Hallstatt by Those Fancy Gems


Hallstatt was a place that we have swooned over and over while researching for the trip. It was this extremely unreal looking alpine town, tucked away amongst the mountains. And having the thought to take a ferry across the lake to get access to it - that in itself was enough to make us fall head over heels for this magical little township. 

Getting there

Imagining it to be unreal and finally being there felt surreal. We took a bus from Salzburg to Bad Ischl and then a train from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt.
Tip: The train ride is very scenic so remember to sit on your right side!


What was facing us while on the ferry was an amazing view of houses (those kind that we draw as kids!), a tall clock tower of sorts, very clear blue waters, with the Dachstein in the background. The Dachstein was even snow capped!

The water was extremely still when there were no ferries on it, and the reflection of what's on land was almost exactly the same image in the water. 

We decided to spend a night in Hallstatt as it was on the way to our next stop the following day, Graz. Instead of rushing, we took it slow and stayed a night. The day was spent exploring the 'city center', but really it was not a city because of how small it was! There are only 700 odd people living there, and its 'center' consists of many hotels and probably 1 expensive restaurants and 2 middle range ones. It was extremely surprising that alot of shops and restaurants/ eateries were not open. I had a daunting moment thinking we might have to starve! Even the supermarkets opens at 9am-12pm, and closes from 12pm, and only reopens back from 3pm-6pm! Perhaps the traffic is really very low and there is just no point to be open for business for a full day. 


Things to do

By the time we arrived in Hallstatt it was already mid-day, so we decided to soak in whatever Hallstatt had for us, walking along the lake. There were many little lookout points and pontoons as opportunity for some scenic photographs.

There are obviously other things like the Bone House, or Catholic Parish Church to visit, but even if you don't, its really ok! I thought it was quite enjoyable just getting lost in the beauty of the town, walking through different lanes and admiring the houses, the colours, and the stillness. 

We did however took up the challenge to hike up to the salt mine early the next day. The hike took about 1 hour, with our pace being quite slow and leisure. On other days a furnicular runs from the foot to the top however it was closed when we were there. The hike was good in a way because it was extremely informative on what kind of ancient and medieval methods were use to retrieve salt from the mine. It was also accompanied by the ever changing view of the lake from above, as the fog moved in and out, and the lake and mountains seemingly playing hide and seek with us. 

The view on the observation deck was V-shaped, and perched over the mountain, sticking out and hovering above the town Hallstatt. There are just no other words. I just have to re-iterate again, it's breathtaking and beautiful and truly stellar.

Visuals // Prague by Those Fancy Gems

Old Town Square

Charming, quaint.. all these words have been overused to describe this city, but I can see why. A birds eye view of the old town square can be viewed from the astronomical clock tower. A small fee to be paid for a huge eye opener. I think it's pretty worth it!

Astronomical Clock

The interesting part of the clock is when the clock is about the strike at the hour, everyone crowds around but are unsure what they are looking at and end up going "What did I just saw?" 

St Vitus Cathedral

One of the best examples of Gothic Architecture and a very important and big one in the country. It is located within the compounds of the Prague Castle. We spotted several brides having a bridal photoshoot there. Both sides of the Cathedral are lined with stained glass windows. The roof is exceptionally high - light streaks through the stained glass windows - the mood in the premise is hauntingly serene.

Malá Strana

Take a slow walk across over to Malá Strana, the lesser town of Prague, where Prague castle resides. The structure of the city is a bit different from that of the old town - it is less systematic and the buildings are older. Don't miss out on the John Lennon's wall! It is very well hidden, but somehow we managed to stumble upon it while getting to Cafe Savoy for breakfast. 

Cafe Savoy - Restaurant - Patisserie - Vinotheque | Vítězná 124/5, 150 00 Praha 5, Czech Republic | Opens 0800 - 2230 daily. 

The setting in Cafe Savoy was very much like that of coffee houses in Vienna - all that posh interior, very elaborate facades and tai-tai style breakfast. We almost got turned away at the door as the whole place was full except for one small table which the manager insisted it was only suited for people just having tea or small snacks. We squeezed within that table anyway. And indeed, the waitress was right! We ordered 2 sets to share, with 3 sets of drinks, and they also served everything with a basket of assorted bread (very very yum!!) and the table space was almost insufficient as seen above. Everything was perfect though the lack of space - the jams tasted different and the dark hot chocolate I had had to be the best I ever had. The moral of the story is to remember to make a booking to prevent being turned down! We got in lucky. 

Petřín Tower

The Petřín Tower strangely resembles the Eiffel Tower. To get to the top of the tower, you'd have to climb 299 steps. The view is nothing short of breathtaking. Observation decks are always nice to get to because of the panoramic view they offer. What's more it's a good workout! Get those glute and thigh working and earn your workout complete ;)

Tricafe | Anenská 3, Prague, Czech Republic

A hidden gem tucked away in a little lane, the coffee tasted close to what specialty coffee was (according to Kiat), which seemed pretty rare in Prague as well as many parts of Europe we have seen. The cakes served were delectable. Our pick was blueberry lemon cheesecake and a warmed up apple crumble strudel. The interior was decked in vintagey furniture and vinyl cut outs of famous people like Steve Jobs, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Albert Eistein and more. They also had a blackboard to mark the different nationalities who had chanced upon this cafe! The coziness of the place on a cold winter's day was definitely the reason that made us go back again on another occasion. 

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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: Český Krumlov, A real life fairytale land by Those Fancy Gems

Our route from Brno to Český Krumlov was fairly easy. We planned to take another bus by Student Agency to our destination. In Czech, it seems that travelling intercity by bus can save one much more money than taking trains. The service is good on board the bus too - with free wifi, sometimes even a screen with movies screening and charging ports, as well as a complimentary cup of coffee or tea. 

Paranoia engulfed us when we had to transfer to another bus to reach Český Krumlov at Ceske Budja station. It was a bus terminal to make that transfer. The second leg of the bus from there was late, so we got a little scared, but there were so many people waiting around the berth, so it could not be wrong. 

Upon arrival in Český Krumlov, we were surprised by the view overlooking the river, with the castle in the background. The river water was a sapphire blue, the sky too, and the sun hung high up, shining ever so brightly. More days of sunlight to come, we hoped! The streets were cobbled stone, making it extremely hard to walk. The buildings are brightly coloured and are very eye-catching. It was peaceful too, just with some occasional korean tourists (some how there were many koreans!), but the town had a charm to it, seemingly pulling us in further as we took each step deeper into the town centre. 

Despite being small, many souvenier shops could be spotted along the streets unlike in Brno, where we did not see any at all. This could indicate that, Český might already be quite known and many tourists do venture here, just that we do not see them as we were there during the low season.

Český Krumlov is pronounced as 'Chess-key Kroom-lof'. Its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and sits within a horse shoe bend where the Vltava River runs through. This river is the same river that runs through Prague. Český Krumlov is known for its old medieval architecture and picturesque townscape, for it has a large castle - something quite rare for a small town - sitting on the other side of the river. Like many other European cities, the river was the main source of trade for the town.

We spent the bulk of our time in the Český Krumlov Castle and the tower, admiring the panoramic view of the town. The castle offers guided tours in both Czech and English but we did not go for it as our timing was off and we did not see the need to spend that money. I was extremely drawn to the imagery on the castle walls and the tower. They look 3D but actually are well preserved Renaissance wall paintings. The paintings were the result of one of the ruler's being financially tight yet wanting to still have an ideal castle residence. Hence, he engaged an artist instead of an architect to paint and ornament the castle walls. 

One could pay a small fee to go up to the tower as well to have a bird's eye view of the town. Otherwise, walk all the way through the castle grounds to have a view of the town with the river winding around it. The view is to die for and really seems like a real life fairyland. That light from the sun created an orangey filter which made the place even more dreamy. 

Our legs brought us wandering across to the other side of the town which looked less glamorous but pretty humble-looking. It was a lot less fairytale-like and seemed more realistic to where people could have lived and worked. It was surprising that a chinese restaurant could open up in a small small town like this. What are the odds? 

Český Krumlov's Christmas Market located in the market square had to be the saddest one of all - with only a couple of stalls and minimal people around, a sight unlike in other European towns. When the sun sets at about 4pm-ish, they were closing and there was no one in the square huddling together, making merry and drinking punch. There was no life after dark! Most shops were closed in the town centre probably because it was Winter and it was the off-peak season. We had a hard time looking for a place to eat. We eventually spent our time at 'U Dwau Maryi', a Bohemian restaurant, for dinner. It was the most interesting meal I had in my life!

The interior was of medieval style. The aim of the restaurant was to bring the taste of the past to the present. I think it was the closest representation of how people in Bohemia used to eat. 

I would say that the flavours are not what we usually have in Asian cuisine, not even close to what we have in what we think is Western cuisine. Some kind of herbs they used left an interesting after taste in my mouth. I had a vegetarian order which seemed to have consisted of lentils with spinach that tasted extremely raw, barley with peas in some sort of porridgey paste, a cheese and veggie quiche and a potato pancake and a salad. All of that didn't sound so bad did it? Nor does it look unappetising. It was just a very new kind of taste and combination of food and herbs I guess. It was very nutritious though, look at all that legume and veggies! Definitely worth a try!

As night fell, the little town turned misty and slightly creepy. There was not much to do since everything was closed so we headed back to our Hostel, Merlin Hostel for a good rest before heading up to Prague the next day. 

One day in Český Krumlov's old town is enough in Winter to admire it's cobbled stone streets and cute buildings. Water activities resume in Summer and that probably takes up more time so spending a couple more days during the peak season could be appropriate. Though a very short stay and slightly off route from Brno to Prague, it was worth the while to have made a stopover to get a feel of this crooked meadow, what Český Krumlov loosely translates to. It reminded me a lot of Salzburg, but it was like a miniature version and much more compact. This town still leaves me in awe when I look back at the pictures even months after being there!

Where to stay

Merlin Hostel | Kájovská 59, 381 01 Český Krumlov, Czech Republic | | 250Kč (SGD 15)/ pax/ night 

Where to eat

U Dwau Maryi | Parkán 104, 381 01 Český Krumlov, Czech Republic | | Opens daily 1100 - 2300 | Cash Only

Where to visit 

Český Krumlov Castle | Zámek 59, 381 01 Český Krumlov, Czech Republic | Opens Tue to Sun 0900 - 1700/ 1800

Getting here

Student Agency  | A much more comfortable and affordable bus service than other bus shuttle service or trains. Our route was from Brno - Cesky Krumlov. 

Getting around

By Foot. It is important to wear good shoes as the cobbled stone streets are uneven and there are very sudden steep up and down slopes.