Taiwan 2018 – Day 4 – Longshan Temple, Daan Forest Park, 101, Shin Yeh buffet

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Our day started with us going 6 floors up to a restaurant which wasn’t even open yet, the information we had read on the internet was wrong and so there we were all ready to eat and nowhere to go – thankfully Ximen has no shortage of places to find food – we settled on Taiwans famous fried chicken breast, which could basically be considered a gigantic chicken nugget depending on how you look at it, we coupled it with some iced tea as well for an authentic experience (Lychee black tea, mmm).

The forecast this morning said 80% chance of rain, with 100% chance of rain from 2-6pm, but venturing out to find breakfast we found clear blue skies and toasty 30 degree heat, I decided to head back and grab my sunglasses etc. before taking advantage of the skies (while they last) to go to CKS Memorial hall, a few stops away on the metro.

We weren’t really expecting the scale of the CKS area, with 2 gigantic temple structures straight outside the metro station, and a massive white and blue tower thing towards the end of the plaza, opposite an equally large traditional gate, was thankful I had a chance to grab my snuglasses as the heat and sun were really out in force today (I probably should have put some sun lotion on as well). We were in time for the changing of the guard ceremony again, or 15 minutes early, enough time for us to wait behind the barriers as they were set up, and get prime location for the ceremony – which lasted for a shocking 15+ minutes, consisting of marching, shouting, gun twirling, gun inspection, lots of stomping, and so on, honestly kind of repetitive by the end and confusing as to why it would go on for so long for a simple changing of the guard ceremony which happens every hour or so. Cordelia started feeling a bit sick by the end so we went and chilled for a bit and grabbed some drinks before continuing.

Wanting to make the most of the weekend, I found out about a flower market and we set off to go find and explore it. The market is actually a car park during the week, set under a suspended motorway and goes on for literally at least a mile, maybe more, we didn’t get to the end of it because it just kept going and going, definitely the longest market i’ve ever seen. Mist was being sprayed from pipes in the ceiling for the plants, which was cool to see but obviously made the place incredibly humid.

On the opposite side of the junction where the flower market starts was the weekend Jade Market, this one I had never actually heard of, but being that we were literally across the road, we headed in to take a look. This one was smaller but much more densely packed, with hundreds of individual vendors with small tables packed into another parking lot – this one was smaller but also air conditioned thankfully, as everyone inside would have almost certainly died by now without AC. As you would expect, the majority of the booths were selling Jade goods – bangles, earrings, carved pendants, etc. However all other gemstones and jewellery were also on sale. I don’t think many of the sellers get much business, as they seemed tired and happy to play on their phone in front of you, I do wonder how or if any of them make a profit with 200ish similar stalls around.

Another thing which wasn’t on our list but we visited anyway, was the huashan 1914 creative park – described as an old winery turned creative hub, the winery was now a strange mix of old architecture and modern trendy shops and cafes, with some amateur performers and plenty of youngsters roaming about, I imagine it’s quieter on weekdays but we had come on a Sunday and the place was very busy. Not a massive amount more to say about it, we had a good wander but didn’t stay too long as it was just so crowded.

Dinner at coco curry, a japanese chain specializing in katsu curry and then a long walk back to Ximen from central station. We did initially plan to go to a japanese buffet restaurant but it was booked out, so we’ve reserved it for tomorrow, the only english name on their reservation sheet. We also passed by an ‘Animate’ store on the way home, filled with super cheap manga and anime/idol goods, it’s a shame the books are all in chinese because £2.50 per manga volume is crazy cheap and they had a massive selection.

Taiwan 2018 – Day 3 – CKS Memorial and weekend markets

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Our day started with us going 6 floors up to a restaurant which wasn’t even open yet, the information we had read on the internet was wrong and so there we were all ready to eat and nowhere to go – thankfully Ximen has no shortage of places to find food – we settled on Taiwans famous fried chicken breast, which could basically be considered a gigantic chicken nugget depending on how you look at it, we coupled it with some iced tea as well for an authentic experience (Lychee black tea, mmm).

The forecast this morning said 80% chance of rain, with 100% chance of rain from 2-6pm, but venturing out to find breakfast we found clear blue skies and toasty 30 degree heat, I decided to head back and grab my sunglasses etc. before taking advantage of the skies (while they last) to go to CKS Memorial hall, a few stops away on the metro.

We weren’t really expecting the scale of the CKS area, with 2 gigantic temple structures straight outside the metro station, and a massive white and blue tower thing towards the end of the plaza, opposite an equally large traditional gate, was thankful I had a chance to grab my snuglasses as the heat and sun were really out in force today (I probably should have put some sun lotion on as well). We were in time for the changing of the guard ceremony again, or 15 minutes early, enough time for us to wait behind the barriers as they were set up, and get prime location for the ceremony – which lasted for a shocking 15+ minutes, consisting of marching, shouting, gun twirling, gun inspection, lots of stomping, and so on, honestly kind of repetitive by the end and confusing as to why it would go on for so long for a simple changing of the guard ceremony which happens every hour or so. Cordelia started feeling a bit sick by the end so we went and chilled for a bit and grabbed some drinks before continuing.

Wanting to make the most of the weekend, I found out about a flower market and we set off to go find and explore it. The market is actually a car park during the week, set under a suspended motorway and goes on for literally at least a mile, maybe more, we didn’t get to the end of it because it just kept going and going, definitely the longest market i’ve ever seen. Mist was being sprayed from pipes in the ceiling for the plants, which was cool to see but obviously made the place incredibly humid.

On the opposite side of the junction where the flower market starts was the weekend Jade Market, this one I had never actually heard of, but being that we were literally across the road, we headed in to take a look. This one was smaller but much more densely packed, with hundreds of individual vendors with small tables packed into another parking lot – this one was smaller but also air conditioned thankfully, as everyone inside would have almost certainly died by now without AC. As you would expect, the majority of the booths were selling Jade goods – bangles, earrings, carved pendants, etc. However all other gemstones and jewellery were also on sale. I don’t think many of the sellers get much business, as they seemed tired and happy to play on their phone in front of you, I do wonder how or if any of them make a profit with 200ish similar stalls around.

Another thing which wasn’t on our list but we visited anyway, was the huashan 1914 creative park – described as an old winery turned creative hub, the winery was now a strange mix of old architecture and modern trendy shops and cafes, with some amateur performers and plenty of youngsters roaming about, I imagine it’s quieter on weekdays but we had come on a Sunday and the place was very busy. Not a massive amount more to say about it, we had a good wander but didn’t stay too long as it was just so crowded.

Dinner at coco curry, a japanese chain specializing in katsu curry and then a long walk back to Ximen from central station. We did initially plan to go to a japanese buffet restaurant but it was booked out, so we’ve reserved it for tomorrow, the only english name on their reservation sheet. We also passed by an ‘Animate’ store on the way home, filled with super cheap manga and anime/idol goods, it’s a shame the books are all in chinese because £2.50 per manga volume is crazy cheap and they had a massive selection.

Taiwan 2018 – Day 1 and 2 – Arrival and temples

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Day 1 – travel from Dubai and Arrival

Our first day in Taiwan was basically a throwaway, the plane departed Dubai at 3:40am so we already wasted a bunch of time in the airport just waiting for take-off time to roll around.
The flight thankfully didn’t feel too long, I didn’t feel like I slept for much of it, but at the same time I think I was drifting in and out of consciousness, as it only felt like I was fully awake for 1 or 2 hours of the 8 hour flight.

After arriving in Taiwan, doing immigration and waiting a long time for our luggage to appear, we set off to try and work out how to get to Taipei central by train, before going to Ximending where our Airbnb was, stepping out of the metro system to Ximen was crazy, reminding me of the time we came out into Tokyo for the first time. In particular it felt so crazy considering we just came from Dubai, whose city vibes seemed almost professional – I guess they don’t bother putting much out because nobody really walks around outdoors there as it’s too hot.

We dropped our bags off and got acquainted with our home for the next week – sporting a pretty barebones setup, super hard bed and noisy air-con unit. It’s not really the nicest place I have to admit, but it’s in a fantastic location at least and the price was pretty good.

After freshening up, we headed out to explore Ximen, and eat dinner, we thought we’d make it memorable by going to the famous ‘Modern Toilet’ restaurant, themed around toilets – you sit on toilets, eat out of toilet bowls, get drinks served in urinals, eat chocolate ice cream shaped like… you get the idea. The food was decent, though obviously the main attraction was the decor. We had a little shop around afterwards before heading back home for some much needed sleep.

 

~~~~

Day 2

The night was noisy, even with the earplugs I was wearing, the aircon was loud and a nearby dog wouldn’t stop howling at the moon.

After a sleepy start, we would go in search of a restaurant recmomended to us by our Airbnb host, a place a short walk away called ‘Lao Wang Ji beef Noodles’, the actual name of course was entirely in mandarin, and so pretty difficult for us to try and find, especially as that road had 3 different places all specializing in beef noodles. We found our place in the end, or rather, we found the queue for it. From experience, the best places to eat in asia are the ones with queues outside, just follow the locals. It was amazing – super soft chunks of braised beef with slippery noodles, in a flavorful fatty broth, worth trying if you are ever around Ximen in Taipei.

We’d head up north a bit to try and do some sightseeing, first major stop being the Martyr’s Temple, a huge temple ground with grand gate, we arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guard as well, a march which seemed kind of comical to watch as they freeze in time at the middle of their marching step, the result looks more like a ‘World order’ music video than a military march.

We didn’t really know how to get back to the station and so ended up just jumping on a random bus, in the hopes that it would get us back to any metro station, the buses in Taiwan aren’t particularly frequent, nor are they easy to read for the chinese impaired, it ended up dropping us outside Yuanshan station, featuring a farmers market and underpass area filled with teens practicing dance routines, naturally one of them was doing a choreographed routine to All-star by smash mouth, I guess somebody once told them as well.

Was initially going to take the train to another area but on a whim decided to try and find a cafe or something where we could cool down and have a drink, we instead stumbled upon the Confucius temple and Dalongdong temple across the way, and so stopped to take pictures.
Also had my first proper bubble tea, which was delicious and also dirt cheap at only £1 for a large cup.

Still desperate to cool down, we headed for Main station and the adjoining mall for a bit of shopping and lunch, the basement 3 level of the mall was filled with food shops so we’d end up having an assortment of baked goods before doing some general shopping around – I was told that the clothing in Taiwan was pretty cheap so I only actually packed 2/3 of a suitcase, as I hope to refresh my wardrobe.

We were pretty tired by this point, and so walked back to the airbnb, I quite needed a shower after walking around in the heat, came out to see Cordelia had fallen asleep so and so we had a little while to rest before heading out for another wander around Ximen, this time however we decided to sample some of the street food instead of having a traditional dinner, and so had some fried chicken, squid, ‘onion cakes’ and then some mango shaved ice for dessert.

Dubai 2018 – Days 1 and 2 – All the touristy things

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An intense smell of body odour welcomed us to our seats on the plane, which was not a fantastic welcome present to the start of our big 2018 holiday. We had planned to sleep through the 6.5 hour flight and wake up to be greeted by beautiful hot Dubai, instead we both got pretty minimal sleep and arrived in Dubai feeling like shit.

A train across the city and then a long nap in the hotel then, we’d awake around 4pm or so, and head off towards the Burj Khalifia which we had booked tickets for prior.

The Burj is attached to the gigantic Dubai Mall, so we headed there first for a good walk around and quick snack. We hadn’t planned it this way, but we had arrived during ramadan – the holy muslim month where everyone fasts from sunrise to sunset, as a result the mall was somewhat quiet and a large amount of the food and drink shops were closed or had huge blackout curtains or wooden dividers around the shopfronts, with accompanying signs saying saying non muslims and children only. it was a strange sight and environment, but I can appreciate not wanting to see a KFC when you haven’t had anything to eat since 6am, eating and drinking in public during Ramadan is basically an offense – we didn’t feel like pushing our luck to see what is and isn’t allowed.

After having a nice walk around and seeing the huge aquarium fish tank, biggest OLED screen in the world, and the comically large indoor ice rink, we headed to ajoining Burj Khalifia for our booked slot at 6:30. if you’re ever in the area, 6:30 slot is the way to go, you essentially get the sunset view and the nighttime view for the price of one, though an unexpected side effect was that we had to queue ages for the lifts to get out. The Burj really was seriously high, the skyscrapers below look so small it kind of pulls you out of how high you are because it almost doesn’t feel real, but of course, everything looks small when you’re up 125 floors. The night view was definitely worth staying for, and I think worth the price of admission £40ish per person including Aquarium.

After a lengthy queue for the lifts back down, we went out to watch the Dubai fountain show over the beautiful man-made marina, which was really nice – not quite a singapore ‘laser projection on water mist’ level of complexity but a really solid lit choreographed water jet show with some of them really shooting up high.

Burger and frozen custard at shakeshack for dinner, which was somewhat underwhelming but oh well. We would have normally gone for something more locationally specialized but we couldn’t find any arabic food restaurants (and honestly, aren’t really sure what Arabic food would even consist of).

We’d walk around the aquarium and underwater zoo for a while afterwards, there were some impressive exhibits which are less common – huge crocodiles, sea otters, and large sharks to name a few.

by the time we decided to come home, we discovered that we had just missed the last train back to the hotel – at a surprisingly early 11:30pm.
it turns out the trains run at different times depending on the day, but we at least expected them to run until midnight. We had to catch a cab home which thankfully wasn’t too expensive at around £8 – if he wasn’t doing meter and said £20, we probably would have accepted it and paid him. Speaking of less expensive than expected, I should mention that the Dubai metro is also very reasonably priced, charged on a zonal basis, the cost is 3, 5 or 7.5 UAE Dirrhams (equal to 60p, £1, £1.50 respectively).

A late shower and then bed for us, to prepare for our second and last day in Dubai.

 

~~~~~

Day 2

 

We overslept.

Granted we didn’t actually have a massive amount planned for today but waking up around half 10 was a minor concern for us.

We’d actually start the day the same as yesterday, heading to the Dubai mall to go to the IHOP we scouted out yesterday, I’m not sure i’ve ever actually been to an IHOP before, even when I was in America, so whilst I imagine quite lame to some readers, we were genuinely quite excited to have some big american fluffy pancakes with bacon.
We’d end up both ordering a combo of eggs, bacon, hash brown and then an entire plate with stack of pancakes and topping – it was way too much for brunch, or any meal of any day for that matter.

From the mall we’d head back for the metro to check out the old town, heading for the spice souk and gold souk, it would all be outdoors, and it was about 39 degrees outside.

Whilst you can kind of mentally prepare yourself for 39 degrees heat, the real deal was genuinely super draining, I have no idea how the people that live there, are able to do manual labour in that kind of weather. Even a brief walk for half an hour made us want a shower.

The spice souk was smaller and less busy than we anticipated, I kind of thought it would be a bustling hub where old women bartered for cinnamon pods but it was actually just a covered alley/street with few locals and even fewer tourists, and a whole lot of spice sellers trying to grab you to visit their shop. Personally I got a whole lot of ni hao’s and konnichiwa’s whilst Cordelia got called Shakira more times than I can count (we can only assume because her hips don’t lie), I also got called a professor, which is a new one to me.

The gold souk was honestly not that much different either, except the staff wait for you to look at the diamonds in the window before coming out and trying to entice you in with their allegedly cheap prices and (more importantly) super cool air-con. It was around this point (about 45 minutes after we left the station) that our bodies were properly sweaty, so all the small licks of air-con we got as staff came to greet us was so very lovely. I actually found a shop which had an air-con leak in the corner, just spewing out cold air, we took advantage naturally.

The next thing on the agenda was the Dubai ferry, an hour long ferry trip which goes round to the palm jumeriah and Burj al arab, unfortunately the Ferry only sails if there are at least 10 patrons – which our timeslot failed to reach, so instead it was back on the train, unsure what we were going to do next.

We ended up at the other massive mall in Dubai, the Mall of the Emirates. We got to see the arcade which had a bunch of games i’ve never seen before (a rabbids 4 player lightgun game, and a tomb raider 4p lightgun game, amongst others), and the super cool looking indoor ski area, complete with toboggan run, little hot cocoa stands and all sorts. Had a small dinner and then back to the hotel to pack and start to prep for the airport. We still have a few hours to burn, but honestly not sure what else to do with such a small amount of time left, we’ve done all of the major inner city stuff so we’ll likely just end up chilling out until it’s time to head to the airport for the next leg of our journey.

 

Would also like to point out that i’ve been annoyingly ‘ill’ during this holiday, with a dry cough situation and what I presume is an eyelash hair stuck somewhere in my eye which I just can’t rid of, it’s driving me crazy!

Italy 2018 – Day 6 – Vatican city and Rome

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The beginning of the end, our last full day in Italy.

The vatican was top of our priority today, we took a bus over from our Airbnb and was almost immediately stopped by a tour guide providing ‘advice’ about how long the queues are, and how they conviniently have a fast pass to skip the queues – they said we’d be waiting 4 hours around the block, which seemed absolutely ridiculous.
This was promptly followed by us walking down the road and seeing the gigantic snaking queue to get into St Peters Basilica – literally going around the entirety of the Vatican courtyard and then coming back in towards itself like some sort of pretzel made from back pain and suffering instead of flour and whatever else goes into pretzels. We’d end up waiting 2 hours in line, majority of that in the sun – thankfully the weather that day was forgiving, being in the low 20’s rather than the scorching 28 degrees only 24 hours prior. Indians would constantly roam up and down the lines to sell drinks and selfie sticks – the water actually being a surprisingly cheap 1 euro for a half frozen 500ml ,best euro I’ve ever spent, genuinely.

I had already been inside last time and so no surprises, though worth noting that it was about as big as I remembered – which is to say really goddamn big, with each wing of the basilica being the size of ‘huge’ cathedrals in other cities. We were too tired to bother to climb up the steps to the dome (again, I did it last time so when Cordelia said she didn’t want to, I certainly didn’t argue).

We spent some time hunting around for lunch afterwards, eventually eating some mediocre pasta in a small cafe, as we were waiting in line so long that most of the proper restaurants had already closed. I’m not sure if i mentioned already, but Italy is really strict with their eating times, after 2:30pm be prepared to struggle with finding a good restaurant for lunch. By chance, I stumbled upon a small takeaway pasta place which I saw on tripadvisor, I greedily ordered some pasta to go – i’m on holiday, I can have 2 lunches if I want.
The takeaway pasta was shockingly nice, considering I wasn’t even hungry. You could really tell that the pasta was legitimately fresh and cooked just right. I’ve never had paparadelle before but man it was good, like an inch wide chewy egg noodle pasta, served with a ragu meat and tomatoes sauce.

We’d return home to rest for a bit before heading back out, hoping to hit sunset at the Giardino degli Aranci – an orange grove atop a hill overlooking Rome, we were a little bit early, but it was late enough in the day for us to get that yellow glow at least. We checked out the Circus maximus as well on the way down, which looked like a massive track and field area in a small crater.

Dinner first at ‘I Monticani‘ which served an amazing bruschetta, lasagne and tiramisu (gf had the panna cotta, which I can confirm is just as good), followed by one final visit to the Trevi fountain at night, hoping it would be less busy than last time, unfortunately not really as relaxed as we were hoping, but less people than during the day at least – enough for me to set up tripod, and for us to go down and take some selfies by the fountain edge.

Italy 2018 – Day 5 – Rome

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Train journey from Florence to Rome in the morning, which took about 2 hours, followed by the meeting our Airbnb host Isabella. Our room in Rome was really impressive compared to the last 2 we had stayed in this holiday, with a 3 meter tall door, high ceilings, air conditioning, memory foam bed and bunch of other small nice touches – we were ready to finish off our holiday.

Our Airbnb was near to Lepanto, sort of close to the river, Isabella advised we should start by walking down the riverfront and visiting the outside of the castle, before going into central Rome via the bridge – we followed her advice and really enjoyed it, the sun was a toasty 28*C that day, and the riverfront was shaded by trees as we passed the supreme Court building and Castel Saint angelo.

We’d basically go on a Rome 1 day sightseeing foot tour from here, guided by a bunch of small flags on Google maps and my own top notch navigation (if i do say so myself) – we saw the Piazza navona, campo de’ Fiori and beautiful church ‘Sant Andrea della valle’ before swinging by the Pantheon to see the outside (queue went around the block so we skipped going in, I’ve seen it before anyway). This was followed by the Trevi fountain, some house with a face in, the top of the Spanish steps, altar of the fatherland, Roman forum, and collesium. We just hit them one after another with only some short breaks in between to be able to give our legs a break.

We were lucky enough to come across some sort of carnival/parade while walking outside of the roman forum, with a bunch of dancing people in bright costumes parading around in the golden Roman sun, I think it was meant to be something to do with South America? A few of the younger performers were really suffering in the heat, visibly tired from dancing and spinning around in their costumes (at 28*C, i don’t blame them).

I tried being nice to an black guy who promptly then tied a bracelet around my wrist as a gift, I tried to play it off as ‘oh thank you very much’ and then walking off and then he started saying “don’t you have a gift for my family?” – I did kind of wonder how he was going to transition into getting me to give him money, I promptly removed the bracelet and returned it – thankfully it was only rope and not some sort of one way knot. I don’t want to generalise, but unfortunately it seems nearly every black guy who approaches you in Rome is trying to sell or con you, so watch out and steer clear if you go. The Indians aren’t great either but at least they just try to sell you things, not pretend to be friendly with you.

After taking all of our photos and enjoying the full length of the parade, we stopped by the Colosseum we went for dinner at a quirky italian/American place which had literally filled their ceiling with random stuff – had a calzone there which was unfortunately pretty mediocre, Cordelia enjoyed it though, I did enjoy the tiramisu at least.

We had Gelato on the way back too, a place on the walk back from the station called ‘G Like gelato’ which I can only assume is either some sort of FGC reference (godlike?) or house of the dead reference (Enjoy like G did?). They had some really interesting flavours, I picked yogurt and a Berry mix which was so good, the containers which hold the gelato actually spin which was interesting.

Italy 2018 – Day 4 – Pisa

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We were scheduled to do Pisa today, and set off fairly early to do so, it was the only major train ride we hadn’t prebooked in advance and so we at least had an open time frame to sort out the ride over.

Which is just as well, because I managed to get us completely lost on the way from our Airbnb to the station, bare in mind this is actually a 12 minute walk or so, we instead wound up walking down the nearby (Allegedly famous – according to Google at least) market. Grabbed some cheap sunglasses to stop half of our pictures looking like we are staring at a solar eclipse, and then proceeded to take the long scenic route to Florence Station.

The ticket system was pretty strange and caused a lot of confusion for us, the tickets sold at the booths show you all of the outbound trains for your destination and then basically ignores it all and prints out a super generic ticket which can be used at any time, no mention of the train or times on the ticket itself. Pisa is not the terminal destination of any of the trains so naturally we were running around clueless for a while, unsure which train to actually take, eventually I figured going back to the ticket machine to attempt to buy another ticket – and then taking a picture of all of the train numbers and departure times.

Train journey was maybe an hour, and unfortunately sat riding backwards in front of an arguing Arab couple who would cough without covering their mouths – the joys of second class unallocated seating, though at least we got a seat, many people were standing for the long journey.

Eventually we arrived in sunny Pisa itself, our itinery for Pisa was pretty much as expected – see the leaning Tower, take ‘that’ photo and whatever else we can spot along the way before heading back to Florence. Pisa had a more relaxed vibe to it, with wider pavements and gaps between buildings, and more sunlight as a result. Had the best gelato on the way (half coconut with chocolate and oreo, and half homemade Nutella? hell yes.) The place was called Il Gelato di toto and very much recommended if you ever go to Pisa.

The walk from the station to leaning Tower was longer than expected, and honestly, the tower itself was a little underwhelming in terms of size. I thought it was going to be like the Eiffel tower where you can see it in the distance from miles away, but maybe because of the way that the streets curve and the buildings all quite high, by the time you spot it peeking above the buildings you are basically there.

We took our pictures and then spent the rest of the time watching other people take theirs, which is honestly probably the best laugh I’ve had in ages – watching clueless middle aged men and women completely not understand the concept of how to do the photo illusion is comedy gold, some examples are an old man who looked like he was preparing to do a military press with the tower of Pisa, and a woman who was making a pose I couldn’t comprehend at all.

There are a few other attractions around the tower of Pisa, but in usual unprepared fashion with hadn’t prebooked anything – the cathedral did free tickets but on a timed schedule, and the earliest time they could let us in was at 5:30pm, about 2 hours longer than we anticipated sticking around, similarly we were too tired to walk up the tower (18EUR pp), and not particularly bothered about the other attractions which were pay on entry.

We’d unfortunately end up taking a wrong turn and walking 2 miles looking for somewhere to eat, always stick to the tourist paths people! Italy has a strange thing where many of the restaurants only open for lunch at strict hours and then close at 2:30pm or 3pm, of which we found our way back to the main strip of shops a little too late. We settled for a small cafe closer towards the station for some Pasta and then more gelato.

Seasoned experts of the Italian rail system now, our journey home was easy and much less busy than expected – for those considering travelling, the trip is about 8EUR per person, each way Firenze SMN to Pisa Centrale.

Fed up of walking for miles each day, we headed back to our Airbnb to have a little rest before dinner time, before eventually heading back out to go to a Korean fried chicken place around the corner from where we were staying – it was pretty authentic and super crispy, Cordelia had never tried it before so she enjoyed it a lot. (‘Il coco – chicken and beer’). We got to sit outside and enjoy the breeze as the sun set, with some dinnertime entertainment from the owners cute dog.

We still had some life left in us, and so off for a final walk about Florence, this time at night. I wanted to try and take some night photos of the Cathedral of Santa Maria, which was a bit of a challenge to find a good spot and not have people walk in front constantly (also hard because I don’t have a wide angle, and the cathedral is so damn big you have to be really far away to get it all in one shot with a 18mm lens). Some dessert at a nearby desserts place, where I had some sort of Pistachio giant Ferrero Rocher thing filled with cream and god knows what else, nice but very rich an a little too sweet for my tastes.

Tomorrow we catch the train to Rome.

Italy 2018 – Day 3 – Florence

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27 degrees or so, what a fine day for adventure.

After catching our train over from Venice in the morning, we headed straight to our Airbnb to meet Andy and the small room we had paid to stay in – emphasis on small, but all of the essentials were there at least (some aircon would have been nice however coz jeez, I’m sitting here typing this after a shower, in underwear, and still sweating slightly).

After having a quick freshen up, we would begin our grand tour of Florence, first stop being the Galleria del Accademia, situated only a few blocks down from where we were staying, the tripadvisor reviews describe it as basically ‘Michelangelo’ s David, and some other stuff’, which is actually more or less how I would describe it as that too, there were some other very grand paintings here, and an entire room full of busts and sculptures (I think some were plaster replicas though) but the focal point of the gallery was definitely the gigantic statue of David – to the point where it almost feels like the building was built around the statue, as there’s a huge dome above it to allow it to be properly lit from every angle.

Next up was the Piazza del duomo and Cathedral of Santa Maria, the cathedral of Santa Maria was gigantic! You can spot it from miles off with the right elevation or if walking on roads with clear lines of sight, the cathedral also features a tower and baptistry building, all of which were equally huge. We wanted to go up the tower and see the cathedral, but tickets were entirely sold out for the next 5 days, imagine not even being able to buy a ticket for tomorrow, just to see the inside of a church. Gutted, but at thankfully the outside was impressive enough to not leave any aftertaste.

We’d continue our trip south, hitting the Piazza della signoria an it’s iconic buildings, though truth be told, we didn’t really do any research so no idea what was inside. There were loads of artists outside, some less convincing that others, but a few were doing oil and watercolour painting on the street and it was very cool to see.

Eventually we hit the river and followed it around to the iconic Ponte vecchio, by name alone you wouldn’t know it, but you’ll probably recognise it from pictures. Unbeknownst to me, the bridge is filled with jewelery shops with awesome old style shopfronts to complement the cobbled road. We enjoyed a slow stroll down the road, playing top 3 rings, in a badly veiled attempt to work out which style of ring I should definitely not buy should our relationship continue. Turns out she likes weird shaped rings where the material twists, and large diamonds – who would have guessed.

We’re still walking? my legs were already dead at this point, we had been walking for miles. Cordelia in her optimism or gusto decided we would go and see the gardens in the south of Florence – they were pay on entry (though thankfully half price for those 25 or under) and lead to an impressive gigantic hedge maze style garden with plenty of Statues interspersed to keep things interesting. The fountain at the bottom was pretty and surrounded by citrus though you couldn’t get up close or steal the fruit to eat unfortunately.

We’d slog it uphill for a while afterwards, Cordelia somehow powering through like some sort of trained mountain climber, while I slowly but surely plodded upwards – the pictures really don’t do the slope justice, it was very steep.

We’d find out why as we got to the top, a view of the city from the top of the hill, before a steep decline to the Palace gardens and grounds below. A slow walk back to the airbnb afterwards, followed by me passing out on the bed whilst taking a ‘quick break’.

Special mention to dinner which we had around 8pm after I woke up, a place called Fuocco matto, we were sat in a bar style area right in front of the Pizza making station, which was an unexpected treat for a foodie like me, spending dinner watching a team of 3 guys just pump out pizzas constantly from dough to stone oven to being finished off and seasoned – as we were sat in front we literally got the pizzas as fresh as possible, where the pomodoro had only just been bubbling half a minute earlier, it was goddamn delicious.

Italy 2018 – Venice day 2

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After spending yesterday effectively doing prep work, we were ready to properly take on Venice today.

Grabbed some food from the train station and then bought a travel card for the day – 20EUR to provide a days worth of access to buses and the water buses in Venice Central.

After arriving in Venice by bus, we just hopped on the water bus all the way to San Marco Square, hoping to get in early to the Basilica di San Marco, unfortunately it’s closed on Thursday mornings for prayer, which wasn’t ideal for us. We took a diversion north to basically just escape the crowds, I had previously bookmarked a spot northeast of the main square, though couldn’t really remember why.

Upon arrival to the starred spot on my map, I remembered why I had bookmarked it in the first place – a small bookshop filled from floor to ceiling with books, complete with book filled Gondola in the centre, bathtubs and canoes filled with books, even a staircase made of books just outside, leading to a view of the nearby canal.

Bit more gelato and some wandering later, we returned to the church and got in line, the queue went around the front and then out into the square, with no shade and the sun beating down on us for a half hour or so, I thought for sure my neck was going to burn, though at the time of typing, nothing yet.

The church itself was impressive in scale, adorned with a whole ceiling of gold and murals in the negative space. They didn’t allow photos inside but a snuck a few here and there anyway. The queuing continued even inside the church, with additional segments of the church requiring payment as well, we’d end up stuck in a queue inside for what felt like a small eternity, honestly we didn’t even know what we were queuing for, just following the crowd. Eventually it turns out we were queueing to see some form of golden plate adorned with jewels – nice and sparkly, though personally not worth the agonising queue to get to see it. My legs and back were aching by the time we left, it felt like I had aged 10 years while waiting to move around the inside.

Lunch followed, we found a nice place off the beaten path offering pasta and a second plate with side and drink for 20 euro, which for Venice, is pretty good value.

Time for our Gondola ride, hunted around the main tourist spots and found another couple who wanted to share with us – as the prices are 80EUR for the gondola itself, it made sense to share and split the cost, the 80EUR is meant to last approx half an hour and include some level of tour. Unfortunately we picked a bad gondolier, to anyone who visits Venice, if your gondolier asks for the money up front? peace out of there. Rather than being a romantic ride down the side streets of Venice, our guy spent half the time having a shouting conversation with other gondoliers he passed, and the trip lasted maybe 20 minutes before he started bringing us back in to dock, we felt pretty ripped off but I’m just thankful we did share with another couple, as 80EUR for 20 minutes would have been a little too painful for me to stomach.

We were kind of out of ideas from there, and proceeded to wander around for a while, passing and looking at many of the shops selling murano glass before deciding to get the most of our travel card and catching a waterbus to anywhere – we’d end up in some gardens at the east end of Venice, taking some time to chill and take in the scenery while cooling down with the ocean breeze.

We took another boat from there to Lido, a sand bar island just off Venice, not entirely sure what the purpose of it is, but it felt like a different country over there, where the sunshine seemed brighter – it had a Spanish seaside resort kind of feel to it. We walked along the beach there for a bit before having dinner (Pizza) and starting our journey back. The waterbus taking us right round the island as the sun set.

Italy 2018 – Venice day 1

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25th April

After a painfully early wakeup to get to Heathrow Airport for 8am, we’d touchdown in Marco Polo, Venice Airport at around midday. Caught the bus from Venice Airport to just outside the main train terminal where we were staying, and then randomly stumbled in the general direction of our Airbnb until we arrived.

The flat itself was pretty nice, modern kitchen, nice shower, unfortunately it fell a bit short in the most important department – with noisy upstairs occupants and a bed which feels like it’s been fitted with some sort of plastic cover underneath the sheets. We’d get to fully enjoy that mess later, but for now, a quick cleanup and it was back out to try and find our way towards Venice.

Some more stumbling later (we found a bus which takes us to Venice bus station) we finally made our way to the island and started marching off in a random direction to just go and see what we could find. We were pretty unprepared and didn’t have a whole lot on our proposed itinerary so we figured we would just enjoy the streets themselves whilst maybe passing by and checking off any landmarks that we’d come across. Initial impressions were patches of a very overwhelming sea smell, like being at a dirty seaside in Essex – it wasn’t always present, but every now and then you’d get a big whiff of it and remember where you are.

The streets were really small, more like a collection of alleyways really, this combination of small alley-like streets and no roads for cars (just bridges and canals) meant that all of the shops were very condensed and foot traffic was heavy, it felt almost bazaar like in it’s maze like structure, and the high buildings would generally provide shade from the sun (which was a lovely toasty 24 degrees or so). We really walked about, got some gelato, saw a bunch of interesting shops, crossed countless bridges.

Eventually we got to the main touristy area, and it was noticeable. The tourist bit of Venice is on the other side of the grand canal, and only cross-able by Water bus or 2 or 3 bridges, so naturally these bridges were mental and filled with tourists getting their selfie sticks out.

We’d finally hit the main Venice Square, to the sound of music and cheers – rounding the corner we found a stage and a small sea of orange flags, it turns out we had arrived on their independence day and they were showing some real team spirit – a lovely dash of colour to my photos.

We kind of just walked around some more for the rest of the day, went into a small art gallery, had dinner (Lasagne) and then headed back to sleep because we were shattered. It doesn’t sound like we did a whole lot on paper (maybe because technically we didn’t, but we walked a massive loop around all of main Venice over the course of 6 hours or so. I personally slept like a log that night (though aided by earplugs to drown out the noise of the mattress plastic), Cordelia unfortunately didn’t get such a good night, apparently upstairs were making noise all through the night, dragging chairs about and such. We’ll be sure to leave that on the review.

Denmark – Day 3+4 – Town and Aquarium

posted in: Denmark 2017, holiday | 0

Day 3 basically turned out to be the wasted day, we were all exhausted from yesterday’s late night amusement park walk, and so didn’t leave the house until quite late. We went to a nearby buffet brunch place for food, which had a surprisingly large selection of cooked and cold foods, I took the opportunity to load up on meats as well as have some American style pancakes with syrup and crispy bacon – something we rarely find in the UK.

A short ride away by bus, we’d hit up our first attraction of the day – the Copenhagen planetarium, which turned out to be really small and fairly crap to be honest, thankfully our Copenhagen card covered the cost, and got us entry into an IMAX short film which they were showing, and that cinema screen was really impressive – being so big that you literally cannot see the edges, we were shown a short space/universe video being the ‘feature’ of an underwater south Pacific documentary about… God knows what (as it was entirely in Danish). We took the opportunity to take in the video and simultaneously have a bit of a nap.
I don’t think I actually got any pictures of the planatarium as it wasn’t anything too special, and the exhibits were fairly standard space fare

The rain was full whack by the time we got outside, and so after walking to town we stopped at a coffee shop for drink and some muffins. I tried getting some pictures of the city hall in rain but I don’t think they are going to come out very well. We’d spend a few hours wandering the streets and having a shop about, we also dropped back in to see the ship, as my brother really wanted to go in again. Come evening time, most of the attractions and shops were closing, seems Denmark isn’t renowned for it’s late night shopping – stuck for ideas for things to do, we’d end up going to a shopping centre just outside of central, as it’s one of the few places around that seemed to still be open after 5pm (even then, the shops were set to close at 8pm).

Nothing too special inside and so lack of photos, had some ribs for dinner, and then had a good walk around the shops. Everything in Denmark is really seriously expensive, the restaurant we went to (which wasn’t even a posh one) was charging £7 for soft drinks, and £2.50 for tap water, with almost all main courses being upwards of £15.

Nothing much to report, once the shops started closing at 8pm we headed back home to rest and begin to pack, as we are leaving the country tomorrow.

Day 4 – Den Blå Planet and departure

We spent the remainder of our time in Denmark at the National Aquarium, not really much to say here, they did have some sea otters which was cool. Have some pictures. grabbed a shuttle bus from the Aquarium to the airport, and then set off for our flight home.

 

Denmark – Day 2 – Palace, Castle, and Tivoli Gardens

posted in: Denmark 2017, holiday | 0

Yet another rainy day,, the forecast has predicted rain and grey skies all day already, so after using the hairdryer on my shoes for a bit, we set out to find some breakfast.

A bakery a few bus stops away would be our choice, a small selection of Danish pastries and some coffee by the canal seemed stereotypically Danish in our eyes. The chocolate whirl was particularly nice to dip into my morning coffee.

First major stop of the day was Christiansborg Palace, the city’s main palace right next to their Parliament building. We would wander the interior, kitchens and basement ruins for a while, as they are all already included with our Copenhagen card. The rain picked up while we were inside and so we had to wait for a bit before moving on. They made us wear essentially small plastic bags over our shoes as it was raining, I took some extra in hope that I may be able to avoid soggy socks again today, as I actually had to use the hair dryer on my shoes in the morning before we set out.

We wandered around for a bit afterwards, checking out the national library called the ‘The black diamond’ and some of the neighboring gardens. The library building was impressive, though there wasn’t really much to look at, definitely seems more geared towards the locals than the tourists., as a lot of the major areas are for library members only.  We’d head off to Torvahallerne next to try and some lunch, it was a fair walk again and the rain picked up mid walk, drenching me somewhat, the rain began to seep through my left shoe again…

Torvehallerne turned out to be a collection of two big greenhouse style buildings with a fresh market in between, the buildings specialising in normal and dessert style food respectively, unfortunately only a small portion of the shops would actually serve food fit for eating ‘now’ (personally I do not deem a leg of parma ham to be acceptable lunch – and honestly even if I did, I’d have to get a mortgage to buy the thing, because Denmark), and those that did were very expensive. We spied a shop with a grand selection of Smørrebrød and bought a few of them, the bill came to a painful amount considering we were essentially buying a small unfinished sandwiches (>£7 each). We did enjoy them at least, particularly the fish and meat ones, which were topped with hollandaise and picked veg respectively and were a small explosion of flavours.

15 minutes walk away was Rosenberg castle, which wasn’t really much of a castle at all, more of a ‘small’ residence for royalty, the surrounding gardens and grounds were arguably more impressive than the interior of the castle which was quite dark and gloomy, but unfortunately it was still raining and we didn’t feel like adding mud to our attire. We were practically falling asleep in the castle cafe afterwards, and so decided to head back for a bit of rest before continuing our exploration for today

An hour or two later, we’d set out again for the nearby ‘church of our Savior’ which turned out to actually be closed for some reason, so we’d end up standing around waiting for the bus for a while instead. The weather forecast for a nice change was predicting no more rain for the rest of the day, and so after a Steak dinner we headed for Tivoli Gardens – a late night theme park which is the second oldest running theme park in the world. Walt Disney allegedly got his inspiration for Disney whilst walking through Tivoli gardens, and I have to say, it really didn’t disappoint.

Having the park open til midnight makes for some beautiful changes from the typical amusement park, with plenty of lights and carnival games as well as the larger rides in the distance glowing in the sky. Genuinely one of the prettiest theme parks I’ve been to, though unfortunately we didn’t ride much as the prices were a bit extortionate (or just Danish) – with single rides being £10 per person per ride, or a wrist band being around £40 (though we arrived too late for the wrist band to have been worth it).

My brother desperately wanted to ride one of the spinners, called Vertigo – his girlfriend recommended it to him which obviously meant that not only he had to go, but I had to be dragged on. This was one of those long arm spinners where the carriages also free spin, mid way through the ride the machine ‘locks’ and rapidly accelerates, getting progressively faster each rotation.

The attendant told us the ride reaches 60MPH / 100KMH and submits 5G’s – for reference, astronauts in a space shuttle are hit with 3G’s on launch. I already thought the ride was going fast after the 2nd acceleration, it would proceed to do so another 3 times – by round 4 my stomach fat was being pushed back to my back and hurting, by round 5 I was experiencing a loss of peripheral and colour vision, this ride is no joke. Theres are plenty of vids on youtube (speedup starts around 1:30) but I promise it looks more ridiculous in person.

Back on the ground after sitting for a bit to recover from my nausea, we’d finish off the remainder of the park and then come back towards the entrance where a live gig had kicked off, nobody we knew unfortunately as he was singing in Danish, but apparently the band – ‘TV-2’ is one of the biggest in Denmark – we quite enjoyed one of their songs , very catchy. The crowd was certainly impressive and made moving around pretty hard, the live music could be heard from most of the inner part of the park, so we continued exploring a little before heading back around midnight.

Denmark – Day 1 – Paper Island, Nyhavn, and Strange things

posted in: Denmark 2017, holiday | 0

So, super early start today, getting up for the airport at 4:30am for a flight around 7am.

Nothing particularly noteworthy about the flight, though I did accidentally try to smuggle on some scissors (I thought I had lost them, apparently they were in my luggage), the bag search lady was not too impressed.

We arrived in Copenhagen a little before midday local time, grabbed the train to Amegebro (or something like that? We actually memorised it as ‘I’m a gay bro’) and met up with our Airbnb host. The accommodation is decently sized and the beds are super soft and foamy (not sure if this is a good thing or not yet), the only real downside of the flat is that you need to walk up like 6 stories worth of stairs to get to the front door (75 steep steps)

After dropping our stuff off and having a quick rest, we were quickly off to Paper island, which has Copenhagen food street area – a covered ex warehouse or similar, huge location filled with just about every type of cuisine – the family split up and brought back a selection of nice food to the table, which turned out to be a pulled pork burger, a duck burger, some chicken… Thing, and some Korean fried chicken. All pretty good, no complaints here aside from the price, which was pretty high (though, unfortunately, just normal for Copenhagen, with all dishes in the food street costing over £10 and into the 15 range).

After eating our fill, we headed to Nyharvn – the scenic canal with colourful houses that you have probably seen in postcards or on social media feeds, it is the most distinctly Copenhagen thing that I am aware of. We would hunt around there for a little bit looking for a riverboat tour of the canals.

We found the riverboat tour after some searching around, it had been raining pretty much all day and so we were initially thankful to have a riverboat with a glass ceiling, at least we would be able to rest and stay dry for a bit after the long walk from the food street. Unfortunately the glass walls and roof weren’t fantastic at letting us actually see the sights the tour guide was pointing out, and the open air segment of the boat was crowded and wet – coupled with the fact that we had all been up since 4AMish, all of us actually ended up dozing off for some of the ride.

After disembarking the boat, we set off down one of the more lively looking streets, filled with shops and bustle – we’d spot a huge church down one of the side roads, and went to investigate…
The church was actually St Nikolaj church, though the inside was no longer being used for prayer, having been stripped down of everything heavenly and being replaced by… Something significantly stranger..

Denmark was about to get weird.

After flashing our Copenhagen cards to gain entry (tourist card) we would be greeted by a pure white church interior, some strange mouldings on the floor, and a very odd corridor looking like something from an Alien space station – there was very loud and ominous music blasting throughout the church, like industrial noises mixed with higher pitched organ soundings… It genuinely sounded like something from a horror film soundtrack. Going through the corridor would eventually lead to a staircase to upper floors, with the top one having bloodied lab coats and metallic railings and boat blueprints scattered around.. Meanwhile on the ground level, coloured polygon shapes were embedded in the ground, some emitting sounds or smoke… The staff were all dressed in lab coats as well. The whole thing felt like some sort of bizarre experiment, and I was half expecting the staff to stop us from leaving until we solved the puzzle, I’m sure a talented game dev could create a video game out of what we saw in there.

After being thoroughly baffled, we’d head back down the road and come across ‘the round tower’ (actually called that, how original), finally a more normal and traditional sightseeing structure. The interior was just a giant screw tapering, going all the way to the top where you could eventually get a 360 view of Copenhagen, there was also a hole down the middle of the entire tower, which would allow you to see all the way down from the top to the Base, complete with glass floor you can stand on – I opted not to.

And then things got weird again.

One of the side doors in the tower lead to a different ‘art’ exhibit, with floating halos and… This… Thing.
In similar fashion to the ‘ship’ we had seen earlier, this exhibit was also blasting the most ominous freaky horror film soundtrack you’ve ever heard, it would have felt right at home as part of ‘The Grudge’ or similar scary flick – the end of the room had curtains leading to a near pitch black partition with a movie screen showing… I’m not entirely sure what it was showing, but the noises and ‘music’ were freaky enough to make you not want to stick around long enough to find out.

You can check the freaky music in the exhibit below

We would head back to the flat afterwards, stopping by a Danish supermarket and shopping centre first – resting up, and then heading back out to a tiny 2 table Italian restaurant called Pasta House, there wasn’t much to eat around our Airbnb flat, with majority of the restaurants in Copenhagen apparently closing at 8 or 9pm, so were kind of happy to just be able to find somewhere to eat. I didn’t get any pictures of the inside but this was a real one man band kind of deal, with strange decoration and only enough seating for maybe 6 people, regulars would come and chat with the boss while he cooked, and then the food was rather strangely served up in one of those metal oven takeaway dishes, really not much to look at, but the food was reasonable at least.

 

Prague 2016 – Day 7 – Running out of time

posted in: holiday, Vienna/Prague 2016 | 0

Wednesday unfortunately marks the final day of our holiday, with our plane booked for 9:30pm. Our airbnb hosts were nice enough to let us keep the room a few hours longer than we were meant to, so we could stay in the warm until 4pm at least, so we kind of planned our day around that.

We considered going into central again but honestly im not sure what we’d end up doing there other than freezing to death, so we decided on just doing a few things around vinohrady and chilling in the flat.

After some lunch we went to Questerland, a nearby Escape room game, it’s one of the higher rated ones in prague and has the added benefit of being in walking distance from our flat and pretty damn cheap (800czk for the both of us, or about £27). There were quite a few scenarios but I thought i’d go with the bank vault escape, where you’ve broken into a bank but the door has closed behind you. We had great fun, there were lots of secrets and interesting puzzles, and the place was empty so our host was pretty chill with us taking as long as we needed.

Walked through a czeck market on the way back to the flat, definitely not geared towards tourists because hardly any english there, was pretty interesting to see what kinds of things they were selling.

Lunch was traditional, some variety of meat in a cream and dil sauce with bread dumplings, of which I don’t think i’m ever going to get used to. We’d chill and then finally collect our stuff before leaving the flat for the last time.

But we weren’t done with Prague just yet….
Due to a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of what a Thai Massage is, we were booked in for one at one of the better parlours in Prague. We arrived and were promptly whisked into a side room with 2 beds ready for us, where we were then asked to strip down to our underwear. The next hour consisted of a Thai lady tenderizing my back like how you’d loosen up beef, a lengthy mix of overly forceful kneading of my flesh with plenty of forced bone cracking. At one point she straight up just stood and walked all over me, standing on the back of my calves, my ass, my back and shoulders… At another point she sat on my ass and then tried to snap me in half from behind… There was also a move which involved her grabbing my legs and inserting her heel in that spot just inside your inner thigh (read: right next to my balls). It was definitely up there with the most painful paid sessions i’ve had in my life, and I only have myself to blame. At least I felt refreshed afterwards right? Well… not really, and it was a bit weird to walk for a little bit, the soles of my feet in particular felt like they had an arch forcefully sculpted into them (I have flat feet).

After being thoroughly brutalized, we headed to the airport for plenty of waiting around, and eventually our flight back to England – where we would end up stuck at Gatwick for ages because of a stupid southern rail strike.

 

Prague 2016 – Day 6 – Old and New town

posted in: holiday, Vienna/Prague 2016 | 0

We’d spend the majority of the morning randomly wandering around Pragues old town, cobbled streets and tall buildings with some random castle towery things interspersed (presumedly to keep the trolls out or something). Unintentionally ended up back at the old town square back where we were the other night. The square was probably just as busy, but now the sky was a lovely bright blue instead of the blackness we had seen last night, the downside of course is that the tree looked way less impressive.

We peeked into a few of the churches around the square which we hadn’t seen the other day, St Nicholas church across the street had a rather impressive big ol’ chandelier thing in the centre, and some pretty nice ceiling art.

Back outside we started to notice a very large congregation of people around the astronomical clock, 12o’clock was drawing close so we figured there would be some huge fanfare when it struck so we joined the crowd and waited it out.
The bells rang, accompanied by some tiny statues moving along and ringing smaller bells, a bit unimpressive if I’m being honest.

Lots of christmas market food for lunch, including bavarian crown, some hotdogs and some amaretto punch. We tried visiting the large church at the back of the christmas tree, but it was closed for a lunch, still took some pictures of the inside though through the glass.

*Wandering around intensifies*

We’d do some winow shopping, take a break in a chocolate shop, went to ‘moser crystal’ which was a super expensive shop filled with crystal and glass – some centrepieces being in the £100,000’s, didn’t take any pictures as we were being watched the whole time. We also went into Hamleys which is actually a british toy store, however the interior of the Prague branch was very impressive with a carousel and slide between floors. We’d stumble upon another christmas market with donkeys, a Jewish synagogue (which was closed for hibernation) and an old style shopping plaza, before finally ending up at the dancing house towards the south of central prague.

We arrived around 4pm just when the sun was starting to retreat, so got some pretty nice sunset shots around the river, it’s a shame it wasn’t the same side that the castle was on.

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur, Cordelia wanted to go into a place called Nightmare horror bar, which is themed on old horror films, it was really cool inside and all of the cocktails and shots were spooky themed. Unfortunately I underestimated the cocktails and had a bit too much to drink, and subsequently felt very ill for the rest of the night. Dinner was at a restaurant nearby where I just had some goulash and bread, and then had to take frequent pauses on the trip home to play the ‘burp or vom?’ game with myself (thankfully, all burps).

Prague 2016 – Day 5 – Castle district

A frosty morning would greet us as we opened the door to be greeted by minus 4 degrees weather, the czech weather certainly does not play around.

It was a fairly easy train ride over to the castle district, where we would be spending the majority of our day. The station is actually kind of outside of the castley area, so we’d have to take a bit of a trek uphill to get there, to be met by armed guards and airport style equipment to search all who were to enter, the czech appear to still be using the castle as some form of actual fortress by the looks of things.

The view from the top of the hill was impressive, giving a great overview of many of Pragues landmarks, there were droves of tourists of course which was a bit of a shame, but I guess you can’t have it all. The castle was actually more of a small town or collection of huge buildings if you would prefer, cobbled roads lay inbetween tall buildings with some castle remnants spread inbetween the gift shops and cafes. Of interesting note was some random statue of a guy with a gleaming penis, a small crowd gathered around it with people taking it in turns to rub his dong.

Further on up the hill we would come across a small Christmas market and an incredible church – the Cathedral of St Vitus. Unbeknownst to us, you can actually see this cathedral atop the hill from most places in Prague, and for good reason, it was seriously gigantic.

After taking pictures of it’s impressive exterior we made the mistake (?) of paying a little extra to climb up the belltower – which turned out to be a a real challenge, I’ll be honest and say was actually expecting to turn the corner after the ticket booth and see a lift, but nope, only a narrow spiral staircase maybe 1.5m in Diameter, with 287 steps (approx 90 meters – an average 2 story UK house is approx 8 meters, for comparison). People coming down the staircase were actually cheering the ascending people on, that’s how rough that shit was. The view from the top, thankfully, was breathtaking, with pretty clear views of all of Prague.

Back down on the floor, we looked inside the Cathedral but didn’t feel like paying the additional entry cost as we could already see most of the goods from the entrance. Some real size to the hall, and some lovely detailed stained glass windows, the church was actually only completed in the 1930’s so I guess that would explain some of the interior detail.

Some christmas market lunch (delicious chorizo hotdog and some trdelnik [Chimney cake] ) and then we were off again to another church, this time the Loreto, which was a Marian pilgimage site with church and treasury inside. The entrance fee was kind of steep, and they actually didnt even want us to take photos inside without paying another 100czk for a ‘photography pass’ but the place wasnt very policed so we had our way with it, the main church area at the back was quite nice and completely empty. The treasury upstairs was a nice bonus as well, featuring a piece called the ‘Prague Sun’ which is a monstrance encrusted with 6000 plus diamonds.

Yet more walking! Downhill this time and eastward back towards civilisation, we stopped off at a chocolate cafe because we were freezing. We ended up at the Prague chocolate cafe and bistro – Cordelia ordered a chocolate beer and I thought i’d try their speciality – a hot chocolate.
What arrived in front of me was very literally hot chocolate – barely even classified a liquid, it looked almost as if thy had thrown a small bar of chocolate into a mug, warmed it up and called it a day, or perhaps my waitress confused the containers for chocolate fondue and drinking chocolate? Regardless of the case, I ended up with a mug of super sweet melted chocolate which I just could not drink to save my life out of fear of sugar overdose.

St Nicholas church would meet us at the bottom of the hill, yet another large church to marvel at, this one featuring a beautiful bright painted ceiling and some very impressively huge statues. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

We’d wander around a little more and stumble upon the John Lennon wall, a rather strange place to put it, given that the Beatles are British, and so is John Lennon but hey ho. The wall itself was graffiti’d from top to bottom with various colours and optimistic quotes.

We had finally concluded our activities west of the river, and could finally make our way across the famed Charles Bridge, the huge paved bridge adorned with various statues which you may have seen upvoted on reddit once or twice. It was equally impressive in person, especially because the Cathedral and castle district sit high upon a hill in the background, making for some really nice pictures (I hope ). We were on it long enough that eventually a huge man with a cloak and cape strolled down the whole bridge and manually ignited all of the lamps on the bridge.

My camera battery was starting to flash by this stage, unsurprising given I had taken almost 300 photos by this point in the day, and didn’t bother charging the battery yesterday. I had hoped to not go to anywhere massively impressive until tomorrow out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to photograph it.

Then as we wandered through the cobbled sideroads, we came across Old Town Square, filled with it’s golden astronomical clock, a massive Christmas market, the largest and brightest Christmas tree I’ve seen all holiday, and some form of church in the background. We blitzed them all, intending to come for a second round tomorrow.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, have some kind of underwhelming pork for dinner and then back to the flat to rest and defrost.

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