As we had chosen an Emirates flight, we had a 10-hour stopover at Dubai. It would be highly impossible for us to join a city or desert tour given the short stopover, hence we decided to explore the city on our own. We reached Dubai International Airport early in the morning (4am)but the sun was already rising as if it is 7am back in Singapore!
Dubai Airport is huge and we had quite a DIFFICULT time finding the exit to the city centre. This is because there are practically NO signboards in the airport premises. The customer service officer advised us to get around in taxis and not buses as buses would require a day card. Taking a taxi from the airport would have a surcharge of 20Dh while from main road would be only 3Dh. Ok, obviously the 3Dh taxi tempted us but where the hell is the main road?!?!
So we decided to try taking a bus which should be more economical. And we found a ticket top up-cum-purchase machine opposite the bus waiting area at terminal 1. Frankly speaking, the Arabians were very willing to help and advised us to get a zonal day tix but 'smart' as we are, we thought that a zonal single trip tix would suffice...
So we took bus C8 down to Gold Souk in order to get to the banks of Dubai Creek. Dubai buses are very long (those kinda bendy ones) and empty. Is it off peak hour or people are simply rich and they drive?
Anyway, bus drivers are enclosed in their seat cubicles - erm, to prevent potential assaults??
Dubai is very much like Singapore except for the sheer size of the land. The weather was unbearable at 40 deg cel. Hot and dry. We got the driver to alert us at the gold souk stop and he got us to alight at a public library stop which did not a tweeny bit resemble the glitzy gold market described in travel guides. Unable to find the gold souk, we moved on in search for the abra or water taxi at the creek.
The exact boarding point is at the deira old souk station which is near to the cargo loading area along the main road. The 1Dh cheap ride will only take you across to the other side of the bank while the 100Dh 1-hour ride cruises along the entire creek.
We chose the cheap ride for an experience and we are the only non-
locals and females taking together with the locals going to work. Oh
yes, we noticed that only males are seen on the streets. Where are the
females and children?
The abra ride was a great and truly wonderful experience! Love it! <3 Across the creek, we couldn't find
any bus stops nearby or any comprehenable signboards to guide us. :( It was high time to hop on a taxi to get to Jumeirah Mosque which seems rather near from our map (reduced version). Taxis are plentiful
in Dubai so we got into one within seconds and that was when T-R-O-U-B-L-E spells... ...
Surcharge is 3Dhs and 0.5Dh per 100m. The meter ticked as we got stucked in jams and long barriers dividing the two-way traffic made u-turning within short distances impossible. We alighted at a bus stop
as we decided to walk to the mosque.
Dubai bus stops are incredible. They are shaped like mini Burj al Arab and enclosed with strong air-conditioning of 20 deg cel. Totally cool but waste of electricity. We realised that we don't have any tickets to take buses to the airport since cash payments are not accepted on board. And we have not enough cash to take taxi either. The only choice was to take a taxi to the nearest metro station then we can purchase tickets back to the airport.
Our perception of the nearest metro station from the map was greatly flawed. The driver took a long time to drive us there and costed us a bomb. The metro price was quite reasonable and the card can be topped up for 10 times. Again, few people take the metro.
There was supposed to be a FREE airport shuttle to terminal 3 but due to some random large-scale dramatic fire drill, the traffic was halted. And we had to fork out more money to take metro. Tsk. What a day.
After all the crappy encounters, we seriously think that to better tour dubai, join a tour. No landmarks are easily accessible by foot. If you wanna be true backpackers, please please remember to buy a map from the duty free shops to avoid getting lost and buy a day bus ticket from the airport.
Finally reached Frankfurt after 7 hrs. To go to the city centre/hauptbahnhof, we took an airport shuttle to terminal one. Both terminals are separated by other many other misc buildings. The weather was super niceeee at 16 deg cel!!!
Bahn tickets have to be bought at ticket machines. No english so gonna get someone to help for the first time. Here are some tips:
1. Enter the station number e.g. Hbf is 50.
2. Select the type of ticket e.g. Einzelfahrt= single person, single trip. The rest are day trip or group ticket options.
3. Pay the price indicated. Small change needed so change from the bank or some geldatm counters.
4. Check the train schedule table at the platform for the train to take.
Our first mistake surfaced when we boarded the bahn... We alighted at the first stop named Frankfurt am main Stadion. The station is super small and the surroundings look like a countryside. The bahn closed its doors and sped off, leaving us stranded at the weird place. At that time, we noticed an off-duty policeman smiling at us - obviously knew that we had alighted at the wrong stop. We approached him and he told us to wait for the next train and alight at hbf. The next train took a long time to arrive and it was getting colder. Es ist kalt!
Finally got to hbf which isn't very far from the station we were stranded at. The hbf is big and cool^.^ Free city maps can be grabbed at the information counter. There are many small stalls selling crossiants, brezels.... etc and best of all - a sandwich shop selling bratwurst! The famous frankfurter in bread! LOVES <3
Our hostel is just walking distance from the hbf and located in the middle of the erotic district. Sex shops, peep shows.... Actually the red light district is safe except that it can get really noisy - we
can hear people shouting and ambulance sirens from our 4th storey room. Five elements hostel is really a must stay with affordable private twin rooms and free laptop rentals which is restricted to using them
at the reception/cafeteria area. Although free wifi is provided, we were unable to connect to it in any way with our ipods. :( the rooms and toilets are very clean - like a mini 3-star budget hotel!
In fact, we discovered that it is possible to stay free at the hostel. There are couches at the games and luggage storage area at the basement. So you can lock your luggage in one of the luggage cages for free and sleep on the couch for free! Remember to bring your own big lock otherwise you'll have to rent.
The next morning we proceeded to check out but to our shock, we were charged 2 euros for not using the bed sheets provided - deemed as unhygenic. Mistake #2: didn't read the terms and conditions carefully.
Then, we made our way to the Alte Oper - theatre square. It is walkable from the hostel. Nothing special here.
Then we moved on to the Römer. It was a long walk from the alte oper or maybe it was due to the fact that we couldnt find our way there :S anyway the Römer is opposite the river which houses a beautiful park with sakura look alike trees and a pretty bridge. After much effort, we finally found the romer/city hall area. IT IS REALLY very beautiful and the streets are piled with shophouses. We also met a couple holding their wedding at the romer square.
We bought some pastries - apfelkuchen, apfelpasteren and a pizza look alike for lunch. They were rather yummy(: After lunch we continue to stroll along the streets and realised that there was a wien festival going on. There were much more fantasic food than our pastries. We got ourselves apple wine from POSSMANN which was supposedly some famous brand in frankfurt. It comes in small or big glasses and it is VERY cold which made us shiver instead of keeping us warm. -.-
We had about 3 hrs left before we have to catch the bus to Brussels. Decided to move on to the FREE geldmuseum which is in the outskirts. However, when we reach dornbusch station where the museum is supposed to be near, we were unable to find the museum. According to a pharmacist that we approached, the museum is a 1km walk from the station. In view of the lack of time, we decided to forgo and go back to the hbf.
THUMBS UP for Römer and apple wine! And remember to bag some RITTER SPORT chocolates back!
The rain continued to pour amazingly from Köln to Brussels, causing the weather to be colder than ever. Never seat near the bus exit/ entrance as the cold air will drift in and rattle your bones.
At 10.45pm, the eurolines bus finally pulled up at Brussels Gare du Nord station. Gusts of strong cold wind greeted us when we hopped off the bus. Within seconds, we were shivering tremendously. We collected our backpacks and dashed into the sheltered bus station. The first thing we did was to fish out another jacket from our backpacks. Our teeth were chattering and fingers were freezing.
Next we had to find our way to our hotel. The bus station is interconnected with the metro and railway stations. At that time, the station was practically empty and dark. We were unable to find the correct exit and the road signs on the streets were not helpful. Yes, we were stranded on the streets in the rain and we had to check in the hotel before 12am. Time check. 11.30pm. Gosh.
Panic-stricken, we decided to take a cab no matter how expensive it is going to be. One of the cab drivers offered us 10 euros. Before we could get up the cab, another driver came along and told us that we just have to walk straight 5 mins from where we were to reach the hotel. Oh okies... So once again we wandered in the rain, praying hard that we will get there.
Rue de progress... 11, 9, 7... Yes there you are - hotel galaxy. The receptionist told us that the washrooms are outside and the showers are only at levels 3 and 5, much to our disgust. Our private twin room is long and narrow like a slightly enlarged small cabury choc bar. The double bed took up 80% of the space leaving little room for a very small wooden table and basin. We felt caged in the room. As for the shared toilets, they were not much better. The WCs were separated from the shower rooms. The basin mixers are huge in respect to the basin, making it difficult to wash your face or whatsoever. And the mixers are not working properly, so we got freezing cold water all the time. The same applies to the mixers in our room. The hot tap is leaking. The hot and cold mixers can never mix as the taps are separated. Either you get scorching hot or icy cold water. -.- the showering area at the 3rd level doesn't have lights and it was freaking scary. No wifi and city maps are available.
The next morning, we made our way to the Nord station to start our sightseeing plans. No free city maps were provided unlike Frankfurt. We got ours at 5.50 euros from the Relay stores located at almost all stations. The map shows the metro network but it was not very clear. Tips for taking trains in Brussels:
1. The metro indicated by the big fat M sign is for travel within the city while the railways indicated by the big fat B is for travel to other cities.
2. Tickets can be bought from self service machines and get ready lots of coins as the machines don't accept notes :S alternatively, you can buy from the kioskbut sometimes there are just nobody there.
3. Day tickets for unlimited travel can be bought at 4.50 euros.
4. The metro network map can be obtained from the kiosk and it gives a much clearer view of which train to take
5. You will have to open the train door yourselves to alight or board as they will not open automatically.
Surprisingly, the metro stations played english songs when most locals don't speak or comprehend english.
Our first stop is the atomium & mini-europe. The nearest metro is the heysel station. Mini-europe features all the landmarks in different european countries in the miniature forms. Once you enter the park, the mascot (an orange tortoise) will drag you for a photo which will be sold to you later. The park is organised into a trail. At each landmark there will be a button for you to play the national anthem. We got to know this thanks to a little girl. The most memorable and must try is the button that erupts a volcano. The volcano is somewhere in the middle of the park and hideous. I pressed on this random button and the ground started shaking. The feeling is so real and the volcano started spewing smoke. There is also an indoor playground where there's an europe motion stimulation game for two players. Basically the screen will capture your image and movements as you jump on the ground. Tiring but fun :)
Don't buy souvenirs from the gift shop there as similar gifts can be found on the streets at cheaper prices. And especially if you are going to Antwerp.
Next we tried to look for a restaurant selling frites near louise metro. The place is a mess and we just couldn't find it. Totally shivering at 7 degrees celsius. Anyway the place du grand sablon is also near this metro station.
Disppointed with our inability to find the place and feeling very very hungry from the cold, we left for the grote markt. There are many signboards here and much easier to navigate. We finally found a frites shop. There are so many sauces to choose from and each costs .5 euro. The shop owner is big sized and he just cant stop frying frites even though there was already a pile in front of him. We also got ourselves waffles with choc and strawberries. Very difficult to cut with a plastic fork! Frites and waffles are just everywhere and i'll always miss them! Cheap waffles can be found at mannekan pis beside the pissing boy. Anyway really wonder if the pissing boy's spirit is still lingering around as the stations reeked of an acidic urine smell.
Belgian chocs and wine got me really excited as well. Can't stop buying but too bad they are too heavy :( what a pity the wines are really cheap and good.
Antwerp centraal station is really just breathtaking. So pretty!!! Even the escalator is special - two escalators are joined together by a moving platform. All the information you need can be obtained from the tourist info centre.
It was raining slightly but the weather was freezing cold, even inside the station.
We happened to pass by the diamond museum on our way to rubenhuis. Decided to enter and learn more about diamond making since antwerp is the reputed diamondland. Audio guides shaped like a telephone receivers are provided. No photography allowed though. The displays inside are preserved pieces. Don't hope to get any nice souvenirs here cos they are really crappy. Imagine getting a black wooden pencil with 'bling bling - diamond museum' imprinted on it home -.-
Due to the cold weather, we decided to eat and check in our hotel first. We bought baguettes with turkey meat for lunch from Panos. Really rocks and super fresh. Our hotel is a 20 mins walk from the centraal station. It was great to walk there (minus the backpacks) as both sides of the roads are lined with attractions and boutiques! To our disappointment, all the shops are closed except for some eateries as it was some public holiday.
Finally reach de kathedral. So nice! Our hotel is just next to it. Although the hotel is small but it is really beautiful with helpful receptionists as well. Free wifi provided and there is a free access computer near the dining area.
Our room on the 3rd level -room 37 rocks. The ceiling outside our room has a small window where you can see the kathedral. I LOVE hotel postiljon!! However, you need to have small feet or just be extra cautious if you wanna stay here as the stairs steps are really small and steep! I just pray that i wont tumble down from the stairs.
You can find everything here - souvenirs shops, eateries, chocolates...
All the buzz aside, we just come on the wrong day. It was acession day for catholics which is the public day mentioned. Cant shop and sightsee. Rubenhuis is closed too. Argh what a waste cos entry for students is just 1 euro, down from 4 euros previously. So check your calendar for special hols that are not fixed.
Near the kathedral we also got to taste the award winning max frites.
We had to catch the eurolines bus to amsterdam early next morning so we ordered breakfast for takeaway for 10eur from our hotel kitchen. The next morning, breakfast was already packed for us in a huge brown paper bag. After a nice warm coffee, we made our way to the indicated eurolines station at vanstalen straat. When we reached there, it wasnt a bus stop but a closed eurolines office. :S
We started to ask around and they directed us to the centraal station. So there we go and we couldnt find a single crap. The security guards at the station directed us back to the office. Time was ticking and we panicked. Another round of direction asking and they directed us back to the centraal station again. Blahs. Suddenly, we saw an eurolines bus sailing past us and turning towards the office. We ran after the the bus and realised that the stop is in fact opp the office. Unindicated.
Our hotel breakfast pack was really incredible- slices of cheese, 2 types of bread, cake, yoghurt, different spreads and choc milk. I love the choc milk!!!
Overall antwerp is a much nicer city than brussels.