Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Goodbye brain cells!

20th January 2009 is a very good day. For a start, we’re finally rid of the most idiotic American President & welcomed in a new, ‘black’ President who incessantly borrows Bob the Builder’s catchphrase ‘Yes we can’. Nonetheless, to have a coloured President sends out so much hope, not just to Americans to people the world over. It gives hope to hard work and intelligence. It gives hope of equality, that we, at last, are judged no longer by the colour of our skin but by the very content of our characters as dreamt by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. And it gives hope to the underpriviledged and the marginalised to reach out and achieve what they set out to achieve.

A man is not a man until he is able and willing to accept his own vision of the world, no matter now radically this vision departs from that of others. [James Baldwin]

Then, 'psychic Tim' asked me if I was a Dr yet. Without checking my emails I answered no because the final examiner's report was not due until Friday 23rd Jan. No sooner had I sent off the msg on FB & checked my email did I find out that I passed!!! With flying colours!! I was actually notified by my supervisor (in confidence) the week before that the American examiner loved my thesis, would like to keep a copy, and had given me a 1!!! (For those not in the know, the Australian PhD marking system is divided into 4 grades - 1: pass without changes, 2: pass with minor changes, 3: pass with major changes, 4: fail. At present there is still no oral defence requirement.) Almost a week had passed until I heard further news. Not expecting the final report to return until the end of the week I went a couple of days without checking my emails. Until ‘psychic Tim’ asked me about my results actually. It so happened that the final report that been returned a week early & by Monday Kev (my supervisor) had already been notified of my results & passed on the good word! My final grades are 1, 1 and 1!! That means I don’t have to make any changes whatsoever, and they can’t make me!!!! That’s the most satisfying feeling after toiling over the damn thing for more than 5 years! Celebrations will no doubt drag on, I having popped the first bottle of Chandon already today. There are only 6 more bottles to go :D I in truth was not very confident of the results after having almost forced my supervisor to sign the supervisory certificate by way of an OS-trip attached deadline. To tell the truth I would have been happy with 2s but onesies are SOOOO much better. Now I’m free to be who I want to be and do what I want to do. All I need now is a career & to win the lotto to complete the trifacta!

In the end, what matters is not crossing the finish line before anybody else but just making sure you do cross it. [Jason Zweig]

It's the new dawn of a new world.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

2008: A funeral & 4 weddings

Another year has come and gone. 2008 had been a year of 2 parts for me personally. It started out not so well with the passing of old Mr Look, and thus my first attendance of a funeral in the digital age (who knew funerals can be so hi-tech these days?). Before you know it, Feb came around & the Dell that I had been carrying around for the last 3 years decided to call it quits. Luckily it gave enough warning shots with its ‘blue screen of death’ prior to karking it, otherwise my PhD would have been ‘colder than ice water’ (凍過冷水). As a result, I promptly switched to a widescreen though Vista-ridden ASUS. This big heavy thing has served me well, first as a processor for the remaining of my doctoral and now as my own personal entertainment unit after I plugged in the subwoofer & dual speakers.

The year progressed slowly as the burden of the thesis got heavier & heavier, until a point where my ‘original’ deadline of end of Aug was fast running beyond the realm of possibility. July & August has to be the darkest months of 2008 with the thesis still no end in sight, my supervisor ignoring my numerous email & phone bombardments (he said he was ‘busy’ setting up new courses after his move to a different uni in May). This got to its lowest point when I considered chucking away 5½ years of hard work just to keep my own sanity in check. The final push came when I decided to drag it through right up until the day before my post-submission European trip (25 September). As of right now, I’m still awaiting to results to arrive. Prelim feedback that I’ve gotten so far is ‘positive’, whatever that means. Fingers & whatever else limbs that I have are all crossed, together with the Japanese 合格 headband that I have hanging over my bed.

The post-submission European trip was no doubt the highlight of 2008. It was a hectic trip, no less because I wanted to go as far away as possible after the submission but also to my own decision that the next few trips that I take would focus on E Asia rather than the western world. As such, I needed to squeeze out as much as possible of this last European trip in a little while. And boy, did we squeeze it out. After a gruelling 33-hour stretch that involved 2 transfers (Bangkok & London) I finally arrived in Helsinki to meet up with the 3 others who travelled direct from HK. We continued our journey onto other national capitals of the Baltic (Tallinn in Estonia; Riga in Latvia) & Eastern Europe (Praha in Czech Republic; Wien in Austria; Bratislava in Slovak Republic) as well as other regional cities/town (Rovaniemi in Finland; Salzburg in Austria) before finally parting ways after 2 excitement-filled weeks. I continued on my way through Deutschland (München; Hamburg; Bremen; Berlin) where I drowned my solitude in local beer & würst as well as visited Wendy for a couple of days. The trip rounded out with a week in Oslo (including a drive to Årjang in Sverige) followed by a week family & shopping in HK (OK, that’s not really Europe, but it was part of the trip).

Aside from the trip, 2008 was also highlighted by 4 wedding invitations (thus rounding out the title of this entry). First there was Vera’s wedding to Warren at the end of September which I couldn’t attend (it was in Helsinki at the other end of the world), followed by Robbo & Rachel’s 2 weeks after I returned, with Nat & Paul’s another month after that. The year of 4 weddings was rounded out with Fai’s wedding in HK (I was already back home in Sydney). Just when I though I would get another year off wedding comes the invitation to Jo’s wedding to Jayme in HK in Nov. Being the travel addict that I am I might just be tempted to attend & fit in a side trip to Taiwan afterwards. If little Anne get that job in 大板 (Osaka) I must fit Japan in as well :P

Looking ahead into 2009 there are a few things to look forward to. No doubt the most exciting & biggest relief would be finishing off the damn PhD. Following close behind is of course landing a ‘real’ job & buying my own place. Let’s hope the interview at U Sydney in a couple of week’s time works out so I can stop searching! Being a child of the 70s (just scraped in in 1979) I’d also be turning the big three-O. There had been a few ideas floating around on how to celebrate such a momentous occasion, from a big-ish bash at Banjo Paterson’s Cottage in Gladesville, to a small intimate gig on a houseboat on the Nepean or a lighthouse at Seal Rock. We’re still months away but I’m already making guest list, stuff to bring, menu …

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Berlin, with a population of just 3.5 million, is not a big city in international terms. Despite this relatively 'small' population the city has witnessed (as well as played a tremendous part in) contemporary world history. My guide told me that more than 90% of the city was destroyed at the end of WWII. Reconstruction was halted or diverted by the division between E & W Germany (and thus E & W Berlin). The two halves of the city have/had thus taken on vastly different characteristics. For most of my time in Berlin I stayed within the East, crossing over to the West (luckily no longer life-risking) on less than a hand-full of occasions, including my 'airlift' out of Tegel.

Here are the points for Berlin:

1 point goes to Gendermenmarkt. Regarded as Berlin's most beautiful markt/square, the East Berlin Concert Hall sits in the middle of the square. This was guarded on both sides by 2 identical churches - one French and one German. Unfortunately I failed to see the greatness of this markt/square. I was even there at twilight.

2 points go to Hitler's bunker. It was only recently (late 80s or early 90s) confirmed as THE bunker that Hitler hid during his final weeks and ultimately committed suicide, it is now just an insignificant carpark. My guide told me that the concrete walls and ceilings of the bunker was so well-built that it could have survived a direct nuclear bomb hit. So needless to say both the Soviets and then the Germans failed to destroy and remove the bunker in order to reclaim the land. Former site of Himmler's bunker, however, is now part of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (see points).

3 points go to Checkpoint Charlie. It is actually a recreation of what the Checkpoint used to look like at the very beginning of the East/West division. The photos of the American & Russian soldiers are even the real pictures that were featured. My guide told me that it was just some recent art project. Anywho, the museum nearby show the evolvement of the Checkpoint and the Berlin Wall. It is well worth a look.

4 points go to the Reichstag. Only reopened as the German Parliament House and open for public's visit in recent years, the newer glass dome actually fits the old building very well. The spiral inside the dome is a must visit attration for most tourists. Unfortunately it was closed for the whole of October for some refurbishment so I couldn't get in.

5 points go to the Humboldt University. Once a highly regarded university in the world, Albert Einstein taught here prior to WWII. It was also the first modern university in the world that introduced the "teaching as well as research" mode for academics. Thanks a lot!

6 points go to the New Synagogue. Not really new anymore and it doesn't actually work as a synagogue either, the New Syngogue however retains its golden exterior. This is a reflection of its former glory pre-WWII. Right now, its facade was restored post-reunification as a memorial to the Holocaust and Kristallnacht, the night when this beautiful former synagogue was burnt to the ground for the Jewish pogrom.

7 points go to the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) and the adjoining Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden). It is a beautiful looking Cathedral and garden. This Dom, however, is built on the site of a former church that stood on the same grounds until it was pulled down some decades ago. Remnants of this old church can be seen within the grounds of the Dom. It is also across the road form the former site of the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), which served as the Parliament House during the times of East Germany.

8 points go to the Neue Wache (new guard house). It has gone through several re-dedications but it was never far from being a memorial to war. Since the reunification it is a meorial to the victims of war and tyranny. The hole above the statue exposes it to all natural elements.

9 points go to Alexanderplatz. It is filled with stalls selling w
ürst and souvenirs. It is also surrounded with shopping centres and within walking distance to the Fernsehturm.

10 points go to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Often mistaken as a memorial to the Holocaust, it is actually just one of Berlin's several memorials to the Holocaust. The memorial to the homosexual victims, for example, is just across the the road, while the memorial to the gypsies are still to be completed. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also has a museum below ground which you can look through the atrocities the Jewish people went through.

And finally,12 points go to the Ampelmann. During the times of East Germany, East Berlin had its own set of traffic lights. Since reunifications, the residents had fought ceaselessly to keep these little things. Right now, they are the symbol of Berlin.

That's all folks! Next I head back to the familiar cities of Oslo & HK so I probably won't blog again until I get home. Catch you later!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Hamburg, the second busiest port in Europe. All in all, it looked unravished by the World Wars. The continued success of its port, however, has given the people of Hamburg the second highest average pay in Europe. Being a port city you're also not short of water views, especially with the Alster lakes that they'd dug inland.

Here are the points for Hamburg:

1 point goes to St Nicholaikirche (St Nicholas' Church). It was meant to be a church with a rather beautiful exterior but it is currently undergoing refurbishment so it was all scaffolded up. The unscaffolded bits, however, looked very old-style European (read: dark & grimy looking). There is apparently a lift that you can take up to the tip bits of its bell tower for a good look of town though.

2 points go to the Kramerentswonhungen (I'm not sure if I'm spelling this right). These were former Almshaus built to house widows. They are now cafes and museums.

3 points go to the Chilehaus. It is meant to be a great example of Expressionist architecture. Maybe it is my failed appreciation of the Expressionist style to garner it this low score. It is, however, rather large. There were also similar Expressionist buildings adjacent to the Chilehaus.

4 points go to the Flughafen (airport). It is a reasonably dated airport. There is also no rail access to city centre, but given its proximity that wasn't really a big issue. You can catch the Airport Express bus instead for 5 euros (8 euros return).

5 points go to the Hauptbahnhof. It is centrally located (well, my hotel was right next to it so it was VERY centrally located for me) with easy access to the local shopping strip and the Kunsthalle (Art Hall). You can also catch an array of regional trains and local S- and U-bahn at the 1 station.

6 points go to the Rathaus (Town Hall). It is in one of those impressive (neo-gothic?) styles. There is also a large square in front of it was ample seating for you to ponder where to head next (as I did). It is also within walking distance to Hamburg's high streets, one being G
änsemarkt (see 7 points).

7 points go the G
änsemarkt. One of Hamburg's high streets with Guccis and LVs and whatnot shops literally littering the street & its surrounding neighbours, there are also a few lovely canals that run through the area.

8 points go to Landungsbrücken. Right on the embankment of the Elbe river, you can witness the second busiest European port first hand. There are a few 'attractions' like the 2 ships Rikmer Rikmers and Cape San Diego which the guide books pick out but me not being fans of watching ships I gave them a miss. Guide books also recommend taking the No.62 ferry to Finkenwerder for a cheap tour of the Elbe River and look at Hamburg's architecture. It was late & gloomy looking when we got there so we gave that a miss too. This area is also within walking distance to the old warehouse district of Nicolaifleet and HafenCity (see 10 points).

9 points go to Jergfernstieg. A shopping & restaurent district of Hamburg, you're bound to find something you fancy in this area. Probably for the younger crowd than the retirement crowd although there is an entire store of Nivea...

10 points go to HafenCity. The odl warehouse district of Hamburg, this area is filled with amazing old buildings, many of which have been or are in the process of being converted for modern day uses. There was, for example, this cafe situated inside a working roastery where they also offer tours. Towards the southern side of the area new office blocks and apartment buildings are also being built. Wendy told me that they plan to house 1/4 of the city's population in this area in the future.

And finally, 12 points go to the night view of Binnenalster. This is the smaller section of Hamburg's inland lakes. We took this photo while walking back to Hauptbahnhof after dinner.

I'm ending my Germany week by bus-ing over to history-filled Berlin for 3 days. See you there.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Bremen, a small-ish regional 'city' in northwestern Germany. Just an hour by train from Hamburg it seemed the perfect spot for a day trip. So that's exactly what I did once I finally managed to meet up with Wendy after arriving in Hamburg.

Here are the points for Bremen:

1 point goes to Martinianleger (St Martin's quay). It was listed on the free map that I got from the Tourist Information centre as one of Bremen's attractions. On the embankment of the river Weser just to the south of the main part of town, it was sadly unremarkable. Both Wendy & I thought we were looking at the wrong spot but no. There was no hustle & bustle of tourists as the thing described.

2 points go to Hoetger's glockenspiel. It was actually only a few rows of small bells on top of the building. I failed the see the significance or attractions of this 'tourist attraction'. It is meant to go off at 12noon, 3pm and 6pm daily. We didn't stick around for the 6pm 'show'.

3 points go to the Bremen Rathaus (Town Hall). It didn't look anywhere as glorified as in the tourist brochure. It just looked like a boring very of a retro town hall.

4 points go to the statue of Roland. For a highlight of the town/city, it was remarkably small. The surrounding buildings also didn't serve as a good background for any photo-taking.

5 points go to the Beck Brauerei. It sits just to the other side of the river Weser at the western end of Bremen. You can take tours of the brewery and sample. It was, however, closed on the day we visited (Monday) so no luck.

6 points go to its proximity to Hamburg. I originally thought Bremen would be a good short-distance location for a day trip from Hamburg, so sadly its 'full list' (bar the Becks brauerei) of attractions only lasted us TWO hours. It was good thing that it was so close to Hamburg that, after a quick gelato stop, we trained back to Hamburg for dinner in its hip area.

7 points go to the western side of the Rathaus Platz (Town Hall Square). It is nowhere near as beautiful as the town hall squares of many other European cities, but due to the city's relative lack of attractions this still made the list at 7 points.

8 points go to Hoetger's 'Bringer of Light'. This is a golden artwork by Hoetger and located at the entrance gate to Böttcherstraβe just south of Rathaus Platz. It depicts the archangel Michael fighting and killing a three-headed serpent. What a peaceful religion.

9 points go to Schnoor. Schnoor is Bremen's oldest district, and you can most certainly tell with the narrow & winding streets that weren't designed for car use. There are, however, plenty of quirky little shops and cafes. The winding streets though would make the tourist guide's recommendation of 'sit and watch the world go by' a tad difficult.

10 points go to the Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Bremen Town Musicians). It is only a small statue but very touchable. It is also the best-known landmark of Bremen, dating from 1951. A local told us that for good luck you should grab both of the donkey's front ankles.

And finally, 12 points go to Mühle am Wall (Windmill). Not only was it beautiful to look at, it was also functional. It spun about a bit when we were walking closer to it. Better still, it is very easy to get to. Only a short walk from the Bahnhof.

Back to Hamburg next. See you at the second busiest port in Europe.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


München, also named Munich in English. Aside from being the beer capital of the world, it also saw some of the very key moments in world history. At the same time, it is also only a small city in the south of Germany & very accessible on foot if you know where to 'live'.

Here are the points for München:

1 point goes to the Misukoshi (三越). It was tiny (3 levels of 1/2 floors) & very well hidden (on Platzl 2). My main reason for finding it was that the 1 in HK had closed, but when I finally found it I was grossly disappointed.

2 points go to the Ostbahnhof. It was small & unremarkable. Not a very good first impression of München after I travelled from the picturesque Salzburg. The Haputbahnhof was also a bit disorganised, contrary to the stereotypical German precisions. Maybe everyone was still recovering from Oktoberfest which finished the weekend prior.

3 points go to the tourist information centre at Marienplatz. The first time I went there (Saturday lunch-time-ish, then again a couple of hours later) there were at least 30 people queuing outside its doors. By the time I finally got in (I went back the following morning for the Free Tour, incidentally NOT offered nor advertised by the tourist information) there was hardly any good information to be taken from them. Mostly flyers of local exhibitions, with no free map in sight.

4 points go to the weißwürste (white sausage). As many people would know by now, I'm a fan of the sausage. I've bought many different types of sausages at home, as well as had others (thanks Nat!) bought special, German sausages for me from The Shire. Unfortunately, the weißwürste that I had in München was only ordinary. The sweet mustard that accompanied the würste, however, was excellent!

5 points go to the Hofbraühaus. Yes, this might sound very un-Australian dissing a drinking pithole, and such an important one too. But when I was in there (mid-afternoon, not even 4) it was choc-filled with people/drinkers. I tried to escape the people (and with European translation: smoke) filled room to go out to the back courtyard it was even smokier!! I ended up drinking in another biergarten. No Hofbraü, but still a local beer (Paulaner. I thought it said Paul Anker for some reasons, and that was BEFORE I started drinking).

6 points go to the Viktualienmarkt. One of München's many drinking holes, it was also interspersed with fresh food stalls and sellers of other small things like fresh flowers & souvenirs. This was where I ended up consuming my weißwürste and Paul Anker, though I found out from my tour guide later that the markt do charge about twice as much as other places (read: tourist trap). In reality, it was a little pricier than other cafes and stuff but nowhere near twice as much as far as the food goes. At least you can get everything in the one place.

7 points go to Hofgarten and the Bayerische Staatskanzlei (State Chancellory). The Hofgarten was picturesque little garden just to the north of city centre and right at the end of it was the very high-tech looking State Chancellory. In the Hofgarten you could also find a memorial to the victims of WWII as well as one of München's several memorials to the weiße rose.

8 points go to Dallmayer delicatessen. Some of the guide books would direct you to this delicatessen on Dienerstraße off Marienplatz. It is one of the up-scale delicatessen in town but it is very large and sells pretty much anything edible - from fresh fruit, baked goods, jams & confectionary, to chocolate, coffee beans, tea, smoked meat... ... There are of course other things like the Dallmayer teddy (at 45 euros a pop for 1 the size of my palm) and a cafe/bistro up on level 1.

9 points go to Marienplatz, but especially the glockenspiele on the Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall). After seeing the rather unremarkable one in Praha, this was most certainly a breath of fresh air. The show goes on ar approximately 11am, 12noon and 5pm everyday. I say approximately because my guide told me that it is not an automated show buy someone is actually paid to climb up the stairs at 11, 12 and 5 everyday to press the button which starts the show. One day last year there were no shows because the guy was sick! So much for German punctuality. The show itself, however, is fairly long. Music plays for about 5 minutes before the movable parts start moving. That goes on for another 5 minutes before the show is ended with yet another 5 minutes of bell dingings. Pick a good spot & sit tight I'd say.

10 points go to the Ludwig-Maximillian Universitat. This university's significance lies mostly in the role it played in the Resistance to the Third Reich during WWII. This resistance movement, known as the weiße rose, is now proudly remembered in the form of 2 indoor memorials (one of all the weiße rose members (left forground) while the other was of Sophie Scholl (right background), one on the front entrance that resembled the anti-Nazi pamphlets that the weiße rose members distributed and eventually executed for, as well as a room dedicated to the weiße rose movement (open, however, only during weekdays). There is also a separate memorial in the Hofgarten while the grave sites of Sophie, Hans Scholl and Christophe Prosbt are also noted in the Perlach-am-Friedhof a little outside of main town.

And finally, 12 points go to the new europe Free Tour. Well, ok, it's not really free. There are no sign up fees or ticket prices, true, but you are 'reminded' to tip appropriately at the end of the walking tour as the guide only works freelance. Anything from coins to small notes would suffice. Their guides, however, are very entertaining & energetic but most of all informative. They can pretty much answer anything, most of which are native English speakers (or Spanish if you want to take the Spanish tour) now living in München. My guide, for example, was a small Scotsman (not a leprechaun, those are Irish) with a Münchener fiance. The tour lasts for about 3 hours and take you to all the major (and some minor or lesser known) sites of München. The guides would also be able to tell you lesser known facts of the area/building/whatever you happen to be seeing.

Travelling north to the regional town of Bremen next.


Salzburg, a small city in the western end of Austria, famous for its very musical former residents. For fans of the classical, you can go past mentioning Salzburg being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. For those with more of a contemporary (some, particularly the locals, say cheesy), folksy palette, it was also where the Von Trapp family singers, whose lives the musical theatre and movie The Sound Of Music were based, originated. The four of us made this the final destination of our 2-week sojourn by catching a 3-hour train west from the capital Wien.

Here are the points for Salzburg:

1 point goes to the Hauptbahnhof (Main Railway Station). This main station was reasonably old looking and in need of some repair work. It is only a small station, however, so it is difficult to get lost. You can catch international, intercity and suburban (S-bahn) trains from here. There is also a tourist information on one of the platforms where you can get free maps and other information of Salzburg.

2 points go to Mozartplatz. You can find a statue of Mozart here. This is also the start of Judengasse which leads directly to Getreidegasse (see 8 points) where you would see other Mozart-related museums and shops. To its south is the Dom Kirche where Mozart was baptised.

3 points go to the catacombs of St Peter Cathedral. Easily accessed through Kapitelpltaz, there is a waterwheel just outside St Peter’s. Its adjoining cemetery features many old tombs, some I saw dated from the 18th century. The most interesting part of this cemetery is its catacombs, which inspired Robert Wise to reproduce as a set for the scene where the Von Trapps hid behind tombstones while trying to escapes the Nazis in
The Sound Of Music.

4 points go to Stift Nonnberg (Nonnberg Abbey). Located directly to the east of Festung Hohensalzburg (see 5 points), this was the actual abbey where Mario Augusta Kutschera resided before being sent to the Von Trapps as a governess and becoming the Captain’s second wife. The abbey itself is not very large and respect is requested when entering. You can, however, get a great south view of suburban Salzburg from just outside the abbey. It is also here where fans of
The Sound Of Music would recognise the location for the final car chase scenes of the movie.

5 points go to Festung Hohensalzburg (High Salzburg Fortress). This is one of the largest fortress in Europe and sits atop the hill just to the south of the altstadt (old town). It features a mix of gothic carvings and torture implements. There is also an exhibition of the golden stube. Under ‘normal’ circumstances its north view apparently is to die for. Unfortunately when we were up there it was rather foggy so we couldn’t actually see that far, but we still got a pretty decent view of the altstadt. Though at 542m high, you can reach the festung by hoofing up flights of stairs that you can find on all sides of the hill. Alternatively you can pay €3-return and ride the festungbahn (fortress furnicular) from Hasengrabenbastei, though the ride literally only lasts for 30 seconds each way.

6 points go to Schloß Leopoldskron. This is one of a few filing locations for
The Sound Of Music. Fans would no doubt recognise the huge man-made lake to the back of the house as well as the small pier and backyard of the house. It is, as it was during filming, a private property owned by Salzburg Global Seminar where entry is by invitation. The area surrounding the man-made lake is very pleasant for a leisurely stroll.

7 points go to Hellbrunn. This park and castle complex is a little outside of the city centre but is a stop for the Hop On Hop Off bus tour (see 10 points). Fans of T
The Sound Of Music would be directed to the glass gazebo where Ralf and Liesl sang ‘Sixteen going on seventeen’ and the Captain and Maria sang ‘Something good’. The gazebo was relocated here from Schloß Leopoldskron (see 6 points) when tourist numbers became too much.The rest of the park is also interesting, though the trick fountain requires an entry fee. There is also a zoo nearby.

8 points go to Getreidegasse. This is a very famous shopping street of Salzburg, situated in the altstadt part of the city. You can find all sorts of souvenir shops, antique shops, boutiques and eateries, with wrought-iron guild signs made to convey a sense of yester-era. You can also find the Mozarts Geburtshaus (Mozart’s birthplace) at #9.

9 points go to Schloß Mirabell (Mirabell Palace). Pretty much the only tourist attraction north of the River Salzach, it is a small-ish palace with an amazing garden attached. This is also where they shot several key scenes for
The Sound Of Music, including the steps scene during Do-Re-Mi. Across the street you can find the stalls for the Panorama Tour and Salzburg Sightseeing Tour, both of with offer ‘Sound of Music’ packages. You can also find the Mozartuem and Marionettentheater (they provided the marionette for the ‘Lonely goatherd’ scenes of The Sound Of Music) to the south of the garden.

10 points go to the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour. There are many bus tours that do the tourist attractions of and around Salzburg, such as the 4-hour Sound of Music tours by Panorama as well as Salzburg Sightseeing. Most of these are guided tour that run around town in huge 50-seat buses and cost upwards from €40. The Hop On, Hop Off bus tour, though still go to the same attractions, allow you to literally hop on and hop off at your own leisure (at the designated stops of course). Each bus departs Mirabellplatz hourly and there are 11 stops all up, including out-of-towners like Schloß Leopoldskron where its backyard and the man-made lake featured prominently in
The Sound Of Music (see 6 points). There is also an audio guide on board with 7 different languages to choose from so you wouldn’t miss a beat. For a 24-hour pass, it only cost us €20! (The cheapest was the 2-hour pass at €15, but that only equates to 1 stop) Every time you hop off, however, you’d have to wait an hour before the next one comes, though generally there is enough to see at each stop that an hour might not even seem enough at times.

And finally, 12 points go to Villa Trapp. No link to the movie
The Sound Of Music whatsoever, this was the actual house where the real Von Trapp lived and grew up! Since fleeing OS during WWII, this house had undergone a few different uses, including as a regional Nazi headquarter. Post-WWII though, it was used by a missionary service and only until recently it was sold, renovated and opened as a boutique hotel. There are some original furniture and fittings like the staircase, but most had been given away during the post-war period. The owners of the hotel, however, are more than happy to give you a tour of the house, telling you stories about the Von Trapps and each room. One of our rooms, for example, was the bedroom of son #2, Werner. The hotel is a bit out of the way (in the suburb of Aigen, 5 S-bahn stops from Hauptbahnhof) but the local area is picturesque for short strolls or even a hike up the Alps!

Salzburg is a nice little boutique city where there are actually loads to see for a weekend trip. Next, I continue my post-submission escapade by venturing further into the Germanic sphere - in the beer capital of the world and the land of the sausage - München, Germany.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Bratislava, together with Wien, are the two closest national capitals (in terms of proximity) in the world at just 57km apart. For this very reason we hopped on a train from Wien and came over for a quick (& bargain. The return ticket on cost €14 each and included all public transport in Bratislava!) day trip. It became the capital of the Slovak Republic after it divorced from the Czech Republic (together they made the former Czechoslovakia). On the exterior, Bratislava looks like a poor cousin of the cultural power houses of Praha & Wien. This is true to the extent that a large part of the city is reasonably run-down or undergoing extensive refurbishment, but who knows what would happen with the introduction of the Euro in 2009.

Here are the points for Bratislava:

1 point goes to the Bratislava Hlavná stanica (Main Railway Station). This is a very run-down main railway station with only a handful (literally) of platforms. Signage is also not very clear, with the tourist information centre (see 4 points) well hidden to the side of the building. To get to the main tourist attractions, you need to catch tram #18 all the way down to the Dunaj (see 3 points).

2 points go to the Redoutengebäude (
Reduta). This neo-baroque building from the early 20th century continue to host balls and concerts. It also serves as the home of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. Sadly the exterior is not what it is cracked up to be in the guide books…

3 points go to the Dunaj (Danube). Ah, the blue Danube. Blue it was, that is true. But whether it was just that section of the river or if it was where we were standing (just outside of the hrad), the river stank of sewerage. The view on the other/southern side of the river was also not very attractive.

4 points go to the tourist information centre at Hlavná stanica. It is a little bit well hidden. First of all, signage was not great at the station. This was compounded by the fact that the tourist information centre was a small window-office to the side of the left corridor. But the attendant there was very helpful and she gave us a bunch of useful maps & brochures. You can find the same maps & brochures on this website.

5 points go to the Novy most (New Bridge). Listed as one of the main attractions of the city, this new bridge, completed in 1972, is just a simple suspension bridge with a dish-like observation deck. You’d probably get a better view of Staré Mésto from the hrad, however.

6 points go to the Bratislavský hrad (Bratislava Castle). Still undergoing refurbishment, only a small part of the hrad has been re-opened for public access. While we were there, it was playing host to a contemporary art exhibition. The main hrad building itself was covered by large piece of cloth, with side banners reminding the introduction of the Euro to the Slovak Republic in January 2009. This main building has 3 gates (Sigimund in the SE, Vienna in the SW and Nicolas in the NE) & 1 bastion (Lugiland, near Nicholas’ Gate). There should also be a Treasure Chamber displaying the Venus of Moravany, a small statue made of mammoth ivory from 22,800 BC but we couldn’t find the Chamber.

7 points go to the Kostol svätej Alžbety (Church of St. Elisabeth). Also known as Modrý kostolík (the Blue Church) because of its blue, art nouveau exterior, this church sits east of the main city centre of Bratislava. It is only a very small church and you can’t go beyond the main entrance unless you are worshippers. Its look, however, is vastly different to anything in this city (or most other parts of Europe too) so it is worth that little bit of exercise eastwards.

8 points go to Dom U dobrého pastiera (the House of “The Good Shepherd”). This tiny yellow house sits right next to the busy street of Staromestská and you would pass by it as you make your way up to the hrad from the Old Town. Built in the Rococo style, it is now the Museum of Clocks, exhibiting clocks mostly by local clockmakers from the 17th to late 19th century.

9 points go to Michaliská Brána (Michael’s Gate). The only medieval fortification left in the entire city, the tall white tower of this gate is highly visible from most part of the Staré Mésto. There is the Museum of Weapons and observation deck within (for a small $$ of course). The most interesting thing about this gate was situated smack bang in the middle of it – a brass ring with directions & distances to other major cities of the world. Who knew home/Sydney was only a ‘short’ km away? Bratislava’s narrowest house, at just 1.8m wide, is also right next to this Gate.

10 points go to Hlavné námestie (Main Square). Some very interesting buildings surround this main square in the middle of Old Town, including Stará radnica (Old TownHall), various embassies, as well as Rolandova fontána (the Roland Fountain). Guidebook that you get from the tourist information centre would tell you the interesting things that are left on the exterior of the Stará radnica like the measuring stick & picture of the ghost. You can also find a couple of Bratislava’s famous street art/statues in this square (see 12 points).

And finally, 12 points go to the street arts the Bratislava. For a small city, there are loads of street art dotted throughout for tourists and locals alike to enjoy and have fun with. The more notable ones are the peeper/rubberneck, the Frenchman/Napolean’s soldier, the photographer, and the taunter. There are also loads of others inserted into the ground as part of the pavement surrounding the Rococo Mirbach Palast (Mirbach Palace). You can find a full list of these street arts and their locations by getting a guide from the tourist information centre (see 4 points) or download beforehand from this website.

Next, we head back to Austria and across to the west of the country where the hills are alive in Salzburg!