12 August 2012

We only scheduled Vienna (Wien) for a night and day, since we’d spent longer in Slovenia than anticipated. The ‘railjet’ train proved to be even better than the German ICE trains. It was the only train I’ve seen which has free wifi (albeit patchy in coverage) in the second class area. After arriving in Wien Meidling we found a succession of very friendly Austrians who spoke perfect English and told us where to find our hotel (only 2 star, don’t get excited this is still a hostel trip). From the bus we could see that the streets were markedly wider than those in the German cities we’d visited – it felt more airy, and despite having a lot of traffic, not as bustling.

The ‘Hotel Cyrus’ didn’t prove hugely easy to find with the given directions. In case anyone comes across this, we think it would have been better to take the S-Bahn from Meidling to Südbahnhof and then it is one tram stop away (within walking distance). During the journey I had the mind blowing revelation that ‘Wiener’ refers to Vienna – Wiener Schnitzel would be forever changed. The hotel was very spacious (our double had four beds in it) and had Eurosport in English on the room TV which allowed me to hypocritically watch the olympics I had formerly been slagging off.

We went on a quest for food which after some argument about whether we could be bothered to find the restaurant from the guidebook (no) ended up at an Italian restaurant opposite the Apollo Kino (IMAX cinema). However Italian food is currently embargoed pending our visit to Italy; we have noticed there are a lot of Italian restaurants all over Europe and eating it can get a bit samey after a while. Therefore we ate another Wiener Schnitzel. The restaurant’s attempts to charge for extra ketchup were thwarted by me paying with card and them not caring enough to change the bill.

Next day after cursing the slowness of Viennese trams we went to the ‘Haus der Musik’ which is a great museum all about sound and music. There are a range of interactive exhibits about everything from digital signal processing to the lives of classical composers. We thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend a visit there. We spent an interlude at ‘Wienerwald’ but instead of the usual Schnitzel I got a burger which came with crisps in place of chips, this actually works pretty well.

A cute glass aquarium in the Haus der Musik

Lastly we took a puffing trip up 343 steps to the top of the Stephansdom, the spiral staircase makes you dizzy but it’s worth it for the view. I felt a bit sorry for the man working in the gift shop at the top who must have a long way to go for a toilet break.

View from the top of Stephansdom

Only too soon, it was time to leave Vienna. It is definitely on the return visit list along with Bruges. Next we were going to Prague which turned from 1 night into 3 nights as we realised we couldn’t stomach an 8.5 hour train to Poland.

Vienna - Comments

Lake Bled

11 August 2012

After a very long tunnel and a first-time walk across train tracks at a station, we arrived in Bled. It is a small town in the north of Slovenia known for its large and clear blue lake. We were visiting primarily for my sister’s wedding but ended up being very glad we went as it is a wonderful place and we were glad to have a break from big cities. We liked it so much we stayed an extra night.

After getting a cheap taxi from the station, we dumped our stuff in the ‘aparthostel’ (apartment, not hostel), and went out to search for food. We had dinner in a nice Chinese called Peking, eventually found the ‘devil bar’ and had some agreeably parentally-funded drinks before walking home in the dark brandishing phone screens at oncoming traffic.

Next day we had an amazing breakfast in the 4-star Park Hotel my parents and co. were staying in which included the first sight of bacon (speck) and was probably the best breakfast spread I’ve ever seen for €13.50 (non guests). Then of course there was the wedding itself, which is amply immortalised in hundreds of photos and videos. It was an amazing day and a lot of food and drink went down very well!

On the slightly hungover day after we went for breakfast with Sue and then spent some time swimming in the wonderful Lake Bled. We tried to sneak into a 5-star hotel lido area (€15) with our friends but got caught and had to go. After finding an almost as good spot on the grass next to the closed off area we considered an amphibious landing but decided against it. I tried to chase some of the many ducks on the lake but came to the conclusion that they are a lot better than me at swimming.

In the evening we went for a gigantic pizza at ‘Pizza Rustica’ which was only about €7 and very tasty, bizarrely we walked past some goats in a little paddock at the side of the street on the way. Later we went for slightly more relaxed drinking, deciding that the ‘Vegas Club’ might be a bit much for the moment.

On our (unfortunately) last day we went to Vintgar Gorge on the bus early in the morning. It is stunning with crystal clear water (we could see right to the bottom) and a lot of waterfalls and little whirlpools. We drank some of the water and it tasted great and fresh. We could see lots of fish presumably waiting for food coming downstream. After a lot of walking we ate some of the fish at the restaurant near the end of the gorge. I felt a mixture of being impressed and sorry for the fish when we saw a man walk into the restaurant after we ordered with a net full of them.

Finally we had dinner in the hotel restaurant buffet which was brilliant – ‘Slovenian food night’. We made a return to the ‘Art Cafe’ for more drinking later and had to say our goodbyes. Tomorrow (Monday) we were bound for Vienna!

Lake Bled - Comments


8 August 2012

Munich was a destination partly because we were going in that direction anyway, and also because of the rather famous beer. The views from the train as we got closer in the evening were spectacular. The countryside was a lot more interesting than Northern Germany which mainly seemed to be boring, flat farmland. Bavaria is full of little forests, woods, lakes and idyllic houses and cabins. The laptop stayed firmly shut.

I am still not sure why train stations attract so many drunks and people off their faces on whatever else, but after navigating these predictable staggering obstacles we found the hostel, with less surrounding sex shops than usual. It was another dormitory affair and pretty standard, the bar had Augustiner on draught though which was welcome.

Next day we decided we couldn’t be bothered with the walking tour this time around and spent ages trying to find somewhere to have lunch instead. We found the forbidding looking Chinese place which was supposedly authentic and had a good lunchtime deal. The only waitress in the deserted restaurant didn’t speak English and gestured that the deal did not exist and we’d have to get something from the main menu instead. The only bits in English offered disgusting (sorry, I am only bothered about authenticity to a limit) things like Pig’s Trotters, Ears and Stomach. We made a speedy exit and went to find a Thai restaurant called Zitronengras (Lemon grass) instead.

After a lot more walking and grumbling stomachs and mouths we found it. It was absolute chaos with three staff cooking and serving a horde of poorly queueing Germans in an open plan kitchen. The manager pretended not to speak English (we found out the next day he spoke perfect English!) possibly because he was too busy. However it was almost stupidly cheap and the food was amazing. I asked for a €2 50cl bottle of beer and the manager brought four, I managed to negotiate this down to two and took one out afterwards

A lot of the bits of Munich we walked through weren’t very exciting, so later on we got the S-Bahn (free with Interrail, takes about an hour) to Herrsching, a little town with a big lake. We hired a pedalboat for €13 an hour which was great fun and only enhanced by the fact we didn’t see any other English people. Definitely a good place to get away from smelly cities. In the evening we went for a gigantic Wiener Schnitzel in the studenty Steinheil restaurant. It was definitely not a €9,90 experience to be missed. We fit in a good amount of drinking in the bar later and didn’t even have to make an effort to approach people as they came to us to talk!

Friendly duck in the English Garden

Next day we went back to Zitronengras and then went to the ‘Englischer Garten’, which is a big park with a rapid river running through it. We went for an exhilirating swim (mostly trying to stay above water) with a delightful absence of health and safety. It was good to not be in the UK. Next, the Hofbrauhaus, a massive beer hall with litre beers for about €7 and incredible pork with grated potato, plus an endearing lack of green vegetables common in our German food experiences.

Munich was good but I would have liked to explore more of the surrounding countryside, probably by bike as well as S-Bahn. It would be a great place for a stag do but wasn’t as exciting a city as Berlin or Hamburg in terms of daytime ‘cultural’ stuff from my point of view. It is also pretty expensive for Germany. We were definitely glad we went though. Next stop: Lake Bled in Slovenia.


Munich - Comments

From Bruges to Bavaria

7 August 2012

I’ll admit I wanted to go to Bruges (Brugge, not pronounced the same which can be confusing) because of the scenery in the film ‘In Bruges’. The city is almost all medieval or mock-medieval buildings with cobbled streets. Even the new buildings such as the monolithic post office near the station are fairly tasteful, and there is not a concrete block in sight. There is a lot of bell-ringing going on too at the 83-metre high central Belfry.

Our hostel (‘Passage’) turned out to be basically a hotel, being the first with the free little bars of soap and towels. It had an adjoining restaurant run by the same people, which we went to in the evening on the back of a promise of two free beers for being guests. The restaurant is open to the public too and was very busy which I think is a good sign. We ordered Flemish Stew (beef in dark beer gravy with a jacket potato and assorted veg) and Waterzooi (chicken broth stew with veg and jacket potato). It was defnitely the best food we’ve had so far and incredibly filling.

Afterwards we went for a walk around the city, it was night but the streets are very nicely lit and were very quiet. It didn’t feel unsafe whatsoever though, it was very peaceful. We went to find a bar on the excellent tourist map we’d found. The map is focused on young people and lists many bars and clubs (we didn’t come across any full on nightclubs but there are several music venues). The other side has things to do in the day like going to all the museums with a €1 ticket for under 26’s.

We found an underground bar (‘T Poatersgat’) where I managed to bang my head on the way in despite thinking that I should avoid doing so. Things improved from there though when we found the massive menu containing hundreds of types of beers. The place was pretty cool and seemed to be mostly local 18-30’s with few foreigners besides us, definitely recommended.

Next day we tried to fit in as many things as possible since we had to leave in the evening. Unfortunately a lot of tourists had now come out of the woodwork and there was a massive queue to get into the Belfry tower so we gave it a miss. We discovered a market with random things like ancient letter openers and wooden swords which would have been amazing to have as a violent child, and got the obligatory waffle which is a local speciality.

We spent the rest of the day looking at various attractions on the map including heavenly chocolate shops. There is a healthy rivalry between Switzerland and Belgium over who makes the best chocolate. I haven’t been to Switzerland but some little chocolate shells we bought in Bruges were amazing and I would like to have the money to try more. Bruges is a great place and we would have loved to stay for longer, however we were now going to Frankfurt for a day to meet a friend of Lucy’s.

Frankfurt was a strange mixture of skyscrapers (financial centre of Germany) and an expansive red light district. As usual, we were staying in a hostel in the red light district for budget reasons. It didn’t really seem very dangerous at all though and it was quite bizarre seeing bankers walking out of sex shows at 10AM the next day.

In the city centre there is a lot of opportunity for shopping if you’re into that kind of thing (I’m not). There was also bizarrely a queue and bouncers outside the Hollister shop. Apparently there is also some classical music and opera going on (ditto). However we did manage to get some Bratwurst with Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and walk around the river which was a lot more agreeable. It is great the way Germany are not bothered at all about drinking in public whereas the police can be a pain about it in England even when you are not at all drunk. A few fountains and ice creams later we got the train to our next stop – Munich!

From Bruges to Bavaria - Comments


29 July 2012

After a 6 hour journey from Hamburg, we arrived in Amsterdam Centraal, which is housed in a very nice building. We were in the minority of foreigners not interested in going to the ‘Coffeeshops’ to buy cannabis. We stumbled out onto ‘Damrak’, the main street outside the station. It was buzzing with trams and tourists attempting to avoid their angrily beeping progress (including us, by a matter of inches).

We then took a wander through what turned out to be the even more famous Red Light District, which while apparently ‘open for business’, was also patrolled by Politie on bicycles. There is something about bikes which detracts from the intimidating factor and adds to the humorous factor. After a bit we had to reluctantly buy an overpriced drink (€2,50 for a thimbleful of diet coke) from a café to use the toilet. Free public toilets do not appear to exist in mainland Europe, or at least any of the cities we have been to. We also sometimes get irritated looks when we order the cheapest and smallest drink between us.

Later we met some friends who live in Amsterdam and went for some great Dutch (and probably Belgian) beers in a much less touristy pub than the ones lining the main streets. After this we got the tram to their flat and watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony on TV with a tasty Chinese takeaway. The ceremony was a bit bizarre in places but had many undeniably impressive moments. We went to bed very tired but contented.

In the morning we got some tips about where to go and said farewells. We had failed to book the Anne Frank museum and after walking past decided the queue looked non-negotiable, we will have to save it for another time. We did get an excellent chocolate muffin and had a nice walk along the quiet canals which Amsterdam is renowned for. Next stop: Bruges, Belgium.

Amsterdam - Comments