#1865| Wanted: Fairy Pools

Photos taken with Nikon 1 J2 c/o Nikon Singapore and Canon 500d on 50f1.8 prime lens

imagesInverness, Scotland.

We went to Scotland in search of the elusive Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye in May. Unfortunately they remain just that – elusive – because due to unfortunate copywriting and a completely hopeless car rental company, we couldn’t get our pre-booked car to drive up to the Isle. Stuck in Inverness which was never meant to be more than a base from which to explore the Isle for two days, we ended up booking a last minute cruise down the Loch Ness hoping for at least one otherworldly story to take home from Scotland.

No one was surprised at the lack of sightings (Nessie’s very shy / Have you seen her before? / Of course), but we did sail to the most beautiful Urquhart Castle ruins where the boyfriend tried to convince me that the poncho is an acceptable fashion statement (it isn’t) and where i got my Mary Poppins moment, very briefly.

It was one of the last cold trips we made, but oh Scotland, even without fairies no one can deny that there’s a sort of old charm about you.


#1864| Guide to: Applying for a German Exchange Semester


Hey Guys,

I’ve been receiving questions on my exchange semester logistics ever since publishing my Around The World in 212 Days guide, so I thought i’d follow up with a Germany-speific post for those of you interested in applying for an exchange semester in Germany. I remember having a huuuge administrative headache when I was applying for my semester and being very grateful for any sort of advice or help given from seniors who’d been to Germany for exchange, so I’m writing this for future reference for anyone looking to apply!

I realize that this is quite country specific and may not be relevant to all of you, so for those of you uninterested in Germany, here’s a bunch of cat pictures on the internet for you.

Alright, here we go:


I’m doing a student exchange programme in the University of Stuttgart, Germany. More details here.

Why Germany?

It’s cheap – as cheap as Central European destinations get anyway. The approximate projected all-in budget for one semester in Stuttgart, Germany plus accommodation, travel, and flights is 12k. My personal budget was 15k because I did an extra Winter Semester spanning two months before the proper semester started. This is way cheaper compared to a lot of other destinations like Sweden/ London/ Paris and so on.

Also – Germany is safe. There are plenty of more exciting destinations but I’d rather live in a country where I dont have to be consistently looking over my shoulder worrying about pickpockets.


A rough estimate of living expenses:

Accommodation on campus – 247Euros per month for the most basic single dorm room in Allmandring.
Groceries per week – approx 20-30Euros/ week, depending on what you eat. ie. Eggs are 99c/carton. A whole premarinated chicken can be 3Euros. Und so Weiter.

The Application Process:

Step one is getting your application accepted by both your home university and the German university. Hurray!

Now: make a booking for an appointment at the German Embassy in approximately one month from this date. This is for your Visa Application. This date MUST BE at least 5 weeks from the date you fly out from Singapore.

Step Two – The Bank:
You need to register for a blocked bank account in Germany before you can do anything – this is so they know you can finance your studies and wont just end up broke and stranded in Germany. Deutsche bank was what i signed up for and it’s the easiest. They also link up with commerzbank and post bank so you can withdraw from their ATMs once in stuttgart cos they don’t have that many DB ATMs lying around.


After you print and fill up the form, turn up at the German Embassy in Singapore and get them to approve and legalize your application. This requires an administrative fee of 30 dollars in cash. Only then can you apply for your account with a German bank via mail to the address stated on the form. I strongly suggest you use express mail, which will cost you SGD50, because it takes 3-5 working days to send it over as opposed to $2 snail mail which will take a month.

When the German bank has received your application, you will receive an email that notifies you that your account is open but will require a minimum of 638 Euros per month that you’re staying. You need to do a bank transfer of the money over to the account they provide. This step takes 2-3 weeks, afterwhich you will receive another email telling you you have funds in your account.

Step Three – The Visa:

ONLY AFTER you get all the above settled can you apply for a German Visa. You should have booked an appointment with the embassy already – see STEP ONE. Turn up with all your documents – if you’re missing even one, they won’t help you process it. They’re very strict on this!

These documents include:

- Transcript of acceptance in host university.
- Proof of study.
- Travel insurance/health insurance
- Proof of bank account funds
- Filled up visa forms.
- Passport photos


This appointment will require an administrative fee of $105 in cash.

Step Four – Collection:

They will then seize your passport for the duration of 5 weeks. Then can you collect it with the visa – a sticker – on it and you’re ready to fly. Yay!


Useful Links:

German Embassy Info for Students
Checklist of Documents needed for Visa Application
Application form for Deutsche Bank Blocked Bank Account

A Note on Health Insurance:

You need proof of Singaporean health insurance to apply for your German Visa in Singapore, but once you get to Germany, they require a mandatory German Health Insurance as well. This will cost you approximately 80 Euros per month on top of the amount you’ve paid for your Singaporean Health Insurance.

They will tell you there’s no way around this, but there is.

To get out of this, you need to prove that your Singaporean health insurance covers everything your German health insurance will, including dental coverage. If necessary, get your Singaporean health insurance company to write a letter certifying that they will cover all your medical expenses. Once you reach Germany, you will need to visit a German health insurance company like AOK with all the documents on your Singaporean health insurance and show it to them for them to write a letter certifying that you are exempt from German health insurance. However, this means that if you ever return to Germany as a student, you will not be able to apply for the German health insurance forever. This doesnt matter to me because I’m graduating soon and I will in all likelihood never be a student in Germany again, but if you’re planning to pursue further studies here then maybe.. reconsider.

I went with the AIG Student Travel Guard Classic Insurance. It was pretty pricey, but still way cheaper than what I’d be paying in total for German insurance.

With this letter from AOK, you can now proceed to enroll in your German University by submitting a bunch of forms the school will give you once you touch down! All this administrative work is super fun! Not.

But I promise it’s worth it :)

Scholarship / Work options:

The only scholarship I know of offered by the German side is the Baden-Württemberg Scholarship, but you have to be nominated by your home university, so essentially there’s nothing much you can do. It also depends on whether they offer spots for the scholarship to your university – I dont actually know anyone from Singapore on it, but almost everyone from Australia is.

With your German visa though, you can officially work in Germany.


Moving In:

Staying on campus is the cheapest option you have for German accommodation. You have to apply through the German Studentenwerk – your home university should have supplied you with the forms for this. The term for rental is a minimum of six months with a deposit of 300Euros at the start, even though your actual term will only be about 5 months. If you want to terminate it early, you have to submit a request to the Studentenwerk 4-6 weeks before so you don’t have to pay for the last month / can get your deposit back.

To move in, you need to get your keys from the hausmeister (the dude in charge of your cluster) when you reach. To general surprise, the hausmeister only opens for one hour every day, so email them to make an appointment for moving in or you’ll be homeless.


According to one of my readers, it’s nearly impossible for non-Erasmus students to get on campus accommodation in Munich (TUM). Renting a room along the U-bahn will cost about 4-500Eur/month, so adjust your budget accordingly!

(Erasmus basically refers to students on exchange from Europe)

Being Contactable:

A Sim Card in Germany is pretty easy to get. Just walk into any O2 or Vodafone shop and ask for a prepaid sim card. It will cost you 15 Euros for a 1GB data only plan, or for a 500MB + call and text plan and you will have to top this up every month.

You can also go with prepaid cards from companies like Blau.de or Lebara, but these sim cards are purchased from grocery stores/ generic mobile phone shops. The plans are more value for money (3GB for the same price, etc) but the shopkeepers are not allowed to help you set up your SIM card for these providers. If you’re confident of figuring out how to work it on your own/ have a German friend who can translate the instructions for you, then go for it. Otherwise, just do what I did and go with a trusted mobile phone provider.

Tying up Matters:

At the end of your semester in Germany, you will need to fill up a course list with whatever courses you’ve taken and obtain this certificate from each professor called a Scheint to prove you’ve taken that class. When you submit this to the International Students Department, they’ll process it with your marks and send it to your home university to kickstart your credit transfer process.


Alright, I hope I covered most, if not all, bases! Let me know if you have any more questions over at my ask.fm and I’ll update this space accordingly. In the meanwhile, enjoy, and all the best with your application :)


#1863| “Always”

Hogwarts shirt: Primark | Cat eyed Sunnies: Primark | Grey leather jacket: H&M | Black skirt: H&M | Black leather backpack: Yesstyle.com | Watch: Swatch

imagesInverness, Scotland

Not the actual Hogwarts castle, but hey, at least it’s Hagrid’s homeland. Is it close enough? Talk about aiming for the moon and hitting the stars.. or something along those lines. I very accidentally walked right into discovering an empty Primark store one afternoon in Scotland, and till then I didn’t even know the words empty and Primark could be used in the same sentence. I guess noone knew about this outlet. As I approached the huge building, excited, my pace quickening, my boyfriend looked worriedly at me and tugged at my hand. Jem.. just because it’s Primark doesnt mean you have to buy anything, okay?

I stared at him: Shane, your jokes aren’t funny.

He got all offended, but hey, I got new clothes.
Boys, am I right.


Also, I’m back on the show! New Primark Episode up here:


#1862 | I have showered in way too many sinks // The Sleeper Train Survivor Guide

Showering in a sink over a traumatic 25 hour stay in Stansted Airport is something I kinda feel proud of in a survivor-level-ten kind of way, but it wasn’t exactly something I ever intended to repeat. Of course, I didn’t take into account the fact that I stupidly assumed that an overnight train would have a shower on board.. Very first world problem, but it is what it is. I booked an overnight sleeper train from Prague to Kosice in early June and got all ready to put my bags down and head for the showers when I was informed by the generally amused train conductor that there were no showers onboard. Horror of horrors. This didn’t seem to bug anyone else on the train – maybe they already knew – but for me it meant hitting the sink again in an even smaller and now moving toilet cubicle. It was like leveling up on Supermario: Toilet Edition or something.


Anyway, this post is essentially dedicated to other travelers who, like me, have never taken an overnight sleeper train before and want to know what it’s like. Presenting:

The Sleeper Train Survivor Guide

take a sleeper train? Sleeper trains are great for many reasons – they’re an experience, they’re time efficient because you don’t waste daylight traveling, and they help you save on accommodation. They can also be pretty cheap – I booked a three bed female couchette (basically means triple bunk bed for all intents and purposes) and it cost me 35euros, which is a pretty good price for point to point travel.

What I took
I booked the CD sleeper train from the CD website, which ran from about 1030pm to 8am the next morning, and I was in the most basic 3-bed female sleeper room (cabin? capsule? whatever). It was nearly half the price of the 2-bed rooms, and when I got on the train I figured out why – the 2-bed train carriage has an air-conditioned corridor and basically is nicer. But hey, if I had the money to, I’d have booked a first class room all to myself on some super luxurious liner, so I guess this post is only relevant to you if you’re a budget conscious traveler like me.

Check out a few different trains that service the route you want before making a booking, and check the prices for round trip vs one way travel. From experience, regional trains that originate from either your start or end point as compared to bigger & more reputable (lol) train companies can be up to two times cheaper. Ie. The Munich-Prague route on DB Bahn was about 30 euros more expensive than it was on CD (Czech’s own train line). Also, a round ticket from Kosice to Budapest cost 20 Euros, while the one way ticket cost 25, so it makes more sense to book a round ticket even if you won’t actually utilize the second half of the trip.

Good to know

The room
I googled overnight trains before and I got a picture of what looked vaguely like a very tiny hotel room, which I should have known wasn’t the case. Stupid Eurail website. They’re basically many small rooms along a long and 1-person-at-a-time narrow corridor, with bunk beds and a small convertible table/sink in them. They’re male-female separated, if you’re a couple who wants to stay together you’ve got to either book a double room or pay for all three beds in that room. When you board, it’s mad stuffy and humid especially if you’re taking it in the summer, but once the train starts moving I guess it’s better. My couchette also had one powerpoint to share between three people, so either bring a multi plug or charge your stuff before getting on.


I was bottom-bunk, it was ok.

The toilets
They’re similar to the ones you get on airplanes, with the freaky flushing noise that sounds like it’s gonna suck your intestines out of your arse. I know I started out this post by talking about how I showered in the sink, but don’t. I got scolded pretty badly by some lady who was managing that particular carriage because apparently the rooms are too close together and the sound of the water gushing causes too much disturbance to the rest of the carriage or something, and spent the rest of the journey hiding in my room in case I ran into her again.

What I suggest is, take a shower at your hostel/hotel before leaving for the train station. Unfortunately, the likely scenario as with mine is that your check out time will be sometime in the morning, you’d have spent the day wandering around the city while waiting for your night train, and you’d really want a shower by 10pm. Going to sleep unshowered is the worst. In that case, get to the train station early and check out if it has a shower facility – you’ll have to pay for it but hey, you’ll be clean. Otherwise, get wet wipes and baby powder, and use that instead. Budget travel is glamorous said nobody ever.

The food
Bring food on the train if you want to save money, otherwise most trains have a dining cabin. Mine offered free coffee and tea from the cabin supervisor’s room, and had a dry waffle + packet of water on the table in each room.

The experience
I have to say, stuffy or not, it’s fantastic to be able to lie down on a long journey. The beds are decent and look clean enough, and if it gets too hot I guess you can always go hang out in the corridor for awhile because it’s really windy there, with all the windows fully down. If you stick your head out of the window to get fresh air you will probably die because you pass by other trains and telephone poles which can slice off your head or something pretty often, so don’t. (When another train passes by the sound is horrific, I jumped so badly the first time it happened.) The beds shake quite a bit on the journey but not enough to cause a bad night’s sleep, so I guess it mostly chalks up to an interesting experience.

Ha ha i wish.

What to pack
- A power adapter and your chargers so you can charge your stuff while sleeping
- Wet wipes, baby powder, and moisturizer if you need it.
- Water. Despite water being potable in most of Europe, you cannot drink water out of a train’s tap. You can ask your cabin supervisor for packeted water but i feel like that always tastes funny so I suggest you bring your own bottle.
- Luggage locks. You’re essentially sleeping with strangers, so the same rules that apply in hostel dorms should apply here. Better safe than sorry.

I guess when you’re on a sleeper train you’re always in between destinations, so you’ll have most of your stuff with you and you don’t have to pack specially for it. The most important things are probably wet wipes and luggage locks. At the end of the day it was still way more comfortable than an overnight bus and a pretty sensible way to travel, so I suppose minor issues like the insane humidity before the train starts moving and being yelled at for showering in a sink remain minor in the face of the money you save on accommodation and the pure convenience/comfort of being able to lie down flat while traveling.

Anyway! I hope this gives you an idea of what it’s like to be on a sleeper train and was vaguely useful to you. And if you’re not someone considering it/ looking for information on sleeper trains, I hope you got a laugh out of my Supermario: Toilet Edition experience. Till next time!