Saturday, 11 March 2017

Prague: Post-thesis relaxy time

To celebrate the completion of my thesis, we went for an awesome 5D/4N stay in the beautiful city of Prague!

Prices, prices, prices.

We booked our flights and hotels via which was €170 in total per person. We flew with Aer Lingus and stayed at the Galileo 4* Hotel which included a great  breakfast buffet every morning along with a humongous warm room. As a treat, we ate out for every single meal for our holiday. Bear in mind that we looked for good tasty food at good value. Each meal never exceeded €10 per person. Also, we got student entry prices for most of the activities which cut our admissions in half!

This included:

Flights and accommodation: €170
Food and drink: €100
Activities: €45

The activities included:-
72 hours public transport ticket: 310CZK
Prague Castle circuit A ticket: 175CZK
Prague Zoo admission: 50CZK
Sandman walking tour: free
Gun shooting range: 605CZK
DOX contemporary art centre: 90CZK

Total:  €315 per person for a pretty indulgent, jam-packed, 5D/4N holiday.

What did we eat/drink?

First stop after checking in was the La Boheme Cafe!
It was near to our hotel so we just walked around the corner and found this cute little place.

Got us some flat whites and chocolate raspberry cheesecake!
We also stopped by Tricafe for another coffee fix later during the trip.

One of our favourite stops was Nase Maso, a little butcher shop which cooks the meat there fresh for you.

We got the dry-aged beef burger with cheese with a cup of beer (yes paper cup - then you pour it yourself) and it was delish

It's super juicy, it's worth the wait, try to go during off peak hours.

One of our night chat stops was Las Adelitas which does very decent Mexican food for a good price. We got us some minty margaritas with a bowl of cheesy nachos and guacamole (they have drink deals and lunch specials!)

Just before leaving Prague we visited the Jirak Farmer's Market and got some delicious flat whites and raspberry cheesecake covered in cocoa coconut crumbs (open on Wednesdays and Thursday)

To make sure we didn't leave without tasting some Czech cuisine, we also had a meal at Lokal Dlouhaaa (decent prices and freshly cooked tasty food)
He got the pork with potato dumplings and cabbage (left)
I got the roast chicken with beetroot and spinach. 

We also ate at three other Asian restaurants but we were so hungry we forgot to take photographs before eating them all so here are their names. Both the second and third restaurants were really reasonable and tasty too!

1. NEB.O
2. Pho Vietnam
3. Pho Vietnam Tuan and Lan

What did we see?

The Narodni Museum (National Museum)

Franz Kafka's turning metallic head.

The love for Vaclav Havel (last president of Czechoslovakia)

The town square

Where there were street performers or bubble blowers.

What did we do?

1. We wandered around Prague to explore and just get a feel for the city since both of us had never been.

2. We went with the free Sandemans walking tour around Prague city centre to hear about its history and culture.

Such as the explanation of how the astronomical clock is able to tell time in four different manners and 'comes alive' every hour which isn't really an hour. 

3. We feasted our eyes on the Prague Castle at night.

And headed to explore it by day.

The grounds itself is free to enter but the several buildings within it needed individual tickets or a package ticket.

Since we wanted to make it worth our while, we got the Circuit A ticket which ended up at 175CZK per person as we were students. This got us into about six or seven different buildings within the compound which was more than enough.

Visiting the castle was actually a good idea as the weather wasn't great and it was raining on that specific day. So it helped that we were able to run in between buildings for shelter.

So we didn't actually waste any of our holiday time cos of the rain!

4. On the Monday we headed to the Prague Zoo which was a lovely lovely experience.
We specifically chose the Monday as they had 'Happy Monday' prices which only cost 50CZK (€2) for a student! I absolutely love zoos so this was really a fun adventure.

This bird had attitude.

These birds were eyeing us up thinking we were possibly threats (you're allowed to go into the bird area). Because several moments later, a whole fleet of birds charged at us from the other side and surrounded us. It was pretty amusing. We got out though.

This little baby hippo was sleeping underneath his parents and we had no idea till the parents woke up and a little one stumbled upon the room. They then proceeded to play catch in slow motion under the water. Was great.

Probably the most adorable part of the zoo was seeing this spider monkey caring for its young. 

5. As a totally different activity, we both tried our hand at shooting at the Avim Praha shooting range.
We both got our hands on fifty 9mm bullets and a CZ75 and had a personal instructor with us. The total experience ended up being  €25 per person which included the protective gear and targets. 

Lorcan went ahead first since he had some experience with other guns.

Then I followed suit!

It was a really fun experience. Quite the adrenaline rush I must say. It required so much concentration, I don't know how people do it within an uncontrolled setting.

6. We paid a visit to the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art
Admission for students were 90CZK and is even cheaper if you're an Art student.

The exhibitions within the centre rotates every so often so it is a really dynamic and everchanging place. We got to see the Gulliver Airship, Havel and Material 307 exhibitions. Best part was we got to explore the inside of the Gulliver Airship by ourselves!

One more country down, many more to go.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Final Semester.

Attending university seems to be the life goal that many of us have been fed by society from the moment we were young. Ever since I was four I have been in education. That's 19 years. Nineteen straight years whereby my life was primarily organised around the academic calendar of kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, and now university.

Strangely enough, this will come to an end in a mere four months. That's scary.
In four months, the majority of how I've spent my entire life would change.
My life will no longer be dictated by an academic year but by a work schedule that may or may not be kind.

Not to forget, this will be my last 'summer holiday' (if I manage to get hired for a job for September that is).

That takes us to another wonderful stress factor.
In the next four weeks I have to both finish my thesis and attend assessments by companies that I've applied for. That's a lot to prepare. The thesis counts for a third of my final grade while these job applications determine my future.

Thesis writing is no fun game. Thankfully, I really do love the topic I've chosen and I can't wait to see the finished product, but getting there is extremely difficult and stressful. Despite the fact that I have three scheduled hours of class per week (I know that sounds like heaven, I do agree). But I really am pretty much spending my time in front of my laptop from morning to night trying to complete my project bit by bit.

The assessment days have been very challenging to be honest. Personally it's a strange situation where my own internal feelings conflict. You want to be the best and show the company that you're the candidate they're looking for. Simultaneously, you're put into groups, you make friends, and you also want them to succeed. You hear about their stories and how hard they worked to get there as well. Then, you also pick out the people in the group who act friendly but those feelings aren't sincere. At the end of the day, it really challenges you mentally. Of course I've only attended two so far, but I definitely needed to take a break after the whole day just to rest my brain.

Taking a day out to be with any loved ones can sometimes feel like a guilty pleasure - as if to say, I shouldn't be socialising, but be looking up more research. Not to forget, exams are in May but of course, there's no time to think about them at this moment. Other things bear more priority.

It's tough.
I'm just thinking out loud.
I know it'll get better.

I know it's all worth it.
Just need to keep reminding myself that.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Iceland: Golden Circle & Reykjavik City

This year, we decided to really begin 2017 with a bang and went for a family trip to Reykjavik!
Sam had flown over from Malaysia as well so the three siblings were together once more.

So since it was Sonya's treat for us, I took on the role of being the trip's planner! I booked us a deluxe two-bedroom apartment with Reykjavik4u which was smack in the middle of town (Laugavegur 85) and a tour package deal with Iceland Travel (5 for 4: Winterland Wonderland Day Tour Package).

The apartment was excellent. Would absolutely recommend it. It was a very modern and high-quality apartment which had two bedrooms (double bed; double bed & single bed), one bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen (with dishwasher and coffee machine + coffee!), a living room (2 sofa beds). There was even a pre-loaded basic mobile phone which we could use for no extra charge. 

The tour package included:-
  1. Return airport pick up and drop off
  2. Golden Circle Classic Tour
  3. Northern Lights Mystery Tour
  4. Return transfer to the Blue Lagoon
For each of the above, the company picked and dropped us directly at our accommodation. 

For those who may be interested in travelling to Iceland, here's a breakdown of how much it cost!

Return flights Dublin-Reykjavik with WowAir - €262.43
Return carry-on luggage upgrade (12kg) - €34.00 
5D/4N apartment stay - €1156 total; €192 per person; €48 per person per night
Iceland Travel package - €172.00
Food - roughly €100.00 per person (we mainly cooked our own meals buying groceries from Bonus, the cheapest grocery store)

Total per person - €760.43

So unfortunately due to a miscommunication, I didn't realise we had to pre-book tickets to the Blue Lagoon so by the time I did, they were sold out, so we cancelled that part of our trip. But if you wanted to add that to your trip, it would be an additional €40 per person.

First stop on the Golden Circle Tour - Gullfoss Waterfall.

It was super cold and wet but the views were spectacular.


Next up was the Geysir geothermal area

Where we excitedly anticipated the geysirs to erupt.

And the final stop on the Golden Circle tour was the Thingvellir National Park.

On the 3rd of January the weather really cleared and the youngins (minus the parents) headed out for the free walking tour which meets in the centre of town held by City Walk.

City Walk organises three tours everyday at 10:30AM, 12PM or 2PM. 
The meeting point is at Austurvöllur in front of the House of Parliament (Alþingi) which is very easy to get to as well. They run fully on a tipping basis. So after the tour, it's up to each person to give how much they would like to.

Meet our tour guide, Jóhannes, who brought us on a 2 hour tour around Reykjavik city.

One of my favourite spots, featured this large rock. The rumour is, elves live in that rock and anybody who would touch it would be cursed. As elves move house every 6th of January, these elves demanded for this rock to be placed in the very middle of downtown Reykjavik. Ever since their demand has been met, no havoc has been caused.

As trees are pretty sparse in Reykjavik, there is the "Best Tree" competition each year and this is supposedly the winner of 2016 who quote unquote, won it due to its "charisma and good looks".

As food is pretty pricey in Reykjavik, we ate out about thrice in total. This was probably the most expensive meal we had there. Sonya treated us to a meal at Sægreifinn. It was a seafood restaurant where you could choose the number of readily-prepared raw skewers of seafood for the chefs to grill. There was also some lobster soup that day.

We got some grilled salmon up there.

And some yummy shrimp as well. Each skewer cost around 1500kr which is about €13 so we obviously didn't fill our stomachs with them, it was just more to have a taste.

The restaurant is located just near the docklands which have some pretty beautiful views of the nearby mountains.

Since our tummies weren't exactly full, we headed to the famous hotdog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (BBP), which sold hotdogs for only 480kr each which is about €4. It's probably the cheapest food you're able to find in Reykjavik but it's also pretty well-known due to several famous people who've popularised it.

One of which was Bill Clinton who supposedly said it was the best hot dog he ever had.

It had different sauces to it rather than just the typical ketchup and mustard. There were also crunchy onion bits below each sausage. Fun fact, the sausages there are supposedly 70% lamb meat in comparison to beef or pork which is the norm.

We of course stopped by the iconic church in the middle of the city, Hallgrímskirkja
It's the biggest church in Iceland and is open for visitors for free from 9-5 every day.
You're able to go to the top tower for a bird's eye view of the city but you'll need to pay a fee of 900kr which is about €7.50 

We did try to find the Northern Lights but unfortunately despite the supposed good weather conditions for that day, it was a failure of a search expedition. Instead we did get several hours of Icelandic saga tales on the bus by a very humorous and sarcastic tour guide, 30 minutes of waiting in the shivering cold, entertainment by a random man who played the trumpet and a collective sing-along by by all the bus drivers (about ten of them).

Other activities which lacked photographs due to privacy and fear of camera breakage that we did were ice skating and local swimming pool relaxing, 

Firstly, Lorcan and I went ice skating at the Laugardalur Ice Rink (Skautahöllin í Laugardal) which cost 1500kr (€12.50) for skate rental and unlimited skating time. The ice was nice and smooth and there were only about seven of us on the ice.
For those who'd enjoy some skating I'd really recommend it.

Then ten minutes walk away is the local swimming pool, Laugardalslaug, which features heated outdoor and indoor pools both for swimming and soaking. Entry cost 950kr (€8) per person. Don't forget to bring your own towel or else you'd have to pay a lot to rent one! 

Interesting part was that, everyone had to take a fully naked shower prior to entry of the pool. Genders were separated of course, but you'd have to communally shower with other people of your own gender. 

Steps to going to a local swimming pool in Iceland.
1. Pay rental fee and receive rubber bracelet which allows you to use a locker.
2. Put stuff in your locker, bring your towel to the shower area and wash yourself thoroughly as there is a person who may call you out for not washing certain areas (very embarrassing if so). Soap is provided!
3. Put on your swimgear and head to the pools.
4. When you're done, shower once more and dry yourself off before returning to the locker area as they're very strict on keeping the place dry. 

The place is mostly filled with locals and hardly any tourists so if you're looking for a non-touristy option of the Blue Lagoon, it's probably better.

Iceland was absolutely beautiful and would definitely recommend it as a holiday destination. Yes it is a pricey place to visit. So, apartments, airbnbs and self-catering there would definitely help to bring the price down for you! 

Thank you again to Sonya for sponsoring the trip.
It was a once in a lifetime experience.