Berlin, Germany (Part 1)

I haven’t written anything in months. Whether its a lack of motivation or sheer laziness, I’ll leave it to you. Clearly, when it’s been over a year since I’ve returned from exchange, lots of the little details about my trips have been forgotten.

We arrived in Berlin late at night, and took the bus to our place which we rented on Airbnb. It was the only reasonably priced accommodation we could find as every other place was either full or were charging exorbitant prices for the new year. Berlin happens to be one of those cities where everyone wants to countdown the new year in. We heard that over 200,000 (conservative estimate) were going to the countdown at Brandenburg Gate. We got the whole place to ourselves, as our host and his girlfriend left the city. It wasn’t the most centrally-located place, but we didn’t have much of a choice anyway. However, the place was clean and lovely. No complaints there.

The next day, we headed out without much of an itinerary. We first headed to Museum Island.


Berliner Fernsehturm

The Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm) is the most prominent (outstanding, literally) structure in Berlin. It also happens to be the tallest structure in the whole of Germany. Should have gone up, but we didn’t. There was always a perpetual queue and we had lots to do in Berlin.


Berliner Dom

The Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) is my favourite building in Berlin. Always a sucker for those green domes. I used to think that the green was the original colour of these domes, however, it was only while on exchange that I found out that it was due to corrosion that it becomes that distinctive green patina. I feel smarter already.


The Altes Museum

Much of what we did the first day is lost to me. Not saying it sucked but it was nothing significant.


The TV Tower at night

There were still Christmas markets up and we briefly walked through one. It was a small one but nonetheless, still as enchanting.


Beautiful Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread hearts)

That night, we headed to a famous (touristy) spot - Checkpoint Charlie.



Checkpoint Charlie is extremely gimmicky now (in my opinion), due to the actors dressed in military attire – whom you are able to take photos with at a fee. During the Cold War, however, Checkpoint Charlie represented the divide between East and West Berlin. Down the street, there are exhibits with lots of information about Checkpoint Charlie and the Cold War in general.

Remember all the history lessons back in high school? History was my favourite and till today, I am fascinated with it. It seems like all my favourite books are about the wars (fiction as well as non-fiction). I guess the highlight of this trip to Berlin was how much history the city has. The free walking tour was also awesome! More on that later.

After Checkpoint Charlie, we went hunting for the Ritter Sport store – a.k.a. Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt (translated: Ritter Sport Colourful Chocolate World). Oh, and indeed it was a colourful world of chocolate! Ritter Sport is definitely one of my favourite brands of affordable chocolates, so visiting this store was like being at Disneyland for me. My love for chocolate might just rival my love for peanut butter (or not). We found many flavours we have never seen in Singapore, and that I didn’t find in Austria.


Us, at the Ritter Sport store

We bought lots of chocolate to bring home for our families! The chocolate is much cheaper here too. As you can see, I gained many many pounds on exchange, and I attribute at least half of the weight to the countless bars of chocolate I ate. I made it a point to try all the chocolate that couldn’t be found back home. Heh.

We ended the day with dinner. We met up with my friend Franco and his friends who brought us for a Middle Eastern dinner. The food was fantastic, especially the manti.



These dumplings were delicious! Manti are dumplings filled with spiced meat that are either steamed or boiled. This version was served in a spicy chilli oil and topped with sour cream.



Don’t remember if these were lamb or beef kibbeh but I ate it anyway. It is made with bulgur and minced meat, deep-fried like a croquette. I love croquettes; I love deep-fried food.

The next day, we decided to go for the free walking tour. The free walking tour we chose was once again – Sandemans.

On the way to the meeting point – Brandenburg Gate, we passed by a Daimler AG – Mercedes Benz Gallery along Unter den Linden. It was interesting to see the evolution of the cars over the years.




I like the S350 best, though I wouldn’t mind owning them all if I had the money.

The meeting point for the free walking tour is at Brandenburg Gate. Brandenburg Gate has played an important role in the history of Berlin. Representing peace, the gate is a beautiful one – the Quadriga with Goddess Victoria holding the Iron Cross and an olive wreath makes it look ever so trimphant.


Brandenburg Gate

I’m not sure if it was because it was close to the new year, or if Berlin’s free walking tour is just very popular, but I’m just glad that we got there early because they had to turn many people away. There were hundreds of people waiting for the tour and too few guides to accommodate.

The tour brought us to numerous locations around Berlin. Our first stop after Brandenburg Gate was the Reichstag building – the meeting place of the German parliament.


Reichstag Building

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is just a short walk away from Brandenburg Gate. The memorial is for the victims of the Holocaust.




Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

There are many interpretations of the memorial – some say each column represents a number of the victims since they look like tombstones. My first impression of the memorial was that it was vast, orderly yet disorderly at the same time. The columns are arranged in straight rows but the columns are of different heights. A walk through the memorial was greatly upsetting to me as I recollected the many stories of the Holocaust. It truly repulses me what people are capable of, not just back then, but also at this present day.

Also, remember to be respectful while you are at the memorial. Please no standing on the columns. It really irked me to see people standing on and misbehaving around the memorial.

One of the most interesting places we visited during the tour was what we thought was a random carpark. It looks like just another carpark in a residential estate; however, little did we know that this carpark was once where the centre of the Nazi regime – the Führerbunker. This was also where Hitler and his wife died by taking their own lives. Of course, this isn’t the typical tourist attraction. Only a small sign displays the history of the location.


The former site of the Führerbunker

You can find the location here.

Many of us know the Berlin Wall as the beautifully graffitied gallery. The tour brought us to a segment that was unpainted. It looked like just another wall (a very old, dirty one). The Berlin Wall divided West Berlin from East Germany from 1961 to 1989, keeping East Germans from fleeing to the West. One of the most famous checkpoints along the wall was Checkpoint Charlie, which was the main access point for the Allied forces.


A segment of the Berlin Wall

One of my favourite topics in history is on the Berlin Wall. Who can forget that speech by Ronald Reagan with one of the most powerful lines: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Many people lost their lives in attempts to defect. Guards were allowed to shoot anyone who tried to escape, but many people in desperation still tried their luck.

We also visited the Luftwaffe HQ which our tour guide explained was the former Nazi Air Force HQ. It is constructed in the typical “Nazi-style architecture” – intimidating and designed to make you feel small and insignificant. The building is now used as the German tax office.



Luftwaffe HQ

One of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Berlin is Humboldt-Universität. During the Third Reich, the Nazis burnt thousands of books from its library that were written or considered opposing their regime. The infamous book burnings took place in the square outside the university at the current Bebelplatz (formerly Opernplatz).


A memorial now stands at Bebelplatz. It is minimalistic – empty bookshelves to represent the missing 20,000 books that were burnt.


Memorial at Bebelplatz commemorating the book burnings


“Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” which translates: “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”

We ended the day at the Topography of Terror, which is the former location of the Gestapo and SS Headquarters in Berlin.


Topography of Terror

This was one of the most informative museums I’ve been to, but definitely not one for people who hate reading. If you’re as interested as I about the history, then the reading won’t be too painful. I definitely learnt a lot more from the visit, and I would encourage anyone to visit too, even if just for a short while.

The free walking tour was definitely one of the better ones I attended, very informative and covering many of the important historical locations around Berlin, including those that we wouldn’t find on TripAdvisor.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Berlin!

Lienz, Austria

Bidding Graz goodbye, we left for Lienz for the final leg of our travels around Europe. It was bittersweet leaving Graz; it had been a good home for me over the past few months, and I would miss the beautiful town and the new friends I had made, but it was also about time we headed home.

Alex invited us to his home in Lienz to celebrate the holidays with his family. Lienz (not to be mistaken for Linz), is in the beautiful region of Tyrol, and is home to the highest mountain in the Austria – the Großglockner. Basically, if you love mountains, this is probably the place to be. Both Lienz and Innsbruck boast the most beautiful mountain ranges I’ve seen in Austria. A pity we didn’t get any skiiing done.

The day before leaving Graz, Alex apologised in advance as we doubted there would be any chance of snow since it was a very warm day Lienz. I had yet to see actual snow fall in Austria. Whenever it snowed in Graz, I was either asleep or out of town. However, in the last weeks in Graz, there was quite a fair bit of snow on the ground and in the trees, so I did get a somewhat “white Christmas”.

While we were on the train from Graz to Lienz, I got a text from Alex exclaiming that it was snowing! Not just any snow, but major snowfall; heavier than the past few years. We were really so lucky! I felt like the Lord had answered my prayers. This was truly a gift! You simply could not wipe that big smile off my face as we pulled in to the station at Lienz. It was really snowing heavily, and we just couldn’t resist throwing a couple of snowballs at each other.

IMG_5402Arriving to a blanket of snow

After some monkeying around, we hopped into the car and Alex drove us to the little hotel we were to stay at for the next two days. Immediately after putting our luggage down, Peiwen and I just ran outside and started frolicking in the snow! I guess there really is something magical about snow (for us people who live in countries that don’t ever see snowfall).

IMG_5414“Shovelling” the driveway

IMG_5422THAT much snow

IMG_5429Happy girl sees snow!

Alex picked us up again after we settled down and brought us to a river. Oh, what a sight to behold.



It wasn’t as cold as it looked, which was great, because we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

From the river, Alex brought us to an empty field so that we could start on our snowman. I mean, it is simply inexcusable to have so much snow and not build a snowman, right? The last time I built one was when I was just 4 years old, in Scotland. Apparently, I loved the snow so much that I just sat down on the ground and ate snow, all the while refusing to get back inside despite my teeth chattering.

The following scene the field still remains vivid in my memory. It was the most peaceful moment – a wide, open field, silent, untouched. In the distance, I was barely able to make out the silhouette of a man and his dog walking among the firs. At that moment, I let out a sigh. Truly, this world we live in is beautiful.


We started building our snowman. Even with my gloves on, my fingers started to get numb from the cold. I was worried that my camera was getting wet because the snow was still falling pretty heavily as we were building our snowman.


The many years of squatting (and tyre flipping on a few occasions) certainly helped me, as I laboured on until we finally completed the huge ass snowman, taller and bigger than any of us. We were overcome by such a strong sense of accomplishment and just couldn’t wait to strike a pose with our masterpiece.

IMG_5475Us, with our snowman

Hungry after our workout, we returned to Alex’s Oma’s place for dinner. Everything was homemade, and it was a really authentic Austrian meal. My favourite was the yummy pretzels – the best I’ve had to date!


There was also Weißwurst and the best Christmas cookies ever! More to come the next day!

That night, we took a walk around the Old Town with Alex and one of his childhood friends. The town was pretty quiet, I guess because it was pretty late and nothing was open, which was to be expected for the day after Christmas.

The next morning, Alex picked us up and took us for a little ride so that we could take some amazing photos of the mountains. Lienz is at an elevation of 673m, so yes, it is in the mountains.


Everything looked more beautiful the second day as it had stopped snowing and we could see things clearly. The fresh blanket of snow was still white and beautiful, although walking through it was quite the challenge.


We stopped by the side of the road to take a few photos, and I got some of my favourite photos from my whole exchange in the five minutes we were there.

Our next stop was to Bruck Castle. We didn’t go inside, but wandered around the compound for a short while taking photos. It’s amazing how many castles there are throughout Europe. It becomes such a common sight that one really has to have an interesting story or be so beautiful to stand out. This castle, however, nothing special. I didn’t get to find out about the history of it, but I’ll read up on it soon.

IMG_5516Bruck Castle

Lienz is a winter sport paradise, and when we were there, it was the Ski World Cup season. We walked past many of the venues where they were setting up. It was no wonder that finding a hotel during that period was nearly impossible. Next time I’m in Austria during winter, I swear I’ll go skiing.

We tried heading up a mountain to catch a view, but the car got stuck in the snow and we all had to get out and push for no less than 20 minutes. We were using all our strength but the car simply wouldn’t budge. Fortunately, along came some kind souls who helped us. We decided to head down instead, and went back to Alex’s place for lunch.


Alex’s Oma makes such beautiful Christmas cookies. My favourites are the Linzer cookies, the Lebkuchen, the Vanillekipferl… just about everything!

IMG_5567Alex’s grandma’s cookies

She also made these Tyrolean dumplings (Knödel) which are made from stale bread, bacon and parsley, and served in a hot broth like a consommé. I’ve had a couple of dumplings in other parts of Austria, and they were usually too doughy and chewy. These were just unbelievably delicious and hearty; perfect for the cold weather.

IMG_5572Tirolean Knödel

After lunch, we decided to visit our snowman again. This time, we brought along a carrot to put some finishing touches.

The area where we built our snowman looked completely different now that the snow had stopped and it was a clear day. The snow reflected the perfect azure sky, giving it a light blue hue.

IMG_5580One of my favourite photos

IMG_5581Giving our snowman a nose and other facial features

IMG_5600Our happy snowman, complete with whiskers!

We were very proud of our snowman. It was the only one we saw in those couple of days. Never lose the child in you, people! :)

It was a very short stay in Lienz. It is, to me, the ideal retirement town. One day I would love to live in the mountains (after I’ve earned my millions).

Dj and I left a day before Peiwen did. We took the train to Berlin, our second last destination before we headed home to Singapore.

We had a very tear-filled goodbye. I couldn’t stop sobbing for the next hour because it would be a long time before I met these two again – the best friends I made on exchange. They made the whole experience such a joyous and memorable one!

IMG_5603Our final picture together

Thanks, guys! MISS YOU! <3

Hallstatt, Austria

There is probably no place in Austria so surreal, so peaceful and so picturesque as Hallstatt.

Peiwen and I did a short day trip to Hallstatt. I came from Graz, while she came from Salzburg. We ended up on the same train. My jaw literally dropped when I got off the train.

Across the tranquil Hallstätter See (Hallstatt Lake) is the village of Hallstatt. Since medieval times, this village has be known for its salt trade. Its name, Hallstatt, means “salt place” in Celtic. Even today, you can still visit the world’s oldest salt mines. However, as we were there in the winter, the salt mines were closed, but we still had an amazing time just strolling along the lake and wandering around the “pearl of Austria”. It’s times like this that I’m happy I invested over a thousand dollars on a good camera. My photos are minimally edited on iPhoto (that’s all I can manage) and they look really good, yet, I feel that they offer only a small glimpse into the beauty of Hallstatt.


Hallstätter See with Hallstatt set against the mountains

Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Human activity in the magnificent natural landscape of the Salzkammergut began in prehistoric times, with the salt deposits being exploited as early as the 2nd millennium BC. This resource formed the basis of the area’s prosperity up to the middle of the 20th century, a prosperity that is reflected in the fine architecture of the town of Hallstatt.”

When you arrive at the train station, the only way to get to Hallstatt is to take a boat across the lake. The boats all have a schedule pasted onboard so you can plan your return trip. As the boat set off towards Hallstatt, the looming mountains became bigger and the village came into clear sight. It was a really amazing experience, just being on the boat slowly approaching Hallstatt. I can’t seem to describe the awe I felt, but I definitely hope that everyone will get the chance to experience it at least once in their lifetime.


View of Hallstatt from the boat


When we got off the boat, we immediately made our way up a hill. I can’t quite remember where we were headed for, because we eventually had to turn back after a fair bit of climbing as the roads were closed. It had been snowing in the days before and the snow had frozen up, making the climb pretty dangerous.


Slightly disappointed and a tad exhausted, we headed back down the hill and traveled to the other side of Hallstatt instead.


A tired Peiwen


Vandalized, and proud of it (Peiwen + Maddie :) 2013)



I had to resist taking photos every second because it seemed like everywhere I looked, there was some beauty to be captured. A quick tip: when you get off the boat, walk towards the right side, and up a slight slope to catch this magnificent view that you often see on postcards.


The best view of Hallstatt


Peiwen and I <3

Never be afraid to ask other travellers to take photographs for you. Sometimes, you get amazing photos like this one! Also, just because someone is carrying a DSLR, doesn’t make them a professional. Oh, and also, I find that Asians are better photographers in general. Must be all the practice we get from taking photos of our friends and all the selfies too.


Right at the heart of Hallstatt is the church that has become one of the landmarks of this charming village – the Evangelical Parish Church. Its spire is the most prominent piece of architecture in the whole of Hallstatt.


Cemetery at the Ascension of Our Lady Catholic Church

I have never been a fan of cemeteries because those we have in Singapore are just eerie, but the cemeteries throughout Europe aren’t. In some places, people actually have picnics in cemeteries! GASP! We wandered among the headstones, and I felt a sense of peace rather than fear. I never thought I’d say this but this was a really beautiful cemetery.


Now, back to die Salze (the salt). Even the bottles you get here are so pretty. I regret not buying a bottle for myself. It would’ve made a great souvenir.


 Bottles of locally mined salt


Instead, I got a small bottle of eggnog for Dj and I from this wonderful store. I never had eggnog before, but I knew it was a Christmas drink and I was already anticipating my favourite day of the year! It was really delicious. I shall try making my own eggnog this year!

We walked past the Market Square (Marktplatz). They were setting up a Christmas market.




Market Square (Marktplatz)

We walked to the extreme end of Hallstatt to catch another beautiful view of the village.


I actually won $50 worth of CapitaLand vouchers by entering this photo in the #TravelMadeDifferent contest on Instagram. YAY.


There was a sign that said “No entry” onto the dock, but we hopped over quickly to take this photo. Yeah, we’re badass.



Peiwen and the swans

The glassy waters of Hallstätter See are just magnificent, aren’t they?

Although we knew that the mines were closed, we walked to the funicular anyway. The funicular brings people up to the world’s oldest known salt mine. It’s really a pity that we didn’t come before they closed for the winter.

Since no salt mine for us, we decided to frolic in the snow. There’s something magical about beautiful, untouched white snow. Of course, my ass was freezing and my jeans were damp afterwards. It was worth it. I felt like a child again.


photo (1)

Just chilling, literally.

We walked back towards Marktplatz to grab some food.


Such a photogenic place


The narrow alleyways

I had some pumpkin and apple soup to fight the cold, while Peiwen had some yummy fish at one of the cafés.


And of course, no meal is complete without dessert. We hopped on to another restaurant to have dessert. To be honest, we already had a slice of cake in the café, but you can never have enough dessert, right?

We had our dessert at the restaurant in the Seehotel Grüner Baum. It was a pretty posh place and I was worried that everything on the menu would be unaffordable. To my pleasant surprise, it was ok! We were dying for some Kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian specialty, which translates to “emperor’s mess”. It is a shredded pancake, usually dusted with powdered sugar and served with jam. Kaiser Franz Josef I loved it, and so do I!


Beautiful floral arrangement at Seehotel Grüner Baum


Kaiserschmarrn with stewed plums – €9.90

The Kaiserschmarrn served at Seehotel Grüner Baum is served with stewed plums, which was extraordinary! The pancakes were perfectly caramelised on the outside and fluffy inside. My only complaint is that there was way too much butter. We left the bottom bit untouched because it were literally soaking in butter. Nonetheless, the most memorable Kaiserschmarrn I’ve had.

We quickly made our way to the dock to catch the boat back to the train station.

Although it was just a few hours in Hallstatt, the place has left such a lasting impression on me. I would love to return to Hallstatt with Dj someday. Hallstatt is unspoilt; it transported me back in time. It really is heaven on earth.

Auf Wiedersehen, Hallstatt.

Vienna, Austria (Part 2)

My second time in Vienna was a trip with Peiwen and Alex. Alex and his mum warmly welcomed us into their beautiful home to stay for two days.

We were there to see the famous Christkindlmarkt. From about mid November, many squares transform into festive Christmas markets. Yes, Christmas is a BIG thing in Austria, and all around Europe. Out of all the Christmas markets in Vienna, the main one, and by far, the most beautiful and grandest Christmas market I’ve seen, is the one at Rathausplatz (City Hall Square). It is on the top 10 lists of many of the best Christmas markets in Europe. For the locations of the Christmas markets in Vienna, click HERE.

All around town, the streets were adorned with Christmas lights, decorations and Christmas trees. It was really stunning at night.




Beautiful street lights around the Historic Center of Vienna

If only Christmas was like this in Singapore! But it would be extremely expensive!

On the first night, we visited the Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz.


Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz

At this Christkindlmarkt, you will find over 150 stalls selling everything Christmassy. What makes it different is its setting, in the foreground of the Rathaus (City Hall), a beautiful and imposing Neo-Gothic building. Then there are the myriad of coloured lights that illuminate the market. Because I suck at night photography, I don’t think I managed to capture the beauty and ambience of the Christmas market. It is definitely a must-do when you’re in Vienna during Advent, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas. Vienna might convert you!





Christmas ornaments

Of course, there is a lot of food available at the Christkindlmarkt. I was very attracted (as usual) to the sweet stuff and glühwein (mulled wine). The cakes and sweet treats were so beautifully made.


Christmas chocolates


Austrian specialties – Sacher, Mozart & Apfelstrudel 


Christmas-themed soap


Das Wiener Rathaus (City Hall)


Christmas lamps

We bought a slice of chocolate cake and a huge Krapfen (a.k.a a doughnut, or Berliner) for breakfast the next day. Peiwen and I also got a cup of mulled wine each, and walked back to Alex’s place slowly sipping (and spilling) the wine. How it works at Christmas markets is that you pay for the drinks with the price of the cup included. It is not a plastic cup, or any old cup, but a special one with drawings and little pictures that are 3D. When, and if you return the cup, you get a few Euros back. If you don’t, then you simply keep the cup. So yes, I did not steal the cup. It is a nice souvenir!

The next day, we visited Schloß SchönbrunnI didn’t manage to visit the palace the last time I was in Vienna with Cindy, so my two friends happily (or reluctantly) agreed to follow me. We just visited the garden, because apparently, just seeing the palace building and the garden alone is good enough.



Christmas market at Schönbrunn



Initially constructed as a palatial hunting lodge by the Habsburgs, the palace was later used by the courts under Maria Theresia.

The name Schönbrunn means “beautiful well” – the well referring to a well where the courts got their water. The word schön was one of the first German words I learnt. Schönen Tag (good day), people! In 1918, with the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy, ownership of Schönbrunn Palace was transferred to the newly founded Republic of Austria.


Alex is smiling!

We walked up the hill, through the gardens and caught an amazing view of Vienna from high up.


The Gloriette

 I had to Google the meaning of gloriette – “A gloriette is a building in a garden erected on a site that is elevated with respect to the surroundings”.


After Schönbrunn, we made our way back to town to get lunch. I think Alex was famished! We had a buffet lunch at some restaurant before heading back home to take a break. We considered going to the opera, but decided against it since no one was really too fond of it. Instead, we went out to get some veal to cook ourselves dinner. We were going to cook a typical Viennese dish – Wiener Schnitzel!

Alex’s Oma (grandma) gave him the recipe, so we set out to get the ingredients – some flour, meat, and lard to cook. I didn’t even know they sold that lard like that. It was packaged like butter and looked like petroleum jelly. Anyway, I did most of the cooking. :P

I think it is an extremely easy recipe. There really isn’t any way to go wrong, unless you burn it. I thought this recipe was as close as it could get: Wiener Schnitzel recipe.

We cooked some rice to go, and garnished with it with lemon. It was really simple, yet delicious. Am I a fan of Wiener Schnitzel though? I don’t care much for it, but I would eat it if someone served it (I guess).



Our homemade Wiener Schnitzel

Thank you to Alex and his mum for making us feel so at home in Vienna!


Really awesome chocolate from Alex’s mum as our farewell gift

The three of us returned to Graz after our short trip together.

Back to school! On the train ride back, I was working hard on my German homework and studying hard for my exam. Fortunately, I had two German speakers to help me :)

Kraków, Poland

This trip has got to be the most exciting one I’ve ever had. We carpooled our way from Graz to Krakow. It was a very long drive in an awesome Mercedes, going at over 180km/h on straight, empty roads. Our driver was a nice Austrian guy with a girlfriend from Krakow, and he was visiting her over the weekend, so he would drive us back to Graz on the Sunday too. I spent most of the journey chitchatting with him while Peiwen and Franco dozed off in the backseat. I surprised myself at how much I could talk to him.

We arrived in Krakow at almost midnight. The wind was crazy and just a minute out of the car was unbearable. We were Couchsurfing again. After our driver dropped us off, we tried buzzing our host through the telecom, but it didn’t work and neither did we understand the instructions because they were written in Polish. Polish, by the way, not the easiest language to learn.

After standing in the cold for what seemed like an hour (but probably was about half the time), we found our host (by the grace of God) and we slept peacefully that night in his room. The next morning, we cooked breakfast together before leaving for the Old Town. We only stayed one night at our first host’s place, as he was going out of the country. We were going to move to another place later that night.

As we were leaving, it started to snow. This was my first time seeing snow in almost two decades (excluding from inside the car on the way to Krakow)! We were all so excited!


Spot tiny specks of snow!


Battle of Grunwald monument


St. Florian’s Gate and the Barbican

St. Florian’s Gate is the main entryway into the Old Town. Together with the barbican, it served as a fortification against the Turkish attacks during the 14th century.


St. Florian’s Street (Ulica Floriańska)

We entered the historical centre via St. Florian’s Gate, down St. Florian’s Street and towards the Main Market Square. As it was Christmas season, there was quite a big Christmas market that occupied almost the entire square.


Main Market Square (Rynek Główny)

From hot food, mulled wine, ornaments, trinkets to candy, it was definitely one of the bigger Christmas markets I’d seen thus far. Of course, we couldn’t resist the delicious smelling food.




We ordered some pan roasted potatoes and mushrooms, and some grilled pork to share. The perfect hearty meal for the cold weather! The wind was so strong as we sat down to eat (and it was snowing a little) that as we finished about half of our food, the wind started blowing our plates away!


Christmas ornaments


Our first host also recommended that we tried the grilled cheese served piping hot with a sweet cranberry sauce. We managed to find it, and oh, was it divine! The ultimate treat for cheese lovers.



Oscypek cheese with cranberry sauce

The cheese is a smoked cheese made out of salted sheep milk from the Tartar Mountains area of Poland. The cranberry sauce definitely cuts the saltiness of the smoked cheese. And cranberries just spell Christmas!

We wondered around the Main Market Square until it was time for dinner. It was really cold and we had to seek shelter in a café to get a hot drink and some cake to warm us up!

For dinner, we searched for another recommendation for authentic Polish pierogi. Yes, it seems like non-stop eating here! It was a place called Przystanek Pierogarnia. By evening, the snow was starting to fall really hard, and thanks to the wind, the snow didn’t fall so gracefully, but rather, was being blown horizontally. It was terrible! Think water out of a hose! Soon enough, the cars were covered under a blanket of snow, with passersby scribbling all sort of vulgarities on them.



When we finally found Przystanek Pierogarnia, we were shocked to see how tiny the place really was. It was small and packed with locals getting their pierogi fix. We ordered a serving of assorted pierogi and a kluski dish with a tomato sauce.


Assorted pierogi 



Kluski is pretty similar to the gnocchi – chewy and delicious! We enjoyed the dishes very much. It is definitely another perfect winter dish – extremely hearty. Did I also mention that the whole meal cost us only a small sum of money? I think it was less than 8 Euros for both plates!


Notes left by satisfied customers

After dinner, we took the tram towards our second Couchsurfing host’s place. This is an extremely long story, but it is certainly an interesting one. In summary, our host was a druggie, threatened to show us his cellar (think Josef Fritzl), was extremely offended by our desire to visit Auschwitz, drank too much, requested for a Taiwanese sandwich which he very rudely commented was too f-ing sweet, and asked me to translate “I want to kill you and take your liver” in Chinese. Now, I think you can understand why we slept with a knife that night and escaped early in the morning by jumping over his fence. Feel free to ask me for the full story. I think it would make a great movie.

After our escape, we took the first tram towards the Old Town and found ourselves a hostel. That very morning, we booked ourselves for the Auschwitz tour at the tourist office. Auschwitz is one of the places that you just have to visit when you are in Krakow. It is such an important reminder of the wrongdoings of the Holocaust. It is hard to imagine that humans could be capable of such atrocities. Of course, the Holocaust is just one of the many genocides that have taken place, and in some places, are still occurring.


Before the start of the tour of Auschwitz I camp


“Arbeit Macht Frei”

The words Arbeit Macht Frei means “work makes free” or “work sets you free”. They were placed over many of the entrances of Nazi concentration camps. Of course, no matter how much they tolled, the prisoners would never be free men again.



The red brick barracks of Auschwitz I

Prisoners lived in horrid conditions and disease was rampant. They were also made to endure the long and painful Polish winters without the proper clothing and footwear. Many died of pneumonia. Of course, many were malnourished and died of sheer exhaustion from the amount of manual labour they were made to endure.


The tour brought us to a few rooms where the belongings of prisoners were kept. These rooms were filled with some of the most disturbing things – from prosthetic limbs, shoes and leather suitcases, to a room full of hair cut (a few thousand kilograms worth) from over 100,000 victims. They did not allow us to take photographs of the hair, and even if they did, I doubt I would have. It was just too sickening for me. I didn’t linger in that room for long. These items were then sold or used to manufacture other products. For example, the hair was sent to be made into coats for the winter. The things some people do for money.


Artificial limbs


Shoes of victims


They brought us into various bunkers, and into some of the cells of the victims. There was one with rows and rows of portraits of the demised. To think that they would never have enough space if they were to put up photos of every single one of the victims.


Portraits of the victims


Layers of barbed wire to prevent escape

The tour brought us from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II – Birkenau.


Birkenau camp

There was something even more solemn about Birkenau than Auschwitz I. Maybe it was because the snow storm started again and it was getting dark, but the whole experience at Birkenau we were suffering because of the chill, and that made me wonder how the victims felt having to endure all of that day after day.


“For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.”


I wouldn’t say that it was scary being in a place where so many perished; it was just a very sad time. Needless to say, I did a lot of reflecting and prayed many prayers.

We returned back to the Old Town in time for dinner.

Our friend recommended finding a burger joint which is situated in the heart of the Old Town, just a street off the Main Market Square. Moaburger offers various choices of delicious burgers from the classic beef, to a surf & turf rendition and even vegetarian options such as goat cheese and bean burgers.


We ordered The Classic, the Classic + Cheese and the Chicken. Definitely one of the best burgers I have had in this lifetime. Not to mention that the burgers were pretty big. Krakow certainly has good food!


The Chicken

After dinner, we headed to the mall for some window shopping and dessert. Peiwen also lost her phone in the mall ):


Christmas tree outside the mall

On our last day in Krakow, we took the free walking tour. The starting point was St. Mary’s Basilica, the church that dominates the Main Market Square. This 14th century gothic church is famous for the trumpeter that plays on the hour from the top of the taller tower. The tune breaks off midway, commemorating the trumpeter that was shot in the neck while sounding the alarm to warn of the Mongol attacks.


St. Mary’s Church (Kosciól Mariacki)

Be sure to admire the stunning altarpiece too.

Our guide was a funny local who gave us some tips on surviving the winter in Krakow. Tips include shrugging your shoulders and arms repeatedly in a penguin-like fashion, and kicking the ground with your toes (with boots on, preferably) to keep the blood flowing to the extremities. We must have looked like fools, all thirty or so of us.

The tour brought us all round the Old Town, and also gave us a couple of breaks to warm up or have something light to eat. The highlight of the tour for me was Wawel.

Wawel is a fortified complex which houses the Royal Castle and the Wawel Cathedral.


The walls of Wawel

For centuries, Wawel Castle served as the residence of the kings. You can also find Poland’s Crown Jewels at Wawel.



The Royal Castle’s arcaded courtyard



The Wawel Dragon Statue along the Vistula River as seen from the top of the Wawel Hill

According to legend, the Dragon of Wawel Hill had a lair in the foot of Wawel Hill. The dragon killed many civilians and devoured their livestock. King Krakus, the founder of the city, promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could defeat the Wawel Dragon. However, many warriors failed. One day, a poor cobbler named Skuba took up the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it into the dragon’s lair. The dragon was then tricked into eating it. It got so thirsty that it ran out to the Vistula River and drank until it could not hold anymore water and exploded. Now, it’s stories like these that make life so much more interesting!


Friends at Wawel

We ended the tour at Wawel and headed for lunch in search of zapiekanka. But first, we stopped by a café in the Jewish District (Kazimierz) to grab a light meal.


Hot chocolate and apple pie a la mode


Polish sour rye soup (żurek)

Once again, the food was wonderful. I loved the sour rye soup.

We didn’t have to walk far to find our zapiekanka, which is a baguette grilled with various toppings. We got ours at Zapiekanki Królewskie, one of the more popular places.


Zapiekanka from Zapiekanki Królewskie

The baguette was perfectly toasted, the cheese nice and stringy and served piping hot off the grill! We finished it too quickly for people who just had lunch.

We ended our day with a quick look at the New Jewish Cemetery.


The Star of David at the New Jewish Cemetery

The cemetery covers a total of 11 acres and contains over 10,000 tombs.

The Krakow trip is definitely the most memorable one I’ve had. I certainly will not be forgetting running for our dear lives or our haunting experience at Auschwitz. And of course, Peiwen and Franco are one of the best travel buddies I could ever ask for.

Paula Deen’s Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls are a perpetual craving of mine. There’s just something about the sweet smell of cinnamon. Of course, there are many uses for this spice, from blood sugar control to digestive aid. However, I’m sure most would agree that its marriage with sugar, all rolled up in a yeasty dough, is its greatest gift to humanity.

This was my very first attempt at baking yeast bread, so there is definitely a lot of room for improvement. I loved watching the dough rise; there was just so much joy in the anticipation!

I used Paula Deen’s recipe for these wonderful cinnamon rolls. Recipe can be found here. Thank you, Paula Deen!

I cut the recipe in half because lousy planning = insufficient flour and butter.






Give baking bread a try. It ain’t as tough as it seems! :)

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:






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.






Weihnachtsmarkt on Schloßberg


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!




Happy people




International feast


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!


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


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


Us, crazy people, wandering down Herrengasse


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.




 Snow in Graz

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





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!


I forced Alex to smile, with teeth this time.


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.





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.


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.







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.



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.





 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.


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.


 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.



Altare della Patria



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.


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.


 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!





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



 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.


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.


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.


Food, glorious food


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.


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)


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.




 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.



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.


St. Peter’s Square




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.


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.








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.


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.


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).


St. Peter’s Square, bustling all day


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.


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.


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.


St. Peter’s Square still crowded in the evening


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).


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.


The Grand Canal


San Simeone Piccolo



 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.


View from Rialto Bridge




The crowded streets of Venice


The narrow alley to our hotel


Santa Maria dei Miracoli




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.








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.



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.


Grand Canal at night



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!


My chubby face by November



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.





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.



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.


Campanile di San Marco




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.


The Last Judgment


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.


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


Doge’s Palace


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.



Gondolas parked




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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


Pizza rolls



Duomo di Murano Santa Maria e Donato


 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.


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.









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.


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.


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.


My cheapo boyfriend and his grissini



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.


Santa Maria della Salute


Doge’s Palace and Campanile di San Marco



More gelato at La Boutique del Gelato


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.