Thursday, April 1, 2010

Trains - the Best Way to Travel Across Europe

One of the things that I looked forward to the most during our Euro trip was getting to ride on trains, specifically the high speed trains coz we don't have them in Malaysia. I, for one, have never been on a high speed train before. If I were to describe how excited I was, I would equate it to the feeling of opening my present on Christmas morning.

The landscape that greeted us on our way from Frankfurt to Paris... which was a whole lotta nothing in winter ;)

For me, the Eurail tickets and traveling by train to each country was the best money spent on our mode of transportation (ok, second after scoring really cheap flight tickets). 

Sure, some of you will think that flying would be the cheaper and faster way of traveling between European countries. But we wanted to be able to kick back, relax and enjoy the scenery across Europe (even though there wasn't much to see except snow... but if you come from a country that enjoys only 1 climate all year round, i.e. HOT, snow is awesome! Just ask Hanie ;) )

As we were hitting Germany, France, Austria and Czech Republic, we got "Eurail Select Pass 4 Countries - Flexi" valid for 8 travel days. And the cool thing about getting this Flexi pass was that we were automatically given 1st class seats (it cost us 393 EU per person, so Eurail better bloody hell give us 1st class. hahaha).

Nora hard at work on her laptop ;)

Although we could just hop on and off the train as we like with this Eurail pass, however some trains do require us to reserve seats beforehand, especially for the high speed trains (ICE and TGV trains) and sleeper trains. 

Our sleeper train from Paris to Vienna

Oh, and here's a cool thing about 'em reserved seats - you get a free meal!!

This was our free meal on our ICE train from Frankfurt to Paris. We ate like kings! Ok that's an exaggeration, but compare that with just a bun, this free meal was a feast.

You never have to worry about being hungry on the train. There's always the cafeteria/bar!

When you have Eurail passes, all you ever need is the Eurail schedule book. From the schedule book, you can pretty much plan your journey, such as when you want to check out of your hotel to get to your next destination. It even tells you what time you'll be arriving and at which station... so if you ask me, traveling with Eurail passes is damn convenient and easy.

I would definitely travel across Europe again using Eurail pass again. But maybe next time I'd go on the Scenic Trains routes, like the Centovalli train route in Switzerland.

Here's something to look forward to for our next post. Why did Nora and I ended up folding bed sheets on the  sleeper train?  Did we run out of money and was forced to work on the train in order to not get kicked out in the freezing winter??? Or could it be...? 

Well, looks like you guys will have to come back to find out what happened to us here! ;)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

When All Good Things Must Come to an End

Don’t you just hate that saying?

We returned from our Europe trip yesterday, and I can safely say that we're all suffering the effects of jet-lag and the unbelievably hot weather in Malaysia.

Shot of us before leaving Frankfurt

Out of the 3 of us, I had the hardest time adjusting to the time difference and weather changes. When we were first in Paris, I could barely keep up with those 2 and wanted to go to bed at 6pm (of course, I’d be the earliest to rise and cursing myself coz really, there isn’t anyting to do when you wake up at 5am).

An obligatory shot of the Louvre in Paris

I hated the cold and dry air the most, and it was so taxing on my body. I’d have bloody nose, my skin was flaking, my face was just so red all the friggin time. So it is suffice to say that I did not feel attractive at all in the most romantic city in the world.

Another obligatory shot of Le Eiffel

But as our trip went on, my body was able to adapt and I started to feel more and more in the mood for fun.

Our day out at Montmartre, Paris. Behind us is the Sacre Couer.

We even met up with an old friend of mine, Lyana, while in Paris.

And just as my body has finally gotten used to all things Europe, our adventure had to end. Isn’t that ironic?

This is the nice old local man we met outside of Mozarthaus in Vienna. He was telling us the legend behind the Blutgasse street.

We spent a good chunk of our day at Berlin Zoo to say hello to some of our furry friends

Wished we had more time to explore Berlin. That city is rich with history!

Part of this trip was for me to try things I normally wouldn’t do, such as going on a roller-coaster ride at Disneyland (I’m terrified of such rides as I feel like I could die of a heart attack on it!) and eating veggies & onions (I’m mostly carnivores btw).

We would've entered Notre Dame if only the line going in wasn't too long! *sigh*

More obligatory shots of Paris. This one is of Arc de Triomphe.

The people that we met on our trip certainly added more flavor to our adventure. Like that Kirk Cameron look-alike who shared our couchette on the sleeping train from Paris to Vienna. He was so helpful, and friendly, and cute. But like all good good-looking men, he’s already taken.

The 2nd best waiter we met on our trip. He works at Connection Cafe in Frankfurt International Airport, so do say hi to him if he happens to be serving you (he's very friendly btw, and not to mention, very funny). And yes, all that food was ours ;P

And that’s one of the things that we learned from this trip. I think you’d have a better chance getting struck by lightning than meeting good-looking, kind single guys on a trip.

The best traveling companions EVER!! This photo was taken in Prague.

Our travel may have ended, but rest assured that our blog would remain active as we still have many posts to write (sight-seeing adventures, some bloopers, reviews on the places we’ve dined at, stayed at, etc)

The best honey cake ever... this was in Prague. But if you want to know the specifics, I guess you'll just have to read our future entries on our trip! ;)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The End, almost

Saying goodbye, our way ;-)

The rooms looks a mess, and it truly is. Tomorrow we leave for Frankfurt where we will have less than a day before we all part ways and fly home. The trip is so close to the end and yet we feel like we have not had enough. But do we ever?

Berlin has been short but eventful. Other than doing moooore random shopping, we spent almost the whole morning and afternoon at the Zoo. Here are the few specimens we saw.

We saw some lions just hanging out, chilling...

We saw Knut... or maybe not...

A very hungry fox-dog animal thing...

The cutest little thing you do not want as a pet...

A pair of wild monkeys...

Very cute lemur-like animals

& a macho zookeeper feeding lemur-like animals

We also saw Checkpoint Charlie, remnants of the Berlin Wall and the TV Tower in Alexanderplatz covered in heavy mist, etc etc. I got a new rucksack because by now you can imagine all our suitcases are 2 times the weight they arrived in.

Well, one more day to go!!! And we still have tons of stories to share ;-)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Prague is loving us loving it!!

Tyn Cathedral in Old Town Square

Prague has been really good to us. There has been no snow or rain, no food poisoning on my end, no cold air filling up our bedrooms!! What more could one ask for when away from home???

In the last 2 days we have seen, done and bought a lot, so tomorrow will be dedicated to looking for bags for all the extra luggage we have accumulated, but not after checking out the Prague Castle and the Toy Museum. We also hope to catch the Ghost Trail tomorrow night to end our trip here in Prague.

On top of everything, I must say that the apartment we rented is the highlight of our visit. It is spacious, clean, warm and very affordable. (A full review will come soon, courtesy of Lydd I am sure!). Just see how happy we are in the photos below!

Lydd and myself at the entrance of our apartment being very serious

Nice spacious kitchen for us to pose in, and... maybe... hmmm cook? Maybe...

And this is only ONE of the beds in this apartment

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Guess what are we doing now

Listening to Smurfs's soundtrack in our hostel room, that's what.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Paris in not so small a nutshell

(I am actually in my room in Vienna now but this was a post I wrote a day ago on the night train from Paris, re-edited)

I'm on the TGV from Paris to Frankfurt now and as I have nothing else better to do, I thought I'd write a summary of the last 6 days in Paris.

Even the road signs intrigue!!

DAY 1 : Arrival & the Louvre
This being my second time in such a short time span to the Louvre, I wanted to make the best out of the experience. The last visit was rushed and aimed only at visiting the main attractions like the Venus, Mona Lisa and Ramses II. This time I wanted to see the rest and less notable artifacts the Louvre houses.

My best finds were,

i. Unknown statue of a guy with a wound on his left thigh. The audio guide I rented had no information on him and the plaque next to him only read French. (I have yet time to do a search on him online) Who is he??? I am curious not because he is naked (sheesh!!) but if you look to the right of err, yeah to the right, you see his open wound. See!! And he seemed to have dropped his sword and not realized it yet.

ii. Napolean's travel kit
I'm pretty sure it was his beauty kit for daily use but it was pretty neat to imagine that he would carry his toothbrush platter on board the ships he sailed ;)

N is for Napolean...

...and N is for Nora!!

iii. The letter 'N'
Marking Napolean's reign over the country, it was fun looking for the majestic 'N' insignia he had carved into the ceiling and also sewn into his royal robes. (By evening, I realized that I had developed an odd but very real crush on the dead emperor simply from perusing his apartments and looking at the many paintings of his beautiful self! He did if once, brainwashing his citizens, blinding them to his faults, and he is still doing it today, unto me!! *_*)

There was so much more to the Louvre that was amazing like the painting of Josephine's coronation that was painted over the original painting of Napolean (yes, that dashing dude again) crowning his own self. You can still see the original artwork beneath the new layer. The artist even included a cameo of Julius Caesar in the updated version!

Say NO to the guide! Unless he is tall, blonde, and handsome, of course.

((TIP)) I won't get the audio guide if I were you. It only acts as extra dead weight hanging off your neck as it covers only the main artifacts and paintings, which are very very few compared to ALL that was there. My system also hanged a few times and you could only get them exchanged at selected desks in the museum and this museum is HUUUUGE!

DAY 2 : Sacre Couer, Pere Lachaise Cemetery & Eiffel Tower
We had to change rooms at noon due to a rat problem (explained in Hanie's and Lydd's entries) and decided to explore the art district of Montmartre, so began our hike up the Sacre Couer. It was unfortunately cloudy that day so the view atop the hill of martyrdom was not extremely spectacular.

A different view of the Sacre Couer, due to lack of a better shot XD

Hanie making the hike up easier with crepe in hand!

Sacre Couer actually sits on the summit of Montmatre, believed to be the place where Saint Denis was beheaded, after which we picked up his head and walked 6 miles preaching before actually falling dead at where Saint Denis Basilica stands today.

After the room exchange (we were downgraded to a smaller room >_<) we quickly made our way to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery but for some odd reason all their gates were closed. We followed the other visitors around the the cemetery walls to see if there was another entrance but it was sealed shut. Hanie blamed zombie infestation to the closure. Imagine Jim Morrison Zombie and Oscar Wilde Zombie in a fist fight!! That would have been a spectacle to witness for any amount of money. No graves for us to marvel at today but there is always chow to find!!

Met up with Lydd's pal visiting from Brisbane at the Eiffel Tower and due to extreme wind, opted for warm food (again!) instead of making the hike up the tower. It was already dark and it would have made zero sense to go up as the night was not only black, it was very cloudy. To me, the Eiffel Tower is best visited from afar. Hitler agrees. Remember this?

"Savvy, non?"

DAY 3 : Grande Mosque Paris, Pantheon, Notre Dame, L'As Du Falafel, Asemblee Nationale, Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphie & Laduree

((TIP)) Just because winter is called low-season doesn't mean you're the only one out traveling the world. Everyone else is trying to beat the crowd and end up taking a holiday in winter, so be prepared to wait in line for major sights and time your daily travels appropriately. A low side of winter traveling is that many sites are closed for maintenance so access to crypts and monuments may be limited to the main halls.

DAY 4 : Disneyland Paris
You can probably imagine what took place here. ;-)

DAY 5 : Sick in bed with food poisoning
I had to take a rain check on one of the places I was anticipating the most on this trip, Versailles. Lydd and Hanie will have to fill you in on their adventures in Marie Antoinette's wonderland.

DAY 6 : Basilique St Denis & departure to Vienna

Review on Hotel Clignancourt in Montmatre, Paris

From the reviews we've read on Hotel Clignancourt in Montmartre, this hotel showed so many promises. And  at first glance, it really did look like it was living up to its reputation amongst travelers.

Our first room was spacious and bright

- it is near the Anvers metro station (about 3 minutes walk from the hotel). Alternatively, you could get off the Barbes-Rochechouart metro station, but that's like 5 mins walk from the hotel AND you'll have to walk pass people who try to sell you fake unoriginal items (which btw, you can EASILY get from everywhere especially if you come from Asia >.<).

- near the Sacre Coeur

- the lady boss was very good and it was certainly helpful that she spoke fluent English.

- we could take the bus to Paris Est train station (Gare de l'Est) by simply hopping on bus 30. We opted to take the bus to the train station after checking out for our trip to Vienna. The bus cost us 1.60 EU (the bus uses the same ticket as the metro). If we were to take a taxi instead, that would cost us around 20 EU per person... so taking the bus was more economical.

Nora trying to take pics of the room

Unfortunately, when we got to the hotel, disappointment was probably an understatement.

- On our first night, we had a 'visit' from Ratatouille the Rat, only he didn't bring us any food >.< Instead, he ran across Nora's bed and didn't even stop to say hello. hahahaha! But on a serious note, a rat?!? In the room?!? That's just gross.

So we actually requested to have our rooms changed.

- The heater in both our old and new rooms was not working.

- No elevator. When we enquired the receptionist about the elevator , the conversation went like this:
Nora: We have some suitcases downstairs.
Receptionist: No, that is your job.
Now that's French hospitality to you.

- The toilet we had in our first room had a funky smell to it.

- After we changed our room, the toilet that we had was clogged, so there was a day that we couldn't shower :(

- The walls of the room was very thin that we could actually hear people fighting OUTSIDE the hotel.

The view outside our room

The apartment across looked really lovely

There wasn't much to see on the right side of our window

The important thing that we learned from staying in this hotel is that if you have shit loads of bags to carry, you should check whether or not the hotel has an ELEVATOR. Lugging your suitcases up FIVE floors is seriously NOT FUN.

Overall, we rate this hotel a 2/10 and we will never stay there ever again.

p/s: For safety reasons, we will only be blogging about our accommodations after we leave. Not because we're worried about what the hotel people might think of us reviewing their place, but more like what if someone comes knocking on our door in the middle of the night ;)