Monday, December 7, 2009

Leaving in 2 days

Yesss... the long-awaited Eastern Europe tour is only 2 days away!! We are really excitied!!
Our luggages were packed and really to go! On thursday's morning, we'll assemble at Changi Airport Terminal 3 to catch a flight to Doha at 0205hrs where we'll transit to the German capital of Berlin to begin our tour! We'll sure be taking lot of photos! Catch'up when we're back!

C'ya and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Optional Tours

In today's post, we'll continue to explore the remaining 2 optional tours...

During day 8 of our tour in Budapest, Hungary, there is an option to cruise the gorgeous Danube River at Euro 20 dollars per pax (SGD 42).

The Danube River is 2,850km long and is the second-longest river in the Europe after the Volga. It originates in the Black Forest mountains of western Germany where the Brigach and Breg rivers join and runs through 10 countries namely, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before entering the Black Sea. Much older than the Rhine, its basin is thought to have been the site of some of the earliest human cultures, and it remains one of Europe’s most important and historic waterways and a popular river cruise destination.

The Széchényi lánchíd or Chain Bridge over the Danube river in Budapest

Oddly enough, the waterway is not called “Danube” in any of the countries through which it runs. In German, it is the Donau; in Czech, the Dunaj; in Hungarian, the Duna and so forth. Worshipping a god of the same name, the ancient Romans called the waterway Danubius. All these names derive from the Celtic word danu, which means “to flow” or “to run.

The Hungarian Parliament Building on the bank of the Danube

One-third of the Danube’s total length is in Hungary. Budapest, is often called “the Queen of the Danube.” From the water on a cruise, the city is particularly spectacular at night, with lights illuminating Budapest’s Chain Bridge, Parliament Building and other famous structures.

Spectacular nightview of the Danube River in Budapest

During the last day of our tour in Vienna, Austria, we are given an option to attend a Mozart music concert at Euro 50 dollars per pax (SGD 104).

Probably the most famous composer of all time, Mozart began his musical career as a child prodigy. He performed on violin at the age of four, wrote his first symphony and four sonatas for piano and violin when he was eight, and held the position of a concertmaster at thirteen. Before his premature passing, Mozart composed more than 600 works, among which there are masterpieces in numerous musical forms – concertos, symphonies, ensembles, sonatas, string quartets, ballets and music for church ceremonies. He gained immense fame for his compositions that include 'Piano Sonata No. 11' (1783 or 1778), 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' (1787), the unfinished 'Requiem' (1791), the operas 'The Marriage of Figaro' (1786), 'Don Giovanni' (1787) and 'The Magic Flute' (1791) as well as the 'Jupiter Symphony' (1788), which was his last.

We do not have much information on the concert at this moment. Will definitely try to get more details at the pre-departure briefing. Normally concert venues are old Imperial style Palaces from the Hapsburg era., which provide the chance for audience to experience the style of music in the home of classical music and in the city where these great works were composed.

Overall, the 3 optional tours look appealing. Will probably join the 2 scenic tours and leave out the Mozart concert as we don't understand classical music :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Forced options???

If the price of a tour package barely covers the airfare, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that profits for the Travel Agents must be coming from elsewhere like optional tours or shopping stops.

This strategy of trying to "get their price down as far as possible" has been around for years. This may entail cutting down on what is included in the itinerary, and rebranding the activities hived off as optionals. Although these are optional and not a must to participate, most travellers just go along.

For us, we'll factor in all the hidden costs like optional tours, tips for tour guides, airport taxes, etc. Of course, we'll do some background research on the optional tours whether they are worth our time and money.

In our upcoming tour of Eastern Europe with Chan Brothers Travels, there are three optional tours available. Below are some information which we have gathered.

During day six of our tour in Kraków, Poland, we are given an option to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine at Euro 40 dollars per pax (SGD 83).
Located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland, Wieliczka Salt Mine lies within the Kraków metropolitan area. The mine had been in continuous operation, producing table salt since the 13th century until 2007 as one of the world's oldest operating salt mines. The mine is a major tourist attraction, with about 1.2 million visitors per year. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding.The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 meters and is over 300 km long. It features a 3.5-km touring route for visitors (less than 1% of the length of the mine's passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures. The oldest sculptures were carved out of rock salt by miners; more recent figures have been fashioned by contemporary artists. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, so that the carvings resemble unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors expect.
Also featured is a large chamber with walls carved to resemble wooden chapels built by miners in earlier centuries; an underground lake; and exhibits on the history of salt mining. The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as "the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland."Over the centuries, visitors to this site have included Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Dmitri Mendeleyev, Bolesław Prus, Ignacy Paderewski, Robert Baden-Powell, Jacob Bronowski (who filmed segments of The Ascent of Man in the mine), Karol Wojtyła (the later Pope John Paul II), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and many others. During World War II, the salt mine was used by the occupying Germans as facilities for war-related industries.To get down to the 64-metre level of the mine, visitors must descend a wooden stairway of 378 steps. After the three-kilometer tour of the mine's corridors, chapels, statues and lake, 135 metres underground, visitors take an elevator back up to the surface. The elevator holds 36 persons (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to reach the surface. In 1978 the Wieliczka salt mine was placed on the original UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites.
That's all folks! In our next post, we'll talk about the other 2 optional tours namely Danube River Cruise and Mozart concert.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

5 Stars Airlines???

Come December, we'll be flying to Eastern Europe by Qatar Airways. It will be our first flying experience with this airline. We mostly flew by Singapore Airlines (being patriotic? NO!). This time round, we are really excited as Qatar prides itself as a five star airline with five star services.

We have done some research on Qatar Airways and are quite pleased with what we have read so far... Fingers crossed!
Here are some of the comments plucked from the web...

1. "...service was excellent, food very good and cabin crew very helpful. Could be better if the seats are wider and TVs a bit bigger..."

2. "...the staff were helpful and there was about 8 stewardesses to the economy section. Each seats have their own inflight video and audio entertainment which basically means you can choose exactly what and when you want to watch or listen to. It is one of the best i have come across as it allows you to go through hundreds of albums both old and new, watch more than 25 blockbuster movies, about 20 variety shows and news from around the world etc.. the list is endless. There are also tons of games like tetris, battleship and who wants to be a millionaire etc. certain games can be played against other passengers like battleship.
The food was very nice and much nicer than normal plane food. Snack and Drinks are complimentary throughout the flight. I would not hestitate to recommend qatar to anyone as i believe they are one of the best airlines."
3. "The terminal is too small, and not too fancy, considering that Qatar (and Qatar Airways) has delivered soo massive ads worldwide. In cabin, my table was broken, it could not be stowed. The cabin crews were all ok, but there was one male FA really unfriendly. I asked him about arrival card, he said, "pls help yourself, it's over there"
4. "Slightly disappointed with service. Had to ask for headphones as they hadn't been given out after the seat-belt signs were turned off. Alcoholic drinks by request, and service was slow as a result. Found the staff professional yet soulless - smiles seemed forced and not one appeared happy to be doing their job. For a short flight, I found them adequate, but nothing to write home about."5. "Good seat and leg room. IFE good, but some minor problems. Cabin crew attentive and polite. On the transfer at Doha it was chaos with numerous passengers trying to make connecting flights. On the leg from Doha to Heathrow the seat pocket had rubbish from the previous flight. Flight attendants did sort it, but this was not what I expected. Some flights have very short transfer times in Doha, but this doesn't excuse planes not being cleaned/checked before passengers board. Food was good and drinks served regularly. I like Qatar Airways, and 3 of the 4 flights on my journey were very good. I would book again based on the seats, leg room and IFE."

P.S. Realistically speaking, as economy class travellers we are not looking for anything spectacular, just basic amenities such as adequate seat space with ample legroom, 'edible' meals and nice inflight Video and Audio Entertainment to last the 2 x 15 hours journeys from Singapore-Doha-Berlin & back (Vienna-Doha-Singapore).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Eastern Europe here we come!!

We were at the Chan Brother's pre-NATAS fair held in Suntec City on 16th August 2009. Like any travel fair in Singapore, the place was packed with holiday seekers. Hey! Aren't we in a recession? H1N1?
Fen wanted to go Eastern Europe or Egypt. While, Ed preferred Harbin in Northeastern China, sometimes called the Oriental St.Petersburg, Harbin is considered one of China's most beautiful cities. Guess who won?
In the end, we chose the "11D EASTERN EUROPE HIGHLIGHTS" tour for this coming December holidays at SGD 2,559 per pax, excluding optional tour at around SGD 230 per pax. Which is "cheap" considering that we are heading to Europe. From our experiences, pre-NATAS are slightly better in pricing then those at the NATAS Fair itself (if you compare the same tour itinerary from the same agency). In most cases, pre-NATAS tour pricing was about SGD 100 – 200 cheaper per pax than at NATAS. We are looking forward to this trip!
And here is the itinerary.

Day 1: SINGAPORE – BERLIN (Meals on Board)

Assemble at Singapore Changi Airport for your flight to Berlin.

Berlin is the capital city and one of sixteen states of Germany. With a population of 3.4 million within its city limits, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city and the eighth most populous urban area in EU. Located in northeastern Germany, it is the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan area, comprising 5 million people from over 190 nations.

The Berlin winter (December-February), is notoriously grey, cold and windy. Daytime temperatures tend to hover just above or below freezing and although snow is not uncommon it generally turns to dirty slush within hours.

Day 2: BERLIN (Meals on Board/Lunch/Pork Knuckle Dinner)

Upon arrival, embark on a tour of Berlin, the heart of Germany.

See the site of the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery, an open air museum with a section of the wall covered by approximately 106 paintings from all over the world in a memorial for freedom. The Berlin Wall was erected in September 1961 to prevent the outflow of skilled manpower from the German Democratic Republic and other Soviet bloc countries into the Western-controlled sectors of the city and thence into the West as a whole. It came to symbolize the Cold War and the rigid division of Europe into two armed camps. Its removal in November 1989 had precisely the opposite implications, culminating in Germany unification and the end of the Cold War.

The East Side Gallery is an international memorial for freedom. It is a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall located near the centre of Berlin on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.The Gallery consists of approximately 100 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted on the east side of the Berlin Wall.

Continue your tour to get a grand view of Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and Reichstag Building which was built in the 19th century in Italian Renaissance style and comprises a redesigned glass dome.

The Brandenburg Gate is a former city gate and one of the main symbols of Berlin and Germany. It was commissioned by King Frederick William II in 1788 and was completed in 1791 when traffic passed through it for the first time and the the King himself was present at the opening.

Built by Carl Gotthard Langhans senior, it was modelled on the Proplaea on the Acropolis in Athens. 203 feet wide and 65 feet high it is only 36 feet from one side to the other. The twelve Doric columns, six on each side, allow for five carriagways, but only the two outside ones on each side were used by ordinary people, the middle passage was used only by carriages of the Royal Court.

On top is the Goddess of Victory driving her four horsed chariot and she is brandishing her symbols of victory in triumph. When the statue was first erected, she was completely naked, but this offended a lot of the Berliners whilst the rest made lewd jokes at her expense. The sculptor, Johann Gottfried Schadow, was most upset by this and so he made her a set of clothes in sheet copper which she wears to this day!

Checkpoint Charlie "Checkpoint C" was the name given by the Western Allies to the most well known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Germany and West Germany during the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of east and west, and — for some East Germans — a gateway to freedom. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced off at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now located in a museum outside Berlin.

The Reichstag building was constructed to house the Reichstag, the first parliament of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Reichstag until 1933, when it was severely damaged in a an arson attack.The building remained in ruins until the reunification of Germany, when it underwent a major reconstruction. After its completion in 1999, it became the meeting place of the modern German parliament, the Bundestag. The Reichstag is one of the most visited attractions in Berlin, not least because of the huge glass dome that was erected on the roof as a gesture to the original 1894 cupola, giving an impressive 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape, especially at night.

In the middle of the city, you will see the Victory Column in Tiergarten Park, the famous park where many Berliners spend their time.

Tiergarden Park during winter time

Stretching from the Brandenburg Gate in the east to Zoo Station in the west, Tiergarten park is one of Europe's largest and most beautiful inner-city parks. Originally conceived as a hunting ground for Prussian kings, the Tiergarten was transformed into a romantic landscape garden in the early 18th Century by Peter Joseph Lennè, who designed a series of winding paths, lakes, bridges, sculptures and flower beds. The park was devastated in the Second World War and during subsequent winters. Replanted in the 1950s, the Tiergarten is now as beautiful as it ever was and very popular with locals and visitors alike.

The Victory Column in Tiergarten Park is a famous monument in Berlin. Designed by Heinrich Strack after 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War, by the time it was inaugurated on 2 September 1873, Prussia had also defeated Austria in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), giving the statue a new purpose. Different from the original plans, these later victories in the so-called unification wars inspired the addition of the bronze sculpture of Victoria, 8.3 meters high and weighing 35 tonnes, designed by Friedrich Drake.

Day 3: BERLIN – DRESDEN – PRAGUE (Breakfast/Dinner)

After breakfast, travel to Dresden, the most beautiful city in Germany. Dresden is located on the left bank of Elbe River at a graceful river bend. Despite being 75% damaged during the devastating bombing campaign of World War II, the old part of the city has since been restored and regained its beauty.
City can look a bit gloomy, as most of old pre war buldings are black and burnt, but this is also one of the must see features of city, as there is no place in Europe, where evidence of WW2 is so much visible.

Continue your journey to Prague, the administrative, cultural, business and industrial centre of Czech Republic. Built along Vitava River, Prague is also one of the most beautifully preserved cities in Europe.

Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated on the River Vltava in central Bohemia, Prague has been the political, cultural, and economic centre of the Czech state for more than 1100 years. The average winter temperature is 5 degrees C.

Day 4: PRAGUE (Breakfast/Lunch)

Begin your tour of Prague with Hradcany Castle (Prague Castle), Cathedral of St Vitus, Golden Lane and the famous Wenceslas Square, which is the hub of cultural, social and business activities in Prague.

The Prague Castle is the most popular visited sight in Prague. Measuring 570 m long, 128 m wide on average, with an area of 7.28 hectares, it is the largest ancient castle in the world.

Constructed in the 9th century by Prince Bořivoj, the castle transformed itself from a wooden fortress surrounded by earthen bulwarks to the imposing form it has today. Rulers made their own additions so there is a mixture of styles. Prague castle has had four major reconstructions, but it keeps its classical facelift it took on in the 18 century during the reign of Maria Theresa. The castle has three courtyards and it has always been the seat of Czech rulers as well as the official residence.

St. Vitus Cathedral is the most important and the largest church in Prague. It is situated at the Prague Castle and it is a burial place of former Czech Kings. The Czech Crown Jewels and a large treasure are kept there. St. Vitus Cathedral has two parts: the Gothic eastern tract with the main tower, built in the 14th and 15th century, and the western neo-Gothic part with two spires, built in the 19 th century and at the turn of the 20 th century.

Golden Lane was created when a new outer wall was added to the existing Romanesque castle complex. It was originally known as Zlatnicka Ulicka (Goldsmith's Lane), due to the many goldsmith's residing here.

Wenceslas Square in Prague is a vibrant area of hotels, apartments, restaurants, bars, clubs and shops. The 750m long and 60m wide boulevard that makes up Wenceslas Square was laid out over 600 years ago during the reign of Charles IV. It was originally used as the Prague horse market.

Over the years the square has been a regular parade ground for all kinds of organisations and political parties. From anti-communist uprisings to celebrations of national sporting achievements, Wenceslas Square is where the Czech's come to let off steam. It can comfortably hold up to 400,000 people! At the top of Wenceslas Square, the statue of St. Wenceslas on his horse cuts a striking figure. This is good King Wenceslas (Vaclav), murdered over a thousand years ago by his brother, and now a Czech national hero.In front of St. Wenceslas are two plaques in memory of those killed during the Communist era. One is dedicated to Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in protest at the Soviet invasion.Behind St. Wenceslas is the monumental National Museum, and just off to the left is the Prague State Opera.

Not to be missed is the medieval Astronomical Clock which adorns the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Sqaure, where a crowd gathers at the start of every hour to admire the procession of the Apostles and other allegorical figures.

Take a stroll on the medieval Charles Bridge, the symbol of the city of Prague and admire the baroque statues that decorate both sides of the bridge. The Charles Bridge is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Prague. Built between the 14th and 15th century, It is the oldest bridge in the city, and it spans the river with 16 pillars. The Charles Bridge is decorated with 30 statues on the parapets on both sides. Most of them were placed there between 1706 and 1714. Some of the statues were damaged by floods during the centuries and they were replaced by replicas.
After lunch, spend your day at leisure to explore this historical city further.

Day 5: PRAGUE – KRAKOW (Breakfast/Dinner)

Journey into another part of Polish history and see the charming Old Town of Krakow, the old capital of Poland. It is a multi-faceted modern city filled with medieval old towns and horse-drawn carts.
Kraków is one of the oldest cities in Poland, with evidence showing settlements there since 20,000 BC. Legend has it that it was built on the cave of a dragon whom the mythical King Krak had slain. However, the first official mention of the name was in 966 by a Jewish merchant from Spain, who described it as an important centre of trade in Slavonic Europe. Kraków has a temperate climate. Average temperatures in summer range from 17 °C to 19 °C and in winter from 0 °C to 5 °C. The average annual temperature fluctuates between 6 °C and 10°C. Kraków usually sees between 23 and 58 days per year with below-freezing temperatures.

Thereafter, continue to the west of Krakow in southern Poland to visit Auschwitz concentration camp, which serves as a chilling reminder of the Holocaust during World War II. The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime. The camps were located approximately 37 miles west of Krakow, near the prewar German-Polish border in Upper Silesia, an area that Nazi Germany annexed in 1939 after invading and conquering Poland.

The gates to Auschwitz I The main gate of Auschwitz II-Birkenau

It included three main camps; Auschwitz I, II, and III. Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp, served as the administrative center for the whole complex, and was the site of the deaths of roughly 70,000 people, mostly ethnic Poles and Soviet prisoners of war. Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was an extermination camp or Vernichtungslager, and was the site of the deaths of at least 960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles, and some 19,000 Gypsies. Birkenau was the largest of all the Nazi extermination camps. Auschwitz III (Monowitz) served as a labor camp for the Buna-Werke factory of the IG Farben concern.

Interior of the gas chamber of Auschwitz I

Nazi doctors at Auschwitz performed a wide variety of "experiments" on helpless prisoners. Schutzstaffel (SS) doctors tested the efficacy of X-rays as a sterilization device by administering large doses to female prisoners. Prof. Dr. Carl Clauberg injected chemicals into women's uteruses in an effort to glue them shut. Bayer, then a subsidiary of IG Farben, bought prisoners to use as guinea pigs for testing new drugs.

Block 10 - Medical experimentation block in Auschwitz

The most infamous doctor at Auschwitz was Josef Mengele, who was also known as the "Angel of Death". Particularly interested in "research" on identical twins, Mengele performed cruel experiments on them, such as inducing diseases in one twin of a pair and killing the other when the first died to perform comparative autopsies. He also took a special interest in dwarves, injecting twins, dwarves and other prisoners with gangrene to "study" the effects.

Day 6: KRAKOW (Breakfast/Lunch)

Today, you will continue to tour Krakow. The tallest structures on Krakow's skyline are not skyscrapers but the spires of old churches. Historical buildings, musuems and churches also flank the Main Market Square.

Main Market Square

The main landmarks of the square are the St. Mary's Basilica, the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), the St. Adalbert's Church, Town Hall Tower, and the Adam Mickiewicz Monument.

St. Mary's Basilica

St. Mary‘s Church, also known as St. Mary's Basilica, is said to be the most recognisable landmark in Krakow. It’s in a prominent location at the northern end of the main square and is very popular with both tourists and locals. The church was built in the 13th century and is houses a huge Gothic wooden altar. Every hour, a lone trumpeter plays a tune out of the windows in one of the towers of the church. The tune stops in mid-note, reflecting an old legend about a church watchmen who, noticing Tarter invaders about to attack the city, played a warning tune. While playing the tune he was shot by an arrow.

Cloth Hall with City Hall Tower on the right

The Cloth Hall is one of the city's most recognizable icons. It was once a major centre of international trade. Traveling merchants met there to discuss business and to barter. During its golden age in the 15th century, Sukiennice was the source of a variety of exotic imports from the East – spices, silk, leather and wax – while Kraków itself exported textiles, lead, and salt from the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

Church of St. Wojciech (St. Adalbert's Church)

St. Adalbert's Church is one of the oldest stone churches in Poland. Its almost one thousand year old history goes back to the beginning of the Polish Romanesque architecture of the early Middle Ages. Throughout the early history of Kraków the Church was a place of worship first visited by merchants travelling from across Europe. It was a place where citizens and nobility used to meet.

Adam Mickiewicz Monument

The statue of Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest Polish Romantic poet of the 19th century, was unveiled on June 16, 1898, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. In 1940 the Monument was destroyed by the Nazis following German invasion of Poland. It was not to be seen in the Square until its restoration in 1955. However, most of the figures were recovered from a Hamburg scrap metal heap in 1946, which allowed for restoring of the Monument's original appearance.

You will also get to visit the courtyard of the Royal Castle at Wawel Hill. The Royal Castle is located a few hundred metres from the Main Market Square, atop Wawel Hill which commands a view of the whole town spreading at its feet. The Wawel cathedral has witnessed royal coronations and funerals; and in the Wawel Castle were taken the most important decisions determining the subsequent stages of the country’s development. The origins of this magnificent structure date back to the year 1000.

Map of the Hill

One of your photo stops will be the Jewish Quarter, where the movie "Schindler's List" was filmed. If time permits, visit Jagiellonian University, one of the first universities in Europe. Alternatively, you may view the "The Lady with an Ermine

Kazimierz Town Hall, 15th century

Kazimierz is a historical district of Kraków, best known for being home to a Jewish community from the 14th century until the Second World War. During the Second World War, the Jews of Krakow, including those in Kazimierz, were forced by the Nazis into a crowded ghetto in Podgórze, across the river. Most of them were later killed during the liquidation of the ghetto or in death camps.

Deserted and impoverished for nigh on 45 years by the communist government, Kazimierz still bears the scars. The revival of the district came with the success of Schindler’s List, filmed in situ in 1993 by Steven Spielberg.

The influx of visitors from all over the world coming to explore the film locations convinced the Cracow authorities of the touristic interest of Kazimierz, encouraged its renovation and attracted investments such as the brand new Jewish Community Centre or the Galicia Jewish Museum.

Jagiellonian University in Krakow

The Jagiellonian University was established in 1364 by Casimir III the Great in Kraków. It is the oldest institution of higher education in Poland, the second oldest university in Central Europe and one of the oldest universities in Europe.

Lady with an Ermine is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, from around 1489–1490. The subject of the portrait is identified as Cecilia Gallerani, and was probably painted at a time when she was the mistress of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan and Leonardo was in the service of the Duke.
The painting is one of only four female portraits painted by Leonardo, the others being the Mona Lisa, the portrait of Ginevra de' Benci and La Belle Ferroniere. It is displayed by the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków.

Day 7: KRAKOW – SLOVAKIA – BUDAPEST (Breakfast/Hungarian Folklore Dinner)

Travel across the Tatra region to Slovakia for a short stop before heading to Budapest, capital of Hungary.

The Tatra region, constitute a mountain range which forms a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. They occupy an area of 750 km², the major part (600 km²) of which lies in Slovakia. The highest mountain is Gerlach at 2,655 m, located in Slovakia just north of Poprad. The north-western peak of Rysy (2,499 m) is the highest Polish mountain.

Polish Tatra

Slovak Tatra

Slovakia (long form: The Slovak Republic) is a landlocked country in Central Europe with a population of over five million and an area of about 49,000 square kilometres. Slovakia borders the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south. The largest city is its capital, Bratislava.Slovakia is a high-income advanced economy with the fastest growth rates in the EU and OECD.

Budapest is the capital of Hungary, and with a population of 1.8 million citizens, it is by far the largest city in the country. The city is often referred to as the Paris of the east, and deserves this name.Budapest has a temperate continental climate. Seasons are usually well defined, with July and August the hottest months (28-30° C, 82-86° F) and December and January the coldest, when temperatures may fall to –15° C or just +5° F.You will discover that Hungarian art and architecture are a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau influences. Hungary’s rich musical background ranges from the rhapsodies of Franz Liszt and the operas of Ferenc Erkel to gypsy and folk music. Tonight, enjoy a traditional Hungarian folklore dinner.

Day 8: BUDAPEST (Breakfast/Lunch)

This morning, explore Budapest, the administrative, business and cultural centre of Hungary. The Castle District is the premier destination for visitors and contains some of Budapest's most important monuments and museums.

Towering a couple hundred feet above the Danube River, the Castle District in Budapest is a special place. Surrounded by gothic churches with stain glass, a visit to the Castle District is like stepping back into the renaissance. Situated in the Buda section of Budapest, the Castle District sits on the eastern side of the Danube. Positioned a couple hundred feet above the Danube, the entire city of Budapest can be seen from the numerous vantage points. The view is so amazing, the Italians coined a saying, “Europe has three gems – Venice on the water, Florence in the plains and Buda in the hills.” The Italians definitely got it right.

Budapest Castle in the Castle district

The main sights of the twin cities of Buda and Pest include Heroes' Square, Fisherman's Bastion and Gellert Hill, all of which offer panoramic views of the city.

Heroes' Square is one of the major squares of Budapest, rich with historic and political connotations. It lies at the end of Andrassy Avenue (with which it comprises part of an extensive World Heritage site), next to City Park.The square forms a splendid unity of a monument and two Eclectic style buildings, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Gallery. The Millennium Monument was erected on the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar settlement. In the focus of the semicircular colonnade stands the bronze statue of Archangel Gabriel on a 36 meter high column, which was awarded Grand Prix at the Paris World Exposition in 1900. The statues depict the most remarkable personalities of Hungarian history. In the middle of the square is the Monument Of National Heroes (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier).

The Fisherman's Bastion is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style situated on the Buda bank of the Danube, on the Castle hill in Budapest, around Matthias Church. It was designed and built between 1895 and 1902 on the plans of Frigyes Schulek. Between 1947–48, the son of Frigyes Schulek, János Schulek, conducted the other restoration project after its near destruction during World War II.
From the towers and the terrace a panoramic view exists of Duna, Margaret Island, Pest to the east and the Gellért Hill. Its seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896. The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen that was responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages. It is a viewing terrace, with many stairs and walking paths.

Gellért Hill is a 235 m high hill overlooking the Danube in Budapest, Hungary. Gellért Hill was named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to death from the hill. At the top of the hill is the Citadella (Citadel/fortress), from which a glorious view is available down both directions of the Danube.

Magnificent view from the Gellért Hill

Citadella, Citadel- Budapest

After lunch, you can spend your time at leisure or take a stroll along Danube River.

The Danube is the longest river in the European Union and Europe's second longest river after the Volga. The river originates in the Black Forest in Germany as the much smaller Brigach and Breg rivers which join at the German town Donaueschingen, after which it is known as the Danube and flows eastwards for a distance of some 2850 km, passing through four Central and Eastern European capitals, before emptying into the Black Sea via the Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine.
Known to history as one of the long-standing frontiers of the Roman Empire, the river flows through—or forms a part of the borders of—ten countries: Germany (7.5%), Austria (10.3%), Slovakia (5.8%), Hungary (11.7%), Croatia (4.5%), Serbia (10.3%), Romania (28.9%), Bulgaria (5.2%), Moldova (1.7%), and Ukraine (3.8%).

Day 9: BUDAPEST – VIENNA (Breakfast/Dinner)

After crossing the border into Austria, you will arrive at the city of Vienna.
Vienna represents the glorious legacy of the Habsburg dynasty, and during that time, the Habsburgs were great builders.Austria is a landlocked country of roughly 8.3 million people in Central Europe. Austria's terrain is highly mountainous due to the presence of the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 metres, and its highest point is 3,797 metres. The majority of the population, about 90% speaks German, which is also the country's official language. In the winter the mean Austria temperature for December has been recoreded to be on average in the range of -0.5 and 4.0 degrees celcius.Vienna is the capital of Austria. With a population of about 1.7 million, it is Austria's cultural, economic, and political centre.

Embark on a city tour to view significant landmarks from RingStrasse to Opera House, Hofburg Imperial Palace, Parliament Building, Town Hall and Burg Theatre.

The Ringstrasse (or Ringstraße) is 4 kilometres long and circles the city centre. The construction of the Ringstrasse was initiated by Emperor Franz Joseph I in December 1857.The magnificent road was errected on the free space, which emerged after tearing down the former city walls, glacis and military enforcements protecting the city center, today's first district ('Innere Stadt'). By this the emperor hoped to overcome the separation of city center and the suburbs, which had officially become part of Vienna in 1850. Along the Ringstrasse, you will find many of Vienna's most famous buildings. The Vienna State Opera is an opera house with a history dating back to the mid 19th century. It was the first major building on the Ringstraße. Work commenced on the building in 1861 and was completed in 1869.

The Hofburg Imperial Palace, otherwise known as the Winter Palace, is situated on the historic Ringstraße. From the gates of the palace, you can look down on the city as the palace lies on a steep hillside. Some of the most powerful people in the history of Austria, including many of the rulers of the Austrian Empire had lived in the palace. Today, Hofburg is the official residence of the President of Austria as well as a major tourist attraction.

The Parliament Building covers over 13,500 square meters, making it one of the largest structures on the Ringstraße.

The Rathaus (City Hall) was designed by Friedrich von Schmidt and built between 1872 and 1883 in a neo gothic Flemish style. The building's most prominent feature is the central tower rising to a height of 98 meters.

The Burgtheater (the former imperial court theatre), one of the most important theatres in Europe, ist the second-oldest theatre still in existence after the Comédie Francaise. The Burgtheater is large. It has got 1175 seats, 81 standing places, and room for 12 wheelchairs and escorts. Inspite of that it´s often worth buying tickets in advance.

Thereafter, head to major Viennese attraction Schonbrunn Palace. The palace and gardens illustrate the tastes, interests and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs. Schönbrunn Palace is a royal residence in Vienna. One of the most important cultural monuments in the country, since the 1960s it has been one of the major tourist attractions in Vienna. The palace and gardens illustrate the tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

Day 10: VIENNA – SINGAPORE (Breakfast/Meals on Board)

If time permits, you can do some last-minute shopping before you transfer to the airport for your flight home.