Sunday, September 20, 2009

August-September 2009: Southampton and Around

"Soton" - Home of the Titanic

We came to Southampton twice to visit friends and finally, at the third time, we moved here. This is our last destination in UK/Europe, time to end the journey and to go back home.
Stay in the studio apartment above of my friends' restaurant, we are well taken care of with constant free and discounted meals. :P With their care and helps, we will leave this country with warmth hearts.

Titanic left from Southampton to New York. There were many people from Southampton were working on the ship at the time it sank. So there is a Southampton Maritime Museum that people generally called Titanic Museum.

Southampton is a port without beach. The nearest and better beach to swim is Bournemouth, which is at least one hour from here. So Bournemouth is always crowded when the sky 'unusually' blue or when the weather is a bit warmer.

We found this small beach at Hill Head. It is nearer to Southampton (20-30 min), but the beach is pebble beach, a bit muddy and smell seaweed strongly.
The water wasn't as clear as in Bournemouth and the strong wind here attracted many people for wind ski.
Not as good to swim.

The beach at Lee-on-the-Solent is our nearest favourite beach. It is just next to Hill Head, but the water is clearer and deeper for swim.
It is equally windy, but during sunny day (eventhough is sacred), it is still nice to be here and swim.

Stonehenge stands unperturbed by 80km/hr whipping winds and legions of people who have visited for over 5000 year.
For centuries, religious devotees have come to Stonehenge for its mystical karmic energies.
The most famous Stonehenge legend holds that the circle was built of Irish stones magically transported by Merlin.

The monument was once a complete circle of 7m high stones weighting up to 45 tons - dates from about 1500 BC.
The labourers' technological capabilities were more advanced than we can imagine.

16-19 July 2009: Luxembourg and Post-trip

Luxembourg - Mir well bleiwe wat mir sinn
(National motto: We want to remain what we are)

The tiny Luxembourg is too often overlooked by travelers. The only reason we were there were because of we did not think we are likely to come to this country purposely next time. Since Luxembourg is on the way to go back to England, so why not?
Luxembourg is a notable European Union member and a prominent international financial centre. The Luxembourgian people have been significantly influenced by both German and French culture.

Luxembourg is a camping paradise.
Two people with a tent and a car cost us less than 15 Euro, including hot shower.

Although as an international banking capital it is home to thousands of frenzied foreign business executives, Luxembourg City is surprisingly relaxed and idyllic.

With medieval fortress perched on a cliff that overlooks lush green river valleys, and high bridges stretching all over the downtown area, Luxembourg city is one of the most attractive and dramatic capitals in Europe.

The 10th century Bock Casemates fortress, part of Luxembourg's original castles, looms over the valley and offers a good view.

Calais, France

Calais is the liveliest of the Channel ports to Britain.
i normally think a port town or city is rather drab, but obviously Calais do have gorgeous beaches and beautiful historical structures.

Greenwich, East London, England

Greenwich's position as the "home of time" is connected to its maritime heritage - the Royal Observatory, site of the Prime Meridian, was founded to produce star charts once essential to navigation.
Many people queued up to take picture at the Prime Meridian, which marks 0 degree longitude.

Friday, September 18, 2009

15 July 2009: Zurich, Switzerland

Metropolis of Experiences?

This was almost the end of our adventure. We somehow did a detour just to stop over here before we went back to England via Luxembourg later. Unlike Geneva, Zurich is German speaking. But Zurich contains a disproportionate number of Switzerland's many banks too. The city is built beside of the crystal blue lake as well. Our short encounter did not leave us any deep impression of this city... We left here thinking this, this is just a banking and international fashion labels city.

We did not know the capital of Switzerland is Bern. We passed by Bern on the way from Geneva to Zurich. Unlike both city, Bern is named a world treasure by UNESCO, has a relaxed atmosphere.

The train station Hauptbahnhof, at the end of the rabid capitalism of the famous Bahnhofstrabe shopping district.

The landscape surrounding Lake Zurich is one of the world’s most prestigious areas to dwell.

Zurich's Altstadt and student quarter spawn an energetic youth culture.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

14 July 2009: Geneva, Switzerland

The State Religion - Banking

3/5 of Switzerland is dominated by mountains, featured in many James Bond chase scene. Except for its Alpine playground, Switzerland also reminded me of the bank, watch, swiss knife and chocolate. A true multicultural nation, Switzerland is French in the West, German in the central and north and Italian in its southeast. The Swiss maintaining one of the world's most stringent ecological policies to protect its fragile Alpine environment.

Our drive from Italy to Switzerland via France was very long and scenic but also awfully expensive (both Italy and France charged for highway usage).
Along the way, we passed by many small towns by the highway, in the valley surrounded by the mountains. Some had castles built on the hill top as well.

We crossed many tunnels and the longest one was Mont Blanc in France, which was around 13km, with the tolls of around 35 Euro itself for the tunnel. But once we came out from the tunnel, we were greeted by the snow capped mountains that inevitably "wowed" us.

The crystal blue, Lac Leman in Geneva.
Our campsite was just beside of the lake, so we could jump in the cold water early in the morning or late at night, and swam together with the ducks!
(We had been warned of the duck fleas though. :)

Multinational organizations including Red Cross and United Nations continue to lend Geneva an international feel.
It's true that one can find any kind of food in Geneva, but may need a banker's salary to foot the bill.

The Jet d'Eau, the world's highest fountain, spews a spectacular 7-ton plume of water 140m into the air.

The floral clock which pays homage to Geneva's watch industry.
It was said to be the most hazardous attraction here: The clock had to be cut back almost 1m because tourists, intent on taking the perfect photo, continually backed into oncoming traffic. ;)

Geneva began as a fortified city on a hill and the labyrinthine cobbled streets of historic vielle ville and the quiet squares around Cathedrale de St-Pierre are still the heart of the urban landscape.

During lunch time, the office staff, some looked like bankers, played the giant chess in Parc des Bastions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

12-13 July 2009: Venice, Italy

Romanticism Dies Hard

A friend once told me that, when she got married, she would like to go honeymoon at Venice. Due to circumstances, she did not make it there with her husband. Due to circumstances as well, my husband and me had managed to arrive at this sinking city. The lavish palaces, the labyrinthine streets, the winding canals and the memory of the glorious past, any visit to Venice is a reminder of another.

Venice spans 118 bodies of land in a lagoon and is connected to the mainland by a thin causeway.
Venice is a veritable labyrinth. Ungluing the eyes from the map and going with the flow is surprisingly fun and make Venice spectacular.

The Canal Grande loops through Venice and the splendid facades of the palazzi that crowns its banks testify to the city's history of immense wealth.

I imagined Venice like Prague on an island. However, despite the crowds near Piazza San Marco, Venice is surprisingly pleasant and "real" to me.
While we weave our way through the city, from time to time, we saw signs of people living here: Socks, clothes, shoes ... hanging outside of the houses by the canals.
Well... but the 1.50 Euro per entry to the public toilet is definitely more 'real' than 'pleasant'.

Basilica Di San Marco, one of the main sights in Venice.
The nearer the shops or cafe to Piazza San Marco, the more inflated the price of the things.
eg. Standing/take away coffee is 1-3 Euro, but sitting in the restaurant, the price will become 4-8 Euro. Yes, a cup of coffee.

The gondola is at the rate of 20 minutes (or 40 minutes? don't remember) for two persons at 60-80 Euro. The price increases after sunset.
This is not a good price for us, not to mention after paying the most expensive accommodation for our Europe tour.
So we just sat by the canal, soaked our foot in the cooling water and watched the passing by gondola for hours.
This was effective to ease the sore foot and to cool down after walking around in the hot summer sun.
The legend said, a couple who kisses below the Bridge of Sighs would have a ever lasting love.
If the bridge was not under renovation, then i might have insist to take the gondola though! :P

The masks are the popular souvenirs and the prices are very similar for all stalls and shops.
Check out a few shops/stalls, sometimes some places do have some kind of better deals.

The Ponte Ricalto arches over the Canal Grande and symbolizes Venice's commercial past.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

11 July 2009: Vienna, Austria

The Sound of Music

We did not come to Austria for its brilliant artists, writers or musicians. Definitely not to ski during summer as well. It was just a pass by for us to get to Italy. But the atmosphere of the Vienna coffeehouse made us lingered a bit longer than just to have pastries and coffee.

With the overpowering Alpine landscape, hiking and camping are obviously rather common in Austria. So having a camp site near city centre Vienna is in fact not unusual. But not to expect to get into the nature, it is more about having a cheap place to stay.

Like any other European cities, the horse carriage services are always there to remind you of the rich, grandiose history of the city.

Albertina Museum is the home of one of the biggest graphic collections of the world.

Some of the small souvenirs from the tourist shops.
The price is not 'small' though.

Vienna's most treasured symbol, St Stephen's Cathedral or Stephansdom, under renovation.
The North Tower was originally intended to match the South Tower, but construction ceased after a spooky tragedy...
In the 16th century, during the construction of the North Tower of the Stephansdom, a young builder named Hans Puchbaum wished to marry his mater's daughter. The master promised his consent if Hans finished the entire North Tower, alone, within a year. Faced with this impossible task, Hans despaired until a stranger offered to help him - on condition that Hans not speak the name of God or any other holy name. The tower grew by leaps and bounds until the young mason spotted his love one day and called out her name, "Maria"! Unfortunately, Maria was also the name of the Blessed Virgin. The scaffolding collapsed and Hans plummeted to his death. Rumours of a satanic pact spread, and work on the tower ceased, leaving it in its present condition.

Unlike most of the European cities, smoking indoor is allowed and accepted in Austria. They have non-smoking areas as well, but obviously nobody can control the direction of the smoke.
This ice-cream or dessert cafe had at least 100 people sitting there while we joined the crowd for an ice cream and cake.

The drive from Vienna to Italy was very scenic. We passed by the snow-capped Alpine peaks, lush meadows of wildflowers, thick and dark forests and castles - The Sound of Music in a nutshell. :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

9-10 July 2009: Prague, Czech Republic

My Dreamed City in Europe

When i was a teenager, i read the travel column in the newspaper which talked about Prague. i saw the beautiful pictures and from that time, i told myself that, one day, i am going to this place. I am grateful that, we made it here, eventhough i don't feel as impressed as i wanted to. May be, if Prague is the first European country that i went after UK, then i would response in the "wow" way that i thought i would. Never the less, Prague is still one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, like Edinburgh.

In compare with Western Europe, Czech Republic is relatively cheaper.
We stopped at this small border town with Germany and row of shops like this reminded me of those back home in Malaysia.
We bought the 7 days highway vignette (the least day that we would buy) and changed a bit of Czech money (kc).
The most expensive fuel we got was in The Netherlands, eventhough Shell is from there! It was around 1.4 Euro per little, while in Germany, it was around 1.2 to 1.3 per little.
Over here, the fuel is around 1 euro or less per little, so we saw quite a few of the German car bought the fuel in big tanks.

The entrance to Prague Castle near to the old steps. Prague Castle is the biggest castle complex in the world and it feels more like a small town than a castle.

St Vitus Cathedral is a glorious French Gothic structure. Visit to the nave with beautiful stained-glass windows is free of charge.

One of the popular souvenir here is obviously the puppet which move by the strings. Some like this old woman puppet, is not something that you want to hang in your house.

The cheapest thing to eat is probably the street food. We found this hot dog interesting as the hot dog was 'embedded' in the bread. They did not have vege dog though.

This side of the River Vltava is overlooking the old town and seems like a popular place for pictures taking.

Charles Bridge crowded by small merchants, beggars, tourists and street performers.

The old town square and Jan Hus Manument, erected on the 500th anniversary of the religious reformer's execution at the stake.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Berlin, Germany: 8 July 2009

Reunited Metropolis

My impression to Germany are, it is an advanced engineering country and one of the leaders in sustainable living. In the other way, nobody can forget about the legacy of xenophobia and genocide left by Hitler and the Nazi Third Reich. We came to Berlin just for the former Berlin Wall, two decades after the fall of it.
By the way, the no speed limit highway is true. But there are no free toilets any where in the city or highway. Even at the restaurant where you eat, sometimes they will still charge you 50 cents euro.

For decades a barricaded gateway to noway, the Brandenburgh Gate is the powerful emblem of reunited Germany and Berlin. Standing right in the center of the city, today it opens east and west.
There is a quite room nearby, where one can go inside the room and enjoy the peace with quietness.
This is obviously a place for both tourists and street artists.

Student band by the Brandenburgh Gate, at Pariser Platz.

A private tributes to the Holocaust victims at Tiergarten.

The Reichstag is the German parliament building, one of the most famous Berlin attractions. It is the seat of German Bundestag, place where laws are made. “Dem Deutschen Volke” (To the German People) mounted above the western portico of the Reichstag Building.
Tourists queued up to enter the dome in the building.

The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe.
There are 2711 stelae from flat to the height of more than 4 meter.
There is an information centre underground. A series of texts and pictures shows the development that led to the Holocaust and the process of the extermination of the European Jewry, as well as the persecution and murder of other victims groups.

Checkpoint Charlie was once the gateway for Non-Germans during the Cold War.

The remaining of the Berlin Wall.

We went into the city, Dresden, on our way to Czech Republic. The Allied bombing in 1945 killed 50 thousands people and destroyed 75% of the city centre.