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Trip Report Weekend hopping: Ghent, Zadar, Lisbon, Bosch, Brno,...

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Instead of leisurely island hopping like many people, I have a series of short trips with basically one destination each weekend (for some weekends the destination is just my bed, but I won't go into details about it). For several reasons I could not often take long vacations, so I just hopped from one weekend to another, and boy! did this style suit me.

Each destination will be a not-so-long report (only so much can happen during the course of 2 days), so I think I will gather them here. Still, many unexpected things come to me during my tiny trips, so I hope I could entertain you for a while, or, for a long while, as this is an ongoing thread (I'm not done with my journey yet).

The reports will not follow a particular order, neither time nor geography. I'll just talk about whatever still fresh in my mind. (At the moment it is Ghent. Gorgeous city with a funny air).

Some introduction about me:

I'm a budget traveller, but I don't mind spending when something/someone convinces me. Not as a sale man convinces his customers, but as an author convinces his readers.

I like practically everything, and I mean EVERY thing: museums or palaces, Biergarten or fish markets, talking with the locals, talking with the tourists, I like both the tranquillity and the crowd. Oh wait. I hate selfie sticks. I hate the lovey-dovey couples who stepped on the flowers in tulip fields to do a million silly poses for their lovey-dovey photos. (Such a grumpy bachelor I am.)

There will be some repeating features in my reports, such as "running" or "starving". My apology. I can't help it. I have been running and starving in most of my trips. But I did stumble across some fine restaurants.

I like taking pictures, but I am by no mean an experienced one.

Next post:

Chapter One: Ghent and the terrifying duck

Quick tip for everybody:
Keukenhof garden and the surrounding tulip fields is at its peak, right now!
Go there before they cut all the flowers down with their effing effective machine.

And, I beg you, don't ever wear a black coat while visiting a flower park. You'll spoil the landscape and the color palette. And spoil the photos of many others, including me. Believe me, it'll even spoil your selfie pic. If you have a pink chemise or a neon green skirt that you don't dare to put on during daily life, now it's the time and place to utilize it ;)

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    The Ghent chapter would have to wait, as I must sort out my photos first (I took 1400 photos during the trip to Keukenhof and Ghent. Blame the tulips.)

    The first chapter would be:

    Lauterbrunnen: searching for my Imladris

    * * *

    Nearly two years ago, I read that the valley of Lauterbrunnen (Switzerland) is the inspiration for the landscape of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings book. Being a Tolkien fan, having Rivendell as one of my favorite places in Middle-earth, also liking nature scenes, I put Lauterbrunnen on my Must List.

    Switzerland hiking is not exactly a cheap affair, so only now I manage to arrange the trip, after much plotting. I took a train to Basel, then changed to another train there. Had enough time in the station to buy some Sprungli chocolate. The scenery from Basel to Interlaken was very eye-pleasing, while the superb chocolate melted in my mouth. Green pastures of spring were pushing high, cherry trees were still blooming on mountainous background, and all the lakes were of turquoise color. It’s kinda unexpected to find Mediterranean aura on the Alpes.

    A side note: somehow I always had fabulous weather while travelling. London in mid-March, Scandinavia at summer end, Venice on a rainy-predicted day, they all turned out sunny. It almost feels like the sun has been stalking me.

    I arrived at Interlaken Ost, looked at BLM timetable at the station, and realized that the next train to Lauterbrunnen was in 8 mins, otherwise I would have to wait for an hour; and I didn’t have a ticket. So I ran to the ticket office, queuing to buy mine (didn’t see any ticket machine), and ran back when the small train was ringing to leave, and the platform officer cried out to me “Here! Here! Quick!”. I jumped on the train, and the door closed.

    The landscape from Interlaken up is, surprisingly, nothing to write home. But I liked it that way: it veiled the treasure of Lauterbrunnen. There was literally one European guy inside the train, all other were Asian. I was convinced that Swiss tourism was indeed popular in Asia at the moment.

    The train arrived at Lauterbrunnen, I stepped out, and the first thing I saw was Staubbach waterfall. Pristine white like a flowing silk scarf on the sheer cliff. The entrance to the valley couldn’t have been better than that.

    I drew some Swiss notes from a nearby ATM, then looked for my guest-house. On the way, I stopped by a Coop supermarket, but it was closed due to Ascension Day. I started to worry: I got nothing to eat and I didn’t want to splurge in Swiss skiing restaurants either.

    The cafe bar next to the station sold some expensive canned foods, I had to rely on them although I hated canned foods. The next day I discovered that Camping Jungfrau, not far from there, sold fresh vegetables and fruits everyday, celery and carrots all you want, with reasonable prices. Just in case anybody want to know.

    While shopping in the cafe bar, I saw a table ordering a flammkuchen. One for 3 guys. It looks so tempting that I ended up ordering one for myself. A whole flammkuchen for just myself. And I finished it. The flammkuchen was bigger than my face! Not that I hadn’t had breakfast that morning.

    With 2 bags of canned foods on my hands (it was enough for just one day!), I headed to Valley Hostel. It was a cozy wood house below the road. There was a cat in the guesthouse who really needed to be patted. The room was charming, with an impeccable view of the mountains and the Staubbach fall, but the problem is the guests’ luggage. It was a female dormitory of 6 beds, and there were five huge suitcases on the floor. I was the only one with no suitcase, my small backpack looked so pathetic next to their suitcases. There was no place to even walk inside the room, and I tripped several times. I’d never had this problem when I stayed in mixed dormitories. A note to myself next time.

    Cows everywhere. On the mountain side, and on the figure of my pillow case. Good way to immerge into mother nature.

    Then I realized I forgot to bring a hat. Who would have thought that an Alpine region had been so bright in early May. So I bought a hat in a souvenir shop and ventured towards the waterfalls.

    The valley opened up in front of me. One, two, then three waterfalls, all splashing down from dizzying heights. The snow hadn’t yet melt on the faraway peaks, but the low fields were already covered in wild flowers. The air was tranquil, no sound around except the music of the waterfalls and the cowbells. I found my Rivendell, finally. It only needed Elrond and some Elvish maiden to improve.

    There was an autonomic cheese shop along the road, next to a small farm, with no seller. The cheese pieces has price tags on them, buyers could put money into a piggy bank on the table. Below the piggy feet were some change coins. Next to it was a cheese plate to sample, with 2014 cheese divided from 2015 cheese. The 2014 one was much better. I found this model shop quite interesting.

    I pointed to the cheese and asked some cow nearby: “Is it from your milk?” She gave me a nonchalant glance and continued to chew her herbs. Took it as a “Yes”, I chose a big trunk of 2014 cheese, paid into the piggy bank, admiringly took a photo of the table, and… walked away without my cheese. How could I be so forgetful!

    The afternoon was wearing away, I felt cold and returned. When approaching my hostel I remembered that I forgot my cheese. I walked back to the cheese table, only to see that the pieces were all gone. Sigh. It was a long way to my hostel. Without my coat, without my cheese, I was freezing.

    I heated up the canned foods in the common kitchen for dinner. Some other Koreans were cheerfully cooking their instant noodles. There had been so many Korean travellers in the hostel these days that the staffs started to sell Korean instant noodles at the check-in counter.

    Next day, I got up early to see the sunrise. But it was not to be seen, except some tender colors of the dawn.

    Coop supermarket was open now, so I had a fresh breakfast with strawberries and blueberries. Feeling quite boosted up and ready for another adventure.

    I took a bus to Trummelbach fall, the bus stop was right outside my hostel. The subterranean waterfalls were impressive and quite different from the outdoor ones. But they sprinkled water all over my camera. And I didn’t even have a good picture of Trummelbach -_-

    Based on the map that the guest-house gave me, I thought it was next to Stechelberg, the cable car station, so I decided to walk. I aimed straight ahead, but Stechelberg is nowhere in sight. It took me one good hour of leisurely walking, but I don’t complain: I had the entire landscape to myself. Don’t know where all those tourists and hikers had gone. I was the only humain being on the road. The cows stared at me when I went by, and some cat accompanied me for a while. Not that its cotton feet caused any noise to disturb me.

    I followed the river, passed by Murrenbach fall, another nice one. Then, Stechelberg and up the cable car to Gimmelwald and Murren. I have acrophobia, so the cable car ride was nerve-racking, but luckily the magnificent view in front of my eyes distracted me. I was constantly taking photos instead of fist-grabbing the handrail as usual. From Gimmelwald I saw the sharp peak of Schilthorn, another inspiration for Tolkien’s Zirakzigil peak where Gandalf fought the Balrog. The sky was deep blue, but I could have heard the thunder clash from Gandalf’s staff.

    The village of Murren was cute, the mountains looked majestic, but I couldn’t see any waterfall. All shops were closed for noon time while I needed them the most: I was hungry for lunch. So I had an ice-cream instead. There were fountains everywhere with cool water from the mountain, so I didn’t have any problem with thirst.

    I passed by some hikers, and they made a contrary image to mine: them with gigantic backpacks (actually bigger than my body), and me with a camera on my neck, a Swiss frank note in my pocket, and an icecream on my hand – that’s all my provision. I knew I needed more, but I kinda hated carrying too much of thing, especially when I went sightseeing.

    I walked from the Murren cable station to Grafschaft. Again, it was longer than I’d expected, but a very pleasant walk, almost all alone. Snow flowers were thriving on the mountain side. The village of Wengen on the facing slope laying down at my feet like tiny dots. The old rail tunnel were half covered in snow – quite a vintage sight.

    I hadn’t done long walks or mountain hiking for a long time, so I was glad that my feet kept up with me in spite of the empty stomach. Once reached Grafschaft I took a cable car ride down to Lauterbrunnen, telling myself that I would try Wengen tomorrow, for the famous sight of “the valley of 72 waterfalls”. I would not leave Lauterbrunne without finding that view.

    I rested in the hostel for a few minute, recharged myself with some strawberries, then go to Airtime cafe bar for a brownie. It lived up to its reputation.

    I heard that Camping Jungfrau gave one of the cheapest and best meal in the valley, so that was where I dined. It was the only restaurant which served cheese fondue for a single person, with an acceptable price. But anyway, cheese fondue can’t be served in a half pot, so they gave me an entire pot, a basket of bread, a pickle plate, and I, having order a salad for my vitamin quota of the day, found myself facing a giant meal. Guess what: I finished it. And no, I’m not obese. It was my lunch and dinner combined.

    As mentioned, Camping Jungfrau was also a good place for shopping for grocery and Swiss knifes – I bought two there, one for Fluffy (me) and one for Fury (my bro), they engraved my name onto it, freely.

    I returned to the room. Some girls had departed, together with their suitcases, but some other girls had arrived with equally big luggage. They put their suitcases right next to my bed and dugged into it 10 times/day to look for their myriad of clothes and cosmetic. I didn’t have anywhere to put my feet down. Why on earth do they need to bring twenty jeans, twelve bb creams and three different kinds of shampoo?! They don’t even do hiking. It was hopeless.

    The next day, I checked out, put my small backpack into the hostel’s luggage room (no, I don’t even want to bring my 1kg of luggage up the mountain). On, to Wengen as planned. I prepared myself for the view. I chose a good seat on the train next to the window, took a handkerchief out of pocket and started to wipe the window glass, as that would be my camera lens. The two guys sitting in front of me had a good laugh of it. They told me: “Good idea, but why don’t you just open the glass?”. Bingo.

    The train started to going up, and everybody went “Ooh!” and “Aah!” for the view. It’s speechless. You saw the cliffs, the waterfalls, the villages, and then the whole view of the valley. The ride alone worthed the trip to Switzerland.

    From Wengen station, wood houses scattered everywhere, so I hesitated where to head. At first I tracked along the railway. Up and up. Nothing remarkable. It’s a hot mid-day, the air was so stiff I could hear the buzz of the bees on the wild flowers. I climbed onto every hotel’s terrace, every public garden, but the valley remained hidden. I asked people for the church, as I read on internet that the church in Wengen gave the best view. They pointed me to the church. I went into the church. I went around the church. There was no sight at all.

    I was a little bit disheartened. I came back to Wengen station. There was still 15 mins till the next train down, so I decided to take a look at the main street. All shops were closing. After 10 mins walking, I saw a direction board to my right: “English church”. Suddenly, I knew that was the one I was looking for. I hurried to it. The black sheeps nearby was startled by my steps.

    Here was the church terrace. The entire valley is in front of me. I sat down on a bench and enjoy my time at Rivendell. The outside world vanished; I could just sit there for days. Was it what Bilbo felt?

    My photos (this time I only took 1000 photos :D )

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    Bostonblondie: thank you, good to hear that about Ghent ^^
    I will write the Ghent part soon, but this weekend I was in Santiago de Compostela, and I'm drowning in Galician seafood.

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    Chapter Two
    Gent: the terrifying duck

    That day I heard there was a flower festival “Floraliën” in Gent, so I headed there, coupling it with a Keukenhof visit. My train to Gent was delayed (as were lots of European trains during that troublesome time), I arrived at the city near midnight. I went to my guesthouse, KaBa Hostel not far from the station, it was a clean and funky one.

    I got my key and went to my bed, which was in a 6-bed dormitory room. The room was locked and my key couldn’t open it. Someone had locked it from inside and left his key in the hole to prevent others from entering. That someone heard the noise I was making with the keyhole, he opened the door for me. Inside the room was his entire family: him, wife and 2 children, all sleeping. His wife woke up and looked at me with cautious eyes (oh yes, I interfere in their privacy). I went to the only vacant bed, trying not to make noise. I think I’m rather light-foot compared to other travelers. It’s the lower of a double bunk bed, the upper of which was occupied by a child.

    Some minutes after I had settled in my bed, his wife decided: “Excuses me, you’ll sleep in this bed (point to her bed), my husband will make the bed for you. I’ll sleep there with my child (point to my bed).” I understand her concern about a stranger sleeping under the bed of her child, but I don’t like the way she ordered me like that. It would have been better if she’d just asked me: excuses me, are you okay to change to this bed etc. ? Anyway, I agreed and changed bed.

    I lighted the lamp of my bed and looked for travel information for 15 mins. His wife turned to me again and said: “Turn off the light please. We’re sleeping here.” Geez. If you want so much of comfort, book a room of your own. It’s not like I was making noise or putting on the room’s light. It was just the lamp for my bed and I think I have a right to use it, at least before 1am. She should have seen other hostels where guests sang and shouted in the rooms at 2am. Not that I support that behavior, but I put up with it. If you want to pay only 20 Euros for a bed in city center, it comes with a price.

    Too lazy to protest, I turned off the light.

    Next morning was not better. The 2 children woke up and were horrified to see a sudden stranger in “their” room. They asked their parent in French: Papa, why is there another person in our room? Thinking that I didn’t understand French, the papa explained to them in front of me something like: the hostel decided it, the poor papa can’t do nothing about it. Well, that makes me and the hostel a villain in the children’s eyes, right away. Each time they passed by my bed, they stole a discontent look at me. The children deserve a better explanation. I would’ve appreciated if he’d told them the plain fact that he didn’t pay for the whole room and this is a shared dormitory.

    The moment I stepped into the common kitchen, my discomfort ended. Hordes of young people of all nationalities sitting around, they were merrily chatting with strangers and new friends, all the while very openly and politely. That’s what I usually like about hostels.

    The free breakfast was basic, but enough. The sunny terrace and garden made up for it.

    There was a May 1st Labor parade that day, so I headed out to it, having never seen such. It was a fun parade with lots of messages about production support or weapon abuse. Later I would know that Gent was a social town. (I apologize if it’s not true. What I wrote is what I heard from talking with people there.)

    Gent people were nickname "noose-wearers" from some feudal fuss during medieval time, so they demonstrated it during the parade. It goes well with the spirit of Labor Day.

    I followed the parade into the center square, they have plenty of activities and selling tents there during the day. I bought a bowl of Indian curry rice from the van of Lulu’s Tribal Kitchen, it is indeed healthy and tasty.

    On the way, I passed by some nice architectures that I don’t know the names. Then, some pretty metal brick under my feet that was printed with the city images. But the most pleasant was the two rivalry cuberdon trolleys, the purple sweet that was invented in Gent. I heard there was even a “Cuberdon War” going on for years between the two trolleys, and it took the most important concern from local people ;)

    - To be continued,
    the duck part would have to be in the next post.

    My pics here, not yet completed:

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