Sunday, 28 April 2013

Prague To Berlin & A Friendly German Guy

Winter is coming, and I could feel the changes gradually and also through the things which I was obtaining without knowing. I now have a proper jacket, two pairs of gloves a winter hat, more alcohol, … I seem to think I could sustain warmth with alcohol but in reality all it did was keeping my senses numb hence I don’t shiver outside in  the cold.

Fernsehturm Berlin
So with the upcoming direction towards west Europe where everything would be significantly expensive plus I was headed to Berlin the highest point north in the map so far, I wasn’t so sure how I was going to survive. One thing for sure was I was not going to be visiting Norway or Sweden this round.

The train to Berlin was quiet with the cabin full at every stop. A friendly nod and greeting was more or less everything that anyone does. I sat down next to the window far inside tripping through three people from the door and settled myself for the journey. Opening my Lonely Planet book I started to do some research of Berlin with my mind blank for once not filled with anticipation or expectation. I was just on the road … no biggie

“Backpacking Europe ? Going to Berlin ? First Time ? Where you from ?”, a bald headed guy kick started a conversation with me seeing the book in my hand.

We ended up chatting about my travels and adventures for *Baldie* was quite curious of an Asian boy traveling alone going places. After a while he switched to the place I would be going and started recommending places to visit in Germany. Baldie was a Germen and he was proud of his country although after a while you soon realized he had a small rein on his proudness being careful not to insult anyone else and quite self aware of the WWII which was a touchy subject. 

It was weird … he was proud of Germany doing well despite the Euro dept crisis and yet he sympathizes with the neighboring countries who were in the slump. I tested water with a remark about how Germany earns the money and gives it to Greek or Italy for that matter so those country don’t need to work so hard. His reply was so neutral you would almost thought he felt Germany was indebted to all the countries in the world.

Berlin was my stop but he was headed onwards to Hamburg. Once he found out I had no interest in WWII or the concentration camps he started suggesting so many places of interest to visit in Germany. The history of the Berlin wall …. I drifted to dreamland a bit here but by the time he was done and me making notations all over the guidebook I knew I was going to stay in Berlin for at lease a week instead of the initial 3 days plan.

Next Stop Berlin … and to my horror he came down with me on my stop. He walked very fast to the tourist information center and before I could do anything he got me a map, a discount card for the Bahn (Trains), pointed me on the orientation of the city, a quick guided tour of the new station and the monuments within eyesight’s or mainly the Parliament buildings and bid me farewell leaving me stupefied standing at the middle of the station waving goodbye to a overly friendly German guy.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Money & Poker

Czech Republic Koruna (Money)

Travel and money seam intertwined but traveling in multiple countries with different currency well there is a whole new cook book to ways of doing it. The usual problems are the worst exchange rate that is out there. Its almost unavoidable since the money changers has to make a living and even bank rates are always slightly lower.

You are always a loser when it comes to traveling and changing money which was what I felt. Unless of course if you travel during a crisis (Euro debt) like me which feels awesome since I have never seen the Euro dip so low in respect to the Singapore Dollar. Still every time I draw money out the rates are bound to be better the next few days. Dang it.

So new currency and I change the minimum amount in Bratislava just so I could get to the hostel or buy a ticket once I arrived Prague. Emergency money! ATM was easily found and I drew out the most money in Europe …. A FEW THOUSAND KORUNA.

Lets see …. 1 SGD = 0.56 Euro and 1 Euro = 25.04 CZK and 1CHF = 18.18 CZK …

I was constantly on my calculator and that was not funny. I got cheated too at the money changer which listed 1 CHF = 18.18 CZK but only if you change a lot of money so for my balance Swiss francs of 128 CHF I got a measly 1836CZK ….

Are you confuse yet ??

Poker Match in Prague Casino

I could not help noticing all the casino at Prague and I was slightly spoilt for choice. Prague would make it three successive country + city which I would enter a casino and try to earn my keep. After much procrastination by visiting old town Prague and keeping myself busy with sightseeing gimmick my will buckled and I headed out at night for the casino. 
Entry Log on Casino Losses

Some were kind of small with only slots machines and limited games. Others were medium in size but low key. I found one that had table games and you had to check in your coat. Small for a casino for they only had two roulette table and two Caribbean stud poker a few blackjacks and one casino taxes hold’em poker where you play with the dealer instead of the players. The place was packed with people filled with smokes from cigarette and merry with chatter. People actually socialized in the casino.

It was my first time too where the non-alcoholic drinks are free and they served you pretty much everything even if all you do is change chips and sit down. I took my time warming up the seat with black jack and slowly eased my way to the poker table. A few hours later I noticed a new table open and they were playing Texas Hold’em poker players to players with the dealer as a facilitator. How much was the blinds I asked. 10 & 20 Koruna the dealer replied and I hopped in the last seat available.

This was my first time playing Texas Hold’em players style in the casino with random strangers. Usually it would be with friends over a casual house gathering with drinks hence the wagers were normally small and you don’t aim to wipe your friends out. I folded the first few rounds.

How good is your POKER FACE ??

Unlike playing with the casino whereby the dealer is not concern of losing money and always play with a set of rules, player poker involves bluffing which makes it more thrilling.

There are a few scenario which could occur :

1. You have GOD LIKE cards in hand … but BAD POKER FACE … hence everyone backs out and you don’t make a killing

2. You have GOD LIKE cards in hand … makes everyone thinks you are bluffing and fish in the money … PILE UP THAT STASH BABY ..

2. You have dirt shit hands, and so does everyone else and if you are able to read their expression which tells you everyone has shitty hands anyway … NOW how could you bluff them into thinking you have a winning hand and back away …

3. You have lousy hands …. GIVE IT UP

Then there is the TAIL …. A form / gesture / action / look / twitch / that everyone has which is instinctive and uncontrollable. There was finding a random strangers TAIL and at the same time be very cautious of your own action which may form a TAIL. It is said it is impossible to identify one own self TAIL and it is equally as difficult to identify someone else’s,  however if you do manage to identify, it that would be a HUGE power advantage.

Of course there is also the planting of a fake TAIL which I did. It was like a fishing game. You put the bait … wait for it …. wait for it …. Sacrifice the small bait …. Put up another bait …. and reel in the big fish …. I first went semi crazy upping the stakes all the way to the end … with a pair of deuce which was useless as all the commodity card was already higher than my deuce. I still opened my card when it was time to determined the winner and everyone laughed. I put on my best little boys face !!

Stagger of the hand … hesitant to put down more money since I had lost a few rounds already … everyone joined in my doubled up bet. Smirk … I had them nipping. More pondering and finally putting down chips only matching and not raising, but some idiot double up and everyone followed … Hooked. Last bet and a huge pile went down from the guy across me … I smiled … and double up his huge pile … everyone backed out left one …
“What do you have boy ? Pair Aces ?”He asked
I smiled a little, raised my shoulder to indicate I don’t know in a cheeky way. Lick my lips … and waited. He matched my stack and it was time to duel it out. I had a straight beating his trips … sweet sweet taste of victory.

I played a while longer but I had used up all the tricks I knew … time to move on while I had winnings.

The next stupid thing I did right after was hit the dealer tables. Overconfident with my wins over players I played on the tables games thinking I had the best luck in the world. Within an hour I had made almost an equivalent of 400 euros but alas due to my brain blunder in the currency conversion I thought I had only made 40 euros. I did not cash out and continue with the games thinking I had only won 40 euros and not long after lost everything back to the casino.

 If I did learn one thing from this … THERE IS NO BLUFFING THE CASINO

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Bribe The Police in Europe Checked !!!

Good ole Richie Rich gave me not one but two new mini adventure after a long time. We were going to a couch surfing event he created which was on the outskirts of the old town Prague set in a gym that serves beer and has a ping pong table. I am still not quite sure what kind of place it was for it had two ping pong tables, foosball tables, pools table, bowling, air hockey and a bar.

So on the way to some ping pong and drinks event he created we went out waiting for the troller-bus on a Sunday evening. As we board the troller-bus I asked Richie what about tickets … bus tickets …

“Just sit down, Its fine”, Richie said

Seeing as Richie had been in Prague for a significant amount of time chasing skirts or in his manly valor charming explanation “I have to go see about a girl”, I assumed he knew what he was doing.

Few stops later two guys in casual clothing tapped us on the shoulder and asked for tickets and showed us a badge cupped closely in their hands like it was a secret operation. Richie did all the talking, said we don’t have tickets and we were both shuffled off the bus.

So there was a fine for not paying the bus ticket, 800CZK a person. The asked for passports and ID which Richie said it's back in the hostel and I just pointed at him pretending not to know English. Richie did his best innocent look and explain how he did not know where to get tickets on a Sunday since all the tickets shops are closed. (They sell them in grocery stalls apparently which is close on Sunday, so you need to buy in advance or at the train stations)

“F*cking Americans”, the cops in casual clothes said.

I just put on my dumb look and hoped for the best. Everything they asked I replied with hand gesture or a shake of the head and a blank look to Richie. Richie had work to do and a small Chinese guy did not look as attractive (money wise) as a young American guy.

Richie went through three of the five stages of grief for parting with money.

1. Denial
He actually denied doing anything wrong. As if the tourist is not at fault for not knowing how to buy a ticket.

2. Anger
Richie voice did got louder at a point with arms in the air saying it was ridicules to pay such a heavy fine for not buying a ticket. I watched as he tactically scolded the cops but with no success … it just made things worst

3. Bargaining
This one work out the best … he yanked out some money from his pocket and showing the balance of an empty pocket said that was all the money he had. The wallet was still smugly tucked in his jacket. So he worked out the BRIBE COST FOR TWO = 600CZK

So my share of the bribe was 300CZK about 21 SGD. Not bad Richie …. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Couchsurfing Event Experience

Average Hostel - Good Company

Charles Bridge

The hostel I choose was not the best one nor was it the worst but nowhere within my comfort zone to stay there for more than a week. Something to complain about however make good conversation in a hostel dorm. I made two new friends there out of all the many people that stayed in the hostel.

*Richie Rich* would be a sarcastic American which thinks he could get away with anything by adding the word ‘I’m Joking’ at the end of the sentence. Dark humor was his thing however I couldn’t help messing with his head whenever I could. A writer for his profession and he would send me links to his articles and ask for my opinion. How I love sweetening the pot before burning it all down. Dark Humor indeed.

Then there was *Denise* a Danish girl who was there for work and stayed in the hostel. Richie love poking Denise around but she was always so polite regardless of how sarcastic he became. My addition to the conversation was backed subtly by Denise in trying to mess with his head.

It was good fun company …

Couch surfing Event in Prague

So Richie created a couch surfing event to play ping pong in a local pub outskirt of town just to get his potential girlfriend out of the house. Talk about motivation in chasing skirts this was a whole new level. Then again it did not cost anything other then internet time and networking.

Richie called me along to join in the fun and I thought why not since I have been curious about couch surfing ever since I started my journey an event was not as scary as asking someone to bunk you. The ride to the place involved bribe to the local police but I’ll save that for another post.

We reached there and almost everyone bailed out of the event last minute. Richie potential girlfriend included. Almost but fortunately one Romanian Girl *Marie* did turn up for the event and we had fun playing ping pong. I now understand how couch surfing events works for people who would like to expend their friends circle by just turning up in random events. Worst case scenario … dun give him your number.

After much ping pong and some table air hockey we all bid farewell with me and Richie headed back to the hostel while Marie went back to her place.

Meeting up random strangers for event … is weird …

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Black Light Theater - Prague

Black Light Theater
If you are into plays and performing arts the black light theater in Prague is not to be missed. I have seen many Broadway shows and this one is definitely one of a kind. The whole theater is pitch dark that once you are seated and the lights goes off you cant see anything at all even your hands.

The whole play is done in darkness using glow sticks, painted glow in the dark costumes and props and spot lights at certain angles only to create illusions where a normal theater cant. The play is also wholly non-verbal - hence you wont need to know the local Czech language to understand.

There are a quite a few of the Black Light Theater in Prague and most have different stories but I choose to explore the classic ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Many tourist and locals fills the seats every night and you can see from kids to old chaps enjoying the show. The ticket was ok at 680CZK about 27 Euro but I thought it was totally worth it

Due to the very dark theater the character Alice started off in the middle of the air and spun round and round as if falling into wonderland. I knew they had to have some sort of wire to pull it off but the simplicity of camouflage was amazing. You could get away with lots of illusion tricks making the show totally spectacular without much effort.

Dancing butterflies were done using people dressed in black clothing and because of the lack of lights you cant see them but only their hands which was painted with glow in the dark lights. The butterflies would appear out of nowhere and disappear as magically as they came.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

UNESCO World Heritage - Prague

Here I was at last Prague. I have heard a lot about this place from fellow dorm mates and recommended by many people whom I met along the way. It was a built up expectation which is always not a good thing for me.

Fred & Ginger Building

Dancing House
Prague old town is indeed interesting. I took a stroll and first weird thing I saw was the Gingerbread building or more commonly known as Dancing House. I stood there looking for a very long time remembering how I saw a photo of it once somewhere. It was unique when I saw it on a photo but seeing it in reality was weird. My eyes kept following the lines of the building only to end up somewhere I lease expected. It was like a trick building with optical illusion, look too closely and it becomes difficult to hold it down in place hence like a Dancing House.

Charles Bridge

Prayer to a Saint
Charles Bridge was filled with visitors and tourist despite the early cold bite of winter and snaps of photos were endless along the bridge. There was statues or sculptures every few meters of saints and at one of them a queue line had formed where people would touch the bronze picture of one saint and offer a prayer before the next in line walked up to it.

There would probably be a story to it if you joined one of the many free walking tours in Prague but I was happy browsing randomly alone. The bronze picture of the saint was the only part of the sculpture that shone bright like gold where the other parts were highly weathered bronze.

Jazz musician played along the bridge in the chilly winter and they were good too. There were many trinkets stand shops which moves with the tourist and the police and some hand churned musical wagon as well. Charles bridge was a landmark and a beautiful one at that spiced with unique entertainers.

I crossed over the bridge and explored the far end of old town Prague which led me to a castle or palace which I did not really bothered to find out what it was but one thing for sure it was huge and magnificent.
View from Charles Bridge

Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock

Walking back to old town Prague almost all tourist would stop in front of the Astronomical Clock tower for a picture and stare at it for a few minutes. Me included of course but the smell of food caught my attention soon after.

Close by was two carts selling food. I an not sure if its always there or its just during the winter. Still I was intrigued on how they cooked Ham right out in the open and when the cook carved out a huge chunk to be sold, how my mouth watered.

Slow Roasted Ham

Cannabis Vodka Anyone ? 

Cannabis Vodka
Hmmm …. I contemplated very long in front of that shop if I was going to try something crazy such as Cannabis Vodka or if I am not wrong also known as Absinthe. I have heard magical wonders that if you drink it enough you would be able to meet the blue ferries.*Grin*. Okie than lets try it I thought but alas the shop was closed for the winter and I never got another chance at it. I’ll be back …
My eyes kept following the lines of the building only to end up somewhere I lease expected. It was like a trick building with optical illusion, look too closely and it becomes difficult to hold it down in place hence like a Dancing House.

Monday, 1 April 2013

My Cheapest Europe City – Bratislava

My Detour Continues ….

Let the wind guide your feet to the next destination .. NOT !! So train tickets price seams to be guiding my route marker on the Europe map and once again or in this case a bus ticket. It was 6.60 euro on a local bus from Vienna to Bratislava and it took merely an hour ride. Prague would have to wait and meanwhile I am adding another country to the counter.

The first view of Bratislava was its massive huge River and all the new modern bridges that cuts across connecting the old town to the new urban development areas. Hopping down the bus stop the place was a drastic change from beauty spec clean Vienna. This was more down to earth with some dirt everywhere and graffiti at the undercarriage of the flyovers.


So I headed out searching for the hostel I had research to be having a dorm bed for 7 euro a night. I found the place without difficulty and asked for a room and just in case ask how much it would be.

“Its 13 euro a night Sir”, The Cheeky receptionist replied

No its not !!.. And I would have stood there and used their own wi-fi to book the room through at 7euro a night I told them.  After conversing with his supervisor they came back and offered 8euros a night knowing I would have to pay about 1euro more for the booking fee online anyway.

Smart bastards! Still the hostel was good and barely anyone around during winter season.

Muahahaha … Cheap Ticket to Prague !!!

Train Station Bratislava
Next up was to check out my options after Bratislava. I took a walk to the train station which was a good 1 hour and struggle trying to understand any of the system for the train station. I gave it 10 minutes and gave up and join in a random queue until I was at the front of the counter and naturally the lady could’nt speak English. By some magical baby talk and my ragged look she finally understood I wanted the CHEAPEST ticket to Prague.

25.20 EURO …. (It was half price considering if I wanted to go from Salzburg or Vienna)

So everything worked out and I got to explore two awesome city Vienna and Bratislava in my search to reach Prague. My days in Bratislava was numbered as a I bought the ticket to Prague for two days later.

Old Town - Bratislava

Napoleon Soldier
The central old town Bratislava is a maze which I got lost every time I entered. Old cobbled stone pavements with shops of all kinds and antique feel makes this place a wonderful place to explore. The lack of people might have been due to winter season but it is definitely not as popular as Rome or Vienna. As I see it, this place is a hidden gem for it has easy access, cheap food, drinks, lodgings, and has just enough antique vibe to keep you interested for a few days.

The idea of the town council to put up modern metal sculpture around the old town also made it interesting to find and grab yourself a snapshot for it is like a landmark
Man In the Hole

“I have been to Bratislava”.

One of the pizza place was called the half shop. If the guide map from the hostel did not mention it I would have never found it. The shop was sandwich between two buildings and was only half the width of an ordinary building having only enough space for a single door.

Food was also great in Bratislava. The local dish that was recommended to me was called the Bryndzové halušky made up of potato dumplings topped with sheep cheese and some minced bacon, It was delicious. Although a strong taste to the cheese which sometimes put off other people from liking it. The arrangement could be seen without any meat sometime which is the actual staple diet for the country. In other words poor people diet, potato and cheese. Still poor people diet are the most delicious sometimes as more ingenuity is required in the cooking process.
Bryndzové halušky

I went back to a restaurant called Solvak Pub every night for meals as it was good food and for once within my budget. A typical dine in meal would cost 5 euros and for lunches a kebab on the streets for 2 euro.

To this point most people told me Prague was cheap for Europe but Bratislava was definitely much easy going on the budget. People were friendly, food and lodging cost was low and I felt pretty save walking around alone even at nights.


More Gambling in Bratislava

If there is one thing I would have considered a bad mark it would be the casino. That was my poison. I could never stay very long in a place that has a casino. I knew it was trouble waiting to happen. Still if you can resist the temptation it was a good place to be.

Nights are a bore in Europe. Everything closes except the pubs and then to entertain or be entertain you would need to spend money. No night markets to explore unless its near Christmas and almost zit activities after 8pm.

On the second night I made my way to the casino to find there was only four players in the whole casino. If you wanted to play blackjack and the table was closed, you could point to the table and the supervisor would open it for you. For a moment I thought I was at the VIP casino. Bratislava was not doing so well in the Europe dept crisis I guess.

Rules were different too in the casino. The usual Texes Hol-em Poker had a different twist to the game and I had to learn on the spot all the rules. Good thing was they gave lesson without me putting down any chips so I had to work the calculation fast in my head to see the best way of not losing everything in one hand.

Work the odds, the payoff, the probability of winnings, the risk, the favors of the casino, the traps, and of coz, if I could cheat full proof. The last one normally never works. If I knew I wouldn’t be working right now.

Shepherd Bag
I also had a near miss in Vienna and manage to come out alive with a net profit of 70euro so I was not that eager to jump back into the lions pit the first day I was in Bratislava. The second day I was too bored and was trying to kill time. Good Luck gave me another 50euro profit and with dinner earned …

of to  Solvak Pub for a nice Shepherd Bag Dinner … delicious

(Pork with cheese and many things I have no idea wrapped with bread to form a bag)