Half-Day Trip to Loch Lomond

Greetings lovely readers! Spring has come to Scotland! Yes, finally I can see the real beauty of Glasgow under the constant sun that we’re having more regularly now! This time I’m going to take you to one of the must-visit-places if you happen to visit Scotland or Glasgow in particular, the Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond or Lake Lomond is a huge lake/national parks (Trossachs) located a little bit to the north of Glasgow. As I did my research before going to Loch Lomond, I realize that there are so many spots of interest to choose from and so many activities to do at the lake. Since it was my first time to Loch Lomond, I decided on a half-day trip to the closest point from Glasgow, the Balloch Village. This time I’m accompanied by my friend, Savannah.

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Balloch Station – Alight here for Loch Lomond

To go to Balloch Village from Glasgow, we took a train from Partick train station (5.50 pound for round trip) and arrived 40 minutes later in Balloch. The Balloch train station is located so close to the lake. Right across the street is the Tourist information centre, so we paid a visit to grab a map of the surrounding area. First, we decided to walk towards Balloch Castle located in Balloch Castle Country Park. As we walk towards the castle, we were greeted by many Scottish people who were just walking with their dogs enjoying the day by the lake. The scenery along the way was incredible. It was sunny the whole time we were there, so we enjoyed the walk very much. Unfortunately, the castle was closed to visitors so we can only enjoy it from the outside. But we didn’t mind as the view just behind the castle was spectacular. Honestly, nothing can ruin your mood in such a sunny and beautiful day.

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Balloch Castle

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Cheers from Loch Lomond!

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It took about one and half hour to walk around the park. I thought of having lunch at some restaurant inside the park but there was no restaurant in the park so we found our way back to the village and had lunch at a local pub (Savannah had lunch, I only had beer). The pub is dog friendly, there was a dog sitting next to our table while we were having lunch. The local people were watching a football match through the pub’s television and the shout occasionally whenever the team player made a goal.

After lunch, we decided to explore the other side of the lake. We walked toward the Sea Life Centre which is not so far from the Tourist Information Centre. (Unfortunately, at this point my cellophone battery is finished, so I couldn’t take any more picture). There is also a shopping mall near the Sea Life Centre and Loch Lomond Shore where you can get a very nice view of Ben Lomond. I did some shopping as usual, postcards and fridge magnet (as I collect them) and enjoy some more of the beautiful scenery of Loch Lomond Shore. We start walking back to the village soon after and concluded the trip before the sun set. To some up, we spent a nice day by leisurely walking around Loch Lomond, meeting some Scottish people and their dogs, and taking pictures.

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Cheers!

(npa).

Watch Out!

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Image is taken from here

Safety should always come first when it comes to travelling. In this case, I mean safety from being scammed or pick-pocketed or tricked, etc. Careless tourists can be an easy target. Europe is known as one of the most civilized region on earth. However, it does not mean that it is 100% safe! In major big cities, scams and pick-pockets are all over the place. I did not believe it until I learned it the hard way. When travelling, especially in a group, I have to admit that sometimes I become a bit careless. I used to think that Jakarta was the winner when it comes to petty crimes, but apparently I was not entirely correct! Here goes my list of unfortunate events during my trips over Europe.

 

Paris

#1 Petition Scam

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Sign the petition NOT! — Image is taken from here

 

“How do you react when a little girl approach you and give you a paper when you have just finished climbing the stairs in one of Paris Metro station?”

If I may suggest you before you even think to answer my question: do not take the paper! Do not even bother! It was one of the infamous scams that have been lingering around Paris. I was not aware that this scam existed until I experienced it. I was walking with Maya to go to the Notre Dame. Suddenly, a six/seven-year-old girl approached me and put a pen on my hand to sign a petition. It read “petition for deaf people”. It could also read something else, depending on how creative the scammers are.

Without thinking, I signed the petition and tried to walk away. Acting as if she were deaf, the little girl asked me to give her some money. “Give me five euros!” she said using body language. At the beginning, I said no but at the end I gave her two euros as she was really persistence! Meanwhile, Maya successfully walked away when she knew that the girl was asking for money! Smart move, May! But next time, please

grab me with you! ^^

Total loss:

EUR 2 and a life-time embarrassment for being fooled by a little girl!

 

#2 Pick-Pocket

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Attention! Image taken from here

The second time was even worse. I got pick-pocketed on my first day, just few minutes after I arrived from the Airport. It was actually the first time in my life when someone stole my wallet including all of my money, cards and passport!

It happened when I was walking down the stairs in Gare du North to reach my hostel. I already felt something was wrong when I took few steps down. I used a backpack with a clip-on pocket which can be opened very easily. Stupidly, I put my wallet exactly there – as though I was not aware it was the city of pick-pockets.

I heard a sound of clapping clip of my bag – meaning that the pocket was opened. I looked back, nothing was suspicious. There was only a blond-woman behind me – who could be the person behind the scene! I continued to walk without checking my bag.

When I arrived at the platform, I checked my bag.  To my horror, it was opened! My wallet was not there. I rushed back to the path that I took. I saw a yellow wallet lying on the stair case. It was mine. It was tightly closed. Probably I sounded naïve, but I thought that I just accidentally fell down.  I continued my trip to the hostel without being suspicious at all……until I wanted to buy lunch.

Again, to my horror, I found my wallet was without any cash. I looked for it again and again. It was everything but cash. A sudden realization that I had just been pick-pocketed finally came. Luckily, I had pants pocket full of coins. I dug it and paid my lunch.

As an Indonesian, of course* I would still consider myself lucky, though. As the pick-pocket only took the money, I got the rest of my stuffs back. I could still use my atm card to withdraw some money – preventing me to rely on someone else’s money. I still got my passport back, meaning I could save some cost of getting a new passport from Indonesian embassy, etc. On the other hand, it was really a hard way to realize that being alert is very important. I took safety for granted for a really long time until it happened!

Total loss:

EUR 88, CHF 20, GBP 50 and USD 100

Oh well! Let what happened be a lesson to learn! I always leave my passport and some of my money in the safe at the hostel ever since. If I ever come back to this city again, I will make sure that I will not be an easy prey anymore!

 

Vienna

This city has always been my favorite. It is indeed one of the most magical cities I have ever been to! However, it does not make it immune from pick-pockets! I survived my first trip there without any hassle though I took public transportation a lot. So, I thought that the city was safe enough. Obviously, it was safer than Paris, but still uncomfortable experience occurred.

When I was there with Grumpy Girls, it was during Christmas week. Many shops and restaurants were closed. On the other hands, tourists kept on coming. Public transportations and u-bahn stations were quite crowded. One day, we wanted to go to the zentrum. While we were standing on an escalator, there was a young woman gave me a please-give-me-a-space-to-stand-behind-you look to me. I gave her some space only to find out that the she actually meant ‘please give me a space to stand behind you so I can open your bag and take your money’.

Few seconds after she stood behind me, as if an angel whispered to my ear, I began to feel that someone opened my backpack – it was the same backpack that I used for my second trip to Paris. I automatically grabbed my backpack to the front and found that it was half opened. Apparently, her trick was to cover her hand with her big bag so people do not notice. “Not again!” I screamed silently.

I quickly checked whether I lost anything. I did not. I even had the chance to scream “Don’t steal from people!” to that young woman because I saw her walking with her colleague trying to look innocent.

Total loss:

Nothing but a feeling why I put my backpack at my back again!

 

Budapest

The experience was similar as the one I had in Vienna, but with a little bit more spice. If the potential pick-pockets in Vienna went away when we yell at them, don’t expect that happen in this city!

We went to the infamous Terror Museum in Budapest. The stations were not crowded that day. There were only us and two other men. I walked up the stairs slowly and peacefully, so did the others.

“Eva! Your bag!” Diana suddenly warned me. I took my bag and looked behind. All of the other girls looked at me. One of the men was there right behind me. He then walked angrily towards Diana. He probably said “What did you do that?!” He clearly did not realize that I was not alone but with some friends.

I just stood there, reluctant to continue my step. The man tried to corner Diana, but Diana was so brave! She whispered at us to continue walking. The man finally left us alone.

We resumed our journey with another line. We started to laugh and joke around. The subway was quite crowded this time. I started to put my backpack at the front so I felt less worried. Nonetheless, I felt something was wrong. I looked around and found a middle-aged man was looking at me from my head to toe. I gave him a bitchy look to make him stop looking at me. It did not work. He kept on staring at me as if I were an ET. He got off at the same stop. Even when we walked, his eyes were still after me. Until now, I am still not sure whether he was just curious because of my look or not. To be honest, it was scarier than pick-pockets.

Total loss:

Nothing….but still!

 

Milan

It took me four hard lessons to learn how important safety is! I applied it when I went to Milan with Ranila. I googled the typical scams in Milan. It seems that friendship bracelet scam is the most common one. We had many people throwing friendship bracelets when we were near Piazza Duomo. Some tried to target us, but they did not insist when we did not pick them up.

Though we successfully avoided such scam, we got scammed eventually! This time, by an Italian restaurant – this makes it ambiguous whether it was a scam or really good persuasion!

After walking around Milan, Ranila and I were famished. We looked for a nice restaurant by walking some more. When we were lost in one of Milan’s small alleys, some waiters came to us. They handed us the menu, said that they had wifi and good food. We finally went inside the restaurant. We ordered a pizza and a plate of pasta. The taste was disappointing. Even more disappointing, they were actually overpriced! They also charged us more for something that they called “service”. In short, they were only sweet to us when they persuade us to come in. After that, everything was bitter.

After we paid, Ranila was still angry about that bad experience. She drafted a long bad review of the restaurant on TripAdvisor. She wanted to post it with their wifi yet without any success. The wifi was too slow to send it through.

 

Total loss:

Approximately EUR 40

 

Some advices…

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Image taken from here

In summary, having a lesson learn is nice as long as it is not through being scammed. 😀 The ones that happened to me are just few of tons of scams in Europe!

These days, I prefer using a small sling bag which I can protect from the front, instead of a backpack. I know, it is less efficient compared to backpack. But it is safer. Sometimes, I bring another small backpack just to put some snacks and a bottle of water so I don’t have to carry them with my hand. 😀

Also, travel insurance is important! I did not realize it until I lost my money in Paris. It is cheaper than losing something. You will be grateful when you buy one!

To minimize the risk, I left important documents in a locked safe at the hostel/hotels. Some hostels provide a lock while some others don’t. My suggestion is, have one! It is not expensive and it is very useful.

Finally, don’t let scams discourage you from exploring a new place! Be alert is all you need. 🙂

 

*still (being) lucky is the terms that Indonesians used whenever we experience unfortunate events. For example, when someone get an accident, he/she will still say “I am still lucky that I am still alive”. Or, when someone gets pick-pocketed in the public transportation, he/she will still say “I am still lucky that I only lose some money, I can still look for them.” Indeed, we are such grateful people. 😀

 

Europe on a shoestring: winter wonderland road trip

In September 2014, I was so lucky to get the opportunity to start LL.M program specializing in International Dispute Settlement in Geneva, Switzerland. Now that 2015 almost ends, I would like to count my blessing for what I have had ever since my master program started. 2015 is the break-from-work year; study year; and certainly, traveling year for me! I would say, 2014-2015 are the years where I travel the most in my a-little-bit-over-than-a-quarter-century life. Before I forget everything, I would make a series of European countries that I visited throughout the year. It will be based on the season. At the beginning, I wanted to make this page as a summary of all seasons. However, it would be too long as I *just realized* that I visited so many cities. 😀 Therefore, this page will be the summary of the our winter road trip. Detailed story of each city will be posted separately.

How it started?

It all started with my (un)Romantic Paris with Maya. From there, Maya contacted me and Nadia whether or not we wanted to have a winter road trip to which we replied yes.

Grumpy girls do smile too. But watch out! 😀

Together with Diana and Vini (as the brains of the trip), we name ourselves ‘Grumpy Girls’. The name is not without any reason. It was mostly because we always complained about most of the little things. Nevertheless, everyone was so cool and understanding one to another. So, despite lots of complains, we did not fight at all during the trip. Do you know what the keys were? Cards and movies!

Our precious kiss-and-hug snack
Our precious kiss-and-hug snack

After a tiring walk, we always managed to play card and watch movies together. Maya happily invested in buying Queen Sisi card while we visited Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Together, we started the trip from Diana’s room in Munich. Her cute little room was cramped by four girls. Vini and I occupied the bed, Diana and Nadia laid on a carpet on the floor. Everyone but Vini almost got frozen bite. It was winter and predictably so cold. As the building’s heater did not work, we could only rely on a cute square heater which did not radiate the heat evenly. Maya was lucky enough to come the next morning and skipped the freezing night.

Who drove?

Our cute little car with horse power!
Our cute little car with horse power!

As Diana really really really loves driving, she became the driver all over the trip. I was not an option because I cannot drive. Hence, unless we wanted to go to heaven directly, I could not drive. Nadia and Maya are actually excellent drivers! One thing backed them off – the steering wheel is on the left side of the car; plus it was snowing so heavily most of the time. None but Diana fulfilled the requirement and was brave enough to drive. It was a two-week road trip. Except for Diana, it was our first road trip in Europe. We were so excited! Having a car made us able to bring all our stuffs! We even had a toaster to press food expenses.

Where did we go to?

Vienna's Christmas market
Vienna’s Christmas market

From Munich, off we went to the birth town of Mozart, Salzburg. We wandered around for two days. The trip continued to Vienna where we spent Christmas weekend. We enjoyed walking around the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market). We had Christmas snacks and sweets. The city remained magical despite the fact that it was my second time.

Budapest is just behind the bars.
Budapest is just behind the bars.

The third destination was Budapest, Hungary. It was a city for appetite! The foods were cheap. Public transportation was reliable. View was excellent! After staying in Geneva, Budapest was like heaven to my pocket!

Fresh snow carpet in Bratislava
Fresh snow carpet in Bratislava

Later, we transferred to Bratislava for a rest. It was snowing so heavily when we were there. Everyone started to get exhausted. When girls were exhausted, we became grumpy. When we were grumpy, we complained and got hungry. We spent few hours at Subway to talk and play card. Everything seemed a bit better after that. 😀

Celebrating New Year of 2015 in Prague: the struggle.
Celebrating New Year of 2015 in Prague: the struggle.

After an overnight in Bratislava, we moved on to Prague. The city that we thought would be another magical city. It was so pretty and chaotic at the same time. Probably, it was because we were there for New Year’s Eve. Probably, it was just because too many people were enchanted by its beauty.

Love wins on wall of Berlin.
Love wins on wall of Berlin.

From classic building in Prague, we moved on to Berlin – a city where Vini lives. Unlike other European cities, Berlin is different. It is full of young soul. It is filled with lots of tragedies, too. The clash between the two makes it even more interesting to visit. More, it is heaven for Asian food lovers! Every corner of the street is decorated with Asian restaurants. Berlin was also grumpy girls’ last stop. Diana and Nadia drove back to Munich. Vini stayed as Berlin is where she lives.

Reykjavik: the ultimate wonder land!
Reykjavik: the ultimate wonder land!

Meanwhile, Maya and I had an extended trip to Oslo and Reykjavik. All was planned and done without even thinking too much.

(eff)

Meteor Garden

During my first weeks in Glasgow, I stumbled upon a website run by one of the student body of the University of Glasgow (UoG) telling about the upcoming Draconid meteor showers which can be seen easily here in Scotland. From Glasgow, you don’t have to go very far to find a wide area with as little light as possible. According to the website, you can view the meteor shower best from Milngavie (a small town about 15 minutes by train from Glasgow). So, without further a due, I invited some friends to go meteor viewing with me on the evening of  8 October 2015.

I ended up going with my friend Chitra. There was supposed to be another 2 friends but they’re still in class at the time we plan to leave Glasgow. So they said, they’ll see us in Milngavie afterwards, we just need to share our location. Fair enough, shouldn’t be too hard to find us in a small town like Milngavie. So, Chitra and I went to Milngavie by train from Partic Stations. It was still summer so eventhough we arrived a quarter to 6, the sun was still up. From Milngavie train station we decided to walk towards Mugdock Country Park as suggested by the website to be the best place to view the meteor.

There are a lot of sources on the internet telling us different things on when the meteor shower started. However, all mentioned different times. So just to be safe we try to get to the park before it gets dark. It was a little bit cloudy that evening. We walked from Milngavie train station to Mugdock Country Park using google map to show us direction. According to the app, it’ll take us 45 minutes to walk. But it feels like forever. I think we walked more than one hour through a long, straight and quiet road. In fact, we were the only pedestrian walking on that road that evening. The rest was just cars and sometimes people riding a bike pass through us.

It was still summer time in the UK at that time, so the sun sets almost at 8 PM. Lucky for us because the road has no lighting along the way, so it must be very dark when the sun set. It was dusk and the light was so dim when we FINALLY reach the park. On an intersection between the park and another road towards “Mugdock Valley”, a car that was about to pass us, stopped and asked if we know where we’re going. It was a kind old man who perhaps thought we were lost. Well, it was understandable, 2 girls with backpacks at an intersection far away from civilization, at that time of the day. I mean, who wouldn’t!? He looked like he wanted to offer us a ride back to Milngavie. However, we said we were fine and he left.

At this point, Chitra was starting to get anxious as it gets darker in the park and I start to lose common sense as I have a company with me. Hahaha. Mugdock Country Park turns out as a very large park with a lot of things to see and do. There even a castle in the park. It was dim and quite when we arrived. Two ladies  were seen exiting the park with their dog and we asked them for direction. We told them that we want to see the meteor shower and we need to get to a place where the light is minimum. The friendly ladies suggested to go to the castle inside the park. They show it to us on the map (there’s a park map at the entrance) and tell us where to go from the entrance. According to them it’ll only take us about 10 minutes to get to the castle.

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Mugdock Castle this way

So we walked through the dim and quiet forest. Paying attention the signs we find along the way to go to the castle. We made a few turns, encounter a small loch (lake) with 2 swans and a few birds before we finally see the castle. The castle is a ruin. It’s small and just a few towers and walls that survived. It was half past seven I think when Chitra asked me now what do we do. I said we can wait for the meteor here and perhaps stay here until morning as it will be too dark and too far to go back to Milngavie.

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Loch Mugdock
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Mugdock Castle Ruin

With the look of horror in her eyes I can tell she disagreed. The thing is, my logic kinda turns dull in a (probably) dangerous (?) situation if I have a company around. It was almost autumn and the temperature was pretty chill. Moreover, there’s a change of rain as it was cloudy. Additionally, we didn’t bring any tent (I brought a blanket though) and there was no light there except for maybe the flash light in our cellphone. By the way we also did not have any other source of power to charge our phones in case its battery runs out. So yeah, she refused the idea and said we should leave the place.

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Selfies

I was hesitant at first as we were already at the (I think) perfect place to view the meteor, but finally agree to leave after a few selfies with the castle. As we exiting the park we tried several times to call the park’s visitor center. However, they hang up on us. Most likely due to me who kept saying “hello” or “pardon” as I can’t hear him/her clearly over the phone. Chitra then browse the internet and found a potential accomodation in Mugdock Village in case we need to spend the night somewhere. From the park, off we walk to Mugdock Village.

It was really dim at that time, but Chitra looks calmer as we approaching civilization. We starting to encounter houses as the day turns into night. We made another stop in front of a wide field with fences surrounding it. There were houses behind us but it was nightfall already. I again came up with the idea of spending the night there as we are already in a more civilized area, but tried to call the accomodation Chitra suggested anyway, just in case.

The accomodation is called Strathblane Country House. It supposed to be closer to get there than to walk back all the way to Milngavie. Little did we know that despite the closer route, there was no lighting whatsoever along the way except for the flashlight from Chitra’s cellphone. As I was finally convinced that it was not a good idea to spend the night outdoor with a very high change of rain, we were walking in the dark towards the country house back-to-front (I was walking in the back, navigating through google map; Chitra was walking on the front lighting the road with her cellphone’s flashlight). It was a very long walk through complete darknes. We didn’t dare to look around. All we saw was the road 2 meters in front of us while we avoid the cars passing by, depending on our hearings. We were walking on the road as the was no pedestrian side.

After 40 minutes or so, we were supposed to arrive at the country house but we saw nothing! OMG! What should we do!? It was late at night and we were standing on the side of a bigger road and have no where to go. We tried to call the country house again but it was really hard to explain our position over the phone. Three phone calls later we were desperate finding other way to reach the country house.

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Strathblane Country House

Thankfully, we were not wandering too far from the country house. We checked the website again and this time activate the google map from the website (previously, I typed the country house name directly from google map apps in my phone). Finally we arrived at the country house! There was no one at the receptionist. We rang the bell and someone came. We told them that we called before and wanted to check in for the night. It was Thursday night. The girl at the receptionist told us if we booked more than one night it won’t be possible, as the house has already been booked for a wedding over the weekend.

We paid 95 pounds (cries) for one night. I know it’s expensive but we had no choice. Anyway the country house was so lovely! Our room was so big and pretty! I think it’s worth the money. In the room we found out that people often reserve the place for wedding or honeymoon. After resting for a while we continue hunting for the meteor shower. Outside the country house was quite dark because the surrounding area has little light too. We gazed upon the sky to find our meteor showers. Sometimes the sky is clear, but sometimes its covered with clouds. We get out and get in the house periodically to see if the sky clears up. Unfortunately, until 4 AM I waited (yes, Chitra was sleeping soundly already) it was still cloudy outside. So, I finally decided to go to sleep.

In our adventure, we didn’t get to see the meteor. However we were greeted with the magnificantly beautiful scenery of the surrounding area of our hotel when we woke up! It was so pretty. We were surrounded by mountains and typical country side view. We then had our Scottish Breakfast before we went outside to have some pictures.

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The Country House

After check-out, we decided to walk our way back to Milngavie! Partly because we are short on money, but the other part is because we wanted to enjoy the scenery on our way back and we were not disappointed at all! OMG! It was the best leisure walk I’ve ever been! The air was fresh, the scenery was extraordinary, plus we get to excersise too! We saw horses, country houses, sheeps, mountains, ponds, and we happened to come across the Scottish water dam where they store the drinking water for the (most likely) Glasgow area!

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It was really an unexpected adventure. We only planned to see the meteor shower but we ended up with staying the night at the country side. Mostly due to my spontaneusity and zero sense of common sense. I hope Chitra won’t be discouraged to go on another adventure with me. By the way, Chitra told me that the castle we saw at the park yesterday was haunted and the loch with 2 swans we saw was used to drown people suspected as witches. Geez! I guess it was a good decision we left that place last night!

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Cheers! (npa)

Moving to Glasgow

Greetings lovely readers! Sorry for being on hiatus for more than a month! The fact is I just moved to Glasgow (that’s in Scotland) to pursue masters degree! Yeay! Not that my study is very busy at the moment, but I have been busy with settling in to the new environment and adapting myself to the new student life. So, in this writing let me introduce you to the city where I live at the moment.

I’m studying at the University of Glasgow. It’s one of the oldest universities in Scotland and the fouth oldest university in the UK. Why did I choose this uni was primarily because I fell in love with the campus building.

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Glasgow University

Haha. It’s gorgeous! It looks like Harry Potter castle. However, UofG history and academic achievement are also cool! Adam Smith, pioneer of political economy, was its alumnus!

Our campus is located on Gillmore hill. Yes, It’s practically located on top of a hill. It’s not that high though but I always lose my breath whenever I climbed the stairs on the side of the hill on my way to class. It’s also huge that I kept getting lost during my first weeks at the uni.

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The view from the back of the Uni

Due to its historical value, UofG is also one of tourist attraction in Glasgow. We have a campus tour at the uni for visitors! My favorit part of the campus is the Quadrangle (the Quads). We also have museum inside the main building. Anyway this is the second month I’m in Glasgow, but I had to admit I don’t know much about the campus building myself except the area where I usually take classes.

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Eva at the Quadrangle
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My friend Arum at the Cloister
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Eva at the Hunterian Museum
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Hunterian Museum

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Met Fellow Students who travel from other city

Aside from my uni, there are plenty spots worth visiting in Glasgow. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove park, The Necropolis, Glasgow Cathedral, Clyde Bridge and Science Center, City Center-Buchanan Street are some must visit places in Glasgow. Modes of transportation varies. The city has buses, train, subway, and bicycle. A hop on hop off bus visiting the various touristic spots is also availble. Buses are quite expensive, it costs 2 pounds per ride. During my first weeks here I prefer walking as the places I visited is only about 30 minutes away on foot.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
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River Clyde
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Glasgow Science Center
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Kelvingrove Park
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The City Center
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The Necropolis

Glasgow weather, as any other UK’s city you may know, changes pretty quickly. One day on my way back to my flat from campus, I found a sunny, windy, and rainy day at the same time! But apart from the rather changing weather, Glasgow is a cool place! It’s close to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and it’s not so far from other touristic spots of Scotland. I have been traveling on a day trip to various places in Scotland since I moved here. The people are nice too. There is a custom here and in Scotland in general I think, that you held the door open for the person behind you whenever you’re about to enter or exit from the building. Just bear in mind to do that and whenever you get lost, don’t hesitate to ask people for direction. So, that’s it for now. I’ll tell you more about my trips here and some other interesting places later. Cheers!

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Cheers!

(npa)

Free Walking Tour: Visiting a City in A Shoestring

When I arrive in a new place, I always have the urge to explore it. It could be the history, urban legends, or foods of the city. Sometimes, trying to read everything to know the story of such places is too much work. Nevertheless, paying for a guided tour is often not affordable by (or simply not a priority of) travelers on minimum budget. One big solution for people like me: free (walking) tour! (Bless you who started this and make it available in various places!)

Those who are not familiar must be wondering how ‘free’ a ‘free’ walking tour is. It means the tour itself is free, yet you are encouraged to tip the guide (remember, the guides don’t do free walking tour out of charity. It’s actually their source of living!) The amount of the tip depends on you. If the guide is really good — on the terms that the explanation is compelling, hospitality, recommendations, etc; I will usually tip more though still within my budget.

Finding them is quite easy. Usually they are equipped with colorful umbrellas and/or jackets. They can be found in noticeable touristy places (squares, monuments, etc.)

I am summarizing my favorite walking tours (in no particular order) below. I put the website as I can because sometimes the information about free walking tour can be found in the hostels.

Hanoi's Temple of Litterature
Hanoi’s Temple of Litterature
  1. Hanoi Kids – Hanoi, Vietnam

My first encounter with free walking tour is in Hanoi. The activity is operated by Hanoi Kids, a non-profit organization. It is based on donation (could be given through their website here). Hanoi Kids is not really a walking tour. We can choose what places we want to visit. What means of transportation we want to use.  Where we want to eat. Hanoi Kids is not a usual free walking tour. It is more like a private tour.

The idea is spending times with Vietnamese students who are also the guides throughout the tour. They will pick you up in your hotel. Together, you will proceed to the sites you have chosen. You can also modify it yourself so long as you communicate it with the guides. 😀 They tell the history and legends of the places in Hanoi. The tour itself is very valuable because you get the chance to see Hanoi from local perspective.

Our guides were Nắng Lạnh and Bùi Trí Dũng. They helped us a lot! Especially to know the normal price in Hanoi. They also brought us to local restaurants and recommended the foods! I really had a good time!

Free walking tour in Prague! Though not clear, :p this is in the square to Charles Bridge
Free walking tour in Prague! Though not clear, :p this is in the square to Charles Bridge
  1. Extravaganza Free Tour – Prague, Czech Republic

My grumpy friends and I joined Prague’s free tour on the last day of 2014. It was winter. A little bit wet. Nevertheless it was still so much fun! Probably, it is the most comprehensive Prague walking tour. Our guide, Clara, was so energetic and interactive! She also told us ‘secret menu’ that we can order in the local restaurants. 😉 We spent three hours enjoying Clara’s explanation about Prague’s Old Town, its infamous Charles Bridge, Castle and many more! You will see the black dark story (or history?) of Prague despite its now reputation as one of the most romantic city in Europe. I will not spill them for you. 😀 The good thing about this tour is that it has a break in the middle of the tour. Therefore, if you miss the first part, you can still definitely go for the second part.

Do you see yourself?
Do you see yourself?
  1. Graffiti Walking Tour – Berlin, Germany

I felt so hipster for joining this tour in Berlin! It was different from the usual walking tour as its highlight is Berlin’s graffiti. Graffiti is part of Berlin and the tour operator understands it! Our guide, an Australian living in Berlin, provided us with explanation about the story behind Berlin’s graffiti. Through the tour, I found out how the artists avoid being jailed for drawing a graffiti; the artists persistence in ‘preserving’ their works from being removed by the authorities; the characteristics of the works of some (such as scratches of ‘6’s); and even how valuable a graffiti can be (because there is part of a wall with graffiti was stolen and sold!) This tour is so alternative that it gives people new perspective!

Here is Big Ben (I have no picture of the tour! haha)
Here is Big Ben (I have no picture of the tour! haha)
  1. Jack the Ripper Tour – London, England

I joined several walking tour in London because this city is so big that one walking tour is not enough! My favorite of all is this Jack the Ripper Tour. If you are a fan of thriller or horror movies, you will like this tour! You will explore East London’s White Chapel area in the evening (so you get the feeling, of course!) Instead of magnificent buildings, you will see houses and small alleys. The guide will then tell you story on the spot where Jack did his action. There will also be explanation of how the killing was done and the typical victims.

Eagerly explaining
Eagerly explaining
  1. New Amsterdam Tour – Amsterdam, Netherlands

I only had one day in Amsterdam, so I joined Amsterdam’s free walking tour to get overview of the Netherlands’ capital. The meeting point was at the National Monument, 10-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal. Our guide was a funny Dutch guy. We started from the monument itself and ended the tour in the Jordaan District. It was a tour about Dutch history, habits and arts. Through this three-hour tour, you will know that Amsterdam is not limited to weeds and prostitutions. 😀

Also, after the tour you can head directly to Anne Frank’s house as the last stop was close by and by evening there is fewer crowds.

P.S.:

Although free walking tour is popular, it is not available in every city. In substitute, you can hire an audio guide from the tourist office for little amount of money and do the walking tour by yourself. I did it in Trieste, and it was not less fun!

(eff)

Christmas Market

On my way back to Jakarta from a business trip in the eastern Europe, I got to transit for one night in Vienna. It was December 2013. In the plane from Moldova to Vienna, I read an article about the tradition of christmas market in Austria, and so I decided to visit one of the market as soon as I landed.

I landed in Vienna at around 5 PM and proceed (read: Vienna and Drama) to my hostel. After putting my stuff at the hostel I went to one of the market in front of the Rathaus. Surprisingly, it was quite easy for me to find the place due to my previous experience of getting lost.

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The market was pretty crowded but It was gorgeous! I can feel the christmas spirit floating in the air. In the center of the square in front of the Rathaus, stand tall and mighty a huge and beautiful christmas tree decorated with lights and little ornaments. Surrounding the christmas tree, there were many stalls selling various kinds of goods, food, and drinks. I had to stop myself from buying sweets or drinks in each stalls. They looked so good!

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The tree was not the only attraction in the market. Walking a little bit further to the streets, one will find lights arranged so beautifully along the streets. I found a robot performance in the park performing christmas songs to the passerbies. If you look up, you’ll find lights and ornaments arranged on the branches of the trees in the park as well. It was such a feast for the eyes.

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I bought some finger foods to enjoy while sitting on the bench when a stranger approached me and talked in French. I looked at him questioningly and he kept speaking in French. I told him that I don’t understand and that I don’t speak French. Yet he kept talking in French to me. I tried to understand his intention by studying his gestures while staying alert to scam. I thought maybe he was just beggar  asking for small money, so I gave him 1 Euro and he left. That was weird.

Actually there were a lot of areas helding the Christmas market, not just the one in front of the Rathaus. In fact, other European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands were also helding the market starting a few weeks before and after christmas (I guess). After strolling around the market some more, I made my way back to the hostel to have some rest. (npa)