Tag Archives: Europe

The One With The Quest For Snow In A Winter Europe

The first snow. The surprising fall of snowflakes. The puzzling impossibility that no two are alike. The freshness chill that permeates the air. The laughter of children in a game of snow fight. The dazzling expanse of a white carpet over everything.

Ahhh…. for the longest time I have been yearning to see snow. Yes, I know that I had my first snow experience as a toddler, but how many of us will remember experiences from such an early age?

And so begin my quest to see snow… first in 2008, and then again in 2009. Little did I know that snow does not always happen at the end of the year. The few snow flakes I saw on the very last day of my Europe trip last year, while waiting out the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague was the best I could manage.

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Budapest Day 2 РBasilica of St Stephen, The Parliament, Christmas Market, Holocaust Memorial Centre, State Opera House & V̦r̦smarty Square

The second day in Budapest was an adventure as I criss-crossed the town in my quest to visit as many tourist highlight as possible. But first thing first; I gotta get my train ticket to Vienna, and according to Lonely Planet that can be easily done at the MAV Passenger Start Centre, located at Erzsébet tér.

At Erzsébet tér, enroute to MAV Passenger Start Centre

Little did I know that the counters were closed on a Sunday! The kind man who was cleaning the office windows told me to come back the next day. I peered through the windows and saw MAV staff at work. Why can’t they work on a Sunday? I mean, they are selling train tickets, for goodness sake, and trains don’t stop running on Sundays. Luckily the view from the metro station to the centre was more than enough to make up the disappointment.

My next stop was the Basilica of St. Stephen, and I wanted to hunt for some food first before visiting arguably the top tourist spot in Budapest. But as I walked nearer to the church, which is located at Lipótváros, I heard the grand church bells toiling away, calling the church goers to go to mass. The sound was amazing; I had to quicken my pace just to catch up, and my jaw dropped when I reached the front of the church.

Basilica of St Stephen, Lipótváros

After a quick detour for food (my stomach was grumbling too much to be ignored la), I quickly went inside. Basilica of St. Stephen is Budapest’s neoclassical cathedral built, demolished and rebuilt over the course of half a century before its eventual completion in 1905.

Mass at Basilica of St Stephen, Lipótváros

Like any grand cathedrals in Europe, the interior of St. Stephen was mind-numbingly beautiful. The main draw for the crowd is the Holy Right Chapel, which contain the mummified right hand of St. Stephen and an object of great devotion. Unfortunately during my visit, the chapel was closed… and fortunately a mass was in session, and I was in for a treat.

After spending some moments in the church, I started to make my way to the parliament which is within walking distance from St. Stephen.

The Parliament of Hungary

The Parliament of Hungary has 690 sumptuously decorated rooms; however these are only available as part of a guided tour, which is free for EU residents but with-a-fee for other visitors like me. The building stretches along The Danube, and with the weak sun towards the east of the city, it was the perfect moment for some very awesome photography.

Christmas Market at the Parliament House of Hungary

Right behind the Parliament, away from The Danube, a Christmas fair was in full swing, complete with food stalls and performances. I spent some happy minutes here enjoying the famous German sausage (it was really huge and juicy… yes yes I know that sounded dirty) and the warm wine.

Holocaust Memorial Centre

Fuzzed up from my festive mood at the Christmas fair, the sobering experience that was Holocaust Memorial Centre was indeed a clash to my holiday flow. While in most circumstances, such a memorial centre would have been awe inspiring, this Hungarian version was certainly lacking… unless you speak the language, or some of the other European language. Those who speaks only English like me will find the memorial experience to be disjointed and confusing. Despite the glowing review from fellow travelers, I wouldn’t really recommend this.

Tea at the Lukács Café

After a disappointing hour at the memorial, I checked for a place for coffee break and found Lukács Café. A luxurious cafe located along the leafy Andrassy Ut, it offers (what else) excellent coffee and pastries served by an English-speaking wait staff. It was relaxing, though pricey, so if you have that extra forints I would suggest this place to unwind. It was also from here I bought the Beigli, a local Christmas cake for my Hungarian colleague… a taste from home for her!

Hungarian State Opera House

My last must-do stop for the day was the Hungarian State Opera House, which is located along the metro line at a station aptly named “Opera”. There wasn’t a show on at that time, but a banner covered a part of the building… come to think of it, most of the art-related buildings I visited during my trip were mostly covered in some sort of banners, which is kinda disappointing as the more interesting bits of architecture were not visible.

Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square

It was close to 5 p.m. by then, and during that time of winter, the sky was already getting dark. Hurriedly I made my way to the Vörösmarty metro station, only to be greeted by yet another Christmas fair. This one is definitey more crowded than the last two I have come across. Themed as “Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square”, a large part of the crowded were centered around a performance stage. I joined the Hungarians in a spot of real folk culture and traditional Christmas music – videos here and here.

Budapest Christmas at Vörösmarty Square

The performances were far from perfect, but it was heartfelt as evidently family members of the performers were in the crowd too! They were singing along and generally having a merry time, and I was glad to be part of the festivities. Of course, being the glutton I was am, I took in some traditional Hungarian food and warm mulled wine. There was just something about winter which made me hungrier than usual!

Giero at Andrássy út

After a quick fresh-me-up at the hostel, I went to a true Hungarian eatery last night and had the most mortifying experience ever. Despite what I read about it in my guidebook, I took the trouble to go all the way visit Giero at Andrássy útca. I won’t say anything about the food, except that it came out of a kitchen, served on a plate and very filling.

However, people come to this cavern because of its authentic Gypsy music – video here – and I certainly had an earful of it, as I am the only customer around. I know would feel bad if I don’t leave behind a hefty tip, seeing that the entire staff literally danced around me, so I did.

That marks the end of an eventful second day that I had in Budapest. I settled into a deep sleep with a contented heart :)

Click here for the full set of photos shot throughout the day.

Athens Day 5: Enroute to London

The dawn of my last morning in Athens came upon us. Our flight was scheduled to be in the noon, but knowing our luck with flights, we checked out from Athens Backpackers early in the morning.

Athens Backpackers, you’ll be missed!

We carried our large backpacks to the train station, and within the hour we arrived at Athens International Airport. The check-in was rather painless, and we have some time to while away, so Liping and I went around the shops. Like, finally we don’t have to rush through airports with a feeling of dread at the pit of our stomach.

Enroute to London on EasyJet!

I must say I was very impressed by Easy Jet. Despite being a budget airline, their service was flawless, the aircraft felt amazingly fresh, and the entire journey was over in a flash. I was really happy, and if I ever travel to and fro London, I will definitely choose them.

So we landed at Gatwick airport. I was holding my breathe as I stepped out of the airplane. I am finally in London! Was half expecting problems at the immigration, but like Liping said, they will always ask you the standard questions, so as long as I have answers for them, I will be fine.

Zapped through the immigration, and off we went to find the Tube… but even Liping got really confused. It took us a good 30 minutes before we figured out where the Tube was. LOL.

The journey to Liping’s place took longer than expected. For one, my Oyster card (courtesy of Liping) didn’t work well, so I was stuck at the turnstile for longer than expected. The Tube was crowded, and by the time we reach Warwick Avenue station, it was already dark.

And it was freezing cold. I loved it. Did I ever mention how much I love being in cold countries? LOL.

London bus service was amazing too. I mean, they actually announced the upcoming stops, so that people like me who has no idea which stop was where, it was incredibly useful. I wondered why Singapore didn’t use the same thing, and Liping said, “That’s because, by the time they repeated the upcoming stops in four languages, the bus would have passed the said stop”

LOL. That’s very true. The four language thing in Singapore MRT could be a bit over the board sometimes.

Dinner @ Maida Vale

Liping stays in a Zone 2 area in London called Maida Vale. I read about the place before – no, not from some guidebook – but on Shopaholic! You see, Becky and her boyfriend/husband (depends on which book you are reading) stays in Maida Vale. I have little idea how the place looked like when I arrived because everything was dark, but I had a feeling it will be gorgeous in the morning.

So Liping and I walked… actually, no, we ran because it was so cold, from her place to a nearby pub (a pub! in a residential area!) for dinner. I was eager to try out the multitude varieties of British beer, and the famous fish & chips. The former was impressive – I mean, look at the selection! You’ll die of liver malfunction before you can finish tasting them all – and the latter was not as expected. The barter tasted bland, though the fish was fresh.

I half contemplated leaving the house to go out that night, but figured that it might be too much to be so adventurous in a strange land at that time of the night. So I rested my tired body to get ready for the big London adventure the next day!