Thursday, 12 November 2015

Fall 2015: A Quick Summary

So i'm back from my European journey!

5 countries. 7 cities. 5 plane rides. 5 inter-city train rides. 21 days.

Here's a quick summary of my itinerary.

The trip started on the evening of 11 Oct with a 12 hour direct flight with Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, another flight awaits to get us to Berlin. This time, on Lufthansa.

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral Church)
We were in Berlin for 5 nights before taking the inter-city train to Amsterdam on 17 Oct. So I made the mistake of not reserving seats and we had a pretty rough time. The train was pretty full, so there weren't much "unreserved" seats left. We tried our luck at selecting an empty seat, before being chased away by the seat "owners". We ended up standing and seating at the space between wagons together with the rest who do not have a reservation. As what the man who was sharing that small space with us told us, the important thing is to get yourselves on the train. So we stood and sat there for a good 2 hours. We had to change to another train after that and to our relief, the next train was less crowded and we managed to get ourselves seats for the next 4 hours.

The "I amsterdam" letters outside the Rijksmuseum.
We arrived Amsterdam via the Amsterdam Centraal station. The city can be covered pretty much on foot but you have to be pretty fit. Most people rent bikes to get around. I didn't, so we got the GVB 48- hour pass. Anyway, it was the Autumn Holidays (17 - 25 Oct) for schools during the time we were there. So they brought the circus to town and set it up right at the Grand Square. They had rides, a giant Ferris Wheel, a Haunted House ride, games stalls, and pretty much whatever is in Uncle Ringo's armoury. Of course, there were the ubiquitous canals and there were made more stunning with the colours of autumn. We also stopped by the Zoo, which was located just opposite our hotel. 4 nights in Amsterdam later, it was time to head back to Berlin, as sister needs to catch a flight there before flying home. It was another 6 hours on the train, but this time, we have learned our lesson well and had our seats reserved.

We stayed another night in Berlin, before I send sister off at Berlin's Tegel airport. She's off to Frankfurt, after which she will catch the return flight to Singapore. For me, I caught an Air Berlin flight later that evening to Vienna.

Schonbrunn Gardens, Vienna
Vienna gave me quite the welcome. Let's just say that I had a rough time accessing my room when I arrived at 10.00pm in a pretty dark and quiet neighbourhood. After getting all that sorted out, the next day was spent getting groceries for my meals for the next couple of days. The apartment had a kitchenette, so I could do all my cooking. I also managed to explore the Schonbrunn Gardens, reserved seats for my remaining train ride tickets, walked along the shopping streets, visited Naschmarkt, and appreciate the buildings here. The next day was a half-day trip to neighbouring Bratislava.

Michael's Gate, Bratislava, Slovakia
The capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, is only an hour train ride away from Vienna. So I took the opportunity to drop by. Honestly, this visit to Bratislava was mostly to tick the box beside "Slovakia". Spent about 4 hours exploring the area on foot. After which, it was back to Vienna. On Sunday, 25 Oct, I experienced Daylight Saving Time for the first time. Its nothing much, except that it got me a little concerned as I had a train to catch on that day and I cannot get the timing wrong. In any case, I clarified the matter with the locals and I caught my train to Hallstatt in good time.

Hallstatt, Austria

With a little bit of anxiety, I manage to arrive the town of Hallstatt. There were some construction going on at the train station of Hallstatt the day I arrive. So I was told by the conductor to alight at Bad Ischl instead, and take the bus that will take me to Hallstatt. Just a small inconvenience, and I don't get to take the ferry to cross the lake. No biggie. So on the day of arrival, I was fortunate to be able to check in early, after which, I proceeded to the funicular station to see for myself the "World Heritage View". After that, it was pretty much, some exploration of the small town before retreating to the hotel room. The next day was spent at Obertraun. Another day of going up to heights to see the wonders of nature. I visited an ice cave, saw the endless horizon of snow-covered mountains and hiked precariously just to get to the Five Fingers viewing deck. In the late morning the next day, I departed Hallstatt for Vienna. I've booked a pretty hotel just to rest and relax for a night before embarking on the next leg of the journey to the city of Prague.

Charles Bridge - Prague, Czech Republic
Vienna to Prague was about a 4 hour train ride. Upon reaching Praha Hlavni Nadrazi, it was another round of finding my way in a new city. Naturally, it was pretty rough and it was made rougher by some of the people from the city of Prague. The unfamiliarity compounded the dodgy feeling the city presented. It didn't help too that the way I took to my hotel was pretty quiet. And a man saw me as a good outlet to juice some cash. He approached me and I refused accordingly. Simply because I am very low on cash myself. Okay, that's a mouthful for a welcome paragraph. The sun set soon after I check in. I headed out to town anyway. Checked a few boxes that very night and checked a couple of others the day after. Pretty gutted that I didn't have enough cash to enter Prague Castle, but yeah, it happens. Having enough cash to fill the tummy is more important. After 2 nights, off I went to Prague's Vaclav Havel Airport hours before the sunrise to catch my flight to Frankfurt.

Frankfurt, Germany
In Frankfurt, I left my luggage in the airport and proceeded to the city to have a look. I had about 12 hours before my flight home. Purchased my return ticket to the city (I stopped at Hauptwache Station) and walked around the area. The famous Goethe House was pretty underwhelming. The open square around the Romer was pretty iconic though. I then proceeded to take a walk along the Main River, whic led me to Eisener Steg - one of the bridges that straddles the Main River. I also walked by about a kilometre of the shopping belt in the area before calling it a day. It might not be the best place to stop when in Frankfurt, because it does not excite me that much being there. I don't know. I'm sure Frankfurt has way more than this. Perhaps weariness has set in, this being the final leg of the trip. In any case, I decided to return to the airport where I can fill my stomach for free (I did mention I was low on cash) with the food offered at the airport lounge. After which, it was time to make my final preparations for the 12 hour flight back home.

So yeah, that pretty much sums up the three weeks. I hope to be able to catch up on the detailed experience soon.