Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Half Day Trip to Bukit Tinggi

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Since it’s a long weekend during the Hari Raya celebration, I planned for a short day trip to Colmar Tropicale located in Bukit Tinggi with my family. It’s about 45 minutes drive from Kuala Lumpur, heading toward the Karak Highway and lies around 2500 feet above sea level. Colmar Tropicale is French themed resort based on a replica of a Colmar village in French dated back to 16th century. We paid RM10 for each adult as entrance fee at the drive-in booth and it’s free for my 2++ years old son. We managed to find a parking space on the 2-3 storeys castle building, since the parking was limited that day. Some even parked along the roadside and have to walk around few hundreds metres. I'm not too sure if there is any public transport to here.

Colmar Tropicale Castle which serves as a function room and parking bay, but the condition of the function room was quite a bad. The toilet here was closed to public due to some reasons. The exterior look quite nice.

We had to walk through the draw bridge to the entrance of Colmar Tropicale with the clock tower.

Before entering the entrance, there was a stair on the left side heading down to a little pond with two white swans and few carp fishes.

There were another two black swans on the ground.

At the entrance, there were 3 males playing musical instrument and a lady sang French song. But I have no idea why they wore batik shirt, shouldn’t they wear some French colonial costumes to spice up the ambience.

Once you entered into the Colmar Tropicale, the village looks nice, but after a while the excitement will fade. It’s quite a boring place, except the slightly cool weather. It would be a one time trip for me. There should have a directory listing or a map board what is available at the Colmar Tropicale. At least a brochure with map will do. Since all the buildings here are based on the Colmar village in French, it should have a board stating the history of each building or a simple introduction. Hopefully it’s still in their improvement plans.

Window panes on the French theme building

Attic windows on the French theme building

Centre to this village is the Colmar Square with fountain.

Sadly, there are not many attractions except two game booths for the children. No stage performers, no clown and street performers as mentioned on the official website. Since it's a public holiday, more activities and performances should have been engaged for the crowds.

This is the first game booth where you need to grab the plastic duckling with a long stick rotating around the pool. The number under the duckling indicated the gift you will receive. Lucky my son got a small bear.

The other game booth where you need to put the six balls inside the clown’s mouth, each at a time and the ball would roll into a random number. The sum of the total number will indicate the gift you will receive. My son loved this game so much; we tried few attempts but no luck. Going back empty handed. Each token caused RM2, but each game here cost between RM4-6 which I find it too expensive.

There were few restaurants, cafes, a bakery shop and even a wine bar. The food here is over priced and the taste is so so only. For budget travelers, it’s better to bring your own foods and drinks. That day, the weather was spanking hot and my wife decided to get a cold soft drink at the nearby souvenir outlet to chill down, unfortunately they do not sell. The seller asked her to get it from the restaurant and I believed it will easily cost us 4-5 times more expensive. How sad. So my wife ends up buying a RM2 ice-cream.

Each of the building here has a unique design. Some of the buildings served as a hotel, children playroom, massage parlour and even karaoke. One of the hotels does have a swimming pool, but the crowd was little.

They have another 4 storeys tower on the other side which I have to climb up because the lift was not functioning. How inconvenient. From the highest tower, we could view the whole village.

After spending 2-3 hours here miserably, we left this place and headed to Japanese Garden. You can either wait for the shutter bus or drive to there. Upon reaching there, we did not go to the garden, as we had to walk up the steep slope for quite a distance, so we gave up. Not all elderly people are fit to walk quite a steep distance. We drove our car and went to the rabbit farm. According to my sister, last year there used to be a lot of rabbits roaming around, but now the amount of rabbits are around 20++. Entrance fee is RM3 for adult.

My son was full of curiosity when cuddling and carrying the rabbits.

I’m not sure if this rabbit has an eye infection. Pity him.

A black rabbit sitting on the stone.

Storks in an enclosed compound next to the rabbit compound.

There even have donkey ride at RM6 and a deer sanctuary with only few deer around.

On top of these attractions, there also have a golf course and paintball field. A day trip to here will be sufficed. The best time to visit will be in the morning before the sun getting real harsh or late evening the air is cooling. I’m not too sure during the night when the lightings are on.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Italy (Day 3) - Venice

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After checking out the Crowne Plaza Venice East hotel, my wife and I boarded the bus for a short ride to Tronchetto Pier, taking a private motorboat to San Marco in Venice.

While waiting for our motorboat to depart, we had a quick stroll at those souvenirs stalls looking anything that was suitable to buy later since we had limited time on a guided tour. This was one of the stalls selling printed apron. Yeah, I know the length of that ‘object’ looked like mine, no need to tell the whole world, ROFL.

My wife would regret if she did not snap a photo with these two gorgeous motorboat drivers. So which one looked better?

Some of the shots taken from the motorboat

After 20 minutes ride, we finally reached Venice, the City of Water. Behind was the motorboat we took.

As we walked toward the St Mark’s Square or Piazza San Marco, there were many open-air cafes and stalls along the Venice waterfront facing the lagoon. The weather was cooling and it’s very nice to take a slow stroll here. Wish I could be here a little bit longer.

One of the statues along the way

We bumped into one of the famous bridges in Venice, Bridge of Sighs. The enclosed bridge is made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts would SIGH at their final view of beautiful Venice out the window before being taken down to their cells.

When we reached at the St Mark’s Square, the view was spectacular. It’s the main square in Venice and extremely popular with tourists and pigeons. The Procuratie are three connected buildings on St Mark’s Square where the Procuratie Nuove on the left, the Napoleonic Wing ahead and the Procuratie Vecchie to the right.

Most of the ground floor of the Procuraties is occupied by cafes.

St Mark’s Clocktower is a clock tower next to Procuratie Vecchie in the square. It also aid to sailors on the Grand Canal when they depart on a voyage. The highest floor has two bronze figures stand on top, looks like it going to ring the bell. Below it is the Lion of St Mark against the night sky with stars.

Entrance to the St Mark’s Campanile, a bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica. It’s the most recognizable icons for Venice. The queue inside was long, so I did not enter.

Opposite the Campanile is the St Mark’s Basilica, the famous cathedral church of Venice. There were time slot if you want to enter the church. And again, due to limited time we have, we did not enter the church. We managed to see the interior from the central door of the church. What a waste.

The central door, the Roman art carving was made from mosaic.

The four Tetrarchs at the south-west corner of the Basilica building. Try to notice the missing foot of the right figure which been replaced with a normal cement. The missing foot was discovered in Istanbul.

Next to the Basilica is the Doge’s Palace, a gothic palace in Venice. The palace was the residence for the Doge of Venice. Doge was the chief magistrate and they normally ruled for life. The last doge was until 1797. The Bridge of Sighs is located next to this palace. This building is currently preserved as a museum.

Pavement of the Doge’s Palace. Sorry if some of you feel like puking seeing our typical Asian pose, haha.

After admiring all the buildings in St Mark’s Square, we went to the Vecchia Murano Glass Factory as part of the tour itinerary. We were also managed to witness the glass blowing demonstration. Afterward, of course, there were opportunities to buy their Murano glass souvenirs which are quite pricey. The showroom is lovely and impressive but the pressure from the staffs was extreme. They also assist to ship your purchased items by DHL. It’s okay; I’m not a good fan of Murano glass, so I can skip it.

When in Venice, the trip would not be complete without a gondola ride across the Grand Canal. For budget traveler like me, it’s better to gather a group together and split the cost. Most gondolas can fit 6-7 people. We managed to get another 4 friends and the gondola ride cost us around Euro 80 (depending on your bargaining skill), which was a good price to pay (around Euro 27 for 2 people) that can make it an affordable experience, even though it’s no longer romantic with such a crowd.

Our friendly gondolier

During the ride on the Grand Canal, we would cross few bridges.

A local legend says that lovers will be assured eternal love if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge. I did not post my photo with my wife due to privacy.

As for the spectators on the bridges, we just have to try to pretend there were not there, haha.

It’s quite scary when the gondola was on the open sea and kept swaying left and right, felt not so secure, but the gondolier did a good job balancing the gondola.

Since we still have around one hour before lunch time, we explored Venice by walking along the canal and bridges.

How am I going to pay my bill if I want to purchase from this hanging store?

Gondoliers waiting to pick up their customer

This figure is made of Murano glass.

A taste of gelato cost at Euro 2.

After we had the breathtaking view of Venice, we headed to a nearby Italian restaurant for lunch. One of the highlight is the Italian dessert called Pannacotta. It’s made by simmering together with cream, milk and sugar, mixing this with gelatin, and letting it cool until ready to eat. I wanted to have another portion, too bad it’s limited.

Then we took the motorboat back to the pier and have around 10-20 minutes hunting for souvenirs at the stalls. We bought a Jester hat for my son, Aiden, cost at Euro 5 after some intense bargaining.

We were rushed to board the bus to Prato by our tour guide else we might stuck in the jam and not able to make it for dinner. The journey took around 3 hours. We checked-in to a comfortable four star hotel, Art Hotel Museo with beautiful surrounding areas. The hotel interior looks very artistic with lots of abstract paintings.

There were art sculptures and art museum opposites the hotel. Too bad the art museum was under renovation.

There’s nothing much activities/attractions nearby during the night, so we decided to cross the busy road to McDonald outlet to kill time but it was packed with hungry patrons. So we walked back to the hotel lobby and chit-chat, gossip till no topics to talk about, then we went back to our room and had a good rest.