A Travellerspoint blog

Czech Republic - Pilsen and surrounds - part 1

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Czech Republic – Pilsen and surrounds - part 1

Pilsen was our first port of call in the Czech Republic. We booked 3 nights in Pilsen with the aim of catching up with one of Ash’s former work colleagues and good friend, John, but ended up staying 12 nights! We also met John’s wife Sasha and daughter Sharon, all of whom gave us great information, shared some good meals and looked after us while we were there as you will soon see, from the text and photos.
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Chudenice
John and his wife Sasha have a house that they bought in a town called Chudenice (pronounced phonetically as Who-din-it-sa) which he is renovating. Ash jumped at the chance to go with him to help and this turned into an all-in family event of renovating in the mornings and sightseeing in the afternoon. We would stop work at lunch time and then head off to a nearby village for some sightseeing. We did some cementing, drain pipe work, water barriers and just general cleaning and it was great to be able to help out. I think we would have been happy to stay longer!
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Klatovy
Our first afternoon visit was to a town called Klatovy, where we went for lunch. There is a 350 year old church here and large watch tower which strikes you as soon as you enter the town square. Of interest though, are the Catacombs in the rear basement of the church which exhibit mummified bodies of the devout Jesuits that built the church and did a lot of work in the area. The mummification process occurred naturally due to the clever design characteristics of the air flow passing through that area, basically, the people were left in oak coffins filled with hops and allowed to dry out!
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Horskovy Tyn
The following day, John took us to Horsokovy Tyn, another village around an hour from Chudenice. The architecture of the buildings here was amazing and was heavily influenced by Italian designers during the Renaissance period. The castle was present for bishops that resided here hundreds of years ago.
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We also got introduced to Tocena – one of John’s favourite treats
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Pilsen
Back to Pilsen and as we found out, there was more for us to see than we expected. Here is our accommodation (where we ate an amazing breakfast every morning), buildings in the town square, town cathedral and the town hall.
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There is a lot of history in Pilsen, filled with all sorts of conflicts, one of the more recent being World War II. Pilsen was one of the last outer lying areas that the American’s liberated as part of the war. The Patton Museum and ‘Thank You to America’ monuments are there to recognise and thank the American’s for liberating Pilsen from the Nazi’s.
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See more on the Demarcation Line in part 2.

Posted by tollidaytravels 07:53 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Germany - Frankfurt, Nuremberg

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Frankfurt
Well as mentioned in my last blog, we have arrived in Germany. The plane trip was smooth and uneventful and both boys did exceptionally well at sleeping when they could and managing their jet lag. Better than us!

We arrived into Frankfurt at 6am and made our way to the hostel. It didn’t take us long to notice the change in weather which made us put on our jumpers that had been stored in stuff-bags for the last 7 months.
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We found out about a walking tour close to the hostel and decided to join, partly to get to know the place we’d just arrived in, partly to keep ourselves awake! Dom, our guide, initially walked us around the ‘dark’ side of Frankfurt where we were introduced to the drug and prostitution area of Frankfurt directly adjacent to the Frankfurt Central Train Station (and to our hotel, awesome!). We saw and were told about one brothel that turns over about 500 million Euro a year – that’s a lot of …. well …. umm never mind! It was an interesting conversation explaining to Lachlan what he was looking at.

We then moved on to some of the more interesting touristy spots of Frankfurt. Dom was great and showed us a lot of things that you could walk by without noticing.
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It was a good way to doing something and stay active while adjusting to a new time zone. But after a hostel-supplied pasta dinner and some brilliant Weiss beer (for Tania and Ashley only!!!), we fell into bed for some much needed rest.

We did some more walking the following day and found a great little street market where we sat down for a great lunch. Cameron lost his first tooth while tucking into a bratwurst sausage (it was very loose) and got Euros from the tooth fairy!! We love the fact that they have open wine bars out on the street here, along with the smallgoods, sausages, bread and cheese you could really make a picnic of it! We also found the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (look for the bull and bear!) and had a great walk along the Main River. Frankfurt offered a lot in one city – a seedy side, the financial district and some traditional buildings all bundled into one. Thank goodness the Tooth Fairy is in Germany!
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Nuremberg
What a beautiful city. Nuremberg is an old town, surrounded by a wall and four lookout towers. It was heavily bombed during the Second World War but has been restored to its former glory. There is also a beautiful castle which dates back to 1000AD which was great to wander around.
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As you can see from the photos there are beautiful buildings and cathedrals everywhere. It was great just to wander around and experience the architecture.
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Nuremberg was where Hitler started the Nazi movement and we visited the Documentation Centre (in one section of the Congress Hall) to find out more about it. The Nazi Party Rally Grounds actually covered eleven square kilometres and remain largely incomplete due to construction halting during the War. See the panoramic photos below of the stadium – this was to be another 30 metres higher and have a roof over the top.
The exhibition was titled ‘Fascination and Terror’ and had a fairly detailed account of the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist reign of terror leading up to WW2. (The first photo of the building is in the bottom right hand corner of the scale model in the third photo)
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Nuremberg is famous for its castle, its Nazi history, its specialty gingerbread (yum! It was very good), its own style of sausages (little mini ones, basically they look like breakfast sausages), and toys. It started with a toy manufacturer who became famous for designing tin toys, and grew into a huge industry. There’s an international toy convention held there every year, and we also visited a Toy Museum which exhibited toys from hundreds of years ago to present day. Cameron found a Thomas Train setup which he would have spent all afternoon playing on if we’d let him, he really misses his own Thomas trains at home!
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There is also the odd interesting street sign around the place too.
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The plan was to head to the Czech Republic next, more specifically Pilsen, where a good friend of Ash is living who we wanted to visit. So onto the bus (great bus services here) and over to the Czech Republic!

Posted by tollidaytravels 12:13 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur

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Readers of this blog will notice a big difference between this KL post and our previous instalments for Japan and South Korea! After a flat-out tour over 4 weeks, we came to Kuala Lumpur to slow down, catch up on school work, and position ourselves for the cheap flight we’d booked leaving from KL to Germany.

We spent just under 3 weeks in Kuala Lumpur and found this great apartment to base ourselves. It had a great pool and a kitchen / dining area too. The focus for us was catching up on schoolwork and we managed to get through a bit each day. At the end of the trip we were able to post a fair bit back to the school and a little keepsake box to Mum and Dad, lightening up our travel packs by about 6kg!
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While we were there we did get to get out and about a bit, although it felt strange to be in a place like KL and not continually be sightseeing. We went to a birthday party for a 4 year old Iranian girl, Zaharra, whose family was staying in an apartment near us and whose brother, Maheed, had struck up a great friendship with Lachlan, hence the invitation to attend. We enjoyed some traditional Iranian food of meat and rice and great conversation that night.
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We visited China Town with a lovely friend called Aisyah, who worked in a café nearby and made Ash his morning coffee for the 3 weeks! We spent a fair bit of time around the main tourist hub of Bukit Bintang where we would go out for dinner and wander around. After a bit of searching, we managed to find our favourite food court in the Pavillion Shopping Centre that we’d discovered the first time we were there and enjoyed some more good meals. There are plenty of fashion stores here as the boys discovered. There was even a Warner Bros store with movie memorabilia and a Batmobile you could ride in.
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KL has a great train system and we used it a lot to get around. Here's Cameron making friends with the local girls while waiting for a train.....
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This is meant to be the biggest Gumball machine in the world at Berjaya Times Square (Imbi)
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Tan and I enjoyed coming back to KL. We felt a little less like tourists and just enjoyed relaxing a bit after a fairly hectic previous 4 weeks.
We were all very excited about heading to Germany and starting our European leg. As I type this, I am looking out of our hostel window onto Kaiserstrasse of Frankfurt with beautiful 5 storey terraced buildings. What a difference! However that will be the subject of our next post.
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Posted by tollidaytravels 11:20 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Seoul

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On re-reading this, you might want to grab a cuppa before starting!

Well, it took 18 years but Ash finally made it back to Korea (he feels sooo old when we say that). He spent two and half months in Incheon city working at an Oil Terminal (dealing with 7-9 metre tides which drastically changed the ocean/land interface in a relatively short period of time). We were looking forward to coming because Ash had always wanted to come back and to also have the family here too. The new (and very nice) Incheon airport was being built when he was here last, he remembers taking a ferry boat cruise around Incheon Port and saw the ocean between two islands being reclaimed for what would eventually be a 4 runway airport.

We ended up booking 7 days in Korea and decided to base ourselves in Seoul to look around. As usual, the local underground railway system provided us with speedy and efficient travel to wherever we wanted to go.
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Ash has been pleasantly surprised at how much of the language he remembers, and loved trying a lot of the foods that he enjoyed previously. One dish dak galbi is a spicy chicken dish that we had on our first night and you can’t get this in Australia – but it was great to have it again.
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Our first day of sightseeing took us to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are numerous temple complexes to look at in and around Seoul, but after our trip to Japan and ‘Templing/Shrining’ the boys out, we decided to choose only one and make a day of it (even if you love temples it can get too much!). First stop was the Gwanghwamun Gate where we timed it well and saw the hourly changing of the guards.
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The grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace were huge and actually took us quite a while to walk around. It was pretty hot day but we managed to find shade in the gardens as we moved around. We also managed to find some more lovely ladies dressed in traditional Korean dresses, they looked stunning of course!
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The following day we visited Kukkiwon, the world headquarters of Taekwondo. This was too good an opportunity to miss, since Ash is now officially a green-with-blue-stripe belt in Taekwondo! Totally by chance, our visit timed with a grading of blackbelts which was pretty impressive to see.
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It also just happened to be located in the suburb of Gangnam, and we couldn’t pass the opportunity for some Gangnam Style action!
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Ash describes himself as a war history buff, and our trip through Asia so far has provided an amazing amount of war history. Korea was no exception. None of us knew very much about the Korean War but after Ash visited the Korean War Museum with Lachlan, we got a very good education in a relatively short period of time. We weren’t aware that this was a UN backed campaign (principally lead by the US) that had 15 other countries including Australia that supported it. Other UN member countries provided medical or logistics/financial support. Australia sent over 17,000 personnel and 332 died in the campaign, with around 1200 wounded. There are some moving displays and the South Koreans are extremely thankful for the support of the countries that helped them. Lachlan and Cameron (brought back on a subsequent day) walked around and climbed over the very impressive outdoor military equipment on display. The statues outside the museum were some of the best that we’ve seen, particularly that of the two brothers fighting for either side of the war that were reunited on the battlefield. The emotion was palpable.
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The highlight of the trip for Ash would have to be a visit to Panmanjun (or Joint Security Area) which straddles the North-South Demarcation line.
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The JSA area used to be open to both countries, however after the ‘tree chopping’ incident in 1976 where two US soldiers were attacked and killed while trying to remove a tree that was restricting the view from a lookout, the area has now been completely divided. As you could imagine, security was extremely tight here and the tour group had military guards everywhere we went. The tour group was limited in which direction and when they could take photos, but it was still great to see. The blue buildings are for the UN, non-blue buildings are the North Koreans.
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This is the 'Bridge of no return' where POWs of both sides were exchanged. Once you crossed, you could never go back.
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Ash entered the blue building used for meetings between the two countries chaired by a Swiss/Swedish neutral group. They could only stay within the boundary of accompanying guards and there were no photos allowed of the UN building infrastructure looking behind this point. Needless to say, they were very happy for photos of the North Koreans to be taken, unlike the North Korean soldiers who hid behind the building we were in to avoid having their photos taken!
Ash is actually standing on North Korean soil here, the guard is with him in the event that North Korean soldiers come through the door and try to pull the United Nations High Command Guests (aka tourists) through the door.
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Here’s Ash straddling the two Koreas (the conference table sits on the demarcation line) and you can see the Demarcation line out the window with the concrete step and different gravels either side.
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Here’s a few other shots where Ash tried to capture the soldiers. The blacked out windows of the North Korean building would no doubt have many soldiers with cameras capturing anyone’s movements.
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On the way to and from the JSA, you go under 12 of these structures on the highway.
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They are actually elevated concrete barriers rigged with explosives which would be detonated to slow a North Korean Army Tank advance by about an hour, should it occur.

Our last big day was at the Seoul Children’s Grand Park, which was, as the name suggests, very large and which included a fantastic range of things to do. One of these was an amusement park where we enjoyed rides for the entire afternoon. With not many people around, we managed to get on every ride with little to no wait. The rollercoaster got quite a work out this time and with Cameron’s growth spurt over the last few months (he’s now 123cm) he could go on a lot of the rides with us much to his delight. He’s an adrenaline junkie!
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Being totally honest, we came to Korea because of Ash previously working here, but also because we didn’t consider it to be a holiday destination on its own and that if we didn’t visit as part of this trip then we most likely never would. We were wrong. In hindsight we should have stayed for longer, and we’d recommend it to anyone as a destination to consider. A couple of weeks could easily be spent in Seoul and beyond, the food is great and the people are lovely.

As we type this, we are at 40,000 feet cruising back to Kuala Lumpur. Our four week Japan-Korea trip has been brilliant but has resulted in minimal schoolwork being done. We always knew this would be the case but we will be spending our next 3 weeks doing some catch-up! It will be good to “settle” for a little while and get ourselves sorted before we board our flight to Frankfurt on 2 September and begin our European leg of the adventure.
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Posted by tollidaytravels 06:57 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Tokyo x 2

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Before we get started, how much would you expect to pay for a hot café latte in downtown Tokyo? See answer below.

After a fairly seamless 6 hours of train travel from Hiroshima, with a train change at Shin Osaka, we arrived in Tokyo. After some Tokyo city train action, we managed to find our hostel just to the north of Tokyo city centre in Ueno.
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We managed to spend a bit of time on the train network the following day. Here is our train map to help us get around.....
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and, we didn’t need to go underground to negotiate the Subway the first time, but we did when we returned from Nozawa Onsen.
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The whole train network can be a bit confusing even for the locals, but we managed to find our way around pretty well. The trick is to find the most efficient way and internet is a big help for that. The JR Pass is also a plus as we passed through numerous train barriers without having to pay for individual tickets.

Our first port of call was the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices to get a view of the city - we did this on two different days and the photos show the contrast pretty well with pollution evident on the first visit.
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We also wanted to see Mt Fuji but not today. Here is what we saw..
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and it should look like this.
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Our next stop was "Thomas Town" for Cameron. The boys managed a ride on Thomas (more for Cameron than Lachlan!). Certainly not as big as some of the other places around however it certainly did the trick. We even managed to find a Diesel 10 to take away as a momento.
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Back from our Nozawa Onsen adventure and we find ourselves in a hostel not far from where we were. Tania and Cameron headed off to the local supermarket to get supplies while Lachlan and I visited the local temple (Senso-ji) to check out the sites. This temple is surrounded by tall city buildings, not that you feel it when you are there.
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The following day we headed off to the Imperial Palace to take in the sights. We ended up checking out the east side but decided to seek some shelter as it was a really hot and humid day and the sun was very strong. We also got some good photos of downtown Tokyo city skyline - the streets are so clean and there is minimal traffic around (due to the awesome train and subway system).
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Lachlan found a Pokémon activity (for the school holidays) where you go to various train stations to pick up ink stamps in a book - which we ended up doing.
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The boys then picked up a Pokémon book and a Pikachu hat prize once all the stamps had been collected.
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The following day we checked out the National Museum of Nature and Science - the boys had a great time learning about everything from dinosaurs to space. There were also animal exhibits and very cool but simple physics displays. The lack of English explanations made things a bit challenging, but it was still fun.
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After an ice cream special treat from Shizu and Erina at our hostel, we headed off to Shibuya to visit Shibuya crossing, supposedly one of the busiest streets in the world and also to see the Tokyo city lights.
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It doesn't look that busy in the photo, however this street can have 100,000 people cross it every hour. Photos taken from Starbucks - apparently it's the highest grossing Starbucks in the world.
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Tan and I found an unbelievable sushi restaurant where you can order your meal on computer and it comes out on a little table via automatic conveyor. So cool, so the future, just so Japanese!
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Anyway, back to that coffee. We bought a Starbucks coffee large size for 370 yen, which is about $4.10, on par or cheaper than in Melbourne I think.
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Although accommodation has been expensive, we can dispel the myths of Japan being ridiculously expensive. I would put it on par with any Australian capital and in fact we have been able to get meals for the four of us for between $15-25.

We are off to Seoul tomorrow for a week, stay tuned for our next instalment.

Posted by tollidaytravels 05:02 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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