Luzhi

April 2016 – Suzhou, China

If you ask me where my favourite place is in this world, I would say home. Home is where you feel the most at ease, a place where you can really put your feet up and be surrounded by love. Growing up I have always wanted to leave home, and to explore the big wide world out there, away from nagging parents. But as I grew older, I noticed that I craved the company of my parents more and more, treasuring all the love they have given me all these years.

Some last minute holiday came up earlier this month and I decided to take up the chance to visit my parents again. Little did I know what I had left behind were lands rich of culture, beauty and peace.

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Jiangnan (江南) is very well known in China for it’s rich culture for thousands of years, and we are lucky that many of these villages are still preserved to this day. I think of them as tiny Venice of the east. A typical village would have a main stream that becomes the spine, with many that extends outwards.

The village I visited was called Luzhi (甪直). It’s a preserved village just outside of Suzhou. My parents had often driven past this place and recommended it to be for the longest time. Bed was always more inviting to me than being outside in the cold so I missed it time and time again. Spring must bring something out of us, like blossoms. We woke up super early to catch the morning mist and the peaceful streets, before all the shops and travelers filled the streets. The other benefit is that we get to have super yummy noodles and wontons that were special to this area.

Besides it’s narrow streets and shops, the government has also built a traditional Chinese garden, for people to stroll in. Often you can find people playing traditional chinese instruments or practicing taichi.

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The best thing about spring is the blossoms that filled the streets and parks. It just makes you smile from the inside.

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I loved this cute little shop towards the edge of town. The shop owner made lots of effort to attract people towards it. Everything inside were authentic little gems, hand crafted. If I was more talented, I would love to open a shop like this, making accessories and enjoy the blissful day.

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The village itself had many little side alley ways connecting the main street, a place to escape when the day gets busier. Sometimes I think reality gets the better of us, whether it’s work, relationships or others. We are constantly on our feet, 24/7. It’s so refreshing and so important to take time every now and then to switch off from the world, enjoy what life is really about, and re-focus on what is most important to us.

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It was such a relaxing morning that I didn’t mind waking up early for. It reminded me that there are still so many hidden gems I have yet to discover.

I have remembered this village. Thank you for reminding me to slow down and that we shouldn’t always be seeking what we don’t have, but rather take time to appreciate what life has given to us.

With that concludes my spring trip to Suzhou Ch 1. More to come as I explore what else spring has install for me!

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Richmond Park

April 2016 – London, UK

Lazy weekends are made for busy people. These days as spring has approached, we pray that the weekend would bring us blue skies and sunshine. This weekend was no different. Richmond park is the largest royal park in London, well known as the deer reserve. But that is saved for another time, we were here on a stroll, joining the other families on a lazy weekend walk.

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It’s so typical that the weather was still a bit chilly, so we hid away in a cafe admiring the views outside. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more British, being in a royal park, drinking tea and eating scones.

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View from the other side of the cafe

We ate far too many scones, so we went for a wonder. The park was huge, but I think we have found our favourite spot inside the Isabella garden.

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I loved strolling down the tiny stream that became the spine of the plantation, full of blossoming flowers, and it was my first time seeing so many waterlilies.

We spent so long walking around the park that it was already dusk. Best time for photos. I’m training up my friend on how to take photos and I think he did quite well.

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I just wanted to hide away inside this secret oasis.

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I think I will definitely come back here one day, perhaps in summer or autumn, to shoot some deer. We saw some as we drove around the park, but they were too far away for my short lens. Nonetheless, every weekend should be like this, a breath of fresh air after a busy urban life.

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Chefchaouen

November 2015 – Chefchaouen, Morocco

Our final, and possibly my favourite place in all of Morocco was this little blue town. Beneath the peaks of the Rif in Northern Morocco, was this tiny blue-washed town called Chefchaouen. There was something very different and special about this place. It was nothing like the rest of the cities we had been in. 

This was the view from up top. Blue skies always makes people happy, it was like someone dropped a pot of blue paint, so it will constantly be sunny and full of blue skies here. 

 

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The medina was full of stairs, after lugging ourselves up 6-7 sets of stairs, we finally made it to our riad, a beautiful castle amongst all the blue-washed buildings. 

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Our chefchaouen riad, Chefchaouen
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Resting after a long journey outside out riad, Chefchaouen

For the next 24 hours, we were truly lost amongst this surreal medina. 

 

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Walking up painted steps, wondering down quiet alley ways.

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It was peaceful, like a fairy tale city. 

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Times like this I wished the clock would stop. Read a book, drink some tea and listen to other people’s travelling tales. 

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Of course there were still stalls, selling colourings, spices, leather goodies. Perhaps everyone has been infected by the calming scents of this town, even the shop owners were much more civil and relaxed. They had much lower starting prices and you couldn’t see much hassling along the streets. Buying felt much less pressured here than it did in Marrakesh and Fes, and with cheaper prices, you can see why this was much loved by everyone. 

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I was so sad to leave and wished that we could of stayed for longer. But it’s these thoughts that makes me feel like it will not the be the last time that I will be here.

Morocco has shown us so much and I felt very blessed that even our journey to the airport were able to offer us such serene views. 

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Morocco has been a truly breathtaking experience. We learnt the Berber ways, eaten great cuisines like tagines and pastillas, and most of all explored true beauty of Moroccan landscape.

Till next time, keep smiling 🙂

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Ziz Valley & Fes

November 2015 – Ziz Valley & Fes, Morocco

Leaving the desert was sad, I didn’t known when I would see such sights again, since we all live in such a modern society. But I was happy that we are heading north to see something different and explore the rest of Morocco. 

Ziz Valley was en route towards Fes. Ziz is a river in the south of Morocco. It’s sourced from high up in the Atlas Mountains, flowing all the way through the Sahara Desert in Algeria. Along the valley, we could see small villages and palmarines feeding off its rich sources. 

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Ziz Valley

After hours of driving, we finally made it to the city of Fes, 2nd largest city in Morocco. We stayed within the medina. This used to be the capital of Morocco up till around 90 years ago. The medina was different to Marrakesh, the streets were much narrower. They say it’s a city to get lost in.

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Walks in the Medina, Fes

The medina was full of tiny stalls that sold a variety of snacks, leather bags, trinkets etc. In someways, it was like a more intensified version of Marrakesh medina, there were 10x more side roads with stalls in every corner.

I was so surprised when a we decided to visit a less well known Mosque to have found a quiet corner within the busy medina. The doors shut out all the busy shop keepers and buyers. 

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Searching inside Sahrij Medersa

My only regret was that the famous tanneries were shut for renovation during our visit so I couldn’t see it at it’s true colour. 

Instead, we spent sometime outside the busy medina too. It was amazing how it contrasted from within. 

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Jardin Jnan Sbil, Fes
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Outside Palais Royal de Fes, Fes
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Outside Palais Royal de Fes, Fes

After a busy day of wondering, we climbed to the top to the hills north of the Medina, just in time of sunset. 

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View from Tombeaux Des Merinides, Fes

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As night falls, it was time to conclude our second last stop, as we travel further into the north.

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Merzouga Desert

November 2015 –  Merzouga, Morocco

My first Desert experience given to Morocco. We arrived just before sunset. Our hotel was by the edge of the desert, and you could see for miles of sand dunes. Our camels were ready for us when we arrived, ready to set off deep into the desert. 

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Camel shadows! 

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Dear Bob Marley, thank you for our ride

After an hour and half, we finally made it to our tents. They gave us traditional tagines and cous cous for dinner. I really felt like we were back in the olden times. No technology, no money, no worries. Just genuine laughters, simple people with happy lives. We sat around a bonfire…

… danced to unprocessed traditional music

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… and star gazing into the night

Before dawn, we were back on the road again. Our bums were definitely slightly worse of wear after an hour of riding the night before. But it was worth it to wake up early for the sunrise. 

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Finding a good spot for watching sunrise
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My memory of the desert in one shot

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Later we got in the 4×4 and headed through further into the desert. It was all different. Did you know there were many different types? Commonly people think sand dunes, but there they can range from fine sand, to gravel to rocky. We preferred the sand of course and spent most of of our time there. 

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Near by black village. Not being racist here. Most people in Morocco are Arab-Berber, but this village is mostly populated by the migrant African people. Honest 🙂

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More sand dunes on our afternoon walk
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Feel the desert wind

The evenings were peaceful. On a walk through the vegetations, we found the opening to the desert. Camwhoring as we do, we noticed a bright thing afar in the horizon rising to the sky. It was like nothing I’ve seen before. 

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Watch the moon rise!
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Moon in my hand

 

 

I guess that concludes our desert tour. What an amazing 2 days.

Next stop: Ziz Valley and Fes 

 

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Atlas Mountains

November 2015 – Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Time to leave the city. We rented a 4×4 and set off east towards the Atlas Mountains. These mountains surround southern Morocco, often famous for it’s vast landscape and beautiful villages. Lots of big hollywood films are made here. 

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Up high on the Atlas Mountains

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Ait Ben Haddou. Lots of famous films were done here.

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Final ray of sunshine

We stayed somewhere near Dades Gorges, near an oasis of palm trees. It was actually near by to our driver’s home town. Can only imagine what it’s like to grow up here. 

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Skoura

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Dades Gorges. I loved the windy roads coming to the top. I think it would be a sick drive if I could do car racing!
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Further along our drive towards the desert, we found the Tafilate Palm Groves
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On the road again, starting to look like desert. 

 

It was a beautiful 2 day drive towards Merzuga desert, to be a surrounded by blue sky and calming Moroccan country side.  

 

 

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Marrakesh

November 2015 – Marrakesh, Morocco

I’ve never visited anywhere that isn’t Europe or Asia before, and this was the first tiny step into another world, to explore it’s culture and it’s vast landscape. I have heard a lot about Morocco, it’s different from the rest of Africa in many ways, the people, the culture and the religion. It was felt that winter was the best time to visit Morocco, if you still want to enjoy the sunshine during winter, yet it’s not overbearingly hot as it would be in the summer.

We started our trip in Marrakesh. This was a very interesting capital. Within the medina, it was buzzing with life, trades, people trying to sell you all sorts of things.

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Jamaa el Fnaa in the day time, still buzzling with people and trades
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Spices and colourings
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Hand knitted rugs

We made one trip to a beautiful garden just outside the medina on the second day. It wasn’t big, but I loved how vibrant everything was in contrast to the medina. 

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Majorelle Garden
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I didn’t know that there was a YSL memorial here, I liked this because he makes my favourite perfumes!
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Majorelle Garden
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On the other side of town, there were more historical sites. Beats me to remember any history about Marrakesh. I just like pretty flowers. 

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Roses by the Saadian tombs

At night fall, we somehow wondered outside of the touristy area and found ourselves on a lonely street. I think the other side of the wall was some palace?

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Quiet adjacent roads
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Night markets

But what I loved the most about Marrakesh was how in each and every corner in the medina, was a hidden oasis. Riads are like villas buried within the narrow streets of the medina, opening up to roof top pools and terraces. 

For us, this gem gave us the relaxing opening we needed to explore the rest of Morocco.

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Cheeky calm night in after a long day

 

Our Morocco trip to be continued.

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