Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Croatian & Eastern Delights

This is such a long overdue post!! I graduated in 2018; and my family decided to tour around Europe after my graduation. We researched a few tour companies and eventually, decided on Expat Explore. The price was €1,640 per pax for 14 days including accommodation and transportation. Breakfast provided everyday from the hotel; lunch/dinner were included and some days were just free and easy. 

Accommodation: ACHAT Premium München-Süd

After arriving in Munich from London, we took a taxi to ACHAT Hotel (costed approximately €80-100 with a 7 seater as there were 4 of us with 4 huge luggage). We then walked around Munich town & ended the day at a German beer hall for dinner and German beer :)

Theatine Church Munich

Graggenauer Viertel

St Peter's Church

Marienplatz / Neues Rathaus


Enroute to Ljubljana, we dropped by Salzburg, Austria -- the hometown of Mozart. 

Mirabell Gardens and Palace

Salzburg Cathedral at Residenzplatz

Makartsteg Footbridge - Love lock Pedestrian Bridge

St Peter's Abbey


We then stopped at Lake Bled for a photo-stop. The lake is situated in Julian Alps and surrounds Bled Island in the middle of the lake. 

Lake Bled

Then finally, we arrived at Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. We had a sweet walking tour around the city. 

Had our dinner at one of the dainty restaurants in the city, and got to try their traditional Slovenian dessert. I actually really enjoyed it! It's called Prekmurska gibanica (Prekmurje layered cake), which contains layers of poppy seed, cottage cheese, walnut, and apple filling. 

Dragon Bridge

Town Hall

Ljubljana Castle
We ended the day with visiting Ljubljana Castle, which overlooks the whole city.

Accommodation in Ljubljana: Hotel Park

We started off our 3rd day to Croatia. First stop, was visiting the world-famous Plitvice Lakes National Park. Strolling along the boardwalks and marvelling at the incredible natural scenery of Croatia’s largest national park. Filled with waterfalls, lush vegetation and countless lakes, it is one of the most beautiful stops on the tour. I think the National Park was my favourite place in this whole trip! There are 16 lakes of different colours, ranging from azure to green, grey to blue. Breathtaking really!!

We then head to Split and checked into our hotel in a beach resort. Dinner was included from the hotel. 

Accommodation: Hotel Medena

Split is the second largest city in Croatia. We strolled around the old town, and took some pictures at Riva Promenade, which is the harbour of Split.

Family <3

After Split, we headed towards Dubrovnik. We had a tour around City Walls. The tour guide was J's favourite among all the walking tours in this trip. J watches Games of Thrones and there's a few sceneries where they shoot in Dubrovnik. 

The humorous tour guide in Dubrovnik!

City walls

 Clock Tower
The most prominent landmark on Luza Square; Dubrovnik's clock tower is 31 metres in height & was built in 1444

Church of St Blaise

Dubrovnik Cathedral

Lovrijenac Fort

Old Town

Dinner at a really nice restaurant near our hotel:

Black risotto: the typical Dalmation dish and is a must try in Croatia! It's black due to squid ink, with mussels - classic!

Seafood Bolognese

Pepperoni & Prosciutto pizza

Chevapi - a true Balkan dish! Small meat sausages with chips and chilli

Accommodation in Dubrovnik: Hotel Vis

The tour offered an optional excursion to Montenegro, and my parents happily sponsored J and I for the trip (Thank you!!). Though a short day trip, I was glad we made it as we got to visit another gem of Europe. It borders Bosnia-Herzegovina to Southwest, and Croatia to the west. Kotor is also listed as UNESCO Heritage location. We wandered around old port of Kotor, took photo stops at Verige and Perast, and lastly at coastal town of Budva. 

Lovely lunch at one of the restaurants at Kotor:

Sunset :)

First stop in Bosnia & Herzegovina -- Mostar, which is an enchanting place. If I didn't remember wrongly, it's majority population are Muslim, but there are still a lot of churches. Mostar is unique as it has influences from Roman, Greek, Croatian and Ottoman empire. 
Bosnia and Herzegovina doesn't use Euros as well. €1 = 2 Bosnian Marks

My parents went earlier to Mostar to collect my mum's visa to Serbia. Thankfully, they made it in time, or else they would have to detour. Malaysia passport needs visa to Serbia, but as I was studying in Ireland, I was exempted from it. We made multiple attempts to get her visa done; but it wasn't ready when we were in London. Multiple emails exchanged between the consulate of Serbia and myself. Gratefully, everything went well in the end and we managed to tour the entire trip smoothly.

Stari Most
The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans, located in the heart of Mostar's old town and crosses the Neretva river. Currently, it is one of UNESCO's World Heritage site as well. In summer, people dive from the bridge. 

After Mostar, we continued our tour at Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Accommodation in Sarajevo: Hotel Bosnia

Sarajevo city hall

Gazi Husrev-bey's Mosque & Clock Tower

Cathedral of Sacred Jesus' Heart

Famous spot as Sarajevo is the city that connects East & West - architecturally, geographically, and culturally. The East, the Ottoman and Islamic while the West were the Austro-Hungarian & Christian. 

Dinner inclusive in the tour @ Inat Kuća

Appetiser / soup



Our next stop was Belgrade, Serbia. 

Accommodation: Hotel Park

We spent the day with a local guide, who introduced us to the city's highlights including...
Republic Square

Kalemegdan Park

Hotel Moskva - oldest operating 4 stars hotel on Belgrade

Dinner provided in Belgrade:

Belgrade is the only place where my postcard didn't reach J :( We had this tradition where I would send postcards to J for every countries we've visited. Thankfully, the tour guide gave each of us a postcard as well so I wrote a different one later when I knew he did not receive it.
Shoutout to my parents who're always supportive, who always accompanied me to find all the post offices in each countries xD

Our tour guide also let us try a fruity brandy popular among the Balkans - Rakia. Common flavours include plum, apricot and honey. We really love it and ended up buying one small bottle; this cost approximately €10 or less! We drank it on our last day of the trip hehe

Bidding goodbye to Serbia, we headed towards Hungary. We stopped by at a farm in the traditional homeland of the Hungarian horse lords and watch a traditional horse show where locals demonstrated their equestrian skills. 

We had lunch at the farm after the show. The place was really cosy, with violinist playing soothing music. 

Traditional dessert served with flames?

Continuing our journey to Budapest..

The Fisherman's Bastion

Spectacular views across the river to the Parliament Building and St Stephen’s basilica

Mama <3

Classic spot overlooking the Parliament Building

Heroes' Square


Our second day in Budapest was a free day, so J and I went to Szechenyi baths ourselves. We woke up super early & took public transport (MRT) there ourselves. Entrance fee was about €25 per pax. Szechenyi Bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe! Their waters are rich in electrolytes such as sulphates, calcium, magnesium, fluoride and bicarbonate which are believed to help patients with arthritis. 

Szechenyi Baths

The weather was sunny and it was super hot! Thanks J for being patient with me. 

We headed back to the hotel, and had our breakfast. Both of us were starving!! We headed to Buda Castle / Royal Palace for some sightseeing. You can either walk up or used the funicular; we obviously chose the latter~

Buda Castle Hill

Ice cream on a hot day 

Szechenyi Bridge
The famous chain bridge that joins Buda and Pest (I only knew Budapest was called that because of the western and eastern sides - Buda & Pest) and it crosses the famous Danube River. 

Our tour guide told us about the renowned lion statue of Szechenyi bridge. People noticed that the lions do not have tongue and began shaming the sculptor, and the myth said that he was so ashamed to the point he committed suicide by jumping off the bridge into River Danube; but obviously it's not true! He died of old age at 59 but the rumour just continued to spread..

Danube Promenade

Dinner at Karavan - for Hungarian street food~

Lángos: deep fried dough with sour cream, and grated cheese

Bread bowl beef goulash -  have you ever been to Hungary if you did not try their goulash?!

Beef burger with wedges

Fettuccine Carbonara with mushroom and ham 

After dinner, we headed to meet up with the group of an optional activity -- Danube boat cruise
As it was optional, we each have to pay for an extra €25 i think? No regrets though, the night view of Budapest is amazing! Highly recommended. They provide guided tour using headset, and there's a complimentary champagne. The entire cruise lasted for 1 hour. The cruise from our tour was Danube Legend

Szechenyi Chain Bridge

Buda Castle

Parliament Building

It was a great night. Thank you Budapest 

Accommodation in Budapest: Ibis Budapest City 

Our tour guide, Dee let us tried the popular Hungarian snack -- Túró Rudi, a thin chocolate flavoured outer coating and inner filling of curd


Bratislava Castle

Hlavné Square & Old town hall

Slovak National Theatre 

Belvedere Palace

Old Town (Staré mesto)

We finally arrived at Vienna, one the world's most liveable cities (I believe Singapore and Australia are nominated as well) at around 5pm. Vienna is so pretty, but we only get to spend half a day there, and the day was filled with thunderstorm; what a pity :(

Accommodation: Lenas Donau Hotel

Belvedere Palace

Volksgarten @ Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace

St Stephen's Cathedral

Dinner at Zwolf Apostelkeller:

Their famous schnitzel~

There was an optional concert after dinner, which we didn't opt for. We headed back to hotel and called it a night (:

We had a pitstop at Mauthausen Camp, before heading towards Czech Republic, one of the destinations in this trip that I looked forward to. Mauthausen concentration camp was a labour camp during 2nd world war, where hundreds of thousands of political prisoners lost their lives. Our next stop was Český Krumlov, a UNESCO Heritage site. It escaped the bombings in World World 2, hence the old city is well preserved with colourful and vibrant buildings. Blessed with a spectacular castle and a wealth of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, Český Krumlov is often thought of as a sort of mini-Prague. 

Lunch at Český Krumlov:

Prague, famous for its art, architecture, cobbled lanes, ancient chapels, and also home to some of Europe’s finest beer. 

Accommodation: Hotel Duo

Our local tour guide escorted us through the historic streets, pointing out the features of the ‘Old Town’.. Prague is absolutely stunning. I love all the cathedrals and architecture. It would have been prettier if the sky was blue! The last few days of our tour, the weather was gloomy and rainy :(

Old Town Square

Astronomical Clock at Old town Square

St Vitus Cathedral

Malá Strana, which in direct translation means "little side", or more known as "lesser town" -- from its position on the left bank of river Vltava, on the slopes just below the Prague Castle & opposite to larger towns of Prague on the right, which is conjoined by Charles Bridge. 

Malá Strana

Charles Bridge
The most important connection between Prague Castle & Old town. Prague is one of the most romantic places in Europe. We saw at least 7-8 couples at Charles Bridge and Prague Castle taking pre-wedding photoshoot. 

Prague Castle

One of the couple's pre-wedding photoshoot~

Legendary Lennon wall
A tribute to John Lennon and words of peace, which is added to on a daily basis by the thousands of visitors to the city.

For dinner, we experienced authentic Czech cuisine at Medvidku. 

Czech beer - which they say it's the best beer in the world?!

Gained sooooo much weight from eating non stop since graduation up!

I really enjoyed this!! I had this for lunch the next day; a traditional Czech specialty, smazak, which consists of Edam cheese, coated in eggs, breadcrumbs and flour then fried until crispy. Usually, it can be eaten as a starter, but can also be a meatless main course hehe
We had it at one of the alley restaurants at Prague old town.

Otw to town

Trdelník, the famous Chimney cake in Prague. We saw multiple stores selling them and the streets smell soooo good. We finally settled with one of the stores with the longest queue hehe. Our chimney cake with ice cream. Yummmss

Our tour guide Dee, with Kofola, an equivalent of Coco-cola or Pepsi in Czech. In Czech, apparently, you couldn't find coco-cola or pepsi!!

Thank you Prague, you have been amazing <3

On our way back to Munich, we take a comfort stop in Nuremberg. 
The original stone after the bombings of the Second World War

St Lorenz Church

Schöner Brunnen
A 14th century fountain located in Nuremberg's main market. It's 19m high and there's 2 brass rings embedded in the fence surrounding the fountain on opposite sides. It's said to bring good luck to those who spin them! Obviously, we kept spinning them xD

Nürnberger Bratwurst - apparently under protection of EU law, that the sausage can only be produced in Nuremberg!! Our trip wouldn't be complete if you haven't had one of these in Nuremberg!! Yummy~

After Nuremberg, we headed back to Munich.

Last dinner of our tour~

El Fin.

That's the end of our 14 days Eastern Europe tour!! This trip was my first tour with a large group of strangers. Although personally I do prefer to plan out my own itinerary and take time to take photos and try out different cuisines, I'm thankful for the wonderful memories and graduation trip with my parents and J. These beautiful memories will forever be engraved in my heart ♥ My parents headed back to Brunei and J and I continued our part 2 graduation trip to Turkey and Greece~ 

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