20 Nov 2010

Of course Rome has its famed Via dei Condotti for extravagant shopping, with a plethora of slick boutiques and well known Italian brands (Dolce and Gabbana, Prada, Gucci) lining the street and those around it for those in the mood forsome extreme retail therapy. But for a more low-key shopping scene, I headed to the Centro Storico, which is more associated with government buildings and historical landmarks.

My first stop?

Officina Profumo- Famaceutica di Santa Maria Novalla

The store is actually originally from Florence, but dating back to 1612 it’s a definite must see in any Italian city where they have a store. The fragrant powders (above), perfumes, shaving creams and  room scents make perfect gifts and they also have a line of honey and chocolates. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, go for the old-school pharmacy interiors. If only Boots in London looked like this!

Corso del Rinascimento 47, T06 687 2446,

Dolciumi e Frutta Secca

The place to go to indulge that sweet tooth. With an extensive selection of everything saccharine from hot chocolate to liquorice, this tiny shop offers well priced and beautifully packaged Italian treats to take home (or eat on the spot). Look out for hard to find brands outside Italy such as Amedei, Caffarel and D Barbero .

Corso Rinascimento 8, T 06 686 5268

Ai Monasteri

A shop devoted to selling traditional goods made by Italian monks and friars, Ai Monestari offers herbal remedies, toiletries, scents, jams and alcohol. Make sure you call and check the current opening hours before you visit- for some reason in November the shop is only open between 17:00 and 19:30.

Corso del Rinascimento 72, T 06 688 02783,

19 Nov 2010

No, this isn’t a clever example of my photo-shopping skills, that really is a Ferris Wheel perched on the top of that department store.

Seeing it made me feel nostalgic.

When I was a child growing up in Taiwan, all the big department stores had mini-funfairs on their roofs. Some were no more than a dodgem car ride, a couple of big slides and maybe one of those rotating funhouses.

Others pulled out all the stops. I remember one department store, although the name escapes me for the moment, which was located on the corner of what was in 1976, the main shopping street in Taipei. Not only did it have slides, swings, dodgem cars and most disturbingly of all, a small zoo on its roof, it also had a rollercoaster. Not a huge rollercoaster, mind, but big enough to give an impressionable 8 year old a shiver, especially when part of the rollercoaster track cantilevered out over the traffic six or seven stories below.

Compared to that accident waiting to happen, Osaka’s Hep 5 Ferris Wheel seemed positively sedate but it reminded me of the days when Asia’s department stores understood that if you wanted the crowds to come and then stay, you needed to give them more to do than just shop till they drop.

18 Nov 2010

Or at least that’s how the Katie Melua –song goes. I’m not too sure that’s true anymore. Sure people are cycling, but on average I think I’ve seen more people riding their bicycle in Copenhagen than here in Beijing.

It seems that China’s economic transformations has made the Chinese choose the car instead of a bicycle. Another thing is that the public transportations gets better and better. For just 2 Yuan you can go as far as you want in the subway. Read my colleague Wolfgang’s post on that. And most of the buses are fairly new it seems.

But it doesn’t mean that there are no bicycles at all. Of course there is. It is after all China. And there more traditional areas of Beijing you visit the more bicycles you’re likely to see. Like in one of the Hutongs I visited the other day. More on the Hutong in a later blog post.

Here are some of the bicycles and bicyclists I’ve seen in Beijing.

Big transport bicycle

At least three bicycles in Beijing

Pink bike in Bejing

Bicycling in a Hutong

If you fancy to bicycle in Beijing it’s easy. A lot of guesthouses and hotels have rental bikes for their guests, but there are also small rental places in streets, where tourists come. It’s a good way to explore the Huntongs, where traffic isn’t too heavy. But there are plenty of roads with bicycle lanes in Beijing and I would feel more safe biking here than in London or Paris – that’s just a death trap in my opinion.

Ask at your hotel or guesthouse for more details on bicycling in Beijing.

17 Nov 2010

Built for the Universal Forum of Cultures exhibition in 2004, Barcelona’s Parc del Forum in the Diagonal Mar district is an unlikely way to spend an afternoon.

Situated near the beach, the park offers breathtaking views of the coast as well as encompassing a swimming pool, music auditorium and a yacht marina. One of the area’s highlights, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Edificio Forum sits on the edge of the park, it’s electric blue facade instantaneously informing lost visitors (like myself) that they are indeed in the right place.

Herzog & de Meuron’s Edificio Forum

The marina

View across the sea

View across the park

But watch out for the skateboarders…!

Parc del Forum

Avinguda Diagonal 1

17 Nov 2010

Go speed racer, go!

The first I heard about the Kyotei boat racing stadium was when I walked past a poster for an upcoming race my first day in Osaka. I knew the Japanese had a fondness for speed, but I’d always associated that with motor racing.

The Kyotei circuit – there are 24 stadiums dotted around Japan – has apparently been wildly popular since speedboat racing was first introduced as a sport back in the 1950’s and while the stadium was fairly quiet the night I went, the fact that it seats 21,000 spectators suggests that the sport is just as popular today.

3 down, 20,997 to go

The attraction, in part, is the low entrance fee. For just ¥100/€0.89, you can sit and be thrilled by the races all day. That said, the main appeal, apart from the bone-vibrating, blood-rushing, spray-in-your-face spectacle of it all, is that you can bet on races.

Having a flutter

I didn’t, and not because the one time I did make bet, I was persuaded by a more experienced ‘friend’ to back a horse other than the one I wanted only to have my original (and very much not the favourite) choice romp home first, but because the system is so byzantine. There are seven ways to bet; a Win, a Place, an Exacta, a Quinella, a Trifecta, a Trio and a Quinella Place. I could explain, but I’m not sure I understood myself, so it’s probably best to take a Japanese-speaking friend if you intend to stake money on a race.

Although the boats themselves are relatively small, they make an impressive amount of noise. Watching them skid around the track, pilots standing, leaning and crouching to improve their speeds, boats cruising around the buoys so perilously close to one another there seems barely a hair’s breadth between them it’s easy to forget that they are powered by relatively small engines – only 390cc – but as each stripped to the bones and barely weigh more than the pilots, they run like the clappers.

About as slow as it gets

Much as in horseracing pilots are subject to a strict weight limit and must weigh between 49-59 kilos to compete. Consequently (although curiously, the same cannot be said for horse-racing), Kyotei attracts a relatively large number of women racers, who are amongst some of the best pilots on the circuit.

The ‘track’ itself is a 300-metre circuit marked at either end by two horizontal buoys. There are six boats in each race, which consists of three laps or 900 metres in all. For all the adrenaline they generate, races last less than a minute. With all the anticipation, nerves, pre-race fumbling, jockeying for position and engine-gunning antics, Kyotei races resemble in many ways the average person’s First Time. It might be over before you can lie back and think of Japan but a minute is still more than long enough to blow your week’s earnings and judging by the howls of despair that emanated from some parts of the crowd, a number of the men attending last night’s race must have had quite a bit of explaining to do when they got home.

The ones that didn’t make it

I found this part of the Kyotei experience a little depressing because judging by the appearance of some of the people making bets, the low entrance fee also encourages those who probably can’t really afford it to gamble their futures away but the size of some previous wins – in the tens of millions of yen – keeps the punters coming back. A fool and his money, as they say.

Waiting. Hoping.

Clearly, the corporations backing the sport are making out like bandits, though and for once, the pilots themselves don’t do too badly. Earnings are based on winnings and most pilots take home around three to four hundred thousand dollars a year but those at the top of their form can earn several million a year. Peanuts compared to what’s made at the turnstiles, perhaps, but still just about enough to make the risk of competing (there are several casualties a year) worthwhile.

Getting There:

Take the subway to Suminoekoen station and then follow the signs (and the sounds of the boats roaring around the track) to the stadium. It’s about a 3-minute walk.

Entrance is ¥100 to the open-air stand, ¥2000/ €17.80 for a comfy seat with your own television screen and ¥5000/€44.50 per person for a VIP box, which comes with complimentary refreshments and must be reserved in advance.

Race schedules (in Japanese only) can be found at:

Tel: 06-6419-3181

17 Nov 2010

On the way from the airport to the hotel I got a first glimpse of how different places can be – the new, marble shining high tech Delhi airport as entry point to India, the road to the hotel – narrow, crowded, with huts made out of earth and straw serving as people´s residence on the sidelines.

The hotel, an island in between chaos, heavily guarded.

Going to town I opted for the new Metro -like in China it is cheap, modern and fast – and overcrowded at all times. My first visit was to Connaught Place which is the central shopping area – lots of hustlers trying to direct you towards obscure shops, pick pockets everywhere. Quickly, I thought relief in the metro again as it is guarded, air conditioned and organised.

Next stop was the Red Fort, an impressive World heritage site.

Red Fort Delhi

Clear distinction is made here between Indian residents and foreigners – entry fee for foreigners is 25 times higher than for locals.

The way from the metro station to the Fort and back was amazing: Incredibly dense traffic, waste dumps just next to the old spice market, secluded private school yards in between.

Afternoon traffic

Road side waste dump

Street market

School bus for private school

The whole daily action happens outside – food, open shops, picknick in one of the rare parcs.

"Garden restaurant"

Fruit and vegetable shops

Relaxing in the park

An amazing city – difficult to understand for the normal tourist as I am.

16 Nov 2010

This has to be one of the most beautiful flower shops I’ve seen in my life

And another shot, just in case you aren’t convinced

15 Nov 2010

It was time to say goodbye to Hong Kong after a week in the city. During this week I’ve admired the skyline and the architecture, sailed on Victoria Harbour, eaten delicious Dim Sum and been to my first horserace ever. An eventful week indeed in a city that is easy to become addicted to. I’ve developed exactly the same feelings for Hong Kong as I did for Tokyo. I couldn’t get enough of the bustle and liveliness, and I will definitely come back some day.

Hong Kong has so much to offer and it is so easy to visit. It seems very much as a liveable place. A place where life in many ways are good in terms of well-paid jobs, good infrastructure, exciting urban life, great food, nearby beaches and forests. All in all Hong Kong is a very organized place inhabited by, what it seems, very organized people. What I missed though was some obvious attractions and landmarks beside the tram to The Peak and the skyline – something that is uniquely Hong Kong. Maybe it’s in the city somewhere and I just didn’t discover it? Well, I guess that is on the agenda  or my next visit to HK to find out.

I’ve made it a habit to put together a little mosaic of pictures of some the places I visit on the QH journey and post it on the blog. I did one in Osaka, in Budapest and in London. Sometimes there’s a theme and other times it has been different snapshots.

Here are my snapshots from Hong Kong. Enjoy.

15 Nov 2010

For my last day in Oslo, I decided to head to an up-and-coming district of the city that I’d heard about from many locals. The name: Grünerløkka. The location: east Oslo. In many ways, the district reminded me of London’s East End; a traditionally working class area, multicultural and bursting with young creatives. Anchored by a large square, the area has a real sense of community about it, emitting a decidedly more ‘down to earth’ atmosphere then one gets from the rest of the city, as nice as it is.

So, here are a couple of my picks for Grünerløkka, a great place to spend an afternoon perusing the many shops and delicatessens which populate the area.

Hotel Havana

Thorvald Meyers gate 36, T 23 23 03 23,

The brainchild of Jan Varden, Hotel Havana is a delicatessen specializing in Continental produce, including meats and cheeses, with an emphasis on goods from Spain and France. With a couple of tables inside to enjoy a slight snack or a freshly ground coffee as well as some informal benches outside, this is the perfect spot for a bit of people watching.

Grünerløkka Brygghus

Thorvald Mayersgate 30b, T: 966 22 831,

Coincidentally owned by the same man who owns Hotel Havana (and is largely responsible for the a number of the sophisticated venues which now populate the area), Grünerløkka Brygghus is a pub-style offering dozens of beers including several of their own exclusive brews, produced in conjunction with some of Norway’s last remaining breweries. Traditional interiors and friendly staff, make it a treat to visit even if your aren’t (like me) a beer drinker.

13 Nov 2010

In my quest to find some free activities in Oslo, The City That Stole My Wallet, I found myself at The Vigeland Sculpture Park, a 24 hour public park located to the northwest of the city.

I told you it was cold

Featuring over 200 sculptures by the Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland, the park is actually the largest sculpture park in the world featuring work from a single artist and was completed throughout best part of the 1940s.

Spread out across around 80 acres, the sculptures are allocated along five separate areas, making a relaxed stroll in the park quite a spontaneous affair with each turn dotted with various pieces of art. ‘The Bridge’ for example contained 58 bronze sculptures, all of human figures in various poses which to me looked like they were intended to explore the dynamics of human relationships.

My favourite was a famous piece known as Sinnataggen, or Angry Baby:

Further on lay The Fountain, which unfortunately had no water running on the day of my visit, but was stunning all the same.

But the pinnacle for me was literally highest point of the park at just over 14 metres. The Monolith, as it’s known, is a column featuring 21 figures carved out of one piece of stone.

And the entrance gates into the this area are just as entrancing as the sculpture itself…

The park is also home to a museum which is currently undergoing refurbishment and will not be open until next spring (approximately May). But on beautiful days like these:

… there should be enough to keep you distracted!

The Vigeland Sculpture Park

Kirkeveien, T47 23 49 37 00,

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