Thursday, June 18, 2009


Great news!!! No VISA is required for Taiwanese visitors entering the United Kingdom and staying up to 6 months. We found a good vacation package deal from Expedia and looked forward to being in a English speaking country again.

Since this no visa thing is so new (started March 3, 2009), I even went to UK Border Agency's website to print out the announcement just in case I was refused entry on the flight. Sure enough, I was asked for a UK VISA at the Zurich airport while boarding. Good thing I was well prepared. I showed them the announcement print out and they let me board. When we entered the UK customs, there was no problem at all. We were so surprised and delight that Taiwan is moving up the international ladder. To me... this is such a cool thing... entering a country without a VISA or some kind of resident permit... my very first time.

No matter how much we prepare before a trip, there is always something that we can not control. Typically, it's the weather but not this time. Guess what it was this time. The Under
ground (tube) was on strike. Oh my god, how lucky we were and did I mention that it was Queen's birthday weekend! Well, it turned out that it's not all that bad since we had no problem of getting help and understanding from the locals. We even had a nice British girl, who had been to Taiwan for several months last year to learn Chinese, giving us directions to the hotel. So lucky, we had no language barrier in England at all.

The tube was still on strike the next day. Our plan was to go out of London and visit Windsor Castle, so it did not impact us too much. Just a minute before we arrived, we saw the castle in distance. It was magnificent. Here is a pictures taken from the train which gives a grand scale of Windsor Castle.

The Castle is so beautiful its no wonder the Queen often spends weekend there. The ticket included an audio guide so we could take our time visiting the Castle ground , St. George, and State Apartment. After watching the Tudors on the TV, I was so glad to see the actual location where the history had taken place. King Henry VIII and his third wife were buried in St. George.

The tube was back to no
rmal after the two day strike. We visited the Westminster Abbey on Friday and St. Paul's on Saturday. At each church, we took a special guided tour and saw the areas where visitors were normally not allowed to go such as sitting in the choir while listening to the guides in both churches, entering the Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor in the Abbey, and seeing where the Queen sits when she goes to both churches. The tours were great and we enjoyed it very much. Not to forget that we learned many famous people had their funerals, were buried, or had memorials in both churches. St. Paul's only started having memorial statues in the church after realized how empty and bare their cathedral was. On the other hand, Westminster Abby was running out of space for worshiping the new comers. Besides worshiping the death, they also hold weddings (however) in the Crypt of St. Paul's (only for the order of Britain) unless you are princess Diana. Somehow, it is hard for me to see the romantic side of marrying my spouse by standing so close to the stone coffins, tomb stones, and memorials. I wonder if it's a sign of telling the newly weds that marriage is the grave of your love life (a Chinese saying), or till death do us apart. Interesting! Or you just have to go on honeymoon trip every month like us!

We walked as much as we could but London is so big. We walked by the Household Guard Museum and snapped a shot. From this angle, it looked like that the guard was sleeping. We often ended up in Soho and China town areas so we had tons of Chinese food which I miss the most. It reminded me so much of the China town in San Francisco and New York City. It was so good to have authentic Taiwanese and Hong Kong food.

Street performers in Covent Garden... is not it an interesting tactic of selling CDs? It was so fun to watch and glad that we were not the ones who were forced to make the purchase.

Piccadilly Circus electronic advertisements just like we have seen so often in TV and Movies.

Josh's first time on the London Eye. It was fun and cool to be on the Eye. We could see Parliament, Westminster Abby, St. Paul's, Buckingham Palace, and much more that we could not name.

Tower was beautiful with all the lights. We got there when the sky started getting dark and just in time when the lights came on.

We spend 4-5 hours in the British museum on our last day in London. The museum was huge and I was glad that Josh insisted to go. Not only is visiting museum like traveling around the world (has collections from the world), but also it is FREE! One interesting thing to me was seeing Buddha statures out side of temples. Then I realized that it's not so different than Virgin Mary's, Jesus', and Saints' paintings are all over in every museum we have been.

I totally had a much better impression of London compared to several years ago. Besides all the good old things we saw... the food was good, people were friendly, and English pubs were fun although we only went to one. We would love to go back again especially since I don't need a VISA.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Brussels Belgium

After 6 hour drive and settled in the hotel, guess what's the first thing I did in Brussels. A little hint -- Brussels is known for beer, chocolate, diamond, mussel, french fries, and waffle. Chocolate shopping! You would not believe how many chocolate stores there are in a such small old town. It's so hard to resist that I ran into NeuHaus, that our friend Julia told me about, and got half kilogram for Julia and half kilogram for us. Half kilogram of chocolate sounded a lot but in fact, it's only about a quarter A4 size box and it didn't last us long. Next time, I'll get one kilogram.

One must see tourist point - Manneken Pis. There were so many people surrounding the small statue that we could only have this picture taken in distance. That's the advantage of having a 20x zoom camera. Here is a female version of pis statue.

We tried everything that Brussels is famous for except... diamonds. Well... we are living in the recession but all food and beer were delicious . We even had Ethiopian food one the second night. All fingers... no forks and knives.

Brussels at night is even more breath taking. We waited until the lights came on and took some pictures before we called it a day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bern and Lausanne Switzerland

An interesting opportunity brought us to visit Bern and Lausanne Switzerland. After researching the means of transportation, we decided to rent a car. We got a Peugeot 107, a very small car with a powerless engine on a very fast German Autobahn... kind of scary when we had to pass a semi-truck.

Bern is the capital of Switzerland with Aare river running through. The old town is filled with many fountains and a big clock tower. We walked around the old town and finally found a restaurant for dinner. We noticed that most of the bars and restaurants do not ban smoking. It was almost impossible to find one non-smoking bar or restaurant. It was hard to adjust after getting used to the non-smoking environment in German which follows the EU's non-smoking law.

Switzerland is more expensive but I still managed to find a reasonable price hotel with free parking and sauna. After a good night rest, we checked out of the hotel and were ready to go to our next destination -- Lausanne. But...our car key couldn't open the car door automatically, so we opened it manually (I mean with the key in the key hole). Then, we found out that the engine would not start either. That's when Josh realized that he left the lights on over night and the car was out of battery . My brain was going ...oh my~ here is another our car/road trip adventure!! Josh tried to open the hood when I read the car manual to figure out how exactly to open it... because Josh couldn't find it. One of the hotel guest helped us to jump the car but it didn't work. Oh my god... the problem is bigger than out of battery. What a piece of junk we rented I thought, while Josh called the Hertz rental car road assistant hot line. Josh explained everything and our location to Hertz and they promised to send someone over in 30 minutes. We waited for 20 minutes and then saw a stationwagen filled with all kinds of tools and lube in front of the hotel. Wow... that was quick!! I was expecting a 2 hour wait- like waiting for AAA in the US. The guy got our car started in no time and told us that there was a trick (push the key car to lock and unlock the car door before starting the car) to jump this particular type of car. If my German was better, I could probably understand that from the manual. I guess that I should study more. It took the guy a longer time to fill out the paperwork than fix the car but I had to say that the service was great!! I would rent a car from Hertz again.

We were amazed by the view in front of us when we approaching the city limits of Lausanne. In view were the French Alps with snow on the top and clear water at the bottom. We could not wait to settle into our hotel and soak up this fantastic view by the lake. Even the weather was nice. We spent most of the time walking by the lake and enjoying the rare sunny day. There were moments that we thought we could picture ourselves living in Lausanne.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cologne Carnival 2009

We put on our costumes, hopped on a train, and arrived in Cologne for Carnival! We started the party on the train from Stuttgart. Kathrin brought champagne and I made sure that we had food to go with -- artichoke dip and eggplant spread. Unfortunately, Kathrin's sister (dead bird in the picture) couldn't participate much until later in the day due to a hangover from the night before.

Cologne was full of cheerful people in all kinds of costumes. It was so much fun just watching what people wore. I was so proud of myself for finding a cow outfit for Josh and was surprised that he put it on. He looked so cute. Since we started out early, we also ended the day early. Not even passed midnight and we were back in the hotel. I can't image what the street was like after midnight... had to be super crazy.

Sunday was the student parade and then Rose Monday was the high-light of Carnival. A picture is worth a hundred words. I hope you can feel the atmosphere from the pictures. People were yelling 'Camele' for candies... and candies were flying around like big ice cubes. I got hit so many times. My catching skills weren't very good, unlike Josh's... he got so many candies and flowers. He was a charming cow!