Category: Europe

The Best of Europe

With the crashing ringgit and the GST, I thought Malaysians may be more cautious with their spending.

I thought wrong.

This was the scene at the most recent MATTA Fair at PWTC.

It took me one good hour to make find a parking spot 1km away from the venue, and another good hour just to make my way through the queues into the 5 huge exhibition halls playing host to the MATTA Fair.


If Malaysians wanna travel, they will spend – and not even the weak ringgit is gonna stop them!

Despite the rising popularity of lesser-known "hipster" destinations, travelling to Europe remains one of many people’s biggest wishes.

At the MATTA Fair, I sat down with one of travel giant Trafalgar‘s Travel Director and Europe destination expert Brendon Bush for a brief chat.

[Disclaimer: I was asked to do the interview with an experienced tour guide at the MATTA Fair. Not paid to do this.]

The world is huge and there are many places to travel to. Why is Europe still such a great travel destination, especially for Malaysians?

A: For me it’s the diversity. There are very few places in the world that have such rich diversity of one area. You can go to America, but it’s all "America". You can go to Australia, but it’s all "Australia".

Their history and the culture don’t change.


If you are in Europe, you could drive for 5 days and go through 5 different countries. And each of those country has a different language, different people, different food, different tradition, different custom, different architecture, different landscape!


Everything is so varied in Europe. And that is the beauty that keeps people coming back.

I’ve been living and working in Europe now for 18 years, and I’m feeling I’m only starting to scratch the surface of having seen Europe!


Eastern Europe in particularly has opened up to tourism. Which of these new former-USSR countries have surprised you the most?

croatia tours view of dubrovnik l ge

A: Currently, I really like Poland, Croatia and the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia Herzegovina, Slovenia and Croatia -  that area is really a bit of a hot spot now. It’s the new "place to be".

Western Europe is still great if you haven’t been to Europe before, but a lot of people are always looking for that non-trodden track.


Europe is still somewhat elusive for most Malaysians. For first-time visitors to Europe, what would you say is the best way to get started?


A: I guess it really comes down to personal preference, Kenny! As a travel director, I would get down to the big city hot spots, and do a multi-country destination to start with so they could get an overview.

Because of the diversity that Europe has, if you go to one place, you might not like that one country.

Europe tours castle hill l

But if you do one of our Discovery holidays which does many different countries to start with, you get a taste of all those different countries. You might like one country, you might not like the next. But you’ll know that.

So when you come back to Europe, you’ll do one of our Country Explorer – one country instead and delve into the history and customs a little bit more.


What I want to do now is a "Best of…" list. So, off the top of your head, what would be the best place to go to in Europe for…


Best Place for Shopping


A: If people want to go Rome or Milan or Florence or Venice
for shopping, they all got the same famous brand names – Gucci, Prada, Versace, etc.

If you want to go to Paris, the Champs-Élysées or Galleries Lafayette. If you want to go to London, Oxford Street.


Best Place for Food


A: I lived in Italy for five years, Kenny, so I’ll be biased towards Italy for food! It’s hard to go past spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) or the seafood of the Mediterranean.  A killer tiramisu is my favourite dessert by far.

I do like the sauces of France – Duck a L’Orange (roasted duck with orange sauce), but I’ll stick with Italy.


Best Place for Coffee


A: I don’t drink coffee, but the only place that I do drink it is Italy. Because I love espresso. A very short, heavy, thick espresso would normally have the same effect as a defibrillator and keep you awake for ten years!

Regardless of which city and what time of the day, if I can get an Italian coffee, I’d drink it. Across the border and outside of Italy, I stop drinking coffee!


Best Place for Art

france tours paris the louvre sunset l ge

A: The Louvre. Greatest collection in the world on display there.

Q: Do people always marvel at how small the Monalisa is?

A: Always. "And why is it behind a pane of glass!?"


Best Church


There is a beautiful little church in Innsbruck, Austria called the Cathedral of St James. It’s an 18th century baroque church, just off the beaten track a little bit. From the outside, it looks quite austere, but inside is greatest example of baroque architecture you’ll ever see in your life. There’s such rich decoration that as soon as you walk in, your jaw hits the ground.

I’d love to take my guests there for a hidden treasure.


Best Train Journey

The Glacier Express. It’s in Switzerland, and it goes from St Moritz to Zermatt. It’s a six hour train journey, glass-roofed train, commentary in six different languages, and the most rugged and beautiful landscape in the world. If anyone were to research it, you would find it in the top 5 train journeys in the world.

We do that on our ‘Contrasts of Switzerland’ holiday.


Best Drinking Hole

Temple Bar in Ireland!


Best Food Market

Mercado de La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain.


Best Live Sports

Watching football in London. All of Asia loves watching football.


Best Castle

Ashford Castle. It’s in Ireland. We stay there on our Iconic Ireland and Ashford Castle holiday, as part of our Authentic Accommodation.

NO RERPRO FEE" 17/4/2015. Pictured today at the re-opening of Ashford Castle are An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, T.D. with Mrs Beatrice Tollman, Founder and President of Red Carnation Hotels. The hotel has been restored over the past two years at a cost of $50million and now employs 300 people. .Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

It’s a 13th century castle, and we stay inside there. It’s beautiful.

But the most famous castle that we cannot stay inside is of course the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.


Best Place for History Buffs

For ancient history, Greece or Italy.

For more recent modern history, you go to the former Soviet Bloc, or the concentration camps in Germany or Poland.


Best Place for Adventure Sports

Switzerland, and anywhere in the Alpine region. You can go on your white-water rafting, canyoning, bungee-jumping, sky-diving and all these different things in the mountainous region. Mountains and adrenaline always go together.


Best Place for Sunset

Santorini, in the Greek Islands.

Cinque Terre in Italy is nice too, but I truly think the Greek Islands is a little bit more special.


Most Over-rated Place

Spanish Steps in Rome. It’s a staircase that’s covered by people and you can’t even see. I stand by my decision!


Most Under-Appreciated Places


Two of the most under-appreciated buildings are The Baptistery and the Cathedral of Pisa.

People don’t even look at them. All they want to do is see the Leaning Tower. You’ve got these beautiful masterpieces that are older than the Leaning Tower, made of just as intricate a stonework and as richly decorated. But because they are not leaning, forget about it! How can you do this? Really?

So everytime we go to Pisa, I try to point out the Baptistery and the Cathedral so people can appreciate it more.

The most under-appreciated place is Austria.

People don’t know a lot about the country. They think it’s all classical music and composers, they don’t realize the plains where Vienna is, then you got this mountainous region that’s stuck in between Italy and Germany. This is where Innsbruck is, where Salzburg is.

You got probably the greatest baroque style buildings and architecture in all of Europe. You got rolling green hills, countryside, mountainous peaks – it’s beautiful!


Best Place to Pop The Question

It’s cliche, but I always found Venice to be very romantic during night time when there are no tourists around.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a city. There are some small cute villages like the Cinque Terre, Italy.

You can get away from the crowds, go to some lesser-known places and stay in a tiny hotel on the waterfront.

You can be sitting on the beach by the beautiful moonlight when you propose. There are beautiful walks that you can do as well, then hold hands, sit down for a picnic as you slowly build up your nervousness to finally pop the question!

Qatar Airways’ Premium Terminal Is Like A Hotel

More often than not, transiting in airports between long-haul flights can be a dreadful experience.

But not at Doha. You see, there are airport terminals.

And then there is Qatar Airways Premium Terminal.

If you’re flying first or business class into other airports, most of the time you have access to a nice and cushy VIP lounge, inside a noisy, crowded airport terminal.

Well, if you fly Qatar Airways’ into Doha, you don’t get access to a lounge.


Seriously, I don’t even know how I’m gonna step foot into LCCT anymore.

Recently, I experienced not just my first ever long-haul business-class flight, but have the privilege to have my flight sponsored by Qatar Airways.

This Middle-Eastern Airlines recently took home awards for World’s Best Business Class and World’s Best Business Class Lounge at the 2013 Skytrax Awards. Naturally, my expectations were running high.

Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

Qatar Airways’ Premium Terminal is the world’s first premium terminal exclusively for First and Business Class Passengers.

It is so exclusive that it isn’t even linked to the main airport terminal used by *cough* Economy Class passengers, or even *cough* passengers from other airlines.

The experience began as soon as I stepped off the plane.

There are no aerobridges at Doha International Airport, but the shuttle bus waiting to whisk us off ain’t your ordinary airport shuttle bus either.

It’s a Premium Terminal shuttle bus, with premium seats specially contoured to fit our Business Class backsides.

15 minutes later, we arrived at the Qatar Airways’ US$100 Million 10,000 sqm Premium Transfer Terminal.

The first thing that greeted us was the Concierge Desk. This is where you stop if you have questions about your connecting flights.

A quick security check later (where the security staff actually smiles at you), we were greeted by the mandatory Duty Free shops.

This can be useful if you travelled 10,000km from home and forgot to bring along a gift for a friend you’re visiting, like I did.

Otherwise, where you really want to go is up the escalators to where the magic is.

The Business Class Lounge at the Premium Terminal is a massive hall, decorated very tastefully with Middle-Eastern influences.

Even at 12 midnight, the terminal was bustling with people. Yet, it wasn’t so busy to the point of feeling cramped and crowded.

They even went as far as to transplant artificial palm trees into the Lounge.

Maybe next time they can even bring in a camel for kids to ride while waiting for their flights.

I won’t be surprised you know.

A lot of praise have been given on the food served inside the lounges.

Let’s face it,  the quality of the food is indeed really, really good. Not only that, the selection of buffet spread is amazingly extensive. I counted no less than three separate buffet areas, serving cuisines as far ranging as Asian…

… to Western…

… to exotic-sounding Middle-Eastern food such as Lamb Kibbeh?

There are even little packets of dates and nuts nicely w
rapped up in Qatar Airways ribbon. Good for more munching en route to the plane. Or as last-minute gifts for all you absent-minded folks.

(I used them as last-minute gifts for my friend I’m visiting in Poland.)

Then there’s the dessert selection – lots of them.

And if self-service buffet isn’t your thing, you can always choose to sit down on a proper table, complete with white table cloth, linen napkin, ceramic plates and metal cutleries, and choose your food from a menu.

It’s obvious Qatar Airways’ spared absolutely no expense in making the tummies of their Business Class passengers happy.

Whatever it is that passengers want, Qatar Airways give back with multiple options to choose from.

I was impressed with their tea selection, which comes with no less than six different types of whole tea leaves to choose from.

Even if I just wanna sit down and order a bottle of water, there is still a choice to make between still water from France or sparkling water from Italy.

I wished I could have stuffed myself with food, food and more food during my 2 hour layover. Alas, my stomach has already been pampered very nicely by the air crew during my flight from KL to Doha (more on that next time), and I couldn’t possibly stuffed myself with more food without violating the weight-limit on the Airbus 330.

Instead, I peruse the shower facilities to freshen myself up before my 7 hour onward journey to Poland.

I was surprised to see L’Occitane shampoo and bath gel inside the shower cubicles. I must admit – I couldn’t resist putting the leftovers in my pocket after my shower.

How I wish I could fit these OSIM massage chairs into my pocket too.

Apart from the yummy food and the delicious buffet spread, there are lots of other interesting areas to explore within the Qatar Airways’ Premium Terminal.

There’s a fully-equipped Business Centre, a nursery for kids, a Playstation gaming area, and get this – a 24-HOUR MEDICAL CLINIC.

I bet they treated lots of patients with “severe food overdose”.


U mad?


Drug smuggling and weapons trafficking from your RM3 cigarettes

They say you can buy a pack of cigarettes for RM3 all over Malaysia.

Poster-Anti Illicit Smoking.jpg

Considering the average price of cigarettes are usually RM10 to RM12, it goes without saying that these RM3.00 cigarettes are probably illegal.

Heck, we all know cigarettes are bad, but illegal cigarettes are badder-er.

These are smuggled into the country without duty paid stickers. Not only do they carry unimaginative names such as John, Canyon and Luffman, they are also the works of criminal syndicates.

If buying illegal cigarettes just a case of enriching one or two fat taukeys to pay for their China dolls, maybe it isn’t quite so bad.


The problem here is that the sale of illegal cigarettes have been linked to funding criminal syndicates who are also involved in drug smuggling and weapons trafficking. Yeah I know, smuggling cigarettes may look innocent enough, but its links to greater crimes has far more sinister societal implications. Cigarette smuggling provides a lucrative form of funding for criminal syndicates because of its high demand and low risk. It’s worth it to smuggle cigarettes because the law enforcement of it is piss weak. And the penalties for getting caught are piss weaker.

Well, when the buying stops, the crime stops too. If you come across any smuggled cigarettes in your neighbourhood such as John, Canyon and Luffman, go ahead and report them to the Customs Department at 1800 888 855.

And stop supporting those damn criminals!

Video Travel Guide To Copenhagen

I know I haven’t updated for a while, but what to do lah when my life revolves around Level Up Fitness?

For the sake of blogging something not gym-related, here’s one amateur online video travel guide I did for Tiger Translate while we were over at Copenhagen. Pardon the product placement. As expensive as it is, I still maintain that Denmark is one of the nicest countries in Europe.

What’s not to like about a place where traffic jams don’t exist, people work 6 hours a day, speak good English, get tipsy at night and still have time to make sure everything looks good?

Not sure how the Danes did it, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t start with some publicity stunt called 1Denmark.

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Travel Guide To Copenhagen

Move aside, Disneyland.

The happiest place on Earth is not Disneyland, but Copenhagen, Denmark.

Do a search on Google for “Happiest City in the World” and I guarantee ya, Copenhagen is listed there somewhere.


But we don’t need an Internet search engine to tell us that. Take it from me. After spending six days in this wonderful Scandinavian city, I have no reason to doubt that claim.

With awesome weather, beautiful people and a truly relaxed vibe – welcome to the most wonderful city in Scandinavia.


Throughout my whole time here, I think I have only met one unhappy Dane – a disgruntled cashier at some cheap supermarket in town. Perhaps it was just not her day.

Every other local person I spoke to, be it the hotel receptionist, the bus driver or the stranger on the street, have been nothing but warm and friendly towards me. I’d go as far as to say that Danish people are among the nicest, most polite and sociable bunch I have ever met in the whole of Europe. And many would agree with me.


I landed in Copenhagen on 18th August after a 13 hour direct flight from Singapore. I was of course following the Tiger Beer crew to cover the Tiger Translate Global Showcase that particular weekend.

All it took was one afternoon, and immediately I have fallen in love with the place.


On first glance, it is very easy to dismiss Copenhagen as “just another European city” like London, Rome or Paris.

The buildings look the same, the weather feels the same, even the type of food they eat tastes almost the same.

But peel off that layer of clothing, immediately I got the feeling that everyone who lives here are genuinely happy and contented with life.

At 4:30pm when most city folks in other countries are frantically rushing towards train stations, the Danes are taking it easy. They are either sitting in yet another al fresco cafe having a beer, or lying on the grass sunbathing in one of Copenhagen’s many public parks. There is not a single hint of stress or worry at all.

What exactly is it that make the Danes such a happy and contented bunch?

It cannot be the taxes. At 25% GST, Danish pays some of the highest taxes in the world. Everything in Denmark is freaking expensive. It cannot be the lack of racial tension. Barely a few years ago, it was that Danish newspaper that caused such worldwide furore over a cartoon it published.

Well, only towards the end of my trip did I find my answer.


If anyone reading this is thinking of making a trip to Copenhagen for holidays, let’s make one thing perfectly clear.

In terms of tourist attractions and landmarks, there’s not awfully a lot to see over here. At least London has Big Ben and Paris has the Eiffel.

But Copenhagen’s most famous landmark is the statue of The Little Mermaid, a terribly unremarkable lump of bronze located on a rock by the dockside.

We walked past this statue everyday on our way to the studio. Day after day, without fail, thousands of tourists would be flocking to her like them aunties during the warehouse sales.

Considering how popular ‘Ariel’ is, I wondered why they didn’t make her bigger and more exciting. Maybe take a cue from Singapore and spurt water out of the mouth, ala the Merlion?

For better or worse, perhaps it’s because the Danes think some things are just better left alone the way they are. And it’s that way of thinking that made them such a different bunch from the rest of us.

The best thing about travelling in Copenhagen is that almost every attraction is within close walking distance.

There’s almost no need to hop onto any vehicles at all. There’s no reason to. That explains why there is absolutely no traffic jam in Copenhagen, even during peak hours.

A short 5-minute walk away from the Little Mermaid, is the spacious compound of Royal Palace.

The well-loved Danish royal family resides here. Only one chamber of the palace is open to public, where you can donate to the already very wealthy royal family another 55 Kroner (RM36) just to see their collection of tobacco pipes, designer handbags and guns.

The prince has more cutleries in his room than a steak restaurant.

This is one of the living rooms inside the Royal Palace.

Why would anyone need to see so much pictures of themselves in the living room, I have no idea.

The Marble Church located right next to the palace is worth a quick peek.

If touring through the Royal Palace for some reason failed to convince you of how wealthy the Danish royal family is, then about 10-minute walk away is the Rosenborg Castle.


Over here, even more of the family’s ancestral collection are on display.

Some of their stuff are decorated with so much glittery gold and jewellery that one chunk of it is enough to buy a small African nation.

You can’t help but to feel very very very small about yourself when you are looking at something as bright and shiny as this.

Of course lah, there’s more to see and do in Copenhagen than all these pompous royalty stuff.

My favourite place in the city to stroll along is the colourful Nyhavn Canal. Again, this is another 5 minutes away from both the nearest attraction.

There are scores of expensive al fresco cafes lined up along the canal. For a complete Copenhagen experience, it’s a must for anyone to select one of the restaurants here to just have lunch, chill out, tune out and people watch.

We went to Nyhavn 17, a popular restaurant here which used to be a barbershop 300 years ago.

This is a Smorrebrod, or an “open sandwich”.

It is a classic Danish lunch. Basically a Smorrebord is just a piece of ham, roast chicken or fried fish on a slice of bread. It is to the Danish people what kolo mee is to Kuching peeps.

Later on, we hopped on a boat and took a tour through the city canals (60 Kroner or RM 38). Though touristy, I thought it’s an excellent way to see Copenhagen.

Spotted this amazing giant boathouse converted into a luxury apartment residence.

Damn those creative Danes for coming up with designs that make my heart flutter. I could totally see myself living in one of them chic double-storey glass-walled units.

After disembarking, we took a stroll down Stroget, apparently the longest outdoor pedestrian shopping street in the world.

I cannot say there’s a lot to buy in Copenhagen. The shops and designs are all lovely and interesting, yes. But the price tags on certain things are enough to put you into cardiac arrest.

Guess how much a pair of simple flats from this boutique shop costs? 1200 Kroner (RM 820). I shit you not. And those are not even Ferragamo.

That said, Stroget is home to my favourite al fresco cafe in Copenhagen – Cafe Europa.

This place is almost an institution here in Copenhagen. During lunch hour, the tables are all packed inside out. And I can see why.

There are two things the Scandinavians can do better than the rest of the world: goat cheese and smoked salmon. At Cafe Europa, they perfected it. It’s worth the 180 Kroner (RM 120) they charge for this meal.

Of course, some things in Stroget are free.

Like an art gallery displaying an oil painting of Paris Hilton’s upskirt.

Alternatively, it’s wise to spend 25 Kroner (RM 17) on visiting The Round Tower, which is located (yes) another 5 minutes away from Stroget.

Here, we took the windy ramp all the way up to the top, where we were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of Copenhagen city.

And a little bit of Sweden.

Danish people finish work at 4pm and the shops are closed at 6pm, so there isn’t a whole lot to do in Copenhagen during night time.

The only tourist attraction open in Copenhagen during night time is Tivoli Gardens. At 150 years old, it’s  the oldest amusement park in the world.

Having been to Disneyland and many other major amusement parks around the world, I wasn’t particularly keen on the 85 Kroner (RM 60) entrance fee needed just to enter Tivoli. Rides would cost extra.

But as soon as I entered the gates into Tivoli, I immediately realised how unique and different Tivoli is from all the other amusement parks I have been to.


The rides in Tivoli are neither the most technologically advanced, nor the most thrilling. In fact, you can get more exciting roller coaster rides in Genting.

What sets Tivoli apart is the atmosphere it manages to evoke. In particular, I got a huge sense of nostalgia just walking through its fairy-light illuminated game booths, lush manicured gardens and cobblestone paths.

Somehow I just got transported back to the times when I was seven, and my father took me to my first funfair. I just wanted to try anything buy everything, but my father was holding to my hand so tight because he was afraid I might get lost amidst the crowd.

Tivoli was Walt Disney’s inspiration when he built Disneyland. Now I know why.

So back to my original question. What was it about Copenhagen that makes its people among the happiest in the world?

One evening, while having dinner with the Tiger Beer Denmark at an old-fashioned French cafe called near the Round Tower called Cafe Sommersko, I found out the reason.

Unlike most places around the world, the Danes TRULY believe that everybody is equal. It means that everyone gets the same treatment and respect, regardless of where you are from, what you do or how high up in authority you are.

Danes don’t use words like “Please”, “Sir”, “Madam” because that’s seen as too formal. Instead, they smile a lot everytime they offer you coffee or another piece of Danish pastry.

It’s definitely not the superficial kind of friendliness.

They do it because they genuinely mean it.

Danes speak perfectly fluent English. Among themselves, they speak Danish. But as soon as you walked into the group with them, automatically they switch to speaking in English, just so you do not feel alienated. It’s a gesture I strongly appreciate.

Although at first, it can be difficult to find a common topic to talk about with the Danes, they really loosen up after a few drinks. That explains why Denmark are among some of the biggest beer drinking countries in the world.

The alcohol lubricates any social awkwardness. And you get the feeling as if you’ve known them for a long time although you’ve only just met.

So don’t come to Copenhagen for the Mermaid, museums or castles. The biggest tourist attraction in Denmark, is actually the locals.

The most memorable cultural exchanges I had in Copenhagen all took place in either pubs or restaurants. For example, this conversation took place when we were talking about how to impress girls.

Danish dude: What type of restaurant would you bring a girl to if you want to have a good night out in Malaysia?

Kenny: Italian. Not necessarily because we like Italian food, but that’s just where we’re expected to take girls out to if we wanna impress them.

Danish dude: Italian? See that’s the difference. Over here, if we want to impress somebody, we’d take them out to a really nice Asian restaurant. Chinese, Thai, whatever. As long as it’s Asian.

Kenny: Really? In Malaysia, if I were to take a girl out for a date to a big noisy Chinese restaurant, she would think I want to break up with her!

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