Discovering the world with relentless curiosity

Tag: History

Johannesburg – Our Welcome to South Africa

After spending 6 weeks in Europe, we bid goodbye to snow, heavy jackets, bratwursts, museums and lots of history. Reflecting back on the last 40+ days, we’ve had many incredible…

After spending 6 weeks in Europe, we bid goodbye to snow, heavy jackets, bratwursts, museums and lots of history. Reflecting back on the last 40+ days, we’ve had many incredible experiences, stories to tell and memories etched – that will never be forgotten for lifetimes to come.

Our next 3 weeks takes us to possibly one of the most colorful continents in the world: Africa. We revel in the reality that we are now in closer proximity with wildlife and the climate is comfortably tropical. Having spent a week here, it has dawn upon us that South Africa has its surprises. Contrary to what we assumed, the average standard of living is alarmingly high (for example; a simple dinner will set us back R180/MYR90). Also, getting connected to the worldwide web is a scarcity, in some cases it would costs us a bomb to get dial-up. Can’t expect much being surrounded by dense forest, mountainous boulders and gorgeous coastlines.

Our first few days spent at Johannesburg was relatively chilling (in a relaxing way, not in a cold way!). We rented a car, drove around the city, made friends with friendly locals, walked through their markets and watched a lot of talk on TV about the coming World Cup. We stayed at Mbizi Backpackers in Johannesburg. Great location, feels like home and extremely spacious – which is what we love! They even have a huge pool to dip ourselves in!

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One place was worth our visit was the Apartheid Museum. Walking through this museum and memorial site dedicated to the cruel and inhuman regime (of white-only dominance) reminded us of our visit to Dachau, just recently. The segregation of communities and the nation just because of colour, skin or origins – were badly astonishing. Happened only in recent history that laws were passed for ‘white-only’ areas, ‘white-only’ benches/chairs, beaches, toilets – the list goes on. People who stood against this white ruling regime were arrested and tortured (mostly politicians). The most famous captive was Nelson Mandela, who eventually became the President of South Africa in 1994. His autobiography, Long Road to Freedom is definitely worth reading.

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Visiting the Apartheid Museum help put images and experiences to the words in the Mandela’s autobiography. Following the trail of this inspiring and humbling history throughout Africa, we will be visiting Robben Island in a few weeks time.

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Buda And Pest

Did you know that Budapest is a city divided by the Danube? On one side is Pest – the flat, busy, central district while on the other side is Buda,…

Did you know that Budapest is a city divided by the Danube? On one side is Pest – the flat, busy, central district while on the other side is Buda, the hilly and more residential part of the city. Budapest is a young country that has a past of Communist ruler ship. Its current post-communist state brings about an interesting discussion of pro’s and con’s of the communist regime. Tourist who traverse this city in a few days would find it incredibly refreshing, in all sense; culturally, architecturally, traditions and its cuisines. There’s a tinge of Turkish, a tad of Russian and a slight flair of its current surfacing Budapestian flavor.

Once again filled with cathedrals and monuments throughout the city, the familiar gothic, neo-western style of buildings seemed to have disappeared. Instead sculptures of angels, saints and milder looking domes formed the shape of its edifices. I was drawn to the structural design of the city, and indeed appreciating it more than the previous European buildings seen in the last few weeks.

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To add to these man-made beauties is the Danube; a massive river that sat magnificently between Buda & Pest. On either side was a guaranteed view to behold. Buda had rolling hills – one of which was the famous Castle Hill and the fairy-tale looking Fisherman’s Bastion, 200 mysterious labyrinths beneath, cathedrals atop and the Parliament on one end. Whilst standing on Buda’s side, Pest is brightly lit, buzzing with life and the old St. Stephen’s church in all its grandeur. Beneath the awesome western-European, our Hungarian guide plaintively explained that its post-communist governance has many rippling effects the people are left to face with. Nonetheless this beautiful city has a lot to look forward too.

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The massive neo-classic structure of St. Stephen’s Basilica is not to be missed. We’ve been into dozens of churches around Europe, but this one knocks your socks off. The exterior is a grand statement in itself, however stepping inside will leave you awe struck. The mosaic pictures intricately lined the dome within and 24 carat gold trimmings gently framed each mosaic. Everything in the church looked costly and almost delicate to behold. The only bizarre thing about the basilica was it housed a highly regarded religious treasure – the right hand of St. Stephen’s. This mummified shrunken hand lay in a gold trimmed glass box and people were allowed to see it when you drop a few coins into a machine that would lit the box up for 2 minutes. I found it totally bizarre!

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One of our favourite “hang-outs” – The Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) down Andrassy Main Road. Somehow, you get the feeling of patriotism when you see this.

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Athens – Where History Meets Modernity

The Cambodia or Vietnam of Europe – that’s Athens to me. Cars and motorbikes fill the streets, traffic jams are not a rarity in this condensed city. Stray dogs are…

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The Cambodia or Vietnam of Europe – that’s Athens to me. Cars and motorbikes fill the streets, traffic jams are not a rarity in this condensed city. Stray dogs are found pawing on every corner and the occasional litter is seen spewing on sidewalks. I was comforted by the sight because this is the kind of “Asia” I’m used to seeing, on the other hand, I was startled to find Athens in quite this unruly state.

But apart from the common chaos, Athens is a city with astounding history. After visiting umpteen museums and galleries, we’re reminded of the fact that Europe has done a good job in regarding stories of old. Still, nothing can be compared to what Athens has to offer. With the famous Acropolis, the famed Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Ancient Agora and Handrian’s Gate within its parameters, stories of millenniums ago are still very alive in the witnessing of these monumental structures.

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We stood trying to picture the stories described, of people filling the theatres, governments being formed, civilization at the brink of its existence and wars being fought. The view took our breaths away as we marveled at the greatest of all archeological sites (perhaps on planet Earth!).

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Plaka and Monastiraki known to be the hub of hype is where all the flea markets are found. Storekeepers proudly displayed their goods, of which we found were mostly made in China. Bee lining from one street to another, we were offered a taste of commonality. Accustomed to what we would see in Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur, much of the shops resembled the same aura. Half torn down buildings still in use, vendors setting up street side stores, motorbikes whizzing away creating a cloud of carbon dioxide and the familiar sounds of loud harsh wrangling of butchers and market sellers. It was a mess, a comfortable enough kind of mess that we strolled happily through.
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We settled into a vacant table after a long day of walking to savour the tasty delights of the raved about Souvlaki. Basically kebabs in simple English served with fluffy pita bread and a side salad. What’s the rave all about?! Well… it’s got to be the juicy, succulent meat of the kebabs! I personally wouldn’t want to know what kind of fats have gone into grilling this spongy meat delight. Just eat.

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle (“New Swan Castle”) is one of the most beautiful and famous castles in Germany. It is also the most visited castle in Europe. Our guide, Stacey began her…

Neuschwanstein-Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle (“New Swan Castle”) is one of the most beautiful and famous castles in Germany. It is also the most visited castle in Europe. Our guide, Stacey began her tour by intriguing us with the creator of the castle. His name was King Ludwig II of Bavaria, also known as the “Fairytale King”. Ludwig (as I will call him) was a character shrouded with mystery. He once told his governors,

“I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others”

and it is this mysterious element that fascinated me (leading me to research more about him even after the tour).

Neuschwanstein-Castle

 

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Ludwig was crowned king at the age of 18 years old when his father Maximilian II suddenly passed away. Throughout his childhood Ludwig remained very sheltered and protected. His parents Maximilian II and Marie of Prussia were almost non-existent attending to royal duties in and out of Munich. Ludwig spent a lot of time alone which festered his day dreaming. Ludwig being a growing boy searched for a role model and found one in Richard Wagner, a world – renowned composer.

It was predicted from the start that Ludwig would not make a very good king, however he prevailed wanting very much to give the throne to his only brother Otto. However the unfortunate struck, Otto was declared mentally unfit to rule and Ludwig had to continue his reign. After some time, Ludwig found his refuge in places of solitude. He retreated from the public and stayed in Hohenschwangau Castle most of the time.

He turned to day dreaming once again, but this time with the royal treasury at hand, Ludwig was able to turn his dreams into reality. In 1869, the foundations of Neuschwanstein Castle were laid. 18 years later in 1887, after the mysterious death of Ludwig in 1886, the castle was completed. Although Ludwig wanted the castle as a refuge and requested that the castle be torn down when he dies, the government decided to open the castle to the public due to the enormous debt he had piled up from his extravagant building plans.

The famous German castle overlooks the picturesque Hohenschwangau valley and is located only a short distance from the popular tourist town, Fussen. It was built in Richard Wagner’s honour and many rooms in the castle’s interior were inspired by Wagner’s poetic characters. The castle was designed by a theatre set designer instead of an architect making it look like a scene from a theatre instead of real life. Indeed, this castle has appeared in a few movies but more notably, it bore inspiration for castles you see in Disney Land. The famous 20th century icon, Walt Disney saw, replicated and created his own in USA.

Staggering figures associate with this romantic sight; since the time it was opened, over 50 million people have visited the Neuschwanstein Castle. About 1.3 million people visit annually, with up to 6,000 per day in the summer. It has been told that the foundations holding this castle are starting to wear down due to the immense numbers frolicking it… nonetheless, if it crumbles (perhaps not in my lifetime) – here are pictures to tell.

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This Is Dachau

To honour the dead and warn the living A statue erected to remind us all that history is not contained to geographical borders, nationalities or cultures – instead it is…

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To honour the dead and warn the living

A statue erected to remind us all that history is not contained to geographical borders, nationalities or cultures – instead it is prominent life lessons for humanity that we will choose to make positive and peaceful decisions instead of destructive ones. The statue above is of a common prisoner, with his head held high, hands in pocket and one leg in an at ease motion. During his time in prison, he is not allowed to lift his head up to face a guard, put his hands into his uniforms’ pocket and must always stand in attention. If he is caught doing them, punishment will be acquitted.

The gates with the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (‘Work Sets You Free’) were kept ajar as a sign that this once grim and forbidden fortress is now open. Its secrets uncovered, its victims honoured and its stories now live to tell. Dachau was the very first Nazi concentration camp set up as a hub to capture political prisoners who fought against its regimes. It later enlarged detaining criminals and Jews. People who entered the camp never knew whether they will ever come out – frightfully so, many didn’t make it out. Jews were thrown in by the hundreds and thousands – without reason, without even the right for trial and possible freedom. This was the difference between a concentration camp and a prison – Dachau was hell on earth for many innocent men, especially those of Jewish descent. It was reported that over 200,000 people went through the camp and 43,000 lost their lives to the ruthless torture and extreme work environments.

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Detainees went through a strict system upon entering the camp. The mocking and torture would begin even before they enter the camp grounds. It was required of the public to spit, mock and discriminate the people entering the camp as they walked from the train to the camp gates. Anyone in the public who resisted would be treated the same as those whose fate lie in the hands of the SS guards.

Prisoners were stripped of their dignity, respect and possessions as they entered the first hall leading to the shower room. Their possessions were confiscated from them, even mere entities like photographs of loved ones or identification documents. From that moment on, they were only known by numbers. Guards would lead them to the communal shower room where they were forced to strip down losing their dignity, then their hair shaven before being shoved to the ground where they will frantically grab any piece of uniform from the heap on the floor.

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Punishment was erratic and many times without reason, or instigated by SS guards. Prisoners were hung from a metal bar for hours losing all strength in the limbs, then whipped and mocked at. Other prisoners suffered canning by 2 guards simultaneously on both sides while counting one to twenty-five in German. Non-German speaking prisoners will suffer twice or thrice the punishment simply because they can’t count proficiently in German. Still other prisoners suffered the fate of being a guinea pig to the mad medical doctors who tried all kinds of experiments on prisoners for military developments during WW2. Whatever the punishment was, it baffles me how inhumane people can become, their conscience seared, their souls swallowed up by a seeming beast.

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Walking down the silent expanse of torn down barracks, we entered the crematorium where thousands of lives passed on and delivered to the fire. Pictures show that at one point the camp ran out of coal, thus bodies could not be cremated; instead they were piled on top of each other like meat at the butchers, rotting away. The feeling walking into the crematorium and passing through the gas chambers is too awful for words – there is an immense sense of doom and although the building is quite sizable, I felt extremely trapped with a sudden surge of claustrophobia. No one – no one should ever have to go through this…

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Cambodia At First Sight

Where old world and new world collide – Siem Reap to me is a country battling to find her identity. A mix of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, this mesh of…

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Where old world and new world collide – Siem Reap to me is a country battling to find her identity. A mix of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, this mesh of culture, tradition and lifestyle intrigues me. Travelers flocking to Cambodia has ‘visiting the ruins’ as top on the list of must do’s , then maybe sparing some time to volunteer at one of the many hundreds of NGOs polka dotted across the country, then comes the food and perhaps cultural centers showcasing Apsara dancers.

Indeed Cambodia has successfully preserved their national heritage of craggy temples, the famous Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon being the most visited. Throngs of tourist stream into these ancient landmarks photographing at every angle. Perpetual hand and footprints have left its mark on these stones turning them into a darkish grey. The structures are mesmerizing with century old stories to tell. Towering soft wood trees anchor themselves on these structures providing shade against the sweltering heat.

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Modern day Cambodia is a representation of the old trying to embrace the new, yet not there yet. Struggling to find a foot in development, Cambodia is still very rural and laid back in my opinion. Development visited only when foreign trade and intervention infiltrated the land. Many NGOs set up in the country is established for the fact that the local economy desperately needs help. Hopefully Cambodia will one day be able to stand on its own feet and thrive.

The streets still lined with food vendors, tuk tuk drivers calling “tuk tuk lady” the minute they see a foreigner, make shift fish spas set up to lure tourists, touts continue to tail you just to get one dollar for a stack of postcards. Tourism is big here. But how far can this stretch? That remains a big concern.

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