Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, is bisected by the Vltava River. Nicknamed “the City of a Hundred Spires,” it’s known for its Old Town Square, the heart of its historic core, with colorful baroque buildings, Gothic churches and the medieval Astronomical Clock, which gives an animated hourly show. Here are the suggested things to do:

  1. Old town square – it has remained relatively untouched since the 10th century and here you will find on the best preserved medieval mechanical clock in the world.
  2. Prague Castle – Entry to the grounds of the castle are free although many buildings such as the St Vitus cathedral, Basillica of St George and Golden Lane can be visited with a combined entry ticket.
  3. Stroll across Charles Bridge.  The bridge was commissioned in 1357 by Charles IV to replace an older bridge that had been washed away by floods. Although completed in 1390, with the striking statues added in the 17th century, the bridge did not take Charles’ name until the 19th century. You will enjoy the musical performances by buskers, paintings by artists and other vendors.
  4. Admire the Lenon wall – Although Prague is a long way from Liverpool, the birthplace of the Beatles, fans should certainly check out this shrine to one of the most famous bands of all time. The wall has been covered in John Lennon and The Beatles graffiti, lyrics and quotations since the 1980s and is very popular among tourists and young fans wishing to pay homage to the group.
  5. Petrin Hill – For its gardens, views of the city from the miniature Eiffel Tower, unusual church of St Michael and mirror maze. You can walk up or ride the funicular railway to the top.
  6. The narrowest street in Prague – you actually do have to follow the pedestrian traffic light! 19.6inch wide gap nestled in Prague’s oldest neighbourhood, Mala Strana. IMG_9749
  7. Wanceslas Square – one of the main city squares and the centre of the business and cultural communities in the New Town of Prague, Czech Republic. Many historical events occurred there, and it is a traditional setting for demonstrations, celebrations, and other public gatherings.
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  8. Kampa park – you will find the random row of yellow penguins and other art sculptures. If you keep on going across the park, it eventually links to island in the middle of the river where you enjoy the views of Charles bridge and the town.
  9. Dancing houseIMG_7994
  10. Spotting art all across the city – some stranger than others. King Kong Balls is what they call this one.
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  11. Chimney Cake – Good food coffee and bakery was highly rated so that’s what I tried but you can find this everywhere! IMG_9791
  12. Prague hotdog – I wasn’t a fan but again you can find it everywhere as a convenient on the go food
  13. Key specialities – Roast pork knuckle and roast duck with cabbage and dumplings.IMG_9726

Day trips from Taipei

Having been to Taipei several times now, I decided to explore the countryside a little bit more. Here are some day trip options even though I chose to stay over night at Jiu Fen to make the trip a bit more relaxing and to avoid large groups of tourists:

  1. Jiu Fen and Jing Gua Shi – Jiufen is a mountain town east of Taipei. It’s known for the narrow alleyways of its old town, packed with teahouses, street-food shacks and souvenir shops. It is also known as the back drop for the movie Spirited Away! Don’t forget to try Grandma Lai’s famous mochi type dessert opposite the post office along the old street.Close by, the Gold Mine Museum in Jing Gua Shi traces the town’s history as a mining hub during the Japanese-era gold rush. Be sure to check out the golden waterfall too which you will surprisingly find just by the main road.

    You can easily take a public bus from Rui Fang station to Jiu Fen and from Jiu Fen to Jing Gua Shi.

  2. Jing Tong to Ping Xi to Shi Fen to Rui Fang – Buy a day pass or use your easy card to access the Ping Xi line train that connects all these must see villages. This area is rich in history and is famous for the sky lantern experience. I chose to do the sky lantern at Ping Xi station instead of the famous Shi Fen one because of the number of tourists! Releasing a sky lantern starts from 150NT depending on the number of colours you want on your latern as each color represents a different meaning (this matters to some people). Shifen is also known for it’s waterfall so be sure to check that out (closes at 4:30pm) – photo in my Taipei blog post.
  3. Ying Ge is famous for the production of porcelain and an abundance of art studios and shops. It was good fun learning to make pottery! Note that it take’s about a month for it to be fired and colored so it might be useful to have a Taiwan friend help you pick this up as I’m not sure that they do international deliveries. It cost 150NT to make and an additional 150NT for the firing process etc.

Athens, Greece

Athens is the capital of Greece. It was also at the heart of Ancient Greece, a powerful civilization and empire. The city is still dominated by 5th-century BC landmarks, including the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel topped with ancient buildings like the colonnaded Parthenon temple.

You could do a free walking tour to learn more about what you will end up seeing (because it all just looks like a pile of ruins if you don’t have any background info) and the tour will help you catch the changing of the guards which takes place every hour.  The free walking tours do not enter any of the sites so just use it as a source of direct information making your Greek experience more interesting and educational! Definitely by the 30euro package deal which gives you access to 7 sites (Acropolis, archeological museum, temple of Zeus, museum of ancient agora, roman agora, lyceum and Hadrian’s library) . Of if you are an EU student, show you student card and gain access to all sites FREE. You can walk everywhere apart from the Archeological museum which is a bit further out (bargain with a taxi driver and it should cost around 5euros only). Of course if you visit when it isn’t so hot, I’m sure you can easily walk it too.

It’s really beautiful walking around the alleyways of Athens. It’s surrounded by well decorated restaurants and buildings. That was the part I loved most about Athens actually, the varied alleyways.

 

Note: Taxi’s don’t use their meters, make sure you negotiate a price beforehand. Bus X95 goes straight from the airport to Syntagma square and is only 6 Euros, taking around 45mins depending on traffic. We kept getting warned about pick pockets so be aware. Finally, Summer gets really hot so be prepped!

  1. Parliament for the changing of the guards162E116A-BBB4-4581-9C53-E84BB2CE3404
  2. Hadrian’s Arch and Temple of Zeus (they are next to each other) 

  3. Panathenaic stadium
  4. Parthenon The Acropolis and Theatre of Dionysos 

  5. Acropolis museum4A56C101-C959-419D-97DC-3B0CD7DA6847
  6. Museum of Ancient Agora – I think you get one of the best views from here on the way to the temple of Hephaestus, still in this same ticketed area. DCE21354-1755-4CCF-84E1-D0ED8749DD23
  7. Hadrian’s library 72F8C881-8A27-432D-8661-CFCFEA29F737
  8. Roman Agora 

  9. The best bubble tea I have ever had was from some random Chinese restaurant just outside the airport bus ticket office in the city. I wish I noted the name down but if you are ever in Athens, try it! I wish I took down the name but you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

Here is the tourist map you can pick up which isn’t the most clear tbh

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Thessaloniki, Greece

Thessaloniki is a Greek port city on the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. Evidence of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history remains, especially around Ano Poli, the upper town. Much of the city center was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1917. The rebuilt 20th-century city has a modern European layout. There are so many beautiful churches dotted around so be sure to hunt for them.

Note: Some museums close as early as 2pm, so plan ahead. Everything is really walkable and you can cover it in one day if you wish!

Here are the key things to visit:

  1. Roman Forum 4FF11B03-3184-46A4-8D99-3067FB5592AF
  2. Agios Dimitrios 

  3. Rotonta24E00B39-D521-4CE2-B776-DF109435E9C9
  4. Kamara Arch 7AF275D9-D440-4EF2-BAED-B5174BDA8B9C
  5. Church Panagia Dexia right opposite the arch 

  6. The White Tower along the harbour front 2B05B06A-5B7A-41D4-9362-68BA47ED0AA5
  7. Try a funky boat tour, you have a few to choose from! Not sure where they go but they definitely caught my eye. 653BEB4F-D92D-4B26-8D6D-AEFB240CF965
  8. Alexander the Great statue further down from the White Tower 5BFD6C15-85F5-4695-8307-6853E142615A
  9. Continuing walking along the harbour beyond the statue towards the famous umbrellas, artwork by Giorgos Zongolopoulos made in 1997. 

  10. Metropolitan Church of Saint Gregory Palamas 5A4D2DE7-86DD-430E-B142-90159F1E65F5
  11. Aristolelous Square. I would recommend visiting at night, it’s much prettier and you will also get a chance to see bboy’s busking. D4BA4BF8-205E-4F71-97DD-5E1631F3C703
  12. Ladadika an area filled with restaurants and bars, again great for the night 3520C504-B0CA-4F7E-8092-74B0AB1F3FA8
  13. I ate at Neotabepna (not even sure if that’s the right name but look out for this restaurant based on my photos and definitely try Greek pasta!). They call it Orzo and it’s a much better version of risotto as you still get the chewy pasta texture. 

  14. The best Gyros you will ever have, the name is in Greek so again just look out for the word that matches the photo and it’s on Ptolemon street, around the corner from the hostel I stayed at. 

     

  15. Stay Hybrid Hostel was excellent. Air-conditioned room, much needed for the Summer, spacious and clean. Plenty of common room areas and in the heart of the city.

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Crete (Heraklion), Greece

Expect to be shocked as soon as you step out of Crete’s Heraklion airport with a line of tour company stalls and groups of tourists! Pick up their tourist map because it shows you five routes you can take to tour the key sites in a mapped out way. You can spend two or three days visiting all the sites including the Palace of Knossos, and be sure to enjoy some fresh seafood along the waterfront, they are all in a row. A recommended restaurant would be Kastella 🙂 You can take a 20min taxi from the airport straight to the city 15Euros to most city centre locations. And from the city back to the airport, you can find taxi’s for as low as 10 euros! They will have sign boards so they can’t cheat you. They don’t use their meters in Greece so make sure you clarify price beforehand.

The main area is really walkable and the only commute is to the Palace. c800e5f2-ae88-4dbb-961b-299298c2d39b.jpeg

Heraklion, also known as Iraklio, is a port city and the capital of the Greek island of Crete. It’s known for the Palace of Knossos, just outside the city. The huge archaeological site dates back thousands of years to the Minoan civilization, and includes frescoes and baths. Guarding the city’s Venetian port is the 16th-century Koules fortress. Heraklion Archaeological Museum has a large collection of Minoan art.

Note for breakers: You can train at the town hall 8pm onwards! There are skaters there too.  I was lucky enough to join in on their busking the night I was there which was the highlight of my trip. F666FAB1-D99D-489D-B126-5CF3CEA79414

Note for EU students: You gain free entry everywhere to most sites!

Here are some of the highlights from my trip:

  1. Palace of Knossos –  the main Bronze Age archaeological site at Heraklion, a modern port city on the north central coast of Crete. It really is just ruined remaining but worth a visit since it’s their main highlight. Read some history beforehand as there are limited sign boards at the site. There are tour guides you can pay for outside if you have the extra money. I would also recommend getting the entry ticket that includes the archeological museum as they do a package deal that make’s it a lot cheaper.
  2. Archeological museum
  3. Venetian Port and fortress
  4. Historical Museum
  5. Church of St Titus 16AF610F-7781-4459-A74F-94F609E57A27
  6. Town hall 80632474-941B-4D2C-8484-04014629E8F5
  7. Cathedral of St Minas and Museum of Christian Art which is right next to the church 968CB171-17AE-4955-85BA-4A50A4A9B21A
  8. Natural History Museum 6C14AA04-CB55-42B7-9D00-C19A303F1F68
  9. Morosini fountain, Lion Square. 4CA19B9C-A13A-4989-85AF-5261DD23B52F
  10. Priuli Fountain 5EEFCCC8-4AE5-42A1-84DD-8D2B65FFECDD
  11. Enjoy the main street filled with shops D2FB5736-E979-4B09-83A5-98FEEF2C3E98
  12. Stay at Dom Boutique Hotel – one of the best hotels I’ve stayed at. They had amazing service and it’s in the heart of the city centre.

 

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is set along the Danube River by the border with Austria and Hungary. Stay in the old town, the heart of the city where you will then have easy access to all the main sites. You can take bus 61 from the airport to Hlavna stanica railway station and it’s a 20 minute walk to the old town from here. The old town is predominantly pedestrianised so you will have a great time sitting outdoors at a restaurant without having to breathe in fumes!

Note: Most museums are closed on Monday’s so plan what you want to enter ahead of time. Pre-buy your bus tickets from the yellow machines and make sure you get them stamped when you enter the bus. You buy a bus ticket according to journey time e.g. to get to Devin’s castle, you buy a 30min bus because the journey take’s around 25mins.

You can cover everything in 2 days. It’s very easy to get around!

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Bratislava Castle and it’s surrounding gardens. Views of the castle is of course, better from further away from it, in particular, from the bridges.
  2. St Martin’s Cathedral. Between 1563 and 1830 St Martin’s served as the coronation church for Hungarian kings and their consorts, marked to this day by a 300-kg gilded replica of the Hungarian royal crown perched on the top of the cathedral’s 85-metre-tall neo-Gothic tower. If you pick up a tourist map of Bratislava, in red, it marks out the path the royal people would walk after they were coronated. You can also spot metal crowns on the road marking out their paths.
  3. Old Town Hall and the square is a really nice chill spot 773F45C0-3A84-45F0-A2C8-F8D4B8841B10
  4. Primates Palace, pretty in pink! 21B7DE9B-19BE-4491-8DBB-631027B72289
  5. Michael’s Gate – is the only city gate that has been preserved of the medieval fortifications and ranks among the oldest town buildings.186F4349-3F25-4371-BC6B-8AB1FEB7C2B9
  6. Galerie Nedbalka. I liked the umbrella’s outside! C9FAC51A-14AF-41F7-BF67-4FC7B7854066
  7. Grassalkovich Palace. Just outside the old town, 5min walk and really pretty with a fountain in the front. 3D00B59D-A651-4C3B-ADDB-443F9FF93AC8
  8. Slavin Memorial. To get here, take a trolley bus 203 from Grassalkovich palace and get off at the end station where you do a short walk up hill to the beautiful memorial site. The statue there is as tall as the Rio Jesus Christ statue. 88CD1E2B-9179-4108-ABE8-01BD129C5CD5
  9. UFO observation deck. Definitely go up top at sunset! You can avoid paying the entry fee if you have a meal but of course the restaurant isn’t cheap. Be warned, it’s super windy. C3EAEE2F-9704-40DE-8F74-77E39F0CD069
  10. Old and new National Theatre. Which do you prefer?
  11. Eurovea mall is about a 15min walk away from the old city, beyond the green bridge and is their latest development.  The surrounding area, with a fake beach has many restaurants along the river. 201924AB-2F61-4274-9D83-9708A2C12DAD
  12. Man at work statue and right opposite is statue that holds a hat.
  13. Take a bus under the UFO bridge to Devin’s castle
  14. Best place to have breakfast/brunch or dessert – Mondieu. Their hot chocolate is incredible!
  15. Slovakian food to try – Their garlic soup in a bread roll and sheep cheese pasta. Bryndzové halušky is one of the national dishes. This meal consists of halušky (boiled lumps of potato dough similar in appearance to gnocchi) and bryndza (a soft sheep cheese), optionally sprinkled with cooked bits of smoked pork fat/bacon.2B716332-3DE7-46C5-BAC2-ED01737994FC

Tokyo, Japan

The last time I visited Tokyo was during a school trip back when I was 12! All I could really remember was sticker photos, Disneyland and Universal Studios. This time I got to do my own research on what to do and had the privilege of having many friends take me around too. Here are my top recommendations in Tokyo/from Tokyo:

  1. Watch a Sumo fight in Ryogkoku. Check when sumo season is on, I was lucky it was tournament season but when I tried to get tickets on the spot, it was sold out! So pre-booking is vital.
  2. Harry’s Hedgehog cafe Harajuku (you can hold em!) 30min or 1h time slots with unlimited free drinks from the machine.
    E7FA85CC-EF58-4CDE-BCED-405596C45523
  3. Takeshita Street Harajuku is my favourite because it has everything. Shops, cool cafes such as the Owl cafe, vintage shopping, and street food (plenty of crepe and unique desserts). Kawaii culture came from there so you will also find maid cafes.5AA4836E-114C-4239-9ADE-6CADE8FC494B
  4. Ichiran Ramen. You will start to realise Japan can be quite anti-social when it comes to amazing food places. Booth and bar stool culture where you just eat and then go. They are so efficient that you pre-pay for what you want from a machine before you enter.
    0E007B26-036B-47D6-80D6-1A82D5529F61
  5. Enjoy a free city view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku15195ADA-D520-4E43-B21A-2FE95A4F5061
  6. Shibuya Crossing and the view from the Mag building where you pay 300yen to go up and 1000yen extra if you want the drone type shot!C80A2BD4-A26E-460E-A2AB-E9468F263949
  7. Consider trying the Robot restaurant
  8. Visit Sensoji, Asakusa – the older temple with traditional shops all around 

  9. Meiji Shrine in the city forest near Harajuku station 

  10. Tokyo Tower
  11. Rainbow bridge and Giant Robot 

  12. Team Lab – Borderless or Planet exhibition. Pre-buy tickets to avoid lines. E9F8602F-6A66-4475-8822-F2AAA97CD6C5
  13. Hachi statue, a very common meeting spot in Shibuya8863933B-B642-4F49-90C0-4AC38B860117
  14. Dancer’s collection for all your Hip Hop gear
  15. Sky tree885C85C7-709A-403C-9C87-D82398F5943E
  16. Akihabara – all your tech in one place
  17. Don Quijote – 24h shop with everything! They have branches all around
  18. Kura, Genki, Uobei and Sushi Ro for good sushi
  19. Geisha/Samurai show
  20. Bonus if you can catch cherry blossom season
  21. Day trip to Mount Fuji

 

Extra: My food list

  • Melon breadEB7A3296-4469-4CE1-9D27-F94A59FE4B95
  • Katsu Curry
  • Katsu Don
  • Ramen
  • Tsukemen
  • Yakitori
  • Crepe (they are everywhere especially in Takeshita)A071727F-B6A6-4F6E-9C72-468A60ADE22B
  • Rainbow toastie00C7E095-ECAC-490B-A07F-F7D2C8877FDE
  • Anura Soba – my fave! 

  • Cheese hotdog
  • Train Sushi
  • Takoyaki (Originated in Osaka)AF3CF433-AE0C-468B-9066-744CE7A5436F
  • Wagyu beef
  • Chicken Karaage
  • Gyudon (beef bowl rice)
  • Tsukiyaki
  • Okonomiyaki C27D61C9-B0F6-4132-9964-7CB06318270B
  • Monja (only in Tokyo)
  • Gyoza
  • Tamago DE95E859-622E-4C65-BA53-B0A8B69920C8
  • Chawanmushi
  • Daifuku D5E16C6C-10BD-496A-BB1A-0611AFCFD21F
  • Mocha (handmade, red bean inside) A8B91988-68A7-485B-9A32-E39617A3E0B9
  • Dango (plain mocha on skewer)
  • Taiyoki (fish shape waffle)
  • Piyanee Thai Milk Bubble tea (amazing bubble tea in Shibuya near H&M) 540A9E0C-2127-4E00-81BF-CA3A2D15C6BB

Singapore

Singapore is a global financial center with a tropical climate and multicultural population. If I were to ask my Singaporean friends what they would recommend, they are all very proud of their food and hawker food centres! Hawker centres (also known as food courts) are down-to-earth culinary destinations where you can find a wide variety of local dishes, from Chicken Rice, Fried Kway Teow, Hokkien Mee, Bak Kut Teh, Satay, Laksa, and Chilli Crab to the vegetarian Yong Tau Fu dish. So be ready to eat a lot when you visit and be blown away by how cheap the food is. I find all hawker centres foods are just as good, so best to ask a Singaporean which one they would recommend.

Apart from that, here are my other top recommendations:

  1. A very easy night time walk to see Singapore’s prettiest skyline: Walk from Clark Quay (restaurants and clubs) to the MCI Rainbow Building (nice photo spot) to Fullerton hotel (beautiful bridge and hotel, you can also use this hotel as a short cut to the bay front). You will see Boat Quay across the river along the way as well as City Hall on your side of the river footpath. Once you reach the bay front,  you can do a circular loop where you’ll see the Merlion, random art sculptures along the way, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, Helix Bridge, Lotus looking Art and Science building, tall office buildings, Louis Vuitton and the Ferris Wheel. I was lucky to have also caught a temporary Carnival. You can definitely repeat this during the day but be aware that Singapore is really HOT!

  2. Haji lane (hipster, soho like alley with live music and bars) and Zam Zam restaurant for famous murtabak (stuffed pancake with egg, onion and a meat of your choice)
  3. Visit Katong to see typical Peranakan style houses and why not try a typical Singaporean breakfast (Kaya toast dipped in soft boiled egg)
  4. CHIJMES is a historic building complex in Singapore, which began life as a Catholic convent. It is now used for weddings and many restaurants have opened up. You can even do yoga in the courtyard.
  5. Sentosa Island – the happiest island ever. You have Universal Studios and a lot of other activities such as flow boarding. Be sure to give yourself at least 3 days to enjoy everything on this man made beach island.
  6. Orchard Road is known for shopping if you’re into malls that follow one after another.

Xiamen, China

Xiamen is a port city on China’s southeast coast, across a strait from Taiwan. It encompasses 2 main islands and a region on the mainland. Formerly known as Amoy, it was a British-run treaty port from 1842 to 1912. Many Europeans and Japanese lived on Gulangyu, today a vehicle-free island with beaches and meandering streets lined with old colonial villas. I went straight to the countryside as part of my volunteer trip!

  1. Great for mountain biking as they have so much open land
  2. Teach at a local school, they could do with volunteers teaching English
  3. Stay in a traditional ‘Tu Lou’ protected by UNESCO World Heritage. A Tu Lou is usually circular in configuration, between three and fie stories high and housing up to 800 people. Smaller interior buildings are often enclosed by these huge peripheral walls which can contain halls, storehouses, wells and living areas, the whole structure resembling a small fortified city. There are several you can visit including Chuxi tulou group, Tianluokeng tulou cluster, Hekeng tulou cluster, Gaobei tulou cluster, Dadi tulou cluster, Hongkeng tulou cluster, Yangxian lou, Huiyuan lou, Zhengfu lou and Hegui lou
  4. Get a view from the top of the traditional houses
  5. Visit a tea plantation and pick tea leaves!

Trento and Asiago, Italy

Trento is a city in the Trentino–Alto Adige region of northern Italy. I was lucky enough to have had a local friend take me around which also included visiting Lake caldonazzo and Asiago town. Catch the Christmas markets if you go in December! Top 5 recommendations:

  1. Visit Piaza Fiera where you can find the Christmas market selling local products and food stalls. You will have to try Goulash and plantain, a common dish here. Just outside Trento train station there is also a nice park (although I was told the park was created to try improve the safety of that particular area, so be careful).23915698_10157236784318849_1989658320170067178_n 

  2. Trento Cathedral, featuring a rose window and a baroque chapel, sits on Piazza Duomo and Neptune fountain right in front. And diagonal from the cathedral, behind the fountain, you can find Case Cazuffi-Rella, a Renaissance building with a frescoed facade (washed out painting on the building, bottom left image). 

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  3. Loacker cafe! Even though it’s an Austrian brand, they have a dedicated Loacker cafe in the city centre, great for breakfast.20171126_112225
  4. Lake Caldonazzo. In the Summer, a lot of people visit from Germany to chill here23844460_10157236784208849_4957956520050855077_n
  5. Asiago town centre – a minor township in the surrounding plateau region in the Province of Vicenza in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy. It took about 1h to drive from Trento, passing by the lake along the way.23915626_10157236783463849_4248685400442187806_n23915680_10157236783518849_1867737988198450114_n23843552_10157236783603849_1755541038535597556_n