Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Roll The Dice …. Spin The Bottle …. Bratislava It Is Then.

Withdrawing Money from ATM Casino in Vienna

It was about time for me to refill the wallet which was running light. Every withdrawal which I made with my ATM card I would have to pay a SGD 5 transaction fee regardless of how much I took out. On top of that I was helpless on the exchange rate of the bank at that point in time.
I eyed the Casino and the ATM machine next to it.
Casino Wien
Good luck in Switzerland I remembered but was still weary of the double edge sword. If you had followed my gambling journey you would have known that by now I had a terrible itch since leaving Switzerland. I was lucky in Bern … lost a little of the winnings in Interlaken and searched Zurich for a casino to no avail and now the first opportunity came when I had to make a replenishment run.
I bite my lips and entered the casino with hopes and anxiety  ….
The casino required a more formal dress code and I had to part with a small token to check my jacket and borrow a formal coat. The casino was small but bustling with crowd. Everyone were happy, I noticed … a good sign. I started slow burning through my remaining funds about 200 euro in hand and after an hour or so broke even without gaining nor losing anything. I took more risk after that and started playing more and the result ….
BURN …
I came out the casino with no money left in my pocket. It was a frustrating feeling, disappointment, horror and continuous self blame. How stupid could you be Ed! F*ck! Now I really had to draw money from the ATM for I had no more left for the next day and days to come. I have no idea why I did the next thing thou …. I went in again the next day with the freshly drawn 400 euro.
How stupid can you be Ed ! **repeat x 3**
I still look back and wonder how I survive that day. I went in and by some freaking luck or skill or jinx I won back all my losses plus profit of another 70 euro. I was now carrying a shitload of money on me. Hopefully no one knew ….

Spin the Bottle

Heading back to the hostel with my winnings I now had a decision to make. My last night in Vienna and where should I go next. I had skipped Prague due to the expensive train ticket from Salzburg choosing Vienna. Problem is the train ticket from Vienna to Prague did not even budge from the one before. More research and I found out I could take a bus for 7 euro to Bratislava. Slovakia was nowhere near my list of place to go but it was not because of what I heard but more of because it was off the way from my westward destination. Heck Vienna was not even on the list.

Then again I had money now. Free money or rather dangerously hard gain money which I could if I wanted lavishly splurge and hop onto the train to Prague.

There was no needs to waste hard earn money …

After all I could always stretch the money …

Who knows, the train ticket from Bratislava to Prague might be cheaper …

The cheapskate in me won ….

I decided to go to Bratislava

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Close Your Eyes & Listen – This is Vienna

Austria is a country of music.

The hunt of the cemetery wonder begin the 2nd day in Vienna and the hostel had to print me an extended map of the city to show Zentralfriedhof location way south of the city about 10 miles by estimation from the city center. The reception staff was baffled when I asked about it and could only tell me it was a huge cemetery with nice gardens for walks and possibly of unique gravestone carvings of the 18th century style.

I decided on walking there instead of navigating the public transport. Busses tend to take a wrong turn with me and when you hope it would turn back to the right way it will go further away from your destination. Walking was also a good way to see the outskirts of the city and discovering the local’s lives beyond the tourist spots.

The walk was indeed boring with the usual livelihood you see all around the world. People went about their own businesses and barely glance at me although I was out of place. Office blocks and shop houses made up a big part of the walk to the outskirts and none too interesting.

It was routine here.

I did come across a weird poster along the way ….
Still looking translation for it ….

Zentralfriedhof

Center of The Cemetery
Vienna central cemetery is huge. Walking around, it was pleasant surprisingly with all the unique tombstones, wide roads, flower gardens, benches and families and elderly treating it like a park more than a cemetery. It was a unique experience for if this was back home people would avoid them at all cost.

Strolling around depending on how good your history lessons are you may find more than a few famous people buried there. I was on the lookout myself but as the sun slowly sets I had still not found anyone I recognize. To my horror I was lost in the huge cemetery and started looking for a way out.
Beethoven

On my way out I stumble upon the most beautiful tombstone arrangement I had ever seen. This was on a different level than the Kings and Queens burial ground. What I saw was famous musician gravestones in a semicircular fashion all beautifully ornate with carvings to each individual accomplishment.

Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, Franz, all famous classical musicians which even if you have not heard of before would probably have heard their work. In the center of the semi circle laid Mozart tombstone as a tribute since history says his body was buried in a mass grave. The place was also filled with flowers and candles being replace by the steady pilgrimage of fans which sets them apart from the other graves.

Around the semi circle are well known composer if not as famous. It gave an aura of immense awe and respect to these composers which shape a large part of music history.

If you ever get a chance …. skip beautiful Vienna for a day and pay tribute to the cemetery.

Mozart
Johann Strauss
Schubert
Brahms

Concerto Vienna

If there was one thing I regret not doing in Vienna it was to attend a concerto. Music thrives in Austria and even more in Vienna. Top notch philharmonics is a given in this city and all year round there would be some sort of concerts running. Despite some people telling me it’s reasonably cheaper to see a world class concerto in Vienna compared to say South East Asia I could not afford that luxury.

Outdoor Live Feed
Consolation prize to my delight was a classical musical concerto that was playing in Wiener Musikverein and by luck i passed by when the play started inside the building. Outside in the bloody cold they set up a huge screen TV showing the live concerto and laid chairs for people to enjoy.

I grab a Kebab across the road and stood enjoying the atmosphere in the bloody cold for two hours before giving up and leaving. I later found out it was a 5 hours concerto. The heavy clothing and comfy self brought chairs and blankets I saw people outside the building now made sense.

They knew ...... and enjoyed the musical in the cold. 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Stumbling Upon Vienna

 You Have Turn the Wrong Way – Re-Routing Destination

As I sat in the train bound for Vienna this small voice repeated in my head like the robotic voice of a GPS computer in a car when you made a wrong turn. I have detoured from my eventual aim of Prague or rather I have procrastinated going there.

Reasons for detours could be many but for me the main reason was because it was a cheaper train ticket to Vienna. Money rules the world … damn it … but for me as long as I am still on the road it doesn’t really matter. Save it for another day. Vienna was also recommended by Scruffy back when I was in Florence. One part of backpacking was the exchange of stories and the most loved place you have been to so far. Scruffy highly recommended Vienna and the cemetery there.

As we hear stories from people sometimes routes gets change just to see something that we were not aware of. This happen a lot to some travelers I met whom like me don’t plan their route. I however had a few goals to fulfill such as arriving in England for Christmas with my relative hence my route as crazy as it goes must head west somehow.

I was now heading east …

Wombats

Vienna was not on my radar and frankly I had no idea what to expect there other than this cemetery wonder that Scruffy recommended. A bit weird to visit a cemetery as a tourist destination I thought. Vienna was a lovely big city which I had started to forgotten how city size should be like after traveling to small towns for some time. I stayed at the Chinatown sector of the city where the hostels were cheaper but still good.

Vienna Cathedral
Wombats City Hostel Vienna had a chain of them around the city and they ran it like a full bloom hotel. There were so many people in the hostel but everyone was busy with their own businesses to bother making friends. They had an idea to restrict internet access to only the lobby but it seam to backfire as everyone went there and retracted into comfy corners into their own cyber world.

The kitchen however became the best place to make friends. I for once had access to many Chinese grocery stores which was all within few blocks of the hostel. I bought a few instant noodles and a few meatballs at a painful price. I would have settled for spaghetti if I knew how expensive it was before buying. Still I had food for a few days down and kitchen became the hang out place.

I met two Korean girls whom like me were cooking instant noodles in the kitchen. I quietly enquire where they got em hoping I could perhaps stock up on cheap noodles. Alas they got them from Korea …… in huge boxes brought over when they came to Europe to study and resupplied by relative visiting or trips back during school holiday. They were on a weekend trip visiting Vienna from somewhere else and packed their own food knowing how expensive it was.

Another guy seeing us eating noodles chatted us up and small conversation sparked while he cooked his meal. He was a charming guy full of vigor trying his best to make lively conversation to three Asian people who was watching him like we don’t understand English. I was quite busy eating my noodles to reply but seeing the poor guy trying to hold the conversation I paused and asked him where he was from.

“I am from Vienna”, He said.

*Blink* ……………………….

I did not believe him at first until he explained his house was under renovation and he had temporary took up residence in a hostel. It cheaper than a hotel he said. Noodles filling my belly I told him my story of how I came to be in Vienna with no idea what to do other than looking for that cemetery wonder.

“Must be the central cemetery, It’s the biggest one in Vienna”, ViennaGuy said.

He did saw I was without any plans and proceeded to gave me tips for places to go and just like that I now had a rough idea of what to do in Vienna. Most of the activities I later found out were a no brainer as one can’t miss it visiting the city. The best advice however was the Vienna Boys Choir which he recommended waking up early on a Sunday morning and head over to the Hofburg Chapel for the Sunday masses.

Vienna Boys Choir

Vienna Boys Choir
The Vienna Boys Choir is one of the best known boys choir in the world and travel every year to many countries selling out concerts like hot cakes. Here I was ignorant there was such a thing like a renowned Boys Choir. I mean it was a Choir !! Still I woke up early on Sunday morning and attended masses. I am no Christian but this was not my first ceremony outside my own religion. Respect, appreciate and admire the beauty of every religion as long as they don’t sacrifice any virgins.

So for Cheap Thrills in Vienna, check out the Vienna Boys Choir for it was free whereby you would have to pay if they come to your country. They don’t sing in English but it was beautifully sung.

Certain things don’t need to be understood … just experience. I for one would think, even if you have heard them sing in some concert hall somewhere you should still check them out at Hofburg Chapel for I doubt any concert hall in the world could reproduce the same echo of the church interior walls.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Playing Chess with the Locals at Salzburg

*Sings* Welcome to Salzburg

The train ride from Zurich to Salzburg was beautiful but uneventful. Switzerland was too efficient to give me any surprise adventure. I had my hopes in Austria however.

Salzburg was home to the popular film movie “The Sound of Music” as I found out once I check into the hostel. There were tours that cater to the movie fans or just bored backpackers trying something cheesy.

One of the broachers guarantees the end of the day would be completed with crazy tourist running across the field shouting something like this ….

“THE HILLS ARE ALIVEEEEEEEEEE”

I politely declined the hostel reception girl of the tour offer (It cost a bit of money) but the information was already stuck in my head. I spend the next few days humming to myself the soundtrack of “The Sound of Music” … while walking around town

Doe a dear ….

If Italy was the country of art then Austria would be the country of music.

Hohensalzburg Fortress & Salburg
Salzburg Castle or Hohensalzburg Fortress was a beautiful castle on top a hill looking over the city itself. One could skip the steep hill climb and take a funicular for a small fee but the hike is much more pleasurable. I enjoyed my day self absorbed in the medieval castle seeing its walls and small museums but most of all admired the tiny concert hall where they have orchestra perform from time to time. The room was small and not very well lighted and the wooded plank flooring creaked with every step. I imagine any mistake by the concerto would be amplified in this halls hence you need to be very skilled to play here.

Chess Time

Walking around Salzburg, to my delight I saw a huge chessboard with human size chess pieces being played by the locals. I lurked around waiting my turn and got a game with a guy who could not understand English or whatever I said. Chess was the language and we gauge each others personality and character base on how we play.

I choose black favoring observing the opponent style and countering but boy how rusty I was not playing for nearly a decade. Playing a modified version of Gambit was not a good choice when you forgotten so much of the tricks which could backfire as easily as gain you the advantages to the opponent.

The old chap smiled when he saw my wrong move in the style and took ground advantage from that point. As much as I struggle keeping the game alive with a few clever tricks the old chap never fall on any of the traps hence I could not overturn and redeem myself from that first mistake. Game Set and we shake to a good game J

There were many sights to see in Salzburg and it slightly struck me like a shopping town too. Mozart house and birthplace was another landmark if you are interested in classical music and it was always a pleasure to enjoy the moment. I spent most of my time strolling around the river which was calming and during night beautifully lighted up. Gardens with gnomes and lush landscape were also widely accessible for lazing about.

Three days I spend in Salzburg just walking around town visiting the church, town hall, and the usual bench picnic observing passerby. I had not managed to make new acquaintance in the hostel hence it did not draw to me to stay much longer.

Detour for I Have No Money

Salzburg was also a crucial junction of my journey for I had to choose where to go from here. There was either Bavaria in Germany or Vienna or Prague.

Train tickets system was also different in Austria. I had so far survived by walking up to ticket booth at train station and enquire for the cheapest ticket to the next destination. Italy and Greece was great as they don’t show these tickets on their website so it was like a hidden gem. Switzerland made no difference but Austria however was the opposite whereby buying a train ticket online three days in advance could give you up to 50% discount.

So I was stuck to choose again. Choice were either stay a few more nights in Salzburg and get the discounted tickets or just pay the price and move on. I have also realized crossing countries in Europe were expensive so I plotted a detour for Vienna. I remembered Scruffy’s recommending a cemetery there so I thought I might as well check it out.

My other hope was for the train ticket from Vienna -> Prague would be cheaper that the Salzburg -> Prague ticket. Hence I choose the cheapest ticket sealing my detour to Vienna.

To note … although I could have stayed a few days and get the discounted fare to Prague from Salzburg it would still have cost more than the regular fare to Vienna. This was due to the crossing of the imaginary line (Country Boarders) which drives up ticket prices.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Zurich & Gentlemen’s Clubs

Zurich was my last stop in Switzerland before deciding either to head north towards Germany or East towards Austria. Train tickets price determined my choice and on the first day in Zurich I had secured the most expensive cheapest ticket out of Switzerland bound for Salzburg, Austria in two days time. The ticket cost 104 CHF

I headed for the City Backpackers Hostel a short walk from the train station. What I did not expect to see was the amount of advertisement on Gentlemen’s clubs and the big signboard on Adult Cinema with its nice photographic smack in such central location. I for one thought Zurich was a business city with wealthy international businessmen and would be the high class niche area. Perceptions could sure skew heavily when you are from another part of the world.

Should I enter and check it out? You don’t get these back in Asia … not like these …

Alas one perception was right and everything was downright expensive. I resorted to sightseeing instead.

The train station is located nicely at the tip of Lake Zurich or the river that runs to it and the old town is a mess of cobbled stone to turf road and climbs up and down terrains with no ends. Zurich itself I found it was old messy yet pretty at the same time. The river seam to mark the invisible divider where to the west you would have the high end niche market remarkable restaurants with stunning menus which I could not afford and to the east the nightclubs and bars and more residential and local as you span further from the train station.
Zurich

Expensive Watch Shop
The Swiss I have to salute when it come to watches or clocks. Just walking around you will see all the Swiss made watches in heavily decorated high end shops but unless you are in the social class I doubt any would know the brands of watches they sell. Window shopping for watches it seams to me brands like Rolex and Tag Heuer or Oris for that matter were cheap watches. I could not believe the price on those Swiss watches which would have cost me my whole backpacking trip and more.

Cuckoo clock was another very expensive item but fascinating as it was a dying art. Each to its own unique design and make was beautiful but no souvenir for me. My dad asked me to find him one when I was there and all I could do was walk on. My consolation was a Swiss army knife which I bought for practical purpose.

Swiss Army Knife & Free Spoon
Walking around Zurich there is no shortage of sights to be seen. Favorite’s pastime was to stand on the bridge by the river and see the Swans swim and nurse their feathers. Church, city halls and the maze type layout of the town made it nice for exploring.

Switzerland was my getaway from my travels. There were no hiccups with trains or lodgings or food for that matter. Everything was perfect and beautiful but expensive no doubt.
It was time to move on as my traveling itch for adventure has started up again.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Lucerne - Mount Pilatus & Temptations of a Gambler

Finally getting restless from my ‘Holiday from a Holiday’ I moved on to the next place in Switzerland, Lucerne.

I was starting to believe that all cities in Europe were small in comparison to Asia. You needed some kind of transportation either subway/MRT/metro/underground back home with a combination of buses to get to most places and here I was surviving on foot other than long distance travel.

Lion Monument
I stayed at the ‘Lion Lodge Lucerne Hostel” a nice place within walking distance of the central but secluded enough to be peaceful. Companian was getting quiet too since Florence and I was starting to long for a bit of company. Dorm mates were two cute asian girls which did not past the standard introductions of a backpacker. Hence I don't even remember where they were from.

Lucerne had few things of interest such as the Lion Monument which was carve out of the mountain on a single rock. The Lion sad in its nature looked to be dying and was a memorial to the massacre of Swiss guards during the 1792 French Revolution. The Chapel Bridge was also not to be missed; it's said to be the oldest Woodbridge in Europe and is beautifully lighted up at night. I avoided all museums as funds in Swiss franc were running low.
Top of Mount Pilatus

Mount Pilatus

Missing the chance of Mount Schilthorn I choose to do an excursion to nearby Mount Pilatus instead. Short train ride I reach the base of the mountain which entrance tickets pointed to 68 CHF. F*ck … I sadly departed with my money and hope it would be worth it. The ride up was by cogwheel railway and the steepest one at that in the world. A unique of its kind and I felt slightly better in the money spent.

The journey was slow and noisy hearing all the wheels and cables working hard to get the entire tourist up the mountain. Slowly but fast enough to feel the change in altitude making your ears popped. The view was always good from high ground and I stayed there a long time enjoying just the view and weather making that ticket earns its money.
Top of Mount Pilatus

Engineering Marvel
Cogwheel Train Station
I met new company too awkwardly enough. A Chinese girl was trying so hard to take her own mugshot that I offered a hand. Click click …. She did not stop asking me to take pictures for an hour after that first shot. She was from China doing an exchange program to Sweeden and was on a short holiday. She actually did a day trip from Zurich which was my next destination after Lucerne.

Chapel Bridge & A Friend
Chatting and getting to know each other I couldn’t help notice a familiar slang in the English. More poking and I found out she was an undergrad of NUS my former university on the exchange program.

Hahaha … I just laugh meekly when she remarked how small the world is.

Another new aquintance made the company a trio. An asian guy who grew up in Holland who would not stop talking in cantonese or mandarine. His first languege was supprisingly Dutch.

My fully packed picnic lunch was shared with her and many more picture shots later we headed back to Lucerne. I gave the small tour to her for the Lion Monument and The Chapel Bridge and part ways as she headed back to Zurich.

Temptations of a Gambler

When I first reach Lucerne I had noted the small Casino location marked on the map and decidedly filled myself with activities steering clear of the place. After sending her off on the train back to Zurich I was alone and it was the last night in Lucerne too.

If I ever imagine the devil and angel on my left and right shoulder that was definitely the time. Oh how much I was moral guilt conscious of considering treating the casino as an ATM machine when my fund was about to finish. There was always a chance you loose money and not just win and I was fully aware of that.

I however decided since it was my last night in Lucerne and next stop was to be Zurich there would be probably one more casino there as well. I mean I have seen one in every town I visited in Switzerland so why not the bigger city Zurich.

I would latter find there was no casino to my desperate findings inside the city maps or my bad attempt in wrong keywords searching for a hope of casino in Zurich. I never did found the casino in Zurich thou I now know there is a few there. I carried my itch out of Zurich and Switzerland with a spare 100 CHF.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Blogging in Past Tense …

My upcoming dilemma for this blog would be trying to keep the stories real. As I started the blog only after I have completed the first big trip in 2011-2012 I am faced with one big problem which is how to write the past travel post.

The articles no matter how much I try to relive that particular day would now eventually have insights into the future. Not a few days or a few weeks into the future but a few months as well. I have since fallen into the form of writing in a past tense feel but imputing as much of my feelings and considerations at that time.

The bad result I regret is that readers wouldn’t know the timeframe of my travels. It as if I seem to skip from one place to the other. In depth minute planning and stress planning is filtered out since I can’t remember all the small hurdles. The reason why I can’t remember the small hurdles is because they are overshadowed by future big hurdles which I had already overcome. Hence story telling only the most memorable ones.

The other problem would be upcoming travel trips. Do I wait and keep the post till my blog chronologically catches up or should I skip and post new adventures when the time arise? I have plans for a small getaway trip this coming May 2013 to Hong Kong and frankly I have not decided yet if I would put a pause in writing the RTW2011-2012 trip when the times comes.

I am also now careful in not trying to overkill a post. Keeping it as real as it is. Some places no matter how great may be a stay in the room for me for days just to rest from exhaustion hence a poorly written post about the place. I decided not to spice up the location giving insight that I have not experience. It would be like opening National Geographic --> Copy & Paste and that no doubt I believe will kill whatever genuine bad writing I have. 

This post itself is out of the norm breaking into the chronological order of my travels.

It isn’t the same as having a debate about a topic and posting it when it is fresh. I could never post any elaborate debate I encountered in my past travels now since it would be contaminated with new ideas.

I am also currently planning the next trip which would circle the southern hemisphere and the planning stages itself is one big dilemma worthy of many pages.

So I need some help … some opinion …

Do I keep the timeline order?

or

Do I break off and update new travel post while its fresh?

The Blur Mountain Hiker from Interlaken to Mürren

It’s all about the cheap thrills sometimes. Europe on a Shoestring may appeal to some adventurous people who wants to see Europe at all cost and others would shun it feeling its silly for traveling all the way to Paris and not paying the ticket fee to see the Mona Lisa. Still cheap thrills could still be enjoyable and helps fill in the gap between money spending attractions.

I fall into the “I love cheap thrills” category but will still spend money on attractions if I think it’s priceless. I have a very weird notion of priceless however, for going up the tallest mountain in Europe Jungfrau is not one of them but entering Borghese Gallery is.

That said, how could I not go up a mountain when I am in Switzerland? It’s almost nonsense to think that someone would go there and not been up one of its many ranging mountains. It is one of Switzerland selling points after all for tourism; Mountains and beautiful landscape scenery.

I decided to go for a hiking trip.

Start Of Journey
The hostel at Interlaken helped me plot a route with a hiking map which they dish out for free. Most of the route was more meant for summer periods but are still doable during the mid-October season when I was there. My final target was Mürren where I could pay the lesser evil fee to take a cable car up to Schilthorn Peak. Checking the map some stops were marked for eateries where I could go for lunch or tea break.


Road Walk

I started my journey late into the morning and decided to ignore the advice given of taking the train to Lauterbrunnen before kicking into the hiking trial. I walked instead to the Lauterbrunnen which took about two hours which was cool and quiet. Passed by many cow farms and said a few hello’s to the local farmers. I was definitely out of place being Asian but people were friendly enough.

End of road walk and into the hiking trail. What I did not know at that point in time was that trails were divided into difficulty where if you see markers on trees bearing colors stripes in this order:

Top-White – Mid Red– Btm White

It was meant for Mountain Trails. I later found out the recommended requirement to go on those trials which was proper hiking boots, physically fit and a good knowledge of dangers of mountain hiking.
I SURVIVED ….. ( 10 HOURS HIKING )

Start of the Hiking Trail
Starting the trail was surreal. Previous walking along the turf road was gone and all I could see was a dirt path and a sign post pointing the start point of the trail. I started off thinking there would be a rest place just round the corner according to the map where I could grab lunch. It was a steep initial hike and I could see the town becoming smaller with every pause I took to look around.
Junction …. Left or right?  With no sign post but only dirt trail to lead the way, I consulted my trusty compass app downloaded into my smart phone before the start of travels. Base on map it was easy to gauge my bearings and turn left into the direction of Mürren. The town below was disappearing quickly and tree lines were changing an obvious sign of how high I was hiking.
Interlaken 547 above sea level
Mürren     1400 above sea level
Town Got Very Small
Lunch time came as pass and it was about 2 pm and I still could not locate the rest place. I never did manage to locate the place in the end, meaning I had no lunch that day. My paranoid of getting stranded with no food since Greece was the only thing that saved me. I had developed a ritual of carrying a big chocolate bar and a bottle of water regardless where I went. The chocolate was ration very slowly only a few bites every half hour to keep me going and water drank directly from the rivers I came across.


After nearly 6 hours after I first started from Interlaken ( 3 hours Hiking ) I was starting to wonder if I was lost. The journey was beautiful, totally secluded but I was starting to worry I wont be able to get back before dark and my rations was running out too. To note I had not even seen a single soul since I ventured into the hiking trail.

Waterfall along Hiking Trail
To head back means 3 hours of hike and the idea of the town should be near by now kept me on the trail. An hour later I heard noises …. Oh Shit …. Wild animal ??? There was nothing I could do but continue on walking as quietly as possible. Turning a corner I saw …..

A Fellow Hiker

First soul I saw in 4 hours into the trial. I asked him if the town was up ahead and he said yes. About an hour hike he said. That was my last few hour of sunlight too I saw. With the new assurance I was no longer lost I made my journey to the town Mürren. I reach the town nearly 5 pm in the evening and the sun was setting very low. I walk around trying to find the main road or any transportation that would bring me back to Interlaken.

To my horror this was a town where no cars could come up because there was no road wide enough. No public transportation. It took me nearly 10 hours to get here and I was worried about tracking back at night. More question asking for help while eyeing the emergency hotels around that I knew would cut deep into my budget. To my relief there was a cable car station going down to another town not in the map where I could get a bus and a train back to the hostel.

As I waited for the cable car to arrive I was smiling to myself. Mini adventure completed but not successful as I was too late to ride the cable car up to the peak of Schilthorn.

Cheap Thrills …

Saturday, 9 March 2013

We All Need a Break from a Holiday – Interlaken

I need a holiday from my holiday.

Crazy as it sounds backpacking can be very tiring. From non stop travel to sightseeing to constant brain usage of trying to figure out a map, looking for food, doing laundry and all the crazy survivor skills, I was so damm tired.

Interlaken Ost
I had also spend six hours “working” in Grand Casino Bern. So with new found sponsor I had to research for new excursions and plotted a route from Bern to Interlaken. Small town, very small and checked into the most luxurious hostel I have ever been to.

Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof

The Villa in that name was not a joke. This place was definitely the best hostel I have stayed in my whole journey and even those yet to come. They serve buffet breakfast, gave free laundry which was huge for me, spacious lounge, had TV room, garden, table tennis, large multiple kitchen, large personal lockers and even great staff to help guide you with things to do from dare devil activities to leisure getaways. They also have these tokens given for every night you stay which could work the Hot Chocolate / Tea / Coffee dispenser machine. Those were premium stuff all included into your price of stay.

I was on holiday from my travels sipping hot chocolate and enjoying the beautiful view of snow capped mountain top at the hostel just writing into my journal.

Swiss Rosti
Big fat wallet from Bern winnings also allowed me for once after a long time to dine in a restaurant. Marché Restaurant was present in Singapore and as much as I had visited them for the Rosti a traditional Swiss food made of shredded potato pan fried to perfection this was on a whole new level. Yum …

The Town & the Gambler

Interlaken was a bustling …. One street town …. Some souvenir shops, diner places, a big open field garden and …. Oh No … a Casino.

It was the perfect countryside if you minus the casino. That was like a thorn into my flesh every night with nothing much to do. I gave in one of those nights in thinking I could work for more travel expenses but loss 100 CHF. It was still a big Green in my book from Bern’s winning but I wasn’t about to waste my hard work and cut my trip short. Allocated gambling budget gone, I resided to enjoy the relaxed life but made a mental note to move on once I get too bored.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Capital of Switzerland – Bern & The Gambler Awakens


Train ticket from Milan to Bern was an excruciating 65 euro but I soon realized even within the non-border-less Europe travel between countries was not going to be cheap. Switzerland was everything precise with the train arriving and departing on time.

Money was a new problem for me too since I was only spending euro currency so far and this was the first where I needed another. I took some chance and arrived in Bern without a single CHF currency in hand. Nearest ATM and withdrew CHF thankfully avoiding all the money changer.


Bern Old Town

Bern was a small town for a capital. One of my main targets for reaching Bern was to visit the Einstein House where he developed the theory of relativity. The house was surprisingly small, very small and was almost empty. A little disappointing as there was not much to be seen but still fascinating to see how great mind required so little a material comfort.

 The cost of travel was going up as well and I was confined to Berne backpackers - Hotel Glocke a nice place where you could cook your own food and stretch the budget a little. The hostel had a little picture on the wall which is shown on the right.

“When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Tourist”
Picture at Berne Backpackers Hostel
Cheep thrills were all I did in Bern. I got a free bike rental which was part of the welcoming tourist into Bern and toured the city and as far outskirts my leg would bring me. The city is truly beautiful being circled by the river and life here was at a very slow pace. By 4 pm almost everything closes and shops don’t open before noon.

To my excitement I have now seen a living bear which was house at the open park near the river. Long walks and more long walks …. Switzerland was truly calming.

The Gambler Awakens

Bern Clock Tower
I had underestimated the cost of traveling Switzerland. The first withdrawal of CHF money was not going to last me even a week. I had a choice to either get more money out to see more of Switzerland or head straight for Zurich and get out into Austria or Germany for that matter.

Bern however had a casino.

With the little money I had there were decision to make. Plus there was nothing much to do either after 5 pm where everything was close. I took a walk at night everything seamed deserted and headed for the Grand Casino Bern. This would be the start of my gambling antics around the world. Something I am not proud off but if I would to do it again I doubt I would do it any differently.

My casino experiences however before Bern were not a virgin one. I had in my younger days work in a casino as a croupier and after graduating and working as an engineer I would frequent them monthly with a small budget. I looked at them like adult video games. Kids go to the arcade and spend maybe 50 bucks once a month well adults go to casino and maybe spend 150 bucks a month. Just make sure you have enough self control to quit when the times up.

There was also a chance of doubling your money ....

I went in with a mission to work not play. I had to make enough CHF to sustain more visits and time in Switzerland or I would have to leave the country much sooner if I lost what little money I have.

Six hours of work later I came out with double the money I withdrew on the first day in Switzerland. Happy and relieved I returned to the hostel and re-planned my travels in Switzerland having more budget now than ever. I could now visit Interlaken and Lucerne and Zurich and have a nice local Swiss meal. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Fashion City – Milan

As fun as Florence was with company it was time to move onto Milan. Scruffy and most of the backpackers left the same day as well headed south to Rome while I headed north. Puppy Eyes stayed back to do more napping around Florence and Raphaela continued her search for the elusive new home.

Milan was to be a quick stop and go for me as I heard it was a metropolitan city of shopping. I had to stop to get tickets to the next country and point of entry to Switzerland was Milan. Since I was to stop anywhere I thought I might as well scout the place. Just have to avoid shopping.

Zebra Hostel

Hostel Zebra
I checked into Zebra hostel and into the 14 bed dorm. I mean 10 bed in Florence wasn’t so bad so why not 14. Later that night I would regret my decision as a hoard of girls came into the dorm and proceeded to hit the nightspots only to return late in the morning drunk with a few friends missing.

Apparently without knowing I was in Milan for the weekend where people from nearby towns (within 4 hours train ride or more) would pop down for a weekend getaway just to party hard and hit all the luxurious nightspots. Girls of coz being girls won’t have to spend a fortune in owl life if you have the looks.

Hostel was modern and very clean and one of the cheapest I could find too during a weekend. The hostel was located nicely within walking distance of the city but skirting to the residential neighborhood making cheap food, supermarket, laundry and more lower price stuff to be found. The map was however horrible.

Sightseeing Milan & Extortion    

If you only have one thing to see in Milan it would be Milan Cathedral - Duomo di Milano which is the largest gothic cathedral in Italy. Be careful of the main square around the Duomo thought as many African scammers are out to scam you and extort as much money they can get from you.

Largest Gothic Cathedral in Italy
I walked around the Duomo admiring the complexity of the Gothic Cathedral when I stumble upon the main square where hoards and hoards of tourist were taking photos of the ever beautiful Duomo. Together with the hoards of tourist would be the equal number of African males and countless number of pigeon. There was a scam going on and I was oblivious to it.

One guy approached me and attempted to shove pigeon feed into my hand which I by reflects knock it off his hand and stayed away. He was even so bold to try and put it into my pocket which I knock him again by reflect and gave him a hard stare standing very still but ready to run at any time. The guy backed off looking for new people to harass.
Tourist vs. African Scammer ( 1 – 0 )
Galleria Vittoria Emanuele
I resulted to skip hopping my way along the scattered group of tourist and African touts all the while trying to admire the beauty of the gothic cathedral. It was sad such a pretty place such as these would deter some tourist from going after reading all the bad news of pickpockets and scams.

*New challenger* (African guy) approaches me with a greeting in English. A civilized person and I was in no discrimination greeted him back. Bad move …. I have thus opened the door for a scam.  He asked where I was from and welcomes me to Italy and gave me a big smile. He reaches out to shake my hand …. and I accepted but he would not let go …. Uh oh …. Shit …. He then proceeded to tie a string of many colors those like a wristband around my hand and snip cut off the last bit of string ….

I could not slip the new wristband off without a scissors to my dismay.
“Waka Waka Africa, for good luck”, New challenger said to me with a big grin
He then asked for a small token since he masterfully tied a wristband on my hand. I dig into my pocket feeling the change and took out 1 euro. New challenger pockets the money but asked for more ….
“You have paper ??”, he opened his wallet and show me paper note money of 10 euro
I said no bluffing openly. More of his brothers gathered around me. It was one Asian guy (poor me) against three African guys. They were fairly buff too. I dig into the pocket once more and produced another euro … and said “no more”. Held my ground and stared. I was going to suffer anyway plus this place was full of tourist with even tourist police in sight. They left me smiling while I stared angrily but relieved. Into the Duomo I quickly walked as I knew they would not follow me there.
Tourist vs. African Scammer ( 1 – 1 )
Milan Cathedral - Duomo di Milano

Old Man Sculpture
The Gothic cathedral charm marred by my experience being extorted for money outside was still a sight not to be missed. I would recommend not missing this visit even if you have to carry a whistle and stampede your way there. Angry grandma would be the best weapon.

Inside was a not the usual bright and beautiful cathedral that I was used to seeing. It was dimmed slightly dark with carving and painting of the more realistic nature. Gothic has its charms I suppose and I was glued examining each and every exhibits. One sculpture attracted me the most was the old man but full of vigor.

The cathedral also houses some mummies of the old popes in the style of Europe not Egypt. This was highly fascinating and for one was glad I did not skip Milan entirely and head straight on to Switzerland. The face were covered with mask and bodies heavily draped with ornamental ceremonial clothing. Only the preserved hand and sometimes feet could be seen within the glass coffin.
Mummified Pope
Shopping in Milan

Shop by the Kilogram
Girls would love Milan just for the shopping itself. It is called the city of fashion for a reason. I for one was on a hunt to find a jacket. Wearing three layers of clothing was not going to cut it anymore. Early November winter and I was not prepared. Next destination was Switzerland so I had to gear up for it.

Walking around Milan window shopping you would find that it was indeed an expensive city. Price could be so extravagant that it make no sense sometime. However a little enthusiasm and you will find deals and sometime weird shopping methods. One shop was selling their clothes by the weight.

Huh ?? Did I enter a fish market ? They had prices tag in different racks of cloths all color coded and you pay by putting it on a weighing scale. I couldn’t find my jacket there but by the way people was bulk buying I assume it was cheap enough.

I finally settle for a celio jacket at the price of 80 euros. I would not know if it was a good deal but it was practical enough to last me throughout winter backpacking. I scouted a whole day everywhere for a good jacket and when I finally decided on one I even tried to bargain with the sales attendant which resulted in weird looks. I paid for it in cash which earned me even more weird looks.

3 days in Milan fly by just like that. One day travel, one day shopping, one day sightseeing ….