DJ Visits – Graz, Austria (Part 3)

Dj and I had planned to visit Italy together – Venice, Florence and Rome. However, due to time constraints, we had to cut out one city, and we chose to cut Florence from our itinerary. Of course, I regret, especially after reading Dan Brown’s Inferno. But first, Dj visited me in Graz for a couple of days. I was proud to show off the little place I called home!

I picked Dj up at Graz Hauptbahnhof, and we went out for a quick walk around town before we had dinner with my friends. Home-cooked dinners with my friends is the one thing I think I miss most about being in Graz.

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The Murinsel

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Grazer Kunsthaus

We bought groceries and headed home to cook. I was going to make paella, but I couldn’t get a lot of the ingredients. So I settled on Mexican rice, or rather, my version of Mexican rice that I cooked up with completely no recipe. It was pretty good though, if I do say so myself.

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Mexican rice

Tim and Patrick showed off their baking skills with homemade Apfelstrudel!

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Apfelstrudel (apple strudel)

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Us, Asians, at dinner (including Alex)

Next morning, we headed out early to explore Graz. I had been saving some places to visit for when Dj visited, so it was a new experience for me too.

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Love locks on Mursteg

That very night was the opening of the Christkindlmarkt at Hauptplatz. The enormous Weihnachtsbaum was already up for quite some time, and I was anxiously anticipating my first official Christkindlmarkt!

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The huge Christmas tree at Hauptplatz

Little wooden stalls were already open in the day, selling all sorts of food, drinks, ornaments, souvenirs and other handmade items. Everything just looked really pretty. It was a pity that the weather was so terrible that day.

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Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) at Hauptplatz

Walking down Herrengasse, we decided to stop for a slice of Sachertorte at Café Sacher. Although Dj had been to Vienna, he didn’t get to try it. And although I am not the biggest fan of it, I would still recommend it, just for the sake of it being Viennese. HAH. Anyway, the slice we got this time was much more moist than the one I had with my mum when I just arrived. Strange.

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Happy girl with her Sachertorte

I’d visited the Landeszeughaus twice before this – once with my mum and another time with my Global Business Programme class. The Landeszeughaus (or the Styrian Armoury), and is home to the world’s largest collection (32,000 pieces) of historic weapons and armour. Somehow, I’m extremely intrigued by all these medieval weapons and armour. The guided tour is free and the tour guides that I got on my visits were all excellent.

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The armour and suits carried and worn by the army back in the days were big, bulky and heavy. Also, the men were prone to heat strokes because the suits would absorb so much heat. Almost every suit we saw was unique, as the suits on display were tailor made for each person. Apparently, the larger the tummy area, the more wealthy and high ranking that guy probably was!

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Some of the masks also had engravings such as moustaches and smiles. These were meant to scare the enemy as they met their doom. I find them cute though.

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There was also armour for the horses. This was meant for jousting. It was the grandest piece on display. Very intimidating.

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After the armoury, we headed back towards Lendplatz for lunch. Dj loves mushroom soup and I had to let him try the best.

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Mushroom & polenta soup

This time, they used different mushrooms, but it was still as yummy. And in the chilly weather, it was just perfect!

After a late afternoon nap, we headed out again in the evening to catch the Christmas lights around town, and also to climb the Schloßberg to get a night view of the city. It would be my first time being up there at night.

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Christmas lights

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The Uhrturm

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There’s something really nice about being in a city that isn’t bustling with with tourists. You can be at such beautiful places and not feel claustrophobic.

It was off to dinner with Clement and our buddies, before we all headed to the Christkindlmarkt for the first time! We went for supposedly the best burgers in town at B.EAT.

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Burger with Cajun fries – Indeed, delicious

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Clement and his chicken wings (and beer)

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We met many schoolmates there at the Christmas market at Hauptplatz. The heavy drizzle did nothing to faze us.

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We had Glühwein (mulled wine) and also some Punsch (punch) which had these amazing hot, bursting berries mulled along with spices. The alcohol really made me feel warm despite the cold weather and drizzle. After some drinks and mingling, we went back home for some good night’s sleep.

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Rathaus

The next morning, I brought Dj to my favourite café – Tribeka, for the best chai latte.

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We walked towards the biggest farmers’ market in Graz at Kaiser Josef Platz. We stopped by my favourite bakery – Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax on the way to have my all-time favourite pastry, Topfentaschen and also a fruit tart for the boy.

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Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax

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Fruit tart

God only knows why I don’t have a single decent photo of Topfentaschen. Sigh. I had to screenshot this from my Instagram account.

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Topfentaschen

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Mausoleum

In the vicinity of the farmers’ market is the Graz Opera. Some of my friends managed to get cheap tickets for the opera, but I didn’t go because I was out of town then. A pity, watching an opera still unchecked from my bucket list.

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Grazer Oper

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Farmers’ market at Kaiser Josef Platz

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Evangelische Heilandskirche (Lutheran Church of the Redeemer)

This farmers’ market is about three to four times the size as the one at Lendplatz. Fresh produce, breads, cakes, condiments, you name it, they got it. Also, as it was the Christmas season, they were selling Christmas cookies, ornaments and trees.

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From the farmers’ market, we walked to the church that I saw in the distance from the top of Schloßberg. The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the largest church in Graz, and also the tallest building in Graz (I think).

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Herz-Jesu-Kirche (Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)

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Inside Herz-Jesu-Kirche

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A question to ponder

On the way home, we entered the Graz Cathedral (Dompfarre Graz). Emperor Frederick III built the church with his new residence in Graz. He was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1452 to 1493.

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The beautiful altar and pulpit

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That marked in the end of Dj’s short visit to Graz. I only wished the weather was better. It would’ve made things much more enjoyable. Off we go… to Venezia!

Die Buschenshank – Graz, Austria (Part 2)

A big part of Styrian tradition is the Buschenshank. A buschenshank is a wine tavern where only food (cold) which is produced by themselves is allowed to be served. This includes wine, bread, cheese and cured meat. I learnt about the buschenshank in my Austrian culture class, and I really wanted to visit one. Fortunately, my buddy arranged for us to experience this wonderful tradition, and I enjoyed every second of it.

On the outskirts of Graz is the Buschenshank Sattler. When we got off the bus, I was delighted to see how beautiful and serene the Graz countryside is. There were cows roaming on the field just outside the buschenshank.

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It was all Stürm season. Stürm was my welcome drink from my room mate. Stürm actually means storm auf Deutsch (surprise surprise). It is a young wine, and the alcohol percentage is about 4% typically. It is sweet like grape juice as the sugars have yet to be broken down by fermentation. Honestly, it tastes like dessert wine, but a little more carbonated. It is, by far, my favourite alcohol. But beware. Many have been known to be drunk fast because you might forget that it is actually alcohol you’re drinking! I miss Stürm!

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Buschenschank Sattler

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White wine, water and Stürm

What they typically serve at the buschenschank is something called the Brettljause – a variety of cold cuts, cheeses and garnishes served on a wooden platter.

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Die Brettljause

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We also got some bread (Brot) to accompany the meat and cheeses, and also the various spreads that was served. I can’t say I’m too found of some of the spreads, especially the white one in the middle – it’s pure fat. But overall, it was a delicious meal with great company!

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Gebackene Mäuse

Finally, for dessert, we had Gebackene Mäuse which translates to “baked mice”. I don’t know why it’s called “baked mice” and not fried mice. It is a deep fried yeasted fritter, like the zeppole, or beignets. Anyway, they are delicious!

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The Taiwanese guys, Alex, Clement, me, Julie and her friends

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Clement and Julie

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We left as the sun was about to go down, and it was one of the most beautiful days I had in Graz. Thank you, Julie, for sharing this experience with us! I hope we get another chance to go to a buschenschank again someday! <3

Graz, Austria (Part 1)

Rewind to when I first arrived in Graz.

My buddy, Kathi, picked me up at Graz Hauptbahnhof. I had three massive suitcases to get off the train all by myself. Worse still, I had fallen asleep after crying my eyes out (saying goodbye to my boyfriend), and had less than a minute to get everything down. Kathi brought me to my hostel, which was just a few stops by bus from the station, and got me settled in. When I got there, I was alone at home for a while, before my room mates from Moldova came home. I went to the supermarket after putting the sheets on the bed and unpacking my clothes to get groceries and toiletries for myself. The apartment I lived in was really great. Though it cost €350 per month (Austria is expensive), bed linen is provided, it is inclusive of cleaning once a week, there is a fully-equipped kitchen, a toilet (male and female separate) and a bathroom (shared) and a laundry room in the building as well. I initially opted for the hostel just beside my school, Greenbox, as it was the cheapest and most convenient. However, it was no longer available because I was procrastinating as I looked for a private apartment somewhere else. The only place left with vacancies was Neubaugasse, where they had reserved some space for those who got the Ernst Mach Grant. And yes, I got the Ernst Mach Grant. This grant really saved me a lot of money in Graz.

The next day, my mum arrived in Graz. She was afraid that I’d go hungry there, and was worried about me settling in. But when she got there, she stopped worrying, because Graz is awesome.

Graz is the second largest city in Austria after Vienna, and is the capital of the federal state of Styria. It is also a World Cultural Heritage Site, and was named the Culture Capital of Europe in 2003. The city has long been known for its student population, with over 44,000 students in its 6 universities – this out of a population of 303,731.

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Volksgarten

Beside my apartment building is a square, Lendplatz. Every morning, a farmers’ market opens there. I was in heaven. Really cheap, fresh, organic produce just a stone’s throw away.

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Farmers’ market at Lendplatz

My mum got a bag of plums and asked for the price. She was shocked to hear it was only €2.

After perusing the farmers’ market, we went for brunch at a restaurant just across the road.

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1/2 fried spring chicken in a crust of pumpkin seeds, served in a basket

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Gardener’s salad with sliced grilled turkey, and Styrian pumpkin oil

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Goulaschsuppe

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Bread (Brot)

This is how I got fat in Graz. The bread there is so cheap and so yummy. The one at the bottom left is called Kaisersemmel, better known as Kaiser rolls. I would be eating lots of Kaisersemmel in the months to come.

At brunch, we also noticed that there are hell lot of bees in Graz, but they aren’t aggressive (towards us). In fact, the birds are more aggressive. Throughout brunch, these tiny little birds kept watching us, and waited for us to stop touching our food before they actually tore up pieces of our fried chicken and flew away.

My mum and I walked around town for quite some time. We crossed over from the “bad” side, to the “good” side, across the River Mur.

By the river, on the “bad” side, is this odd-looking building. It is actually a museum – Grazer Kunsthaus. It is affectionately known as the “Friendly Alien”.

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Grazer Kunsthaus

It took me a couple of months until I would actually step foot into the Kunsthaus. I honestly think it’s ugly but adorable. So yes, it’s cute.

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The River Mur and the Murinsel

The Murinsel is a “floating café” on the River Mur, which is held by an anchor and stabilised by the bridges that link the two sides of the city. It is also a spectacle at night, when the Murinsel is up in lights against the dark waters.

Crossing the river, I caught sight of the landmark of Graz – the Uhrturm (Clock Tower) on Schloßberg (Castle Hill). No where in Graz is there a better view of the city as on the top of Schloßberg. Mummy and I didn’t go up, because she didn’t want to climb up the stairs with me. It took me about a month in Graz before I would see the Uhrturm up close.

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Schloßberg and the Uhrturm, sitting pretty

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Another way to get to the top of the Schloßberg is to take the glass cabin lift (Adults: €1.10, Students : €0.60). The lift is built into the very hill. I never took the lift though – I love the challenge of climbing. Another alternative is to the Schloßbergbahn, a funicular. Once again, never took it, though it was free with my student transport pass that I got.

Just beyond the Schloßberg was the main street – Herrengasse. This is where you get almost everything you would need – clothes, electronics, groceries, restaurants etc. It was one of the things I really enjoyed during my time in Graz, walking down Herrengasse, especially during the Christmas season when the streets were decorated and the main square, Hauptplatz, had the biggest Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) I’ve ever seen, and when the Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt) was up!

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Herrengasse

The cables that go across are for the trams. They are ubiquitous around many countries in Europe. I love trams!

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Rathaus (City Hall)

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Stadtpfarrkirche

After some walking, we decided to stop by the Café Sacher along Herrengasse to grab a slice of the famous Sachertorte. This was my first time trying it, and I was so excited. The Sachertorte is kind of the national cake of Austria, and originates from Vienna, the capital. It is a chocolate layer cake with apricot jam and chocolate icing. The original Sachertorte is said to be from Café Sacher, but there was a legal dispute over the use of label “The Original” between the café and Demel Bakery, where Eduard Sacher (son of the inventor, Franz Sacher) perfected the current recipe. Well, now we know who won that battle.

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Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel

Mummy and I ordered a slice of Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), which is also a Viennese specialty. I was a little underwhelmed by the Sachertorte. The cake itself was a little dry. Overall, the taste was ok, but I felt like it didn’t live up to the hype. It was just another chocolate cake. We also felt that we could bake a better one anytime. The apple strudel, too, was a little disappointing. The apple was too tart. But I did like the pastry; I prefer it to the Ritz apple strudel pastry we get here in Singapore.

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Mummy decided to get something really sinful for me – coffee with whipped cream and chocolate liqueur, while she got a raspberry fizz for herself. This was probably the best thing we had there at the café. Coffee in Austria is excellent.

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 Luegg Haus – spot the faces

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Mausoleum

One of the most striking buildings in Graz is the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II – a Habsburg tomb. I really love the beautiful turquoise domes and the statues that stand on top.

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A quick coffee break

In Austria, there are a thousand ways to order coffee. If you ask for ice coffee, this is what you get. My mum and I were shocked. But it was fantastic. Coffee with whipped cream and ice cream. How can I complain?

For dinner, we headed back towards Lendplatz. Mummy was staying at Mercure, a hotel just in front of my hostel. We decided to try out Gasthaus Lendplatzl. We had a delightful waiter attend to us, a young man who was working there part time to earn money for his law studies. We asked for recommendations for something spicy, and he said the turkey stew was a good choice.

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Spicy turkey stew served with vegetable sauce and rice

I think their idea of spicy is paprika. It was not spicy, but it was sooooooo delicious!

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Mushroom and polenta soup

I ordered the mushroom and polenta soup for myself. This was, by far, the best mushroom soup I ever had in my entire life. It was creamy, chock full of mushrooms, including expensive chanterelles, and the polenta was perfectly cooked and uhhhhmazing. I still crave for this from time to time!

We retired early to get some work done, and also for me to start transferring stuff from my Macbook Pro to my new Macbook Air that Mummy had brought over. My Macbook Pro started giving me problems since I got to Poland the first time. I was so worried that I couldn’t get the important things backed up before the laptop crashed for good.

The next morning (Sunday), my mum and I went out for breakfast. We walked everywhere, but everything was closed! Typical.

We walked into the first café we saw that was open, which happened to be a Martin Auer. They sell amazing bread and pastries there. I used to go there pretty often just to get the local pastries!

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Poppy seed crown

This was the first time having poppy seed and it was surprisingly good!

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Nusskrone (Nut crown), sandwiches, mini Kugelhopf, honey-cinnamon swirl bun

The Nusskrone became my second favourite pastry in Graz, the first being Topfentaschen (quark cheese purses). The cinnamon mixture with walnuts is divine.

Since everything was closed, Mummy and I just headed to the supermarket to buy some groceries for me before she left. I was in supermarket-heaven when I entered the Spar, which is probably the best supermarket chain there. We bought a ton of stuff for me to stock up the fridge with. I was so happy because a lot of the things that are expensive in Singapore is really affordable there! Shocking, but true.

The last thing my mum and I really did together while she was there for just three days was have dinner at Gasthaus Lendplatzl again. We really enjoyed the food there, and so, we decided to go back there again for dinner. I had goulash again, but the highlight of the meal was the wonderful dessert that we ordered.

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It was a pancake filled with crushed pumpkin seeds, and served with a caramel sauce and sweetened whipped cream. Both of us were really impressed by this. We thought about recreating this, but as of this moment, we have not!

The next morning, I had to attend my first day of orientation at FH, and my mum was also due to leave Graz. It was a pity she was only in Graz for such a short amount of time. She really loved the cool weather there; I would be wearing a sweater and she would be feeling completely alright with just one thin layer on. I hope we get to go back someday. I know I would love to.






Budapest, Hungary

So it turns out my next trip to Budapest was a reunion with Dj and the guys from Warsaw. I had heard so many good reviews of Budapest from my friends, and I was really excited to be visiting. I took a train early morning from Graz Hauptbahnhof to Budapest Keleti station, one of the few times I didn’t have to pass through Vienna to get a connection.

I met Dj at the station and he brought me to the hostel – Adagio Hostel 2.0 Basilica. We stayed at the one close to St. Stephen’s Basilica. It was one of the cheapest hostels we stayed at, but Budapest is relatively affordable anyway, compared to many other European countries.

We went for lunch right away. And I had to try some authentic Hungarian Goulash.

Unlike the Austrian version of goulash – gulaschsuppe, which is much thicker and more like a stew, the traditional Hungarian gulyás is a tomato-based soup, with chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots and paprika/peppers. I didn’t instantly fall in love with it, but after a couple of days eating this, I started to prefer the Hungarian version over the Austrian one. It is much lighter and less cloying. Also, it has vegetables in it!

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Hungarian goulash (gulyás) 

After lunch, we walked along the Danube river, which divides the Buda and Pest sides of the city.

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Buda Castle on Castle Hill

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Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd)

We crossed the famous suspension bridge, Széchenyi Chain Bridge over from Pest to Buda. Soon it was nightfall and we managed to catch – possibly the most beautiful building in Budapest (maybe the whole of Europe, in my opinion) – the Hungarian Parliament Building. It is amazing at night when fully lit. Definitely the grandest building I’ve seen in Europe. I can’t imagine how much it must have cost to build it.

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The Hungarian Parliament Building

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Széchenyi Chain Bridge by night

The next morning, we headed to St. Stephen’s Basilicawhich is the largest church and tallest building in Budapest, dedicated to the first king of Hungary.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

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Inside St. Stephen’s Basilica

It is definitely one of the most golden churches I’ve laid eyes on, other than the ones in Rome. As we were early, there were not many visitors around. Unfortunately, we didn’t go up to the dome to get a 360 degree view of the city. I kinda regret it now. Please don’t save money on things like this while you on exchange. It really doesn’t cost much and you may never return, so just pay for the damn thing!

We were off for the tour of the Hungarian Parliament Building.

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Our matching Timberland boots – authentic (mine) vs. fake

We managed to walked there with Dj’s excellent navigational skills.

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The Hungarian Parliament Building by day

I have to say that the building does look a lot less impressive in the day and up close compared to the last time we saw it at night. Nevertheless, still a stunning piece of architecture!

We went for the English guided tour, which I felt was way too short for the amount we paid. But the interior was really stunning – gold and red carpets throughout. We also managed to catch the Changing of the Guards of the Hungarian crown jewels (no pictures allowed).

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The lavish interior

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Chamber of the Lower House of the National Assembly of Hungary

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After the tour ended, we went for lunch. I can’t remember what the name of the restaurant was, but it was pretty nice inside, and better still, they had awesome goulash, with warm bread as a lid. OMFG.

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Always have goulash

After having our fill, it was off once again to the Buda side of the city to see the Fisherman’s Bastion.

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Buda Castle

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Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom)

Matthias Church is a Roman Catholic church and is over 700 years old. It stands beside the Fisherman’s Bastion; both of which overlook the Danube and are in the Castle District. I think its tiles are so beautiful and colourful. We didn’t enter because there was an entrance fee. I’m not a big fan of churches which charge for entry.

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Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya)

The Fisherman’s Bastion isn’t as old as I thought – it was built between 1895 and 1902. I really love neo-Gothic style architecture. The Fisherman’s Bastion reminded me a little of the Sacré-Cœur. The view of Pest and the Danube from the Fisherman’s Bastion is amazing.


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We walked to Buda Castle (Budavári Palota) from the Fisherman’s Bastion.

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Buda Castle (or Royal Palace)

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Courtyard of the Buda Castle

Buda Castle is also home to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest Historical Museum. If you are at Buda Castle on the hour, you can also catch the Changing of the Guards.

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Changing of the Guards at Buda Castle

We grabbed a quick meal at a small café before we headed back to the Fisherman’s Bastion to catch the night view of the city.

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Hungarian Parliament Building

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Mattthias Church & the Fisherman’s Bastion

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View of Pest, the Danube and Széchenyi Chain Bridge

That was it for the day. We headed back to our hostel. On the way back, we passed by a small market, and guess what I spotted?! Trdelník! Or rather, they call them kürtőskalács here in Hungary. Which is better? I can’t choose. But honestly, the best thing ever! I ordered the original right away. Calories can be burnt, but kürtőskalács cannot wait.

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A must-try – Kürtőskalács

The next morning, we walked to the Dohány Street Synagogue.

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Moorish and Byzantine style architecture of the Dohány Street Synagogue. Reminiscent of the Pena National Palace.

As usual, Dj is always hungry, and he was craving for this apparently amazing spicy catfish soup that the guys had introduced him to the night before. I sat and watched him eat (and took a couple of mouthfuls too). It was pretty good, I must admit. I missed spice!

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Spicy catfish soup

Our final agenda was to walk along the Liberty Bridge.

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Liberty Bridge

I think the Liberty Bridge is the more beautiful bridge, but I think many people would disagree with me :(

Budapest definitely ranks as one of my favourite trips. The city feels safe, is clean, affordable and is architecturally stunning (and it has an abundance of kürtőskalács). Before leaving Budapest, I bought a bag full of kürtőskalács to bring back with me to Graz. But I kinda finished it in the train ride back. Damn.

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My final Kürtőskalács

Szia, Budapest!

Prague, Czech Republic

Our next stop was to Prague, which is the capital of the Czech Republic. It was a not-too-long train ride from Vienna to Prague, and we arrived in the night. Thank goodness Miss Gwee is a good navigator. Would’ve sucked to be lost in a new city in the middle of the night!

We checked into our hostel, and that was basically it for the day. It was a mixed room of 5 to 6 pax, and there were already 2 people there when we arrived. But I shall save the interesting story for later.

The first morning, we visited the Náplavka farmers’ market that pops up on Saturdays along the Vltava river.

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The market sells everything from fresh produce, to freshly baked bread, cakes, warm food, drinks, cutlery and wooden furniture. I am a sucker for farmers’ markets. I love visiting them in every city.

I found a small stall selling these delectable Czech buns called Kolach. I bought a raspberry cheesecake-flavoured one, as well as a Buchty which was filled with plum jam.

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Berry cheesecake kolach

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Plum jam buchty

They were both so delicious. As I’ve declared on numerous occasions, my weakness in life is bread. I love both soft, fluffy yeasted bread, and I also love those dense ones too. I quickly devoured them.

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Prague was really cold when we visited. It may not look cold, but trust me, it was cold! One of the nights it started raining and we found ourselves hiding indoors in shopping centres and stores just to get some warmth.

After the farmers’ market, we were curious as to what was on top of a hill we could see in the distance. So we walked up and found a church – an awfully creepy one – and a cemetery just beside. I didn’t want to linger for long, as the place didn’t give me a good feeling, but we managed to get a good view of the river and its surroundings.

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We decided to walk back towards Charles’ Bridge.

We came across the very famous Dancing House (Tančící dům), which is situated not too far away from the farmers’ market, and just beside the river. Apparently, the building looks like two people dancing, hence its name, and also its nickname – “Fred and Ginger”, named after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Anyway, I think the building is an eyesore among the other Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau style buildings around it.

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Dancing House (Tančící dům)

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The State Opera (Státní Opera)

It was a fair bit of walking before we reached Charles’ Bridge.

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View of Prague Castle and Charles’ Bridge

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The Gothic-style Old Town Bridge Tower

Charles’ Bridge is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Prague. Construction on the bridge started in 1357 – yes, a long, long time ago. But what makes this bridge special, I believe, are the 30 beautiful statues that sit on either side of the bridge.

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Charles’ Bridge is like Orchard Road on a Sunday – crowded. I couldn’t take many pictures without someone’s head popping up from the bottom of my lens. Along the bridge are also many street artists selling paintings, caricatures, handmade jewellery and the likes.

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We crossed Charles’ Bridge to the Little Quarter, or Malá Strana. This side was once known as the “New Town beneath the Prague Castle”, as the Prague Castle sits on the hill on this side of town.

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The bridge tower on the Malá Strana end of Charles’ Bridge

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Church of Saint Nicholas

We were headed to Prague Castle, but I got distracted by possibly, the most delicious thing I have ever eaten – the Trdelník. It is a pastry that originated from Transylvania; a dough wrapped around a stick, grilled, and then rolled with cinnamon sugar and other kinds of coatings.

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Da bomb Trdelník

I never again had another Trdelník as delicious as this one. It was crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and with just the right amount of cinnamon sugar. I had so much fun pulling the Trdelník apart!

Finally, we climbed the hill to Prague Castle, and it was the beginning of sunset. The entire view of Prague was bathed in a golden glow. So beautiful with the red roofs!

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We managed to catch a few moments of the Changing of the Guard too.

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St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral is located within Prague Castle, and is the most important church in all of the country. It contains the tombs of many Holy Roman Emperors and Bohemian kings. Just like the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the east end of St. Vitus is of a similar Gothic-style architecture, and looks like a spider (at least to me it does).

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As the sun set, we walked back down towards the Old Town side, this time not along Charles’ Bridge. Of course, in the past, this would not have been possible as Charles’ Bridge was the only means of moving between the sides.

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The sky was really pretty – pink, purple and blue hues.

When we arrived back in the Old Town, there were some night markets (or maybe they were Christmas markets) open which sold food and mulled wine, or what we call Gluhwein back in Austria.

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More trdelník

We continued walking around before heading for dinner at a Korean restaurant near our hostel, which we also revisited the day after for dinner, simply because the food was so awesome, and really authentic.

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Church of Our Lady Before Týn at Prague Old Town Square

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In the morning, we woke up pretty early to go to the Prague Astronomical Clock (Prague orloj). The clock dates back to 1410, and is the oldest one still working in the world.

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Prague Astronomical Clock (Prague orloj)

The clock shows three different times and the position of the moon, sun and stars. Don’t ask me how to read the time off this clock. It’s complicated. Every hour, the 12 Apostles pass by the window above the astronomical dial. This makes it a popular tourist attraction, as people flock to see the little show.

We bought our tickets to go up and we were rewarded with a stunning view of Prague Old Town. The Church of Our Lady Before Týn dominates the view on one side of the observation deck.

If the church looks familiar, that’s because it rumoured that Walt Disney got his inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle, but I would argue that the resemblance to Neuschwanstein (in Bavaria) is more uncanny.

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When we got down, I ran into some of my exchange friends, who also happened to be Prague at the same time. I knew they were doing a trip together, as I was asked along, but I had decided to visit Prague with Cindy before they asked. Definitely not much of a coincidence, as it was on the hour, and many tourists gather there to see the Astronomical Clock anyway.

We tagged along with the free walking tour that my friends were on. I would say that it was another free walking tour worth going for. The tour was by Sandemans again (if I recall). The tour lasted 3 hours with a break between for lunch.

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Our guide with the red umbrella

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Powder Tower (Prašná brána)

The Powder Tower is one of the original thirteen city gates in Prague, and was not intended to be used as a defensive gate. However, it was later used to store gunpowder, hence the name Powder Tower.

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Wenceslas Square

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Funny story about the Hugo Boss – Boss used to design the Nazi uniform. Our tour guide says its funny how the country removed all Nazi statues etc., but decided to keep Hugo Boss on the most expensive street in Prague.

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Old New Synagogue

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The Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, the Old Jewish Quarter

The Old Jewish Cemetery is really crowded with tombstones. Not just a layer, but layers upon layers of tombstones piled on top of one another as more space could not be bought. It is said that there are twelve layers of graves in the cemetery, with 12,000 tombstones visible, but with over 100,000 graves in total.

After the tour, we decided to head back to our hostel and have our dinner. We had Korean food again, and I was craving for some kimbap and hot soup.

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Later that night was one of the worst experiences I had in Europe. As we were sleeping, we were rudely awakened by our room mates (males), who got back late in the night after some partying or something. They were talking at the door with other people in some other language, possibly Turkish or some Middle Eastern language. As they shut the door and one of the guys walked past my bed to his, I closed my eyes again, happy to fall back asleep. A few seconds later, someone was on my bed! He asked for my name and whether he could sleep with me. Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen! He tried to hold me down after I said no, but I pushed him and I shouted at Cindy to wake up because this mother fucker was trying to sleep with me. Let’s just say he was sorry when I threatened to report him. So anyhow, we left our room and went to the reception to complain. The receptionist was probably shocked; he said it was his first time encountering such a problem. He couldn’t offer us another room for the night as the hostel was full, so he let us bunk on the sofa next to the reception desk. He also went to talk to the perv and tried to get some sense into him. It seemed like he was high on something, but he assured the receptionist that he wouldn’t try anything again. Yeah… Ok. Cindy and I did go back in later in the night though. But we both slept together in the top deck, ready to fight off anyone who would try anything funny with us. The guy was fast asleep and snoring. Funny how the other people in the room just slept through the whole thing.

Early in the morning, we quietly packed up and left. I definitely wouldn’t recommend the hostel, Old Prague Hostel; not because of the whole ordeal, but because throughout the nights we spent there, there was always loud, thumping music playing into the wee hours. Maybe there’s a club next door, or down the street, but it annoyed the hell out of me because I am a light sleeper.

That was the end of our little trip, and I had to bid farewell to Cindy again. (Insert sad face). I had no plans yet as to where my next destination would be.

Prague is definitely one of my a favourite places in Europe. I would definitely recommend making a trip here. I really enjoyed hearing all about the history of the city, and I’m pretty sure you’d enjoy it too.

Back to Graz!

Vienna, Austria

I waited for until I could finally meet with Cindy to visit Vienna. Ivy had hinted that she wanted us to visit Vienna together, and as best friends, we very willingly went along with it.

Vienna, or Wien, is the capital of Austria. The city has a rich history as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and is, till today, one of the richest cities in the whole of Europe. Known as the City of Music, famous for its operas, palaces, Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte, I quickly found out that there was more to Vienna than just that.

I arrived in the night, and was jumped on from behind by Miss Gwee. We were both crying and laughing hysterically, totally elated to finally reunite after over 2 months or so. You must understand that we are “neighbours”, and live just a few minutes away from each other. We also used to see each other so often. Naturally, I missed her so. I’m sure she missed me too.

The next morning, we did what we do best – walk.

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St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche)

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)

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Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)

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Imperial Palace (Hofburg)

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We decided to visit the Kaiserappartements where the Imperial Treasury (Kaiserliche Schatzkammer) and Sisi Museum can be found.

I really enjoyed looking through the thousands of  jewels and pieces of gold-adorned treasures such as plates, cutlery, candle holders and china. Just imagine, the excesses!

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Photos were not allowed in the Sisi Museum, but it was worth the visit as well. Empress Sisi is definitely one of the most interesting characters in the Habsburg Dynasty, and maybe even in history. Definitely read about her!

We bought some chocolates at the gift store at the end of the audio tour, and just chilled outside the Hofburg, people-watching.

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Hofburg

In true Cindy and Maddie fashion, we continued walking aimlessly randomly.

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Rathauspark

We crossed the park and lo and behold, another grand building!

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Parliament Building

The Parliament Building is located along Ringstraße, a famous boulevard in Vienna. Tripadvisor recommends taking the Ring Tram to explore Ringstraße – the Vienna State Opera, Imperial Palace, City Hall and other sights.

Just beside the Parliament is Vienna’s City Hall, or Rathaus. I would say that this is my favourite building in Vienna. It is beautiful, majestic even, in the night.

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Rathaus (City Hall)

We were in Vienna in November, before the Christmas season (Weihnachtszeit) began. They were in the process of setting up the world-famous Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt). I knew I had to return to Vienna again to visit the Christmas Market, and I did! But that’s for next time!

Tired and famished, we headed back to the area around Stephansplatz to look for some food. We came across a decent looking restaurant and decided to give it a shot. I ordered some beef goulash with spätzle – a very hearty and comforting meal for the chilly weather.

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Beef goulash with spätzle

The next morning, we decided to do the free walking tour which started at our hostel – Wombat’s City Hostel – The Naschmarkt. Wombat’s is a really good chain of hostels and it can be found in various countries around Europe. I would highly recommend Wombat’s. Always affordable, clean, spacious, safe, and the staff are always very friendly and sociable. Definitely value-for-money. Seeing Cindy and I cry and hug each other on the first day, the receptionist might have thought that we were lesbian partners reunited, but we got extra free drinks each for being so emotional.

Our first stop was to the Naschmarkt, which the hostel is named after. Naschmarkt translates to: a market for eating tidbits, and that’s exactly what they sold here – snacks, small eats, fresh produce, bread etc.

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Around Naschmarkt are many famous buildings designed by Otto Wagner, an Austrian architect and urban planner. Along the way, our tour guide showed us some of his pieces of art.

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We were also introduced to the world-famous Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper).

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Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)

We never did watch an opera, mainly because we simply had limited time in Vienna to do so. You are able to get cheap tickets before the shows, if you are willing to queue with other bargain hunters. I hear they go as cheap as 3 Euros for standing tickets. Well, maybe next time round!

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Our tour guide

Our tour guide was really good. Lots of insights into Viennese life, recommendations and stories. She brought us to many of the places that Cindy and I had already visited, but this time, we had commentary to better understand the history of the places.

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Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule)

I would highly recommend this free walking tour. This lady was a great guide!

The last thing we did was to stop by Café Sacher – a must-do for all tourists! I had already tried the Sachertorte, a famous Viennese chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam, back in Graz, where they also have a branch. But I had to try the ORIGINAL, and also, wanted Cindy to try it too. We ordered a slice of Sachertorte, Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) and coffee.

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Sachertorte

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Apfelstrudel 

Once again, I was slightly disappointed with the cake. Although a tad more moist than the one I had in Graz, I still found the Sachertorte very… unexceptional. The first thing that I told my mum when we had a slice was that we could certainly bake it better. However, for the sake of being all touristy and indulging in the history of Vienna, I’d still say go try it. The cake has an interesting story too. But order other things as well. The coffee there was superb.

We packed our stuff, and we were ready to leave for Prague. Vienna had been a relaxing trip for us both. The weather was fine, the city was safe and clean – as close to Singapore as you can get (in that sense), and the company – the best!

To Prague!

#smugrad2014

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 Thank you SMU, for all the wonderful memories – the friends I’ve made, the love I found, the things I’ve learnt in and out of the classroom; the opportunities to travel, to learn new sports, to inspire. These have been the greatest 4 years of my life, and I have zero regrets. But the road wasn’t always so smooth. I regretted the decision choosing SMU in my first and second year, asking the what-ifs if I had chosen NTU or NUS instead. However, things changed. I started to enjoy the classes and met people who made life in school so much more enjoyable. I can proudly say that I’ve made friends for life – BFFs, and of course, the love of my life. They encouraged me, they listened to my endless ranting about sleep deprivation, heavy workload and useless group mates for years, yet they always willingly offered a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. You know who you are. I thank God for you everyday.

Also, I would like to thank my mummy dearest for supporting me throughout my years of education. I hope you’re proud of what I’ve accomplished, and the woman I am today. I work hard so that one day, you can have the life that you really deserve. I know it wasn’t always easy – and maybe it still isn’t, being a single parent, having none of the household burdens shared with anyone. But you’ve done the best job. Look at where we are today. You never pushed me to study that hard. In fact, you were the one who told me not to kill myself over my exams, and that I should just go to sleep. You’ve said this since as far back as I can remember. Yet, I always studied into the wee hours, because I didn’t want you to waste your money sending me to school for nothing. Like you always say, “what is worth doing, is worth doing well”, and that has been a principle I’ve always believed in.

 Yesterday, 15 July 2014, marked the official end of my university education. And I’m proud to announce that I graduated with a Cum Laude (totally unexpected!). It really brings me great joy to celebrate with those I love, and to see the proud faces of my family, especially my grandpa who already demanded to see my official transcript. I know that he is extremely proud of me too, because I’m the first in my generation to graduate from university.

Once again, thank you to everyone who has helped me in this journey. In all honesty, some of us may grow apart over the years, but at this very moment, I just want to say that I appreciate everything that you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t have made it this far, and this well, without you.

 With love,

Maddie

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck is the capital of Tyrol. Known for its winter sports, this picturesque city is surrounded by the mountains. The name, Innsbruck, means “bridge over the Inn”, which is the river that runs across the city. Stepping out of the train station, my jaw just dropped. Everywhere I looked, I saw the mountains, and as I’ve mentioned, I really fell in love with mountains when I was in Austria.

I was to meet Dj and his friend Shannon, who decided to cut their Prague trip short to come to Innsbruck. I hope they didn’t regret their decision, since they only got to stay in Prague for a day, while we had 2 days in Innsbruck.

I tried Couchsurfing for the second time, after such a wonderful experience in Salzburg. Our host, Max, didn’t have a big place but he, and his girlfriend, warmly welcomed us to their home.

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Triumphpforte

On the way to Max’s place, we passed by the Triumphpforte, which was built in 1765 to mark the marriage of archduke Leopold and the spanish princess Maria Ludovica.

After settling in, the first thing we did was go straight for the mountains for a hike. Max brought us to Nordkette. We enjoyed a quiet hike. Max very kindly joined us though he said he hadn’t hiked in ages.

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Hungerburg Funicular

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Somehow all my photos turned out like paintings. I guess the beauty of the place is simply surreal.

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Group photo

 We didn’t make it to the top due to time constraints. I was a little disappointed, but the hike had been an enjoyable one with the most amazing views and the freshest air.

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On the way down

 We decided to walk around Innsbruck Altstadt (Old Town).

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The colourful houses along the river

It was a short walk and decided to head back to Max’s place, as his girlfriend had made us a meal – delicious homemade Mexican fare.

That night, Max brought us out to have drinks at one of their favourite haunts to watch some football. Needless to say, the guys had their fun.

The next day, we decided to give Max a little break, and headed out on our own to the Old Town again.

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IMG_1312Annasäule (Anna Column) along Maria-Theresien-Straße

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 The weather was much better the second day compared to the first, which allowed the colours of the houses to pop even more against the blue sky.

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I have to say that Innsbruck was probably the most chill trip I had throughout exchange. We made no plans at all before going, relying on Max’s recommendations and our own feet to take us places.

After lots of walking, we stopped for coffee and dessert.

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Kirschtorte – cherry cake/tart

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Apfelstrudel – apple strudel with vanilla bean custard

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Bienenstich Kuchen – bee sting cake

Unfortunately, I don’t have the name of the café anymore, but I think it is a prominent one along Maria-Theresien-Straße with outdoor seating. The desserts were excellent. They had the best Apfelstrudel I had in Austria, and the Bienenstich Kuchen – a German specialty, was my favourite of the lot. The crunchy almond top perfectly complemented the soft sponge cake and smooth cream in the middle. They definitely aren’t stingy with the cream. There was a thick layer of it. But no complaints here.

That night, we spent some time with Max and his friends at a bar, having drinks and chit chatting about our countries. I guess Singapore is infamous as a “fine city”.

On our very last day in Innsbruck, we woke up bright and early, packed and said goodbye to Max before heading to our final stop – Swarovski Kristallwelten (Swarovski Crystal Worlds). Before visiting Innsbruck, I hadn’t questioned the origins of the Swarovski brand. My friends highly recommended visiting the Crystal Worlds, and I would recommend it too!

Unfortunately, we had terrible weather that morning. It was wet and gloomy, and we had to rush for the bus at the Hauptbahnhof that would take us to Swarovski Kristallwelten.

When we arrived, it was raining even heavier, so I couldn’t take any photos of the beautiful outdoor of Kristallwelten. We were also carrying our big backpacks with us, and couldn’t afford to get our stuff wet, especially not my camera.

I was definitely not expecting what I saw inside. Crystals, everywhere, on the walls, on the floor, in all shapes and in all forms.

The most impressive was the Crystal Dome. It’s as though you are standing inside a giant crystal, watching the colourful lights refract off the mirrored surfaces.

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The Crystal Dome

The museum is huge, and it takes you through many rooms, each showcasing different crystal pieces and telling different stories. Some of the displays are plain quirky, but I guess that makes the tour much more enjoyable.

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At the end of the tour, you can purchase all sorts of crystals. Of course, most were beyond my price range.

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 I managed to buy a gift for my dear Cindy’s upcoming birthday, which I would be spending with her in Vienna. Nope, not the tiger, but a simple keychain with a letter “C”.

Once again, I said goodbye to Dj, not knowing when I’d see him again. But thank God traveling around Europe is so easy.

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Goodbye, Innsbruck. I’ll be back someday for some skiing!

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg is known as one of the most beautiful places in Austria. It is also known as the birthplace of that composer, Mozart. Heard of him? Oh, and also The Sound of Music - a childhood favourite!

This was my first trip with Peiwen, who invited me to join her and her friend Angela, from Taiwan.

I remember catching the train at about 6am that morning, after a night partying with the Erasmus students. I was completely exhausted, but stayed awake for the most of the train ride because the scenery on the way from Graz to Salzburg was just so beautiful. I didn’t want to miss a moment of it.

Peiwen and Angela picked me up from the train station, and brought me to our flat which we had found via Couchsurfing. We cut through Mirabell Palace and Gardens, with its baroque gardens which was featured in The Sound of Music.

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After lunch with our host at a surprisingly good Asian buffet restaurant, we headed to St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut, a pretty long bus ride from Salzburg Altstadt (Old Town).

St. Wolfgang is an idyllic market town which has a similar feel as Hallstatt.

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The highlight of the trip to St. Wolfgang was Wolfgangsee. As with the name of the town, it is named after St. Wolfgang of Regensburg, who built the first church there by the lake.

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The church was pretty creepy. I stepped in, and immediately out because I felt something. Have I mentioned, I believe I can feel the presence of ghosts pretty strongly?

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We left as night fell, and it was awfully cold as we waited for the bus. My leather jacket just didn’t cut it.

The next day, we woke up early to take a trip to Eisriesenwelt – the world’s largest natural limestone ice cave, which is situated in Werfen, about 40km away from Salzburg.

We were lucky to be in Salzburg at that time, as the cave was just about to be closed in a couple of days for the winter. It was such an amazing experience! Definitely the highlight of my trip to Salzburg.

Getting to the cable car that brings us closer to the cave can be quite a journey. From the Werfen train station, there is a van which shuttles passengers to the ticketing office, which is a distance up the mountain. Then, with the ticket, you then take the cable car until you are 1586m up the mountain.

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Once you get off the cable car, it is an arduous climb up the mountain to the mouth of the cave. However, the view makes it far less painful. This was the first time I truly fell in love with mountains. I was just in awe. The view is spectacular and the colours in fall are just so vibrant.

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At the entrance of the cave, we waited for the English tour to start. We were each handed a lamp with a small fire to light our way through the ice cave. Entering the cave, a huge gust of wind is expected due to the difference in temperature between the inside and the outside. My lamp had to be relit again. That rush of cold wind nearly blew my beanie off.

No photographs are allowed inside the cave, and they are really strict about this. Peiwen snuck a few, but I shall not post them here. The ice formations, such as the stalagmites and stalactites in the cave are really amazing. The total length of the cave is over 40km, and the one hour tour involves climbing lots of stairs in zero degree temperature. Needless to say, bring your gloves, wear thick socks and the appropriate clothing when visiting.

After the tour, we saw a few other tourists taking photos on a bench which sits precariously on the side of the mountain. No way we were going to miss this awesome photo opportunity!

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Getting off, I almost fell to my death. The photographer kindly snapped that exact moment for me. Also photographed – Peiwen laughing at me. Thanks.

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We left Werfen for Salzburg Altstadt.

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Mozart is pretty much a big deal in Salzburg. You can find Mozart’s geburtshaus (birthplace) and wohnhaus (residence).

We went for dinner at Stieglkeller. The restaurant is quite famous in Salzburg, and offers delicious Austrian cuisine and beer. It also has outdoor terraces which offer an amazing view of the Old Town. Otherwise, you may choose to sit indoors in their elaborately decorated halls.

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I ordered the Salzburger Fiakergulasch mit Semmelknödel, Spiegelei, Grillwürstel & Gurkerl (traditional beef goulash with dumplings, fried egg & grilled sausage). At just €12, it was totally worth it. My only complaint would be that it was too salty. But then again, I don’t usually add salt to anything. I survived my entire exchange without buying salt or sugar!

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Dom zu Salzburg (Salzburg Cathedral)

After dinner, we took a walk up Hohensalzburg Festung (fortress), which is located on a hill above the city. 

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The view of the city is really spectacular. My photo does no justice.

 To end the day, we decided to indulge in some traditional Salzburg desserts at Café Mozart. We ordered the Salzburger Nockerl, which is a soufflé-like dessert that is a specialty of the city. It is always made fresh, so our dessert took about 15 minutes to arrive, but it was worth it. It was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten. Under the golden dumplings is a berry compote.

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Salzburger Nockerl

We also ordered Topfenstrudel mit heißen Himbeeren (Topfen strudel with hot raspberry sauce). Topfen, or quark, is a soft cheese that I fell in love with when I got to Graz. It also happens to be healthy (if not sweetened) and is a good source of protein!

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Topfenstrudel mit heißen Himbeeren

The desserts and the service at Café Mozart is great! We had a good chat with some of the waiters there, and even took a photo with one!

The next day, we visited another place where The Sound of Music was filmed – Schloss Leopoldskron. The route to the castle was extremely scenic. As usual, the Festung is visible from a distance, as it sits pretty above the town.

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Schloss Leopoldskron

It was a great stroll to start the day.

Next, we headed to Schloss Hellbrunn. Peiwen had previously visited the palace, so Angela and I went in. She didn’t want to spoil the surprise of this magical place, but when I found out it was known for its Wasserspiele (trick fountains), I pretty much expected that I wouldn’t come out dry.

Once the summer palace of the Archbishops of Salzburg, the palace and its gardens were largely used for celebrations. Markus Sittikus, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, was a man with a sense of humour. He built the trick fountains to play practical tricks on his guests.

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Steintheater (Stone Theater)

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Needless to say, I did not volunteer for anything.

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Throughout the tour, I was repeatedly caught off-guard by sprinklers that suddenly came to life from the least expected of places.

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Sometimes, you just have no choice but to walk through such paths (as pictured above). This one was my favourite. But I shan’t spoil the surprise!

Schloss Hellbrunn is definitely a place for family and friends to have a good laugh. And also to laugh at complete strangers.

Within the compound, there is also a zoo. However, coming from Singapore, I thought it wouldn’t be worth it to pay it a visit, considering it will take a lot to beat the Singapore Zoo! We decided to climb a small hill to take a panoramic look of the palace grounds instead.

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Schloss Hellbrunn

After Schloss Hellbrunn, we headed back to the Old Town to have some food at another popular café – Café Tomaselli, which is a traditional Viennese coffee house, and the oldest in Salzburg. The café itself is over a hundred years old, having acquired another that was opened in 1705. It is also said that Mozart used to have his almond milk here.

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Café Tomaselli

The waitress goes around with a cart of cakes to choose from. I chose the chocolate and marroni torte, and we also had Apfelstrudel and Eszterházy torta. All were scrumptious!

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Chocolate and marroni torte

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Apfelstrudel

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Eszterházy torta – Vanilla cream, cinnamon and walnut cake 

The café also offers fragrant Viennese coffee and so many other variants I never heard about until I got to Austria. They really love their coffee!

After coffee and cakes, we set out to find the original Mozartkugel, which is a chocolate bonbon that was created by the Salzburg confectioner, Paul Fürst, in the 1800s. However, since the confectionery Fürst does not own a trademark for Mozartkugeln, there are numerous imitations out there, such as the gold ones you find everywhere. DO NOT BUY THOSE. Please, please look for Fürst if you are in Salzburg. Even though pretty pricey, I highly recommend giving it a try. As a true chocolate-lover, it receives my stamp of approval.

 

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die Original Salzburger Mozartkugeln from Cafe-Konditorei Fürst

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Mirabell Mozartkugeln

The difference between the quality of the chocolate and marzipan is obvious. Think Godiva versus Hershey’s. The original Mozartkugeln has a chocolate-hazelnut nougat creme core with a small piece of marzipan, and is coated in dark chocolate. Two thumbs up! So, go for the silver, not gold!

We continued to walk around the Old Town, and looked for the famous Bosna. Yes, more eating! Bosna is like the Austrian version of the hot dog bun.

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The original

We ordered the original, which has onion, parsley and curry powder sprinkled on top. It was delicious, but I think the Americans win this time.

Salzburg is truly an amazing city, and remains one of my most memorable trips. I would definitely return again if I had the chance. I got to see beautiful architecture, savour the traditional foods of the city, see the best nature has to offer and most importantly, got to know more about the history of Salzburg.

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Until we meet again.

Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, or Warszawa, is the capital of Poland.

I was in Warsaw twice. The first time, we had just a few hours there with Dj’s buddy. We left our luggage there before heading to Santorini, the first stop to our pre-exchange travels. We only had time to dump our luggage, have breakfast and wander about for a couple of hours before we had to head back to the airport.

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Warsaw Old Town

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Monument of the Warsaw Mermaid (Pomnik Warszawskiej Syrenki) at Old Town Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta) – the centre and oldest part of Warsaw’s Old Town

In October, I was back again to spend some time with Dj on his birthday. I took the overnight train from Graz to Warsaw – a painful 11 hour journey. But I was so happy to see him again, considering we had cried buckets when we said goodbye in Vienna.

When I arrived in Warsaw, I was greeted by the colours of fall, which had yet to hit Graz. It was beautiful – red, orange and yellow leaves.

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The first thing we did was to have some Pierogi at Zapiecek.

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Served with bacon and onion gravy (a.k.a. bacon and onion in grease)

Pierogi are Polish dumplings that can be made with a variety of fillings, both sweet and savoury. You can order them fried or boiled. I chose the boiled, for health reasons. I heard the fried ones are good too. We wanted to have pierogi the first time we were in Warsaw, but it was too early in the morning and most restaurants were not open yet. Also, I doubt they are considered breakfast food! I was glad I got to try them this time, because they were yummy!

We ordered a mix of fillings. My favourite was the spinach, turkey and the cheese filled ones. Not a big fan of buckwheat. At all.

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I think it’s pretty amazing that almost every country has its own version of different foods. Dumplings can be found all over the world – in China, India, Germany, Poland, Italy, the Middle East and just about any country!

After brunch, we took a walk around Old Town, to the parts we didn’t get to see the last time.

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Church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary (Kościół Nawiedzenia Najświętszej Marii Panny)

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The Warsaw Barbican (Barbakan Warszawski) – the remnants of Warsaw’s defensive walls, which were erected in 154os

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The Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski w Warszawie)

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King Sigismund’s Column (Kolumna Zygmunta) 

After much walking, we decided to stop for some ice cream. This swirly ice cream is called the “Amerykańskie Świderki”, which Google translates to “American Fusilli”. Ahhh, I see it now!

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Amerykańskie Świderki. Ice cream makes us feel like children again.

Oh, and I think I forgot to mention how things in Poland are super cheap compared to Western Europe. Coming from Graz, I was just appalled at how much I was paying back home!

We continued our walk through Old Town, and then we headed to Łazienki Park.

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Łazienki Park, or Łazienki Królewskie, is the biggest park in Warsaw. Its name translates to “Royal Bath”. The park is just stunning with the autumn hues.

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Fallen leaves

We spent a long time there just walking and enjoying the view. I fell in love with fall! :)

We walked back to the Old Town, and by then, it was about time we had our early dinner.

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Warsaw Uprising Monument (Pomnik Powstania Warszawskiego)

We decided to have dinner at Kluska Polska, which claims to have the “best noodles in Europe since A.D. 1682″. Well, seems like a puff, but I must say, I was very impressed by the food here.

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 Kluska Polska
 
We ordered two different kinds of noodles (which are actually dumplings).
 
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Dill kopytka with Highlander’s goulash with peppersI had this and I pretty much wolfed down the entire plate. It was really filling as the dumplings are very starchy. Kopytka is a kind of potato dumpling, much like gnocchi. The name actually means “little hooves”. The goulash was so very yummy! No regrets having this at all.IMG_0019Silesian potato noodles with turkey in horseradish sauce

Dj had the Silesian potato noodles, which are called kluski. They also tasted like gnocchi, albeit slightly chewier and in a different shape! The horseradish sauce was also really good.

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Overall, a good dining experience for us both. And the interior of the restaurant is really artistic too.
 
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Old Town Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta)

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Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki)

The Palace of Culture and Science is the tallest building in Poland. It was originally named after Joseph Stalin, and was considered a gift from the Soviet Union to Poland. I think some animosity still exists towards this “gift”, which was deemed as a symbol of Soviet domination. The joke is that the best view of the city is from the tower, as you can’t actually see the building. HAH! The next day, we would return here to decide whether we would head up to the terrace.

The next morning, we went to the weekend flea market. There were antiques, furniture, rugs, cutlery, clothes and all sorts of other knick knacks on sale. Nothing caught our fancy though. Even if it did, I don’t think our baggage allowance would permit any purchases.

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We went back to the Palace of Culture and Science, but we decided not to go up to the terrace because the weather didn’t seem so great. I kind of regret not going up though. I saw some friends’ photos and it looked pretty awesome.

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Palace of Culture and Science

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Us, walking randomly

We stopped by W Biegu Café (because they advertised really cheap chai tea latte) to have a drink and some dessert.

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One of the best chai lattes I’ve had

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Apple crumble tart

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And that was the end of my Warsaw trip. We headed back to get my stuff packed before I caught the overnight train back to Graz. Those dreadful, sleepless train rides!

I had a really good time with Dj. This was the first time I really had some quality time alone with him.

My boyfriend, my best friend and my best travel buddy! :)

Goodbye, Warsaw.