Seoul: Coffee Lab In Hongdae

As I was wandering around Hongdae looking for street art, I was also looking for a morning cup of joe. There wasn’t a single cafe in sight at 10.30am in the morning. I tried the Coffee Prince cafe, alas, it was closed for renovation. Disappointed, I continued my search and just 80m away down the sloping road, I spotted Coffee Lab.

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I stepped into a cafe with a dark, edgy and rather masculine decor.  What was interesting about the decor was the portrafilters that were hanging from the ceiling.  I thought that was a kinda cool concept!

I took advantage of the cafe’s wi-fi to read up on the cafe, since it looked like a – if I may say – a serious sort of coffee place, the kind that has got professionally trained baristas, sources its beans from a fair trade farm in South America and roasts the beans in-house.  Look at the sleek metallic silver La Marzocco coffee machine. Not the usual cute or quirky-themed cafe that I have been frequenting.

According the Internet, the cafe is owned by a Korean barista champion.  I have no idea if it is the person standing at the counter. I also read from this blog called Coffee & Culture (a pretty awesome one) that the portafilters hanging on the ceiling are something new.  Previously, they hung chairs on the ceiling! I would really have liked to see that.

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I ordered a Kenya drip coffee.  Though I enjoyed it, this was not my preferred cup of joe.  I like my coffee strong, robust and aromatic, and from the little that I know about coffee roasting, I understand that this comes from coffee beans which have been roasted for a longer time.  My cup of coffee at Coffee Lab was light and slightly acidic.

I tried conversing with one of the baristas as I was keen to find out where they get their beans from and how they roast their coffee beans, but it was quite difficult for us to understand each other, so I decided to just focus on enjoying my coffee.

As I was sipping my coffee, I had a thought. IF. IF I ever opened a cafe, I will name it Portafilter. 🙂

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Hahaha.  I really like the decal on the toilet seat cover. 🙂  I am definitely making a repeat trip to Coffee Lab the next time I visit Seoul, before or after stuffing my face with churros at Churro 101 :-). I read that they have a smaller outlet called Coffee Express, also in Hongdae.  Might check this out too.

On a separate note, I am going to check out all the cafes recommended by Coffee & Culture on my next trip.  Lots of  high-quality recommendations there!

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Coffee Lab is located along the same street as the Coffee Prince, at Wausan-ro 29-gil, in Hongdae. If you approach the Coffee Prince cafe from Wausan-ro 29-gil from the top of the slope, you will see the cafe on your left. Coffee Lab is further down the road, but on the opposite side.

Coffee Lab is marked in yellow and the Coffee Prince Cafe is marked in red.

View Coffee Lab in a larger map

Seoul: Street Art In Hongdae

Although I visit Seoul at least once a year, I have not explored Hongdae. I visited the weekend flea market on my first trip many years ago and remember it to be a sprawling, creative area filled with young people, shops selling all sorts of female adornments, flea markets, push-carts lining the streets selling yummy snacks and restaurants catering to youthful palates with their Western and fusion offerings. But somehow, it didn’t create the sort of impression and memories that make places such as Ehwa Women’s University, Ihwadong and Samcheongdong so compelling.

Recently, I have been reading about street art in Hongdae in various blogs. I love street art so I decided to take a walk around Hongdae one cold, crisp morning. Bad idea, the area was deserted ‘cos all the shops were closed till 11am or 12pm. That’s when I decided to find a cafe to drink coffee, and stumbled on Churro 101, the churros bar. I wandered around several streets, peeked into the back alleys and the backyards of some shops, and saw nothing remotely resembling street art.

I was about to give up and go somewhere else when I came across this installation in a litle square just off the main street.  I don’t quite know who sponsored this installation, or what was the theme of the artwork, or who were the artists, but I am guessing that they involve the Korean Red Cross.  There were approximately 10 of such canvas with artworks painted on both sides.

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Bright. Colourful. Whimsical. Cheerful. It perked up my mood on a cold, gloomy and foggy morning. I found some of the artwork quite creative and appealing.   I was tempted to buy them if they came in smaller sizes.

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I like this piece from the Korean Red Cross.  It conveys the message of love in a simple piece of artwork.

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Love the piece with the zebra sitting in a hot-air balloon looking down at the windmills in verdant fields.

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The piece on the left (below) is another abstract-styled piece that I like.  Mostly because of the asymmetrical shapes arranged in a palette of cheerful and soothing colours.

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Then I walked around a bit more and saw other bits of street art.

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The Piano Cafe is across the road from the shop above.

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Street art is all a matter of perspective. Some people see it as freedom to express creativity, others see it as graffiti.  I wish we had more of this unbridled ‘creativity’ in Singapore.

Seoul: The Hello Kitty Cafe In Hongdae

I have a weakness for the pink Japanese cat. The latest fad in Singapore is to collect the McDonald’s Hello Kitty series and I just got myself the Hello Kitty Frog Prince that comes with the purchase of a value meal. On the Thursday when McDonald’s release the new Hello Kitty plush, I see a long queue at the drive-through near my office early in the morning!

One of the cafes in Seoul that I wanted to visit during my trip in March was the Hello Kitty cafe in Hongdae. I followed the directions to the cafe on a blog which stated that the cafe was round the corner from a Ho Bar cafe. There are a number of Ho Bar cafes scattered around Hongdae but none was the right one, and I got terribly lost wandering around in the maze of alleyways in Hongdae. I just could not find the cafe. I was about to give up when I finally came across the “landmark Ho Bar pub”.

I turned the corner and squealed. 🙂

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The entire shop was so PINK. Not a refreshing light pink but a hot fushcia pink.

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It was really difficult to decide what to order. I was already stuffed from churros, coffee, lunch and more coffee. In the end, I picked a pink strawberry mousse cake in the shape of a Hello Kitty face and a glass of cold tea. Drinking another cup of coffee, I would be bouncing off walls.

Isn’t the cake cute?  I couldn’t bring myself to stick a fork into its cute little face.

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I was amused by this chap. I don’t think you will find many Singaporean guys doing this in a Hello Kitty cafe.  Practically everyone in the cafe was busy snapping away on their cameras and smart phones…

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Or busy playing games on their smartphones. You would think that the customer base of such a cafe would be the young, but it wasn’t the case. I saw women and men of all ages drinking coffee in the cafe. Grannies with their young grand-daughters, young men in their 20s with their girlfriends, middle-aged ahjusshis wth their wives (I think). I doubt my husband would be caught dead in the cafe.

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The warm red tones of the room made me feel very claustrophobic after 30 minutes and I had to get out before I started feeling nauseous.

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I toyed with the idea of getting one of the Hello Kitty T-shirts on sale, but decided against buying more stuff since I had to drag my near-bursting suitcase to SF.  I really liked the one with the Hello Kitty face, maybe the next time.

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The cafe is right in the middle of Hongdae and the landmark Ho Bar to look for is the one shown in the photo below, above a Watsons (though I cannot be sure that Watsons will stay in that location). Turn the corner from this building and the Hello Kitty cafe is 50 metres away, on a slope. This blog has a good map showing the directions to the cafe.

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358-112 Seogyo-dong (94-3 Eoulmadang-ro)

View Hello Kitty Cafe in Hongdae in a larger map

Seoul: Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

Whenever I am in Seoul, I try to watch a performance at the theaters. It could be a play, a musical or a concert. I usually check for what’s playing at the English site of Interpark (our Sistic equivalent). I email the ticketing helpdesk (in English) to buy the tickets and collect them at the venue on the day of the performance. All without having to speak a word of Korean!

During my last trip, I watched the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the pretty Charlotte Theatre, which is located in a building attached to the Lotte Shopping Mall. I am a huge fan of Song Chang-ui and I try to catch as many of his performances as possible. Lucky for me, he is quite a prolific (and wonderful) stage actor, and in the last couple of years, I have watched him perform in 3 musicals – the Sorrows of Young Werther, Mozart and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

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It does sound a little strange to some people that I like watching Korea productions, since I cannot understand a word of Korean. But I always enjoy myself tremendously watching the acting and listening to the music. So what if I cannot understand what the actors/actresses are saying or singing? To me, it is no different from watching an opera.

I see on Interpark that Song Chang-ui is making a repeat performance as Hedwig and the musical runs till September. I am gonna find a time to make a short trip to Seoul, to eat, relax and watch Hedwig.


Seoul: The Piano Cafe In Hongdae

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I was walking around Hongdae trying fruitlessly to find the Hello Kitty Cafe, when I stumbled on The Piano Cafe in a side alley of one of Hongdae’s main streets.  Pity I forgot to ask for the address and cannot describe the directions to this cafe.  The Piano Cafe is a cozy little cafe with a grand piano in the main room.  Customers are welcome to tinker on the piano or hold a mini performance for friends.

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The people who own the cafe must love music, coffee and teddy bears.

Many times, I have wondered about the sort of concept or decor I would have if I own a cafe. I don’t really know what it would be. At the very least, the colour scheme must reflect a bright, cool and relaxing vibe. Nothing dark, broody or country-style for me. I would like to have a place which has cabinets and shelves in light pine wood, dotted with pots of green plants and with plenty of wall space to hang B&W photographs. Preferably B&W photographs taken, not by professionals, but by friends and amateur photographers whose photos speak to me. Ah, a nice thought. Something I will think about doing if I win the next mega lottery, but I have to buy a shop space so that I am not at the mercy of landlords. This will definitely need the help of a mega lottery.

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I wonder if these bears were hand-made.

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I like this set of musical figurines playing the piano, the cello, the violin, the flute, the bass and the conga (I think that’s what it is..).   I am going to hunt for a set of something similar to this, and hopefully find a figurine playing the trumpet ‘cos that’s what I used to play in the school band. 🙂

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I plonked myself at this table, after accidentally walking into a rather private moment between a pair of young lovebirds at a corner of the cafe.  🙂  I chose this table ‘cos I like the chandelier.  If only the ceiling in my flat isn’t so low, I would buy a ceiling lamp that looked like this.  It would look completely incongruous with the decor in the rest of the flat, but what the heck…

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This scene felt like it was something that came out of a Korean drama.  The guy serenaded his girlfriend by playing several ballads on the piano.  Looking at the cake and pink balloons, tthey were either celebrating her birthday or an anniversary.   It was all so romantic!  I was spellbound by his beautiful performance.  When it all ended, I clapped and asked him for an encore!  There is something so wickedly charming about a guy who plays the piano.  Glad to have witnessed such sweet and romantic gestures. Now you know that they are not only seen in dramas, they happen in real life too! Lucky girl.  I wished I had recorded the entire performance on my iPhone.


Updated on 4 August 2013: Map of Piano Cafe.


Seoul: Miss Lee’s Cafe In Seoul

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Enroute to San Francisco in March, I decided to do a 4-day layover in Seoul. Taking a long-haul flight directly to San Francisco was too daunting for me and I wanted to break it up. Also, I never miss a chance to visit Seoul whenever I can. 🙂

It was a busy period at work for the two months leading up to the trip, so I was looking forward to spending 4 days in Seoul on my own, eating my favorite foods, visiting my favorite shops and just wandering around on the streets hoping to find a charming cafe to drink a cuppa and surf the Internet on my iPhone.

I was quite pleased to find a number of pretty cool and quirky cafes on this trip. And I spent most of my time sitting in cafes, taking photos and reading a book. I know that some people may feel that it is an absolute waste of time to do nothing on a vacation but this is the best-est type of holiday for me – the sort where there is nowhere in particular to go, and nothing in particular to do. Just go wherever my feet takes me and do whatever my heart feels like doing.

On my first day in Seoul, I explored the streets of Daehangno. I was thinking of going to Ihwadong but decided to just wander around Daehangno instead. I had arrived in Seoul that morning on a red-eye flight and I was feeling quite tired, so I was not terribly excited about taking a long walk around Ihwadong.

I walked around Daehangno for a while and stumbled on this quirky cafe, called Miss Lee’s Cafe! It seems that this cafe is quite famous in Seoul, why, I am not too sure but I guess it appeared on a popular reality show called “We Got Married”.

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I stepped into Miss Lee’s Cafe and the first thought that came to my mind was – there is SO MUCH paper everywhere. Pinned  to the walls, the tables, the windows and hanging on the lights…too bad I don’t read Korean, and have no clue what was written on the pieces of paper in the cafe.  My guess was that these are notes hand-written by guests.  I should have written something in English or Mandarin and stuck it somewhere.

Miss Lee’s Cafe had a quirky, girl-y decor and had a treasure trove of little ornaments and cute toys.

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I liked these grumpy-looking black dolls.  I wanted to ask the shop if they were for sale, but decided against it.  Bringing one of these back would surely make my husband’s face as black as these dolls.

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Slam Dunk comics! I used to read the series when I was in college. Maybe I should pick up these comics again and see if they are still as fun a read as before.

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Love these dolls. 🙂

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I ordered only a cup of coffee at Miss Lee’s Cafe in Daehangno ‘cos I had already eaten my lunch. I flipped through their menu and saw that they sell simple dosirak sets (Korean lunch boxes similar to the Japanese bentos), traditional Korean sweets and cold desserts.  I observed that many tables ordered the dosirak sets which were served in the traditional rectangular metal lunch boxes used in the old days. How quaint! I told myself that I had to find time to make a repeat visit and try the food.

On my last day in Seoul, I stepped out of my hotel – Metro Hotel in Myeongdong – in search of lunch, and saw this right outside the hotel. How in the world did I miss it all this while during my stay…?!

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Another Miss Lee’s Cafe. Right outside the hotel that I almost always stay at. I squealed and skipped into the cafe.  The decor in the Myeongdong outlet is similar to the Daehango outlet with plenty of retro toys.  I was in love with all the little dolls and old-world telephones.  One is never too old for these things!

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I was very hungry and ordered myself a kimchi dosirak and it turned out to be the best kimchi meal that I have eaten. It was served school lunch-style and I felt like I was back in school, eating my meal in the canteen.

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Kimchi. Egg. Luncheon meat. Rice. Seaweed soup. It was a simple , heartwarming and comforting meal that tasted fabulous.  This is something that is going on to my must-eat list everytime I visit Seoul.

More of my favourite photos of Miss Lee’s Cafe in Daehangno in the gallery below.

Besides the outlets in Myeongdong and Daehangno, there is another one in Insadong which I will definitely visit during my next visit!  One can easily spot the cafe by looking for the huge mascot (doll) sitting outside the cafe.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

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I ended my reading drought with an excellent book, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis.  Although it is a children’s novel, the book is definitely a highly enjoyable read for adults.

The novel revolves around the life of a 11-year old girl living with her family under the Taliban regime in Kabul, and how she was forced to become the breadwinner for her family when her dad was arrested and thrown into jail by the Taliban.  The life of ordinary people living in such repressed circumstances is depicted in simple, direct writing which makes me feel that I can relate to the characters in the book.  The author wrote two sequels and I am going to get my hands on them as soon as I can.

Seoul: Churro 101 In Hongdae

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Churro 101.  Better than a boyfriend, is what it says.  I am not sure if I agree with the tagline, but the churros are by far the best that I have eaten.  I am not a fan of churros, mostly because the ones that I have tried so far (outside Spain and with the exception of the ones that my friend make) were not good, at least to me.  I could never understand why people love this deep-fried, sugar-coated dough.  But now I do.  I totally get it.

I was ambling along the main road (somewhere in Hongdae) at 10.30am, waiting for the Coffee Lab to open, when I saw a signage for Churro 101.  The shop was located on the second floor of a nondescript building, facing away from the main road.  I would have completely missed it, if not for the bright yellow awning.  It was closed for business till 12pm.

Having eaten at a number of restaurants serving Western food in Seoul, I have more often than not walked away feeling terribly dissatisfied, I had my doubts about Churro 101.  I don’t even like churros, so what in the world am I doing thinking about dropping into a churros bar, in Seoul, of all places?  But for some reason, something at the back of my mind urged me to check the place out after I have had my expresso fix.

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I entered the shop and gasped at how cute the place was. I plopped myself on the blue chair at the far end of the cafe so that I could have a good view of the churros making process.

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While waiting for my churros to be made, I lounged on this Victorian boudoir chair and browsed magazines on the bookshelves. It is wonderful to have the entire cafe to myself!

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He gave me two complimentary churros – one was filled with vanilla cream and the other was filled with chocolate. Both were very delicious but I preferred the plain, sugar-coated one the best.

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Address: Churro 101 is located along the same street as the Coffee Prince, at Wausan-ro 29-gil, in Hongdae. If you approach the Coffee Prince cafe from Wausan-ro 29-gil from the top of the slope, you will see the cafe on your left. Churro 101 is further down the road, but on the opposite side.

Edit: I have finally learnt how to use Google Maps and embed one into my post! 🙂 Churro 101 is marked in green and the Coffee Prince Cafe is marked in red.

View Churro 101 in a larger map

San Francisco: A Walk Around Dogpatch

During my last trip to San Francisco, I did not do any of the ‘Top 10 things to do in SF’ that travel guides recommend. I didn’t eat seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf, I didn’t visit Alcatraz, I didn’t take a walk in the Golden Gate Park, I didn’t go shopping in Pier 29, I didn’t go premium outlet shopping.  I did quite a bit of that during our trip to SF many years ago and was quite happy to skip most of the touristy bits this time.

Besides wining and dining me, My friends brought me to Dogpatch, an interesting neighbourhood in San Francisco.  I read that Dogpatch was previously a working-class, industrial neighborhood that is currently being revived as a trendy area with restaurants, artist studios, cafes and design areas  Lofty, abandoned warehouses and defunct industrial spaces are slowly being converted to house gastronomic and artistic offerings.

The afternoon that I visited Dogpatch, the neighbourhood was very quiet.  I guess the place comes alive only after the sun sets.  It was a very pleasant stroll – lovely weather, clear blue skies, very little vehicular and human traffic along the streets.

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I don’t know what these flowers are called but they resemble cherry blossoms.  I haven’t seen cherry blossoms in quite a while. Such pretty colors against the clear, blue sky.

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Besides the architecture of the buildings in that area, even the signs along the roads show an artistic bent in the colours, font and shape that are used.

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The stairs that make me think of Pretty Woman.

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 photo SF-0975-130326_zpsdabb06d6.jpgCharming.  They are never going to construct buildings that look like this again.  These warehouses would look so trendy after they have been given a makeover, like how Oslo did with theirs.

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Gorgeous brick building.  If this building is situated in Singapore, I bet you the local authorities would have repainted the brick facade in some boring, hideous colour. photo SF-0969-130326_zpsb9ae645d.jpg

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Ah,the Just For You cafe. That’s where I had huevos rancheros and beignet for breakfast!

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Outside the Dogpatch Saloon.  I love the colors in this photograph.

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 photo SF-0964-130326_zps4a018098.jpgCoffee time!

Strawberry Mousse Cake In A Jar

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From today’s baking class with Maple & Market: strawberry mousse cake in a jar. Two hours of fun and I get to bring back 5 jars containing genoise, strawberry mousse (strawberry puree + gelatin + whipped cream) and little jelly hearts (made using rose-flavoured agar agar).

The combination tastes really good and I would definitely try to make it on my own someday. Except that I would put in an additional layer of genoise to balance the sweetness of the strawberry mousse.

San Francisco: Hiking in the Coal Mine Ridge Trails, Bay Area

We went for a little hike in the woods, one of the Coal Mine Ridge trails near Portola Valley, in the Bay Area. I wanted to see ‘the tree’ – a tree that I have a beautiful photograph of, a present from C. After my last two hiking expeditions in Bhutan and Sri Lanka, I could not really muster up the enthusiasiam to go on a hike, even though it turned out to be a relatively easy walk, one which I did not have to curse and swear all the way up, or down.

Despite how I feel about hiking, I like being out there in the woods, spending time with nature, inhaling fresh air and the scents of wet grass. I like looking at trees, especially huge old trees with thick trunks and gnarled, twisted branches that form beautiful patterns against the sky.

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Isn’t ‘the tree’ grand? I wish I had brought a wide-angle lens and a tripod so that I could capture more of ‘the tree’.

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Trudging along. The area was so quiet, I think we were the only ones hiking in that area.  The weather was quite lovely – a lil sunny but not hot.

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The scene was so inviting I wanted to lie down on the grass and take a nap.

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Smaller versions of ‘the tree’, but no less charming.

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I don’t know what those ‘nest-looking’ things hanging from the tree are.  For a very brief moment, my heart stopped beating ‘cos I thought they were bee nests.

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We arrived at ‘the tree’ after approximately 45 minutes.  Glad that it was a shady area where I could sit down and take a breather. From the certain angles, ‘the tree’ looks a little eerie, as though it has plenty of secrets of its own. It also reminds me of Enid Blyton’s ‘Magical Faraway Tree’ and I can imagine the tree coming alive at night.

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C decided to attempt climbing the tree.

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She made it!

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Then she needed some help coming down. 🙂

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Heading back along the same trail to get some lunch.  It was quite a good workout and I think it was the first time I perspired since arriving in SF.

Sri Lanka: Walking Around Galle Town

The last of the Sri Lanka posts. About my favorite place in Sri Lanka so far – Galle. THree months have passed since I was in Galle. Where did all the 3 months go? Work. Right.

We spent half a day wandering around some of the streets in town and along the beach at the edge of the town, taking photographs and chilling out. It was very quiet when we were there, which is something I like, being away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and having to deal with little human and vehicular traffic. I felt like I was in a completely different world.

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Beach at the edge of Galle town.

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I find architecture interesting and I like taking photos of buildings and structures.  The inner streets of Galle are fairly narrow with many shops packed side-by-side – cafes, gem shops, boutiques, etc.   I had alot of fun strolling along the streets, people-watch and looking at the interesting mix of facades – some painted in bright colours like salmon pink and vermillion while others look like they have been abandoned given the streaks of graffiit seen on the exterior walls or have quirky embellishments on their doors and windows.


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