Sunday, October 30, 2011

Munich, Germany part 2

After returning from Fussen, I finished my night by meeting up with a Couchsurfing member named Lisa. Together, we went to this venue near my hostel where a sitar band from India played some typical Indian music. It was nice, but it wasn't really something I could pay attention to for two hours so I ended up leaving as soon as they took a break.

Tomorrow I travel to Vienna, Austria.

I hope I can wash my clothes there because it's just about that time again.

By the way, you no good bums should comment more on my posts.


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The Beautiful Castle Neuschwanstein in Fussen, Germany

So I know I said earlier that I was going to skip Fussen because it was a bit of a travel from Munich...but between the time I posted that post and the day before I decided to go to Fussen, everyone, just about everyone, told me to go. So I did.


To sum up Fussen in one word: Breathtaking. I spent the entire day there and probably could have stayed longer if it weren't for the annoying two hour train ride home holding me back.

From Munich, the train to Fussen took two hours. Immediately, you could tell at the train station just how popular this destination was for tourist. The train was packed, absolutely packed. Some people had to even stand until seats opened up at other stops.

The farther we traveled away from Munich towards Fussen, the more happy I became about my decision to go to Fussen. Just looking out the window at all the smaller towns really gave you a better sense of what defines the German culture. It was also one of the rare occasions where the livestock actually looked happy, free to roam huge acres of land instead of being packed in tiny dirt pastures like they do in America.

Eventually, the train arrived in Fussen, a tiny town at the base of the famous castles. The town is nice I guess, but there really is not much to see. From Fussen, I then took a 10 minute bus to the castles. Unlike Fussen, the tiny town that houses the castles is actually a sight to behold. Excluding the obvious castles, the town is surrounded by a beautiful lake on one side and an amazing valley on the other. There, you can see two castles: the first one, the one right in town, is Hohenschwangau, King Ludwig's original home. It's yellow and nice, but in my opinion, incomparable to the second castle which is Neuschwanstein. To get to Neuschwanstein, you have many options of getting there, most of them being hikes. The hike is about 20-30 minutes and is very beautiful as you are surrounded by tons and tons of trees transitioning from green to orange. The air is very crisp and clean-smelling as well.



As you near the top, you begin to see the castle looming over you to the right. And once you are there, you can't help but stand amazed at how this huge castle was built on top of this mountain. From the top, you now have some options. Either you can enter the castle with a ticket that you purchased back in town, or continue hiking around the castle. Since I did not want to wait an hour in line for the ticket, I had no choice but to hike around the top.

You essentially have two options when hiking near Neuschwanstein: either hike down to the waterfall/river in the gorge, or hike up to Marienbrucke (Mary's bridge). I did both. Hiking down to the waterfall once again puts you deep in the forest setting where your ears are treated to the soothing sounds of a waterfall. While I was hiking down, it felt reminiscent of hiking in Yosemite. When you reach the waterfalls and river, you notice how turquoise the water is. Not blue, but turquoise. The water wasn't dirty, in fact, it was very clear. But it was turquoise. Which I suppose is fitting for such a fairytale-esque castle.



After resting a bit, I then hiked back up to the castle and then continued upwards towards the bridge. From the bridge, you have the perfect picture of Neuschwanstein. From the bridge onward, you then have the perfect picnic spot where you are treated to not only an amazing view of the castle but also of the entire valley, including the lake. To get there though, you have to have a sense of adventure and be willing to hike off path.



The last thing I did in Fussen was go down a luge track. It was quite fun. This post will be a million times better once I find a way to post picture again. Trust me on this. The pictures I took here, are ridiculous.
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Munich, Germany

My stay in Munich was definitely better than my night in Cologne. I think largely due to the fact that Munich had more things to see near the train station and my roommates were very friendly. In the beginning however, it was a bit tiring because the trip from Cologne to Munich took so long and I wasn't entirely sure where my hostel was located. But after a bit of walking and direction asking, I finally reached my hostel. That day, my backpack seemed suspiciously heavier than I remembered. But I reasoned that it was because I was really tired and hungry.


During the day, I visited the city center next to the train station as well as explored a beer garden. Since it was a weekend, the city center was actually quite lively. I sampled some few sweet baked breads, ate some pretzels, tried some sandwiches, and had some beer and sausages.




Later that night, my roommates, two guys, invited me out to go drinking with them. Of the two, one was from Mexico while the other was from Taiwan. In total, our group ended up being composed of about 12 people, all from different countries with some of them even in costume in light of Halloween being around the corner. One of them, an engineer, 30 years old, was also from the bay area. We ended up going to a karaoke bar where I sang two songs, one by Eminem and the other by The Killers.




The next day, I decided to go to Fussen, home of the super castles.
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Cologne, Germany

The next day, I arrived in Cologne, Germany. The city was not that exciting so I did not stay the two days like planned.

I think it was a combination of; the city looked boring, the hostel did not have a lot of people (although the hostel was quite nice), and I did not find anyone on Couchsurfing to show me around.

The highlight of my day in Cologne had to be finding that really nice family-run internet cafe.

The next day, I took the train directly to Munchen (Munich), bypassing Frankfurt because I could not find any cheap hostels or couches to stay on. The trip took 5 hours and was no bueno.




Edit: I totally forgot the things I did in Cologne. The city is actually not as boring as I made it out to be. The city does has a few things to see, but nothing you cant accomplish in a day. The most impressive sight I saw had to be the gothic cathedral Kölner Dom. As soon as you exit the train station you are greeted by it. I will post a picture of it later of course.


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Thoughts on Theft part 2

I don't know whether the northern european countries are more safer or whether its simply because I've realized that theft in Europe is not as bad as all the books and online message boards made it out to be but I almost never worry about my stuff getting stolen anymore. Just don't make it easy and you'll be fine.

On a related note, I definitely advise future travelers to get a money belt. It really does bring peace of mind when your hostel does not have a locker or when you're moving about the train during long trips.


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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Odors of Staying in Hostels

One thing you must come to accept or prepare yourself for as a traveler staying in hostels is the odor. I've been calling it the traveler's odor and all you can hope for is that it won't be too bad. It's the result of not being able to clean your clothes on a daily basis. The worst is when it's a really sour smell because then it really penetrates your senses.

For the most part, I have not yet developed that smell because I've been hand cleaning my stuff as well as using my host's washing machines pretty often. I've also been taking showers daily.


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Health Risks of Staying in Hostels

No matter how hard you try to keep yourself healthy, if you are staying in hostels, nothing will keep you healthy except for luck.

It's because you will run into sick people during the fall/winter season that will inevitably be placed in the same room as you. Worse is if they are placed directly next to you. You can stay out all day but at the end of the day you still need to spend about 8 hours at night with them in the room while they cough.

I was fine in Paris when I was surrounded by sick people and the girl above me was coughing her lungs out, but here in Amsterdam, I can finally feel myself getting sick.


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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Windmills of Koog-Zaandijk, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The last day in Amsterdam, I decided I wanted to go see some windmills. But being in the city, there were absolutely no windmills in sight. So I asked the front desk where I should go and they directed me towards a city outside of Amsterdam called Zaandam.

When I got on the train, I noticed a korean girl named Cho Rong sitting behind me so I started talking to her. After talking awhile, I learned that she was also planning on going to visit some windmills. Except, she was going to Koog-Zaandijk instead of Zaandam. So I decided to go with her. Because not only was Koog-Zaandijk just two stops after Zaandam, but also because she had a guidebook that said Koog-Zaanijk was a beautiful town that was the place to go if you wanted to see windmills. And lucky that I went with her too, because as we passed by Zaandam, you could see that there was no windmills whatsoever. So had I got off at Zaandam, I would have seen no windmills at all and would have probably ended up going home defeated.



The town itself was indeed very nice and it was a nice change of scenery from the cityscape. And the windmills were nice to look at as well. Although they did not blow my socks off, I was definitely glad I got to see another defining element of Holland. In the town, they had a few museums that I skipped because they did not look interesting at all but I did stop by the cheese shop where I bought some delicious smoked cheese and honey dijon mustard.




In all, I actually did not spend too much in Amsterdam. I think I spent the least in Amsterdam when compared to all the other european countries that I visited. In total, I may have spent less than 100 euros including the hostels.

The next morning, I headed to Koln, Germany.
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Biking in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In total, I stayed in Amsterdam three days. The first day in Amsterdam was definitely exciting. However after awhile, the excitement wears off and you get used to all the red light stuff and pot smell.

The hostel that I stayed at was a christian hostel called Shelter City right in the red light district. Originally, I imagined that the red light district was this isolated part of the town away from the general public but its actually centered right in the middle of it.



The second day I met up with another Couchsurfing member named Alex at nieumarkt and we rented some bikes and biked all over the city. We visited the famous Vondelpark and then finished our ride at the Anne Frank house. It was pretty interesting to see how the family survived for so long as well as how they hid themselves.



After the Anne Frank house, we stopped by the Pancake factory, the oldest pancake establishment (supposidly), and had amazing pancakes.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Budget Book-keeping

For every transaction that I have made from the bank, I have recorded in my books. I would like to check my accounts online to be absolutely sure but I'm a bit wary of logging onto hostel computers in fear that my account will get hacked. But, from what I have recorded, it seems to me that I have been traveling for a month using only about a thousand dollars which includes everything from hostels, food, entertainment to other sights.

If this is true, does this mean I can actually afford to go into museums or other tourist attractions? Maybe I am being too cheap haha.


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Stuck in Paris

The past few days I have been stuck in Paris because I could not get an earlier ticket out of the city without having to pay the full price. But today I will finally leave for Amsterdam. I leave in the afternoon and will get there tonight at 8pm, making the trip a 3 hour trip.

As of now, the plan is to head to Cologne, Germany after Amsterdam, then Frankfurt, then Prague, Czech Repub., and then finally back to Berlin, Germany. I don't think I will be going to Norway and Sweden as I originally planned, simply because the trip there by train looks like it would take a long time and I have been trying to minimize the amount of time I spend on train to 5 hours or less. In skipping those two countries, I can no visit the Czech republic. I am still on the fence on whether to visit Austria.

One sight I am a little dissapointed in not being able to go to is the Bavaria region in Germany. There, there exists this amazing castle, Neuschwanstein, that everyone on my trip has been telling me about. It was built by the Mad kind Ludwig and although never finished, to this day, remains impressive. Here is a picture from google.




By the way, Paris, France, is incredibly beautiful when it rains.
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brussels, Belgium



In the end, I decided not to visit Bussels or Bruge in Belgium. After staying about 5 days in Ghents, Belgium, and having tasted a variety of beers, the waffles, and the fries, I felt there was nothing I would really miss if I skipped the other two town.

However, instead of heading straight to Amsterdam, Netherlands, like planned, I had to head back into Paris, France. On the way back, I had to stop in Brussels, Belgium. My only impression of Brussels; you have to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms.

The reason why I had to go back to Paris was because my phone was running really low on credits and I could not top off my pay-as-you-go phone in Belgium or any other future countries I was planning on visiting. So I decided to go back to Paris, France, the last country that supported my phone's carrier. Unfortunately, today I discovered that not even in Paris could I top off my Orange prepaid phone. The only place you can top off your phone is in the country you bought the sim card. Lame. So I had to buy a new sim card which essentially made my trip pointless.

Well, the trip back to Paris was not completely useless, I did get to see a friend.
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Ghents, Belgium part 3

My last few days in Ghents I stayed with another host, Fenna. I met her through an emergency couch request forum on CS. She was one of the few who offered to host me last minute. The night before, I also met with another local Sandra, also from CS.

Together, we walked around Kronmarkt, visited a museum that not only collected period pieces but also some modern art, ate breakfast at Makobon (oldest cafe in Belgium?), and met up with a friend of hers for some afternoon beer.







I would like to write more about my last few days in Belgium but it's too far into the future now to remember all the details I wanted to share. Which is a darn shame.

I also ended up buying a thermal since it was just too cold in Belgium.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Mentioning People

For those of you who wonder why I blog about some people and not about others; it was something that I did to help me remember all the people on my journey.

But after awhile, I realized that some people, you just will never forget so I didn't feel the need to include them in my posts. I mention this because I have been keeping in touch with some of you by email so I know you read my blog. I just didn't want anyone to get offended.


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Hostel Reviews

One thing I have been checking out of curiousity has been the user reviews of the hostels that I stay in.

In particular, I check out the lowest score reviews to see if I agree with them so that I know how much confidence to put in future reviews for hostels I have yet to stay at. For the most part, more often than not, I find myself disagreeing with them.

I feel as if the people who give the lowest score reviews are typically people who expected hotel quality luxuries and treatment without stopping to think about how much they paid for the room. Some people want everything for nothing.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts as a Tourist in Europe

I feel that as tourist, when a place says not to take pictures, we should, well, not take pictures.

We are guests in another country and some of us can't even follow that simple rule. I find it very selfish indeed.


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Ghents, Belgium part 2

This morning, Didier went out and got us breakfast. Breakfast consisted of sweet croissants with either  frosting and almonds on top or chocolate bits inside. It was quite delicious. After breakfast however, Didier had to work so I took the tram system and headed into the more touristy part of town, Korenmarkt.


The one thing you immediately notice about Belgium is that it is much, much colder than southern Europe.

At Korenmarkt, there are quite a lot of churches and castles. One of the most impressive was Belfort (Belfrey). Inside was incredibly beautiful and just how high the ceiling was was inspiring. I could not take any photos however since they did not allow it.


For lunch, I had tomato soup and a delicious sandwich with some sort of potato salad-like filling, but instead of potatoes, used chicken.


I will update later tonight the rest of our day.
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Dogs in Paris, France

Here are some pictures of some dogs in Paris, France. They say the French are quite lazy when it comes to working. I wonder if any of that mindset has gotten to their pets as well.



This dog I saw after my picnic. Half dog, half bear.

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