After our trip to Neuschwanstein, we returned back to Munich to have dinner at one of the most famous beer halls in the world – Hofbräuhaus München. The beer hall that stands today is over a century old and its history as the royal brewery stems dates back to the 16th century when the Duke of Bavaria first started brewing brown ale. Whether you are a fan or Weißbier or Dunkelbier, you must visit the Hofbräuhaus in Munich to taste some of the best beers in the world. I honestly do not like beer, but I am a BIG fan of the Dunkelbier served here.
Other than the beer, the Hofbräuhaus is a great place to try traditional Bavarian fare such as Weißwurst and Laugenbretzel. I tend to avoid processed meats like sausages but these were amazing sausages! The pretzel was also really good – hard on the outside, soft on the inside (just like me) and also nice and chewy. The mustard is a good accompaniment to both the sausages as well as the pretzel.
Good luck trying to find a seat here as it is ALWAYS packed. Be prepared to share a table and to speak much louder than usual as it is a crowded and noisy place, but it all adds to the amazing atmosphere at the Hofbräuhaus!
The next day, we headed out for the free walking tour which is once again run by Sandemans. As usual, a very insightful tour. The three hours are jam-packed with visits to the most famous, and not so famous, tourist attractions around Munich. Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady)Rathaus-Glockenspiel at Marienplatz
Like many big European cities, Munich also has a famous clock tower. However, this one puts on a little show for the hundreds of spectators below. The story of the royal wedding, a joust between a Bavarian and Habsburger and a popular folk dance are performed by the little figures. The whole event, which takes place at 11am daily at Marienplatz – the heart of Munich, lasts about 10 minutes. It is highly overrated and a long time to keep your head up (or your cameras pointed skywards).
One of our stops was at Viktualienmarkt (“Viktualien” means food in Latin). This farmers market hosts over a hundred stalls selling a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, cheese, meats, baked goods, flowers and more.
Our guide recommended a stall for us to have a little snack – a Bratwurst im Semmel.
Bratwurst and beer. How very cliché.
Our tour brought us back to the Hofbräuhaus. While we simply enjoyed our German fare the last time, our guide provided us with the very interesting history of this brewery.
Hitler used to hold some of his most memorable rallies and speeches at the Hofbräuhaus.
Lunch time at the Hofbräuhaus
Look closely and you can make out the elaborately disguised swastikas on the ceiling of the Hofbräuhaus.
Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich State Opera)
The Golden Line along “Dodger’s Alley”
This line of gold painted cobblestone was one of the most memorable places we visited. During the failed coup (a.k.a. the Bierhalle Putsch or Beer Hall Putsch) to seize Munich in 1923, 16 Nazis were killed. Hitler put up a plaque honouring the death of his comrades and ordered everyone who passed by this very spot to do the infamous Nazi salute as a sign of respect to the fallen Nazis. However, people who were against them started taking a route down another alley so that they did not need to salute. The Nazi soldiers started to notice this pattern and on the assumption that they were non-supporters, would shoot those who walked down this alley. The golden line was laid in honour of the “dodgers” who died.
Our last stop was at the Feldherrnhalle.
Feldherrnhalle at Odeonsplatz
The Feldherrnhalle was where the Bavarian police and Hitler’s followers opened fire during the Beer Hall Putsch. It was here that after rising to power in 1933, Hitler turned the Feldherrnhalle into a memorial for the fallen Nazis. Odeonsplatz was often used for Nazi rallies and parades.
Present day Munich still hints of its Nazi history which is embedded in little details such as the ceilings in the Hofbräuhaus. However, Munich, as well as many other European countries occupied by the Nazis, have gone a long way to destroy the remnants of the terrible past and to commemorate those who gave their lives in their fight against the Nazi regime.
After the tour, we searched for baumkuchen.
Conditorei Kreutzkamm is a café founded in 1825 in Dresden. They are famous for their baumkuchen and also, the world famous Christstollen from Dresden.
Baumkuchen can come in two forms. The more famous version is that which resembles a log. When sliced, the characteristic rings look like tree rings – hence the name baumkuchen, or tree cake.
However, the log-like baumkuchen was atrociously expensive, and we had to settle with the baumkuchen torte, which is baked in a normal cake pan as opposed to on a spit. It is also known as a Schichttorte, sometimes glazed with chocolate. The baumkuchen torte resembles our Nyonya kuih lapis and tastes similar as well. It is painstakingly made layer by layer. I’m not sure when I will ever have the patience to do that, but this cake is definitely on my baking bucket list.
We also ordered the Käsekuchen, which is a German-style cheesecake traditionally made with quark instead of cream cheese (New York-style) or ricotta (Italian-style). This results, in my opinion, in a lighter, not-too-sweet, healthier cheesecake. Quark was something I discovered back in Graz as many of the pastries there used quark instead of cream cheese. I fell in love with it instantly.
Baumkuchen torte and Käsekuchen
Our final dinner in Munich was with Ron once again. This time we went to Augustiner Biergarten, another famous beer hall in Munich.I had the pork sausages with rotkraut instead of the usual sauerkraut. SO DELICIOUS. This meal was on-par with the meal we had at Hofbräuhaus. It seems like we ended our little Bavarian adventure with a very typical Bavarian meal that night.
Sadly, this also marked the end of our entire European tour. I am glad we ended it in one of my favourite cities in Europe – Munich. We flew back to Singapore and the very next day, we had to go to school. There was not much studying involved over the last few months in Austria (as compared to Singapore), but we all did well with the little work we put in. We always pulled our weight when it came to group work and we excelled in presentations and in exams.
Although Graz was not my first choice as I initially chose to attend a school in France instead, I never looked back from the moment I arrived in Graz. I am thankful for the opportunity that SMU affords it students to immerse themselves overseas and to experience different cultures and landscapes. I am also grateful for the scholarship I got that made this whole journey less of a financial burden for me since I funded it all with my own savings. I must say that I do not regret a single cent I spent (except maybe on some terrible food) because as cliché as it may be, the journey was priceless.
25 cities later, I finally conclude this travelogue of my epic exchange. Cheers to all whom I share many wonderful memories with.
A Visit to Schloß Neuschwanstein, Bavaria
Our final destination was one of my favourites from my entire time in Europe. We made our way from Berlin to Munich, or München (which I now know how to pronounce after taking a few German lessons).
On one of the days in Munich, we met with Ron who was on his exchange programme there, and journeyed to a very enchanting and somewhat surreal castle – Schloß Neuschwanstein.
The castle is one of the world’s most famous castles, and definitely the most beautiful one I have seen. It is known as the Sleeping Beauty Castle, as Walt Disney’s inspiration came from this very castle. Most recently, it was featured in The Monuments Men – which is a movie I very much enjoyed. Must be George Clooney.
We took the train from Munich’s train station early that morning to Füssen, which is the closest bahnhof (train station) to visit the castle.
From the train station, it is a pretty long and arduous hike up to Marienbrücke, the bridge where you get simply the best view of Neuschwanstein Castle. I would highly recommend wearing good, sturdy shoes. When we were there, it had been snowing a couple of days before, and the path was icy and slippery, even with my Timberlands. It wasn’t a stroll in the park. Even though it was very cold initially (I had on 4 layers in total), about midway through, I had to remove my coat because I was perspiring! How uncommon for winter.
On the way up, you will come across another castle – Schloß Hohenschwangau. I find it quite sad that most people simply disregard this castle for the more famous Neuschwanstein Castle.The way up…
After a tough uphill climb, we finally made it to Marienbrücke. I couldn’t stop smiling.Marienbrücke
The view that greeted us was one of the most amazing ever – a magical castle perched precariously on a hill.Schloß Neuschwanstein
I was very much in love with the exterior. A pale grey/cream limestone façade; it towered even from a distance, completely overwhelming, yet simultaneously, complementing its surrounding.
Do look down the opposite side when on you’re on Marienbrücke; another beautiful sight awaits.
On the way down, you can once again catch a glimpse of Schloß Hohenschwangau amidst its surroundings. The beautiful snow-capped mountains seem to fade into the horizon. It was really serene.I wonder how my face got so chubby…
When we got close to the castle, I felt tiny. It’s a different feeling standing beneath, as opposed to looking at it from the bridge. It is so well preserved (or restored) that it really does look like part of Disneyland. This is definitely a good day trip I would recommend to anyone visiting Munich. The little girl/little boy in you will be very happy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Austrian specialties – Sacher, Mozart & Apfelstrudel
Das Wiener Rathaus (City Hall)
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 Schönbrunn. I 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.
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. 😛
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 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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 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.
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).
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
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
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.
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 Burano – Murano 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.
Duomo di Murano Santa Maria e Donato
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.
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.
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.
Tim and Patrick showed off their baking skills with homemade Apfelstrudel!
Apfelstrudel (apple strudel)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
There was also armour for the horses. This was meant for jousting. It was the grandest piece on display. Very intimidating.
After the armoury, we headed back towards Lendplatz for lunch. Dj loves mushroom soup and I had to let him try the best.
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.
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.
Burger with Cajun fries – Indeed, delicious
Clement and his chicken wings (and beer)
We met many schoolmates there at the Christmas market at Hauptplatz. The heavy drizzle did nothing to faze us.
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.
The next morning, I brought Dj to my favourite café – Tribeka, for the best chai latte.
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.
Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax
God only knows why I don’t have a single decent photo of Topfentaschen. Sigh. I had to screenshot this from my Instagram account.
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.
Farmers’ market at Kaiser Josef Platz
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.
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).
Herz-Jesu-Kirche (Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)
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.
The beautiful altar and pulpit
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!
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.
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.
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.
1/2 fried spring chicken in a crust of pumpkin seeds, served in a basket
Gardener’s salad with sliced grilled turkey, and Styrian pumpkin oil
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”.
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.
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.
Schloßberg and the Uhrturm, sitting pretty
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!
The cables that go across are for the trams. They are ubiquitous around many countries in Europe. I love trams!
Rathaus (City Hall)
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.
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.
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.
Luegg Haus – spot the faces
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.
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.
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!
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!
Poppy seed crown
This was the first time having poppy seed and it was surprisingly good!
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.
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.