Sunday, 1 April 2018

11D8N Eastern Europe Tour with Chan Brothers Day 5 - Krakow, Poland

This is way overdue but, once again, better late than never.

2016's Christmas Eve in Krakow, Poland. We started the day at Auschwitz with our local guide Greg. Greg was definitely the best local guide we had on this trip. He was dedicated, responsible, and really passionate about sharing his knowledge about the Second World War. Some local guides just spoke the bare minimum and hustled us along, but not Greg. Greg was one of those who clearly enjoyed his job, even if it was Christmas Eve, and even if it meant braving the cold with a bunch of Asians in the empty streets of Krakow, when he could be enjoying Christmas Eve with his family. When we parted at the Main Square in Krakow in the late afternoon, Greg took the time to tell us the cafes which could be open in the area on Christmas Eve.

Auschwitz - I have always wanted to visit Auschwitz and really glad I have the opportunity to come by one year after its 70th anniversary. I remember reading about the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp in the papers in 2015 and thinking that Auschwitz was a place that I should definitely visit.

A place which saw horrors and atrocities beyond what a human mind could imagine, a place that felt so cold and sad on that grey wintry morning, and a place that should never be forgotten.


 

Lunch with the tour group at Galicja Restauracja where we had golabki which is a traditional Polish cabbage roll with minced meat. I felt that it was the first nice meal on the trip that was part of the tour package!



After lunch we started our stroll with Greg around the old Jewish Quarter before heading to the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill.



Wawel Hill has a folklore about a fire-breathing dragon. The King had promised the hand of his daughter and his crown to the man who could defeat this dragon. Many knights tried their luck but none of them succeeded. One day, a shoemaker came and brought with him lambskin and sulphur. He constructed a lamb-looking bait stuffed with sulphur and fed it to the dragon. The dragon ate it and exploded. A statue of the dragon stands at the foot of Wawel Hill to commemorate this folklore.


Walking around the grounds of the Royal Castle.




Horse-drawn carriage along an empty street.


After strolling through the beautiful grounds of the Royal Castle, we walked to the Main Square where the St Mary Church was located.


Some stores of the Christmas market in the square was still open but the large shops around the square were all closed for the Christmas holidays. In fact, we soon found out that everything was closed because of the Christmas holidays. There was absolutely nothing open. Even Macs was closed. We had an hour of free time to explore the Main Square on our own but there was absolutely nothing to explore. We could not even find a place indoors to keep warm. Thankfully, Greg told us about this kebab place (Mr Kebab) which was a short walk from the Main Square so we tried our luck. It was open! Words cannot describe how happy I was to see the lights coming out of Mr Kebab because the prospect of wandering around aimlessly for an hour was making me feel very sad. Most of us ended up inside, drinking hot tea and munching on kebabs until it was time to meet at the Main Square.


St Mary's Church at the Main Square. I will always remember the church as the place where we huddled outside in the cold while Eva sang Christmas carols, waiting for others to return from wherever they were so that we could head back to the warmth of the coach bus.




And then, it started to snow! OMG. It was really going to be a white Christmas! I have never experienced a white Christmas, but it always sounded so magical. And it really was. There was something amazing about watching the snow flakes fall, knowing that it was Christmas eve and families in all those little windows dotting the streets were bending over dinner together, perhaps saying grace, and enjoying the warmth of family.  Snow flakes in my hair!


Returned to the hotel where we were free to go anywhere or do anything we wanted. But it was so cold and everything in the area was closed (we walked to the nearby Macs in the snow to try our luck but it was also closed) so we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. Ordered baked salmon and mulled wine. Good hearty Christmas eve meal!


Check out my post on Day 1 ,  Day 2 , Day 3 and Day 4.

MIA

It has been a long while since I last posted anything and I don't have a good reason for dropping off the radar. I could say that I was busy with work (indeed I was) but I know that it was much more than just being busy. I was, to put it plainly, exhausted. I felt like I was running on an empty tank for the last quarter of 2017 and I just cannot muster the strength to blog. But things are starting to look up now and I finally feel right to come back here and write.

Am going to start posting again!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

11D8N Eastern Europe Tour with Chan Brothers Day 4 - Krakow, Poland

Set off very early for our long drive into Krakow. Many traffic accidents along the icy roads and we were caught in numerous traffic jams. We were trying to make it to the Wieliczka Salt Mine before the salt mine closed for the Christmas holidays but the terrible traffic and icy roads made it very difficult. We had to press on with our journey to get to the salt mine in time so all of us chose to pick up a sandwich at a rest stop for lunch instead of stopping for a long proper lunch. Many thanks to our superb coach driver for getting us to Krakow safely and just in time before the salt mine closed. 

The Wieliczka Salt Mine was amazing. If you find yourself in Krakow one day, do take the time to explore the salt mine. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was a large compound, but only 3 levels were open to the public. We started our guided tour by taking the elevator in the small shaft down 64 m. It was quite scary being in the elevator because the drop was sudden and quick, and the elevator was not enclosed so we could feel the wind gushing in from the sides. 



Legend has it that Princess Kinga, a Hungarian princess, married a prince in Poland and asked her father for salt since salt was very precious in Poland. Her father, the Hungarian king, took her to a salt mine where she threw her engagement ring into the mine. Later, when she arrived in Poland, she asked the miners to dig until they came upon a lump of salt with her engagement ring inside. 


We walked down long narrow passages (like the ones below) and explored different areas of the mine. I thought it might be hot and stuffy in the mine but ventilation was superb and, in fact, it was rather cooling inside.


As salt dissolves in water, the salt mine had numerous drainage systems to ensure that water flowed into a well and not into the salt crystals around the mine.


A large chapel deep in the salt mine with chandeliers made of salt crystals! This was my favourite part of the mine. So beautiful and... raw. Not the usual curated beauty but really, something so classical and surreal that I would not have believed it at first sight. The tour guide said there were couples who booked this chapel as a wedding venue. It must be so magical to have your wedding in this chapel!



The Wieliczka Salt Mine provided a glimpse of how miners lived and worked underground all those years ago. My first time in a mine and I was extremely impressed! What an eye-opener.

We checked into Hotel Swing in Krakow and had dinner (fish and potatoes that were not very nice) at the hotel restaurant. Headed to Auschan, this supermarket in a large squat building behind Hotel Swing, to stock up on water and snacks for the Christmas weekend. Quite thankful for the accessibility of the hotels to nearby supermarkets so far!


Check out my post on Day 1 ,  Day 2 and Day 3!

Friday, 1 September 2017

CreatureS

A very belated birthday lunch with Stef because we were both overseas when it was her birthday and we were just so swamped with work thereafter. Made a reservation for CreatureS for our Sunday lunch, and we arrived in our Grabcar both looking like we just rolled out of bed. Perfect look for a Sunday!

Located in a little shop house near Little India, the deco inside CreatureS was quaint and interesting. The waiter took us to the second level and we settled down in a table by the window. The second level was empty when we arrived but the crowd grew steadily and it was fully packed when we left.


Crayfish Hokkien Mee ($30). I saw this on TX's instagram and wanted to try it because it looked so good! The noodles were fried in a delicious prawn broth, and the crayfish, prawns and squid were so sweet and fresh. The japanese fish roe was a nice touch, and everything went well with the sambal. 


Garden and Crab Risotto ($34). Risotto in crab broth with crabmeat and salted egg. CreatureS was very generous with the crabmeat but I was a little disappointed with the crab broth that tasted a little bland. Might be because our Crayfish Hokkien Mee came first and our taste buds were already pampered by the rich prawn broth in the hokkien mee that we could not taste the lighter fragrance in the risotto.



Coffee and Manuka Honey Latte.


Ended the meal with a slice of Lychee Martini Cake. The cake was light and the lychee bits were so sweet and refreshing. But I really want to know what that blue tinge at the side was and whether it was just food colouring. 


120 Desker Road
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Sunday, 20 August 2017

11D8N Eastern Europe Tour with Chan Brothers Day 3 - Prague (Czech Republic)

After breakfast at the hotel, we started the city tour early. It was a cold and grey day, and we were going to be out and about for the entire day so Eva (our tour leader) told us to dress warmly. I came out in as many layers as I can manage, complete with a beanie, a scarf and gloves. 

Our local tour guide for Prague was a tall lady with a very strong accent so there were moments when I struggled to understand what she was saying through the audio guide. But eventually I got used to it and enjoyed her introduction to Prague.

The bus dropped us off near the Prague Castle and we continued on foot for the rest of the tour.

St Vitus Cathedral was extremely majestic and impressive.






We continued on through the Prague Castle grounds and visited Golden Lane. It was originally built to house the castle guards but now it houses a row of souvenir shops. Somewhere down Golden Lane, we stumbled into what appeared to be a display of the way of life of a castle guard.



We continued walking through the Prague Castle grounds en route to Charles Bridge and found ourselves at a spot with a great view of the city. All of us stopped to snap a bunch of pictures before hurrying along because the place was getting real crowded.


View from Charles Bridge. Charles Bridge crosses the Vltava River and links the Lesser Quarter (the slopes below the Prague Castle) to the Old Town. Statues line both sides of the Charles Bridge but it was so crazy crowded that I failed to take any nice pictures of the statues.



The Old Town Bridge Tower stands at the end of the Charles Bridge next to the Old Town Square. We returned at night to snap a picture of the night view along the Charles Bridge but realised quick enough that the view (which was not much) was not worth standing out on the Charles Bridge on a wintry night so we turned back within 5 minutes.


We ended our city tour at the Astronomical Clock then it was free & easy time! Some members of the tour group went for the optional tour (lunch on a boat cruising along the river) but we chose not to join them because we would like to explore Prague on our own a little more. So we headed to Palladium Shopping Mall for lunch at the Old Prague Restaurant!


Clearly ordered more than I can finish because I did not expect the pizza to be so big. Hot red wine because nothing warms me up better than hot wine on a cold wintry day.


Shopped around a little before heading out to Paris Street on the other side of Old Town Square. Lots of branded goods and luxury brands here for those who love to indulge in some shopping! I was, however, more captivated by the beautiful fairy lights on the bare branches and the darkening sky.


So darkness fell before we realised it and the temperature dropped steadily. Best time to start exploring the giant Christmas market at the Old Town Square! It was so beautiful. The lights came on, everything sparkled in the cold night, and it just felt so incredibly magical.




Walked over to Wenceslas Square where there was another huge Christmas market and shopping malls on both sides of the Christmas market. The Christmas market paled in comparison to the large amazing one at the Old Town Square but the shops on both sides were pretty decent (i.e. high street / fast fashion at reasonable prices).



We walked back to the Astronomical Clock to meet our tour leader Eva as our free & easy time was coming to an end and we had to join the tour group for our dinner. The Old Town Square was getting crazy crowded with locals and tourists and our tour group had to push past a thick crowd to reach where our coach was parked.

While I loved the beautiful lights and architecture, I was so glad to be back in the warmth of our coach bus and finally sitting down after walking for so many hours. Dinner was very average Chinese food at House of Peking and we returned back to the hotel to rest.

It was a terribly cold day and walking around so much made it even colder but Prague was really too beautiful. The lovely architecture, the Prague Castle grounds, the giant beautifully lit Christmas market. Love Prague.

Check out my post on Day 1 , Day 2 and Day 4!