Graz, Austria (Part 4) – Christmas Season in Graz

We ushered in the Christmas season in Graz with lots of mulled wine, Christmas markets, cookies and home-cooked dinners with friends.

A particularly interesting Austrian tradition is the Krampuslauf, which is a parade where (mostly intoxicated) men dress up in the most terrifying Krampus outfits and masks. The Krampus is the arch-nemesis of Saint Nicholas. According to Germanic folklore, they punish children who have misbehaved. During Krampuslauf, these masked-demons parade down the steets of towns and cities, scaring the living daylights out of people, both young and old, occasionally even hitting innocent bystanders. In Graz, it was pretty tame. I was honestly a little afraid, which was why I stood further back. However, Alex told us that in Lienz, Krampuslauf can quickly get out of hand, with participants ending up in the hospitals. An interesting watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcCwJL-1fUU

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Krampuslauf

There are many Christmas markets all around the city. The main one is at Hauptplatz. After Krampuslauf, we climbed up Schloßberg to visit another. It was beautiful, more so than the one at Hauptplatz in my opinion. I bet it has something to do with the warm glow of the Christmas lights, the smell of waffles and the beautiful ornaments.

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Weihnachtsmarkt on Schloßberg

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Der Grazer Uhrturm

We used to host friends at our humble abode for dinner quite often. It was something we all looked forward to and really enjoyed. Cooking has never been so fun!

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Happy people

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International feast

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6 nationalities at dinner – Pakistani, Canadian, Mexican, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Austrian

What is Christmas without Christmas cookies? This was my first time being away from home during Christmas. Christmas is a big thing in my family. We put up the Christmas tree, we give and receive presents, we bake cookies and we have dinner together. It is truly my favourite holiday! I thought I wouldn’t get homemade cookies, but I did!

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Kathi’s mum sent some over, and they were delicious, every single one of them! Look how pretty they are!

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Another Christmas treat I got for myself – Milka chocolates in Saint Nicholas and Krampus form!

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Us, crazy people, wandering down Herrengasse

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Herrengasse with Christmas lights

Everyone dreams of a white Christmas. Snow came pretty late, but I was so happy to see beautiful snow in Graz before I left. I woke up one day, and found that my balcony and the chair I had left outside were covered in snow.

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 Snow in Graz

On our last day of German lessons, the whole class met at the Christmas market on Hauptplatz for drinks.

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My German class 

Have I ever mentioned that I did pretty well in German class? I really wanted to continue in Singapore, but the classes here are so expensive. I just love the language!

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I forced Alex to smile, with teeth this time.

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Surprise Lebkuchenherzen from Julie

Julie surprised me with this in my mail. I was so happy, I hung it up at my study table and Instagrammed it immediately!

Frohes Fest everybody (3 months in advance)! Am I the only one who can’t wait for Christmas? :)

Rome & Vatican City

We took the train (Trenitalia) from Venice to Rome. Definitely one of the best train rides I had in Europe. It was a much more modern train than those I usually take out of Austria. Also, much cleaner and the seats are more comfortable.

My first impression of Rome was that it was just an extremely rich city. It was, after all, the capital city of the Roman Empire. If you’ve seen enough movies, you’re sure to know a little bit about The Eternal City.

Upon arrival at our hostel, Dj and I went for a late lunch at a restaurant, excited to taste “real” Italian food. However, I was slightly disappointed. Maybe my tastebuds are too accustomed to the Italian food here in Singapore, or my mum’s Italian cooking.

The next day, we visited the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. We entered the basilica the night before, but once more so that Joel and Jared could also take a look. The basilica looks utterly run-down from the outside, just reddish-brown bricks and stone. However, upon entering, we were absolutely spellbound. I had never seen a church like it before.

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Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs)

This would be the first of many churches visited in Rome; each one more spectacular than the last.

The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs stands on Piazza della Repubblica, which is the starting point of one of the main streets of Rome – Via Nazionale.

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Piazza della Repubblica & The Fountain of the Naiads

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest church in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It also holds the name of major basilica, one of only four in the world.

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Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

The church’s marble columns, fifth century mosaics, triumphal arch and nave are stunning. Definitely one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen (and I think I’ve seen a lot). We also entered the Crypt of the Nativity. The crypt houses the Reliquary of the Holy Crib, said to contain wood from the Holy Crib of of the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

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The Pantheon

Next up, the Pantheon. The Pantheon is one of Rome’s most well-preserved ancient buildings. The height to the oculus is dizzying, 43.3m tall. During the Renaissance, it was used as a tomb. It is now a church where mass is held.

Just a few minutes walk from the Pantheon is Giolitti, where I had the best gelato! Giolitti is supposedly the oldest ice cream parlour in Rome.

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Giolitti

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 Gelato from Giolitti

We visited Giolitti at least twice to satisfy our gelato cravings. Flavours we tried include: nocciola (hazelnut), gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut), riso, Nutella, and champagne. The best has to be Nutella, although nocciola and gianduja put up a close fight. Then again, Nutella and gianduja are almost the same thing. Ok, don’t trust me. I obviously love hazelnut and chocolate! You also get to choose if you would like your gelato topped with whipped cream, but the gelato is good enough on its own.

Giolitti is opened until 2am, so it’s a great place to get your late night munchies on.

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Forum of Augustus

Forums are public spaces or squares built by the Romans. The Forum of Augustus housed a temple in honour of Mars and was also the venue of ceremonies and where the senate held discussions.

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 Gelato break

Another must-see is the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland). The monument was built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy. Personally, I find the monument quite grand and very different from the surrounding architecture – more Greek than Roman. I really love the two statues of the Goddess of Victory, Victoria, riding on the chariots.

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Altare della Patria

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Altare della Patria by night

Fans of pasta, attention please. Ever wondered where Carbonara comes from? Well, Rome. La Carbonara has been serving delicious pasta dishes from 1906. The original Roman Carbonara, unlike the Carbonara we get in most parts of the world, does not include cream, and is instead, a mixture of eggs, cheese and bacon. Can’t say I prefer the original though. The guys all got their Spaghetti alla Carbonara (€6), while I chose Pomodoro e Mozzarella di Bufala (€7), mainly because I love tomato-based pasta and also because my favourite cheese is buffalo mozzarella. The Pomodoro was delicious, and the buffalo mozzarella was nice and stringy. Amazing how something so simple can taste so delicious! However, for the sake of it, make sure at least one person at the table orders Carbonara so you can try the authentic version.

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Pomodoro e Mozzarella di Bufala from La Carbonara

I recommend visiting the Colloseum before or after having your pasta fix art La Carbonara. They are just a short distance away from each other.

The first time we visited the Colloseum, it was about to close. As it was during the winter season, it closes earlier than during the summer. We decided to come back again the next day, and as luck would have it, it was the perfect sunny day in Rome.

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 The Colloseum

We spent a good hour or more walking around and taking lots of pictures. It was really spectacular. The largest amphitheatre in the world, the Colloseum has a capacity of 50,000 to 80,000 and was used to host the renowned gladiator contests. It is hard to believe that it is still standing. What an amazing feat of Roman engineering!

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 After the Colloseum, we decided to walk a little more around the Roman Forum.

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 We got an amazing view of the rooftops of Rome. I wasn’t feeling very well after the Colloseum, and left the boys to return to the hostel myself. I remember they were a little concerned about me traveling back myself. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself! The guys visited the Catacombs of Rome after, and from what I heard, it was really spooky. Good thing I didn’t go. I think I would’ve sensed a lot of weird things.

At night, we visited the famous Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), which is a big-ass fountain, the biggest, in Rome. Built in my favourite Baroque-style, it a sight to behold.

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Trevi Fountain

Legend has it that those who throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain with their right hand over their left shoulder, with their backs against the fountain, will most definitely find themselves in Rome again. Do I really need to toss a coin to return? Nope.

The coins are cleared every night from the fountain – almost €3,000, and is used to fund a supermarket that helps the needy in Rome.

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Us, at Trevi Fountain

Because SMU sends its students all around the world for exchange, it was easy to meet up with fellow school mates in Rome. Ben Ben was staying with some other SMU students in an apartment, so he arranged for us to have dinner one night… with Singaporean food! Chicken rice, laksa, and the best Swedish meatballs ever (take that, IKEA) made from scratch by their Swedish flatmate.

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Food, glorious food

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Happy people

I knew Ben from FTB, and Benny from my TA class. But the rest were strangers, and the guys knew no one at the table. But it’s really amazing how just being from the same school, or being exchange students in a foreign land can so easily bring people together. Well, the food helps too.

After dinner, we hopped onto a bus and headed to Giolitti for gelato. Really, happy calories don’t count.

One of the mornings, I passed by a pastry shop near our hostel. It sold really pretty desserts, bread and pastries. I couldn’t resist the amazing looking chocolate croissant. I’ve never seen croissant made this way, striped with chocolate. More often, we have pain au chocolat, with chocolate in the middle. It was so delicious.

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Chocolate croissant

On my last day in Rome, Dj and I headed to Vatican City. It was a twenty minute train ride from Roma Termini.

An independent state of its own, it is the smallest in the world by area and population. The population of tourists, however, not so small. When we arrived, there was already a snaking queue waiting to get into St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano)

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The Vatican

Fortunately, we only queued for an hour, and the weather was super! It was warm, and I could remove my coat. We had to go through security first before entering the church. Entry to the church is free.

I’m not exaggerating, but my jaw really dropped when I entered. St. Peter’s is one beautiful piece of art. The dome, the mosaics, the columns, the marble, the sculptures… everything was so ornate, so stunning. Not to mention, St. Peter’s dwarfs every single church I’ve laid eyes on. I felt so small and insignificant, like a tiny ant amongst the rest of my kind.

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 The artist Michelangelo helped to design the basilica – the dome being one of his most celebrated works of art and architecture. The dome of St. Peter’s is the largest in the world.

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St. Peter’s is the burial place of St. Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles, as well as the first Pope and Bishop of Rome.

We didn’t get to stay long in St. Peters, as there was something going on the next hour and they were clearing the church before the guests arrived. A pity though, would’ve loved to climb to the top. I’ve seen, from photos, how the view of Rome from the top looks like.

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St. Peter’s Square

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Panoramic view of St. Peter’s Square

From St. Peter’s Square, we walked around the walls of the Vatican and to the Vatican Museums.

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The walls of the Vatican

The museum houses some of the most important pieces of religious art in the world, and also, with the ticket for the museums, you may enter the Sistine Chapel. We didn’t linger too long around the art, but quickly made our way to the Sistine Chapel instead.

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For many years, I’ve been longing to see Michelangelo’s paintings. My aunt told me about the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, but I never imagined it to be as beautiful as she claimed. Sure, the chapel is a little old and dusty, tourists are packed in like sardines, and the annoying guards keep shouting “No photographs, no videos” every thirty seconds, but I think everyone can appreciate Michelangelo’s work. The ceiling is magnificent. If there were mattresses on the floor, I’m sure everyone would just lay down and stare at the ceiling and frescoes all day long.

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After marvelling at Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment and The Creation of Adam for a really long time, we left the Vatican Museums hunting for more gelato. Using our trusty Tripadvisor iPhone app, we found Hedera, which is ranked #8 out of #8,433 restaurants in Rome. Can the gelato at Hedera compete with that of Giolitti? Well, yes, it could! However, Hedera doesn’t have as many flavours available, so it definitely doesn’t appeal as much. Having said that, the quality of the gelato is amazing. I had nocciola once again and the taste was richer than that from Giolitti. They use premium ingredients for their gelato, and it’s just plain to see why so many people have rated their gelato among the best in Rome.

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Nocciola gelato served in a cup + a mini cone

After gelato, we walked back to St. Peter’s Square, and towards Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel).

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St. Peter’s Square, bustling all day

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Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo was built as a mausoleum, was used as a fortress and a castle, but now serves as a museum. It is also featured in Dan Brown’s book Angels & Demons. We didn’t enter as it was only thirty minutes to closing time, and we didn’t want to rush through it. Outside Castel Sant’Angelo, many street peddlers can be found selling counterfeit goods, especially fake Prada and LV bags. Just ignore them.

From Castel Sant’Angelo, make sure you look back towards St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a spectacular view, that straight road down.

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St. Peter’s Basilica

Be sure to admire Ponte Sant’Angelo, the beautiful bridge just beside Castel Sant’Angelo. The statues of angels holding Arma Christi (the Instruments of the Passion) adorn the sides.

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Ponte Sant’Angelo

We caught the sunset at Ponte Sant’Angelo before heading back to the hostel. I left that night back for Graz, and had the most terrifying train ride ever. More on that next time.

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St. Peter’s Square still crowded in the evening

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I really enjoyed Italy. I think it’s one of my favourite places now. I would love to visit Florence, the rolling hills of Tuscany, Sicily, Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast some day. Special thanks once more to my best friend, travel buddy and boyfriend for making this trip so memorable and for putting up with me (I know I can be difficult).

Ciao.

Venice, Italy

One off my bucket list – visiting Venice.

It was just Dj and I this time. There is a romantic air about this city.

We arrived in the late afternoon, having taken the bus from Graz straight to Venice. We spent the remaining hours of light outside wandering the Floating City. There are wonderful photography opportunities at every corner.

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The Grand Canal

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San Simeone Piccolo

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 Beautiful architecture – worn buildings, bridges and gondolas

There is something really serene about Venice. Maybe it’s the lagoon – the turquoise waters that bring about a sense of peace; maybe it’s the old buildings, weathered, and seemingly floating, just like the gondolas. Even though it was a high season, somehow I was in my own world; for once, the crowd didn’t bother me. This was pretty much the perfect trip.

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View from Rialto Bridge

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The crowded streets of Venice

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The narrow alley to our hotel

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Santa Maria dei Miracoli

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Gondolas

The gondola is a traditional Venetian boat which was one of the most commonly used modes of transport around the lagoon. I know it is a must-do when in Venice, but we didn’t go for a ride, choosing to walk around everywhere instead. It is pricey – €80 for 40 minutes. Also, it is not guaranteed that your gondolier will serenade you.

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Us

The narrow alleys and streets can be rather confusing, like a maze, and you definitely do not want to get lost, especially at night as the streets are rather poorly lit. Carefully look out for the signs that point to the main squares and landmarks around Venice. We often followed the signs pointing to St. Mark’s Square or the sign towards Santa Lucia station for general directions.

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Torrone

Torrone, better known to us as nougat, can be found in most of the confectionery shores in Venice. They come in all sorts of flavours – traditional with nuts, chocolate, tiramisu, fruits etc. I was very attracted by them, but they cost about €8 per slice, so I just hung my head and left every time. SIGH.

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Grand Canal at night

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Gelato

I hereby declare the national food of Italy, gelato! No, not pizza, pasta or risotto, but gelato. With fewer calories than its cousin (ice cream), gelato has a higher ratio of milk to cream (less fat), is churned at a slower speed (less air), giving it a denser consistency, and is served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, which explains why gelato can be scooped and is often shaped into roses. This makes gelato my number one dessert choice!

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My chubby face by November

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Grand Canal

We were lucky that the days we were there, the weather was pretty good. The sun was out in the day, giving us some warmth if we stood where the rays hit. But as Venice is all water, there was often a cold breeze that made it unbearable as the day passed.

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Cannoli

One of the best things I ate in Venice, hell, in all of Italy, was Cannoli. HOLY CANNOLI. Cannoli is a dessert pastry, which means “little tube”, and has its origins in Sicily. Deep-fried pastry with smooth, creamy, cold and sweet ricotta as a filling, and dipped in crushed pistachio. Fortunately, this was affordable, compared to the torrone. If I had found the store again, I would have bought yet another to devour. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I didn’t.

One of the highlights of our Venice tour was St. Mark’s Basilica and St. Mark’s Square.

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Piazza San Marco

Besides being crowded with people, Piazza San Marco is crowded with even more pigeons. I hate them. They fly right into you and they poop everywhere.

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Campanile di San Marco

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St. Mark’s Basilica

The most famous church in Venice is St. Mark’s Basilica. With its stunning Byzantine architecture, and gold mosaic tiles inside, the church is a symbol of Venice’s rich history, giving it the nickname Chiesa d’Oro, or Church of Gold.

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The Last Judgment

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The gold mosaics

There are more than 8,000 square meters of mosaic in St. Mark’s Basilica. “For centuries it had been claimed that simply breathing the air of St. Mark’s would make you a richer person.” I wish I had read Inferno before visiting Venice. Reading it afterwards, now I understand so much more about Venice and St. Mark’s. We took the museum tour, which was €5, but it wasn’t great – no guide, not much information given. After the museum, we entered the church, which was free. The church is beautiful. Remember to breathe in.

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Close up from the corridor of St. Mark’s Basilica

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Doge’s Palace

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After we had explored St. Mark’s Basilica, we walked along the shore. There were so many gondolas in sight. It was like seeing taxis parked outside the airport.

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Gondolas parked

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Venetian masks

The elaborate Venetian masks are donned during the Carnival of Venice, or Carnevale di Venezia. There are many different kinds of masks. These, I find really beautiful. If I had lots of space in my luggage, I would have bought one. However, there are many other creepy masks which are bound to give you nightmares (I’m researching this in a dark room now), such as the Plague Doctor (Medico della peste) masks. These masks were used by doctors during the outbreak of bubonic plague during the 1600s, which caused the deaths of thousands in Venice alone. Once again, I think reading Inferno by Dan Brown might educate you a little more on this subject.

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Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs is another famous bridge. It was once used to connect the Old Prison in the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison, which is just across the Rio di Palazzo. There are various stories about how the bridge got its name. One claims that it comes from the sighs of prisoners as they crossed the bridge; another claims that it comes from the sighs of lovers who kiss while on a gondola under the bridge, overwhelmed by romance as their kiss guarantees them everlasting love.

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Santa Maria della Salute

Before heading back towards the hotel, we hunted for another gelato place to get our daily dose. Suso is pretty famous. I had tiramisu, and it was delish.

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Tiramisu gelato from Suso

We finally found a supermarket to get some food, and I saw these wonderful Panettone packed in really cheap plastic for sale. This was my first time trying this Christmas bread, and I was addicted. Amazing citrus flavour, soft, airy, sweet… Needless to say, I bought even more the next day.

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 Panettone

The next morning, we woke up bright and early to visit the other islands of Venice. I have heard so much about Murano and BuranoMurano for its glass and Burano for its cheerful, colourful buildings.

We bought the day pass for the boats. It was quite costly, but it was worth it considering you have unlimited rides to as many islands as you want, and also rides within the main island for the day. A friend actually told me that it wasn’t necessary to buy the tickets because no one actually checks, but I wasn’t about to take that chance. Fortunately, we did buy the tickets because there was someone on one of our boats who was inspecting. But that was just one boat out of the many we took that day.

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I’m on a boat

Our first stop was Murano to see the famous Murano glass. For centuries, Murano has been known for its glassmakers. We had breakfast first before heading to the museum.

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Pizza rolls

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Duomo di Murano Santa Maria e Donato

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 Glass sculpture

We walked all the way to the museum, only to find that a couple of their rooms were closed for renovation, so it was not worth going in this time. But we definitely didn’t feel like it was a wasted trip. We walked around Murano for a bit more, exploring, and found these wonderful glass ducks near the boat station.

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Beautifully crafted glass birds and ducks

Next stop – Burano.

Burano was the highlight of my entire trip to Venice. Although there isn’t anything much to do there except look at bright, colourful buildings all day long, there was just something so charming about that little island.

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I don’t think I felt so happy in quite some time. The weather was perfect, my boyfriend is always perfect, Burano was perfect.

We spent a few hours on the island before we headed back to the main island.

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Tiny cat basking in the warm sun

I found a little traditional bakery selling the most amazing looking cookies and cakes, most of which are Italian favourites. I bought the Venetian butter cookie, which is shaped like an “S” and has a slight lemon-scent to it. So simple, but so good.

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Venetian butter cookie

Dj stopped for some pasta and he stole the grissini from the tables next to us. He was very proud of it.

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My cheapo boyfriend and his grissini

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We bid Burano goodbye and headed back to wrap up the day. We took another boat back and we were greeted with spectacular views of Venice during sunset.

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Santa Maria della Salute

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Doge’s Palace and Campanile di San Marco

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More gelato at La Boutique del Gelato

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I never expected this trip to be as good as it was. Yes, it was kind of touristy, but I believe everyone should visit Venice (before it sinks) at least once in their lifetime. Thank you, Venice. I’ll definitely be back again :)

Next stop, Rome.

DJ Visits – Graz, Austria (Part 3)

Dj and I had planned to visit Italy together – Venice, Florence and Rome. However, due to time constraints, we had to cut out one city, and we chose to cut Florence from our itinerary. Of course, I regret, especially after reading Dan Brown’s Inferno. But first, Dj visited me in Graz for a couple of days. I was proud to show off the little place I called home!

I picked Dj up at Graz Hauptbahnhof, and we went out for a quick walk around town before we had dinner with my friends. Home-cooked dinners with my friends is the one thing I think I miss most about being in Graz.

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The Murinsel

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Grazer Kunsthaus

We bought groceries and headed home to cook. I was going to make paella, but I couldn’t get a lot of the ingredients. So I settled on Mexican rice, or rather, my version of Mexican rice that I cooked up with completely no recipe. It was pretty good though, if I do say so myself.

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Mexican rice

Tim and Patrick showed off their baking skills with homemade Apfelstrudel!

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Apfelstrudel (apple strudel)

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Us, Asians, at dinner (including Alex)

Next morning, we headed out early to explore Graz. I had been saving some places to visit for when Dj visited, so it was a new experience for me too.

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Love locks on Mursteg

That very night was the opening of the Christkindlmarkt at Hauptplatz. The enormous Weihnachtsbaum was already up for quite some time, and I was anxiously anticipating my first official Christkindlmarkt!

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The huge Christmas tree at Hauptplatz

Little wooden stalls were already open in the day, selling all sorts of food, drinks, ornaments, souvenirs and other handmade items. Everything just looked really pretty. It was a pity that the weather was so terrible that day.

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Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) at Hauptplatz

Walking down Herrengasse, we decided to stop for a slice of Sachertorte at Café Sacher. Although Dj had been to Vienna, he didn’t get to try it. And although I am not the biggest fan of it, I would still recommend it, just for the sake of it being Viennese. HAH. Anyway, the slice we got this time was much more moist than the one I had with my mum when I just arrived. Strange.

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Happy girl with her Sachertorte

I’d visited the Landeszeughaus twice before this – once with my mum and another time with my Global Business Programme class. The Landeszeughaus (or the Styrian Armoury), and is home to the world’s largest collection (32,000 pieces) of historic weapons and armour. Somehow, I’m extremely intrigued by all these medieval weapons and armour. The guided tour is free and the tour guides that I got on my visits were all excellent.

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The armour and suits carried and worn by the army back in the days were big, bulky and heavy. Also, the men were prone to heat strokes because the suits would absorb so much heat. Almost every suit we saw was unique, as the suits on display were tailor made for each person. Apparently, the larger the tummy area, the more wealthy and high ranking that guy probably was!

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Some of the masks also had engravings such as moustaches and smiles. These were meant to scare the enemy as they met their doom. I find them cute though.

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There was also armour for the horses. This was meant for jousting. It was the grandest piece on display. Very intimidating.

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After the armoury, we headed back towards Lendplatz for lunch. Dj loves mushroom soup and I had to let him try the best.

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Mushroom & polenta soup

This time, they used different mushrooms, but it was still as yummy. And in the chilly weather, it was just perfect!

After a late afternoon nap, we headed out again in the evening to catch the Christmas lights around town, and also to climb the Schloßberg to get a night view of the city. It would be my first time being up there at night.

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Christmas lights

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The Uhrturm

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There’s something really nice about being in a city that isn’t bustling with with tourists. You can be at such beautiful places and not feel claustrophobic.

It was off to dinner with Clement and our buddies, before we all headed to the Christkindlmarkt for the first time! We went for supposedly the best burgers in town at B.EAT.

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Burger with Cajun fries – Indeed, delicious

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Clement and his chicken wings (and beer)

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We met many schoolmates there at the Christmas market at Hauptplatz. The heavy drizzle did nothing to faze us.

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We had Glühwein (mulled wine) and also some Punsch (punch) which had these amazing hot, bursting berries mulled along with spices. The alcohol really made me feel warm despite the cold weather and drizzle. After some drinks and mingling, we went back home for some good night’s sleep.

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Rathaus

The next morning, I brought Dj to my favourite café – Tribeka, for the best chai latte.

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We walked towards the biggest farmers’ market in Graz at Kaiser Josef Platz. We stopped by my favourite bakery – Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax on the way to have my all-time favourite pastry, Topfentaschen and also a fruit tart for the boy.

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Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax

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Fruit tart

God only knows why I don’t have a single decent photo of Topfentaschen. Sigh. I had to screenshot this from my Instagram account.

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Topfentaschen

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Mausoleum

In the vicinity of the farmers’ market is the Graz Opera. Some of my friends managed to get cheap tickets for the opera, but I didn’t go because I was out of town then. A pity, watching an opera still unchecked from my bucket list.

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Grazer Oper

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Farmers’ market at Kaiser Josef Platz

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Evangelische Heilandskirche (Lutheran Church of the Redeemer)

This farmers’ market is about three to four times the size as the one at Lendplatz. Fresh produce, breads, cakes, condiments, you name it, they got it. Also, as it was the Christmas season, they were selling Christmas cookies, ornaments and trees.

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From the farmers’ market, we walked to the church that I saw in the distance from the top of Schloßberg. The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the largest church in Graz, and also the tallest building in Graz (I think).

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Herz-Jesu-Kirche (Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)

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Inside Herz-Jesu-Kirche

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A question to ponder

On the way home, we entered the Graz Cathedral (Dompfarre Graz). Emperor Frederick III built the church with his new residence in Graz. He was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1452 to 1493.

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The beautiful altar and pulpit

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That marked in the end of Dj’s short visit to Graz. I only wished the weather was better. It would’ve made things much more enjoyable. Off we go… to Venezia!

Die Buschenshank – Graz, Austria (Part 2)

A big part of Styrian tradition is the Buschenshank. A buschenshank is a wine tavern where only food (cold) which is produced by themselves is allowed to be served. This includes wine, bread, cheese and cured meat. I learnt about the buschenshank in my Austrian culture class, and I really wanted to visit one. Fortunately, my buddy arranged for us to experience this wonderful tradition, and I enjoyed every second of it.

On the outskirts of Graz is the Buschenshank Sattler. When we got off the bus, I was delighted to see how beautiful and serene the Graz countryside is. There were cows roaming on the field just outside the buschenshank.

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It was all Stürm season. Stürm was my welcome drink from my room mate. Stürm actually means storm auf Deutsch (surprise surprise). It is a young wine, and the alcohol percentage is about 4% typically. It is sweet like grape juice as the sugars have yet to be broken down by fermentation. Honestly, it tastes like dessert wine, but a little more carbonated. It is, by far, my favourite alcohol. But beware. Many have been known to be drunk fast because you might forget that it is actually alcohol you’re drinking! I miss Stürm!

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Buschenschank Sattler

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White wine, water and Stürm

What they typically serve at the buschenschank is something called the Brettljause – a variety of cold cuts, cheeses and garnishes served on a wooden platter.

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Die Brettljause

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We also got some bread (Brot) to accompany the meat and cheeses, and also the various spreads that was served. I can’t say I’m too found of some of the spreads, especially the white one in the middle – it’s pure fat. But overall, it was a delicious meal with great company!

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Gebackene Mäuse

Finally, for dessert, we had Gebackene Mäuse which translates to “baked mice”. I don’t know why it’s called “baked mice” and not fried mice. It is a deep fried yeasted fritter, like the zeppole, or beignets. Anyway, they are delicious!

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The Taiwanese guys, Alex, Clement, me, Julie and her friends

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Clement and Julie

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We left as the sun was about to go down, and it was one of the most beautiful days I had in Graz. Thank you, Julie, for sharing this experience with us! I hope we get another chance to go to a buschenschank again someday! <3

Graz, Austria (Part 1)

Rewind to when I first arrived in Graz.

My buddy, Kathi, picked me up at Graz Hauptbahnhof. I had three massive suitcases to get off the train all by myself. Worse still, I had fallen asleep after crying my eyes out (saying goodbye to my boyfriend), and had less than a minute to get everything down. Kathi brought me to my hostel, which was just a few stops by bus from the station, and got me settled in. When I got there, I was alone at home for a while, before my room mates from Moldova came home. I went to the supermarket after putting the sheets on the bed and unpacking my clothes to get groceries and toiletries for myself. The apartment I lived in was really great. Though it cost €350 per month (Austria is expensive), bed linen is provided, it is inclusive of cleaning once a week, there is a fully-equipped kitchen, a toilet (male and female separate) and a bathroom (shared) and a laundry room in the building as well. I initially opted for the hostel just beside my school, Greenbox, as it was the cheapest and most convenient. However, it was no longer available because I was procrastinating as I looked for a private apartment somewhere else. The only place left with vacancies was Neubaugasse, where they had reserved some space for those who got the Ernst Mach Grant. And yes, I got the Ernst Mach Grant. This grant really saved me a lot of money in Graz.

The next day, my mum arrived in Graz. She was afraid that I’d go hungry there, and was worried about me settling in. But when she got there, she stopped worrying, because Graz is awesome.

Graz is the second largest city in Austria after Vienna, and is the capital of the federal state of Styria. It is also a World Cultural Heritage Site, and was named the Culture Capital of Europe in 2003. The city has long been known for its student population, with over 44,000 students in its 6 universities – this out of a population of 303,731.

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Volksgarten

Beside my apartment building is a square, Lendplatz. Every morning, a farmers’ market opens there. I was in heaven. Really cheap, fresh, organic produce just a stone’s throw away.

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Farmers’ market at Lendplatz

My mum got a bag of plums and asked for the price. She was shocked to hear it was only €2.

After perusing the farmers’ market, we went for brunch at a restaurant just across the road.

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1/2 fried spring chicken in a crust of pumpkin seeds, served in a basket

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Gardener’s salad with sliced grilled turkey, and Styrian pumpkin oil

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Goulaschsuppe

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Bread (Brot)

This is how I got fat in Graz. The bread there is so cheap and so yummy. The one at the bottom left is called Kaisersemmel, better known as Kaiser rolls. I would be eating lots of Kaisersemmel in the months to come.

At brunch, we also noticed that there are hell lot of bees in Graz, but they aren’t aggressive (towards us). In fact, the birds are more aggressive. Throughout brunch, these tiny little birds kept watching us, and waited for us to stop touching our food before they actually tore up pieces of our fried chicken and flew away.

My mum and I walked around town for quite some time. We crossed over from the “bad” side, to the “good” side, across the River Mur.

By the river, on the “bad” side, is this odd-looking building. It is actually a museum – Grazer Kunsthaus. It is affectionately known as the “Friendly Alien”.

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Grazer Kunsthaus

It took me a couple of months until I would actually step foot into the Kunsthaus. I honestly think it’s ugly but adorable. So yes, it’s cute.

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The River Mur and the Murinsel

The Murinsel is a “floating café” on the River Mur, which is held by an anchor and stabilised by the bridges that link the two sides of the city. It is also a spectacle at night, when the Murinsel is up in lights against the dark waters.

Crossing the river, I caught sight of the landmark of Graz – the Uhrturm (Clock Tower) on Schloßberg (Castle Hill). No where in Graz is there a better view of the city as on the top of Schloßberg. Mummy and I didn’t go up, because she didn’t want to climb up the stairs with me. It took me about a month in Graz before I would see the Uhrturm up close.

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Schloßberg and the Uhrturm, sitting pretty

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Another way to get to the top of the Schloßberg is to take the glass cabin lift (Adults: €1.10, Students : €0.60). The lift is built into the very hill. I never took the lift though – I love the challenge of climbing. Another alternative is to the Schloßbergbahn, a funicular. Once again, never took it, though it was free with my student transport pass that I got.

Just beyond the Schloßberg was the main street – Herrengasse. This is where you get almost everything you would need – clothes, electronics, groceries, restaurants etc. It was one of the things I really enjoyed during my time in Graz, walking down Herrengasse, especially during the Christmas season when the streets were decorated and the main square, Hauptplatz, had the biggest Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) I’ve ever seen, and when the Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt) was up!

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Herrengasse

The cables that go across are for the trams. They are ubiquitous around many countries in Europe. I love trams!

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Rathaus (City Hall)

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Stadtpfarrkirche

After some walking, we decided to stop by the Café Sacher along Herrengasse to grab a slice of the famous Sachertorte. This was my first time trying it, and I was so excited. The Sachertorte is kind of the national cake of Austria, and originates from Vienna, the capital. It is a chocolate layer cake with apricot jam and chocolate icing. The original Sachertorte is said to be from Café Sacher, but there was a legal dispute over the use of label “The Original” between the café and Demel Bakery, where Eduard Sacher (son of the inventor, Franz Sacher) perfected the current recipe. Well, now we know who won that battle.

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Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel

Mummy and I ordered a slice of Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), which is also a Viennese specialty. I was a little underwhelmed by the Sachertorte. The cake itself was a little dry. Overall, the taste was ok, but I felt like it didn’t live up to the hype. It was just another chocolate cake. We also felt that we could bake a better one anytime. The apple strudel, too, was a little disappointing. The apple was too tart. But I did like the pastry; I prefer it to the Ritz apple strudel pastry we get here in Singapore.

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Mummy decided to get something really sinful for me – coffee with whipped cream and chocolate liqueur, while she got a raspberry fizz for herself. This was probably the best thing we had there at the café. Coffee in Austria is excellent.

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 Luegg Haus – spot the faces

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Mausoleum

One of the most striking buildings in Graz is the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II – a Habsburg tomb. I really love the beautiful turquoise domes and the statues that stand on top.

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A quick coffee break

In Austria, there are a thousand ways to order coffee. If you ask for ice coffee, this is what you get. My mum and I were shocked. But it was fantastic. Coffee with whipped cream and ice cream. How can I complain?

For dinner, we headed back towards Lendplatz. Mummy was staying at Mercure, a hotel just in front of my hostel. We decided to try out Gasthaus Lendplatzl. We had a delightful waiter attend to us, a young man who was working there part time to earn money for his law studies. We asked for recommendations for something spicy, and he said the turkey stew was a good choice.

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Spicy turkey stew served with vegetable sauce and rice

I think their idea of spicy is paprika. It was not spicy, but it was sooooooo delicious!

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Mushroom and polenta soup

I ordered the mushroom and polenta soup for myself. This was, by far, the best mushroom soup I ever had in my entire life. It was creamy, chock full of mushrooms, including expensive chanterelles, and the polenta was perfectly cooked and uhhhhmazing. I still crave for this from time to time!

We retired early to get some work done, and also for me to start transferring stuff from my Macbook Pro to my new Macbook Air that Mummy had brought over. My Macbook Pro started giving me problems since I got to Poland the first time. I was so worried that I couldn’t get the important things backed up before the laptop crashed for good.

The next morning (Sunday), my mum and I went out for breakfast. We walked everywhere, but everything was closed! Typical.

We walked into the first café we saw that was open, which happened to be a Martin Auer. They sell amazing bread and pastries there. I used to go there pretty often just to get the local pastries!

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Poppy seed crown

This was the first time having poppy seed and it was surprisingly good!

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Nusskrone (Nut crown), sandwiches, mini Kugelhopf, honey-cinnamon swirl bun

The Nusskrone became my second favourite pastry in Graz, the first being Topfentaschen (quark cheese purses). The cinnamon mixture with walnuts is divine.

Since everything was closed, Mummy and I just headed to the supermarket to buy some groceries for me before she left. I was in supermarket-heaven when I entered the Spar, which is probably the best supermarket chain there. We bought a ton of stuff for me to stock up the fridge with. I was so happy because a lot of the things that are expensive in Singapore is really affordable there! Shocking, but true.

The last thing my mum and I really did together while she was there for just three days was have dinner at Gasthaus Lendplatzl again. We really enjoyed the food there, and so, we decided to go back there again for dinner. I had goulash again, but the highlight of the meal was the wonderful dessert that we ordered.

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It was a pancake filled with crushed pumpkin seeds, and served with a caramel sauce and sweetened whipped cream. Both of us were really impressed by this. We thought about recreating this, but as of this moment, we have not!

The next morning, I had to attend my first day of orientation at FH, and my mum was also due to leave Graz. It was a pity she was only in Graz for such a short amount of time. She really loved the cool weather there; I would be wearing a sweater and she would be feeling completely alright with just one thin layer on. I hope we get to go back someday. I know I would love to.






Budapest, Hungary

So it turns out my next trip to Budapest was a reunion with Dj and the guys from Warsaw. I had heard so many good reviews of Budapest from my friends, and I was really excited to be visiting. I took a train early morning from Graz Hauptbahnhof to Budapest Keleti station, one of the few times I didn’t have to pass through Vienna to get a connection.

I met Dj at the station and he brought me to the hostel – Adagio Hostel 2.0 Basilica. We stayed at the one close to St. Stephen’s Basilica. It was one of the cheapest hostels we stayed at, but Budapest is relatively affordable anyway, compared to many other European countries.

We went for lunch right away. And I had to try some authentic Hungarian Goulash.

Unlike the Austrian version of goulash – gulaschsuppe, which is much thicker and more like a stew, the traditional Hungarian gulyás is a tomato-based soup, with chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots and paprika/peppers. I didn’t instantly fall in love with it, but after a couple of days eating this, I started to prefer the Hungarian version over the Austrian one. It is much lighter and less cloying. Also, it has vegetables in it!

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Hungarian goulash (gulyás) 

After lunch, we walked along the Danube river, which divides the Buda and Pest sides of the city.

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Buda Castle on Castle Hill

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Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd)

We crossed the famous suspension bridge, Széchenyi Chain Bridge over from Pest to Buda. Soon it was nightfall and we managed to catch – possibly the most beautiful building in Budapest (maybe the whole of Europe, in my opinion) – the Hungarian Parliament Building. It is amazing at night when fully lit. Definitely the grandest building I’ve seen in Europe. I can’t imagine how much it must have cost to build it.

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The Hungarian Parliament Building

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Széchenyi Chain Bridge by night

The next morning, we headed to St. Stephen’s Basilicawhich is the largest church and tallest building in Budapest, dedicated to the first king of Hungary.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

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Inside St. Stephen’s Basilica

It is definitely one of the most golden churches I’ve laid eyes on, other than the ones in Rome. As we were early, there were not many visitors around. Unfortunately, we didn’t go up to the dome to get a 360 degree view of the city. I kinda regret it now. Please don’t save money on things like this while you on exchange. It really doesn’t cost much and you may never return, so just pay for the damn thing!

We were off for the tour of the Hungarian Parliament Building.

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Our matching Timberland boots – authentic (mine) vs. fake

We managed to walked there with Dj’s excellent navigational skills.

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The Hungarian Parliament Building by day

I have to say that the building does look a lot less impressive in the day and up close compared to the last time we saw it at night. Nevertheless, still a stunning piece of architecture!

We went for the English guided tour, which I felt was way too short for the amount we paid. But the interior was really stunning – gold and red carpets throughout. We also managed to catch the Changing of the Guards of the Hungarian crown jewels (no pictures allowed).

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The lavish interior

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Chamber of the Lower House of the National Assembly of Hungary

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After the tour ended, we went for lunch. I can’t remember what the name of the restaurant was, but it was pretty nice inside, and better still, they had awesome goulash, with warm bread as a lid. OMFG.

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Always have goulash

After having our fill, it was off once again to the Buda side of the city to see the Fisherman’s Bastion.

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Buda Castle

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Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom)

Matthias Church is a Roman Catholic church and is over 700 years old. It stands beside the Fisherman’s Bastion; both of which overlook the Danube and are in the Castle District. I think its tiles are so beautiful and colourful. We didn’t enter because there was an entrance fee. I’m not a big fan of churches which charge for entry.

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Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya)

The Fisherman’s Bastion isn’t as old as I thought – it was built between 1895 and 1902. I really love neo-Gothic style architecture. The Fisherman’s Bastion reminded me a little of the Sacré-Cœur. The view of Pest and the Danube from the Fisherman’s Bastion is amazing.


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We walked to Buda Castle (Budavári Palota) from the Fisherman’s Bastion.

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Buda Castle (or Royal Palace)

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Courtyard of the Buda Castle

Buda Castle is also home to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest Historical Museum. If you are at Buda Castle on the hour, you can also catch the Changing of the Guards.

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Changing of the Guards at Buda Castle

We grabbed a quick meal at a small café before we headed back to the Fisherman’s Bastion to catch the night view of the city.

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Hungarian Parliament Building

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Mattthias Church & the Fisherman’s Bastion

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View of Pest, the Danube and Széchenyi Chain Bridge

That was it for the day. We headed back to our hostel. On the way back, we passed by a small market, and guess what I spotted?! Trdelník! Or rather, they call them kürtőskalács here in Hungary. Which is better? I can’t choose. But honestly, the best thing ever! I ordered the original right away. Calories can be burnt, but kürtőskalács cannot wait.

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A must-try – Kürtőskalács

The next morning, we walked to the Dohány Street Synagogue.

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Moorish and Byzantine style architecture of the Dohány Street Synagogue. Reminiscent of the Pena National Palace.

As usual, Dj is always hungry, and he was craving for this apparently amazing spicy catfish soup that the guys had introduced him to the night before. I sat and watched him eat (and took a couple of mouthfuls too). It was pretty good, I must admit. I missed spice!

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Spicy catfish soup

Our final agenda was to walk along the Liberty Bridge.

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Liberty Bridge

I think the Liberty Bridge is the more beautiful bridge, but I think many people would disagree with me :(

Budapest definitely ranks as one of my favourite trips. The city feels safe, is clean, affordable and is architecturally stunning (and it has an abundance of kürtőskalács). Before leaving Budapest, I bought a bag full of kürtőskalács to bring back with me to Graz. But I kinda finished it in the train ride back. Damn.

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My final Kürtőskalács

Szia, Budapest!

Prague, Czech Republic

Our next stop was to Prague, which is the capital of the Czech Republic. It was a not-too-long train ride from Vienna to Prague, and we arrived in the night. Thank goodness Miss Gwee is a good navigator. Would’ve sucked to be lost in a new city in the middle of the night!

We checked into our hostel, and that was basically it for the day. It was a mixed room of 5 to 6 pax, and there were already 2 people there when we arrived. But I shall save the interesting story for later.

The first morning, we visited the Náplavka farmers’ market that pops up on Saturdays along the Vltava river.

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The market sells everything from fresh produce, to freshly baked bread, cakes, warm food, drinks, cutlery and wooden furniture. I am a sucker for farmers’ markets. I love visiting them in every city.

I found a small stall selling these delectable Czech buns called Kolach. I bought a raspberry cheesecake-flavoured one, as well as a Buchty which was filled with plum jam.

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Berry cheesecake kolach

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Plum jam buchty

They were both so delicious. As I’ve declared on numerous occasions, my weakness in life is bread. I love both soft, fluffy yeasted bread, and I also love those dense ones too. I quickly devoured them.

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Prague was really cold when we visited. It may not look cold, but trust me, it was cold! One of the nights it started raining and we found ourselves hiding indoors in shopping centres and stores just to get some warmth.

After the farmers’ market, we were curious as to what was on top of a hill we could see in the distance. So we walked up and found a church – an awfully creepy one – and a cemetery just beside. I didn’t want to linger for long, as the place didn’t give me a good feeling, but we managed to get a good view of the river and its surroundings.

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We decided to walk back towards Charles’ Bridge.

We came across the very famous Dancing House (Tančící dům), which is situated not too far away from the farmers’ market, and just beside the river. Apparently, the building looks like two people dancing, hence its name, and also its nickname – “Fred and Ginger”, named after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Anyway, I think the building is an eyesore among the other Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau style buildings around it.

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Dancing House (Tančící dům)

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The State Opera (Státní Opera)

It was a fair bit of walking before we reached Charles’ Bridge.

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View of Prague Castle and Charles’ Bridge

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The Gothic-style Old Town Bridge Tower

Charles’ Bridge is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Prague. Construction on the bridge started in 1357 – yes, a long, long time ago. But what makes this bridge special, I believe, are the 30 beautiful statues that sit on either side of the bridge.

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Charles’ Bridge is like Orchard Road on a Sunday – crowded. I couldn’t take many pictures without someone’s head popping up from the bottom of my lens. Along the bridge are also many street artists selling paintings, caricatures, handmade jewellery and the likes.

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We crossed Charles’ Bridge to the Little Quarter, or Malá Strana. This side was once known as the “New Town beneath the Prague Castle”, as the Prague Castle sits on the hill on this side of town.

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The bridge tower on the Malá Strana end of Charles’ Bridge

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Church of Saint Nicholas

We were headed to Prague Castle, but I got distracted by possibly, the most delicious thing I have ever eaten – the Trdelník. It is a pastry that originated from Transylvania; a dough wrapped around a stick, grilled, and then rolled with cinnamon sugar and other kinds of coatings.

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Da bomb Trdelník

I never again had another Trdelník as delicious as this one. It was crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and with just the right amount of cinnamon sugar. I had so much fun pulling the Trdelník apart!

Finally, we climbed the hill to Prague Castle, and it was the beginning of sunset. The entire view of Prague was bathed in a golden glow. So beautiful with the red roofs!

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We managed to catch a few moments of the Changing of the Guard too.

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St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral is located within Prague Castle, and is the most important church in all of the country. It contains the tombs of many Holy Roman Emperors and Bohemian kings. Just like the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the east end of St. Vitus is of a similar Gothic-style architecture, and looks like a spider (at least to me it does).

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As the sun set, we walked back down towards the Old Town side, this time not along Charles’ Bridge. Of course, in the past, this would not have been possible as Charles’ Bridge was the only means of moving between the sides.

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The sky was really pretty – pink, purple and blue hues.

When we arrived back in the Old Town, there were some night markets (or maybe they were Christmas markets) open which sold food and mulled wine, or what we call Gluhwein back in Austria.

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More trdelník

We continued walking around before heading for dinner at a Korean restaurant near our hostel, which we also revisited the day after for dinner, simply because the food was so awesome, and really authentic.

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Church of Our Lady Before Týn at Prague Old Town Square

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In the morning, we woke up pretty early to go to the Prague Astronomical Clock (Prague orloj). The clock dates back to 1410, and is the oldest one still working in the world.

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Prague Astronomical Clock (Prague orloj)

The clock shows three different times and the position of the moon, sun and stars. Don’t ask me how to read the time off this clock. It’s complicated. Every hour, the 12 Apostles pass by the window above the astronomical dial. This makes it a popular tourist attraction, as people flock to see the little show.

We bought our tickets to go up and we were rewarded with a stunning view of Prague Old Town. The Church of Our Lady Before Týn dominates the view on one side of the observation deck.

If the church looks familiar, that’s because it rumoured that Walt Disney got his inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle, but I would argue that the resemblance to Neuschwanstein (in Bavaria) is more uncanny.

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When we got down, I ran into some of my exchange friends, who also happened to be Prague at the same time. I knew they were doing a trip together, as I was asked along, but I had decided to visit Prague with Cindy before they asked. Definitely not much of a coincidence, as it was on the hour, and many tourists gather there to see the Astronomical Clock anyway.

We tagged along with the free walking tour that my friends were on. I would say that it was another free walking tour worth going for. The tour was by Sandemans again (if I recall). The tour lasted 3 hours with a break between for lunch.

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Our guide with the red umbrella

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Powder Tower (Prašná brána)

The Powder Tower is one of the original thirteen city gates in Prague, and was not intended to be used as a defensive gate. However, it was later used to store gunpowder, hence the name Powder Tower.

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Wenceslas Square

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Funny story about the Hugo Boss – Boss used to design the Nazi uniform. Our tour guide says its funny how the country removed all Nazi statues etc., but decided to keep Hugo Boss on the most expensive street in Prague.

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Old New Synagogue

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The Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, the Old Jewish Quarter

The Old Jewish Cemetery is really crowded with tombstones. Not just a layer, but layers upon layers of tombstones piled on top of one another as more space could not be bought. It is said that there are twelve layers of graves in the cemetery, with 12,000 tombstones visible, but with over 100,000 graves in total.

After the tour, we decided to head back to our hostel and have our dinner. We had Korean food again, and I was craving for some kimbap and hot soup.

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Later that night was one of the worst experiences I had in Europe. As we were sleeping, we were rudely awakened by our room mates (males), who got back late in the night after some partying or something. They were talking at the door with other people in some other language, possibly Turkish or some Middle Eastern language. As they shut the door and one of the guys walked past my bed to his, I closed my eyes again, happy to fall back asleep. A few seconds later, someone was on my bed! He asked for my name and whether he could sleep with me. Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen! He tried to hold me down after I said no, but I pushed him and I shouted at Cindy to wake up because this mother fucker was trying to sleep with me. Let’s just say he was sorry when I threatened to report him. So anyhow, we left our room and went to the reception to complain. The receptionist was probably shocked; he said it was his first time encountering such a problem. He couldn’t offer us another room for the night as the hostel was full, so he let us bunk on the sofa next to the reception desk. He also went to talk to the perv and tried to get some sense into him. It seemed like he was high on something, but he assured the receptionist that he wouldn’t try anything again. Yeah… Ok. Cindy and I did go back in later in the night though. But we both slept together in the top deck, ready to fight off anyone who would try anything funny with us. The guy was fast asleep and snoring. Funny how the other people in the room just slept through the whole thing.

Early in the morning, we quietly packed up and left. I definitely wouldn’t recommend the hostel, Old Prague Hostel; not because of the whole ordeal, but because throughout the nights we spent there, there was always loud, thumping music playing into the wee hours. Maybe there’s a club next door, or down the street, but it annoyed the hell out of me because I am a light sleeper.

That was the end of our little trip, and I had to bid farewell to Cindy again. (Insert sad face). I had no plans yet as to where my next destination would be.

Prague is definitely one of my a favourite places in Europe. I would definitely recommend making a trip here. I really enjoyed hearing all about the history of the city, and I’m pretty sure you’d enjoy it too.

Back to Graz!

Vienna, Austria

I waited for until I could finally meet with Cindy to visit Vienna. Ivy had hinted that she wanted us to visit Vienna together, and as best friends, we very willingly went along with it.

Vienna, or Wien, is the capital of Austria. The city has a rich history as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is, till today, one of the richest cities in the whole of Europe. Known as the City of Music, famous for its operas, palaces, Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte, I quickly found out that there was more to Vienna than just that.

I arrived in the night, and was jumped on from behind by Miss Gwee. We were both crying and laughing hysterically, totally elated to finally reunite after over 2 months or so. You must understand that we are “neighbours”, and live just a few minutes away from each other. We also used to see each other so often. Naturally, I missed her so. I’m sure she missed me too.

The next morning, we did what we do best – walk.

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St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche)

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)

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Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)

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Imperial Palace (Hofburg)

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We decided to visit the Kaiserappartements where the Imperial Treasury (Kaiserliche Schatzkammer) and Sisi Museum can be found.

I really enjoyed looking through the thousands of  jewels and pieces of gold-adorned treasures such as plates, cutlery, candle holders and china. Just imagine, the excesses!

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Photos were not allowed in the Sisi Museum, but it was worth the visit as well. Empress Sisi is definitely one of the most interesting characters in the Habsburg Dynasty, and maybe even in history. Definitely read about her!

We bought some chocolates at the gift store at the end of the audio tour, and just chilled outside the Hofburg, people-watching.

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Hofburg

In true Cindy and Maddie fashion, we continued walking aimlessly randomly.

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Rathauspark

We crossed the park and lo and behold, another grand building!

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Parliament Building

The Parliament Building is located along Ringstraße, a famous boulevard in Vienna. Tripadvisor recommends taking the Ring Tram to explore Ringstraße – the Vienna State Opera, Imperial Palace, City Hall and other sights.

Just beside the Parliament is Vienna’s City Hall, or Rathaus. I would say that this is my favourite building in Vienna. It is beautiful, majestic even, in the night.

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Rathaus (City Hall)

We were in Vienna in November, before the Christmas season (Weihnachtszeit) began. They were in the process of setting up the world-famous Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt). I knew I had to return to Vienna again to visit the Christmas Market, and I did! But that’s for next time!

Tired and famished, we headed back to the area around Stephansplatz to look for some food. We came across a decent looking restaurant and decided to give it a shot. I ordered some beef goulash with spätzle – a very hearty and comforting meal for the chilly weather.

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Beef goulash with spätzle

The next morning, we decided to do the free walking tour which started at our hostel – Wombat’s City Hostel – The Naschmarkt. Wombat’s is a really good chain of hostels and it can be found in various countries around Europe. I would highly recommend Wombat’s. Always affordable, clean, spacious, safe, and the staff are always very friendly and sociable. Definitely value-for-money. Seeing Cindy and I cry and hug each other on the first day, the receptionist might have thought that we were lesbian partners reunited, but we got extra free drinks each for being so emotional.

Our first stop was to the Naschmarkt, which the hostel is named after. Naschmarkt translates to: a market for eating tidbits, and that’s exactly what they sold here – snacks, small eats, fresh produce, bread etc.

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Around Naschmarkt are many famous buildings designed by Otto Wagner, an Austrian architect and urban planner. Along the way, our tour guide showed us some of his pieces of art.

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We were also introduced to the world-famous Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper).

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Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)

We never did watch an opera, mainly because we simply had limited time in Vienna to do so. You are able to get cheap tickets before the shows, if you are willing to queue with other bargain hunters. I hear they go as cheap as 3 Euros for standing tickets. Well, maybe next time round!

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Our tour guide

Our tour guide was really good. Lots of insights into Viennese life, recommendations and stories. She brought us to many of the places that Cindy and I had already visited, but this time, we had commentary to better understand the history of the places.

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Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)

I would highly recommend this free walking tour. This lady was a great guide!

The last thing we did was to stop by Café Sacher – a must-do for all tourists! I had already tried the Sachertorte, a famous Viennese chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam, back in Graz, where they also have a branch. But I had to try the ORIGINAL, and also, wanted Cindy to try it too. We ordered a slice of Sachertorte, Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) and coffee.

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Sachertorte

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Apfelstrudel 

Once again, I was slightly disappointed with the cake. Although a tad more moist than the one I had in Graz, I still found the Sachertorte very… unexceptional. The first thing that I told my mum when we had a slice was that we could certainly bake it better. However, for the sake of being all touristy and indulging in the history of Vienna, I’d still say go try it. The cake has an interesting story too. But order other things as well. The coffee there was superb.

We packed our stuff, and we were ready to leave for Prague. Vienna had been a relaxing trip for us both. The weather was fine, the city was safe and clean – as close to Singapore as you can get (in that sense), and the company – the best!

To Prague!

#smugrad2014

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 Thank you SMU, for all the wonderful memories – the friends I’ve made, the love I found, the things I’ve learnt in and out of the classroom; the opportunities to travel, to learn new sports, to inspire. These have been the greatest 4 years of my life, and I have zero regrets. But the road wasn’t always so smooth. I regretted the decision choosing SMU in my first and second year, asking the what-ifs if I had chosen NTU or NUS instead. However, things changed. I started to enjoy the classes and met people who made life in school so much more enjoyable. I can proudly say that I’ve made friends for life – BFFs, and of course, the love of my life. They encouraged me, they listened to my endless ranting about sleep deprivation, heavy workload and useless group mates for years, yet they always willingly offered a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. You know who you are. I thank God for you everyday.

Also, I would like to thank my mummy dearest for supporting me throughout my years of education. I hope you’re proud of what I’ve accomplished, and the woman I am today. I work hard so that one day, you can have the life that you really deserve. I know it wasn’t always easy – and maybe it still isn’t, being a single parent, having none of the household burdens shared with anyone. But you’ve done the best job. Look at where we are today. You never pushed me to study that hard. In fact, you were the one who told me not to kill myself over my exams, and that I should just go to sleep. You’ve said this since as far back as I can remember. Yet, I always studied into the wee hours, because I didn’t want you to waste your money sending me to school for nothing. Like you always say, “what is worth doing, is worth doing well”, and that has been a principle I’ve always believed in.

 Yesterday, 15 July 2014, marked the official end of my university education. And I’m proud to announce that I graduated with a Cum Laude (totally unexpected!). It really brings me great joy to celebrate with those I love, and to see the proud faces of my family, especially my grandpa who already demanded to see my official transcript. I know that he is extremely proud of me too, because I’m the first in my generation to graduate from university.

Once again, thank you to everyone who has helped me in this journey. In all honesty, some of us may grow apart over the years, but at this very moment, I just want to say that I appreciate everything that you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t have made it this far, and this well, without you.

 With love,

Maddie