Sächsische Schweiz – Saxon Switzerland National Park

This lovely gem is located around the Elbe Valley, just about 45 minutes outside of Dresden and it’s a true gift of nature and history. I had first planned to go on my birthday with a few friends but I found it quite hard to pull off because it’s too far away from the homes of the people I invited and because of unpredictable Aprilwetter. So now, two months later, we finally made it!

My goal was to see the famous Bastei Bridge, but that just wasn’t the highlight of our hike. And here’s why:

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There’s no entrance fee to Saxon Switzerland National Park and it’s open throughout the year, 24 hours a day. We started our tour at Kurort Rathen, which may also be reached through a 30-minute train ride from Dresden. We came by car, and a parking lot for visitors was close by (4 € day rate). First thing I did was go to the Tourist Information Centre right outside the train station and ask for tips on where to begin. I told the guy behind the counter that I wanted to see the Bastei Bridge, most importantly. He was very helpful and picked out a trail that he thought was most suitable. He took out a small map and elaborated more on the best attractions along the way.

It began with a ferry ride to the other side of the Elbe river. From there, we walked on and took a left turn, as told by our map, and walked up a flight of stairs.

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It was an easy hike, but we made sure that we had enough to drink and took breaks from time to time. It’s suitable even for families with small children and for dogs as well. We were at the summit at probably 45-minutes’ time and it was the most wonderful experience.

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Felsenburg Neurathen

Then there was this open air museum that we entered for an entrance fee of 1,50 € each, and from there we had an even better view of Bastei Bridge and of the rock formations of Elbsandsteingebirge.

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Bastei Bridge

After that, we headed for the bridge, which was of course full of tourists.

Right by the other end of the bridge, there were restaurants and cafés where you may grab a bite. We shared a small snack and walked on.


Schwedenlöcher

The next attraction on our route was Schwedenlöcher. We walked through a forest an then walked down a few flights of stairs, going deeper and deeper into the woods and passing through narrow paths between rocks. It was a perfect cool down from the hot weather that greeted us when we just started.

 

Amselfall

An optional attraction that was 10 minutes going the other way was the Amselfall (Amsel Waterfall). For 0,30 €, you may activate the torrent, which I wasn’t able to take a photo of because I was just so mesmerised by the sight.

 

Amselsee

And to end the tour, we walked along Amselsee (Amsel Lake) and watched people on their pedalos and canoes. We found our way out by walking down the road and it lead back to the ferry. There are plenty of souvenir shops there, too.

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Solo Trip to Hong Kong

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I have shared in a previous post a sneak peek of my experience from my trip to Hong Kong last May and how it went terribly wrong. But on this post I wanted to focus on the trip as whole, and that’s including the good stuff.

Let me start with why I chose Hong Kong – of all the fine places in Asia that are easily reachable from the Philippines nowadays. I just thought, since I am going alone and with the limited time that I had, it’s just the perfect destination. Added to that, I bet it’s just the one place that my wife would not miss out on too much. We usually do these things together but as I have mentioned, she wasn’t able to join.

I got there in the afternoon after a 2h flight from Manila. First thing I did was get an Octopus Card. For 150 HKD, you get a card with a 100 HKD balance and 50 HKD refundable value – unless of course you’d want to keep the card as a souvenir.

 

And it’s really the easiest way to get around the city. You may reload it at MTR stations or various convenience stores and you may use it to pay at some selected establishments, and even at vending machines. I just found the deduction of fares after every ride a bit unpredictable, or maybe it’s just something I haven’t been able to figure out in my short stay. Let me just say I had spent about 250 HKD of fare money in  three days and that’s including the ride up The Peak Tower with the Peak Tram plus entrance fee to Sky Terrace all worth 140 HKD.

I took the A21 bus that goes straight to Mong Kok and stops at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. It’s the station closest to my hostel, in one of those touristy neighbourhoods in the city. In fact, most of my options were in this very area. I think it’s a good place to stay at because of its proximity Victoria Harbour, and everything you’d want to see is easily reachable.

After I got checked in to my hostel, I went out to get familiarised to my neighbourhood. Most importantly, I looked for places where I can grab some bites. I found street food right around the corner, a few restaurants, and a 7Eleven. This is where I realised that food in Hong Kong is rather pricey.

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I mean, it was really good but this octopus skewer cost me 11 HKD, about 1,20 €


Kowloon Park

The next morning, I decided to just grab a snack from 7Eleven (I’m a sucker for store-bought snack cakes and everywhere I go, I try to get each country’s own version of it) for breakfast and I proceeded with my day’s agenda – just walking around the city. I read somewhere that 60% of Hong Kong is actually green – which is hard to believe at first because when you think of Hong Kong, the first thing that comes to mind is the army of skyscrapers. I decided to see the parks first, starting with Kowloon Park, which is close to my hostel.

And from there I just followed the road that lead to the water.

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Nathan Road

I wasn’t sure where to go next so I just walked down Nathan Road. The heat of this city was just something I couldn’t get accustomed to. Humidity was just so much higher there than in the Philippines and I couldn’t help but take a few breaks inside the shopping centres along the way just to cool down. But I did find some interesting bookstores and gift shops inside.

I had lunch at a local diner – fried chicken in lemon sauce and a pot of tea. I was alone so the staff sat me at a round table with another lone guest sitting. I can’t point out enough the cost of food – I paid around 30 € for that order!

After I filled my backpack with gifts that I bought to take home to the wife, I walked back to my hostel and took another shower. It felt necessary if I wanted to walk around some more.


Markets

My next stops were the street markets. The first one I went to, and also the only one I actually wanted to see, was the Ladies’ Market. I didn’t take photos, neither did I even take out my phone let alone my camera, because everyone started to get extra aware of their belongings when they entered. I thought I’d do the same because I really hate losing things, more importantly I have this deep fear of having my things stolen from me. I literally have nightmares of this event every so often, all in different versions. I wanted to come here to buy accessories for my phone and to check out what else the place has to offer. I had fun haggling with the vendors. They lower the price down every five seconds, or give you deals for lower value. It’s ridiculous how they start you off with prices going through the roof and then giving you a final price of 20% of the original price. I know it’s just strategy and it seems to be working out just fine for them.

I then walked down the road towards the Flower Market, through Goldfish Market and took the MTR back to my hostel.

 

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I especially love the tea set. The vendor sold it to me for about 12 €. I honestly would have paid more.


Victoria Peak and Central District

Quick summary from my previous post:

After I dropped my street market haul off at the hostel, I was bound for Victoria Peak. But when I took the hostel building’s elevator going down, it got stuck and I had to wait for almost an hour for the rescue team, alone. So when I got out, I guess I was over-motivated to reach the peak which then turned out was a bad idea, because it was so foggy up there that it was impossible to see anything looking down. But at least it made for interesting photos looking up from Central District.

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Nan Lian Garden

It was my last day in Hong Kong and I ended it with a relaxing day in the park. This charming garden is located in the myriad of high-rise buildings of Diamond Hill. It gives out a contrast of the tranquility of a Tang Dynasty-styled park and the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Hong Kong Park

This was the very last place I went to before I headed to the airport. But this park was busier than I thought! I was here at around noon on a Friday, enjoying a rice snack from 7Eleven but it took a while before I found an empty bench. I didn’t stay long to make space for the busy corporate animals from Central District to enjoy their lunch break. Ah, but what I wouldn’t give to have such a venue for my own lunch breaks from work!

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This rice snack with tuna and mayonnaise filling is enough to get me through the day

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Going back to the airport, I took the A21 bus again. I thought it was really the more convenient option to and from Mong Kok but somehow it wasn’t among Google’s suggestions.

Birthday Weekend in Warsaw

We spent the last weekend in the Polish capital in celebration of my birthday. I personally chose this city because 1.) it’s easily reachable from Berlin, and 2.) I just wanted a squirrel to jump on me.

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And so it did.

April 28, 2017

We took the night bus to Warsaw to save one night’s accommodation. This is a new experience for me because I had never taken such a trip before. The ride took about 8 hours and all I have experienced in the past were day-rides that lasted up to 4-5 hours. This has proven really tiring because there’s absolutely no way I can get any quality sleep inside the bus that lets me recharge to last the next day, so maybe that’s something I will try to avoid in the future. We arrived at around 6 in the morning and our hotel’s check-in time wasn’t until 16:00. Naturally, we were dead-tired, walking around on reserve energy.

Lazienki Park

There are many great parks in Warsaw to choose from but Lazienki Park is supposed to be the most appealing one so this is where we went. Aside from the squirrels jumping on you, another thing to look forward to is the Plac na Wodzie (Palace on the Isle) which is charmingly located in the middle of a lake.

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We visited a few other parts of the city which has been made easy thanks to a great deal on public transportation tickets specially designed for weekenders. It’s valid from Friday at 19:00 until Monday 08:00 for a group of up to 5 people and you can get it for only 40,- PLN or about 10,-€.

Old Town

When it was finally time to check into our hotel room, we just rested a bit, freshened up then continued on with our tour. This time we were bound for the Old Town. There are a few sights one can’t miss when going there. Here are some of the few:

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There are plenty of restaurants to choose from but I would recommend picking one at the Old Town Square for any meal of the day. On warmer days there are seats available outside which is perfect for people watching.

April 30, 2017

We found a good deal on a hotel room at the Hilton so that’s where we stayed the night and had big breakfast on the morning of my birthday. We have taken this to our advantage because we were to leave in the evening and we thought we could avoid stopping by for food every so often if we stuffed ourselves early on. We stored our bags in a locker in the Central Station (12,- PLN for 24h) so we didn’t have to carry them around with us all day.

Neon Museum

What many don’t know about me is that I am in love with neon lights! I have been thinking of making my own one, some writing or symbol that I can hang on my window. So when I found out that there is a museum in Warsaw that specialises in these, I knew I had to go there. The Neon Muzeum in Warsaw exhibits original neon signs from establishments from the Cold War days, hence the extra retro look.

The rest of the day mostly consisted of eating and walking around Centrum area until we finally had to take our train back home. Time ran out so fast!

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And we got to remake a photo from my last year’s birthday trip to Copenhagen with different versions of The Little Mermaid statue in the background.