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I promised you this would be long... it's the back log bit of the trip... so hold on tight and here goes!!!
7th July (Day 1 /2)
The long fly over…

I'm on Finland Airlines flight AY98 and have 2 more hours before arrival at Helsinki International Airport. So far it had taken 2.5 hours transiting in Thailand, Bangkok and another 13 hours to Finland. I don't even want to know how much longer from Helsinki to Vienna, Austria! There’s really something in these budget airline flights that really attempts to make you fly around the world for “nothing”!

I was blessed with an empty window 3 seater. So I snuggled quite comfortablely with 2 pillows and 3 blankets. I'm guessing I'm the only fortunate one (the plane is supposedly full) who can actually fit rather nicely in 2 seats.

The Ipaq's stylus catch broke! Now the pen doesn't slot nicely anymore... Honestly I have no clue what happened... I'm even suspecting cabin pressure!
My regret is not bringing the Ipaq keyboard. Now typing this journal is such a pain!

Arrival out of Vienna airport at 10.55am. That pretty much ends the 17 hours flight. Starting our tour with lunch!

Vienna, Austria (the music capital of Europe). You can very much see the keen interest in arts and opera from the posters stuck on any possible surface.
Architecturally brilliant. A capital 1,000 years old.
The major highlight of Vienna is the Habsburgs Empire’s Schonbrunn Palace or Summer Palace. The grand finishing were designs of the Rococo era with detailed gold rims for ceiling or wall edges. The gardens were of course pruned fit for Kings.
Tonight pop band R.E.M performs on a make-shift stage situated right in front of the grand palace entrance! How close yet so far…

Other stops included the Opera House, St. Stephen's Cathedral, The Memorial Park of great classical composers; such as Yohan Barge and Beethoven, passing by St. Charles Church and the Parliament House.

Vienna is certainly culturally beautiful, and one can learn to appreciate and be absorbed in the arts and classical music here (not! Jazz is still my thing).

8th July (Day 3)
We got news on CNN that the con-joined twins from Iran had a failed operation in Singapore and had both died due to serve loss of blood.
Their bravery to risk their lives for a better future certainly touched the hearts of many all around the world.
More so, it's quite amazing to see Singapore on headline news!

We're heading off early to Hungary this morning and should be arriving at Budapest, Hungary slightly before noon.

Passing by the University town of Gyor into Budapest. Nothing much really happened today. A shopping stop at Westend Shopping Centre bought me 2 bottles of Hungarian wine. The local guide told me that the best wine produce in Europe comes from Italy, France and Hungary.

It was quite a wasted day until towards the night where we took the optional tour for the sunset cruise along the River Danube. Starting only at 9pm the sky was already dark! It's a cruise to see the "Paris of the East". It's certainly not a fantastic experience, but it had its own rustic charm. Nevertheless, it was a cooling night to enjoy some night chill-out. They served us apple juice! How lame!

9th July (Day 4)
It's a full day tour around the twin cities of Buda and Pest. The major sight seeing areas such as Heroes' Square, Fishermen's Bastion, and up the hill for a rather crappy rip-off Hungarian Folklore and lunch with cost US$35! My order of fish turned out worse then our coffeeshops’ S$4.50 fish and chips!

The afternoon was free and easy. Checking out the Central Market and buying one of those Hungarian local handmade blouses. Then walking along the River Danube towards the Parliament House. We even took free rides on the city tram No.2!

Generally, Hungary is a beautiful country. Have a little mix of the Mongolians, the Turks and Europeans. The unique flavor is certainly there... But somehow it's not fully explored. Maybe we haven't gone out of the city area... Or have not been given the chance to soak into their culture.

10th July (Day 5)
Today is a long haul drive out of Hungary through Slovakia (along the Tatra Mountains) into Krakow, Poland.
Nothing much is suppose to happen today. Pretty much, sit back and enjoy the scenery.

The drive displayed wonderful country road styled agricultural landscape. Looking a little like Swiss.
We made a quick lunch stop at a town in Slovak before heading down to Oravsky Hrad Castle (which we sort of had a glimpse on the exterior). I still have little clue what this castle beholds.

11th July (Day 6)
Poland - Krakow, also known as the city of students (1/8th population being students) survived destruction in WWII and has original buildings being its historical highlight.

Beholding a medieval fairy tale of a fiery dragon, castle and unusual shoemaker hero; somehow you’d have the feeling that this town has much to offer.

The Old Town and Main Market Square is compact and utterly charming. With the Wawel Hill, sits the Wawel Royal Castle and Cathedral. The bustling Grand Square houses the Cloth Hall, formerly a market place for textile merchants (now really a bazaar more to rip tourist) and the absolutely magnificent Gothic Basilica of the Virgin Mary's with its astonishing Great Altar. This basicilica is especially special as it was built by the Polish people who wanted a grand place of worship to honour Christ. The roofs are made to look like sparkling blue heaven and every inch of wall drawn with blessed Saints or Angels.

In the afternoon, we made a different sort of trip to a Salt Mine. Strangely in the old days, people never realized that they could obtain salt from the sea! The only way they knew to flavour and preserve their food was to obtain salt in mines! This particular mine has magnificently caved
salt statues and a grand worship place!

14th July (Day 7)
We started off early to Auschwitz - Nazi Concentration Camp situated 60km from Krakow. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world for Jews and Catholics. It was a former concentration camp, the largest of its kind in fact. During its period of operation in WWII, around 1.5 million people died here at the hands of the Nazis. This figure included almost 90% Jews, but also included 27 nationalities including some 75,000 Polish Catholics.

It was both shocking and haunting at Auschwitz I and Birkinau, located
1.9 miles away from Auschwitz I. Even the skies accompanied the experience with gloomy clouds and a little rain.

The camp somehow still capitulates the fear, hurt, sadness, torture and death today. For this I'll watch "Schindler's List " again.

It was then a marathon ride all the way into Czech Republic, Prague.

Uniquely there was a “Honey Moon” glowing yellow, huge, low and bright across the river to the Old Town. Apparently it was a phenomenon event that happens once in tens of years! We of cause did not realize till much later. Many really thought that the “Moon shone brighter on the other side”!

15th July (Day 8)
The morning started off with a trip to the 1,000-year-old Hradcany Castle. Another Habsburgs Bohemia history type palace. The history is getting rather confusing... Then again it's not totally interesting in my terms.

The walk across Charles Bridge that spans the Vltava River was fascinating. Home to 108 statues and flee market stores selling souvenirs and handicrafts at ridiculous prices.

There was too much walking today (about 4 hrs from the castle to the Old Town Hall). The town is scalped gorgeously with a distinct architecture and greenery. Prague's 2nd biggest industry is tourism, so it wasn't surprising the streets were swamped with tourists from the other European countries and afar. The highlight certainly is the fabulous Astronomical Clock where many gather on the hour to see "Death" (a skeleton like figure) ring its bell. Honestly, it's rather lame... The most popular edifices include Gothic St Vitius Cathedral (1344), Wenceslas Square (where we bought a couple of T-shits), the National Museum and Concert Theatre.

It was a tiring day and I'm sure to be delighted to pay Czech another serious visit.

16th July (Day 9)
Today we head out of Czech Republic along the Elbe River cutting through the Erzgebirge Mountains towards the city centre of Dresden, Germany, the former capital of Saxony, also known as 'Florence on the Elbe'. It was an enjoyable afternoon of sightseeing in the city’s baroque styled architecture visiting the Zwinger Palace, the Semper Opera House, the Frauenkirche and the Saxon Wall made of thousands of Meissen tiles.
What I enjoyed best was the chill time checking out the street stores’ German hotdogs and roasted chicken.

Towards the night, we arrived in Berlin, Germany.

17th July (Day 10)
The highlight of Berlin, Germanywas to check out the remains of the Berlin Wall which separated East and West Berlin not so long ago. Other highlights included the Brandenburg Gate, Victory Column (we just missed the Love (Gay)-Parade which partied here over the weekend), Checkpoint Charlie, Kaiser-Wilhelm Church (which was bombed by the British in late 1943 in a fierce raid that left only the broken west tower standing) and the shopping area of Potsdamer Platz.

We took an afternoon ride down South East of Berlin to the historical town of Potsdam. It’s a quiet little town much like Bussleton in Perth, WA, with a lovely garden palace.

Dinner was back in the city at Lowenbrau, trying out German pork knuckles which I was hoping was the roasted skin crunchy type… turns out we ordered one that was smoked and boiled! Boy did it suck big time! It was almost like eating a giant ham!

Late into the night (actually at about 11pm) the young people decided to check out a little Germany night life. We ventured out to the drinking area by tram where we settled for some Indian brewed German Beer?!?! The adventure started when we decided to head back at about 1am and found out that transportation by tram and train had already ended!
The attempt to walk back to the hotel (which was miles and miles away) stopped when we found a van-taxi running by the meter that charged us around E$13 to get back. Phew!

I didn’t sleep till 3am that night, packing up for the journey home.

18th July (Day 10 /11)
It’s our last day before we head for home sweet home… it’s a free and easy morning where we checked out the Parliament House, Reichstag. There’s this circular glass viewing gallery which you can walk around to view Berlin’s city scape. Pretty neat stuff.

Then we popped over to the Berlin Cathedral which looked like our domed Parliament Building, the in side was awesome! And then to the National Museum, where we had a free opening ceremony tour of some Taiwanese artifacts exhibition. Being Chinese, we blended in rather well with the crowd.

After lunch at Alexander Platz, we headed for the airport for our flight back to Helsinki, Finland. I’d rather not bore you with the going back details, cause it was Zzzzzzzzzzzzz all the way!

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