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Czech it out: The best timing and place to see Charles Bridge in Prague by Those Fancy Gems

'Charles Bridge' needs no introduction to people familiar of it's existence. I remember when I first researched for my trip, the top 2 things in Prague to see was the Astronomical Tower Clock and the Charles Bridge. Photographs of these places of interest were aplenty but I knew I had to see it for myself to have a taste of this place that encompasses a huge part of Prague's history. 

The most famous bridge in Prague and the whole of Czech, it spans 520 metres over the Vltava River, and used to be the only bridge connecting Prague Castle to the old town. It was known as Karlův Most to the locals, was once called Stone Bridge/ Kamenný Most, then Prague Bridge/ Pražský Most, and was name after King Charles IV only after 1870, with it's current moniker and what we know of it, Charles Bridge. 

It was built with 16 arches and 3 towers, 1 at the old town/ Stare Mesto side and 2 of which located at Lesser Quarter/ Mala Strana. The bridge sits near to the waters, seemingly floating just above it, and have since been prone to floods and damage, which cost 3 of it's arches. Along both sides of the bridge are a set of around 30 statues that were erected back in the 17th - 18th century. Currently, the original statues are removed and preserved in the National Museum, while replicas take their place. These statues are actually that of Saints and Veteran Saints of that time. 

The Charles Bridge is held in high esteem because it encompasses almost wholly of the medieval town, as it fell almost unscathed during World War II to the Germans and Russians. 

So where exactly and what time is the best time to view the Charles Bridge? 

Avoid the crowd at Sunrise

At sunrise, the bridge and it's surrounds could be viewed with a rosy blush engulfing the architecture, casting shadows all around, leaving mysterious looking silhouettes of the statues on the surfaces. We were reluctant to get up (due to the cold - it was so nice and cozy in bed!), but did so anyway because we just knew it would be a fantastic time to see the bridge without too many other people.

Admire the bridge and bird watch on Smetanovo nábřeží 

The view from Smetanovo nábřeží allowed for a different view of the bridge. Approaching the bridge is a museum - Bedřich Smetana Museum - it had a perch that had a small cafe for people to drink coffee and be outside. You don't have to spend a single cent if you don't want to, as the area consisted of many people who were just admiring the view and are not patrons of the cafe. We spotted some bird playing in the water and flying around in formations, which was quite deslightful. We visited Tancici Dum - the dancing building - before walking down here as it wasn't too far off. 

Make use of bridges parallel to the Charles Bridge

Mánesův most is a bridge that is parallel to the Charles Bridge. From this view you will be able to see all the arches and one of it's tower. This bridge is mainly for cars and trams and there are walkways on both sides of the road. From here, continue walking down náměstí Jana Palacha and Křižovnická, making your way towards the Muzeum Karlova mostu which is just beside the start of the Charles Bridge. There are a couple of benches to sit on and just relax and watch the world go by. 

Explore the stalls set up on the bridge on a weekend 

Though crowded, it is still an experience to be on the bridge on a weekend to see the stalls that are set up. They usually sell their craft - drawing caricatures, watercolour landscapes, as well as what we noticed as a small handmade instrument (think ocarinas) and other assortments of postcards and posters. And of course, in the day time it is better to take a close look at the statues (if it was too dark at dawn to see it properly). 

Cross over to Malá Strana, climb up 299 steps up Petřín Tower

Take the challenge and climb up 299 steps to get to the Petřín Lookout Tower (Petřínská rozhledna). It is a 63.5m tall, steel-framed tower that resembles the Eiffel Tower (and is taller too!). You can either hike up the Petřín hill, or take the furnicular to get to the tower. It offers 2 observation decks and a 360 panorama view of the city. Try spotting famous landmarks like the Charles Bridge and the Prague castle. You might also be able to spot the old town square and the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the iconic church standing in the old town. 

At night, when the lights under the arches light up at Malá Strana

On the bridge Mánesův most on the Malá Strana side near the Vltava River, watch as a flock of swans waddle to the shore in search of food. We spotted a mysterious lady in black bringing a bag of bread (which seemed to be unsold from a bakery) to these swans. She patiently tears us to bread and throws it in all directions for these hungry birds, in case they are unable to break it down into smaller pieces - all this happening with the illuminated Charles Bridge as a backdrop. As the night slowly gets deeper, it gets quieter. And that's where the bridge looks ever so curious and enigmatic. 

Where is your favourite place to see this bridge? 

Czech it out: 2 eats in Brno's Christmas Market that will Tease your tastebuds by Those Fancy Gems

Oh christmas markets - probably the best things while travelling in Europe in winter. Christmas markets are aplenty. As long as there some sort of a square, there will be a christmas market. What makes a good christmas market to me? Other than food choices, its also about the little trinkets, decorations, and not forgetting the cherrie on top of the pie, the christmas tree that sets the whole ambience in place!

Let's take a moment to enjoy this beauty of all carbohydrates.........

........... lovingly made by this chef guy here on an open charcoal stove. 

This is our favourite christmas market snack - Trdelník! I know, once again it one of those hard words to pronounce as an english speaker. Pronounced as Treh-del-nik, this bread/ bun/ pastry fusion-esque snack is one of the best things we've had in all christmas markets that we'll NEVER forget!

Why is so awesome?

It tastes good, smells good, it warms your face on a cold winter's day, and acts as both a main and dessert and keeps you full and comes with a small price tag. That fluffy, crunchy, sweet taste is irresistible, interestingly looking like a chimney, it is roasted over an open fire and is intringing to look at how its made. 

Traditionally a Slovak cake pastry, Trdelník's true origins was from a Hungarian speaking area in Transylvania, Romania. It's production is quite common amongst neighbouring countries like Poland, Hungary, Austria, Romania, Slovakia and more, fashioning different names (chimney cake, hungarian twister, Prügelkrapfen, Baumkuchen, Sękacz, Kürtőskalács,  Cozonac secuiesc, Šakotis, Spettekaka, Skalický trdelník, Makara) and slight variations in which they are made. One thing kept in common however, is the way the dough is wrapped around a cylindrical rod, roasted over fire. What a complicated history it had. 

The Slovak version, Skalický trdelník, is registered under the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the European Union. This scheme is like the food version of UNESCO World heritage, and helps to protect and promote the names of quality agricultural products and foodstuffs. I hope the traditional way of making this cake pastry lives on for a long time. 

Another must-eat we recommend is actually of Spanish origins - Churros! Churros had definitely infiltrated many dessert shops, selling this deep friend sticks of dough with chocolate dip.

What makes this version sold at the Christmas Market in Brno so special is that there are sweet and savoury options. The savoury one caught our eyes because churros are usually coated with cinnamon sugar or served with a chocolate dip. The savoury one, however, is coated with what seemed like garlic salt and tasted just like chips. It was a refreshing twist to the usual flavour and was also made to order. Extremely freshly made and piping hot when served, hence crispy and flavourful. Pair it with a cup of your favourite mulled wine and it would be perfecto... We could not get enough!

What other snacks would you recommend us to try when visiting a Christmas Market? 

A day (or two) in Salzburgerland by Those Fancy Gems

I have always only recognised Salzburg as the birthplace of Mozart, having attended piano lessons since I was a kid. It was not until we arrived in Salzburg did we realise it was not just about Mozart, but also a lot about the movie Sound of Music - think 'Do, a deer, a female deer'...

Many people - or rather just the tourists - relate to Salzburg with the Sound of Music movie. I have never watched it, but have heard of the songs and the brief storyline. The hostel we stayed in, YoHo international youth hostel, plays the movie every night in the common room for all their guest to watch. And that was when I caught it. The movie was shot in Salzburg and features the beauty of the Austrian Alps, with Julie Andrews singing on the mountains and running through gardens of flowers or rowing a boat. I am sure the Austrians themselves are so sick of people relating this movie to this city already!

 credits: www.quickmeme.com

credits: www.quickmeme.com

Do you recognise this meme? If you do, you'll probably be taking some interest in the Sound of Music, and perhaps Salzburg. Yes, that is Julie Andrews running on the hills and singing "The hills are alive with the sound of music" at the opening of the movie. This meme had taken the internet by storm, but I think many do not know it's origins!

Though bombarded with all things Sound of Music and Mozart, one thing they have in common is that they are all music related, which makes Salzburg even more delightful. 

Salzburg is pretty small in a sense, and its old town and nearby surrounds could be explored within a day or two. Here's 5 things we did in our short stay in this pleasant city. 

1. Admire the Mirabellgarten

Staying at YoHo youth hostel, which is located on the opposite side of the old town separated by the Salzach river, allowed us to take a slow walk through the Mirabellgarten over to the bridge to get to the town. As we were there in Winter, there were flowers regardless but were not in full bloom.   

The Mirabellgarten is part of the Mirabell Palace, a large palace of baroque architecture. The gardens was opened to the public by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1854. The current palace is office of the mayor of Salzburg and municipal council. 

The walk across the river also allowed us to admire the Festung Hohensalzburg Fortress towering over the old town, as well as the view of some of their architecture from afar.

2. learn more about Salzburg at the DomQuartier 

The DomQuartier ticket is a combined ticket to get into several venues like the Palace, the Salzburg Museum, and the Salzburg Cathedral. The museum paints a good picture of the archbishops and bishops who ruled the land. Its ruling system was quite different from the one in Vienna. I always get super in awe in palaces, thinking about how much effort is put in to sculpt all those facades using tools from the past which were definitely less efficient.

A bird's eye view of the Christmas market could be seen from the 2nd level of the DomQuartier that links to the Salzburg Cathedral.  

3. Have a panoramic view of the city from the Festung Hohensalzburg

Take the funicular or take a slow hike upslope to get to the Festung Hohensalzburg. As the fortress is perched on a hill, it offers a fantastic view of the city. Who doesn't like a panoramic view? I can never get sick of it! The castle is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Its size grew as different rulers took over the compounds and added on as they passed on their reigns. It was most recently used as a prison in World War I in the 1930s, despite being refurbished in 1892 to welcome visitors and being a major attraction. It is still, now, a huge tourist attraction, and I can totally see why. 

4. Visit Mozart's Birthplace & Residence 

Though a touristy location, it is a fantastic place to learn more about Mozart and his family. Even if you are not the least interested in music, take a look at the vintage instrument, pen and parchment paper he used in the past. These two places are at different locations. The Mozart family moved to the residence across the river when the place at Getreidegasse became too small for their family. 

Be sure to  have fun with the Mozart Cam at the Mozart residence and superimpose your face to become Mozart too ;) We had so much fun there and could not contain our laughter as we looked so ridiculous. 

5. Take the Untersbergbahn to Untersberg 

Untersberg is located a short 20 minutes bus ride away from Salzburg's old town and sure is a popular side trip. Due to its close proximity and the fact that we bought the Salzburg card, we wanted to maximise the use of the card and also experience some snow (hopefully!). Up the gondola, we were greeted with a view of the nearby Rositten Valley and other mountains. The view was very inviting, very sound-of-music-esque. My sister and I were secreting wishing for snowfall.. and I guess you've got to believe to get what you want. Upon stepping out of the gondola, light waves of snow that were like cotton candy, fell and littered the ground. It soon covered the whole mountain with a blanket of white and was absolutely gorgeous. I attempted to make a snow angel, we built some snowmen, and just soaked in the atmosphere. Since we got really excited, it wasn't that cold for us at the end. In fact, I think we overdressed and soon started taking off our layers. 

If one is up for adventure, you could even hike up. We chose to spend an hour or two up in the mountain to enjoy the snow. It was our first snowfall since we stepped foot in Europe, the 22nd day of our trip. 

I think that even though Salzburg is small, I like it very much and even much more than its big sister Vienna. Salzburg is like the goody-two-shoes of a person who does everything right - It has a bewitching atmosphere, produced a child prodigy, every nook and cranny in the town looks so very perfect, it is cool and has the mountains as a backdrop, displaying a postcard-eque view standing from anywhere in the city. I hope to be travelling outwards to do more activities in future. 

See you again soon, Salzburg. 


Visit

Mirabell Palace and Gardens | Mirabellplatz, 5020 Salzburg | Gardens opens daily dawn to dusk

DomQuartier Salzburg | Residenzplatz 1/Domplatz 1a, 5020 Salzburg | Daily Wed-Mon: 1000 - 1700 (last entrance 4 pm), July & August daily: 1000 - 1700, Wed 1000 - 2000 

Festung Hohensalzburg | Mönchsberg 34, 5020 Salzburg | Jan-Apr & Oct-Dec: 0930 - 1700, May-Sep: 0900 - 1900

Mozart's Birthplace | Getreidegasse 9, 5020 Salzburg | Daily 0900 - 1730, July & August daily 0800 - 1900, last entrance 30 min before closing 

Mozarts Wohnhaus | Makartplatz 8 5020 Salzburg | Daily 0900 - 1730, July & August daily 0830 - 1900, last entrance 30 min before closing 

Untersberg | Dr.-Friedrich-Oedl-Weg 2, 5083 Gartenau | May/Jun/Oct: 0830 - 1700, Jul & Sep 0830 - 1730, last ascent 30 min before | Take bus 25, 28 or 840 from main train station and alight at the last stop to take the Untersberg

Stay

YoHo International Youth Hostel | Paracelsusstrasse 9, 5020 Salzburg, Austria | +43 (0)662 879-649 | office@yoho.at | €19-29 per night | One of the few hostels in Salzburg. Breakfast buffet at €3.50 per pax. 

Tip

Get the Salzburg Card if you are looking to visit most attractions, like the DomQuartier Museum. It also includes the ride up the Festung Hohensalzburg's funicular as well as Untersbergbahn. 2 ways on the funicular was already €20, the 48hour card costs €31.

Highlights of Wien: 9 Things you should know by Those Fancy Gems

Where is Wien, you may ask? Well, that is the official German name of Vienna. Others also say Wien is wine spelled when drunk. Haha, jokes aside.

Before visiting Vienna, the thought of this city immediately led me to think of music, theatre and all things classy and baroque style. 

Of course I wasn’t entirely right and wasn’t entirely wrong. I had very little knowledge of Vienna. Well indeed Vienna is a lot about those things mentioned earlier, but what made it even more outstanding and different is its cleanliness as compared to other smaller cities and towns we were at before like in Krakow and Bratislava. The difference is obvious because Vienna is the capital of what was the Austro-Hungarian empire. Basically they were the boss back then, and cities like Krakow and Bratislava weren’t - hence everything is more lavish in Vienna. (I’m making the comparison between Vienna and Krakow + Bratislava because we were there after visiting those two cities and there was a noticeably major difference.) The buildings are taller and bigger and longer in length, the roads wider, and well actually they have more buildings in general. They must have been bustling with life even from a long time ago.

So here are 9 things we think you should know about Vienna before you head there:

Viennese public transport is based on trust. Even though you have to buy a ticket and validate it to be able to get on a ride, this service is entirely based on trust as there are no gantries, except for the ticket validating machine at the entrance to the subway - the U-bahn. Do not take this liberal concept for granted as there might be random checks and you may get fined. Just buy the damn ticket and have a peace of mind. 

Also, remember to keep to the right, unlike how it is in Singapore where we keep to the left. Commuters are pretty fast paced as they exit the trains and you may get snapped at if you do not follow suit and continue blocking them with your huge backpacks. Vienna is quite walkable too if you are up for it. I guess it is really up to you if you would like to take the U-bahn a couple of times out of novelty or convenience, if you do not mind the price. Mind you, it can get quite costly especially if you arrive here just after places like Bratislava - where the bus ride only costed 0.7 as compared to Vienna’s 2.20 for a single ride. 3 times the price. So you decide.

German is spoken in Austria. But, why? Don’t be mistaken, Austria in present day is not part of Germany. They were under German rule for 640 years during the Habsburg dynasty, and German is standardised to be spoken in the whole of Austria. Like how the Mandarin we are speaking now is one of the dialects in China chosen to be spoken across all of China. 

Baroque style architecture is the most common style of architecture in Vienna. It is pretty much littered everywhere in Vienna, all thanks to the 47 year rule under Leopold I. However, there is a lack of Renaissance styled architecture due to the invasion from the Turks during the period where that style flourished. I am by no means a pro in recognising architecture styles but it will be much more significant when you see the various types in real and notice the difference. I love the baroque style because of how clean and classy it looks (it always makes me picture an Englishmen in a beautiful garden drinking tea from a beautiful tea pot eating scones! Very random and there is absolutely no link, I know! But thats the beauty of imagination). The amount of effort and time those people in the past put in to sculpt all the intricate facades and what not is just beyond me. 

Vienna is considered the City of Music - think Mozart, Beethoven, Johann Strauss - as most musicians have resided in this city more than any other. In present day Vienna, music is really in the air. So many people carrying instruments around going to music school, and so much more people playing instruments on the streets showing their talent. Passerbys actually do stop and watch, clap and support local talent. What an absolute delight.

 Can anyone tell me what instrument is that in the middle and on the right? Amazing sounds made by them!

Can anyone tell me what instrument is that in the middle and on the right? Amazing sounds made by them!

When in Vienna, you can't miss the schnitzel! It is THE Viennese dish and you have to try the best - which is from Figmueller. This schnitzel specialty restaurant is indeed the king of schnitzels. Be sure to remember to make a reservation or be prepared to queue for about an hour before getting a seat for walk-ins. 

Cafe hopping in Vienna is a total different experience. Viennese cafes, or coffee houses, has a unique distinct style. Coming from Singapore where the cafe scene boomed in the last 5 years, the cafes we have are unlike anything in Vienna. Forget about the rustic look, recycled carton boxes as seats and tables and specialty coffee. Vienna's cafes' distinct atmosphere includes marble tables, lavish interiors, carpeted flooring - all this dating back to the 17th century. It is so different and important to their culture that it was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria under UNESCO since 2011. 

 Cute illustrated menu at Cafe Museum

Cute illustrated menu at Cafe Museum

Enjoy live music, sweet treats and a cuppa at Cafe Central - the most amazing cafe I have ever been to. Some key figures have visited this cafe in the past - Dictator of Nazi Germany - Adolf Hitler, Russian communist revolutionist - Vladimir Lenin, the father of psychoanalysis - Sigmund Freud, Viennese writer and poet - Peter Altenberg. Other notable cafes in Vienna includes Cafe Museum, Cafe Sperl as seen in the 1995 movie Before Sunrise, and the cafe part of Hotel Sacher. Breakfasts in these cafes will make you feel like a king, albeit the price being a little too over the top - a minimum of 10€, usually for a set of toast, eggs, a coffee, orange juice and 2 jams. A couple of must-try(s) for desserts are the Apfelstrudel and Sacher Torte. 

Closing hours in Vienna is a pain because of how awfully early they close! Especially for a city girl like me or rather for tourists who are hoping to stay out a little later in the evenings to maximise the time. Most shops closes around 6pm, maybe even earlier when we went in the winter season. Sundays are probably the worst, as most shops do not operate and it was hard to even find a place to eat! However, even though like 95% of the supermarkets are closed, thankfully one or two of the outlets that are located near major U-bahn station are opened. Just check with your hostel/ airbnb host and they can direct you to one that is open more efficiently, if you were to be stuck in Vienna on a Sunday. 

Lastly, let's not forget about the Christmas markets in Vienna, as they have one of the most gorgeous lighting decorations. Their markets are also larger in size in general, and the atmosphere is good with a big crowd.

 Such cute cupcake lighting at one of the christmas markets! 

Such cute cupcake lighting at one of the christmas markets! 

5 things we did in warsaw, and why you should too by Those Fancy Gems

1. VISIT THE COLOURFUL BUILDINGS 

And the legendary mermaid at Plac Zamkowy, Stare Miasto, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site. It is their old town despite how new it is (40 odd years old only!), as it was rebuilt after a war which set the old old town ablaze. 

If I could go back: I would

If I could change something: I'll try going in another season so as to be able to see the mermaid up close. In winter, an ice skating rink is set up around the mermaid in the main square, obstructing the view of the mermaid - Syrenka.

2. ADMIRE THE MURAL ON THE MUSEUM OF MARIE CURIE

Walk further down the lanes of the old town into the new town to arrive at this huge mural depicting the life of Marie Curie who discovered Polonium and Radium.

If I could go back: I would definitely not miss the chance to visit To Lubie again. It is a cafe nearby that sells the best cheesecake, ever. 

If I could change something: Wished there were more blue sky days.

warsaw milkbar.jpg

3. TRY THEIR LOCAL FOOD.

 

When I say that, I mean it. Visit their local Milkbar, which is similar to a Singaporean Kopitiam. They sell their Polish food - soups, meat dishes, and dessert, all at the fraction of the price of those in a restaurant. Don't bother with restaurants, eat like a local and visit a Milkbar! Fret not about the language, as they have English menus. If not, just be brave and ask them what is on the menu - albeit having to play abit of charades. Featured in the picture above is Pod Barbakanem. Bar mleczny. And here are 2 more of our picks - Familijny Bar Mleczny, Bambino. Bar mleczny

If I could go back: I would totally do that now!

If I could change something: For more description for each dish on the menu

4. DON'T MISS THEIR CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS

We were there on the last week of January, and the christmas decorations are still there. They have large light installations in the shapes of bells, reindeers, a choo choo train, and even a large fireplace with a huge seat for Santa. Its all about the lights and Christmas ambience - whats there not to love?

If I could go back: Maybe in another season to see if Warsaw is as charming as in winter

If I could change something: Nothing! It's just too fabulous and magical.

5. VISIT LAZIENKI PARK 

Here you can spend some time to see squirrels scuttling around for food, wait around patiently for birds to land on small bird houses which seemed to be installed by members of the public, feed them, or enjoy the view of ducks slowly paddling down the river that runs through the park. Definitely a good place to slow down one's footsteps. 

If I could go back: I would definitely want to spend an entire day watching these animals

If I could change something: Could have brought some food along to feed the animals!


What are the other interesting places and things you'd see and do when you go to Warsaw? Share it with us!