Sunday, April 03, 2016

Mini Travel Log: Narita, Japan (2)

It was an unexpected call up for me to operate a flight from Narita. I expected there isn't much sakura bloom for me to see in Narita so I did not bring my DSLR. I regret that decision after I visited the temple up on the hill and the adjacent Narita park. Little did I know there is such a beautiful garden on top of the hill and best of all, there are quite a number of sakura trees in the park which are already in 60-80% full bloom. Nevertheless, I whipped out my trusted Samsung S6 Edge to take some pictures. The quality turned out so well. Handphone technology has improved tremendously in just short period of time. If you were to compare pictures of Narita taken 5 years ago with my D90 DSLR and now, you would have thought the former was taken using a handphone instead.

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Related link: Mini Travel Log: Narita, Japan (1)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mini Travel Log: New York, USA

This is my first time in New York and like any other tourists, I tried to maximize my time here because there are just so many things to do and see here. Is it possible to see the entire New York with 2 day itinerary? No it isn't. But 2 days are enough to warm up to this city and prepare you for your future visits.

My hotel is at Times Square which has the best location and starting point for sightseeing. As I arrived in the afternoon and needed a quick nap, I woke up close to evening time around 5pm. A quick recce at Times Square and then off I go to the Rockefeller Center; few blocks away from where I started. I went up to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck to catch the best sunset and night view of New York City. Entrance fee is not cheap. It costs $32. So plan your trip wisely if you want to see the best sunset view. Choose a clear day to go up. I was short on time so I had no choice but to go up even on a cloudy and drizzling day. I still had a great time up there but I'd probably return again in the future on a clear day to capture more breathtaking shots of the city.

After that, I returned to Times Square for some night shots. I couldn't stay awake much longer due to the jet lag so I called it a day afterwards. For info, Rockefeller Center is along 5th Avenue so you can actually do some night shopping there or save it for another day.

My second day was burned due to rain. The only place I managed to visit was the Central Station. After Central Station, I walked along 5th Avenue for some window shopping while trying to avoid getting soaked now and then.

Third day came with clear blue skies but chilly. I woke up early to rush down to Battery Park for the ferry to Liberty Island. From Times Square, I hopped onto subway no.1 at 50th St, South Ferry Loop. I didn't go down straight to South Ferry Station but made a detour by alighting at Chambers St. Reason being it was around 7am so I decided to see the 9/11 memorial and the new Freedom Tower. Bear in mind the memorial and tribute center only opens at 10am. I just wanted to see the 2 pools which was the former Twin Towers. It was a very sad feeling seeing the names of those sacrificed etched on the plaque around the pool.

I continued to walk south along Broadway and reached the Wall Street area. This area is heavily guarded now but is still accessible to pedestrians. The iconic New York Stock Exchange is not to be missed. Back to Broadway and continuing south, I reached the Charging Bull. Touch it for a dose of good luck perhaps? Another reason I advise others to reach here early is for you to have the whole bull to yourself. If you're here late, the Chinese armies will reach here in bus loads and I guarantee you will not have any space left to touch the bull, let alone taking pictures.

The Bull is just before the entrance to Battery Park. I bought my ferry ticket from Castle Clinton around 8am. Ferry departs at 8.30am and after going through airport styled scans, it is just about the right time. So my advise to you is to stick to your time schedule tight if you plan to do the 9/11 and Wall Street detour. Give yourself an hour for the detour starting from 7am and be at Castle Clinton ticket counter by 8am.

Do take note that normal ticket to Liberty Island and Ellis Island includes both return ferry rides. It costs $18 and includes entrance to the Pedestal only. If you want to climb to the crown of Statue of Liberty, 99.9% you won't be able to buy it at the ticket counter. Buy it online from the official operator Statue Cruises and it runs 2-4 weeks in advance reservations. Meaning anything less than 2 weeks, tickets to the crown are most likely sold out.

Also a word of caution. There are many touts operating around Battery Park entrance and South Ferry terminal station. They are trying to hard sell you tickets to the Liberty Island. My suggestion is avoid them at all costs. The only official operator is Statue Cruises and the ticket counter is right there in Castle Clinton at Battery Park.

I only spent my time on Liberty Island but skipped Ellis Island. The latter island was a former immigrant processing center which has its own histories. If you have the time, by all means visit this island after Liberty Island. It was included in the ticket anyway. By skipping Ellis Island, I was back in Manhattan by noon time.

As time was not on my side, that wraps up my short sightseeing trip in New York. As you can see, 2 days are not enough to cover this metropolis. But it does get you to the important landmarks around New York.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Paris, France

* Last entry for the year 2015. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Undeterred by the gun attacks in Paris, I ventured out to see the Christmas lights and decorations in Paris. It was indeed a rewarding and wonderful experience. With more presence of police, soldiers and more stringent checks, it may cause a bit of inconvenience but I felt much safer and it is necessary at times like this.

I found a place with the best view of Paris during sunset and night. It is at the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Ticket price is at 8 euros per person. Queues can be quite long just before sunset so do arrive at least half an hour to one hour earlier. Currently, the lift is out of order so you have to climb 384 steps to the top. As tripods are not allowed (probably to deny commercial photography and copyright reasons), remember to bring a high ISO and fast camera along or else you will need a very steady pair of hands to take the impossible night shots.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Zurich, Switzerland

Now that I'm flying the A380, I'm going to a few more new places. I came back to Switzerland after my Swiss Mega Tour 5 years ago. This was a short 2-night stay and I couldn't venture to places further than Zurich itself. I took the opportunity to revisit the old town section along the river and walked towards Lake Zurich. It was a Sunday and unfortunately all stores in that section were closed. So a reminder to others visiting Zurich: do not visit the town on Sundays.

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Related link: Swiss Mega Tour

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Oxford, UK

When one mentions Oxford, the oldest and prestigious Oxford University and the list of famous graduates comes into mind. The old town itself houses the university with various faculties, colleges and departments spread all over the town; or you could say the whole university compound is the town itself; whichever way you want to see it. It is amazing that while you are walking in the town, you are actually walking inside the university. Many old and majestic medieval buildings are actually part of the university itself. Some colleges do charge a visitor fee for entrance and visiting time after 2pm. Famous colleges like the Christ Church and Merton College charge an exorbitant entrance fee of 5 pounds while some lesser colleges do have free entrance. I do recommend you to visit the Radcliffe Camera (restricted access library) and climb the tower of The University Church of St Mary the Virgin to have a fantastic 360 view of the town. You can check out the Botanic Garden east of the town next to the river. For a 5 pound entrance fee, I would suggest you visit the garden only in spring or summer time. As I visited during autumn, the garden was mostly neglected awaiting winter and I still had to pay the entrance fee. The river is alive with boat rides and punting during summer time.

Oxford is easily accessible from London either by trains or buses. Many would have thought it is cheaper and faster by train. But this is not the case. If you choose train option and travel before 9am, you would have to pay 60 pounds for a same day return ticket! Trains after 9am cost 24.80 pounds and it is still expensive. Moreover, the train stops at Oxford station which is actually outside the town and you need another 5-10 minute walk to the town. The cheaper and hassle free option would be the direct London-Oxford buses. Currently there are 2 operators departing from different locations in London. One is the X90 and the other Oxford Tube. You can check out their websites to choose where to board from bus stops nearest to your hotel. I chose the Oxford Tube because I stay at Hilton Kensington nearby Sheperd's Bush. The bus stop is right outside the hotel. The bus runs at a frequency of 20-30 minutes. Ticket can be bought from the bus driver and it only costs 18 pounds for same day return. Journey time is just an hour, which is about the same as train. The best thing is that the bus stops inside the town at the old cinema. You can explore Oxford right away once you alight from the bus.

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Amsterdam, Holland (5)

This was my last working trip to Amsterdam on 777 as I have moved to 380. It was also the last week of summer so I had a nice stroll at Vondelpark. I am a fan of Tesla cars and there is a showroom just beside the park. While you can't drive the car out for test drive, the salesman is very courteous and helpful in explaining all the features of the car. You are allowed to sit in the car and play with the controls. The salesman is also kind enough to offer test drive on his personal Tesla to the countryside if you make arrangements with him before coming to Amsterdam. Sigh...too bad as I do not know when I will ever return to Amsterdam in the future.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Varenna, Italy

Varenna is one of the many beautiful lake towns around Lake Como. It is accessible with a direct train from Milano Centrale to Varenna Esino. A single trip train ticket costs only 6.70 euro and the journey takes about 1 hour 5 minutes. From Varenna itself, you can actually do town hopping using boat services to visit other towns around Lake Como. It is recommended to stay overnight to enjoy the sights and sound of various towns.

On my visit, I made a mistake of planning only a day trip. The first day that I wasted in Milan was actually clear blue sky. And on the second day when I actually visited Varenna, it was a washed out rainy day that almost ruined the whole trip. I made the second mistake of not staying overnight for the third day, which was back to blue sky again. This picturesque lake town is famous for its blue sky and blue water. The photos that I have taken did not do any justice. This town will be on my return list in the future.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Windows 10: MACHINE_CHECK_EXCEPTION error

After hearing all the buzz about Windows 10, I finally jumped into the bandwagon. But I hit a snag during installation. Initially I did not give a thought about it, thinking maybe it was a one off thing. Good thing is that the installation was smart enough to restore everything back after I had to hard reset the computer. So I launched the second time installation. No luck as it encountered the same problem. And so my endless install, reboot and re-install cycle began.

My PC is a self built desktop which passed all the requirement checks done by Windows 10 installation. I never had hardware failure nor crashes (BSOD) before during my last 2 years of running Windows 8. But every time I try to upgrade to Windows 10, it will always crash (BSOD with a sad smiley face) and shown together with the error code of MACHINE_CHECK_EXCEPTION. It always happens during the "Copying file" stage and overall progress at 22%. At this junction, the computer will not restart or do anything. I have to hard reset it and let the computer reboot back to Windows 8.

So I googled up regarding this error code. It returned many results for all the previous Windows versions, but not a single result for Windows 10. Really? No one else has had this problem in their Windows 10 installation? I must be the damn unlucky one. I read up on this specific MACHINE_CHECK_EXCEPTION error code and understand that it generally means there may be a hardware failure itself or caused by other factors like overheating. I recalled back the sequence in my installation and it always crashes during "Copying file" stage. So I presume it may be problems with my RAM, or overheating of motherboard chipsets or hard drive (as huge chunks of data are being copied before it crashes). With this diagnosis, I tried the installation one more time, but pulling out a stick of RAM (making it single channel), pulling off my unnecessary DVD and extra hard drives and then blasting my room air-conditioning to max. Voila! It worked and the installation proceeded smoothly.

Windows 10 works so beautifully now. When I logged in for the first time, everything was intact where I left off in Windows 8; down to the very icons and their placements in the desktop. All programs, games and apps work as they were in the old version. The best experience is the new Internet Explorer called the Edge browser. It is giving Google's Chrome a run of its money. Apart from the installation issues, I am all praises for this new Windows 10. I do not blame Microsoft for it because they really did a good job in the OS. The installation issue is just a one off thing. With so many different hardware parts in the PC market, it is beyond Microsoft's control to make it compatible with all machines; unlike Apple who only has one type of hardware to play with. So it will be unfair to compare.

I hope this sharing will help others who encounter the same problem like me. Do not fume if you encounter it. We do what we PC geeks do best. Troubleshoot and solve it. It's the fun and privilege that Apple users do not enjoy. And lastly, enjoy Windows 10. It's worth to upgrade.