Sunday, June 5, 2011

Europe 2011

" When in doubt, just take the next small step "

" The most important human right is the right to dream " 

" Don't live in the Past. Don't dream of the Future. But concentrate on the Present " 

" My 36 days solo visit to Europe (Warsaw, Tallinn, Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, Turku, Paris, Barcelona, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Ljubljana & Zagreb, Sarajevo, Vienna & London) - My 3rd visit to major cities in Europe (27/4- 1/6/2011); focusing mainly on Scandinavian countries, Italy & Eastern Europe; my dreams of seeing Norwegian fjords, Bergen, La Sagrada Familia, The Leaning Tower of Pisa & Venice have been fulfilled "

Another year ! 2011 is another discover the Europe year for me to pursue my dream of seeing more wonderful places in earthThe harsh winter is gone and spring is around the corner in Europe (April/May) but the weather in my home country, Malaysia is forever summer ! What a wonderful time to travel in Europe !!! Flowers in gardens have fully blossomed and beautiful to look at - cheerful, bright, colorful and brilliant ! Since my last two visits to Europe in 2009 & 2010, there are a few more wonderful places I yearn to see which keep lingering in my mind...... Venice, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Barcelona, Norwegian fjords etc. This has led to my motivation shifting into high gears .....

After purchasing a return Air Asia promo ticket (Rm1,698=E$386) in August 2010, I started my planning and eagerly looking forward to this trip .....

Travel itinerary:

Kuala Lumpur > London > Warsaw > Vilnius > Helsinki > Turku > Stockholm > Oslo > Bergen > Oslo
Oslo > Paris > Barcelona > Florence > Pisa > Florence > Venice
Venice > Trieste > Ljubljana > Zagreb > Sarajevo > Vienna > London > Kuala Lumpur

I visited a total of 17 cities in 13 countries. I used a one month Eurolines bus pass (299 pounds=E$330) to travel to major cities in Europe ie London> Warsaw (single ticket 75 pounds), Oslo> Paris (E$160), Paris> Barcelona (E$E$81), Barcelona>Milan (E$91) & Vienna> London (E$79). So it was more economical to buy the Eurolines pass as I made a saving of E$160 compared with buying the bus tickets individually. In between the journeys, I spent an addition of E$330 on ferry, train & bus fares as travelling to certain countries eg Slovenia, Croatia & Bosnia were not covered by the Eurolines pass.

A few adverse events happened during the trip ie volcanic ash eruptions in Iceland, an earthquake in Southern Spain & ecoli outbreak on vegetables in Europe but fortunately these incidents did not affect my travel - all went according to schedule ! Lucky me !!

Some interesting pictures were taken during my 3rd visit to Europe, leaving behind a story to share & tell .....

Total expenses incurred in Europe (36 days) : RM8,900 (Euro$2,020)

Cost breakdowns:
Air Asia ticket (KL-London return,promo)-Rm1,698
Travel insurance- Rm150
Hostels (29 nights)- Euro$442 +56 pounds (Rm2,248)
Eurolines bus (1-month Pass vadid from 29/4-29/5)-299 pounds (Rm1,500)
Regional trains, buses & Metro- Euro$406 + 19 pounds (Rm1,880)
Food & groceries-Euro$230 + 38 pound (Rm1,200)
Miscellaneous, entrance fees- Euro$52 (Rm230)
Exchange rates: Euro$1=Rm4.40; 1 Pound=Rm4.97; E$1=Nkr7.46; E$1=Skr7.92; E$1=Pln3.6; E$1=Ltl36.3
Regional Bus tickets:
Warsaw>Vilnius - 50Pln (E$14)
Vilnius>Riga>Talinn - 80Ltl (E$23)
Helsinki>Turku - E$20.70
Ljubliana>Zagred - E$13.40
Zagreb>Sarajevo - E$25
Sarajevo>Vienna - 198 Luna (E$27)

Airport shuttle bus London return - 8.50 Pound
Metro (Oyster card) - 10.00 Pound
Trams, trolley bus - E$30
Train tickets:
Stockholm>Oslo - Skr250 (E$30)
Oslo>Myrdal - Nkr399 (E$52)
Myrdal>Flam - Nkr250 (E$33)
Bergen>Oslo - Nkr399 (E52)
Milan>Florence - E$29.50
Florence>Pisa>Florence - E$5.80 x 2=E$11.60
Florence>Venice - E$15.10
Venice>Trieste - E$10.05
Trieste>Ljubliana - E$17.75
Ferries & cruise:
Talinn>Helsinki - E$18.20
Turku>Stockholm - E$15.00
Flam>Bergen - Nkr342 (E$45)

Entrance fee:
La Sagrada Familia - E$12.50
Casa Mila - E$14.90
Casa Baitlo - E$14.00
Luggage storage - 2 Pound

Travel Highlights:

Warsaw, Poland

Vilnius, Lithuania

Helsinki & Turku, Finland

Stockholm, Sweden

Oslo, Myrdal, Flam & Bergen, Norway

Barcelona, Spain

Florence, Pisa & Venice. Italy

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Zagreb, Croatia

Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Secrets of life: Good health is a blessing. Qigong + Travelling > Fond Memory "

Warsaw, Poland (2011)

Date: 29-30/4/2011
Eurolines Bus Pass: London - Warsaw
(13.00 - 16.45 + 1 day = 17 hrs);
Hostel: Hostel Tamka - PLN32 (Euro$8.40 dorm)
Food: own prepared meals
Trams: E$3.70
Total expenses incurred in Poland: E$28.55

I had visited Krakow, Poland twice but not Warsaw. For this trip, I made a point to visit Warsaw, Vilnius of Lithuania & Tallinn of Estonia. From Tallinn, I could then take a ferry to Helsinki, Finland to begin my visit to Scandinavian countries.

After a 17 hr bus trip from London, I arrived in Warsaw central bus terminal in the late afternoon. I had to take two tram lines to check into my hostel. In the evening, I took a stroll to the Victory Square, about 40 mins walk from the hostel.

I spent the next day visiting the city center, the Palace of the Culture & Science and surrounding places. Due to time constraints, I was not able to visit the Old Town, Royal Castle Square & Barbican Gate etc.

80% of Warsaw's buildings were destroyed during the World War Two and most of the present buildings (including the Old Town, a UNESCO site) were re-constructed after the war.

Warsaw, Poland

" A sad story for Warsaw during the WWII (1940's); Nazi Germany & Soviet Union invasion; Polish uprising; 987 historical important buildings (85%) destroyed and only 64 left untouched; the rebuilt of historical Old Town after the war; fall of communism in 1989 and a new economic boom for Warsaw ! Not to miss visiting the Auschwiz Concentration camp in Krakow, a world Heritage site in Poland

The Secrets of life: Change what you can and accept what you can't "

Vilnius, Lithuania (2011)

Date: 1-2/5/2011
Regional bus: Warsaw - Vilnius (19.30 -06.20); single ticket E$50PLN (E$14)
Hostel: Vilnius Old Town Hostel (33Ltl=E$10 dorm)
Food & groceries: E$2.50
Total expenses incurred in Lithuania: E$26.50

After Warsaw, I took a bus to Vilinius, Lithuania - a 11 hr bus journey ! The hostel I stayed in Vilnius is within walking distance from the OLd Town. As I had a full day in Vilnius so this gave me ample time to explore on this Baltic city in northern Europe. I learned that after the WWII, most of the Polish populace who settled in Lithuania prior to the war had moved back to Poland and replaced by new migrants from Belarus, Russia & Ukraine

I had visited Riga (Latvia) & Tallinn (Estonia) in 2009 and realized that Vilnius is a much larger city and more spread out than Riga & Tallinn so walking around the city was quite a challenge !

Some places of interest I visited: the Old Town, Tower & Cathedral Square, Gediminas Castle, National Museum, Palace etc

1) Vilnius, Lithuania

" Lithuania, a Baltic state in northern Europe (the others are Latvia & Estonia); Soviet & Nazi German control during the last two world wars; Baltic states uprising; Singing Revolution in 1980; Baltic Way revolution - a 2 million human chain strectching for 600km from Talinn to Vilnius; what an extra ordinary way of fighting for independence from Soviet; a new nation was borned in 1989 !

The Secrets of life: One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young "

Helsinki & Turku, Finland (2011)

Date: 4/5/2011
Ferry (Linda Line) : Talinn-Helsinki (08.00-09.30) - E$18.20
Hostel: Hostel Stadion - E$20 dorm
Food & groceries: E$9.50
Total expenses incurred in Helsinki: E$47.70

1) Ferry crossing from Talinn to Helsinki - Crossing the Baltic Sea

To visit the Nordic / Scandinavian countries, I had chosen to travel by bus from London to Poland & the 3 Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia). Eurolines also provide bus services from London to northern Europe eg Amsterdam (Netherland), Copenhagen(Denmark), Gothenburg (Sweden) & Oslo (Norway).

After visiting Warsaw & Vilnius, I took a bus (80Ltl=E$23) from Vilnius to Talinn. In Talinn, I stayed for a night in Hostel Vana Tom (E$7.50 dorm). As I had visited Talinn in 2009 on my way to St Petersburg, Russia, I took the opportunity to re-visit the Old Town of Talinn.

Fron Talinn, I took a morning ferry, Linda Line (E$18.20 for seniors) and crossed the Baltic Sea to Helsinki (1.5 hr).

2) Helsinki, Finland

In Helsinki, I stayed in Hostel Stadion (E$20 dorm), formerly the venue of the Olympic Stadium. The city is not big so it was quite easy for me to explore the various places of interest by foot ie Alexander II & The Lutheran Cathedral, Senate Square, Temppeliakio Church, The Church in the Rock (under renovation), The Sibelius Monument, Parliamnet Building & The Olympic Stadium etc

Some interesting observations in Helsinki : user friendly pedestrian & bicycle paths; vehicle head-lights switched on during the daytime, drinkable tap water, English widely spoken, limited choice of hostels, most travellers ended up staying in Hostel Stadion (pre-booking required) - so take it easy and relax when in Helsinki !

For those who enjoy the cold winter months in Finland (-20c), you could experience the polar night - an unusual experience especially for tourists coming from the tropics.

3) Turku, Finland

Date: 5/5/2011
Bus: Helsinki > Turku (E$20.70)
Hostel: Hostel Turku (E$18 dorm)
Food: E$9
Total expenses incurred in Turku: E$47.70

After a night stay in Helsinki , I took a bus to Turku (E$20.70- 2.5hr) on the following morning. Turku is a seaport located on the south west coast of Finland. There are regular daily ferry services from Turku to Stockholm (foot passenger E$15). The journey took around 10 hrs (08.45>18.55). It was reported that around 3 million passengers travelled by ferries from Turku to Stockholm each year !

I had a pleasant stay in Turku and visited the Turku castle, the market square, Michael's church, Orthodox church etc The weather was superb in May - around 6-15c. 

" Finland, a Nordic country; independent since 1917; Swedish & Russian era; World War II & Cold War, the Baltic sea, the Gulf of Finland, the Gulf of Bothnia; World famous runner Paavo Nurmi, 1952 Summer Olympic in Helsinki; Lapland & reindeers; polar night in winter & midnight sun in summer - an exciting & mysterious country ! My first visit to a Nordic country !

The secrets of life:
Without inspiration & creativity, innovation is as good as dead "