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Zhongshan Park by West lake April 24, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Travel.
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A quick one.  Shortly before our horrible dinner at Lou Wai Lou, we killed some time walking around the beautiful West Lake.  During this trip, we stumbled upon Zhongshan Park.  It was apparently a place once visited by the emperor, for there was evidence of excavation uncovering some rocks that were supposed to be corridors many moons ago.

Not much to say, except it was a pretty nice place to look around and take some time out.  You can walk up the mountainous paths to the top, but you don’t really get much more of a view than you would down the bottom.  The highlight for me was this lovely little pagoda out on the right hand side of the huge ‘Gushan’ sign written in red.

Check out the slide show and map with address details.

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Indian Journey Part XIV: Delhi in a Day July 10, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in India, Travel.
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Roadside markets in Delhi

It’s impossible to see any city in a day, but we gave it our best shot when we only had a solitary day to see as many sights in Delhi we could.  Luckily for us, we had our own driver (Kumar) who could take us wherever we wanted (within reason).  Besides, after almost suffering heat stroke on our long day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal the day before, all we wanted to do was go to a landmark, take some happy snaps, and then get back in the air conditioned car to have some more water.  We were confident we could do it.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

(more…)

Indian Journey Part IV: Sightseeing and Golconda Fort June 26, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Food, India, Travel.
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Golconda Fort

We arrived at our hotel at (I can’t remembere exactly when) about nine in the morning, checked in at the Taj Tristar and promptly collapsed into slumber, having just come halfway across the world in a particularly uncomfortable economy class (damn you Cathay!) and budget travel (no complaints).  The only other non-Indian friends attending the wedding (a former colleague and his wife originally from Sydney but now living in London) flew in via Dubai about 6 hours before us and had already gotten some sleep and were nice enough to wait for us until we got some much-needed shut eye.

We still hadn’t gotten enough rest by 1pm, but it was time to get out and about.  Time was of the essence.  My marrying friend had organized a private taxi to take us around Hyderabad for the day, and since the wedding didn’t officially start until the next day, we were determined to make the most of it.

Our taxi driver, Malik, was an affable guy who knew far less English than he pretended to know.  Nevertheless, his assignment for the day was to take us wherever we want to go.  Thankfully, my colleague from London had done some background research and, unlike me, knew a thing or two about Hyderabad.

The first thing we did was have lunch at this “high class” vegetarian-only restaurant called Minerva, which isapparently one of the best in Hyderabad.  I must say the exterior did not instill much confidence, but the inside looked clean enough, even if it was a bit dark.

With non-English descriptions of the dishes and no decent English speakers around, we randomly selected three curries and lots of naan.  Too afraid to drink the regular water, we opted for bottled cokes with no ice instead.

Most restaurants overseas serve traditional North Indian food which is quite different to South Indian food (which is what we had), so I was prepared for the worst.  But surprisingly, the food was pretty good, especially the garlic and butter naan and this cauliflower curry.  The curries are more watery and not as thick as what we have overseas, but that’s to be expected when you don’t put in 50 grams of butter and half a litre of coconut milk into every dish!  I’ll have to do an entire post on the food later.

The pure vegetarian food at Minerva was surprisingly good

The afternoon was supposed to be spent sightseeing, but we only ended up going to one place – Golconda Fort.  It’s an impressive fortification that reminded me of some of the forts we saw in Greece.  The entry fee was like 5 rupees for locals and 250 for foreigners.  That’s just the way it is over here, and honestly, no one should complain.  As tourists, we can afford a little more.

As soon as we entered a “local” guide began to follow us and give us the lowdown on Golconda Fort.  His English was pretty good and showed us this hall where if you clap your hands the sound travels all the way up to the top of the fort (this was so the King could be warned if enemies were coming).  The guide then, naturally, asked for 600 rupees to talk us through the rest of the way.  After much persistence, we gave him a 200 rupee tip and sent him on his way (in hindsight it was a handsome sum).  We were jet-lagged and lazy and there were lots and lots of stairs.  We walked about halfway up and decided to bail.

What did we do instead of going to more sightseeing spots?  The Taj Krishna (a superb 5-star hotel) for a drink and to watch the football (ah-hem ‘soccer’) World Cup!  We then headed back to Paradise Hotel (not to be confused with the one where the awesome reality TV show was filmed) to have some of its famous Chicken Biriyani (essentially chicken fried rice).  To be honest, I don‘t know what the fuss is all about.  My colleague reckons he had better in London.  God we’re such pathetic tourists.

In our defence though, all of Hyderabad is a sightseeing experience.  The thing you notice most about Hyderabad driving along the streets is the shocking disparity between the rich and the poor.  Well, not necessarily “rich”, but against the raging poverty, even “barely middle class” feels affluent.  There are hints of commercialization and urbanization everywhere, such as giant billboards (mostly soft drinks and telecommunication companies), modern architecture and fine commercial buildings (such as banks and hotels) – but just the next block down, or sometimes just the next building down, it’s the most dreadful dilapidation imaginable.

Ultimate European Adventure Round-Up! July 10, 2009

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Sensational Palatine Hill in Rome

Sensational Palatine Hill in Rome

One of the main reasons I decided to come to the UK to study (rather than say the US) was so I could get to visit and travel around Europe (something I had not done before but had been a life-long dream).

I have done a couple of round-up posts before after long trips (see ‘My European Adventure Round-Up’ and ‘My Big Fat Greek Adventure Round-Up’), but since I have left Europe now, I thought it would be good to consolidate all the places I’ve visited over the last 9 months and deliver my final judgment.

Here are the places I visited:

(a) England – London, Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Salisbury, Avebury
(b) Italy – Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa
(c) Vatican City (technically a country and a city)
(d) Greece – Athens, Santorini, Delphi, Arachova, Hydra, Poros, Aegina, Milos, Corinth, Mycenae, Nafplio
(e) Ireland – Dublin
(f) France – Paris
(g) Belgium – Brussels, Bruges
(h) Netherlands – Amsterdam
(i) Spain – Barcelona
(j) Germany – Munich, Berlin, Fussen (Neuschwanstein), Freiburg (Black Forest)
(k) Switzerland – Basel, Lucerne
(l) Sweden – Stockholm
(m) Denmark – Copenhagen
(n) Austria – Vienna
(o) Czech Republic – Prague

[Note: I didn’t count Frankfurt in Germany as I only stopped there for transit (twice) but did exit the airport]

108

In Bruges

Favourite places:

In terms of countries I would vote: (1) Greece; (2) Italy; (3) Germany.

Greece is simply incredible with its plethora of well-preserved archaeological sites and mythology, but is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited with its marvelous islands and beaches. Italy is similar in some respects, and gets extra marks for the number of attractions it has on offer (and its proximity to the Vatican). Germany, on the other hand, is very underrated, with wonderful, historically rich cities such as Munich and Berlin as well as terrific attractions such as the Black Forest, Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau Concentration Camp.

Individual places are too hard to vote on as each location has its own flavour and strengths. Further, some places are big while others are small, and the differing lengths of time I stayed in each place may play a decisive role. It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges sometimes.

However, if someone held a gun to my head I would probably pick: (1) Santorini; (2) Rome; (3) Athens; (4) Paris; (5) Amsterdam; (6) Venice; (7) Munich; (8) Stockholm – though the order might not always be the same.

Santorini

Santorini was my favourite

Least favourite places

No prizes for guessing that Prague was my least favourite city (see my rant here) but at least I can say that I may have just had some bad luck with my experiences and that I didn’t spend enough time there. Now London, on the other hand, has no excuses.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with London because I visited the place at least a dozen times during my 9 month stay. There are lots of things to do and see there, and the British Museum is a must-visit, but the exorbitant prices, poor service (they just don’t care) and the absolute filth and over-crowdedness just about everywhere (and especially in the Tube) would drive me insane if I lived there!

Prague Castle From Afar

Prague Castle from afar


Most/Least Expensive

Just about all of Europe is expensive compared to where I come from. It got to a point where if I tried to convert the currency I would probably just start sobbing uncontrollably.

But in any case, the ones that stood out for me were obviously London, Switzerland (as a whole), and in particular the Scandinavian cities of Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Cheapest was definitely Prague, but I think Italy was not too unreasonable. In Greece it depended on where you went (the islands, for example, were relatively more expensive compared to Athens).
Best/Worst Food

Another tough one because I probably didn’t get to sample the best/worst food each place had to offer. Hence I’ll just try to recall the best foods I can remember.

Number 1 has to be the calzones we had in Barcelona. Damn they were bloody good (Can Conesa at Jaume I). Number 2, the hotdogs (from portable street vendors) and ice cream we had in Copenhagen (see more at this post). Number 3, the some of the pizzas we had in Italy.

Copenhagen Marble Church

Copenhagen's Marble Church

As for the worst, this is probably a little unfair because I ate there quite a bit, but London has some extraordinarily bad food (though to be fair, as well as good food), but you just don’t expect something so bad for the prices that you pay.

Most Romantic

Easy top 3: (1) Venice; (2) Santorini; (3) Paris. Three very different places with different charms, but all great for a romantic weekend or getaway.

Venice

Most Romantic: Venice

Top 15 Attractions

This is probably the toughest of them all. My list started with 5, then 10, then 15, then got to 20 (and could have gone to 25) before I cut it back to 15.

In the end, I decided just to go with gut instinct on this one. Note that while Santorini is, as a whole, one of the best places I visited, it’s not really an ‘attraction’ per se. Also important to note is that I love archaeological sites, museums and memorials, so keep that in mind when you read on.

Counting down:

15. Dachau Concentration Camp (in Dachau, near Munich) – a highly depressing place to visit but also one of the most important and informative. It wasn’t exactly enjoyable but it’s one of those places you’d be glad to have experienced.

Dachau

Depressing but worthwhile: Dachau

14. Rosenborg Castle (in Copenhagen) – one of those unexpected gems with a neat little castle, beautiful gardens and a well-managed sea of flowers. A great place to have a picnic or just to chill out for a couple of hours.

13. La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona) – this freakish, still-under-construction piece of art created by Gaudi is either loved or hated. But either way, it’s hard to keep your eyes off it.

12. Roman Baths Museum (Bath, UK) – the site of the ancient Roman Baths, where much of it is still wonderfully preserved. I went there twice and I can tell you that it has been newly renovated and has improved on its already exceptional audio guide.

11. Nea Kameni (Santorini, Greece) – Fira and Oia are beautiful, and the Red and Black beaches are spectacular, but if I had to pick an ‘attraction’ from Santorini, the volcanic island of Nea Kameni is it! Take a 90 minute walk up to the top and back – even in the heat it is well worth the experience of seeing the destructive power of the volcano up close.

Santorini Volcano 2

Nea Kameni in Santorini

10. Tivoli (Copenhagen) – the famous theme park has a splendid carnival atmosphere. The entrance fee does not cover the rides, but you don’t need to go on a single one to enjoy the place, especially when it gets dark and the coloured lights illuminate the fairground. Magical!

9. The British Museum (London) – if nothing, London has tremendous free attractions, and they don’t get much better than the enormous British Museum. If you race through it you can probably see it all in half a day, but to truly appreciate how much priceless stuff the Brits stole from just about every other culture in the world, you’ll need at least a full day, if not 2 or 3.

8. Anne Frank House (Amsterdam) – Amsterdam may be best known for its weed and girls, but the highlight for me was the Anne Frank House, in which you can get to see where the legendary Anne Frank and her family once hid from the Nazis. Yes it can be depressing at times, but it is also quite uplifting too to read Anne’s touching words and see just what a magnificent and insightful writer she was. One can only imagine how many great writers must have perished in the Holocaust.

7. Vasa Museum (Stockholm) – the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage and was not salvaged until 333 years later. Today it forms the centerpiece of the exquisite Vasa Museum, one of the most unusual museums I’ve ever been too. I loved how you could get a different view of the Vasa at each level of the museum, from the bottom all the way to the top.

6. Neuschwanstein Castle(Fussen, Germany) – no wonder this is the number 1 attraction in Germany and has been for so long. It’s the type of place you can go a couple of times during different seasons, because I hear it’s a different feel with and without the snow (I went with a bit of snow during early Spring). The walk up to the castle itself is just magical, and the inside is worth a look too.

Neuschwanstein 009

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

5. The Acropolis (Athens) – I would have never thought that I’d rank a single monument so high, but the Acropolis has captivated my imagination ever since I was a child, and seeing it up close in person at last fulfilled a life-long dream. Even with the scaffolding along the sides and back it still takes the breath away. Now with the Acropolis Museum opened it will be even better.

4. The Louvre (Paris) – the best art museum, one of those humongous places that can take days to full appreciate. With limited time, I only got to see the main masterpieces (the most high-profile ones, at least – and there were many), so I look forward to going back there someday and seeing the rest.

3. Vatican City (Vatican City) – (I’m calling it an ‘attraction’ because it is small enough) regardless of your religion, Vatican City is one of those places that you just need to see, even if it’s just for the amazing artworks painted on almost every empty space on the inside. St Peter’s Square and St Peter’s Basilica are also some of the amazing places within the world’s smallest country that left my jaw ajar many times.

2. Palatine Hill (Rome) – the archaeological site next to the Colosseum is one of the most fantastic I’ve ever seen. Just use a bit of imagination and thousands of years of history will unfold before your eyes! Make sure you head up to the top around the outside wall to get a full view of the site.

1. Archaeological Site of Delphi (Delphi, Greece) – the centre of the world, up in the mountains, where the oracle once sat – the enormous, well-preserved archaeological site of Delphi is a remarkable place that is well worth the journey from Athens (if that is where you’re staying). There’s a lot to see and absorb and enjoy, so take your time and really use your mind to envisage what it was like 3,500 years ago in Ancient Greece.

Delphi 1

Delphi Archaeological Site is No. 1

Well, that’s it. I’ll probably disagree with a lot of what I just wrote the next time I look at it, but right now, these are my thoughts.

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