Marseille, Second French Connection

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter I

Marseille, Second French Connection

City: Marseille
Country: France
Currency: Euro (€)
Travel date: 4/9/2008 – 6/9/2008
Couchsurfing: 2 nights

Though I wouldn’t say that it was a shoddy planning due to the extra lengthy working hour during my internship in Indonesia and England, the entire planning of the summer trip was pretty much resembled the idea of assembling scattering pieces for greater picture formation.

Nevertheless, the summer trip had successfully kick-started at Marseille, my second French connection, with a brand new travel experience; travelling alone and couchsurfing. Though it would be better if I have got companion, I savoured the greater freedom and flexibility offered by unaccompanied travel.

Caption: Entrance of navigational channel and Chatédrale.

Marseille is the second largest city in France after Paris. The city is huge, but my time allocated for Marseille was scarce. And supported by the idea of having more relaxed travel compared to my winter trip, most of the tourist destinations had been aborted intentionally.

Being one of the candidates for cultural city of Europe, the ethnic composition of the population in the city of Marseille has certainly tailored it for the title. Culturally rich is almost automatically linked with Marseille due to this factor. However, to be crowned the cultural city of Europe? I have reservation.

Caption: Vieux Port day and night.

Not that Marseille was lacking the x factors that make it top the chart, but it was somehow unnatural in my opinion. If you have travelled to the city, you would definitely be dazzled by its offering of celebrations and activities that originated from cultures galore. But it just made me felt that these were all forced out.

It was interesting to witness how people of various skin colour tolerating each other for co-existence. But the connections of these people were in serious shortage with isolated living zones. Very often, it conveyed the message that these people are living together because they share the same space and not for greater interaction. Such a shame, indeed!

Caption: "Old Town" for the first three and Modern Town for the last.

Despite the fact that Marseille couldn’t be more cultural naturally interesting, attractions remain plentiful. Certainly, a walk along Vieux Port all the way towards Fort Saint-Jean or Bas Fort Saint-Nicolas is a must, especially during evening time when all the fishermen gather around Vieux Port, shouting at passerby for their products.

Vieux Port at night, however, has a totally different atmosphere in store for tourists than its blatant business and the chaotic manoeuvre of traffic during daytime. Accompanied by the refreshing late summer breeze from the sea, Vieux Port was beautifully decorated with colourful neon lights that sketched the liveliness of the city.

Vieux Port was nice, but it was not enormous for an entire day. Visiting to south of France and getting closer to the warmth of Mediterranean, what could be more relaxing and rewarding than a walk through the ancient hub of Marseille around the second district, especially in the proximity of Vielle Charite (the “old town” of Marseille) for its Mediterranean and Greek-like construction before diving oneself to the arms of sea at Catalans Beach?

Caption: Notre Dame de la Garde, inside and the way up.

Visiting to the “old town” of Marseille brought me to an entirely new world. The architectural value at the old town was distinctive from the modern Marseille. Surrounded by buildings which I believe were living quarters normally of three to four storey high and painted in different colours, there was a constant demand for a climb on fairly large step concrete staircase. It gave me a very strong sense of Mediterranean construction which surprised me in great order.

Satisfied with the old town, Catalans Beach or Plage des Catalans was however a shocking disappointment. The seawater was crystal clear and was in lovely sky blue colour if viewed from top and the temperature was surely a lot better than North Sea. However, the bay was so narrow that my search for a wide sandy beach unfortunately became a total nightmare. Luckily it wasn’t crowded for a nice late summer tan.

Caption: Another new and old comparison.

My only day in Marseille though was not inundated by tourist hot spots was quite tiring after a swim in the sea and a climb to Notre Dame de la Garde. Thus, there was no night life for me. However, hospitality offered by my host had got me to a night walk in Marseille which I appreciate very much.

Marseille, whether it is an official cultural city of Europe, surely has something to offer. But whether a tourist knows how to appreciate its charm, it depends.

Summer Trip Prelude

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part Two Summer Trip 2008


In my last post, I mentioned Berlin was the “last” stop of my winter trip. It was actually not because I took a detour to Hamburg on the last day of my month long travel since Berlin had literally killed my passion for travel with its persistently stubborn downpour.

However, Hamburg will not be featured in this column as in my opinion it would be unjustifiable to describe a city when I was only putting my footprints on a few streets.

And then the travelogue is supposed to continue with my adventures in the Netherlands. But I have decided to reserve it until the time when travel entries run dry. And right, there is also the experience in Kalimantan and Great Yarmouth during my summer internship. For the same reason, they are refrigerated.

Therefore, here comes the prelude of my recent summer trip to France, Switzerland, Italy and London.

The trip had claimed my many firsts; the first time travelling alone overseas, the first time staying at random strangers homes, the first time not concentrating on tourist destinations, the first time of spending more money on ice-cream than on food, and the first time of, wait, that is a piece of private information.

A comment left in the previous post taught me into learning the colours of unexpected rather than the frustrations of expected. Strangely, this is somehow connected to my recent rather unplanned summer trip.

If a picture conveys a thousand words, I am going to give you a wall of pictures. Bon voyage with me in due course.

Click to enlarge.

Berlin, Feels Like Home

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Chapter XI
Berlin, Feels Like Home

City: Berlin
y: Germany
Currency: Euro
Travel Date: 19-22 January 2008

Travel Buddies: Siddharth, Eg
on, Rahma, Stella, Philipp, Chris and Meghan

Caption: Single most important depiction of Berlin history

Berlin is such an important city for past and current world affairs and it is definitely a crucial checkpoint for the world's history. However, it felt strangely familiar during my visit. For more than one moment, I questioned myself: Have I boarded a flight that brought me back to my home country Malaysia?

I was literally drenched in rain for the entire 4-day stay in Berlin. This megacity looked nothing more like Kuala Lumpur when it was cloudy and rainy, flashflood-less of course. Wide roads with wheels speeding along, unplanned city development, numerous unknown buildings that seem to have received careless treatment, and the uncoated dirtiness around the city, I couldn't help but wonder the resemblance between Berlina and Kuala Lumpur.

Having mentioned the esrtwhile blatant descriptions, yes, it is an explicit indication that I didn't really enjoy my Berlin stay (so as Kuala Lumpur). First of all, why do I have to fly continents away to go a place that I feel familiar with? Secondly, the "monsoon" season during my visit had literally killed my travelling mood. And lastly, the city was, allow me to be scrupulously honest, ugly.

Caption: Two drawings on the Eastside Gallery.

Indeed, it is unfair to judge the city with my sole opinion. Everyone should visit the city before making his or her own conclusion. That was also the reason why I was so deeply disappointed after drowned by the many there-is-just-so-much-going-on comment from my friends. Perhaps expectation does always lead to frustration. But sincerely, I wouldn't fancy revisiting the city in the future.

Perhaps the city is dirty. Perhaps it is not intelligently constructed mainly due to the destruction during the war and the demand to recover at its fastest. But the rain that I hated pretty much was contradictorily the magic wand that miraculously added a must have Berlin atmosphere during my visit. What could be a better weather to visit the Holocaust, Charlie checkpoint, Eastside gallery of Berlin Wall if not a rainy one?

Caption: Berlin division and the cut off section of Berlin Wall.

War was once again becam the main course of my winter trip after Poland. I knew it was only a matter of time that learning about Nazism from the inside and not from the outside (Poland) is on my agenda since the moment I started planning my winter trip.

It was less depressing though if compared to Auschwitz, perhaps the sudden imposition of disbelief reduced significantly when the War agenda was again raised. Emotion was niggardly involved, but it was educational to walk along the Eastside gallery which for some is mainly a long piece of graffiti by unknown artists. To me, a lot of messages could be delivered if one scrutinise the drawings carefully.

Undoubtedly, the Berlin Wall is the single most important feature of Berlin. But the historical past of the city was actually filled up the every corner around the city. There were permanent exhibitions made available to public at various locations in the city. The city is definitely made for War enthusiasts and I would probably describe it as a vast walk-in museum to the War.

Caption: Charlie Checkpoint and some exhibition close to the Holocaust.

Politically, the history of Berlin is not only the attraction to visitors. A visit to Berlin would seem to be less perfect if the Parliament is not in your agenda. And topping it up with a handful of greyish atmosphere, excellent.

Compared to the other visitor hotspots, the Parliament is relatively "young". The core section of the Parliament is definitely the Dome, an interesting architecture feature of the Parliament structure that allows visitors to view the seating of parliament from the top, of course, when there is one. During my visit, it was just too bad. However, ascending and descending in alternate order along the pathways inside the Dome was also an intriguing event.

Honestly, that was it, my Berlin encounter. Being the "last" stop of my winter trip, I was culturally filled and started to lose motivation for eager exploration. Lid-ed by the discouraging weather (and just for how many times more I am going to blame on the weather?), I must admit that I deliberately kept my enthusiasm safely in a hidden corner. Perhaps it is time to settle down at my second home - the Netherlands.

Caption: The Parliament building and inside the Dome.

Munich, the King who lived in fairy tale

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Chapter X Part II
Munich, the King who lived in Fairy Tale

City: Munich
Country: Germany
Currency: Euro (€)
Dates: 15/01/2008 - 19/01/2008
Travel buddies: Chris, Siddharth, Stella, Meghan, Rahma, Egon

Caption: Munich city hall

Yes, it is undeniable that this has been a longed update. Summer trip, still freshly lingering in my mind will however not appearing in this column anytime soon. Well, as you can see, I am still struggling with my late production of my winter trip.

However, I have decided that updates will be made more frequently in order to keep up with the pace of the column with the tragically overdue travel stories.

Last time we were looking Munich from an advanced and developed point of view. But now, let's board on time machine and travel to the past of Munich. Our destinations: ancient Munich city and Neuschwanstein.

Caption: Munich old town and the dragon church.

Munich old town, in my opinion is not massively confusing. But together with my friends, there was still quite a bit of challenge for us to locate at night the restaurant which serves humongous portion of cuisines at unimaginable affordable prices, which was recommended by our walking tour guide.

The trails of an old expression of Munich were not difficult to be noticed. But with modern shops so compactly fused into historical monuments, it could be hard and perhaps less interesting for one to really enjoy the visit to the old town. However, bear in mind that this is the norm of megacities in Europe, where very often shopping street or district is located, or purely a modification from a city's old town.

Still, during the visit to Munich old town, one would be able to ascend to the city hall tower which gives you a panoramic view of the entire Munich city, or visit to a church which was once conquered by a dragon (couldn't remember the name of the church though), and also various buildings located at random corners, which remained largely untouched.

Caption: Neuschwanstein and the beer mug of King Ludwig II.

Personally, for the sake of quenching the thirst for more historical sides of Munich city and its surrounding, I would recommend a visit to Neuschwanstein at Füssen. If you haven't got to know it, Neuschwanstein was one of the 21 candidates in the new seven wonders of the world contest. But to be really honest, this fairy tale castle, which was popular locations for various films, turned out to be not so glamorous.

The interior of the castle is not as extravagant as its adjacent surrounding promises. The location of the castle is undeniably perfect as any view from any of the windows of the cacstle will isntantly supplies a sight to sore eyes, even when it was durinf winter time. However, this supposed to be the most expensive castle built by King Ludwig II turned out to the a loser when the interior design is of concern. There was golden decoration but only with golden paint; there were murals all around the building, but only unattractive dull drawings.

And contrary to the romantic belief, this castle was actually used by the King to separate himself from the world. Some even concluded that Neuschwanstein was the private mental illness centre of the King. To add on the mysteries, there was even speculation saying that it was the love net of the King and his homosexual lover. Fascinating!

Caption: Trains hall, bridges hall and space hall in Science and Technology Museum.

Leaving Neuschwanstein, I stepped into the past of Munich in another form; the Science and Technology Museum of Munich. Yes, I admit this may sound a little similar to the technology chapter in the last entry. But differs itself from the modern technology which you can observe easily on the streets, the science and technology museum supplies immense pleasure to technology enthusiasts of different disciplines with its detailed and rich galore of histories, explanations and models in various technology fields.

However, once has to recognise that this museum is not targeted to be a day or even a two-day event. Of course you can choose to rush through the various chambers of the museum, but surely that will not benefit you in any way. My suggestion is really to just relax and pace yourself in the museum and the best thing to do is always to start with your favourite section. To me, this definitely has to be the train technology section, where large scale trains models was set up and running in the entire hall.

Caption: Tropical fruit store in Munich old town and voila! The most expensive papaya in life!

One othe thing about why Munich was able to crave such a vivid memory in my mind was the most expensive papaya I had ever bought in my life. it was the first time I saw a papaya in Europe and after being deserted by the fruit for more than half a year, I went literally insane during its presence. Spent 12 Euros on that papaya, I must say it was not only the most expensive one in my life, it was also the most effective one; toilet visit was guaranteed after two-hour I had tasted it.

Now, it is not hard to see why Munich was such a huge attraction to me. It simply has the whole package tgat dazzles tourists of all walks of life. If there is one place in Germany that I would recommend, Munich is definitely the place. But to be fair and not just conclude as a first-timer to Germany, join me in Berlin next time.