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My Japanese Adventure

It has long been a dream of mine to visit the “Land of the Rising Sun”. I remember always being fascinated about Japanese minimalism in relation to architecture whilst studying interior design at university. I always found Japan to be a great source of inspiration and have always been interested in their way of life and their unique culture. I have always wanted to enter a Japanese shop where everything is cute and character-driven.

A couple of months ago, right at the beginning of their cherry blossom season, I finally made it to this intriguing and fascinating island known as Japan. It was an eye-opening experience from start to finish and was the first time I ever holidayed in Asia. My sister and I spent 12 days travelling in Japan, starting in Tokyo and visiting Osaka and Kyoto.

For this post I simply want to showcase my photos to you because there are so many websites and books in the marketplace where you can gain information, make itineraries, and map out your day from morning till night (admittedly as a person who loves to plan everything out, I used a very helpful little app called Tripomatic to help me bring all my research together into one helpful daily organiser!). Of course I recommend that you do your research, by all means, but I also learned that it’s alright to simply have no plan for the day and see where life takes you. I wish we had more time to explore these three beautiful cities without time limits and without maps and itineraries as this would allow us to relax more and truly feel what it’s like to be in Japan. On my next trip there that’s what I plan to do for sure but understandably for the first trip somewhere I always seem to want to pack in as much to see and do as I possibly can!

Japan is a country which leaves visitors with their own distinct impressions, as long as you’re open to the possibility of discovering, learning and experiencing life from outside your comfort zone. Yes, there were lots of people everywhere and at times we did find ourselves on packed train carriages, feeling a little bit out of place, but even then I was eager to turn unfamiliar corners and see what’s out there. Japan really pushed my sense of adventure to the max and even though I couldn’t speak the language, its beautiful people always made me feel at ease. This trip was one of those “pinch me, am I really here?” moments and I cannot recommend Japan enough for anyone who is interested in history, architecture and religion. If you’re fortunate enough not to have any time constraints in Japan, then you’re probably the luckiest person in the world because there’s so much to see and so many places with the wow factor that will definitely leave you feeling speechless.

 

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Travel

Love Affair with NYC

One of the highlights for me this year was accomplishing my dream of visiting the Big Apple and feeling the excitement and energy of beautiful New York City. For years I felt a gravitational pull towards NYC, mostly out of curiosity for everything I studied about at uni, read in books/magazines, watched in films and heard in music lyrics. So this past summer, while I was on vacation for the first time in the US, it was obvious to me that NYC had to be on the top of my travel list.

EmpireState

During the summer, New York was absolutely sweltering, but somehow that didn’t stop me from getting the most out of my sightseeing checklist. I felt so full of energy and so eager to see with my own eyes all the major tourist attractions. For me this included cruising past the Statue of Liberty on the free Staten Island Ferry, seeing the Empire State Building from the top of the Rockefeller Center, seeing the bright colours of Times Square and walking through stunning Central Park, often referred to as the “lungs” of the city

I certainly did a lot of research prior to the trip to make sure I got the most out of such a long-distance journey. It wasn’t easy venturing into Manhattan every day on the subway from Brooklyn but having everything clearly mapped out and arranged on paper really helped me. Between riding on their well-organised bus system and sweating it out in the underground subway stations (before boarding the air-conditioned trains), New York City had me completely hooked from Day 1. I can’t describe exactly what it was that made me fall in love with it, but I know that reminiscing about my holiday there always makes me smile from cheek to cheek.

My advice to you is to do your research before your trip because not only can that save you a lot of money, it can also make you feel much more at ease having a sightseeing plan in the fast-paced craziness that is New York! For example, admission to many top attractions is free or at a reduced cost, if you go on certain days/times of the week. This is mostly what I planned my days around and it ended up saving me quite a lot of $$. So just do your research and you can’t go wrong.

New York City has it all, from world-class art galleries/museums to top-notch theatre performances and fine dining. While walking its streets I had the distinct impression that this really is the city where dreams can come true and anything is possible. Frank Sinatra definitely got it right in the lyrics – “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York” and I know that returning to this crazy concrete jungle will be something I simply have to do, just preferably not in the summer!

 

Travel

“The Sound of Music” in Salzburg

Mozart StatueThe story of the 19-year-old adventurer in me continues in Salzburg, Austria. Back in 2008, I travelled to this peaceful city for a day-trip from Munich, which is where I was staying for two nights. I had a map marked with all the places I should see and only a few hours in which to see it all. Walking around the whole city was super simple. The only problem was the freezing cold wind (it was only mid-November) and I was under-prepared for such conditions. Luckily, there were plenty of indoor attractions to keep me warm.

One of these was the Mozart Birth House (Mozarts Geburtshaus), a must-visit museum for a unique perspective of the great composer’s life. Indeed, everywhere one goes in Salzburg one is reminded of Mozart and the legacy he leaves behind. Other interior places to experience are some of Salzburg’s beautiful churches and a trip to this Austrian city would be incomplete without walking along the gorgeous shopping street of Getreidegasse. Here antique decorative shop signs adorn the street and make the shopping experience extra special.

View of Salzburg Shopping in Salzburg St. Blasius Church Getreidegasse Shopping Salzburg Streets Mozart's Birth House Mirabell Gardens Beauty Mirabell Gardens Sculpture


When one thinks of the Austrian city of Salzburg, it’s hard not to immediately burst into song! Back in the year 1965, Salzburg’s beautiful streets and vistas became the backdrop of the highly-popular film, The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. This wonderful film is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and it’s so unbelievable. Generation after generation have grown up with this film, which is based on the true story of Maria von Trapp. It’s a family classic at my home and for all lovers of music, it’s a definite must-see. Just thinking of Julie Andrews singing the opening song “The Hills are Alive” against the majestic Alps gives me goosebumps!

Courtesy: http://www.time.com

Since I’m a massive fan of this film, it was so fun to stroll around Salzburg and see where they filmed some of their most memorable scenes. There are plenty of tours available that can take you to some filming locations outside the city, including the famous Gazebo scenes and the final wedding scene. Here are some places I recognised from the film and are all located within Salzburg itself:

Mozart Bridge (Mozartsteg) 
Bridge in Salzburg

Courtesy: http://www.allaboutjulie.tumblr.com

Horse Fountain (Pferdeschwemme)
Horse Fountain

Image Courtesy of Architectural Digest

The Vine Tunnel at Mirabell Gardens
Bike Riding Scene S.O.M

Courtesy: ashagreyjoyed.tumblr.com/

Mirabell Gardens – Famous scene of Do Re Mi
Mirabell Gardens

Image courtesy of Cine Zen

In the darkest of nights, I made my way through a now illuminated Salzburg, back to the main train station and caught the next train across the border to Germany. It was one of the best day trips I’ve ever done and certainly a very memorable one.

Travel

Timeless Prague

Church of St. Nicholas_Jan Hus MonumentAnyone that’s ever visited the capital of the Czech Republic knows that Prague is sure to leave its mark on you in some way or another. The city is filled with beautiful squares, striking building façades, breathtaking views and enchanting vistas.

I first came across Prague when watching the film Chasing Liberty (2004) starring Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode. The plot centres around the US president’s daughter as she decides to run from the Secret Service agents that monitor her every move in order to feel a sense of freedom and explore Europe without their constant protection. Long story short, she bumps into a man on a motorcycle in Prague, they fall in love and go on a journey through Venice, Austria and Berlin, without her knowing that he is actually employed by her father as an agent. It’s a cheesy romantic comedy but with lots of stunning European scenes. After seeing Prague as the backdrop in this film I felt a very strong desire to go there some day and experience the Bohemian capital for myself.

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

When I travelled to Mainz in September 2008 for my university exchange program, I knew that I had to put Prague on the top of my list of must-see European cities. Within two weeks of settling down in picturesque Mainz, I entered a travel agency in the city-centre to enquire about travelling abroad. Perhaps the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done is booking a ticket for an 8-hour overnight bus to Prague from Frankfurt departing the next day! Luckily for me we had acquaintances living in the Czech Republic that I could stay with. Nothing was going to stop me from squeezing in this trip before study would commence in October, as I knew that my course would take up a lot of my time.

So on a cold, dark autumn night I boarded the train from Mainz to Frankfurt and awaited the bus to Prague to depart at 10:45 pm. My memory of the trip is a bit hazy, as I was in and out of sleep, but I do remember the driver letting us out of the bus for a quick bathroom break at a petrol station somewhere in Germany. It was freezing cold and we were all happy to be back on that warm bus once again!

Architecture

As dawn broke over the Bohemian capital, the bus arrived at Florenc Station and I had butterflies in my stomach, having never felt so uncertain in my whole life. I’d like to point out that this was the very first time (apart from my solo journey into Mainz from London on board 3 different trains!) I had ever gone on a holiday all by myself in a foreign country. Excluding Mainz, which would later become my home away from home, Prague was a really BIG deal for me as I was out of my comfort zone on so many levels. Even til this day I think it’s the bravest trip I’ve ever completed.

The city was only just starting to wake up. I took the metro a couple stops and disembarked near the main square. Dragging my suitcase along the old cobblestone path and making a heck of a lot of noise, I ended up in Prague’s empty Old Town Square. I was beaming with happiness and even though I still had the difficult task of finding my accommodation in a town miles away, nothing could stop me from smiling. I made it to the iconic Charles Bridge, usually filled with artists, musicians and entertainers with crowds and pick-pockets also a common occurrence. Upon seeing the view of Prague Castle (the largest ancient castle in the world) before my very eyes, I remember very vividly laughing out loud and whispering to myself “I’m here, I’m in Prague!!”. The bridge was deserted at that time of morning, making the moment just that extra bit special for me.

The research I did on the internet prior to travelling informed me that to reach the home of our family friends, I would have to catch a train from Praha Masarykovo nádraží Station. This proved a difficult task for a tired and hungry 19-year-old adventurer who was by then running solely on adrenaline. I ventured into a fancy hotel where the kindest lady printed out a map for me and pointed me in the right direction. Next thing I knew, I was on board the right train heading towards my home for the next 5 nights. I disembarked at Úvaly in central Bohemia.

Uvaly Station

With a hand-drawn map of the small town and the address I needed to find, I had absolutely no idea where to start. This was at a time prior to GPS tracking on iPhones I might add! After about 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering around the town, I located a name on a gate that sounded like what my dad told me to look out for, so I buzzed it. A second later, a lady appeared in the second-storey window of the building and started yelling something in my direction. I was so scared that maybe I’m in the wrong place but decided to tell her my name and the name of the woman I’m looking for. She nodded and granted me access to their property!

I wasn’t going to waste a single second and after a quick lunch and a short round of getting-to-know-each-other-better questions, I headed back for Prague. By this time I was already much more confident in my abilities to navigate myself to and from the capital and could now explore in a more relaxed way.

Breathtaking Views

Prague is such a timeless city filled with many beautiful vistas of the Vltava River and countless bridges that cross it. Fragments of history are on every single building façade, monument, fountain and sculpture wherever you look. I must admit, I didn’t read a great deal about Prague before my spontaneous trip. I wanted to learn about it as I went and to be surprised by what I discovered. This had both its advantages and disadvantages. If I could do the trip all over again, I would patiently queue up for a visit to St. Vitus Cathedral, explore the Jewish Quarter more thoroughly, enter a few more notable buildings and try some authentic Czech food. As a young and inexperienced traveller, I only took inspiration from the exteriors of buildings, ate home-made sandwiches or store bought snacks and walked from morning to evening, never setting foot on any iconic Bohemian trams.

Old Town Square Buildings

Enchanting Prague dazzled me from beginning to end. I walked up and across Charles Bridge to Lesser Town and up the winding roads for breathtaking views of the city from near the Castle. I marvelled at marionnettes and handmade glass in souvenir shops, felt the grandeur of some of the most striking national buildings and enjoyed river views second to none. Wandering the intricate lanes of the Old Town was my favourite activity and admiring the beautifully decorated façades of buildings that looked like they came straight out of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), made my days so much more enjoyable. I found the Czech people to be friendly, helpful and kind and their city mesmerising, magical and full of unforgettable memories. It was the jewel of Eastern Europe to me.

Views over Prague

The journey back to Frankfurt was quite uneventful. I remember shopping in a large shopping centre during the evening, before taking the metro to Florenc Bus Station and awaiting my Eurolines Bus. I strongly remember how customs personnel boarded our bus, took everyone’s passports, left all of us sleepy passengers for about 15 minutes and then returned all our documents. I was so worried that something were to happen to my passport or that I would be given someone else’s back but thankfully not! I got back to Mainz by about 7am and spent the rest of the time convincing myself that it wasn’t all a complete dream. Prague is the land of fairy tales after all.