Follow Min and Kiat to Prague by Those Fancy Gems


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. 

Follow Min and Kiat to Czech's best kept secret - Český Krumlov by Those Fancy Gems

Project Rediscover Singapore: Punggol Waterway Park by Those Fancy Gems

Ever since being back from travelling and living overseas, many noticeable changes in Singapore could be observed and clearly I was out of date. Out of the years away, some 300 cafes have popped up; Gardens by the bay has finished building; River safari is completed; Adventure cove has sprung up too. While new buildings are being built, there are older ones being demolished and used for other purposes. Other than these more obvious changes, I wanted to start a little mini project to discover Singapore again... or rather, rediscover Singapore, to appreciate the little details and corners that are often overlooked. 

One thing about not being able to travel all the time is the desire to frequently explore new places. In keeping up that spirit of discovery and in search of maintaining a healthier lifestyle for my aging parents, we decided to dedicate more weekends to be active. The parks in Singapore these days are improving and it is so much more convenient for joggers and cyclists alike thanks to the park connectors. 

We spotted a rainbow that formed through the water that sprayed out from the play area. It was a real pleasant surprise!

Punggol is an up and coming neighbourhood due to become a waterfront town. It is an initiative by both the Housing Development Board as well as NParks. The waterway park's aim is to serve as a green space for the people in this neighbourhood. I can see how this place could be the new East Coast park, where families and groups of friends will come together to take a walk or rent a bicycle to spend their weekend. 

The park seems to be separated according to different areas throughout it's long stretch. The waterway runs through the whole park. Some interesting places of interest in the park includes the Punggol Beach, Punggol Promenade/ Lorong Halus Wetland, as well as the famed Punggol Lone Tree that recently got struck by lightning.

Walk along the waterway park towards waterway town, at the end of this route is the Jewel bridge and a boardwalk called the Sunset Strip. It faces Sungei Punggol and offers a nice panoramic view of calm waters and lush greenery. This place seems pretty unreal to be in Singapore. I am sure this is a great spot for watching that twilight in the evening! 

Punggol Waterway Park | Sentul Crescent Road Singapore 822313 | Opens Daily  


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?