Prague, Czech Republic

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

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

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

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

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

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Berry cheesecake kolach

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Plum jam buchty

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

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

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

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We decided to walk back towards Charles’ Bridge.

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

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Dancing House (Tančící dům)

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The State Opera (Státní Opera)

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

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View of Prague Castle and Charles’ Bridge

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The Gothic-style Old Town Bridge Tower

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

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

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

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

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Church of Saint Nicholas

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

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Da bomb Trdelník

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

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

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

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St. Vitus Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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More trdelník

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

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Church of Our Lady Before Týn at Prague Old Town Square

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

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Prague Astronomical Clock (Prague orloj)

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

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

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

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

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

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Our guide with the red umbrella

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Powder Tower (Prašná brána)

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

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Wenceslas Square

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

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Old New Synagogue

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The Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, the Old Jewish Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Graz!

Prague, Czech Republic

Vienna, Austria

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

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

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

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

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St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche)

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)

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Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)

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Imperial Palace (Hofburg)

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

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

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

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

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Hofburg

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

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Rathauspark

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

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Parliament Building

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

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

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Rathaus (City Hall)

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

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

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Beef goulash with spätzle

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

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

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

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

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Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)

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

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Our tour guide

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

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Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)

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

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

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Sachertorte

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Apfelstrudel 

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

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

To Prague!

Vienna, Austria