Saturday, February 27, 2016

6th Busy Season

Can't believe that it's been 8 weeks since we got back from Europe and the first 2 months of 2016 flew by just like that. Oh well, this is my 6th busy season and it's pretty much the same routine year over year, just work, eat, sleep. Anyway, my 1st round of busy season was just over, and before the 2nd round begins next week, here's a quick update of my Jan & Feb. 

Busy season means working late and eating dinner at work. =)

Jan 22 (Fri): First snow of the year! Too bad it was a Friday so no off day from work. 
Looks so much prettier the next morning with blue skies.

Jan 23 (Sat): Yoga class was cancelled due to snow so I decided to 'document' these as a self reminder to stay flexible and fit for many more years to come. 

Feb 7 (Sun): Woke up at 5am to 'join' the family for CNY reunion dinner (without food) via Skype. Glad to see everyone gathered together back home. =) Unfortunately, there's no celebration and to compensate for it, I requested for PF Changs for dinner at work. =P

Missin' out on CNY routine with family and relatives.

Feb 7 (Sun): Time to start seeding indoor for gardening season in the Spring. Unfortunately, the seeds hasn't been germinating as well as last Fall, hopefully we'll get more coming up soon.

A lil' token of appreciation for busy season from the firm.

Friday, February 26, 2016

10-Days Backpacking in Central Europe - Trip Report

10 days, 4 countries, 8 cities...finally completed blogging about our Central Europe Winter Trip after 2 months. Here's a summary of all the blog posts for this trip:
Hubby and I spent about 3 months planning for this trip and we're glad everything went smoothly according to the plan. For those who are interested in backpacking around Central Europe, here's our itinerary for reference. =) 

Our route map

And if you're wondering how much we 'splurged' for this 10-days trip, here's our expense of approximately $1,250/pax. I can't say this is really on a budget but considering that we were traveling during the holiday season, our budget is actually quite reasonable. As you can see, the largest expense was for flight tickets. And we saved quite a good bit on accommodation thanks to the 3 free nights with hotel points.

Accommodation (2-pax):
Innsbruck (1-night Airbnb) - $75
Salzburg (3-nights Yoho Hostel) - $155
Vienna (3-nights Hotel Vienna South) - $0 (30,000 Hilton points)
Prague (2-nights Airbnb) - $85

Transportation (per person):
Munich airport to Munich Hbf (Train) - €12.40
Munich to Innsbruck (Bus) - €8
Innsbruck airport to Innsbruck Hbf (Bus) - €2.70
Innsbruck to Salzburg (Train) - €14
Salzburg to Berchtesgaden (Bus) - €9.80
Salzburg to Hallstatt (Bus) - €15.50
Hallstatt Ferry - €2.50
Hallstatt to Vienna (Train) - €19
Vienna to Bratislava (Train) - €16
Vienna to Prague (Train) - €19
Prague to Frankfurt airport (Train) - €49

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Europe Winter Trip ✈ Prague

Started off the brand new year with our final destination for this trip - Prague. And with this, Czech Republic turned out to be the 30th country I've visited. =) 30 before's not a goal I set to achieve, but it's a good reminder of how fortunate I've been to have had the opportunity to travel and see a pretty good bit of the world over the last 10 years (which is also when I first started documenting about my travels on this blog). 

We've heard so many good comments about Prague prior to our trip and of course, I set my expectations pretty high for this city. Unfortunately, it was gloomy for all 3 days that we were there and that definitely affected my interest in sightseeing (well mainly because the photos don't look nice). I probably would have enjoyed the city much more if the weather was nicer. Anyway, I can't really complain much coz we've had great weather throughout this trip even though there was no snow and I guess we've exhausted our good weather luck for this trip...haha! On a side note, Prague was hubby's favorite city for this trip.

Jan 1 (Fri): Vienna - Prague

What a nice surprise on New Year's morning! After one week in Europe, we finally saw snow on New Year's Day! Not much snow but better than nothing. Happy New Year 2016!!

Took the 8am train from Vienna to Prague. The journey took about 4 hours and we bought the tickets online for €19/pax ($21). Had a last minute panic attack when hubby realized that we only printed one ticket instead of two when we collected our tickets from the vending machine the day before. Fortunately hubby found this out in time and we had some spare time to drop by the ticket office and requested the staff to print a copy of the ticket for us. Else it would have costed us an extra €50 for a new ticket...phew! Ironically, after so many days of train travels without having our tickets checked, we had our tickets checked for every leg of this journey.    

First task as soon as we arrived Praha h.l.n. was to change some Koruna since they don't use Euro here and we needed some money to get the subway tickets to get to the Airbnb. Considering that Euros are used all around this region, it's pretty common for people to change money at the train station but I was surprised by the 10% fees. Should have waited and changed elsewhere in the city without fees...oh well lesson learnt.

Our Airbnb accommodation for 2 nights in Prague. Initially, I thought about using my 30,000 Hilton points for a night in Hilton Prague Old Town to celebrate the New Year. One night would have costed $350 so the redemption would have been quite a good value. But after considering how we've gotten 3 free nights in Vienna with the same 30K points, I decided to cancel the reservation and paid for Airbnb instead. After all we would still need to find somewhere to stay for the 2nd night and it would be a hassle to move. Plus, I was able to use the $50 Airbnb referral credit so we only paid $85 for 2 nights.

Our host, David and his gf was very nice and offered us home-cooked lentils for lunch as soon as we arrived. We were told that lentil is their traditional dish for New Year..."On New Year’s Day, the Czechs typically eat lentils, believing that a lentil dish will ensure money for the upcoming year." Haha...yea money money for 2016...what a Czechy way to start our day in Prague! =P We had the place for ourselves throughout our stay coz both of them went somewhere else for that weekend.

 The apartment was conveniently located in a touristy area right at the foot of the castle. We could see flocks of tourists from our window and tourist buses around.

Walked about 20 minutes across Charles Bridge to the Old Town.

I usually edit my photos by adjusting the contrast and shadows. But as I mentioned earlier, the gloomy weather makes the photos look so dull, I decided to add some 'special effects'. =P 

Huge contrast to Munich on Christmas morning, Prague was so crowded on New Year's afternoon. Even though Charles Bridge is pedestrian-only, we could barely walk at a normal pace...definitely not fun sightseeing when all you see is people!

Finally made it to the famous Old Town Square...with more people!! Spot the astronomical clock in the left photo, we didn't even want to try getting anywhere closer to it with all the tour groups around.

Another reason why this square is famous...thanks to 蔡依林's song《布拉格广场》. So here's a reality check with the lyrics vs. our experience:
"我就站在布拉格黄昏的广场 (yes we were there in the evening), 
在许愿池投下了希望 (no we didn't see no fountain nor made a wish), 
那群白鸽背对着夕阳 (no we didn't see any white pigeons), 
那画面太美我不敢看 (well obviously I looked coz I took this panorama photo), 
布拉格的广场无人的走廊 (absolutely not true coz all we saw was people everywhere!), 
我一个人跳着舞旋转 (erm we barely had space to walk, certainly didn't dance)"
Conclusion...come here early in the morning before the tour groups arrive and you'll enjoy the true beauty of this square. =P

Saw so many stalls selling Trdelník all around the city center and we thought this is Czech cuisine but apparently, it's actually originated from Slovakia...guess we made a good choice not falling into this tourist trap. =P

Prague at dusk.

Had a dinner at this place Malostranská Pivnice (the menu is deceiving coz it's not the Pilzner Urquell Original Restaurant). We randomly saw this restaurant along the way and wanted to try some Czech cuisine and Pilsner beer. It looks pretty nice from the outside but the food was disappointing and very overpriced, too bad we didn't have internet to look up on Yelp beforehand. Definitely not a place we would recommend. 

Jan 2 (Sat): Prague

After the extremely crowded sightseeing experience the day before, we decided to start our day earlier at 8am (not too early) and as expected the streets were fairly empty, I like it!

A total opposite sight on Charles Bridge as compared to the day before, at least we could take photos without anyone in the background!

Can't help taking more selfies before the crowd arrives.

Gopro wefies too!

Charles Bridge (Karluv most) with HDR. There are many other bridges linking the old town and new town across Vitava river but this iconic 14th century structure beats 'em all. =)

View from Charles Bridge including the Prague Castle. 

Everything looks prettier by the water.

From Charles Bridge, we walked to Strelecky Ostrov (Shooters Island), an island in the middle of the river with a scenic view of the town and the waters. 

Nice reflection of historical town center and the National theater.

Continued walking across the bridge and southwards to the Dancing House. This building seems a lil' out of place among all the other historical buildings.

No fun sightseeing when the weather is gloomy and cold...brrr!!

And it's time to hike again to the area castle area (Hradčany).

Prague castle and its surroundings.

St. Vitus Cathedral.

View from the castle.

Gopro wefies

Finished sightseeing shortly after noon, and decided to call it a day and enjoy the rest of the day bumming in our warm apartment. =P After a not-so-enjoyable dinner the night before, I decided to fix our own meals. Went to Tesco to pick up some ingredients and tadaa...simply, tasty and economical. =P

Jan 3 (Sun): Prague - Frankfurt

We had almost one whole day left for sightseeing on our final day in Prague before catching the 6.30pm overnight train to Frankfurt. But since it was still gloomy, we stayed in most of the day and only went for a quick hike to Letna park (Letenske Sady) for this view, which was just a short walk from our apartment.

The famous postcard view of Prague.

Spent our final night of this trip on this 10 hours overnight train €49/pax ($56) from Prague to Frankfurt airport. We stupidly sat at the wrong area which was less comfortable for the first leg of the trip and switched to the more comfortable space-ship like seats on the 2nd half.

Arrived Frankfurt airport at 4.30am...ample time left to catch my flight at 8.20am and hubby's flight at 10.45am. Haha yup we didn't fly together again! =P

Since I lost all the photos that I took on the way back to Malaysia, I took some on the way from Frankfurt to New York. After arriving at NY, my journey continued with another Southwest flight to Nashville, met up with hubby, and Donny picked us up in Nashville and brought us home. 

 Finally...our route map for Prague (part 1 ; part 2).

So that's a wrap for our 10-days Central Europe Winter Trip! Took me almost 2 months to complete 8 posts...not bad considering that it's busy season at work. I'll probably work on another separate post for our expense report.