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An unexpected first trip to Europe

Posted By Vephea Sok, Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Born in a tropical country like Cambodia, I didn’t know what living in a cool climate was like. The only snow I had seen was the one shown in movies. Most Cambodians rarely travel abroad, too. My parents, for instance, have never experienced going out of the country even once.

I honestly did not think I could or would – until I and 40 students and staff from the Hong Kong Baptist University took a trip to Prague and Vienna last winter.

Prague, a cultural and historical city, is known for its Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, which connects the city to the Vltava River.

The tour fee was around $2,000, half of it covered by the Hinrich Foundation. After paying up, I had less than $500 for a nine-day European trip. However, I thought that I’d be able to manage it.

The trip started with us boarding a plane at Hong Kong and taking a 13-hour flight to Switzerland, where we traveled to Czech Republic.

When we got to Prague, it felt as if I was in another time. The palaces, parks, churches, hotels and restaurants embodied the city’s history and timeless architecture. There was the Prague Castle, the world’s largest castle, the Vltava River and Charles Bride, a 14th century stone bridge 518 meters long, where people passed by day and night, and I, luckily, with them.

As the temperature was normally below zero, the river in Vienna was frozen during winter in January.

In Prague was where I experienced my first opera, Don Giovanni, and interestingly, my first taste of fresh beer. The country is home to the original 16th century Budweiser beer, and for $15, I got to enjoy a fresh brew from the factory.

I wanted to stay longer, but we still had to travel for another six hours to Vienna. There, we had no tour guides and no one from the school to show us around. It was just us exploring Vienna.

It was Epiphany Holiday, a Christian feast day in Vienna. Most shops were closed and the streets were nearly empty and covered with snow. The temperature was below 15°C.

There was a tour that took us to the city hall, to the opera houses, the Hofburg Imperial Palace and other beautiful buildings in the city. I enjoyed my time at the Gloriette, a well-known coffeehouse inside the 17th Century Schonbrunn Palace, where I sipped a warm drink and enjoyed the view of Vienna.

My trip ended at the Vienna Central Cemetery, a 150-year-old graveyard where many famous people are buried (Beethoven among them).

The cemetery is located in the downtown of Vienna. Opened its gate in 1874, the grave is the burial place of many famous people including Beethoven.

It is believed that anyone who spots a deer while walking along the cemetery is bound to be lucky. I did not encounter a deer, but maybe next time. I think I’m already quite lucky to even have been there. 

Tags:  Europe  journalism  study tour 

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