 The adventure really starts even before you make it down to the Old Port in Fira.  Some walk or take a donkey down (which smells a bit in my opinion) but we took the cable car, which cost 4 Euros each way (cheaper than donkey) and offers stunning views of Fira and the port.  The boat first took us to the Hot Springs, where we stopped for around half an hour and allowed those with their costumes to take a dip in the water.  We just chilled on board and took some photos, and time passed pretty quickly.

Santorini Hot Springs

Natural hot springs near the volcano

Then we headed around the corner to Nea Kameni, passing the black volcanic shores along the way, taking in the awesome destructive and creative power of the volcano.  Nea Kameni costs a small fee to enter if you want to walk around, and I would recommend it because it is well worth the money.  It’s about a 90 minute walk to and back, and in the summer heat it can be pretty brutal, but if you make it to the top the view is truly spectacular.

Santorini Volcano

The black volcanic rocks of Nea Kameni

The boat took us back to the mainland by 5pm.

Part III: Oia sunset

Perhaps the most common photo taken of Santorini (or even all of the Greek Islands) is the sunset from Oia, a town located at the northern tip of Santorini.  We took a cab there which costed 13 Euros.

Oia is extremely picturesque, and has a different feel to what you get in Fira.  Walk through the narrow streets along the white squarish houses, with the sun setting in the background.  There’s no words to describe the beauty.  We had a Greek dinner and then followed the crowd to the look-out point.  You’ll know where it is because that’s where everyone is heading.

The sunset we got to witness was okay.  Certainly very pretty but not as beathtaking as one would envisage, probably because of the clouds on the horizon that blocked the last remaining moments.  Furthermore, here’s a tip: don’t go to the popular look-out spots!  There’s actually plenty of places where you can get an awesome view of the sunset, so ask around and avoid the crowds.  This is particularly important if you want to get out of there as soon as the sun sets, because when the crowds start moving it can take a long time.

The oft-photographed sunset from Oia

The oft-photographed Oia sunset

We were lucky to make it on one of the first buses back to Fira, which only cost 1.60 Euros each.  However, the ticket seller on the bus (who walks down the isles once the bus starts moving) is quite a chunker and if you are standing you’ll probably be crushed by his enormous ass and gigantic breasts.

Part IV: Museum

On the last day we had a couple of hours before we had to head to the airport, so apart from wandering the streets of Fira, we also went to the nearby (virtually next to the hotel) Museum of Prehistoric Thira, which is quite small but well worth it as it houses much of the artifacts from Akrotiri.  Since we couldn’t visit the archaeological site, this was the next best thing, and it was highly interesting, with lots of things I did not expect to exist 3,500 years ago, such as advanced wall paintings and pottery, stamps, jewelery and even giant clips (which look exactly the same as their modern-day counterparts)!  It was also cool to learn about how Santorini became the way it is today, for those who like to spice up their trip with a bit of knowledge.

After that and some final snaps of the memorable views, we checked out and caught a cab to the airport, just 10-15 mins away and costs 15 Euros.  And there you have it, Santorini in a day (and a little bit)!

Santorini Houses

Last pic of beautiful Fira

PS: I’m trying to set up some link where I can post more hi-res pics from my travels…

Neuschwanstein Castle! April 21, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
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[Update: Travel Diary finally fully up-to-date now with pictures added!]

I finally got around to sorting through some of the photos from my second big European adventure, and this time I’ve decided to post some photos of one of the best attractions in Europe (and certainly the No. 1 in Germany) – Neuschwanstein Castle!

I ranked Neuschwanstein Castle near Fussen (a 2-hour train ride south of Munich) as the No. 2 attraction in my European Adventure Round-Up, and with good reason too – it’s a magical place and a must-visit for anyone who has ever had a thing for pretty castles.  And no, you don’t have to be obsessed with the Disney Castle (which was inspired by Neuschwanstein) to enjoy it.

We went towards the end of April, when there was still snow covering the grass and made everything exceptionally beautiful, but I heard it can be equally amazing (albeit in a different way) during the summer, when the Castle attracts its largest crowds.

You can easily book a tour from any of the local tour companies when you get there, even on the day (you’ll find their brochures everywhere, and most of their offices are near the main train station).  Or if you prefer to save some money, you can just as easily figure things out for yourself by buying your own train, bus and entry tickets.  The tour guides provide a little bit of extra info (not much, to be honest), but really their job is just to organise the ticket-buying, so if you know what you’re doing then I’d recommend saving some money and doing things yourself.  It’s more flexible that way anyway.

For full details of our trip to Neuschwanstein, check out my (now fully updated- at last) Travel Diary!

So without further ado, here are the photos.  Like my Prague pics, these were taken with a Fujifilm FinePix F20 (still don’t know what this is), with the size reduced.  Of course, the photos cannot compare to seeing the real thing in person…

Neuschwanstein from afar, before the steady climb

Neuschwanstein from afar, before the steady climb

This is Hohenschwangau Castle nearby, which you can also visit (we didn't)

This is Hohenschwangau Castle nearby, which you can also visit (we didn't)

The surrounding hills of our walk up to the Castle

The surrounding hills of our walk up to the Castle

Getting closer...

Getting closer...

We're here!

We're here!

If you curl around the back of the Castle you can catch these spectacular views!

If you curl around the back of the Castle you can catch these spectacular views!

Hohenschwangau (the ugly step sister) from afar

Hohenschwangau (the ugly step sister) from afar

Another view of the Castle from a different angle

Another view of the Castle from a different angle

No photos inside the Castle!...oops

No photos inside the Castle!...oops

Farewell, Neuschwanstein

Farewell, Neuschwanstein

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