Monday, March 25, 2019

Weekend in Singapore

We picked up a good deal for flights from Vientiane to Singapore and were quite happy to return after an absence of about three years.  We headed down on Thursday and returned on Sunday - just enough time to eat, explore and do a little shopping.

On Friday we headed out to Haw Par Villa.  It has been on my radar for a long time, but it was never quite the right time to slot it into an itinerary until now.  I knew a bit about it, but basically told Andrew nothing except that it was "quite different" and he would either love it or hate it.  It turned out the weirdness landed on the love side for him.

Formerly known as the Tiger Balm gardens, it was built by the Tiger Balm family over 8 Ha.

It all starts off fairly normal

But quickly heads to the bizarre.  Welcome to the 10 courts of Hell.  

There were plenty of  traditional Chinese elements 

But alongside there are King Kong apes or Medical bunnies and multiple items that just make your head shake in bewilderment!  

 Beyond words really, but worth a couple of hours there and back.

This trip we searched out a couple of recommended hawker food courts away from the pure tourist areas.  The 1st introduction was Alexandra Village food court.  While we had recommendations of where to go, in the end we used the traditional technique of choosing the longest line and ordering what the men in front of us ordered  $3.50 each later we had a plate of delicious mixed pork and rice.  The beers would have cost more than the meal itself!

We also went to Zion Riverside Food centre.  But accidentally we went to the Old Zion food court, about 10 minutes walk away.  Not inspired by the stalls, we settled for a chain store Indian meal.  While eating our Kottu Roti I realised our mistake looking at the map.  We were sad because we had been looking forward to some of the best Char Kwe Teow in the city and Dumplings.  So we decided to walk there anyway, and it looked great.  Having had a meal already, we bravely made room for some delicious (hot, hot) dumplings

Apart from some shopping we spent some time riding buses between destinations.  It was good to see the apartment blocks and greenery and all the trappings of a modern efficient city.  Rather a contrast to life in Vientiane.

And we have had a very culturally filled month.  Earlier in the month, the Singapore Dance company came to Vientiane and presented three modern ballet pieces which were excellent.  Looking at the arts calendar while we were in Singapore we decided not to see them again performing more ballet, instead we opted for Opera.  At the Theaters by the Bay (the Durian shaped buildings) we joined an intimate audience in a small theater for 90 minutes of world-class piano and Opera.  2 women performers, who had spent a long time on the European circuits, presented a delightful mixture of pieces.  It was a real treat, as Andrew always says

Returning home, we had a delayed departure from Singapore and a tight transit through Bangkok.  One of us, had a small meltdown with a bit of snapping at the poor guy operating the scanning machine.  You would think with the number of scanning machines he has been through, he would not bat an eyelash at being asked to take off his belt or shoes...but international crisis avoided, we made the fight back to Laos

Overall a great short break, even if the beer was amongst the most expensive in the world.

Stayed at Ibis Ben Coolen

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Prague and back to Munich

Our time in Prague was a little odd.  Rather than planning our time in the city, a lot of our attention focussed on dealing with the items we lost in Kutna Hora.  From buying new toothbrushes through to new iPads, nothing critical, but the whole process was an unsettling distraction.

Wanting to make the most of 2 days in Prague we decided to head straight for the castle.  It is an iconic part of the city.

Having endured the security screening process, we slipped and slided our way around the snowy inner courtyards.

Andrew had suggested before we arrived there would not be many tourists about in the middle of the off season.  How wrong was he?  Everywhere we went lines and groups.  I was there more than 20 years ago and it was busy but now in summer we can only imagine the total tourist overload.
Prague is geared to take the tourist dollar.  Every church, every display or anything with a door has an entry fee.  One little gem worth paying the entrance fee for was the St Nicholas church.  Baroque exuberance at its best.

Another day, another beer for lunch - even if we didn't quite manage to fill the beer card up...1 down 98 to go...

Our final night was back to Munich.  Racing down the motorway with the sound of clingwrap ringing in our ears.  Clingwrap is not particularly aerodynamic and it was a pleasure to drop the car off 1 day early.  Even though it was damaged it, the return was a very easy process.

In Munich city we shopped and went out for a good meal at a modern brewery.  Good beer and food and they closed the street down for us.  Well, not just for us, but for a pre-Carneval dance.  Quite a lot of effort obviously would be spent practicing for the annual Carneval events - and a bit of beer drunk as well one would imagine.  

We also were 'blessed' by the harlequin with a mark of soot of our noses.  Bad luck from the car break-in was banished

PragueL Ibis Mala Strana, Munich: Mercure Old town 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bye bye bags

It started out as a normal holiday day.  Breakfast, luggage into the car and on the road.  It finished with time spent in a Czech police station and a roll of cling film. 

It was beautiful blue sky day and we headed to the Unesco World Heritage pilgrimage church of St John of Nepomuk, at Zelena Hora.  
It is a pretty site, especially with the snow on the ground.  The church sits inside an outer wall which takes the shape of a 5 pointed star.  The church itself wasnt open mid-week in the middle of winter.

Charmed, we drove on to our designated lunch destination of Kutna Hora.  Famous for it's Ossuary (Bone Church) and Gothic Catherdral of Barbora.  We parked nearby on a residential street, near a few tour buses and headed off for lunch at Cafe Barbora.  It was good meal and we walked around the church and colonnades before heading back to the car.  

We got back to the car just after 13:00, having been away for under an hour, and finally left Kutna Hora after 18:00.  The reason...

Some **** had broken into the car and taken the two small backpacks sitting on the backseat.  Of value in the bags were 2 iPads, a work laptop, Andrew's hearing aids and a little cash.  Of no value, but much inconvenience by their absence, were 2 jolly good daypacks, cables, earphones and various useful bits and pieces that we had added to our travelling kits over a number of years.  The suitcases remained untouched.  

We had to call the police who turned up quickly.  Neither of the officers spoke any English.  My German wasn't good enough for the conversations needed, and we turned to Google translate to act as an interpreter.  The forensic team arrived, dusted the car for prints, and after an hour or so, we all went to the police station.  

We sat in the waiting room and waited.  We made a list of the things we could think of in the bags, and their value, and we waited.  We called the car-hire firm and they said bring the car back to Germany as there were no repairers in Czechia.

Eventually we found out we were waiting for a translator to arrive.  When she arrived it became so much easier for everyone.  We had to be interviewed and make the police statement .  Our interpreter worked seamlessly between English and Czech, even so the process took forever.  On the positive side, the 2 police, one male, one female, and the interpreter, were lovely people and there were a few laughs along the way.

Statement done, the key piece of advice the Inspector gave us was - wrap the broken window in Cling-film.  On leaving the police station, we drove with the wind whistling through the car, to a supermarket to procure said cling-film.  We proceeded to wrap it around and around the window.  We were both very surprised how effective it was on the 1 hour slow journey, on busy roads, from Kutna Hora to Prague. 

We were pleased to see the hotel and we deposited the car in (expensive) underground car-parking and proceeded to ignore the glad-wrap window for the next 2 days.  The day was a surreal experience.

On returning to Laos we were informed by the police the bags were found - minus the expensive technology - but Andrew's expensive hearing aids were in the bag.  We are currently working through the process to get the bags returned to Laos. Fingers crossed!!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Brno, Brno, Snow, oh

Oh, snow in Brno.  We can now all pronounce Br-No, it rhymes with snow

With a limited amount of time allotted to the city we had to brave the heavy snow falling in the morning.  By lunchtime it had cleared and there were even blue-sky periods.

While we climbed the hill to the castle, the views were limited due to the snow and being a Monday, the castle was closed.  So not a huge win on that activity

Back down into the city itself and we wandered the streets looking at the art and buildings
 I had been interested to check out the iconic statue in Moravian square, which you are supposed to walk under and look up - but he was smack in the middle of the town winter ice-rink - so not possible.  However there were plenty of other installations and art in the city centre. 

The interesting sculptures on freedom square included 'the four morons' which date from 1928.  Looking at their faces you can understand why the guidebooks describe them as '4 morons, trying to hold up the building and their pants at the same time.  

Which segues into our favourite moron, who yet again ordered a pork hock that would have fed a Lao family for a month.  This is just a repeat of Bucharest a year ago.  Lunch at Stopkova was good hearty stuff and yet another opportunity for to partake in the very good Czech beer.
 Stayed at the nice boutique VVhotel

Friday, March 1, 2019

Back roads to Brno

We woke to see it had snowed heavily overnight and it was still snowing.  We quickly revised our driving plan for driving on the minor roads and decided to stick to the larger secondary roads.  The weather forecast said the situation would improve as the day went on so we set off.  It turned out the worst of the snow situation was driving down the sloping driveway at our pension, and the rest of the journey wasn't too bad - in snow terms anyway.  The day was characterized fog, followed by periods of sun, returning to fog.

Our 1st stop was the town of Jindrichuv.  It was Sunday, and having parked the car we weren't overly hopeful we would find a cafe open.  But on the town square there was a cafe, and coffee and cake.  Chocolate cake for Andrew and a Linz biscuit - just because of the fact we hadn't found any pies in Linz itself.

Warm and  re-caffeinated it was time for a walk around.  Until I saw these photos together I hadn't realized how consistent the colour palate had been there.  These painted buildings were certainly typical throughout the areas we visited this year.

It was a charming little town, even on a cold Sunday in the middle of winter.  There were a couple of oddities with some modern sculpture at the Museum of Photography,  markers denoting the 15th parallel, oh and some old goats...

Back onto the fog/sun road, driving through plenty of plantation forest we made our way to Telč.  Telč was one of those places that when you arrived, it took your breath away.  The painted houses around the town square  were 'picture-perfect'just like in the guide-books.

The 1st goal was to find food and we spotted a small cafe on the square that had plenty of people in which was always a good sign.  Turned out they were 40 Chinese tourists on a bus tour, but the food was still good.

Lunch we had a walk around the town square before getting back on the sunny/foggy road

And in classic style we have the "Goat dance", an Andrew Original