Friday, September 30, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 40: Interlaken, Switzerland - Cannes, France)

9 Sept 2011 (Day 40)
This was probably the most epic day of my life! A day of highs and lows.

Interlaken, Switzerland
I got a call from the Skydiving company and was told that my Skydiving session has got to be postponed to the afternoon. Initially, I booked the session at 8:30am because I had a train to catch in the afternoon at about 2pm.

Now someone will come and pick me up at 12:30pm and I'll do the sky dive at 1pm. Then one of their staff will drive me to the train station. Talk about mad rush!
Interlaken is the outdoor capital of Switzerland. (At least according to me.) Because in Interlaken, you can find almost any outdoor adventure activities that you want. If you can name it, you can find it there. You can go skydiving, bungee jumping, canyoning, hand gliding, paragliding, caving, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, skiing, among many other activities. 

Oh, I went there when the Jungfrau Marathon was going on. That is one of the best known mountain marathons in the world! Of course, I didn't go to Interlaken to take part in that! I didn't even know about the Marathon until I was there.
(Jungfrau Mountain at the background)
This is a small city which can be covered easily by foot.
(Aare River)
Played with a swan along River Aare.
The reason I chose Interlaken to do skydiving was because it is ranked the top destination in the world for skydiving in many websites. If it is not the top, it will be somewhere in the top 3 places to skydive. When I was there, I could easily see why.

Got all my bags and hopped into the pick-up car that brought me to the airfield. Traffic was bad because of the Jungfrau Marathon.
After I was geared up, I went into the small jet that brought me up into the skies.
Then I leaped off the jet with my instructor!!! Was I scared? Not really. I have no time to be sacred. Everything happened so fast and I just followed the instructions and suddenly I was spinning a few rounds during free fall. Before the jump, I even told the instructor to do the craziest thing he has ever done to scare the hell out of me. Maybe I shouldn't. The instructor did all kinds of crazy flips and turns and it was thrilling!!! I've no regrets. This is, without a doubt, THE BEST experience in this trip. 

The view from above was gorgeous! As I was coming down with the parachute, I could see a few cities and so much of the Swiss Alps!!! It was awesome. I think my mouth was open the whole time. Wow!!!

Truly unforgettable.

I definitely skydive again at a different place!

Immediately after the skydive, I went to make the payment for the video that they recorded and there was already a car outside waiting for me. Rushed to a train station and managed to catch the train just in the nick of time. 

Bern, Switzerland
I had a transit in Bern and wanted to walk around the city. But I only had 50mins before my next train departs.

I went to the Luggage lockers at the train station but I do not have enough Swiss Francs to pay for the locker! So I had to carry my HUGE Haversack around. 

Next, as I was still wearing thermal pants (because Interlaken was quite cold, not to mention skydiving), I need to change out of it because my legs were getting hot! But I have to pay to use the toilet! And I did not have enough Swiss Francs to pay for the toilet! I went to the tourist information center at the train station and asked if I could go behind their counter to change my pants but they wouldn't allow. I told them I have no local currency to use the toilet but they wouldn't bulge.

I was running out of time to explore Bern. After much persuasion, one staff told me that I could just change there in the tourist center and he will stand in front of me to cover me. So I took out my PANTS in the middle of the Tourist Information Center! It was not as if the staff was able to cover me with his body anyway. There was a lady in the Center at that time too! Not sure if she noticed. 

This is one experience that I will NEVER, EEEEEEE........EEVER, forget.

Truly unforgettable.

I quickly left the Tourist Information Center and walked around Bern. Saw Albert Einstein's House. He lived there from 1903 - 1905. 

I heard that Black Forrest Cake (or anything Chocolate) is really good in Switzerland. So I made a last minute dash into one of Bern's bakeries and bought 2 types of chocolate cake. The counter staff couldn't speak much English so I got 2 cakes just to be safe. I didn't know what they were. Fortunately, they accept Euros in this shop so I could pay using Euros!!!

Got the cakes and ran back to the train station with my HUGE Haversack.

Headed to Cannes, France!

Cannes, France
12.30am (Midnight). Arrived in Cannes at an unearthly hour.

Earlier in the train, I called up the hotel, where I was staying, and asked if I could go to the hotel lobby at about 1:30am and wait till the next morning for check-in. The hotel staff said no. He couldn't allow anybody to stay overnight at the lobby. He wouldn't bulge. And I didn't want to pay for an extra night because it was only 5-6 hours to the next day morning.

The hotel is quite far from the train station in Cannes. In order to get there, I had to take a bus. But the at 12:30am, most of the bus services had stopped. In any case, I won't be going to my hotel first because I don't know the area well and I didn't want to be stuck overnight at an unknown place.

I thought that I could at least spent the night at the Cannes Train Station but it was closed immediately after my train left the station. So I walked out and stayed at the bus stop just outside the train station. It was past midnight and it was dark. I didn't want to go anywhere further. Remember that I was carrying my HUGE haversack.

I put my HUGE haversack down and sat on the small bench at the bus stop. I couldn't really sleep because I was afraid that someone would come and steal my things or disturb me.

So I closed my eyes, opened my eyes, closed my eyes, open my eyes......and it continued like that for a while. There were still some people on the streets walking around, some drunk, some not so drunk. It was cold by the way. And I was shivering at the bus stop.

One of the most humbling experiences in my life. 

At about 3:30am, there was this lady who came by the bus stop and waited for the train station to be opened. I have no idea why she was there in the wee hours in the morning to wait for the train station to be opened. She could have come a bit later right? 

Anyway, I think she was God-sent. Because she was really nice and entertaining. She was talking to me about music and where I come from and other random stuff. Then she began to sing!!! Haha.... At 4am in the morning, that was the last thing I wanted to hear. But after a while, I really enjoyed her singing and her company. She was really entertaining. She even danced while singing! I just kept laughing and nodded my head in sync with her tunes. And when she was singing, she would nudge me and asked me if I know this song, and asked me to sing along! Haha..... I tried and I think I failed miserably in comparison to her. It was just funny.

She sang many songs, including songs from Micheal Jackson! Tried to catch a few winks when she walked away. But after a while, she came back! She couldn't stop singing and dancing at the bus stop. It was really comical. 

At 6am, the train station opened. And we said goodbye and she left. I went to the train station to settle my subsequent train rides. I was still recovering from the cold at the bus stop and was really really tired. I was a zombie walking around the train station. 

I got on the pubic bus and went to the hotel and checked in. Fortunately, the hotel allowed me to check in early and I went to sleep at 7am in the morning. 

Truly unforgettable

What an epic day (& night)!

Thank God for sending an angel in the middle of the night to accompany and entertain me!

After Skydiving (in Interlaken), changing pants at a Tourist Center (in Bern), and spending a night at a Bus Stop (in Cannes), MY LIFE WAS DEFINITELY NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE....................................EEEE...........................EEVER, THE SAME, AGAIN!!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 39: Lucerne - Interlaken, Switzerland)

8 Sept 2011 (Day 39)

Woke up early to go to Mount Pilatus. It is a beautiful mountain near Lucerne and one of the must-go places here.

Took a cable car up the mountain and then I have to change to another cable car at about 3/4 of the journey. Then it became colder and colder and colder......and colder....
The cable car will bring you to a tourist viewing gallery. From there you can walk out and up to the peak of the mountain.
(Above the clouds in the cable car)
The moment I stepped out of the viewing gallery, I almost froze to death!! It was so cold and the wind wasn't helping. Suddenly, I realised that I was under-dressed. Way under-dressed. Super under-dressed.
(At the peak of Mount Pilatus. I'm cold, that's why.)
I have to force myself to walk to the peak, which is not very far from the gallery. Once there, I have to withstand the cold and the wind to take video and photos. It was crazily cold. I think my fingers went numb after a while. 

The peak of Mount Pilatus is 2,128 meters high. And I can tell you that this is one of the best experience in this whole trip!
(This is how I do video recording of myself. Hey, it's not easy ok!)
More pics!!!
(If you are wondering, Yes, that is my underwear! Ok, stop starring, will you?)
It shows that I've been losing weight after traveling for 39 days! Even my pants couldn't hold up!
(I'm on top of the world, baby!!!) 
What else can I say?
Just so you know, I was still in the process of freezing. I had to smile as if it was normal. The temperature was hovering at about 5 degrees Celsius. And I was only wearing 2 thin layers!

Just before I turned into ice, I went back into the gallery to defrost myself. Then I took the world's steepest Cogwheel Railway down to Alpnachstad.
From there, I took a train back to Lucerne. 

Went to The Lion Monument. I was amazed at how the dying lion was carved from the rock of the cliff! 
(The Lion Monument)
A lot people call The Lion Monument as the The Dying Lion. But the actual name is "The Lion Monument" and not "The Dying Lion". Even though the The Lion Monument shows a dying lion. Get it?

Anyway, the monument commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. It is really intricate and I can appreciate the details of the carving. Perfectly done.
After that, I went to buy a Swiss Army Knife and had my name engraved on it! (After all, I'm in Switzerland!) Got some Swiss Chocolate from the flagship store of Bucherer (the place where they sell luxury watches like Rolex). Don't ask me why they sell Chocolate in that super high class place. The chocolate was cheap. And very good too! They say that when you are in Switzerland, you don't really have to go to those specialty shop to buy Chocolate. You can just go to the supermarket and randomly buy a bar of Chocolate and it will taste good!

I went back to the hostel, got my bags, and off I went to the train station. Next stop: Interlaken, Switzerland.

Reached Interlaken in the evening after a short train ride. Interlaken is a small city between 2 Alpine lakes.

I heard many good things about the cheese fondue in Switzerland and I've yet to try it. So I went to this seemingly popular restaurant in the city center to try. And I regretted trying there. 

First, the service was lousy. Real lousy. Second, the wait was very long. Real long. I waited for 20mins to have my order taken and then waited for another 20mins to for my food to arrive. Maybe it was even longer. Third, the quality of the food (Cheese fondue) was bad. Real bad. I was disappointed. Forth, the price was expensive. Real expensive. That is not the place to try Cheese fondue. Please DO NOT go to Des Alps Restaurant if you are ever in Interlaken. Totally spoiled my impression of Cheese Fondue in Switzerland. Not worth my time and money at all. Lesson learnt. 

Went to shop around for Swiss Watches (I'm in Switzerland, remember?) and went back to sleep.

After going up to the peak of Mount Pilatus, MY LIFE WAS NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.........................EEEE............EEVER, THE SAME, AGAIN!!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 38: Milan, Italy - Lucerne, Switzerland)

7 Sept 2011 (Day 38)

I decided to make a reservation for the train ride to Milan. Just to be safe. 

This time, I had a sleeper bed in a 4-bed cabin. Was sharing the cabin with an old Italian Couple. I felt they were scared of me for some reason. They were staring at me the whole time I was going in! Kinda uneasy you know.

I felt wrong. The next morning, the couple offered me a cup of Italian Coffee and a piece of cake. Initially, I didn't want it because I was afraid that they didn't like me and wanted to poison me with the drink! Ok, just kidding. Of course, I accepted their kind gesture and I got to taste the best coffee in the whole of Europe! Hey, that was home-made Italian Coffee! It was black coffee but it was perfectly sweet and perfectly fragrant. I thought it was going to be bitter but the sweetness was just perfect.

I can't really compare it to the Vietnamese Coffee that I drank in Vietnam because they are different. Both are just as good! But if you were to force me make a decision on which one I prefer, I would say the home-made Italian Coffee from the Italian couple. Because it was special. Never tasted coffee like that before. 

After a great small cup of coffee, I arrived in Milan with my mouth full of coffee smell. Great coffee smell I must add.

I took the Metro and went to Duomo di Milano (or Milan Cathedral). The Gothic Cathedral took nearly 600 years to complete and is the forth largest cathedral in the world!
(Duomo di Milano)
Went to the mother of all shopping malls in Milan - Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. An upscale shopping mall with boutiques such as Louis Vuitton and Prada. It is just beside Duomo di Milan. 
(Galleria Vittorio Emanuele)
Walked around the streets of the City of Fashion. Just in case you do not know, Milan is not only the home of Armani, Bulgari, Gucci, Versace, Valentino & Prada. It is also the home of Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting, The Last Supper.
(A street in Milan)
There was a Restaurant in Milan called Paper Moon that was highly recommended. I was told that they serve very good pasta. So I wanted to try their Carbonara since it was supposed to be very good. But when I finally found the place, it wasn't opened yet. It was 11am. The restaurants in Milan open only at 12:30pm. That is Italian time, I was told.

My train departing Milan was at 1pm so I would not have the time to eat there. What a pity! I will go back to Milan again!
So I resigned to the fact that I can only eat Milanese food at the cafes along the streets. I thought that it should be ok since I was in Milan. The thing is that, the pastas in the cafes are all "pre-prepared" pastas. I ordered Carbonara and hoped for the best. It was awful.

I can't believe that the Pasta (Carbonara) could taste so bad in Milan. I know I was at a Cafe and not a Restaurant. But surely it couldn't be that bad? Seriously, I can cook better Carbonara than that and I'm not even boasting. (But hey, my Carbonara is really very good. Better than some restaurants in Singapore! Yes, now I'm boasting.) I was greatly disappointed with the Pasta and decided that I need to eat something better to compensate that.

I saw a pastry cafe while I was walking and noticed the number of people inside. It must be good. At least the smell was. Went inside and bought a slice of pizza that many people were eating. 

Rushed back to the train station and boarded the train. Ate the pizza and it was superb. Great Italian Pizza! At least I ate something nice in Milan!
Off I went to Lucerne, Switzerland!

Lucerne, Switzerland
Arrived in Lucerne after 3 hours at about 4pm. The view from the train ride was spectacular.

I immediately fell in love with Switzerland.

Lucerne is soooooo beautiful with its pristine lake and the Swiss Alps. I can't stop smiling as I walked around the place.
Went to one of the city's landmarks - Chapel Bridge. This is the oldest wooden bridge in the whole of Europe!
(Chapel Bridge)
Walked around the Old Town and went back to the hostel. It was already late by then..... A long day....

After drinking the best home-made Italian Coffee, MY LIFE WAS NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE......................................EEEE.................................EEVER, THE SAME, AGAIN!!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Land Trip - Europe (Day 36-37: Rome, Italy)

5 Sept 2011 (Day 36)

The train ride to Rome was easily the worst train-ride experience during this trip. The overnight was crowded and I didn't have a reservation because I had the Global Pass.They said I could just board the train and find any seats available if I had the Global Pass. Of course, I could also make a reservation to guarantee seats but it will cost a fair bit. I wanted to save money on the train tickets since I had paid a lot of money for the Global Pass.

The thing was that there were many stops along the way. When I first got onto the train in Venice, there were seats. And I made myself comfortable. Note that the time was around midnight. The train stopped at the next station in the next 10-15mins and many people came on board. And a man came in and told me that I was sitting at his place that he had reserved. By this time, most of the "unreserved seats" were already taken and even the narrow corridor outside the cabins were full of people! I had no choice but to move. I went to the corridor and found myself a little place that had a "pull down seat" and I sat at the corridor and tried to sleep.

Just so that you know, the train's condition wasn't that good as it was old and dirty. To make matters worse, there was a group of guys who were sitting at the corridor and they were very irritated with people walking pass them and knocking into them. You must understand that the corridor is already very narrow and when you sit at the corridor, people are bound to bump into you as they pass. There was one particular guy who couldn't take it when someone knock his glasses off and he shouted and banged his fist onto the train window! Wow! That was right in front of me! He was really furious. Scary. 

Everyone was tired. I quickly walked pass him, doing my best not to even have any contact with him and sat down. Awhile later, this group of guys left. Whew.... I wouldn't want to be around them for fear of indirectly provoking them. 

It was really uncomfortable sitting at the corridor. And it was really irritating when people walk pass me. Because I have to shift my body to the side so that they can pass but they would still invariably bump into me. It was such a torture. I couldn't take it anymore and found a cabin that has an empty seat in the midst of 5 people already sleeping inside. I have to ask for permission to go in and sat down. Let me tell that I was scared because it was dark, smelly and the people in the cabin were all trying to sleep. And they didn't look happy at all. For the sake of my sleep, I had to pluck out all my courage and went into the "Lion's Den" (Ok, I know. That is too much of an exaggeration. But you get the point.)

Managed to catch some sleep. At least, I didn't have to be worried when people were walking along the corridor. It wasn't a good night.

About 8am. Arrived in one of the oldest cities in the World - Rome. I was just happy to get out of the train. I quickly walked to the hostel hoping that I could rest a while more before heading out to explore the city.

I was surprised at how small the hostel was.

Took some time to rest at the narrow walkway between the room and the toilet. It was in that narrow walkway that I used my laptop to update my blog. It was really narrow. Hey, 2 times I was stuck in a narrow place in less than 12 hours! Simply don't understand.

When you are in Rome, the first place to visit is none other than the most impressive building of the Roman Empire - The Colosseum.

Impressive is an understatement.
(The Colosseum)
The Colosseum was capable of seating 50,000 spectators and was used for bloody Gladiator contests, among other violent events. That was a form of entertainment for the Romans.
The construction of the Colosseum started in 72 AD and competed in 80 AD. That was almost 2000 years ago!
Went to Palatine Hill and to the Roman Forum.
(On Palatine Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum.)
In the evening, I went to the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world - Trevi Fountain.
A traditional legend holds that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. And the coin must be thrown with one's right hand over one's left shoulder into the Trevi Fountain. So that was what I did!!!
I met an interesting German family when I was there at the fountain. Spoke to them for quite a while and it was funny talking them. You just have to wait to see the video!

6 Sept 2011 (Day 37)
Woke up early and went to the smallest state in the world - Vatican City.
(St. Peter's Piazza)
St Peter's Basilica is a must-see when you are in Rome. The dome was designed by Michelangelo but he did not managed to compete it before he passed away. The interior of the Basilica is nothing short of amazing.
 (Inside St. Peter's Basilica)
The next must-see place is the Vatican Museums. I was most impressed with the Gallery of Maps and the Sistine Chapel.
(Gallery of Maps)
The Sistine Chapel is the most crowded place in the Vatican Museums. It is best known for Michelangelo's painting on the chapel's ceiling.
 (Sistine Chapel - I'm pointing to Michelangelo's famous painting, The Creation of Adam.)
Do you see the iconic image of the Hand of God giving life to Adam? Click on the picture to enlarge. 
I wonder how the artists painted against gravity on the ceiling. No easy feat!

After I left Sistine Chapel, I wanted to go to the Pantheon. But Rome was on strike!!! Well, the Metro in Rome, at least.

Wow! That was interesting. It was the first time that I experience a strike. It was interesting until I realised that I can't get to my destination! Oh man....

Fortunately, it was only the Metro that was on strike. All the stations were closed and the trains were not running. But the trams and buses were in operation!

I didn't know which tram would bring me to the Pantheon so I just hopped into the first one that came my way! Only on the tram I began to ask people how to get there! I just wanted to get out of that area. And I managed to go to a tram stop that was walking distance to the Pantheon. That was good huh? It saved me a lot of time compared to walking all the way from the Vatican.
(Pantheon - the best preserved Ancient Roman building) 
Went back to my hostel and got ready to go to my next destination - Milan, Italy!

After visiting the land of the Gladiators, MY LIFE, WAS NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEE...........................EEEE............................EEVER, THE SAME, AGAIN!!!