Madame Tussauds – HongKong

I had the utmost pleasure of meeting The Greatest Of All Time Mr. Muhammad Ali – born Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior; but only in Wax form! Cringe! Took on that glove, ready to rumble; until i turned to my right and there he was, Steph Curry ducking on that basketball, looking all saucy!! As i marinated all that eye candy, i saw some figure on my right beckoning for a hug – Ladies, it was David the Beckham! These sportsmen had just decided to melt me into a pulp! At the heart of HongKong! Oh My!

There is a major waxwork that is missing at Madame Tussauds and that happens to be Wangari Maathai. She was such an Icon – World Icon! Madame Tussauds is a chain of wax museums that can be found in major cities all over the world in Paris, London, Las Vegas with the one in Hong Kong being the first in Asia. Not only does it feature celebrity actors but also includes activists such as Mahatma Gandhi, The British Royal Family personalities such as Lady Diana – Princess of Wales and even key presidents the likes of Barack Obama.

French woman Marie Tussauds is the founder and they apparently do keep up with the joneses here because as soon as Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie split, their wax figures were put apart. Captain Jack Sparrow is also in the vicinity, looking all Pirate-y as well as the beauty that was Miss Marilyn Monroe. Local Chinese celebrities are also featured. Tickets go for about $40 USD and a souvenir shop is also available. As a celebrity, getting a wax figure is similar to getting a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Another exciting thing to do while at Madame Tussauds is climb up the roof top of the Peak Tower where it is located to get that magnificent view of Hong Kong Skyline. Its so breathtaking! The Peak Tower can only be accessed through a metro tram which takes you up the hill of this HongKong Island. The tram can be accessed from the metro station, another cheap transport option. There is always one available every 15 minutes till closing time.

Other landmarks to see in HongKong include Disney World, an amusement park that is also located in several cities all over the world. Its an ideal place for kids where they get to meet their cartoon favorites Mickey and Minnie. You have to plan to spend a whole day here for you to maximize on the fun and get value for your tickets. Day ticket passes go for about USD $100.

Po Lin Monastery is also a major landmark especially for Buddhists. They have the Giant Tian Tan buddha strucure based here which is symbolic of the harmonious relationship between Man & Nature; People and Faith. If theme parks, museums and connecting with nature is something you yearn for, then HongKong Island should be your happy place.

 

Ramadan De(coded)

The Holy month of Ramadan is observed in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon and lasts 29 to 30 days. It is a month of increased prayer, charity, reflection and renewal of friendships for the Muslim community. Ramadan is a solemn time, and being culturally sensitive is extremely important. All the rules on culture and etiquette should be even more carefully observed during this period.

Although non-Muslim employees are NOT expected to fast, out of respect for fellow co-workers, workplaces must observe a non-eating, drinking and smoking policy in any open areas. Exemptions may be made for food and beverages that can be consumed discreetly in a separate pantry, where food is eaten in private and out of sight from the fasting members.

To maintain the sanctity of Ramadan, care should also be taken to dressing conservatively in public and work areas.

Breaking of the fast is done in the evening at a designated time where dinner otherwise known as Iftar is served. Suhoor then lasts till at about 4am when the fast begins. During this time, most hotels & restaurants have Ramadan tents where buffet meals are served. Its really a family & friends affair!

30 days later then comes the Eid Holidays to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting period. The holidays are declared after the sighting of the moon. The Crescent moon symbol is used all over during Ramadan as a symbolic decoration. The Eid Holiday is also an ideal time to give back and as this one will fall on June 5, World Environment Day;  il be out there in the hot desert sun cleaning the beach. We all have a duty to make the World a better place!

Budjetmsafiri wishes You and Yours a Ramadan Kareem & Happy Eid Holidays full of God’s Blessings. Be Good! 

 

The French Riviera – Drippin with Finesse!

Nice – Check. Cannes – Check. Monaco – Check. Monte Carlo – Check. Eze – Check. Antibes – Check. SMILE, you’ve been to the French Riviera! Boy Oh Boy! What is someone even supposed to say about a destination donned with such beauty & luxury? Got an answer for us; What is my life?!

French Riviera is the Southern part of France where its all quiet and demure unlike Paris for example where its a buzz of activity. Even the lifts at the FR are cozy! Nice, Eze, Antibes, Monaco, Monte Carlo, Saint Tropez, Saint Paul De Vance, all make up the French Riviera. Nice is where we landed and drove around to the other cities with each having its own vybe. In Nice though, we struggled to find common eateries where you just walk in and grab some food. Lunch is served at lunch time and so is dinner. Maybe we were on the bourgeois side where its all formal. But its all worth it because when that lasagna gets served..mmm mmm mmm!!

Chateau dela Chevre dor hotel in Eze area is really another story. You literally feel like you are on the set of a James Bond movie. Its so exotic, elegant and just plain sophisticated. The hotel only opens in summer. We traveled in winter because well oh well its budjetmsafiri, Can always use a bargain! All its rooms are sound proof with elegant furnishing, private gardens and heated swimming pool. Located on a hill, its surrounded by a medieval village like neighborhood overlooking the Mediterranean sea that gives you a panoramic view of the French Riviera coastline. You may want to let that marinate.

Then there is Cannes which comes to life in May when Hollywood royalty checks in for the Cannes Film Festival. The whole street is on lock down during this time with only limo drop off and pick ups taking place. The fans and press watch from the sidelines while the celebrities strut their Glamour on that Red Carpet while their yachts await for the after parties. Everyone on their lane..please!

Next is Monaco the second smallest city in the world and the third richest. This is where the Elite come to play with their Yachts, Aston Martins, Harley Davidsons, Maseratis and that’s just basic. We got to watch the change of guard; a fete that occurs every afternoon when the guards at the King’s Palace change shifts. Nothing like log in and out – thats for me, maybe you and the rest of us. Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious and has a lot of celebrities and wealthy people in attendance. After the race, they just hop on their yachts and helicopters and head out to the sea to party and network. Some of these yachts have Helipads. The Grand Prix start point is at the marina with the circuit running all through Monaco. Aryton Senna – the Formula 1 great owned an apartment here. Wasn’t he such a sweetheart!

The infamous Monte Carlo casino is also in Monaco. Now here you feel like you are in a Concours d’Elegance show. Vintage and exclusive car models that are just out of this world drive in & out; And this just a normal day where everyone is all about their business. ( Wow..and to think you’ve made it with a 4×4) The snowy ambiance at the entrance usually turns to a fountain in summer. It  looks very interesting especially in the night when it gets lit up.

The Old Town side of the French Riviera is known as Antibes where besides the Christmas Market, you get to visit the Picasso Museum that has Pablo Picasso art collection. Its not as glamorous as other cities but nevertheless, it still has that southern French charm. Pablo Picasso has inspired a lot of Kanye West art i once heard him say.

Saint Paul de Vance is a very elegant shopping boulevard surrounded by beautiful landscapes and where you find such amazing artwork which is quite pricey. This must be what they call Masterpieces. They are so well thought out, very unique and exclusive. A lot of world renown wealthy people come here to buy the artwork. The prices i repeat are not for regular people.

I think what makes this area so breathtakingly beautiful is how Environment conscious they are over here. Pollution is almost non existent. The flower vase below is set up with recycled material. Inside is a collection of corks from wine bottles to hold the flowers and the strips. How thoughtful.Overall, we had such an amazing time and that hot wine otherwise known as Glogg made the chilly weather bearable. Its a common drink in Europe during winter. There’s a specific way it gets prepared so please don’t go boiling your wine…Do Not! try this at home! Cheers! & Merry Xmas!

Lisbon – Old City Charm

If as a Kenyan you want to understand the amount of influence the Portuguese had on Mombasa look no further than Lisbon. The narrow streets, The tiny restaurants, Grafitti, Medieval neighborhood, the Tuk Tuks!! You feel like you are in Lamu! Katikati. Interestingly, Lisbon also comes to life at night just like Mombasa! Lisbon is that city that is characteristic of Old City Charm. It’s where one of the world’s biggest explorer Vasco Da Gama embarked on his exploration journey through Africa all the way to Goa India by Sea. The point of his departure is right in front of the Lisbon Square. All the history you learnt in school really starts to make sense. Some say the fiction character Sinbad is based on his story. Theres a bar/club concept that we found quite fascinating here. They have several of them located in one high rise building; whereby on each floor they play different genres of music and serve different menus – so you just go to the one that has the music or meal of your choice . Or just hop all over. Shopping is also big in Lisbon and you dont wanna guess what else we found in the market – Mutura. Really, Lisbon is just little Mombasa. Its that city that if your touring around, you pass by on your way to some place else. My 2 cents.

 

Oktoberfest, OktFest & Koln Germany

Experienced my first ever OktoberFest in Heidelberg Germany – the home of OktFests. It was fun fun fun to say the least. Also got to tour Koln city and wow!! I have so far not seen a country that is this functional. Everything works! This what i learnt;

  1. OktoberFest is the World’s Largest Beer Festival held on large scale in Munich Germany and on a smaller scale in Heidelberg. It runs from Late September to Early October. To celebrate, people wear costumes which are representative of traditional Germany’s mode of dressing; Dindyl for the Ladies & Lederhosen for men. At the festival, the theme is Old Germany countryside setting, music, song and dance with an Orchestra if need be.  To kickstart the event, the first glass from the beer tank is tapped that is accompanied by the gong and cheers from the audience. And of course after some few beers, dont be surprised when everyone hops on the tables to dance. This is the normal. You miss it, You miss out!!

Some good to know info on Koln / Cologne.

  1. Old Germany was a Monarch but was ruled by an Emperor not a King/Queen.
  2. The Cathedral located at Cologne is short of 800 years old. It survived World War II despite several hits and is now a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site.
  3. Old town has narrow alleys which were pathways used by horses carriages that were the mode of transport then. It also has cafes and restaurants which have that distinctive “Europe’ look.
  4. Recycling is BIG here!! you get paid to return used bottles or cans which are then recycled.
  5. Driving at 200 speed on the highway is the normal
  6. Got extremely fascinated by a taxi concept known as car sharing. You order a driver-less taxi through a phone app that checks for an available car in a given radius near your current location; then you just get in drive it to your destination and dump it there where someone else can also order and so on!! And interestingly, the car models are BMWs, Mercedes, Mini Cooper, Audi!! German Machines!! Literally!! That got me. Plus they snack on Caviar!! Am relocating (pun)
  7. You can walk through the Hohenzollern Bridge to get a vantage view of the city, bridge and the Cathedral. Along the way you pass by the Love Locks wall where couples fix padlocks, lock them and throw away the keys to the Rhein river which is just underneath.
  8. Koln/Cologne is really a feeling; and personally for me it was celebration of a Friendship Long Lived.

 

 

Geneva – Where the Nations Unite!

Whenever i hear Geneva, Koffi Annan comes to mind. Like in a flash! May his Soul RIP. Its also the City where all Nations Unite for the good of the common person. The United Nations office in Geneva is the second largest with Nairobi also being one of the city that hosts it. Happy Dance!!

Well Geneva is not exactly a tourist hotspot. There isnt much to see but more of much to experience. Its quite a sophisticated city though quiet even on a weekend. A lot of the people here are French Speakers and are very friendly and helpful. Getting around the city is pretty easy, with the trums all over the place.

Some of the major landmarks include Jet d’Eau which is large fountain in the Geneva lake that pumps water to a very high altitude and is as old as 1886. It can be viewed from any corner of Geneva including when landing. On windy days, the water splashes to anyone that is close by which i guess can be exciting!

Just before getting to the fountain you pass by the L’horloge Fleurie which is an outdoor clock that is decorated with flowers that symbolizes the city’s famous watchmakers who built it as a dedication to nature. FYI Switzerland is ranked as the number one country that produces the best quality watches. As you draw near the lake,you can just stop and marvel at the beautiful swans. Its a sight to behold!

After your done swooning on them, you can head over to a nearby restaurant that is on a cruise ship to grab a drink as you watch the sunset. Since it was Summer, the sun would set at 10pm which was quite new to me.

As mentioned earlier, Geneva is home to the second largest United Nations Headquarters, the more reason I relate the city to Koffi Annan. Great Man!! Of course entry to the UN is restricted understandably; but right outside is another landmark known as the Broken Chair which was constructed in the era of landmines to serve as a reminder to any politicians visiting the UN of the opposition towards landmines and bombs. Princess Diana was also a very strong Oppose’ and led a campaign against them by walking on an active minefield in Angola during one of her campaigns.

Just beside it is an explanation in many different languages as to why it was constructed. The English part reads ” Broken Chair is a symbol of fragility and strength, precariousness and stability, brutality and dignity. Originally conceived with the aim of urging nations to ban anti-personnel mines (in 1997) and cluster munitions (in 2008), Broken Chair is a continuing symbol of the desperate cry of war-torn civilian populations. Broken Chair is a reminder to the world’s nations to protect and aid these civilian victims. It invites each one of us to denounce what is unacceptable, to stand up for the rights of individuals and communities and to call for their rightful compensation.

Fun Fact: You can head out to the mountains to bask in the beautiful nature. Its very picturesque with insane views overlooking the whole of Geneva. You can still view the Jet d’Eau from here. They do have shops and restaurants as well where you can relax. People also bring their hiking gear including bikes as its an ideal location for such activities.

Not So Fun Fact: Travelling makes you appreciate where you come from more!! We went grocery shopping and apparently in this side of the world, you have to do the coding and pricing of grocery items; and when you get to the counter you have to do the packing as well! Switzerland is also very strict on Environment laws and plastic bags are not allowed so you need to carry a grocery bag every time you go shopping – which is a good thing. But the coding, pricing and packing..i love you Kenya!

To get to the mountains, you use a cable car which can be a bit busy in peak days like the weekends. In winter, the mountains are all covered in snow so you can just picture that image. Whats more, even in summer Switzerland is still very breathtakingly green. Am never big on relocating but I could live here!

Once your back to the city from the mountains, how about saying hello to those fellows hanging around the streets (wink). You never know, they might just respond! And incase your struggling with the Jet d’Eau pronunciation, just say Zhe-do and you’ l be fine. As for L’horloge Fleurie; well, you may want to take a moment of silence on that one!

 

 

County 001 – Mombasa’s North Coast

Whoa! In Mombasa when it rains it pours! Like really! Had no idea! Good news is the sun comes out almost immediately after. And the humidity notwithstanding. With Devolution, Mombasa is now known as County 001 as it’s the Oldest city in Kenya. So County 001, here’s the scoop.

Mombasa has two sides to it, the North & South Coast. The North is quite commercialized while the South is relaxed and idyllic; perfect holiday destination but that’s a story for another day. North Coast has a very rich history aspect to it. Its in Malindi that Vasco Da Gama, the first European to set foot in Kenya docked his ship. He was a Portuguese explorer who was the first to reach India by sea (via Mombasa) thereby enhancing the trade route between Europe & Asia. Later Arab merchants arrived in Mombasa mainly for trade where they also intermarried with the locals hence the distinctive look the Coast people have. The Omanis also had a lot of influence in the Coast region more reason why they are fluent in Swahili. The oldest ever bamboo tree is also found here.

Fort Jesus is one of the major historical landmarks that is now a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site; thanks to its well preserved construction design that projects a Portuguese military style building. Its history dates back to the Portuguese arrival who built the Fort to guard the Old Port of Mombasa which was a trade hub for spices, gold and ivory from invaders. Our tour of the Fort was conducted by a Mr. Peter Tooele, a very well informed tour guide on Mombasa’s history to date; as well as shady on goings that happened in there. Am not sure the the stories were real or he was just spicing up the conversation. He is very knowledgeable and entertaining. There is a prison inside where the likes of Mekatilili were held after capture by the British. Apparently, as gory as it may sound, her head was chopped off – a common practice done on stubborn and smart people from back then to now to study their brain. Again, not sure if that’s real or a myth. They Portugeese had very sophisticated weaponry that they used to attack their enemies as they approached the mainland from the ocean.

Mombasa’s Old Town has some rich history and hosts some very old buildings still occupied by residents. There is a haunted scene in the Movie Inception by Leonardo De Caprio that was screened in one of the houses (the green one). Mr. Tooele informed us that it’s a 2 minute scene. Hollywood!! Miles and miles of travel just for a 2 minute scene. Well I guess such locations make the movies look authentic; and if they were looking for some haunted location then old town has several. Pardon my observation but..its just some ghastly looking place. The old port of Mombasa is also located here as well as antique shops which i must admit have quite unique stuff.

Along Bamburi lays several hideaways including the famous Pirates beach among others; as you head to Malindi through Mtwapa, another very busy and somehow congested town. First of, we have the Haller Park which is a nature and animal sanctuary that was rehabilitated from a mining quarry to an ecological hotspot that features the likes of this tortoise which is a 100+ years old. Feeding of crocodiles is also done at the park and as someone who has reptiles phobia, its just not an amusing sight. Then there’s the hippos – similarly not pleasant to look at.

Next up is the Moorings which is a floating restaurant whose ambience is to die for!! Its also famous for its fresh sea food; cant get over the samaki wa pweza meal sauteed with avocado and mushroom sauce. Ahhh! Some recipes are just out of this world.

Mombasa was also a center for slave trade where they were exchanged for goods otherwise known as barter trade. You can learn more of these slave story as well as their rebellion by visiting the Ruins which are located at different areas all over Mombasa. We had a guided tour with a very minimal fee at the Jumba La Mtwana ruins where its history is shared. Its very picturesque with even skeleton remains of a dead whale (licensed) and to crown it all the tour ends up at the beach!! You could not get a better ending to a bittersweet story.

And now that you’re there how about a quad bike ride by the beach. Or some camel ride. Or better still just bask in the breezy ambiance, watching the ships sail & the fishermen do their thing. Mombasa raha!!

Nyali bridge connects North Coast island to the mainland with Nyali being an upmarket residential area with Malls, Cineplexs Shopping outlets and the likes. It’s considered posh as right after crossing it comes the congested section of Mombasa with the likes of Kongewea market in tow. And those tuks tuks.

By the way in case you were not aware, the two Ivory Tusks (mapembe) that mark Mombasa were put up in honor of Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II Sister who was on a State visit to Mombasa during the British Colonial rule but they were later commissioned as the sign of entry to Mombasa.  According to Mr. Tooele, she (the Princess) was a very frequent visitor to the Omani Sultan back in the day. Very frequent. Well like I said Mombasa is very rich in history; if you know what i mean. And this man Mr. Toelle, find him!

The BC Of Mainland China

China was somehow a moment for me; as it was there that I had my first ever overseas assignment where I was among the Kenyan delegation that launched the Kenya Tourism Board Marketing Campaign – Magical Kenya which was inaugurated by the then President Mwai Kibaki & First Lady Lucy, then Minister of Foreign Affairs Raphael Tuju amongst others in Beijing. Those are some of the small perks being a Tourism Ambassador can get you. Oh yeah..am dropping BIG names & titles here! So heres to literally the BC of Mainland China – presenting Beijing & Chengdu.

China is home to the famous Chinese philosopher and teacher Confucius; whose many quotes resonates with most today. His teachings were based on ideas regarding wisdom and emotional intelligence otherwise called the school of life. Ever heard “Confucius says – if at first you don’t succeed do it like your wife told you”. Men please take notes! But that’s a story for another day.

Thing I noted most about Mainland China is that you have to be really aware of the place your travelling to as there are many cities and provinces which are so similar even in wording you may just end up in the wrong town. And to make matters worse, most local people there speak Mandarin and are not familiar with English or other foreign languages. They however have portable devices they use to translate English to mandarin and vice versa in order to communicate and that requires a lot of patience. A place like Chengdu which is home to the Panda can be quite a challenge communication wise.  This is one of those places where getting a local tour guide would be necessary. Getting around though is easy as metros, buses and cars are readily available and besides you can just bike around as you tour the city.

In Chengdu Some of the places to visit include the Chengdu Panda Research base center where a lot of conservationists visit to learn about the breeding of the giant Panda which is done to save it from extinction. The red Panda can also be seen at the centre and  its also considered an endangered species. Pandas are bears if you like.

Some other touristic places include the worlds tallest and largest stone Buddha statue carved on a cliff known as Leshan Giant Buddha and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the creativity and its size.  Viewing of the carving can be done by going down the cliff then climb back up which is what we did or from the ferry though at a cost. If you choose to hike be ready for some intense climbing. Ohh it hurts!!

In Beijing, the communication struggle is not as bad as its cosmopolitan but some English speaking locals can take advantage posing as tour guides who then extort money from you if not careful. You will find them at the metro stations where they target tourists who seem not familiar with the city. For us we bumped into them at the metro stop to Forbidden City. Speaking of which is also a UNESCO declared World Heritage site and was known as the home of the emperors. You can listen to all that history through headphones they provide inside the museum.

It’s also in Beijing that you get to climb the Great Wall of China which is almost one and a half hours drive away from the city. There is no direct metro train therefore to get there you can use a private car or a tour bus. The peaks at the Great Wall are highlighted by tiers and the higher up you go the more windy and steeper it gets. They have a small brief mounted at the base regarding the history of TGW.

The tour bus offered us a complimentary visit to the Chinese theatre to watch some theatrical shows which are so hilarious. Also visit to the Silk, Herbal Tea and Fine China shops is complimentary where you can make your purchases if interested. As for food options, this is very dependent on a person’s choice because Chinese menu is “quite colorful” and if you’re like me maybe you’re better of at McDonalds for a vegetarian meal. Veggie Burger please, thankyou!