Swansong post - end of a beautiful dream?
1. July 22 '06 - Rome pics are uploaded. Click HERE to go to that post. More updates likely.
2. July 23 '06 - post updated with one pic of each country.
3. July 30 '06 - Budapest pics are uploaded. Click HERE to go to that post.
And I'm back in Singapore.
Reality sinks in, and it bites hard. I haven't seen so many Asians clustered in one place before. Ain't heard so much Singlish spouted in my face before. Hell, I haven't seen my family in 6 months. So it's good, at least for the time being. After all, home is where the heart belongs. And for the time being, my heart still belongs to Singapore. Whether it is for the long term or not, I cannot say. I can only say that the exchange has changed many things about me and my ideas.
The end of exchange was like awakening from a beautiful dream. People, strangers from all over the world, come together in one place and start interacting, forging friendships, talking and laughing like they knew each other from years before. Parties, none too wild, but free flowing alcohol of all sorts, induced even the shy ones to come out from their shell.
And of course who can forget the travelling I did in the past one and a half months. So much of Europe crammed into 40 days, so much sightseeing, so much walking, so much sun. So many languages in my head. French in Paris, Italian in Rome, Hungarian in Budapest, German in Austria, Czech in Prague and of course English in London.
I could write on and on about this period I had, but I figure that not many will bother to go through all the words. So I will chronologize (is there such a word? Sure, I invented it! =P) the times I had, so it's easier for everyone to visit it in chronological order.
=-=-=-=-=- THE START OF IT ALL -=-=-=-=-=
Part 1 (1st post from Europe)
Oulu, Finland - the settling down (Jan 2006)
Pretty much the whole of January, read it from bottom upwards.
How a Singaporean slowly melded into the European landscape and interacted with the people.
Thoughts during the rest of the exchange period (Feb and March 2006)
Had exams at the end of March, then I was to be a free man, which partially (no, fully) explains the heading below this. Again read it from bottom up for the chronological sequence.
The crazy times I had in April, really mixing with the Europeans. Before that, my interaction with them was kept to a minimum cos I was mugging for the then upcoming exams in Feb and March. Did St Pete's and Moscow during this month too.
In retrospect, Russia was one of the most unique places I visited in the entire duration of the 6 months. The whole place is just chock full of HUGE buildings, topped with gold. I went to both St Petersburg and Moscow and I must say that the experience was amazing. I wouldn't recommend anyone to go without a guide though, unless you speak Russian.
The last few days in Finland and travelling
The saddest part of my exchange - no it wasn't missing my family or friends or getting homesick - leaving my new found friends from all over Europe in Oulu. But this experience was to be something that I could take with me (at least in my head) forever. I would leave my European friends for Poland, and then come back to Helsinki for 2 days, then around Scandinavia with ZM, WL and his family.
Poland (11 - 21 May 2006)
Cracov, as the locals would have it, is a charming city, largely untouched by World War II, and hence has a wealth of old architecture inside the city. Its Town Square, a UNESCO Heritage site, is the largest in Europe, measuring 200m by 200m (or thereabouts). Be sure to visit the market square as well, the Wawel Castle and the Wieliczska Salt Mine when you are there. For the daring and those interested, you could also visit the Auschwitz death camp where the Nazis committed genocide and wiped out so many of the Jews. A largely depressing place and one should steel yourself for it before even entering.
(Aw shit, this sounds so much like a brochure. But really I typed this all myself!) I mean, I really enjoyed Krakow. It's cool, lah.
Copenhagen (26 - 30 May)
Norway (30 May - 5 June)
Oslo (will update with pics when I have time)
Crazy prices, nothing much to offer. Was at the park of statues (Vigeland Park) to see the famous Angry Baby. I was surprised that this famous statue was actually hidden behind a pillar! Luckily my friends who were there before pointed it out to me. Might not have seen it myself if I were there alone.
Summary of Scandic trip (words only)
Travelling in Continental Europe (June 2006)
After that, I met up with CJ and JX for the real backpacking trip around Europe - London, Paris, Rome, Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.
United Kingdom (5 - 9 June)
London - the most similar place to Singapore. Can actually meet other Singaporeans here as well cos there are so many of them studying here (full-time degree and exchange students). Some of the bus companies and some hotels are Singaporean-owned too! It's hard to tell I am not in Singapore if you throw me into a neighbourhood and remove all the people from the streets. And the Brits drive on the "wrong side" of the road as well!
France (10 - 13 June)
Paris - An amazing place, but the weather was too hot for me to really enjoy myself. We visited Sacre Couer, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and some other places. Unfortunately, we decided not to enter the Louvre cos of the expensive entrance fee. Argh, anyway, I think there will still be a chance that I might go back, after all, Paris is a popular tourist destination!
Italy (13 - 16 June)
This place will strike fear into your heart if you know the stories behind it all. Many would know about the pickpocket stories, the woman-who-throws-her-baby-at-you-so-she-can-make-off-with-your-stuff case, and policeman-who-asks-for-your-passport-then-runs-away-with-it story.
Just play it safe, wear a money belt and use common sense. Not rushing into crowds, and generally keeping your eyes open for danger will help you save more than your dollars (or euros), remember they also want your identity cards or passports.
We visited the Vatican City(Basilica di St. Pietro, Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum), Fontana di Trevi (pickpockets' hotspot), Colosseo and Foro Romani (I only took photos outside cos I was sick that day) and Spagna (Spanish Steps). The typical tourist spots as most would visit whilst there.
Pics of Rome *updated*
Budapest (in words)
Hungary (16 - 19 June)
We got to stay in Gábor's sister's house and saved on accomodation. Met up with Gábor on the last night we were there and I was glad to see him again. Budapest is a really nice place and the scenery along Danube River is amazing. The buildings were built in such a fashion that it was like it was made out to be a postcard view. The Chain Bridge, the Castle and Castle Hill (on the Buda side of the Danube) are a must to visit. For shopaholics, there's the Pest side, where shopping streets abound.
Austria (19 - 21 June)
Vienna (words only, pics maybe uploaded later)
The City of Music, as most would think of Vienna. Maybe Salzburg can have that reputation, but it is not as widely known, cos it is not a capital. Remember the Sound of Music? It's from Salzburg! We wanted to go there, but didn't have time nor accomodation. Vienna is great looking (in summer, at least, cos CJ's friends told him there was nothing to do in Vienna, having visited it in winter.) We toured the Parliament building, the Inner City (Volksgarten, Hofsburg Palace, St Stephen’s Cathedral) and caught a ballet on the first day, then visited the graves of the famous composers, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss on the second before leaving to Prague.
Czech Republic (21 - 28 June)
Prague, Český Krumlov, Kutná Hora
Day 3 (1st 3 posts words only)
Pics for the past 4 days
Last 3 days
Prague is quite similar to Budapest, and almost equalling it in terms of charm and beauty on the banks of its Vltava River. I say almost, because somehow I still feel like Budapest is better cos both banks of its Danube River are built up with intriguing architecture. And as most other East European countries (sorry Eva, I still think Czech Republic is a East European country, cos of its wonderful side - cheap prices!), we had good and cheap food everywhere, so we ate like kings.
CJ and me took 2 day trips out of Prague to Český Krumlov and Kutna Hora. But I really preferred Český Krumlov to Kutna Hora, cos its castle is really like a castle (in terms of looks at least) and the river surrounding it adds to the charm. We even went rafting and it was so fun! met up with Lucie, Joe, Judita, and Eva during the one week I was there and it was great to reunite with old friends from my exchange in Finland.
Helsinki - the last few days in Europe (28 - 30 June)
Paula, my good friend from the Poland trip, made my stay in Finland for the last 2 days really comfy. I had such a big bed that I couldn't get used to it! Read more of it in the post proper.
Paula, come to Singapore again yeah and this time I will show you around and bring you to eat good food!
Home in Singapore! (1 July - ?)
Home is still best, where I am concerned, but well, we will see how things go as time passes. By the way, you can connect to my Singapore blog here.