Visiting Prague – September 2016 – My Favourite Photos

From Vienna, I boarded a Flixbus for 15 Euros and headed to Prague. This was my first visit to the Czech Republic. I spent a week here and found a city centre that is jam packed with tourists. By Central/Eastern European standards the city feels a little bit more affluent than most. While it doesn’t have the sprawling views, magestic Parliament and large boulevards that you’ll find in Budapest, the old city and the surrounding areas are quite attractive. Cobblestone streets are lined with colourful buildings. There is impressive architecture throughout.

Overall, the city is pleasant and not very expensive. I can see why many westerners choose to vacation or even relocate here.

jeremymaclaine_prague_img_20160919_144320
Prague’s famous rooftops
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_8184-01
The Czech Senate
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_8136-01
St. Nicholas Church with Trams in front.
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_20160916_180747-01
A local school: Základní škola a mateřská škola Lyčkovo náměstí
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_8047-01
Prague main train station
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_20160918_123554_1-01
Kobylisy Metro Station
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_20160916_193010
Prague has many colourful buildings
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_20160917_174644-01
A rainy day at Wenceslas Square / Václavské náměstí in Müstek
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_20160920_140811
A heritage tram
jeremymaclaine_prague_img_20160914_214104-01
Karlovo náměstí metro station

Visiting Vienna – September 2016 – My Favourite Photos

After leaving Szeged, I spent the better part of a week visiting Vienna. This was my third visit to the Austrian capital, one of my favourite cities. There is grandiose, colourful architecture just about everywhere you look, a public transit system that is incredibly efficient and countless great coffee shops to enjoy a drink while getting some work done. The quality of life that Vienna residents enjoy is very high. I have heard that since the end of the Second World War, Austrians enjoy the highest quality of life standards in the world. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it’s certainly believable.

jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_schedenplatz_img_7940
Vienna Skyline at the Danube near Schwedenplatz
jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_burgtheatreimg_7858-01
Burgtheatre and a tram
jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_tram_schottentor_img_20160913_232419
Night time Tram at Schottentor
jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_parliament_img_20160912_123236
Austrian Parliament
pilgramgasse_ubahn_jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_img_20160911_203416
Pilgramgasse Ubahn Station
jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_prater_hauptallee_img_20160911_114719
Prater Hauptallee
jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_das_moebel_img_20160910_140902
Das Möbel café
jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_stroeck_img_20160912_121512-01
Ströck Café
jeremy_maclaine_vienna_2016_coffee_pirates_img_20160913_134944
Coffee Pirates

If you like my photos, follow me on Instagram @jeremymaclaine.

Visiting Szeged, Hungary: My Favourite Photos

Szeged is a city in the south of Hungary, close to the border with Serbia. It is Hungary’s third largest city and is home to a well-regarded university. The influx of students gives the small city an international flavour. I often heard English being spoken on the streets and in the shops. English comprehension among locals is high.

A small, attractive city of about 170,000 built along the river Tisza, the city centre is has many interesting cafés, restaurants and some impressive architecture. There are many large squares and wide boulevards. The public transit system is excellent for a city of its size.

I spent five nights in Szeged. These are some of my favourite photos.

 

Szeged Water Tower, Built in 1904
szeged_water_tower_tram_maclaine_img_7653-01
Another large water tower with a classic tram stopped in front.
szeged_memorial_romanian_hungarians_img_20160909_110607
Monument to Hungarians living in Romania
szeged_hungary_jeremy_maclaine_september_2016_03
Grapes at Sándorfalva, just north of Szeged
szeged_hungary_jeremy_maclaine_september_2016_08
Votive Church By Night (Szeged Dom)

Summer 2016 in Budapest: My Favourite Photos

I was able to spend the month of August in Budapest, Hungary.

It’s a city that I know very well, having already spent a year there through 2014-15. It was fun to return and explore some old haunts, catch up with friends and even discover a few new hidden gems.

Here are some of my favourite photos from my visit.

Liberty Bridge Open to Pedestrians Only
Liberty Bridge Open to Pedestrians Only
Rooftops of Pest
Rooftops of Pest
The Danube, Chain Bridge, and Parliament.
Astoria Metro Station
Astoria Metro Station
Örs vezér tere is the eastern terminus of the M2 Metro Line
Örs vezér tere is the eastern terminus of the M2 Metro Line
Liberty Bridge at Night
Liberty Bridge at Night
Budapest Skyline on the Danube River
Budapest Skyline on the Danube River
St. Stephen's Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Ferenciek tere traffic
Ferenciek tere traffic
Heroes Square
Heroes Square

You can read more about my visits to Budapest and Hungary by visiting the Travel section of my website.

If you like my photos, follow me on Instagram @jeremymaclaine. I post photos there every day.

Visiting Esztergom and Štúrovo

For many centuries, Esztergom was the most important city in Hungary, acting as the capital from the 10th till the mid-13th century. It was here that the coronation of Saint Stephen of Hungary took place, in the year 1000 or 1001. With his ascension to the throne, Esztergom became the political, cultural and religious centre of the Hungarian nation.

Jeremy_MacLaine_Esztergom_Sturovo_Photo_21

Today, the city is home to some 30,000 people. It lies on the banks of the Danube river, across the water is Slovakia and the town of Štúrovo. The two towns are connected by the Mária Valéria bridge, which has no border control.

Esztergom lies on the left, Sturovo on the right.
Esztergom lies on the left, Sturovo on the right.

You can easily reach Esztergom by train from Budapest. Trains leave the Nyugati train station every hour and a round trip costs about $10 Canadian or 7 Euros. The journey is slow, with many stops through the Budapest suburbs and small country villages, but the train is modern, making for a pleasant enough trip.

Esztergom’s basilica and castle are built atop a hill with sprawling views of the surrounding countryside and the Danube river.

The view from the Slovakian side of the river.
The view from the Slovakian side of the river.
Castle Hill
Castle Hill
Small Dungeon by the castle
Small Dungeon by the castle
Sunset at a sculpture depicting the coronation of St. Stephen.
Sunset at a sculpture depicting the coronation of St. Stephen.
The winding stairs up to the castle hill.
The winding stairs up to the castle hill.
Sunset views from the lookout spots.
Sunset views from the lookout spots.
A re-creation of the famous Holy Crown of Hungary with its bent cross.
A re-creation of the famous Holy Crown of Hungary with its bent cross.
Saint Stephen's likeness in front of a restaurant that claims to have been in operation since 1659.
Saint Stephen’s likeness in front of a restaurant that claims to have been in operation since 1659.
Saint Stephen Square. There is likely one of these in every Hungarian town.
Saint Stephen Square. There is likely one of these in every Hungarian town.

Across the river is Štúrovo, Slovakia. It’s a small town, with a mostly ethnically Hungarian population. You’ll hear Hungarian spoken on the streets and you can even pay for your food and drinks in Hungarian Forints at the local restaurants and cafés.

Crossing into Slovakia.
Crossing into Slovakia.
On the Slovak side of the bridge.
On the Slovak side of the bridge.
Central Štúrovo.
Central Štúrovo.
Bilingual street signs
Bilingual street signs
Welcome to Štúrovo.
Welcome to Štúrovo.

The convenience of cheap and hourly trains running between Budapest and Esztergom makes for a fun and easy daytrip. Esztergom is a nice enough town, with an impressive history to merit a visit on its own. Being able to cross the border and visit a different country only adds to the novelty. I enjoyed my daytrip to Esztergom and Štúrovo and would recommend it to someone looking for a change of pace during a longer stay in Budapest.

Notes From Bangkok

I’m spending July in Bangkok, Thailand. This marks my first foray into Asia. Here are some observations and photos from my first two weeks in the city.

***

The heat, for the most part, hasn’t been as bad as I had expected. My coping strategy includes limiting my time outside during the peak sun hours of late morning to mid afternoon. I find that if I wait until the sun goes down behind the buildings, walking in the shade makes a huge difference. I’ve also learned to recognize the importance of staying hydrated. I am always sure to keep a large bottle of water on hand at all times.

The best part of Bangkok is the food. There are all kinds of delicacies to be had at very reasonable prices. You can enjoy a variety of Asian cuisines here. Yesterday I ate some fresh sushi, today I feasted on a Vietnamese dish. The noodle dishes here are great. If you like seafood, there are tons of soups. I had one that came with fish balls and some kind of squid or octopus suction cup floating around in it.

IMG_1867I stopped at a noodle restaurant that offers small bowls of noodles at a cost of 13 baht each. That’s about 37 cents in Canada. Customers usually order two or four at a time. As I ate my food, I noticed many of the staff were watching me eat. Eventually, two waiters (who weren’t assigned to me) approached me and asked if they could pose for a photo with me. One of them sat down next to me and leaned right up against me. I was worried that I was about to be pick-pocketed. I think they will be posting the photo on their screens in the restaurant. I regret not asking for a copy of the photo.

web_IMG_0008Thai and Asian beer isn’t great. Even after a year in Hungary, which is more known for its wine than beer, the drop off in taste is substantial.

IMG_1857It is cheaper to eat out than to cook for yourself. The other day I made a trip to the grocery store to pick up some items to bring home with me. I bought some Penne pasta, tomato sauce and a small bag of grated cheese. The bag of cheese cost a whopping 202 baht, about $7.50 CDN. To put that in perspective, a meal of meat and rice or noodles can be had at any mall for between 50-90 baht. One small bag of cheese cost about the same as three meals out.

IMG_1813Until you get here, you can’t appreciate the size and sprawl of the city. After spending time in an extremely walkable city like Budapest, I’m now in a city where cars are the default mode of transportation. Traffic jams are the norm here, even at 10pm. Getting around takes time. If you want to go anywhere, you’re advised to set aside 45 minutes to an hour of travel time. I am renting an apartment close to the Skytrain, Bangkok’s new public transit system, but even then, it still takes me time to get anywhere. The Skytrain is comparable to the S-Bahn in Germany. The stations are interspersed by a considerably amount of distance.

On my first day, I went to visit one of the Buddhist temples (Wat Pho), home to a giant reclining Buddha. To get there I took a boat that runs along the river. A one way ticket costs 40 baht. After visiting the temple, I took a look at my map and figured I could navigate my way through the old city on foot, to the nearest Skytrain stop. I estimated it would take me half an hour, maybe an hour. The map I picked up only shows the main thoroughfares and not very accurately. I ended up getting lost, wandering for a couple of hours through Chinatown.

Chinatown in this part of the world is not like what you see in Ottawa or Montreal. It’s a lot more…intense. There were little street markets everywhere, selling fresh food. Carcasses of chicken and meat were hanging out with flies buzzing around them. There were all kinds of interesting smells. It was loud and crowded. People were sitting and lying down on the ground, some of them eating rice. I walked through these little passage ways with all kinds of shops and markets selling food, gold jewelery and trinkets. I was soaked in sweat. Eventually I found my way back to another section of the riverbank and caught another boat back. Looking at the map, I logged about 4 kilometers in the afternoon sun.

IMG_9869_web

Dairy Queen soft serve ice cream cones have become my go-to treat here. A large cone only costs 15 baht. Great on a hot day (which is every day here).

IMG_1841Khao San Road, the famous backpacking party destination, had more tourists than Thais enjoying the nightlife on the night I stopped in. It was crowded. As you navigate your way through the throngs of people, you pass food carts selling roasted scorpions on a stick.

IMG_1860My condo is in a residential section of the city, away from the tourist spots. People stare at me when I walk around, especially when I am in my local mall running errands.

IMG_9881A smartphone plan with 900mb per month costs 199baht, about $7 Canadian.

IMG_1856The malls here are elaborate. Many have not one but two floors dedicated to restaurants and a foot court. One of the largest malls, Terminal 21, features six floors, each one named after a famous city (Paris, London, San Francisco, Rome, Istanbul, etc). Each floor features decorations that pay tribute to the city. The London Floor features a double-decker bus and a Tube car. The Rome floor features marble decor that harkens back to Roman times. The San Francisco floor features a miniature version of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Bangkok_July2_074_web

Bangkok_July2_147_web

Buddhist shrines are found everywhere. There is even one outside of my condo building.

Ganesha_IMG_0031

I have lost approximately five pounds over the past two weeks. Not sure if it’s just water weight or if the change in diet has resulted in the loss.

IMG_1885Some parts of the city are very dirty. One evening I decided to visit a popular night market. After getting off the Skytrain I walked up a busy street and up some stairs that connected to an overpass. On my way up, I thought I saw a cat out of the corner of my eye. When I got to the top of the stairs, I realized I was headed in the wrong direction. When I headed back down the stairs, what I thought was a cat turned out to be a huge rat, climbing out of a Styrofoam container with some leftovers in his mouth.

IMG_9834_webClose to my condo is a large plot of land with a tin-roofed shack. On the plot of land, there are about a dozen dogs running around free. By day, they stay on the plot of land, but at night they come out onto the sidewalk. The other night I was coming back from the Skytrain station and turned the corner to find a pack of six or seven dogs on the sidewalk. A teenage Thai boy was a few steps ahead of me and stopped dead in his tracks. He was pretty rattled. Nevertheless, the two of us carried on and passed the dogs. They didn’t give us any trouble, not even a sniff.

IMG_9817_webI think Thai people are even more into Smartphones and Tech that we ”Farangs” are. On the Skytrain everyone is using a top-notch smartphone (Samsung Galaxy 6 or iPhone). In my gym, everyone brings their tech along. Many people bring their tablets with them. One woman parks herself on the stationary bike with her tablet to stream YouTube videos and her phone to send texts.

IMG_1895Coffee Shop culture is here too. I am sipping on a cappuccino as I write this. There are lots of good shops with good coffee and good WiFi. This is important to someone like me who works online.

So far I haven’t gotten sick. No digestive problems, no colds. Hopefully it stays that way. I have made sure to only drink bottled water. I even use it to brush my teeth.

Web_IMG_0044

More notes to come…

How To Use Reddit Productively

reddit_logo_Startup_380x285While not on the same level of mainstream use as Facebook or Twitter, Reddit can be an extremely valuable tool to use both personally or professionally. I’ve been browsing Reddit a lot more in the past few months and have discovered that when used properly, it can be a rich resource of information.

Avoid the Front Page

Reddit refers to itself as “the front page of the internet. That’s a pretty bold statement. The only problem is that the front page of Reddit is one of the least productive places online. It’s mostly image memes and gifs. While they can be good for a laugh or a distraction, Reddit’s real value is hidden in the sub-reddits.

Go Local

Local sub-reddits might be Reddit’s biggest asset. If you live in a decent sized city, you’re bound to find lots of useful and relevant information on any given day. Here in Ottawa, the local sub-reddit is a busy place with over 10,000 readers. You’ll get a mix of local news (that actually matters), helpful tips on restaurants and nightlife, lots of great photography and stories about hidden treasures located in different neighbourhoods.‚ I’ve seen journalists from local media comb Reddit Ottawa for stories of interest.

In the Ottawa sub-reddit, just about every type of food has been covered. You can find out where to go for the best poutine, the best shawarma or the best pho. There’s also lots of helpful information on the best grocery stores and post-midnight dining.

Whether you grew up here or just moved here, it’s a great place to find out what’s awesome in your city.

A Useful Travel Tool

Not only is Reddit great in your hometown, it’s also a valuable travel tool. If you’re planning on going on a trip to any decent-sized city or even a country overseas, you can find out what locals are saying by visiting the appropriate subreddit. If you need to ask a question, you’ll likely get a helpful answer.

There are also sub-reddits dedicated to travel. The busiest of these is the travel sub-reddit but you can also get even more specific, with backpacking, expat life, solo travel and couchsurfing.

Improve your Work, Develop your Hobbies

Many lines of work are also well-represented on Reddit. Whether, you work in Public Relations, Finance or Graphic Design, there’s lots of useful information out there too. I work in communications, so I’ve subscribed to the blogging and social media sub-reddits. Every day there are useful tips and tricks posted that help me in my line of work.

Just about any hobby can be found on Reddit. I just checked, there’s a sub-reddit for knitting. Whatever you’re into (I don’t knit, for the record), there are other people like you on Reddit who want to talk about it and trade tips and ideas.

If you’re a sports fan or news junkie, there are sub-reddits for all your favourites too, from hockey and cricket to politics and world news.

What sub-reddits am I subscribed to?

I’ve got a mixed bag of subscriptions, I’ve mentioned a few already but I will list them here:

http://www.reddit.com/r/ottawa/
http://www.reddit.com/r/photography/
http://www.reddit.com/r/travel/
http://www.reddit.com/r/socialmedia/
http://www.reddit.com/r/Blogging/

When I log on to www.reddit.com I see a mix of submissions from across these sub-reddits. I’ll spend time digging through each sub-reddit on its own, too.

Subscribing to Reddit is incredibly easy. You just choose a username and a password. You don’t even have to give an email, so it’s very anonymous and you never get any kind of spam/follow-up email. It’s no wonder celebrities use Reddit for their “ask me anything sessions.

I’ve found Reddit to be incredibly useful, hopefully you will too.

Visiting Washington at Christmas

The US Capitol
The US Capitol

After my visit to New York City, I took a bus that wound its way through New Jersey and Delaware on its way to Washington, DC.

My visit to the District came only a couple of days before Christmas, so the city was in holiday mode, with large Christmas trees placed throughout the downtown core.

Washington is a very walkable city, with the great majority of its touristy sites built in a central core, on and just north of the National Mall. The Linconl Memorial lies at the West end of the Mall, while the US Capitol Building is at the East end. The White House is North of the Mall.

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 3.59.40 PM

While the city is walkable, you’ll still need to bring some good walking shoes.‚ Between the Capitol steps and the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall spans ‚ 3 km. The area sprawls out, but with every few hundred meters, you’ll come across an important building, great architecture or one of the many museums opened to the public.

As you can see on the map above, the city is well-served by a convenient Metro system. The system works well and gets you where you need to go quickly and efficiently. All of the stations feature a similar design structure, with the arching roof above the tracks.

A typical Metro station
A typical Metro station

Head north of the mall and you’ll find a wide variety of restaurants to enjoy. I recommend RFD Washington, a solid pub with lots of beers on tap and good food. 14th street also features a number of well-regarded restaurants.

I spent most of my time wandering through the downtown core with my camera in hand. Here’s a few shots of some of the more important landmarks.

The North Side of the White House
The North Side of the White House
South Side of the White House
South Side of the White House
The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument
The Canadian Embassy enjoys a place of prominence on Pennsylvania Ave
The Canadian Embassy enjoys a place of prominence on Pennsylvania Ave
The Mall at Christmas
The Mall at Christmas
The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial
The View from the Lincoln Memorial
The View from the Lincoln Memorial
The National Christmas Tree, just south of the White House
The National Christmas Tree, just south of the White House

Visiting New York at Christmas

Christmas Decorations
Christmas Decorations

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was able to take a quick trip to New York City just before Christmas. I was able to book a cheap train from Montreal to New York. It’s a convenient option, as the train offers wifi, which allows me to work while traveling, and the final destination is Penn Station, right in the heart of Manhattan.

This time around, I used AirBNB to find a place to crash, locating a cheap room in an apartment on the Lower East Side. I can’t recommend AirBNB enough to the traveler. It gives you another viable option to keep your budget in check. It also helps you make a decision about just how good the “deals” are on sites like Hotwire or Priceline. If you can’t find something to your liking, you can go to AirBNB.

Central Park and the City
Central Park and the City

I was only in NYC for a couple of the nights, but was able to see quite a bit of Manhattan, most of it on foot. The weather during my visit was outstanding, with temperatures soaring to plus 23C with lots of humidity. It was a welcome break from snowy Ottawa.

This was my second visit to NYC, my first since 2009. After mentioning that I had found the city to be too intense, I heard from people who live/grew up in the city that it’s best to stay away from Midtown Manhattan. I took their advice and had a much more relaxing and enjoyable trip this time around.

NYCDC_0013
The Upper West Side

I spent most of my time walking around in some of the quieter neighbourhoods, such as the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown and spent the bulk of an afternoon exploring Central Park. While I did make a few stops in Midtown (NHL Store, Rockefeller Christmas Tree, Grand Central Station), I made sure to keep my visits to those crowded, loud places brief, so not to get to drained. It’s really intense on the senses. Your brain has to process a lot, I’m not sure how healthy it would be on a daily basis.

Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall

I want to explore New York some more in the coming months. I still have lots of Manhattan neighbourhoods to see and I should probably check out Brooklyn as well. I plan on returning in the near future.

Rockefeller Christmas Tree: Tourist Central
Rockefeller Christmas Tree: Tourist Central
Times Square
Times Square
Beautiful Weather for December in Central Park
Beautiful Weather for December in Central Park

Genova, Italy: Getting Lost In The Winding Seaside Streets

IMG_4943

The Italian seaside city of Genova (Genoa in English) marked the final leg of my European adventure.

As Italy’s largest port, it has a rich history as one of the country’s most powerful and important cities. From a tourist’s perspective, it is often overlooked, as foreigners focus most of their attention on Rome, Venice, Florence and the like. This is a mistake. Genova, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, has lots to offer.

Porto Antico
Porto Antico

The port of Genova, the city’s economic engine offers some lovely views. Taking a stroll along the Porto Antico, you’ll see a impressive display of yachts and sailboats. It’s a great place to people watch and a popular meeting spot for locals.

IMG_4950

Stepping away from the waterfront, you can turn up one of Genova’s winding streets or alleyways. This is probably the city’s hallmark. It’s both lovely and disorienting at the same time. I ended up getting all turned around my first couple of trips through the city’s streets, which feel more like a maze than urban planning. Take a look at the google satellite view below, you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about.

GoogleGenova

All these little streets are filled with houses, shops and restaurants. There’s no central area where you go to find a grocery store, there’s a butcher or market around every tight little corner.

IMG_4949

All these little maze-like streets eventually lead to squares, which are usually home to churches or other important buildings.

Nights_0063

Before getting to Genova, my Italian cousin advised me to try some Focaccia during my visit. It’s a flat, oven-baked bread that kind of resembles pizza, but it’s quite different. I tried a few different varieties from different shops, but the best one was this cheesy, garlic‚ focaccia al formaggio‚  I found just off the old port.

focaccia al formaggio
focaccia al formaggio

I didn’t get to spend as much time in Genova as I would have liked, as I was up against the clock, a flight from Paris to Canada waiting for me. If I go back to Italy, I’ll be sure to give Genova the proper attention it deserves.