Other than suitcases stuffed silly with souvenirs, lobster-red sunburns and a couple of extra inches around our waists, vacations also leave us with a treasure trove of great memories to unpack days, weeks or years down the road.
We asked a few well-travelled industry experts – from Hollywood actor Tan Kheng Hua to Brass Lion Distillery owner Jamie Koh – to share some of their most memorable travel anecdotes.
From a carefree summer bender through Europe to a meditative stay in a picturesque Italian hillside village, here are some inspirational stories from around the Singapore Airlines network, along with a few travel tips for good measure.
Tan Kheng Hua, actor
“We travel to Europe often en route to our annual ski holidays. All our ski trips are great memories because we love skiing and the people we usually go with are hilarious.
Once, though, I lost my daughter at the Milan Airport when she was about 11. I turned around, and she wasn’t there. My heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest for about 30 seconds before sense took over. Inside my head, I heard my own voice saying, ‘Just stay put in the most logical place with your phone on. She’ll find you.’
So I stayed put at the Singapore Airlines check-in counter and did just that. Sure enough, my phone rang and it was her. She had looked around, tried to listen out for an English-speaking family (because you can trust a family, she said to me afterwards) and asked to borrow their phone, which they kindly allowed. And she found me.
This didn’t deter us at all, and we planned another ski trip the very next year. Travel truly teaches kids some of the best ways to cope with life. After all, if you’re lost at an airport once, you’ll know exactly what to do if it should happen again!”
Howard Lo, founder of Empire Eats
“My favourite travel memory would be from Paris in November 2007. En route to Singapore after a week in America, I took a few days to visit Paris for the first time.
The beauty of jet lag is it that it makes you feel neither here nor there. I went to the famous Catacombs (an underground tunnel built from human bones) and the only other visitor at the time was a woman. She went in first, into this hallway of bones. I thought it odd, how slow she was walking, and I was giving her space since we were the only two in such a large exhibit.
She eventually stopped, so I caught up with her. She said, ‘I’m scared, will you walk with me?’ We explored the Catacombs together and had that freedom of conversation that only strangers in transit experience.”
Karen Tan, co-founder of The Projector
“[My] perfect day off in London: wandering around the South Bank, starting with the gorgeous Southbank Centre, a layered complex of Brutalist architecture which comprises everything I love – Modernist architecture, art and film. Checking out the latest contemporary art show at the Hayward Gallery, walking along the Thames, poking around the old book market under Waterloo Bridge, having a beer on the roof terrace, catching a film at the British Film Institute and finishing off the day with a pint or two (or many!) at the local pub.
Or wandering about Pop Brixton, the quirky container pop-up complex by Carl Turner, and Peckham Levels [also designed by Turner], an adaptively reused Brutalist multi-storey carpark with indie design and artist studios, art shows and a massive carpark bar (pints again!) on the roof with the London skyline as a backdrop.
I miss the collective, creative spontaneity that these places imbue, and so it is this same energy and spark that we create with The Projector in Singapore.”
Peter Chua, head bartender of Junior
“I would say my month-long sabbatical in Spain and Portugal in July 2019 would be my favourite travel memory in recent times. As the Asia Brand Ambassador for Diplomático Rum, I have the good fortune of constantly jumping between countries for work. Most of those travels, however, come with strict agendas and I rarely get to participate in ‘touristy’ activities.
But during my [sojourn] into the European summer, the only goal was to aimlessly dive into any opportunities of enjoyment I deemed appropriate. I saw The Strokes and Weezer at a music festival in Bilbao. I met a friend in Lisbon and was invited to carpark rooftop parties with celebrity DJs. I went to the Pride parade in Madrid. I got sun-kissed at the beaches of the north and south shores of San Sebastián and Málaga. I visited my cousin and climbed Alhambra three times and ate delicious espetos (freshly caught fish cooked over an open fire) in Granada. I visited Salvatore Dalí’s museum while babysitting a Great Dane in Girona. I took a road trip with a good friend and his family in search of the only rum distillery in Spain.
They say that fortune favours the bold, but I think she favours the lost even more. The only side effect of this trip was the weight I gained and missing my girlfriend. 11/10 would do it again!”
Cynthia Chua, founder and CEO of Spa Esprit Group
“The hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Southern Italy’s Abruzzo region stole my heart last year and left me speechless. The outstanding beauty of the scenery and how almost everything was left untouched is truly a rare sight. We took a flight with Singapore Airlines to Rome, and from there it was a two-hour drive to the village.
I was especially inspired by the efforts undertaken over the years to breathe new life into Santo Stefano – a project helmed by Italian-Swede Daniele Kihlgren. This attempt to recreate the traditions of the medieval village – from how the villagers lived their lives to the food they ate, the crafts they practised and the skills they possessed – allows visitors to get a glimpse of what it was like in ancient times.
It was an absolute privilege to take part in this and it was particularly heart-warming to witness how one man’s passion and tenacity can bring a village from the brink of collapse to what it is today.
Santo Stefano is located in the mountains of Abruzzo within the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. The hiking in the mountains and biking is amazing. I even went truffle hunting in the forests with the dogs and dined on traditional Abruzzo cuisine at Locanda Sotto Gli Archi. Santo Stefano is also famous for its weaving art, so you can try your hand at making cloth with ancient techniques and instruments. If you are interested in history and culture, this hilltop village will definitely check all the right boxes.”
Jamie Koh, owner of Brass Lion Distillery
“A couple of years ago, I had a long 12-hour layover in Frankfurt. On a whim, I decided to leave the airport and head into the city to meet an old friend.
Coming straight from the beaches and clubs of Miami into one of the oldest and most traditional Christmas markets in Germany was certainly a 180-degree change! As I sipped on warm mulled wine and feasted on freshly grilled sausages in the cold amid the bustling festive market, it started snowing. The atmosphere was magical at that moment, and I felt like I was in an enchanting winter wonderland.
After that, I did what I’d usually do when in Germany – visiting many small distilleries, speaking to distillers and sampling lots of their eau de vie (fruit brandies). It was truly a fitting way to cap off my year-long, round-the-world trip.”
Illustrations by Danae Diaz (Tan Kheng Hua, Howard Lo), Kouzou Sakai (Karen Tan), Stuart Patience (Peter Chua), Studio Takeuma (Cynthia Chua) and Michael Driver (Jamie Koh)
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