Category: Travels

Europe 2019: A Journey through History & Culture

In October 2019, I embarked on my first ever trip to Europe. Over the 17-day journey, I visited museums and historic landmarks, caught up with friends, and sampled some amazing cuisine.

To join me on my epic journey through London, Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow, click the links below!

DAY 1 to DAY 3

DAY 4 to DAY 5

DAY 6 to DAY 7

DAY 8 to DAY 9

DAY 10 to DAY 13

DAY 14 to DAY 15

DAY 16 to DAY 17

Krakow 2019 (Day 16-17)

Day 16

On this day, I visited the National Museum in Krakow, the Polish Aviation Museum and ended with a grand dinner at a goose restaurant.

What I saw

Strolling through the market square after breakfast.
The National Museum in Krakow.
The museum’s most famous exhibit is Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine. I had the painting to myself unlike the huge crowds at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.
Next stop was the Polish Aviation Museum, which had a great collection of Soviet era aircraft.
A Yak-40 VIP jet used by the Polish Communist government.
The Junkers Ju-52 transport aircraft.
One of the few planes emblazoned with the Nazi Swastika.
A large collection of MiG planes, prominent in Eastern Bloc air forces.
A Tu-134A passenger jet used by the LOT national carrier.
Soviet built helicopters.
A VIP helicopter used by the Pope during his visits.
Comfy interiors for its time.
The Curtiss Hawk II plane that was part of an aircraft demonstration during the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany.

What I ate

Had a “Spanish Omelette” at Milkbar Tomasza for breakfast. Milkbars used to be affordable spots for state subsidised meals in communist Poland but are now cultural icons.
As it was my last night in Europe, I decided to treat myself to dinner at Szara Ges (Grey Goose), a fine dining restaurant.
My Aperitif
Black herring and caviar in dill-infused buttermilk for starters
Glazed goose leg with buckwheat and prunes for mains
A glass of French wine costing just 8 euros.
Dessert was their signature Grey Goose, that resembles a goose egg on a nest. The egg is made with a white chocolate shell, white chocolate mousse for the egg white, mango mousse for the yolk & dark chocolate for the nest. There’s also candy floss under the nest.
Slice open the “egg” and the mango mousse yolk flows out. Splendid!
A Digestif to conclude a 95 euro meal. Superb.

Day 17

On my final day of the trip, I checked out of my hotel and took the train back to Warsaw and onwards to the airport. It was a smooth flight back to Singapore, with a stopover in Doha.

On the PKP Intercity Premium to Warsaw.
Bon Voyage!

Thanks for reading this epic travelogue! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did experiencing and writing it.

Krakow 2019 (Day 14-15)

Day 14

I bid farewell to Warsaw and hopped onto a high speed train for the 2 hour trip down to Krakow. I then spent the afternoon on a walking tour of the historic city.

All aboard the PKP Intercity Premium from Warsaw.
My hotel in Krakow was far more luxurious than I had expected.
Waiting for the walking tour to begin at St Florian’s Gate, an entrance into the Old Town.
The beautiful St Mary’s Basilica
Another view of the church.
Krakow Town Hall tower.
The Collegium Maius building of Jagiellonian University, the oldest university in Poland.
Collegium Maius also contains a musical clock featuring sculptures.
The ornate interior of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi
The Bishop’s Palace, where Pope John Paul II lived when he was the Archbishop of Krakow. He used to appear at the centre window to greet followers.
The magnificent Wawel Cathedral inside Wawel Castle, over 900 years old.
A panorama of Krakow’s Main Market Square.

What I ate

Had dinner in this extremely cosy Pierogi restaurant in the Old Town.
Didn’t I say it was cosy?
The lamb pierogis were even better than the ones in Warsaw.

Day 15

I spent the bulk of the day visiting the Auschwitz extermination camp near Krakow. I will have a separate post about it soon.

What I ate

Dined at the Piano Rouge, a bizarrely decorated basement restaurant.
Had this excellent chicken dish.
And creme brulee for dessert.
I had “sex on a piano”, which was a nice cocktail.
Wednesdays are jazz nights, so we had some live entertainment to go with dinner. She was good.

Click HERE for Day Sixteen and Day Seventeen.

Warsaw 2019 (Day 10-13)

Day 10

On Day 10, I said farewell to Beerlin and set off for Warsaw via the Berlin-Warsaw Express. The six hour ride took me through the flat plains of Eastern Germany and Poland.

What I saw

Waiting in the cavernous station for my train to pull up.
The Berlin-Warsaw Express is a regular Polish service.
Crossed into Poland at the Oder River
Lush flat fields stretched into the horizon.
After 9 days of hostels, it was nice to have my own room again.
Toured Warsaw’s Ols Town Market Square after dinner. This is the Warsaw Mermaid, a symbol of the city.

What I ate

Met my Polish friend Jakub and his girlfriend at the Zapiecek restaurant. We had pierogi (Polish dumplings) and rye soup (Zurek). It was superb.
Jakub insisted we have a small toast with vodka.

Day 11

I spent the day sightseeing with my friend Jakub, and we visited several historic landmarks and museums.

What I saw

One of the remaining walls of the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Jews were imprisoned during the War.
The Warsaw Orthodox Synagogue, the only one to survive the war.
The Pawiak Prison Museum, where 37,000 Poles died during the German occupation.
The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews is located within the former Warsaw Ghetto.
The Museum has a wealth of exhibits on centuries of Jewish culture in Poland, including the Holocaust.
The most impactful exhibit were these original Star of David patches that Jews in Nazi controlled territories were forced to wear.
After lunch, we headed to the Palace of Culture and Science, a communist era tower that was a “gift” from the Soviet Union but hated by the Polish as a symbol of Soviet occupation.
Great views of Warsaw from the top.
Enjoying Czech beer with Jakub after touring the Palace.
Nowy Swiat, a street full of cafes and restaurants.

What I ate

Tried rye beer (Kvass) at a Georgian restaurant.
Had this boiled lamb with soup and potatoes for lunch.
Shared this stuffed pastry with sour cream.
Had Fettucine Marinara pasta for dinner near Jakub’s place.

Day 12

On Day 12, I visited the Warsaw Rising Museum, which took up most of the day.

What I saw

There was free entry on Sundays and I had to wait in a long line to get into the Warsaw Rising Museum.
A BMW motorcycle used by German motorised infantry.
Witold Pilecki, a Polish war hero who voluntarily got imprisoned in Auschwitz to collect intelligence and escaped. After the war, he was executed by the communists after a show trial. He was rehabilitated after the fall of communism in 1989.
A printing press used by the Polish resistance during the war.
A replica of the American Liberator bomber.
The old generators of the building, which was once the power station for Warsaw’s trolleybus network.
The museum’s external brick facade.

What I ate

Had some paçzek or Polish stuffed doughnuts from Nowy Swiat. The salted caramel one was so good.
Enjoyed a helping of doner kebab and fries from a Turkish takeout place along Nowy Swiat.
Had lamb and cheese for dinner at another Turkish restaurant with Jakub and his girlfriend.
Thanks to them both for their hospitality!
Ended the day with a cocktail at the hotel bar.

Day 13

I spent the day mostly catching up on work stuff online, as well as catching a breath after nearly 2 weeks of constant travelling. Chilled at the hotel.

The Chopin Museum on the left and my hotel on the right.
Enjoyed another round of pierogi and zurek.

Click HERE for Day Fourteen to Day Fifteen

Berlin 2019 (Day 8-9)

Day 8

I spent Day 8 exploring the Neues Museum and the Pergamon Museum, both filled with thousands of artefacts from across the world. One of the most fascinating days of my trip.

What I saw

The Neues Museum largely preserves damage from WW2 while otherwise modernised.
The remains of an Ancient Egyptian burial chamber.
Head of a statue of Queen Hatshepsut or King Thutmose III.
A gallery of small Egyptian figurines.
Sarcophagus lid of a royal audit officer.
The most iconic object of Neues Museum, the bust of Queen Nefertiti.
The Pergamon Museum is dominated by several huge structures. One is the iconic Blue Gate of Ishtar from Ancient Babylon. It was built in 575 BC on the orders of the fabled King Nebuchadnezzar II.
A closer look at the gate.
The preserved friezes of lions which once lined the processional way leading to the gate.
A replica of the Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest legal codes in history. The original is in the Louvre in Paris.
The Market Gate of Miletus is another grand exhibit. It was built in Miletus (now in Turkey) around 120-130 AD.
The Pergamon Altar, the most famous exhibit and namesake of the Museum. Unfortunately, it’s closed till 2023 for refurbishment. (Pic from Wikipedia)

What I ate

I had a delicious doner kebab from a Turkish place near the train station.
Kebabs roasting slowly on the spit.
Treated myself to an extra helping of currywurst for dinner.

Day 9

On Day 9, I toured the Alexanderplatz, the Berlin Cathedral, the Stasi Museum and a food fair.

What I saw

Alexanderplatz was the former city centre of East Berlin, and still retains the socialist architectural feel. The view is dominated by the Fernsehturm, a television transmission tower constructed by the East German regime.
Another landmark is the World Clock, built in 1969. It also includes Singapore.
Decided to visit the interior of the Berlin Cathedral.
The majestic altar.
The cavernous domed ceiling.
The immense church organ with 7269 pipes and 113 registers.
Berlin from the Cathedral’s rooftop. Tickets cost just 7 euros, less than half that those for the Fernsehturm.
View from another side of the roof.
My afternoon was spent at the historic Stasi Museum which was once the HQ of East Germany’s feared secret police.

To read a detailed account of this fascinating Cold War museum, click HERE.

What I ate

Had a pulled pork wrap from the street food market near Hackescher Markt station.
Explored a food fair with my Twitter friend for dinner.
There was a great selection of food, wine and beer available.
I had a pulled pork bun which was soft and tender. Like German Char Siew.
Ended my day with a glass of German beer of course!

Click HERE for Day Ten to Day Thirteen

Berlin 2019 (Day 6-7)

Day 6

I departed London on the morning of Oct 14, travelling by the Eurostar to Brussels. I then took two ICE trains to Berlin, changing in Cologne. I reached Berlin that night and had a quick dinner before bed.

What I saw

Boarding the Eurostar at St Pancras. Didn’t have to get up too early as my hostel was opposite the station.
On board the German ICE train from Brussels to Cologne. It was very fast and quiet.
Speeding past the German countryside.
Cute doggo that shared the cabin during the ride to Berlin.
Finally arrived at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof station after nearly 12 hours.
Checked into the comfortable Circus Hostel which was in the Mitte district.

What I ate

I ate sandwiches on the trains. They were expensive but good quality.
Once in Berlin, I had a quick bite at Curry Mitte where I tried their currywurst. It was really good.

Day 7

I spent the bulk of this day on a walking tour of Berlin’s best cultural and historic spots.

What I saw

Waiting for my tram to Hackescher Markt to begin my walking tour
The Bridge over the Spree River to Museum Island. The Berlin Cathedral is in the background.
The Altes Museum (Old Museum).
The beautiful Berlin Cathedral
Babelplatz in front of Humboldt University’s Law building, where the Nazis conducted massive book burnings in the 1930s.
Gendarmenmarkt, a beautiful public square with the French and German churches, as well as the Berlin Concert Hall.
The location of Allied Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing that once existed between East and West Berlin. It’s a touristy mess these days.
The cobblestones that mark where the Berlin Wall once stood separating East and West.
One of the longest surviving stretches of the Berlin Wall.
The site of the Fuhrerbunker, where Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945 as the Soviets closed in on Berlin. It’s deliberately kept nondescript to prevent it from becoming a Neo Nazi shrine.
The Holocaust Memorial, consisting of concrete blocks of various sizes resembling gravestones.
The Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Berlin.
After the walking tour ended, I dropped by the DDR Museum which showcased life in Communist East Germany. It was a brittle regime propped up by propaganda, surveillance and Soviet military force.
A model of how the Berlin Wall functioned. Plenty of people were shot dead trying to escape to the West from 1961-1989.

What I ate

Had cold meats, cheese and waffle plus orange juice for breakfast at the hostel.
By sheer coincidence, a Twitter friend from Singapore was also touring Berlin and happened to be staying just across the street from my hostel. So we met up for dinner.
We had Korean BBQ, which was excellent. It was amusing to see the other customers drinking Tiger Beer in Germany of all places.

Click HERE for Day Eight and Day Nine

London 2019 (Day 4-5)

Day 4

My friend Alex and I spent the day touring the Imperial War Museum and the districts with Big Ben, Parliament and Buckingham Palace.

What I saw

Began the day with a trip to the Imperial War Museum
Obligatory shot with the naval guns in front.
Large displays included the V2 rocket and the Harrier jet.
Lawrence of Arabia’s Arab headdress accessory (agal).
The British flag carried by the British party when they went to surrender to the Japanese at the Old Ford Factory in Feb 1942. It was then hidden by POWs at Changi. The flag was again raised in Singapore after the Japanese surrendered to Lord Mountbatten on 12 Sep 1945.
A Nazi eagle emblem recovered from the Reich Chancellery in Berlin after the German surrender.
The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from Westminster Bridge.
The Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben (the bell inside) were undergoing refurbishment.
Buckingham Palace. The Queen wasn’t at home though.
A happy guy who just happened to wander into my shot.
The British flag was flying above Buckingham Palace. If the Queen was present, the Royal Standard would be flying instead.
Climate Change protesters outside the British Library. It was surreal to see street demonstrations.
The strikingly beautiful St Pancras station at night. Strong Gothic vibes.

What I ate

Had breakfast in this delightful little coffee house at Tavistock Place.
Had the full English Breakfast which was extremely filling so we skipped lunch.
Dinner was this lamb souvlaki. It was too chewy though.
This warm chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream was superb.

Day 5

On Day 5, Alex and I hung out at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Harrod’s before we bid farewell to each other. I then ended my last day in London with a play at the Duchess Theatre.

What I saw

The ornate entrance to the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A).
An extremely detailed lacquer table from the Ming dynasty.
A Japanese lacquer chest inlaid with gold, silver and mother of pearl. It was exported to Europe by the Dutch East India Company in 1640-43.
A gallery full of Victorian era reproductions of classical artefacts.
Among the casts include one of Michaelangelo’s Statue of David. The original is in Florence.
The Tippu Sultan’s famous tiger automaton, depicting a tiger mauling a British soldier. It was looted from India after the Sultan’s defeat.
Ended the day by watching “The Play That Goes Wrong”, a comedy that features a play within a play.
It’s a small but cosy theatre and the murder mystery plot was very entertaining. Well worth the 22 pound ticket.

What I ate

Had delicious butternut squash pancakes with egg and maple syrup for breakfast.
The hot chocolate was a great way to warm the body on that cold day.
Decided to pop by Five Guys for my first taste after the play. The shake was so thick.
The Five Guys was just a stone’s throw from King’s Cross.

Click HERE for Day Six and Day Seven

London 2019 (Day 1-3)

Day 1

I checked into the YHA Hostel at St Pancras, which was conveniently located across the road from King’s Cross Tube station. The rooms were comfortable. As it was already late afternoon, I rested a bit before heading to Leicester Square to meet my friend Zane, who was studying in London, for dinner and some sightseeing.

Great Views of the British Library (left) and St Pancras International station.

What I saw

Obligatory photo at Piccadilly Circus
Is it even Chinatown if there are no lanterns?
Big Ben was under renovation but the LEGO version at Leicester Square was lovely too!
The West End Sondheim Theatre in Westminster.
Thanks Zane for showing me around!

What I ate

Finally got to try Burger and Lobster’s roll for 28 pounds.

Day 2

On the first full day in London, I decided to dive straight into history with visits to the Churchill War Rooms and the (in)famous British Museum.

What I saw

First stop of the day was the Churchill War Rooms, an extensive bunker from which he directed the British war effort.
A conference room in the bunker.
Room where junior staff worked. Conditions were rudimentary.
Churchill’s office in the bunker.
A map of the Malay Peninsula and Singapore in the bunker. There were dozens of maps on walls in key rooms.
The famed German Enigma code machine, whose system was eventually broken by the Allies.
The Government Offices Great George Street building above the bunker. It houses several departments including the Treasury.
The entrance to Downing Street where the British Prime Minister lives.
The massive Horse Guards Parade square where various state and military ceremonies such as Trooping the Colour are held.
Extinction Rebellion protests at Trafalgar Square. The first protest I came across in Europe.
The Cross Keys, a heritage-listed pub in Covent Garden.
In the afternoon, it was time to explore the massive British Museum, filled with millions of often-looted items.
The iconic central atrium of the British Museum.
A colossal 7 tonne statue of Pharaoh Ramesses II.
Winged Assyrian human-headed lions from ancient Nimrud.
Part of the Elgin Marbles that Greece has demanded for decades to be returned.
There were plenty of mummies on display, including some unusually sized and coloured ones.
Hoa Hakananai’a, a four tonne Easter Island statue taken in 1868. The island’s inhabitants have been calling for it to be returned.

What I ate:

As there were no queues at Covent Garden’s Shake Shack unlike Jewel Changi, I decided to try their mushroom burger, which was excellent.
Enjoyed a crispy duck confit, duck egg and waffle with mustard maple syrup at Duck & Waffle Local in St James.

Day 3

On my second full day in London, I explored the historic Tower of London, met up with my friend Alex who had come down from Scotland, browsed the wares at Camden Market and ended the day with a fantastic tapas dinner.

What I saw

The Tower of London is an immensely popular historic attraction that dates back to the 11th century.
I joined a fascinating guided tour by the Tower’s famous Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters. They are retired Warrant Officers with at least 22 years of service. This guy was very entertaining with his stories.
The Jewel House, a vault where the British Crown Jewels are kept. I got a glimpse of the Koh-i-Noor diamond which India has demanded to be returned. Photography wasn’t allowed inside.
One of the Tower’s Ravens (there are at least six). A superstition holds that “if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”
The White Tower, which contains a large collection of armour and weaponry.
Part of the medieval armour collection, for both soldiers and horses.
Obligatory shot with the Tower Bridge of London, which is near the Tower of London. It is often mistakenly called “London Bridge”, which is actually another bridge.
Reunited with my Scottish friend Alex! We had met in Melbourne in 2015 while he was on exchange there.
Camden Lock which was right next to Camden Market.
Fabulous and free view of London’s cityscape from Primrose Hill.
Chalk Farm tube station with the iconic Leslie Green exterior tiling.
I bought Harry Potter souvenirs (like Dumbledore’s Elder Wand) from the shop at King’s Cross station.

What I ate

Mac & Cheese with chorizo and harissa from Camden Market.
Superb dinner at Leicester Square Kitchen, a place with a DJ & cool vibes. The Mexican & Peruvian inspired dishes were bursting with flavour.

Click HERE for Day Four and Day Five

Hong Kong 2019

I travelled to Hong Kong from 29 to 31st August 2019 to attend the Global City Roundtable at the Education University of Hong Kong. It was my first time visiting Hong Kong and I initially looked forward to exploring this vibrant Chinese territory.

The conference I was attending.

Alas, as the date drew closer, I became increasingly concerned about the violent confrontations between protesters and the police in the city, metro and outlying towns. Colleagues and friends jokingly told me to livestream the demonstrations should I be stranded due to an airport blockade. While I laughed off such banter, I was definitely worried about any adverse developments.

I landed in HK after a relatively smooth 4 hour flight. The Cathay Pacific jet was less than half full, perhaps a striking visualisation of the slump in visitors. The immigration officer was surly but I quickly got through and found myself in the arrival hall. I had intended to take the MTR to the town of Sha Tin (where my hotel was) but the transport desk suggested that I take a direct bus E42 instead. It cost just HK$14 compared to HK$350 for taxis.

Empty rows on the Cathay Pacific flight to HK
View of HK Island from the E42 double decker bus

The ride was relatively smooth and offered great views of the city as well as the mountains of the New Territories. After inching past a horrific traffic accident that had jammed up the main road, I got off at Sha Tin MTR station and walked through the New Town Plaza to check into my hotel.

After a quick meal, I decided to explore the surrounding area. Sha Tin is one of Hong Kong’s new towns built in the 1970s and consists of tower blocks squeezed between the mountains and the river. It resembles the HDB towns of the same era, except with much higher density.

Tower Blocks of Sha Tin line the riverfront
The town of Sha Tin

In the evening, I decided to follow the advice of one of my twitter friends and take a ride on the famed Star Ferry which connected Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. The MTR system is really straightforward to figure out and I made my way easily to East Tsim Sha Tsui and the pier. Tickets were really cheap at just HK$2.70 for a one-way ride. The views of Victoria Harbour were fantastic and I enjoyed the snazzy light show.

Shiny lights of Victoria Harbour
Taking the Star Ferry to Central
“Lennon Walls” with anti-government posters lined the entrance to East Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station
A closer look at some posters

The next day was conference day. So my boss and I made our way to EdUHK’s campus in Tai Po. The buildings are nestled on the mountain side (sorry Kent Ridge, but the views here are nicer). We were the first panellists to present our research. I was quite nervous but I think I did alright in answering the three questions that my boss passed on to me.

Clouds rolling down the mountains
Campus buildings with great views for sure
The conference was held in the university’s council chamber

Our academic hosts treated us to a sumptuous lunch at the campus Cantonese restaurant. I took the opportunity to ask my hosts about the current crisis in Hong Kong and shared Singaporeans’ general views on the situation. What struck me most is the extremely high level of politicisation and civic consciousness among staff and students, in contrast with generally apathetic Singaporean students.

Sumptuous Cantonese fare for lunch

I had the evening free and planned to pay a visit to the Peak, but my boss’ HK friend said it wasn’t a good idea and instead invited me along to dinner with my boss. We had a wonderful eight-course meal and a really engaging conversation about Hong Kong affairs. I daresay I learned so much during dinner that night and I thanked them for their tremendous hospitality.

Dinner was so good!

News was reporting that protesters were planning to blockade the airport that Sunday (Sep 1) and there were also fears of violence on Saturday. Therefore, after some considerable nagging from my parents, I switched my return flight from Sat night to Sat morning. It cost $100 but the peace of mind was worth it.

Final night in HK

The next morning, my boss and I checked out at 6am and took a cab directly to the airport. The journey took just 20 mins on the empty highway and we soon arrived at the terminal. Airport authorities had implemented strict checks for those entering the terminals but the queue was short and we got through quickly.

After a quick breakfast, my boss left to catch her flight while I waited two hours more for mine. HK airport is huge and I decided to walk up and down the terminal looking at planes parked at the gates.

The flight home was one of the smoothest I’ve taken. The plane was again barely half full, and I got the row to myself. Discovered the comedy series “Kim’s Convenience” and watched 5 episodes (it’s a riot!).

Final look at HK
Homebound.

I was honestly disappointed that I couldn’t explore the city safely given the high level of political unrest wracking Hong Kong. But I hope to return to this fascinating city sometime in the future to experience its many wonders.