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Sichuan 2019-20 Days 4-5

Food poisoning and Tibetan hospitality

sunny

Day 4

The day dawned slightly brighter and fairer than the day before. Sun was forecast for the day, with temperature up to 7 degrees, although in the morning it was still a cloudy 2 degrees.

Woke up, had more noodles and bao for breakfast. Can I say how yummy sichuan noodles is? All of the shops we went to had these thin, smooth as silk noodles. Flat like banmian but half the width. Goes down like butter. Mm.

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Went up 20min to Yanzigou but the fresh snowfall meant the red rocks wouldn't be visible, so we ditched that idea and went instead to some bridge as recommended. On the way, I could still see the last gasp of autumn colours even as winter sets in. It's strange to see both orange trees and white snow at once.

While everyone KO-ed in the car, I read up on the bridge.

/Start/History time

The Luding bridge was built in 1701 Qin dynasty, with thick wide planks and iron chains linking them.

There was a major communist victory at the bridge in 1935, allowing access through the entire region.

The Kuomintang had known of the plans to take over the town and had already removed most of the planks in preparation. Under semi-automatic rifle cover, 22 men from the Red Army crawled across the iron chains, while throwing grenades at the defenders. The defenders, unfortunately, had inferior guns that were manual reloading, single shot rifles with a range of 100m which didn't even span the bridge.

At the same time, another company crossed the river 2km downstream on rafts, where the river had curved sufficiently to be unseen by the defending forces. They defeated the city's sentries with the longer rifle range, and conquered the battalion within 2h. The Kuomintang hadnt expected assault from any other area but the bridge and so were caught unawares.

Following that, the arrogance of the nationalist military commanders gave rise to slow and disorganised response and communication, and thereafter to the abandoning of post of whole companies. And thus the battle was won. (sorry, that was long, but it's still a very summarised version of the wiki)

The bridge is not actually visible, as it was taken down for repair. But you can see where the bridge might have been anchored to the stone foundations. And the chains were laid out on the little side road along the river. Thick red chains you can walk on and it won't move in the slightest.

There's a memorial put up for it, soldiers and monks and lay people molded in red clay. I can't really appreciate this kind of thing much. I did like the last one though, it was soldiers who looked like they were crawling out of red mud, only their upper bodies visible, and red chains on either side. The names of 4 of the 22 men were put up (only 4 were known). They were richly rewarded for their bravery, however none of them lived to see eventual victory.

/End/History time

We bought some Yak jerky there. We got the plainest flavour which was already really strong. I got some more songrong, paid a hefty 190y for 250g. I bought a slightly lower grade (older mushroom). But it smells good.

I made two friends, a little adorable puppy that wanted to play with everyone and everything, and a white cat with blue and yellow eyes. Pretty! There are so many stray dogs around. I only saw 2 or 3 that were clearly owned. To be honest it's no wonder some of them are treated as a meat source, since the proportion of pets is so low, and there's not a very big pet culture especially in the rural areas.

Notable mention: S had fun in the jerky shop. He found a furry hat and some toy guns and took some photos. The store lady was laughing at him.

We then had a light lunch of yak meat (good) and pork (overcooked) and veg (good). Then jumped back in the car for the drive to Danba.

It was a pleasant drive. It was warm and I took off a layer. The scrubby mountains with white peaks were awash in golden light. The river was a chalky turquoise and sparkling in the sinking sun. All was silent in the car apart from the deep breathing of 4 sleeping people, and the squeaking of the luggage against the back leather seats. And I was typing this out.

Then miles of tunnels through the mountains. Suddenly a line of cars all parked along inside the tunnel, with a bar across the tunnel mouth. Our shifu drove to the start of the line, parked in front, and walked out to talk with the guys at the guard post. Turns out there's construction ahead and they're waiting til 5pm (it was 3.30) for the workers to get back and open the gates. Oooookay so we got out to roam around instead. There were two guys in the guard post hut, one sleeping and one watching a drama on a TV at least 38 inches wide.

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Further out on the right, a rocky path led to a 公测 (public toilet) that smelled from miles away and was strewn with tissue. I couldn't see a hole, it just looked flat.

On the left, the road continued towards the construction. There were a couple of guys doing surveying work and they asked me to get out of the way a few times. Oops.

Amidst the litter on the side, a tiny white puppy nestled up to a small brown dog, which turned out to be male. The brown dog gave a few warning barks at first but as I kept seeing him around and cooing at him, he eventually wagged his tail at me and looked for food. The white puppy had a shaggy coat like a sheep. She was rolling around by herself, having a grand old time.

The others caught up to me and we approached a gateway. A bloke in a huge green jacket came up to us and said we can't go in because dangerous and all. We said OK, but he still shut the gate on us. We howled with laughter. He clearly wanted to make a point. So we decided to take a photo with the gate and pretend it was a secret military base, or the dmz line or something. There were a bunch of warning signs all around. The guy got on a motorbike, opened the gate and left, warning us again. We closed the gate for our photo. We waited in the freezing wind for W to set up his camera and tripod, only for it to fall over and crack the lens. It was very unfortunate, but since we'd already gone this far, we took a few shots with our phones. Included the fallen water tank behind the wall.

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Eventually it cleared, and we wound our way through and past half-built tunnels.

In the waning twilight we entered a neon-lit town; beige buildings trimmed in dark red and beige. The corners of each rectangular section were topped with a curved white corner piece and a white prayer flag. It was very developed, with bars and shops and restaurants and several large and expensive looking hotels. This was Danba, a Tibetan town seated where two rivers met and became three. Our driver had arranged to have us stay with Tibetans, but we were surprised when he kept driving out of the light and into a dark series of switchbacks.

We ended twenty minutes later at a majestically and eclectically decorated set of buildings. We had a look around, haggled a bit on price, and settled into our rooms.

They cooked dinner for us, too many dishes to finish but simpler and easier on the pallet than the usual Sichuan dishes. There was sliced and fried potato, two variations of stir fried cabbage, belly pork, seaweed soup, bitterguord or something similar with meat, and best of all, barley flat cakes. I can't get over how good the flat cakes were. Slightly sweet, brown and slightly crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Amazing. And all this was homegrown organically.

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We drove back down to Danba to drink at a Tibetan bar. Along the way, the city was intermittently visible between the dark arms of mountains, dynamically lit along a river shining a myriad of colours.

The bar was on the 5th floor of a seedy looking place. We took the lift up and were greeted by posters on the white tiled walls and heavy curtains framing the entrance. Flashing lights, coloured roving spotlights and red rows of laser lights spilled out, accompanied by loud Chinese music. I very unfortunately don't have a photo of this. It was really gaudy but kinda cool.

We were seated in a booth facing the stage. There were Tibetan dancers, mostly female, doing traditional Tibetan dance. It was a lot of walking around in a circle and graceful arm waving. The dance was set to semi-modern Tibetan music (to my untrained ear it just sounded Chinese pop/rap) blaring out of the speakers. It was almost incongruous, especially when the smoke machines periodically spewed out jets of smoke. However incongruous, this is clearly how traditional culture survives still in modern times.

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Every now and then one of the dancers would make their rounds to the tables to cheers. One of the singers came over and stayed with us most of the way, when she found out we were Singaporean. Her boyfriend is currently working in Singapore, and she's flying over in February. I guess we'll meet her when she comes. She's got one of our wechats.

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I must say that the Tibetan script is gorgeous. It looks like it has similar roots to Sanskrit, but it has a beautiful mix of round curves and sharp hooks.

We had a choice between Budweiser and two Chinese beers, so we got this super light Chinese beer 雪花 (snowflake). Even J could drink it, which led to some entertaining moments. Very easy. A little sweet and fruity with a wheat mid-taste.

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By the time we got back, it was almost midnight. The sky had finally cleared and was swathed in stars. Unfortunately the milky way was below the horizon, but at least there wasn't any moon. Took some photos and off to sleep and shower.

Here my complaint begins. I think the water tank only has enough for one person. It takes quite a while after that for the water to heat up again. But I didn't know that, and showered second. I shivered there waiting for the water to warm up for much too long. I gave up and went next door. I had a really quick shower there and only just made it out in time when the water was lukewarm. I was so miserably cold and shivering. Just dried my hair and jumped into bed. Blegh.

18y breakfast
40y lunch
190y songrong
yak jerky (forgot how much)
96y Tibetan homestay (breakfast and dinner included)
26y 2 bottles at a Tibetan bar

Day 5

I didn't wake up at the first alarm, although it did feature in my dreams. I woke up at the second alarm and pulled open the curtains to take a photo from the warmth of the bed. It was gorgeous, a bright clear day with the mountains visible and the apple tree outside the window decorated with magpies and sparrows. I got ready as quickly as the unheated room would allow and then sprang outside to glory in the morning.

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Tibetan houses, boxy and white and set into the hillside, were laid out both above and below. Birds wheeled around over the stepped farmland. S and W flew the drone from the roof, the drone of the drone filling the air. I gallivanted around for a while before heeding the summons to breakfast.

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Breakfast was a simpler affair. The barley cakes were there, I think partly because we expressed so much joy at them yesterday. There was also huge mantou, and some small dishes like dried peanuts and stir fried vegetables. The highlight was the yak milk butter tea. A lot of adjectives in there, but basically it tastes like a lot of butter has been dumped into a little milk and tea. It has the look consistency of slightly yellow skim cow milk, with some tiny solid bits. It's something I can sip a small quantity of and appreciate, but not drink a whole bowlful.

Laobanniang (lady boss) brought us around the compound, first to see the two pigs (upon request, obviously mine) and then showed us around. One interesting discussion was the features of Tibetan architecture. The four corners are always tied with white prayer flags symbolising the four corners of the earth. There are small built in fireplaces onto each roof, where fir is burnt as incense. Tibetan houses are mostly flat roofed and accessible and they might dry their meat there. We saw strings of it.

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We packed all our stuff up into car and then set off on the tourist path to the viewing points. Shifu would pick us up at the end. It was a pleasant tramp through fir forest and across the ridge, until we finally saw the Tibetan community laid out against the hill from a distance. Photo time, and then J's diarrhea got the better of her and Shifu and Laobanniang brought her right back to bed and gave her medicine. Meanwhile we were still talking, lying in the sun, flying the drone, and guessing Bilbo-Gollum riddles. (B is really good at this, he got 4 out of 6)

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We walked back and checked on J (still rolling in bed). Thereafter everyone went off to empty their bowels and I got some really nice time on the roof with a bottle of hot water, staring at the mountains.

In the afternoon J was well enough and we made our way to Siguniang. I was watching the buildings as we went, and I noticed that the Tibetan architecture never ended. The dark red trimming was always there, though with a slightly different pattern. Most common were dots and diamonds. Later I found out that Siguniang is a Tibetan ethnicity majority town.

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Danba

We checked in to Milan Hotel (It doesn't actually refer to Milan in Chinese) and said bye to Shifu, then settled in.

I was still feeling energised so I took myself on a walk about town. First I attempted to make friends with the two ponies next door. The white one was pattable but the brown one not. Then I went down the street in the likeliest direction. The town was pretty cute, very Oldtown/Altstadt feel. Most places were closed, with U-locks at the front door. A good number were under renovation. There were only about 5 food places open, I checked in case we needed to eat there. As it turns out, we ate all our meals at Milan or on the mountain so there was entirely no need. None of the rest even set foot on the main street (Milan is just off the main street), but we did pass through in the car a few times.

I saw mountains glowing in the setting sun and almost freaked out because they looked so high and so far away. A severe beauty, inaccessible by man. Of course, as it turns out, that really was Siguniang and yes, I did summit Dafeng (spoiler!).

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As J was out of order, we got dinner ourselves. Tells you a lot about our group dynamics, eh. We got clear chicken soup hot pot. Warmed us all right up. Brought some up for J but she vomited it out later.

That night S and J burned their candles at both ends. We think it was food poisoning but try as we might couldn't figure out what caused it. J was feeling really down, because she was scared she wouldn't be able to join us on the acclimatisation hike the next day and therefore maybe wouldn't even do Dafeng with us. Thank God though, everyone was well enough the next day. The medicine they'd had was enough.

26y lunch
26y dinner
117y Milan hotel, double room, 2 nights

  • *All nice photos were taken by W. Anything not as nice was likely taken by me.*
  • *Unless otherwise mentioned, all listed prices are per person*

Posted by seaskimmer 01:38 Archived in China Tagged beer dog history traditional dance sick bar tunnel battle sichuan tibet communism pony diarrhea foodpoisoning Comments (0)

Seaside Haven

for the entire world

sunny

As I said, I spent the evening on the bus to Split, Croatia, from Zagreb, Croatia. I mentioned that there was a stop in the middle of nowhere where my passport was stamped twice; I found the photo!

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It was a long bus ride. From 6pm to 11 or something like that, I mentioned that in the last post. What I forgot to mention was how breathtaking coastal Croatia is at night. Everytime we passed a city, there would be a multitude of pinpricks of light. Where swaths of blackness lay, rested the mythical waters of the Adriatic. And before that, at sunset, the swirling clouds were like blue ink mixed with a yellow water-colour sky. Breathtaking.

I checked in that night, slept. The next morning I woke up and had a measly (free) breakfast of not-nice cereal. Then, if I'm not wrong, I waited a long time for the Korean girl to be finally ready to head out (an hour or something) and then it turns out we weren't even going the same way. Anyway, we arranged to meet at a restaurant for lunch. Meanwhile, I walked over to the north entrance to Marjan, the big hill on the West side of Split.

Marjan

The receptionist had recommended me to rent a bike from the small stall at the north entrance rather than the one in the city center. Avoiding tourist traps 101. Unfortunately, the wind had picked up and the sky had turned this really ominous grey. There on the coast of the Adriatic, who knows what kind of havoc a storm could cause? The bicycle renter didn't want to rent me a bike :( I was really really sad. I tried to persuade him to rent me one for just an hour or something but he gave a firm no and sad me was sad. So, determined to explore Marjan, I set off on a long arduous hike up the hill in SLIPPERS.

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The north entrance actually makes you go a big round in a coastal path, which obviously I'd been prepared to do if I'd had a bike. But in slippers and on foot it was terrible, I got a blister really quickly. And it wouldn't have made sense to backtrack and try to enter by the middle gate, so I sucked it up and went.

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It was nonetheless a really beautiful walk. Just imagine the Adriatic Sea, vast and blue and glittering brightly below a patchy grey and blue sky. Picture the sun, alternately shining in full glory, and backlighting a line of clouds. Feel the salty breeze rushing past your skin and hear it roaring through the trees. Listen to the innumerable invisible cicadas croaking out their songs. Look longingly at the craggy creamy cliffs and wish you had the time, company, and equipment to get on them! Feel your feet begin to ache, and the sweat on your skin dry into a sticky sheen. Worry about the little droplets that are coming down, but push on for the summit anyway!

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It took about 2+ hours to get up top. Along the way, I went down to a little rocky outcrop to dip my feet in the cool water. Later on, I found a little house somewhere up there, built into the rock, and a bit higher up was St Jerome's already. I could have tried to go higher, up to the scientific observatory, but I was so tired, and the rain was still threatening to arrive (it was all bark, no bite, really), and I was running out of time. So I went back down.

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Got to Fife, a place most people recommend but warn about the crowds. Korean girl was late, but I met this guy from my hostel there, so I went in first with him. We were seated next to a bunch of English speaking dudes, so in total that was 1 NZ, 1 US, 1 Canada, 1 Brit, 1 SG lol. Korean girl came later. I ordered sea bass and white wine :) yumz, splurgeee only. Food was alright, but it wasn't fantastic. It was just relatively cheap.

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Then we split (hehehehe) and I went to explore the city!

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HISTORY LESSON yayyyyy <3

4th century BC
Split exists as a Greek colony.

2nd century BC
Romans go crazy with the conquering, establish the Province of Dalmatia (area along the east coast of the Adriatic). Nearby city of Salona is capital, so obviously it is bigger and more important than Split, which doesn't even really appear in records much after Salona booms.

3rd century AD [the only important bit if you don't like history]
Diocletian came to power. As an emperor he brought about much needed stability through many military and economic reforms. He was also the first emperor to establish a tetrarchy (here, 2 Ps plus 2 VPs). He had lots of wars (as befits a Roman emperor) and pushed for one of the most major Christian persecutions of the Roman period. Towards the end of his life/reign, he built a huge (for that time) palace at Split, displacing lots of people in the process. Many strategic reasons exist for the location (safe, good for escape, near Salona, etc) but a museum in Split puts forward the idea that he just wanted a really pretty place to retire to (amen to that, brother). So he did retire there eventually, being the first Roman emperor to abdicate the throne.

And read this dramatic account from wiki: He lived on for three more years, spending his days in his palace gardens. He saw his tetrarchic system fail, torn by the selfish ambitions of his successors. He heard of Maximian's (ex-co-ruler) third claim to the throne, his forced suicide, his damnatio memoriae. In his own palace, statues and portraits of his former companion emperor were torn down and destroyed. Deep in despair and illness, Diocletian may have committed suicide. He died on 3 December 311.

6th century AD
The coastal region of what we now know as Croatia spent the next few centuries changing hands from the Romans to the Ostrogoths to the Romans to the Goths and finally back to the Romans again.

7th century AD
BUT then the crazy Avars come running down, conquering everything left right center. They settle somewhere nice and a bit further away, but their allies, south Slavs called the Croats (yes, names are starting to make sense now), went right on down to the coast. The Salonitans fled Salona and lived on the islands off the mainland. They were so spunky that they would raid the coast, and the Croats were actually afraid to go to the sea! Eventually they surged back, and took Diocletian's palace (a good fortress), with the eventually-unfulfilled aim of retaking Salona. The Croats obviously tried to attack, but the emperor of the time intervened and forced them to live peacefully together.

8th century AD
The Roman empire had long ago split into the east and west portions, so under Byzantine rule, Split became part of the Duchy of the Croats. A distinct Dalmatian language had formed.

10th to 15th centuries AD
Split was again passed like a hot potato (except that everyone wanted the potato) between mainly Byzantine, Venice, and Hungary.

It started off with Split surrendering to Venice to stop the mad naval stuggle between some crazy Croats and Venice for rule over Split. Rome rules again, so Byzantine got Split for about 65 years (after just 20 years of Venetian rule). Rome kind of crumbles at the turn of the millennium so power returns to the Venetians.

That begins close to 300 years of struggle between Venice and Hungary, ending in 1420. I won't go into the details; let's just say that Hungary had higher possession but still managed to lose the game.

16th to 18th centuries AD
That began 377 years of Venetian flourishing. Split was now a big important port and trading city. Culture and the arts boomed. Nonetheless, apart from the aristocracy, illiteracy was rampant.

19th and 20th centuries
I'm not very interested in modern history. There's a whole bunch of stuff about Napolean, Austria, and Yugoslavia, if you're interested. Political lines are drawn and redrawn so many times during this period, with many grand-sounding names of combined kingdoms.

END OF LESSON

The City

Diocletian's palace was built in a rectangle, with high walls surrounding it. Two perpendicular main roads split the complex into four quadrants, each with its own function. As the city expanded, stuff was built outside the fortress walls. As such, Split now is rather sprawling, but with a clear rectangular section highly visible on any map.

Using my map, I just went around and checked out all the places of interest. I walked down pretty much all of those narrow once-white pathways, the stones so well-trod by emperor's horses, and ancient mariners, and tourists, that it was almost completely flat and smooth. The buildings stretched up several stories above, usually leaving the people below in a cool semi-darkness. It was deathly crowded though, it wasn't easy getting anywhere with crowds in those narrow passageways.

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Then I had dinner in this place recommended by TN, Trattoria Bajamonte. Had clam and mussel pasta. :) Then I went to the Peristil and waited for Korean girl. It's this main square, an entrance to Diocletian's palace apparently. There are steps on all four sides, which turns into seating at night. A bar at one of the sides hosts live music there every night, so people always go down to enjoy. And it was really nice, this guy played some chill music, and a few people got up to dance. Korean girl said the previous night was pretty crazy, like a proper dance floor! Bought some fruits at the closing market on the way back.

Hvar

The next morning I was up early so I could get to Hvar, one of the islands off Split. Took a pretty expensive boat out. (140 kn) But no choice, that was the only way to get there. Had to go early to get tickets because they sell fast. So after I bought my ticket I sat out in the sun and read for a while (I don't remember what I was reading at the time). Then I freaked out cos I couldn't find the boat, but yeah I did in the end.

Hvar was a cleaner, less gritty version of Split. The flat area near the docks and promenade was wide and filled with sunshine. The same white stone, relieved of the age-old dirt of cramped Split, shone brightly like a warm, tropical Gondor. The middle area had low buildings crowded on the steep upslope, with narrow staircases leading up to the top. And at the top, a castle!

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I was feeling very poor at that point. I was saving for a good dinner, so I ended up having only like 50 kuna or something for the day. And I wanted to buy this gorgeous postcard and a stamp too. I walked up and down the docks like 3 or 4 times, looking for the cheapest thing to eat lolol. Ended up with 2 slices of pizza for 15 kuna each. Which is actually expensive, at 3 sgd per slice. And bought my postcard, and now I have a postcard from Hvar itself, not even from Split :)

So I walked up to the castle, but was too poor to pay the entrance fee lol. Which wasn't even that much. But okay, I sat outside, enjoyed the amazing view for 2 hours or something haha. And read. For the life of me I can't remember what it was. Then was pizza lunch.

And I caught the 3pm boat back.

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Goodbye Split

Spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the more modern area of Split, east of the palace. Walked through residential area, saw the entrance to a naval museum (it was closed). Pretty houses on winding roads. Same white stone and green blinds. I should live here, green is soo my colour haha. Attempted to find the place with 'nice graffiti', according the use-it map. Spent ages, but ended up with a bunch of extremely unimpressive scrawling. Ugh. Lame. Shouldn't have bothered.

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Had dinner at that other place. It was more of a family atmosphere. There were cute one-seaters at the bar, which was decorated with gorgeous blue swirls. Ordered mussel risotto, then read and sipped white wine while waiting. (oh, I remember! sea biscuit) It was pretty good, the mussels were great but the risotto was a little undercooked. Had a short chat with the Japanese girl sitting next to me. She was on a similar trip but in the opposite direction. Almost all travellers in eastern Europe were just doing eastern Europe. So everyone has a similar route haha, but with minor changes.

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Headed back to the hostel to shower, and read and rest up while waiting for my 10pm bus. By right wasn't supposed to shower there since I'd checked out already, but the receptionist was quite nice haha. Then went to the Peristil again to enjoy the music, with my huge bag and all haha. This night had more lively music, so there were more dancers dancing under those yellow lights.

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I got to the bus station a little early. But the bus was late, and everyone was freaking out. Eventually it came, but like 45 min late or something. But we were on our way.

I was quite upset that I'd booked a night bus into Spit and a night bus out haha. I never got to see the beautiful Croatian mountains :/ oh well, I saved a lot of time haha.

Split was amazing. Perfect village life, like something out of a fairytale! So chill, so pretty. Just way. too. many. people. Worst time to go. Spoilt it a bit. But it was still nice.

Posted by seaskimmer 18:23 Archived in Croatia Tagged history croatia split Comments (0)

Here for the Habsburgs

So! The Habsburgs were a family that pretty much ruled most of Europe for almost 700 years, from the late 13th century until WW1 in the early 20th century. Mostly through strategic alliances (ie marriages), at their greatest point they controlled Germany, France, Spain, Italy and much of eastern/central Europe. At some point they also had the Netherlands, Belgium, and some other western European lands. Eventually it was the Habsburgs that were the Holy Roman Emperors as well! And through Spain, they technically also had their fingers in a lot of Asian pies.

However, it wasn't just lands that made them great. For the most part their capital was Vienna, and Vienna was a place of great learning and culture.

Probably the most famous contributions are two women, or at least they're the ones I remember! Maria Theresia was born in 1717 and became Queen when her father Charles died. She married a guy called Francis Stephen partly because she loved him (unfortunately he had a rather public mistress) but also because she couldn't legally be a holy Roman emperor. She was also the only child, I mean, that's why she got all the power, but she really did prevent the Habsburg dynasty from dying, which it almost did. She made some really great reforms, like compulsory education for children. And she had 16 kids, 1 of whom was the famous Marie Antoinette, who married into the French monarchy and was guillotined during the French revolution.

And pretty much the only reason the dynasty really failed in the end was because just before WW1 the Austrian empire was allied to the Germans, and obviously that side lost in the war. The Holy Roman Empire had been dismantled by Napoleon, and after that Austria had been forced into a dual Austro-Hungarian empire. It was this empire that got completely broken up by the world war into the smaller countries we see today (almost). And so the end of the Habsburgs as a world power.

Okay, a lot of that was recent research haha. But a family like that can't be forgotten, and one of the only reasons I even went to Vienna was to see the influence they had on their capital. To breath in history.

Vienna felt like a bunch of huge ornate buildings in close proximity with each other. A lot of the nice ones were baroque or renaissance I think. When I say huge I really mean huge huge, and crowded into a small city, like how sg has. Build more and more until eventually it's saturated. Yes most of the buildings were gorgeous, but it's still overcrowded.

To be honest it was a real boring and tiring day haha. For some reason Vienna doesn't have free walking tours, even though Prague had like 5 different operators and even bratislava has one. They must have some kind of law against it! So I followed two online walking tour guides, it wasn't bad but not enough infooo.

My alarm rang at 8am, and I only really got up at 8.20. From there it was a 20min rush to change, wash up, pack my day bag, half run to the station, buy a ticket, and get up to the platform. Pleased to say that I made it with a couple of minutes to spare. Living life on the edge hehe. Trains are every 2h by the way, so that was important.

Strangely, I had shwarma and noodles for brunch. So in Austria, a gastronomic city, I eat Turkish and Chinese food. Okay. And then walked around the entire day. With extremely frequent rest stops cos my feet were dying and it was so hot.

Got to enter the crypt of the Habsburgs! So I stood among the dead of one of the most influential families of all time. Paid 4.5 for that experience, I guess I consider it worth it.

Had apple strudel (wasn't very good) and latched on to free WiFi. Later I counted money in my head and decided that I had enough euros to go around (I only need it for Slovenia) so decided to splurge on a good dinner. Had Saffron risotto with chicken and prosecco at an Italian place, La Piazza haha. But then towards the end of that good meal, I realised with horror that the actual money I had on hand was not enough. So I paid by card sigh that was lame and a waste of money. I was only short by 1 plus!

Then back to the train station, I had to wait more than an hour because the train, which is supposed to be hourly, skipped the 7.21, which I would have been just on time for. Read 20,000 leagues, forgive me for saying that it's a bit boring. I got to the part just before they head out hunting in the undersea forest.

Tomorrow is a quick walk up to the memorial, and then my bus to Budapest! Where I'll soak in baths for the afternoon and rest my weary feet.

Ciaoooo

Posted by seaskimmer 15:08 Archived in Austria Tagged bratislava vienna history austria slovakia Comments (0)

Die lange Nacht Der Museen

Translation: the long night of museums

rain 8 °C

I didn't know it was such a big deal at first, so I accidently missed the TUHH registration for this event. By the time I realised I really wanted to attend, the TUHH registration was full and I had to buy a ticket separately for 10 eur instead of the 3 eur subsidised ticket. Drat. Oh well haha.

This annual event is a pretty big deal. There are versions of this all over Europe, I'm not sure where it started. The Hamburg one is from 6pm to 2am, with free entry to 54 participating museums offering some special activities, tours, live music and food throughout the evening. 6 bus lines were also set up, shuttling people between museums.

I went off to buy my ticket at about 3pm, after another big satisfying home cooked meal : ) bought my ticket at the HBF (central station) then went off to Sternschanze for my first Hamburg expedition. According to some other exchange students, it's a really nice place and they wished they could live there, but there's no way they ever could.

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And yeah, it's a nice place. At first all I saw were the somewhat Parisian styles as seen also in Barcelona and many other parts of Europe. This is in contrast to the staid traditional brick buildings seen in Harburg. But it was nice because it was a very good mix of Parisian, Georgian, neo-gothic and modern buildings. I'm sure I got most of the names of those styles wrong, haha, but just illustrating how non-homogenous it was. So it was quite a relaxed atmosphere. The gorgeousness of the older styles but the open simplicity of the newer ones. Nonetheless, perhaps due to the close proximity to St Pauli's? (red light district), there was a lot of ugly graffiti (vs pretty graffiti) and paper ads all over. Marred the prettiness somewhat.

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Walked around through Schanzenpark, found a Flohmarkt! (flea market) Wanted to buy a 2nd hand leather bag but even those were too expensive for me (I had 25 eur on hand). Was aiming to get over to Planten und Blomen or St Pauli's, but ended up at Dom! It's a theme park that sets up only three times a year for only 1 or 2 months at a go. I'd heard about it but didn't know where it was so yay to serendipity. Went inside, it's a typical theme park with games, rides, food, sweets. The only thing I actually did was buy a currywurst (which is a big deal in Germany) cos I hadn't had one before. Tasted nothing like curry, he sprinkled the tiniest amount of curry powder on top. Sauce was supposed to be hot sauce I think but I only realised that halfway through when I saw the sign lol. Tasted more like Macs bbq sauce, but less bbq taste and more flour-y. Okay, I shan't compare and complain. On its own it was quite nice. Took the U-bahn back over to HBF to meet the rest.

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Despite poor reception over whatsapp at the beginning, 3 of the NUS guys came, and S came too. (where S is a Chinese bachelor student here doing her thesis. I met her at one of my lectures which she attended because she has nothing to do besides type out her thesis in her office) (yes she gets her own office!) After a long draggy false start (walk far far to find currywurst, discuss here and there, attempt to find the way) we finally set off for our first stop: Museum fuer Hamburgische Geschichtchen (museum for Hamburger stories) (and yes they do call themselves Hamburgers haha)

My initial choice of 4 museums was dashed. 2 of the museums (Spicy's and the Hamburg Dungeon) weren't offered in the 54. The third, a concentration camp (largest in North Germany) was an hour away. That left only the Ballinstadt. Upon that realisation I added the Geschichtchen and the Speicherstadt (to do with the coffee and spices trade). However, after discussion and compromise with the others, this was our final route map:

1. Museum fuer Hamburgische Geschichtchen
2. Internationales Maritimes Museum
3. Automuseum Prototyp
4. Ballinstadt

I protested against an additional technology museum because we were already going to the automuseum haha. Despite reasoning that Germany is a technological nation. I don't care, I want social history haha. Besides, Speicherstadt had been out-voted.

Turns out that the Geschichtchen was a tiny room with no displays. It's a place where people can come and tell their stories! Most of it gets videoed and put up on the web. Very interesting concept, but we had no time for that yet, especially because a lot of it was in German. So we went round to the Hamburg Museum just next door, didn't manage to see everything (eg. I didn’t get to see the Jewish section sigh). It was a general museum of Hamburg's history. Lots of maps and models of Hamburg at various points in its history, and some history that later gets repeated in the 3rd and 4th museums. One thing I learnt was that the Elbe is really polluted lol. This first one was very rushed because we weren't sure if we had enough time.

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eel with cauliflower growth : /
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Bussed over to the Maritime Museum. Not the most interesting museum, mainly because I guess it wasn't really my interest. I was talking to one of the guys working there though. He's one of the volunteers who makes and upkeeps the model ships! Was telling us about the history of two of the ships they were working on, it was great to see the history come alive from those little model ships. They really have to do their research. The guys were bored haha but I love this stuff. Did you know that Dutch shipbuilders (the most reputed builders during the 15-1700s) never had physical plans? They directed the entire ship building operation just like that. Wow. There was a Dutch shipbuilder who died halfway, then his brother and sister-in-law continued. But they had no plans to follow, and I suppose they weren't experienced. They built the ship too high and didn't weight it adequately in the hull, so it sank and killed its passengers on its first journey. Besides that, we made badges! And saw military uniforms and weapons. Didn't go to all the decks (they call it decks!)

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In the workshop. It says "Daily flogging will continue until the crew's morale improves"!
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James Cook, Columbus, and Erikson the Red (personal favourite). There was also Zheng He but I couldn't be bothered hahahaha.

Walked 5min over to the Automuseum in the cold. M for some reason thought it wouldn't be cold so he only wore two layers. I lent him my goretex (extra layer in case it was cold) but it was hilarious cos it was too small for him and he just put his arms in backwards. Throughout the night he switched jackets a few times with T, who could just about wear my jacket although it was tight. (T's jacket was the thick kind) Automuseum wasn't very interesting for me, a bunch of pretty cool cars, mostly Porsches. But I got to play a racing game! Haha yay.

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By that time everyone was famished. I'd already had a cereal bar at the Maritime Museum. Food was not forthcoming, so D and T shared my second bar. And we all had some of S's Rittersports.

Bus to Ballinstadt. I'd been looking forward to the promised Irish stew, but when I went to order I was disappointed. Kitchen was closed, it was 12am. Sigh. So everyone continued to be hungry. Also we missed the live Irish music noooo I think I'm doomed to never hear live Irish music sigh.

I think I enjoyed Ballinstadt the most, because it had the most English text! Even more than the Hamburg Museum. Seriously there was a lot to read, it was like reading an article on the net but better because I could walk around and see stuff too.

Ballinstadt is about the emigration of people, focusing particularly on the passage of people through Hamburg to the USA. I like how they displayed everything, reminding us that emigration is not just a word. It's people's hopes and dreams, it's running away from persecution and in fear, it's the looking forward to a better life and the leaving of home. What dreams do you bring with you? they ask. What do you leave behind?

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Hamburg, being a port city (I have some things to say on this topic. Maybe another time), saw a great number of people at its harbour. Major emigration began in the 16/1700s when the US began to be populated. At this time the principal forces of famine, persecution, poverty, and general desire for a better life caused a huge outflow of Europeans to the New World via Hamburg and several other port cities.

For a hundred years or so, living conditions on board transport to Hamburg, waiting accommodation in Hamburg, and on ships out of Hamburg were pretty terrible. Very cramped, cold and unsanitary. Emigrants weren't treated very well especially on ships out where many 3rd class passengers were treated as 'mixed goods', staying one or two weeks without break in cargo holds crudely retro-fitted with bunk beds. On top of that, the entire journey was also generally expensive, usually costing a year's wages, or two, for an entire family. Emigrants in Hamburg were subjected to health checks, unreasonable and lengthy detainment, random 'administrative costs', and often weren't given adequate food and water.

Things changed for the better with the introduction of steam ships. This was particularly so with the company Hapag, the owner wanting to treat emigrants more like people and less like mixed goods. His business idea was to bring in customers through word of mouth of the good or acceptable conditions. He sounds like a nice guy.

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Everyone else was very very tired by this time so I skipped a few info panels even though I was still interested haha and then we rested at the entrance for a while. Some of them even fell asleep haha. In the end we decided not to go to Lueneburg the next day (Sunday) because it was already 1.30am. So set it for Monday instead, when no one else had lessons except for M. Then we headed over to HBF for Macs supper, ending around 3? Then we went home our separate ways. (Hamburg trains run 24h every weekend, albeit less frequently. And there is usually a fair number of people aboard, although the proportion of drunk people increases through the night)

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Immigrants, aliens in a foreign land. Locals don't often like immigrants for various reasons. It tends to be lonely, I'm guessing, trying to etch out a living some place where you don't have family to rely on. Did you know that God has a heart for foreigners? A year or two ago, I was very touched when I saw the decree to be especially kind to foreigners, among a few other social groups. I appreciate it even more now. It appears a few times, but check out Leviticus 19 and 22.

Posted by seaskimmer 05:30 Archived in Germany Tagged history museum hamburg Comments (0)

Versailles

sunny 15 °C
View SEP Pre-Trip on seaskimmer's travel map.

Alright, I know I haven't blogged about Belgium yet, but I promise I'll get to that tonight. I need to get Versailles out first!

But before that. Let me lament about how I accidentally left my key on a random bench in the gardens and thus have a lock on my bag and a useless lock in my other bag. A blight on my day, seriously.

Okay, so I paid 18 eur for access to all of Versailles, from the Chateau itself to the gardens and the Trianon out back.

The Chateau/palace was first, it was immensely grand and beautiful with adornment on everything you could imagine. History buffs would enjoy this part because there's a lot of busts around and the hall of battles (or something like that) is full of paintings of famous French battles. That was cool. And also just being where all the Louis and Charles of history had been.

I went out, walked through all the way to the Grand Trianon, bypassed the gardens partly by accident and partly because I wasn't sure how much time I'd have, and I'd rather have gone to the Trianon.

The Grand Trianon was very pink. It was done up much more tastefully and simply than the palace itself. The palace anyway was built and decorated chiefly to impress people and provide a subjugating influence on the subjects. On the other hand, the Trianon was built firstly as a hunting lodge and later as a private home residence for the royal family to escape the crowd sort of. So while the place is still big and expensive looking, it's much more livable.

The Petit Trianon was even more subtle and pretty. It wasn't built or commissioned by her, but Marie Antoinette lived in it, in its later years.

There were estates built by Marie Antoinette, the gardens and the Hamlet to the side of the Petit Trianon. The grounds are absolutely beautiful, and my favourite part of the whole palace of Versailles. The area was very landscaped and hence not real on that sense, but it felt so much more natural than the coiffed gardens of the palace. There were little pavilions studding the green, and (rather dry and empty) streams winding their way around. There were also features like little grottos and the Belvedere thingy. I think what took the cake were the little buildings for the servants (I think). They were little cottages that looked like they'd be more at home in an English countryside rather than a grand palace. They had thatched roofs and crumbly stone and mortar walls and each building was allocated to a different staff, like the gardeners. They were all arranged in front of a little pond (one end of the streams) and there was even a turret at one of them!!! Wheeee. There was also a farm, I didn't go all the way over but I could hear the roosters and chickens making a ton of noise. I got to see the sheep though haha. And cows.

I loved the gardens of Marie Antoinette. She was described to be a bit of a terrorising airhead, but her gardens are beautiful. Then again, I was also thinking about how huge and beautiful the grounds are in juxtaposition to the poverty the people were living in during the time of Louis XVI. No matter how wonderful the palace is, it still was a bit of a power grabbing and maintaining tool, when more money and attention could have been spent on making France a better place. No wonder the revolution occurred!

I wonder how Marie must have felt when she was being led to Madame La Guillotine. She was still young then, and her assumption that royalty is power, authority and respect no matter what must have been dashed on the way there. It's amazing how privileged the upper classes during that time were. I personally think that's a reminder to not have false elevations in Singapore or wherever. I honestly think that there's a lot the middle class in Singapore doesn't see (myself included, but I try to).

Okay anyway advice for anyone who might go: the gardens are much better than the palace so allocate time accordingly unless you're a history buff (out of the palace by 12, assuming you get in at 9). Go on a nice day to better enjoy the gardens. Go early when the park opens cos the queue is crazy. Spend the entire day there. Get the audio guide, it's free and worth it even though the initial queue is a bit longer. Get the map and guides from the tourist info office outside before you go in, instead of getting it later at the Trianon like I did. Bring food and water because the food there is obviously touristy and expensive. Be prepared to walk a lot. Be prepared to take lots of pretty photos.

PS no photos right now, might update with photos at a later date. Photos are in the camera right now, lazy to get them into a com. Don't expect photos from March on fb til April!

PS 2 I'm im Jouy-en-Josas now with S, who's studying here. Tomorrow we leave at night by plane for Dublin. I'm gonna relax the whole of tomorrow, my feet are hurting so bad.

PS 3 I think I shouldn't have brought my winter coat. Should've been like S2 who only brought 2 sets of clothes for 3 weeks haha. Hope Spain will be cold simply so I can justify bringing my winter coat and extra warm layers. Don't think I'll use my thick jumpers though sigh. Then again maybe it's just the particularly beautiful and warm weather recently. Which I do indeed thank God for!

Posted by seaskimmer 13:28 Archived in France Tagged france history versailles jouy-en-josas Comments (2)

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