Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna : The Day After 

Reached Singapore around 1700hrs. Went home straight and unpacked. That is probably the second most disliked part of travelling. It loses out to packing because I HAVE to pack whereas if I were so inclined, I could possibly leave the stuff in the box till forever. However, still have to unpack.

For all those who may wonder how much I have spent on this trip, here's the breakdown.

Contiki Land Tour: USD 1374 (approx SGD 1800). Single room, non twinsharing.
Airfare: SGD 995
Additional hotel nights: Berlin 2 nights - 112 Euros (approx  SGD 180) Vienna 1 night - 59 Euros (approx SGD 95)
Additional Contiki optionals: 116 Euros (approx SGD 186 )
TEP rental (for roaming data): 68.85 Euros (Approx SGD 110)

Total: SGD 3366

These are the tour expenses. Left my expense record at work today. Will try to get it back tomorrow and update again!

All in, Berlin was really good for me as I could go around fairly easily and there's lots to learn about German history from the disintegration of Imperialism till the end of WWII. Prague was ok. Nothing especially special for me except that I got to see Vltava which is a river featured in a song we're performing next year. Vienna was cool for me cos... it's Classical Music!! Do I need to say more?

Another thing I notice is that they do not seem to have strays in Europe. I have not noticed any, although I am not sure why. All the dogs that I have seen were being walked by someone. Isn't that cool?

Still so many places in Europe to go to ^.^. Next European targets will be Munich, London, Paris.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 12 (Contiki Day 8 + 2) 

And so today is the last day that I have in Europe. Woke up in the morning and was all lazy. Lounged around and packed my luggage. Checked out at 12pm, left my luggage in the hotel and off I went for some shopping!

Caught the underground to city center and went shopping for chocolates afterwhich I was off to Chanel. They didn't have what my friend wanted so I went over to LV, bought what my friend wanted. Then I went back to Chanel to double check on a bag, finally got what my friend wanted! :D

Carried the bags back to the hotel and packed them into my luggage. Fortunately it all fit! Phew! So off I trotted with my luggage to the underground again. You can go to Wien Mitte to take a City Airport Train which takes you to the airport for 12 Euros (one way) and takes only 16 mins. There are like 3 check in areas and the one I was in was kinda smallish with no seats so I had to stand around till I could check in.

It was difficult for me to find the tax refund counter in Vienna Airport so I gave up and decided to get that done when I reach Singapore. The flight from Vienna to Helsinki was larger than the one I took to Berlin , so it was quite ok for me cos I had an empty seat between me and the next guy and I was seated at the last row. Got to Helsinki, transited uneventfully onto the flight back to Singapore. This one was even better! Although I was still seated at the tail end of the plane, now I had a window seat and the aisle seat next to me was empty, it was just a two seater so it was all mine :D Great for me but I guess not so good for the airline... however it was on a Monday so I guess it's not supposed to be sell out anyway. Nice, comfy and I even got to watch Rurouni Kenshin on the way home. Yes, before it premieres in Singapore, I watched it :D For free (while I paid the airfare... so maybe can't say it's free.)

Can't wait to go to Europe again. Sponsorship slots still available, FYI. XÞ

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 11 (Contiki Day 8 +1) 

Got up in the morning and went for breakfast. The others on the Contiki tour continuing to Budapest will be preparing to leave by 0930. I'm staying and extra night in Vienna and then flying off from here.

I had already bought tickets to the Lippizzaner performance in the Spanische Hofreitschule so I would need to get to the performance by 1100. Left the hotel slightly past 1000 and actually went to the train station instead of the underground station. However managed to get directions to get to the performance place by tram so I got there in plenty of time.

After I found my seat, I seriously felt that it was one of the best seats available on the upper level. There are definitely more seats that are better, on the lower level and costs at least twice mine. I checked out the seats later and I think those have cushions... mine didn't but still I liked my seat. It was opposite where the Lippizzaners would enter and it was on the 'short side' which means that I have the least amount of view blocked by the parapets.... and my seat was on the side which means I have extra space for my bag, on top of which my seat was as middle as you could get. I love my seat :D

Most of the time through the performance, I was literally on the edge of my seat. As in, I was sitting on the edge so I can see better but still I was at least seated. It's definitely not some equestrian competition like those you will see for Rolex cups or whatever but still the horses were well trained, graceful and for the most part obedient. There was one particular one that was probably having a bad day and was quite grumpy lol. If you like horses, consider watching this show when you are in Vienna. There is also a guided tour of the school (tickets separate).

After the show, I checked out Chanel and LV... I forgot it was Sunday and most things are closed. WSell tomorrow then. P.S. Not buying for myself in case you are wondering why I would even step into them, this person who uses a crummy $30 bag for everything. So do remember not to plan your shopping on Sundays in Germany and Austria. Not sure how it is in the rest of Europe but be prepared.

I then went to the Haus der Musik where I literally whiled the afternoon away. While Vienna means art to some people, to me it means music. Seriously. Music. On the first floor, there is a museum for the Vienna Philharmonic. Nice place, they even have a room set up for you to view recordings of their past performances!! Naturally discs are for sale. Someday I should like to attend their New Year's Concert. And perhaps their Summer Night Concert.

2nd floor was this psychedelic sound sphere. It explores sound. I didn't like it much.

3rd floor was dedicated to the Great Composers. Naturally, my favourite composer is not in this (as he, as far as I know, in no way ever touched Vienna) but there wwas a lot of information about the Vienna related composers. Lovely place really and there is even a virtual conductor kiosk where you can virtually conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. I didn't get to try it though but I had fun watching others try.

I love Strauss but I am almost getting a slight overdose of the Radetsky Marsche and An der schonen blauen Donau. Still love them but I get a bit peeved when people start auto clapping to the Radetsky Marsche and do not know when to be softer, louder and stop appropriately. You should watch this being played by the Vienna Philharmonic in their 2012 New Year's Concert... now that's audience clapping being conducted to almost perfection lol.

After the museum I thought I'd go find some food but that proved harder said than done. I thought I wanted schnitzel but then every place I went was either too empty (seems lousy but maybe it's good) or too full (can't get a seat) so in the end I ended up buying fish and chips from Nordsee in a takeaway pack. It's so comfortable to be eating hot food while walking in what was possibly 5 degrees weather. Your tummy gets fuzzy warm! After that I went bat shit crazy and bought a gelato. And ate it in the cold.

And now last but not least, I shall have to introduce you to my guardians today. They guarded my bag for me as I stuffed them on top of everything else. My hood from my coat and the lippizzaner I bought from the Spanische hofreitschule!

And also announcing that I need sponsors for my next Europe trip. Sign ups begins now.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 10 (Contiki Day 8) 

The last full day of my Contiki tour. The tour effectively ends tomorrow morning after breakfast but that's well... just a hotel breakfast and you could skip that. In fact a few people are flying off at 0700ish tomorrow. I would never willingly choose that kinda flight timing for leaving a foreign city if I had a choice. 

In the morning we went on a short walking tour through the Hofburg and into the Inner Stadt. I must say that Vienna strikes me as some place that I will return to again. Come on, wouldn't you like to come here to attend a classical concert too?

After the walking tour by our tour manager, our tour ended in a major shopping area and he brought us over to Swarovski's Flagship store which is 3 stories high. Seriously this place is super bling!! If you like bling, you will go nuts here. No kidding.

Then we had alike three hours of free time, which is kinda not enough to go to museums and stuff but to loong to just hang around. We went to Hotel Sacher where we had the famous (although I only found out about it yesterday) Sachertort. It's basically a chocolate cake with a consistency akin to brownies. Obviously my friends will not require me to provide a reason why I would go and eat a chocolate cake.

After that, a few of us went to the Kunst Historisches Museum. On the way there, I passed by the Spanish Riding School and went to buy tickets for tomorrow's Lippizzaner performance. It's supposed to be the only school in the world left that still uses traditional methods to train horses. I bought th 53 euros tickets so I hope it will be decent (at the the ticket guy said it will be better then at the side). 

As I exited the school, there was a large crowd. I must say that I was less guarded than I should be because I had a friend walking slightly behind me, but she didn't notice the pickpocket behing me (not her fault) but I felt a lifting of my bag and looked behind. Immediately behind me was a dark haired guy reading a map. I didn't immediately check my bag but after a few moments, I felt something was seriously not right and I checked my bag. The frigging zip was 1/3 open and I had very carefully closed it just moments earlier (friends who know that I got my phone pickpocked in Bugis Junction will know that I had very specifically zipped up my bag just before that incident as well... you guys know I am very casual with closing my bag).

I was almost gonna freak out as I checked my bag and fortunately, I determined that nothing of any value had been taken. My bag was just too darn full at that point in time (darn lucky for me that I had stuffed the cap portion of my coat in there this morning so my bag was stuffed).

Seriously, I thought Prague would be dangerous but well, never enjoy yourself too much and be careful when there are many people. Anyone that is to close is to be terminated (I kid).

Reached the museum but only spent about an hour and half in it. It is a fine place for anyone who loves fine art. If you come to Vienna and love art, you need to visit the Kunst Historisches Museum. Had to leave the museum because we were going on a optional excursion to the Schnapps Museum. It's basically a visit to where they made Schnapps and the 6th generation son gave us the history and brief tour of the place. We all get to drink Schnapps at the end but I didn't. I was just there for the tour and so perhaps the art museum would have been better lol.

After that we went back to the hotel so people could dress up for the dinner and concert. I just did what every true blue Singaporean does and went in my daily casuals lol. The dinner was Chicken Schnitzel!! I love Schnitzel. The best Schnitzel I've had so far was in Berlin. After that, we went over to where Mozart had his first performance for Maria Theresia and we attended a performance there. It consists of Mozart and Strauss pieces (no prizes for guessing why these two) and also had some pieces which had dance choreography as well as singing. There was a piece with comic effect as well (a violinist who can't perform the most difficult instrument of them all, the triangle.) All in all, it was a good performance and many people gave them the standing ovation although I didn't (and kinda felt a little bad after that).

Best night ever. Attending a classical concert of Mozart and Strauss pieces in Vienna! And of course they definitely did play "An der schonen blauen Donau", just in case you were wondering.

Come on people, come to Vienna and watch the concerts!

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 9 (Contiki Day 7) 

Woke up in the morning, packed and breakfasted. Said goodbye to groupmates leaving us in Prague.

We leave Prague at 0830!!

After about 2 hours ride, we reach a town of Kutna (I missed the accents in the word but too bad) where we visited a ossuary.. basically it is a church that alot of people wanted to be buried in because long long ago a monk went to where Jesus was crucified and collected some soil and then he spread it over the land where the church is. The interior of the church is decorated with human bones and it costs you about 60 Czech Korunas (about 3 euros) to get in. After that it was a lunch stop in town. Had Italian food lol.

After about another 3 hours travelling we reach a place right by the border and it's called Excalibur. It has like dragon models on the roof and knights out front. Rather cool actually. Basically it's a highway service stop. Not sure why our guide think it's pedo land / bat shit crazy.

Soon after that stop, we passed over the border into Austria!! Finally, I can read again! I was getting kinda pissy in Prague actually, cos I can't read the stuff there. >.<

After an hour or so, we finally pull into Vienna! Our guide even played Radetzky March to fit in with the feel lol. Checked into our hotel (bigger than Prague's but no free wifi -.-) and prepared to go to dinner.

For today's dinner, I ended up having the vegetarian option cos the main is beef. The vegetarian option is not really vegetarian by Taoist definitions lol. It has egg in it. So if you are a vegetarian who does not eat egg and you are in Europe, do check, They seem to tend to serve a lacto-ovarian instead. My dinner was some kinda cheese, egg mix. Not bad though.

Supposedly, our guide was gonna go to Prater park which is an amusement park and those who did not want to go could follow the coach back to the hotel... unfortunately the park was closed. However, if you are in the area you might want to know that there are street hookers near that park....

Looking forward to tomorrow, we get to go to a concert right here in Vienna :D

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 8 (Contiki Day 6) 

And so today is a fairly lazy day. Didn't really feel like going anywhere since I had covered most of Old Town yesterday, as well as the castle grounds and St Vitus Cathedral.

Lazed around till dinner actually. We had dinner at this restaurant called Restaurant Michal where they serve food and have cultural performances like music, singing and dancing. Quite a good place to go to if you are in Prague. Restaurant Michal 

After dinner quite a few people went out to a pub crawl but I didn't join em cos I don't drink alcohol and there's really no point in going to a smoke filled place to drink coke.

Hope I enjoy Vienna more than Prague.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 7 (Contiki Day 5) 

And we're halfway through our trip! There is a walking tour through Prague this morning that starts at the Prague castle. It is still functioning as a government building though. It's kinda like our Istana, just older, grander and open all the time to tourists.

There is St Vitus Cathedral (I can't read Czech so you're gonna have to just go with the English names for everything I list in Prague) on the grounds. The present cathedral was completed over a period of several hundred years. It was first started in 1344, then the master builder (Matthias of Arras) died in 1352 and Peter Parler (seriously I mistyped it as Peter Parker) took over. The left over stuff was completed and the new builder added his own ideas. Because construction on the cathedral proceeded slowly, this went on for another two builders (Wendel and Johannes Parler - his sons). Construction stopped by the 1400s but in 1800s and 1900s, renovation and completion works were done on the cathedral. As such the cathedral is a mix of many different styles over several hundred years.

After that we pretty much strolled through Lesser Quarter and over Charles Bridge.Of point to note on Charles Bridge is a statue of John of Nepomuk. He was thrown off the bridge for not telling the king the secrets that he learnt during confessions. Apparently you get threee wishes and good luck if you touch the statue. If you look at the statue, you will see two sections of shiny areas on the pedestal which the statue rests. One of the areas is on a picture that depicts him being thrown into the Vltava and so if you touch the part where he is being thrown into the river... you get your wishes.

When you get into Old Town, one of the first places you go to is the Astronomical Clock. Every hour, from 0900 to 2100, the clock will sound the hour with a procession of the 12 Apostles, a skeletion will ring the bell and some other statuettes will be shaking their heads. At the end of the procession a cockerel will crow and then someone at the top of the clock tower will sound the trumpet. I really like the trumpeting part lol. 

I also saw one of the places where Bedrich Smetana used to live. So cool! Next year, the choir I am in will be doing a choral version of Die Moldau which is actually composed by Smetana. It is commonly known by it's German name but the original name is Vltava from a suite titled Má Vlast. Here's the piece and enjoy some nice views of Prague while you are at it.

And this is the version that we will be performing.

We also got on a lunch cruise on the Vltava (still feeling all cool about the Vltava and next year's concert). The food was nothing special really and all in all I would say that if you don't have that much time to spend in Prague, you could skip this unless you really wanted to be able to tell people that you were actually on the Vltava.

With lunch settled, it'd free and easy for the rest of the afternoon and the night since I didn't want to go watch the Ice Hockey game. I walked alot, seriously and it was quite irritating for me in Prague especially after Berlin, since I could not read Czech. :D And the street names are hard to find honestly. Quite an adventure though, always fun to get alittle (or quite a bit lost). However, I still think I much preferred Berlin. Prague seems to be mainly shopping, after we took away the stuff that we had covered on the walking tour.

Still, managed to get back to the hotel via their metro system. Not too bad.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 6 (Contiki Day 4) 

Time flies fast indeed and it is time to leave Berlin. I really love this city. It is so easy to move around in and there is so much to do and experience here. Of course, I need to qualify this by saying that I have an interest in World War II history.

After breakfast, we start off on our way to Prague in the Czech Republic. First, we stop by the East Side Gallery which is a section of the Wall which has been preserved with lots of graffitti on it. One thing I have to say about Berlin (and this is probably true of most European cities) is that there is graffitti everywhere. At the East Side Gallery, there is a very famous artwork which you can see here:
You can also see graffitti on the graffitti. That's the beauty of it eh?

Also, there was this peculiar piece of artwork which I found.. interesting on the Berlin Wall:
 I guess they were comrades in arms back in the day........
 Do you notice the China vs Japan issues here?
More of the issues...

Another artwork was meant to showcase the various walls around the world....

 But then someone comes along and says "We need democracy, not Great Wall.". Well, I do not know the original intent of the original artist, but to the person who wrote that line.... the Great Wall of China wasn't built to keep out democracy, you knucklehead. Read more history before you protest.

After visiting the East Side Gallery, we head off to Dresden. It's nice as a day trip as it has a pretty medieval feel to it but has almost nothing much apart from stuff in the Neumarkt area (at least that was the feel that I got.. maybe it's cos I only had two hours in town). You can pay 8 euros to go up to the top of the Frauenkirche, you can also sit in the pews of Frauenkirche to enjoy the views. I've been so religious all week, lol. We got like 2 hours to wander around and grab lunch, but I didn't eat any lunch as I wanted to maximise my 2 hours.

The thing about Dresden is that pretty much most of the stuff were rebuilt after the war and as recent as 2006. There was very bad firebombing in Dresden towards the end of WWII and that killed many civilians and became extremely controversial. It is a given that military personnel are fair game, but to target civilians is another thing entirely. There's alot of history here, do read up if you are interested.

After leaving Dresden, we are finally headed off into Prague! It is now Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland. Ahhoj, Česká Republika.

First order of the day when we get into Prague was to check into the hotel, naturally. It's a lovely hotel called Ibis! You know what's so great about it? It has free wifi in the room :P Didn't have that in Germany... so sad. However, some dumbarsehole thought it was a good idea to blardy smoke in the toilet of a non smoking hotel room. I friggin curse that fella to constantly disturbed sleep for as long as that smell stays in my toilet!

Tonight's dinner is included in the tour and so we go off to a restaurant that is actually in a basement. The food is not bad but I'm already missing my schnitzels :(

After dinner some went off to a pub and the rest of us took the coach back to the hotel. It's really cold out tonight. Think it's about 4 degrees. First night in Prague.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 5 (Contiki Day 3) 

Got up to a nice breakfast, I guess most everyone else is drunk or in bed because they went out the the "I spy" tour last night. I didn't go because I don't drink. A groupmate later told me that the guide gave a lot of history on the wall and the escapes. Darn it.

In the morning we go off to a walking tour. It costs 9 euros, starts around Alexanderplatz and will end at Checkpoint Charlie. This tour guide is pretty good, he gives us alot of the history behind the things he shows us. Turns out that he did a Phd thesis about the Nazis so he is a really good resource for such information. Berlin is now rebuilding the Berlin Palace, which is one of two palaces in Berlin. The other one being Charlottenburg (Yay!! I went to that one! I might be the only one in the group who went there *beams*). Currently, the ground is being flattened and prepared for the palace and the guide joked that it should be finished in about 302 years. Also the ground is still being prepared, a section with a window has already been completed and mounted by the side of the road as a display. Goodness knows why.

 There is so much construction going on in Berlin that it's hard to believe that this city is actually poor and owes alot of money to the rest of Germany.

We also went to see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, which is essentially a plaza with 2711 blocks of concrete. My initial thoughts of this Memorial is that the blocks of concrete kinda look like huge coffins, but as you walk into the middle on the the memorial, the concrete blocks rise up above your head and you can only see what is infront of you and behind you. You will only see what is to the left and right of you at intersections. It kinda gave me the feeling of being isolated and that you never know who is going to the at the next intersection. Apparently the architect did not explain what he meant by this installation but the guide hazarded a guess that perhaps 2711 is an allusion to 9/11 (2+7 =9). Of course, he was quick to explain that it's not the American 9/11 (which I thought of first as well cos that's about the only thing people call 9/11) but rather the very curious Schicksalstag 9th of November.

Near where the Memorial for the Murdered Jews is located, is the bunker where Hitler commited suicide. It is now a parking lot and is very nondescript. This is because Neo-nazism is still a big problem in Europe, and every year on the anniversary of his suicide, Neo-nazis will throw some stunt or another at this spot.

For those who think that the Germans have no sense of humour... near where Hitler commited suicide there is a memorial of Johann Georg Elser who attempted to assassinate Hitler on the 8th of November 1939 (the guide said 9th of November though, not sure why. I suppose he loves 9th of November too!).

The tour brought us past the Ministry of Finance (previously the Nazi Air Force headquarters) and then finally on to the Brandenburg Gate. Near the Brandonburg Gate is Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson had dangled his baby from. Bit of trivia for you.

As we get to the end of the tour, we finally end at Checkpoint Charlie. This checkpoint is famous because it is the only one that allowed foreigners to pass through and apparently from where World War III almost sparked off from, this time because a US General wanted to watch a performance in East Berlin and was denied entry by the Soviets. Nothing to do with the Germans. Oh and on this trip, I learnt that some people were taught that World War I was started by the Germans. That's mighty convenient but not true.

Really liked this guide, he is very knowledgable and even has information beyond the immediate sights to share. He does give us a feeling that he is doing this because he loves it.

After the walking tour, I went over to Kurfurstendamm to look for shops to help friends buy stuff. It's much farther in West Berlin than all the attractions in Berlin are (Most attractions are in East Berlin.) and actually lined with alot of big name brands. If you liked brand boutiques, this would be the place to be! I had wasted time looking along Unter den Linden!

Tried to find dinner on Potsdamer Platz (someone recommended an Italian Restaurant there, but they only had pasta) but changed my mind and had bread bought from bakeries along the way. Seriously love the diet here. Tasty, meat, potatoes, bread... :D 

Ah yes, also managed to take a tour around the outside of the Reichstag. The Reichstag is the German Parliament, which for all intents and purposes is currently the centre of Europe. In an odd, twisted way... Europe kinda belongs to Germany now, in the financial sense.

Pretty much walked my feet off tonight, but it was well worth it. I like the feeling of exploring, getting a little bit lost and then finding something you wouldn't have. It's so fun!

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 4 (Contiki Day 2) 

This morning, we head off to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I don't think I need to explain what a concentration camp is. If you don't know, you can either google or wiki it. Admission for Sachsenhausen is free and you can get an audio guide for 3 euros. They wanted a photo ID for the audio guide and if I had to use my 11B, that would have been kinda weird I guess. Used my student card though. 

Although I am currently on the Contiki tour, the Sachsenhausen tour is DIY. You move around onyour own and get back to the bus at the designated time. We had 2 hours, which included the time required to get the audio guide and 2 hours is definitely not enough for someone like me who potters about everywhere. I did not managed to get round to the whole camp, I only managed to view the barracks, the prison and the peace commemoration obelisk. Areas like the infirmary, torture areas.. I didn't manage to get to. I guess I really am the sort who needs to travel outside of a group tour lol.

If you come to Berlin, you really must come to Sachsenhausen. That is of course, unless you 1) hate history 2) are only here for the beer or 3) have been to Dachau or Auschwitz. For me, I would definitely go to Dachau and Auschwitz if I had the chance. I guess I'm quite the WWII junkie...

After Sachsenhausen, the bus brought us back to Alexaderplatz where it was free time for the rest of the day untill night for those who take up the optional "I spy" gig where you get to solve clues and go to bars. I wasn't going to "I spy" so I was just gonna hang around Alexanderplatz and catch up on visiting monuments and museums. Took a look at the Fernsehtum (TV Tower) and decided that I wasn't going to pay 12 (or 16, not sure which) euros to go up for the panoramic view because it was cloudy and looked like it was gonna rain, so the view was not likely to be nice. Went over to the Berline Dom and had a piping hot crepe along the way (yums!). Fortunately today, the Berliner Dom is open for visiting. The admission fee is 7 euros and the audio guide is 3 euros but unfortunately I believe they have either run out of it or are currently not offering any.

The inside of the Berliner Dom is magnificent. Seriously, 7 euros is way worth it (and don't give me no crap about your not visiting cos you are not Christian, I ain't one either.. just pay and go in!) and the best part is, we managed to catch a rehearsal for Christmas and so we got treated to some very nice music and singing. You can go up all the way to the top of the Dom and you can walk around outside of it. I reckon this is more worthwhile than the Fernsehtum but I hadn't actually gone to the Fernsehtum so I cannot say definitively. You get to see all the deco, and I really wonder how long it took to get all that intricate details done.

At the Berliner Dom, I met up with 2 of my Contiki groupmates so I ended up going to the Neues Museum with tem because they were looking for Contemporary Art. Well, no comtemporary art in that museum so it was a strike out. Neues Museum currently houses archaelogical exhibitions. Do go there if that's your cup of tea.

After the museum, we had dinner at Emma's near Berliner Dom. I had Wiener Schnitzel (the Chicken Schnitzel I had at Adebar the other day was better) with saute potatoes. Loved the potatoes.

There's like lots of potatoes, bread, chocolate (haven't had any yet *gasp*) around here so it's almost heaven!

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 3 (Contiki Day 1) 

Although today is the first day of my Contiki tour, I don't actually meet up with the group till evening at 1700 after which we will go to dinner. So I pretty much still had the day to myself. Unfortunately, I had checked with the hotel reception the day before and was told that I needed to check out and then check in again (I had booked two nights before the tour on my own), so that restricted my morning options a little.

Lounged around till check out and found out that I could have just stayed in my room.... -.- sianz, totally wasted my effort packing and sticking around. Sigh. Lugged my luggage back into the room and off I went to Charlottenburg!

Schloß Charlottenburg is a palace built around 1700 for Sophie Charlotte. In the beginning, it was built as her summer place but after she was coronated as the first Queen of Prussia, Charlottenburg was extended with new wings.

The trip from my hotel to Charlottenburg took around 1 hour 15 mins (walking plus U Bahn) and the walk from U Bhf Sophie-Charlotte Platz to Charlottenburg took me through some neighbourhood that was clearly different from the neighbourhood that my hotel was in. Charlottenburg is in former West Berlin and my hotel is in former East Berlin so you can really still see the differences (although I have to say that former East Berlin has apartments not unlike what we have in Singapore so we should be quite used to landscape here.

If you have the Berlin Welcome card, the admission ticket to Schloß Charlottenburg is discounted. However you have to purchase a photo permit at 3 euros and if your camera is unable to take low light photos, you should just save your money.

You get an audio guide which I found lovely because I can move at my own pace and yet I still get guided explanations. The ground floor is dedicated to Sophie Charlotte and also her husband Frederick I. The uppper floor was pretty much destroyed in WWII and had been rebuilt, so it is more modern in feel and showcases mainly silverware and portraits.

Ceiling in the state room, ground floor

Sophie loved porcelain and Far East (Chinese) stuff

More Chinese stuff

After jaunting around in the palace itself, I went out to the gardens (no ticket required). The gardens are rather nice although I didn't quite like the Baroque style portion right in front of the palace. It was drizzling so I couldn't really get photos of the gardens as well but it was a rather nice stroll through the gardens.

After leaving Charlottenburg, I headed back to the hotel to meet up with my Contiki group. It was raining a little harder when I reached my U Bahn stop ... bah. At least I have my umbrella so that wasn't too bad.

Was late to the meetup but I guess that was nothing compared to the wait time we had for the registration. After the meet up, we headed off to the Europa Centre for Dinner. The restaurant is called Kartoffeln Kiste and the food here is quite good too. Seriously way better than the stuff I had on the Chan Brothers tour last year :(

After dinner it was back to the hotel and sleep..

Now, I have had friends who say that I am very courageous to fly over to Berlin alone, I find that is nothing compared to getting together with a roomful of absolute strangers. Now THAT, is scary.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 2 (Contiki Day - 1) 

I had an initial plan of going to the Berlin Wall (it is a must for me to go to the Berlin Wall on the 9th of November) and to Checkpoint Charlie. I also thought I should go to Charlottenburg which is a palace on the western side of Berlin. However, I was loathe to leave the hotel in the morning although I woke at 0600.

It was late morning before I actually left the hotel and I got the Wall around noon. Possibly the best place to view the wall is along Niederkirchenstraße as there is an exhibition called "Topographie des Terrors" there as well. There are plenty of photos and information available and the best part is, admission is free for this.

After spending time in the exhibition and the wall, I walked over to Checkpoint Charlie because I wanted to visit the Museum for Checkpoint Charlie, however I changed my mind once I got there and decided to continue on to the Deutches Historiches Museum instead. Once there I was told that because today is the 9th of November, admission is free. My Birthday is powerful in Germany. Spent about 2 hours in there and by the time I left, it was too dark to take photos of the Berliner Dom but I went anyway. The Berliner Dom is an actual church (or cathedral?) so you can only visit when there are no services. 

After spending some time sitting in Lustgarten viewing Berliner Dom, I walked down to Alexanderplatz to take the U Bahn to Eberswalder Straße and went to a Singaporean Restaurant named "Asin" along Oderberger Straße. I wanted to see for myself what this "Singaporean" restaurant would turn out to be like.

Upon entering, you are greeted by statuettes of elephants and buddhas. I have no clue how that is Singaporean, really but then again I think The Amazing Race once portrayed us as greeting with both hands clapsed together in prayer ala Thailand style so I guess it's probably just playing to the European concept of Singapore.

The menu was mildly curious. I could not recognise most of the stuff. The only thing that I thought I could recognise was "Daging Sate" but then the explanation listed chicken as the meat in this dish (daging means lamb). I ordered an Ayam Asin, a hot tea and a cola. They served a soup as appetiser, it tasted like a tom yam (or maybe a watered down laksa), with something like a slice of prata on the side for you to dip with. So far.... quite un-Singaporean.

The main was served as a rice (bowl large enough for 2 actually), a bowl of the actual main (in my case the chicken was stir fried with cucumber slices, tomato slices, button mushrooms and bamboo shoots) and a bowl of salad. It's actually a very large serving so if you are going to visit this place, do consider only ordering one main for 2 people if your appetite is not big.

Although the dishes were, in my opinion, very un-Singaporean... I must say the food itself was quite tasty. At least they didn't serve Singapore noodles. That, would have been crazy.

After dinner, back to hotel! :D

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Berlin, Prague and Vienna Day 1 (Contiki Day - 2) 

My flight had a transit in Angry Bird Land (Helsinki - Vantaa International Airport) and although I had checked on the airport beforehand and confirmed that it offered free wifi.... I simply could not connect. *emo*

The flight from Helsinki to Berlin was 1 hr 45 mins. That's pretty short compared to the 12 hr flight that I had from Singapore to Helsinki (my bum hurt :( ). We were pretty well fed on the way to Helsinki, inflight entertainment had sufficient options for me to sustain the 12 hr flight (not to mention that I somewhat slept fitfully for about 7 or so hours) although definitely not as extensive as the library that you get on SIA. After the meal service, they would come by a further two times to provide drinks, afterwhich you can either help yourself or get them to come by.

The flight from Helsinki on the other hand, had a meal service that was excruciatingly long. I'm not sure whether it has anything to do with the fact that the flight had been transferred over to Flybe (still using Finnir planes and staff in Finnair livery) but I was beginning to wonder if we would ever get our food before we actually landed. We did manage to get food about 15 mins before we started laning approach, but unfortunately there was no option and it was a sandwich with beef, so I had just apple juice and tea.

Because I had already entered Europe in Finland, the exit via Berlin Tegel airport was fast. Hopped off the plane onto the bus, transferred to the baggage claim area and it was outta the airport. Took a little while to get my bearings outside the airport but I managed to get myself the Berlin Welcome Card (I bought the 72 hrs option). Got on the TXL bus which goes all the way to Alexanderplatz and I had to hunt a bit for the U Bahnhof (subway station) but luckily it wasn't that hard to find.

At the U Bahnhof, I had a little trouble getting on the right train. The instructions I got was to take the U 5 headed to Hönow but the U 5 train that arrived did not list Hönow as the terminus station, so I tried to asked someone who immediately gave me a "Nicht versteht." *another emo* Well, she did shake her head when I asked "Hönow?" so I guess she was telling me that the train does not go to Hönow. After checking my directions again, I realised that it did not matter that the train did not go to Hönow.... dum dum. Anyways, I managed to make it to the hotel 2 hours after landing in Berlin, via public transport.

Although along the way, there were times where I wondered if I was lost, I think that is the beauty of independent travelling. It's a bit scary when you think you are lost but then when you realise you were on the right track and found where you wanted to go, it's feels really great!

After checking in, I got so lazy because I was tired from the flight... so I lazed in the hotel for quite a while until I decided to go out for groceries and to the Anne Frank Zentrum.

The Anne Frank Zentrum is in Rosenthaler Straße (no 39) but is a little hard to find. Look for a cinema billboard and walk in, the words "Anne Frank Zentrum" is not displayed anywhere that you can see from the main street. Some of the exhibits were borrowed from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and I shall visit that as well if I ever go to Amsterdam.

It is great that the Berlin and Germany of today acknowledges what has happened. There is no whitewashing that I know of as I view the exhibitions (we all know who whitewashes history don't we?), of course I dare not say that I am familiar with that part of European history well enough to endorse it. Anne has alot of photos taken because her father is an avid photographer and there are two rows of photographs displayed along the ceilings, one of Berlin from 1929 to 1945 and one of Anne from 1929 (birth) to 1945. However, the last photo available of her was when she was 13 years old. That, emphasised the dark and lost years for so many people whom Anne represents.

 I do so love to visit World War II related places, it holds a sort of fascination for me. Perhaps, it means that people can suffer so much and strive to survive... perhaps it is a hope that people will learn and be better.

After Anne Frank Zentrum, I went in search of food as I hadn't eaten for 16 hours! Found a place called Adebar. Nice, cosy and the food was pretty good. By that I guess it probably means it's salty to the majority of Singaporeans (I really don't know when it started but Singaporean food has got so bland.)

Got back to hotel.. and crashed big time lol.

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On My Way to Where I Want To Be on 9th November 

I've been thinking for quite a long time that I should like to be in Berlin on the 9th of November because it is my birthday and also die Mauerfall (Fall of the Berlin Wall).

I try to plan an overseas trip a year and this year my friends had other plans so I originally planned to go to Korea on my own. However some of my friends heard that and expressed interest in going to Korea as well so I decided to shift Korea to next year and therefore went to search for other places I could go to this year. I finally decided on the Contiki Berlin, Prague and Vienna tour. It's great because it is not too rushed and it starts in Berlin on the 10th of November. so all I have to do is go in a little early and I will be in Berlin on the 9th of November!

The entire trip will cost me near 3000 (inclusive of $995 for return airfare). Anyway, although I had not been that excited coming up to this trip (really busy at work and I have exams immediately after the trip), now that I am actually starting on it... it's cool. Hope my bum doesn't hurt too much on the flight.

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