Friday, October 12, 2012

Oui, oui - Paris ~ Day 1

Train ride from Amsterdam to Paris was short - left Amsterdam 11-ish AM and reached Paris by 2-ish. This is our last stop: we used the very last day of our Global Pass (we bought this pass that lets you travel on the days you purchased - we purchased a 6 travel days within 2 months across 5 countries, you can check it out yourself or send a comment if you would like to know more). Coming into Paris, even with the pass, one needs to pay extra for the seat reservation fee (some trains in Europe don't require a compulsory seat reservation but most high speed trains do). Wasn't too comfortable of a train ride - lucky us that the train ride was short, feels like they cut off the A/C in the train.

on the way to Paris

Reached Gare du Nord station, it is a big station and I always tend to get very nervous on the day of arrival in a new place. We rented a studio apartment in Paris and had to wait for our host to meet us, but not till 6pm when she gets off work. With time to kill, we head of to a nearby laundromat (we found this place on the Internet, I was honestly skeptical if this place still exists but Calvin was very determined) and we found it easy after few miss-turns. The area outside the station looks sketchy, it makes downtown Pomona look like the Beverly hills in comparison. Lucky us again, the laundromat has instructions in English, we spent a good 2 hours there waiting to get fresh clothes. Still with extra time before 6pm, we dropped in a bar in front of the station. At least they serve good beer, a little bit on the high end though compared to Germany.

this is how we travel - two backpacks each

Finally met our host and reached our studio apartment for the rest of the week - not too pleased, location-wise: it's in a rougher side of town, good walking distance to the main station was probably the only good side to it. The apartment itself is small and not too clean - we had to buy clean wipes to sanitize it. If Calvin wasn't around, I would have booked a ticket home already. Anyhow, what's done is done and we just got to suck it up and do what we can.

Paris laundromat

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Say Cheese to Amsterdam

 Now we can tell everyone we stayed in a houseboat because where else would you stay in Amsterdam? Not just any houseboat, it's one shared by two cats and our hosts in an area just 20 minutes tram ride from the Amsterdam Central station.  Just 2 and a half hours train ride from Venlo, we reached Amsterdam feeling fresh (for once) and found the houseboat fast enough. We did not like rushing to visit every single touristy location, we spent our first day just lazying around in the houseboat and went to a nearby farmers market to check out some local wares. This is where we discovered the Dutch mini pancakes (poffertjes) with delish butter and powdered sugar (yum!).

Poffertjes - I miss!
Where we stayed - one of those floating homes

flower market

The tram system is amazing, we took the tram to get to nearly everywhere we went. We keep asking ourselves, why Amsterdam? we are not the typical Amsterdam travelers - not for the weed or even the after sunset fun (red light district). FYI, Amsterdam itself has a lot to offer other than coffeeshops and the red light area. Right in the heart of Amsterdam is one of the oldest botanical garden in the world (Hortus Botanicus), with several nice greenhouses - the butterfly pavillion is popular but I personally like the 3-climate greenhouses.

Next we went to the floating flower market, with shops selling bulbs and weed starter kits. Also a good place to get souvenirs, it's cheaper than the main streets (dam, etc) and also lined with cheese shops. (Who would have thought the Dutch are so into Cheese?) Our host offered us some cheese on our first night and they dig the cheese fondue (chocolate fondue I understand, cheese fondue? sheesh BUT each to their own, whatever floats your boat). Last stop for the day - we walked around the Jordaan area, nice canals and small shops to window shop.

view from Jordaan
Our second day, we visited one of the largest farmers/flea market in Europe, the Albert Cuypstraat. Wasn't too excited, but we found poffertjes (yum yum) here. There's a stall with heavenly-smelling grill chicken that we missed so please try that if you do get there yourself one day and let us know if it is THAT good. Calvin ended up craving for chicken all day but I found a Malaysian restaurant and got my rice fix XD (eventually he gave up and settled with KFC instead - oh well). We did walk through the Red light district - strictly no photos (let me just say, it's something you got to do just to people watch there). What's next? ...................  Paris!
Albert cuypmarkt - Calvin checking out wigs XD


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's a blooming in Venlo, Netherlands

So, from kaiserslautern, we journeyed on to Venlo to catch the Floriade (it's a world horticultural expo held once every ten years) before it ends on the 7th October. The next Floriade will be another 10 years =(

entrance to Floriade
nice arrangements in the Greenhouse
The weather was not too welcoming. It was pouring for the short few days we spent in Venlo, Netherlands. Didn't really stay in Venlo, we picked a place in Arcen (a nearby small town) instead because of the price. We can definitely feel a change in atmosphere - not feeling too welcome in the town and it is probably one of the smallest town we've ever been throughout the trip. First meal in town was not too good either and the hotel walls were too thin (of course, we were lucky enough to have a crying baby next door and a neighbor who slams doors all night long). Bus rides are somewhat pricey, 4 euro per person one way (should have just gotten the day pass but we didn't know then).

Dinner @ Lotus restaurant

How do you like a bell pepper so much?

all you can taste

The rain didn't dampen the spirits for the Floriade trip on our second day. Started the day early and most of the Floriade did not disappoint - inspirational! The other half however became a little too commercialised for my own liking. Calvin loved the 'free veg tasting' greenhouse - he got to try all sorts of tomatoes, mushrooms and bell peppers (they call them paprika here).

 Spent the whole day snapping pix and walking around enjoying the greenery before heading back to Arcen for the remainder of the day. Dinner tonight was fantastic! Rice! (okay, I cheat - I had a rice dish in Kaiserslautern but this one is different). Nice asian place tucked behind a back alley just a block behind the hotel - Lotus restaurant. Price for dinner in Netherlands has been on a higher side compare to Germany but at least the portion's generous. Compared to what we had for dinner the previous night, this was a good dinner to complete the day.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Long time coming~

The journey to Kaiserslautern, Germany had been a memorable one. It's been a long time coming, this meet up with our homies, Melissa and Oliver. I wasn't around when they wed (Calvin was) and my last time seeing them was during their engagement eons ago so I still think of them as newly weds.
Mel, Oli, Calvin - we all hiked up 300+ steps up!

Picturesque Heidelburg~

We arrived midday to Kaiserslautern from Munich, Mel greeted us at the train station and Oli met up with us after work. It is our first time visiting their apartment and the town itself, it was nice to see them again after so long - feels just like high school =) It's been a long time since feeling so well taken cared of, Mel and Oli both made sure we were well fed and comfortable during our stay and took the time to show us around town. The place is quaint and relaxing, which was exactly what we needed (we were really feeling the days of our energetic travels catching up on us physically and mentally now). Anyways, all of us went to Heidelburg the next day, just an hour and a half train ride away from Kaiserslautern (never heard of the place but it is a popular tourist spot).

Elderberry flower syrup cocktail! Me love!

one of the many pics Mel took for us. Thank you!
Walked around and visited the Schloss over there in Heidelburg, our second day was well spent. Mel and Oli took plenty of pictures for us, it was nice of them, we have been lazy carrying the tripod around for pictures of ourselves so we didn't really get many pictures together throughout our trip so this was great for us. I made a careless error with reservation to our next stop - Venlo, we ended up staying an additional night with them before heading out to Floriade. With a heavy heart, we bid these two good friends goodbye and journeyed on. Let's hope it won't be another 3 years before we meet again!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wiped out, wasted, wunderbar - Day 3

Sunday is a day where most shops close here (even departmental stores!), so it was the right choice to be on a bus trip out of Munich to Rothenburg. We had a detour stopover in a castle (Schloss Harburg) along the way (through the Romantic Road). This trip was our only guided tour, the bus was filled with a lot of Americans, we saw some Indonesians and a solo Japanese traveler. (Not having much luck in tours  (from our past experiences), we try to avoid being in a tour as much as possible but we gave this a shot anyways).

That's how you know a baker lives there
bus to Rothenburg
view from the Harburg castle

We began our journey in Munich from 8.30am before reaching the Harburg castle approximately 2 hours later. Harburg castle is surrounded with green hills and small towns - a good place to just relax and take pictures but I was looking forward to getting to Rothenburg. We reached Rothenburg in time for lunch and leisurely spent 3 hours there before making the journey back to Munich. A popular tourist stop, Rothenburg is a well-preserved old town and full of cute little shops (of course). Metal signs outside shops are a must see here, one can only imagine how much work is needed to get the details right for each sign.

Apotheke = pharmacy

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wiped out, wasted, wunderbar - Day 2

Met up with Calvin's friend from couchsurfing, Tobias in the morning. Stomach still not feeling too great from yesterday's beer, so the day went slow and easy. Was ready to go and my only pair of pants ripped - been with me for few years now, my favorite pair too =(  So had to shop for a pair today. Tobias walked with us around for a while, had white sausage and hefeweisse in the morning with him, (some italians drink wine for breakfast, germans = beer).

surfin' (not) in the USA

Tobias showed us a park where you find surfers in the middle of Munich~ Surfing in the city - how do they do it? Well, this goes to show, if you want something bad enough, nothing can really stop you. He recommended us to visit a garden next to a palace - Schloss Nymperburg (I probably didn't spell this right). It started to rain a little, we have our umbrella with us now everyday, the weather in this part of the world has been cloudy and rainy. We took our sweet time just strolling before heading out to a shopping mall in OEK (the east shopping mall?). Day 2 was a slow day but a good one, plenty of rest and still trying hard to feel like normal again.

Palace Nymperburg - we didn't go inside, just the gardens

This guy stalked Calvin

Wiped out, wasted, wunderbar - Day 1

Munich, Germany  - Day 1

took this when I was drunk? I loved this one though.
It was a Friday. That I remembered. I remembered walking to the Oktoberfest venue, 20 minutes walk from our bed and breakfast (in Marienplatz). We went into a beer tent (we chose Ammer's - a smaller one) and got a seat inside no problem. They squeeze you into seats whenever possible, so we shared a table with few families and cheers together (that's the fun of Oktoberfest, meeting people). We don't understand anything they were saying and vice versa, but beer did the talking for us! Beers come in 1 liter mugs, if you want a smaller size, you pay the same so we had the 1 liter mugs each, by the second one, I was wiped out.

The crowd - and it's just 4pm

Me zoning out every now and then

Inside a tent

I couldn't really recall anything. I had moments where I remembered I spoke Deutsche and was pissed with the guard for not letting me pass to get into a restroom. I zoned out most of the time and remembered again at the end of the ferris wheel ride that I nearly threw up. Oktoberfest was an experience - my stomach wasn't feeling good for days after, Calvin thinks its the hangover~

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The hills are alive ~ Salzburg, Austria - Day 2

Only 2 days?! Not enough!

Salzburg is so very greeeeen... (me love). Every time you turn around, it looks like a scene from a postcard. I made it a mission to check out as many sound of music filming location as I can and poor Calvin had to bear with me. On our way to the Mirabell gardens where they filmed the 'Do, Re, Mi' song, we stumbled upon their farmers' market. How fun! Walked around, trying to use my few pitiful german words to ask about taste, price, etc, we ended up with our lunch to-go (some meat here, more meat there, a chicken leg with a dumpling to complete the meal - we also tried apple-carrot juice with a touch of olive oil *I swear I didn't know they added the olive oil until Calvin pointed it out afterwards*).


no longer sixteen

Untersburg view

Went to Schloss Hellbrunn to look for the gazebo where they filmed the 'I am sixteen..', visited their trick-fountain garden while out there. Bumped into few sound of music fans as well. Everyone sang the song while they snap a pix or two for memories. We ended up going to Unterberg (cable car ride to the top of the mountain) for some amazing views of the surrounding - stunning (not if you are afraid of heights, the cable car ride made my knees weak). Spent more time that we expected, we had a beer on the top of the mountain =) But its okay since we were not in a hurry. Managed to find the house where the Von Trapp mansion was portrayed in the movie (not the real Von Trapp home) it's also by the wall where Julie Andrews sang 'I have confidence' and also the convent where Maria (in the movie) attended.
I asked Calvin: where is Borneo?

outside the Convent
We better leave before I root myself there! Left my heart in Salzburg =(

Friday, September 28, 2012

The hills are alive - Salzburg, Austria - Day 1

Day 1 in Salzburg was head-spinning. We took a night train from Venice (didn't want too many transfers and the night train was the only way to go from venice to salzburg non stop). Got into the train by 9.15pm and reached Salzburg by 4.10am. We waited patiently (and not so patiently at times) for the information center to open - not till 9am!

Checked out few sites before checking in to our hotel. We went to a fortress that overlooks the city, crossed the Mozart bridge. I spot sound of music film sites here and there as we walked around town and geeked out =) Calvin has never seen the sound of music (yet) so he wasn't as excited as I was but the sights of the town and the mountains surrounding the city was majestic by itself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Venice - Day 2

Islands hopping~

water bus stop
We've been having our meals religiously in this one place - Pontini's for all our days in Venice - cheaper than the others. You can see Calvin here is eating by a bar/stand  - most locals eat by the bar right next to their cashier - it's about 50 cents to one whole euro cheaper per order - so a cappucino would cost about 1.50 euro standing up by the bar versus a 2.00 euro sitting down. Once you tally that up with the rest of your meal (bread, etc), you saved a good few euros by eating like a local. So apart from saving money, we truly enjoyed eating and blending with the locals for breakfasts here at Pontini's.


Murano glass

Anyways, our day -
First to Murano then to Burano. Those are two islands not too far from the venice side - from san marco, about 45ish minute water bus ride to Burano, and only about 10 mins or so to Murano. Murano is famous for its glass making while Burano is more about lace-making. Writing about the visits still make me feel a little bit tippy - after all that waterbus-ride, I still (every now and then) feel as if I am still aboard a boat, rocking gently. Murano wasn't too much of a fun stop for us, the whole place is just filled with shops after shops of selling pretty much similar items of glass products - accessories or high end chandeliers or mantlepiece decors. Had a panini speck with Brie cheese - yuck - not a fan of Brie for sure (good thing Calvin has no problem finishing it for me).

Burano was a pleasant surprise - rows after rows of colors popping in every corner you turn. It's a smaller island than Murano, we didn't expect too much but turned out to be our favorite stop for the whole trip to Venice. I would go back in a heartbeat, still a little packed with tourists but quieter and cheaper items for sale too. Ride back to San Marco wasn't too fun - packed like sardines for a good 45 mins, a Canadian couple who stood next to us felt the same way, couldn't imagine packed the same way in the heat of summer (lucky us, it's cooling a lot now). Greeted by thunder and lightning halfway back, rocked back and forth a little more and this time we were prepared with an umbrella but still managed to get pretty drenched. A nice touch of rainbow overlooking lagoon to end the day =)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Venice - Day 1

It was a total of 3 train transfers to get from Pisa to Venice San Lucia.We were at the train station by 1.15pm and we got to Venice by 7ish. If any of you have ever been to Penang island in Malaysia, the ride from the mainland to Venice San Lucia station itself feels like riding from Seberang Prai to Penang island. Venice is a pedestrian only city so for a change, it feels good not having to worry about cars or vespas going in and out.

Venice at night

colors, colors, colors!

on our way to San Marco, one of the views

we didnt try this, looks good though

view from Rialto bridge

Roma, Pisa, Pompei, Amalfi - we thought we learned by now how to deal with crowds. What hit us coming out from the train station was entirely different. I read about the island and was told by our Roma hostess that Venice is mainly filled with more tourists than locals - most cannot afford the high property rates here so a lot choose to move inland. Our first night dinner was probably the worst meal in Italy, a shameful representation of the good food they have. We didn't walk around too much the night we got here so we rested well enough to explore more on our first official day in Venice the next day.

the Square
Woke up fresh, asked around for a place where locals go to and it didn't disappoint - Pontinis, not too far from where we are staying too.  Had great coffee and bread, good start to the day and off we went, we chose to walk to San Marco from there, plenty of shops throughout the walk (of course, people everywhere too). Instead of the car fumes, we get a lot of second hand ciggie smokes - not cool. We didn't go into St Mark's Basilica but we went up the bell tower next to it instead for an overall city view from high up. The waterbus ride back to the station from San Marco was a nightmare. Everyone wanted to board at the same time, so picture New york rush hour but on a boat. Got to watch out too for fakes - murano glass, italian leather - even shops selling 'authentic' items with large signs, doesn't look too right to us. Let's hope our trip to Murano today will end up better.

every inch utilized.