Friday, December 25, 2015

Past POIs - Dachau Concentration Camp [Munich, Germany]

Part of our Eastern Europe trip was a stop at Dachau Concentration Camp which is located in Munich Germany. I came here without much knowledge about the place and what I knew about Hitler beforehand was pretty basic. Once we left, I had a greater understanding of what happened and the importance of Germany keeping this site as both a memorial and a place where people can come and learn about what happened in the past so that hopefully it does not repeat itself in the future.

Dachau Concentration Camp open daily from 9:00am - 5:00pm and is located in Munich, Germany, and you can get here by taking the S2 train to Dachau station and then take the 726 to Dachau, it takes about 15 minutes by bus. There is paid parking available if you drive, however, there is also free street parking if you luck out.

Map of known concentration camps.
When we came, we came for the English guided tour which happens every day at 11:00am and 1:00pm and lasts roughly 2.5 hours long covering the entire site at the cost of 3 € when we went in 2015. The guide that we had was great and I would say that it was well worth the cost since we actually got a person who studied history and was able to answer all the questions that we had. He walks around and talks about all the sites, provides pictures of things that happened here and overall, I thought it was a very good guided tour and well worth the time and cost if you have the time (I actually think they don't charge enough based on how well done it was).

Detention cells.
Dachau was the first concentration camp built back in March 22, 1933 by Adolf Hitler. It was meant to keep political prisoners and during its 12 year existence, it housed over 200,000 people and 41,500 of them were murdered here before American troops liberated the site in April 29, 1945. After the war, the site was actually used to hold the Nazi soldiers who were waiting for trial between 1945 and 1948. After 1948, it was used to house hundreds of thousands of Germans who were expelled from eastern Europe until they were resettled. It was also used as a United States military base until 1960 when it was closed. In 1965, at the request of survivors, various memorials were installed here and exists today as a place to reflect on what happened in the past.

The words on the main gate 'arbeit macht frei' which means 'work will make you free'. Which is odd, since the prisoners were never set free until they were liberated.

Main gate.
What remains today is just the area for the concentration camp, Dachau in the past actually consisted of a training school for Nazi soldiers which included barracks, factories and other facilities which was roughly 3 times the size of Dachau you see today.

From wikipedia, the section on the left is Dachau today.
I would go into more detail, but you learn a lot during the guided tour. If you want more information, visit the official website at

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Past POI - BMW Museum [Munich, Germany]

During our Eastern Europe trip, this was a bit of a surprise stop for me. I knew walking in that it would be a museum dedicated to BMW, but I had no idea how well done it would.

BMW Museum (the salad bowl looking building).
Located in Munich, Germany, is the BMW Museum, which is next to the BMW Welt and BMW Plant and you can take a tour of them all if you like (just make sure to book ahead of time because when we went on the day of, the tickets for all three places were sold out).

The BMW Museum, which was built in 1973, is open Tuesday - Sunday and on public holidays from 10:00am - 6:00pm, is closed on Mondays and costs 10 € per adult in 2015. You will need to pay for parking or you can take local transit to Olympiazentrum station to get here.

There are three parts to the BMW Museum, the permanent exhibition, the special exhibition, and the temporary exhibition. While we were there, we only did the permanent exhibition and I think that was more than enough for me since I wasn't interested in seeing the temporary exhibition which at the time was 'The MINI story'.

The permanent exhibition itself is roughly 4,000 m² and has over 120 pieces of BMW's 90+ year history (founded in 1916). The exhibit itself actually had a lot of very interesting pieces, there is a wall of their motorcycles, a room showing off every generation of the BMW 3 series, a room which had a wide variety of their propeller engines (which if you did not know was their starting point where they made aircraft engines for World War I) and more. Speaking of propeller engines, did you know that their logo is actually based on how a propeller engine when it runs? The colours, blue and white, are the colours of Bavaria.

BMW brands from 1970 and on.
The exhibit is broken down into seven houses and I have written this in the sequence that you will see them in.

The house of design, shows the design philosophy of BMW and their inspirations for their products.

A series of metal balls that move up and down eventually makes a car.
The house of company, shows the history behind BMW, their beginnings and how they got to where they are today.

The house of motorcycle, is a wall of motorcycles spanning several floors that shows the history of their motorcycles.

The house of technology, shows the technology that they have used in the past and what they are using now to make their products. One of the sections is dedicated to just showing off their engines from the beginning and spanning decades to show the changes.

The house of motor sport, is the rooms that show off their racing cars, specifically the ones used for Formula 1 and rally racing.

The house of brand, shows how advertising has changed overtime for BMW.

And finally, the house of series, which in my opinion was the one that I liked the most. It shows off BMW cars that span generations but features them all in one room. For example, they have one where it is just all BMW 3 series from the beginning to now.

All BMW 3 series.
I highly recommend visiting the BMW Museum if you are in Munich and I think that even if you are not a big fan of cars, the photo-ops available and just how well they present their history is well worth the visit.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Past POIs - Elizabeth Lookout (Erzsébet kilátó) [Budapest, Hungary]

At the top of János Hill, the highest point in Budapest at 526 meters, is Elizabeth Lookout (Erzsébet kilátó), what looks like a turret or a tower that seemingly just comes out of the side of the hill.

Elizabeth Lookout.
Built in 1911, it was designed by Frigyes Schulek, who also designed the Fisherman's Bastion, was named after Queen Elizabeth, wife of King Franz Joseph I.

It is 23.5 meters high, with a 101-step spiral staircase, it provides you with great panoramic views of the surrounding area and is free to visit throughout the year. Note that there is no elevator. On the first floor there is a bit of history behind the lookout tower itself.

View from atop Elizabeth Lookout.
To get here, most visitors will come here via one of two ways. The first option is to take the chairlift (Libegő) which will take you most of the way up and there is about a 10 minute walk to get to the lookout. The second option is to take the Children's Railway (Gyermekvasút) to Jánoshegy and walk up for about 20 minutes. Based on my experience, I would suggest taking the second option since there is not too much to see when going up via the chairlift.

Worth a stop if you are in the area to give you nice views of Budapest. We came here on the first day that we arrived and it did not disappoint.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Past POIs - Children's Railway (Gyermekvasút) [Budapest, Hungary]

During our stay in Budapest, one of the outings included a ride on the Children's Railway (Gyermekvasút) for a portion of our day. We came here without knowing too much about the attraction, but our innkeeper told us about it and with his explanation on how to get there and our use of maps and asking for directions, we figured it out and it was a neat stop.

Children's Railway.
The Children's Railway is what it sounds like, a railway which is run by children between the ages of 10 - 14, with the help of adult supervision. All positions are operated by children except the train driver. Its origins date back to when the USSR still existed and they were created as a way to teach children responsibilities.

Envisioned in 1947, construction began in 1948 and the work was divided and completed in 3 sections spanning 8 stops and 11.2km in length making it the largest Children's Railway in the world. Section 1 from Széchényi Hill (stop 1) to Virágvölgy (stop 4) was completed in 1948. Section 2 from Virágvölgy (stop 4) to Szépjuhászné (stop 6) was completed in 1950. Section 3 from Szépjuhászné (stop 6) to Hűvösvölgy (stop 8) was completed in late 1950. From start to finish including stops it takes 45 minutes to complete the entire length of the railway.

For our portion of the outing, we went from Széchényi Hill to Jánoshegy, which we got off so that we could walk up to the chairlift for János Hill. In 2015 it cost 700 Forint for a one-way ticket which is good for the entire length of the railway or 1,400 Forint for a round-trip ticket.

You should give it a try if you are in the area, I thought it was a neat little side attraction and it was neat to learn that there are more of them around.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

2015 - Black Friday Summary

Duration: 2 days (US Thanksgiving weekend, left on Thursday afternoon and returned on Saturday evening)
Cost: $156.83 for accommodations (we had one night free), $20 USD + $42 CAD for gas, food was roughly $17 USD per person per meal.
Distance Driven: 1,138 km (approximate).

Highlights (in no particular order):

Bronner's CHRISTmas Store, while I was a little disappointed by the store itself, I think it is definitely worth visiting if you are in the area. While I knew walking in that it would be a massive store dedicated to Christmas, by the end I felt like 'this is it?', without actually knowing why it disappointed me. Don't let my unknown disappointment deter you from visiting however because I think it is a must see even if you aren't into Christmas since the store has ornaments that I would have never imagined like s'mores, melted snowmen and more.

Me by Santa and some reindeer.
Clocks and nut crackers.
More ornaments!
Christmas Tree.
Frankenmuth Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, while we stumbled upon this, I thought that this was a nice way to end our trip. You can approach this in one of two ways. One method is to just arrive about one hour after the candlewalk or you can participate in the candlewalk which eventually gets you to the Christmas tree. The ceremony started at roughly 7:00pm on Thanksgiving Day where a bunch of people gather around the tree and sing Christmas carols and end with God Bless America before lighting up the tree. Worth a stop if you are in the area.

Frankenmuth Christmas Tree.
Lowlights (in no particular order):

Nothing in particular was a disappointment for this trip.

Must try food places:

SugarHigh Bakery, we stumbled upon this cupcake shop while we were wandering Frankenmuth and with the crowd that I saw inside the shop, I thought that we should stop by and I'm glad that we did. They were the winner of season 7 of Cupcake Wars and I can see why. They had a wide variety of cupcakes and they mark the ones that they used to win Cupcake Wars so that you can try those if you like, otherwise there are some classic ones like Red Velvet, and more. You can get 1 cupcake for $3.50 USD or 4 for $12 USD. Worth a stop in my opinion if you are in the area and don't be scared off by the price since they are jumbo cupcakes and I would say that they are as large if not larger than most muffins.

Clockwise from top left to bottom left, Toxic Lemon Lime, Red Velvet, Turtle Power, Samoa
Tiffany's, if you want pasta, you should stop by here and give it a try. The restaurant gets very busy and the quality of the food is probably the reason why. The price is good and I thought that the food was very good and I'm glad that we came here and will make sure to visit again in the future if we are in the area.

French onion soup on the left, salad on the right included with our pasta entrees.
Ravioli on the left and portobello chicken marsala on the right.
Banh Mi Shop, this was one that we had concerns with given where it is (Strathroy, Ontario), but I am glad that we stopped by and if you are in the area, you can't go wrong. We ordered the 3 lil pigs banh mi and the grilled pork vermicelli and we thought they were both really good. Give them a try if you are in the area.

3 lil pigs banh mi.
Grilled pork vermicelli.
What would I change?

Allison said that we should probably switch up the route and go to Great Lakes Crossing first on the Thursday and Birch Run on the Friday in the future and I agree. Given that Frankenmuth is near Birch Run, it didn't make sense for us to drive that route twice instead of going to Birch Run and then Frankenmuth afterwards.

Until our next trip!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

2015 - Black Friday Day 3 (Michigan)

Had a late breakfast this morning, the hot items options today were egg pattys, and biscuits and gravy, the cut honeydew and cantaloupe changed to canned mixed fruit, with the rest being the same.

Sonesta ES Suites was our hotel in Auburn Hills, Michigan and I would rank it as roughly equal to Hyatt Place which is just down the street. I prefer Sonesta ES Suites due to the layout of the living space and the small kitchen area that is available is nice for people who want to make them own meals or snacks (includes a full size fridge, microwave, two burner induction stove top, pots, pans, cutlery, basically most basic kitchen items). If you come during the week (Tuesday - Thursday), there are happy hours where you get free snacks and drinks and you can mingle with other guests which unfortunately is not available during Thanksgiving.

We headed to Best Buy this morning in hopes of finding the Motorola E which is only $10 USD and the Z222 for Allison's mom which is an older style flip phone but it was only $7.50 USD! We found the Z222 at the first Best Buy but had no luck with the Motorola E at the two Best Buys that we visited this morning. We also stopped by a DSW but didn't find anything there. After that, we started our drive back to Toronto.

Got to the border at around 12:20pm and was done in about 30 minutes. We had no issues but instead of asking how much we spent, the lady asked us what was the damage which was funny to us. On our way back, we headed to two Real Canadian Superstores because I was hoping to get the PlayStation 4 bundle since it was no tax this weekend but failed, but we ended up getting two hot dogs and a pop at the local charity BBQ there.

For lunch we stopped at Banh Mi Shop and surprisingly, the food we thought was pretty good. Initially we had concerns since it is ethnic food in a relatively white area and we joked that if this place wasn't good, we would have to eat it again but in Toronto. I ordered grilled pork vermicelli ($8.50 CAD) and Allison got the 3 lil pigs banh mi ($6.50 CAD) and both were good sizes and well priced. With the banh mi option, you can add a mini pho for $3.75 CAD or add fries and pop for $4.25 CAD. Note that this place is debit/cash only.

3 lil pigs banh mi.
Grilled pork vermicelli.
After lunch we stopped at the Toronto Premium Outlet to see what was available and we arrived at around 5:00pm and the line ups at some of the shops were insane (1 hour wait at Kate Spade). We finished in under an hour but I did end up with a pair of shoes from Columbia for only $34+tax which are similar to ones that I got last year, but slightly more expensive.

With Toronto Premium Outlet finished, we headed back to Allison's place and ate our leftover pasta dishes (my spaghetti and meatball dish from Olive Garden and her raviolis from Tiffany's) and called it a night.

Come back tomorrow for a summary of our Black Friday trip.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015 - Black Friday Day 2 (Michigan)

Breakfast was included at our hotel and it is the typical breakfast. Today, there are eggs, bacon and home fries as the hot items. What looked like freshly cut honeydew and cantaloupe mix, and canned peaches, along with fresh oranges, bananas and apples. There is plain yogurt along with toppings, cereal, a bread area with toast, english muffins, and muffins. Also coffee, apple juice and orange juice. Oddly, there is a pot of rice which I didn't understand. I would rank it as similar to Hyatt Place last year.

Breakfast at Sonesta ES Suites
While having breakfast, we overheard some ladies talking about Macy's and learned about Somerset Collection as a possible third mall to visit if we had time tomorrow morning.

After breakfast, we headed to Great Lake Crossing and we got there at just after 9:00am and surprisingly, it wasn't that busy, I wonder if it is because people came last night and finished? Anyways, we wandered around the entire mall and finished at around 1:00pm and headed to Olive Garden for lunch just across the interstate. Allison got the portobello ravioli which she always gets and I got the create your own pasta with spaghetti, garlic asiago alfredo sauce and meatballs and split the unlimited soup and salad. We ended up getting two salads and two soups and I had to take more than half my pasta back since I couldn't finish. Maybe next time, I will learn to get the smaller options... (I doubt it). Today, Allison got one top and I got three. Total cost was $23.93 USD.

Finishing at Olive Garden, we headed back to the hotel to drop off our leftovers and headed to Frankenmuth to have a look at little Bavaria (which is weird since we were in actual Bavaria two months ago). I had plans for this place, the candlewalk at 6:00pm, the glockenspiel at 6:00pm as well, the Christmas Market, and the lighting of the Christmas tree (which we found out was around 7:00pm).

In the end, we just wandered the area, went through the Christmas Market, which didn't have much in my opinion. Walked through the General Store and Cheese Haus which were neat to see, but didn't get anything. Went to River Place and ended up getting some cupcakes since they were the winner of Cupcake Wars. 1 jumbo cupcake for $3.50 USD or 4 for $12 USD. We finished walking most of what we wanted to see by around 5:30pm and we decided to have dinner since it was somewhat cold out and we imagined that the restaurants would get really busy if we tried to get a spot after the Christmas Tree lighting.

Toxic lemon lime, red velvet, turtle power and samoa (top left going clockwise).
Tonight's dinner will be at Tiffany's which we were lucky to arrive when we did (slightly before 6:00pm) because we only waited for two other tables but by the time we sat down, it was a zoo and there were a lot of people waiting for a spot.

We had initially decided on our meals, but the waitress came back and told us that they were known for their pasta and their homemade sauces, so we ended up switching our choices and I ended up with the chicken portobello marsala ($12.95 USD) and Allison got the ravioli with lobster, langostinos, and shrimp ($15.95 USD). Both pastas come with your choice of soup or salad (although not unlimited like Olive Garden) and we ended up with the french onion soup which Allison liked and I got the salad which was okay. Both pasta dishes were very good and reasonably priced too in my opinion and Allison ended up with enough raviolis for another meal. I have no issues recommending the place if you are nearby.

French onion soup on the left, salad on the right.
Ravioli on the left, chicken portobello marsala on the right.
Ended up finishing dinner at around 6:45pm and luckily, we made it just in time for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony which had people singing Christmas songs and ending with God Bless America (which was odd since we didn't know the song and everyone around us was singing passionately). Even though I don't celebrate Christmas, it is nice that others take such pride in this holiday.

Bridge to River Place.
Lit Christmas tree of Frankenmuth.
Next stop, Bronner's CHRISTmas store! When we got there, we drove along Christmas Lane which was a nice short drive (under 5 minutes) where you see nicely lit Christmas decorations (santas, reindeers, sleighs, elves, snowmen, and more!). After parking, we walked into the store and we spent about 45 minutes inside. It is really big for a store just dedicated to Christmas items and they have an insane amount of ornaments and they actually have people that personalize them for you on the spot. It was nice to see how into the holiday season people were there.

Me next to santa and his reindeer.
More ornaments!
Christmas tree.
After that, we headed back to the hotel and called it a night. We cut a quarter of each cupcake and I must say, they were pretty good. Better than the ones that we normally get in Montreal and a better deal as well. Of the four, I like Samoa the most which surprised me. Turtle Power tastes like chocolate cake, Red Velvet I never quite understood (and still don't), Toxic Lemon Lime is only good if you get the ganache (the cake base doesn't have much flavour), and Samoa was nice with the toasted coconut shavings on top and the cake was nice and moist.

We did some online searches for things that we missed and plan to head to Best Buy tomorrow to get some phones if we could find them for our parents and head back to Toronto since we were done.

Monday, November 30, 2015

2015 - Black Friday Day 1 (Michigan)

This year, we will repeat our outing last year where we went Black Friday shopping in Michigan and we plan to visit Great Lakes Crossing and Birch Run. The initial plan is to go on Thursday afternoon and return on Saturday unless we find more to do in the area and return on Sunday.

Blue Water Bridge is the border crossing that we go to this year which is the same border that we went to last year. While the border took us about 30 minutes to cross, it seemed like they were checking a lot of cars now (possibly due to what happened in Paris). We saw a lot of cars where trunks were checked which didn't really happen in the past. However, by the time we were up, the officer must have been bored because when Allison drove up, he asked what we were doing, to which Allison said we were going to Great Lakes Crossing and Birch Run, he swiped the passports and let us go. He didn't even look at me at all (the passenger). Odd...

We checked in at our hotel which is Sonesta ES Suites this year which is a short drive from the hotel we stayed at last year (Hyatt Place) and I would say, I think I like the Sonesta ES Suites more. While the Hyatt Place hotel had a bigger TV and the room seemed a bit larger, Sonesta ES Suites had a small kitchen which had a full size fridge, a two burner induction stove, and full set of kitchen appliances and cutlery (pots, pans, utensils, etc). There is a full sized tub, and what seemed like a slightly larger queen sized bed even though on it said that this is a king. Breakfast, parking, and WiFi is included.

After we checked in, we went to the local McDonald's which we went to last year and it turned out to be closed today except for the drive-thru. We sucked it up and went through the drive-thru and just ate at the parking lot since we didn't want to fight the crowds at Birch Run since we were certain that the restaurants would be open. This year, we noticed that they had different deals (for us Canadians). $5 gets you two Big Macs, Filet-O-Fish, or McChicken (we opted for the Big Macs), $2 gets you two small fries and a large pop cost us $1.39 (or was it $1.29). All in all, it cost us less than $10 USD for two big macs, two small fries and a large pop. They also had a peel-and-win style game for football (I believe) and we won a small coffee, bonus!

Our first stop is Best Buy where I hoped to get the Lumia 640 for $30 and we got it! Actually, they had a few left when we got there at around 7:30pm. We spent about 30 minutes waiting to pay and then headed to Birch Run.

We got to Birch Run at around 9:00pm, and it didn't seem as busy as I remember it. We ended up going to our usual shops (Banana Republic, Nike, Ann Taylor, Gap, Columbia and a few others) and we finished at around 1:00am and go back to the hotel at around 2:00am and called it a night. Our damage at the end was 3 cardigans, 3 tops, 1 jean skirt, 1 pair of Nike runners for Allison and 1 Lumia 640 for Wai. The phone cost $32.37 USD after taxes and the total for the clothing was $113.85 USD.

Day 1 results, 1 phone for Wai, the rest for Allison.

Tomorrow, we go to Great Lakes Crossing after checking out the breakfast at the hotel in the morning.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Past POIs - Széchenyi Thermal Bathes [Budapest, Hungary]

While I don't quite understand and appreciate the thermal bathes, there are a lot of people who do and I thought it would be interesting to learn about its history and how it came to be.

Széchenyi Thermal Bathes is the first thermal bath of Pest built in 1913. With the 3 renovations that have taken place, with the last renovation being completed in 1999 which added the whirling corridor, neck showers, water beam back massage and more, it is one of the largest spa complexes in Europe.

From wikipedia (source)
The water comes from Saint Stephen Well Nr.II commissioned in 1938. The hot spring water contains lithium, sodium, potassium, calcium, and more. It also supposedly helps with degenerative joint diseases, chronic and sub-acute arthritis, orthopedic and post-accident treatments and more (Szechenyi Bath Water Composition and Therapeutic Uses).

From wikipedia (source)
The bathes are divided into two sections, indoors and outdoors. Indoors, there are 11 thermal water pools ranging from 28 C - 40 C, 1 cooling pool at 20 C, and 1 immersion pool at 18 C. Outdoors, there are 2 immersion pools at 18 C, 1 swimming pool at 26 C - 28 C which is 50 meters long, 1 activity pool at 30 C - 34 C, and 1 thermal water pool at 38 C.

From wikipedia (source)
As of January, 2015, the base price which includes a locker, entry and no time limitation is 4,500 Ft on weekdays and 4,700 Ft on weekends and holidays. There are cheaper options but limit when you can go (for example, 6:00 am - 8:00 am), you can find the details here (prices).

To get here, simply get off at Széchenyi fürdő on the M1 (yellow) line. It is also just a short 5 minute walk from the Heroe's Square for reference.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!