Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and London
05.12.2013 - 29.12.2013 2 °C
Thursday (5/12/2013) I started my first leg of my trip to London from Brunei at 9pm using RBA's latest plane. Since it was my first time going to London and Europe, not only was I excited but I also felt nervous as it was also my first time travelling alone to a far country. Being on board RB's new plane, 787 Dreamliner which boast about being more spacious and comfortable than the older planes, the only differences I noticed was the touch screen where you can plug in your usb to charge your phone and the window pane darkens if it is sunny outside. However, the seating tray was not as good as the older planes where you could pull it closer to you because for this one, you have no choice but to lean forward towards it which is near to the screen.
A lot of Somalians were also on this flight. I sat next to a Somalian brother and sister who just couldn't sleep so they kept on talking and fiddling around with the screen. Initially, I thought all of them were also heading to London but the boy told me that they were going to Saudi Arabia. We landed in Dubai airport at 1.20am (5.20am Brunei time) after not having much sleep at all. Everything was pitch black outside and there was nothing much to do except sitting around and waiting until 2.30am (6.30am Brunei time) to board again for London. Fortunately, most passengers this time chose to sleep rather than watching movies so I was able to catch at least 4 hours of sleep.
Friday (6/12/2013) Landed at Heathrow airport at 6.47am. Temperature was 3 °C with cold wind but no snow. Custom clearance was fast and the immigration officer was friendly. Managed to find Heathrow Express to go to Terminal 1 without any difficulty. While waiting until 1.55pm to board the plane to Stuggart, I managed to have hot chocolate and chocolate pastry for breakfast. I would have to get used to eating bread and pastries throughout my stay in Europe instead of rice. With plenty of time at Heathrow airport, I checked out all the duty free shops especially Harrods and bought a bit of postcards. After less than 2 hour flight on German Wings (more spacious than I've imagined) and being given a box of refreshment, we landed at Stuggart airport at 4.35pm and wind was very, very cold (also 3 °C). The airport was actually very small. The arrival hall was on the ground floor and the departure hall was just on the first floor. There were only a few shops, so more waiting for the next flight. The flight to Vienna was at 5.40pm and this time, the connecting flight was Austrian Air which was even smaller than AirAsia planes! Finally arrived at Vienna airport at 7pm (after almost 24 hours of flying and transiting from one airport to another). Met up with Uwe and went straight to his apartment. Along the way to his apartment, there were rows of shops and restaurants on neat narrow apartment style buildings.
Saturday (7/12/2013) After 24 hours of flying in the plane and going through 3 different time zone, the jetlag just sets in but weekend is not the time to sleep in since Uwe would show me on how to go around Vienna. His apartment was nice and comfy and had a nice view since you could see down the road on the right side and up the hill on the left side from the window. After breakfast, I went with Uwe to the nearest metro station to get the single day travel ticket for 7.10€. Then we took a tram ride to the Meidling train station where I will need to go on my own when taking the train to Judenburg and Prague. We went to the library first where Uwe borrowed a book about Vienna for me to refer to so that I get around on my own. Then, slowly we walked by foot to a small Christmas market. The various Christmas decorations were very lovely and eye catching but expensive. Then all of a sudden, it started to snow lightly! Fortunately the snow fell like raindrops so it wasn't too bad but the blowing wind was pretty cold. We then headed towards the Christmas market at Maria Theresien-Platz which were packed with people, mostly tourists from all over Europe, enjoying the Christmas atmosphere and especially the hot wine. By the time we were inside the Hofburg Imperial palace compound, the snow had finally stopped falling but the place were just packed with tourists. Uwe suggested that I come back on a working day to go inside the palace where it's not as packed as the weekend.
We then walked towards Stephansplatz and walked around the square which just consist of shops and concert halls. We went into St Stephen's cathedral (lots of tourists also) which is a typical gothic, gloomy church setting. They were in the process of cleaning the exterior building which had been covered with black soot over the years. The Imperial Crypt was not far away from St Stephen's cathedral, which like other tourist sites, it was just too full of tourists, so once again Uwe told me to come back on a working day. Next, we went to Hundertwasser village which was built by the artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 1990 and 1991. The Hundertwasserhouse used to be a car tyre factory before and its original structures had not been removed but improved by changing and adding components with new shapes and colours. We then stopped by at the Rathausplatz Christmas market located in front of the City Hall. This market was pretty unique compared to the others as there were different types of lights hung on each tree like teddy bears, snowman, guitars and music notes. For dinner, Uwe brought me to his favourite palatschinken restaurant which well, they weren't selling the usual pancakes like we have in Brunei for breakfast. Both of us ordered a 3 pancake set with different fillings. Not only were they delicious but also very filling. By the time we had finished dinner, the temperature had gone down to 2 °C so it was nice to go back to Uwe's apartment where it was warm.
Sunday (8/12/2013) After breakfast, we went to the nearest train station again to buy a 1 week travel card for me before heading towards Schloss Schonbrunn by foot. It was a nice day for a walk where it wasn’t too cold nor hot even though the sun was shining. On the way, we passed by a primary school, shops and heard the church bell ringing. We walked to the side entrance of the castle which leads to the garden area and then slowly walked up the 60m high hill to see the Gloriette as well as the whole of Vienna city and the back of the castle. After taking some shots of the landscape, we slowly walk down to the garden area where there are no blooming flowers but a few interesting sculptures and structures. After all the walking, we headed to the Christmas market in front of the palace. There were more snacks and cookies and all sort of pastries here than the previous Christmas markets that we went to. After enjoying some snacks, I wanted to see the grand tour inside the palace but since it’s the weekend with so many tourists stopping over Vienna, we decided not to go in like the other touristic places but leave it on a working day.
So we went back to Uwe's apartment and took his car up to Kahlenberg which is 484 meters high and lies in the northeastern foothills of the Eastern Alps. The wind on top of the hill was freezing cold and very strong even though it was only 7 °C with the sun still out. After struggling to take some photos of the evening view of Vienna and the Daunbe river, we finally head back to Uwe's apartment and decided to have dinner at a Turkish pizzeria just below his apartment. Nice pizza though the cheese was slightly too salty and I also tried Almdudler (which means "singing in the [alpine] meadows"), Austrian’s national drink soft drink made of apple and grape juice concentrates flavoured with herbs. Very nice because of its sweet and fruity taste! By night time, the temperature had gone down to 2 °C again.
Monday (9/12/2013) Today’s itinerary is visiting the Schonbrunn palace. Since Uwe was working, I walked by foot on the same way as we did yesterday. It was drizzling slightly so everyone were either inside the castle, the souvenir shop or the restaurant which offers the apple strudel show. I was interested in learning how to make the apple strudel but the restaurant was fully packed with people so that plan was cancelled. Instead I went into the palace and took the Grand Tour which covers 40 rooms and we were lead from one room to another by just following the audio guide. It was very interesting as the audio guide tells the life story of the Habsburgs family especially Sisi (Empress Elisabeth). There were elaborate paintings of the Habsburgs as well as their original furniture. It was a very educational visit for a rainy day. By the time I was done with the tour around the palace, it was already afternoon and since most place of attraction close early during winter, I decided to call it a day. On the way back, I stopped by Billa and did a bit of grocery shopping to cook for dinner at night. Salmon and plums were so cheap compared to Brunei that I couldn’t resist buying them. Temperature throughout the whole day was 2 °C.
Tuesday (10/12/2013) First stop today was to go to Meidling station to see if I can still remember the way and how long it would take to go there since I will be taking the train to Judenburg tomorrow. After feeling satisfied that I won’t have difficulty in knowing where to go, I headed straight to Karlsplatz. Not far from Karlsplatz station is the Karlskirche with a small Christmas market. There were not many people there except for some students who were studying in the Vienna University of Technology which was just next to the church. After taking some photos of the church and checking out the Christmas market, I walked towards Belvedere Palace. It was difficult at first to find the correct direction to walk since the map provided on the guide book wasn’t fully detailed so it took me quite a while to figure it out. On the way, the architecture of all the buildings are just fantastic.
I finally found Belvedere Palace and bought the ticket to see the Lower and Upper Belvedere. Between these 2 buildings, there is a large garden area where you actually had to walk quite a distance upwards to reach to the Upper Belvedere (good exercise during the winter season). Both buildings houses paintings and the ceiling painting of the Marble Hall in the Upper Belvedere was just magnificent that you can’t help but wonder how long did the painter take just to finish that ceiling alone. At the back of the Upper Belvedere was the Christmas market and there were more people here than the one in front of Karlskirche. I bought a mini Carnival Venetian mask made of clay as a souvenir to remind me of the Christmas markets in Vienna. I had my lunch of latspeck-lauch-krauternockerl made of pasta, bacon, leek onion, herbs and seasoning for 4.90€ which was delicious but a bit too salty. I made an attempt to find the Naschmarkt but wasn't able to find the accurate direction and was heading towards Karlsplatz station instead. Since it was getting dark after 5 pm, I decided call it a day and come back another day to find it. Temperature for today was once again 2 °C which was pleasant as it was not too cold at all.
Wednesday (11/12/2013) Today I headed to Judenburg to meet up with Michaela who I have been corresponding frequently for 5 years now. I board the 10.30am train at Meidling station and since it was my first time travelling from 1 place to another by train, it was also a learning experience. The last stop of this train route is Villach so along the way to Judenburg, the train passed through a lot of villages. The scenery along the way was very lovely as most landscape was covered with snow with a lot of mountains. The train finally arrived at Judenburg station at 1pm and I had to wait for a while for Michaela to come. When she finally arrived and the feeling of meeting up with someone who you have never seen face to face except reading their thoughts through letters for first time is just wonderful and exciting and it’s just like we’re just old friends who actually see each other daily. We had a lot to talk about so it was fun catching up in real life. We had lunch at a nice simple restaurant just below the cinema. She recommended me to try weiner chicken with pumpkin seed oil (shocking to see that it was green in colour at first but it didn't taste bad at all) which was different from the one in Vienna. We then stop by her lovely house, had tea and Christmas cookies (a tradition which I noticed is quite common in Europe around this time of the year) before going to town centre. Although her house is smaller than in Brunei, her backyard is pretty spacious with a garden and a small swimming pool!
The town centre is pretty small with a tower that was next to St Nicholas church. Unfortunately, the tower had closed by the time we reached there so we went inside the church instead. Then we headed to the small Christmas Market by foot and since both of us are not really drinkers, we just had warm orange punch with cinnamon and other herbs. Since there was still time before I had to go to the train station, we dropped by Michaela's brother, Mathias and Suzie’s apartment to see Nico. When I first saw him in the photo sent by Michaela, he was just newly born baby but now seeing him in person, he already can walk and talk, though he is so shy but so excited to see new faces . Unfortunately, he was too shy to take photo with me but he’s so cute. By the time we got to the train station, I had 15 more minutes before the train arrive, so we talked a bit more before going to the platform. It’s such a nice trip to Judenburg even though it’s a small town, lovely change of scenery but unfortunately it is a very short visit. Temperature in Judenburg was -0 °C and but the time I reached back to Vienna, the temperature was 0 °C.
Thursday (12/12/2013) My goal today is to find Naschmarkt which I failed to find before. I remembered passing through a station with the word Naschmarkt when I was taking the metro towards Stephenplatz so I decided to use that route again. After passing a few stops, I found that station and got out through the nearest exit. Temperature was 1 °C and the wind was colder than when I first arrived in Vienna. Goal achieved, I finally found it! It’s a very nice place for taking photos as you see all sorts of food at this market. I was surprised to see jackfruit sold there too since I didn’t think European people even know how to eat it. Most of the stalls were selling almost similar stuffs like olives, pastries, spices, vegetables, fruits, dippings, etc but still very interesting to see the range of food available daily. Then I came across a stall which sells my favourite flower, tulips of various colours! Was so tempted to buy them but then again, I couldn’t bring them back to Brunei and even if I could, they would have wilted by the time I reach to Brunei.
Since I was already in that area, I then headed towards Wien museum which was pretty interesting. I wasn’t aware that Vienna had an old city wall around it and from the model that they have created on the whole of Vienna, it wasn’t actually a big city at all. Votivkirche (Votive church), a neo-Gothic church was my next target which isn't too difficult to find once you come out from the underground station because of its unique 2 slimline towers. Inside it like every catholic church that I've been to, it has that dark, cold, gloomy atmosphere. By the time I’ve finished touring Votivkirche, it was still bright enough to go around some more and I was planning to find Scottenkriche (Scottish church) which was not far away and thought I was heading towards it since I was coming from the back side. Instead after a while of walking around, I realized that I’ve been to this place before and it so happens that I actually went through the side of the City hall with the Christmas Market that I came with Uwe during the weekend. So I had a late snack and decided to buy a pair of Austrian traditional dolls for my collection. Since Uwe is attending his company's Christmas party, I decided to go to Stephansplatz to check out the souveniour shops since I haven’t got much of that to give away. I also found a fairly cheap priced shop called Forever 21 and bought a bag and 3 spaghetti string vest. After having enough of shopping, I headed back to Uwe's apartment to check how to pack the things for tomorrow night since I'll be headed to Prague on 14th December. Temperature today is 4 °C.
Friday (13/12/2013) I decided to do some packing before going out so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time packing tonight. Today's target is to find Hoher market to see the Ankeruhr, a large gilded clock in Jugendstil style and The Imperial crypt (Kaisergruft). I started off looking for Hoher market but could not find the exact location so I ended walking around the area a bit and instead, checked out Jesuit and St Peter church. Not wanting to give up on Hoher market, I kept on walking and ended up at Stephensplatz instead. Since I’ve reached to Stephensplatz, I decided to check out the Imperial Crypt which is beneath the Capuchin church and actually had to walk almost 1 whole round passing through the Hofburg palace before finding it. It is very rare and amazing to see 107 metal sarcophagi in the Imperial Crypt, all members of the Habsburg family. The last crown prince of the Habsburg family to be buried in this crypt is Ott von Habsburg who passed away in 2011. I tried to find Hoher market again but the more I walked, the further I went to the other direction and ended up in Karlsplatz so in the end, I decided to head back home.
I was surprised to find Uwe home early and since it was my last day in Vienna, I decided to treat Uwe for his hospitality, He took me to an Austrian family run restaurant which surprisingly, did have English menu. I tried the traditional Austrian veal snitzel which was delicious and had crispy coating. The only thing I didn’t try is the Viennese Sachertorte as I don’t think I could finish the whole piece of cake if it is too sweet nor would Uwe help me to finish it off since he doesn’t like very sweet food either. Well, after staying in Vienna for a 1 week, I kind of got used to living there and it feels kind of sad that I have to leave already when there are still some more places to check out. Temperature today was surprising slightly warmer than before which is 6 °C.
Saturday (14/12/2013) Since today’s the weekend, Uwe sent me to the train station and after we said our goodbye in Vienna (since we’re going to meet up in Berlin again), I was on my own heading towards Prague. It’s a 4 hour ride and unlike the route going to Judenburg, there wasn’t much things to see along the way since there’s only flat lands and farms so it was kind of boring. The train was expected to reach Prague at 1.20pm and I am to meet up with Dan and his girlfriend at the train station. The train was very comfortable and unlike the train going to Judenburg which has 2 seats in each row on the left and right side, this train has 6 seat compartments which means privacy and it was a good thing that not many people were heading to Prague. Upon arriving at the Prague station, I finally met up with Daniel and his girlfriend, Silvia. They are a nice couple though sometimes we do have communication problems since English is hardly spoken in Czech. I had booked a room at Benediktska and although both Dan and Silvia do come to Prague often and with the help from the GPS, they still had problem finding where it is and I had to call Vincent at least 3 times before finally finding it. After putting our luggage in the apartment, we went to the Prague castle area.
We walked to Petrin Lookout tower which according to Dan is Prague’s “Eiffel Tower” and in order to go there, we had to use the tram to go to Petrin hill. Petrin Tower, a steel framework tower of 63.5m tall has 299 steps with no elevator for people to use. While climbing that 299 torturous steps in winter with the cold wind blowing, I was not in a good shape especially when my knees start to ache after climbing a few steps. I actually had to rest for quite some time on the top platform before I could enjoy the night view. Going down was not as bad as climbing up but that was enough exercise for a day. We then headed to the mirror maze room where we had to find the way out and came across various types of mirrors that distort your body to different shape and sizes.
We then headed slowly down towards Prague castle and I was told that there is changing of guards at noon time tomorrow. We walked on Charles bridge (which is said to be a very romantic bridge if you have a partner with you) and I can't believe that I am finally in Prague, walking on Charles bridge and looking at Prague castle! Unfortunately, night is not the best time to take photos of the scenery of this romantic bridge so, I will have to come back again during day time. We continued walking towards the Christmas Market in the Old Town Square where the main attraction is the astronomical clock which is 600 years old already. Every hour, there would be the procession of the Apostles and it’s just amazing to see it still running smoothly. Food, people and Christmas decorations are just everywhere on the square. I tried a dish called Slovenska Bramborové halušky, a Slovak potato gnocchi. It looks similar to the one I had at the Christmas market in Belvedere Palace in Vienna but less saltier. Then we drove to Wenceslas square just to check out the Christmas market which has lesser stalls than in the Old Town Square before going back to the apartment. After coming back to apartment, I talked with Dan until 1 2.30am before having a late night bath. I can’t believe that my hair can be so damp even though I didn't sweat at all since the temperature today is 4 °C.
Sunday (15/12/2014) Today’s temperature is still 4 °C with the sun shining brightly. Silvia dropped me and Dan near to the Old Town square and we walked towards the Prague castle through the Charles bridge to see the changing of guards. It is very similar to the changing of guards at the Buckingham palace though the only difference is that these guards walked by foot from their station to the palace so when they march, you can just hear total silence and their footstep stomping the ground whereas the guards in Buckingham palaces uses horse. It was very interesting and I’m glad that Dan told me about it because I wasn’t aware that they also have it in Prague. Fortunately, the people who also watched this show were not as many as those always waiting to see the changing of guards in London. I love the winter uniform and hat of the Czech guards, it makes you feel like you’re still in a communist country. There was also a man who was protesting at that time but the guards did not do anything to him as people are allowed to do demonstration as long as they don’t get violent.
After taking some photos, we then walked back to Charles bridge where Silvia picked us up and we head towards Ostrava which is a 3 hour drive. On the way, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and they treated me with a traditional Bohemian platter which is roasted pork with knedliky (dumplings) and cabbage. I don’t know whether if it’s because we are hungry but that dish is very, very delicious! By the time we reached to Ostrava, it was almost 6pm and I met up with Daniel's mother (she also has the same name as me) who was looking after their son, Daniel and their cute smiling daughter, Natalia. Initially before I started my trip, I was told by Dan that I will be staying at his mother’s apartment but due to unavoidable circumstance, I ended up staying at their apartment which was not too bad but indeed small. I slept in their son's room and fortunately, I was not very tall so I could sleep on his bed eventhough Daniel is only 10 years old. Dan offered me their homemade family wine which to me, I can’t tell whether if it is good or not since I am not a frequent drinker. It has been a long day with long driving but well, at least I get to see another part of Czech and let’s see what Ostrava has to offer tomorrow.
Monday (16/12/2013) According to Dan, Ostrava does not have much to offer as is an industrial city with a lot of factories. So, to start of the day, he took me to his work place which is a juvenile institute for problematic youths (mainly from parents who are drug addicts) between 13 to 17 where they are taught discipline, academics, sports and also life skills. The institute has very strict security as every door has to be locked to prevent the youths from escaping but they have good facilities for them like yoga room, games room, tv room, etc. According to Dan, the youths will be allowed to use those facilities or even go out if they have earned a certain number of points for good behavior but if they escape or do not return back to the institute on their day out, then their points will be erased and they have to start all over again from 0. It’s an eye opener on how an European country deal with their juvenile delinquent problems and I’m glad I know Dan who is willing to show me how his institute work or else I wouldn’t have any chance to even step into these sort of institute. Since Ostrava is an industrial city, one should not miss visiting a factory and that is exactly what Dan brought me to see. We went to visit Dolni Oblast Vitkovice which is the number 1 attraction in Ostrava and has been inscribed on the European Cultural Heritage list. After 170 years of producing pig-iron that is used in the Eiffel Tower, this factory has been discontinued. Everyone who study Chemistry has learned about iron production and about the blast furnace in theory only so it is amazing to actually see a blast furnace in an iron factory in real life. A senior worker who has been working in this factory for a long time took us on the tour and explained about how the factory worked. We saw the coking plant, blast furnace and was also explained on what happens to the melted iron once it comes out of the furnace. To me, it’s like learning about iron production all over again but this time with the real stuff. The highlight of this tour is actually the ride on the funicular, followed by climbing up a few flight of stairs to the top of the blast furnace. The view was not really that spectacular as you see smog below the blue sky since there are still factories in operation. However, the wind at the top was freezing cold even though we were only 65.7m above the ground.
We then went home for a late lunch and waited for Silvia and Daniel to come back. Dan gave me honey wine and one of Czech’s best wine which are all very strong for me. In the evening when Silvia and Daniel has returned home, we went out to the New Town City Hall at Prokeš Square to go up the tower to see Ostrava by night but unfortunately, they closed very early on that day. So, we walked to the Christmas market which is pretty small compared to the ones in Vienna and Prague but there is a skating ring. Since it was cold, Dan bought me a hot wine punch which makes your body warm on a cold night. Since it was my last night in Ostrava, Dan wanted to buy me a drink (which actually end up to a few) even though he knows that I’m not a drinker. So we walked to the pub area and he took me to a pub with cool decorations. He ordered for me Pilsner, Czech’s famous beer and then while flirting with the bar girl, he also ordered for me a sweet kind of vodka. If I have never drank any and beer or wine before in my whole life, I would have gotten slightly drunk already so I know am aware of my limit when it comes to drinking. Then not having enough of drinking, he brought me to an Irish pub and this time, he ordered Radegast, another Czech beer with Nakládaný hermelín, a Czech appetizer made from hermelín which is a soft cheese soaked in oil and spices that originates from Central Bohemia for our dinner. It is pretty tasty when eaten with bread but a bit too spicy and filling for me since it is cheese plus we are drinking beer with it. I realized that Dan was probably slightly drunk already since he kept on ordering beers compared to me (I only had 2 beers and 1 liquor for the whole night) and kept on flirting with the bar girls. He wanted to go to another pub after that but I said I had enough since I will be going back to Prague the next morning.
Tuesday (17/12/2013) Dan took me to the train station and I thanked him and Silvia for their warm hospitality even though they do not understand or speak English very well. We said our goodbye and start my journey back to Prague at 10.53am. Czech trains offer better services as we were given free drinks (I asked for mint tea) and they even had internet connection! I managed to use this opportunity to contact Gautier, the host who I’m going to stay with for the next 2 nights. We decided to meet up at Burger King at the main train station at 2.30pm. I didn't expect him to be the same height as me (since all the men I’ve come across in Europe are way taller than me) but he spoke good English though soft at times which makes it difficult to understand what he is talking about. His apartment was not far from the main train station but quite far away from the main town area where I stayed with Dan and Silvia earlier on. There wasn’t much at his block except for a few pubs, restaurants, meat shop and a Vietnamese shop. After trying his lentils and sausage dish, we went out to see Prague by night. First, we went to the Namesti Miru Christmas Market since we were going to use the tram to go to Prague castle area. I tried trdelník, which is a rolled dough, grilled on a stick and coated with both sugar and cinnamon. In addition to that, I requested that the inner side be coated with chocolate (actually the original plain ones without chocolate is more nicer). Gautier showed me the John Lennon Wall which is filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles' songs. Then we walk through the lovers bridge (between Kampa Island and Lesser Town) which is just full of love locks. We finally walked slowly back to Gautier’s apartment by foot from Charles bridge, passing through the Old Town Square where I’ve been to with Dan and Silvia. The temperature today was not very cold at all.
Wednesday (18/12/2013) Prague’s weather is pretty cold today (1 °C). Since the Hong Kong siblings woke up when I was about to go out, I asked them to go around together since we only have one set of key which I will only give it to them after tonight as I was going to leave Prague the next morning. We decided not to use the tram but walk by foot instead which was pretty interesting as we passed by a lot of places. When we were at the Wenceslas Square Christmas market, we were called by a young guy who was manning a stall that sells coin souvenirs on Prague’s iconic sights but the interesting thing is that you make it yourself. Since I did not buy a lot of souvenirs from Prague and those coin souvenirs were pretty light and small, I decided to get 2 different types of image that is Prague castle and the astronomical clock. I know how heavy the sledge hammer is and if not enough force is being applied, the image would not turn out very nicely and since I do not need to have aching arms the next day when I have to carry my heavy suitcase up the train for my next journey, I told the Hong Kong siblings it do it for me since the sister were pretty interested in trying it out. So the brother did the first coin, followed by the sister as I knew how heavy the hammer is. Both of them did a good job as the image did turn out quite well. As we walked upwards, a lady and a man was playing music and some guys which were a bit high (probably from having a lot of hot wine early in the morning) were enjoying the music. I was suddenly pulled by the lady who was strumming on a huge violin with a man playing the accordion and of course, photos need to be taken. Pretty friendly people.
Since I was pretty bad at direction, so it took us quite a while to reach to Charles bridge but on the bright side, we took a lot of photos especially on the architecture (not as impressive as in Vienna though). Since there are a number of bridges in Prague, it was difficult to know which bridge we were heading to at first when we reached to the bank of Vltava river but when we turned to our left and saw the Prague castle, we actually saw that we had walked towards Mánesuv most (Manes) bridge. By the time we reach to the Prague castle, we were 15mins too late to enter into St Vitus cathedral so we just looked around. Since we didn't use tram, walking by foot back to Gautier's place was a long way since we weren't familiar with the direction. How I miss Vienna and it's subways. We waited for Gautier to come back at 8.30pm for dinner as I told them that it will be my treat since it’s my last night in Prague and I wanted to try the authentic Czech cuisine. When we got back to his apartment, he seemed a bit drunk from his company party but we went out for dinner anyway. It was a medieval restaurant with armour and weapons from the medieval time. Gautier recommended the onion soup which was nice and it had cheese and meat strips in it. Then our pork hock came as a shock to us as I didn't expect it to be so big but the guys seems to enjoy their food. Gautier as usual, drank more than 1 glass of beer and even on the way back to his place, he was still inviting us for more drinks at the pub below his apartment. At home, he offered abstinence which I declined as I had an early train to catch the next day but he and the Hong Kong siblings went ahead with it. After coming out of the bathroom, I was surprised why the party had already died and apparently Gautier had burnt his fingers while heating up the abstinence. What a funny thing to hear!
Thursday (19/12/2014) Woke up at 7.15 am with too much acid in my tummy (reason not to drink alcohol if possible). Packed up all of my stuff and left Gautier's place at 8.30am which is a good thing because I got lost going towards the train station. Fortunately, a handsome guy was nice enough to help me carry my luggage down the stairs towards the subway and I had to asked a few people for the direction to the train station which most of them gave different answers (so much for being helpful). Finally, I found the short cut to the platform where I arrived from Ostrava. Fortunately, I had 10 minutes to spare because I was getting panicked that I will miss the train. The train ride to Munich is about 6 hours. The view from the train is so lovely. I don’t understand why the view from Vienna to Czech is the only view that is very dull whereas to other places, they are just so breathtaking.
We finally reached Munich main train station later than expected as it is the last stop for the train route. It is a pretty cool the train station as the trains just park in front of small kiosks and when you step out of the train, you can go and grab a bite or go shopping. I went straight to find Hotel City Atlas following a man’s instruction which was not quite accurate but I was lucky enough to come across a helpful young American guy who helped me get my direction right through his mobile map. Thank God for that and I managed to find the hotel eventually. The location was not bad as it is pretty near to the train station. However, the room was no different that the size of the hotel rooms in Singapore or Hong Kong but for 1 person, it is alright. After resting a bit, I went back to the main train station which was only a 15 minute walk. I decided to check out Marienplatz which has Christmas markets before heading to Karlsplatz. The metro was easy to use so I didn't get lost as bad as in Prague. Marienplatz is just full of tourists checking out the Christmas markets. They have many types of Christmas decorations which is different from those in Vienna and of course they are more cheaper. My favourite stall in the Christmas market is the fruit stall where they sell fruits for only €1 (B$1.72) especially for blueberries! Obviously, things are more cheaper in Munich than other parts of Europe so far because of the lower standard of living.
Saturday (20/12/2014) Today’s wind was cold as the temperature was 0 °C. I went to main train station to look for the free city tour and found them next to the Starbucks Coffee shop at the main train station. Jonathan was very good looking British lad from Bristol but he's in charge of the Danuch tour. We left with Scott (an Ozie) to Marienplatz where we were then split into 2 groups before the tour started. Scott introduced us the history of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in the City Hall which has a funny story of the dancing figurines and the rooster. The top half of the Glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V (founder of the world famous Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Lorraine. In honour of the happy couple there is a joust with life-sized knights on horseback representing Bavaria (in white and blue) and Lothringen (in red and white). The Bavarian knight wins every time, of course. The bottom half and second story is about Schäfflertanz (the coopers' dance). According to myth, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The coopers are said to have danced through the streets to "bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions." They remained loyal to the duke, and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times.
We then head to Frauenkirche (also known as the Devil's church) whose twin towers dominate the city’s skyline. The legend said that the devil made a deal with the builder to finance construction of the church on the condition that it contain no windows. The clever builder, however, tricked the devil by positioning columns so that the windows were not visible from the spot where the devil stood in the foyer. When the devil discovered that he had been tricked, he could not enter the already consecrated church. The devil could only stand in the foyer and stomp his foot furiously, which left the dark footprint that remains visible in the church's entrance today. Half way through the tour, when we were at the Max-Joseph-Platz, the wind became very cold and it started to drizzle lightly. We stood in the cold open area while waiting for Scott to explain to us about the history of Bavaria. Finally, we quickly walked to the famous Hofbrauhaus beer drinking hall where it is warm and it still looks elegant for its age. We were told how men actually pee while still having their beer which was pretty funny and yet disgusting as they had pipes installed below the table for that purpose. After 3 hours of learning about Bavarian history, we ended our tour in Vitualitry market which I think I saw rabbit meats being sold. Originally I had planned to go to Nymphenburg palace after the city tour but with the rain and the cold wind, it was wet and too cold to be out in the open. So I decided to spend the rest of the day at Marienplatz to do a bit of shopping and ended up buying more fruits and decided to get Uwe a personalised cutting board. Oh, and I also managed to find a 1 euro store which sold everything for only 1 euro! Then I checked out the neighbourhood around the hotel and found St. Paul's Church and also a restaurant that has Bavarian meal.
Sunday (21/12/2013) The highlight of the Munich trip is the visit to Neuschwanstein Castle which is said to be the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. There were a lot of visitors who wanted to go to this trip and they were fortunate enough to be able to go even though they did not do any reservation beforehand. By 9.15am, we started the 2 hour train ride with Michelle (who is an American) to Füssen in southwest Bavaria and the scenery along the way was just magnificent. Everywhere is covered with snow and the mountains were just breathtaking. I also got to know Wai Lan and Ajane who also lived at Vincent's apartment in Prague. Small world after all. We arrived at Hohenschwangau village around noon time was told to have a quick lunch before walking uphill. I can’t believe that I am finally here and seeing this castle in real life instead of from a postcard that I’ve received from a friend! Walking uphill in the cold weather was a challenge but we know that we will get our reward at the end of the trail.
Neuschwanstein Castle was built by King Ludwig II as his retreat and as an homage to Richard Wagner, an opera composer who he likes so much. Ludwig used his personal fortune and through extensive borrowing to have this castle built. Apparently, King Ludwig II’s cousin is the famous Sisi (Empress Elisabeth) who was married to Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Inside the castle, we had a German tour guide who spoke clear English and explained to us about each room in the castle. King Ludwig is known as the virgin king who never married because he was gay. He spent 34 million on building 3 castles of which only 1 was complete. He died a mysterious death but seems like a conspiracy complot by the government to kill him because he was spending too much money building castles! After lots of photo taking, we finally left Füssen at 4pm and reached back to Munich main train station at 6pm. I was planning to try out the Bavarian dinner at a restaurant which I came across yesterday but unfortunately it was closed by the time I reached there. Oh well, at least I tried the roasted pork with dumplings and cabbage in Czech and there would always be another trip back to Munich again one day.
Monday (22/12/2013) Today would be a 6 hour train ride to Berlin. I checked out from the hotel and waited at the main train station. I couldn't find the train which I am supposed to board at first because apparently, there were 2 different trains going to Berlin. Fortunately, a train driver who had just finished his shift was friendly enough to help me find where my train is. The train left at 9.10am and is expected to arrive to Berlin around 4pm. Since it was a long ride, I managed to get some sleep as the train wasn’t that full. Uwe will be waiting for me at the main train station to bring me to his cousin, Ralph’s place as I would be stay with them for Christmas. Although Ralph could only speak a bit of English but Petra couldn't, they were still friendly and hospitable. Their son, Ronny joined us for dinner and we ate at a German restaurant near to their apartment. I ordered creamy turkey with mushroom which was nice. After dinner, we walked back to Ralf's apartment and just chill out while watching Jamie Oliver's cooking show in German.
Tuesday (23/12/2013) Today after having a hearty breakfast, Uwe showed me the most important sites in Berlin. We walked from Alexanderplatz where the Weltzeituhr (Worldtime clock) shows various times in different countries, passing through the Berlin TV Tower towards the Berliner Dom which is a very nice 19th century cathedral. After showing me where the Museum Island is which consist of the Bode museum, Pergamon museum, Egyptian museum of Berlin and the Altes Museum, we walked to Brandenburg gate where we saw some guys dressed in funny costume like Mario brothers, Star Wars and the funniest ones we saw are 2 guys dressed in German soldier’s uniform but holding flags of different countries so that tourists will pay money to take photo with them. We passed by part of the Berlin wall that had been torn down (which Uwe told me that he will bring me to the part where part of the Berlin wall still exist tomorrow) towards the Victory column to see the whole of Berlin. Climbing up the 285 steps to go to the top of the column was painful but as they say, no pain, no gain. The scenery of Berlin from the top was nice and it was interesting to see the cars going through the big roundabout. We stayed there long enough to see the sun slowly setting in Berlin before heading to Kathy's place which was near to Alexanderplatz since she was going to join us for dinner at Ralf's place. Tonight’s menu is salmon fish and I have to say that Ralf is a very good cook.
Wednesday (24/12/2013] After another day of hearty breakfast, Uwe and I went out to see where the remaining Berlin wall is. We went to the Berlin wall on West Berlin side to see the artwork of artists from all over the world where they express their ideas and feelings. On East Berlin, the 14m high Berlin wall is still there with the watch tower. We saw videos of how Berlin was separated to East and West Berlin over night and how people from the East side tried to go to the West and how people were killed when they tried to cross over the Berlin wall. There was even a video on how a family from the East side managed to get some people to the West side by digging a tunnel under their house which remained unnoticed by the soldiers until they were finally caught. The place where the wall still exist is a very solemn, quiet place where visitors can only watch through videos and touch the Berlin wall but can’t comprehend how the Germans would have felt at that time when they were separated from their friends and families overnight during the Cold War. Then we slowly walk towards the park and finally to the back of Charlottenburg Palace which is the largest palace in Berlin and the only surviving royal residence of the Hohenzollern family. Since it was Christmas eve, we head back to Ralf’s place for dinner. After dinner, it was present time where I was surprised that I was even given a present by Ralf and Petra which was very nice of them. Since there is not much of history left in Berlin due to World War 2, they got me a book on Historic Berlin which is very interesting because it contains black and white photos taken in Berlin in the past.
Thursday (25/12/2013) We didn't go out today as we were going to have Christmas lunch with Ralf’s family. Having goose thigh for the first time instead of the traditional turkey was different but nevertheless, delicious especially eaten with kale and potato dumplings. Ralf's father, brother and daughter, Anna came with her husband and Johnny, their 10 month old son. After lunch, we all took a walk around the park near their area. At night time, it was only 5 of us left when everyone else went home. We had leftover potato dumplings and food from lunch for dinner which was filling enough and rested for the night.
Thursday (26/12/2013) Since today is my last day in Berlin and I haven’t seen what I came for in Berlin which is to visit the Pergamon museum to see the Seat of Altar for myself, Uwe took me to see it before my flight in the afternoon. It’s a very interesting museum which shows artifacts from the past especially from biblical times like the miniature model of the Tower of Babel and the huge replica of the Babylonian wall. Finally seeing the life size of the Seat of Altar was just amazing as Ernie mentioned about it in one of our School of Bible lesson. We had beef goulash for lunch which is cooked by Ralf before going to Berlin airport to catch my flight to London. Shocking enough, the arrival gate is the same gate for departure. What a small airport for a big city when compared to Brunei’s airport. The flight was delayed by 1 hour so I arrived in London 1 hour late. Using the tube from the airport wasn’t too difficult but it took an hour to reach near to where I had booked my accommodation. Everyone was caught off guard by the construction they were doing on certain lines and the last station where I am supposed to get out from was also affected. So from Earl’s court station people either have to walk by foot (like me) or get on the double decker bus which has already been assigned to take passengers to the nearest line of the route. I had to call Melinda for the direction to her place by foot which wasn't too far once you know the road and eventually found it after calling her 3 times. There’s a big Tesco shop at the corner on the way to her place but unfortunately, it was closed since I forgot Boxing Day is actually a public holiday in the UK.
Friday (27/12/2013)– Finally, first day in London for the first time. The first and foremost important place to visit is the Buckingham Palace to see the changing of guards which is done everyday. Since it was cloudy and drizzled a bit before the ceremony start, we were told that there will be no full changing of guard ceremony but a less elaborate one will still proceed at 11.30am. Hundreds of tourists crowded around the area just to watch this event. It was interesting, somewhat similar to the changing of guards in Prague castle. By the time it was over, it was already noon time and I had to find the Hop On Hop Off bus which actually did stop at the side of the palace. I decided to go for a round trip first to get myself familiarize with the city and then decide which place is worth to visit. In the end, since the queue to Westminister Abbey is so long and they were about to close, I decided to do it on the next day and slowly walked towards Nelson Square. On the way, I order big Mac for my late lunch so that I do not waste time on sitting in a restaurant just to eat since every place of attraction seem to close very early during winter time even though it is not even dark yet! A lot of tourists were just taking photos or just sitting around in Nelson square so while eating my late lunch, I was also people watching. Weather was pretty hot in London as I was sweating when I was walking.
After having enough of sitting down, I walked slowly towards the London Eye to find Thames Clipper for a free cruise along the Thames river. Finally found where the pier for that boat is and took the cruise from the London Eye to the Tower of London only even though they do go all the way to Greenwich but it would be difficult to get transport back to this area again. Tower of London is another place to check out which have to be done the next day before I leave London. After shopping for some souvenirs at the souvenir shops next to the Tower of London, I took the Hop On Hop Off bus again to Victoria station. Before going on the tube, I did a bit of shopping at Waitrose and then tried to find Sainsbury after getting off from Earl’s Court station which I was told by Melinda that it is located at the back road of the apartment where I was staying. After walking for a while and couldn’t find it because all the roads were pretty dark to read the signs, I decided to leave it and checked out Tesco instead. Bought food for breakfast and dinner which was pretty cheap as they had pastas on offer. Enough food to last me until I go back so it was time to head back to the apartment and rest.
Saturday (28/12/2013) Today is my last day in London and I intend to cover 3 important places. After half an hour tube ride to London city, the first place I went to is to Westminister Abbey. The queue was pretty long as the line went towards the side of the Westminister Abbey but fortunately, the waiting wasn't that long. With St. Margaret's church beside it, Westminister Abbey has a very rich history and with many important people buried inside it. After spending at least 2 hours listening to the history of Westminister Abbey, I headed to St. Paul's cathedral, one of Europe's largest cathedral. It was very big and you could go up to 85m high but you would have to climb up the few hundreds of steps to go to up to each of the gallery above which I opt not to do so since my last target was to see the Tower of London. Unfortunately, by the time I reached to Tower of London, the ticket seller said that they were going to close in 45 minutes time and the guy said that there would not enough time to cover everything and told me to come back the next day which I can't since I'm leaving London tomorrow!! So feeling disappointed, I ended up eating fish and chip from the stall next to the Tower of London and then waited for blue route bus to go to Harrods. Since the bus only stopped until Victoria station, I had to take the tube to Sloan Square since I thought South Kensington station was closed. After walking for a while through the high end shops, I managed to find the famous Harrods. It is a very big department store and I had to look at floor map to find my way to the souvenir section. It was so hot inside that everyone took off their jacket. Harrods' merchandise is just incredible and very expensive but then one should never miss getting something from Harrods if you're in London since that is also one of the iconic symbol of London. Well, after a long walking day, I was glad to be back at the apartment and packed all my stuff, hoping that my baggage won't be excess.
[b]Sunday (29/12/2013)[b] After more than 3 weeks travelling around Europe, it's time to head back home to Brunei. I took the tube to Heathrow airport which is about 45 minutes ride and since it was pretty full, I had to stand up the whole time until it was near the airport and people started getting off at each station. Fortunately, there is a baggage scale at the airport so time for repacking again but thank God, I managed to keep within the weight limit though my hand carry was pretty heavy. Well, another 20 hours on the plane back to Brunei. Overall, it was an incredible learning experience going to Europe alone. Hopefully I will have the chance to come back again to go to other parts of Europe and see the Tower of London one day!