Paying your dues on the Rhine

The Rhine river is famous not only because of the beautiful scenic views, but also for the numerous castles along it. Why did they build the castles? Collect money lah! Some red dotter might say. Like the gantries of our electronic road pricing system, these castles seemed to have sprung up all over along the river.

Ok, so these castles are no mere gantries with scanners that deduct a fee from your cash card. They are formidable and they tower over you as you cruise along the river. This was how we felt as we drove along the Rhine in the hunt for yet more castles…

So how far off was our red dotter response to why the castles were built?

Unfortunately, it is a spot on answer. For in medieval times the river was a main highway. And along it flowed goods and people. Trade and commerce. Too easy a prey to give up on for the powerful. Look, it was easy money. Wanna pass through? Well pony up a couple of gold coins buddy. Otherwise expect a shower – of arrows coming your way…

Today we don’t have to cough up precious coins for the opportunity to drive through. And that helps us in our hunt for yet more castles to be put under our belt.

Read all about our road trip here, as we share with you how many “gantries” we visited. Today we have the equivalent of the river Rhine in many places. Yes they are not exactly the same – but since someone built them, they have to recoup the costs no? So it seems not much have changed… don’t know what we are referring to? Wanna find out?

How we got to Russia

Not in a Lada.

You might recall that we finally touched Russia and added it to our handprint map two years ago. And in our journalogs (here and here) we shared the daily activities of the group tour. Fortunately we did not mis-goose step our way in Moscow and initially it was rainy… but we enjoyed it thoroughly.

Did you wonder why we chose a group over independent travel? As you might know, we try our best not to join group tours.

So what were the considerations for making our initial journey with a group? In our little essay, we recounted the events leading up to our final decision to be part of a chaperoned group rather than getting around by our own wits. Read here all about it. We have to say that despite all the reservations we had, we quite enjoyed that trip even if it felt a little ‘herded’. You know what we mean huh?

For an initial foray into a country with language completely different from anything we know, it was definitely a great introduction. Some day, we will plan a return journey getting a little off the beaten track. But not before we check off all the must sees first.

Have you been to Russia? What was your plan and journey to Russia like?

A fort in Singapore?

If one is asked about the little red dot – ie Singapore, one might envision a modern city full of skyscrapers and shopping malls… glitzy gardens etc. Sure. And for those who dig a little you might know that Singapore was ‘founded’ in 1819 by a British gentlemen whose name grace places, hotels, road names all over our little red dot.

But did you know that this was just the modern founding of the island?

For did you know that the trading of exotic goods was already a booming business for this little island well over 600 years ago? Heheh… betcha that you did not know that! To the point that the island was already an entrepot like its modern founder envision it today, except waaaay back.

So today our post is about a hill. Or more importantly, a fort on a hill. Simply because when you have a good thing going, it might invite envy. Someone might want to either take over your turf or destroy it… that is was the way that nation states handled it back then. The age of mercantilism, talk about business empires…

Thus coveted real estate have to be defended right? How else but from a vantage point. That’s why the word is used – vantage. Good to have an ad-vantage over your potential adversaries right? (Ok the word count for this post is achieved… phew). You might know that Singapore was the most fortified asset of the British empire in its heyday. So you can expect quite a few forts and pillboxes all over the island.

We shall not dive too much into history and leave you to find out more on your own. Take a peek here at how you can enjoy a walk on this monumental hill of our little red dot! Have you been here before? If so, what struck you the most?

A Mayan adventure

It was all rather whirlwind. And in a tiny country in central America too. This journey took place as a side trip on our cruise in the Caribbean many years back.

We had arrived in the tiny central American country of Belize. Known for many a natural wonder, we were focused on that one thing, ie getting to a Mayan site. A former British colony, the country boasts (as some of its neighbours) that it has some of the most concentrated number of Mayan sites. However it was ironic that the only one on offer (heheh) was Xunatunich, some 2 hours’ drive away.


And soon we were on the way to this site that lies between Belize and Guatemala. It would turn out to be quite a journey, which may at first seem to underwhelm but then later came back flooding as memories of a magnificent site seen. Perhaps it was the first time we’ve seen a Mayan site, hence the feeling. It has to be said though that the entire excursion took almost 8 hours, most of it was spent negotiating the roads getting to and back from the site to the ship.

Which is why this will not be the first and only time we see the Mayans (sites we mean). We are for sure coming back… and spending a lot more time at each site too. Perhaps not in Belize (which we now have other plans for), but perhaps in a larger neighbouring country…

Our little ‘moon shot’ to Xuanatunich was still exciting. Read all about it here! Have you been to this Mayan site?

Dive deeper into Beijing

The city is such a juxtapose. As it hurtles towards modernity, it had lost quite some of its original charms. Or so it may seem. Scratch a little deeper and perhaps you might find a gem or two that remains.

In this post, we share the links to two short essays.

  • Food. Yes in any major city or culture one needs to see, smell and taste the way food is prepared. Remember we wrote that there is history coming from food too? Well, this short essay shares what can be found in Beijing. Read more about it here!
  • Now aside from the Great wall or the wonderful sites in the city itself, you should know that there is much more just surrounding the city. And nowhere is it more intriguing as the Sacred way (here) which leads to the tombs of the Ming Emperors.

There you have it. Honestly even a full week in Beijing is not sufficient. Just like spending a few days in NY City wouldn’t really ‘count’…

And so ends our series on Cathay – ahem, China. The middle Kingdom was home for 4 years and there are much more memories than possible to pen on this little blog. Believe us when we say what we put in this blog is but a mere fraction of what we’ve seen and done. We spent a chapter of our lives exploring this giant continental sized country. It is full of juxtapose, even till today and we hope this inspires your curiosity to go put your handprints there.

Next up, time to rotate to North America and we shall share some reminisces about Canada and the Caribbean. Heheh, beautiful memories those journeys were too. There is just so much to share and such a limited time to write and publish. That’s coming soon!

Imperial Capital 北京


You’ve read about them. Might have watched documentaries about how they rose and fell. One common thread of these huge political entities is the grandeur of their capital. And Beijing is one such example.

Not capital till the early 1400s, the city was a ‘mere’ provincial town on the northern reaches of the Chinese empire. While it was ‘capital’ of regional kingdoms and fiefdoms, it was only because of Chu-Ti’s ascension to the throne that got the city into the limelight. Not wanting to remain in Nanjing where the founder of the Ming dynasty (his father) domiciled, he preferred his own base in the north where he had previously been the feudal prince.

Thus an imperial capital was born.

And it has continued growing ever since, gaining weight (we mean size) and transforming into a city with so much to see and do. Because it is filled with such a diverse array of relics and imperial wonders. You have to know we are all privileged. During the imperial era, no commoner would easily ever set their eyes on what you now take for granted to visit and see. Unless you became either an eunuch, a soldier or a palace maid.

The city is a must to visit and we cannot profess to provide a guide. But we’ve compiled a few stories on Beijing. Starting from the cover here, we dive further sharing with you what we saw with our eyes (umm…camera). Enjoy!

Have you been to Beijing? Does it put you in awe?