A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: krisses

Celebrating Our First Year of Marriage in Gdansk, Poland

Derek and I decided to celebrate our 1st year wedding anniversary in Gdansk, Poland. Why Gdansk and not Krakow? After seeing pictures of Gdansk and learning that it was a relatively small, quiet, and charming city, we quickly decided that Gdansk would be the perfect place to spend a romantic weekend together! It’s a quaint and picturesque city situated in a bay on the edge of the Baltic Sea. Historically, Poland and Germany have fought over possession of Gdansk. And interestingly, Gdansk was considered a “free city” in two points in time. For me, this was exciting because I was reading the “Game of Thrones” books and little tidbits such as this was very “Game of Thrones” –like!
After 7 months of backpacking, we decided that staying in a nice hotel was essential. This is the view from our room:

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We celebrated with dinner at a delicious seafood restaurant.
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After 7 months of backpacking during our first year marriage, I can still say that Derek makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world! Cliché but I don’t care – we’ve been in each other’s faces 24/7 for almost 8 months at this point and I am still not sick of this guy!
We lost track of time as we roamed through streets lined with colourful buildings, hopped from cukiernia (bakery) to cukiernia sampling delicious desserts, and enjoyed Gdansk’s watery edge. For us, it really was the perfect getaway.

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We took one day to visit the Europe’s largest Gothic fortress: the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, a short train ride away from Gdansk. The castle was built in 13th century Prussia by the Teutonic Knights. Historically, the Polish and German kingdoms continuously fought over the possession of this castle. Since its destruction during World War II in 1945 it is slowly being rebuilt, restored, and open tourists. I felt like I was walking around scenes from “Game of Thrones”!

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Gdansk is most notable as the birthplace of the Solidarity movement against the communist regime in Poland in the 1980s. Led by Lech Walesa, the shipyard workers risked and sacrificed their lives to claim worker’s rights and social change. Eventually, this movement helped bring down the communist regime from power and ultimately Poland eventually rid itself of communism. The example of civil resistance with non-violent methods used by the shipyard workers against the oppressing communist regime is inspiring. Poland is the beautiful, successful, and bourgeoning country it is today because of these historical events in time.

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Posted by krisses 18:35 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Warsaw!

Poland is an amazing country. It’s beautifully landscaped with forests, fringed with picturesque mountains, and crowned with a beautiful Baltic seaside. When and meeting Europeans during our travels, many have mentioned how they enjoy vacationing in Poland because of all of it has to offer – hiking in the scenic “Polish mountains”, relaxing by the Baltic sea, unwinding by one its numerous lakes and forests, indulging on delectable Polish cuisine, and exploring its charming towns and cities.

After travelling around Asia for 4 months, coming to Warsaw was quite a relief! We flew from Vietnam to Warsaw with a stopover in Moscow. The journey was about 12 hours long. When we were received by Derek’s mom we were visibly skinnier and haggard. Fortunately for us, we were able to stay with Derek’s mom who had a flat in Warsaw. Derek’s mom nursed us back to our original fat selves through her love and excellent home cooking! Also, we were only a 20 minute transit ride away from the downtown area, and only 10 minutes from the football stadium.

Yes – we came to Warsaw primarily because of the 2012 Eurocup!
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Apart from the Eurocup games and festivities, Warsaw is a great city to visit! It’s modern with wide streets, decent public transportation, beautiful parks, great Polish restaurants, and EXCELLENT desserts! The people can by shy but friendly once you break the ice, and happily willing to correct butchered Polish when attempted! It is such a difficult language!

Scattered throughout the city are reminders and monuments to historical events and tragedies throughout the city. Many of these tributes are in Polish, therefore it was great having my very own Polish translator to translate for me. He happens to be good-looking too! We even had the opportunity to hang out with our good buddy S.A.M who was couch-surfing around Scandanavia and happened to be in Warsaw when we were! It was great enjoying Warsaw’s many beautiful sites with our international-travel buddy!
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For me, the best part about Warsaw was visiting family and seeing the places where Derek and his family had grown up in. We had such a wonderful time visiting family and friends just outside of Warsaw. The suburbs of Warsaw look like Ontario cottage country – many trees, clean lakes, the presence of forest birds and animals, and the serenity of the country side. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, generous, and so much fun to be around! It was fun sharing stories about how Polish customs couldn’t keep a straight face while looking at my passport, and the Polish name that did not match the obviously Asian face!
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And the FOOD! Oh wow – delicious. The best part is that you don’t even need to go to an expensive place to have fantastic, fresh food. The Polish take pride in using fresh ingredients, cooking from scratch, and making sure that it’s so tasty that you want to eat more and more!

One can visit a cafeteria-type place called a “Bar Mleczny” which literally translates to “Milk Bar”. Here, one can find the menu (all in Polish) posted on a wall, a very unpleasant-looking woman behind a cash register, and 2 small windows. Here is a step-by-step description on how to order food here. DO NOT DIGRESS FROM THESE INSTRUCTIONS or else someone WILL yell at you:

1. Know what you want to order: If possible, have a translator present. Or ask someone in line to describe what everything is. But by all means DO NOT ask the woman behind the counter what anything is or else she WILL yell at you.

2. Order from and pay the unpleasant woman who will be standing behind the cash register: she will give you a receipt and expect you to figure out, without any help from her, that you should go to the small window next. If you ask anything idiotic, she will let you know that you are being an idiot.

3. Go to the small window, hand in your receipt, and wait: do not remind the people behind the window that you still have other items outstanding. They WILL yell at you.

4. Take your meal from the people behind the small window: the food is cheap but delicious. Savour all of it, and do not waste any of it. You might want to have more, but you will have to risk going through steps 1 through 3 again.

5. Once finished your food, take your dirty dishes and tray to the second window and place the tray there: do NOT take any pictures of this process. You WILL get yelled at, guaranteed!

I actually had the best roasted duck and apples EVER in the small town that Derek grew up in. The cost of this fabulous meal -- $4! Seriously! I made Derek tell the owner that I would never eat another duck ever again because it is not possible for me to have duck THIS AMAZING ever again!
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Although we spent almost 1 month in Warsaw, it was not enough time to see absolutely everything. But the most significant thing about Warsaw is its history. Until you visit the war museum and Warsaw Uprising museum, you will not appreciate how much Warsaw has progressed since its destruction by the Nazis in the 1940s, then its occupation by the Russians immediately afterwards. It was not only the Jewish people of Poland that were targeted by their occupiers -- it was ALL Polish people. One would not be able to comprehend how this beautiful and upcoming city was literally flattened and then rebuilt to its former likeness by finding old blueprints of the city, by old paintings, old pictures, and the sheer drive and dedication by the people of Warsaw.

Warsaw is an inspirational city to the rest of the world because it is a living example of the positive outcomes that could arise even after a city is devastated by war, oppression, occupation, and other acts against humanity. It is a testament to the power of people working together towards a common goal that benefits the greater good. And once you realize all of this, Warsaw will seem like an even more beautiful place than it already seems…
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Posted by krisses 17:54 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Squeezing Singapore Into Our Backpacker Budget!

It only took 5 hours by bus from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Singapore is a very interesting and enjoyable country, and with a little effort and help, can be done within budget! It is the size of a small city, its government run by a business-minded dictator, and it’s RIDICULOUSLY clean. One actually has to make an effort to find garbage on the streets because there virtually isn’t any! It’s interesting to see that everyone seems to have a job or some kind of function. No one is idle on the streets. There isn’t any begging. Even the elderly and the mentally challenged have a function in the hawker markets selling handwipes and Kleenex. Most young women carry some kind of high-end designer bag, or their boyfriends or their husbands will carry it for them. Most people are very well dressed, all of the time. Their designer duds are apparent from their Armani eye-glasses to their Gucci shoes. Apparently it’s illegal to buy or wear fake designer clothing!

The temperature is always in the 30 to 40 degree Celsius range and is constantly humid. You can’t even escape the humidity at night! Consistent sweating and frizzy hair are guaranteed!

We stayed in a well-run hostel in the Ann Siang area of Singapore – it’s pretty posh. We stayed at the Matchbox Concept hostel in a 16-pod room, equipped with lights, hanging space, and a cute little “peep hole” if you want to talk to the person next to you! I quite enjoyed the pod-like layout because it gives you privacy from the other people staying in the room. However, I was quickly reminded the reason why we usually avoid multi-bed dorms – the snoring and constant coming-and-going of people make it very difficult to sleep! Still, it was the coolest dorm-room I’ve ever slept in!
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We were fortunate that our friend Jeannette was available to meet up with us and show us some sites. We met her and her fiancée in India and quite enjoyed their company. Thanks to her and her insight as a Westerner working in Singapore, our stay was even better than we could have expected!

Just to give you an insight as to how clean Singapore is, Jeannette mentioned that she can walk to work barefoot in the rain and not have dirty feet afterwards. Also, we watched a bunch of teenagers practicing their break-dancing in a subway station ON THE FLOOR WITHOUT GETTING THEIR DESIGNER CLOTHES DIRTY. Amazing!

Jeannette took us to a couple of fantastic hawker markets where you can buy a huge meal and a large fruit drink for less than $4/person. The Hainan chicken-rice is a MUST. The famed “chilli-crab” is supposedly another must-try, but Derek felt his had too much chilli and less crab.
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Jeannette also took us to the Marina Bay to watch a free and innovative lazer/light show displayed on a background of fountain mist (best watched next to the Louis Vuitton flagship store), showed us a restaurant where people are hoisted onto cables to reach wine bottles from the biggest wine rack I’ve ever seen, hotels with cars that would take me at least 10 years to buy (provided that I forego a home and eating), high-end restaurant rooftops where drinks cost a minimum of $20/glass, and a mall with a drain that fills streams so that boats can take passengers through the mall and peruse by their favourite designer stores. Jeannette topped off our night by taking us to a wine bar that only served wine. After backpacking and being in countries that don’t serve wine, it was refreshing to sit back and sip on a glass of delicious Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and paired with great conversation!
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On another night, Jeannette brought us to an Arabic-centric part of town that was very vibrant and full of expats, locals, and tourists. We ate a very inexpensive restaurant with fantastic food, then went off to an outdoor patio/jazz bar for my first shisha/hookah experience! We had the apple flavour and only later did I learn that you’re NOT supposed to inhale it (duh).
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We had such a memorable time in Singapore thanks to Jeannette! It meant so much to us that she was able to take time out of her busy life to show us around and introduce us to all the wonderful things Singapore has to offer… and on a budget!

Posted by krisses 05:06 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Why Malaysia, you ask?

As we travelled throughout Central and South America, we met many travellers who had travelled extensively throughout Asia. Since we had not decided where we wanted to go to in South East Asia, we posed this question to these travellers ,”If you would suggest only one country to visit in South East Asia, where would you recommend us to go?” The majority enthusiastically answered, ”Vietnam!” But as we travelled throughout Nepal, many highly recommended Malaysia. Also, we were in dire need of a beach and relaxation after our Himalayan adventure. Therefore, we decided to do over 2 weeks in Malaysia, a few days in Singapore, then 1 week in Vietnam.

Kuala Lumpur welcomed us with organized arms. After being in India and Nepal, organization was such a welcome feature! Malaysia was the first country we visited that did not require a stupid form to fill out at immigration. All you need to do is hand over your passport, have your fingerprints checked, and they can decipher whether you’re a criminal or not! I think that’s sufficient enough.

Kuala Lumpur is very multi-cultural city with a strong Muslim influence. It was refreshing to be in a city where men and women work as equals, couples can hold hands in public, women are not given unwanted attention for wearing a tank top and shorts, and people of different cultural and religious backgrounds are happily dining out together. Public transportation was efficient, the people are friendly and polite, and people actually drive in a designated lane! What a concept!
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We stayed at an incredibly clean hostel in Chinatown. There was a fantastic food court nearby as well. Derek always gets fidgety and giddy whenever he gets excited about food – and here, he was thrilled!

The food was something Derek and I found to be something we eagerly looked forward to all the time. It’s delicious and Malaysians rightfully take much pride in their cuisine. It is ridiculously inexpensive to eat in Kuala Lumpur. At a Hawker stall, you can eat a hearty meal for less than $3 per person. When we “splurged” at an expensive restaurant, we would spend $20 in total! And don't forget to try the "local Penang coffee" -- it's so delicious!!
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We actually spent time in the malls. For those who do not know Derek, he hates shopping. It’s his kryptonite. He literally loses energy, focus, and I believe he gets dizzy spells from it. Luckily for me, the malls actually have amazing food at the food courts so Derek had no choice but to go to the mall! Also, I discovered the Japanese clothing UNIQLO! Great stuff for great value! Finally, a brand of clothing for flat Asian bums like mine! But the greatest part about the mall is that it’s air-conditioned. It is so humid in KL and an escape from the humidity and heat outside is welcoming.
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Strangely enough, our old friend S.A.M. happened to be in KL at the same time as us! We met up with him, had dinner in KLCC, and then checked out the Petronas Towers – the largest twin towers in the world.
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We also visited Skybar because of its drinks and views. India and Nepal do not serve wine (well, they do but I think much taste as if it’s brewed in someone’s toilet), so I FINALLY had my wine fix! Oh yeah – the views are great too!
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Kuala Lumpur was definitely a good choice to visit when trying to escape the craziness in Asia!

Posted by krisses 04:46 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kathmandu- In and Around

After almost 3 weeks of stunning nature views, breathing in fresh mountain air, and enjoying the serenity of ACTUAL peace and quiet, we decided to spend 3 days in Kathmandu to see the city and its surrounds.

We stayed at a fantastic hostel called Yellow Hostel right outside of the backpacker district of Thamel. The owners were very involved, welcoming, and extremely friendly. The food was delicious and the vibe was very relaxed. The hostel is owned by a Nepali woman and her Swiss husband, and their children spoke fluent French, English, Nepali and Hindi! I received some tips from the Nepali woman on how to teach your children different languages so that one day our children can be multilingual!

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The Walk
Only equipped with our Lonely Planet book and Derek's internal ability as a human GPS, we guided ourselves through the allies of Kathmandu towards Durbar Square. Along the way, there are thousand year old temples, buildings, and relics that are embedded within the more recent architecture of Kathmandu. For instance, you’ll see things such as a tiny, thousand-year old statue of Ganesh squished between 2 convenience stores, or an ancient temple that indirectly used as an island for a roundabout and is surrounded by motorcycles. We also happened to adopt a stray Canadian along the way who became lost while exploring the city by herself before she caught her flight back home to Toronto. Be warned that there are some “graphic” carvings entrenched within these ancient pagodas, but here’s what we saw during our walk:

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Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur was once the capital of Nepal and is now a beautiful UNESCO heritage site. It is rich with towering pagodas, beautiful stuppas, various Nepali ethnic groups going about their daily lives, and ancient inhabited architectural buildings. Thanks to our Lonely Planet guide, we were taken off the beaten track and enjoyed a day free of tourists and tour groups, peacefully exploring the city ourselves.

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Swayambunath
Born in 253 BC, we were lucky to be in Kathmandu during Buddha’s 2575th birthday! We decided to check out how they were celebrating at the Swayambunath Buddhist temple. It is also known as the “monkey temple” but people will quickly correct you to say its proper title. We took local transportation to the temple and were overcome by the seas of people going in and out of the temple! We had a great time watching monkeys running around, families enjoying their day together, and monks trying to keep up with the festivities. It was great to see the beautiful Tibetan colors and flags draping across the temple. It was truly a festive experience!
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Bhoudhanath
This was one of the holiest sites in Nepal with a massive stuppa as its most popular holy landmark. The humongous white stuppa was built in the 14th century after the original one was destroyed by the Mughals. We had a peaceful visit.
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One can see why people visit and revisit Nepal for months at a time. Its cultural diversity, wonderful people, and the Himalayas are just a fraction of things to appreciate while visiting there. Given how disorganized the government is and how negligent it can be with its people, it’s a wonder that the people are not more jaded.

I look forward to visiting Nepal again one day and definitely invite those who haven’t gone to do the same! And while you're at it, order a huge Tongba (Tibetan Hot Beer!)
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Posted by krisses 05:15 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

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