What’s Your Beef?

img_20161204_134224_hdrIt feels great to be able to pen a few words again and as some of you may have noticed, I have not posted anything new since my last adventure in Sounkyo in October. This is because after finally deciding to register my domain for a monthly fee from WordPress, I realised the fee doesn’t entail a free upgrade in storage space. In other words, I wasted my money on getting the domain. My account was already chock full. This, despite having combed through all my photos and deleting a good number of them. Needless to say, I was pretty annoyed with WordPress.

However, today, I received a sudden notification that WordPress had decided to spare me some extra space, so here’s a recent trip that I haven’t got the chance to publish till now.

As it turned out, winter descended on Hokkaido as soon as my trip to Sounkyo ended. It seemed like Hokkaido just decided to skip autumn all together and jump straight to winter. The cold makes travelling less enticing, and my weekends since Sounkyo had largely been spent tucking my legs under my kotatsu blanket and watching TV.

On one of these lazy weekends, I was watching a local variety show in which contestants gorged themselves to death, trying to devour as many plates of food as possible. On this particular episode, the contestants competed to see who could finish the most number of plates of steak in half an hour. And the setting? Shiraoi.img_20161204_124942_hdrFor the uninitiated (i.e. me), Shiraoi is famous for its beef, and though normally a sleepy town with pretty much nothing but a derelict Ainu village as its main tourist draw, the town’s cows have gained quite a reputation here in Hokkaido.

Shiraoi also happens to be surprisingly accessible from Tomakomai – about a little under 40 minutes by train. I decided, I had to taste some of those beef! A search on Tripadvisor told me that Amano Family Farm was the top ranked steak house to satisfy my belly carnivores. However, the catch is, without a car, this place would take at least an hour and a half’s walk from Shiraoi Station through fields of nothingness.img_20161204_132615_hdrimg_20161204_132132_hdrThe walk turned out to be not as bad as I thought, and the weather stayed ‘relatively’ warm at 5 degrees. Five degrees may not seem like much but here in Hokkaido, 5 degrees qualifies as a ‘warm’ day – considering the past week had seen temperatures hovering around the minus 10-14 degrees mark.

What about the beef? Well, I think I’ll let my pictures do the talking. Bon Apetit!   LS

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Frozen in the Fall

Autumn is my favourite season. I love watching the landscape slowly turning from lush greens to a patchwork of red, orange and yellow hues. I still remember my first encounter with fall in Japan five years ago, when I visited Tokyo. Streets were lined with row after row of yellow gingko and red maple. It was almost like one of those scenes from a jigsaw puzzle. Shrines in Japan are most beautiful, in my opinion, during fall. There’s an inexplicable tranquillity and spiritual energy in these places.

It was with these images in mind as I tumbled along the countryside on one of those rickety buses that ply the countryside in Asahikawa. My destination? Sounkyo Onsen 層雲峡, a famous kouyou  or “autumn leaves” viewing locale in Hokkaido. I had spent the previous night in Asahikawa (about two and a half hours by train from Tomakomai via Sapporo) so that I could catch an early bus from Asahikawa Station to Sounkyo Onsen.dsc01969The pension where I had made a reservation was a humble family-run establishment, but Tripadvisor and Booking.com decals on its glass doors carried promises of a rewarding stay. Since I was two hours ahead of check-in time, I deposited my luggage at the lobby and headed for the Sounkyo Ropeway. The Ropeway was the easiest (i.e. laziest) option to get near the peaks of Mount Kurodake (), which towers above the sprawling Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪山国立公園). Seasoned hikers may prefer the hiking trail that continues from the summit of Kurodake, through Daisetsuzan to the summit of Asahidake. However, without proper hiking equipment and still nursing a severe bout of flu, I decided against the hike.dsc01985Nevertheless, the view from the 7th station of Mt. Kurodake was well worth the 1,950 yen that I had to cough out for the gondola ride. At the top of the Ropeway, a chairlift whisks you nearer to Kurodake’s peak and a tiny cafe for a further 600 yen. Despite forecasts of early snowfall (yes! Snow in October!) in the later half of the day, the weather held up sufficiently for breathtaking vistas of the valley below. My only lamentation was that autumn had not quite peaked here in Sounkyo, contrary to what was written in many of the travel literature I’ve read. In other words, the valley was only covered in sporadic blots of yellow and red. Later, I learnt from the pension owner that autumn had been at least two weeks late this year.dsc02000My second day in Sounkyo was a rough affair. I had planned to make for the Ginga no Taki 銀河の (Milky Way Falls) and Ryusei no Taki 流星の(Shooting Star Falls) on foot – a journey that would take about 50 minutes. However, midway through my journey, the weather turned nasty. Strong gales and a combination of rain and hail threatened to wreck my umbrella (which it eventually did). I had no choice but to turn back as I was completely soaked and shivering. The winds were threatening to make this innocuous 50-minute walk into a dance with death.dsc02031As it turned out, the two waterfalls turned out to be rather disappointing. Perhaps the stormy weather had something to do with it. After my initial failed attempt to trek to the falls, I decided to have another go at it – this time, I opted for the bus service that would whisk me directly to the falls in case the weather decided to bail on me again. Just as the bus was about to leave the Tourist Visitor Centre, it poured buckets again!!! The wind and rain made it difficult to maintain my balance, much less steady myself for a picturesque shot of the falls. The stormy weather probably made the silver aqueous threads less magical than what their names would suggest. Whoever had named these waterfalls must have had a very cosmic (i.e. ethereal) imagination. Needless to say, I was less than impressed to say the least.

The next pit stop on the bus took the pits. I arrived at a giant cesspool of a lake called Taisetsuko (大雪湖). The pelting rain and chilly winds made the landscape even greyer and more dreary than what it already was. No sign of any autumn foliage, no sign of life, except me, a couple of elderly ladies and a family from China. The lake was a bleak mix of ash grey, sickly yellow and dirty green.dsc02039Back in the pension, a huge bowl of ramen was a welcome treat after a frigidly cold outing. Unlike Asahikawa, Sounkyo Onsen is not known for its ramen, but on a miserably wet and chilly day like this, I gratefully slurped down my bowl of goodness. A trip to the Kurodake Onsen (conveniently connected to the pension by a passageway) thereafter was the icing on the cake, and the fastest way to warm up my body. The onsen also has a modest walled-in rotemburo (露天風) that offers a view of the surrounding landscape, albeit through wooden grilles.

And just as I was blissfully soaking my aches and chills away, I saw it! Snow!

Snow in early October??? This is crazy man!!! I mean, I was just told that autumn arrived two weeks late but it’s already snowing here in Sounkyo. Looks like autumn gave this place a miss this year!

If there’s something I’ve learnt since arriving here in Hokkaido, it is that anything is possible as far as weather is concerned. Here in Hokkaido, a 20-degrees diurnal range is not an exception, but the norm. And that is something I need to quickly get used to. I still struggle with waking up with cold feet to zero degrees in the early morning. I am constantly amazed by how my students could run around with boundless energy, playing football in the sun-drenched field during lunch break in 14-degrees weather. In the evening, I meticulously plan the steps to take in between changing and taking a shower, so that I do not catch a chill. I shudder to think what my first full experience of winter here will be like.  LSdsc02005

Watching The Clouds Drift By – Muroran (Part 2)

I woke up to a bright and sunny morning in my budget hotel room in Higashi-Muroran (東室蘭). The original plan was to take the train back to Tomakomai after check-out. But looking at the weather, it seemed such a massive waste to just pack up and go home. Yesterday’s exertions (and disappointments) were still fresh in my body and mind. After mulling over the options over bread and coffee at the hotel café, I decided to give Muroran another shot.dsc01826After a quick browse through Tripadvisor, I decided to check out Cape Etomo (絵鞆岬) and seek out one of Muroran’s specialty dishes – curry ramen. I must say this had to be one of the best decisions I’ve made on this trip. If there’s one place you ever need to try curry ramen, it’s Aji-no-Daio 味の大王. Though it’s still 11.30 a.m., the tiny restaurant was already packed with patrons. The curry is viscous thick, and the noodles are springy. Sweat was oozing from all pores down my face, but I was savouring every drop of the curry. Needless to say, I polished the bowl down to its last drags.img_20160919_115042My belly folks were humming a tune, and I hopped along to it as I made my way to Cape Etomo (絵鞆岬). Google Maps informed me that the trek to the cape would take about an hour on foot, but this time round, I decided to try my luck and just board any bus that would take me as close as possible to the cape. Last night’s misadventure told me that bus no.14 might be my best shot. And so it proved to be, though I had to ride my luck and guess the stop to alight. From my alighting point, it was just another 300 metre walk to the cape, which took less than five minutes.dsc01840dsc01841Although less celebrated than Cape Chikyu (judging by the fact that besides me, there were only three others), Cape Etomo, in my opinion, has more to offer. Not only can you enjoy a panoramic view of the Pacific, but also a perfect vista of the majestic Hakucho Bridge that spans the port of Muroran and its marina. I spent a good half an hour just taking in the scenery.img_20160919_142753img_20160919_143820_hdrHowever, the best find had to be Café Mutekirou, perched at the edge of a small knoll along the coast. The interior had a minimalist feel to it, with a granite wall accompanied by two humongous speakers as the dominant centrepieces. Jazz music was playing, and the entire café was drenched in sunlight through the floor-to-ceiling windows. I slurped my Americano and leaned back on my wooden deck chair, content to just watch the clouds drift by over the Hakucho Bridge. What a way to spend the long weekend!

Ç’est la vie.   LS

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Weekend Wanders

Weekends can get pretty boring in Tomakomai. After all, this is a port city and an industrial town, whose biggest pride is a shopping mall and ice hockey. I couldn’t count on visiting Sapporo every weekend because that would put a financial strain on my already massively reduced income. (Travelling by train in Japan is pretty expensive!) Still, after two weeks here, I was itching to get out of Tomakomai and explore the neighbouring towns. I figured I could always start from the nearest, and then venture further as I go along. My first destination was the Lake Shikotsu in Chitose.

DSC01504A caldera lake created by the eruption of three adjoining volcanoes (Mount Eniwa, Mount Fuppushi and Mount Tarumae), Lake Shikotsu is the second deepest lake in Japan. It’s about a 30 minute bus ride from Chitose Train Station. On the weekend I visited, there was a huge crowd of mainland Chinese tourists (well, you can’t avoid them, they are everywhere…). And they were milling around a small jetty which offers boat rides in the shape of swans. After checking out the rental fees, I decided to give it a miss. I headed for the quieter end of the footpath, where there’s a wooden platform that leads down to the waters. There, along with a few others, I took off my shoes and treaded carefully into the waters. This was also a good spot to capture the beauty of the lake, with the surrounding volcanoes. I didn’t stay in the waters for long because the pebbled ground was giving my feet a painful massage, so I retreated to the wooden platform and sat there to soak in the sun and beauty of the surroundings. A colleague told me that there’s a secret onsen resort on the opposite end of the lake (from where I was), the Marukoma Onsen Ryokan (丸駒温泉旅館). The reviews on Tripadvisor and pictures on the hotel’s website do seem enticing. However, without a decent four wheels, I would most likely give it a miss for now.

DSC01529DSC01520IMG_20160827_144627_HDRTwo weekends later, my belly tubbies (sorry, Micah, I borrowed your term) are calling out for beer, so instead of paying a ‘pilgrimage’ to my town’s resident shrine, the Tarumaezan Shrine, I decided to book an appointment to visit the Sapporo Beer Factory. It helps that there’s a train station named after it, and walking to the factory from the train station took only about 15 minutes. I was given a detailed commentary by the guide, albeit in Japanese (which means I probably only understood 10% of what he’s trying to tell me). What disturbed me was that my ‘tour’ group comprised a couple of Japanese families with toddlers and 5-year-olds in tow. Surely, this is not the right place to bring your kids for an educational tour, unless you intend to raise alcoholics. Well, at least not yet, in my humble opinion. The kids were creating such a ruckus during the tour that at times, it was difficult to hear the guide. I also made the mistake of picking a weekend to visit the factory, as it was a rest day, which meant that the machines weren’t working and we could only watch videos of the assembly, filling and bottling processes.

DSC01561DSC01552The saving grace of this tour? Two free half pints of authentic Sapporo beer on tap, straight from the source. And you can kick back your shoes at the spacious viewing gallery (which overlooks an expansive golf course) to savour your brew. Depending on your experiences, I would say this tour of the Sapporo Beer Factory beats the one I had at the Sapporo Beer Museum which I wrote about previously, for the simple reason that you don’t pay a single dime for your booze. Call me a cheapskate if you like, but any free beer wins my vote anytime!

IMG_20160827_145347_HDRI guess that’s about all Chitose had to offer, so I was ready to venture further this time. The next nearest destination on my Google Maps is Shiraoi, a sleepy rural town with a decent museum and village on the Ainus, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. However, reviews have been average at best, and I’m all too familiar with the Japanese’ love for dioramas, so this Ainu village may not be an exception. I ditched the idea of looking at fake people and animals and instead opted for Noboribetsu.

DSC01627The last time I was in Noboribetsu, I spent a good afternoon exploring the Hell Valley (also known as the Jikokudani) and even managed to squeeze about an hour and a half soaking in one of the many daytime onsens (of course, I went with the cheapest admission given the limited time I had before the last bus). A word of caution to day trippers, the last bus from Noboribetsu Onsen to the train station leaves at 6.58 p.m., so unless you have booked a stay at one of the expensively mediocre hotels here, you probably should really plan your trip. Having said that though, I am still contemplating a weekend staycation here one of these days because though the hotels are exorbitantly overpriced and grossly underwhelming, their onsens are amazing!

DSC01632For this trip, I decided to check out the Date Edo Ninja Village (登別伊達時代村) instead. I’ve heard about the famously notorious bear park here, but didn’t fancy the idea of seeing bears trapped in glass enclosures. I must say the admission tickets, priced at 2,900 yen, did shock me a little because by Japanese standards, the prices are slightly on the high side (not including Tokyo Disneyland). Still, I relented since I was already there. The Ninja Village was a good re-creation of a normal feudal town during the Edo period. Of course, there’s the requisite diorama showcase of life during the Edo period, what’s like inside a samurai’s residence and a whole street of trinket and games shops. You could even dress up as a ninja if you like, but for an additional 2,000 yen, I would recommend you do your ninja cosplay at home.

DSC01640What made this trip worth it though were the cultural performances, and I was really fortunate to be able to catch all of them, almost back-to-back! There were four altogether, including two ninja action shows, a comedy featuring the village mascot, a samurai cat/dog called Nyan and my favourite, an Oiran show. Oirans were top-ranked courtesans a.k.a prostitutes during the Edo period. They actually enjoyed prestige and social status during the Edo period, even invoking a sense of mystique among the common townsfolk.

DSC01691IMG_20160904_161119_HDRThere’s also a whimsically eerie Cat Temple (O-nyanko), with an interesting “haunted house” experience. In fact, the Cat Temple was probably scarier than the adjacent Haunted House (incredibly named the House of Ghosts and Monsters), which turned out to be more lame than horrifying. I also found the Ninja Maze pretty entertaining, seeing people (myself included) struggling to balance themselves on 30-degree inclined rooms. Overall, I had an enjoyable two hours stepping back in time to feudal Japan, and for a while, fantasising about how cool it must have been to be a ninja or samurai. For a split second, I even contemplated lugging a katakana or Oiran doll home from one of the souvenir shops. LS

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Winds of Change

Today marks my first full month of living in Japan. And what an introduction I had. The night before, I was bracing for a grade 10 typhoon in my apartment, wondering if the winds would somehow tear my roof away. This was the fourth typhoon to hit Hokkaido in 10 days! According to one of my colleagues, typhoons seldom land on Hokkaido. So much for that!

Life in Tomakomai started with me going around to get the necessary documents completed, for example, opening a new bank account, getting my Japanese residence card and signing up for a new mobile contract. The shock and disgust that had registered when I was “welcomed” into my new apartment (a decaying Japanese civil servant’s block that could have survived World War II) was temporarily cast aside for these urgent matters.

DSC01545I spent the next couple of days scouring Nitori (the local version of Ikea) for furnishings, Daiso for household items and the various supermarkets around my vicinity for groceries and to get acquainted with the different grocery options nearest to my apartment. My first priority was furnishing my otherwise empty shell of an apartment. Except for a bed, a table, two chairs, a fridge and a washing machine, I had nothing else in that stinkhole. And did I mention it stinks? So badly! From years of non-occupancy and I suspect, the fresh tatami mats. Gosh, I have never hated tatami so badly! The kitchen floor was sticky and feels uncomfortable on the feet. The stove had a lot of wooden fragments and chips. On top of that, rust has almost consumed the ventilator fan above the kitchen stove. This wasn’t really what I had envisioned when I first signed up for this!

IMG_20160813_225236_HDRI felt like a kid in a candy store in Nitori. The place is massive, and loaded with furniture – beautiful furniture. I would do anything to turn my stinkhole into a more inhabitable (and I hope, cosy) space. I grabbed everything I thought that could aesthetically enhance the apartment. So in came a carpet that costs more than $250 (my most extravagant splurge thus far), two DIY shelves, a DIY wardrobe, 60 pieces of 30 by 30 cm plywood tiles to lay over the disgusting kitchen flooring, a full-length standing mirror, a shoe rack, five floor mats, a fancy standing lamp, fresh bedsheets, bathroom slippers, a frying pan, a pot, cutlery, even a stool (so that I could sit on it while wearing my shoes). I also resorted to buying anything I could from my predecessor – a decently large flat-screen LCD TV, a couch, window curtains, curtain linings, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, a clothes rack, futons, a toolbox, more shelves, all sorts of kitchen utensils, and tons of hangers! Well, my predecessor was going to leave the country and head back home – so I guess it’s a relief to him that he could dispose of all these to any sucker that wants them. And I happen to be that.

I bought tools to saw, file and shape the kitchen tiles, assembled, shifted and rearranged the furniture. After two weeks, the pieces are slowly falling into place. August 15 was a momentous occasion for me because my long-awaited carpet finally arrived – the crowning jewel in my living room. And to top it off, I now have access to the Internet – after an intense and painful two weeks of administration hassle with NTT. There’s definitely more I can do to decorate my apartment, but at least for now, I can say with much pride that this, now feels a little more like home.   LS

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A New Lease of Life

IMG_20160809_171644_HDRIt’s been three months since my last post was published, so I was reminded when I finally got to log in today. Today also marks my first week as a resident in Japan, or more specifically, in the city of Tomakomai in Hokkaido.

I come here as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) of English under the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, and will be based in Tomakomai, a name that probably does not register with many people outside of Japan. With a population of about 170,000, Tomakomai is apparently the fifth largest city in Hokkaido, and one of the four biggest ports in Japan.

IMG-20160810-WA0012Another word that is synonymous with Tomakomai is ice hockey, and you only have to look at the city’s mascot (the Japanese have mascots for everything, from food products to toilet paper) to know. I was presented with a business card of the city’s mayor, Mr. Hirofumi Iwakura, suited in an ice hockey gear.

I touched down in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport on 31 July. However, preparations for this day started two months before departure. From visiting Japanese schools in Singapore for lesson observations (to get an idea of how English lessons are taught in a Japanese school), deciding what to pack to scouring Chinatown, Little India, local markets, and department stores for the most quintessential Singaporean omiyage and then re-packing what I have packed, I found myself unwittingly caught in a roller-coaster ride of emotions as I attempt to repack my life in a suitcase.IMG_20160809_074248_HDR

IMG_20160803_172809_HDRIt’s my first time living abroad alone, far away from family and friends. It’s also the first time I am well out of my comfort zone, in a place where English is hardly spoken, and a country whose culture and lifestyle cannot be any more different from mine. I find myself struggling with my rudimentary Japanese, though I could get by with asking for directions and shopping for groceries and buying the train tickets. Anything more is a tough ask. This, I hope, will slowly improve as I immerse myself in Tomakomai, and Hokkaido.

IMG_20160802_191715_HDRThere were also other firsts, for example, visiting the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo in Roppongi, and the feeling of being treated like a pseudo-diplomat. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was part of something so much bigger than myself. The JET programme celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and coincidentally Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Japan. I’m excited to be part of this, but at the same time, slightly overwhelmed by my new environment.

I constantly remind myself that everything is going to be alright. 大丈夫 (daijoubu, the Japanese say).

I can do this! 大丈夫.   LS 

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Wien is the Life?

Sometimes you’ve got to call a spade a spade. Cast aside all the superlatives dangled in Lonely Planet, ditch the romanticism that hangs like a spectre over this once charming city. Yes, I said “once”. Because Vienna (or “Wien” in German) has, sadly, become as uninspiring as the dry and crummy sachertorte on my plate. Did I mention that I’m trying to chomp down this brick of a cake in the opulence of the Hotel Sacher? The home of THE creator of the original sachertorte. I ditched my original plan to lug three kilos of these chocolate monsters back home as mementoes.

DSC02705DSC02711At the same time, I’m suffering from “church fatigue”. At first, you just snapped at every single one you see. You admired the ornate interiors, the intricate carvings, the awe-inspiring sculptures of Jesus and his disciples. By this time, however, even the majesty of St Stephen’s Cathedral has lost its draw on me. I just stood in front of the cathedral, wilting in the Viennese summer heat. I decided I needed another round of iced coffee.

Part of me blamed Budapest – because it’s difficult not to draw comparisons. Part of me blamed the Austrian national football team. Had they been a bit more adventurous, the streets of Vienna would have been enraptured in football fever. Instead, while the rest of Europe were chugging beer hops and partying to the wee hours, it was business as usual here.

Boring.

So I did something very Austrian. I plonked myself on the grass in Stadtpark – Vienna’s first public park constructed in 1862 – and took snaps of other locals frolicking / making out / reading / chatting on the greens. Then I swear I dozed off for five seconds.

*Yawns*

Fortunately I found Naschmarkt, a place that reminds me of the good old “Newton hawker centre” in Singapore. More than 120 restaurants and market stalls squeezed into an area the size of a football field, offering cuisines from authentic Viennese to traditional Vietnamese. In other words, paradise!  LS

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Hungry For More

No other city on this trip filled me with more regrets than Budapest. Regrets of the positive kind, that is. Because there were so many sights to see, so many dishes to savour, and so many pubs to bar-hop that I almost fell into a near depressive state while packing my bags on the first (and my last) night in this beautiful city.

Did I say “beautiful”? That was an understatement!

Budapest is probably one of the most magnificent but understated (and under-rated) cities in Europe. Relatively a newbie compared to its ex-communist brethren (Poland and Czech Republic), Budapest has grown exponentially in the last decade. In the streets, Michelin-starred restaurants, local artisan stores and luxury hotel chains and designer ateliers are sprouting like moss after a springtime rain. Fortunately, a relatively depressed forint means that you get more bang for your buck.

There’s one thing that the Hungarians and Japanese share in common – their love for baths. Although the number of baths here pale in comparison to its Japanese counterparts, the tradition dates back to the Romans and there’s nothing more “local” than to spend a day at one of the dozen public baths that dot the city. Of course, as you may have guessed, this tradition is more like a graying pastime in modern Budapest. If you ask me, picking up some words of wisdom or being regaled by tales from Hungary’s Iron Curtain past from some septuagenarians doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.   LS

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Where Doing Nothing Is Everything

There are many things you can do in Prague. But then again, you can also do nothing. Because wandering the cobbled streets of the Staré Město (or Old Town), sipping locally brewed Czech lager (and I’m not referring to Pilsner) at Holešovice or just sitting along the banks of the Vltava at sunset are some of the most effortless (yet ‘productive’) ways to appreciate this charming city.

DSC00558Prague may have lived past its post-Velvet Revolution tag of the “Paris of the East”. Tourist arrivals since the turn of the century have driven up living standards and costs, and made this once affordable city on par with its more illustrious West European neighbours. However, these have done little to diminish the city’s allure. Even on a weekday, Prague Castle and Charles Bridge are swarmed with visitors from an international potpourri.

DSC00898Thankfully, there are pockets of Prague to call your own. And you can find them in the less crowded neighbourhoods of Vinohrady and Vršovice, or the rustic back alleys of Provaznická and Karlin. But if you desire to do nothing, just pick a good spot in one of the many alfresco restaurants at Malá Strana (or the ‘Little Quarter’) and watch the world go by, with a Pilsner.  LS

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Jewel on the Elbe

DSC00354Almost entirely flattened by the Allied bombing raids in 1945, this Baroque jewel along the banks of the Elbe has risen from the ashes to become one of Europe’s most charming cities. Compact enough to explore on foot, Dresden makes for an easy day trip out of Berlin, or a quick stopover en route to Prague.

Do not expect a lot of fanfare or a vibrant nightlife though. The best way to appreciate Dresden is take it slow and let yourself be immersed in the arts, music and architecture – whether in the Zwinger Palace, the Frauenkirche and the Semperoper. Here, you can find works by Raphael, Titian, Botticelli, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Giorgione, Vermeer, van Eyck, Veronese… In other words, Dresden is an art fanatic’s debauchery tea party!

Spend an afternoon with a book and coffee (or just people-watch) on the Brühlsche Terrasse. It’s easy to appreciate why this city bags the moniker of “Florence of the North”. Dresden is a feast for the eyes and soul. And after you’ve had your fill of the cultural spirit, it’s time to head to Altmarkt (Old Market) to satiate more earthly pleasures – and I mean, your stomach.  LS

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